After last week’s throwback (literally) to the first season, Smallville gets back into the swing of things with ‘Lineage’, an episode that the series has been building up to for quite a while. There is so much to love going on here, with Kenneth Biller, Al Gough and Miles Millar’s teleplay really going to town with character moments that the series has clearly been itching to explore.
The whole idea of someone coming to Clark and telling them they are his adoptive mother is a brilliant ‘what if’ scenario that opens up a whole can of worms that culminates with the series going right back to the events of the pilot and doing something that very few Superman stories have ever done before, which is showing us the immediate aftermath of what happened to the Kents after they discovered Clark in that field.
We have frequently witnessed Martha and Jonathan finding young Clark and then the story jumping forward. Smallville‘s status as a prequel has allowed it to fill in gaps that have never been explored before in detail before as they are here, and ‘Lineage’ goes one step forward by returning to the events of the pilot episode.
Destiny is obviously a massive theme that runs throughout Smallville, something that is inevitable given the wealth of comic book mythology and backstory that the writers have to play with. And once again the series has fun with a story that really ought not to be relying on too much in the way of coincidences but is acknowledging that the status of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor as an epic tale where they were always going to be in each other’s orbit.
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Purists may scoff at the visual of Lex and Clark as children sharing a car journey, but it’s hard to complain too much when the series is on great form as it is here. This season has seen Smallville drive itself away from the realm of relying on a formula week in and week out as it did during its first year. Even more brilliantly the script here is laying foundations for a storyline that won’t come into play for a while yet, and the episode overall is a prime example of just how much Smallville has gotten better even this early in its second year, with a fantastic command of how to play with bigger stories and utilise those gentle subversions of the Superman lore that is fast becoming its stock in trade.
Jonathan and Martha’s characters were greatly boosted by the casting choices of John Schneider and Annette O’ Toole, and the shades of grey they have brought to the characters over the last season and a third has been a quiet joy. As always, the portrayal is a world away from the more Norman Rockwell portrayals of Richard Donner’s 1978 movie, but the series has walked a brilliant tightrope in making the characters much more complex versions without sacrificing the nobility, which is no easy task. They’ve adopted Clark through a lie, and even used subterfuge and the help of an unscrupulous Lionel Luthor to hold on to him, even going as far as to forge DNA results to keep those who mean harm away from their son.
It’s a wickedly entertaining hour of television from the series, and not even the more filler plotline involving Lana looking for her own birth father can drag it down. Not that the latter is a bad storyline technically, but it once again reminds you that this is a series that aired on The WB amongst a sea of television series that also included a plethora of other less genre-filled teen dramas.
At its best, as indicated here, Smallville works its magic when its not utilising teen tropes or a monster of the week storyline. It is becoming a soap of sorts, but in the manner that so many comic books are, with villains like Lionel who constantly lie, scheme and cheat their way throughout their own narratives, while others like Martha and Jonathan Kent get caught up in the slipstream of the larger picture.
Even in a moment of vulnerability, Lionel is still lying, still manipulating those around him, and in its final scene, with brilliant use of ‘Madame Butterfly’, he is still literally holding lies and deception in his hand.