A joint effort from Mark Verheidan and Michael Green, ‘Shimmer’ – for better or worse – sees Smallville back in the realm of its freak of the week format, and while far from the best episode of the run so far, there is very little to hate here either.
It’s very much Smallville in a meat and potatoes mode, with an antagonist that reminds one not only of one or two X-Files episodes (the third season episode ‘The Walk’ did its variation on the invisible killer format) but given that the villain this week has the ability to turn invisible, it cannot help but remind one of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’, a great late season one episode that played to Buffy’s core strengths.
The idea of a student who is so invisible to their peers that they literally turn invisible is neat, but the sense of deja vu here is recoginisable and comes nowhere near to being as good as when Buffy did it. There is a similar stalker/obsessive angle here that was also there in the Buffy episode, although in the end that becomes something of a red herring to keep the audience off the scent as to who the real villain is – although it is kind of obvious where the episode is eventually going to go.
In fact, the key part of the episode’s suspense, at least briefly, comes from the blood drive going on at Smallville High, when one wonders how Clark is going to get out of having to give blood. A suggestion of lying comes out, and in the end the episode manages to have Clark get away without giving blood simply by pretending to be afraid of needles, which comes as a surprise. Credit for being able to wrongfoot the audience into thinking there’s going to be drama, although one is left wondering why even bring it up if it really is going to go nowhere.
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The character stuff with Clark about to make a move on Lana is actually effective and finally gives the teen romance part of the series a chance to mine some better drama from it than we’ve seen over the last few weeks. And there is also a blessed relief to be had that this week’s villain is obsessed with someone who isn’t Lana, but instead Lex. Yes, Lana having an obsessive stalker has only happened twice, but it feels like it’s recurred too much at this early stage.
Clark about to make a move on Lana when he knows that Whitney is still on the scene makes one wonder if that is a noble move for the future Superman to make, but the added drama of Whitney’s father’s ill heath and Clark’s discovery of this leads to a lovely moment between Clark and Lana at the barn, where a missed sunset become a piece of subtext for their potential relationship. Sometimes the Clark/Lana scene can be a little insipid, but credit to Verheidan and Green’s teleplay for actually giving it some nuance and genuinely bittersweet drama for a change.
On the other side of the character drama, the Lex/Victoria plot still feels like it’s playing out like a Dynasty plotline, with lots of sneaking around, snooping on laptops and talk of it all being like a game of chess, with only an attack on Victoria and Amy’s (Azura Skye) obsession with Lex in any way keeping it linked to anything else going on. We get a welcome appearance from John Glover again as Lionel, and his scenes with Rosenbaum, even if they’re basically repeating variations of dialogue from previous episodes, crackle with wonderful intensity.
It’s the Lex and Clark scenes that bring out the best in Rosenbaum and his performance as Lex this week. The comparisons with Napolean are a touch on the nose, but the references to his mother and the genuine camaraderie between Lex and Clark are, as always, brilliant and bring out the best in both actors.
Things do build to a great climax, admittedly, with some effective use of 2001-era CGI, some of which was clearly inspired by The Matrix, although honestly, it felt like a lot of series did that in those days, with effective bullet-time style use of maize smashing over Clark’s face. It’s a very memorable moment in an episode that isn’t peak-Smallville but is far from being the worst hour of television.