Some people come to Smallville because of the Superman legend, and some in spite of it. Over the years the focus of Clark's story has changed, from the eminently relatable, and very human, struggles of an innocent farmboy simply trying to fit in among his peers, to the impossible choices facing an emerging hero who has been thrust into a world filled with superpowered metahumans and aliens, and been told he is destined to be that world's savior. Those changes have proved too much for some fans, but I've enjoyed every step of Clark's journey, and the recent infusion of characters from the DC Universe has opened up a whole new world for me to explore. I didn't know much about the JSA before this episode, but now I want to.
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to see an episode steeped in comic book lore every week. What I want to see, first and foremost, is Clark's story, and that is obviously going to be a bit obscured when he shares the screen with a whole host of larger-than-life characters. But the occasional dive into the deep end of the DC pool is a treat, especially when it is Geoff Johns who takes us there. He has this great way of giving us an adventure that is completely accessible, but that is also layered with countless little details that create a feast for hardcore comic book geeks. I have a stack of JSA trades I've just started reading, and I can't wait to go back to Absolute Justice when I'm finished and watch for the Easter eggs I missed the first time around.
Once again this week Clark was told that he is destined for greatness, that the future of the entire planet lies in his hands. I'm sure that's heady news to hear, but it brings with it an enormous burden of responsibility, and we've already seen Clark worry that he will prove unequal to the task. So far his glimpses of the actual future have been far less promising, and he's seen his best efforts end in tragedy when those who should have trusted him most did not. It's no wonder this episode found him quiet and contemplative, even apprehensive, as he absorbed both the destiny Dr. Fate pronounced for him, and the lessons to be learned from the JSA. Still, I was surprised at how little dialogue Clark actually had. The silver lining of that, however, was the joy of watching Tom Welling do so much with so little.
Playing a character with Clark Kent's innate stoicism, Tom long ago became a master of nuance, often speaking volumes with his eyes alone. When Clark uncovered the forgotten history of the JSA, there was no mistaking the range of emotions that played across his face: curiosity, excitement, wonder, empathy, respect, and reverence. Although the scene at the museum was wordless, it touched me more than any other in the episode. And there were other moments where the subtleties of Tom's acting showed us so much more than what we heard in Clark's few words: his fear of the helmet's power; the depth of his compassion; his realization that the life of any hero can include great personal sacrifice, terrible loss, and betrayal from the very people you fight to keep safe.
When Clark did speak, it was to show his strength, his leadership, and his determination to do what's right, always. I so admired how he refused to believe the worst of the JSA based on their arrest records, but rather dug deeper, and came to his own conclusions about their innocence. I liked the humility he showed when he called his team a work in progress, acknowledging not only that they still have work to do, but also that he has a ways to go on his personal journey before he is truly ready to lead. But most of all I loved his Superman moments: reaching out to a grieving Courtney; standing tall and resolute before Hawkman, refusing to be intimidated, baited, or swayed; unequivocally telling Courtney it's wrong to kill. Geoff Johns did right by our boy, and Tom brought his words to life with his usual wonderful performance.
Actually, I enjoyed the way every character was written in Absolute Justice, and the actors were great. Oliver was just the way I like him: he played the hero, both as Green Arrow and himself, with all the charm and humor I love, along with just a touch of temper and snark. Justin Hartley was a delight. Oliver spent a lot of time paired up with Hawkman, and their scenes together supplied the comic relief in a story that was really rather dark. I thought they were alike in many ways, and their banter was hilarious:
Oliver: The winged warrior here threw me through a window.
Hawkman: I hope I didn't make you cry.
Oliver: Drop the mace, Conan.
Hawkman: I will, on your head.
Oliver: Bring it, Big Bird!
Oliver: You know, you really gotta work on your landings.
Hawkman: It would have been a lot smoother if you hadn't thrown up.
Oliver: Send me your dry cleaning bill.
Hawkman: Send me your dinner bill.
Michael Shanks gave us a complicated hero in Hawkman, ruled by anger, bitterness, and sorrow, who had crossed the line more than once in the name of justice. He was a good man, but he was also a cautionary tale for Oliver, who has had similar bouts with ambiguous morality. I especially liked how we saw the leader in Hawkman emerge once more, hopeful for the future, and ready to forge a new generation of the JSA. He talked to Oliver about the price of being a hero, but he saved his most inspirational speech for Clark, recognizing in him the truth of what Dr. Fate saw.
Oliver also spent a lot of time with Chloe. I loved seeing Allison Mack with a significant part to play again this week. Chloe was pretty much her old awesome self, but she has changed. She's nobody's sidekick anymore, with a confidence that borders on arrogance. She still seems annoyed at Clark most of the time, but I guess that's just the relationship they have these days. She doesn't agree with his priorities or his decisions, and it shows. She has more in common with Oliver, and it looks like the close friendship she once shared with Clark now belongs to him. She gives him her sunny smiles, her affectionate tone, and her tender care. They even went scoobying together! I think they make a good team, so I'm enjoying this new development, but I do wonder exactly where the show is going with it.
When Chloe ran into Dr. Fate with Clark at the hospital, he said to her, "You walk the same path I do, Chloe Sullivan." I took that to mean she runs the danger of being consumed by her role as Watchtower, lost in the flood of information she collects. Later Martian Manhunter made the same comparison, but Chloe brushed him off, just as she did Clark last week. Will she ever listen?
Lois, too, had a conversation with Dr. Fate. It was a cute scene, and he seemed captivated by her, although I have no idea what he meant when he called her the key. He told her that her fate was to share a great love with a savior who would heal us all. I don't know how much she believed about the JSA and their powers, but wouldn't that make her wonder about Clark, since she believes he is the one? Maybe Lois really does already know. We also saw Lois in reporter mode, as she followed the trail Amanda Waller laid out for her. I thought Lois should be more wary of an anonymous source, but as Erica Durance herself has said, she's not quite the iconic Lois Lane yet, just like Clark isn't quite Superman. I hope we'll see her become suspicious, and realize she's being played for a pawn. At least she was able to uncover information that was useful to Clark.
Dr. Fate was my favorite of the JSA characters, both in costume and out. The man behind the mask, Kent Nelson, was heartbreakingly lost, but as Fate he had an awesome presence, and fascinating powers. I was devastated to see him sacrifice himself, but how cool was it that he restored Martian Manhunter in the process? Not only did we get to welcome the incomparable Phil Morris back to the show, his character returned in all his former glory! Plus we got to see him in his true form! I think that had to be the second biggest geek out moment of the episode for me. The first was hearing official confirmation that Lex Luthor lives! Yay! We also saw the return of Dr. Emil Hamilton, another favorite of mine. And Stargirl was spunky and sweet.
As for the bad guys, Icicle was sufficiently creepy, and quite the formidable opponent, especially once he harnessed the power of the helmet of Nabu. Pam Grier was thoroughly intimidating as Amanda Waller. The way she dispatched Icicle with a smile of satisfaction on her face was positively chilling, and I'm very much afraid that Lois has made a deal with the devil. And Tess is one of her agents?! What does this mean for Clark and his secret? And where, if anywhere, does Zod fit into all this? In any case, I was just thrilled to have Cassidy Freeman back, especially in a scene between Tess and Clark. I think she has been woefully underutilized this season.
Absolute Justice had two directors, Glen Winter in the first half and Tom Welling in the second, and they both did an amazing job. The episode was visually stunning, with a stylized, vintage look all it's own. The story never dragged, and there were some truly exceptional sequences. My favorites were the fight scene that opened the episode, seen from Chloe's POV inside the dumpster, Hawkman throwing Green Arrow through the Watchtower's stained glass window, Clark's amazing scene of discovery at the museum, and the incredible slo-mo fight sequence against Icicle. Wow. I also loved everything about Lois's scene with Dr. Fate, and the last scene between Clark and Lois at the Daily Planet. As the director, Tom made some wonderful choices there. And Louis Febre's score was outstanding, adding an emotional richness throughout.
Random thoughts: "This is a job for Clark Kent." hee! I liked the shout-out to Green Arrow's iconic relationship with Black Canary. Was that Kent Nelson with his head in a trash can right before Oliver confronted Courtney? Loved the callback to S3's Hereafter with the shot of the cape! How can Lois be so uppity with Tess? Does she count on Oliver to protect her from getting fired, or does she think she's indispensable? That JSA computer was too funny. Did Hawkman really need to break the glass to get inside that display case? Couldn't he just open it? And Tom Welling is hotter than ever, especially in the rain. How does he do that?!
Absolute Justice worked well as a stand-alone episode, perfect for devoted fans and casual viewers alike, but it also set up some intriguing developments for our characters going forward. We have a whole new big bad, and once again Tess Mercer is deeply involved. Martian Manhunter's considerable powers have been restored, and he isn't going anywhere. Oliver's conflicts with Clark seem to have been resolved, but will his growing closeness with Chloe change that? Or will he be the one who can finally make Chloe see the danger of her Big Sister ways? And what about Clark? Will he find a way to fully embrace his destiny and unlock the secret of that last elusive superpower? Will he reconsider his decision to keep Lois in the dark, now that Dr. Fate has revealed they're meant to be together? I'm keeping my fingers crossed for S10, because clearly I'm nowhere near over this show! :)
Both of the directors gave us lots of pretty close-ups of Tom. My top 20 caps from Absolute Justice:
Screen caps courtesy of Home of the Nutty, with my thanks!