There is no question that Sacrifice was a dark episode of Smallville. We saw the full extent of Zod's brutality, and were left with no doubt that he is an irredeemable monster. The bleakness of Chloe's existence was laid bare, and the very walls she erected to protect her heart destroyed the only thing that gave her life meaning. Oliver stepped up to fight the good fight, and became a casualty of war. Tess found out that once again her own body had been used to betray her, and was forced to place her life in the hands of the person foretold to kill her. And Clark's hopes were dashed, as his dream for a future with his people died with Faora and her unborn child at the hands of Zod. And yet I was shocked at the end of the episode to find myself feeling hopeful. I have faith in the Clark Kent I saw this week, and the hero I've watched grow all season. I believe he can and will meet this challenge. Even as Clark watched, helpless, as the Kandorians took to the skies above him, I knew he would find a way to prevail.
I had my problems with Sacrifice, so let's talk about those first. The events of this episode made it all too easy for viewers to blame Clark for everything that went wrong, and to condemn his decisions, both past and present, especially the one to save Zod with the healing power of his blood. Let me be clear: the only person I blame for Zod's actions is Zod himself. Tess unleashed him on the world in the first place, Chloe contributed to the conflict by gathering the info Checkmate would use to hunt the Kandorians down, and Clark inadvertently gave Zod superpowers, which he then passed on to his troops. But Zod was the one who decided he had to rule the world, and destroy anyone who stood in the way of his plans. Still, this episode made it look like Oliver and Chloe were right all along, and even if Clark's triumph over Zod is glorious, there will always be those who say he was only cleaning up a mess he made in the first place. Sometimes I hate you, Smallville. :(
I'm not convinced Zod's death would have solved the Kandorian problem anyway. Who's to say some ambitious lieutenant wouldn't have stepped in to take his place, and that their scientists wouldn't have found another way to unlock their powers? The clones are an aberration, and have no rightful place here. We know Clark is destined to be the last son of Krypton on Earth; that is a defining part of his identity. In other words, I've thought these people were doomed from the moment they emerged from the orb. But regardless of all that, why is it so hard for Smallville to let Clark be the hero? Never giving up on people is one of Clark's best qualities, so why have his decision not to give up on Zod end in unmitigated disaster? Season after season, TPTB have hammered home the lesson that Superman will be forged in the fires of Clark's mistakes, that the hero he will become can only rise from the ashes of failure and despair. I'm beyond tired of it, and I want it to stop. I pray that in S10, as Clark enters the home stretch, we can finally leave that idiotic mentality behind.
My other big problem this week was Chloe. Sacrifice was supposed to be the episode where she was finally held accountable, where she reaped the consequences of her questionable actions this season. Was anyone surprised when that didn't happen? In fact, everyone EXCEPT Chloe faced consequences that were pretty dire. Oliver and Tess both almost lost their lives, suffering terrible physical pain in the process. Faora and her baby did die. Clark saw his hopes for the Kandorians quite literally go up in flames, as the battle between Checkmate and Zod brought death and destruction to Metropolis. Even Zod paid the ultimate price for his violent ways, unwittingly killing his own unborn child as he murdered Faora. And Chloe? Her hard drive crashed. Oh, and she learned that it's okay to let Oliver love her. How will she live with the pain?! [/sarcasm] Spectacular fail, show.
I understand that Chloe's story is supposed to be tragic. Everyone left her. Moira, Gabe, Lana, Davis, Jimmy, Clark. Bruised and battered by her losses, she locked herself in her tower and pushed everyone away with her cold condescension and biting snark. She attempted to control everything and everyone, using all the resources at her disposal to spy and manipulate, only because she wanted to protect everyone from harm, and herself from any more pain. When the loneliness became too much to bear, she gave Oliver access to her body, but not her heart. And when she narrowly escaped death at Checkmate's hands, she built her walls even higher, making them a little too effective in her desperate need to feel secure. So in the end her own safeguards trapped her, and forced her to destroy the one thing she had left: the information she collected and controlled. I get it. So why am I so unmoved?
I don't think the show has made Chloe very sympathetic. I've seen no cracks in her armor, no signs of vulnerability that might spark my compassion. Unlike Tess, for whom I'm actively rooting, despite all her sins. The fact that Chloe has yet to show any significant remorse really bothers me, and I don't think she's in any position to lash out at Tess the way she did. Many of Chloe's choices were ethically wrong, if not morally so. Plus she stood in direct opposition to the hero of the story, sneaking around behind his back to put her own plans in place, and I'm never going to be okay with that. I don't need to see Chloe punished, I just want the show to acknowledge that she was wrong. I want a sincere and unequivocal apology, and an end to her secret machinations. I want her to be on Clark's side again, and I guess I'm supposed to believe that she is now, but in Sacrifice he reached out to comfort her and was met with one of her patented derisive looks. It was obvious she blamed Clark for what happened to Oliver, and nothing about her demeanor suggested to me that she has changed in any way.
For someone who professes to love this show as much as I do, I sure rant about it a lot, don't I? :) I actually liked Sacrifice quite a bit. It was a wild ride of action and drama that quickly escalated into a full-blown crisis, setting up an inevitable final conflict between Clark and Zod as it showed us how truly ill-equipped Checkmate was to counter an alien attack. And it gave our hero, as brief as his time onscreen was, a chance to shine, as he took a firm stand for peace, while never backing down from the war Zod was determined to wage. Kudos to Justin Hartley and Walter Wong for their first Smallville writing effort, and to Bryan Q. Miller for once again capturing Clark's voice so well.
Naturally, I was especially interested to see Oliver's characterization in this story, and I was gratified to see him display all the qualities I love best, especially in that first scene with Clark. He was heroic, a team player, respectful of Clark's leadership, and both cognizant of and well prepared for the risks when he agreed to join the hunt for Zod. His only fault was that he was a little too cocky, and he more than paid the price for that. Justin showed Oliver in his best light, without ever taking the focus away from Clark, or stealing more than his share of the spotlight. I was impressed. And I will be eternally grateful to him for finally giving Clark a platform to express his feelings about what went down in Doomsday. I know Oliver's not perfect, but I'll accept his loyalty to Clark in this episode as at least a partial apology for that betrayal.
When Chloe told Clark in Charade that it was Zod who had been calling Lois as the Blur, she also told him she knew he wanted to go and take his anger out on Zod right then. Nothing illustrates more clearly how estranged these two have become, and how much Chloe doesn't know about the man Clark has become over the past year. The Clark who gives into emotion and acts without thinking is gone. In his place is a more mature man, with a firm grasp on the ramifications of his actions, and his eye on the big picture. Throughout Sacrifice we saw Clark struggle to save what he had built with the Kandorians, and to find a peaceful way to hold Checkmate at bay, but his wisdom and diplomacy were no match for Zod's aggression and disregard for human life. Zod has declared war, and Clark has no choice now but to meet him on the battlefield.
Clark's scenes with Faora were beautiful and touching. They had shared a special bond since they searched for Vala together in Conspiracy, and she represented Clark's best hope to make his dreams come true. In a stunning performance, Sharon Taylor gave Faora a fierce nobility that made me grieve for what might have been. If only the Kandorians had known her leadership instead of Zod's. Faora sacrificed herself and her baby rather than give in to Zod, and while that may have seemed senseless to many, I could see her making that choice within the strict code of honor that led to Alia's execution, and perhaps she hoped that her death would serve to open the eyes of her brethren to Zod's megalomania, and dissuade them before he led them to their own ends. I was devastated to see Faora die, especially because she was the one Kandorian who truly shared Clark's vision, at least for a time. When Zod wrapped his hand so mercilessly around her neck, he killed more than the mother of his unborn child; he killed peace, and hope, and the future.
My favorite Clark scene was his first one, in Oliver's office. His quiet strength, his absolute leadership and control, were a joy to behold. Tom Welling was wonderful. You could hear Clark's conviction to continue fighting for a peaceful integration for his people in his voice, as well as the pain of knowing his relationship with Zod could not be saved. And I totally get that he would never bring up Oliver's betrayal simply to complain about the personal affront it represented, but when it became relevant to his current plan, he didn't hesitate to remind Oliver what it had cost them the last time. It meant the world to me to see Oliver acquiesce to the truth in Clark's words, and to pledge his allegiance to him wholeheartedly. Justin is no dummy. With that one scene, he pretty much completely redeemed his character, in my eyes anyway.
The final scene, in the Fortress, made me wonder anew where Jor-El is in all this. And by Jor-El, I mean the dude in Clark's ice crystal palace thingie. ;) Why has he gone suddenly silent, content to let Zod take over the Fortress for blood rituals that threaten the safety of both his son and the planet he is supposed to protect? My theory? This whole Zod situation was cooked up by Jor-El in the first place, as the ultimate trial for Clark. I think it has his twisted fingerprints all over it, putting Clark in an impossible situation that torments as much as it teaches, and with no regard for the human lives that may be lost for the sake of the lesson. He was the voice who called to Tess, and convinced her to set the Kandorians free. What? That's my fanwank, and I'm sticking to it. :)
Seriously, though, let's talk about what went down in the Fortress. Zod gave himself a promotion to General, and used Faora's death to fuel his followers' fear and hatred of the human race, blatantly lying to his people. He was out of control, and beyond dangerous. Clark tried to reach out to the Kandorians one last time, but without success. I can't really blame them, either. Between Dr. Chisholm, Checkmate, and Zod's lies, I'd want superpowers to keep me safe, too. And even though he was unable to convince anyone to turn away from Zod, I will always love Clark for trying. So now it's war, and without the power of flight, Clark can't even follow the Kryptonians, much less defeat them. Right now it looks like the grim future we saw in Pandora may come to pass after all, in spite of all Clark's efforts to avert it. I'm not worried, though. I have no idea what Clark will do next, but I can't wait to find out.
I didn't love the scenes between Chloe and Tess, but that's probably because I'm so annoyed with Chloe right now. Cassidy Freeman continues to rock every scene she's in. I enjoyed the insight we gained into Tess's motivations, although I'm still not exactly sure where her loyalties lie. I thought Chloe's self-righteous insults were a little hypocritical, and I wish Tess had spent more time exploring how much she and Chloe actually have in common, in their methods and the philosophies behind them, and less time talking about how dreamy Oliver is. I'll bet Justin had fun writing that scene. ;)
Having Stuart return as a Checkmate agent was a cool twist. It put a whole new spin on his role as Tess's techie sidekick. I'm assuming he was a plant from the start, reporting back to Checkmate on every move she made. No wonder they found a new contact in Lois shortly after he was shot. For once Smallville had a believable injury and its ugly aftermath: months of rehab, permanent sight loss, a horrendous scar, and an angry, bitter victim. For the record, though, I want no such realism when it comes to Oliver. Bring on those amazing plastic surgeons Brian Peterson promised, and give us back the shirtless pretty as soon as possible! :)
Just like Escape, Sacrifice had some elements that seemed to have been recycled from previous episodes. Tess's panicked plea to get the Checkmate device out of her recalled Chloe's similar demand to Clark in Freak. We've seen the giant hypodermic needle plunged into someone's chest to save them in both Truth and Thirst. The way Zod hurled Amanda Waller into that car windshield exactly mirrored Vessel, when a superpowered Lex did the same to Lionel. And of course we had Clark's anguished look of guilt and pain through the blinds of Oliver's hospital room, a sight so common on this show I couldn't even begin to list all the relevant episodes. Are these callbacks deliberate, for some reason I can't fathom, or just lazy writing?
Random thoughts: I didn't realize Chloe's cover was still the Isis Foundation. At least that explains what Lois thinks she does for a living. I swear Chloe's jackets are getting shorter, and the shirts underneath them are getting longer. And I still hate that look. Tess breaks into Watchtower, but she doesn't bring her own gun? Was that a Kryptonian pregnancy test, or some kind of celebratory ritual? Faora already had a visible baby bump. It was cool to see Virgil Swann's journal from Traveler again. And while it was nice to hear about Dr. Hamilton, I'd much rather see him, thank you very much.
We only have two more episodes left in S9, which to me means two more chances to do right by Clark. This season has been a real mixed bag for me, but I remain hopeful. In every episode, Tom Welling has given me a hero I can believe in. Now it's up to the writers to let that hero show us what he can do. We've been building to a showdown between Clark and Zod since Savior, and big promises have been made for the finale. I'll admit I'm pretty excited, but those feelings are tempered by the reality of last season's Doomsday, and my fear that Clark will not be allowed to stand tall as the savior he is meant to be. Please, Smallville, give Clark the finale he deserves, and make these last two episodes a celebration of all that is great and good about this man we love so much. I don't want to spend my summer mad at you.
There were a lot of shadows and darkness in this episode, and a definite shortage of smiles, but Tom is pretty even when Clark is somber. Twenty of my favorite caps from Sacrifice:
Screen caps courtesy of Home of the Nutty, with my thanks!