Summary: A well-written, well-directed epilogue for the 9th season that serves to advance a major 10th season arc in simple but effective ways.
** Note: Review contains spoilers if you have not seen the episode.**
The quick skinny on the episode.
General Wilson is returned to Earth from the Phantom Zone by unknown means, prompting Clark to enter the Zone to see who might have accessed the exit gate. Oliver tags along and both men are captured while fighting phantoms and brought before the new lord of the Zone, Zod. Zod attempts to corrupt Clark again, but when he’s rebuffed, he turns to Oliver, revealing that he has been marked with Darkseid’s Omega. Clark and Oliver are pitted against one another in gladitorial challenge to the death. Meanwhile, Lois and Tess argue at Watchtower about a plan that could trap Clark and Oliver forever.
The in-depth review.
I absolutely love Callum Blue as Zod. It was announced recently that the feature film reboot of the Superman franchise, The Man of Steel, will feature Zod as its main antagonist. In the part, Michael Shannon has been cast and I think faces a very unique challenge. Shannon has not only to go up against the iconic turn of Terence Stamp in Superman: The Movie and Superman II but now has to work against what I feel is the definitive portrayal of the character in Blue’s turn. For most of the general audience, they aren’t aware of Smallville‘s Zod, which is a shame. That lessens Shannon’s public burden but doesn’t let him off the hook for me.
As Blue was probably my favorite part of Season 9, I was looking forward to this episode, ‘Dominion’. Sure, I had misgivings when it was announced that they were bringing Zod back. Between the phantom version explored at the end of Season 5 and beginning of Season 6 and the cloned Kandorian season-long arc last year, I felt that Zod had been well-covered territory. I also felt that last season’s finale, ‘Salvation’, gave a proper send-off to the character. As more details came out about ‘Dominion’ taking place in the Phantom Zone, I became more and more intrigued. Thankfully, I was paid in spades.
They do a rather unique thing in the episode in tying Zod to the Darkseid storyline. In fact, I would say this is the best jolt of the storyline on the season and did quite a bit to advance the story in very simple ways. More importantly, they assemble a Zod who will now be a major threat in Clark’s tight-wearing future. Combining the phantom Zod with the clone Zod is sort of a no-brainer but that doesn’t make it any less effective. I really enjoyed the fact that this “new” Zod actually retained everything of both lives and that both shared Clark as an immediate enemy. I also enjoyed the subtle way in which the phantom Zod seems to have tempered the clone Zod ever so slightly. Instead of being tempestuous, Zod is even more calculating, devious and divisive. The ego, though, is very much present and I appreciate that, much like ‘Salvation’, Clark and Oliver were able to turn that against him.
I got a kick out of the Mad Maxian gladitorial games, even if it was a little on-the-nose for the environment, and they definitely benefited from the props Warner Bros. shared from the 300 production. Mercifully, Justin Hartley as director saved the emulation of Zack Snyder’s distinctive stop-start slo-motion style for a single fight and didn’t overburden the episode with it. (More on Hartley’s direction in a bit.) There was also a very strong Conan the Barbarian vibe, particularly in Zod’s throne and it was simply marvelous to see Zod planted there, stoically overseeing the proceedings. This is exactly what Zod had always wanted and he took to it like a born despot.
To say I haven’t been the hugest fan of John Chisolm’s scripting on the show the last two seasons would be understatement. Both ‘Checkmate’ and ‘Patriot’ rank lower on the season episode scale for me, though both are peppered with very prominent elements of the comics. ‘Dominion’ is easily his strongest effort and I have to heap massive amounts of praise on the dialogue scenes he gave to Zod with both Clark and Oliver. I also have to give praise to the whole production for allowing such long scenes to make it to airing. Blue’s command during both scenes was exceptional and Chisolm’s words brilliantly sold the character, playing off clearly defined characters in our heroes and their histories. In all honesty, I felt like I was watching a different series this episode, a more confident and competent series. That credit goes to John Chisolm.
It also goes to Justin Hartley, who admitted in interviews this week that he wasn’t necessarily yearning to direct but kind of stumbled into the gig while talking with Executive Producer Kelly Souders about writing an episode. (Last season’s ‘Sacrifice’; Hartley is the only actor on the series to get a writing credit for the show.) There is a lot of support that comes with a well-oiled machine that has been operating for 10 years, offering a net that would keep Hartley from stumbling too bad in his first directing outing. Still, this was one of the most surehanded and accomplished directing jobs of the season — out of the entire directing pool! When you look at episodes other actors on the show have directed – Michael Rosenbaum, John Schneider, Allison Mack, and of course, series star Tom Welling – Hartley’s stacks near or at the top. Same with the writing and producing staff that have taken to directing episodes in the last couple of seasons. Many fans complained about giving Hartley the job with one of the final few episodes of the series, but ‘Dominion’ proved those complaints were unfounded. I think it also helped that Hartley wasn’t required to act for the last two or three episodes prior to his gig, allowing him proper time to prep.
As tends to happen when the actors are directed by one of their own, they rally to support in the best ways they can. Everyone brought their best game, particularly Welling and Erica Durance. I like when Tom is working opposite someone who is strong and giving as an actor – as Blue appears to be – because he really pushes his skills. I also liked that he was game to go after the physicality of the Phantom Zone scenes. (Even if they continue to turn Clark into a total wimp without his powers. C’mon, Clark. You can still punch.) His best scene, though, was the apartment scene near the end of the episode. The intimacy and honesty between Tom and Erica in the scene was touching and raw, a vulnerable moment that almost felt a little too personal to be in on. There are many fans who moan about the chemistry — or lack of, they claim — between Tom and Erica. I defy you to watch that scene and tell me there isn’t chemistry between them. This was another well-written scene that was acted beautifully by our leads. And I completely adore their apartment. Yes, even with the Whitesnake throw pillow.
Erica was on fire in ‘Dominion’. The ferocity of Lois doing everything to protect Clark, even from himself, is an essential part of the character’s DNA in the comics and Erica completely owns that. Her scene holding Tess at gunpoint was powerful and defined her motivation for eternity. Some would argue that Lois has become just an apostle and evangelist for Clark. While she certainly is those things, the fire within her drives her to use everything in her arsenal to help Clark in his cause. This is what pushes her to the upper echelons in her journalism and, while we haven’t seen as much of a focus on that on the show, they haven’t shied from informing Lois’ will with it. Her declaration that she will march with Clark side-by-side into hellish, unwinnable situations were her vows. That scene was as much a marriage of the two characters as their inevitable ceremony will be. Erica grounded Lois’ love and conviction in very real places and it made the Watchtower scenes and the apartment scene that much deeper and heartfelt.
I also found Oliver’s darkness to be more grounded in ‘Dominion’ than what we’ve seen in moments in Season 8 and Season 9 when he was down-and-out. You could feel the weight of his actions on his history more so than his shoulders, which made it more real and gave credence to Ollie being marked. I liked that Oliver was less defensive during his conversation with Zod than he usually is with people, showing a struggle that really is at his core and informs his day-to-day life. Part of it was that he was drawing Zod into the trap, but it was obvious that what he said to Ollie really touched a nerve. I thought Hartley really painted with subtleties here, underplaying what really isn’t a very subtle storyline. The one criticism I would have of the episode in relation to this storyline was the final bit with Ollie at the church. Personally, I felt it didn’t add anything we don’t already know.
The only other criticism I would add actually relates to Blue. It would appear he’s had work done on his teeth in the last year and it was a little distracting at points. I don’t bemoan the guy improving his smile but it was really noticeable. He also seemed to be visibly more gaunt than before, but I thought that worked well for the story. Minor quibbles that really aren’t quibbles. Just things I noticed and seemed to be accentuated by the filter of the camera work and blown-out light. I loved the beard and also got a kick out of the final image of Zod being an approximation of the infamous image of Zod, Non and Ursa floating through space in the Phantom Zone pane.
I have a feeling ‘Dominion’ is going to be labeled as “filler” by a vocal part of the fanbase. Mostly because many were labeling it as such going into the episode. Personally, I found it to be a wonderful episode that gave the proper epilogue to an important character in the series and advanced one of the main arcs of the season. For me, this is one of the season’s true highlights and you gotta love any episode that puts Clark in some version of red cape.