TV discussion

Smallville 2×02 – ‘Heat’ – TV Rewind

One of the aspects of Smallville that makes it such a potential joy is having Clark’s abilities come to the fore. At this stage of the series not all of Clark’s powers have developed – most famously his ability to fly – but the show has set itself in the realm of a coming-of-age tale, and with it the mythology of Superman and his powers are a journey of discovery for the character and the series.

For its second episode of season two, coming off the back of a very strong season premiere, the title of the episode is something of a giveaway. Prior to Smallville, the depiction of Clark’s heat vision usually came down to red laser beams being representative of Clark’s power, but Smallville aims for something more gritty. It looks like CGI, but it has a more hazy heatwave look to it which looks more organic and plausible, and which says a lot about where CGI and visual effects had taken filmmakers even in 2002.

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Smallville being a teen drama, the discovery of this power comes about in a teen metaphor way; the influence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how it used fantasy tropes and storytelling in a metaphorical way being an obvious structural forebear for this sort of a thing on a television show. The differences in how Buffy and Smallville utilise this style of storytelling are very clear just from watching ‘Heat’; Joss Whedon’s iconic drama did this sort of thing intelligently and subtly, but the message of how Clark develops his heat vision and what it’s meant to represent is very clear and it ain’t at all subtle.

Behind the scenes, the writer’s room for Smallville‘s second season developed, with new writers coming on to the show to help spearhead a less formulaic direction for the series, after the constant criticism from many of resorting to a monster of the week format. And with that, the writers should be commended, but for the first stand-alone right out of the gate we get a tale about a heatwave, a  hot teacher, and Clark firing bolts out of his eyes because he’s aroused.

It falls into the same trap that The X-Files also did when it cast Krista Allen in a guest role; she shows up here as the object of desire for every man on the episode (it is 2002 after all, and things are still heteronormative) and chaos ensues, and with it leery male gaze-direction and photography, along with the prerequisite naked back on a network television show to connote female nudity.

There is some fun to be had; the reveal that Lex is engaged to Desiree Atkins (Allen, playing a character with the most WB network name for a temptress if there ever was one) and how the characters react to it are very humorous, and taking place after the summer break and carrying over a heatwave from the summer gives the episode an appropriately sweaty atmosphere.

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With its impromptu wedding, temptress lead guest character and ensuing dramas, and resorting to a main guest-starring role which is centred around how good looking she is and her ability to bend others to her will by kissing them, the episode has the type of story that wouldn’t be out of place in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (not to diss on that particular series, I grew up watching it and was a big reason for developing my love of the character). The reassuring thing is that there are great stories coming up. It’s just something of a disappointment that the series would resort to something a little obvious for its first stand-alone of the season.

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