ComicsAlliance Recaps ‘Smallville’ Episode 10.12: Collateral
Love it or hate it, the Smallville TV show has been one of the most popular mass media adaptations of a comic, reaching millions of viewers each week with stories of what Clark Kent's life was like before he became Superman. Now, we're marking its passing by having ComicsAlliance's Chris Sims and David Uzumeri, two guys who have never actually watched the show, watch and review every single episode of the tenth and final season.
Chris: After two solid months of re-runs, Smallville finally returned this week to continue its final season with Episode 10.12: "Collateral," and after all the episodes we watched during the break, I never thought I'd say this: It is the dumbest thing I have ever seen.David: This ... I've typed and deleted at least five things here, because none of them accurately convey the gravity of the awfulness of this. This is nowhere near "bad." It passed "bad" five to ten words into the pitch. This is borderline plagiaristic garbage, bereft of anything even remotely resembling an original idea. This episode makes the Wicker Man ripoff seem like Godard.
Chris: I think there's only one way to say it: Smallville has done an episode that rips off The Matrix, and it is currently the year 2011.
David: Writer Jordan Hawley should actually, seriously consider a new line of work. And Chris, what's truly amazing about this episode is that it rips off The Matrix -- itself a gigantic rip-off of Grant Morrison's Invisibles. If they just skipped the middlemen and ripped off Morrison instead, I'm pretty sure I'd be singing this episode's praises. Here we go. Why bother with a plot summary?
Chris: Seriously, it could not be more shameless. I actually feel dumber for having watched it, and I actually got paid to do so.
David: So come with us, viewers. Let us be the Virgil to your Dante as we take you into the deepest, darkest pits of television Hell.
Chris: For those of you who have blotted out your memories of 2010's cliffhanger ending with booze -- and lord knows that's a tactic we've tried here at Smallvillains -- we last left our alleged heroes at Hawkman's funeral, where they were all knocked out by technology.
David: I was honestly hoping for a big spiritual journey with the Absorbascon, but no, the government just happened to booby-trap Hawkman's tomb with knockout gas.
Chris: This brings up an interesting point, and by "interesting," I mean "one of many plot holes that makes me wonder if the scripts for this show are actually printed on Swiss cheese." If the government already has something that can knock out a Kryptonian -- not to mention the Flash and Aquaman and whoever else the extras were dressed as at Hawkman's funeral -- then why do they need to develop more methods for rendering them helpless? They already have them!
David: I mean, that's just a small little bullet hole in the grand scheme of this. A better question is, why do you need a virtual world to test out these power-draining procedures. They talk about testing them in the virtual world to see if they work in the real. But if the virtual world is basically powered by willpower, then how is this even remotely empirically collected data? And if you've got them all computer simulated in the first place, why not just test the procedures on computer simulations that can't manipulate the world with their sentient thought? Seriously, we could make this entire recap a list of questions for the producers.
Chris: What we're getting here is that this episode is already stupid before it even starts. That's how dumb it is.
David: To be fair, it DOES tease us for ten minutes with maybe being a Manchurian Candidate ripoff before it declares its unabashed willingness to stick actors with less emotional range than Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. I keep thinking maybe Michel Gondry is directing this episode, and it was acutally an outtake from Be Kind Rewind.
Chris: As our story begins, Clark and his Justice Cronies are missing, and Lois is on the phone with the VRA -- which I thought was the Vigilante Registration Act, but I guess is now the Vigilante Registration Agency? -- and they're not telling her anything. Later, she claims that she's been "going all Erin Brockovitch" on the government, but since nobody who writes for Smallville has ever heard of "show, don't tell," we only see her sitting around the farmhouse on hold with the government. Thus, Lois Lane: Investigative Journalist, becomes the first character of the episode to be completely chucked under the bus.
David: To be fair, all of this takes place in a virtual world, this isn't even the real Lois. But ... we'll get to that. I mean, it is the real Lois. But she's not calling the real VRA with a real telephone. Which, of course, makes me ask: exactly WHY DID THE GOVERNMENT PUT LOIS LANE IN THE SAME VIRTUAL WORLD AS LIKE FORTY SUPERHEROES?!
Chris: They were trying to figure out a way to take away her powers. Which I think could be accomplished by padlocking her Sexy Costume Closet.
David: Maybe they removed her investigative journalism powers, Chris. That's why she can't go full-on "Erin Brockovich." It would have been great if we saw Lois and she was just like, the most un-curious person ever. Like, meteor showers happen and someone gets shot in front of her face, and she's like "eh." and keeps eating popcorn and watching TV. All she's capable of writing is Batman: The Widening Gyre.
Chris: Hey now, let's not get insulting here.
David: Turnabout is fair play, I'm already pretty insulted by this episode.
Chris: Anyway, it's totally the Real Lois, just in her Virtual Matrix Avatar form. Fortunately, before she has to do anything that would count as "action," Clark wanders in the front door, only to reveal that, oh no, he has lost his powers!
Chris: Now who will stand around moping while others save the world?!
David: I figured that out the second Lois dropped the glass, giving a convenient situation for Clark to have to reveal that he can bleed. As soon as there's a sharp object around in a domestic setting involving Superman, you know it'll be used to demonstrate that he's lost his powers. This is basically a law.
Chris: To make a dumb story short, Clark doesn't have his powers because, as we've said, he's in a Virtual Matrix Avatar body in a computer simulation, and he keeps having flashbacks of being experimented on by Chloe, who has been missing since this season's first episode.
David: She should have stayed gone, it seems.
Chris: This immediately leads Clark to assume that Chloe, who has been his best friend for a decade, has turned evil on him. Because if there's one thing that defines Superman, it's that he trusts no one.
David: I wasn't clear on if they were actually flashbacks, to be honest - I figured he kept actually waking up, and they'd have to put him back down. That's why he had weird seizure things, since he left the Matrix.
Chris: As it turns out, that's exactly what happened, which we find out when Chloe walks out of a wall in a padded cell where Ollie's locked up for reasons no one bothers to explain other than just "ooooh, things are BAD!"
David: Yeah, that made no sense to me, but then again nothing in this really made sense to me. They let Clark go, but not Ollie? Was he unable to function in society without his equilibrium?
Chris: I do like that that's his "power" that they're trying to take away, but again, it robs us of the scenes where Ollie's trying to go about his day and keeps pratfalling over desks and stumbling into china cabinets.
David: Causing a forty-person pileup on the subway.
Chris: Literally shooting himself in the foot with an arrow.
David: "Accidentally" shooting heroin and cradling a dead cat.
Chris: If that would've happened, Smallville would've finally dethroned the Prisoner as the greatest show ever.
David: As tempting as it is to turn this into a Prisoner vs. Wire debate, I can certainly agree with the general sentiment. Let's also not forget about Lois (or was it Dinah?)'s amazing description for Chloe's love affair with Davis Bloome: "dirty dance with Doomsday." I swear to God, before I die, all I want is to see a Superman story called "Dirty Dance with Doomsday."
Chris: Oh man, we could spend an hour getting into the truly ridiculous dialogue of this show -- "This Canary's going to have to eat some crow!" -- but even after they recommended "Justice," I don't hate our readers enough to make them sit through it too.
David: I remember a BUNCH of ridiculous alliteration, honestly, peppered with the nonstop pop culture references. It's adorable how they always seem to be able to reference everything in pop culture at any point, except for whatever they're blatantly ripping off at the time.
Chris: As you can tell from Chloe's reality-warping powers and her strangely fitting white pantsuit, she will be playing the role of Morpheus for this episode. She jacks in and immediately goes to Ollie, telling him that nothing he sees is real, thus allowing him to make his saving throw to disbelieve his straitjacket.
Chris: Here's another great example of truly horrendous dialogue:
"You're not real?"
"I'm pretty much Chloe In the Sky With Diamonds."
David: CSD is a hardcore drug in the DC Universe, man.
Chris: This is also where maybe the biggest plot-holes in the entire episode show up, and that's saying something. First, Chloe talks about how she knows everything in in the computer simulation is "fake," so she's not limited by it, which is supported by the fact that she straight up walked out of a wall thirty seconds ago. But once she and Ollie are on the same page, instead of just teleporting to where they need to be, or passing through the walls to get there as soon as possible, or anything else you'd think people who WERE NOT LIMITED BY REALITY would do, they just walk through the hospital.
David: This is why doing a cyberspace story with a limited budget is a bad idea, especially when the characters are awakened to the nature of the reality and its malleability. I also don't understand why just knowing you're in a simulation gives you any control over it - I mean, I get why Chloe can manipulate reality since she's hacking in from a terminal, but how come Oliver can just disbelieve himself out of his straitjacket? You can't just think UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT A B A B really hard and get more lives in a videogame.
Chris: Which leads to our second massive stupid plot hole: In order to get out of the virtual world, they have to go through a portal. Chloe says she has no control over where this portal showed up, but of course it shows up outside the Daily Planet building, because like Smallville itself, this virtual world only has three sets. Again, this makes no sense: If the reason you can't get out of the virtual world is because your mind believes it's real, then wouldn't just not believing it be enough? Why do you have to take a header off a building in order to prove it?
David: So you can work in labored metaphors about trust, and teach viewers the valuable lesson that if all of your friends go jump off of a cliff, you should too. At least Superman listened to his mom.
Chris: From here on out, the Matrix riffs just get more and more blatant, to the ponit where I kept expecting Erica Durance to turn to Tom Welling and go "wow, this is exactly like the Matrix." It starts picking up when Chlorpheus pulls out two twin pistols and starts blowing away "security programs" (read: cops) in the hospital...
Chris: and only gets worse when she has her "stop trying to hit me and hit me!" moment with Black Canary.
David: Not to mention her magic computer-driven kung fu, and stopping canary's knife in mid-air, which was blatantly reminiscent of that bullet-stopping scene near the end of The Matrix.
Chris: Eventually, Chlorpheus talks to Neo--er, Clark and reveals yet another way in which this plot is dumb and makes no sense: The government wants to figure out how to turn Clark's powers off and on, which is fine. That makes sense and follows logically. But to accomplish this, they have "turned off neural pathways" so that he can't access his powers, which.. What? Does Clark have to THINK about being invulnerable to make it happen? Does he have to go "Okay I am using my super-strength now!" in order to be strong? Hell, even in the Zatanna episode where Clark didn't even know he had super-powers, he still had them!
David: Haha, that's a good point! He should just be walking around destroying everything in his path, like Lennie from Of Mice and Men. Hugging Lois and she comically pops open. The episode ending with Ollie mercy-killing Clark with a Kryptonite arrow.
Chris: It would've been actually made more sense if they just stuck Clark in a Virtual Matrix Avatar body that didn't have powers, but no.
David: But then they couldn't test how to take his powers in the real world in the Matrix! Which, again, makes no damn sense.
Chris: As we've said, the entire point of this seems to be that Clark has lost his trust in Chloe because she went away without telling anyone why. Except that we all already know why she went away: To save Ollie from the Suicide Squad. Which makes Clark a) dumb for not being able to put that together, and b) a massive dick for being mad at her for keeping secrets in order to protect her loved ones, which is exactly what Clark has been claiming to do for ten frigging years.
David: I love how when Lois points this out to him, he's totally amazed at her wisdom about his hypocrisy.
Chris: By the end of the episode, we find out that Chloe has basically blackmailed the Suicide Squad into being her personal strike force, which means that in the continuity of Smallville, she's going from being Teenage Lois to Oracle to Oracle and Amanda Waller at the same time.
David: Which, again, exactly why does Chloe withhold that information from them? Why didn't she surface the second she started running the Squad? Wouldn't that be ... important information for the Justice League?
Chris: Again, she claims it's for their protection, an argument that holds even less water than when Clark used it in the previous seasons. Especially since it leads to scenes where Chloe and the Suicide Squad are fighting against the VRA goons, and Deadshot and Rick Flag are just straight up shooting them to death.
Chris: Seriously, here's a show where Superman's allies go around killing people, shot in loving slow motion.
David: As sanctioned by Chloe! I mean, the Suicide Squad is a hit squad. THAT IS WHAT THEY DO. It's not even Superman's allies, it's his best friend, and he just seems totally okay with it. It wouldn't surprise me if this all ended up being explained as Darkseid's influence, like it was for Deathstroke.
Chris: Eventually, of course, Clark and Lois escape from the Matrix, but not before we get the worst, dumbest, most poorly thought out and quite possibly the most insulting thing we've seen while watching this show.
David: I am pretty tired of getting flight-teased and flight-blocked by this show, I swear to God. I mean, at this point, I think it's safe to say we won't see Clark actually flying until the very last episode. But for now, they're hellbent on teasing it in, like, every episode.
Chris: That's right, everybody: In order to make sure they do every single thing you saw in The Matrix, the government thugs hijack Chloe's Computer Virtual Avatar body, and then make a dozen of her that show up and surround Clark and Lois... And then Clark FLIES AWAY.
Chris: CLARK FLIES. IN A COMPUTER SIMULATION.
David: With Lois in his arms! Once again continuing this show's bizarre assertion that Clark's flight is based on his self esteem, which is entirely dependent on Lois. Is he going to have to build her a harness so she can climb onto his back like a monkey every time he fights crime? Also, Clark's full-out dependency on Lois for his full powerset is really, really dumb.
Chris: I just... I can't even get my head around why they would do this. I mean, we all know that Clark genuinely flying is what this entire show has been building to this whole time, so why do they show him doing it here? It's like they actually had a meeting where they tried to determine the most anticlimactic possible way to show it happening, and then filmed it.
David: Because they can't stop continuing to remind us, for some reason. They love teasing the viewers with it. Honestly, at this point it just takes me out of the story every time -- I can almost get into it sometimes, and then they'll allude to Clark's flight in a way that I'm sure they think is clever, and I'll be like "oh, right. Smallville."
Chris: But I mean, we know -- we KNOW -- that's what they're going for at the end, right? They've teased it so much that they can't not do it. So why show it here? Because it's not like it makes a whole lot of difference whether he's flying around the Matrix or in the real world, is it?
David: It kind of does, I guess. It didn't really feel like they blew the payoff, since this was Clark flying... artifically, I guess. It didn't really feel that way to me, it just continued to remind me that this is a weak-ass version of Superman who can't even fly, and it's not because he's a badass old dude from Earth-2. Well, a badass old dude who pitched the world's worst fit over his elderly wife passing away due to the mysterious, sinister disease known as "time."
Chris: Seriously, this would have been so much better if they'd set it up to where it was another step in Clark rejecting the whining douchebag he's been for the past decade. Like, if he managed to overcome the neural blocks and get his own powers back. Instead, he basically just uses video game cheat codes to fly. That's... well, I've already said it. It's the dumbest thing I've ever seen. They even have Fake Chlorpheus call him out for being "the most reluctant to accept your... abnormality."
David: Hahaha, I love how even the pause before abnormality makes it sound like an Agent Smith line.
Chris: It's seriously the entire problem of Smallville in a nutshell: They set up something where Clark could actually act like Superman, and then completely screw themselves over.
David: When this episode started, I foolishly hoped we were going to get a TV version of "Imaginary Stories," that fantastic two-parter in Morrison's JLA where the Key hooked the JLA all up into a Matrix style thing, and wanted them to win and reject the illusion, since rejecting the illusion would power his big machine, so he basically set up a plot where if the JLA won, they lost. Except Batman figured it out. That was awesome. This wasn't. So I mean -- a cyberspace Justice League adventure that's great is certainly possible.
David: It ended.
Chris: There was absolutely nothing good about this episode.
David: This episode was absolutely, almost impressively atrocious. It might be one of the most amateurish things I've ever seen on broadcast television.
Chris: I think this is the one that actually made me hate the show. Even when it was bad, we'd still seen good stuff here and there, and I was genuinely hoping to see things to pick up once we got back around to new episodes, but this pretty much killed that thought stone dead.
David: All the parts of this episode I laughed at or enjoyed were derisive - like how hilarious it was to have all these cryo-chambers with real superhero names, and then one for THE BLUR, and then an inexplicable, hilarious one called LOIS LANE that I don't even remotely understand. WHY WAS SHE THERE? Just because she was at the funeral? Also, if they're trying to outlaw superheroes, why wouldn't they try to humanize them by using their real names as much as possible? And how the hell did they even plant that gas bomb in an Egyptian tomb anyway? Did they just sneak in during the Mubarak protests?
Chris: Seriously: NOTHING MADE ANY SENSE. Even within the already spurious logic of Smallville.
David: It's just pathetic.
Chris: Any specific low points?
David: Oliver continuing to use his voice modulator is hilarious, and Dinah was terrible. But I'm sure they have to set her up so Ollie can have a shoulder to cry on when Chloe inevitably heroically sacrifices herself in the final episode. We may even hear him calling her "pretty bird" while wearing a glue-on Errol Flynn vandyke in an epilogue.
Chris: I just can't get past the audacity of the huge Matrix riff. At best -- at best -- this is an extremely poor homage, but even then, it's like you said: strictly amateur.
David: You know, I think we're coming at this the wrong way, Chris. I think this episode is actually a satire of the way the media shamelessly rips off The Matrix. I don't think we got it initially -- it's actually rather brilliant. You see, they didn't include the red and blue pill sequence because the red and blue are both off-limits to Clark - it's a metacommentary on his refusal to accept his role as Superman. It's actually a deconstructive, self-aware mockery of the trenchcoat costume he wore. When he flies in the Matrix world, it's not a flight-tease, it's actually a clever reference to Neo flying at the end of The Matrix, representing Clark's spiritual awakening as he sheds the remnants of that movie's influence on his character.
Chris: So basically, you're saying that "Brian Peterson" and "Kelly Souders" are actually clever pseudonyms for Andy Kaufman?
David: At this point, Occam's Razor may actually point me towards that being the case, since the alternative is that a group of grown people all sat around a table and agreed that this was a story that needed to be told. That's really too terrible a premise to accept.
Chris: We've had fans of the show leave comments on the site before where you and I were accused of being small-minded comics fans who just can't accept any alternate takes on the Superman mythos. I'll be the first to admit that I have a pretty well-defined idea of what Superman is and isn't, but I still think that's a flawed argument, as it's based on the premise that Smallville isn't dumb and terrible on its own merits, which we've clearly seen is not the case.
David: I've got a huge tolerance for alternate takes on characters, but this is just a bad television episode. I've seen episodes I didn't hate, that were kind of fun generic teen comedy things. This was just ... irredeemable. I really, really doubt I'll see anything dumber on television this year, unless I start watching Jersey Shore.
And even then it might not get dethroned.
Chris: Well, at least we've got next week to look forward to, because it cannot possibly be any worse than this nonsense. If nothing else, it's got John Glover and his hair in it.
David: Our God is a cruel God, Chris. Come back next week as we continue our penance.