Smallville Episode 10.1 ‘Lazarus’ Review

Posted on September 25, 2010

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Teaser

TVSummary: A tour-de-force premiere sets the stage for a season packed tight with content.
Rating: 8.5/10 (Adjusted Score 10/16/10; Original Score 9/10)


Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

Clark dies after his confrontation with Zod and plummets not only to the Earth below but into a netherworld between life and death where he’s told of an impending evil he should’ve been on Earth to face. Lois pulls the Blue Kryptonite knife from Clark’s gullet, allowing the sun’s rays to kick start our hero back to life. Chloe takes drastic measures not only to find Oliver but to insure that his life is spared. And Tess awakes to find herself alive … and in the midst of the latest Luthor nightmare.

** 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 cried. Let me get that out of the way first. More on that in a bit.

As I sort of found myself doing last year in reviewing the episodes, I first have to take exceptional note of both the direction and the score of ‘Lazarus’. Kevin Fair, my pick for favorite director of Season 9 (though, I give tremendous hat’s off to Greg Beeman’s work in ‘Salvation’), increases on the extraordinary work he did with last season’s premiere episode, ‘Savior’. I was shocked to find that this was a mood piece or a tone poem in a certain sense. Everything about the episode was crafted with a cinematic aspect and feel and pacing that was far afield from traditional Smallville. I dare say that they actually allowed this story to breathe and it’s all the better for it.

The paring down of the cast to four regulars (yes, Allison Mack is credited in this episode – with the “and”, no less – but will merely be felt not seen for the majority of this season) is a masterstroke and it allows Fair to focus and linger on our characters. This lets them not only experience the events of the episode but also process and react to them within the same scene. This approach creates a greater cohesiveness throughout the episode and a stronger emotional payoff. Fair trusts his actors and the scenes so much that rarely is the focus not on them. Most scenes are not shot with a particular artistic flair, which is the correct choice to allow us to connect with each character. Even the more stylistic shots and the special effects shots were focused on character moreso than spectacle. And yet, the entire thing played like a film. I enthused last year about the change in style in ‘Savior’ over traditional Smallville and I must do the same here. I was surprised at how cinematic the episode felt, even while pulling in close to characters. Fair knows from making quality on this show and I look forward to his continued efforts this season.

All the more embellished and enriched by Louis Febre’s score, which was, by turns, both epic and spartan in appropriate measure. In fact, I love some of the great choices to go quiet or still in certain moments. They gave greater weight and depth not just to the scenes featured but also to the moments where the hero theme trumpeted onscreen later. One of the great things I’ve enjoyed in the brief moments I’ve had contact with Louis through Twitter and following the accounts he shares of his process is that he absolutely loves and enjoys his career and Smallville. He’s as big a fan as any you’ll find and I think it gives him an almost extrasensory ability to pick up on the emotional under- and through-currents in an episode.

Sure, that’s the very nature of his role as composer but his scoring tends to be more fluid and tidal with what is actually occurring through the characters and story-arc than just what is happening onscreen. A lot of times you’ll find composers guiding and directing the flow of scenes, sometimes stamping their own impressions upon them. This has worked in a number of cases but also failed often. Louis actually marinates in the scene and the music tends to become one with the filmed work, so that it’s not directing the action or flow as much as experiencing it alongside the audience. I enjoyed the accompaniment quite well in ‘Lazarus’. In particular, the ambiance brought to Clark’s limbo scene and when Tess first awakens in Cadmus Labs and meets Alexander were highlights, as well as the additions to the Blur theme.

The biggest benefit to ‘Lazarus’ was its actors. Everyone brought their ‘A’ game to the episode with but one character having a bit of a bumpy ride. This was Clark’s episode, through and through. Even with the focus occasionally on Tess and Ollie, everything felt directed towards Clark. Tom Welling was game from beginning to end and I liked the varying emotions and levels they gave him to play. Often with Clark they’ll keep him in one mode throughout an episode, two if we’re lucky. We got determined Clark, investigative Clark, funny Clark, sorrowful Clark and even the All-New Prideful Clark with Kung-Fu Grip. And let’s not forget Angry Clark. I’m grateful that they are directly addressing the darkness, anger and very un-Superman-like choices Clark made last year. I really felt for Clark in the moment when it dawned upon him that he was choking the life out of “Bad One” Lex. When he looked down at his hands and at that dark Blur outfit and could see just how black everything had become. I must say that I also like the choice to have Clark confront that darkness – and the strains left over from Seasons 8 and 9 – to finally become Superman. It appears that Darkseid will prey upon that.

How odd was it to have a Clark and Lex scene? Strangely, I could kind of hear Michael Rosenbaum’s voice in the scene. Or rather Lex’s. There was a certain pattern of speech that seemed familiar. Mackenzie Gray did a decent job as the clone, at times evoking Rosenbaum, but I think it was an odd choice to let him stray from it in his own thing and have everyone play it like they were talking to the real Lex. He’s the one character I had issue with in the episode.

But did I love the dilemma Clone Lex presented? How classic Superman was that? Save the girl or save the ‘Planet’.

Lois was oddly both engaging and merely … present in the episode. She played a good part in the events and yet she wasn’t a strong focus, even when she was. I’m not sure I can properly put into words the “rightness” of Lois just existing in this episode. We got to see good flashes of what Lois will be this season and Erica Durance, like the true champ she is, played them all with relish. I adored the moment she was tip-toeing around the big present box sitting in the barn loft and giving that grin before going in. That “of course I’m right” smile she gave under the table when Clark went for her set-up and blurred to get the file on Cadmus. Lois was everything and everywhere she needed to be in this episode, which I guess was just oddly reassuring and comforting. She didn’t stand out, per se, but she was where she belonged.

That also included Lex’s scarecrowing of her, which gave a real reason and impetus to her leaving for Africa. She’s worried she will be Clark’s Achilles heel going forward. Honestly, she has reason to be. Clone Lex nailed it right on the head and I’m glad they used this as the rationale to separate the lovers for the moment. With Clark and Lana, there were so many artificial ways they kept the two apart that to get even a whiff of a similar story about Clark and Lois can draw the ire of fans as quickly as chum in shark-infested waters. While the break-up between the two was a shade abrupt last season, the moves still feel more honest and grown naturally out of the story and characters rather than just plot points to create drama. I look forward to how this journey for Lois brings them closer together.

And, for the record, I still love that she knows.

Chloe, Oliver and Tess, our other credited characters. There’s not significant much to say about them as they were each set on good paths for the season and had quality scenes. As I said earlier, this was Clark’s episode, so they really stuck to meat-and-potatoes work for these three. Justin Hartley was a kick as Oliver was being slapped around. Ollie was very Han Solo-like during the scene, not as nasty of a jerk as he has been in the past or as cocky and snotty of a hero as well. It was a nice mix of swarth and resolve. Plus, I enjoy Ted Whittall. He was the best part of Season 8’s wretched ‘Power’ in the role of Lana’s trainer. Here, his Rick Flagg seems like essentially the same character with a more insidious bent to him. I thought Ted and Justin played off one another well and I look forward to more of Flagg this season. Though, I will say that I’m disappointed that they explained away Ollie’s abduction to Flagg’s group. I get the impression that the initial idea was that it was Darkseid’s Parademons that attacked Ollie but that they changed it as they broke the story for this season.

I’ve become more and more a fan of Cassidy Freeman and I like what she did in ‘Lazarus’, even if it was all relatively small and minor. You get the real feel that Tess had the life scared out of her and that given a second chance she is looking for redemption. She might just have that in becoming a surrogate mother of sorts to Alexander, the boy clone of Lex. That will make for one rather odd relationship as the season spins on. One can assume that this clone might turn out to be the one that rapidly ages back into Michael Rosenbaum (when they eventually sign him to return to the show), which breeds its own drama with Tess. Now, she’s got this little life to take care of and you wonder in what ways it will change her, if at all. I also enjoyed her humbleness with Clark. When Tess tried to seek redemption from Clark in the past, she often came across as grovelling rather than repentant. That seemed different in the scene between the two at the labs. I’ve had a tough time with the flip-flop nature of Tess in the past, but I’m looking forward to what they have in store for her character.

There’s not really much I can say about Chloe and Allison. I was worried for a brief moment that they were going to cheese out and do something involving a comatose Chloe to write her out of the series for a while. The way she jumped right back when Clark gave his little pep talk was a bit straining to the suspension of disbelief, but I did feel her passion for Oliver. To me, though, it feels more like a general reaching out to hold on to the life she knows rather than some type of true love. It felt more like she didn’t want to lose Ollie because he was a) a friend; b) a hero; and c) because she’d just lost Jimmy within the last year. It seemed like she would’ve felt that that would put her over the edge. I’m still not sold on Chlollie, obviously. That aside, this was an effective way to get her off the show for a while. I do have to admit, much as I cherish Allison, I was a bit flummoxed that they still included her in the opening credits. I’m wondering if she’ll be there during the episodes she doesn’t appear in. And strange that they finally gave her the “and” credit slot.

I find it intriguing that, though they are setting up Darkseid as the big bad on the season – wow, they even gave us a glimpse of him – the episode really didn’t feature much of that story at all. This is a shrewd choice on their part. It’s obvious Darkseid will be a presence more than a character throughout a good chunk of the season, using people and others of the New Gods as harbingers or his voice. It’s also evident that they will play upon Clark’s psyche and struggle to overcome his dark tendencies and push through to the light. I think this is the best way to present the villain and this story. I’m excited to see it slowly build.

‘Lazarus’ is a strong opener for the final season. There is going to be a lot of story stuffed into this season, but ‘Lazarus’ set a great focus back on Clark. I like this particular struggle for him. Sure, the Superman of the comics wouldn’t be fighting some inner darkness that could envelope him Bruce Wayne-style. But this actually picks up the threads dangling from the series and into and out of last season, so it fits and feels organic. Though, I must admit, seeing a prideful, almost egotistical Clark was jarring and I hope they put a squelch to that quickly. It seemed to come from nowhere, perhaps explained away by his recent triumph over Zod and the Kandorians. It was an odd choice and I’ll have to see the way they play out Clark’s struggle to see if it was relatively excusable.

As for the crying mentioned at the top, it was such a treat to see Clark and Jonathan together again. The writing was excellent and John Schneider was note-perfect throughout the scene. I’m in the camp that gets behind the death of Jonathan Kent in the various tellings of the origins of Superman. I was for them killing him off on Smallville as well. To be fair, there is a strength of character Jonathan has that no other character has carried on the show and you could see how beneficial that presence is to Clark in just this scene alone. It was beautifully shot during a great time of day, superbly acted by both Schneider and Welling, written and edited well, and served as such a great touchstone to get Clark back in touch with the more human qualities that were such a big part of the show in the beginning.

And I hate Jor-El.

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