Friday, April 15, 2011

Sayonara, Smallville: "Scion"

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: So shall we dive in on this bad boy? Has it been months since you watched this episode?

Ben: Kiel, it's been a long time. Seasons have changed. Empires have risen and fallen. A black man is in the White House, Kiel!

Kiel: Dogs and cats, living together!

Ben: I watched this episode when it originally aired and have given it nary a thought since, so I will count on you as my guide and probably do more reacting than acting. I am in your capable, skilled and reassuring hands, sir.

Kiel: Thank God I watched it last night! OK, well...this is the story of the clone we've known as Alexander becoming Conner Kent AKA Superboy. And in a way, I felt the methods through which they introduced this idea are about as indicative of current "Smallville" as it gets. That is to say, this episode found purchase to incorporate every conceivable tone they could into one episode. We had melodrama with Clark talking about growing up a misfit. We had comedy with Conner getting all sexy hot for Lois and buring off heat vision. We had that joke turn into a weird freaky plot point as Conner got Red Kryptonited up and became a creepy obsessive Lois lover. We got legit chills and Lionel did some horrific stuff. In short: we got everything,

Ben: I'm happy to report that as you type, the memories are flooding back

Kiel: Good!

Ben: Well, to a degree. I'm remembering stuff like Tess neglecting to mention she tried to MURDER Conner before dropping him off with Clark for male bonding, Lionel thinking a vial of dust bunnies was his son, that lab tech being covered in blood for no reason...Good times.

I miss Smallville for lab techs randomly covered in blood and Tess' wacky 180s, Kiel! But yeah, it was certainly an episode that jumped around quite a bit in finding its theme and setting. It was a step away from the goofball comedy of the Amos Fortune ep or the action epic Deathstroke stuff.

Kiel: And the weird thing was...I kind of liked it that way. I've got to say that I enjoyed this more than Amos Fortune, and while I may not have dug it as much as the most bad ass Bryan Q Miller episodes, I didn't find myself thrown off by super-serious groaner scenes. I mean, if the #1 thing I want from a "Smallville" episode at this point is to drive the bigger season plot forward while reveling in the over-the-top comic booky nature of the world, I got that here in spades.

Ben: True.

Kiel: Although I think that by the end of this, I realized that maybe there are less plot threads running through this final season than we've previously given credit for. Ultimately, everything that's happened over the past few months has been about one thing: making Clark ready to be Superman. Sure, that takes on some variations from learning to be a leader in the field to learning to share stuff with Lois or whatever, but all-in-all every episode has circled back around to that idea without moving it forward all that much. But aside from that, I think there's a more important issue at stake for our discussion....was this REALLY Superboy in this episode, Ben?

Ben: That is a loaded question, my friend. By that do you mean do I believe this character is in fact somebody else or are you asking if I was satisfied with the translation of one of my known favorite characters to the medium of television/whatever "Smallville" is?

Kiel: The're the Superboy expert. Did this live up to the character you care about in any real way?

Ben: I will give you the long, rambling answer that I know you want.

Kiel: Hooray!

Ben: This was an accurate representation of Superboy as DC and the creators shepherding him of late see him. It was consistent with how he has been written since around the start of last decade and certainly how he acts on the "Young Justice" cartoon. In the current comics he has become kind of the "road not taken" Clark Kent. He's pretty darn close to young Clark but with a modern emo edge that speaks more to the era he's being written in than anything deep down within the character. "Smallville" put a little more separation in by really playing up the half Lex part of his persona and showing the internal struggle. He was Clark with less restraint/Lex with more conscience. I thought it was actually a pretty novel approach and divorcing myself from my fandom I did enjoy it on that level.

Did it, as you say, live up to my desire to see Superboy on the small screen come to life and speaking his lines? Not so much, but mostly because Superboy hasn't been the Superboy I really like in some time. The Superboy who I list among my favorites is the Karl Kesel/Tom Grummett (and later Peter David/Todd Nauck) kid who was decidedly not Clark Kent and had a personality very much his own. The dude who was fun-loving, girl crazy (not in the way the Smallville version was) and naive because he loved life, not because he was a farmboy. This was obviously not that Superboy, but I wasn't expecting it to be any more than I was expecting him to have leather jackets and belts on his thigh (though that would have been awesome).

Kiel: We did get a leather jacket! But, of course, it was the typical "this person is now evil because of Red K" leather jacket, so it didn't quite count.

Ben: It didn't have a yellow S-shield on the back, doesn't count. Did I care about him in any real way? Sure, but I'd credit that to the Smallville crew giving him a decent little arc and the kid with the hat from "High School Musical" turning in a nice if sometimes uneven performance. So it was cool to see a well-done character on Smallville, but despite the fact that he was named Conner Kent, I never felt like I was watching the Superboy for whom I have such affection on TV. But then again, I haven't see that Superboy in years, so it wasn't a shocker.

I'm not the guy who should be deciding whether the current Superboy is better than the old one--I can certainly see the value of a young Clark Kent who kids of this generation can relate to beyond the one on Smallville--but from a personal standpoint, obviously I miss the more unique one, and this was just another nail in his coffin. So endeth the rant.

Kiel: No, I agree with you. Even though I greatly enjoyed Geoff and Francis Manapul's Adventure Comics run, I've not enjoyed Superboy in a big big way since the Joe Kelley run.

Ben: Adventure Comics was another example of something Geoff does very well, and that's that he can craft a great comic that you'll love for the world and the adventure even if you don't lime or have reservations about the main character. But even though his Conner was pretty far removed from the original, through Teen Titans and Adventure I did still mostly feel like he got the heart of the character right, and that went a long way.

Kiel: But even just assuming that Superboy is the version that appears in today's comics with the black t-shirt, I thought this really felt like its own thing. It's funny how so much of the modern conception of Superboy comes from his interaction with other cast members in the DCU. Take Tim Drake and full grown Superman out of the picture, and it's hard to define what he's all about. So I guess this take is as legit as any, all things considered.

Ben: Yeah, I did feel that while closer to the current Superboy than the 90's version obviously, Smallville Conner (or CONR or whatever) was his own man. Like I said, there was way more Lex in him than has ever been in the comics version. And that worked because in the world of Smallville, as much as they've endeavored to paint him as the ultimate villain in recent years, Lex was a good dude the first few seasons and remained somewhat shades of grey a long time. Smallville Clark isn't near as perfect as comics Superman either.

Kiel: Yeah, you're right about that. It's funny how this show has made all the core Superman cast a little more human overall.

Ben: So a melding of these two middle of the road characters on their way towards their respective destinies in the unstable form of a teenager was a win at least on the surface for me. I think Lois is the most consistent to the comics version, but I also think that may be because she missed the first couple seasons. We bag on those early days sometimes (I do at least), but that's where they did a lot of differentiating the characters to build their world. It's been more recently where they've skewed closer to comics continuity. As we've noted before, the audience shifted from soap fans to comics fans, so it makes sense that way. But Lex with a noble heart, imperfect Clark, and even Lois being a little softer are all really holdovers from when they were first introduced, I think.

Kiel: Sure, but I think that may be as much from TV pacing and format as it is from this show's specific take. Put any character in a weekly show, and you'll spend more time trying to flesh out their little quirks than you will trying to nail the perfect iconic version of that idea.

Ben: That's true. The nature of television has demanded more well-rounded takes. Yes world, I just said Smallville has given us well-rounded characters. It's almost gone, let me celebrate it.

Kiel: Well, speaking of getting into the nitty gritty of characters, the other major point I think to unpack from this episode is the fact that they really went there with Lionel being from another reality – the B-plot of this episode involved Lois and Tess breaking in to LuthorCorp to prove that Lionel was not "our reality's" Lionel so Tess could take the company back – which we weren't expecting at first. Thoughts?

Ben: Well, it was a helpful Maguffin to get Lionel out of the picture as far as taking his resources away and putting him in a state of desperation where he first had to up the pressure on trying to gain control of Conner and then ended up where he was at the end of the episode. So it worked as a plot motivator. The idea that he regained control of his company at all following a very public death and we never saw the mechanics was a pretty bright red flag to pay no mind to the man behind the curtain in regards to that whole storyline. Writing it off in equally ludicrous fashion feels appropriate.

Kiel: Sure. And I still feel like this is just another piece of wheel-spinning because the writers weren't sure if they'd get Rosenbaum back for sure, but now that they know he's coming for sure, they can kind of clear the decks for him to show up in any way they want.

Ben: Right right. I know we talk about it every episode, but it is always interesting and worthwhile to me to speculate where we at least think changes were made and when in regards to getting Rosenbaum back. I'm sure a lot of plans for Lionel's character including his takeover/loss of LutherCorp were motivated by waiting for Rosenbaum to sign on the dotted line. Can we talk Tess for a moment?

Kiel: YES! I liked her in this, and I've come to like her overall.

Ben: Now that we've seen what Cassidy Freeman can do when given good material to work with, I've come to enjoy her more in general, but that said, few pieces of writing this season have been wackier and less consistent than her all-over-the-place relationship with Alexander/Conner. The fact that she tried to poison him, never mentioned it to anybody, then was right back to being his protector here made me laugh a bit. Cassidy Freeman has gotten much better at recognizing when the writers are giving her madness like that and playing it with the subtle smirk and eyeroll that Justin Hartley has perfect over the years, but it's still worth a chuckle.

Kiel: Sure. It's funny because they've decided on her direction overall, but from episode to episode, there are these WILD swings in her motivation or actions that everyone on set must know how ridic this stuff is playing.

Ben: They must.

Kiel: But I think they've finally got to the point with her – and with the whole core cast really – where they're in the place I'd like them to be as a viewer, which is everyone is in a stable position to move into a big ass final battle. Now, whether they actually get to that kind of a story is beyond me.

Ben: That's the million dollar question. Real talk: Do you think the people making Smallville write with the knowledge that their audience has just come to accept that not a lot of their character and motivation logic will make sense so long as they keep things camp and entertaining? How self-aware do you think they are? I feel like we've spoken to enough folks who work on the show that they're generally bright and I'd wager they know they have a product that can certainly be good, but more often is fun.

Kiel: Here's what I think: There's so much attention in the press to the kind of very specific fan service: what version of Superboy are they doing? Is the Legion working in? What crazy comic villains and references can they throw into the dialogue? And I get it, fan blogs eat that up, and even big sites like TV Guide play up those angles in their reports on this stuff. BUT...Ultimately, most of the people watching this show aren't watching it for that. They're watching it because it's a fun superhero show, and they like that Clark and Lois make out. It truly is a guilty pleasure type thing in the same way that "Supernatural" or "The Vampire Diaries" are. And I think the creators are pretty aware that if they don't hit those big fun action and romance beats, they'll really be sunk. So even though the hardcore amongst us notice weird little jumps of logic, they KNOW they don't have to worry about fixing those flaws so long as they have goofy business for Lois to do along with a few genuine fanboy Easter Eggs. It's a really winning formula, really. I think you could almost say Marvel did the same thing with the "Iron Man" movies if you squint when you look at it.

Ben: I more or less agree with your assessment. We've gone pretty broad in our discussion tonight, which makes sense since we're coming back from a hiatus, but were there any other more specific story points you wanted to hit? I think we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about Conner's scenes with both Clark and Lois and the relationships therein.

Kiel: I thought it was really weird how Conner fell for Lois, and I'm not 100% sure what we were supposed to get out of those interactions. Were we supposed to see her true love for the real Clark or something? It just kind of skeeved me out.

Ben: Yeah, it was all very uncomfortable. Maybe we were seeing the Clark part of Conner falling for Lois because he has it in his DNA to love here but then the Lex approach to treating women as property and buying their affection? Just another example of the dichotomy? When he was Clark's protege in the barn, it was puppy love, but when he was under the influence of Lionel and the ring, headed toward Lex town, it became unbalanced. Clark can love, Lex cannot.

Kiel: I get that. It made sense for Conner way more than it did for Lois is I guess what threw me. I wasn't sure where Lois and Clark were supposed to be by episode's end.

Ben: I didn't really think there was a larger commentary on the Clark/Lois relationship in this one. I think she was just trying to survive yet another insane situation. I don't think she really saw any of Clark in Conner, particularly when he was nuts, or anything like that. She was more there to be the object of his coming unhinged and also the one who really hammered home the point that he had some Luthor in him that he needed to work out. But none of that made the scenes with him throwing her into walls and whatnot any less skeevy.

Kiel: Although I LIKE the action in this ep from a choreography and setting standpoint. The burnt out mansion was a GREAT locale.

Ben: I didn't actually realize it was the burnt out mansion until a ways in. I thought it was the shithole Conner shot Martha from back when he wasd Alexander for awhile.

Kiel: Oh yeah! But no...the very first scene there started with a shot through the broken stained glass window of Lex's office.

Ben: Right, I figured it out later, just wasn't paying attention at first. It was a nice touch. Coming full circle, my favorite parts of this episode had to do with what you talked about as far as the bigger journey of Clark becoming Superman, and the piece we saw most this episode was him growing up a little and almost assuming the role his father took with him but with Conner. It was important because one of the things I think has been holding Smallville Clark back from being Superman has been that selfless broad heroism aside, in his personal relationships he does tend to make it about him in an immature way a lot, and he did here to start, but overcame that and recognized he had a responsibility to Conner. I really liked the scenes where he confided to Conner he had powers too and where he was tutoring him. Corny in the right way. And the ending to their part of the episode with Conner getting the Kent name and putting on the t-shirt was nice.

Kiel: Yeah, that scene worked for me more than I thought it would when I initially heard about the character showing up. But I think from here on out, I'm going to be exceedingly hard on the episodes we have left.

Ben: Sure. Just like Clark has a responsibility, so too do we.

Kiel: I really want them to kick it up a notch with this last run. That Darkseid moment at the end of this ep was SO bad ass. I just want that momentum to role as they go along. Fingers crossed!

Ben: That was a great moment. They haven't dropped the ball visually on Darkseid in his brief cameos so far, which gives me hope that they recognize how important it is that he looks awesome. I dig the idea of Lionel as a broken man being the guy he finally chooses to appear to as well. I'm getting pretty psyched about the idea that it will be Clark & Lex vs Darkseid with Lionel & Ollie in the finale. I hope they go that route.

Kiel: Yeah, great potential here...but before then: Booster Gold for some reason!!!

Ben: Well this week we're headed back to the Mirror World for more Ultraman, though I don't believe BQM is writing (I could be wrong)

Kiel: Oh, I didn't know that! Could be fun still.

Ben: My final thought is a question for you, sir. You know how Conner blew up the Kryptonite rock with his heat vision?

Kiel: Yes...My immediate thought there was that he'd poison Clark forever.

Ben: Was he able to fight through the pain and do that because he's only half Kryptonian, or has Clark just really never thought of that? Oh sure, there's that.

Kiel: HA!

Ben: Clark Kent: Getting there, but still a ways to go.

Kiel: I'm going to go with a combo of half-Kryptonian and being a good eight feet away from the rock.

Ben: Whatever helps you sleep at night.

Kiel: But really, it's one of those classic "U-Decides."

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