Writing my review of last week's Smallville was a struggle. I watched and re-watched, I wrote and re-wrote, I pondered, and I agonized. There were things I loved about the episode, and things I hated, but in the end I decided the good outweighed the bad, and my review reflected that. Well, watching Upgrade felt like deja vu all over again. Much like in Checkmate, we had an amazing guest star, great performances from our series regulars, awesome action sequences, Tess intrigue, and a little bit of romance. But this time none of that was enough, because Upgrade had something else in common with last week's episode: a scene between Clark and Chloe that made my head want to explode. I think Checkmate drove me right up to the edge of my limit, and then Upgrade gave me a good hard shove over and into the abyss. Because I just plain hated this episode.
A few days ago, Brian Peterson gave a bunch of interviews about what we can expect from the rest of S9, and either he's a big fat liar, or he uses a different dictionary than the rest of us, because when he talked about Chloe and Upgrade, the two words he used over and over were accountable and consequences, and I saw no hint of either on Friday night. Okay, so Chloe got yelled at and pushed around a little by Red!K Clark. So what? That was Clark under the influence, and that stuff never sticks. Of course Clark came crawling back to apologize, AGAIN, and then, unbelievably, told Chloe she was right to steal millions from Oliver to secretly stockpile Kryptonite weapons all over the country. What's a little deception between friends, even if it puts one of their lives in danger? I guess the end really does justify the means. In return Chloe indulged in a self-satisfied little smile that made me want to slap her. But wait, there's more. Clark just destroyed all those weapons, so it looks like he screwed up. Again. What a shocker.
When Clark returned to Watchtower, we were treated to the sight of poor Chloe, trying to clean up the giant
Other stuff with Chloe that drove me crazy? Since when is Clark asking her to spy on Lois? So I guess he won't be taking her to task for stepping over the line with her pervasive surveillance, since he's doing the exact same thing! I see what you did there, show. Grrr. They even had Chloe lecture Clark about trust!! Putting a tracking device in Lois's keychain seemed OOC for the honorable guy who wouldn't use his superpowers to peek inside Lois's desk drawer in Conspiracy or eavesdrop on her mysterious phone call in Escape. And how about Chloe with Tess? She told her all about Red!K, blithely helped her take control of a man against his will, and chloroformed her own cousin. Oh, wait, I forgot, she did it all for Clark. Well, except for the part where she gleefully taunted Tess about her days being numbered.
Does Chloe carry knockout drugs with her wherever she goes now, right next to her hunk of Green!K and Clark's Kryptonian key, or did she conveniently find a bottle in the lab? I guess Lois is lucky she didn't get bashed over the head. And how ironic is it that Chloe's relationship with Lois was the inspiration for Clark wanting to get closer to Zod? Chloe and Lois may live together in the same studio apartment (and what's up with that anyway?), but as far as I can tell, they barely see each other. Chloe routinely manipulates Lois and messes with her life, keeping her in the dark about everything, including where Chloe works, and what she does for a living. And obviously Lois isn't exactly giving Chloe full disclosure either. I also didn't appreciate that when Clark tried to open up to Chloe about his complicated relationship with Zod, she made a joke and walked away. Way to be there for your so-called BFF, Chlo.
The only thing I liked about Chloe in this entire episode was that she came clean to Clark about the weapons. That was unquestionably the right thing to do, and it couldn't have been easy to admit. So kudos for that. And of course she saved Clark from the Red!K.
Wow. Ranty much? I guess this has been a long time coming. You know what made the dam burst? My absolute dread, slowly turning to conviction, that this season will play out very much like the last. After months of watching Chloe treat Clark with complete contempt, not only does it look like she won't face any consequences, they just might hold a parade in her honor. In the meantime, Clark still wants to cozy up to a megalomaniac who seems hell-bent on taking over the world, and I can't imagine that's going to end well. I've never wanted to be wrong more, but I don't hold out much hope that I am.
Believe it or not, except for Chloe, I mostly liked this episode. Brian Austin Green was amazing, giving us a performance that was heartbreaking, tender, funny, and noble. He is a wonderful actor. John Corben and Lois made a great team, and I really enjoyed their scenes together. I know Metallo is a supervillain in the comic books, but I thought the twist Smallville put on the character was brilliant, especially the part where they gave him a self-sustaining Red!K heart. I'd love to see him come back in S10. I know, he can be Clark's equivalent of a drinking buddy! They can hang, the Red!K pulsating from his heart can get Clark to loosen up and have some fun, and when John sees that Clark has had enough, he can take a few steps back and let him sober up. :) Lois's mention of Dr. Vale was a nice shout-out to Professor Vale, who turns Corben into a cyborg in the DC mythology. It's probably a good thing John didn't make that appointment.
Lois was just the way I like her in Upgrade: smart, loyal, tenacious, and brave. We got to see her work undercover, and she didn't even have to wear a skimpy costume! :) She was investigating a story not for the Daily Planet, but for Zod's Fake!Blur. I don't know how I feel about this whole storyline. When Clark and the Blur were the same person, it was kind of cute to see Lois juggle the two of them. I like the theory that deep down, on some subconscious level, Lois knows that Clark and the Blur are one and the same, so ultimately there is no conflict between them. But now that Zod is in the picture, Lois is actively lying to Clark, and I don't like that. I did appreciate that there was no hint of romance between Lois and Zod; she totally blew him off to go after Clark. There is no question who comes first, in her heart and in her life.
The last time Lois saw John Corben, he gave her plenty of reason to fear and hate him. I thought Lois's compassion for him in this episode said a lot about what kind of person she is. Once she realized how he had been victimized, she became his champion, determined to do whatever she could to help him put his life back together. Erica Durance's performance in their scenes together had a quiet emotional resonance that made their connection seem quite real. I loved that Lois was following her own path, one that was completely separate from Clark's, but still very relevant to his story, and that showed so clearly why these two are perfect for each other. Lois embraces the same ideals that Clark seeks to uphold, and finds her own independent way to fight for them. I like Lois and Clark together, but they're more than just a couple. I like that the show remembers to celebrate them as individuals as well.
Clark and Lois shared only one scene together in Upgrade, and it felt like a bone the writers threw to keep the shippers happy. Clark kissing Lois awake and greeting her with that husky "hi" was undeniably sexy, but the mood fizzled. First they made it look like Lois was getting romantic with Clark to distract him from asking any more questions, and then it was all cut short by a call from the Fake!Blur again. Lois made a lovely declaration to John about Clark when she said, "He is it for me." So why is she pushing him away? If it's so easy for these two to turn off the passion, how am I supposed to believe that what they have is a legendary love? The "all interruptus and no coitus" approach already feels contrived, but I suspect that's all Clark and Lois can look forward to, at least for the remainder of this season.
Callum Blue really had a chance to shine this week. Zod was obviously loving every minute of having superpowers, and I truly believed he wanted to share it all with Clark, but only on his terms. Zod and Red!K Clark were a perfect match, and I think Zod was in love from the moment they first met. And who could blame him, especially when Clark kept staring at his mouth like that? ;) Their conversations were captivating, and offered us insights into both. I loved the tribute the show paid to the relationship between Clark and Lex: "a friend you had a connection with, like you were opposite sides of the same soul." I'm glad they still recognize their friendship as unique, and epic. *sigh*
I'm not quite sure how much Zod understood of what was happening with Clark. In fact, almost everything about Zod this week confused me. Did he know Clark was on Red!K? Did Zod flee the Fortress because he saw Corben stab Clark and he didn't want to be next, or because he sensed a change in Clark afterward that made him wary? How did he find Clark in the first place, and figure out their vulnerability to Green!K? Was he playing Krypto-stalker, keeping an eye on Clark from the skies and swooping in to save the day when he saw how exposure to Metallo's heart weakened him? How did he know about the Green!K arsenals, and that Clark had a map to them? Where did he get that knife? Does he know that the Clark who shook his hand in allegiance is no more? And Zod already knew back in Persuasion that Clark was giving the Kandorians false papers with new identities. Why is he accepting that as proof of some new betrayal now? I counted ten Kandorians in the Fortress. Will they be the extent of Zod's superpowered army, or only the first wave? And why is Jor-El letting him get away with it? Is this some new lesson for Clark?
Tess continued to be crazy in Upgrade, magnificently so. She seemed to have bounced back from last week's meltdown, although she was prudently keeping a low profile, and she was still playing dangerous games with Zod. Was she trying to manipulate him into a showdown with Clark because she wanted to align herself with him in the face of Clark's rejection, even though she has seen the deadly future he will bring, or because she was trying to orchestrate his downfall, sure that Clark would defeat him? I'm very worried that she won't escape all her machinations unscathed. *clings to Tess*
I actually enjoyed Tess's scenes with Chloe; some of their verbal sparring was very entertaining, as was their uneasy alliance. I can't begin to express my love for Cassidy Freeman as an actress, and Allison Mack is extremely talented as well; I appreciate her performance even when I don't like the words the writers are putting in Chloe's mouth. Watching their two characters together, I was reminded anew of how ready I am for one of them to bid goodbye to Smallville, and how desperately I want the other to stay. All signs point to things working out just the opposite of what I would like, however.
And I saved the best for last: Clark. We haven't seen Clark under the influence of Red!K in years, and this time was decidedly different. As an innocent farmboy, the inhibitions Clark lost mostly had to do with sex, social niceties, and petty crime, and his indulgences were entirely personal. Now that he is a man, struggling to find his identity and define his destiny, the Red!K freed him to fully embrace the Kryptonian heritage he has been studying so closely of late, with implications that were decidedly global. The only part I didn't understand was, with his human inhibitions gone, why couldn't he fly?
Since Clark's last exposure to Red!K in Crimson, we've learned a lot more about Krypton. The Jor-El we first met in the early years of Smallville was always a ruthless taskmaster who delivered his lessons with a heavy hand, and a callous disregard for human life when it stood in the way of his plans. That's about what I would expect from a computer program, which is what the FoS version of Jor-El ultimately is. But the real Jor-El was a man of compassion, who loved the human race, and stood alone as their advocate on his home planet. Even the FoS version mellowed somewhat after he and Clark came to an understanding. Clark's mother, Lara, was loving and kind. And we saw in Kandor that Zod was a good man, until unendurable loss made him close his heart to love, and seek power instead. Kryptonians aren't inherently bad, but they don't have the same morality that humans do. Science is their religion, and their values reflect that.
On Earth Kryptonians have almost limitless power, a state which in itself must be transformative. Even an inherently good person could be corrupted in a heartbeat. Only Clark, who straddles two worlds, with the strength of both his Kryptonian superpowers and the solid moral upbringing his human parents gave him, can wield such power with a balance between right and might. When Red!K stripped Clark of his inhibitions in Upgrade, it took away his humanity as well, and all that was left was raw power and unrestrained desire. It was a scary combination. Clark, the man who had burdened himself with the task of saving the world, became Kal-El, the god who was ready to make that same world cower at his feet. And this time he had a partner in crime.
Every time Clark is infected with Red!K, Tom Welling brings something different to the table, always giving us a performance that is unique, and that illuminates some new, hidden facet of Clark. In Upgrade we saw Clark's loneliness, his yearning for a family who can truly understand him. I loved Tom's acting choices. When Clark was infected, first we saw his anger and contempt for Chloe, dark and heavy. And then he changed completely with Zod. Seeing Zod's powers, and realizing how much they shared, Clark came to life, with eager curiosity, barely contained excitement, and arrogant amusement. Other times he would go still, and fix Zod with an inscrutable stare. Clark's body language was mesmerizing, and he was sexy as hell. Red!K Clark started out with a very personal agenda, as usual, but once he met up with Zod, he was quickly convinced to set his sights on much bigger things.
After taking care of business, and indulging in a little fun with his powers, Clark took Zod to the Fortress, to show off his little slice of Krypton on Earth. Zod was impressed, and you could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he plotted his next move. Soon he was spinning tales of taking over the world, and Clark was looking intrigued. Luckily, that's when Metallo showed up. Or Corben, I should say, since that's who he became when the chip that controlled him was knocked off in Clark's shower of ice. BAG added so much to that scene, with his character's tragic blend of heroism and pathos. Soon it was all over, and Clark was left alone in the Fortress, soberly contemplating all that had transpired.
All through their adventures together, Clark talked to Zod, opening up to him with all his normal filters turned off. It was a unique opportunity to get some unguarded insight into Clark. Later, when he was himself again, Clark's candor continued, as he tried to make Chloe understand the void he felt in his life. My heart broke for him as he quietly explained that he didn't have much family anymore, and what it meant to him to have a bond with someone who understood so much about him without being told. It sounded to me like he wanted to keep on trying with Zod, but the next scene seemed to show us it was already too late. Was Clark right or wrong to save Zod? How I feel about this whole season just might be riding on the answer to that question.
Random thoughts: How do the sleeping arrangements at the Talon work? Does whoever gets home first call dibs on the bed? Or has Chloe moved in with Oliver at this point? I guess all "monsters" end up in the Talon basement. :) What did Red!K Clark mean when he said, "Or the wrong side of Lois, but that'll never happen again"? One of the meteor rock stashes was in Roswell. hee! Did you see Tom run into the desk in that first Watchtower scene? Where did Lois go after she first dropped John at the trailer? On a snack run? For that matter, how did they even find the trailer? Will the FoS ever be fully restored? When exactly did Lois have a chance to take the Red!K heart? She got knocked out three times in Upgrade. Is that some kind of record? And I never fully appreciated how good Tom is at showing Clark writhing in pain from Green!K exposure until I saw Callum Blue attempt it. Tom not only makes agony believable, he makes it a thing of beauty.
I really should have liked Upgrade better than I did. In an interesting twist on the romantic pairings we're used to on this show, there were three couples forming alliances I never expected. It was awesome to have Brian Austin Green back, the actors made the most of the material, the Red!K added an interesting element, and Tom was prettier than ever. The episode had some spectacular stunts and effects, especially the trailer explosion, and the fight sequence in the Fortress. And it ended with a shocking development that promised to make Clark's choices even more complicated. But Chloe was a deal breaker for me. The way she was written, what that said about how the Smallville writers see Clark, and how it affected my expectations for the rest of the season, made this an episode that reduced me to yelling at my TV screen. :(
Thankfully, this episode brought the pretty in spades. Twenty of my favorite caps from Upgrade:
Screen caps courtesy of Home of the Nutty, with my thanks!