I will admit I have a soft spot for the sweetness and tenderness in Smallville. It might be because of the show's initial goal – turning a special teenager into a responsible superhero – or the fact that these moments have remained over the years one of the very few things the show always does right. Whatever the reason, the opening scene of this episode of Smallville with Lois and Clark made me forget about last week's painful experience and hope for the best.
"Dominion" returns to one of the many story arcs of this season, The Darkness, which is likely to be the prime storyline leading us to the series finale. Colonel Slade is back from the Phantom Zone and Clark decides to go check for himself what on "Earth" is happening over there. I liked it when Tess, trying to justify why she called Oliver, told Clark, "You'll be powerless there. Oliver has more experience with that." She is not in a mood for snide remarks and is merely stating a fact. What follows in the Phantom Zone is not as good. Until this episode, and despite several journeys over there, Smallville hadn't shown much of the zone aside from the bleak landscape and the dreaded phantoms zipping about now and then. That was ominous, very much alien, and worked well. In this episode we were thrown into a decadent community of Kandorian (and human?) prisoners that looked like a cross between Mad Max and bad gladiator movies.
With the boys gone, Tess faces Lois who is, understandably, impatient to see her fiancé again. What follows is a well-crafted scene between my two favorite characters this season. It was smart to sprinkle it all over the fighting and whatever else happened in the Phantom Zone. The pinnacle of the scene is when Tess tells Lois that Clark knew about the gate's auto-destruct mechanism. Lois's reaction and response show she is attempting to convince herself more than to argue with Tess. The two actresses did an excellent job displaying a various range of emotions and keeping us interested in the outcome.
Whether on Earth or in the Phantom Zone, this episode raised the issue of trust. Since the best days of Chloe Sullivan, Clark hasn't had any friends he could implicitly trust under any circumstances. The only "reliable" characters around him now are his mother – to some degree – and Lois. Regular viewers are well aware of Clark's paranoiac tendency and his ability to jump to conclusions faster than a speeding bullet. Those facts make plots involving plans like the one Oliver and Clark hatched in the Phantom Zone very uncomfortable and barely believable. By the same token, the auto-destruction subplot with Tess could have been better. From her first appearance in the episode there was something unsettling about her, which was charming, but not right. We really like "our" Tess now and she doesn't have to act as if she is perpetually asking for forgiveness or let herself be so easily dominated by Lois and Clark. It doesn't fit well with some sides of her we know, especially considering she is their boss after all.
One achievement of the episode was the very good display of dynamics in the relationship between Lois and Clark. On one hand is Clark's wish to protect Lois by shielding her from some of the truth while he is fighting. On the other hand is Lois' resolute, but more subtle battle to make sure Clark is safe. Without her, he would have stayed in the Phantom Zone and he knows it. The final lengthy scene between them wisely shows her happy with just enough anger so that he understands his mistake. He is thankful and sorry, which is what he should be.
Not surprisingly, the previous episode was nothing like this one. As I have mentioned before, Smallville has the uncanny ability from one week to the next to switch from one hour of ordeal to an hour of good entertainment. Here we had it again.