TV discussion

Smallville 2×09 – ‘Dichotic’ – TV Rewind

If you happen to be a fan of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, then you’re in luck because ‘Dichotic’ gives you two Taylor Thomas’ for the price of one. Better yet, it turns his teen heartthrob charm into something dastardly.

A semblance of toxicity seems to be in plentiful supply this hour. On top of a guest antagonist who uses his superpower ability to clone himself, and believes that he deserves all the success in the world, this episode also features Lex Luthor losing his temper, in a scene that manages to be equal parts alarming due to the sudden outburst of violence, and strangely wish-fulfilling given that his anger is directed at a traffic warden. It’s a reminder of Smallville‘s ability to charm us with Rosenbaum’s performance as Lex, while keeping that inherent darkness just bubbling away on the surface.

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Away from Lex, there is a lovely abundance of teen angst to go around in this episode, much of it handled in a lightly comedic fashion by Verheidan’s teleplay. It harkens back somewhat to Smallville‘s brand of monster of the week from season one, but also manages to stay fresh and on-brand with the series’ continuing ability to filter its stories through its characters, with less of last season’s formula where meteor rocks were seemingly everywhere.

The casting of Taylor-Thomas is perhaps the masterstroke here. Like his guest appearance on Veronica Mars (the wonderful ‘Weapons of Class Destruction‘), what we have here is an era-defining teen series taking a performer like Thomas and filtering that charm and those cute heartthrob looks into something enjoyably nasty. The character of Ian really turns the screws in the Clark/Lana/Chloe love triangle that the series has been relying on this season, and while love triangle tropes are popular but mostly hit or miss in a show like this, this is one of those episodes where Smallville turns into a mightily enjoyable soap.

Like the best villains in comic book lore and stories, Ian comes across as a darker reflection of Clark. Ian isn’t merely some superpowered villain for Clark to punch this week. Although we do get to that in the final act, Ian is more of a twisted mirror reflection that through subterfuge and dastardly deeds is managing to function in a way that Clark sometimes doesn’t.

While Clark struggles to maintain some balance to saving lives and schoolwork (even being criticised by his teacher for creating what is his future logo), Ian uses his abilities to get ahead in life, even going so far as being able to maintain two ongoing relationships with Lana and Chloe.

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There is a danger that Verheidan’s teleplay is going to fall into the trap of making Chloe and Lana idiots this episode, but it stays the right side of suspenseful comedy as Clark comes across as increasingly jealous, and better yet allows Lana and Chloe to remain friends without their feelings for Clark ever becoming something with which to have them arguing over every other week.

While the episode ends with a typical Clark saving-the-day action sequence (although some of the green screen work is a little shoddy considering the high standards that are more typical of the series), its final words are given to the three characters themselves in a wonderfully funny and moving moment when they finally sit down to talk about what’s going on between them. It’s a genuinely lovely moment of character drama that verges on witty and honest, and once again gets at the heart of what makes the series so good.

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