Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sayonara, Smallville: "Beacon"

Incredible but true: This year, The CW's "Smallville" embarks on its tenth and final season, making it not just the longest-running Superman TV show ever but the longest-running comic book TV show ever produced. Bananas, right?

We've been off as it's been off, but to celebrate its final year, we're teaming up our collective powers of dumb DCU trivia, long experience watching and writing about the show and general obsession with serial TV to bring you "Sayonara, Smallville" – a semi-regular feature where we'll review the most notable episodes of the season whenever we can. Everyone is invited to play along.

Kiel: anyway...let's get down to business: Two episodes enter. One episode leaves!

Ben: Yes yes, once more into the Smallville breach!

Kiel: yeah, LUTHOR! To return to our most frequent discussion punching bag, I think that if the VRA stuff isn't officially dead after this one, I am officially the uncle of a monkey

Ben: Haha...When I cottoned to the gist that it was going to be yet another VRA-centric ep, I didn't so much wince as visibly sigh an "Oh, Kiel..." But yes, I agree this HAS to put a bow on it. I wonder if it was originally intended to be a subplot all season and just took on a life of its own so they had to kill it or if this was what was always planned.

Kiel: If only they'd call me back on my interview requests, we'd know for sure! It's funny though, I didn't HATE all the VRA stuff this episode. It was still the worst stuff in the episode, but I felt it was a good enough tool to bring forward a lot of elements I like. For example: I liked most of the stuff with Martha EXCEPT for that speech

Ben: Martha is a great character, but I could do without Senator Martha Kent. I prefer her as Clark's loving ma doling out sage folksy advice, not doing so and then jumping in her helicopter back to Washington. It's a bit like what I was talking about last week with Chloe as far as trying to cram a character into a spot she doesn't fit in just so she can keep up with the evolving scope of the show. She works fine as Ma Kent, not so much as Senator (Ma) Kent

Kiel: Yeah, and it opens up so many plot questions too...isn't she supposed to technically live at the farm to hold that senate seat? Has no intrepid reporter ever looked into this?

Ben: Hmm, well put. She certainly has to at the very least be out of touch with her constituents if she only comes to Kansas once a year and spends her entire time there getting shot at and whatnot. Then again, perhaps that answers the question of why she doesn't come back to Kansas more often.

Although are we sure Metropolis is even in Kansas? We could be heading down a rabbithole of Smallvillian geo-political exploration we're ill-prepared for here...

Kiel: I'm PRETTY sure that they've said Metropolis is in the state. It was in the first years when they were there all the time.

Ben: Certainly "Smallville" adds a new layer of confusion to the already confusing atlas of the DC Universe. Tangent I don't want to get too lost on: Is Smallville one of the 52 universes in the DC multiverse? If it's not, it should be.

Kiel: When I was a kid, my brother always told me Gotham was in Jersey and Metropolis in New York. Who knows why? And until Didio tells me different, it TOTALLY counts as a world.

Ben: I've always accepted the "Metropolis is NYC during the day, Gotham is NYC at night" logic. We need to find an unclassified universe and stick a flagpole in it for Smallville.

Kiel: To figure out what's not taken, your punishment is having to read Countdown Arena

Ben: (Also: Star City=Seattle, Gateway City=San Fran, Hub City= Chicago--geography is fun!)

Kiel: St. Roche is New Orleans! Keystone/Central are the Twin Cities

Ben: But either Keystone or Central is also somehow Detroit since it's the auto capital of the DCU
And I have no idea where Midway City is

Kiel: Opal City is also a total mystery. I think of it as like Charlotte.

Ben: Opal City is the cooler part of San Francisco. Or it's Portland. I dunno.

Kiel: HA!

Ben: There is no DCU Boston. Boston is the DCU Boston. And Bludhaven is Stamford, Connecticut. ANYWAY...

Kiel: Oh I know what I Was going to say! Still, aside from the being a mom stuff she brings to the show, I actually was surprised how much I enjoyed Martha and Lionel this episode. I mean, he was obviously the star attraction here, but I got more genuine sparks out of their scene than any other pairing.

Ben: Oh yeah, those two definitely have chemistry and always have. I think Lionel tends to bring the best out in everybody, but Martha in particular. Two scenes in this episode made me think the folks at Smallville kinda want to have their cake and eat it too as far as Lionel being back, i.e. he's obviously not the original but they want him to fill the emotional spot of the original for viewers. First was when he was interacting with Martha. Second we'll get to.

Kiel: I mean, the thing I liked about this episode as a whole was that it kind of got a lot of ground covered for the main cast and the big plotlines. Even if it wasn't the best episode, it wasn't a wasted one, you know?

Ben: True. And it wasn't the best episode. But it wasn't actively bad. It was just somewhat there and moved the pieces around. And as you said, it had the heavy lifting task of doing away with the VRA once and for all.

Kiel: Yeah...there was that thread, the final good use of Martha, the turn in Alexander's story and Lionel's reestablishing himself as in control of the company and the Planet and shit. Oh and a little totally forgetable Lois and Chloe business...that was really fucking useless, man.

Ben: That was really just to set up the YouTube video stuff and give Chloe the requisite terrible puns in Alison Mack's renegotiated contract though. "I will only come back if I get to use alliteration at least three times a scene!"

Kiel: And it draaaaaaaagged so much! Like, every time they'd bring up the "Perry White made pamphlets" thread, I was just shouting "Then maybe you should make a fucking blog, Lois!" And then when they made the extremely slow turn towards the video shit, I couldn't believe how bad the clips were. Did they actively ask fans to make up fake videos? Was there a contest I missed?

Ben: There was indeed! That was a real contest. Those were real Smallville fans. So as awful as some were, I actually have to give the show credit as that's a pretty neat way to say "Thanks for keeping us on the air for a decade"
Kiel: Yeah, as I watched it I thought to myself, "this is excusable if these people are real, but if they got paid for this shit, these people are criminals."

Ben: Yep, they were legit. The guys over at Comics Alliance didn't have this information and I laugh at them for this! They may be timely, but we are accurate!

Kiel: I think it's more that you are accurate and I am drunk. But still...Standards, Ben.

Ben: I was not far off from saying we should submit a video. I feel like I could somehow lose my job if I appeared on "Smallville" though.

Kiel: But yeah, what did you think of the Luthor thread in general?

Ben: I think once again in this episode we see why characters like Kara and Martha are back for one episode guest shots and Lionel has been woven into the tapestry of the final season in a bigger role. He is certainly one of the best additions to DC lore Smallville has mde (if not THE best). It's tough to follow his motivations though. Does he really want to do right by Lex after screwing it up? Does he have an alterior motive? Does he even know? The one thing I would like to see out of him is a more assured confident longterm plan, but I guess if you build him up too much you risk relegating the Apokolips crowd a bit, so you need to keep him a little offbase.

Kiel: I kept asking myself if I should view this Lionel different as the one we had for years, but I don't know if they're really interested in defining the differences. And yeah, there's a lot of wheel-spinning going on here as when this was written I think Rosenbaum hadn't signed on for sure.

Ben: I don't think they're interested in defining the differences, because, as I mentioned, I think they wanted Lionel back for the last season, and this was the cheat to get him. And by that I mean they want the original Lionel, not just a close cousin. You notice he acted far more like the original here than he did in the mirror world episode.

Kiel: Sure, thought I think the one real commonality you can bring between the two is that, unlike Alexander claimed when he said Lionel always ultimately picked Clark, I think the common thread in all Lionels is that they look out for #1 first and foremost. If the kid would have figured a way to make himself more important to the old man, shit wouldn't need to get crazy, but I'm not sure they've even got a defined personality for the kid either

Ben: I agree with you that, knowing what we know now, this episode probably got made in the heart of the Rosenbaum negotiations, so defining Alexander became a tricky tightrope. For the record, I no longer think Alexander is going to age into Lex. I think the real Lex is still out there now.

Kiel: Agreed. And as it should be.

Ben: Yes.

Kiel: But I'm not sure I care much about the kid as it is.

Ben: Well you read the spoilers about him obviously...

Kiel: Yeah, the much spoiled Connor Kent shit coming in a week or two I think has the risk of turning more fan service in joke than good story

Ben: I actually thought the actor who played Alexander this go around (whose name I don't know but totally nailed him as being a High School Musical alum purely from seeing posters for that shit) did a nice job playing a confused sociopath, but it's going to be tough to transition that into Superboy in a couple weeks. Of course between the comics, the Young Justice cartoon and now here, Superboy is much closer to being a square-jawed angst ball than the fun original character he was a decade and a half ago anyways...but that's another ratn for maybe another time.

Kiel: I totally didn't realize it was High School Musical dude! I'll have to tell Lynn Phegley.

Ben: Let her know. It's an exciting connection. He also played young Lex previously in an episode that flashed back to him and Ollie in prep school. I think all the younger Lex actors this season have been used in previous seasons as well, actually, which is a nice touch.

Kiel: Oh God! I remember doing that episode at the Wizard chats we'd host!

Ben: Haha, I do NOT.

Kiel: That's the one that really broke my spirit on the show for a while. It was AWFUL.

Ben: So where does Lionel go from here? He's got his company back, but he lost his son (again), he's nowhere near gaining Clark if that was a goal...and his mansion got blown up (which was the other "They wanted us to think of this as the original Lionel" moment for me)! That actually hit me by the way. Far more than losing The Talon. Luthor Mansion was a big deal.

Kiel: Yeah, another big set destruction. I wonder if they'll choose to fuck up the farm in the end. But as for Lionel, I see him continuing to push Tess and Ollie out. That set where he and Ollie sparred tonight will show up again, I'd wager.

Ben: I don't think we'll lose the farm. Superman always needs somewhere to come home to. It will be interesting to see which side Lionel ends up on when the ultimate good vs evil showdown goes down, since I do sense he'll be sticking around through then. I liked Tess' moment at the end too, even if it did make Clark look like a total d-bag for telling Alexander to trust her.

Kiel: Yeah, now that we know for sure that all the VRA stuff is gone and both Luthor's will be back, the fun of seeing how this all unfolds should increase exponentially. And yeah! Tess was solid. I wish they'd find a way to involve her in every episode rather than every fourth one.

Ben: Yeah. I enjoyed that Lionel refuses to call her Tess and will only call her Lutessa. They are determined to legitimize that ridiculous name.

Kiel: Well, he was the one who came up with it!

Ben: Touche.

Kiel: But I think that's it in terms of the episode standing out...otherwise kind of boilerplate "Smallville."

Ben: Ultimately, like you said, this wasn't the best episode, but it did a nice job both clearing the table and then setting it up again, both of which were very necessary. I'll end it with how James Marsters described working with Ma Kent to me when I interviewed him: "Annette O'Toole: Still hot, dude. Still hot."

Kiel: As a dude who looks way younger than he is, he should know.

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