This week's Smallville was a real mixed bag. It felt like two episodes mashed into one, a silly romantic comedy and a dark exploration of power and identity, and only one of them worked for me. It had jarring transitions, plot holes, unanswered questions, and OOC behavior, and the whole episode was a bit of a mess. But it also gave us a glorious return to the Zod storyline, an interesting peek inside Chloe's head, a fight, a funeral, some cute comic moments, and, best of all, a definite focus on our hero. I found a lot to love in Persuasion, especially in Tom Welling's performance, but overall the episode mostly left me conflicted and confused.
My biggest problem was with Lois, and more specifically, mind-whammied Lois with Clark. I'm sure that's an unpopular opinion, so I'm putting it out there first. If you'd rather not hear it, you might want to skip the rest of this review.
The episode started out great. I liked seeing Lois and Clark in reporter mode, and I thought Lois's cynicism about Valentine's Day was not only funny, but totally in character. I do believe that Clark is the more romantic one in this couple, especially growing up with Smallville's version of Jonathan and Martha Kent, but here it seemed like he only brought up candlelit dinners and their relationship in an effort to distract Lois from her story about the tower. At the DP he grabbed Lois passionately, but then dashed out a second later when he heard that Zod's tower would be finished in two days. The opening credits hadn't even started yet, and I was already confused. And Clark never explained what he meant by a more traditional relationship, so I still don't know what he thought he wanted.
Persuasion introduced us to a new kind of meteor rock, dubbed gemstone kryptonite. It looked pink in its fairy dust form, but sparkled in many different colors as it swirled around Clark, and its exact properties would prove just as hard to pin down. Breathing it in gave Clark the power of persuasion, through his voice. Whenever he started a statement with the words "I want," the person to whom he was talking was compelled to fulfill his wish. That was odd; why would the rock's power be language specific? Once a command was given, it couldn't be reversed or overridden. That seemed arbitrary, and awfully convenient. How far would a person go under the influence? Were their inhibitions removed, or was their personality fundamentally altered? And how did the kryptonite affect Clark himself? Did it progressively infect and corrupt him after it entered his system, a la Chloe in Truth? Or were we supposed to believe he simply compelled himself with the power of his own voice when he spoke his darkest desires out loud?
Lois interpreted Clark's wish for a more traditional relationship to mean he wanted her to stay home and take care of him, as his wife, serving up dinner in high heels and pearls, and subjugating her every need to his. I can only guess that Lois watched a lot of black-and-white reruns growing up, because that's a stereotype that is decades old. But Lois's mom died when she was very young, and her dad was in the military, so I can see her getting her ideas about what a traditional family was like from classic TV sitcoms. But what exactly did the kryptonite compel her to do? Pretend in order to make Clark happy? Become a Stepford wife? Reveal her own inner fantasies? I have no idea.
I found the loft scene quite disturbing. How did Clark's original command turn Lois into someone who would take Chloe's words to heart in such an extreme manner? She was a complete basket case, with no confidence in either her own self-worth or Clark's feelings for her. Were we supposed to think that was the real Lois? Plus she had no self-control. What's "traditional" about any of that? And why would Clark even try to talk to her about anything serious when she was so clearly not herself, much less kiss her? It all felt wrong to me.
I get that the show wanted us to see Clark have an epiphany about his feelings, but why have it be inspired by a half-crazed, mind-whammied Lois who threatened to leave Smallville forever and totally backed Clark into a corner, using emotional blackmail to force him to declare himself? This couple deserves so much better than that! I would have vastly preferred to cut out that loft scene altogether, and see Clark have that same moment when he saw Lois once more restored to her true self, the woman he's been falling for all along. Lois could have confessed her fears without coercion or hysteria, and asked Clark what he meant by a traditional relationship. And Clark could have responded with the realization that all he wanted was Lois, just the way she was.
Instead what Clark said in their final scene together was, "We just have to continue being honest with each other." Why in the world would he say that, when that's the LAST thing he's prepared to do? And that angsty, guilt-ridden hug at the end? Where have I seen that before? It looks like secrets and lies all over again, and I can't even tell you how depressing that is to me.
I did enjoy the comic parts of Lois as "Donna Reed on crack." The whole sequence with the wedding dress was hilarious, and it only worked so well because Erica Durance threw herself into it with complete abandon. Kudos to her. And the scene where Lois cooked dinner was funny, although for me it was mostly because of Clark's reactions. I laughed at the Jaws music that played over Clark's look of panic when Lois first mentioned marriage, the sight of him trying to feed Shelby his inedible dinner under the table, and the way he almost literally fell over when Lois announced she had quit her job. And Clark running away from women, for whatever reason, is never not going to be funny.
Clark's new power had a fairly consistent effect on everyone else, removing whatever obstacles stood in the way of following his wishes, but I still don't know if it revealed a person's true nature, or changed it. Clark went to see Chloe, and things were back to normal between them, meaning strained and angry. Clark snubbed Chloe's attempt at conversation, and at first I thought the gemstone kryptonite was affecting him, but maybe he just didn't want to give her an opening, since pretty much everything she said to him dripped with contempt. And I wouldn't be surprised if her talk of the Phantom Zone stirred up some feelings of resentment over how she betrayed his plans for Davis. But if things are this bad between them, why is Clark still going to Chloe for help, and why is she willing to give it to him? When she pushed him about the Kandorians, he pushed right back, and ended up snapping out a command in anger.
Clark wanted Chloe to focus on watching his back, and protecting him became her whole life. The way that played out made perfect sense to me. Chloe has been watching over Clark all season, and overstepping all kinds of ethical lines to do so; his command just made her relentless, ruthless, and unrestrained. But it's important to note that Chloe acted on her interpretation of what Clark said, which put an interesting spin on things, and gave us new insight into Chloe's motivations.
When Chloe found out Lois had moved in with Clark, she flipped out, and decided her cousin needed to get out of Clark's life altogether. She told Lois she was a distraction, a threat to Clark's privacy, and that she didn't really know Clark at all. I had no idea that Chloe saw Lois as such a liability. It also seemed clear that Chloe's role as Clark's secret keeper was still very important to her, and that she was jealous of the place Lois now holds in his life. To finish Lois off, she used her intimate knowledge of Lois's deepest, darkest fears to attack her where she was most vulnerable. I'm assuming we saw a glimpse of Chloe's true feelings about the romance between Clark and Lois, and it was chilling to watch. I wonder what would have happened if Lois hadn't been mind-whammied herself? Would she have fought back, or would Chloe's harsh words have devastated her all the same?
Next Chloe took on Tess's technology, determined to break down her firewalls and see exactly what she's been up to. Tess caught her in the act, and, surprisingly, proposed that they join forces to support Clark. Chloe refused, and what followed was one of the most intense physical fights we've ever seen on this show. Chloe did her best, but she really had no chance against Tess's superior strength and training, and was about to lose in a very big way when Clark whisked Tess away at super speed. I think Tess was on the verge of killing Chloe; was it in self-defense, or because she had seen a future in which she died by Chloe's hand?
Clark also cast his spell on Dr. Emil Hamilton, urging him to relax, and Alessandro Juliani gave us one of my favorite scenes of the episode as he became practically boneless, shrugging out of his coat and tie and popping open a brewski. Emil has always been unflappable, but also tightly wound, and the kicked-back dude we saw emerge was a riot. He urged Clark to use his power to get what he wanted, and when Clark decided to do so, I became convinced the Gemstone!K had infected Clark, and was already altering his behavior. As much as he might want to, I don't think Clark would do something that self-serving on his own.
Which brings us to the part of Persuasion I truly loved: the Kandorians. Early on in the episode we learned that Clark had been quietly obtaining identity documents to help Zod's followers blend in and find happy, fulfilling lives on Earth. At the end of Pandora he had hoped he could convince Zod to give up his pursuit of superpowers, but as we saw in Disciple, the issue continued to create conflict between them. So Clark adjusted his plan, and decided to save Zod from himself by disbursing his army, thereby removing the temptation to use them to rule the world. We saw a nice scene between Clark, Alia, and Faora, that showed the positive leadership Clark could so ably provide, but I wish more of that story had happened onscreen.
Faora seemed genuinely touched and sincerely grateful that Clark had given her a chance at a brand new life, but later Zod turned up with her fake passport, and knew it had come from Kal-El. Did she give it to him, like a good little soldier? After that we saw Faora with a bruised face and a cut lip, so I assume Zod found the documents and beat the information out of her, but we'll never know for sure, because we didn't see it. Alia also saw Clark through newly appreciative eyes, but became so overcome with remorse for having killed his father, she later offered herself up to Zod for justice, and he solemnly executed her. The Kryptonians may have superior intelligence, but that is tempered by their barbaric beliefs and practices.
Callum Blue continues to be completely awesome as Zod, as does Cassidy Freeman as Tess. Both of them have been woefully underused this season, and it was a delight to have them back, especially together, in Persuasion. Zod snuck up on Tess at the mansion, timing his visit to coincide with her bath, so he could strike when she was naked and vulnerable. She refused to be intimidated, however, and flirted with him instead. Tess is a very smart woman; I think she knows that the second she plays the scared victim, Zod will tire of her and toss her aside, in the most permanent way possible. She's seen the future, and no longer wants to be aligned with this madman who will decimate both her race and her planet, but she'll continue to play the game, and do her best to captivate the enemy, until she can put her Plan B into action. And I just love to watch.
My favorite scenes of all were those between Clark and Zod. When Clark left Emil, he went straight to Zod, to command the truth about Jor-El's death. Zod was compelled to answer, but told him only what he believed to be true, and accused Tess. He then demanded that Clark exact retribution, an eye for an eye, and used every manipulative trick in his arsenal to push him over the edge. Tom was magnificent in the way he portrayed Clark's struggle with his renewed grief and fury, and, I believe, the added influence of the meteor rock in his system. He fought his dark desire for revenge, and we could measure the desperate conflict that raged within by the anguish in his eyes. When Zod stepped close and whispered, "You must avenge him," Clark first nodded, almost involuntarily, and then shook himself and protested, "I can't," as he looked away, unable to meet Zod's gaze.
Zod continued to taunt Clark, utterly relentless, until our hero could take no more. Grabbing Zod with both hands, he ground out, "You don't think I want justice? You don't think I want revenge? You don't think sometimes I want to be a killer like you?" And with those words he brought his new kryptonite power to bear on himself, and was compelled to fulfill his own deadly wish. He sped off to find Tess, and Zod smirked in satisfaction.
It doesn't bother me that Clark has those feelings, of course he does. The hard part is not using his infinite powers to act on them, to protect the world instead of wreaking havoc upon it. That's what makes Clark who he is, and who he will one day become. Under the power of the Gemstone!K, Clark swept Tess out of her office at the Daily Planet just as she was about to shoot Chloe, and took her to a deserted industrial area to terrorize and ultimately kill her. The scene was intense as Tess tried to reason with a merciless Clark. He refused to be dissuaded by her pleas, but Chloe stopped him before he could go too far. And that's where the story kind of fell apart for me.
First of all, I'm tired of seeing other people save Clark from himself. Maybe it's unrealistic when kryptonite is involved, but I'd rather see him resolve his conflicts on his own, and somehow find the inner strength to do the right thing without assistance. When Tess disappeared, Chloe followed, I guess to continue watching Clark's back. But how did she know where to go, and how did she get there so fast? Evidently she carries Green!K wherever she goes now (trust issues much?), and she used it to stop Clark from killing Tess, breaking the spell of the Gemstone!K at the same time. I get that she had to stay hidden so Tess wouldn't discover Clark's weakness (if she doesn't know it already), but how did she bring him down from such a distance? And later, back at the Watchtower, why did it irritate me so much to hear Chloe explain to Clark that people need to believe in him? Isn't that exactly what he's been explaining to everyone else for months now?
The next night we saw Alia's funeral, in a visually stunning sequence that offered another glimpse into Kandorian culture. Erased of any disgrace by her final sacrifice, Alia was given an honorable farewell. Clark attended the ceremony, and confronted Zod. He learned that Alia was Jor-El's killer, but free of the meteor rock, he no longer took any satisfaction in her death. Having seen Zod's rabid devotion to vengeance first hand, and having suffered its consequences, Clark realized that although the Kandorians may be of his race, he will never be a part of their world. When he said, with such finality, "This isn't my kind of justice," we knew his days of trying to work with Zod were over.
Clark retreated to the Watchtower to think and reflect, and came to the inevitable conclusion that Zod's tower must fall. In a scene that at first rocked my world, Tom Welling's incredible, wordless acting, and Louis Febre's kick-ass rock score combined to give me something I've been waiting to see ever since Clark saw the future in Pandora. This was such a huge moment for Clark, and he was quite literally trembling with the emotion coursing through his body. With tears shining in his eyes, and looking heartbreakingly grim, he stepped up and embraced his destiny as never before. This is a man who will define justice for an entire planet, and had to begin by admitting defeat. Unable to find the peace he wanted with Zod, he instead made the decision to harness his power on a scale he had never before imagined, and for the purpose of destruction, effectively declaring war in the process. His life would never be the same again.
I've never been more proud of Clark than I was in that moment, making an impossibly difficult decision, and resolute in his determination to deal with the fallout, whatever that may be. And of course I know he made sure no one was in the building first, just as I know his next move will be to insure no one is hurt by falling debris on the ground. I get that the show was going for the drama and symbolism of Clark standing all alone above the world, watching as the city is ripped asunder by the very hand that sought to protect it. But then they delivered the final image of the episode, and it hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. Twin towers, billowing with smoke and fire, collapsing to the ground. Instantly all thoughts of Smallville left me, and my mind filled with another set of horrific images. Oh, show, what were you thinking? :(
Random thoughts: It looks like Chloe got her own five dozen roses; from Oliver, I presume? Tess was back to being a zealot for Clark, but now with an added dash of eco-terrorism. It sounded dumb for Chloe to say to Lois, "As long as I've known you, you've always had to have the scoop," when the birth of Lois's interest in journalism is part of recent show canon. What is the fetish this show has for having Clark manhandle Tess? I suppose now we'll never know why Alia had those freaky blue eyes, why she apologized to Clark in Savior, or if her apparent superpowers under both yellow and red suns were a dropped storyline or a continuity error. And I do so love the carefully-mussed hair of the Blur. I always imagine Clark finger-combing it as he zips into his costume. :)
Persuasion was a jarring mix of light and dark, and Lois's part of the story in particular did not mesh with the other elements of the episode. When we saw that sunny, sentimental breakfast scene stuck in between Alia's execution and her funeral, it only served to remind me what a small slice of Clark's life Lois truly shares. Obviously she doesn't know about his superpowers, or his alien heritage, or his activities as the Blur. But neither does she know about the Watchtower, the Justice League, or the Kandorians. She doesn't know about Clark's complicated relationship with Tess, his true relationship with Oliver, or even what her cousin does for a living. And yet this is the woman Clark wants to be with for always? How many times did he lie to her in this episode alone?
Honestly, I think the show is stuck. They hit the gas pedal on this relationship and rammed it right into the brick wall of some mythos rule about Lois not knowing Clark's secret, and now things are kind of stalled. But that's just the way I see it; I know most people are thrilled with how everything is going between these two. Personally, I think I would have left Lois out of this episode altogether, and explored the Kandorians a bit more. I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to Smallville, but this time I just couldn't make it work. I hope I like Conspiracy better.
The pretty at the top of this entry just might be my favorite Smallville cap ever (click on it for the full-size version). Here are twenty more from Persuasion:
Screen caps courtesy of Home of the Nutty, with my thanks!