I know that the new show runners reinvented Jor-El after AlMiles left, essentially rebooting his character when the Fortress was rebuilt in Abyss, and in general I think that was a good thing. I also realize that they want to show us that Clark's training is ongoing. But Smallville has a long history of Jor-El being a pretty sick bastard, and whenever he unilaterally imposes something on Clark, I'm probably not going to like it. Plus, I don't understand how he can give Clark an ability he doesn't already have. Jor-El's powers are just too great to be credible sometimes.
I would also argue that Clark has demonstrated considerable powers of intuition as far back as the first season, and I don't think we really saw him learn anything new in Echo. He listened to the thoughts of three hostages, but did he not already know that some people stay silent out of fear, while others lie just to draw attention to themselves? And he could have realized that the apparent bad guy was actually another victim in other ways, like by noticing that he didn't move or react when the other hostages disappeared before his eyes, or by taking his mask off and seeing that his mouth was taped shut. Was Jor-El's lesson useful at all?
How about giving Clark a peek inside the minds of characters whose actions are a mystery to us, and whose thoughts we're absolutely dying to know? What twisted logic rules the Toyman's decisions? How does Chloe really feel about how her relationship with Clark has changed? What are the demons that are driving Oliver to self-destruct? And what plan is Tess hatching now to force Clark to become Earth's savior? Sure, we all have our theories, but we, and Clark, don't know anything for sure. Now THAT would have been an interesting episode! Remember Truth in S3? It gave us insights into Lex and Lionel that reverberate to this day, and it did a much better job of meshing the dramatic and comedic elements of the story than Echo did.
The only way in which Jor-El's power served its intended purpose was when it was suddenly taken away, and Clark was reminded anew of the many other skills he possessed to help him understand the humans who surround him: intelligence, observation, intuition, and empathy. And he more than rose to the occasion, with Toyman, and Oliver, and Lois. If that was the lesson all along, that Clark need only tap into the strengths he already has, and learn to trust himself, that would actually be pretty cool. But I doubt the show had something that subtle in mind.
In reality, Clark's new ability mostly let him hear Lois's thoughts, to find out how she feels about him, and to understand how vulnerable she is behind those protective walls. Those scenes were a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the way they showed us that romance works much better with the mystery intact: the heat in that flirty, innuendo-filled exchange at the end of the episode was infinitely higher than the tepid temperature of Clark's cute but awkward invitation to go on "something like a date." I suspect the mind-reading power was conceived as a great way to advance the Clois 'ship, and that the part about Clark's training was added on later to give the storyline more weight in the episode. I would have liked it better if the ability had come from some random source, like a new kind of kryptonite, or as a side effect of some LuthorCorp experiment. If you're just going to focus on the love story anyway, leave Jor-El out of it.
Another problem I had with this power being tied to Clark's training was the way its manifestation was predicated on him making a mistake. I don't expect Clark to be perfect, but the way he knocked that hostage across the factory was upsetting to watch, and I still don't understand why he did it. And when the man ended up in surgery, we were never told if his injuries were inflicted by Toyman, happened in the explosion, or if they were Clark's fault. The rest of the Blur's rescue was a thrill, though. I loved how he used his super speed to spirit the hostages outside, and the explosion effect that momentarily deafened him was cool. Yes, the budget cuts show, but the show still does a remarkable job of making the magic happen, especially given their limited resources.
Clark touched my heart in this episode, and it took me by surprise. When he apologized to Oliver for not being there for him, I didn't feel outraged or angry. Instead I found tears in my eyes as I realized what an amazing person Clark truly is. He wants only to help people, and of course he feels responsible for everything. Not in the sense of taking blame, but in the way he reaches out to the whole world, and cares about everyone in it. We saw it in his sadness for Alia, who died trying to kill him in Savior, his anguish over John Corben's pain in Metallo, and his compassion for an infected Tess in Rabid. I remember how Clark was just a few years ago: totally focused on his life in Smallville, and playing the hero mostly in reaction to the dangers that threatened his family and friends. Now he has fully embraced his destiny, and proactively seeks to save every person he possibly can. He is a changed man, and this episode really brought that home to me.
What makes this season's Clark work for me is Tom Welling's performance. He gives Clark a quiet dignity and inner strength that make him truly heroic. There is no mistaking his leadership, confidence, and determination. At the same time, in Clark's interactions with Lois, we see a joie de vivre that has been missing from his life for far too long. He smiles, he teases, and yes, he loves, all with a lightness of heart that makes me happy because he's happy. I know there is darkness on the horizon, and a battle ahead, but I no longer dread the shadows on this show. Tom gives me hope, just as the Blur does for Metropolis, that I will see Clark emerge from his challenges, stronger and better for the struggle, rather than burdened with angst and despair as he has been in the past. For that alone, this just might end up my favorite season. Well, that and the insane amounts of pretty. :)
The other thing I really like about Clark this season is his independence. He's not closed off from those he trusts, but he makes his own decisions, and bears his burdens alone. He recognizes the value of what Jor-El has to offer him, but does not submit blindly to his will. I like the contentious relationship they seem to have; it fits with everything Jor-El has put Clark through over the years. I love the way Clark defends the human race to his father, and his sarcastic, "Thanks, Dad," when his new power suddenly disappeared made me laugh. Clark may be training with Jor-El at the Fortress, but he's still in charge of his own life. That's my boy.
Tom gave us some great comedic moments in Echo. Clark's initial confusion as he tried to figure out what was happening to him, and his reactions to the thoughts he was hearing from Lois, were absolutely hilarious. It seems ridiculous that Clark was so unaware of how gorgeous he is, and was so surprised and shocked to find out Lois noticed, but Tom totally sold it. Clark didn't look dumb or oblivious, he just seemed innocent and sweet. He didn't take advantage of Lois, he only used what he learned from her thoughts to try to make her happy, and along the way gained some insight into the vulnerability she usually hides from him. By the end of the episode, armed with the knowledge that Lois is attracted to him, and the regret that he has, however inadvertently, hurt her, Clark proceeds with caution, but also resolve, determined to make it up to her, and we can tell this relationship is really starting to go somewhere.
Lois was a whirlwind in this episode, showing us her relentless pursuit of the story at hand. I totally enjoyed her inner monologue, whether she was admiring Clark's physical assets with a healthy gusto, giving herself a pep talk, or reminding herself not to settle for shabby treatment from Clark. I loved her resilience, and the way she refused to give in to her disappointments and insecurities made me root for her all the more. She also showed her softer side while getting ready for her date with Clark, pouring her heart out to Chloe while making a sexy outfit with one of Clark's shirts (the one she wore home in Committed, and evidently never gave back). When she showed up at the Ace of Clubs in a monster truck, I thought it was a bit over the top, but I did like how resourceful it showed she was: she figured out where Clark went and why, hitched an unlikely ride, found a dress to wear, and showed up on time, all on her own. Not bad.
When Clark asked Lois out and said it wasn't a date, and then proceeded to stand her up without even a call to explain, I got a major Clana flashback and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I thought we were headed for the usual round of misunderstandings, resentment, and recriminations, and my heart sank. But we had none of that! Lois doesn't allow herself to become mired in one bad evening; she may go home and drown her sorrows in a quart of ice cream or (judging by those sunglasses) a drink or two, but then she bounces back. This is a whole new ball game. Lois understands about having a passion that is bigger than yourself, and she respects that. She would probably leave Clark hanging, too, if a big story came along. So she's willing to give him another chance, and it looks like we might even escape the heavy dose of angst we've come to expect with every romantic relationship on this show. Wow.
Oliver was a mess in this episode. Tess found him in a Mexican bar, drunk, disheveled, and with an apparent death wish, and dragged him back to Metropolis to face his justifiably worried shareholders. I was feeling completely cold-hearted toward him, but I will admit Justin Hartley's tears broke through my defenses. And at least Oliver didn't have anything awful to say to Clark this time. I guess the enormity of what he had tried to do finally stripped him of his pretenses, and showed us the real man, humbled, broken, and exposed. I liked his quiet conversation with Clark, and the promise it held for his future.
And then they ruined it by bringing in Fake!Lex again! Grrr. Listen, Smallville. Michael Rosenbaum gave you seven glorious years of a deliciously complex, beautifully acted Lex Luthor, but when he left, so did his character. Please stop insulting his memory by giving us fakes! And Oliver wasn't even haunted by Lex's image out of guilt over his death. He saw Lex in place of his own reflection because he was afraid he was becoming him. They've been playing around with this idea ever since Oliver killed Fake!Lex last season. He bought Lex's company, he wore his kryptonite ring, he even drank his water out of little green bottles that resembled Lex's blue ones. But holding Lex up as the example of ultimate evil seems wrong anyway. Nothing about him was ever black and white, and his last line on the show was to declare his love for Clark! I personally think Oliver could learn a thing or two about character from Lex.
They also retconned Oliver's age when his parents died, which was annoying. This week Oliver claimed that he was five when he lost his parents, but we know from the Pilot that the story about his parents' disappearance ran in the Daily Planet on the day of the meteor shower, when Lex was nine. We also know from Reunion that Oliver is at least the same age as Lex, if not a year or two older. Do the math, Smallville.
Tess was absolutely magnificent in Echo. She was badass, beautiful, and just a little bit crazy. First she burst into a dingy bar in Mexico, gun blazing, to save Oliver from himself. Then she had a tender moment as she tried to reach out to him, but when he rejected her, we saw the cold creep back into her eyes, and that door slammed shut again. We learned the full extent of her ruthlessness at the end of the episode, when she entered Toyman's interrogation room, whipped out a gun, and shot him in the knee, demanding that he leave Oliver alone. Then she smiled, and softly said, "Pretty please?" *shivers* As he lay on the floor, writhing in pain, she offered him Metallo's kryptonite heart, and he was instantly enthralled. The plot thickens!
Cassidy Freeman continues to impress me. In fact, I'm kind of in love with her. :) Every note of her performance in Echo was perfect, just as it was in Rabid. She makes the most of every minute she's onscreen, so even when we only see Tess for a few minutes, we remember her well. Tess is such an intriguing mix of good and bad. She's fascinating, and you never know what she's going to do next. I get excited every time she shows up. I'm still seriously jonesing for scenes between her and Clark, though; I miss their chemistry.
We didn't see much of Chloe this week. I'm glad she's working with Clark again, but things still seem off between them. I can understand why she would be concerned about Clark hurting Lois; after all, she saw what Lana went through first hand. But how could she ever believe that Clark would use his mind-reading power to trick Lois into a date? Chloe's supposed to know Clark better than anyone, but I just don't think that's true anymore.
Chloe seems deeply unhappy to me. In every scene this season she's been cynical, sarcastic, angry, or sad. She's lost her former place in Clark's life, and I'm not sure what she does now. Clark made reference to how busy she is, but doing what? I have a bad feeling about this. I'm also sorry to see Chloe have such a small part to play. I know there's a lot of story to tell, and right now, besides Clark, the focus is on Lois and Oliver, but it reminds me of Lex's last year on the show. Relegating one of the best actors you have to a few minutes of screen time per week is not only a waste of talent, it seems like shooting yourself in the foot when ratings are down. I just hope Chloe has a good storyline coming up.
Finally, Chris Gauthier was once again the quintessential Toyman. His performance hit the perfect balance between gleeful child and maniacal madman, and he threw himself into the role with delightful abandon. I hope the fact that Tess has recruited him means we'll see him again.
Random thoughts: Oliver's "textile factory" looked more like a sweatshop to me. Why did Clark's power only work on Lois at first? Couldn't Clark have zipped to the donut shop and brought Lois a donut without a bite taken out of it? Ewww. And I'm convinced that Tom's first decision as co-executive producer was to unleash the full power of the pretty. Clark is so devastatingly gorgeous this season I can barely think straight when he's onscreen. Put him in the sunlight, like in that scene with Chloe on the street, and I have to rewind three times before I can catch the dialogue. Yowza.
I found a lot to love in Echo, but I think it's destined to become one of those episodes where I fast-forward to get to the good parts. Some scenes were particularly problematic for me, and several parts really dragged. But the episode did a decent job of setting the stage for future developments, and piqued my interest for what's to come. Although the focus on romance makes me a little nervous, I enjoyed Clark and Lois together, and I was glad to find out that Clark is still resisting the temptation to call Lois as the Blur. To me that says he doesn't want to play games, he wants to explore the possibility of a real relationship, and I like that. I think this was the weakest episode we've seen so far this season, but given the strength of the three that preceded it, that's not all that bad.
Tom insists on being unrelentingly pretty, so here are 30 screen caps I loved from Echo:
Screen caps courtesy of Home of the Nutty, with my thanks!