Clark Kent has come far since we first met him on Smallville. He has accepted each new superpower as it has emerged, and learned to control them all. He has uncovered his Kryptonian heritage, and struggled to define what it means to live as a alien in a human world. He has embraced his destiny, committed his life to helping others, and traveled beyond the boundaries of his small home town to take on evil in the big city. He has even adopted a separate identity with a signature symbol, a mysterious savior the people of Metropolis can look to for hope and inspiration when the darkness looms. He only has a few challenges left to conquer on his journey to become the hero we all know he will one day be, and in Charade we saw him wrestle with two of the biggest: stepping out of the shadows to put a face on the Blur, and choosing the safety of those he protects over the deepest desires of his own heart.
My first impression of Charade was that I loved it. I liked the way the story started out fun and almost campy, with OTT villainy and classic Lois and Clark hijinks, and then snuck up on us to deliver a huge emotional wallop, as our hero was forced to face the reality of the path he has chosen, and the sacrifices it will ask of him. At the end of the episode I was a mess, completely blindsided by the heartache that hit me like a physical blow. Then, as I sat there drying my tears, trying to process what had just happened, my logical brain crept in, and started asking questions. So expect a review that praises, but also ponders.
I'm not a shipper, and I've said all along that the last thing I wanted from Clark and Lois was angst, but the performances from Erica Durance and especially Tom Welling this week just tore me up inside, and made it hurt so good. Clark's panic when he found out about the Fake!Blur was palpable, and my heart went out to him as he reacted blindly to protect Lois, and then agonized over the right thing to do, finally retreating to the mundane task of fixing the tractor to sort out his jumbled thoughts. Was anyone surprised when he chose Lois's safety over both their feelings? Oh, Clark.
The final phone call between the Blur and Lois was devastating. The emotions washed over me like waves: the sweet romanticism of Clark's return to their phone booth, the impossible anguish of saying goodbye forever, the shock of Lois's stunned disbelief, and Clark's heartbreaking resolve in the face of it. Tom was amazing. He hit every note perfectly: the way Clark faltered when Lois said the Blur was the most important part of her life, the tears in his voice as he warned her against Zod's deception, still overcome by the fear of what might have happened, the way he forced himself to look away in those final moments, knowing that otherwise he would never find the strength to say that last goodbye.
Still reeling, Lois kept her rooftop date with Clark, but everything had changed in the space of a day. Lois tearfully shared her big secret, but no declarations of love. Her own needs now seemed insignificant, and besides, her faith in Clark had been shaken by his relentless pursuit of the Blur's identity, for reasons he could never explain. Lois seemed completely lost in that moment, and Erica's performance made the depth of her misery and confusion painfully real. Clark in turn had done everything he could think of to keep Lois safe, but at what price? I hated to see him so tentative, so broken, the man behind the myth, responsible for this pain, and yet the victim of it as well. How will they ever make this right?
Brian Peterson, executive producer of Smallville and the director of Charade, described the episode as a sequel to Idol, and it worked very well that way. Both episodes explored how Clark's anonymity as the Blur made it all too easy for someone to impersonate him, the conflict Clark had between being honest with Lois and keeping her safe, the risks Lois faced because of her special relationship with the Blur, and the anguish she felt being torn between two men who are actually one and the same. I liked the parallels between the two stories, right down to the identical epiphanies Lois and Clark had, each uttering the words, "I know what I have to do," as love led them to make a life-changing decision in order to protect the other. But while Idol gave us a mostly lighthearted look from Lois's POV, Charade gave us Clark's side of the story, and was decidedly more serious.
Charade was gloriously rich in Clark's POV, and it was like a long drink of cool water after an endless drought. As Clark considered telling Lois his secret, we experienced the debate that raged within him firsthand, and saw his love for her pull him in two different directions at the same time. On the one hand he wanted to be completely honest with Lois, keeping nothing from her, and on the other he was determined to do whatever it took to protect her from harm, including stealing her phone, spying on her, and denying her all his secrets after all. Clark made some questionable choices in this episode, but I can't fault him for them. He was frantic with worry after finding out that someone was calling Lois and pretending to be the Blur, and he acted without thinking, desperate to keep her safe.
Clark's need to stay in the shadows as the Blur made it possible for Zod to take advantage of Lois. As long as he remains faceless, anyone can step into his shoes, and potentially destroy everything his symbol has come to represent. How much more inspirational would he be if he could stand proudly before the people of Metropolis, and give a face and voice to the hero they already admire? Clark isn't ready to take that step yet, but he's beginning to see that the consequences of his reluctance are both personal and far-reaching. And even after everything he did this week, cutting himself off from Lois and warning her, both as Clark and the Blur, the truth is, she could still be fooled.
When Lois talked about how knowing the Blur's identity would make her a target, she unwittingly convinced Clark that it was too dangerous to come clean with her. But I don't think she was actually afraid of that. She was just defending the Blur's actions, rationalizing his reasons for keeping her in the dark. Later she passionately told the Blur that she didn't care about the risks, but by then Clark had made up his mind. I still can't wrap my head around his logic. It isn't the actual knowledge of the Blur's identity that puts Lois in danger, it's the perception that she knows, and unfortunately, that ship has long since sailed. She's already a target. And NOT knowing is what made her vulnerable to Zod.
I understand the reasons for it, but I really don't like the Fake!Blur storyline. For starters, I've never been a fan of the Triangle of Two. Taken seriously, it makes a liar out of Clark, and played for laughs, it's a joke at Lois's expense. And once Clark and Lois are in a relationship, throwing around terms like "the one," "always," and "the L-bomb," I don't see any place for it at all. But even if I accept it as Chloe described it, as Clark's way of being as honest with Lois as he can, everything changes when Zod gets thrown into the mix. Now we have an actual triangle, and how are we to know if Lois's tender feelings for the Blur are meant for Clark or Zod?
They haven't said it in so many words yet, but clearly Clark loves Lois, and she loves him back. But does she also love the Blur? Maxwell Lord suggested as much, when Lois resisted his mental interrogation even while unconscious. If he's right, who exactly inspired those feelings? The Blur first called Lois in last season's Stiletto, and his contact with her since then has been sporadic at best, although in both Savior and Metallo Lois alluded to many more conversations than we ever saw. Maybe that's a foundation for deeper feelings (although falling for a disembodied, altered voice on the phone seems a stretch), but as recently as last week's episode, Lois was hanging up on the Blur to run after Clark, and confiding in John Corben that Clark "is it for me." Now Lois says nothing is more important to her than her work with the Blur, and she was beside herself with emotion when she spoke to him in Lord's lab. But the only contact she's had with the Blur recently has been with Zod, and all the work that means so much to her was done at his behest. What am I supposed to make of that? And what's so altruistic or rewarding about doing Zod's dirty work anyway? I find it all very confusing.
I've always liked the theory that deep down, on some subconscious level, Lois knows that Clark is the Blur. That would explain her undying devotion to a man she's never really met, her lack of curiosity about the Blur's true identity, her complete acceptance of even the most glaring mysteries surrounding Clark, and the simple explanations she comes up with for all the crazy things that happen to her. But if that theory were true, wouldn't her subconscious also recognize that Zod's Blur was a fake, and give her a feeling that something wasn't quite right about him? I'm disappointed that both Lois and Clark were taken in by Zod so easily.
Maybe what Lois feels for the Blur is closer to hero worship, and the meaning she finds in her work with him is all about redefining herself, and not so much about love. After all, Lois herself said it wasn't like what she has with Clark. I always forget that Lois is on a journey, too. She is not yet the woman she is destined to be, and in Charade we saw her discover what it feels like to be part of something that's bigger than yourself, and realize how important it is to her to make a difference in the world. But I always thought she would get that from journalism, not from being the Blur's sidekick. And I wish it had been Clark who opened her eyes to that instead of Zod. *sigh* Right now that desire to serve the greater good is making Lois pull away from Clark, to put the needs of others before her own, but in the end it will be one of the strongest bonds between them, the common ground that makes them understand each other so well. In the meantime, however, I see a rocky road ahead.
This episode showed us one of the biggest reasons Clark's POV has been relatively scarce this season: Chloe. When they were at odds and barely speaking, Clark's traditional sounding board was gone, and no other character stepped in to take her place. If the price of getting Clark's voice back was complete validation of everything Chloe has done this season, I'm not thrilled about it, but I'll take it and be glad. I accepted that Lana would never be held to my standard of accountability long ago, and I was naive to expect anything different for Chloe. And I just don't see the upside of holding on to my anger. At least the snarky coldness was gone. Who we saw in Charade wasn't the old Chloe, but I think that's a good thing. The stars are gone from her eyes, the wistful looks in Clark's direction are ancient history, and Chloe has moved on to a life that is all her own.
I enjoyed the scenes between Clark and Chloe. The one where Chloe came over to convince Clark not to tell Lois his secret, and ended up talking him into doing the exact opposite, cracked me up. Watching them work together at Watchtower again, seeing their easy camaraderie, was nice, and listening to Clark talk to her, about his thoughts, feelings, and doubts, was nothing short of heaven. And I appreciated Chloe's compassion in the barn. I still love these two together, when the show gets it right. I never minded Chloe disagreeing with Clark, per se, what made me crazy was her deception behind his back and her attitude to his face, and there was nothing like that in Charade.
I thought the scene at LuthorCorp was pretty much a waste of time, although I'm always happy to see Tess. How cool did she look in those shades and that upswept hair, all tall and gorgeous? I guess they were setting up the events of next week's episode, and Tess's snide remark about Chloe was to establish that she still didn't know who Watchtower was. The scene did make me realize that Chloe's romantic relationship with Oliver is actually a good cover for why they're always hanging out together. They should have thought of that a long time ago.
The guest characters, and the actors who played them, were all great this week. Ray Sacks was as blatantly slimy as ever, and I have to admit, the guy has some nerve. Maxwell Lord was appropriately menacing and creepy; I look forward to seeing him again. Franklin Stern was a delight. And not just because his actions were directly responsible for Clark doing manual labor in the barn, with my favorite grey tee stretched snugly across his chest. Yum. No, really, it's about time someone made an issue of Clark and Lois's workplace romance. ;) All the elements of Charade made the episode feel like a classic Superman story. We started out with three different threads of Clark's life: his personal relationship with Lois, his job at the Daily Planet, and his secret life as the Blur. By the end of the episode, all three had converged, and it was very nicely done. Kudos to the writers, and especially to first-time director Brian Peterson. I was impressed. And I'm still figuring the Red Queen has to be Martha, although that was obviously not AOT in that limo.
Finally, there were some adorable Clark and Lois moments in Charade. I loved the freeze frame of Clark getting punched, and their meeting with Stern afterward was hilarious, especially Tom's expressions. Clark and Lois side by side in the elevator, all flirty and fidgety, fingers identically entwined, was too cute. And having Clark quite literally sweep Lois off her feet and out of frame was all the more delicious for leaving the good stuff to my imagination. "Sometimes I swear you have more than two hands." And her coat was completely undone! I always like to see Clark have fun with his superpowers. ;) I also loved the way Clark just knew Lois was going to lunge after Stern, and threw out his arm to stop her without even looking first. Watching them try to use one computer between them was funny. And I liked the way both Lois and Clark ended up at Tony's looking for Sacks.
Random thoughts: You can get a life sentence for attempted murder? I know the show is saving the first time Lois actually says the word "love" for Clark's ears alone, but having her say "If we 'L' each other," sounded incredibly juvenile. What were those blueprints we saw on the Watchtower computer monitors? So now the Governor is corrupt? Is that the next public office Martha will hold? Clark is lucky that everyone on Smallville uses low lighting that casts lots of convenient shadows. There was a monorail train going by in the background when the Blur called Lois. Was that a visual callback to the train that brought Lois back to Clark in Savior? And how can the show leave us hanging like that when Lois isn't even in the next episode? It's Crossfire all over again!
This episode made me feel better about Smallville after last week. A LOT better. Charade was all about Clark, and the focus on his relationship with Lois was also a focus on his destiny. The different parts of Clark's life don't exist in isolation, and this week they were all tangled up together. Now is the time for big decisions and hard choices, and Clark is doing his best to sort things out and do what's right. I have so much faith in him, but I also know there will be bumps in the road ahead. And when the dust settles, I hope Clark will see that he can't offer Lois only one part of himself and expect that to be enough, for her or for him. It would be a mere shadow of what their epic love deserves.
Tommy in a tux! Nuff said. Twenty of my favorite caps from Charade:
Screen caps courtesy of Home of the Nutty, with my thanks!
Best wishes to Tom Welling on his 33rd birthday today!