Smallville Episode 9.4: ‘Echo’ Review

Posted on October 17, 2009



TVSummary: An episode full of wonderful character work interrupted by a weak villain story.
Rating: 7.5/10

Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

As Oliver continues his downward spiral into drunken darkness, he’s held accountable by two people: Tess Mercer, on behalf of their company’s shareholders; and the crazed ex-Queen Industries employee Winslow Schott, the Toyman, determined to clear his name in Lex Luthor’s “death” and put the blame on the true culprit, Oliver. When Clark intercedes on one of the Toyman’s plots to blow up a Queen Industries factory with workers trapped inside, the explosion causes a pre-programmed “trial” to awaken in Clark’s mind: the ability to hear people’s thoughts. Jor-El explains this is to train Clark on how to properly use the information for people’s motivations. Clark, however, finds other uses first, mainly with a certain co-worker of the female persuasion he sits opposite of.

** 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 have to state this again, for the record: Bryan Q. Miller was my favorite writer introduced in Season 8. While ‘Bulletproof’ was a fair letdown for me – though better on repeat viewings than my initial response – ‘Committed’ and ‘Hex’ were two of the best episodes of last season. Miller, who is now writing comics for DC Comics, has a strong comic book sensibility, perhaps the strongest of the writing staff since Jeph Loeb was with the show. He also has the best grasp of the romance of Lois and Clark and the most impressive mix of humor and plot. Going into ‘Echo’, I was champing at the bit because of Miller’s work.

I have to admit to being just a bit letdown by the episode, though. For the first time this season, this episode slipped back into some of the familiar modes from Smallville‘s past. Though, they probably skewed a bit more towards Season 8’s handling of the material than earlier seasons. As a result, we get some of the best two-person characters scenes ever seen in the show mixed with a somewhat lackluster villain plot. The villain plot could actually have been excised from the show and not really had much effect on the overall story. We know this because we’re introduced to it briefly in the teaser, just to make the connection, and it’s not really picked up again until past the half-way point of the episode. Sure, Lois and Clark are investigating the factory explosion, but their interaction has more to do with them than really Schott’s plan.

The only saving grace of the Toyman part of the storyline was Chris Gauthier. I thought he was a bit better than okay in his first outing as Schott in last season’s ‘Requiem’, but the role didn’t really do much for me. He steps it up in ‘Echo’ and, while a bit hammy, his performance fits the Toyman well for me. My favorite bit with him, though, ended up being the final scene with Tess. He and Cassidy Freeman played off one another well and I enjoyed his idolization of the Metallo heart. I have a feeling we’ll see him again this season. I can’t really say whether I’d like to or not. The character just seems to be so secondary in both of the episodes he’s been in – no fault of Gauthier’s, though – that it leaves me rather apathetic regarding him.

One thing that really stands out to me as odd about the Toyman’s plot is that no one was really concerned with the amazing technical work Schott put into his decoy. That thing had to have been the most amazing artificial lifeform created on the show and it was basically an afterthought. C’mon, not even one scene of Hamilton geeking out of the thing?

As I mentioned earlier, the character work in this episode was beyond fantastic. I don’t think I’ve even been so rapt by the dialogue and interactions of the pairings included in this episode. Let’s start with the Tess and Oliver (Justin Hartley) scene in what I guess was Mexico somewhere. Tess as Lara Croft aside, when she started opening up to Oliver to get him to confide in her, I was lost in the scene. In an earlier review, I talked about how Cassidy was letting in so much vulnerability with Tess while trying to keep the hard but cracked exterior up. We’re given more of that here and I have to say I’m a big fan to see even more of it. Tess and Oliver are both fractured and, with their shared past, I’d like to see them grudgingly open up to one another more, to see them become emotional touchstones for one another. Justin and Cassidy have great chemistry, swimming with a good amount of darkness amongst the playfulness. That was evident when Tess touched his shoulder and Oliver’s silent reaction to her before he steeled himself up again.

This was matched with the amazing scene between Ollie and Clark (Tom Welling) on the Ace of Clubs balcony. My issue a lot of times with scenes between these two alpha males is that there is often an aggression from one or both of them. One is always growling and lecturing while the other has to react. This is the first scene between them in a while that I can recall them just having a conversation. I’m not a fan of the collapse of Ollie storyline, now brought to a head by Ollie willing to commit suicide, but the scene on the balcony was beautiful. Clark didn’t lecture, he opened up to him. The softness with which he conversed with Oliver was great work on Tom’s part and so refreshing. There was sincere care there and Hartley offered an exposed Oliver who genuinely listened and shared. Ollie’s not done in his depressing journey but having both Tess and Clark reach out to him could finally stir him out of it.

And, of course, every scene between Lois (Erica Durance) and Clark. I hardly want to comment on them because they were all gems that speak for themselves. I can’t tell you the numbers of times I smiled wide while these two were on screen together.

Once again, Erica and Tom are given great light comedy to work with to balance out the heavier parts and both excel at it. The looks of amusement both had on their faces at various points throughout the episode were priceless and so welcome. The smiles and beaming eyes both had as they spoke. So much bad happens that it brings even more joy to see the brightness these two bring one another. Just as writing Chloe and Clark at odds brought out more strength in both characters, introducing the romance into Lois and Clark makes each better.

I could gush on and on about Clois from each of their scenes, but I’ll just focus on that final scene. The charged conversation between them sparkled under Tom’s and Erica’s performances. With my own experience with acting, I know the difficulty of creating and maintaining “romance” between characters at times. Sometimes it just seems silly. I can imagine both Tom and Erica having some hilarious gag reel outtakes where they just start cracking up when they’re making googly eyes at each other. But they really pull it off well and really let forth the fun they are having. It’s such a treat to see Clark enjoy a relationship instead of being stuck in the melodrama over it. Maybe my favorite part of the scene – keeping in mind I loved the whole thing – was when Lois was copyediting Clark’s article and that finally look on Tom’s face that said ‘Okay, that’s just too far’. It was classic and summed up their competitive nature.

I also have to commend Erica and Tom for having to act and connect through all of the ‘thoughts’ scenes. It felt believable throughout even with the risk of stilting the dialogue and flow of the scenes. Series newcomer Wayne Rose did a fairly accomplished job directing and has a great way of working with actors. That he trusted his solid cast and the strong writing to just focus squarely on the interaction without pushing for extra flair and style was a smart choice. This showed well in Erica’s and Tom’s scenes. And because of how enjoyable they were, I have to note the corresponding donut scenes (blatant Dunkin’ Donuts product placement aside). Nice little moments and I especially liked how special Lois looked in the hospital one.

The development of Superman continues strongly. I nearly jumped out of my seat and clapped for the scene where Clark dresses down the guy witness who didn’t actually see anything. The cock of his head, the stern look, the command of his voice and directness of his words were iconic Superman. I maybe would’ve pulled back just a tad with the camera to get some torso with his face in the shot to really capture that cross-armed Superman look, but that was Big Blue Boy Scout all the way. Plus, Clark continues to use his brain. He took command of the Ace O Clubs (apparently, it’s not Ace of Clubs anymore) situation and put together that the Winslow Schott he was holding was a fake. Okay, he had some help from Chloe (Allison Mack), but it was in the proper sidekick way. He told her what needed to be done and she responded to him. It was much more than the traditional dumb Clark running to Chloe and her coming up with all of the solutions.

That whole first scene where Clark arrives on the rooftop as the cops show up, zips in to remove the hostages and confronts the “bomber” head on was vintage Superman. The only thing I didn’t like about it was Clark’s tough-handing dealing with the bomber. Don’t think he really needed to be backhanded across the factory floor. And, yes, of course I loved that Clark changed out of the Blur in the convenient phone booth at the factory. Especially dug on Clark’s response to Lois questioning that he would call her from a phone booth: “Apparently.” It was a throwaway line delivered perfectly. Tom seems to be so much more comfortable in the role of Clark than he’s been since the earlier seasons of the series.

The “trial” in the episode proved rather innocuous. It didn’t really seem to tie into the rest of the events beyond Clark listening to Lois’ thoughts. Upon a second viewing, it seems that it was meant for Clark to open his eyes regarding Oliver’s behavior but it still isn’t very clear to me. If that’s the case, I’d be mad if I was Jor-El. He ‘built-in’ this seed that was supposed to activate when an extreme condition required it too and this was that condition. Although Clark did become aware of Ollie’s state of mind, I don’t necessarily think he learned much about humanity and his Kryptonian instincts. Maybe I was just blind to it but it didn’t work for me. I was looking forward to these trials, not realizing until just this week that they were going to be playing out in Clark’s life rather than in the Fortress. I think it’s a terrific idea and I was anticipating this being a superb kickoff to those trials. It wasn’t.

‘Echo’ worked for me for the most part. That was primarily in the scenes that were just between the characters rather than dealing with the plot. That’s where the majority of my score comes from. The overall storyline wasn’t much and the villain situation felt like something from the series pre-Season 9. The cinematography and visual design was also more traditional. That was a disappoint to me after the significant change of the look of the series in the first three episodes of the season. It looks, perhaps, like that visual change might just have been an anomaly. We’ll have to see.