TV Discussion

Smallville 3×20 – ‘Talisman’ – TV Rewind

Smallville‘s storyline involving the use of Kawatche Caves is, up to this point at least, the one element of the series that can lead to a pause for thought in 2022. For a long time Hollywood has had a complex relationship with Native American culture, and while the Kawatche Caves are a fictional plot device in a television series based on a comic book character, it still has elements to it that make it feel somewhat problematic given how Hollywood has used, and even appropriated, Native American culture, especially in relation to how it affects white characters.

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The most prominent problem with this storyline is how it details a prophecy from a culture that is still centred on a white man being their saviour, and already there are two issues with the plot element that have raised their head. Kenneth Biller’s script for ‘Talisman’ intriguingly proposes the idea, for this episode at least, that maybe Clark is not the prophesied chosen one that all the markings on the cave are hinting at. You can already tell that by the end of the episode that the paradigm will be reset. After all, this has elements of Smallville‘s brand of monster/case of the week, and this week’s antagonist is simply there to be bested by Clark and defeated by the end of the hour.

What it also does is propose the idea that Clark’s eventual antagonism with Lex is written as destiny. It’s this element that the episode handles better because, in fact, Clark and Lex’s eventual descent into being mortal enemies is written and has been for decades because all of it is detailed in the pages of so many comic books. There is some suspense with a knife that will be touched by Clark’s future enemy, but since Lex and Lionel both reach for it, he is none the wiser. That’s an interesting notion in itself, and it gives the episode some intense fun to have in a season that has been running brilliantl,y with a sense of constant momentum when it comes to its story arcs and the inevitability of where it must go in the end.

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What is perhaps the biggest disappointment here is that it doesn’t run any further with the idea that Clark is a white person who is front and centre of a prophecy by a non-white community who still must centre some of their belief on the white man. Clark Kent being a beacon of American symbolism (truth, justice and the American Way and all that) means that there is a potential here for something richer and deeper than just using the plot to give us this episode’s villain of the week, but outside of the scenes involving the Luthors, it never really does anything else more interesting than that.

It’s a shame really, because this is in many respects one of the more disappointing missed opportunities in a season that has been great at grasping at good stories and material.

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