ComicsAlliance Recaps ‘Smallville’ Episode 10.14: Masquerade
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: This week, Smallville played host to three pretty interesting returns. First, comic book writer Bryan Q. Miller came back to script this episode. Second, Darkseid's minions were back in action as Season 10 finally remembered that it had an ongoing plot that wasn't about a federal law being inexplicably overturned by a popular vote. And finally, it was the return of television that, if not good, was at least actually tolerable.
David: I had a good time with this one. No, it wasn't especially poignant, but I didn't want to punch my TV or anything. I just had a pretty okay time.
Chris: I think it says a lot that we were both utterly relieved to have to watch something that was "pretty okay" for a change.
David: I think the takeaway here is that Jack Kirby characters can elevate basically almost anything. I'd watch Jersey Shore if Devil Dinosaur was in it.
Chris: This week's baby step on the Hero's Journey is entitled "Masquerade," and while I initially had hopes that we'd be seeing the cast of Smallville LARPing their way through a session of White Wolf's popular Vampire RPG, that was unfortunately not the case. Instead, the title refers to two parallel stories that are going on, in which Chloe and Ollie are victims of the most amazing coincidence ever, and Lois tries to badger Clark into not mugging for the camera every time he goes outside.
David: Not to mention that Darkseid is masquerading as humans! It's really a triple entendre, and I mean, let's be fair here: that is far cleverer than most episodes, and it's a reason why you can tell this is a Bryan Q. Miller joint.
Chris: As the episode begins, Lois is planning out her impending wedding to Clark through the medium of a third-grade history report diorama, which leads her to the fairly important conclusion that Clark has no actual friends.
David: I do love the little Guess Who? style popup cards she made for everybody.
Chris: "Is your Best Man a wanted vigilante?" "How'd you know?!"
David: Hey, this begs a fantastic question: WHY IS OLIVER STILL WANTED?! They somehow magically repealed the VRA via referendum, shouldn't he be good to stunt in public?
Chris: You would think, but the only people who actually care about Clark Kent -- aside from the fawning masses leaving mash note YouTube videos that we saw last week -- are his coworkers in the as-yet-unnamed Justice League, and Lois is worried that putting them all in a church with her father's hero-hating army buddies will lead to a wedding only slightly less tragic than the "November Rain" video. And honestly, I have no idea why this would be a problem, other than asking people who don't like each other to play nice for a couple hours, which is every family function ever.
David: I think this episode just might redeem itself if they actually use "November Rain" for the wedding in the final episode, and Oliver plays guitar out in the rain. I assume this wedding has to be totally low-rent, too, since Lionel has Ollie's company, and therefore Ollie can't blow a ridiculous amount of money on it. Who the hell funds Watchtower anymore, anyway?
Chris: Well, presumably Ollie still has his Queen Industries money, even without LuthorCorp. Unless Lionel somehow managed to take that over off-screen in less than a week despite being presumed dead, which for this show is not out of the realm of possibility. Either way, I hope you're right and the actual wedding is a shot-for-shot remake of that video. I mean, I wouldn't mind seeing Erica Durance in that crazy mini-gown Stephanie Seymour wore there, but even more than that, I totally want to see Tom Welling in a pirate coat with a giant steel pinkie-claw.
David: To hell with the glasses, that's Clark Kent's real disguise. He's just gonna dress like a pirate.
Chris: Anyway, Lois is venting these frustrations out on Clark, who is currently in the middle of his Intensities In Ten Cities World Tour, chit-chatting with Lois on his cell phone from the face of Big Ben after... well, we're never actually told what he's doing over there.
David: Strutting his stuff after the VRA, they say, but I still don't understand what it's supposed to accomplish. Actually, the VRA was only in the US, so that doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
Chris: The thing is, we would never need a reason for Superman to be anywhere in the world. But in Smallville, where we have seen "The Blur" fight crime, you know, never, it would've been nice to actually see him stop a runaway lorry. Or rescue someone trapped in a lift. Or help out some people who were... help me out here, Uzi, I'm running out of funny British words for things.
David: I feel like I should just quote random lines from Knight and Squire. Also, there's a zoom out from London from the shot of Big Ben, in case we're absolute imbeciles who have no idea that Big Ben is in London, or what "across the pond" means.
Chris: Despite Clark failing to mention spending 'alf a quid on fish 'n' chips whilst listening to a chimneysweep sing a song, Lois is able to guess exactly where he is, because someone's taken a video of him and put it up on YouTube. And with this, the producers of Smallville finally learn what the term "viral" means.
David: What I don't understand is why the Blur never "went viral" from his adventures in America. Why do people only care now that he's overseas? He's a dude who's performing ridiculous feats. I was about to say that he was a dude who can fly, but, well, hahahahahahaha.
Chris: I think the deal with this one is that you can kinda sorta but not really see his face.
Chris: Or at least you can tell that he is a bipedal human, which blows your "bunch of robots" theory from last week right out of the water, slick.
David: Wouldn't this show be better if Clark relied on his helpful Superman Robots to do the job? But knowing this show, they'd be able to fly and he wouldn't.
Chris: Like we need another reason for Clark to have someone else do his crimefighting on this show?
Chris: Lois, of course, thinks that people being able to see Clark's face both when he's the Blur and in a photo that runs next to his byline in every issue of the Planet presents a pretty big problem. A problem that maybe should've been addressed when Clark started being a super-hero. Ten. Frigging. Years ago.
David: To be fair, Clark did not actually start being a super-hero then, and he just kept moving so fast nobody could see him. I think he actually believed that would work forever, for some damn reason that makes no sense.
Chris: Also, when Clark blurs his way back to Metropolis, we find out that Lois only calls him "Smallville" when she's mad.
David: That's right: the name of this shows is what the female lead calls the male lead when he's being an idiot.
Chris: All of this leads to the major plot of this episode -- and I find it important to remind everyone, including myself, that Clark actually is the main character of this series -- basically being a big fashion show where Clark decides whether ot not to wear a mask. SPOILER WARNING: He doesn't, thus robbing us of El Kryptonico, the Super-Luchador!
David: God, that would have been FAR superior, but of course we don't get that lucky. This show might as well just give up on him ever becoming Superman at this point, and go its own, totally insane way. Except it's probably too late for that.
Chris: Meanwhile, in the B-plot, we're treated to another exciting episode of the Green Arrow show!
Chris: This week, Green Arrow and his sidekick Chloe go out on a date to a posh nightclub called the Ace O' Clubs, named after a dive bar run by a dude who doesn't own a shirt that actually fits, in one of the greatest examples of Smallville just hammering references into the show no matter how poorly they fit in order to get the audience reaction of "oh hey, I have seen that phrase before."
David: Holy crap, I didn't even catch that it was called the Ace o' Clubs. That's astonishing considering this looks like a place I would never, ever, ever want to go. Like, not in a million years.
Chris: Ollie starts whining about not being able to waltz in and get a table for his date with Chloe, which, again, is completely mystifying. For one, he shouldn't be wanted anymore in the first place, and for another, his disguise consists of sunglasses and a fedora. Considering that he should be the most famous person in the entire world at this point, I really don't think that would fool anyone.
David: The entire conversation is way too cute, and Ollie talking about himself in the third person comes off as egotistical rather than coy. I'd ask how Chloe puts up with this guy, but I could ask the same about Ollie.
Chris: Ah, a love based on mutual annoyance. Just as Ollie's self-pity hits a crescendo, Chloe figures out a way to make him shut up, and through an amazing
bit of sloppy writing coincidence, a table frees up. A table which belongs to a pair of undercover secret agents. Which they find out when one of them, "Mrs. Jones," calls from the third level of a Resident Evil game.
David: The entire conceit with Mr. and Mrs. Jones was just -- I mean, it SOUNDS like a bad spy movie. When you have a woman in a ridiculous one-strap dress sitting down with a dude in a fedora and aviator sunglasses, you've pretty much succeeded at looking like a Mad Magazine parody of Le Carre.
Chris: And the thing is, Miller's a good enough writer that I'm sure he knew that going in, and I actually do think there's a chance that they could've pulled it off well. Unfortunately, this is Smallville.
David: Like a lot of scenes this episode, I could see it working if it were shot and acted totally differently.
Chris: The whole thing turns out to be a plot by Desaad, who is now a serial killer that's under investigation by the FBI, who know about the crazy Omega symbols that are branded on people's skulls. But before you can say "wait, what?", we cut back to Clark and Lois.
David: Well, to be fair, it's not clear if the FBI knows about the Omega symbols or just those deep cover agents themselves. And what does being a deep cover agent for Desaad mean, anyway? I almost don't want to know. I'd like to think Darkseid has a street team for all those posters and Omega symbols everywhere when he takes over. "Make $6.99 an hour distributing swag and promoting DEATH FOR DARKSEID!"
Chris: Lois is designing a costume to hide Clark's identity, because a) she doesn't want to get shot in the face by Bruno Mannheim, and b) as we all know, Clark won't do a damn thing for himself. Now, admittedly, it's not the best...
Chris: ... but Clark, of course, responds by acting like a total passive-aggressive tool. I would've actually respected Clark more in this episode if he just flat-out told Lois "Have you not noticed that Ollie looks like a jackass when he wears his hoodie and sunglasses to fight crime?" But no, he just tears the hood out of his Thriller jacket and tries to run away at super-speed, which she totally calls him on.
David: I love how she sewed on a completely different material for the hoodie.
Chris: To be fair, it's hard to sew a leather hood onto a jacket. Although considering that Desaad was in this episode, I'm pretty sure he probably had exactly that just laying around. Either way, Clark goes to investigate some serial murders and an extremely annoying crime scene photographer starts talking about how much Clark looks like the Blur, then -- amazing coincidence #46! -- trips and falls into a hole. Clark saves him, and of course doesn't even try to look like he doesn't have powers.
David: I get that they're trying to go for the All Star Superman take where Clark bumbles as he saves people -- at least in the longterm -- but I can't imagine Welling would ever be able to pull that off. It's probably for the best that they've kept oafish Clark Kent out of it so long.
Chris: Except that there's no bumbling. He just cold reaches down, grabs the guy and pulls him up, easy peasy. Which, I mean, props to them for having Clark actually save someone even though it's a guy who is close to discovering his secret identity, but there's no cleverness about it at all. Which, you know, is the point, but still highlights the fact that he's still an inexperienced goof after ten years of this stuff.
David: It's an idea that makes sense with the Byrne interpretation of his powers only surfacing near the end of high school and being weak for a while, but he's been pretty powerful for over ten years by now. This show is like a Post-Crisis Era Superman in a Bronze Age world.
Chris: Man, I wish they'd go Bronze Age with this stuff. I mean, Cary Bates writes TV now. He could totally save this show. Anyway, Clark ends up wandering into the coroner's office while an autopsy on one of the victims is going on, because, you know, that's a thing reporters do.
David: Yeah, it's a thing private dicks do, and usually they have to pay someone off. And I only know that from crime fiction. I can guess that Clark has his reasons as a superhero for going, but it really doesn't help his secret identity to just go "yo, lemme look at these bodies, i like reporting about bodies for some reaso." Like, is nobody wondering why this reporter is actively investigating the crime? Obviously it doesn't matter in this case, since for basically no reason the morgue guy ends up to apparently be an agent of Darkseid.
Chris: I sort of got the idea that he's the Daily Planet's crime reporter, which is a pretty interesting twist on the old idea that Superman worked at the Planet so he would have a reason to know about crime and disasters he could help with. But then, why's the guy on the crime beat writing front-page editorials about why vigilantes are necessary? I guess because... being a vigilante is illegal? It's really inconsistent.
David: But being a vigilante ISN'T illegal anymore! Even just a ONE LINE explanation of this would have made things make way more sense!
Chris: Back with Ollie and Chloe -- and hey, what do you think the cutesy portmanteau for their relationship is? I saw Jimmy Olsen and Chloe referred to as "Chimmy" the other day, right before I stabbed out my own eyes.
David: Chloliver? Chlollie? The second sounds like a dog.
David: Queenivan! These are all terrible.
Chris: Yeah, but really, when has that stopped anyone? So after Queenivan have a tiff about their relationship becuase Chloe's unwilling to call Ollie her boyfriend even though she once traded her own life to the Suicide Squad in order to free him from Super-Guantanamo, they end up getting in a fight with the FBI, where Chloe is suddenly a master martial artist.
David: This brings to mind an incredibly good question: how does the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION not recognize an internationally famous fugitive from the law?
Chris: (Who is not a fugitive anymore.)
David: I mean, yeah, he's taken the place of Mr. Jones, but shouldn't you be able to notice he's Oliver Queen and figure it out immediately? How dumb are these goons?
Chris: Plot-related stupidity affects so many. Give what you can. Also, I want to point out that if you look past the jumpy Bourne Identity camerawork, this fight has the exact same choreography as an episode of Batman '66. Seriously, they do everything but that little move where they link arms and kick guys.
David: I hadn't caught that, but it's true, it's almost like Chloe and Ollie have fought before, and -- commenters, have they? Is this a thing? Is there any explanation for Chloe knowing how to kick ass like this?
Chris: If sitting in front of a computer talking about super-heroes all day gave Chloe the ability to kick ass, I'm pretty sure you and me could eradicate crime in a slow afternoon. The scuffle with the FBI ends up leading Chloliver to Desaad's club, where Smallville uses wirework to show a non super-powered guy climb a wall.
Chris: Doesn't exactly give me a lot of hope for the special effects when Clark starts flying.
David: I honestly didn't notice the wirework, but that makes more sense than Justin Hartley actually knowing parkour. I remain completely unconvinced by this iteration of Desaad -- he's just not creepy. At all. He looks like a douchebag in a club, not a master of perversion.
Chris: Well, what if I told you that he also had super-telekinesis?
David: You mean the ability to make peoples' brains explode? Congratulations, he's one of the guys from Scanners. The entire bleeding out of the eyes and ears effect isn't especially convincing, either.
Chris: So Desaad brains Chloe with a wall, and then takes her into -- and I want to stress this -- the exact same building that Oliver just climbed into, which is never addressed because Oliver just comes out and assumes Chloe was taken somewhere else, even though this is clearly Desaad's lair.
David: The entire back-of-the-club scene is almost like a stage play, it's just this single setting and all kinds of crap happens and you're supposed to somewhat suspend disbelief due to the nature of the medium, except this is prime-time national television.
Chris: Before all that, though, we get a look at the Top Secret FBI files that Chloe's been carrying around in order to bring down Darkseid's minions.
Chris: Now, Uzi, you freeze-framed on this, right? Let's do this CSI-style. Zoom in. Enhance.
David: That's right: I cannot explain why this physical object exists, but Chloe is holding a notebook with a handwritten transcript of sections of an online walkthrough for the Law and Order: Criminal Intent video game. No, I have absolutely no idea why this was done. Is it supposed to stand in for general crime investigations? This was shot in high definition, did they think nobody was going to look at this?
Chris: The fact that this made it into the show is actually the least amazing thing about it for me, following way behind the fact that a Law & Order: Criminal Intent video game is actually a real thing.
David: My initial instinct, when reading it, was that it was a walkthrough for Police Quest.
Chris: I would've gained so much respect for this show if it had been Monkey Island instead.
David: That would have been fantastic! It could even tie in with the entire pirate costume we already theorized.
Chris: Sadly, before Clark can start carrying a duck around in his pants, it's like you said: Chloe gets strung up in a Prime Time Network TV version of a bondage contraption, and is visited by four spoooooky spirits in an effort to get her to turn to the dark side. Or in this case, the Darkseid.
David: At least Chloe figures out that they're the seven sins when or before we do, so that didn't lead to a painfully obvious scene of "FIGURE IT OUT, CHLOE!"
Chris: Well, one would expect her to figure it's a ruse, since the scene with Fake Clark is the exact same thing that happened when Lionel took over Clark's body and decided to get revenge by sexually frustrating teenagers.
David: That's really all this episode lacked: John Glover's glorious hair. Well, that and a story that makes sense.
Chris: Chloe sees through all of Desaad's illusions, and then Clark rescues her, but not before Ollie shows up and tries to punch Desaad to death for messing with his girl, egged on by Desaad telling Ollie he killed her.
David: I did enjoy the way Desaad loved every punch. That was actually a nice touch. Still, the entire "Ollie loses his cool" situation is just as contrived as, well, the rest of the episode.
Chris: It really is, but of course it sets up the next plot, because after they check Chloe out to make sure she wasn't Omega'd up, we get the not-so-shocking reveal that it is Ollie who now has Darkseid's brand on his skull!
Chris: ...or at least written in blacklight ink.
David: This is actually just part of Clark's new non-super identity, playing hilarious pranks. So he got a blacklight lighter and drew Omega symbols on people to screw with them.
Chris: Which brings us back to the one storyline element that actually gets accomplished in this episode: After telling Lois that he doesn't want to wear a mask when he's out being a super-hero because he doesn't feel comfortable hiding when he's doing the right thing, Clark decides to wear.... glasses!
David: The thing is, now Tom Welling has to try to sell mind-mannered reporter Clark Kent over... emotionally vacant football jock Clark Kent, I guess.
Chris: Yeah, and he's doing it after, what, four years of working at the Planet? Five? Years in which he has often had his picture in his byline on the front page of a Major Metropolitan Newspaper?
David: Well, HAS he been working at the Planet that long? I kind of got the feeling that he didn't blow up until last year as an actual reporting professional. I also cannot believe, in any way, that the Clark Kent of Smallville is a good writer. Do you recognize this idea -- it's really good, I want to say it was Jurgens -- that Superman used to publish sci-fi novels about his adventures in space and time under the guise of a pen name? I always loved the idea that Superman would write these really hippy-dippy Heinleinesque sci-fi stories about peace and love across the galaxy in his spare time to get out his weirder creative urges, but I cannot imagine Tom Welling's Clark doing that at all.
Chris: I think you're a bit confused, Uzi. Clark won the Pulitzer for his novel Under a Yellow Sun, in which a man fights against a corrupt billionaire business tycoon. The sci-fi novels thing is Invincible's dad, Omniman.
David: Dammit! That description of Clark's novel is hilarious, though, and exactly the kind of thing I could see Smallville Clark Kent writing. "WHY I AM AWESOME AND A HERO. BY: CLARK KENT, AGE 24."
Chris: According to the Smallville Wiki's timeline, Clark's been working at the Planet since at least 2008, which isn't as long as I'd thought, but still. I mean, we all know the Glasses are a pretty flimsy disguise, but they only work if nobody at the Planet knows Clark without them.
David: I wish we could just go back in time and remake this show ourselves without "No Tights, No Flights."
Chris: Just saying, if a bunch of investigative reporters see a guy every day for three years, then he suddenly starts wearing Ray Bans and the exact same dude shows up on TV lifting cars over his head... People are going to talk, folks.
David: Maybe Darkseid or Luthor will poison the people to make them forget what Clark looked like! I'm just guessing, but the how may involve... crystals. I know, that's a leap.
David: "I used my microvision." "Microvision?" "It's my power, I can call it whatever I want."
Chris: I actually thought Tom Welling was pretty good this episode once he got something to do. Not great, still kind of doofy and boring and they didn't give him much to work with, but enjoyable enough. Especially once he puts on the glasses at the end and starts acting like Clark Kent. I mean, it's pretty clear that he's basing his performance on Christopher Reeve, but really, there are worse places you could go for that one.
David: I also enjoyed the bumping into the guy sequence, yeah. And the sheer goofiness of the omega symbol storyline continues to entertain me, even if for totally base reasons like "Darkseid is cool" and "I like it when people say Kirby things on television."
David: Chloe and Oliver. Every scene with them grated. The coy meeting at the beginning, their dumb wisecracks in the trunk, Ollie falling for Desaad's lie, the entire ridiculous temptation scene. The absolutely inconceivably contrived Mr. and Mrs. Jones setup, which I almost wonder will be revealed to be part of Darkseid's machinations on purpose because it's so ridiculous... Actually, the episode makes way more sense if it's the case that the whole thing was staged to get Ollie to go wild and get under Darkseid's thrall.
Chris: At least they go on adventures and try to fight crime. As much as I enjoyed Tom Welling at the end of this episode, Clark for the rest of it was the exact same goofball we've come to know and loathe, especially in the scene where he's whining about not being able to protect his identity, then acts like a jerk to Lois when she tries to do something about it.
Chris: We've gotten complaints from Smallville fans in our comments that we just don't like the show because it's a slightly different take on Superman that we're not used to as comics readers. Guys, we don't like the show because it's got an unlikable protagonist who never does anything. The fact that it's supposed to be Superman is just awful icing on the awful cake.
David: Chris, what's your take on Superman: Secret Identity, by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen?
Chris: I think it's great. Very underrated.
David: There ya go. I think it's one of the best Superman stories ever, myself. So suck it, readers.
Chris: Ha, that might require a bit of explanation.
David: Superman: Secret Identity is basically Smallville done right, with a Clark Kent with powers growing up in a "realistic" world and fighting evil government projects -- not really going on totally cosmic quests but focusing on interpersonal relations. It's inspired by the original story of Superboy Prime before he became the new Ambush Bug, and the conceit is that he lives in a world where Superman is already a known fictional character. It's a really, really, really good comic.
Chris: I don't quite agree with you that it's Smallville done right -- the premises aren't really the same at all -- but it's a pretty good example of changing up the Superman formula that we actually do enjoy.
David: By "Smallville done right," I mean more in the sense of the soap opera genre injection, actually, but yeah.
Chris: So what do we have to look forward to next week, Uzi?
David: I have no idea, I don't see the previews.
Chris: Oh, then you are in for a treat my friend. Finally, next week brings us the long-awaited bachelor/ette party episode where the cast goes to Vegas, and Clark accidentally marries Chloe.
David: What. Man, that's, like, a Jimmy Olsen story! Does Clark get drunk on kryptobeer? Ollie shows up like, "I used the last of my funds to develop this special meteor champagne that will get you completely #&*@faced."
Chris: I know I was wishing this earlier, but I really wish Cary Bates was writing this show. "The Secret Second Space-Marrige of Clark Kent!"
David: They should write episodes TV Guide listing first, like how they used to work from the covers for comics. Or just have people come up with cold opens and then challenge writers to write the rest of the episode. Smallville should absolutely operate under the Julie Schwartz model.