TV Discussion

Smallville 3×18 – ‘Truth’ – TV Rewind

It was always going to be hard to top the Christopher Reeve-guest starring episode from last week that put as much emphasis on Smallville‘s version of the Superman mythology as the series had ever done, where plot developments and revelation were in plentiful supply and the episode was a treasure trove for hardcore fans of both the show and the Superman mythos.

One of the interesting things about television in an era dominated by twenty-two episode production orders was how they had to mix and match forward storytelling momentum with episodes that would now be regarded, and even dismissed, as filler. Television series like Smallville (not to mention The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) knew how to make monster-of-the-week tales soar, and more often than not it was those brilliantly put together and imaginative stand-alone tales that would bring out the best in their writers and the series as a whole.

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That isn’t to say that ‘Truth’ is a masterpiece or anything, but there is a great little concept here that is once again evidence of how much the series has come to make the filler episodes sometimes feel bigger than they might usually be, and a lot of that comes down to their emphasis on character. Smallville‘s brand of Superman-related lore, like the best Man of Steel live-action productions that have made it to the small screen, work because it doesn’t have a hundred million dollar budget to work with and has to make do with what they have, which frequently means boiling things down to the core ingredients and character, theme and tone, all of which are just as important to the Superman story.

Like Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz when they put together the screenplay for Superman: The Movie, Smallville has fun with scale and scope, but gets considerably more dramatic juice when it focuses on the smaller things and notes how important the character of Clark and those he loves are to the story, as much as punching and things smashing through walls (which it does equally as well too). Lois and Clark worked because of the romantic comedy angle, and the recently produced Superman and Lois is a powerhouse because of its family dramas.

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It’s been an ongoing concern for a while, but Chloe has been eager to discover Clark’s secret, and the kink in this week’s monster-of-the-week format gives the character the potential to finally put two and two together. There are shades of movies such as Liar Liar and The Invention of Lying, as Chloe finds herself with the ability to make anyone she talks to tell her the truth. It has the effect of making her something of an antagonist, and puts Clark into a great dilemma as he finds himself wanting to save the life of a dear friend who also poses a considerable threat to his secret being revealed.

Drew Z. Greenbergs’s teleplay goes to town with this idea, and there is a lot of fun to be had in the manner that Smallville does when it takes a kryptonite-infected character and zeroes in on elements that go beyond a standard beat-the-villain plot or putting Lana in danger. Speaking of which, the latter makes the decision to go to Paris in what seems like the best thing for the series to do so it can focus on other concerns. The only frustration to be had with the episode is in knowing that going forward, the series is not going to make that decision.

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