‘Who shot Lionel?’ might not have the same ring to it as ‘Who shot JR?’ but it’s very much the question that is the driving force behind much of the narrative in ‘Suspect’. Like JR Ewing, Lionel Luthor is loaded with money, corrupt with power and has very much annoyed the hell out of everyone on Smallville, to the extent that it might be easier to figure out who doesn’t want him dead. Although to prolong the suspense it’s Jonathan Kent that ends up getting arrested for the deed in the opening moments of the episode.
Of course, this being Smallville, it’s not enough that Lionel gets shot in the episode’s teaser sequence. It’s a full-on sequence that’s been filmed at a higher number of frames per second, with his body crashing through a glass table, showing once again that if there is anything worth doing on Smallville, it’s worth doing as a somewhat highly powered stunt sequence that looks like something right out of a feature film.
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On top of evoking the spirit of one of American television’s most famous cliffhangers (subsequently spoofed to brilliant effect on The Simpsons), ‘Suspect’ tips its hat to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (also referenced to brilliant effect on The Simpsons, and which I promise will be the last time I mention the animated sitcom, but suffice to say it is a funny joke in that particular episode), with key events replayed from different perspectives, thus upping the number of suspects as the episode continues.
In a manner similar to Dallas when it left JR bleeding to death from a gunshot wound, Smallville has made Lionel such an enjoyably vindictive antagonist on the show, it’s honestly a surprise that it has taken so long for someone to try and attempt to end his life, but it’s no surprise that the suspect list is so long.
Ever since its ‘Pilot‘ episode, John Glover has been one of Smallville‘s most prized assets, to the extent that it was no surprise they added him to the roster of the regular cast for its second season. Despite being blinded due to the events of this season’s premiere, he has remained the series’ most enjoyable antagonist, at the very least filling in the void of the rich bad guy until Lex makes what should be an inevitable turn.
The idea of someone in the community making an attempt on his life is an obvious one, but it’s honestly a lot of fun. Mark Verheidan and Philip Levens’ teleplay has a great time playing out so many scenarios over who pulled the trigger. We know it’s not really Jonathan who ends up spending the majority of the episode behind bars as the prime suspect, but it does give the episode a nice slice of suspense as Clark tries to prove his innocence (which we know he will, of course) on top of solving the central mystery itself.
The eventual reveal that the culprit is the recurring presence of Sheriff Ethan (Mitchell Kosterman) makes this more of a Maggie Simpson-style reveal (I know I said I wouldn’t but it applies here!) where the audience might be left wondering why the episode didn’t go for something more memorable, but it doesn’t deflect too much from an hour of the series that is as enjoyably entertaining as always. That it all comes down to Lionel throwing his weight around as always and invoking the wrath of Ethan is really no surprise; once again a reminder of not only how much of villain Lionel is, but also how entertaining an antagonist Glover’s portrayal has become.