Smallville Episode 9.18 ‘Upgrade’ Review

Posted on April 17, 2010



TVSummary: A decidedly different Red Kryptonite story then any of the previous episodes makes for a strong effort.
Rating: 8.5/10

Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

Clark is infected by Red Kryptonite at the remains of one of Tess’ secret labs that was working on upgrading John Corben, aka Metallo. Discovering Zod has powers, Clark and Zod team up to destroy the arsenal of Green Kryptonite weapons stockpiled by Chloe and Ollie around the world. Clark also reveals the Fortress of Solitude to Zod. Meanwhile, Chloe teams up with an unlikely partner in Tess to track down Clark. Lois attempts to help Corben escape and find someone who can help with his particular condition.

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

Feature-Length Review after the jump.

Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.

First and foremost, why is After Burn still playing at the movie theater after more than a year? Come on, set dressers. Let’s at least pretend that that street is real and actually goes through life day to day.

Plus, I’ll make that cheap reference that it’s nice to see Blue and Green in an episode about Red Kryptonite.

Okay, how much praise can I heap on Brian Austin Green? I still can’t believe the erstwhile David Silver is this good. Every scene he was in tonight was believable and real, especially amidst the fact he’s playing essentially a robot and surrounded by such extraordinary goings-on. In specific, his scene in the basement of the Talon – that dark, dank place that feels like it still needs to be exorcised after last year – where he struggles simply to live brought real the searing pain Corben was feeling.

A couple more I could real off at the risk of devoting the entire review to B.A.G.: His entire fight with Clark and Zod at the Fortress and his exchange with Clark prior to stabbing him with the Green K to free him of the Red K’s grip; and the final scene between he and Lois on the street where throws himself at Lois in an attempt to hold strong to a lasting piece of his humanity. ‘Metallo’ being so much earlier in the season, I had forgotten just how tangible and potent the chemistry between Green and Erica Durance is. That exchange, ending with a great if oddly paused line delivery about Lois being a great “dame”, was some of the best work by any actor on the series this year and really sold how Corben is a good guy trapped in tragic circumstances. I have a hard time seeing Corben as a consistent presence on the show but I anxiously await the next time he makes an appearance. I hope to see him at least once in Season 10.

The only thing about Corben that didn’t make sense to me was how he could survive that explosion without a scratch on him. He’s essentially a cyborg and is still mainly comprised of human flesh. There’s no realistic way he would’ve survived that intact. (And yes, I realize the ridiculousness of arguing “realism”.)

Tom Welling, once again, is given a chance to play a variation on his Clark Kent that seems to free him from the sometimes stale performance he can give of the young hero. Red Kryptonite was a fabulous invention of writer Jeph Loeb back in the second season of the show that allowed them to throw the shackles of the ‘good guy’ off of our protagonist and explore the hidden desires and unchecked impulses that Clark consciously or subconsciously keeps at bay. There have been a number of episodes exploring this effect on Clark, the last being the delicious episode ‘Crimson’ back in Season 6.

Honestly, I felt ‘Crimson’ was the crowning jewel of the plot device and really felt that the concept had been mined for all it is. Upon hearing that they were bringing back the gimmick, I was really hesitant to see what it brought to this episode. How surprised am I that they found a subtle, more focused aspect of the convention that worked extremely well. There has been a significant amount of copy, particularly of late, about the producers discussing this season being “Clark’s darkest hour” and focusing on a “darkest before the dawn” approach to Clark accepting his destiny as a hero. They use this darkness to give us a Red K Clark that is quite a bit more angry and vicious than we’ve seen before. And this is someone who once crashed Lex and Lana’s engagement party to tell them exactly what he thought of the ordeal.

I find it interesting that it takes them putting Clark on Red K to have him actively use the resources at Watchtower on his own. There is a side of the affected Clark that is very much a part of Superman, that pointed drive to get to the work at hand. This brought that into stark relief and I’m impressed that they, perhaps inadvertently, still reveal pieces of Clark’s personality and not just focus on the departure from standard issue Clark.

It must be admitted that seeing Red K Clark and Zod working together was a devilish amount of fun. In particular, the fight against Corben in the Fortress really helped seal an unwritten bond between the two Kryptonians. It made so much sense in the end of the episode for Clark to reveal to Chloe his feelings on his connection with Zod and how there is this strong desire to have a “brother”, to be connected with his species. Zod conveyed that same wont, feeling hurt and betrayed by the reveal that Clark was in an altered state and not siding with Zod of his own volition.

Callum Blue turns in yet another effective performance as Zod. I know there are quite a number of fans out there that just don’t seem to get what Blue does with the character. He simply delivers a person so couched in his own selfish yearnings and absolute worldview that it comes across effortlessly and unaffected. Much as I enjoyed Sam Witwer the majority of last year, his Davis Bloome had so many affectations that he became a caricature. Blue’s Zod simply “is” and I think quite a number confuse that with him not seeming to do much. I can’t reiterate enough just how purely “evil” this character is, even if his intentions seem reasoned and sound.

Blue and Welling working together have become a true delight and, while we were spoiled with the scene where Clark confronts Zod about having powers in a webclip earlier this week, I still found myself drawn into the exchange between the two. They followed this up with a wonderful little conversation about Zod and Jor-El’s relationship and how it is mirrored in the relationship Lex and Clark shared – nice comparison. This was capped with the scene where Clark takes Zod to the Fortress. You could see just how touched Zod was to see this fragment of their homeworld. And I’m glad they had Clark tell Zod about the actions of his original person, even if it was off-screen. To hear the things Zod did to bring down the society on Krypton prior to its destruction and still have him make the choice to pursue his dark ends speaks to just how evil and uncompromising the character is to his core.

I was both surprised and not that Zod chose to share his blood with the Kandorians to give them their powers. And not just because that was a significant amount of blood Zod shed from his body. Once he achieved his powers, Zod has selfishly kept them all to himself, which honestly I think he would’ve preferred. But upon learning of the building rebellion against him, I can see why he would want to empower some lieutenants to help with his cause. I did find it extremely odd that they used a picture of the meeting between Alia, Faora and Clark from ‘Persuasion’ when he handed them their new identities as Tess’ proof that there was group siding against Zod. It appeared he had already addressed this with Faora.

Chloe (Allison Mack)was palatable this episode, which is a relief after she went back to nearly insufferable last week. I have to believe that the encounter with Clark in Watchtower softened her a bit. Of course, it also seemed to have caused her to do things that were out-of-character. Yes, she was worried about Clark but why in the world would she tell Tess (Cassidy Freeman) about the effect Red Kryptonite has on Clark? Plus, it seemed too convenient that Chloe would work with Tess and unthinkable that Chloe would possibly compromise the secret of the cave to her. Ironically, there is a poster hanging in Watchtower that says “Loose Lips Sink Ships”. It was also convenient that Chloe got that camera shot of Clark and Zod on top of the Space Needle. And just how the hell did Chloe deduce from that picture that Zod has powers? It looked like Clark was the only one using his freeze breath in that shot.

A few standout details for me this week: I liked how they were developing a Red K heart for Corben, something we all believed would be how Clark was exposed to infection. Of course, I loved seeing Seattle on the show again and I like how it, New York and Shanghai are the only three real cities we’ve seen characters on the show in. Plus, despite perception, the writers got it right that it hardly snows in the city of Seattle itself. Fun little touch, even if – again with the conveniences – it alerted Chloe to their location. I also got a great thrill out of seeing Corben’s Green K heart beat while frozen, a precursor to him breaking free. The shoutout to Dr. Emmett Vale, the creator of Metallo in the comics, by Lois was a nice check with the established comic mythos. And I liked that it was because Corben was controlled by the chip that he was doing things that the villainous Metallo would do. Corben is a good guy and his motivation for being on the opposite side of the Blur at the beginning of the season would not hold up to turn him into the villain we know he’ll become. It’s also very interesting that Corben picked up and presumably kept the chip.

‘Upgrade’ was a compelling episode filled with great performances and really seemed to drive the story forward towards the finale. It was a welcome change after the flashy but ultimately hollow effort seen in ‘Checkmate’ last week. With four episodes left on the season, I feel much better and more excited about the story then I did with the Doomsday arc at this time last year.