Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sayonara, Smallville: "Prophecy"

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, Booster and Dominion.

Ben: Yo!

Kiel: Let me get the ball rolling with a general proclamation: I think that the second-to-last episodes of TV shows almost always suck. The one exception is "Seinfeld" whose second-to-last is one of the funniest eps ever, and may be funnier than the finale. Still, I did not go into this "Smallville" with high hopes.

Ben: Interesting observation by the by. We'll have to dig deeper and put that theory to the test some time. I'm trying to remember the second to last episode of LOST.

Kiel: Ha! Me too once I made the proclamation, but the fact that we can't think of what it is may be telling. Anyway, I thought this episode was just fine. It did nothing that was way crazy cool but fucked nothing up either.

Ben: This episode had the good, the bad, the ugly and the bizarre. It was all over the place for me. Kinda in a good way.

Kiel: Had a little bit of plot progression for Oliver, some fine fan service and a last-minute ending that made little to no sense but had to be there to set up the finale.

Ben: There was a lot of scrambling to get pieces in place for the finale, which was necessary.

Kiel: Yup.

Ben: Well, thinking about what you just said about second-to-last episodes, particularly with genre shows, they are generally just about getting things arranged so the dominoes can fall in the finale, which probably lends a lot to their weakness. They are lame duck episodes. Get the players on the field for the last play.

Kiel: Sure. So let's focus on the things that "had to be done." 1 - The Oliver turn towards Darkseid. I actually liked this plot overall.

Ben: The Ollie stuff was great. Justin Hartley has really turned on the juice in these finale episodes. I have to wonder – as we do – if perhaps before they knew they were getting Rosenbaum back for sure they didn't give some of Lex's heavy lifting as far as being the counterpoint to Clark to Ollie.

Kiel: They said in that interview Josie did that they had a version of the script sans Lex ready in case he didn't come through!

Ben: Right, I did read that.

Kiel: But the thing was...for a plot thread that was just there to set up a bad fate for Green Arrow, I enjoyed how they pulled this off: a fun, Star Trek-style set-up with Kara in a mystery bubble...lots of back story on Orion...some fun effects. But!

Ben: But?

Kiel: While I liked the set up around "The Bow of Orion," DAMN was I was so hoping for the Astro Harness and stuff from the comics to be in that room when they walked through.

Ben: much as you and I have been holding our breath all season for the New Genesis contingent, I do believe we'll have to be content with just getting to hear Orion's origin story told out loud on television. At this point I'm more crossing my fingers that we get Darkseid as a tangible figure and not possessing somebody or as an evil cloud. Question: Can you recall Ollie and Kara ever having had a scene together before this? They seemed to be meeting for the first time, but I wanted to double check.

Kiel: No, I don't think they have. He definitely wasn't in the Supergirl episode from earlier this season with her.

Ben: Looking it up, she was a season seven regular and he was only recurring back then.

Kiel: But that reminds me of another thing I liked: they had some chemistry! It was nothing to be developed, but it made their scenes fun to watch

Ben: Yes, their chemistry was what I was touching on. I think Hartley brought out Laura Vandervoort's best performance possibly to date.
Kara has such a stiff personality and has never had anybody really fun to play off of. Sometimes she had a nice rapport with Lois, but there was something about the prissy girl-cavalier dude dynamic that was great.

Kiel: Agreed. I think "V" has actually helped her grow as an actress too, but Hartley definitely made a difference. So it was kind of a bummer that the ending was "She leaves, Granny kicks ass," but like we said...this was really just setup from the start.

Ben: It was more than just playing Ollie per usual though, Hartley was really playing a number of different levels. We got surface cocky Green Arrow, but you also never lost track of the fact that he was getting more and more desperate below the surface. He did a very good job of playing both. As Kara was putting all this trust in him, I was kinda waiting for the worm to turn. I really like Ollie on this show, he's always been a highlight, so that Hartley can make me alternately root for him and fear him is impressive for him.

Kiel: Even if they don't do a GA spinoff – which, come one, they won't - I hope Hartley lands another decent network part. He's got the goods.

Ben: I'd love to see him on a comedy. He'd be a great pretty boy with a heart of gold. I was looking up to see if he and Kara had any overlap and he didn't come in until season six, wasn't a regular until season eight. Again, it goes to show what a long strange trip it's been that I can't even really put myself back in a place where Smallville didn't have Green Arrow on it, but half the show was that and I also recall it was a big, kinda weird deal when they brought him in.

Kiel: Yeah! I do want to watch some old episodes right now, but it's INSANE that they aren't rerunning anywhere yet.

Ben: I was re-reading one of the articles I wrote that you posted today where I believe Alfred Gough actually spoke on how season six was the beginning of bringing Clark into the DC Universe and the super hero sphere and that was the evolution of the show. He was of course extremely prescient, but it was neat to read. I give those guys credit once again as we have in the past for knowing actually which way the wind was blowing and making adjustments....And they used to be syndicated on ABC Family, I believe.

Kiel: I can't imagine they won't show up somewhere on cable in the next year or two. There are a million startup channels going for the teen market, and a teen superhero show seems a perfect fit.

Ben: Only one thing really bugged me about the Ollie/Kara storyline. And that was that Kara was able to hit her target so easily on the first try when they had to do the crossfire bit. I don't care if she is Kryptonian--being good at archery is all Green Arrow has! If anybody can do it, what good is he? No wonder the poor guy is going evil.

Kiel: "Damn it, woman! This is why we can't have nice things!

Ben: The reason I didn't get the "She got better on V" vibe from Vandervoort was mostly because her later scenes with Jor-El and her leaving were pretty awful, but that was all so contrived I don't think an Emmy-winning performance could really have helped.

Kiel: Yeah, I totally zoned out in the Jor-El scenes. I don't need another disembodied speech on how "Clark must face this alone." We get it...bad shit is coming.

Ben: I called the Legion thing halfway through though. It earned me a big "Who cares?" from my wife.

Kiel: Ha! That was a nice little capper, though...all things considered. And I'll say this: the significance of the ring read easily to viewers in a way Lois' blue chicken did not.

Ben: Don't diss the blue chicken.

Moving on to Clark and Lois, for the first thirty minutes or so I liked their storyline a lot. The whole "Lois gets Superman's powers" thing seemed like a pretty shallow gimmick to pull in the penultimate episode, but it actually turned out to both an entertaining and then heartfelt turn. No surprise this episode was written by Bryan Q. Miller.

Kiel: Yeah, I know that it's hard to tell which scenes come from which writers, but I kind of have to believe that the really cute bits between them that turned into the revelation of what it's like to have super hearing was handled so well and so in his wheelhouse that I had to believe it was Miller

Ben: Indeed. And then everything from when she left to go after Toyman on was whoever else was writing. Because it really went off the rails. But let's focus on the good first.

Kiel: Yes: my biggest joy was actual cute banter between Lois and Clark!

Ben: Yeah, the smooth little transition between it being hilarious that Lois is running cross country every two seconds like she's on a super caffeine high into that stark scene of her being overwhelmed by the people she can't save and Clark having to sweetly but somewhat sadly explain how he copes with it was just thirty minutes or so of goodness. And nerdy Clark was even better held up against Super Lois. Welling was great in this episode.

Kiel: Yeah man, he's really owning this role at the end.

Ben: It's both nice to see and also a little "Arghh! Why couldn't they let him do this sooner?!" I really would have loved to have seen what he could have done with a season or two to develop a distinct Clark persona.

Kiel: Yeah, my major complaint against the final few seasons is that they should have just done the costume and the whole Superman bit earlier. Damn the idea of "the show is about him BECOMING Superman." He's there already. Has been for a while.

Ben: I would totally have been fine with him being the Blur or whatever and not donning the actual costume and not flying until the finale, but they still could have pulled the trigger on the secret identity earlier without jeopardizing all that. I feel like they though the ID was part and parcel with him being Superman, but I believe it could have been pulled off and they could still have had their big ending. But that's probably more for next time.

Kiel: Sure...but like you said, things died off with the Toyman plotline. Just boilerplate "Smallville" really.

Ben: As good as those first thirty minutes was the second half of the episode a combination of weird, so-bad-it's-good and so-bad-it's-awful as far as the Clark/Lois/Toyman/Legion of Doom stuff. I felt bad for the guy who plays Toyman. He's been a decent little stopgap villain in the past, but they put such a ridiculously ambitious and ludicrous plot in for him to try and navigate through here.

Kiel: People have been trying for years to make Toyman a good. It's not going to happen. I think that all Superman stories that people plot out for him should see him replaced with Conduit.

Ben: I'm all for anything that results in more Conduit. My friend Tim pointed out to me on Twitter after my post about characters we never saw that if ever there was anybody tailor made for Smallville it was Conduit. In my mind there's a lost Conduit season out there. He was likely played by either Zach Braff or Colin Hanks.

Kiel: HAHAHAHAHA! I'm sad "The Good Guys" didn't make it, but that's another convo.

Ben: There was absolutely nothing about the Lois/Toyman exchange that made any sense to me. How did he know Clark's secret identity? How did he know about Lana? Why did she honestly think she could make a bargain wherein she becomes the super-powered slave of a creepy dude who wants to kill her fiance work out for her? The Lana thing felt a bit like an "Oh shit, second to last episode, throw in something about Lana" moment, but the rest...what? And it went from 0 to 60 real fast with the fucking Legion of Doom and the robotic Starros and the ripped from "Hush" was like every idea they didn't get to they threw in half ass here.

Kiel: Yeah, the Lana thing was WAY off but again, it made sense in the "second to last" sense. And I DID like the total random moment to throw in not only the Legion of Doom but also as many references to previous guest stars as possible. I wonder who they'll get for on screen cameos in the last ep? But it was completely on the "So bad it's fun" end of the scale.

Ben: Oh totally. The "We're not even going to try and fake it" Legion of Doom in shadows with their backs to us was so ballsy you had to love it, Captain Cold's parka and all.

Kiel: Grundy was the one that got me. So fucking ridic.

Ben: But maybe my favorite so-bad-it's-good moment was Tess yelling "Clark just hold on a little longer!" as Lois is strangling him to death.
I don't know why, but I fucking lost it on that one.

Kiel: I looked away! It was like audition week on "American Idol" – so awkward I couldn't watch.

Ben: And hey, you got your power of love beating mind control moment! So maybe they'll do something different for Ollie after all!

Kiel: We can only hope!

Ben: Let's cut to the ending before we kick back on some random stuff. And by the way, it's pretty telling that we've said so little about Jor-El despite this probably being his farewell episode. The novelty of Terrence Stamp's voice aside, the bloom came off that rose quite some time ago. That Clark did not unplug him several seasons back always seemed a bit crazy.

Kiel: Props to Terrance Stamp for being the most dedicated "Superman The Movie" guest star.

Ben: Absolutely. There's a guy who should get an onscreen cameo in the finale if he wants it.

Kiel: But yeah, we got a hint of evil Jor-El again here, but it really just served as a reminder that they never figured out what to do with it.

Ben: But on to the ending, at first I was pretty "Wha?" and feeling like it came out of nowhere with Lois breaking off the wedding, but looking back, it was actually set up pretty well with how she never did quite recover to her go lucky giddiness after that scene with the super hearing. She experienced crushing guilt that actually contrasted nicely off her somewhat selfish "The world can die as long as Clark is safe!" move from "Dominion."

Kiel: The turn was built on the strongest emotional moment in the episode for sure. I'm not sure that's even enough to make it make sense, but like I said...low expectation theater on this one.

Ben: It was still overblown and nonsensical, but I came around a little bit more as we were talking about the strength of that earlier scene here.
But you know what? Fuck you, Lois Lane, for hugging a dude after you just broke up with him! You hussy!

Kiel: YEAH RIGHT? I didn't get that last moment AT ALL.

Ben: "We can never be together! Hold me!" What? By the way, I feel like they may have intended for her decision to have been based as much on being reminded about Lana's sacrifice as it was her experiencing Clark's responsibility, but I choose to ignore that. But hey, ultimately we've got everything where we need it for this week.

Kiel: Maybe? I totally missed Lana's exit from the show, so in my head she's permanently in European art school with magic tattoos.

Ben: Darkseid is a'comin'. Ollie is evil and has Gold Kryptonite. Clark is at his lowest ebb because Lois just broke his heart. As you said, for a second-to-last episode, this one at least exceeded expectations, lowered though they may be.

Kiel: All the pieces are in place for a really cool exit. They've got to NAIL the action in the episode though. It won't be easy.

Ben: Random question for you that you may want to bump up earlier in the column: Either Ollie or Clark or Kara or Tess actually referred to their super group as the League this episode. Has that been going on for awhile? Did I miss that?

Kiel: Um....I don't know? I do know that the screens on the Watchtower computers have randomly said JLA for most of the season, but I have no idea where that bit was initially introduced.

Ben: I just assumed that was a callback to Aquaman wanting to form the Junior Lifeguard Association with Clark back in those halycon days. Also: Stargirl was in this episode! That's all I've got.

Kiel: HA! That's one to go out on.

Ben: Next time: Clark vs Solomon Grundy with the world at stake! Or the series finale.


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