TV Discussion

Smallville 1×18 – ‘Drone’ – TV Rewind

It’s always lovely when Smallville reminds you that it is, at heart, a teen drama as much of a superhero one. Centring an episode around a high school election is something that every teen drama does at one point, and coming in 2002 it reminded one very much of the Alexander Payne film Election.

Satire, though, was not very much in mind in Michael Green and Philip Leven’s teleplay, as much as it resorts to Smallville‘s brand of horror and fantasy; this time bringing in a plotline about bees, which seemed to be going through an on-again-off-again moment during the 90s and early 2000s, what with Candyman, and most famously The X-Files, turning them into means of horror and violent death.

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It’s obvious in the teaser sequence who the main antagonist is going to be (and to the episode’s credit it pretty much confirms that before the end of the first act), and while it’s not exactly the  best piece of American genre television from the early 2000s, as always with this show it’s those smaller moments that hint and play with the Superman legacy that make it so much fun.

We get the obligatory conversation between Clark and Lex that’s filled with foreshadowing and wordplay that plays with the idea of the character’s future and is, as always, wonderfully played by Welling and Rosenbaum; the latter as always doing the nice-guy Lex routine brilliantly but just hinting at enough darkness behind those eyes to let you know that any fall from grace is inevitable.

Everything going on around the monster of the week element is really good, but sometimes with Smallville and its weaker monster episodes you find yourself wishing the series would just focus on the characters without having to resort to the (admittedly great on a television show budget of its time) CGI.

There are jokes here about The Godfather; some lovely moments of angst between Clark and Chloe; and even Lana trying to figure out how to turn The Talon into a more successful business is a lot more wittier than you’d think. But when the episode turns its attention to this week’s antagonist, Sasha (Shonda Farr), it feels like it resorts to cliches of geeks being outsiders, figures to be made fun of, and how putting a pair of glasses on a woman who is obviously good looking makes her ‘ugly’.

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Of course, this was par for the course of many productions of the era, made most famous a few years before the broadcast of this episode by the movie She’s All That, and while ‘Drone’ never resorts to Sasha taking off her glasses and revealing that she is beautiful, one almost keeps expecting it to happen, such was the frequent use of the cliche at the time. Her pursuit of power could have made for something fascinating, but the idea of doing everything you can to win or get what you want is given over to more interesting moments with Lex and his being blackmailed by a journalist sent to do a hatchet job on him, and Lana who gets one over on a rival coffee shop to make hers more successful.

The tone of Lana’s end of this is actually funny and light, but when Lex does something similar it is, of course, a little darker, even though it manages to be funny with its continuaton of The Godfather joke earlier in the episode. But then we get to Sasha and we’re reminded what it’s really all about is the bees.

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