You can’t help but want to resist the urge to get too excited this early into a season of Smallville. The series has always had a knack for beginning each season strongly, but last season ended up segueing into a run of episodes that weren’t exactly an example of the series at its best. There is, however, a lovely air of beginning anew here. The credit sequence has been given a revamp, and there is a feeling that the series is now aligning itself into storytelling directions that it perhaps really ought to have gone down last season but which it’s opting to run full tilt with here.
The emergence of a set of Kryptonian villains from the spaceship that crash-landed into Smallville at the very end of last season brings with it a set of challenges that immediately reminds one of Superman II, with references (although no appearance yet) of General Zod and the appearance of The Phantom Zone that is a direct call back to the way it was visualised in the Richard Donner/Richard Lester films. Even the portrayal of The Fortress of Solitude is a direct homage to the films as well.
Some might scoff at the series not coming up with some of its own ideas for the visuals here, but given that the series has always been more subversive with its themes and story arcs in comparisons to the comics and its blockbuster films predecessors, there is the lovely feeling that the series is having its cake and eating it when it comes to taking this type of approach.
The episode itself is a fast paced and incident-heavy conclusion of ‘Commencement‘, and also has the good grace to get rid of Jason and Genevieve Teague once and for all. Jensen Ackles was Supernatural–bound at this point, but the episode’s final scene gives us a hint of this season’s possible antagonist. It’s always a joy to see Buffy the Vampire Slayer alumni show up on screen, and so it is we say a big hello to the series for James Marsters as Milton Fine, uncredited and unnamed at this point.
For all the tributes and homages to its ancestor texts, the emergence of Fine here is a continuation of Smallville trying to bring to the screen new things in live action for the Superman story. As entertaining as many of the films are, you can’t help but wonder why it is that they always just do the same things; Superman Returns was a love letter to Richard Donner’s film, a fan-fiction sequel that only doubled down on the problematic elements of Superman II‘s conclusion and left it with very few places to go.
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Man of Steel might have been a muscular epic, but it was still a re-tread of Superman II‘s Superman vs Zod’s army approach. Yes, Smallville will get to that stage too, but it’s always been willing to at least bring in characters and plots that the movies had aimed to develop but never got beyond the planning stages. Sure, this may not have had the budget of a feature film – although it was and remains visually impressive for a televisions series of its era – but in bringing about the threads it’s about to run with, there is the promise here that the series is going into territory that is new and different.