TV discussion

Smallville 1×08 – ‘Jitters’ – TV Rewind

‘Jitters’ is a very entertaining hour of television. It’s an episode of Smallville made up of great moments, set pieces, performances and a fantastic final scene that has an incredibly bitter edge.

There is a major first here for the series as it features the first appearance on the series of Metropolis (Vancouver doing a great doubling job as always). Even though it’s only for a few moments in the teaser sequence, the first reveal of the future Superman’s home city is beautifully different to the small-town feel that the series has utilised up to this point, with a definite steel and glass looked combined with atmospheric rain to maximise the difference between the city and the sunny cosiness of the Kents’ home.

Of course, the first trip to Metropolis involves introducing us to this week’s ‘freak-of-the-week, Earl, played by the wonderful Tony Todd. Martha and Jonathan are out celebrating their anniversary, which means that with Clark home alone, the series can throw in that all-time brilliant teen genre cliche – the house party.

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The episode cannot resist having Clark use his powers in attempting to cover up the party, and the moment when it’s revealed to an unknowing, smug Clark that Jonathan and Martha are already home, is a beautifully played, genuinely funny moment. It’s also one of the few moments of levity in an episode filled with a sense of paranoia and conspiracy which, as often with some of early Smallville, cannot help but remind one of The X-Files. In fact, there are many things in this episode that reminds one of Chris Carter’s hit series.

Tony Todd, a fantastic actor with an iconic horror role under his belt in the shape of Candyman, also appeared in the famed genre series of the ’90s, in the wonderful Howard Gordon-scripted ‘Sleepless’ where he played a similarly tortured soul inflicted with powers put on him by those above him; in that episode’s case, US government scientists and the military.

This being Smallville, any sense of conspiracy and intrigue stems from the Luthor family tree, and with Lex on the side of the angels, here he’s at his charming best, organising a fireworks show for Clark’s party. It’s a returning John Glover as Lionel Luthor that is the proxy for villainy and dastardly deeds, and even as a villain it’s hard to resist enjoying Glover’s portrayal. A recurring guest star at this stage, he walks into his scenes as if he owns the series, throwing himself into the middle of the hostage situation that forms the second half of the episode with gusto, and is a fantastic antagonist for everyone.

The hint that he and Jonathan have a past is a lovely set up for future episodes (although we’ll have to wait a while for the pay-off) and there is a sense of tension to be gleaned from seeing the parents of our two heroes having to deal with both their children in danger.

The episode is essentially split into two parts: the first being a somewhat typical freak-of-the-week episode, albeit with a guest character that isn’t a student at Smallville High, which means there’s a vibe here that feels somewhat different to how Smallville usually utilises its storytelling format. We get a reference to a trip the Luthorcorp Plant earlier in the episode, and given that Earl used to work there and is insistent on there being a Level 3 in the building (not on the plans, denied by everyone, very X-Files) it’s no surprise that the episode eventually takes a turn into Die Hard territory with a hostage situation.

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The hostage situation happens literally halfway through the episode and it’s certainly a dramatic moment. It reminds us that the show is filmed in Vancouver by casting Robert Wisden as Chloe’s dad, another famed X-Files guest star, who does a good job delivering dad jokes while Chloe gets increasingly embarrassed, and builds to a fantastic set-piece involving a footbridge falling apart due to Earl’s increased jitters.

Yet, despite the fact it feels as if the episode has changed course somewhat, the extended finale is great and helps make this a wickedly entertaining episode. It’s freak-of-the-week but it also has fun with the characters and the drama in a way that feels legitimately dramatic, and is punctuated by a fantastic final scene where Lionel stages an emotional hug with Lex, while the latter watches the Kents embrace each other for real.

It’s a brilliantly bitter sting that ends the episode, and once again cements the fact that while Smallville is great fun as a freak-of-the-week style series, its handling of some of the most famous characters in pop culture is where its real brilliance lies.

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