Given that high school is nearly done and dusted for our leading characters, it’s rather fitting that before what will most likely be the customary big season finale, the penultimate episode of Smallville‘s fourth season is centred on an antagonist that doesn’t ever want high school to end.
There are a combination of great things and not so great things about this episode, and it might sound like these reviews of the past season have become like a broken record when it comes to this subject, but as always this an instalment of Smallville that is on good form when it’s being a monster-of-the-week tale, but when it cuts back to the Teagues torturing the Luthors with hot pokers, you just want to shoo it out of the way so we can get back to the fun horror movie going on within the rest of the episode.
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There’s a great teaser sequence here. Chloe goes about her business at the Torch, before walking out into the school hallway and finding it empty apart from a creepy wax figure, before revealing that in fact she is not in the school at all, but in an abandoned factory made up to look like Smallville High. There’s a horror-Truman Show vibe to the way Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson – as always delivering some of the best writing on the show – get into the gutter with an inability to let go of nostalgia and the past, with an antagonist whose plan involves artificiality and a fake environment.
Moving on or not doing so is a central theme here; Clark is determined to go to college in Kansas so he can continue helping at the farm; something Jonathan and Martha are not happy with, giving the drama a grounded quality at the farm that has always been amongst some of the best character moments in the show. Following on from last week’s episode which saw Clark and Lana briefly become parents and which staged them in a story almost like Jonathan and Martha, it’s refreshing to note that the scenes between Welling and Kreuk here are carrying on as being well played and written, tinged with trying to see a future while never having reconciled their past relationship or lack thereof.
Anytime the episode is dealing with this material it’s the series on great form, and a reminder that of the writers on the staff, it’s frequently Souders and Peterson who have had the ability to really grasp character and genre tropes in a manner that has allowed their episodes to be amongst the very best on the series.
Admittedly, there are attempts at trying to fire up some excitement for the finale by having Lex and Lionel captured and tortured by Jason and Genevieve (it was the mid-2000s, the era of Saw and 24, so it was all too frequently a trope used during this period), but all it does it make you want to go back to the monster-of-the-week dramas, especially one with as great a concept as the one here.
While the Lex and Lionel scenes may not be the best of the episode, the image of Chloe closing up the Torch and taking down the Wall of Weird, a staple on the series since the very beginning, followed by the image of herself, Lana and Clark walking away, is a very tender and touching one, reminding them and us the audience that time doesn’t stand still and we all have to grow up some day.