Smallville Episode 9.21 ‘Hostage’ Review

Posted on May 7, 2010



TVSummary: A beautiful, emotional episode that connects Smallville’s heart and soul back to the series at its darkest moment.
Rating: 9/10

Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

Clark is busy looking for the Book of Rao to find some way to combat Zod and Kandorians as Lois tries to find some meaning in her life following being fired and “dumped” by the Blur. Martha comes home to the farm for the first time in years with senior reporter Perry White in romantic tow. Martha deals with the ghosts of the past as Clark faces his future. Meanwhile, Maxwell Lord holds Tess captive to find the Book of Rao, in service of the Red Queen.

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

Feature-Length Review after the jump.

Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.

Damn you, Smallville. You have me all relatively detached from this tail-end of the season, then you go and pull out ‘Hostage’ and give us the second best episode of the season and one of the best episodes in years. If there is one word to sum up what ‘Hostage’ is all about, it’s “character”.

I was utterly impressed that what could’ve easily been a plot piece – focusing strictly on the Red Queen and how she plays into the whole Checkmate/Kandorians story arc – was instead a lovely portrait of the characters right before things come to a head in the finale. Throughout the episode, but particularly in the first two acts, the scenes were set up as dialogues between two people. The pacing and the care given to each personality and the relationships between each pair was engaging and enlightening, stellar work put in by Jordan Hawley and Anne Cofell Saunders. I loved how they just let things unfold and each discussion felt natural, not forced or kept to some strict timetable. It really allowed for the audience to connect to everyone and for the emotions to resonate.

There was a feeling throughout the episode that recalled the earlier seasons of Smallville and in many ways it felt like the show had reconnected with its heart and soul. There have been lovely things in Season 9 – and some not so lovely – but there has admittedly been an absence of the true heart of the show. Yes, the Clark and Lois relationship has hit on some great romantic and personal beats, but overall the season has focused strongly on plot, which sometimes can leave you cold. ‘Hostage’ completely warmed the heart and I think it says very much about the presence of Martha Kent and Annette O’Toole. Just like ‘Escape’ was necessary to reconnect with the characters after the second hiatus, ‘Hostage’ was vital to ground us in the emotional core of our friends as the face their darkest hour.

I’m not sure that I can necessarily comment on Annette’s performance. She brings such a raw and natural believability to Martha that it seems simple and yet so right. Her performance isn’t flashy, except for the scene with Tess where she reveals that she is the Red Queen, it’s honest and without pretension, which comes across like, well, home. Every beat with her character was perfect – even the Red Queen, which I’ll touch on in a bit – and completely invested me in the emotions throughout. Seeing Martha confront the ghost of Jonathan (no, not literally, which you actually have to stipulate with this show) and this past life she has removed herself from – in the barn, when Perry is wearing Jonathan’s coat, and staring down that apron in the kitchen – was touching and heartbreaking. It was a shrewd choice to connect back to that milestone of the series because it gives everything perspective and a sense of history. The show is criminal in the way it addresses its past, often only bringing up past events to move along the plot of a given episode. This actually connected the dots in the audience’s emotional state from Season 5 through now.

Seeing Tom Welling and Annette working together again was impressive. Once, simplicity is the case here and they both fell back into natural patterns and rhythms. This felt like a relationship fully lived in and each of their discussions played like a mother and son merely talking about life. ‘Hostage’ reminded me how much Clark needs a parental figure of some sort in his life if only for a touchstone to help him make sense of things. Even with the break-up with Lois and the weight of the Book of Rao on his shoulders, Clark felt more at peace with himself than he has in a long, long time. I’m really astounded that they pulled off the final “confrontation” scene so well. Clark talking to Martha about being the Red Queen and asking for the Book of Rao was on the same level as their discussion about Clark and Lois earlier in the episode. They sold the exchange and it actually put me at peace with the whole Martha-as-clandestine-agent thing.

I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time on the Red Queen. In the end, it wasn’t as enveloping of a story thread as it could have been, and I mean that in a nice way. It could easily have taken over more screen time than it needed to, but I think they balanced it out wonderfully. We knew going in that Martha’s motivation for being the Red Queen was going to be to protect Clark. I also recall commenting earlier this season when Martha’s return was announced that she was going to have something to do with Checkmate being a Senator and the organization being government-sanctioned. It all played out that way and instead of being out-of-character for Martha and an implausible stretch, it actually fit the story just right. Again, I have to leave it to Annette for imbuing it with credibility. Her scene with Tess was a bit theatrical but it fit the idea of the persona.

The other treat of the episode, of course, is the return of Mr. Annette O’Toole, Michael McKean, in the iconic role of Perry White, a character seen only once on the show way back in Season 3. With Clark and Lois being so entrenched in the Daily Planet these last two seasons, we all waited with baited breath for the time when the intrepid reporter would waltz back in and attach himself to the Planet to eventually set up his role as Editor-In-Chief. I liked that they established a personal relationship between Perry and Franklin Stern, which opens a possible return next season but also gives them the “in” they need to bring Perry into the paper’s fold in the future, whether we see that on the show or not.

Just as with Tom and Annette, watching Michael and Erica Durance work together was a beautiful thing. I really liked the conceit that only Perry and Lois were working the story. It played at the working relationship that would be seen with the characters throughout the history of Superman, plus it was nod to the fact that in all previous interpretations Perry and Lois had been working together for years before Clark came on the scene. Their chemistry was magical and it was a treat to see their interplay. It was similar to Clark and Lois’ when they are working on a story only without the romantic edge. Of course, they also mixed in this mentor-mentee affiliation that echos the future.

The idea of a relationship between Martha Kent and Perry White, frankly, irked me. I was excited that both characters were coming back but it felt like a big contrivance to put them together as a reason to bring both into the episode. The execution, though, was well done and it made sense that Martha wouldn’t be as invested in it as Perry was. The scene between Perry and Clark on the porch was particularly affecting on both parts. Tom really sold Clark’s apprehension at his mother having a man in her life, especially this man, and Michael shaded Perry’s disappointment and doggedness with the right touch. That part where he wore Jonathan’s coat to get firewood was a killer, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry when he realized what he’d done. Yeah, it was bit of a broad metaphor but Michael softened it enough for me.

To top off the main characters this week, Erica Durance brought both strength and vulnerability to Lois this episode. I still feel like this problem between Lois and Clark felt wedged in merely for drama, but ‘Hostage’ gave it more depth and merit. It seems weird that they would focus Lois’ attention more on being a hero rather than journalism and has been a curse for both Lana and Chloe throughout the series. I have to wince when I see them steering Lois down the same paths. There is still an air of difference about her and also some hope now that Lois is returned to the Planet.

Though, Clark was at the heart of the episode, it felt like Lois was the true hub, connecting the storylines between the other main participants, and that gave Erica moments to shine with each. It’s easy to forget at times just how close Lois and Martha were/are. In fact, I often forget that Lois was Martha’s Chief of Staff when she was a Kansas State Senator. Sharing that moment where Martha describes the story about helping Jonathan out with damming the flooding river, Erica brought delicate touches to Lois taking the story to heart. You could also feel the sorrow, churning regret but earnest hope within Lois at dinner when she revealed that she needs more in her life at the moment and left Clark. Not to mention the pure joy she had in saving Perry’s life (mirrored in Clark’s smile while watching her). Erica was firing on all pistons. And her line about noticing her butt in jeans was a yummy little confection for the fellas out here.

The only thing I didn’t like about the episode while I was initially experiencing it was the scenes set inside Tess’ mind while Lord was trying to extract information about the Book of Rao from her. I hated the shift in filming style, felt it was trying to hard to be edgy, and it really turned me off to what was going on. I was relieved to find out that it was intentionally made to be an altered state and it works better for me. It’s still a bit too jarring so it leaves a semi-bitter aftertaste in my mouth. At the start of the season, I was excited about the chances they were taking with the look of the series and experimenting with different styles. It’s been a bit overkill in this second half of the season but I still find myself keen on the effort.

And I must say hi to Chloe. Our girl was back this episode, having been shaken loose by the events in ‘Sacrifice’. It’s a shame Clark had to drag her back in and I only hope that once the threat of the Kandorians is done Chloe decides to move on. I still would rather see some recompense for her actions but it was nice to see true remorse from her and an affecting exchange between her and Clark. I liked how they had the Watchtower eye sealed up and everything was dark, though it was way too convenient that Chloe got everything up and running and a bit of a groaner when she flipped the switch and the place – and her – was bathed in light. Subtle.

How shocked am I that the show would gift us such an episode this late in the season. ‘Hostage’ was a wonderful return of two beloved people, particularly Martha, and was a splendid focus on character. My hats off to the writers breaking such a thoughtful story and the courage to go through with it as the final episode before a season finale. To me, this felt like the perfect meld of Smallville of the past and Smallville of the present. I’m looking forward to the future.