Smallville Episode 10.2 ‘Shield’ Review

Posted on October 2, 2010

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Teaser

TVSummary: A romance of dialogue and small character moments that trusts – and benefits – in establishing rapport between each person.
Rating: 8.5/10 (Adjusted Score 2/26/11; Previous Score 9/10; Adjusted Score 10/16/10; Original Score 9.5/10)


Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

With Lois away in Africa, Clark is paired with a new partner at the Daily Planet in Catherine “Cat” Grant, a woman who hates “vigilantes” and harbors her own secret past. Clark finds he must protect Cat as two attempts on her life also threaten to expose him. Oliver frantically searches for Chloe, leading to a run-in with his recent captors and some revelations about the life he leads. Tess works hard to earn both Oliver’s and Clark’s trust. In Africa, Lois has a very insightful encounter with archaeologist Carter Hall.

** 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 can make this bold of a statement: ‘Shield’ is one of my favorite episodes of Smallvilleever!

Why on Earth would I ever think that this episode would stand out to me? Going in, it looked entertaining but nothing more than an installment that might carry on threads from the season well. The promotion of the episode focused heavily on Keri Lynn Pratt’s Catherine “Cat” Grant. I have to be honest; I am not a huge fan of Pratt’s. She’s an extremely acquired taste that I never came to enjoy in other work that I’ve seen her in. So the prospects of this being such a Cat-themed episode didn’t enthrall me. Boy, was I completely off-base.

I have to show some love and support for Keri’s portrayal of Cat. Yes, in the individual doses she is extremely annoying and trying. The actress is also possessed of a voice that is so distinctive that you can’t help but love or hate it. Needless to say, I don’t love it, but I completely fell for her work in ‘Shield’. Once they started to tear down the walls and artifice of that in-your-face nails-on-chalkboard personality, there was a surprisingly vulnerable, mature and endearing young woman underneath. I absolutely bought her devotion to her son and that scene between Keri and Tom Welling in the Talon apartment when she explained her backstory is one of the finest two-person dialogue scenes in the entirety of the series.

From that point on, I was hooked on Cat. I can only hope they keep that same level of characterization throughout the rest of her scheduled appearances this season. Also, I found her little crush on Clark after her saves her from the bullet at the bus station to be genuine and touching. Sure, we know Clark has no romantic interest in her whatsoever, so it doesn’t set up a triangle, per se. But it does play nice into the established comic history of Cat’s infatuation with Clark Kent and the soon-to-build rivalry between her and Lois.

I am beyond stunned to say I liked Cat. And thoroughly thrilled that, once again, it’s as if the writers and producers were listening to the fans. The throw-away line about not being related to the Catherine Grant we were introduced to last season was something, honestly, I needed to hear and I nearly jumped out of my seat in joy when they said it. Much as I love this show, there are so many times that continuity is but a word on a page for it that this was genuinely surprising to hear them address such a glaring character issue. And I love that they decided that this Cat – the Cat truly inspired by her DC Comics forebearer – actually stole the name from the one we met last year. Kind of odd to come to the same city and use it, especially with a career in media, but it gave her an immediate story to stand behind when introducing herself to people. Kudos on this decision.

And nothing but praise for Jordan Hawley’s work on the script. Other than ‘Disciple’, I’ve really enjoyed Jordan’s work on the series. ‘Rabid’ and ‘Hostage’ were two of my top episodes last season and he continues with astounding work here. This episode was actually action-lite. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fiend always looking for action, but I was somewhat intrigued by how this was basically a collection of two-person scenes. Oh, and they were the right two-people in each scene. Every one of them crackled and no scene felt superfluous or fatty. Jordan’s command of Oliver and Carter Hall was of particular note and gave both Justin Hartley and Michael Shanks, respectively, a lot of meat to work with.

One of the common themes of Jordan’s scripts seems to be that of romance, and ‘Shield’ is no exception. The sweeping feeling of Africa, even in the closed-in camp and that most of the scenes took place inside that palatial tent, lent to this old Hollywood exotic and mythic tone to both Carter’s story and to the underlying feelings between Clark and Lois. The passion behind Ollie’s every move made him directed, dashing and dangerous. And the clear love for what these heroes can mean informed the entire episode, not the least of which that final poetic shot of Clark. I think one of the things I like about Jordan is his focus and style are probably closest to my own outlook on these kinds of tales. In three out of four cases, I’ve been right there with him, along for the ride. I look forward to another story or two of his before this ship sails off into the sunset.

There’s something to be said when I found myself liking every character in ‘Shield’. Even characters I’ve had or could have problems with I enjoyed. I truly feel for Tess and feel, perhaps for the first time, that she is stripped to the bone and actually acting from a point of real openness and honestly. I talked about the trainwreck that could’ve been Cat but wasn’t. Even Plastique, who I haven’t cared for in her two previous episodes, was tolerable and even “at home” with Flagg and Deadshot.

How awesome is the Suicide Squad? This is exactly what Checkmate should’ve been last season. Their threat feels real. They feel like honest characters with a purpose who will have a lasting effect on our heroes. They are in nooks and crannies we would expect them to be and there feels like a real cohesiveness to this group, even in just the brief moments we’ve seen them together. It was a shrewd choice to base everything around Ted Whittall’s Rick Flagg. He has a great presence as an actor and his performance is commanding and assured. And Deadshot was all kinds of fun. I wasn’t sure that making him some kind of cowboy was going to play well, but it lent him the right charm and moxie to believe in him. I was a bit baffled by the markings of Clark and Carter but they will come to mean something in future episodes, I’m sure. I am excited to see more of this crew and I look forward to other members they bring in.

I also have to give notice to Michael Shanks. He felt much more comfortable as Carter Hall this time around and I think his performance was that much stronger for it. I enjoyed his work in ‘Society’, ‘Legends’ and ‘Salvation’ last year, even with the trying-too-hard Hawkman voice. But this felt like a lived-in person and the work between Shanks and Erica Durance was top-notch. I loved the idea that Clark asked Carter to pay a visit to Lois to make sure she was okay and it builds on that trust and belief Carter has in Clark and what he will mean to the world. He was obviously annoyed with this request at first, but I think it was a cathartic experience for he and for Lois.

I spend a fair amount of time on the IMDb Smallville board – shout out! – and someone brought up in thread talking about the official description for the upcoming fifth episode of the season, ‘Isis’, that Lois seems to be falling into the same trap that Lana did about feeling like she’s holding Clark back. I commented at the time – and I think the exchanges between Lois and Carter back it up – that Lois might be worried about what she might do to harm or hinder Clark in any way, but she’s taking the time to find answers and insight. It’s a vastly different motivation than Lana, who felt that she had to develop powers of her own and to somehow be an “equal” of Clark to be with him. Lois is concerned less about the powers and more about the man and I think it was a splendid and welcome idea to have her talk with another hero about this kind of relationship and dynamic.

Just like Cat opening up to Clark, we were treated to some great insight into Carter that made him more real and more appealing of a character. The story of Shayera was touching and tender, if even a little intoxicating, and it was a wondrous example for Lois. I liked how this whole thing softened Carter a bit to be able to share his wisdom with her and I felt like each of his answers, each of his truths was absolutely the right thing Lois needed to hear. What could easily have been a cheap way to get Lois out of the picture with Clark for a bit actually proved to be essential to their relationship. In addition, to giving us a Carter Hall to root for.

I could probably gush on and on about how assertive and forthright Clark was in this episode. I won’t but it’s so wonderful to see this Clark, who really solidified himself much in this regard in ‘Salvation’, present in full in another episode. Even his deciding on whether to visit Lois or not didn’t feel wishy-washy but was paid due consideration. I loved his instance that they move Cat to another desk, as well as his defense of the “vigilantes”. Each moment Clark spent with Cat, he felt like the strong, sure one and finally the type of backbone the show needs. Opening up to Cat about Lois even came a place of confidence and strength, even if he feels that maybe it wasn’t the right decision to chase her off.

Two scenes in particular stand out to me in regard to Clark. The first is the scene with Tess at the Daily Planet when she tells him about the ballistic analysis. They’ve had this knack for having Tom play Clark as often short with Tess in these kinds of situations and they started that a bit until Tess called him on it. And even when he loosened a touch with her, he still felt like the dominant one. At the same time, it didn’t make Tess feel any smaller. It’s little moments like what Tom and Cassidy Freeman played here that really make this episode stand out.

The second scene was the exchange between Ollie and Clark in Watchtower when talking about Chloe. In the past, Clark would’ve taken it in the tailpipe when Ollie began to unload on him. Yet, Clark stood his ground and made sense with his counterpoints. In the moment when both made critical decisions about how they are presented to the world – Clark’s an immediate change and Ollie’s one to come – Clark didn’t back down or become subservient. In fact, this is one of the few times when they truly felt like equals, sharing a bond of brotherhood. This was an exceptionally written scene about heroism and their exact roles in the world and Tom and Justin danced it flawlessly.

The only glaring thing that I can say bad about the episode is the insistence on shoving Chlollie down our throats. It irks me to no end that they just dismiss Henry James Olsen so casually. I don’t buy that Chloe thinks of Ollie as the glorious love of her life. And while I could see Ollie falling for Chloe, it doesn’t feel honest that he’s so motivated by this. It feels like he’s motivated more by the idea of what a relationship with a Chloe could represent and that makes any time they try to explicitly define some kind of deep “love” between these two somewhat cringeworthy.

And I will say, much as I like Clark’s initiative to lighten up his look – goodbye trench coat – I don’t know if I’m sold yet on the ‘S’ in relief on the leather jacket. I like the overall look, though, and I think it’s a great change. Welcome back, Red-Blue Blur.

‘Shield’ was a stellar effort from all involved. Glen Winter’s direction is always a treat and the style he brought to the episode matched the romantic feel of Jordan’s script. The camera in relation to Deadshot was exceptional and what he worked out in the lighting design is immeasurable to the success of the storytelling this episode. I got an enormous kick out of the fun Louis Febre was having with the different musical styles in the score this week, particularly the juxtaposition of the Western themes and the mystical Egyptian motifs.

As I said at the top, this is one of my favorite episodes of the entire series and one of the best in the very hero-laden last three seasons. I’m excited that they were able to ratchet up the momentum they built in ‘Lazarus’ and it bodes well as the season continues on.

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