Although Smallville is primarily about the teen years of Clark Kent and has been positioning itself to be the story of how Clark becomes Superman, when you watch an episode like ‘Prodigal’, you come to realise just how much of what makes Smallville work so well are the plot strands involving the Luthor family.
It’s almost something of a surprise that DC Universe or HBO Max have never tried to figure out a way to do a Luthor-centred television series given that they’ve given vehicles to everyone else in the DC Universe, including Alfred in the shape of the Starz series Pennyworth, but if they ever did, they could do worse than look at what Smallville did with episodes such as this one.
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After the suggestion a few weeks ago in ‘Lineage‘ that Lex has a half brother who is alive and well despite what Lionel claims, ‘Prodigal’ drops the other shoe and brings Lucas Luthor into the mix. This being a WB show before it became The CW, it goes without saying that it isn’t really a surprise that a future CW star is making a guest appearance here.
A good couple of years before he became one of the stars of Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec’s smash hit The Vampire Diaries (which, like Smallville, ran for more years than it was probably ever intended to), Paul Wesley (here credited as Paul Wasilewski) shows up as the missing member of the Luthor clan and with it another trip into the soap opera world of Lex and Lionel’s attempts at getting one over the other in their business dealings.
The term soap opera isn’t being used disparagingly there. After all, superhero comics themselves owe as much to As the World Turns, Days of Our Lives and Coronation Street as they do to Greek mythology, with all the interpersonal dynamics going on and the entangled narratives that sometimes take months or even years to resolve themselves. That it’s taken several episodes for Lucas to re-emerge after that hint a few episodes back shows how great the Smallville writers are at teasing things out and letting potential plot elements fester in the air before causing more trouble for its characters.
We also get the now required relationship dramas between Clark and Lana, and admittedly there is some nice continuity holdover from last week’s drama, but there is a feeling – and we’re barely past the halfway mark of the second season here – that the show is pretty much going in circles with these two. With a potential friendship and the hint of something more, and then something comes up with which to wrench them apart again, being the only cards that the writers have to play in order to ensure that these two don’t end up together, or at the very least to stay apart for as long as the writers deem it necessary before they let the ship sail.
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While the Clark/Lana parts are the draggiest scenes of the episode, everything going on with Lex, Lionel and the newly arrived Lucas is wickedly entertaining. The script from Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson, who have contributed some of the best episodes of the season, is on great form. The back and forward betrayals and double-crosses are amongst the best scenes of the episode, and Lucas’ backstabbing of Lex which prompts Clark’s current friend and future nemesis to move into the Kent farm and do farming chores allows for some nicely played light comedy; not least the brilliance of the image of future supervillain Lex Luthor helping out his future nemesis in his farming chores.
It’s amongst the funniest stuff in what is a very sharp episode, and while the eventual destination of the episode and reveal that Lionel isn’t blind aren’t really that big a surprise, it still amounts to another massively entertaining episode of the show.