This week on Smallville, it’s all about family and family histories. And though his issues with Jor-El are certainly present here, “Abandoned” works well in letting the two ladies move to the front and deal with their pasts in emotional resonant and in Tess’ case, twisty kind of ways. The result is the second fine episode in a row and as of now, the second best episode of the season.
So, Tess is a Luthor. The series likes to reinvent history and sometimes retcon itself — see the messy origins of Davis in season eight — but because the writers have basically kept Tess’ childhood and pre-Oliver days a mystery and because this episode executes that previously-unknown history so well, I actually think that Lionel Luthor being Tess father makes complete sense. Moreover, it’s a legitimate callback to season one’s “Crush,” where we first met Tess’ mother, Pamela Jenkins, who worked as Lex’s nanny and didn’t have a very good relationship with Lionel. Well, as this episode proves, that rocky relationship was due to the fact that they had an affair and an illegitimate child, Tess.
Sure, it’s a soapy kind of twist, but in a series that often likes to do these kind of goofy things, this one works about as good as any. Aside from the actual origins of who Tess’ real parents are, the reveals here also color and explain how Tess moved up the LuthorCorp ladder in the first place. Back in season eight, it felt completely manipulative and manufactured that Tess was the new CEO when we had never seen her before; it made no sense that Lex would appoint her to such a high position. Well, it does now. Lex absolutely knew that she was his sister and he wanted to keep an eye on her for this reason and same goes for the whole surveillance thing. Of course now there’s some question as to whether or not they were ever intimate since Tess told him she loved him back in “Power,” but I think we can just read that as a different, non-sexual kind of love. Lex isn’t that messed up.
While “Abandoned” built to that really awesome reveal, most of the moments leading up to it were rock-solid in execution, emotionally satisfying and in the case of Granny Goodness, informative.
Let’s start there: As someone who isn’t really familiar with or particularly interested in Darkseid or his crew of minions, I am happy to see that the series’ is slowly unspooling these various cronies before really showing us Darkseid himself and this episode is especially effective in that respect. Granny Goodness isn’t a particularly great character, but her inclusion in the episode and the season makes sense now, as she’s apparently been on earth for a long time, wiping the minds of misguided girls and training them to be bad-asses so that they can fight alongside Darkseid.
More importantly, the final scene with Granny, the previously seen Gordon Godfrey and the mentioned, but never seen until now Desaad (who runs all those kinky clubs we’ve seen recently) is a great explanation for those of us unfamiliar with the comic book stories with these folks and a something of a parallel scene to Rick Flag’s call to arms last week. Now we know that these individual appearances are leading to a very specific kind of breakdown of the human psyche and spirit, opening everyone up for Darkseid’s rule, and I think that’s actually really, really great. It’s taken a little bit to get to this moment, but it works and I’m ready to move forward. It seems now that Clark will have to fight a battle on two fronts, going up against these supernatural entities and also Flag and the Suicide Squad, so I appreciate the fact that each group has gotten their own episode to explain their motivations, flesh out the characters a bit more before jumping in with all the double-crossing, battling, etc.
In the lighter half of the story, Lois and Clark dip into their parental issues as a way to move forward in their relationship. For Lois, that means watching VHS tapes her mother made for her right before her death, something she’s been too terrified to do for years. Lois feels like a terrible daughter because she never went to see her dying mother, but when she finally breaks down and plays them, she realizes that wasn’t really the case. Her mother didn’t want Lois to see her in such a state and instead went for the videos-from-the-grave route. Teri Hatcher does really great work in her much-anticipated Smallville debut as Lois’ mom and even though the two of them are not even in the same room, Durance and Hatcher seem to have an emotional connection that feels real.
Lois decides that Clark has to deal with his Jor-El problem just as she dealt with her mom before they can really get super-serious and although I still prefer my Jor-El to be Terrance Stamp, it was cool to see Julian Sands and Helen Slater back as Clark’s Kryptonian parents. I think the series has gone back and forth on the Jor-El from the Fortress too much, making him an awful person, then a good one, then back the other way, so hopefully his decision to let Clark see this final message means all that drama is done with.
Perhaps most importantly, these sequences put Clark on a path we haven’t seen him on for literally years: happiness! He wants Lois to move in, she does and now he’s all smiles and with an engagement ring in-tow, is ready to make things official. While I do think that’s a little fast and feels somewhat like fan service, I’m one of those fans, and it makes me smile, so screw it. It seems as though that darkness inside Clark that got so much play in the first three episodes is now gone and he’ll be able to take on Darkseid and the Suicide Squad.
The first eight episodes have been uneven in a lot of ways, but with the one-two punch of “Ambush” and “Abandoned” the villains and their motivations are more apparent and every one of the four major characters has been given some great beats and moments. I think episodes like “Shield” and “Supergirl” will play better on DVD, but with two great episodes in the last two weeks, Smallville is finally on track in this final season. It is no longer aimless and scattered, but full of direction and purpose, and with only 14 episodes left, that couldn’t have come any sooner.