SMALLVILLE - 9.16 - "Checkmate" Review -

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  • Title: Smallville
  • Season: 9
  • Episode Title: Checkmate
  • Director: Mike Rohl and Tim Scanlan
  • Writer: John Chisholm
  • Cast: Tom Welling, Allison Mack, Erica Durance, Cassidy Freeman, Justin Hartley, Pam Grier, Phil Morris
  • Network: The CW Network
  • Series: Smallville

SMALLVILLE - 9.16 - "Checkmate" Review

Now This Is What We’ve Been Expecting

By Joe Oesterle     April 11, 2010
Source: Mania

SMALLVILLE - 9.16 - "Checkmate" Review
© Mania

Airing over a week since April Fool’s Day, I was still waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me during the latest, and dare I say greatest Smallville episode in this show’s entire history. Now granted I have only started watching this program since the beginning of this season, and truth be told, I only started watching because of a court-ordered decree after I beat a man to death with my bare hands who encouraged me to watch a single episode of Season 8. I must confess, I am truly sorry for my actions now. I still can’t get the images of that night out of my head. Chloe had amnesia, Brainiac supplanted false memories into her mind, Clark was being a complete tool…. Good Lord, help me before I kill again.

So imagine my surprise, as I sat in my orange jumpsuit, in my sterile 10 x 6 cell, waiting nervously for my weekly dose of legalized torture. Only this time, I was treated to a glimpse of what this show could have always been for not only this season, but for eight freaking season before. Suddenly I feel pity for the man I slaughtered that cold and rainy night in a Tucson Days Inn, but more than that I feel a familiar murderous rage once again coursing through my veins. I want to brake free from this cage and crush the windpipes of everyone who was ever connected to a single second of this show prior to the episode, entitled, “Checkmate.”

Damn it all to hell, was giving us this episode so freaking hard?

“Checkmate” opened and closed as absolute, no need for a curve, grade A, superhero fantasy/adventure television. No plot holes, no lazy or useless dialogue, no cheap banana peel endings, no silly romance, no stupid musical montage with Lois bobbing around the place in a wedding dress, and even Chloe didn’t suck. With the single exception of Clark grabbing Tess by the lapels and dangling her off the rooftop ala Gotham’s favorite pointy-eared playboy/vigilante, each individual stayed in character. And while in a lesser episode that move may have made my blood run hot with anger, I not only forgave it, I went with it, and enjoyed it. I hope someone in charge was paying attention last night, because if this is what we could be getting every week, why the hell haven’t we?

It is worth mentioning, even though I am a fan of the physical attributes of Erica Durance, that we were treated to the best installment in the show’s history and I did not miss a moment of Ms. Durance’s ample charms. I find it hard to actually type these words, but I’d be happy never to see Erica Durance in 5-inch heels and a form-fitting leather outfit again if I could be guaranteed this level of entertainment.

I’m not saying get rid of the Lois character entirely, but make her less silly. Make her a real human being instead of the false tough exterior, fragile interior stereotypical cartoon love interest. Make her the hard-nosed no-nonsense journalist she should be… and if it’s not too much of a problem, please disregard what I just said about never seeing her in the heels and the tight clothes. Make her an intelligent, loving, loyal, tough character, who just happens to indulge in a healthy dose of cosplay in her downtime.

Special effects? Wow! Say what you will about the feel of these scenes being ripped off from Watchmen, or the more dated, Matrix movies, we’re more than happy to embrace this seemingly brand new visual element to the show. Not that long ago I was complaining about the special effects budget because in one scene all we saw was the smoke coming off the metal that Clark had just burned soldered. We didn’t even get the red line of heat vision, just the 2 dollar smoky impression from the off-camera effects guy. Now we’re getting bullet-time, frozen 360 degree camera angles and exaggerated slo-mo jaw bustings all in the same 60 minute time frame. God I hope they didn’t just shoot their wad for this season and the next on this program. But if they did, I still want to thank them for delivering what we have deserved all this time. Thanks guys.

Justin Hartley is still head and shoulders above the rest of the cast when it comes to playing light, and he’s also capable of being a genuine threat as a champion for justice. That said, Cassidy Freeman came off as sexy, confident, believable in the role of dishing out wallops of hurt, humorous and vulnerable. I’m starting to wish she were playing Lois.

Not to crap on Ms. Durance again (but after this article she’s probably never going to date me anyway) I wish she didn’t look so phony during her fight scenes. I always feel like I’m watching an old Charlie’s Angels episode when it comes time for Lois to throw down. She obviously doesn’t have the athletic ability to pull these scenes off, and I think someone finally realized that.

And how about the J’onn J’onnz? Phil Morris not only looks like the comic book character come to life, but he’s able to deliver his lines with a stoic detachment while not reading them with any extra effort. The Martian Manhunter has always been one of those characters from the comics that I wanted to see more of. His solo comic book failed to capture an audience, and maybe he can’t carry a monthly book or a weekly TV series, but I am convinced the Martian Manhunter would make an amazing movie.

Speaking of movies, I wanted to point out the similarities in the Tess/Oliver black tie function to the Keaton/Batman Pfeiffer/Catwoman identity discovery scene in Batman Returns. Sexy.

And speaking of sexy, Amanda Waller has never been much of a looker, but even at this age, Pam Grier is capable of sizzling up the screen as the uber nationalistic special ops head. Even Waller was making fun of Clark in his black on black wanna-be Matrix duds. She like it when he dressed more “patriotic.” Come on Clark, if Cleopatra Jones is telling you to funk up the duds, then by all means, get down and get funky.

Finally, I am very curious as to the identity of this new chess piece on the board. While red is not traditionally his color, and I have heard no rumors supporting this, and logically don’t believe it would ever happen for brand reasons, I really would love to think Batman is about to play a part in Clark Kent’s step from farm boy to savior. (It’s more likely some old JSA member. I’d be up for The Golden Age Green Lantern – although, you’d expect his chess piece to be green in spite of his own scarlet dominated choice of uniform.)

The only bad thing I can say about this latest episode is I fear next week will be a giant let down. I hope I’m wrong.


Rumor has it Buddy Hackett had a very interesting “oral” contract to perform his stand-up routine in Las Vegas during the early sixties. Want to find out why the word “oral” is in quotations? Visit Joe Oesterle’s blog and find out.




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cheekymonkey 4/11/2010 12:08:58 PM

Greatest?  Maybe of this season, but any Lex centered epsiode centeres, or even the ones about his dad, were the best this series had to offer.

I liked this epsiode and I'd give it an A as well, but why did "the Blur" not have the S on his chest?  Also, the slo-mo stuff was a little irratating.  Hopefully, there will be a better pay this year (last year's Doomsday finale still left a bad taste in my mouth).

PAGE 4/11/2010 12:19:13 PM

Excellent review as always Joe!

This episode was fantastic! The special effects? All I could say was wow! Especially when Clark went in to save Chloe. It was like watching a motion comic! I do rather grow tiresome of them showing Clark saving the day by catching a bullet with his hand, but damn the effects were super tight this time!

Strangely enough, I also didn't miss Erica Durance in this episode either. There was so much action going on, and yes, it should be like this every week!

And Joe, I know this is your first full season of watching Smallville, but I agree with cheekymonkey that this wasn't the greatest episode of the series. It's up there, but not the greatest.


I agree that it's most likely to be a JSA member that is the new player, but I'm thinking, perhaps hoping, that since this character is a senator and has been working in Washington D.C., that it will be Marth Kent that will be revealed as the new player. She is coming back for an episode, so that's who I'm putting my money on.


samson 4/11/2010 12:33:51 PM

I love the new visual style of the show.

My only issue is Pam Grier. She just can't act in this role. I've loved her in everything else I've seen her in. But, as Waller, she doesn't cut it.


JoeArtistWriter 4/11/2010 12:37:25 PM

cheeky, again, I haven't watched much before this season, but this was a great episode. If there are better, I'd like to see them.

Page, thanks for the kind words. I meant to mention the comic book panel feel of that rescue scene... really great stuff.

I love your call on Martha being the red chess piece.... makes sense with her hair and all. I'd prefer Batman, but I know that's an unrealistic guess.

redhairs99 4/11/2010 1:44:34 PM

It was a good episode, but I still hold season two's Rosetta as the best episode of the series.  It was Christopher Reeve's first appearance on the show and the first time they used John Williams' original score.

When they first showed the Checkmate HQ, was I the only one thinking Cheackmate is based out of Hogwarts?

JoeArtistWriter 4/11/2010 5:19:03 PM

samson, I didn't dislike Pam Grier at all.... granted she's been better, but she was fine here, and I assume she'll get better.

redhairs, again, you may be right. I'll need to reseach the "great" episodes, because before this one I'd have ranked Metallo as the best I'd seen, but this blows Metallo out of the water.

Kraken89 4/11/2010 9:26:56 PM

I loved this episode! Start to finish it was a smash-mouth action/adventure episode with a story that had no soft edges. Each character had a solid purpose and played their role to the "T". Chloe got to play some spy vs. spy with a checkmate agent/doctor, Martian Manhunter practically displayed all of his powers and weakness, Oliver and Tess played a reviting game of cat&mouse, Waller was a hard-nosed strategic b#tch (like she should be) worthy of having the intellect of working for a covert U.S organization and Clark got his balls back.

The only thing I didn't like is a very  very minor knitpick: the opening slow-mo seemed a little too slow, just a hair.

Who do I think the Red chess-peice is? Admittetly at first I thought, Bruce? Because, like it or not he's the king of intel in the DCU.  Then after J'onn's conversation with Clark in the barn about bridging the gap between the kandorians and humans I thought, maybe Zod's got J'onn suckered for his cause. Then I remembered that Maxwell Lord's supposed to make an appearance.

But is the red chess-peice who J'onn is working for, or someone else? Sooo many questions made with just one painted piece of ivory, kind of felt like a Lost ending.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention, since Tess is running from Checkmate and will probably be hiding under a huge rock, does that take her bullet out of the barrel for the season finale of character roulette?

Idans 4/11/2010 11:20:29 PM

maybe the red piece is wonder woman?

ddiaz28 4/12/2010 6:37:22 AM

What an episode!  Even though you've only watched this show since this season Joe, you are 100% correct in feeling angry at why this show can't be like this most of the time.  It's almost like they brought in a whole new team of writers for this episode.  Your comments are dead on and I can't really add much.  Loved the slow mo stuff with the strobe light.  That was sweet.  I too think the red chess piece is Martha.  It's been far too long since she's made an appearance.  And since she works for the government, it makes sense she would keep her eye out for agencies dealing with super powered individuals.  Another JLA character would be awesome though. 

lracors 4/12/2010 7:45:12 AM

The Red piece could represent Maxwell Lord, the Martin Manhunter or the "Red Shadows" would be my guesses.

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