SMALLVILLE - 9.20 - "Hostage" Review (Mania.com)

By:Joe Oesterle
Review Date: Sunday, May 09, 2010
Source: Mania

An open letter to the writers, and the people who let those people become writers at Smallville.

Dear writers, and the people who let those people become writers at Smallville,

My name is Joe Oesterle, and I have been a Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El fan since I first saw George Reeves manage to scrape that tight blue unitard over his once athletic middle-aged frame. Naturally I was watching scenes from decades past, but to me, they were as fresh and exciting as anything I’d ever seen in my short life.

I was a kid and I didn’t realize the man who portrayed the Man of Steel had long ago died a mysterious death that is still shrouded in speculation and mystery. I was transfixed by this brawny good guy, and I wanted to believe he really existed. All I knew is I liked that character in the cape who could fly over the city, bend jailhouse bars, have bullets bounce off his chest, and would only wince very slightly when the bad guys threw their rubber guns at him.

That show for me, combined with the Adam West driven Batman show, started a life-long love affair of super heroes, comic books and cartoons. I love the Superman character, and I love the Superman mythos, and I implore you people to stop f@cking this guy up.

I want to love your show. Honestly I do. But the lack of consistency in the writing of this program, from week to week, or even commercial break to commercial break is enough to make an all-powerful visitor from another planet scream out in agony like a little girl.

During this season, my first real season as a viewer, (prior to this season, I probably have watched 5-6 shows in total) I will happily admit to liking some episodes, loving one particular episode (“Checkmate”) and finding enough moments of viewing entertainment to enjoy scattered throughout to understand why you’ve managed to build up a following for your program. But let’s not forget the absolute ONLY reason this show has managed to hang on for 9, going on 10 seasons – and it’s not the acting. (Ha!) It’s not the special effects. (Ha! Ha!) And it’s not the writing. (Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ho! Ho! Hee-Hee! Ha! Ha! Ha!) It’s the character of Clark Kent and the promise that he will one day become Superman. That’s the only reason this show has stayed around as long as it has.

No other show in the entire history of television has gotten so much for so long on a promise they seem reluctant to pay off. Maybe you guys are on to some secret formula for broadcasting longevity. Batman, Wonder Woman, The Hulk, The Flash, Spiderman never came close to 10 seasons. Heck, even “Lois and Clark” only had 4, so you’re obviously doing something right. I suggest however, that you’ve been successful in spite of the sloppy, inconsistent and lazy writing, not because of it.

Let’s take the most recent episode for example – “Hostage.” Please allow me tell you how you could have made that show not just good, but riveting, and it has nothing to do with the main character. It’s all in the writing.

First of all, this particular program was supposed to be, at its heart, a tense who-dunnit style mystery. Let’s assume I wasn’t bored out of my freaking skull by the first half hour of Clark and Lois pretending everything was “peachy” in front of Martha Kent. I would have been thrilled if you numbed me silly for the first 30 minutes with that story if there was ever the slightest doubt in my mind that Martha Kent wasn’t the Red Queen.

Now how do you do that asks you? Simple as pie says I.

One thing you don’t do is show commercials for an entire week where Martha Kent is dressed in red, holding a gun on someone. That, in the comedy world, is called tipping the gag. You have more than hinted that Martha Kent - housewife, mother, farmer, widow and now politician is also capable of something quite out of character for her, and you have done that a full seven days before the start of your mystery. You have already set us on the correct path when should have relied on some clever misdirection.

Ok, let’s all assume the commercial was a bad move. It was probably forced on you by the people in marketing who wondered how to put asses in the seats with 60-second spots of Clark and Lois eating dinner with Martha and Perry. I concede. That would not necessarily compel anyone to switch over to the CW at 8 (7 Central.) So here’s what you do, and it doesn’t take a major rewrite. We could have still had the lame ass Clark and Lois break up scare and awkward supper. Hell, you could have made the first half hour even duller (though I have to give credit where credit is due – that first half of the show was more than just a tad tedious.) My point is, that could have worked in your favor, but only if you made the Tess Mercer character a more credible suspect as the true Red Queen.

Now how could we have done that asks you. Says I, read on and I will tell you.

You could have still had Maxwell Lord inside Tess’ brain, but instead of him making her vulnerable, (having some bad guy lock her up against her will and kick the shit out of both her and Ollie) make those visions of Tess appear to the audience that Tess is in complete control, and yeah – dress her in red. Of course Max is still pulling the strings, and extracting the information he needs, but he’s doing it in a way that doesn’t frighten the unconscious Tess, but rather plays to her desire for power – thus lessening the chances of her “waking up” from the false reality.

We the audience would believe this is all real. It would make sense to us that the redheaded Tess Mercer, who is coincidentally dressed in red, and appears to be in control of everything in her life, is very likely the Red Queen. Especially when contrasted with the only other potential candidate in the entire episode - who is preoccupied in the mundane and slightly awkward dinner conversation of “Clark I loved your father, but I’m now dating Perry.” That would have really set us up to be knocked down.

Maxwell Lord could have been finding out what it was he needed to find out inside Tess’ head, and Tess still could have eventually figured out Max was the man behind the curtain, but if scenes in her head were of a competent, strong, clever Tess, played in the same stylistic manner as the dinner at the Kent farm. (Meaning same normal Smallville color palette, and not the frenzied, muted dream state.) We the audience could have easily been fooled into thinking the woman in red who pulled the Kryptonite on Clark was indeed Tess. AND, the boring dinner would have lulled us into such a stupor; we would have thought it was absolute genius that you pulled the old Martha switcheroo on us. Who would have guessed that boring, sensible, motherly Ma Kent was in fact the influential and potent Red Queen in that scenario?

The fact that you showed the big reveal in your commercials only proves that there’s a bunch of you over there who don’t know what you’re doing.

I wasn’t alive for much of Alfred Hitchcock’s career, but I’m willing to bet the theatrical trailers for the movie Psycho did not scream, “Come see Psycho, and watch a guy who dresses up like his dead mother kill people!” Just a hunch.

Come on guys. Love and respect these characters as much as I do. Email me the scripts before they go to production. I’ll correct all the glaring gaps of logic, the lazy and sloppy writing, the cloying dialogue AND I’ll do it for free. Superman saved me from the real world at times as a kid. It would be an honor for me to rescue him this time.

Sincerely,

Joe Oesterle

 


 

Joe Oesterle hopes you're all reading his new humorous online advice.”Ask an Educated Fellow.” Real people, real questions. “The Educated Fellow” makes your personal mentor look like a fraudulent guru. Ignorance is No Longer Blissful. Click on the link below. Write in for advice. Scroll deep and enjoy.

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Mania Grade: C-
Title: Smallville
Episode Title: Hostage
Written by: Anne Cofell Saunders, Jordan Hawley
Directed by: Glen Winter
Network: The CW, LLC
Series: Smallville