There’s something of a greatest hits vibe to Steven S. DeKnight and Jeph Loeb’s script for ‘Unsafe’ which comes as a blessed relief but also a bit of a problem in itself, and one of several to be encountered here. Make no mistake though, this is an entertaining episode of the series, even if it does occasionally remind one of the larger issues plaguing the show as a whole this season.
Being drenched in comic book lore and mythology, Smallville is a series that’s open to allowing previous guest villains to come back into the mix every once in a while. Let’s face it, superhero media would never be able to survive if the likes of The Joker, Green Goblin and Magneto didn’t get to come back for a rematch against their arch-nemesis.
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Even the 1960’s Batman television series got much of its creative juice from rotating its big name guest stars around and dropping certain characters back in every once in a while (and sometimes recasting). There is a neat parallel to all of this in seeing Smallville bring back Sarah Carter as Alicia for another round of stalking and manipulation.
On the surface, this is an entertaining episode. But it does have the unfortunate side effect of feeling strangely problematic in retrospect, given that it deals with sex outside of matrimony and features the future Superman being lectured by Martha about the sanctity of marriage. A sequence delivered in such a way that it really ought to border on parody except for the fact that the episode feels as if it really wants us to take it seriously. It would be even funnier if it didn’t feel also troublesome.
In the US, the episode ended with a PSA delivered by Alison Mack about safe sex; a dark irony given what her future held. But even ignoring that whole mess, what starts as a entertaining diversion away from the larger problems plaguing the season ends up being host to a whole separate set of storytelling issues. It’s a real surprise to see that the script is coming from Loeb, who up to this point has delivered some great episodes of the series, and Steven S DeKnight who had been drafted in from Buffy and Angel, series that managed to deal with sex in a way which was somewhat intelligent (at least for the time it was broadcast in).
Carter brings Alicia to darkly threatening life and she has this ability to make the audience want to like her. But old habits die hard, and even though she is not technically the overall villain of the episode (her doctor is), her use of Red Kryptonite on Clark makes her still somewhat nefarious. Given the consent issues here that the episode is clearly more than aware of, it reminds the audience that she is a somewhat dangerous character.
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What feels misjudged and mean spirited, and subsequently brings the episode down, is the final stretch. Clark’s parents verbally admonishing him for his actions even though they know he was corrupted by Red Kryptonite plays like victim-blaming and shaming, whilst his decision to stay with Alicia makes one wonder just how naive he can be sometimes. Although it does set up an intriguing direction for the next episode, which is more than can be said about Lana and Jason that is, once again, a grating storyline one really wishes would stop. A reminder, if any is needed, that Lana’s storyline really came to an end last season and is simply being dragged out at this point.