You can’t beat a hostage situation in a television series, and Smallville clearly knows this because this is the second time they’ve gone for the tried and tested trope of doing a television equivalent of Die Hard. From ‘Duane Barry’ in The X-Files to ‘The Box’ on Alias, more often than not hostage situations work wonders with genre television. They give audiences a semi-bottle episode while managing to deliver something akin to a mini-action movie with high stakes and drama, putting their characters under increasing pressure that may not be fun for them, but which frequently makes for an entertaining episode of television.
Smallville‘s first go at such an episode felt like it was trying to be both a regular monster of the week tale and a Die Hard clone all in one, settling into its hostage situation in the second half, but ‘Insurgence’ goes all out for the Die Hard flavour here, setting the majority of the episode in a skyscraper in a city environment.
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With a ‘no flights, no tights’ rule firmly locked in place, Smallville is clearly not going to abandon that rule at such an early stage in its (unknowingly when ‘Insurgence’ was produced) record-breaking run. But leaping a tall building in a single bound isn’t exactly flying, so the episode gets to give Clark a new power of sorts by having our future Superman leap from one building to another.
Of course, the ‘leap a tall building in a single bound’ is one of those key phrases most associated with Superman, right up there with the even more famous ‘Is it a bird? Is it a plane?’ question that has always hung over the Man of Steel. It’s Smallville once again tipping its hat to the past of the character, all the while furthering its own take on Clark and his developing powers.
That the building that Clark is leaping from is the Daily Planet gives a sense of just how much the episode, and this second season in general, is grasping the larger Superman part of the DC Universe. The most Metropolis-heavy episode of the show so far, the episode mines a lot of drama not just from its hostage situation, which is admittedly hugely enjoyable, but also from the escalating friction between the Luthors.
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There is a nod and a wink to The Conversation (which starred Lex Luthor himself, Gene Hackman) as Lex finds a plethora of surveillance equipment in his mansion, which fuels his own attempts at trying to surveil Lionel, which backfires when the surveillance team planting the devices decide to escalate to theft.
The final moment of ‘Jitters’, with a quietly jealous Lex looking over towards the genuine love and care of the Kent family, looms largely over ‘Insurgence’ as well, and the episode does a magnificent job, as it has done all season, of comparing and contrasting the familial dynamics between the future hero and his arch-nemesis. One could argue that Smallville is playing with the nature vs nurture theme when it comes to these two characters.
Like so much of Smallville‘s explorations of Clark’s origins, there are gentle nudges towards the idea of Martha and Jonathan not being the pure white hats that they are always portrayed as. The final moments of the episode, when they decide that it might be best for Martha to stay put as Lionel’s assistant, is done purely so they can be on top of any information Lionel has, which in itself is understandable even if as far from the doting farm family that we’ve seen in Richard Donner’s 1978 film or Lois and Clark.
Of course, it’s still far from the antics of Lex and Lionel. Their tit-for-tat has made for enjoyable viewing all season, but now that it has Lex having his own father surveilled in retaliation for the one Lionel put him under. It’s once again a gentle reminder that the actions of their parents are maybe the most vital element in Clark and Lex’s lives that are going to end up pushing them towards the destiny that awaits them, that even if Jonathan and Martha’s behaviour isn’t as clean-cut, they are doing it out of love, where everything between Lionel and Lex is out of hate and spite and one up-manship.
You get the sense that the great tragedy at the heart of Smallville might be that Lex Luthor hasn’t got a chance of being anything other than the bad guy.