While pilots are important for selling a series to a network, the second episode is pretty much cementing its sale to the audience. Great pilots can give way to not so great series, and sometimes not so good pilots can lead to absolute classics to savour forever.
In many respects, ‘Metamorphosis’ doubles down on the idea of a teenage Clark Kent running around a teen series with X-Files overtones and further cements the freak-of-the-week format. The episode spends time with its guest villain, establishing his relationships with his mother (Gabrielle Rose, also reminding us that this is very much a series filmed in Vancouver) and his very unhealthy infatuation with Lana.
While it may not be as strong a forty-five minutes as the ‘Pilot‘, it’s hard not to be swept along by how entertaining it all is. Teen fantasy has always been a great fit for television and Smallville manages to do entertaining work with its ability to mix teen body horror, well-written dialogue and engaging performances.
The influence of The X-Files is also apparent. Guest star Chad Donella had previously appeared opposite Mulder and Scully in season seven’s ‘Hungry’; a wonderful experiment that was designed to tell its story from the point of view of the monster of the week, which gave Donella a rare chance in that show to be a guest star who was given more on-screen time in an episode than its iconic leads.
While his character of Greg is nowhere near as nuanced or as well developed outside of being this week’s antagonist, there is fun to be had in how the opening scenes function as a sort of twisted superhero origin tale; obsessed with bugs, he is in a car accident while in the company of his collection of kryptonite infected pets that leads to him developing bug like powers.
While Greg is not a character to come from the comics, showing a willingness to go outside the source for its stories (which is not something that happens as often nowadays where comic book inspired media pretty much adapts the stories and characters to screens intact rather than going, literally, off book), the episode’s best scenes are those that play with the established Superman characters.
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Outside of some other keys texts, among them Lois and Clark, we very rarely get to spend too much time with Jonathan Kent outside of flashback scenes (Man of Steel) or extended origin tales (Superman: Birthright), and while some texts use the Jonathan Kent character as a means to impart the lesson to a young Clark that he cannot save all life (tragically effective in Donner’s film, misinterpreted in Snyder’s), there is something wonderful about Smallville‘s origin tale status meaning that we spend more time and earn the level of importance of Jonathan and Martha and how their wisdom will determine Clark’s future.
The casting of John Schneider is also a brilliant part of the trend of casting stalwart American icons in the role of Clark’s adoptive father. Having played something of a modern cowboy in Dukes of Hazard, it’s part of a trajectory that has also seen other famed paeons of sensitive American masculinity play Clark’s adoptive father, such as Glenn Ford and subsequently Kevin Costner in Man of Steel.
Schneider’s performance is very much in tandem with Ford and which continued with Costner; the definition of masculinity, but in a nurturing and sensitive way. Another aspect that marks the Kent family dynamic as different here from Superman: The Movie is the increase in screen time for Martha. Martha Kent is a vital part of that dynamic, but sometimes it feels as if the father/son element is where most writers put the emphasis on the dynamic.
Yes, we get to experience Martha’s mourning for Jonathan in Donner’s film (the shot of them standing in the field as she says goodbye to Clark as he leaves the family home is one of the most beautifully devastating in all of comic book inspired cinema) and the shared cinematic universe established by Snyder made the brilliant decision to cast Diane Lane (even if she is relegated to a plot device in Dawn of Justice), but there is a genuine desire here to make the Kents a wonderful duo from which Clark can learn.
Even better, it means the parental scenes and dynamics are invested with both warmth, comfort and, strangely, a mythological feel given the level of fame that is associated with Clark and his future superheroic endeavours.
Not only is it making for some wonderfully played scenes already, but it also leaves one truly excited for what Gough and Millar and their writers’ room will do with other assorted Superman and DC characters in future episodes and seasons.