The storytelling direction of ‘Recruit’ reminds one of where Smallville is at this stage, and also where it has been predominatly for the last four seasons. It’s both a good and bad thing. The good is that it’s a reminder that this is the last year of the show to take place in Smallville High, that the passage of time is ongoing, and that Clark, and many of the characters around him, are on the cusp of graduating and that change is on the horizon. It always end up being an interesting period for American teen television shows; the setting that made us love the show in the first place is set to disappear come the season finale, but that while the change that is around the corner might be a natural one, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s one for the better.
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Some of the greatest teen dramas on the small screen, particularly those that had prolonged runs during the golden period of twenty-plus episodes on US network television, sometimes felt rudderless, different and unable to cope with that change towards early adulthood and with it the occasional fun and charm that came from watching its characters make the journey to that destination somewhat deflates and disappears. In some ways it could almost be seen a metaphor itself for the change that comes in those very character’s lives, but unfortunately it sometimes comes with a writers’ room unable to maintain the brilliance that comes with that very change.
Smallville has a slight advantage since these developments involves another step in the ladder towards Clark becoming the greatest superhero in the world, and with Lois Lane around (and this is pleasingly an episode with some considerable screen time for the season’s MVP Erica Durance), those steps are clear to see. Except ‘Recruit’ utilises these steps by focusing on one of the least interesting plot strands that hovers around this show: Clark’s eagerness to play football.
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There is a nice counterbalance with the main antagonist this episode, a similarly all-American chisel-jawed football hero who is revealed to be far from his clean-cut image, and named after famed DC Comics writer Geoff Johns which is a neat nod, but every time an episode hints or plays with why it isn’t safe or appropriate for Clark to play the game, it just feels as if it’s repeating the same conversation that we’ve been hearing as far back as ‘Hothead‘.
As the episode continues it ends up gently revealing itself to having been building towards putting a full stop on the football question that has been hovering around the character since its early days, and there is some gentle poignancy in its final moments as Clark says goodbye to a life that was perhaps never meant for him anyway. It’s a lovely moment for sure, and it comes at the end of an episode with a lot to say about the horrors of toxic frat boy behaviour. You’ll just wish that final scene and the themes of the story were in a better episode.