Smallville Episode 10.7 ‘Ambush’ Review

Posted on November 6, 2010

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Teaser

TVSummary: A momentum-builder that gives a sense of Lois’ history and makes life harder for our heroes.
Rating: 7.5/10 (Adjusted Score 2/26/11; Original Score 8/10)


Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

Post consummating their relationship, Clark and Lois are surprised by a visit from her father and sister, General Sam Lane and Lucy. Lois falls into line as the General’s daughter and wants Clark to help her get through the visit without causing any disruption. Clark is happy to comply until the General spouts off anti-hero rhetoric, support of a Vigilante Registration Act being pushed through Congress, and begins investigating Clark as a possible vigilante sympathizer. Meanwhile, Tess and Oliver discover that Rick Flag’s Suicide Squad have tagged Ollie and Clark to track them. Intercepting a message that proves a kill order, they learn that the target is actually Sam Lane.

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

Feature-Length Review after the jump.


Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that they are going to be divvying up this final season on Smallville in roughly three main sections. I say roughly because these themes and stories will be touched on throughout the whole season, but there seems to be three significant mini-arcs developing that will lead to the end of the series. The first of these sections is Lois & Clark; the second is heroes and the public; and third will likely be the final personal steps Clark has to take to assume the mantle of Superman. This last section will no doubt solidify Darkseid as the final big bad of the season and series. The middle section is being set up with the Vigilante Registration Act that was passed in this episode and will likely bring to a head the struggle with the Suicide Squad. And the first section is drawing to a close as all of the major pieces necessary to put Clark and Lois together as a couple fall into place, including two big ones in ‘Ambush’.

Personally, I like this structure. It actually allows them to do mini-“closes” on a more frequent basis, actually addressing and tying up issues on the show that have been around for years and giving the loyal audience large and consistent payoffs. They are less concerned about stretching story and have so far, for the most part, refrained from pulling punches. It’s a shrewd choice to keep momentum going, to have satisfying moments that feel earned, and also to feel that when even given a lackluster or middling storyline you get some booty for sticking with it. In the case of ‘Ambush’, which was kind of lackluster in its story structure, we are actually given a great amount of booty, which I think helps to make for better results of the episode than of the episode itself.

I have to admit that I had to watch ‘Ambush’ twice to appreciate it. My first viewing didn’t work all that well for me. I didn’t feel connected to the story. The whole thing seemed to be hitting all the notes but it wasn’t playing any music. The second time through was much more cohesive and had more impact for me. I will say that I didn’t feel as much of an emotional connection with the episode as I think they would’ve liked. It was set up to be kind of right-brained but there was a left-brain filter that served to make everything more factual than heartfelt.

‘Ambush’ actually features some significant plot advancement for the overall arcs this season. The biggest of which, of course, is the passage of the Vigilante Registration Act. Now, I know DC has played around with the idea a few times in the comics – and a lot of people will specifically point to Watchmen as a an example, though that completely disregards that Watchmen takes place in a different reality than the mainstream DCU – but one can’t help but feel this owes a lot to Marvel Comics’ Civil War storyline from a few years ago. I’m just thankful they haven’t pitted Clark against Ollie on different sides of the issue. That would be too blatant for my money.

That said, I firmly believe that if we had superheroes running around in the real world there would be a significant movement to get these people licensed. The culture of cynicism, fear and mistrust we exist in today would have a hard time trying to come to grips with the actions, motivations and methods of caped crusaders and the push to either capture and prosecute them or expose and monitor them would be too great. So I can buy into this storyline in the Smallville-verse. As a result, I can even buy into Rick Flag’s opposition, though certainly not his philosophy. There are many people who misguidedly believe that violence is the way to enact any change in the world and what we see in Flag and the Suicide Squad is exactly what General Lane described in the Kent kitchen, owing a great deal to the traditional modus operandi of terrorism.

The Suicide Squad continues to impress me as a viable threat, so much more than Checkmate did. I believe so much of that is owed to the performance of Ted Whittall as Flag. I know I’ve gushed about him before but I truly believe he is one of the best finds in the history of the show. Even with some of the more ridiculous aspects of the character – such as shooting a missle out of an armored car while quoting the Star-Spangled Banner – Whittall grounds the man in a solid, unwavering truth. I think his steely gaze and his drawl contribute enormously toward filling the character out but it’s his commitment to everything about Rick Flag that sells me and makes the guy eerily terrifying. I have yet to find any holes in his performance and he ups everyone’s game whenever he’s on-screen with them. Plus, Flag called Ollie “Shamrock” and the delivery was perfect.

Speaking of Ollie, we’re treated to more unbelievable star-crossed Chlollie nonsense this installment. I’m actually beginning to feel sorry for Justin Hartley because I think he’s doing a fine job emoting this particular aspect of Oliver. It’s just that this particular aspect of Oliver and this whole “romance” doesn’t have a shred of honest feeling to it and makes me cringe every time they try to play it. Worst of all, it’s emotionally stunted Oliver so he’s too often felt like he’s in the same place in Season 10 to this point. Thankfully, we had some breakthrough between Ollie and Tess this week that’s good for both characters as they move forward on the season.

I’ve always been a Toliver fan and I think Justin and Cassidy Freeman always play so well together. There is a spark and an assuredness to their interactions that I’ve always enjoyed and I like that they were given the opportunity to re-explore that here. Don’t get me wrong. I want Ollie with Dinah Lance, as it should be, but I like the idea of pairing him with Tess as friends and work partners for the rest of the season to give us a different vibe from the Clois romance. Ollie, though, makes a choice that might jeopardize that in the short term or, at the very least, not make that possible.

His choice to separate himself from the group to protect the others is a smart one, though kind of tough to swallow with the burgeoning team dynamic Clark and Ollie have seemed to share this season. Just look to the hilarious scene in the barn where Ollie scans Clark to find the subdermal Suicide Squad tattoo and Clark tells him to jump out the window so as not to get caught by Lucy. And you can’t but be impressed by their teamwork in taking down Flag’s armored truck. It was cool to see them dudded up in the superhero togs together. One can hope – and gets the feeling – that this separation won’t last long.

The main crux of this episode, though, was the surprise visit by General Sam Lane and Lucy Lane for Thanksgiving. Though two things with this: First, they seem to be celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving since the timeline in the show isn’t too far off from our own real dates; and second, why the hell would the General and Lucy go to the Kent farm instead of showing up at the Talon to find Lois? A bit of a convenient set-up but I’ll bite. If anything because we were given some great characters moments amidst a kind of slapdash storyline.

While it was a treat to see Michael Ironside and Peyton List back in their respective parts, there were many scenes that felt kind of off and didn’t land the emotional connection that bringing these two characters back should have. In fact, it wasn’t really until the aftermath of the main story – in which we see Smallville stalwart location the Talon go up in flames – that we saw everyone feel bonded in some fashion.

Lucy, especially, seemed to be underwritten – more plot device than person – and you get the sense that they really didn’t know what to do with the girl who made the scene as a manipulative brat and then disappeared. She had no real personality to speak of and this really gave List very little to work with. I had the chance to watch List on FlashForward last year and, while I wouldn’t say she’s a stellar actress, she’s far more capable than the role they gave her here. There were really only two scenes that you could enjoy her in, Flag’s recruitment scene and the resolution scene between Lucy and Lois. I’m still baffled as to the motivation behind the scene in the barn where Lucy kisses Clark. Was this on command of the General? Was this her way of trying to please the General by splitting Clark and Lois up? Or was she just simply being snotty? She’s obviously done this in the past but why it happened wasn’t all that clear and just served to make me less sympathetic to her.

I liked the overall premise of what the General represented but the execution was a bit flat in points. This was actually the aspect of the episode that required the second viewing to appreciate better. The first time through, the scenes with the General all seemed disconnected and a bit disjointed. I’m not sure if that had to do with the creative side or with Michael Ironside’s performance. Overall, Ironside did seem to be straining in the part, almost as if he were looking for the General’s voice during the episode rather than living in it. He seemed to struggle a bit getting behind the internal logic and reality of the superheroes in the world of the show, which seemed kind of odd to me given his genre background. Though, his reveal of the Vigilante Registration Act and explaining his rationale worked well. Of note, the callback to Clark’s destruction of the RAO Towers in Season 9’s ‘Persuasion’. I believe I’ve mentioned before about how excited I get when continuity is explored on the show since it was a rarity for so long. What Clark did, while cool looking, was nothing short of an act of terrorism when viewed from the outside. Even when viewed from the inside, Clark’s action was rash and represents some of the darkness that Clark “dabbled” in during last season and I find it great that they are calling him on it.

Ironside and the General were more consistent in the second viewing, but there were definitely peaks and valleys to the performance and I don’t mean from a character’s emotional standpoint. The scene where the Talon apartment is exploded with ordinance didn’t have the proper gut punch because Ironside’s reaction was flat. Yes, he yelled but there was so little movement that it came across rather false. When he hugged both of his girls upon discovering Lois was brought to safety, though, that was a much more honest moment.

The work Ironside did one-on-one with Erica Durance and with Tom Welling was better and sharper and gave them some good foundation to work off of. The scene where the General questions Clark about his lifestyle – the house owned by his mother, working in a basement – was a nice humorous bit and also served to poke fun at conventions of the show itself. I also got a kick out of him asking why Lois seems to write more stories than Clark does.

When Lois confronts her father at the Talon apartment to tell him that she really loves Clark and has made her choice to be with him, it really felt like a daughter who believed in what she was saying but was still struggling to stand up to her father. Lois didn’t want to have this conversation though that didn’t take away at all from her reasons for having it. In this scene and the scene at the Kent farm immediately preceding it where Lois chooses to go with the General and Lucy, Erica really brought across that internal struggle that comes from a lifetime of interacting with family in a specific way and in a given role. There is often a difference between who we are as individuals and who we are within a family. One of the aspects of growing up is learning to meld those two things together. That’s one of the things this episode represented for Lois and Erica made that believable, even if the earlier scenes were a bit perfunctory.

Tom, on the other hand, brought a conviction to Clark that stems from this newfound confidence this season. He used that voice of his that was often keyed to the more self-righteous moments in Clark’s journey throughout the series, which had me bristling at first before listening to what it was he was saying. Clark making a stance from an honest and justified place is always a good thing and it was nice to see him man-up to the General. Yes, Clark wanted to play the General’s game for Lois but he wasn’t going to stand idly by to myopic views, dogmatic rhetoric and silly hoop-jumping. His standing up to the General in the barn – especially the moment where he called him Sam – was a highlight of the episode. (Though, I do wish they gave Clark a bit better of an argument than purely the reaction to the General’s overstepping.)

Even better was the denouement scene with the two – and Clark working on that damn tractor, no less – that featured the strongest connection and best acting by Ironside and Tom in the episode. This was a meaty scene that gave the General an emotional life and made him less of a caricature, as well as hinted that he might know that Clark is actually the Blur. Yes, this moment was a foregone conclusion based on the premise of the episode but that doesn’t detract from its effectiveness and its necessity. It also led to the big “Lois & Clark” moment of this episode: Clark asking the General for permission to propose to his daughter. No, the scene didn’t play out explicitly but the implication was definitely there.

I fall down on the side of those not in favor of the proposal. It’s not entirely out of character for this Clark Kent to move this fast. His proposal to Lana in ‘Reckoning’, even given their history, seemed to be sudden too. For me, though, it seems out of place in this series. This feels like something that would come after Clark has become Superman and, therefore, after the series is finished. It feels like too rash of a decision and they should explore Clark and Lois just being in a relationship. Of course, it’s not like we couldn’t see this coming. He all but proposed to Lois when he told her that he was the Blur in ‘Isis’ and again when he called her “the one” before taking-her-to-bed-or-losing-her-forever at the end of ‘Harvest’. This comes across more as a move for the fans than one completely rooted in character. I’d rather have seen a proposal in the series finale if they simply had to have one. Looks more than likely we’ll see one next week in ‘Abandoned’. One can only hope that Lois holds out – without having to split them up – and gives a yes later in the season. And please, let’s not have a wedding.

I know that all reads like I’m anti-Clois. Far from. It just seems like they are trying to start Superman off at a point 5 years into his career by the end of the series and checking off all of those boxes along the way in Season 10. It may be kind of silly, but I want to be left with a sense that there is still room to grow and places to explore once the series ends. We’ll never see those but I like being left with the idea of possibility.

So it took a couple of watches to grasp ‘Ambush’. It’s an above-average episode that does well to push along the story on the season and also set up a sense of closure to the decidedly Lois & Clark feel to this first third of the season. It was nice to have Michael Ironside and Peyton List back, even if their characters weren’t quite a strong as they needed to be. A sense of Lois’ history is a good thing. It also leaves us in a very interesting place with the public’s perception of heroes, which will be further complicated by Flag’s crew. While it could’ve done better on its own story, the momentum it gives us is invaluable.

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