I think what I liked best about Kandor was the continuity. With a reputation for retcons, dropped storylines, and characters who disappear, never to be seen or mentioned again, continuity has never been Smallville's strong suit. Even the most talented and creative writers couldn't tie up all the conflicting loose ends this show has left lying around over the years, but this episode did an amazing job of interweaving the old with the new, and using the events of this week's story to enrich and explain what has come before.
First of all, we were given confirmation that the Kandorians are clones. The DNA from blood samples collected back on Krypton was stored in the orb, which ties in nicely with the technology we learned about in S7's Blue, with Kara's crystal. I wonder, is the orb still around somewhere, and if so, could Clark make all the Kandorians go poof if he destroyed it? Jor-El used Blue!K to modify the orb somehow, so that any DNA stored within it no longer reacted with the yellow sun. We know it was the orb, and not the genetic material itself, he altered, because it neutralized Zod's DNA, which he added later. So it makes perfect sense to me that the orb could also rob Clark of his powers, as it did in Arctic.
Second, we saw where the Stones of Knowledge came from! They were created by Jor-El as a resource for the people in the orb, and accompanied them to Earth. We know the stones were sent here centuries ago, and legends about them sprang up around the world at that time. Well, I'm guessing that some of those portals from Krypton to Earth, like the one Lara and Kara came through to visit the Kent farm, could mess with the time-space continuum, and that the team sent to hide the stones and the orb traveled far into the past to do so. And then maybe stayed and partied for a while, enjoying their superpowers, and let the cat out of the bag in an indiscreet moment. :)
But how did Jor-El turn the stones and the orb to serve his own purpose? My theory is that those messages Jor-El sent to Earth, the ones Dr. Virgil Swann intercepted, also contained a software update of sorts, that transmitted directly to the Kryptonian artifacts, upgrading the orb from a simple vessel to a fail-safe device, and reprogramming the stones to create a Fortress that was less a library and more a surrogate father. The Jor-El we met in Kandor seemed just the type to take such precautions before sending his superpowered son across the galaxy to us.
Third, we saw the birth of Zod's deep, unreasoning hatred of the House of El, when Jor-El refused to resurrect his dead son. Once Jor-El's best friend, Zod now seeks to dominate and perhaps destroy the human race Clark's father so obviously holds dear, and repopulate the Earth with Kandorians. The true payback, however, will be to kill or enslave Jor-El's only son, once he can determine how to make Kal-El's superpowers his own. Too bad he doesn't have someone who can fly him into the sun, since that seems to be the only known antidote for the debilitating power of the orb.
There were many other little shout outs to existing mythology, from Zod's reference to the "bottled up hopes and dreams of Kandor," to the giant floating heads and spinning rings of Krypton's Ruling Council, to Jor-El's fond memories of his visit to Smallville as a young man, just to name a few. The worst was Chloe's clunky line about Clark having loved Lois since the 1930's. I know it was meant as a wink to Lois Lane's comic book introduction in 1938, but on Smallville, where Clark has barely begun to see Lois in a romantic light, it just sounded dumb. But overall, for a longtime Superman fan like me, this episode was a delight.
The one thing I still can't figure out is who spoke to Tess from the orb last season? He knew all about Kal-El and Doomsday, spoke of a prophecy to be fulfilled, and insisted that there had to be a fight to the death between the two in order for the inhabitants of the orb to be released. Is that yet to be revealed, or is it, as I suspect, a storyline that was abandoned when plans for S9 changed over the summer hiatus?
Kandor finally gave us the full story of Major Zod, the baddie we first met in this season's premiere. Callum Blue's unrelentingly ruthless Zod has been a refreshing change from the woobie villains we've come to expect from Smallville, but in this week's episode he showed us the man he was before he developed the hard edges that define him now. It was so different to see Zod without his trademark cynical sneer, his face open and warm as he greeted Jor-El in the trenches! He spoke of his family with love, and seemed fueled by hope as he prepared for battle. And yet we also saw signs of the Zod we know, in the way he led his troops, and his defiance of the Ruling Council's authority. The seeds of who he would become were already planted.
By the time Jor-El was put on trial, Zod had already become the master manipulator. When he so pointedly reminded his friend of the debt he was owed for saving his life, we knew his reasons for defending Jor-El were selfish, in spite of his sincerely passionate speech about tragic loss and wasted lives. I don't know how many more days passed as Jor-El completed the orb, but it was time enough for Zod's heart to harden even further. Did you notice how he ordered the guards to kneel as he entered Jor-El's lab? When he realized that his friend would dare to defy his wishes, and that he would never again see his son, bitterness overtook him. His blood taken at that very moment, the Major Zod who emerged from the orb was ruled by cold rage, and now seeks to bury his pain in limitless power, world domination, and vengeance against the House of El. Clark's instincts were right; this is a man beyond redemption.
I loved meeting Jor-El. Unlike that crazy bastard who inhabits the Fortress, this man is exactly who I had imagined Clark's Kryptonian father to be: an intellectual and idealistic scientist, a little detached from the realities of the world, moral and highly principled, and deeply compassionate, yet incorruptible. I know there's the whole problem of him not looking at all like Clark (in fact, I'd sooner believe Oliver was his son), but I'm willing to give the show a pass on that one in return for the pleasure of seeing Julian Sands in the role. He gave Jor-El tremendous dignity and nobility, and perfectly portrayed the economy of emotion I would expect from a Kryptonian. His performance was restrained, but left no doubt about the joy he took in discovering his son, or the regret he felt for the part he may have played in creating the dire circumstances that sent him to Earth.
I liked that Jor-El tried to protect Clark by pretending to be the Blur, although his lack of experience at subterfuge proved no match for Zod's intelligence and intuition. Like Lara before him, he recognized the wrongness of his existence, and gladly sacrificed his life in the attempt to keep his son safe. I was disappointed that he and Clark were given only a few seconds together; that was a conversation I was longing to hear. I think TPTB were afraid to go there, knowing they could provide no plausible explanation for one of the first things Clark was sure to ask about: the bizarre and often cruel behavior of the Jor-El in the Fortress. And speaking of Jor-El's death, are we supposed to think someone other than Zod killed him? Did Jor-El really not know who delivered the death blow? Did a Kandorian minion get out of control? Did Tess have an assassin lying in wait? The show seems to be trying to be ambiguous, but Zod sure didn't look surprised to see Jor-El's grave.
Cassidy Freeman's Tess was magnificent, as usual. I still think she's in over her head, but miraculously, she keeps managing to stay in the game. Her scenes with Zod were so much fun! They danced around one another, each trying to keep the upper hand, the power shifting by the moment. Zod continued to underestimate her, thinking that seduction was the key, much to Tess's amusement. Her sly smiles, when she realized Zod thought Jor-El was the Blur, and again when Zod played right into her hands at the mansion, showed that she was enjoying the game. But ultimately her plan failed, as Jor-El led Zod straight to Clark. Her belief that she knows how to handle every situation better than anyone else, her propensity for keeping her intel secret, and her tendency to make unilateral decisions with far-reaching consequences make her increasingly dangerous, to Clark and to the world.
Which brings me to Chloe, because I think you could say the same thing about her. Planting surveillance cameras in Clark's house?! Isn't that the same action she condemned Lana for in Wrath? Chloe is really getting out of control. She seemed so proud of Clark as she told Jor-El about his son, but when she was with Clark, her manner was dismissive. Her apology for spying on Clark was anything but, and you could tell she thought he should just be thankful for the footage she was able to provide. The end justifies the means, again. We also heard confirmation that Stuart is actively feeding information to Chloe now, and I feel sure that's going to end badly. And does anyone else think she'll keep the news of the artifact that Jor-El took out of the wall to herself? I know Chloe means well, and she was invaluable to Clark in this episode, but that doesn't change the fact that she's already sliding down the slippery slope, and it may soon be too late to haul her back.
I can't even tell you how much I loved Oliver in this episode! Ever since he first came to Smallville, THIS is the relationship I've been hoping for between him and Clark. He was there for Clark, supportive and caring, ready to stand by his side to fight the good fight, but just as ready to crack bad jokes and try to lighten the mood. Oliver has always been a little freaked out by all things Kryptonian, but I think he has finally come to terms with who Clark is, and appreciates what it means to live as a superpowered alien among mortal men: the enormous responsibility that comes with almost limitless power, and the weight of the commitment Clark has made to keeping his adopted planet safe from all harm. Their roles have completely reversed. Where once Oliver fancied himself some kind of mentor for Clark, now he's in awe of the younger man, and even seems to be developing a slight case of hero worship: "I don't think anyone wears that super shield quite like you." hee! Oliver is grateful to be counted among Clark's allies again, and has pledged his renewed allegiance to him, although I'm not sure mentioning Clark's back was the smartest way to do that. ;)
I especially enjoyed Clark's heart-to-heart talks with Oliver about his father. Losing their birth fathers at an early age, and having questions about their identities because of it, is something they share, and it was wonderful to hear Clark actually articulate his feelings for once, especially with someone who has a little bit of a clue what he's talking about. I hope this new accord between our two heroes sticks, and that we can finally have some episodes where they save the world together, instead of ones where Oliver snipes at Clark for no good reason and acts like an ass. And I wouldn't mind seeing them have some fun together either!
Clark wasn't in Kandor all that much, but at least with Zod's backstory to cover, I could understand why. This was an emotional episode for Clark, and the shock of discovering that his father was alive on Earth sent him reeling. He has always thought of Jor-El as that voice in the Fortress, a cruel and capricious taskmaster who turns his life upside down without warning whenever he sees fit to pass judgment on Clark's decisions or behavior. That cold computer gave Clark the idea that Kryptonians were an emotionless race, devoid of compassion, and he's been struggling to reconcile that with the feelings that rage in his own heart for years. And his encounters with others from his home planet up until now haven't done a lot to convince him otherwise. Now he knows that Krypton had a more human side, and that his father was a good man. I hope that knowledge will help him find the balance he is seeking in his life.
So what is the deal with the Jor-El in the Fortress? Do we chalk that up to faulty technology, or a change in Jor-El's philosophy over the next 20 years as Krypton's civilization fell deeper into the abyss? Did Clark's father decide he couldn't afford to leave anything to chance if Earth were to avoid a similar fate, and program his artificial self to disregard individual human lives and Clark's personal happiness in favor of saving the entire planet? I suspect it's a little of both. Once having made a decision, the Jor-El we met in Kandor seemed unlikely to compromise it, so I could see him being intractable. But no computer program could be as crazy and inconsistent as this one has been without some kind of error, so I say the technology is flawed, or corrupted, as well. At least Clark is properly suspicious of it, and is unlikely to do anything it says without question.
When Clark saw that Tess had kidnapped Jor-El, he went after her, furious, and for the most part I say, it's about time! Tess has been wreaking havoc on Clark's life practically from the moment they met, trying to manipulate him and make him into her own personal savior. This time she was standing between him and the father he had never met, smirking, and he lost it. It didn't bother me at all. Clark isn't Superman yet, and I'm interested to see the struggles he still has to overcome to get there. I might even go so far as to speculate that Clark used his ruthless Kryptonian intelligence to choose the one form of intimidation most likely to trigger acquiescence in Tess, with her history of physical abuse. In any case, he didn't hurt her, and she was so thrilled to see him demonstrate his powers in front of her, she pretty much seemed to get off on the whole thing.
Clark also showed some real justifiable anger towards Chloe and her secret surveillance. I'm glad he called her on it, not that it did much good. I remain very curious to see how things continue to develop between these two. Clark's attitude toward Oliver was decidedly cooler this week as well. He wasn't exactly angry with him, but he wasn't anything approaching solicitous either. I think in the past Clark saw Oliver as someone who needed rescuing, even if it was mostly from himself. Once Oliver was back on track, Clark was through mollycoddling him, and after the way he put Lois's life in danger last week, he was in the doghouse to boot.
In the desert, Clark completely ignored the jokes Oliver made to try to ease the tension between them, which to me was even funnier than the jokes themselves. :) Clark was focused on the task at hand, and Oliver's company had been foisted on him by Chloe. He wasn't about to indulge his behavior. Similarly, Clark just left when Oliver and Chloe started lecturing him on how to handle Tess. Seriously, why should he listen to either one of them? I love that Clark trusts his own instincts now. I did appreciate that Oliver seemed to accept that Clark's brusque treatment was probably exactly what he deserved, and aside from making those few jokes, he didn't complain.
The only emotion I didn't welcome from Clark was the sadness he felt when his father died in his arms, just seconds after meeting him for the first time. Once again Clark was powerless to stop the tragedy unfolding before him, and could only endure as the pain of his loss washed over him. My poor, sweet boy. When will it be enough? I get that on Smallville Clark's journey will never be an easy one, that the fires of conflict will forge the hero he will ultimately become, but I'm ready for him to have a little joy, too. I think that's why I'm enjoying the relationship between Clark and Lois this season. So far it's mostly been played for laughs, but I see the potential there for Clark to experience love without angst, and I hope we get to see that before something happens to break them up again, as I'm sure it inevitably will.
Speaking of Lois, the reason Chloe gave for her absence worked for me. As a military brat myself, I know what it means to put on a good game face while building secret walls around your heart. You do it so you won't feel the pain of being torn away from those you love when you move away again, as you always do. When someone you truly care about manages to break through those walls, which still stand years after they're needed, it can be very scary indeed. In an episode all about Clark's Kryptonian heritage, there was no place for someone who doesn't know his secret, so I know it was an excuse, but it was a plausible one. And how cute was Clark when he told Chloe he kissed her? :)
It seemed like we were given a bigger budget than usual for this episode. The scene of Kandor exploding was breathtaking, and we saw Clark use more of his superpowers than usual. We also had a wealth of scenes shot on location, including at the Kent farm. My favorite was probably the desert scene. Clark's super breath was very cool, and Tom and Justin both looked gorgeous in that warm, yellow light. Having Oliver drenched in sweat in his lightweight white shirt, while Clark was unaffected by the heat in his thermal shirt and jacket, was a nice touch. Overall, the production values were notably good.
The final scene of Kandor, where Clark buried Jor-El, was both touching and beautiful. The solitary ceremony reminded us of how in many ways Clark will always be alone, but also that he has the strength and courage to face the life that is destined to be his. I liked how Clark honored his father, but still followed his own way, deciding that saving Zod was not an option. Zod's intrusion on that intimate moment, and the eagerness with which he watched Clark, was positively chilling. The gloves are off now, and anything is possible. I just hope our hero can prevail.
Random thoughts: Jor-El's friendship with Zod reminded me a little bit of Clark's with Lex, and I wondered if we were supposed to think his experience with Lex contributed to Clark seeing Zod as irredeemable. Wow, Zod had some clout on Krypton. He turned Jor-El from a condemned criminal to a celebrated hero in just one speech! :) Oliver called the Fortress Clark's "ice crystal palace thingie." Has he been watching The Big Bang Theory? :D So the Vulcans aren't the only ones with a deadly nerve pinch. Too bad Jor-El didn't have time to teach that to Clark. And how did Tess know what the Blur's tee looked like, or did she just go rifle through Clark's drawers?
I know some people mourn for what Smallville used to be, but as much as I enjoy those glorious early episodes, I also really like the show we're seeing today. I love the man Clark has become, so close to the hero he's meant to be, and Tom has never looked better onscreen, or impressed me more with his acting, week after week. For a show that has been shuffled off to the Friday night death slot and supposedly crippled by budget cuts, Smallville is looking pretty good to me. If I can look forward to more episodes like this one, I'm all in. I just wish TPTB could remember who Smallville is supposed to be about, and give Clark some more screen time.
Off the charts pretty again this week! My top twenty caps from Kandor:
Screen caps courtesy of Home of the Nutty, with my thanks!