TV discussion

Smallville 1×04 – ‘X-Ray’ – TV Rewind

Given its origin tale status, one of the great joys inherent in Smallville is how it can develop Superman‘s powers as it goes along. Famously declaring itself to be ‘no flights, no tights’ on its debut, it goes without saying that flight is off the list of powers that we’ll see Clark develop anytime soon, but with ‘X-Ray’, we get to see the future Superman develop the power of X-Ray vision.

It comes in an enjoyable episode that opens with Lex Luthor rubbing a bank set to Alien Ant Farm (which screams the early 2000s more than anything that has appeared on the series so far) but which then develops into a Single White Female-style teen horror tale complete with a pre-Masters of Sex Lizzy Caplan, the first of many future stars who will guest on the series before hitting it big.

With this first script of the series from Mark Verheiden, famed comic book and television scriptwriter whose credits include the 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme film Timecop as well as The Mask, there is a lot to enjoy here, even if the story’s reliance on putting Lana in danger from freak of the weeks who have an unhealthy obsession with her feels like it’s going to be a recurring pattern for stories. Four episodes in and it already feels like Lana is going to be the equivalent of Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson from the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movies.

Best of all there is some knowing humour here that while obvious cannot help but bring a smile to the face; Lex’s assertion that he is no criminal mastermind is nicely played between Rosenbaum and Welling, while a newspaper headline on Lex prompts him to say that he’s read less fiction in a comic book. It says something that these lines are given to Rosenbaum who continues to inflict a complicated set of emotions on the viewer.

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In fact, it’s the Lex strand that sees the episode at its absolute best. We’re presented with someone who is charming and lovable, and both he and Welling are way too convincing as potential best friends, but then we get to the blackmail strand of the plot and suddenly we’re presented with a touch of the villain that pop-cultural destiny insists he becomes. The charm turns off and we see a level of threat behind those eyes that Rosenbaum sells all too well. It’s indicative of just how much potential the series has when it eventually goes in that direction.

Verheidan’s teleplay proves to be incredibly busy, what with its freak of the week strand involving shapeshifter Tina Greer (Lizzy Caplan) and Clark discovering his X-ray vision. The latter invites both elements that are comedic – such as Jonathan Kent using his pocket knife to test Clark’s powers – and creepy, as Smallville becomes one of three live action iterations of Superman to involve Clark using his x-ray vision in somewhat stalker-like ways.

Lois and Clark, Superman Returns and Smallville have always had that one moment that features Clark being somewhat creepy with his superpowers in a way that is obviously meant to be romantic, and after spying on Lana with a telescope on the ‘Pilot‘ a few weeks ago, now he’s ogling her and the entire girls’ changing room when he discovers his X-ray vision, complete with typical WB/CW nudity involving Kristen Kreuk stripping off with her back towards camera. It’s obviously meant to be a humorous moment, but it does come across as leery and reminds one somewhat of what a sci-fi inflicted Porky’s might have been like.

It’s a moment that will probably not play well with current viewers discovering the series for the first time, but it’s one of those moments that are unfortunately indicative of how writers and directors, and even viewers, felt about certain tropes at the time, and whilst it is one of the episode’s more uncomfortable moments, it doesn’t take too much away from how entertaining the rest of it is, even if – four episodes in – this is the second time that Lana has been obsessively threatened by the week’s guest villain.

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