It was all going so well. We had the Aquaman episode last week, the introduction of Milton Fine to the series, Clark without powers for a small story arc at the start of the season, and Lex Luthor finally flipping towards the dark side (or at least a darker side than we had seen previously). But for whatever reason, we now get a return to the more supernatural trappings of last season with ‘Thirst’.
Luckily this appears to be for the sake of a standalone episode, and there are hints that the larger story arc at play will continue unabated in terms of being good, but Steven S. DeKnight once again harkens back to his Buffy days that only serves to remind us that Smallville is not Buffy.
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Look, I love Smallville, and while it is a very entertaining series and one of the best Superman live action adaptations produced, one could never say it’s quite in the thematic wheelhouse of the iconic horror series. Buffy, and even Angel, have such a plethora of books out there that study the themes and philosophy of its world, that it was something of a cottage industry even after both series left the air, and while Smallville is a fantasy series and frequently uses a lot the genre trappings within it, anytime witchcraft or vampirism comes up, it feels like the wrong genre connections are being made.
There is a great framing device to this one; Chloe is applying for an intern job at the Daily Planet and recounts the events of the episode to the editor there. Perry White hasn’t made it to the top job yet, so instead we we have Carrie Fisher as Pauline Khan, a glorious piece of casting and another nod and a wink to an era of blockbuster cinema that produced the initial Superman movies that Smallville has always been adept at paying tribute to. Of course, Fisher was never in a Superman movie, but Star Wars and the Donner/Lester Superman films always had this era-defining feeling of going hand-in-hand, given how influential they were, that it makes complete sense that they add her to their roster of big name guest stars that has also included Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Live and Let Die‘s Jane Seymour.
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You always get the impression that Gough and Millar and their writers love these little casting choices and use them whenever they can, and Fisher herself is a great presence here even though one can’t help but wish the episode was one of the good ones.
Now that the series is set at Metropolis University, it was probably inevitable that we’d get an ‘evil sorority/fraternity’ story, and DeKnight, frequently a great writer on this series as well as with his prior work on the Buffy/Angel verse, goes for the obvious notion of vampirism here, and even throws in a character with the name of Buffy Sanders to get a laugh out of the audience but which just reminds you how obvious all of this is that you just want push it aside quickly to get back to the good stuff, such as finally showing Fine and James Marsters’ performance in a way that situates him as a great villain going forward.
It’s just a shame that it’s been placed into this season’s equivalent of last year’s ‘Spell‘.