Having spent the bulk of the season on the periphery of events but clearly having some sort of influence on what is going on, ‘Solitude’ sees the fifth season of Smallville kick up a gear with Milton Fine finally being unveiled as a villainous centre of the story. It goes without saying that this is a very entertaining episode.
The intriguing part of the episode is that while the audience doesn’t suspect that Martha Kent is going to die as a result of being struck by ‘lightning’, the threat that Jor-El has left hovering over events this year means that we know the series has to pay that off, and given that Superman lore tells us Jonathan Kent is the loss in Clark’s life that teaches him the lesson that he can’t save everyone (think Glenn Ford’s devastating death scene in Superman: The Movie or Kevin Costner’s stoic, and controversial, sacrifice in Man of Steel), one wouldn’t be surprised if Smallville would subvert expectations as it occasionally has done in the past.
There’s a palpable sense of suspense and potential for emotional devastation lying in wait, and writers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer go to town with an episode that has Clark desperate to believe Milton Fine but we the audience already know that betrayal lies in wait. It gives events here a genuinely gripping air as the proverbial penny is just waiting to drop at some point.
Given how Jor-El has been portrayed as a booming and threatening voice throughout the series, even though Fine is being positioned as a villain because he’s Brainiac, his story of Jor-El being someone with fascistic tendencies potentially has the ring of truth because we know the character, and what we’ve seen of him (or heard in this case) potentially tracks with the way we’ve seen him treat Clark throughout the series so far.
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It’s a brilliant conceit that everyone runs with here, not least because the episode finally allows James Marsters off the leash a little. While his performance as Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rightly lauded, it’s easy to forget just how vindictively evil that character was when he first arrived before he was (literally) neutered so as to give a valid reason to have him stick around but not kill the lead characters. Smallville doesn’t fall back on that, and allows the villainous charm that the actor brought to his previous iconic role to subside into something more dangerous and threatening here.
The final moments of the episode might suggest that Fine is defeated, but we know this show well enough that it feels like only a small stop-gap on the way to a bigger picture, but it gives the final moments another thrilling jolt of energy in an episode filled with drama, suggesting once again that Smallville has rebounded after a weak fourth season and is on something of a creative high again.