Smallville Episode 9.03 : ‘Rabid’ Review

Posted on October 10, 2009

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Teaser

TVSummary: What could have been a weak horror movie retread becomes a surprisingly vicious and romantic episode.
Rating: 8.5/10


Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

An airborne virus plagues Metropolis turning citizens into modern horror movie zombies. When Tess becomes infected, Lois & Clark investigate the strange illness. Clark takes a sample of Tess’ blood to Chloe and Emil at the Watchtower to determine the origin and find a cure. The two come to find that the virus is Kryptonian in origin and need a sample of the alien blood to create an antigen. After Clark helps Lois fight off a gruesome horde at the Daily Planet, resulting in her being infected, Clark decides to give his blood for the cure.

** Note: Review contains spoilers if you have not seen the episode.**

Feature-Length Review after the jump.


Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.

I was worried about this episode. Not as much as I am about ‘Idol’ coming up later in the season, but the idea of a zombie show didn’t sit well with me. We’d already had a ridiculous “vampire” story (the rancid ‘Thirst’) and a Saw knock-off in Season 5 (the relatively decent ‘Mercy’). When Smallville falls back on these mimicry kinds of shows, it usually doesn’t turn out well.

How surprised am I?

‘Rabid’ is a fantastic episode that both plays its horror aspects just right and weaves an incredible romantic tapestry for Clark and Lois. In fact, it’s this dichotomy that I find one of the most awesome and indelible triumphs of this episode. I follow series composer Louis Febre on Twitter (be sure to check out his weekly column at Starkville’s House of El (SHoE) Podcast for great insight into his writing process) and he mentioned how he was having to balance the horror with the emotional for ‘Rabid’. I had no idea just how much he meant.

If ever we’ve had an episode in the series that was a dedicated Lois & Clark episode, this is the one. Everyone else was relegated to brief scene work and the developing twin stars of the show were pushed to the forefront. I could not be more thrilled. I have been a fan of Lois and Clark on the series since she was introduced in Season 4. Erica Durance and Tom Welling have a wonderful chemistry and have always added extra zip to their scenes together. I actually love the fact that Clark really only seems to have fun in the series with Lois. Tom’s delivery and his whole demeanor becomes lighter and brighter when the two are working together, so I relish every moment. This episode had that in spades.

From the opening of Act One, we’re given some lighthearted comic moments with Clark using his abilities to distract Lois and the beginnings of his own delineation between himself and the Blur. Jordan Hawley’s script was overall a little punchy with the wordplay but the lines given to Clark regarding his alter ego were priceless. This episode showed, in stark relief, just how much more they should give Tom comedy to work with. He seems to have more fun and comes a live a bit more when he’s not being run through the ringer, as the show is wont to do. And it’s not slapsticky, in-your-face comedy. It’s nice, subtle bits like his response to Lois asking about smelling smoke after he’d returned from putting out the fire and his quick correction to ‘2 seconds’. Also, the speed with which Clark types and clicks his mouse to get his ‘Blur’ scoping off the screen when Lois comes back to her desk.

Tom was wonderful in this episode, alternating between the lighter and forward-moving Clark and stoic and righteous Blur with ease. It was a good distinction and I must say that I’m enjoying them slowly developing the different “personalities” between the two. They’re still the same person and each has aspects of the Clark we’ve known for 8+ years, but they are making an effort – in small increments – to create a Superman persona separate from Clark. I’m not sure if this is strictly on the writers or if Tom has a hand in this but I fully approve and look forward to more of it. And is it just me or did Tom seem like even more of a man in the episode than any before?

Despite third billing, Erica and Lois have quickly become the yang to Clark’s yin in terms of focus and impact on the series. Rightfully so. Erica continues to turn in shaded performances of her Lois that they began to allow her to do last season. The overconfident Lois in the beginning; the shell-shocked yet determined Lois in the hospital after Tess threw her across the room; the soft, revealing Lois at the Planet after the initial zombie attack; the caring-so-much-it-hurts Lois with Ollie in the elevator; the vulnerable Lois in Clark’s arms after the antigen changes her back; the chummy yet desirous Lois at the farm with Clark; and, of course, zombie Lois. Erica had so many shifts this episode and she handled each with aplomb. I know she rubs people the wrong way as Lois but it goes without saying, for me, that she has become the leading – if not yet quite definitive – version of Lois Lane in live-action. They keep giving her more room to move and she continues to step up to the challenge. And I’d be remiss to not remark on how positively gorgeous Erica was throughout the episode, snarling, spitting green mouth aside.

For being an episode about a virus that turns people into ravaging zombies, I was surprised at how little there actually were. And pleased. Using the zombies sparingly really helped to establish a sense of dread in an intimate way. It sold the plot of the whole city being infected by seeing the effects on our main characters up close and personal. If we’d been left to visuals like the widespread panic of ‘Dark Thursday’, I don’t think it would’ve been as effective. When these zombies were onscreen, it was serious and mean and powerful. I’m not one who is scared by zombie movies but I do have to say that between the make-up department, the lighting designer and the cinematographer, they made these zombies scary.

I think the person that sold this the most was Cassidy Freeman. Seeing Tess get so freaked out in that hallway when her head of security was taken down by a zombie really set the mood, even more so than the punch at the end of the teaser with zombie Lois attacking Clark. There is a surprising frailty to Tess this year that Cassidy really allows to shine through the hard exterior Tess is trying to maintain. You can tell that this is a woman who has really been affected by these crazy things she’s been witness to in the last year. I think it’s marvelous work by Cassidy and gives real depth to a character who is written a bit more surface than she should be. In addition, she gets to do fabulous stunt work with the sword – she can be so badass.

That brings us to Oliver (Justin Hartley). I have to own up to not being that interested in Ollie’s dark path so far. It seems much like a retread of where he was last year. Now, understanding the dark disease of addiction, it makes sense that Ollie is back to this place since he hasn’t dealt with his demons. Filmically, it gets a bit staid and old. That said, I’ve always appreciated that Ollie was the mouthpiece of the audience, calling anyone and everyone out on their B.S., especially Clark. Even when he’s being the ultimate dick, which Ollie excelled at in this episode.

When Ollie laid into Clark about being ‘God’ and a ‘modern Jesus’ I was as taken aback as I was with Chloe’s outburst at Clark in ‘Metallo’. It was so vicious and succinct, playing on some common themes that have been weaved into the Superman mythos throughout the years. I also got a kick at how nonchalantly Ollie just dismissed Clark’s new outfit. It was written and filmed too early to really be a shout-out to the audience – many of whom have an issue with Clark’s dark duds – but once again Ollie speaks to concerns of those watching the show.

Hartley shines in being an overbearing, pompous, self-loathing prick as Ollie so this scene with Clark and the scene with the hot cop played out very well. He was also dead-on in the elevator with his confession and staring into his reflection. It makes sense that he would grasp at Lois as he’s falling apart. I don’t think he loves her. At least, not romantically. But he’s looking for some rope to pull himself out of this hole, whether he admits it to himself or not, and convincing himself he’s still in love with Lois is just that rope. I am interested in how he’ll get back to a healthier self and reclaim his Green Arrow mantle – as well as if he’ll keep the same suit design or come up with another when he throws his togs back on after burning his originals – but I’m finding going through the muck with him not that fascinating.

I’m wondering what they are going to be doing with Chloe (Allison Mack). So far she’s becoming quite marginalized this season. She might as well have been an extra this episode but for the nice but oddly written exchange between her and Emil Hamilton on the jet. If they do have something big planned for her down the road, I’m fine with her being pushed to the background for a bit. If not, they need to find some way to make her role important enough – without overshadowing Clark and Lois – or just move Chloe on. Hamilton has become increasingly more important and Alessandro Juliani is fitting in nicely with the cast. (Thought it was odd that Hamilton knew about Clark’s abilities but didn’t know he was an alien.) I can see them sliding Chloe out and moving Hamilton into her place. I would just hope that the transition would be respectful of Chloe and Allison.

‘Rabid’ continues a stellar run for the beginning of this season. I can’t recall the last time a string of episodes has been of such good quality for the show. The most impressive thing continues to be the, well, continuity between episodes this season. While this one is more self-contained than ‘Savior’ and ‘Metallo’ were, the lasting effects of the budding romance with Lois & Clark, Ollie’s decision to walk away from everything, and Zod’s mission still build on the season and spin well into the next episode.

This episode went a stunning long way towards a Clois coupling. How could my romantic heart not go pitter-pat during that scene in the rain where Clark contains Lois as she’s cured? Or in their final exchange at the farm? When Clark grabbed her arm when she tried to punch him in that ol’ familiar way and they shared those looks of longing, I’ll admit I squirmed in my chair a bit. I like that they are growing this romance but also that they are putting it out in front too. I wouldn’t exactly call it subtle but I don’t feel it’s being shoved down our throats with the Blur’s fist either. I had to cringe when Clark pulled that picture of Lana out of his wallet, but by placing it in the photo album, Clark has made his choice. That small scene was handled with a lot more tact than the outcome of ‘Requiem’ and was a nice passing of the torch.

I was a little disappointed that one of Zod’s minions and not Zod himself was behind the unleashing of the virus. That’ll show you to have some initiative, peon! Zod handled it masterfully, though, and was able to benefit from the unexpected results. I liked Tess’ interesting bit of foreshadowing about the Kryptonians blending in and disappearing with the reveal of Coats being one of the Kandorians. Of course, you had to know Coats wasn’t long for this world by overstepping his bounds. Zod had him kneel – in a smooth, soft rendition of the word by Callum Blue – and meted out his penance. While the last shot was a bit too [i]Highlander[/i] for me – I was waiting for the Quickening and for Zod to yell out ‘There can be only one!’ – I got a kick out of Zod being just as skilled with a sword and unflinching in his response. Blue is knocking this character out of the park and they way they are writing him is assuaging any fears I had of him being a one-note character that we’d already seen on the show before. I look forward to Zod having information about the House of El being on Earth.

Kudos once again to the production and visual design of the show. It continues to feel completely different yet set in a familiar world. And I can’t heap enough praise on Louis Febre for his score. The voices he found for the horror scenes with the squelches plus the layered plays on the Blur theme, the growing Clois theme and the Green Arrow theme were exquisite. The weight of his score adds to the overall visual feeling in ways that are beyond measure.

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