‘Hug’ sees Smallville once again allude to the eventual destiny of its lead characters in a way similar to ‘Hourglass‘ earlier in the season which, like ‘Hug’, was scripted by Doris Egan. Where ‘Hourglass’ very much put those hints and references front and centre with its tale of clairvoyance, ‘Hug’ plays it more under the surface, with lovely touches to the dialogue that hint at the future that awaits Lex and Clark.
In lesser hands, the dialogue and hints could end up being dreadfully unsubtle, yet Egan’s teleplay has a lot of fun with the nods and winks that prove massively entertaining for anyone with a knowledge of Superman lore. There is always fun to be had with genre television and stories involving someone who can mind-control other characters to their will: The X-Files gave us the superlative Vince Gilligan tale ‘Pusher’, while the first season of Jessica Jones gave us the unforgettable Kilgrave and with it a superb performance from David Tennant.
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Of course, this being Smallville, Bob Rickman (Rick Peters) and his ability to manipulate others to his will is fuelled by kryptonite and the meteor shower from the ‘Pilot‘. His adversarial relationship with town hermit Kyle (Gregory Sporleder), who has similar powers of his own, means the series gets to have fun with foreshadowing the eventual breakdown in Lex and Clark’s friendship, what with its backstory of the two of them being best friends turned enemies.
Rickman, as played by Peters, isn’t the most subtle of the Smallville branch of freak of the weak villains, but he does bring a wonderful smarminess to his scenes with a nice-guy act that really doesn’t fool anyone. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this sort of character and the way they can manipulate others, and Smallville is no exception, with various characters acting against their nature for entertaining effect.
Wakeman’s plot to try and buy his way into Smallville means that he manages to manipulate Jonathan Kent into selling his farm, while the town’s antagonistic feelings towards Kyle, and Clark’s belief in his innocence means it also gets to put in references to To Kill a Mockingbird with Lex referring to Clark throughout as Atticus.
Clark’s belief in Kyle puts a schism into the Clark and Lana relationship, and for the first time in a while the scenes between the two actually have a bit of bite and genuine drama to them. Of course, it’s only for this episode and isn’t going to carry too far beyond ‘Hug’, but it indicates that the series could actually have somewhere different to go with it in future. It also makes for a refreshing change of pace to see Welling and Kreuk not playing the romance angle as much as something with more of a charge.
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Egan’s script, on top of the fun it has with foreshadowing future events, also has a wonderful sense of escalation in the plot as it goes along, building towards a fantastic set piece finale that allows Rosenbaum to go full-on villain. The Rosenbaum charm that has proved pivotal in making him a prominent MVP for the series turns into something a lot darker and chilling, and even if it is only for this episode and things go back to normal at the end of the hour, it does leave the viewer eagerly anticipating the moment the series will play that card on a more permanent basis.
If there are any criticisms to be had it’s that there is maybe a touch too much of a reliance on Matrix-style bullet-time effects throughout, something that a lot of television shows and other movies were falling prey to around 2001 and 2002, but there’s no denying that there is a lot of polish to the visuals and action sequences here, and it actually adds some genuine sense of scale to its final set piece, with Clark finding out he is impervious to bullets and with explosive action that is genuinely well-staged.