One can always expect something good from a Smallville episode when it’s written by Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson, and ‘Hidden’, their first script for the fifth season, is as characteristically brilliant as one would expect from this writing team. There is a minor nagging issue to be had here and that is that it brings the ‘Clark as a human’ story arc to an end after a mere three episodes. It may not have been a feasible enough storyline to last all season, but it does come to a surprisingly exciting conclusion here, with a ticking time bomb scenario and some very choice interactions and confrontations dotted throughout.
It all starts innocently and fun enough; Clark sneaking Lana out of the house only to be discovered by Jonathan and Martha is cute, funny and the type of thing one would expect from a non-fantasy flavoured teen drama on a regular basis. Here it’s used as a moment of genuine comedic humanity that Clark wants from everyday life but which by the end of the hour will be out of his hands yet again. The way that Souders and Peterson’s script can move from gently amusing and teen romantic-comedy moments to a plot line that is a big and cinematic one, involving Smallville nearly being wiped off the map says a lot about how subtly elastic the tone of the series can be when its moving parts are working at their peak.
Yes, this is an episode that begins with a PG-rated teen sex farce and ends with Clark in space, via a detour which sees Lionel Luthor possessed by Jor-el and channelling Marlon Brando with his body language. This might sound like a recipe for something too silly, too broad and tonally all over the place but I weirdly loved every second of it, but then again I’ve always had a soft spot for these two writers who never forget that they’re writing both a WB teen drama and a Superman television series at the same time.
This is also an hour of the series that can have some angsty fun by temporarily killing off Clark for a few minutes and get into the dramatics of how it affects Lana, Martha and Jonathan. Even more beautifully, it sets up an intriguing plot strand going forward. The audience is primed not to expect things to come easy from the interventions of Jor-El, and having John Glover effectively play the role this week is a lot of fun. However, the revelation that in giving Clark back his powers there has to be some sort of balance and that his return to the land of the living has to come at the expense of someone else gives the season going forward a palpable suspenseful air, leaving one anticipating with dread who the writers will kill off somewhere down the line.
The smart money is clearly on one character in particular, only because of the nature of the Superman story, but the great thing about Smallville at its best is that even though the obvious choice is Jonathan Kent, the fact the series has never been afraid to subvert or challenge the storytelling beats of one of the most famous stories in comic books means that all bets are off.