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Monday, March 15, 2010

Smallville: "Aqua"

Season Five, Episode Four: Aqua
Written by: Todd Slavkin & David Swimmer
Directed by: Bradford May
Original Air Date: October 20, 2005

As promised in my "Aquaman in Hollywood" post, I wanted to start doing some summaries on all the various appearances of Aquaman in both live-action and animation.

I've been lucky enough to be able to write about the Brave and the Bold shows as they air, but almost all of the Sea King's other TV appearances pre-date the Shrine, so we've got a lot of catching up to do! So let's get started with live-action Aquaman's debut, in the fifth season Smallville episode "Aqua."

This episode opens up at a local teen hang-out, Crater Lake, which gives Smallville the chance to show off most of its cast in skimpy swim wear. No one's outfit is skimpier than Erica Durance's as Lois Lane, which I show here purely to be as complete and thorough in my review as possible:
Lois isn't that great a swimmer, and during a dive she bumps her head and begins to sink to the bottom of the lake. Clark, Chloe, and Lana notice that Lois hasn't come back up for air, so Clark jumps in to see what's happened.

But Lois is currently being saved by...someone else? Yes--Clark sees a young blond guy, who seems to be able to swim at tremendous speeds, grab Lois. He carries her out of the water, onto the beach:
Gently lowering Lois to the ground, this mysterious stranger gives her mouth-to-mouth. After a few moments, she wakes up, and scans her rescuer's chiseled physique:
...hey, can I get a side of vegetables with my slab o' beef?

The young man introduces himelf as Arthur Curry--"A.C."--and helps Lois get to her feet. As they walk off, Clark tells Chloe about what he saw in the lake.

Later, Clark attends one of his college classes, where his professor (James Marsters), starts talking about evil, which leads him to disparage Lex Luthor, who Clark sticks up for.

Meanwhile, A.C. shows up at The Talon, a coffee house Lois works at. She disparages his orange-and-green shirt-and-shorts combo, but that doesn't stop A.C. from flirting with Lois. He offers to take sartorial advice if she'll let him give her swimming lessons.

A.C. and Lois get pretty close pretty fast, Lois getting intrigued by A.C.'s general air of mystery. Just as they're about to kiss, A.C. starts writing in pain, grabbing his temples and screaming. Thrashing around, he falls into the lake, trying to escape a sound apparently only he can hear. That does no good, so he wanders back onto the beach, and passes out, a trickle of blood dripping from his ear.

Back at Lex Luthor's mansion, we see him and a scientist in his employ talk about a weapon he's created called The Leviathan, which he plans to sell to the U.S. Government. The scientist says the weapon hurts marine life and needs further testing, but of course Lex doesn't care.

Back at the Kent Family house, A.C. recovers, with Lois bringing him glass after glass of water.
They talk and get to know one another some more. Its clear that A.C. is a fairly bold guy, and he makes another move on Lois. At first she rebuffs him, but then quickly changes course, grabbing A.C. and planting one on him. Their passionate kiss is interrupted by...:
...this is going to make for some awkward meetings at the JLA Satellite in years to come.

Okay, anyway, Clark gets jealous, and gets Chloe to do some Oracle-style background checking on him. They learn A.C. has a criminal record--having "kidnapped" eight dolphins from a water-front resort, releasing them back into the ocean.

Clark compares to him the kid with super-speed powers he met a few months ago, surmising that he's not someone who got his powers from a falling meterorite (that fell in Smallville's first episode).

Back at The Talon, both Lois and Lana seem to like A.C., but Clark acts suspicious, revealing he knows a bit about this stranger's past. A.C. reveals his mother died when he was a baby, and that he grew up "more in the water than out."

A.C. says he's in Smallville to investigate why so many fish are dying in Crater Lake, and clearly he feels deeply on this issue. After Clark chides him for just trying to pick up girls with the Sensitive Guy routine, he follows A.C. to Crater Lake, where he sees A.C. sneak his way up stream, through a drain, right into LexCorp!:
A.C. does some looking around, digging through files, and sets up a time bomb! Clark, having followed A.C. into the building, grabs the bomb, absorbing the blast.

A.C. takes off, and Clark follows, where we see A.C. has some other extraordinary powers:
Using his hard water powers, he wallops Clark so hard he knocks the Young Man of Steel out of the lake, sending him flying through the air. This Aquaman can kick some serious ass!

Later, Clark tells Lois what he caught A.C. doing, but she won't listen. A.C. shows up, and they argue about A.C.'s tactics: Clark considers A.C. an eco-terrorist, but A.C. doesn't care. He tells Clark about Lex's Leviathan, and says that the ecological fall-out from this weapon will be catastrophic.

A.C. asks Clark for help, but he refuses. Clark talks A.C. into going to visit Lex directly, trying to talk him out of selling the Leviathan to the government. Lex, in all his black-hatted, mustache-twirling badness, refuses.

A.C. storms out, and heads back to Crater Lake--only to collapse in a heap, the victim of a well-aimed tranquilizer dart:
A.C. wakes up strapped to a table in LexCorp, his skin cracked and parched, having gone a while without water. Lex tries to get info out of him, doing a sort of reverse-waterboarding torture routine by not giving him water.

With another test of Leviathan underway, Lex takes off, leaving A.C. slowly dying. Luckily, Clark shows up, and sets off the sprinkler system. A.C., now rejuvenated, practically hulks out, bursting free of the straps that held him down.

Clark agrees to help A.C. stop Leviathan, and Lex's test with the military is a dismal failure once its seen that some of LexCorps' equipment has been thoroughly damaged.

Later, after Clark talks with Lex, he meets with A.C. one more time back at his house. A.C. says they make a good team, offering to start up a "Junior Lifeguard Association." Clark replies, "I'm not ready for the JLA just yet."

A.C. says that he'll continue his risky work as long as Lex threatens the seas, ignoring Clark's plea to stay out of trouble.

A.C. meets with Lois before he leaves, and despite Lois' sarcastic facade (still mocking him for his choice of orange-and-green clothes) its clear she's starting to really care for him:
A.C. says he might come back to Smallville, but "not for a while." Lois is clearly disappointed, and they share a tender kiss saying goodbye.

Lois makes her way back to Clark's house, where he tries to comfort her. Clark admits that his first impression of A.C. was wrong, and Lois wonders how she'll ever meet someone so special ever again.

I remember having only a middling reaction to this episode when it first aired, but watching it again I liked it quite a bit. I was initially taken aback by Alan Ritchson's frat boy-esque Arthur Curry (he uses the word "bro" a lot), but this is Aquaman as a very young man, so it fits better than I gave it credit for.

I like Arthur Curry's unwillingness to veer off his mission--to save the Earth's oceans at all cost, full stop--and its part of the character that, while being a thorny and difficult moral issue, needs to be addressed, especially when you're talking about a flesh and blood version of the character.
The DVD features a deleted scene from this episode, where A.C. defends his "eco-terrorist" actions to Lois. Not all that consequential, but I would've preferred to see it included in the show instead of yet another Luthor Is Smooth But So Evil scene, one of the parts of the show that made me pretty much stop watching Smallville entirely.

Aside from whatever other reservations I had/have about Smallville, its still just plain fun to finally see a live-action Aquaman!

This episode features a short PSA, starring the ravishing Annette O'Toole (who I still have a crush on), talking about the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. Thinking about Christopher Reeve still chokes me up, six years after his death.


Luis said...

I ALSO have a crush on Annette O'Toole. She's what made Superman III watchable, but I digress. Regarding the Aqua episode, it was indeed cool to see live action Aquaman. Now if only they would have gone a little further with the costume instead of making him look like a beach bum.

Airship Over Water said...

I've only been able to watch bits of the episode online but reading a full review makes it sound much more appealing. Granted, I can imagine if I would have been watching this episode right as it debuted I would have likely been disappointed because it wasn't something more.

I even liked the Aquaman pilot when it came out, but Smallville Aquaman I never got to see.

I'll give the guys credit who made the show -- they did Arthur well. He could have been treated with a lot less respect but they let him really flex his aqua-muscles (literally) and even give swift "boof" to Superman with that water punch.

David J. Cutler said...

I didn't see this mentioned here so I'll just add: this is the highest rated Smallville episode to date. It remains the ratings peek of the shows nine season run (though I haven't seen the numbers on the Justice Society TV movie).

I tried my hardest to be a fan of the show but I find myself only able to enjoy it when another superhero is guest starring. That being said, I still love this episode and it sort of stirred in me that the Aquaman that will find broadest appeal is probably one in his early 20s with a sense of fun who loves his powers and his role as the ocean's protector.

I watched this when it originally aired and was not disappointed. Friends of mine who'd been making fun of the then-upcoming episode and Aquaman himself had to admit it was one of the best they'd seen. I felt pretty vindicated and still look back on it fondly.

Josh Hill said...

thanks for the review of this episode, Rob. I watched it when it first aired, it was the first episode of SMALLVILLE I had seen for a couple of years and while I liked the treatment of Aquaman himself, I still found way too many of the usual trappings of the series itself to ultimately annoy me. But at least they did ok by our Sea King, right? :)

I liked how they used Aquaman later on in the Season 8 season premiere (aka "when Smallville actually started getting good again"), when he was teamed up with Green Arrow and Black Canary in search of Clark. The outfit they had him in was pretty cool and even though he only had a few lines, it was effective and memorable.

rob! said...

Luis-Yeah, O'Toole is BY FAR my favorite part of SIII. Although I guess that's not saying much.

AOW-I agree; the Smallville guys made Aquaman an ass-kicker, which I really liked!

David-I knew this ep was the highest rated to that point, but I didn't know it still holds the record! Jeez, DC, WHAT DOES THIS TELL YOU?

Josh-More Smallville recaps coming!

Shellhead said...

A.C. has appeared in 3 episodes so far. This one, "Justice" , and the first episode of Season 8 (referenced above). They did put him into a "costume" during Justice and they actually made of figure of it. Rob, you might want to do a review of that episode as there are some good character moments (although his fight scene gets cut).
Since then, he's had a lot of cameo's on computer screens in the Watchtower, but hasn't been back since (usually off on missions to other parts of the world).
I also think A.C. was part of a webisode comic series for awhile a few years back. Wonder if that's still on the web somewhere?
So, other than Oliver and J'onn Jones, Flash and Aquaman have made the most Superhero guest appearances on the show with a total of 3.
I hope to see the entire League, or at least Aquaman again before the series ends.
BTW the Smallville League consists of Green Arrow, Aquaman, Flash (actually Impulse), Martian Manhunter (although he didn't have his powers most of the time), Cyborg, Clark, and Black Canary. Zantanna was offered membership but has not joined as of yet.
And yes, I DO watch the show on a regular basis. ;-)

Hugo said...

Great idea rob! :)

I hope Smallville Aquaman will come back in the future.

Anyway, I think you forgot to review the Aquaman teaser in the Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode "Clash of the Metal Men" a few weeks ago ;)

rob! said...

Hugo-Check the label for "Brave the Bold Episodes", that episode is there.