A lot of the first season of Smallville‘s reliance on monster of the week stories made it feel like the series was one step away from becoming a teen version of The X-Files rather than a Superman show. Those episodes established a formula that the first season ran with, although it was rightly criticised for being repetitive.
Opening with an atmospheric cemetery sequence that not only invokes a misty X-Files vibe, but also Smallville‘s very own pilot what with Lana on horseback visiting her parents’ graveside, ‘Nocturne’ marks the first Smallville script from Kelly Souders and Brian Petersen who, will become key architects on the series as it continues, and contribute some of its very best episodes.
There is a danger from the beginning of ‘Nocturne’ that we might be in for a past retread of the type of story that Smallville made a large part of its fabric in its first year, but there are actually some interesting things to appreciate. It’s not the most dazzlingly original episode of the show, but it’s an enjoyable hour of television that does some very fun things with the characters and even puts in motion some new dynamics that hint at interesting developments in later episodes.
The teleplay from Souders and Petersen is awash with engaging scenes between the core cast that are some of the most entertainingly played of the season so far, and even the scenes involving this week’s guest character Byron (Sean Faris) play on Smallville‘s core themes of growing up, parents keeping secrets, and secrets in the basement, that gently and nicely subvert many moments that are part and parcel of Smallville itself.
Byron, an immortal poet who is forced to live in his parents’ basement, and who is on the receiving end of some pretty abusive behaviour from his father, including a shotgun blast to the face, evokes a gentle X-Files style atmosphere, with Mark Snow delivering a music score that at times feels evocative of his work on that show, while the house from notorious fourth season episode ‘Home’ is the one used as Byron’s house. You have to love television shows filmed in Vancouver.
On top of an engaging storyline that proves more entertaining than you’d expect, Souders and Petersen gave us plenty of wonderful character moments, not least in not shying away from Lana and Clark’s sudden antagonism that started in ‘Red’, while setting in motion a storyline that is going to take Martha Kent away from the farm for a while.
Martha working for Lionel is an interesting dynamic already, and with it comes one hell of a conversation at the Kent family home. As always with Smallville, the series frequently takes an interesting approach to the Martha and Jonathan dynamic, something it kind of needs to do given that it’s a long-form television series, but which the writers here are clearly running with in an enjoyable manner.
Martha telling Jonathan that she wants a life outside of the farm is a lovely moment for the show and for Annette O’Toole, who delivers the dialogue here magnificently. So much of Superman lore has always had Jonathan as the farmer and Martha in the home, but given how much Smallville has strived to be both modern and also gently subversive with its handling of these characters and themes, it’s refreshing to see them not shy away further when it comes to Martha having a life away from her son and husband.
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It’s things like this that are a clear indication of how much the series has changed for the better in its second year. It’s still giving us tales of teenagers who have become monsters, brought about because of the actions of Luthorcorp, and the story of Byron really can only go one way and that is in a final confrontation with Clark, but it’s also using stories like that to do interesting things with these characters and their stories.
The last scene of the episode between Lana and Clark is a lovely one filled with subtext. They might be talking about Byron, but it’s Clark really talking about himself, and it’s delicately written and performed in a charming way by Welling and Kreuk and continues what is shaping up to be a strong start to Smallville‘s second year.