In the pre-streaming age when binge viewing wasn’t exactly an option for new shows unless you recorded them on to VHS or a DVR machine – or at best waited for the DVD boxset, which was a phenomenon starting to make its presence known around the time of Smallville‘s earliest seasons – then having to wait a whole month to see the resolution to the previous episode must have seemed daunting.
But the wait for ‘Asylum’ would have been more than worth it. Darren Swimmer and Todd Slavkin’s script and Greg Beeman’s direction pile on the twists, turns, and suspense to incredible levels. Better yet, now that we’re three seasons into Smallville‘s run, it also has enough backstory that it can return to as it builds its own corner of the DC/Superman universe.
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If it wasn’t enough of a tension soaked story to have Clark trying to find a way to break Lex out of Belle Reve, the writers are brilliantly using it like its comic book source as a dumping ground for previous villains that Clark has gone up against, which can only mean a little trip down memory lane here as the episode also brings back not one, not two, but three previous guest villains just to make life a little harder for everyone.
More famous from the comic books for being the home of so many Suicide Squad members, the institution takes on a more Arkham Asylum-like presence in the manner that the latter has become a frequent location for the likes of The Joker and Two-Face to escape from in their efforts to torment Batman. It’s a lovely acknowledgement of Smallville‘s ever-growing world that in the space of what is fast approaching two and a half seasons, this version of the future Superman has already notched up quite a list of antagonists that are still alive and always waiting for a rematch.
That Clark is facing these characters in the midst of trying to rescue his most notorious future antagonist gives the episode a lovely sense of dark iron,y and for all the fun and games there is to be had in watching Clark once again go up against his greatest hits package of antagonists, it’s the Lex/Lionel scenes that are the real dark centre of the episode.
Michael Rosenbaum and John Glover’s scenes have always been the best parts of the series going right back to its earliest episodes, and while those earlier episodes were made up of scenes and conversations that played within similar dialogues of power and responsibilities, the third season and the series’ development of Lionel into fully-fledged villainous mode and Lex as something of a doomed and tragic future villain has allowed their scenes and their roles within it to have considerable power.
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Giving proceedings an extra layer of edge and suspense is Clark having to save Lex from electroshock therapy ordered by Lionel; if it succeeds, Lex will forget about Lionel’s role in having his parents killed, but if that happens then Lex will also forget about Clark having powers.
It’s a tremendous piece of writing once again from a series that is firing on all cylinders at this stage; we want Clark to save Lex but we know that the cost is that his future antagonist will have knowledge of Clark and his abilities. Once again, it says a lot about how great everyone involved here has been in developing and crafting Lex as a character that we root for him at every stage of this episode even with the nagging sensation at the back of one’s mind that he is a villain in the making.