‘Slumber’ is a reminder of where Smallville slots into, with regards to the era in which it was broadcast. The debut of writer Drew Z. Greenberg on the series, whose previous work was contributing to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there is a feeling reminiscent of the series that Greenberg has arrived from.
Genre television will always get to an episode centred around dreams and characters dealing with things that they perceive as real that turn out not to be the case, and it’s this concept that ‘Slumber’ dabbles with. It reminds the viewer of Smallville‘s frequent need to turn to monster-of-the-week style storytelling that has been a cornerstone of the series right from the very first episode. Those twenty-two episode runs need to sustain themselves, and even Buffy wasn’t above having stand-alone stories dotted amongst its entangled serialised narratives.
READ MORE: First Cow – Film Review
This might be a moment to groan inwardly at Smallville returning to a storytelling mode that frequently mined formulaic episodes in the first season and a half, but the confidence coursing through the series’ veins at this stage and its ability to mess with not only Clark’s head but those of the audience, indicates a willingness to do things differently than it might have done before. It’s far from Smallville‘s best episode, but I’ve always had a soft spot for episodic stand alone genre episodes in series such as this one, and Smallville has shown an ability like the best of The X-Files and Buffy to try and use some imagination in these things the longer it’s going on with its abundantly high production values.
Dream narratives in television shows are nothing new of course. Buffy’s season four finale ‘Restless’ was a stylish highpoint of that series, while The X-Files‘ season eight episode ‘Via Negativa’ was a darkly memorable hour of television. ‘Slumber’ feels very much a part of that “dream episode” style of television as opposed to the more abstract sequences that you would have found in Twin Peaks (arguably the master of TV dream sequences) or the attempts at similar moments of a surreal nature on The Sopranos. This being a network series on The WB, in an era when Mulder and Scully and Buffy Summers had just recently closed up shop but whose impact was still being felt on genre television at the time, means this plays more in the area of mystery, borderline procedural and character study as opposed to the surreal or unsettling.
READ MORE: The Kingdoms – Book Review
The opening teaser and first act is revealed to be a prolonged dream sequence where we really get to grips with Clark’s psyche in a manner the series hasn’t done before, and is sometimes genuinely revealing. Greenberg’s script eventually falls into Clark finding himself in a plotline involving a guest character endangered from an abusive guardian, and while that in itself is Smallville doing what it does well on a plot level, its handling of character is still a recurring strength of the series at this stage.
While it does get a little male gazey during his lakeside swim with Lana in the teaser, the subsequent gift of a new car, Chloe abandoning the Wall of Weird, and a violent altercation with Lex gives the audience a darkly wonderful glimpse into Clark’s mind and perception of his life, hopes and fears. The Lex scene in particular is a stand out for once again dabbling with some of Smallville‘s bigger plot possibilities in the realm of a stand-alone episode such as this. Clark might be able to dismiss such a thing as his own imaginings, but we the audience know that at some point, such a scenario will be all too plausible.