TV Discussion

Smallville 2×17 – ‘Rosetta’ – TV Rewind

There is perhaps not much that one really needs to talk about when it comes to ‘Rosetta’ apart from the obvious. This is the first Smallville episode to feature a guest appearance from Christopher Reeve. There is perhaps nobody else who has ever truly embodied the Superman character as perfectly as Reeve did, and it’s why it has always felt that no matter who has played the character of Clark Kent or Superman, they have always been in the shadow of the actor who made the role so uniquely his own.

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‘Rosetta’ very much plays in the realm of Smallville and its own mythology and storytelling concerns when it comes to Clark’s development into the Superman that we know and love, but to have Reeve be the one helping Smallville‘s version of Clark figure out his lineage gives proceedings such a wonderful charge.

The image of Christopher Reeve in his final years confined to a wheelchair was undeniably tragic, but the fact that he never let his accident slow him down and he continued to work, both on-screen and off, made him something of a real-life Superman. His appearance here feels like not only an acknowledgement of an actor who was so indelible in the role and who defined it and influenced it for generations to come but also allows Smallville itself to revel in connecting itself, at least in terms of acknowledgement, to the original iconic series of Superman films and the lore of the character on-screen.

Mark Snow’s music even nods and winks to John Williams’ Krypton theme throughout, and there is a palpable sense of love and excitement emanating from the screen as the series puts its own version of Clark Kent on screen with the most famous Clark Kent of them all.

This would be the beginning of several references dotted throughout Smallville to the previous run of Superman films. Not to get into spoiler territory for future episodes, but it would be a joy to see some of Reeve’s previous co-stars from the Donner/Lester films show up throughout the next couple of seasons.

Better yet, this is perhaps the first Smallville episodes that doesn’t rely on the series’ tried and tested formula of giving Clark some sort of enemy to fight. There isn’t even a contagion or anything of that nature to deal with. There is no monster of the week or any prolonged special effects sequence with which the series can do its Superman thing. It’s more of a character-driven episode than anything Smallville has given us previously and as such it stands out brilliantly.

Its exploration of the Kryptonian mythology and Clark’s past makes it something of a treat for any hard-core Superman fans, with not only the appearance of Reeve but the conversations and development of its own mythology making it a joy to watch. If anything, it gives Smallville a new storytelling language it can utilise in future episodes and shows that it can do so much more than resorting to its tried and tested formulas and (admittedly entertaining) action sequences.

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The real joy here is in watching Tom Welling and Christopher Reeve on screen together. While Dean Cain had worn the costume in between the original movies and Smallville‘s premiere, and Brandon Routh would do so in the middle of Smallville‘s run, with Henry Cavill and Tyler Hoechlin in recent years, it’s perhaps Welling who has managed to make a modern Clark Kent sing in a way that others have somewhat struggled with outside of the Reeve films (although I admit to having a soft spot for Hoechlin’s performance in the Arrowverse).

There is a passing of a torch feel to so many of Welling’s scenes with Reeve that gives them not only dramatic heft but a poignancy given that Reeve would sadly pass away only two years later. There’s a joy to be had in ‘Rosetta’ but also a degree of sadness that we didn’t have much more time to spend with Reeve, but despite that, to see these two Superman on-screen together makes this one of Smallville‘s finest ever episodes for sure.

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