TV Discussion

Smallville 3×19 – ‘Memoria’ – TV Rewind

What an outstanding episode of Smallville this is. It’s a prime example of just how much the series has been on fire this season. Like ‘Legacy‘ a few weeks ago, there is an ‘important’ feel to the entire hour. With a script from Smallville‘s creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, it’s an entire hour of the show drenched in backstory and mythology, fuelled by the possibility of revelation in every corner.

Any time the series has a chance to throw elements of Superman lore into the mix, and have key moments and iconography be portrayed, you can sense the joy and glee of everyone involved in getting to play those moments out. The series affords Smallville‘s audience its first glimpse in the series of baby Kal-El being placed into the spaceship which will take him to his moment of destiny with Jonathan and Martha, and it’s played wonderfully, even parlaying into a genuinely lovely final scene between Tom Welling and Annette O’ Toole that gets to the core of the series’ explorations of familial love.

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As I said, it’s a genuinely lovely moment, but it comes in an episode that doesn’t shy away from the toxicity of Lex and Lionel. The two have been on a collision course all season (possibly since the very beginning of the series if you want to be truly honest about it) and it once again gives Michael Rosenbaum and John Glover a chance to chew up some scenery with the venomous gusto that is always entertaining to watch.

Lex’s pursuit of his memories through the use of Dr Garner (a returning Martin Cummins who always shows up in episodes that promise much, and who has become something of an entertainingly dastardly antagonist) allows director Miles Millar to stretch out some of the visual storytelling of the series at the same time. The deployment of flashbacks and memories regarding Lex and Lionel means that while we are given the image of a baby Kal in his spacecraft, this is very much a major Lex and Lionel episode.

Smallville has always gained considerable energy not just from the chemistry and way in which Glover and Rosenbaum play out their scenes, but also in how it compares and contrasts the toxicity of Lex and Lionel’s parent/son relationship with that of Clark/Martha/Jonathan. Ironically, Clark is finding himself in the crosshairs of toxicity when it comes to his birth father and the more horrifying moments that Jor-El is capable of; but the heart of his life is his upbringing and the love he gets from his adoptive parents who have formed the person he is more than Jor-El has, and at this stage seemingly ever will.

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Lex, on the other hand, has been at the mercy of some terrible behaviour of his father and a backstory that is drenched in tragedy and horror. If Clark’s life was surrounded by love that stemmed from something horrifying (the destruction of his home planet), Lex on the other hand has never had any sense of hope. Even when Lionel gives him a gift of a lead box and with it a seemingly hopeful story about St George, it’s offset by the knowledge that Lex, for all his good intentions and status at this stage of the series as one of the good guys of the series, has a future of super-villainy awaiting him.

The episode may not build to Lex becoming a villain, and instead shows him saving Clark in a reversal of so many famous scenes of the series from previous episodes. But as always, that knowledge hovers over everything going on here, especially in those heart to heart moments between Clark and Lex, where we know that for all the kinship and friendship they have, we’re just awaiting the moment it will all go wrong and Lex will become someone even worse than his father, already a terrible person at the best of times.

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