My initial reaction to Conspiracy was that I didn't need to write a review at all. I could just link back to my review of last season's Beast, or even Injustice, penned by the same writers. Because right now the Zod storyline seems like Doomsday all over again, except this time it looks even worse for Clark. If the rest of the season goes as predictably as this episode did, this Clark fan is going to be very disappointed and just plain sad. On the other hand, if TPTB truly don't know if the show will be renewed or not, they wouldn't dare end the series with an arc that makes the hero look bad, so there's a good chance all my pessimism is for naught. From here on out I'm going to try to stop reading the worst into everything I see, and just live in the moment. Nine seasons of experience, however, won't make it easy.
This week Clark's efforts to help the Kandorians assimilate into life on Earth were undermined by an undead doctor with, I must admit, a legitimate axe to grind. In their relentless quest for superpowers, the Kandorians brought him back after a fatal heart attack, carved up his head, experimented on his brain, and then abandoned him, leaving a couple dozen kryptonite spikes sticking out of his skull. No wonder he sees them as a threat to humanity. Dr. Chisholm was undeniably crazycakes, but it's not like he didn't have a little help getting there. And Vala seemed like such a sweet girl when she was crushing on Clark.
I don't really understand the Kandorians' obsession with superpowers anyway. Of course they would be cool, but Zod's followers seem to feel so entitled to them, and so lost without them. It's not like they've ever had them before, after all. Did Zod instill this hunger in them, or was it a promise made to them on Krypton to win their willing participation in the cloning program? In any case, it's clear the Kandorians have no qualms about becoming gods on Earth, as Zod promised them in Kandor, and ruling over the planet's rightful inhabitants as invading warriors. We saw in happen in the future. I have no sympathy for that, no matter what other good we can see in them.
Faora came to Clark for help when her sister was kidnapped. Her loyalty to Zod is fierce, so for Clark to win her trust says a lot about what he has been accomplishing since the Kandorians first knelt before him at the end of Pandora. I wish we could have seen more of that onscreen. Clark and Faora working together to track down Vala's abductor was really interesting to watch. Sharon Taylor brought strength and dignity to her role; Faora kept her feelings in check as they followed leads to find Vala, but left no doubt as to her love for her sister, her admiration for Zod, or her pride in her heritage.
At a recent Stargate convention, Sharon mentioned how lovely Tom was, and how he surprised her by wanting to go over lines with her. I wonder if this was the episode she was talking about. Their scenes together had a quiet intensity that was rich with controlled emotion, especially when Faora defended Zod to Clark, and he opened himself up to the possibility that there was more to the man than he realized. In any case, as a fan, it meant a lot to me to hear that Tom cared enough about their performance together to put in extra rehearsal time, especially in light of his very busy schedule.
Faora's stories of Zod's loyalty and selflessness made Clark reconsider his opinion, but I, for one, remained unmoved. Sure, I can believe that Zod is loyal. To Kryptonians. Even when he urged Lois to leave him and save herself, I think it was so she could bring help to rescue Vala, and stop Dr. Chisholm for good, thereby removing the threat to his countrymen. It seems obvious to me that Zod holds humans in complete contempt, and is offended by Clark's affection for them. But that's the difference between Clark and me. I'm cynical, and while I may forgive, I rarely forget. Clark sees the best in everyone, and makes me wish I could do the same. I trust him implicitly. The writers? Not so much.
I think the viewers have seen more proof of Zod's true nature than Clark has, but he certainly knows that he is ruthless, vengeful, manipulative, and steeped in a culture that seems barbaric by our standards. Faora said Zod didn't know about the experiments on humans, including the one that turned John Corben into Metallo, but whether I believe that or not, I can't imagine he would have objected. But Clark focused on the good qualities Zod had shown, and taking his father's dying words to heart, stepped over a very dangerous line to save him. The second Zod was shot, we could all see what was coming: the blood, the healing, the superpowers. My biggest fear is that the writers will take Clark's faith in Zod's potential, one of his best qualities, and have it lead to some terrible outcome, the responsibility for which will be placed squarely on Clark's shoulders.
So we know that Zod now has all of Clark's abilities and then some, all from a single drop of Clark's blood. But is it a permanent change? Did it reverse whatever Jor-El did to the Kandorians' DNA? Will Zod want to share his newfound powers with his people? Will he try to transfuse his own blood to make it happen? If that doesn't work, will he try to take more of Clark's from him? Or will he be content to have powers while his followers do not? Will Zod make good on his threat to Tess? And does he know he is now vulnerable to kryptonite? I have to confess I'm intrigued, in spite of my apprehensions.
Speaking of Zod's abilities, can we PLEASE stop showing other people fly before Clark? I still remember the heart-stopping excitement of seeing Kal-El take to the skies in Crusade, and I'd like to feel that again when Clark finally does the same, but at this rate I'm afraid it will all seem terribly anti-climatic. After Jor-El, Martian Manhunter, Bizarro, Kara (and Not!Kara), Zor-El, Brainiac, the Legion, a whole flock of Kandorians, Hawkman, Stephen Swift, and two different incarnations of Zod, it's really getting kind of ridiculous. And it just makes Clark's inability to fly look more and more contrived.
I did enjoy watching Zod track down Dr. Chisholm through a completely different route than Clark, and all by himself. He cleverly put himself into the mind of Vala's abductor, and posed as a Daily Planet reporter to gain access to the information he needed to find him. He showed us once again that he doesn't need any special abilities to be a formidable opponent; his intelligence, drive, and ingenuity make him someone who cannot be ignored. He was bitterly resentful of Clark for undermining his authority with his people and thwarting him at every turn, so I assume every word he spoke on the roof of the DP was a lie. His next move, however, is a mystery. For the moment I think all he really wanted to do was throw back his head, drink in the glorious yellow light of the rising sun, and soar over Metropolis, reveling in the powers now at his command. What exactly he plans to do with those powers will become clear soon enough.
One of the reasons I have such a bad feeling about Zod is that Clark is facing him all alone. Unbelievably, just like they did with Doomsday, Chloe and Oliver are poised to stab him in the back. The horror that was Doomsday unleashed, including Jimmy's death, changed nothing. In fact, it only made things worse. I still contend that what happened with Doomsday was mostly Chloe's fault, for sabotaging Clark's plan and running off with Davis, but evidently she has always blamed Clark. In Conspiracy she made it clear that she doesn't trust him, and she even questioned his loyalty to the human race. She said to Oliver, "Our friend's moral compass has gotten us lost more than once." What is that supposed to mean? Whatever you want to say about Clark's choices in the past, his moral code is above reproach. Chloe's perspective has become so twisted, she can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong. No wonder she never apologized to Clark.
Chloe talks about Clark pretty much the same way Zod does, with bitterness and disdain. She's been second guessing him all season, and she can't see the damage she's doing. She put Lois in danger when a glitch in her cell phone monitoring equipment revealed that Clark was the Blur, and then just dug deeper into deception to fix it. Last week Chloe realized Tess had piggybacked onto her extensive surveillance system to spy on Clark herself, and seemed mildly annoyed rather than concerned. She put tracking devices in all the Kandorians' new identity documents, providing the perfect means for someone to hunt them all down for capture or worse. Now we find out she embezzled money from Oliver to finance a stockpile of kryptonite weapons, which are, of course, deadly to Clark. I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: with friends like these, who needs enemies?
Oliver played his part with Doomsday as well, turning the Justice League against Clark and convincing them to lure him into an ambush, where Oliver shot him in the back with a kryptonite arrow and left him, defenseless and suffering, on the ground. But at least he seemed to regret his actions. Not that he ever apologized either, but I thought his self-destructive behavior afterward spoke volumes. In recent episodes I was convinced he had finally found his way back to Clark's side, and I started counting him among the good guys again. When Tess clued Oliver in about the missing money, he seemed suitably dismayed, and he eyed Chloe with wide-eyed disbelief when she tried to justify her actions. He even moved her weapons cache and refused to tell her where. But then he agreed to keep it all secret from Clark for the time being, and I lost faith once more. I cling to the tiny hope that Oliver only said that to keep Chloe off guard, and that he will now go straight to Clark, but I'm not holding my breath. So much for everything this team learned in Absolute Justice.
Beyond the utter unoriginality of this deja vu storyline, I'm disappointed that Clark's relationship with those he should be able to trust most is actually worse than it was a year ago. He never did anything wrong in the first place, and he has stepped up and embraced his destiny more than ever before this season. He is the hero of the story. So why do the writers reward him with such awful friends? And it doesn't help that the show has never taken a stand on who was right and who was wrong last season. I know what I think, but do TPTB concur? Was Chloe wrong to oppose Clark then? Is she wrong to do so now, this time without a second of doubt or hesitation? Was Clark wrong to walk away after everyone betrayed him? I have no idea what I'm supposed to think. It's so discouraging to watch a show about the man who is destined to be the greatest superhero of all time, and not be able to trust that he will be proved right in the end, much less win the day.
Lois was a bright spot in Conspiracy. I loved seeing her in reporter mode, and I liked that her storyline, although related to Clark's, mostly played out independently from his, giving her a chance to shine in her own right. Lois and Clark started the episode with a nice little romantic moment, but he was almost immediately pulled away when Faora arrived. Lois didn't pout or give Clark a hard time, she just wished him luck on what she assumed was a story, and went on with her day. Later she cheerfully went out for a solo meal, and that's where she met up with Dr. Chisholm.
I thought Lois's reaction to the doctor made perfect sense given the circumstances and his demeanor. And of course once he pulled out a gun and kidnapped her, all his credibility flew out the window. JR Bourne did a wonderful job of giving us a man who was sympathetic, but also very dangerous, driven quite mad by all the tortures to which he had been subjected. Lois listened to him, but rightfully sided with his victims, regardless of the compassion she felt for what he had been through. She was awesome as she refused to put her own safety first, and insisted on trying to take out the doctor and save both Vala and Zod.
I enjoyed the way this story was constructed, with all paths leading to Dr. Chisholm's macabre laboratory. Vala, Lois, Zod and Clark each followed their own thread, and they all intersected at the climax of the episode, when Clark saved the day, as he always should. It was a little too convenient that the doctor managed to electrocute himself, but I'm not going to quibble. And I loved that Clark didn't even know that Lois or Zod were there when he came to the rescue.
Afterward, back at the DP, Clark and Lois were a delight. We got to see a bit of their competitive spirit, and their teasing affection for one another. Watching their banter, I was reminded anew that in spite of Clark's abilities, these two are on relatively equal footing in the relationship arena. I appreciate so much that Lois is honest with Clark, especially because pretty much no one else is. Not that she doesn't have her secrets, but she's totally up front about that, and accepts that she doesn't know every little thing about Clark, either. What a relief!
I am particularly fascinated by the Checkmate storyline. I don't know how cooperative Lois is being with Amanda Waller, but when her blood sample was stolen and a chess pawn was left in its place, the message about what role Lois is supposed to play in Checkmate's investigation was loud and clear. I can't wait to see how Lois responds. If Checkmate goes after aliens on Earth, I can see how that would make Clark decide to go public, so I guess the show really can wrap things up by the end of this season if they have to. I'm still hoping it doesn't come to that, though.
Finally, I loved the way Clark balanced all his different roles in Conspiracy. He checked in with Faora and Vala as a friend, challenged Zod as a leader, worked and investigated as a reporter, and swooped in as the hero. He even found time for a romantic moment with Lois. Tom's performance showed us that Clark's reassuring strength and commanding leadership are matched by his infinite compassion and open heart. And can we talk about the sexy? When Clark gave Lois that provocative sideways glance, smiled, and simply said, "hello," I forgot to breathe. And then he stepped impossibly close, turned on the charm, and lost himself so completely in her eyes he didn't even hear Faora say his name. Rowr. Mr. Welling, I am impressed.
Random thoughts: I didn't care for the weird slow motion sequences and bizarre camera angles in this episode, they were just distracting. I never thought I'd become blase about Justin Hartley's perfectly chiseled body, especially in low-slung jeans with a peek of black underwear, but I'm afraid I'm pretty much there. Who else would rather see some shirtless Tom Welling instead? Chloe rationalized that she was only "borrowing" the money from Oliver, but it was $35 million! How exactly was she planning on paying it back? And what was with that Batman music in the scene where Chloe said she couldn't trust Clark? Am I supposed to think she's some kind of dark hero, going behind Clark's back? I get that the show needed Chloe to go in a different direction and all, but it makes me sad to find increasingly little to like about a character I used to adore. Oh, and one more thing: NEEDS MOAR TESS!
Conspiracy was an interesting mix of things I loved, and things that made my head want to explode. But I took a step back after I first watched it, to cool off and gain some perspective. For the sake of my own sanity, I am determined not to dwell on what I'm afraid is going to happen, rather than what has actually transpired on my TV screen. I vow to spend this hiatus steeped in hope and optimism, rather than cynicism and dread. Stop laughing, I'm serious! :) So please, Smallville, prove to me that you remember who the hero of this story is, and finish the season in a way that honors him and inspires us. I'm begging you.
Tom just looks better with each new episode! My favorite cap is above (click for the full-size pretty), and here are twenty more from Conspiracy:
Screen caps courtesy of KEakaCK's Creative Corner, with my thanks!