TV Discussion

Smallville 3×02 – ‘Phoenix’ – TV Rewind

I honestly don’t think a two-parter was enough to pack in the ridiculous amount of twists and turns that ‘Exile‘ and ‘Phoenix’ manage over their ninety minute time span. After spending a large part of last week in Metropolis, one of the series’ most Metropolis-heavy episodes to date, Smallville returns to its home setting and brings a large chunk of last week’s story along with it.

Both Clark and Lex make homecomings and with it the onslaught of dramas they were facing having followed them home. A lot of it works brilliantly. At other times it feels as if the story is struggling to make it work, but there’s no denying how entertaining an episode it is. Both Clark and Lex left behind a lot of drama, and on top of new elements in their lives that they have to deal with, they also must face the collateral damage of their decisions at the end of season two, especially Clark. Many potential bridges were burned at the Kent Family Farm, and it’s a world Clark has to return to, but only after a cool fight scene with Jonathan Kent with which to open the episode.

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The image of Clark and Jonathan engaging in a super-powered fight sequence isn’t something you could imagine from previous versions of the Superman story, but it brilliantly builds upon Smallville’s knack for wanting to do more interesting and subversive things with these characters which is increasingly making the series such a joy.

That Jonathan gets through to him by mentioning Clark’s upbringing gives the increasingly fraught and suspense-heavy ‘Phoenix’ some hopeful levity that’s otherwise been missing since prior to the season two finale, and marks a wonderful ability of the show to use subversive tactics in order to bring home the themes and ideas that makes a live-action Superman series tick.

While this has always been an ensemble series, Smallville has always gained considerable dramatic traction from how it posits itself as an origin tale, and exploration of not only Clark but also Lex, and how it’s not only their destinies that are intertwined but so are their lives to a degree.

Both characters are returning home, and both are facing considerable fallout in their personal lives, both in terms of their immediate family and their romantic partners. Clark and Lana have once again returned to a will they/won’t they soap opera very much befitting of a WB series of the era, but Lex has returned to something more approaching Dynasty or some crazy prime time soap opera you would have got in the 80s.

It’s not the first time this has befallen the character; a similar thing happened in season one with Victoria and the writers went for something similar with Helen by muddying her motivations, and throwing in all sorts of plot twists involving airplanes falling out of the sky, guns and missing parachutes.

It’s a shame because everyone involved did too good a job with Helen, and Emmanuelle Vaugier slotted into the ensemble nicely. By having it revealed that she gave Clark’s blood to Morgan Edge (a returning Rutger Hauer) and then tried to kill Lex, it gives the impression of not being able to know what to do with a character played by an actress that I’m assuming they weren’t going to have much access to this season and have thrown under a murky bus of contrived motivations.

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At the very least it’s not repeating elements the series has done before; it sometimes feels as if they just keep variations of the same conversation scripted at hand for Clark and Lana whenever they need a break up scene for when she voices annoyance and heartbreak over Clark keeping secrets from her.

Those flaws aside, both this and its preceding episode have gotten season three of Smallville off to an energetic and fun start. There is a confidence exuding from the series that many shows get in their third seasons. Sometimes that confidence can be misplaced, other times it’s justified. On the basis of this opening pair of episodes, the series appears to be on the right path.

Some pivotal issues aside, it’s a very entertaining start to the season.

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