If you read my review of the opener to Season 10, Lazarus, you’d be aware that I was thoroughly turned off by its sloppy pacing as it tried too hard to fit too much ‘epicness’ into one episode. Thankfully, my doubts have been alleviated, at least somewhat, with the second episode of the final season, entitled ‘Shield.’ It gets back to basics and doesn’t muck around with too much of the nonsense that Smallville can unfortunately riddle itself with. Just some basic plot building, character development and conflict, and raising some more questions about why Superman should be differentiated from every other masked crimefighter. Let’s discuss the episode in further detail – spoiler minefield ahead.
As usual, there is more than one thread being woven in this episode. The first involves Clark having to deal with a new partner as Lois is off in Africa. Cat Grant brings a bit of a comical touch to the show, which has been needed, yet at once enforces a concept that seems like it will grow in importance as the season goes on: these ‘heroes’ running around the streets cleaning up crime are doing the people a disservice by hiding in the shadows and wearing masks. They’re vigilantes, and society isn’t too keen on them. It’s a tried and true theme of superhero lore (Watchmen, anyone?) and in a way it’s entirely fitting here. By the end of the episode we have this theme thrown in our face: the world needs these heroes to take off their masks, to be open about who they are. As any fan of Superman knows, Superman doesn’t wear a mask. Unlike the older interpretations, however, I think it stands to reason that in this modern era Superman, if Clark Kent were to reveal who he was, Clark Kent and Superman would become one and the same, as opposed to a double life. In this version of Superman I highly doubt people would not recognize the two just because of a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. In either case, this entire idea helps establish Superman’s role as an icon more than just a crimefighter.
Through the exploration of this theme, Superman has to deal with Deadshot, a villain who doesn’t do too much and isn’t developed but is joined at the end of the episode by some vaguely familiar faces you might recognize, so it seems we’ll be hearing from him again – he serves the role of villain-of-the-week and nothing more, taking the role of the criminal that Clark has to save his doubtful partner from. Speaking of his partner, if she does in fact have a recurring role this season the conflict she brings to the table (bad-mouthing Lois and the Blur) could potentially continue to generate some intriguing scenes.
On the other side of the world, Lois is in the dry desert, being watched over by Hawkman under the guise of an archeologist who happens to be in the area. We realize through a quick shot of a text message that he’s doing this as a favor for Clark. The two enjoy some heartfelt conversation that actually sold me on the importance of Lois in all of this. She’s always struggling with this feeling of inadequacy and Hawkman helps her realize that perhaps it is in not being ‘super’ that she is doing what no one else can – ground Clark Kent in humanity and give him a personal reason to continue fighting. Through some awkward circumstances, Lois puts on her thinking cap and realizes that Hawkman is in fact another being like Clark – the openness of their conversation throughout the episode is something that is entirely welcome. Beating around the bush has gotten entirely old by now so it’s refreshing to see her role in things being discussed with the bluntness that befits her character.
Elsewhere in metropolis, Oliver has realized that Chloe has gone ghost. Not only is she missing, all digital records of her existence have been deleted. His confrontation with Mercer carries the kind of tension you’d expect between the two as Tess convinces him that Chloe left of her own accord and that this must be a part of some plan. The e-mail Chloe allegedly left Oliver is, frankly, my main nitpick with the episode, largely because she indicates that she has loved Oliver as she has never loved anyone else. I’m sorry, but I refuse to buy that – while her feelings for the Green Arrow have been validated by now, her love for a certain photographer from the past cannot be ignored and discarding it in this way felt like a slap to his face. Either way, the situation brings about a core dynamic in the difference between Clark and Mr. Queen right now: Clark is letting Lois find her own way and has faith in her, while Oliver is having trouble letting go and trusting in Chloe. It’s strongly hinted at that Chloe has some knowledge of future events (she did stick her head in that helmet of Fate, after all) and this is all part of what is likely to be Chloe’s grand plan and final hurrah. The girl has been a tough one to read as of late, sinking into dark deeds we wouldn’t have expected of her in high school, so it’s quite a mystery as to what she has in store.
All in all, Shield brings to light core themes of the story and premise of a Superman and weaves them into the narrative as we head into the days that lead to the coming of the red and blue hero at large: waxing some philosophy about ‘Ubermensch’ (the ‘Superman’ concept from the studies of famed Nietzsche) was a nice touch that fills you with that sense of awe at the idea of a being that rises to that principle, and the episode ends with Clark adorning a red and blue outfit once again. Gone, it would seem, are the emo-fied days of black dusters – here’s hoping our hero continues to work things out and find his Ubermensch moment in an end that befits a ten year journey.