Opening with a teaser set within one of those gorgeous Vancouver forests that every television series filmed there must pay a visit to once in a while, ‘Leech’ plays with the idea of Clark losing his powers and having them transferred to another character. It’s a neat concept for the show to play with, and Tim Schlattman’s teleplay gets to have a lot of fun with the idea of seeing how Clark’s powers being transferred to another could impact them differently.
Essentially a freak of the week, ‘Leech’ indicates once again that Smallville is more than willing to play around with its established formula or storytelling tropes. The first indication of Clark’s powers being gone come when his attempts to help on the farm come to nought, coupled with his inability to outrun the school bus, a neat call back to the ‘Pilot‘ episode.
Anchored by a great guest performance from Shawn Ashmore (the first appearance from one of the Ashmore twins on the series and very much not the last), the episode plays with some obvious differences between his character, Eric, and Clark but does so magnificently. Eric may come from a more upper-class family, but his home life is a very unhappy one, with a father (who also happens to be a teacher at Smallville High) who doesn’t see an issue in lifting his hand to his son in the name of discipline, and a fraught breakfast that plays out much darker than the many we’ve seen at the Kent farm.
Just when that seems pretty tense on its own, we also get to see the complete opposite reaction to his powers from his parents than we’ve ever seen from Jonathan and Martha, with threats of trips to professors and a look of fear that is nowhere near the level of love that we get to see every week portrayed by Jonathan Schneider and Annette O’ Toole.
The differences in homelife also extend to how they use their powers; Clark has kept his abilities secret, while Eric puts his on full display the first chance he gets, impressing the town and trying to woo the girl of his dreams – things that Clark has very much steered himself away from. The comparisons make for some wonderful writing this hour, not to mention glorious use of the moniker Superboy. But with great powers comes great irresponsibility, and soon Eric has let his powers get the better of him and he’s very much over his head in trouble.
On top of being great fun, it gives the episode a chance to play with some lovely moments of existential angst. Clark worries his parents may feel different, and we get a sense of his initial disappointment at not being able to be as super as he has been, but on the other end he doesn’t have to recoil in horror at Lana’s meteor rock necklace and can even partake in a game of basketball, all set to the strains of Sum 41 just in case you need reminding that this is 2002.
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Sadly, in a repeat of the last few weeks, it’s the main Lex storyline that brings things down a tad. His confrontation with Clark over what happened on the bridge in the ‘Pilot’ is magnificent, not least because it’s loaded with moments in which each character is really hiding something from the other. But then we’re reminded that he’s in the middle of his Dynasty-style plot with Victoria (Kelly Brook), only this time she’s brought her dad, Sir Harry, along, only the actor playing him, William Samples, has seemingly been directed in such a way to imagine he’s playing the role in a Guy Ritchie gangster movie complete with such an exaggerated cockney accent that one half expects Vinnie Jones to show up as his personal bodyguard.
That part of the episode aside, ‘Leech’ is definitely one of the most enjoyable episodes of Smallville‘s first season. Many of the first season’s freak of the week episodes do tend to come in for a lot of the most criticisms that are levelled at the series, yet on rewatch they can sometimes show themselves to be quietly subversive in their own ways. Yes, they can fall into the trap of resorting to formula, and this hour still builds up to Clark and Eric getting into a CGI infested punch-up, but in tipping the scales against Clark there are some genuine tensions. We know he’s going to get his powers back, the show isn’t going to do a complete game-changer at this stage, especially with the Superman mythology hardwired into it as fervently as it is with this show, but it plays with those tropes magnificently and entertainingly well. If you can play the hits and do it with little twists and turns as ‘Leech’ does, then credit where credit’s due.