One has to hand it to Steven S. De Knight. On occasion he’ll deliver an episode of Smallville that sometimes feels weirdly like an ill-placed call back to his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (‘Thirst‘, ‘Spell‘) and then the next time his name is credited on an episode it’s a wickedly brilliant character and suspense piece like ‘Splinter’.
Characters in genre television shows being confronted by images and things that aren’t really there, and which are in reality their most paranoid subconscious beliefs being brought forward by something of a science-fictional or fantasy nature, is one of those sub-genres of episodes that when television had to rely on stand alone stories would see TV shows excel with a chamber piece of brilliant character exploration.
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I haven’t mentioned The X-Files in a while, and so it is that I bring to your recollection season three’s brilliant ‘Wetwired’, or to take it back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer with season six’s ‘Normal Again’, which brilliantly took the notion of Buffy craving a possible normal life and turning it into something of an all too grim nightmare. ‘Splinter’ isn’t quite as masterful as those, but it is a lot of great fun, and coming off the back of a pair of weaker episodes, it gives the fifth season a jolt of thrilling energy that is most welcome.
This being Smallville, it comes down to meteor rocks, and it’s here the series introduces Silver Kryptonite: a rare piece of Superman lore that goes back to Jimmy Olson’s very own comic book series in the 1960s. While the eventual reveal during the episode’s climax that the existence of Silver Kryptonite is the work of Milton Fine trying to inveigle his way into Clark’s life, it never feels like a cheat, instead coming across as a brilliant escalation of the season’s bigger picture of placing Brainiac front and centre as the season’s protagonist, and it’s always a joy to see James Marsters show up.
Overall it’s one of those episodes of television that does that thing we don’t get enough of a nowadays, of moving the bigger story arc forward a little but through the prism of a well done stand alone, that while it may not fully add anything grand to the series overall, you’re glad it exists because it gives everyone a chance – both in front of and behind the camera – to play to the strengths of the series.
The paranoid edge where Clark sees the things he fears the most is well played, and as is the case with this type of episode, the series gets to really enjoy placing characters into scenes and scenarios that are very much against the norm: Lana and Lex kissing; Jonathan selling out Clark to Lionel; Chloe revealing Clark’s secret to Lionel. We know things will go back to normal by the end of the episode, but the journey there is a very entertaining one and boosted by a committed performance by Tom Welling, who clearly relishes getting the chance to play Clark against the red and blue colour wearing hero type he frequently does. It’s an episode that reminds you just how finely layered and even complex a version of Clark Kent the actor is bringing to the screen.