A new and frightening disease takes hold in ‘Fever’, a strange thing to watch and write about in 2020, a year which has been defined, unfortunately, by Covid-19. While Smallville doesn’t quite go into a storytelling realm that makes it in any way similar to the real-life events of this year, it’s an hour of television about a deadly disease that looks and feels somewhat different given the circumstances that everyone has found themselves in for the majority of 2020.
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Movies and television episodes that have dealt with pathogens and viruses have taken on a whole new layer of meaning, but that hasn’t stopped audiences flocking to movies such as Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion and Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak. Many genre television shows themselves have dealt with contagions and their characters being affected by them and so it stands to reason that Smallville would throw itself into a tale involving kryptonite spores proving deadly.
It says a lot about this season of the show that there has been a knack for the series to try and find ways to tell stories that aren’t merely the monster of the week tales that dominated season one, and credit where credit is due to writer Matthew Okumura for finding a new threat for everyone to face that isn’t a mirror image to its lead character so he can punch or throw them away with all his strength.
For the most part, this is very enjoyable, as has been a large part of the season which has scarcely delivered anything bad or weak, but it does fall into the trap of expecting the audience to engage with stakes that at this stage the series will not deliver on. Sure enough, there is a lot of drama to be mined here, what with Martha at death’s door and the hunt for a cure, but we never for one minute ever expect Martha to die, or Clark as he too is infected in the latter stages of the episode.
Clark becoming sick means that Tom Welling is literally sitting out the second half of the episode, which one assumes was to accommodate his trip to New York to film scenes for the next episode (which will see the series deliver not only one of its finest episodes to date but also feature a guest appearance from Christopher Reeve – but we’ll talk about that more when we get to ‘Rosetta’).
This means we get more screen time with Jonathan Kent and Helen Bryce (Emmanuelle Vaugier) as they try to combat the virus, and some exploration of Lex’s relationship with Helen. Rosenbaum and Vaugier have great chemistry and it’s clear the writers don’t want to lose her at this stage, but Lex asking Helen to forgo a career at Johns Hopkins to stay with him does leave somewhat of a sour taste since we’re watching a female character opting to give up on her career prospects for a man, in this case the future supervillain of the DC universe. It brings to mind Rachel Greene getting off the plane in Friends, although now that I think about it, there’s a dark joke there that one can make about events of Smallville‘s season two finale (which I’ll not spoil at this stage, obviously).
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The most intriguing aspect of all this is Smallville letting Helen into the Kent family orbit with Clark’s secret. Now that she is staying with Lex, there is a palpable sense of tension hanging in the air going into the last third of the season. It ends up giving the season a nice sense of balance given that it began with Pete finding out Clark’s secret, and now Helen. The suspenseful question hanging in the air is whether or not her affiliation with Lex going forward will mean she capable of keeping it.