Nothing can top last weeks episode.
The cast/crew of Smallville knew this. And I’d also wager they knew that sometimes the best way to follow up a blockbuster epic is with a low-key episode dealing with thematic constructs geared towards allowing the supporting actors room to shine that they were denied with the ‘Lois & Clark’ centric Homecoming.
So if last week focused on Lois and Clark, this week saw fit to give Tess and Oliver some much needed prime material. While they don’t overshadow Lois & Clark’s story of a tragic romance, the screen time allows them (and us) a revised understanding of the complex Tollie relationship. We also see the return of Cat Grant, which proves to be both a positive and a negative part of this story.
The plot of this episode concerns an Egyptian Goddess named Isis using Lois as a vessel, and trying to use Clark as a vessel for her former lover Osiris. As Isis tries to use Lois as a vessel, Oliver hatches a plan to stop her. This brings Cat Grant into the mix, as she attempts to expose Lois as a no good metahuman. Tess is drafted in, and manages to save the day by being awesome.
In laymen terms, this is a simple body swap episode. Nothing is especially complex about the plot, even if my retelling of it above is a tad confuddling. It’s formula, the story beats regulated by the nature of the tale. The thing that makes the episode stand out are the character dynamics and themes at play.
I’ll take us back to the start of Season Eight, and the fan backlash that resulted with Michael Rosenbaum leaving the show. Back then, Lex’s tense friendship with Clark set up many plots. He was the defacto antagonist. With him gone, and Lionel gone, that constant thorn in Clark’s side wasn’t there. So they decided to add Tess Mercer to the show. Observant fans of Superman lore will notice her name is a shout-out to Miss Tessmacher from Superman (Donner, 1977.) They don’t share many personality traits however, Tess (like Lionel and Chloe) being a consolidation of other DC characters. Yet she grew out of her Mercy trappings (Mercy being Lex’s bodyguard in the comics), and became fully-rounded because Cassidy Freeman is such an adaptable actress. She’s gone from Lex’s replacement to Oliver’s partner, and been a Checkmate Agent and a disciple of Zod. Cassidy managed to hit every beat brilliantly, showing the same flair for exposition that Allison Mack has. And in this episode, she officially joins forces with Clark and Oliver. Aside from it being a nice connection to Homecoming, in that Clark is finally becoming the “Boy Scout” that Superman personifies, it allows Tess a heartwarming moment of utter joy at being accepted into the superhero fraternity and shown faith and a small amount of love.
In keeping with the Season Ten theme of the Dark Force, Tess’s joy helps shape an army built on love. It’s especially paramount and important that this army exists, considering how potent Darkseid and his Anti-Life formula are. As Grant Morrison so eloquently described in Final Crisis:
I. Am. The. New. God. All is one in Darkseid. This mighty body is my church. When I command your surrender, I speak with three billion voices. When I make a fist to crush your resistance. It is with three billion hands. When I stare into your eyes and shatter your dreams. And break your heart. It is with six billion eyes. Nothing like Darkseid has ever come among you; nothing will again. I will take you to a hell without exit or end. And there I will murder your souls! And make you crawl and beg! And die! Die! DIE FOR DARKSEID!
To face fear, you need love. Clark’s love for humanity is his greatest strength, and by forgiving Tess he’s helped restore the faith that she had trapped inside her. It’s brilliant thematic stuff. Instead of Clark being like Jor-El and punishing Tess for her failings, he chooses to raise her up and stand by his belief that EVERYONE deserves a second chance. It’s akin to the comic-book Superman, who knows he can’t save all of them… but will never stop trying!
Sadly, this is the high point of the episode.
I don’t like criticising Smallville. While I do have an obligation to fall between ‘harsh ranting’ and ‘fanboy gushing’, I am at the end of the day a fan. So when problems exist, I tend to let out a sad sigh. And the characterisation of Cat Grant is a big problem in this episode. It’s a problem in that Keri-Lynn Pratt, for me, is making the character far too likable. I emphasise with her, I like her, and it’s causing problems because I’m not entirely sure the writing wants that. She’s meant to be annoying, but everytime I see Clark and Lois having a pop at her they come across as jerk-tastic. I mean, Cat in Shield (and here) talks about her son with such love that I can’t quantify why exactly Clark and Lois view her as a pest. Keri shares that trait with Allison Mack, neither of them ever come across as that unsympathetic. It’s the expressionistic eyes, I think.
But that’s an odd flaw, I’d wager. Cat isn’t being played as anything close to her comic-book persona, so hopefully amendments will be made in future eps. I’d certainly not want to lose Keri-Lynn Pratt – she’s too likable. It’s just that the writing doesn’t play to her strengths and the character doesn’t feel fleshed out.
Luckily, the big reveal does work.
Clark comes clean with Lois, and she does likewise. It adds gravitas to the story, because from now on these two are a team. No lies, no secrets, no Lana-esque nonsense. Seeing Clark embrace the present is a really excellent moment, a way to show that Clark is learning from his lessons and getting closer to becoming Superman.
While, as mentioned, the episode is nowhere near as good as Homecoming, the performance by Cassidy Freeman elevates it to damn good TV. She’s magnificent, playing every beat brilliantly. The journey of her from Lex’s replacement to fully accepted member of Team Justice has been utterly credible and compelling, and almost as effective as Clark’s journey from farm boy to Superman.