Smallville Episode 10.10 ‘Luthor’ Review

Posted on December 4, 2010



TVSummary: A self-confident episode full of style based on substance that showcases a fan favorite.
Rating: 9.5/10

Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

Tess inherits a Kryptonian artifact from Lionel Luthor now that it has been revealed that she is his only legally surviving heir. Clark discovers that Tess has been hiding the clone Alexander at Cadmus Labs and during a tirade activates this “mirror box”. Clark is transported to a world where he was discovered by Lionel and raised alongside Lex and Tess as one of the Luthor children. Using his abilities for evil and becoming an enforcer for the Luthor empire known as Ultraman, Dark Clark is a murderer bred with the Luthor intent to kill the father to inherit the world. As Clark tries to navigate a world corrupted by the Luthors, Dark Clark tries to take over the regular, running aground of Tess, Ollie and Lois.

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

Feature-Length Review after the jump.

Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.

‘Luthor’ is, to sum up in a single word, amazing.

From the surehanded direction, the fatalistic photography that actually seeps with character not simply style, and the command performances, including a bravura return of former cast member John Glover, ‘Luthor’ trumps all other episodes that have come to this point in this final season. Yes, it is even a better episode than the beloved ‘Homecoming’. In fact, this is one of the best episodes of the last three seasons of the show. Maybe that’s hyperbole but it’s justified.

I first have to mention how impressed I am with Kelly Souders’ direction. From my understanding, this is the first project she has ever directed and she’s done it with the skill of a seasoned pro. I’d have to say that this is easily the best direction of any of the writers who have taken the canvas chair in the last couple of seasons, and it might be second only to Welling in direction by a member of the cast/crew that normally serves another role. She understood the material perfectly, let character rule the day and pulled terrific performances out of her cast. Never once did anyone feel lost or overwhelmed. Everything belonged and nothing felt excessive. While the show doesn’t need the dark filter going forward, this should be the template from which the remaining episodes are built. Kudos, Ms. Souders, for delivering a defining episode of the entire series.

You might notice that I didn’t post a review for the last episode, ‘Patriot’. I had intended to, especially with the extra week between episodes, but I found there wasn’t much to say about it. I enjoyed it, though it had to feature some of the worst dialogue of the entire run. There was a bit of guest star burnout I was feeling after, as well.

Nothing of the kind could be said of this episode. John Glover proves once again why he was one of, if not, the best acting talents of the series. His return as Lionel Luthor was triumphant and extremely powerful, injecting an explosive energy that seemed to fuel everyone to great performances and a sense of urgency about the entire affair. Yes, Glover has always had a touch of the theatrical in his portrayal of Lionel, especially when the character is wont to quote classic works of literature quite often. However, it’s a flair that instantly, credibly makes him his own person and evokes some of the classic villain tropes. His delivery throughout was marvelously velvet and connection with each actor was sincere and engaging. Much as I liked the (relatively) good Lionel that perished in Season 7, it was thrilling to see the so-called Magnificent Bastard back. That final shot where he speaks to the audience and then disappears into the sea of umbrellas was divine and I look forward to what this Lionel has in store for the main Earth.

Not to be outdone, Tom Welling’s Dark Clark was all sorts of smooth and slithery. It’s a well-known fact that Welling plays the evil versions of his character better than the straight-forward Clark Kent. Here, once again, we are given a twisted version of our hero, but just as there were subtle changes to the Red-K Clark of last season’s ‘Upgrade’, this is a different entity than any Clark we’d seen before. In particular, his scene with Earth-1 Tess when he finds her at the Planet was eerie, creepy, and simmering, threatening to boil over but just holding us on that threshold. (I’m not going to even touch all of the tragic incest – yes, I know they weren’t blood-related but still – that was at play here.) His initial attack on Watchtower against Tess and Lois was also a stunner, not just for the casual use of his powers but for the command Tom held throughout the scene. There wasn’t a single slip, flaw or crack in his Clark Luthor and it made Clark Kent all the more sympathetic for it.

The final scene between Clark and Tess was also quite touching and, after I hurt myself rolling my eyes at yet another blustery righteous Clark moment with Tess at the beginning of the episode, it was certainly welcome and encouraging to see how accepting Clark was of Tess. You looking for Superman moments in Season 10? That was a big one right there.

Speaking of Tess, Cassidy Freeman was on fire again this outing. I think I’ve come to some grudging peace with the whole Tess Luthor thing and I’ll admit that it has helped to ground Tess’ character. It’s given Cassidy great humanity to play with and she is excelling at that. I’m also enjoying the kind of bossy Tess within Watchtower, a variation on her Daily Planet persona. Now, before you explode and call me a hypocrite after slagging Chloe for being Queen Bee, the energy and approach with Tess is quite a bit different. Chloe insinuated herself into every nook and cranny, eventually becoming a kind of multi-armed beast with the members of the Justice League as each of her arms. Tess is much more like the DC Comics character Oracle in that she is fully in command of her given station and doesn’t dare to tread beyond that because she knows she’s not qualified to. Chloe never understood that distinction.

And who can’t help but love the dynamic they are building between Tess and Lois. Informed by their rich history of bickering and mistrust, working together now gives them a funny bite and edge and adds moments of levity to the hero scenes which can sometimes become a bit too self-important. One of the things I would’ve mentioned in a review of ‘Patriot’ was the nice feeling of having everyone in on the club and the environment at Watchtower actually feeling like a team for the first time since its introduction. This dynamic with Tess and Lois – Cassidy’s and Erica Durance’s energies play so well off one another – helps to make that even more endearing.

I have to note that I really loved the look of ‘Luthor’. It recalls some of the better goes at shaking up the style of the series from early Season 9 and it was a great distinction between the two worlds. I can say that I am loathe to see much darkness in the series after Seasons 8 and 9 and have fully welcomed the lightening and reintroduction of rich color this season. That said, the cold, nigh-monochromatic style of Earth-2 (or I guess it would be Earth-3 if we’re to follow the DC Multiverse with the Crime Syndicate, et al.) was interestingly full of so much life of that world. It was a character unto itself and was used to great effect to set the tone of characterization for its inhabitants.

I wasn’t quite as thrilled with Lois’ look in this alternate world. For some reason, she seemed a bit soccer mom-ish trying to look “glamorous”. I’m not sure what they were trying to go for with her hairstyle – other than a distinct difference – but it didn’t seem to fit. Plus, the stark filming made Erica look a bit tired and worn out in those scenes. Perhaps she was supposed to be, I’m not sure. But that would be my only beef with the separation of the two worlds. Though, I did like Lois driving an old Mustang. That seemed fitting.

One other odd item of note was the fact that Tess has, at some point, replaced the Luthor crest in the stained glass window in the den with the original standalone Luthor ‘L’. From what I can tell, this made its first appearance at the end of ‘Abandoned’ when Tess is looking over her Luthor birth certificate. The production design team, though, took the effort to replace it with the altered Luthor/Veritas crest in the alternate Earth scenes. I’m still not quite sure of the significance yet.

‘Luthor’ is a stellar episode. While I had my initial concerns with bringing Lionel back, I am overjoyed by seeing John Glover again and feel like he just upped the stakes for the remainder of the season. This was an ingenious device to resurrect a beloved character and I look forward to his involvement in not only Clark’s development but also the reemergence of Lex. He all but said Lex was his favorite. It’s going to be wild when they pair this Lionel up with the clone Alexander.

Put another feather in Bryan Q. Miller’s hat with his exceptional script. Not only did he nail every character – and every alternate character, for that matter – but he also managed to weave in fabulous continuity. A mention of the Swans, even if it was on the alternate Earth, was unexpectedly welcome (even if I do hate the Veritas concept). Lois’ sly little dig at Smallville tropes when mentioning signing so many medical forms at the SMC and Met Gen. I also got a huge kick out of Lionel being in the Fortress and recalling the excavation set-up of the Kawatche caves from Seasons 2 and 3. Plus, the momentary jolt of hearing John Glover’s voice in the Fortress. I’ll admit I thought for a second that they’d replaced Terence Stamp’s voice with Glover’s as a nod to the whole Jor-El’s vessel thing. Brought a little chuckle. And the “mirror box” itself was something that had previously been seen on the shelves of Lionel’s collection of Kryptonian artifacts. I can’t put into words how much I appreciate that they put to use something seen before rather just pulling another mystical item from thin air.

Season 10 continues to build and expand, making excellent use of its past to prepare for its future. If the other episodes are as well crafted as ‘Luthor’, we will be lucky indeed.