Smallville, “Ambush”

Sorry for the delay folks, I had to take a few days off to restore some sanity, and not the Jon Stewart variety. That decision is kind of unfortunate, at least in relationship to Smallville, which turned in one of its better episodes of the season. After a few goofy and gimmicky episodes, “Ambush” felt more in line with the first four episodes of the season and put the season’s big arc back on track.

But before I get to this episode specifically, I wanted to throw out a presumption about this early run of season ten and why I think it’s been a bit wobbly or at least presumed to be so. Almost always, Smallville is drive by plot. The characters get their moments, but it’s always in relation to exactly what is happening with the main arcs of the story and rarely do the roles reverse in any way. It’s not necessarily a bad thing since there is usually some development for the characters, but it’s hard to picture the series operating in another way. As I look back on the first seven episodes of the season, I think I could make an argument for the fact that the series is actually trying to tell important character beats first and worry about the plots second.

If we think about it, we still know little-to-nothing about Darkseid, the Suicide Squad was generally an unknown until “Ambush” and the Lex clone thing is moving fairly slowly. However, despite their low-quality and basic stupidity, episodes like “Supergirl,” “Isis” and “Harvest” have really honed in on Clark’s journey and to a lesser extent, his relationship with Lois. The episodes haven’t really executed their plots in the best fashion, but the character moments have been there, and although I won’t apologize for hating those efforts because they still mostly sucked, I can see the value in them after the fact.

And I can see those character moments now because “Ambush” feels like a transitional episode between the character-heavy, plot-weak first six episodes and the more balanced approach to come in the future (or at least presumably, based on this episode). Clark and Lois get a number of great moments here, but the Suicide Squad thread returns in a successful fashion as well to create the best non-“Homecoming” episode of the season.

With a small cast and even smaller budget, sometimes the series can feel like it has a too narrow focus, but in “Ambush,” that works to the series’ advantage. Clark and Lois are still in their post-sex bliss when the General and Lucy randomly show up to celebrate Thanksgiving (I guess it’s a good thing last week’s episode didn’t specifically mention Halloween) and even though General Lane knows and likes Clark as a person, his whole demeanor is different now that CK is the object of his daughter’s affections. General Lane gives Clark a ridiculous list of chores to do that will make the farm suitable for Lois to live there, Lucy tries to seduce him and there’s a whole lot of arguing about the Vigilante Registration Act and the evil people Clark supposedly supports. It’s a suffocating experience for Clark, who really hasn’t had to deal with a significant other’s family in the past, and particularly not people like the powerful Sam Lane or the manipulative Lucy Lane.

Meanwhile, Rick Flag and the Suicide Squad are out for General Lane’s head because he’s the main proponent of the Vigilante Registration Act in congress and they just can’t have that. Flag’s worked side-by-side with metahumans and vigilantes in the past and just as we saw in the premiere with Oliver, he actually wants to team up with Clark and company, not destroy them. Of course, he’s willing to take the political battle and make it into a real one by attempting to kill General Lane.

These two plotlines clumsily intertwine throughout the episode, but by the end of “Ambush” somehow it all comes together. Flag uses Lucy’s desire to mess up Lois’ life whenever she’s happy to plant some evidence on Clark and get General Lane away from the farm. However, that plan has other consequences, most notably the fact that General Lane decides Clark isn’t fit to date Lois and because she’s unable to stand up for herself or Clark, the Lane family leaves Thanksgiving at the Kent Farm behind. Flag tracks General Lane to the Talon and launches a missile (yeah, I know), but it puts Lois in danger. Clark saves her, General Lane realizes the Blur isn’t so bad after all, apologies all around, etc.

Like I said, it’s kind of messy and sort of goofy, but it works. Clark goes out of his way to stick up for himself and his relationship with Lois, continuing the trend of the more emotionally mature CK that we’ve seen since “Homecoming” and the tiff over Lois’ inability to defend herself and her romantic choices to her father was a nice way to throw some slight conflict into the main romantic pairing without making it too much of a focus for the episode. This season has done a lot of legwork in making Clark and Lois a realistic couple that might live amid a backdrop of insanity, are fairly normal people who just want to love one another in the best way possible. It’s been great and continues to be so here.

Moreover, bringing back the two other folks in the Lane family is a nice touch and thankfully, they weren’t just brought back for the heck of it because it’s the final season. Both General Lane and Lucy are interesting characters and at this point with Lois being the second lead, it’s crucial we have more background and context to her as a character that’s not just in relationship to Clark or the Blur.

Finally, the progression of the Suicide Squad and the Vigilante Registration Act, while not totally original, should be intriguing moving forward. The series tends to do well with antagonists who aren’t completely evil, but misguided in a number of ways — see: Lex, Tess last season — and Rick Flag fits right into that mold well. It should also be another opportunity to explore the moral dilemmas that Clark likes to bring up so much, particularly with Oliver now on Clark’s side instead of the other. I’m hoping this story will also expand the scope of the season a bit, because like I said, I feel as if things have narrowed to such a fine focus that it needs to be blown up a bit.

Nevertheless, “Ambush” is a step in the right direction and one that suggests the final season of Smallville will strike the right balance of character and plot in its remaining episodes.

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