TV discussion

Smallville 1×20 – ‘Obscura’ – TV Rewind

Although its plot is started by the use of the meteor rocks, for the penultimate episode of Smallville‘s first season, it’s somewhat refreshing that the series has opted for something a little different than its usual brand of ‘monster of the week’ storytelling that populated it so much over the course of these twenty-one episodes.

The first thing to say, the sweeping camera shot of Lana and Whitney riding horses over those lush Vancouver fields is a surprisingly breathtaking way to open the episode, and the subsequent set-piece involving the oil pipe exploding indicates Smallville‘s willingness to spend a lot on its budget. And although that was something that frequently got it into problems during the course of this first season, it showed a willingness to really go for big production values.

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The explosion that causes Lana’s visions isn’t just some small pop or obviously fake piece of CGI (although there is a touch of that in the shot of Lana leaping into the air), but something that Michael Bay might look at and nod at appreciatively. One’s heart sinks a little when it turns out this is all in service to a plotline involving Chloe being kidnapped and Lana having visions of that kidnapping, but then the episode goes and actually ends up being entertaining anyway.

Psychic visions and a ‘seeing through the eyes of a kidnapper’ story were a dime a dozen during the 90s and early 2000s when it came to genre television. Tim Minear had written the effective X-Files instalment ‘Mind’s Eye’, while Chris Carter’s other television series Millennium was built around a lead character who received visions of that nature, while almost every other supernatural or genre television show did at least one episode about someone seeing crimes through the eyes of the perpetrator.

It’s not Smallville‘s greatest story of the week, but it does show a willingness to find ways to utilise a self-contained story without resorting to its usual tropes and story-telling cliches which had been noted as being one of Smallville’s weakest points in an otherwise well regarded first run. There’s some nicely built suspense and the final reveal of the kidnapper is pretty clever and visually effective. The reveal of Deputy Watts (Darrin Klimek) plays with the notions of heroism that the show usually revels in. His motives of wanting to kidnap Chloe and then murder Lana so he can take credit for solving the cases plays like some dark inversion of the Clark/Superman trope that the series has effectively been about since its ‘Pilot‘.

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Being that the episode relies on so many stylised point-of-view filming techniques, the moment when Watts is shot down engaging in a gun-fight with his fellow deputies, and the manner in which the sound is struck out of the soundtrack is really well done. Equally well done are the subplots going on which see Smallville setting up some very solid ground for its upcoming finale. The reveal in the end that Lex and Dr Hamilton (Joe Morton) have found an alloy the same shape as a missing piece of the ship that brought Clark to Earth, along with the increasingly obsessed antics of Roger Nixon, and the set up for the school dance that’s going to take up the finale, and there’s a lovely setting-up for the next episode that is genuinely moving the ongoing arc elements forward.

Clark’s ship and the meteorite crash that occurred in the first episode has become a driving force for so much of the show in a way that it never has done on a live-action Superman adaptation before, and it makes the anticipation for the finale very high.

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