The concept of Clark Kent losing his powers is something that many a Superman story has creatively explored, whether it be in comic book stories such as Alan Moore‘s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, or very famously in Superman II. The idea of watching a character that is effectively owned by the world, and whose direction and destiny is fuelled by a characteristic need to save the innocent because of those abilities, is a potent one but is always driven by a direction that sees them realise that in the end their destiny is the thing that they still need to achieve.
Christopher Reeve’s version of the character realising this just as General Zod and his friends made their presence felt gave the second Superman film a potent sense of suspense and one that has helped make it one of the best superhero films of all time. Following the final moments of ‘Arrival‘ that saw Clark stripped of his powers, it makes the prospect of going into ‘Mortal’ an enticing one, and it’s a great set-up that writer Steven S. DeKnight runs with.
There are a lot of great storytelling pieces on the table here and this might only be the second episode of the season, but you can already sense that the series is in a better place as a whole than it was last season. We haven’t gotten to the college-set portion of the season yet, usually a contentious period of creative upheaval in any teen television show (Buffy, Dawson’s Creek and Gilmore Girls all dealt with it in vastly differing ways and the quality of all is frequently debated about), but instead of trying to do too much too quickly, DeKnight gives the episode a combustible dramatic quality and just lets the suspense and drama roll in very effective ways.
DeKnight is a great writer, as evidenced by some magnificent work on both Buffy and Angel, and he would go on to create and show-run the stylishly excessive Grand Guignol television version of Spartacus after his tenure on Smallville. Given that he made his debut on the fourth season with the awful ‘Spell‘, one is always left a little hesitant at seeing his name on this show, but this is more in line with his enjoyably angsty and witty Buffy and Angel scripts than anything, crafting some great character moments and drama amongst the set-pieces.
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Best of all, the Lex and Clark dynamic has also hit the skids, and while we’re not quite at the bitter enemies stage yet, Lex’s role here and his positioning in the role of an antagonistic figure definitely feels as if it’s on an inevitable and well earned direction, giving Welling and Rosenbaum some magnificent stuff to play with. Even Lana, now that Jason Teague and the whole witchcraft element is gone, is getting to share scenes with the rest of the ensemble that feel interesting and well played. Yes, she is being positioned in the show as Clark’s girlfriend now, and that has its own share of issues, but at least one isn’t watching her scenes like last year wondering why they just didn’t have her leave for Paris.
I know it’s early days yet, but this season already feels so much better, assured and confident than last year and we haven’t even gotten to the Milton Fine stuff yet.