Smallville Episode 9.5: ‘Roulette’ Review

Posted on November 1, 2009



TVSummary: An episode as focused on the characters as much as its gimmick.
Rating: 8.5/10

Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

Oliver’s downward trajectory comes to a head when he becomes embroiled in a dangerous, real-life game in the ARG skein, initiated by the owner of a club nicknamed Roulette. Lois plans an impromptu movie night with Clark as a way to take her mind off of Oliver not getting ahold of her for his birthday and the usual plans they make. Worried, Lois and Clark investigate his disappearance, leading to his office at the Luthorcorp building. Lois finds video of the night Toyman held Oliver hostage and discovers that he was willing to blow himself up, as well as Clark being witness to this. Feeling betrayed, Lois decides to find Oliver on her own. Clark and Chloe discover that the Kryptonian assassin from the future is somehow alive and well and was at the Ace o Clubs the night of Oliver’s attempted suicide. Investigating this, Clark discovers that she could very well not be alone.

** 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 called it a couple of weeks ago in discussions regarding a twist with Chloe in this episode: she was going to be behind the game that would tear Oliver down and threaten his life and lifestyle to the point that he’d finally pull himself out of his depression. Sure enough, she was the instigator, employing Victoria Sinclair, aka Roulette, as the mastermind behind the plot. And thankfully, it worked.

I haven’t been silent at all about my distaste for the storyline of Oliver’s dark descent this season. Not only has it been retread of exactly where he was early in Season 8, but it didn’t seem honestly proportionate with the reasoning they gave for his descent. Oliver blames himself for Jimmy’s death and yet his slide into depression seems more forced than natural. We are to assume that they had a relationship that was built off-screen and got to see but a taste of it in last season’s ‘Turbulence’ when Oliver offers to help Jimmy with his own personal demons. We never got to see much of any other interaction between the two, so we’re left with a case of being told instead of shown which makes the connection feel tenuous at best. I see the intent behind the storyline but it doesn’t ring very true because the emotional connection between the characters and between the characters and the audience wasn’t established.

With that in mind, I wasn’t really looking that forward to ‘Roulette’. This week’s guest star in the Season 9 cavalcade of DC denizens wasn’t that interesting or appealing to me going in and, coupled with the Dulliver-centric focus all the spoilers and episode descriptions pointed to, I had pretty much dismissed the episode out of hand. In fact, in full disclosure, I’d actually pushed this episode completely off my radar, practically forgetting about it until I was reminded by the preview clip released earlier in the week. The clip was of the fight scene between Lois and Roulette and it was positively wretched. It’s a scene that really added little to the episode above an exploitative catfight and it played horrible out of context. (Heck, it played horrible in context and represents the low-point of the episode.) Back on my radar, I went into ‘Roulette’ expecting to hate it.

I didn’t. Just as slyly as they did with ‘Rabid’, ‘Roulette’ engaged me, captivated me and further instilled in me confidence that the writers and producers are pushing for the most consistently great season of the series since way back in Season 2. Thinking of one word I could use to describe this episode and this season, I would have to say “romantic”.

When I say “romantic”, I’m not referring to the love stories. Well, not exclusively to the love stories. Season 9 holds up a very romantic view of superheroes and heroism and a romantic view of the characters themselves. It’s not that they’ve abandoned being realistic with the characters but they are embracing the archetypes of the characters that they’ve used as crutches in the last few seasons. It’s become a nice hybrid that I think works well for this new direction in the series but also allows them to create these beautiful little character moments that got lost in plot in the last few seasons.

Oliver’s character came alive for me in the episode for perhaps the first time this season. Yes, I enjoyed the moment between Clark and Oliver on the bike in ‘Rabid’ as well as the bar scene between Oliver and Tess, but he’d really been rather one-note whenever seen in Season 9 up to this point. The “suicide” scene and the discussion with Clark on the AOC balcony in ‘Echo’ were lovely scenes that rolled into great work by Justin Hartley throughout this episode. He was believable in everything thrown at him and I think that helped me to buy into the story and into Ollie’s overall arc. Just as Ollie came back into his own and came to realize that he did actually care about his life, he made me care for the character again. I don’t mind them exploring some dark territory with Oliver and Justin can handle those aspects of the character. Just don’t bury him in useless darkness.

I’m not quite sure what Chloe’s involvement in duping Ollie with the game plot portends for her future. It doesn’t seem far out of bounds for her since she’s been on a kick about being hero support and pushing heroes to be the best of themselves. But it’s also kind of a shady move for her and points to Chloe being a lot more grey in her methods as the story moves forward. It was nice to see her play a bit more of a role in the plot this week and allowed Allison Mack to have a gorgeous scene with Justin at the outdoor cafe. I still can’t quite figure out what Chloe can possibly continue to contribute to the series at this point, so I still feel uneasy seeing her on-screen this season. If this grey approach is really going to inform Chloe’s character for the rest of the season, I’d like to see a bit more of it before the inevitable episode when they thrust it upon us full-force.

There’s not much to really offer on Lois this week. She seemed a bit superfluous to the events – though more relevant than Clark did – except for that touching scene toward the end of the episode between her and Ollie. (Did I miss it or did Lois walk in with the brews?) I’ve always enjoyed the chemistry between Erica Durance and Justin and that they are able to easily crack into the shells of their characters and play in the quiet moments. I am enjoying the fact that the “love triangle” that is supposedly developing between Clark, Lois and Ollie is not present in Lois’ thought process at all. You can see that she’s really moved on and cares for Ollie as the person he is not as a beau or a courter. It lends real credibility to her character and her emotions and Erica plays it very well.

She can also kick ass very well on the show, but there was positively no reason to have the fight scene between her and Roulette. Have a confrontation, okay. But the physical fight wasn’t justified in the slightest. It was shoddily choreographed, sloppily filmed and badly written. It made no sense and pulls you out of the episode.

Speaking of pulling out of the episode, what happened to Clark? I understand that the episode’s primary focus was on Oliver but Clark (Tom Welling) was included through a good portion of the narrative for the first half of the episode. Then, Clark and Chloe discover that Alia, the Kryptonian assassin from the future, was present at the Queen Industries/LuthorCorp shindig and he vanishes for the rest of the episode. Yes, I’m aware that he ran off to the Fortress to ask Jor-El about the girl. His absence was very conspicuous, though. It was a way to introduce the plot aspects about discovering the other Kandorians, but it was a bit of an amateurish way to go about it.

In what limited screen time he did have, Welling did fun work. I really got a kick out of the opening scene with Clark and Lois at the farm. Once again, they give these two some fun bits of comedy to work with and Tom and Erica knock it out of the park. My favorite scene of the episode, though, was the last bit between Green Arrow and the Blur. I have to admit to being slightly choked up during this interaction between Clark and Ollie. It was nice to see Ollie back to work and his concession to Clark as the main hero. Of course, it wouldn’t be Ollie if he didn’t get his little dig in about Clark’s outfit. Whatever your feelings on the suit, you have to like that they’re addressing it on the show. It gives rationale to Clark for exploring a different costume in the future. Again, I have to talk about this season’s romanticism with the heroes and this scene is a prime example of it. The dialogue, the dynamic between the two and the beautiful shot of the heroes looking out over the city were exciting and mythic.

I’m glad I was turned around on ‘Roulette’. It reconnected me with Oliver and I’m grateful that they pulled him out of this hole. I’m not sure it would’ve been very useful to expound upon it. The episode also set up the new hierarchy of the heroes on the show. While Ollie has been the de facto head of adventurers, Clark is steadily moving into his place as a leader and a focal point. I could address the visual changes yet again on the season. I won’t except to mention being happy with a return to the visual flourishes on the season that all but vanished in last week’s ‘Echo’.