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Smallville’s CHECKMATE: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave

April 12, 2010

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Season 9, Episode 17

Review and Recap by Holli

Click HERE for HD Screencaps of the Episode

Written by John Chisholm (newbie) and directed by long time producer, Tim Scanlan.  Pam Grier and Phil Morris return.

Sometimes in the trenches, you can’t see the forest for the trees.  That’s where aerial recognizance comes in.  Seeing how this installment sets the ground work for future episodes, this is the tactic you have to take while viewing this episode.  I like to delve into an episode, others do not.  So when you have seven minutes more or less of Clark time – that’s all they see.  And it scares them.  No one should be more prominent on this show than Clark.

Believe me when I say, a lot of people initially had a visceral reaction to their first viewing  – and yet there was a nagging thought or feeling that they may have missed something (besides more of Clark).  It’s like finding diamonds in a dung heap.  It’s a dirty job, but Smallville/Superman fans are a breed apart.  They’ll do what’s necessary to love this show.


The look of the episode was different.  I am thrilled that these two ‘newbies’ tried the slow motion and swirl motion camera effects.  The use of the black strobe snapshots gave it somewhat of a comic/Bond film feel.  (There’s a border around the land of campy, however.  Do not enter.)   The first attempt at this was in ABSOLUTE JUSTICE which had that very stylized battle scene in the Watchtower.  I assumed it was due to budgetary constraints and also the dimensions of the Watchtower set with all those heroes fighting (especially Hawkman’s 25 foot wingspan).  The logistics alone would give a director a migraine.

It took me a while to put my finger on why I felt uneasy about these scenes from this episode.  I was genuinely confused as to whose perspective we were witnessing.  Most of the time we get to see these type of camera ‘tricks’ from Clark’s perspective.  It takes us into his world.  But these seemed to be a generalized perspective which is not conducive to good storytelling.  Perhaps they were showing how much a human eye could pick up between blinks.  Not sure.

Tess was given an extended slow motion track while she was an operative.  In a show about a being with superpowers, these types of shots should be reserved for Clark/the Blur otherwise it appears everyone has superpowers and the main character of the show is not special.  This further exacerbated the lack of Clark Kent screen time.

The black strobe snapshot effect should never become a signature shot, but it was interesting and certainly made this episode visually stand out from the rest.

There were plenty of action shots and not much exposition and for that I am truly grateful.  It’s about time.  Even though the action was mostly in the teaser and Act One, there was a good balance.  Bravo!

One special effect that seemed to be missing was during the morgue scene.  Clark somehow knew the chess piece was connected to Tess.  Did he use microvision?  Tess seemed to have a pretty standard chess set in her office.

Also, there was no Lois mention in this episode.  (Recaps do not suffice.)  Haven’t we learned anything from season 8?  If there’s no Lois, then we should at least know what she’s up to offscreen.  Her existence was sorely missed.


“The Castle” is the secret headquarters of Checkmate in the Swiss Alps (at least it was in the comics).  Amanda Waller approaches a chess board already in play.  A White Pawn (Lois) has been moved from in front of the White King (Clark).  A pawn always moves forward, has the least amount of power, and is valuable because you can exchange it for other pieces (think ‘King me’ in Checkers).  They are the first line of defense.  Their initial move is crucial.


Waller picks up the White Queen (her other chess alias was Black King as was Maxwell Lord’s) and taps a Black Pawn (Tess) first and then the White Knight.  The White Queen also appeared as the chess piece in ROULETTE via blondie and also in ABSOLUTE JUSTICE in Tess’ office telling the CEO/operative she was back in play.  The White Knight represents Smallville’s version of the Dark Knight = Ollie.  Then she knocks over the White Knight taking it out of game play.

Later we see one of the operatives has a White Knight on his dashboard.  He is knocked out by Oliver and then is discovered to be a CEO of a company = double agent.  He lost his earpiece where Ollie was kidnapped.  He uses cyanide in front of Martian Manhunter.  Also seen in a montage were a White Rook or Castle and then The Castle.

Blondie gets caught looking at patient records (a felony) and the doctor who caught her was also an operative.  We see he has a White Pawn (possibly for the capture of blondie) and also there is a Black Bishop near his briefcase.  Actually there is an entire chessboard near the patient files at a desk in the hospital.  Weird.  Data exchanges.  Blondie gets punk’d at her own game.  Brilliant!  The doctor eventually captures blondie and sends her to Checkmate headquarters.

When Amanda Waller has the Blur in front of her at Checkmate headquarters, she has the White Knight ‘in check.’  He is not captured yet, but he definitely has to be thinking about his next move or the game is lost.

At one point, we see Clark and the Martian Manhunter in the Kent loft.  Clark asks him who he is working for.  “Let’s just say that there are more players on the board than you think.  And when it comes to choosing sides. . . things aren’t always Black or White.”   Right after that in Checkmate headquarters, the secured area’s chess board has changed.  There is a lone Red Queen in the center.  Waller is outraged.  “We’ve been blocked for a new player.”  She slaps away the piece.  “It’s time for a new game.”  Last words of the episode.

Red Queen indicates female, possibly red hair – MARTHA KENT.  Senator Kent probably has been keeping an eye on her boy and the danger he’s in.  Martian Manhunter with his abilities of invisibility and intangibility could have easily set up the announcement without being detected.


Is she superpowered?  Sliding down a duct from her DP office to an alleyway.   (Is there a window for Clark to use in the storage room when he finally flies?)  She changes her clothes and puts on a wig.  Then she beats up people with various and sundry weapons including a car door window.  Some twists about who is on her team.  Apparently she has no knowledge of what the winning move is in Chess.  It’s certainly not when a knight is taken.  Only when the opposing king is taken or surrendered is it truly Checkmate and the end of the game.

Tess and Clark had similar dialogue in this episode.  She hasn’t been checking in with Checkmate and Clark has neglected to follow blondie’s protocol.  Both apologized, asked forgiveness and talked about broken trust.  Tess with Ollie and Clark to blondie (who still doesn’t know how to take the sancti out of her monious).

Tess also learned Ollie’s secret in this episode.  Her reaction was anger.  Would she have made some of the decisions she had if she’d known he was the Green Arrow?  There was definite regret when Ollie didn’t forgive her.  She stated it may be the last time he sees her.  How sad.

She did know how to keep a secret.  Ollie didn’t know that Tess knew Clark’s secret.

Knowing all the secrets on this show gets you one place = dead.  And what is going on with Tess’ body that Waller wants her latest physical?

Since Tess found out Oliver’s secret, will Lois be learning Clark’s?


There is a move in chess called castling that involves the King and a Rook.

The King must be protected at all costs or all is lost.

J’onn was a star tonight.  We’ve been waiting for a couple of seasons to see what all that he could do and with this episode, we got our chance.  YEA!!!  He’s working for someone with high intel.  He will not reveal their identity to Clark and asks our hero to trust him.

Flying (Clark needs to get on that otherwise he’ll never win an argument with MM), mindreading, Martian vision, invisibility, intangibility, walking through walls, and transformation are just some of the alien abilities this character has.  We also saw his worst fear: fire.

This alien also has his own agenda.  He won’t be tied to blondie’s apron strings because she does not perceive all that he can.


Clark’s opening line is sometimes significant.  “Did you try the power switch?” which he says to blondie.

Clark has been training with Jor-El and probably has fine tuned the abilities he had and discovered new ones (hoping to see flying soon!).  So he is faster thinking, can process more and analyze it in a blink of an eye.  He doesn’t need blondie’s Watchtower.  He is finally stepping into his role of future Superman.

Strategy: Waller chastised the Blur for not having a strategy when he arrived.  Clark is running on his Kryptonian instincts now.  He has to gather all the information so he can proceed to make a move on site.  He’s fearless when trying to do the right thing.  Saving his friend who had brought the JLA together was the right thing to do.  Waller telling him he had abandoned said friend is another subject altogether.  Perhaps it was part of her strategy of feeling out her opponent.  What is his weakness?  His heart?  His loyalty?  True, these are Clark’s strengths but an opponent could try and turn these things against him, which is what any good strategist would do.  Clark doesn’t have to have the finesse of strategy.  He can bust through any situation pretty much, but that doesn’t imply he hasn’t calculated all the outcomes and methods.

Forgiveness: When you forgive someone, you are not saying the wrong they’ve done is right or even okay.  And you may not (or probably shouldn’t) forget what they’ve done.  What forgiveness does is allow you to move on.  You’re no longer wallowing in (or brooding about) what you can’t control (the other person or their deeds).  What you can control is you and your attitude.  The really hard part of forgiveness is that it’s a process and not a feeling.   But once you go about forgiving, your life becomes freer and more abundant.  You won’t have regrets.  Apparently, Clark has learned this lesson well.

Yes, the apology was scary.  Clark was on bended knee and flashbacks of the Arc of Suck put everyone into a tailspin.  Clark is the hero of the story.  He offered an olive branch to blondie, but she didn’t accept it.  She did have the wherewithal to realize that Clark doesn’t need her and perhaps that’s a good thing.  Maybe sometime soon she will see how she is holding him back and that he worked with her because they were friends.   That is something she has not acted like for a very long time.

Clark sees that people have motives and they are not necessarily constructive.

Tess got the rough treatment.  Sometimes Clark has to do this to get the evil one to tell him what he needs to know.  He’d never kill, but he’d certainly put the fear of death into her.  Sometimes that’s the only way you can deal with evil.


Gotta love Ollie even though his love life is crap.  Can’t wait for Black Canary to come and kick some sense into him.  I love the flips on rooftops under a full moon – very iconic.  And I must say his relationship with Crazypants is full of hot,  smoldering, sexual tension.  Reminds me a bit of the Dark Knight and Catwoman.  But he’s taking one for the team at the moment by playing between the sheets with blondie.  Again, can’t wait until Dinah shows up.

They’re not tights!  Yea, Ollie wears leather.  Tights are a no-no on Smallville.  So why are they being brought up?  Makes ya think, doesn’t it?  The comic relief was welcome.   And, puh-leez, Bossie and Ball-less get a handhold so fast it makes you wanna sonic cry for a solid minute, break all the glass in your house and wipe out all the electronics.  Oooo that’s an idea, have Dinah take out the Watchtower with a Canary Cry!  Yea!


One good EMP and she is out of a job.  She got a taste of that tonight.  She’s having problems keeping the two aliens under her thumb.  Clark doesn’t even realize there is a protocol let alone how to follow it and J’onn has gone rogue working for someone else.   After five episodes, it was tonight she FINALLY put together what Sylvester Pemberton told her with his dying breath.  Poor guy.  She has a bug up everybody’s butt and yet she can’t figure out a simple thing like that.  She definitely is a data junkie but when it comes to human beings giving her giant clues – she can’t buy a vowel.

She’s making too many mistakes, not trusting her heroes to make decisions, and is trying to control everything.  She’s lost a lot in her life, but she’s never going to get anything good with trying to control every facet of her life.  That isn’t living.  It’s juggling everything and everyone nonstop without a break.  No one can do that.  Utter fail, blondie.

While being captured, gagged and headbagged with the threat of being ganked, she thought she did well out in the field.  Uh, yea.  She was incredibly . . . stupid.


Watchtower and the heroes can’t be counted upon.  Blondie’s arrogance has put them in the target site of Checkmate.  She’s bedding Ollie, J’onn is working for someone else, and the rest of the team are off somewhere doing whatever.  Also blondie has that arsenal of kryptonite weapons that Ollie hid from her.  Will Ollie reveal it’s location over pillow talk?  Ugh.

Checkmate’s mission is to make sure the humans win.  By ‘recruiting’ the heroes whether they be alien or not, they can assure the planet’s safety.  Both J’onn and  Clark tried to tell Waller that the aliens may not want war – but they have no real way of guaranteeing that.

Clark loves people.  He is happy saving Metropolis.  That will never change.  He has a life with Lois Lane now.  These two things could get caught in the middle of the war that’s about to commence.  He has to protect them at all costs.

He is also trying to get the Kandorians to assimilate on Earth and to not allow Lois’ future timeline to occur.   The Kryptonians are in danger from Checkmate and from their own desire to have his powers.

J’onn told him he could not take sides.  “You are here for something far greater, Clark.  You will be the ambassador who bridges all the sides together.”

Let’s hope that Clark rises above and saves everyone.

RATING:  7.5 out of 10. We’re back to numbers.

I get the feeling that we will all look back to this episode to find the beginning of the breadcrumbs that led to the finale.  Well acted.  Loved Louis’ music especially during the Ollie and Tess scenes.  Pam Grier and Phil Morris – bring them back again and often.  Welling is Superman.


Zod says, “There is a threat to both of us.”  We see Corben inject himself in his arm’s metal apparatus with something that seems to make him swoon.  “You need me,” says Zod to the Blur.  We see the Kryptonian handshake in the warehouse.  ENEMIES BECOME ALLIES  “You and Oliver betrayed me,” says Clark as we see Blondie and then Corben.  Clark is in the Watchtower.


A tractor trailer is aflame.  Blondie is standing behind Lois and is putting a cloth over her face as Tess looks on.  “But you have to see it from my side,” says Blondie.  The Blur and Zod walking together at the fire.  “There is a war. . .”  Lois turns and sees Metallo behind her.

“and you’re going to lose it,” says Clark as blondie is on the floor of the Watchtower.  Corben in the FOS.  Clark strikes blondie.

Hit her again for me, Clarkie.


Clark doesn’t fly

Clark doesn’t wear glasses

Clark doesn’t wear tights and cape.

Clark hasn’t told Lois his secret.

Clark and Lois haven’t made love.

Clark and Lois aren’t working for Perry White at the DP.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Renee Dias permalink
    April 13, 2010 5:20 am

    It was a realy good show. Renee

  2. April 13, 2010 12:24 pm

    Thanks Renee for your faithful commenting. :)

  3. ben permalink
    April 13, 2010 2:45 pm

    great review and great blog! i thought the episode was very good and definitely one of the best this season. just too bad it lacked lois. (not even a mention… c’mon?!)

    thank you for the interpretation of the chess pieces and relating them to the characters! (didn’t even think of that while watching… lol) very enlightening. amanda waller is a great antagonist. (pam grier ftw!) i’m not familiar with her or checkmate or even the game of chess, but she, her strategy and the checkmate storyline is intruiging. i liked how you reviewed the episode’s story to be revolved around the game. awesome!

    i was wondering, have you written an entry about a certain blonde female character on here? (like a character-assessment or something…) ok, i completely understand that it isn’t exactly something worth spending any of your energy on writing, since it’s not a topic worth spending any thoughts on anyway (lol) so it’s totally understandable if you reply with a “f**k you i’d rather swallow a cyanide pill and die!”. your reviews and entries are very well-written, insighful and a pleasure to read as a fan who’s not that into the mythos or storylines of smallville and superman. i’m just curious of how you feel about the possibility of this character returning for s10.

    personally, i think it’s probably a sure thing… i think tptb would most likely cater to the character’s hordes of fans/devotees/maniacs/sect members, which is unfortunate imo. i’m not going to go on about how i honestly feel about this character because, well, it’s not worth my energy…

  4. erikab1123 permalink*
    April 13, 2010 4:48 pm

    Hi Ben,

    We talk plenty about blondie in our forums – feel free to join up, you can vent all that you’d like there :)


  5. April 14, 2010 2:35 pm

    Hello Ben,

    Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you are enjoying the blog.

    I thought the writer did a good job of incorporating strategy into the story. If Waller had convinced the Blur to side with Checkmate (through whatever means at her disposal), just think what that would have meant to the world. Clark would have catalyzed the future that Lois saw in that decision. But fortunately, Waller did not capture the king and there’s a new game and player in our futures.

    As Erika said, you are more than welcome to come to the boards and talk about the characters and the show all you like. In fact, Erika has done a character analysis of blondie — so you might be interested in that.

    We also have a blogtalkradio show we do every Sat after a new episode airs. You can listen live while participating in the chat, on the webpage, or download it from the webpage or itunes.

    Thanks for the comments.


  1. Smallville’s CHECKMATE: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave « SENISTUDIOS

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