Monday, May 16, 2011

Sayonara, Smallville: "Dominion"

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.

And of course, catch up with all our previous "Sayonara, Smallville" review chats covering every episode of the tenth and final season so far: Lazarus, Shield, Supergirl, Homecoming, Isis, Harvest, Ambush, Abandoned, Patriot, Luthor, Icarus, Collateral, Beacon, Masquerade, Fortune, Scion, Kent and Booster.


Kiel: Every time I hear that phrase, I cry a little inside that Scott Pilgrim wasn't a bigger hit.

Ben: It did huge business in Germany.


Ben: I don't have facts, I just assume everything that's only a moderate hit here is huge in Germany. I just bought my friend a bootleg copy of the David Hasselhoff Nick Fury movie for his birthday. I am so excited to watch it.

Kiel: Have you ever seen it?!?!

Ben: No! I've never seen it or "Generation X."

Kiel: OH MAN! I was just about to say that the Fury movie is dopey, but it's got nothing on the awesomeness of the Gen X movie. I taped that in Middle School and watched it maybe 35,000 times.

Ben: I can't imagine why I didn't watch that when it aired. I know I was still reading comics at the time because I remember reading about it in Wizard. Giving him that Nick Fury movie led to me having a possibly record setting three moments in one week where Lisa Rinna was a part of my life.

Kiel: I hope the other two involved a weekend at a private island.

Ben: I wish. One was that TJ started watching "Veronica Mars" and got to the part she's in. Two was I watched the episode of "Community" with her in it. Three was Fury.

Kiel: We may need to do chat reviews of made-for-TV comic movies now that "Smallville" is done and "Wonder Woman" didn't get the pick up.

Ben: Remember that "Ultra" pilot we saw?

Kiel: I think I fell asleep while watching that!

Ben: I don't remember it at all. Y'know what we should definitely blog on in the post-Smallville world? If we can track down a "Mercy Reef" bootleg.

Kiel: It's got to be out there. Lou Diamond Phillips!

Ben: Ving Rhames!..."ORIN!"

[EDITOR'S NOTE: You don't know how funny the line "ORIN" is to us since you've never seen "Mercy Reef," but trust's at least as funny as all the times Wolverine would go "JEAN!" in the '90s "X-Men" cartoons.]

We should watch like one thing with a Smallville alum a week.

Kiel: But before that...Dominion! A word which I automatically think of DS9 whenever I hear it.

Ben: First, I want it ON THE RECORD to start off the blog...that you are doing a great job with Smallville Week

Kiel: HA! Trying to keep up. You can't declare something like that and then not post anything.

Ben: That's why I never declare anything! Temper expectations. Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed your Superman through the ages post. But hey, Dominion? I kinda liked it a lot.

Kiel: Yeah! I think in a way the biggest brunt of Smallville Week is on these last chats because we've really got a whole series of discussions about what the final runs should be about to compare them to, but with this ep I think they hit a lot of points we've been wanting to see. Particularly: they brought back shit we care about, they significantly advanced the big Darkseid story AND they significantly moved stuff for some of the main cast. Why can't all episodes do that?

Ben: I don't know man, I don't know. But yeah, you're absolutely right. This was still ostensibly an "event" ep in that they brought back Zod ala bringing back other past guest stars/villains or introducing new characters, but he was both thoroughly integrated into the mega plot in a way that moved us closer to the finish line and did serve to push the principal characters in various ways. It also helps that Callum Blue was brilliant. He was always good, but his take on Zod here as the warrior king of the Phantom Zone (almost typed Negative Zone) worked in a way his trapped-on-Earth Zod never did.

Kiel: Now that we've made it to the end of a ten-year run, I'm kind of feeling bad that I bailed on the show for two seasons...paricularly that I have almost no experience with his Zod. But this was different than him on earth, you say?

Ben: Admittedly I tuned in and out of the Zod season, but I'm not saying the character was fundamentally different, just the way he played him based on circumstances. During the season he was a regular, Zod was always more of a schemer and smooth talker. He owned a dummy corporation and dressed in suits and shit. He was somewhat caged. Here he was a full out primal barbarian and it worked way better. He wasn't Zod as Lex Luthor, he was fucking Zod. Callum Blue is just great seething and snarling. He was fine smirking, but not nearly as good. The setting was just a better fit for both character and actor. You don't want to see Zod setting up mergers, you want to see him sitting on a throne of skulls and telling people to kneel.

Kiel: I will say this, I had thought that "Smallville" had done the last of its "we try on a different genre" episodes, but I'd forgotten that "heavy metal stylized ancient warrior shit" was now a genre thanks to "300." Still, I think they pulled that idea off pretty strongly, and a big part of that was Blue as Zod not just in his performance but in the setting with the throne and the way they dressed him. It gave a kind of authenticity to the Phantom Zone society that I don't think the comics often get, really.

Ben: I honestly can't really conjure up a salient visual when I think of the comics Phantom Zone. It's just a green-grey misty place where Zod and Mon-El are floating around. I would say the Phantom Zone is one area where Smallville beats the comics. It's supposed to be the ultimate prison, and I suppose the idea of just helplessly drifting through nothingness is a shitty way to spend eternity, but I can latch onto this nightmare desert where you have to gladiator fight for your survival way more.

Kiel: Yeah, back in the day I went looking for cool old school Zod/Phantom Zone comics to read because I loved Superman II so much, but they are really hard to find in terms of being satisfying. I think the other thing to note about this episode though is the story we ran on CBR about Zod and how the Doomsday actor was originally asked to play both's so weird to think how often "Smallville" has shifted gears on the viewers without them even knowing it.

Ben: That was a great and interesting piece. I had no problem with Sam Witwer, but I do not think he would have been as good a Zod as Callum Blue. Just closing one of my earlier points, I always felt like Callum Blue had this great potential in him during his season but it was restrained and muted, so it was really nice to see him get to cut loose here. Even down to his cadence and his walk. He was having fun playing this character. This was clearly what he signed up for. And interestingly enough it was yet another "What if Clark had gone down the wrong path" episode in a way.

Kiel: Yeah, I think the nice touch on this ep was that all the ways in which it could have been typical Smallville – pet themes about Clark, ripoff genre mashups, etc – all came at a slight angle. Really, the heart of the episode was about Ollie...everything that wasn't that scene between him and Zod was just pretense to get there, and they NAILED it when they did.

Ben: And hey, Justin Hartley fucking directed this episode as well. And it was really well directed, I thought! The Phantom Zone can't be the easiest set to navigate and he did a great job with it. But yeah, it was cool seing that other layer to Ollie. We knew already he had a dark side that has come out before back when he killed Lex. He has always been a character somewhat teetering on the edge. The scene with him and Zod was money and I was honestly not sure which way he would go.

Kiel: It was ALMOST a cop out when we learned that he and Clark had this plan the whole time, but the effect of the zag when they could have zigged made the moment fun enough. Particularly when Zod gets his comeuppance. I really think in a final season in general and in the final few episodes in particular, they should pack as many moments of pure character catharsis in as humanly possible. After ten seasons, what you want is more fan service than ever before. Who else is watching at this point?

Ben: I actually think a lot of people will tune in this week who don't normally as the finale has seemingly become a far bigger "cultural event" than I ever would have imagined, but I digress. If the Clark-Ollie swerve on Zod had ended the episode, or even ended Ollie's involvement, I might have rolled my eyes a bit, but the denoument where Ollie desperately asks Clark what they would do if one of their own went to the dark side (zing!) and Clark breaks his heart with "We'd have to lock them up" more than saved it. Ollie so badly wanted to believe he could redeem himself with stuff like what they pulled in the Phantom Zone, but you have to imagine he was hearing Zod laughing when Clark all but told him no way.

Kiel: For sure. And we'll get to this in the other episode, but I really like the way that they're setting up the impossibility of Ollie breaking Darkseid's hold. I hope they don't cop out and just have him overcome because of love or some other B.S. This build up deserves some thought in it end.

Also: Is it just me, or did they just decide with this episode to refer to Darkseid as "Dark Side" rather than "The Darkness" or whatever because it was just time? Stood way out to me.

Ben: First, for the record, I absolutely think something corny will break Ollie free. I've got some faith in this show, but not THAT much. They've been gradually shifting over to using Darkseid's actual name since around when Granny Goodness first showed up, but this was certainly the most use it has gotten thus far. I do have to say that for as much as I enjoyed the Phantom Zone/Clark/Ollie/Zod portions of the episode--and I enjoyed it a lot--the Tess/Lois stuff did not so much do it for me.

Part was plot, part was performance. First, for whatever reason, Cassidy Freeman had an off week. Hey, it happens, but her bug-eyed weirdness and terrible "I'm trying to keep a secret" routine was painful to watch.

Kiel: Agreed.

Ben: Second, the idea that Lois would be so pissed off at Tess but let Clark off pretty easy when she found out about his secret sacrificial plan did not ring true to me as far as the character. You don't need to have her demonstrate her love for him only through unwavering loyalty and a kinda crazy willingness to sacrifice the rest of the world for him. She can also be pissed off at him and browbeat him a bit for being selfish. That's what I expect of Lois Lane and how she helps to shape Superman. The whole idea that being a superhero's wife meant she needs to keep the light on until he gets home and threaten people at gunpoint fell flat for me.

Kiel: I guess I hadn't thought of that second part. I thought Lois pulling the gun on Tess was PURE LL, but I see your point on the second part. I think they were much more concerned with wrapping up Ollie's story at that point. However, I will say that for a moment when Oliver and Clark came back and Tess was working with the medical shit, I thought the implication was that Lois HAD shot her, and that was mind-blowing for about four seconds.

Ben: Pulling the gun wasn't so much the problem, yes, I could see that, it was that she didn't also give Clark the business. That she wasn't harder on Clark at the end tainted her behavior in the rest of the episode for me. I could very easily have gone along with her threatening Tess and being crazy had she maintained that intensity with Clark. But instead she was just happy to see him and he had to realize what he had done wrong himself with her just being all "Oh, it's ok, sweetie, these things happen" which weakened the character a bit much for me.

Kiel: For sure, but like you said...everyone has an off day. Overall I think the Smallville writers have maybe been most consistent with Lois out of all the characters (Durance helps A LOT).

Ben: Sometimes I feel like they're making her too comic and too much of a pushover, but then I remember that's how she used to be around Superman before she knew the secret and they have to adjust for her knowing much earlier here, thus they need to alter the mix between serious reporter and ditsy Silver Age damsel, and generally they do it well. But there are still certain times I want her to be a bit more post-Crisis Lois Lane, and the final scenes of this episode was one of those times. Still, she has a Whitesnake pillow, which helps a lot. Certainly a Smallville character development I've been fully in favor of is Lois Lane: Hair Metal Fan

Kiel: Remember back in the Dan Jurgens comics when Clark was way into Van Halen and shit?

Ben: Was he into actual Van Halen or a DCU Van Halen stand-in? I can't remember.

Kiel: I think it was actual Van Halen. I have this very specific memory of a scene after the end of Reign of the Supermen where he moves in with Jimmy and they name drop a few bands of that ilk. It always made Superman feel really old to me, which I don't think was the idea.

Ben: I know the comic you're talking about. It's an Adventures of Superman issue by Kesel & Grummett. I'm pretty sure it's stand-in bands.

Kiel: But now that we're a few years off from hair metal's sales superiority, Lois' love of it is more endearing and less dated for some reason.

Ben: A few years? That's pretty generous, friend.

Kiel: Sure, but I guess what I mean is that in 1996 even though we were off that era, someone liking those bands as a contemporary still felt within reach.

Ben: I buy Lois Lane as a closet headbanger more than Clark Kent. Perhaps one of Smallville's greatest failings is that with all of Lois Lane's costumed exploits we never got Eric Durance in a jean skirt, black nylon leggings and black tour t-shirt. Hopefully that gets rectified in the finale.


Ben: Kind of? It would be TOTALLY hot.

Kiel: Eh. I was never one who found anything about hair metal attractive, including the chicks with the big hair chilling on the hoods of hot rods.

Ben: I...there are no words. I can only imagine your sick Phish fetishes. Girls with dreads and rasta beads or whatever. Hemp dresses and sandals.

Kiel: No bras, Ben. Never a bra in sight.

Ben: Staying close to the Whitesnake pillow topic--and getting the fuck away from your hippie turn-ons--for what it's worth they totally ripped off--intentionally or not--the whole "I can unpack at super speed" "No honey, the point is we do it together" from a Mark Waid story in the Flash Annual during the Year One theme with Wally and Linda moving in together.

Kiel: HAHAHAHAHAHA! I'm sure that's exactly what they were reading.

Ben: You desere royalties or at least a credit, Mark! Did you also notice they showed the Teri Hatcher video in the "Previously On"? Why? Did they seriously do that just to establish that Lois has a sentimental attachment to that little blue duck or whatever it was?

Kiel: No no, it was to establish that her mom left it in the window for soldier dad to see when he got home.

Ben: Ohhhhhhh. That...make sense? So she's like her mom?

Kiel: I guess? That's one of those things where if they haven't established the purpose of the endowed object strongly enough in the action of the show, they shouldn't end the episode on that shot. "Lost" never had to explain what Kate's little plane "meant" you know?

Ben: I think they just wanted to remind us they got Teri Hatcher for an episode

I've got another question for you. Why are some Kryptonians British and others aren't? Sure Clark was raised in Kansas, but Kara grew up on Krypton, didn't she? And I think some of Zod's soldiers from his season had American accents as well. Why are Jor-El and Zod British? Are there just different regions with different dialects? Is it a class thing?

Kiel: This is a BIG topic of discussion in some circles that I've seen before, but the general answer is that Hollywood thinks that fake British plays as classier and/or scarier than regular American so they throw it in for no reason now and again for "effect." I remember reading a whole huge article about this when Bryan Singer's "Valkyrie" came Tom Cruise's character went from German to American English while every other "German" character sounded like a British Lord. It's funny how I've normalized the practice so your complaint never even occurred to me, but yes...I'm assuming that the in-show explanation is that Kara came from a different province of Krypton.

Ben: Her dad was British when he showed up. AHHHH! Well that's pretty much all I have for Dominion – An episode in which one half was so well done that I came away from the whole thing with positive vibes despite some serious qualms with the other half. Well done Callum Blue and Justin Hartley.


Jason Kerouac said...

Totally agree on all counts, guys! The Phantom Zone stuff, in particular, was amazing. I loved the return of Zod and how he was used and the fact that Blue really got to cut loose. I also really enjoyed the Ollie/Clark fight.

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