Smallville 9.18: "Upgrade"

As I’ve said on several previous occasions, the biggest problem with “Smallville”, from a plotting perspective, is the endless and ill-defined tangle of conspiracies, alliances, and hidden motivations that have been in place since the Luthor era. At least in the past it was mostly a question of whether or not Lionel or Lex was an incident’s source of intrigue.

Now we have a situation where Tess, Zod, Chloe, and others are all acting according to secret agendas, and none of them are particularly easy to comprehend. I’ll freely admit that I’m not exactly spending endless hours poring over the details and charting out the various moves and countermoves. But it seems to me that the writers either think they are being clever, or they have a very different definition of clarity than the rest of the world. When I come out of an episode thinking that “Lost” is more straightforward, it’s a problem.

This episode is a perfect example. The conversation between Tess and Chloe was so obtuse that it became practically meaningless. There were too many references to murky motivations to draw any conclusions about how the characters would act or how it would play to their advantage. And that’s the whole point of giving characters complexity: so that the audience can appreciate why the characters are making the choices they make.

So what is Tess doing in terms of John Corbin, the Kandorians, and Checkmate? How does all of that fit together? Because it seems pretty clear that Zod has no intention of joining some effort to protect Earth from alien threats. After all, he is precisely the kind of threat Checkmate is trying to eliminate! Is it that she wants to cultivate the Kandorians as opponents to Clark, to force him to take up the messianic mantle of the Traveler? That’s the problem with Tess; this season, her choices don’t seem to fit into a logical rationale.

Chloe’s actions this season have been a little more understandable. After the events of the eighth season, she’s adopted the philosophy that “the ends justify the means”. It’s pretty close to the kind of thinking that drives Oliver, so they make a natural pair. It’s also fairly clear why Clark would disagree with her tactics. But Chloe seems to go to great lengths to act in ways that invite suspicion, and Clark seems hell bent on misinterpreting her actions in the most negative light possible.

For instance, while Clark’s attitude about Chloe’s secret stash of meteor rock is twisted by yet another exposure to red kryptonite, Chloe doesn’t once justify her actions by pointing out the fact that Zod and the others are supposed to regain their powers sooner or later. Clark saw the same future; it wouldn’t be hard for him to understand the logic. Yet the writers have Clark give that justification to Chloe, not the other way around! It was maddening.

This only fed into the ongoing frustrations with the Clark/Zod interactions. Clark keeps talking about how Zod is the one person who can understand him, that he could have been a brother, and so on. Yet when has Clark ever shown Zod more than token tolerance? Clark has always assumed the worst of Zod. And sure enough, the writers have never really sold the audience on the notion that Zod could be anything other than a villain. Clark’s meditations at the end of this episode feel hollow as a result.

Beyond that, I simply haven’t found John Corbin to be a compelling character. He hasn’t been around enough to generate the kind of sympathetic treatment that he gets in this script, and without much more than a surface consideration for the DC comics canon, I don’t find Metallo to be all that interesting. So all of his interaction with Lois just doesn’t matter much to me, and his part in Tess’ ongoing plots and machinations is just another element of frustration. I suppose that word says it all for this episode.


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