Smallville, “Masquerade”

Up to this point, neither Chloe’s return or the development of Darksied’s crew have been handled quite well. The budget strongly impacts the latter while before this episode, I wasn’t convinced the writers had any plan for the former. Allison Mack was willing to come back, and thus she did. Thankfully, “Masquerade” figures out a nice way to work these poorly-defined stories together in such a way that I am much more confident about where they are headed in the future, whether that’s next week (which I believe is Chloe’s final episode) or later in the season when Clark actually has to take on the manifestation of the Darkness.

As I’ve discussed in countless other reviews, specifically “Collateral” from a few weeks ago, when Chloe’s around, she often dominates the action. The last few seasons, she’s been plugged in to whatever role the series has needed, from super sidekick to Doomsday’s girlfriend to apparently now the head of the Suicide Squad (or something). It’s certainly fun to have a character like that the writers can play around with, but Chloe’s inability to stay in one place has ultimately led to her serving any and all purposes. This is not good for Clark’s development, and to a lesser extent, his relationship with Lois. After the first two episodes of her return, I suspected that this kind of character vacillation was going to continue until Chloe finally did something so amazing on her way out.

Fortunately, Bryan Q. Miller’s script* does some nice work in pulling Chloe and us through the confusing space that has been her life for the past few years. When she’s kidnapped by the returning Desaad and he tempts her with all the biggest sins, the scene plays out like a meta commentary on how the character has progressed(?) over the past few years. Clark comes in all heroic like and tries to tempt her with the sin of his body, an acknowledgement of their detailed history. Then Oliver swoops in and tries to whisk her away from any responsibilities, an acknowledgement of her sketchy present. And finally, Lois appears to rub in the fact that S5-6 Chloe would be so jealous of the life that Lois now has (you know, because the writers just transitioned all those Chloe stories over to Lois). Hell, then the white angel version of the character from “Collateral” waltzes in just to remind us how terrible that episode was. And maybe something else I can’t remember.

*We can go ahead and confirm that Miller is most certainly the series’ best writer now.

Although this sequence is very meta, it’s not so out of the blue that it fails to work as a catalyst for Chloe to wake up a bit. I’m not sure how successful you can be when pointing out your own flaws as a writing staff, but this is the best way the series could have handled it and I think it suggests there might actually be a bit of closure for Chloe. She finally realizes that she’s spent so much time trying to support Clark, or the Justice League, or Davis or now Oliver that she’s barely done anything just for herself. That’s more of a problem with the actual writing of the character because the series’ staff decided she needed to be an unflappable goddess, but it’s still nice to have both the writers and Chloe as a character start to realize it’s time to figure out what makes Chloe, you know, Chloe. Whether that means being Oliver’s girlfriend or running Watchtower or just getting her job back at the Daily Planet, it doesn’t really matter. She just needs to step away from the alien invasions, the superheroes and the insanity to be a human being with real emotional desires and stuff for a bit. I’m not sure if the series is really going to spend much time on that considering Mack only has one episode left — she might appear in the finale — but it’s a nice place to begin to leave the character nonetheless.

And as I mentioned above, I think this episode does a pretty fine job of bringing the audience and Clark up to speed with what the hell is happening as far as this Darkness/Darksied nonsense goes. The choppy storytelling in the first half of the season is a result of trying to do too many things without doing all of them particularly well and so it feels like it’s been forever since the season has touched base with this narrative that will presumably carry us through the final episodes. Although I appreciate the attempts at trying to really jam-pack a lot of stuff into this final season, there’s probably been too much going on with Clark/Lois, the VRA, Darksied, the Suicide Squad, Tess and Alexander, Lionel, etc. That’s too many things to balance, especially when the series cannot afford to handle them all in one episode on a regular basis. The VRA is apparently done though, so it’s nice to get back to the Darksied arc, which I think was handled well when actually mentioned. And while it’s unfortunate that we have to be told Clark has closed off himself from the darkness — although it was moderately covered in “Homecoming” and “Luthor” — instead of shown, it was still pretty great to watch Clark stand up to Desaad and appear to have control over any darkness that might be inside of him. That plotline didn’t go as far as it could have and probably shouldn’t have been addressed in the first place way back in the premiere, but I’m glad that Clark is now strong and ready to handle some business.

I think the choppiness of the storylines will continue, which still concerns me. Next week looks like a totally throwaway, but fun effort and then the season still has to get around to Lionel and Tess before it really swings back to this Darksied stuff. That’s sort of the nature of the best when the audience knows who the villain is and presumes he’s coming in the finale and the writers have to figure out a wait to bide their time wisely. Sometimes the series gets it right which I think it did in S8 before the finale messed up the “Doomsday” arc. Sometimes it gets it wrong, which it kind of did last season with Zod before the finale pulled it together. Exact opposites! I’m hoping S10 follows the S8 pattern with a S9 finale execution.

Of course what amounts to the C-plot is also great here. Clark and Lois work so wonderfully together when they’re just spit-balling ideas, so Lois’ insistence that Clark figure out some sort of disguise worked perfectly. From the lighthearted fight with Lois doing her little “whoosh” sound out of the barn, to Clark’s personal realization that Clark Kent can be the mask, the lead-up to the big moment with the glasses was just as good as the moment itself. Those are the kind of beats Smallville has always handled with grace and both Tom Welling and Erica Durance did a great job in those scenes.

All and all, another good episode from Smallville. Apparently as long as the series avoids any Matrix allusions, it’s in good shape. Next week, it rips off The Hangover!

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