TV discussion

Smallville 1×09 – ‘Rogue’ – TV Rewind

There are some problems with ‘Rogue’ outside the main storyline, it’s hard to dispute that and I’ll get to those in a moment, but I really, really enjoy this one a lot and after ‘Jitters’ doing something a little different with the freak of the week formula, it’s wonderful to see Smallville yet again aware of its formula this early in its run and trying to tweak the storytelling just a little as it’s going along.

Instead of a kryptonite infused villain, we get an antagonist that is all too human but also a credible threat to our heroes and his life, all the while the series subtly embeds into its DNA why it is Clark will have to have dual identities when he is older, not to mention the pivotal no killing rule that is part and parcel of the Superman character.

Dirty cop narratives can work well when done right; there is nothing more anger-inducing than the image of a person with a badge using that power for corruptive methods and while Sam Phelan (Cameron Dye) isn’t the most subtle of characters, for the series’ first antagonist without superpowers, he feels like the most genuinely dangerous foe that Clark has gone up against this season.

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Cameron Dye’s performance is a little too arch at times, but he’s clearly having a good time at being the worst kind of villain, and Mark Verheiden’s script builds up some genuine suspense and sense of unbeatable odds at various points of the episode.

We know that Smallville isn’t going to do an absolute game-changer just nine episodes into its first season; a pivotal plot twist in the episode involves Jonathan Kent being arrested halfway through when it appears as if Clark has finally got one over on Phelan and while we know that the series isn’t going to go for a Barry/HenryAllen style plot where they’ll correspond with each other during prison visits every week, but given the human nature of Phelan and Clark not being someone who kills, there is a genuine question that hangs over the episode that has one asking how the episode is going to resolve itself.

The resolution to the plot does rely on Clark getting one over on Phelan during one of his robberies which is basically where the episode goes to within the first half as well before playing the Jonathan Kent being arrested card, but Verheidan’s teleplay and David Carson’s direction has a playful sense of suspense throughout and with Lex being incredibly inquisitive and knowing that Clark was there even though he is long gone by the time that Phelan dies by being shot by the guards of the museum they are robbing, thus allowing Clark to get away without having to kill Phelan himself, it indicates that Smallville has the ability to do storylines that plots that aren’t reliant on meteor rocks and freaks of the week.

The highpoint of the episode is without a doubt the scene between Clark and Jonathan when the latter is in prison. It cannot help but remind one of the many scenes between Grant Gustin and John Wesley Shipp that would occur thirteen years later during the first season of The Flash, but there is some wonderful threading of the fabric here when it comes to the Superman character and lore.

Tom Welling’s portrayal of his anger towards Phelan is powerful, even more so when he admits to how much he really wants to kill him, an emotional ledge that Jonathan has to talk him down from. The no killing rule has always been hardwired into the mythology of the character it seems ever since the day when Siegel and Shuster turned the character into a superheroic one rather than the villain they initially conceived him as.

Obviously, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel opted to gain this sense of self-awareness over not killing through more controversial plotting, but turning it into another wonderful moment of wisdom between Jonathan and Clark after Clark’s anger comes bubbling to the surface is superbly done and possibly Welling’s best performance on the series up to this point, while also adding to the audience wondering how Clark can possibly get out from under Phelan’s thumb.

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The main plot is Smallville at its best, which is more than can be said for the majority of Lex’s plot. While he does eventually catch up to the events and once again has him wondering who Clark really is given the events of the final act, his plotline involving ex-girlfriend Victoria (Kelly Brook) feels like it belongs more at home in something like Dynasty, or any soap opera you’d care to name.

Much better, and a wonderful slice of teen drama is Chloe and Lana having to deal with censorship imposed on The Torch, which while nowhere near as an engrossing as Clark having to deal with a dirty cop, it makes for something strangely relevant given how much press freedoms are in the forefront of our minds these days.

It’s the main plot that is the powerful driving force of ‘Rogue’, and it gives Smallville a clear sense of how it might be able to maintain itself in future and how not rely on formula.

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