Oh dear. How exactly do I approach a review of “Shield”? I suppose it’s best to just get the truth out now and deal with it item by item as I proceed. I really didn’t enjoy this episode very much, and that truly pains me to say. I’m hoping that as I watch this show again during my review that it’ll gel better for me than it did on Friday, so I’m keeping an open mind going forward. “Shield” begins with Lois arriving in Egypt. While there’s a few moments right at first where we think that perhaps she truly is in the middle of nowhere, the first thing Lois does is shove her smart phone in her ear and begin a long diatribe of a message to Perry about the futility of the latest story he’s evidently put her on. Lois may be dealing with insane heat and sandstorms, but it certainly hasn’t slowed her down one bit. And while I love that about Lois (and Erica’s portrayal), it just felt a bit unrealistic in this setting to me. In any case, we quickly move on to Lois entering what I personally believe to be the nicest tent I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean really, this thing is the penthouse suite of cloth-based desert dwellings (though I am, admittedly, a bit ignorant of Egyptian tent technology, and I’m told that these things actually do exist). As it turns out, Lois isn’t alone. With an incredibly over-the-top, grandiose entrance, in strolls Indiana Jones…erm, I mean Carter Hall. I mean honestly, he’s got the khaki pants, the wrinkled off-white shirt, and the strap over one shoulder – just throw a hat on Carter and you’d wonder where he left his bullwhip. I thought perhaps I’d just perceived this whole scenario as a bit more cheesy and contrived than it actually was and had every intention of giving the rest of the episode the benefit of the doubt. Little did I know that my optimism was about to be ambushed by a character of unspeakable evil. And sadly, I’m not talking about Darkseid.
Clark’s trying desperately to get in touch with Chloe when we catch up with him back at The Daily Planet. Evidently, he’s unaware of what’s happened in “Lazarus”. I have to say, I’m a bit upset by how little Clark seems to know about those closest to him these days. In the premiere, he had no idea that Oliver was missing until Chloe told him what had happened. Now, he also seems oblivious to Chloe’s disappearance as well, despite Oliver presumably being back for at least a day or two now to tell him. With only 20 episodes left to become the world’s greatest hero, it bothers me that Clark doesn’t seem to have the slightest clue what’s going on around him, even with those he’s spent the last several years confiding in and rescuing on a nearly-weekly basis. It just seems like those kinds of relationships would mean more to Clark than that. On the other hand, even he doesn’t deserve the monster waiting for him in this scene. No one does. Now, I’m not going to say that I hate Cat Grant, because hate’s a strong word. And she is, after all, only fictional. But seriously, this has to be the most insufferable character Smallville has ever unleashed on an unsuspecting fan base. Cat is the kind of person who dots their i’s with little hearts. She’s sugary-sweet to the point of being incredibly sour and grating. She’s the kind of character who’s so blatantly and perpetually irritating that it almost makes you wish Clark didn’t feel compelled to save absolutely everyone. In short, she’s a caricature of the first order. Creating people like this is something that Smallville has been unfairly criticized for stooping to in the past, and it’s kind of sad to see the series go there this late in the game. Cat hates the idea of vigilantes like The Blur and doesn’t mind telling Clark all about it. She also takes the opportunity to criticize Lois and make herself at home as Clark’s new partner. About the only redeeming quality to this entire sequence was Clark’s staunch defense of Lois. I really love how far they’re pushing his feelings for her with the little things that mean so much, like taking that nameplate out of the trash and chucking Cat’s cookie instead. It’s the moments like this that are completely selling the Clois dynamic in ways that Chlollie just doesn’t manage to pull off. But more on that in a minute. I also did like Louis Febre’s hilarious “dun dun dun” score cue as the reality of actually working with this person hits Clark.
In our first scene at Watchtower, Oliver’s trying unsuccessfully to find any trace of where Chloe’s gone. He’s interrupted by Tess, and shows her a goodbye email that Chloe wrote to him. Maybe I just went into this scene with too much cynicism after the intro, but everything here just felt so forced to me that I had a hard time taking it seriously. For one thing, I didn’t really find the email all that heart-breaking. It sounded like Chloe, yes, but I didn’t think it was really enough to warrant the reaction that Cassidy played in Tess’s eyes when reading it. All the extreme close-ups and meaningful glances in the world just couldn’t put the needed weight on all of this for me somehow. Now usually, I love Ollie and Tess onscreen together, so I don’t think it was the acting that bothered me. It’s hard to put my finger on it. I think maybe part of it is how relatively little time we’ve had with Chloe and Oliver as a couple to get adequately invested in that relationship. And now it just kind of comes across as heavy-handed time filler to give Ollie something to do, and it really should carry more importance than that when it’s our main characters we’re talking about.
In Egypt, Lois wastes no time talking to Carter about Clark. I know the writers have said in the last several months that Lois would have issues with keeping things to herself, but wow, that was awfully fast, wasn’t it? She made it all of one single episode without sharing Clark’s secret with a total stranger. I think the two may have talked for two or three minutes before the subject came up. This might not be so disconcerting if they’d made it clearer how much she really knows about Carter or his connection, if any, with Clark. As it’s written, though, this scene comes off like she’s opening up to the first person she comes across which, considering how many people she’s run into with ulterior motives, seems more than a little foolish. She doesn’t mention Clark by name, of course, but naturally Carter figures things out pretty quickly, subsequently suggesting that they start downing shots. What one thing has to do with the other I’m sure I don’t know, but okay, show, I guess I’ll go with it. Also, there’s apparently a beer called Stella in Egypt that tastes terrible and is one of the only legal alcoholic drinks in the country. It would have been nice for them to throw in that little extra bit of authenticity here. But for now, I’ll try and tell myself that Season 4 laid the foundation for Lois’s drinking habits to make this whole scenario a bit more plausible.
Back in Metropolis, Clark and the ever-stereotypical Cat are getting into her equally stereotypical car when a new character called Deadshot takes aim at her engine block. He then fires a bullet from a back alley with enough internal guidance to call into question the necessity of firing it from a gun at all. After a few more grating lines about the life-saving power of wearing seat belts, the car explodes and, unfortunately, Clark finds it necessary to save Cat from a fiery death. He’s a much nicer person than I am. After finding the remains of Deadshot’s bullet, Clark questions Cat about who would want to kill her. She says she doesn’t know, and gets in a few more moments of Lois bashing. Eventually, Clark offers to take her to Smallville where she’ll be safe. I should stress that nothing about any of this was executed poorly; I just really had a hard time caring too much about who might be trying to kill Cat or why. And it’s not even just about Cat’s character, either. It’s just that we know she’s going to be fine. This is Smallville, after all. We know Deadshot’s going to be a one-off villain who really doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. Now ordinarily, I might not find these things to be all that negative, but this is our final season, and I just don’t want to see all this side-story mess when I could be watching Clark’s final journey toward becoming The Man of Tomorrow.
When Cat arrives at The Talon, she bumps into Oliver, who quickly changes into Green Arrow before making himself known. It’s kind of humorous how little Smallville feels it needs to explain these days. Things used to be at least semi-plausible (I mean, as much as things could be in this world anyway), but does Ollie walk around with his Green Arrow costume folded up in his back pocket? He just seems to materialize in it when the moment’s convenient for him to be disguised. This was our preview scene earlier last week, and I remember thinking at the time that I hoped the episode as a whole didn’t come off as cheesetastic as this scene did. She attempts to stop Oliver (who’s never actually attacking her) not once, not twice, but three times before finally giving up. It’s not even really made clear why Ollie felt it necessary to suit up instead of just hiding or slinking out the back to begin with, but no matter. The scene is essentially just an excuse to get Cat’s phone into Oliver’s hands when she says she has proof on it that a group of heroes has been torturing people down by the docks. As chance would have it, this is a direct lead to the people who questioned Chloe, which is a contrivance a bit too stretched even for a show that’s had more than its share over the years.
Clark’s busy in Tess’s office looking up Cat’s past, and he discovers that she’s changed her name. Tess comes in and the two discuss the bullet Clark found in the car after the explosion. I felt that there was just too much effort here to assure the audience that the bullet was meant for Cat, which of course made it all the more obvious that it was meant for Clark all along. I probably wouldn’t even have questioned the letters on the bullet had there not been such a blatant effort to make sure I was looking the other way by putting the words “Cat Grant” in Tess’s mouth. I was reminded a bit of the scene in “Hostage” when Clark said “this isn’t over, Tess” after the Red Queen crippled him with Kryptonite. It was pretty noticeable how hard the writers were trying there to convince everyone that Tess was that character even when all signs pointed to Martha from the get-go. Tess helps Clark track the bullet back to Deadshot, who evidently was a rogue assassin that Checkmate was after but never found or identified. Again, much work is put in here to make this baddie out to be particularly formidable, but I just didn’t ever feel any real threat building from this guy. He uses bullets. What possible threat could he pose to Clark? And even after apparently being clued in to Clark’s powers after his first attempt, he doesn’t even change is strategy the second time around. If anything, I found Deadshot really ineffectual as a villain. Heck, even that meteor freak hater in “Extinction” knew enough to find Clark’s weakness and exploit it before trying to harm him again.
Next we get the scene I was personally looking at the clock and waiting on for the entire first half of this episode. In Cat Grant, the writers have created someone so incredibly, impossibly unlikeable that they really only had one option left: give her a tragic back-story to make us care about her character. Evidently, Cat changed her name because she was with an abusive boyfriend and she had to protect her son. Or at least I assume he was abusive. No real concrete details were given exactly, and nothing gets fixed about Cat’s situation with this apparently dangerous ex by show’s end, so really, the only point of even bringing it up is to make us sympathize with her. There are three big problems with trying to develop a character like Cat this way. First, her story is not dealt with in any way. It doesn’t have anything to do with the show we’re watching, so it really doesn’t need to be there. Second, it comes off as exactly what it is: poorly-veiled emotional manipulation. And I’m sorry, but Cat’s just not a character that I can suddenly care about simply because she’s had a rough past after gritting my teeth through thirty minutes of her railing against Lois and trashing everything that Clark will ultimately stand for as Superman. Third, this whole thing just comes out of nowhere and is, in truth, wildly out of character for Cat. We’ve established her as one type of individual, and then when the script requires it of her, she’s calm, collected, and sympathetic. Maybe we’re supposed to believe that the Cat in this scene is the real person, and this terrible girl we met before the credits is just the façade she’s hiding behind, but I’m not buying it. Especially not when she pretty much recedes back into that cartoon cutout persona after this scene’s over. It all adds up to something that feels disingenuous, and I just didn’t believe it like I feel I should have.
As you might be able to tell by now, I really wasn’t a huge fan of Cat Grant, so I found myself through much of “Shield” just waiting to get back to the scenes in Egypt with Lois and Carter. This one has the two talking more and more about Clark and her being the one who’ll be there to make sure he becomes who he’s destined to be. All of this worked beautifully, and I was really drawn in by how Lois finally had a safe outlet in Carter. I love how much she’s considering Clark in the decisions that she makes, even debating on whether going back to Metropolis would be helpful for him or not. She really weighs what she does and tries to balance what she wants against what’s best for Clark’s future. Just as I was really loving this scene, this episode goes and makes another hard left turn. Now granted, I could have totally read this wrong, but I’d swear that an insinuation was made here that Lois might actually be Shayera in another lifetime but that the timing was wrong in this one for things to work. Again, I don’t know if this is what was intended (Carter could very well have just been projecting his love for Shayera onto Lois because he was a bit tipsy), but the scene definitely put that idea out there for me, and I wasn’t very cool with it. Lois’s destiny – in this life or the next – isn’t really something I want messed with. She’s destined to be with Superman, plain and simple. Anything else is really strange and unnecessary, especially here at the end of Smallville.
Tess finally manages to figure out that the bullet from Cat’s car was actually intended to kill Clark, and the two surmise that Deadshot will go after Cat to draw Clark out again. Despite Clark’s request that she stay put at The Talon, however, Cat’s thrown on a wig and ventured out to the bus stop, presumably to start a new life yet again. Deadshot catches up with her there, and tries his best to be intimidating. Cat responds to his threats with some nonsensical dialog about some people just being born dead, throws a suitcase at him (which quite humorously just bounces off his shoulder to no avail), and tries running away. I’m sorry, but this whole scene was just unintentionally funny if you ask me. Every cliché I can imagine was on display here. Deadshot inexplicably just materializes right behind Cat at one point, even though she’s been running full-out the entire time. Cat does the long history of hapless female victims proud with a fall / whimper combination as she attempts to get away. And when the scene finally comes to its dramatic conclusion and we see that Cat’s standing in the middle of a gigantic skull and crossbones, obviously set up in advance by Deadshot, what does she do? Well, she actually does nothing. That’s right. She just stands there for what seems like an eternity, waiting for an automated rifle on a timer to shoot her. Naturally, Clark’s there to save the day, taking the bullet in his right shoulder blade before tackling Cat to the ground and placing the bullet in her vest. As for Deadshot, Clark simply punches him once and he’s taken care of. I’m not sure if I was just missing something here, but this climactic face-off just held no tension or payoff for me. Nothing was at stake, no danger was ever really present for Clark, and the main villain proved just as inconsequential as he first seemed. The whole thing just added up to something that felt remarkably average. And Smallville’s been much, much better than that for the past year, so average was pretty disappointing.
If anything, this episode felt a lot like a setup for a larger story, with the as-yet unexplained skull and crossbones effects on Clark’s healing wound, the water Carter splashes on his face, and the bullet Oliver’s shot with by the man who abducted Chloe in “Lazarus”. Again, I just wasn’t feeling this whole subplot of Oliver tracking Chloe down. He seems to be going to a pretty dark place again for a guy who’s just had a season-long arc to get back into the light. Perhaps it’s also because it’s a foregone conclusion that Allison Mack’s only coming back for four more episodes, so we can pretty much assume that Oliver’s not going to get anywhere here and that she’s not going to wind up with him no matter how many times he kicks this guy or shouts her name in frustration. Again, all of this just had a cumulative effect for me of making this entire subplot feel tacked on to what we’re really here to see. We don’t even really find out anything more about this organization from the man who beat Oliver other than it being a super-secret outfit whose members are all presumed dead (making his claim that Chloe killed herself feel hollow at best).
One of the things I enjoyed most about Season 9 – scenes with Tom and Justin playing off each other – finally comes to the rescue, saving “Shield” from being a complete throwaway experience for me. Clark meets up with Oliver at Watchtower and learns from him that Chloe faked her own death. This leads into a great scene of the two discussing whether staying in the shadows and allowing people to use knowledge of their identities against them is the best course going forward. This is handled very well, and it’s a really great way to show that there is more behind Clark’s eventual decision to become more public with what he can do than simply wanting to be a symbol of hope. There are practical considerations, too, and you really get a sense here that it might actually seem safer to these two in some ways to stop being quite so secretive. I also liked how Clark is assertive without being combative here. When he defends his actions in trusting Chloe to make her own decisions, I got the distinct impression that I was watching Superman, not Clark Kent, deliver that line. Headed into the final shows of the series, that’s a great impression to come away with in episode two.
The man who interrogated Oliver and Chloe turns out to be a cop, though we still know very little about who he actually is. When he gets Deadshot out of prison, there’s a fleeting reference made to the shadowy organization we’ve seen in the last two shows being “The Suicide Squad”. I’m not sure if this is the same group that Waller referenced at the end of “Absolute Justice”, but I’m gathering that it is. Also, evidently Deadshot did manage to “nail his target”, and there’s mention of the squad’s “costumed counterparts” now being tagged and traceable. I guess this is what was intended by the skull and crossbones shots on our main characters. This wasn’t made exceptionally clear, but I somehow doubt it was intended to be. On the other hand, if Deadshot’s mission was only to tag Clark in the first place, then why try blowing up the car? Oh, well. I do like that we’re getting a look at Plastique again. It’s reassuring that they’re remembering the history of the series as we go forward more than they have in the past. That’s good to see, and it’s fitting to have so many throwbacks to prior moments with this being the final season.
Carter and Lois have one last scene together, and it’s pretty fantastic. Carter confides in Lois that when he has a vision of Shayera, it means that he’ll soon be leaving this life to join her in the next one. This is a phenomenal setup to Carter’s potential death later in the season. In any case, it definitely makes you wonder when or if it’s coming in the near future, which is very cool foreshadowing. Carter tells Lois that he wants to see her meet her destiny with Clark before he moves on. And lest I forget, we also get the very first mention of the name Superman, right from Lois’s mouth. This leads into the ending sequence of the episode, which was almost cool enough to redeem all the things that didn’t come together for me. Clark’s finally ditched the black trench coat outfit and walks out onto the roof of The Daily Planet sporting a new red jacket with the Superman shield on the front. Letting a plane ticket to Cairo fall from his hands, we get the definite sense that Clark no longer feels that he needs a plane to fly. I’ve heard two criticisms of this scene and I’d like to address them both. First, I know a lot of people aren’t all that thrilled with Clark’s new look. I, for one, love it. I understand the criticisms. I mean, this outfit’s not as cool and dark as the Season 9 version, and it’s not as iconic as the traditional Superman suit, so in a sense, it really had no choice but to look a bit awkward as it’s a stepping stone to where we all know Clark’s headed. But I think there was an effort here to strike a balance between the trench coat and the tights, and I’m not sure how they could have better accomplished that than how they did here. I’m pleased with the new look, though admittedly, it will take some getting used to. In any case, we’ve only got about 19 more episodes until we’ll get the look we’re all waiting for. Second, some are upset that Clark didn’t just fly away at the end. While I do think Clark’s first flight probably would have salvaged this episode, maybe even enough to propel it into “must see” status, I’m personally glad it wasn’t here. We’ve all waited so long to see this final transition, and that first flight, in my mind, has always been in the Superman suit. I would have welcomed it here, sure, but I think the right decision was made in the end.
On a personal note, this was probably the most difficult review I’ve written yet. I don’t enjoy disliking Smallville episodes. Especially not ones that most fans seem to have little issue with like “Shield”. If most fans enjoyed this entry, then that pleases me, and I wish I could have enjoyed it more than I did. There were elements, to be clear, that I really did like about this episode. I loved how much Clark stood up for Lois at the beginning when Cat was talking her down. It showed how far they’ve come as friends (not just as a couple), and it was a great role-reversal from last season when Lois was the one saving Clark’s nameplate from the trash bin. I appreciated what they were trying to do with Carter and Lois in Egypt. Even though I found some of their scenes together problematic, I think the subplot was at least partially redeemed in the end by finishing so strongly. The scene with Oliver and Clark was excellent, and it really built a great foundation to where these characters are headed in the coming year. And that last shot of Clark in the new outfit, well, I must say that I feel sorry for the haters out there who can’t adjust to something a little bit different, because that shot was truly epic. So I didn’t hate “Shield”. In fact, I think there were about 15 or so really strong minutes contained in this episode. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t that crazy about the other 30. But then, that is to say I just didn’t love it like I’ve loved the last several shows. Things just felt off to me in ways that they haven’t in a while. Season 9 was an incredibly strong season. “Salvation” was an incredibly strong finale. And “Lazarus” was a wonderful premiere. I just don’t think I had much choice but to be a bit let down with “Shield” in that context (though I am rather astounded that some fans actually preferred this episode to the premiere). In the end, the fact is that not a whole lot really happened in this episode, and I just don’t think this season can afford any filler shows. I also know that Cat Grant is set to appear in more than just this episode, and I can only hope that my opinion of her changes later on. I will try my best not to judge her too harshly, but right now she just bugs me a little too much to enjoy watching her character. Characters don’t have to be annoying to be unlikable, and I do hope this series will remember that in the days ahead. We don’t have all that many of them left.