Smallville, “Beacon”

Apologies yet again for the delay. Busy Valentine’s Day weekend. Such is life.

After last week’s “Collateral,” I was legitimately concerned about the final run of Smallville. That episode was so tepid, uninspired and generally stupid that it set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the season. I don’t want to say I had last all hope, but I had more or less resigned myself to the experience of mediocrity.

This is why while I watched Friday’s episode, “Beacon,” I was surprised at its high quality, particularly in reference to “Collateral.” I’m sure there are more obvious examples that I’m not remembering at this exact moment, but the discrepancies in quality between these past two episodes is perhaps the greatest between back-to-back efforts ever. Although it had its fair share of timeline issues, “Beacon” is one of the strongest episodes of this 10th and final season and at this moment, I’d put it right behind “Homecoming.”

Like previous season 10 episodes like “Collateral” or “Supergirl,” “Beacon” is fairly stuffed with the returns of beloved veteran characters, but unlike those episodes, it actually uses those characters to tell a good story about Clark, not despite him. Chloe’s still around, Martha makes an appearance, the Lionel from the alternate universe finally makes his presence known to Clark, Tess and everyone else and even a teenage version of Alexander has a good story here. This is probably the largest amount of main characters one episode of Smallville has had since the early part of season seven, which is both pathetic and admirable. Pathetic because the budget is obviously so slim that we can rarely ever get episodes like this, admirable because “Beacon” does feel like a more classic-style kind of episode where there are multiple characters working with and against each other on different levels.

While I think the VRA thread has taken some leaps in logic and sometimes didn’t come together thematically as the series wanted it to in terms of Clark’s development, the execution of its (presumed) conclusion here was really well done. Apparently — and again, let’s not get too wound up in the timeline of this all — there is enough groundswell to appeal the VRA and with the vote coming very quickly, Martha shows up in Metropolis to rally the voters. Unfortunately, someone doesn’t really believe in Martha’s cause, so they try to kill her — with Kryptonite bullets! Before long, Clark figures out that it’s Alexander who tried to shoot Martha in hopes of actually killing him, but there’s another problem: altLionel has found Alexander and the two of them are ready to take back the LuthorCorp empire. So while Clark and Tess plot to stop Alexander and Lionel, Chloe and Lois work the campaign trail in hopes of making sure Clark and his fellow heroes can do their thing in the public.

Usually, it feels like Smallville‘s episodes are so A-story heavy. I mean that’s an obvious statement to make when you’re talking about the primary narrative in any episode, but with the small cast and tight budget, usually the series’ episodes stay the course with one primary narrative and its impacts on the characters. “Beacon,” however, feels a bit different. The literal fight against the Luthors and the more theoretical fight against the VRA are two major stories that could — and have — powered whole episodes are their own, but their weaved beautifully together here in this episode. And that doesn’t even count the nice smaller beats for Tess and Alexander and Martha and Clark, who seem much closer here than they did back in season nine’s “Hostage.” Lionel and Alexander aren’t really interested in the VRA, but having Alexander shoot Martha is a nice re-entry point to a story that was a big part of the first half of the season and will presumably serve a greater purpose as we get closer to the series’ endgame as well.

And like I said up top, it feels like the reappearance of these great characters actually means something for Clark, unlike whatever the hell Kara’s purpose was in “Supergirl” or the awful stuff they did with Chloe last week. Bringing back Martha is an obvious and effective way of raising Clark’s spirits after the hesitance he showed in “Collateral” and it is nice to see that the series’ past can actually be used for advantageous reasons. For better or for worse, this version of Clark Kent needs constant positive reinforcement, even when he’s so close to the moment of ultimate maturity as Superman and I’d much rather have it be coming from his mother than Chloe, because it frankly feels a bit patronizing coming from her. And in general, Tom Welling and Annette O’Toole have always, always had an underrated chemistry together so it’s just fantastic to watch them bounce off one another in a more intimate way instead of the mythology-based stuff “Hostage” brought to us.

Chloe and Lois don’t have as much to do this week, but like Martha, their little bits of story actually serve to push Clark’s development forward. This is much better than Neo-Chloe. Anyway, the two of them work behind the scenes in hopes of creating a grassroots movement against the VRA the few days before the vote. Of course since this is Smallville, we don’t actually see this happening but it works completely. Despite my annoyance with the series’ desire to tell and not show, I find the pay-off to their work to be pretty great. The various videos of citizens pledging their allegiances to the Blur were admittedly manipulative — hey, they’re political-like ads — but it doesn’t even matter because Tom Welling sold them all so well.

I don’t think Clark has been as down in the dumps as these last two episodes have led us to believe, but the warmth in his eyes and realization that he is the signal for all things good in the world, the wheels obviously start turning. It feels like this episode and that moment in particular are tremendously important touchstones for Clark on his final few steps to becoming Superman. There’s really no going back after that moment and after the VRA is repealed in part because of Lois and Chloe’s great work.* I also enjoyed the quick scene between Martha and Chloe where they served as the fans’ soundboard by noting that they had to leave for Clark to become the man he should be. Sad, but oh so true.

*It is fantastic to see Lois get to actually do some good professionally, but OF COURSE it had to also involve Chloe. Because she is the smartest person in the history of the world.

Lionel appearance here doesn’t directly push Clark forward in any overt ways, but I did appreciate that at this point in his life, Clark isn’t pacifying these kind of threats. In the past, he would have tried his best to see the good in altLionel, even to his own detriment, but there’s a sense here that he recognizes the danger in letting this version of the elder Luthor doing much of anything in a place he doesn’t belong. He’s certainly willing to save him from the Luthor mansion fire — rest in peace, old friend — but that’s about it. Although I don’t think Clark is making a mistake in these assertions, there’s some really intriguing things happening with this Lionel. He’s obviously more villainous the Lionel who died at the end of season seven*, but he already seems inherently less villainous than when we saw him in his home world in “Luthor.” He’s surely going to be a difficult foil, but I’m not sure if he turns into a straight-up awful version of Lionel either. And of course, John Glover makes this series at least eight or nine times better just by strolling into a scene.

*Can we take a moment and laugh at the logical leaps that were quickly thrown out there to explain how this Lionel is now basically back in charge of everything? People will believe ANYTHING in Metropolis, apparently.

I was a bit less satisfied with how Alexander and Tess’ relationship played out. The Alexander character is too problematic to stay on solid ground. He has all of Lex’s memories, but he’s quickly able to trust and believe in Lionel. And then 20 minutes later, he’s ready to kill Lionel and Clark and Tess. You know, until Clark and Tess talk him down from all that and now he’s back to loving Tess as a creepy mother figure. Then he’s sick again. It’s just too much within one episode, but I am intrigued by the fact that he physically cannot be harmed, as much as Tess wants to just kill him and be done with it. Cassidy Freeman has been the season’s best performer thus far and her work here with Lucas Grabeel and John Glover was really solid. She and Tom Welling also continue to be awesome together.

I’m not fully sure where Smallville goes after “Beacon,” but it feels like certain threads have been wrapped up and others are just beginning under great circumstances. This is a much better and unofficial beginning to the final run of episodes.

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