It’s a common complaint nowadays that every television series begins with an in media res opening, a moment of heightened drama that an episode, or even a whole season, will then flashback from to show us how we got to that point. It’s become a trope so commonly deployed that it feels almost like a parody at times, and more often than not it feels more like a cynical attempt to get people to keep watching so a streamer can keep getting those views.
It wasn’t so frequently used back in 2006 when ‘Fanatic’ first aired; there were occasional uses of its in several X-Files episodes, most famously its mythology loaded multi-part episodes, and J.J. Abrams’ cult spy series Alias turned the conceit into something of an art form with frequently ingenious use, possibly leading the way for every other television show to rely on it going forward.
Smallville‘s usage of it here is quite gripping from the get go, opening with Lois seemingly about to assassinate Jonathan Kent during a campaign rally. It’s an intriguing way to begin the hour and while the subsequent episode that follows is perhaps not as enticing as that opening, and the eventual reveal is not playing into the brainwashing component that you might think is on the way, Wendy Mericle’s teleplay has an abundance of fun of dealing with Smallville‘s descent into small town politics that, given the iconic nature of these characters and the sandbox the series is playing with, feels bigger than it would have done had it been any other WB teen drama at the time. You could imagine Greg Berlanti’s Everwood dealing with stuff like this but not having the future Superman at the heart of it.
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If anything brings the episode down just a little it’s that it once again is utilising the ‘Lex has a stalker’ theme that recalls season four’s ‘Bound‘, even if ‘Fanatic’ is driven by different concerns and themes. Samantha herself is entertainingly played by Annie Burgstede, but the real joy here is in watching Jonathan, Clark, Lex and Lois navigating their way into a larger playing field than they have done previously.
As noted before, these are characters that are going to be part and parcel of one of the most expansive and iconic mythologies in the comic book genre, with tales of the Daily Planet, Lex’s megalomania, and stories that expand to battles and antagonists that lie beyond the cosmos, and who we are now seeing with their small town lives and soap operatic dramas start to be driven by their battle to be at the centre of the political stage. One could argue all they wanted about what these characters represent and what they believe in. I might be wrong but I don’t think political affiliation is mentioned, although given that the flyover state it’s set in and the backgrounds of the characters, it’s perhaps not rocket science to figure these things out.
It gives plenty of food for thought for the larger Superman story, especially given the eventual themes and settings of a free press and immigration that run throughout it; and with that I just realised that I’ve perhaps given my analysis of this particular episode too much gravitas, when in fact ‘Fanatic’ is just a fun stand alone from a series on very good form at this stage.