It always comes as a joy whenever the words ‘written by Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson’ are displayed at the beginning of a Smallville episode. Since season two they have been behind some of the very best episodes of the series, with even their lesser efforts always being nothing less than entertaining. In many ways, they have a great understanding of what makes the series tick and are always fantastic at playing to its core strengths and the surrounding Superman mythology, and delivering all-round great pieces of genre television.
While ‘Scare’ is far from being their best episode, it still manages to be one of the season’s more entertaining efforts, and another indicator of just how wonderfully expansive genre television like this could be when it had to produce twenty-two episodes a season as opposed to relying on sustained serialisation, like so much television does nowadays in the era of never-ending streaming services and shorter seasons.
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The shorter episode component does have its strengths. When a series starts to go higher in the number of seasons, the resulting quality can vary. What is obvious here is that when the Smallville isn’t concentrating on its story arc this year, which involves the supernatural and whatever is going on with Lana, everything about the Superman prequel can still fire on all cylinders when it comes to great character-driven and plot-fuelled fantasy material.
‘Scare’ is a case in point. There is little here regarding witchcraft and the supernatural focus that appears to be driving so much of the larger story arc concerns of the season, although we imagine Lionel Luthor being released from prison will link back to it in some way. The central idea of bringing to life the fears of the main characters of a genre series like this is as old as television itself, dating back to the likes of The Twilight Zone, and even gaining a foothold in plots from more modern classics such as The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
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While on the one hand it puts the audience in mind of something like ‘Nightmares’ from season one of Buffy, the fact that it comes down to the pesky green rocks at the heart of so much of Smallville (because it always does) and this is a DC Comics adaptation, your mind also ventures to Gotham City and the antics of the famed villain The Scarecrow as used to brilliantly powerful effect in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
Every character here gets a work-through on their deepest and darkest nightmares and it makes for one of the season’s better episodes and an interesting psychological piece in terms of character. Once again it’s a reminder that when the series is moving its characters around imaginative and well-constructed stand-alone plots, Smallville can still deliver the goods, and taking another week away from witchcraft and whatever it is Jane Seymour is up to has only highlighted that. It’s part and parcel of why a long run and the need to deliver what is usually dubbed ‘filler episodes’ is not necessarily a bad thing, and why even in a season as mixed as this, Smallville is a journey still well worth taking.