Smallville Episode 9.20 ‘Sacrifice’ Review

Posted on May 1, 2010

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Teaser

TVSummary: A relatively successful set-up to the final confrontation of the season.
Rating: 7.5/10


Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

Watchtower is breached by both Tess and Checkmate, working independently of one another, forcing an advanced security system to lock both Chloe and Tess inside the building. Clark meets with Faora, who has decided that her group must make peace with Zod and join forces again with Zod’s followers. Clark, however, reveals both the original Zod’s part in the destruction of Krypton and that Zod now has the powers he’d promised his people, convincing Faora that he is not to be trusted. In pursuit of the Kandorians, Ollie runs afoul of Zod to disastrous results.

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

Feature-Length Review after the jump.


Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.

One of the things that has become distinctly apparent is that the quality of this season during its second half is a lesson in extreme peaks and valleys, seeming to alternate episode to episode. After last week’s decidedly sub-par installment, the show returns to a relatively successful outing with this week’s ‘Sacrifice’. While it doesn’t hit on all notes – or hits softly – the episode pulls everything back together to set-up the season finale in two weeks.

It definitely lived up to its name with sacrifices both large and small occurring without. The most meaningful, of course, is the death of Faora and the surprise reveal that she was with Zod’s child. It was a shrewd choice to have actress Sharon Taylor wear her hair down, giving us a softer and more peaceful Faora than we’ve seen previously. It’s not that she’s been a stony warrior in earlier appearances but she had a very severe edge to her that created a distance between character and audience. For the first time, I felt that we could get close to her and it worked very well for the story.

An intriguing aspect of the development of a pregnant Faora is the contrast with her and Zod’s genetic counterparts. The original two had created Doomsday because they could not conceive a child together, so I admit that I could not have seen this story point developing. At the same time, I have to poo poo the writers some because, to this point, we hadn’t really seen anything of a relationship between the two characters. We knew of the past with their originators but when their blood was taken to create these clones, Zod was just witness to the deaths of his wife and child. Now, we’re led to believe Zod had taken a liking to Faora back then and this has created some type of attraction between the two clones now. I realize some things have to occur off-screen to move the overall narrative along but this is something they should have at least hinted at between them to make it a bit more plausible and palatable.

That said, it didn’t detract from the great confrontation scene between Zod and Faora. Callum Blue was in cold, focused Zod mode this episode and it’s something he excels at. I wouldn’t say that his chemistry with Taylor is exceptionally strong but they were able to create a powerful scene that gave Zod all new motivation to wage his war on humanity. Scenes like this are why I’ve come to love and appreciate Zod and truly feel he is the best pure villain the show has ever had. (Lex is still, technically, the best but he wasn’t a pure villain.) His absolute worldview blinded him to one of the things he’s always wanted out of his life and I loved the tragic irony that it was at Zod’s own hand that he lost a second child. Every once in a while we get a moment that is truly, spinetinglingly touching and arresting on the show. When Zod realizes Faora was pregnant after he’s killed her was one such moment. From putting his ear to her stomach to Louis Febre’s wonderful score – and that great beat where he cut the music completely – it was heartwrenching and you could feel the loss, the regret, the guilt and the dark shift to moving that blame on the world (and likely Clark).

It was inevitable when it was revealed that Faora was pregnant that she would be sacrificed in some fashion. That still didn’t take away from the moment and I really like it as the last grain of salt that tipped the scale for Zod. I wish we were privy to more of Zod’s wrath but his razing of the Checkmate castle was a great way to cap the majority of the Checkmate arc for this season. We still have Maxwell Lord out there and Waller no doubt escaped, setting up any possible return engagements for the organization. Lord and the Red Queen are revealed in next week’s ‘Hostage’ which should clear the way for an all-Zod-and-the-Kandorians finale.

I was a bit confused by the set-up of the episode with the suddenly super-fortified Watchtower. It felt as if I were reading a comic where a previously unseen plot point makes an appearance merely to set a situation in motion. That was, essentially, what this was but I do appreciate that they tied it back into Chloe’s having been taken by Checkmate. It was a reasonable explanation and allowed me to ease into the contrivance better as the story moved forward. Still, I was disappointed because this was sold as the episode where Chloe would come face-to-face with all of her actions this season. This was far from that and while I could stomach Chloe this episode it felt no different from the other moments – specifically in ‘Absolute Justice’ – where she was told about her detachment from humanity and the dangers of that, and I felt cheated. Yes, Chloe had to sacrifice Watchtower to save her’s and Tess’ lives, but it wasn’t a reckoning and it wasn’t that strong of a mirror held up for her to honestly take notice of what she’s done. Instead, Tess is a cypher for the writers to try and push Chloe and Ollie closer together.

There is not much to say of Tess in ‘Sacrifice’. Yes, she counts among the titular action even though she was revived. (Cue the inevitable Pulp Fiction comparisons.) She seems completely adrift and superfluous to everything that is going on. She’s merely around to help move the plot along at certain points and I feel bad for Cassidy Freeman. I could see them getting rid of Tess this season because she doesn’t appear to count anymore in a substantial way. She and Allison did okay work together but they weren’t given much to work with, continuing what feels like a one-note relationship between the two characters. The only twist to that relationship was the homoerotic undercurrent given off by Tess. They’ve always subtly played with Tess being attracted to women as well as men. They had it kicked into overdrive this episode.

Once again, we’re left with an outing where Clark does play a strong part but he seems to be a spine for the rest of the story to occur all about him but not built around him. He had some great scenes with Faora in their first meeting as well as the scene in the barn where Clark reveals the “real” Zod’s past and discovers she’s pregnant. Tom Welling was exceptional in that moment Clark heard the tiny heartbeat, seeming to be a proud parent and welcoming the idea that Clark’s race, his species could live on. I wish we could’ve seen more of his reaction to Faora and the baby being dead. You can bet Clark’s heart was shattered with that sight.

Tom was also strong while confronting Zod and the Kandorians at the Fortress and it was electric to have Tom and Callum standing opposite one another. Zod is promoted to General, as we knew he would be, and the classic Zod is there in full form. He reestablishes his charismatic command of the troops and levels his gaze against Clark with all of the searing ferocity of a despot and serial killer. Clark, though, is resolute and formidable as he lets his people know that Zod was responsible for Faora’s death. It was an interesting choice to not have Clark in the Blur outfit for the scene, setting him apart from the look of the Kandorians. While it’s hard for me to take Clark seriously in that wretched grey jacket with pockets out of a Rob Liefeld drawing, Tom sold his presence. It didn’t make much sense that Vala would continue to side with Zod upon the reveal of Zod’s role in her sister’s death, but the character is so weak that it wasn’t surprising she would join in. The whole sequence, though, was a great drawing of the line in the sand (er, snow) and was touched off with a good exit of Kandorus dramatis personae.

Justin Hartley, Walter Wong and Bryan Q. Miller wrote a good episode. It’s not without its faults but it serves well to move the story along. The whole lockdown in Watchtower was rather trite and really didn’t reveal much about Tess and Chloe we didn’t already know. Adding Stuart as an agent of Checkmate was a bit too convenient and his change in personality wasn’t really earned, even though he’d been shot and left for dead earlier in the season. Zod and Ollie’s confrontation was decent, bordering on good, but it really made little sense to have Zod burn the ‘Z’ into his chest. I’m guessing this is a thread that will be picked up in ‘Hostage’ and ‘Salvation’. Those things aside, the scenes with Clark and Zod, Clark and Faora, and Zod and Faora really buoyed the episode.

I thought Kevin Fair did a fine job directing, though there was an overuse of tight close-ups. His staging of the Kryptonian ceremony where we first see Faora was stunning and I love the way they add this flowing, airy touch to those scenes. It’s really quite a different way of filming for the show and evokes Japanese or Chinese ceremonies and rituals. His work in the Faora death scene was also exceptional. While ‘Sacrifice’ isn’t my favorite of his work this season, he’s proven to be a tremendous asset, helming the most episodes of a single director in Season 9.

‘Sacrifice’ did help to fuel my interest in what ‘Hostage’ and ‘Salvation’ hold and I’m really looking forward to Martha Kent’s and Perry White’s returns next week.

A funny piffle but my CW channel airs Seinfeld reruns at 10:00 and 10:30 each night during the week and the first episode was the one where the group is trying to meet up to see a movie called CheckMate.

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