This review may contain spoilers.
After a series of episodes that were tightly plotted, showcasing mature storylines and real character development, Smallville returns to its old ways with Patriot, an episode that dismisses all of the above and instead relies on comic book tie-ins to push the characters in the direction in which they are already heading.
Forget seeing some insightful development for Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman), who has already become a mother, abandoned her child, re-discovered her roots and joined the Justice League this season, and forget seeing how the Vigilante Registration Act (VRA) changes life for Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) now that he has been outed. Patriot serves only as a method to introduce a new villain into the series : Gen. Slade Wilson (played by Battlestar Galacticas Michael Hogan.
Marking another directorial outing by Tom Welling, Patriot by no means lives up to previous episodes like Aqua, or Justice, but it does have its moments. Among them is the conclusion to the opening teaser as Aquaman (Alan Ritchson) and Mera (Elena Satine) wade out of the ocean to the backdrop of explosions on an offshore oilrig, a scene that actually heralds back to the highlight of Justice.
Where Welling succeeds is in establishing this as a national story and not something limited to Kansas. In each of the establishing shots is a locational marker, demonstrating exactly how far the VRA is reaching and giving some weight to what will obviously become a crucial part of the seasonal arc and a vital piece in the shaping of Superman.
But a collection of cool scenes and sequences are not enough to prevent the episode from becoming a classic Smallville one-hitter, appealing more to the casual viewer than to those who are becoming transfixed with the final leg of Clark Kents journey towards becoming the hero he is destined to become.
It was great to see Aquamans activities and responsibilities being more than just the destruction of an oilrig, with talk of protecting the ocean and saving marine life. In the current green-thinking climate, those kind of antics are exactly what make Aquaman relevant as a hero – hes not trying to save himself or become a champion, hes fighting to protect the environment.
Aside from Aquaman, the real gem of the episode was Lois being welcomed into Watchtower and realizing just how much goes into crime fighting that the public doesnt see. It was also fun to see Lois find out the hard way that Tess was part of the Justice League (how awkward is it when youre boss finds out youve skipped work to try and save the world?).
Just like in Battlestar Galactica, Michael Hogan owns each and every scene he appears in : and he obviously has a thing for eye patches.
Patriot also had some cracking dialogue, like Youre gonna need a bigger cage, being a fun nod to Jaws and mentions of Truth, justice and the American way.
What Didnt Work
So much from the budding plot is casually brushed aside in the episode, or left to the imagination thanks to a smattering of dialogue. Take for instance Dr. Hamiltons (Alessandro Juliani) miraculous new technique to remove the Deadshot trackers. This is essentially the first time that he is seen to be working with the Justice League on this ambitious task and the solution seems almost too easy (so easy that were not even informed of what it was).
Plus, with Dr. Hamilton having no stake in the League itself, why risk discussing their plans in front of him? Sure, he knows Clarks identity but why reveal to him A.C.s identity or his exploits?
Another example is Olivers stealthy antics to avoid the public eye. This isnt the first time such deeds have been mentioned but as of yet they have been kept off-screen. A sequence featuring Ollie dodging the paparazzi or even requesting the assistance of Speedy (who remains curiously absent in the outing of her mentor) to help escape a public scene would be more than welcome.
Although it was fantastic to see Ritchson back as Arthur Curry, his re-introduction was guilty of the same lack of forethought. For a start, when challenged on his activities to Clark he responds with, You think because Im not checking in at the tree house Ive gone rogue? It would have been nice to have already seen something to support his lack of communication or support Clarks attitude towards the hero. Instead, it comes as a poorly conceived development without anything of real substance behind it.
In much the same way, Meras introduction was also poorly devised, relying on the audience to be clued up on comic book lore to explain who she is or what she can do.
More than anything, the episode outlines just why Aquaman deserves his own show (with Ritchson as the lead in grounded stories rather than Justin Hartley fighting Sirens with Ving Rhames).
On the VRA front, the entire introduction of the bill has been less than stellar (although that might be remedied with the re-appearance of Mama Kent in a few weeks) and the press conference with Oliver signing up as a vigilante seems so small scale, even for Smallville. It is understandable that the shows budget, much like its hero, needs to stay grounded but a little bit more scope and ambition behind what is undoubtedly a milestone for the series wouldnt have gone amiss.
Convenience seems to be the key word for the episode, with Kryptonite bars dropping in all the right places when Clark invades the Government facilities and each location having the resources to deal with vigilantes with virtually any ability. In much the same way, the reveal that those resources were requisitioned from Lexs old 33.1 project could have been something more, and is instead relegated to another throwaway line.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
“Smallville stars Tom Welling, Erica Durance, Justin Hartley, Cassidy Freeman and Allison Mack. Patriot was written by Joss Chrisholm and directed by Tom Welling.
Smallville airs Fridays at 8pm E.T. on The CW.