Smallville’s Superman finally decided he needed a mask – and it looks a lot like the stumbling, bumbling nerded-up Clark Kent act that Christopher Reeve perfected in the late actor’s quartet of Superman flicks. Put another way: The last son of Krypton got glasses in last night’s episode, “Masquerade,” a pleasing and pivotal outing in Smallville’s swan song season, one that saw the nearly-realized Man of Steel wrap his mind around a big sticking point in his grand super-hero project. From Clark’s perspective, since he was always meant to be a super-powered Good Samaritan – as that is his true identity – then that’s the person the world should know; ergo, that man should never go cloaked or concealed. But how to be out and proud and yet protect the other parts of his life that are just as dear and meaningful to him – true love Lois Lane and his journalist’s job at The Daily Planet?
The question needed to be urgently answered. During a heroic jaunt to London, Clark got photographed and videotaped while standing sentinel atop Parliament and Big Ben. It was only a matter of time before Clark got so sloppy. At the same time, I wish the writers had been smarter about depicting Kal-El’s carelessness and inevitable image-capture. Regardless: “The Blur” now had a face. And the world was transfixed (“You’re global now,” observed an impressed Lois), but none more so than in Metropolis, where that face looks a whole lot like a certain crime reporter who enjoys a considerable bit of celebrity because his headshot accompanies his byline on so many Page 1 stories in The Daily Planet – a reporter who can’t help but consistently invite comparisons to the world’s most imagination-capturing superman, especially when he’s routinely out-policing the police. In the words of Bert the Crime Scene Shutterbug: “You talk like a cop, you walk like a fireman, you beat us to our crime scenes. Heck, you might as well put an ‘S’ on your chest!” To further prove the point, Bert then immediately fell through some rickety floorboards – and Clark instantly reached out and snatched him. The dude can’t help being Superman – it’s as involuntary as breathing, or at least as ingrained as good manners. (It was the conspicuously verbalized perspective of the story’s villain that Clark is utterly incorruptible; I think we’re being set up for one last test of that thesis before the series climax.)
And so Clark decided to resolve his identity crisis by making modifications to his non-hero persona – by encouraging the world to underestimate his Super-ness by giving himself an Awkward Makeover. He couldn’t hide the fact that he looks GQ hot – but he could fake a flaw (poor eyesight) with those glasses and become as spatially challenged as a dizzy pigeon. Clark gave the guise a test drive by colliding with the Planet’s copy boy and bashfully apologizing for his clumsiness while pushing his specs up the bridge of his nose. Very Christopher Reeve — but kudos to Tom Welling for not overstating it. Mission accomplished. I guess. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been wild about the Nerd Clark characterization (cliche; vaguely insulting), and I’ve always had a hard time believing in it as a credible solution to Superman’s secret identity conundrum. More plausible to me is the approach embodied by the George Reeves Superman – the confident and sly Cary Grant-cum-Algonquin Round Table type, who basically handled those who suspected him of being Superman by using his quick wits to talk them out of it. Can’t Superman and Clark Kent simply be truthful, organic expressions of the same individual – a smart, sophisticated, selfless man wired for activism and blessed with great humor? No matter how he plays it, pseudo slicker stud or pseudo bumpkin, Clark is going to be profoundly bugged by counter-intuitive dissonance; “pseudo” doesn’t come naturally to a guy beholden to no-nonsense formulations truth and integrity. If being Superman requires living a double life, then why can’t both of those lives be as Super as possible?
To be clear: I thought this was a pretty fine episode of Smallville. The story did a good job of rationalizing and dramatizing the problem of Superman’s need for a secret identity, even if it ultimately opted for a debatably flawed solution that I’m not fond of. (I did enjoy the comedy of Lois’ proposed fix for Clark’s ID dilemma — sunglasses and a hoodie!) I get two big pleasures from Smallville, and “Masquerade” hit them well and hard: 1. The clever communion with and appropriation of DC Universe mythology. I see a little bit of The Great Darkness Saga in this last season of Smallville, among other great DCU stories. 2. The cast, especially the quartet of Welling, Erica Durance (I loved the bit with her devising the wedding seating chart with paper dolls, struggling to figure out where to put Clark’s “super friends”), Allison Mack and Justin Hartley, who not only have their parts down, but also seem to genuinely enjoy playing with each other. And if they don’t: Give them a special ACTING! commendation for being sterling professionals. Mack and Hartley – whose characters (Chloe and Oliver Queen) had their own identity struggles in this episode – were given a subplot inspired by/swiped from the Steve Carell-Tina Fey comedy Date Night, and they made it fun. I really enjoyed Mack’s performance, and not just because of the way she sold that sexy-smashing off-one-shoulder crimson gown. (Now we know what Vera Wang might do with Superman’s cape.) She also assayed the episode’s trippiest and best scene: Chloe’s Last Temptation of Christ-meets-Seven testing by sex club owner(!)/demonic Darkseid lackey Desaad, who came undone by going serial killer, gutting those he couldn’t convert to The Darkness. The wicked wormwood tried to corrupt Chloe, pummeling her with a succession of sinful temptations (wrath, sloth, envy, lust, pride), but he failed. Not so lucky was Oliver: By episode’s end, we learned that the Green Arrow – who has always been more comfy with moral ambiguity than Superman – had been branded with the Omega mark. Uh-oh.
I turn the conversation over to you. What did you think of “Masqerade”? What was your take on Clark’s solution to the secret identity problem? And do those glasses work for you?