There are some story ideas that genre television shows go back to again and again, and which always have the ability to deliver television gold; the Groundhog Day-style time loop is one, and another is the body swap episode. Of course, ever since the 1980s and the onslaught of movies such as Vice Versa, Like Father, Like Son and to a certain extent the Penny Marshall film Big, there is much comedic gold to be mined from characters swapping bodies or a lead character becoming someone else for a brief spell of time.
When it comes to television, The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer delivered incredible episodes, that mined much comedic brilliance when their lead characters found themselves swapping bodies with someone else, and the dramatic and hilarious possibilities that came with it. Then there’s the classic that is Quantum Leap, which turned the body swap component into a main device of sorts every week, creating one of the all-time greats while it was at it. It’s great to say that Smallville‘s fourth season, a mixed bag of a season if we are being truly honest, delivers equally brilliant goods in having Clark and Lionel swap bodies for forty-five minutes.
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Smallville is a series that hasn’t really ever allowed Tom Welling a chance to be funny. His stoic, charming and lovable Clark Kent isn’t exactly a funny character, but he always has that requisite charm behind the eyes and heroic possibilities lying in wait that can’t help but make the audience swoon. ‘Transference’ allows for not only some well mined comedic possibilities, but also gives Welling a chance to go villainous in a way that goes beyond the simple get out of jail free card afforded by the red kryptonite trope.
It’s one thing for Welling to have a chance to play a darker, twisted Clark, but it’s quite another for him to become the series’ formidable antagonist for a week. The same goes for John Glover. Forever the secret sauce behind so many of the core strengths of Smallville, where this episode allows Welling to unleash his ability to portray a villain, there’s something genuinely lovely in seeing Glover, forever acting evil and dastardly, become a character filled with inherent goodness and innate charm.
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Even better, Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer’s script doesn’t shy away from the damage that Lionel as Clark unleashes onto Clark’s life. The episode doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat bow, and the terrible things he does to Lana and Chloe are left hanging around by the end of this hour, in a way that is darkly pleasing for any possibilities left open going forward. But away from Smallville‘s story arc concerns, this still functions as the type of self-contained episode the series does so well, and coming as it does amongst a sea of episodes that have varied in quality all season, it’s gratifying to see that it can still deliver some of that Smallville magic.