There’s always an inevitability that television shows with a mixture of stand-alone and all-important mythology episodes may look towards the big screen for inspiration. If one looks at The X-Files one can see there was a lot of imagination and originality, but sometimes the best episodes were taking inspiration from other sources. ‘Ice’, for example, was riffing a little on John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, and the resulting episode was magnificent.
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Smallville itself hasn’t been above riffing on blockbuster films outside of the Superman wheelhouse, and Steven S. DeKnight’s ‘Lockdown’ is perhaps evidence that the Smallville writers might have taken a work trip to see David Fincher’s Panic Room in 2002. While that might be seen as a lesser entry in Fincher’s filmography, it was one of those tight little thrillers that we don’t get enough of anymore, and there are elements of it in play during the early stages here. It eventually manages to swing away from the set-up of Lex stuck in a panic room while a villainous scheme plays out beyond the doors, and it’s once it manages to stake a course of its own that it flows better than it might have done otherwise.
DeKnight is a great writer with a great track record (Buffy, Angel), but his Smallville work does tend to swing from one end of the quality line to the other. Thankfully, this is isn’t as horrible as season four’s ‘Spell’ (and I apologise for always bringing that one up when writing about De Knight, but it’s hard not to) and functions as not only a great thriller which plays brilliantly with some of the Krypton mythos the series has been playing with up to this point, but also in exploring Clark and Lana’s relationship, the developing schism with Lex and the knowledge that these characters are now into the throes of adulthood and contending with their problems in a vastly different way.
What had threatened to become something of an albatross around Smallville‘s neck has turned into something emotionally intriguing here, although if one wants to look for it, the shadow of a dreaded trope does appear to be creeping in. Yes, this is a WB series, soon to be CW – the UPN/WB merger would happen by the time season six rolled around – and one gets the sense that a Lex/Clark/Lana love triangle is on the cards. The schism that appears to be developing between Clark and Lex will no doubt need a catalyst to further it along, but what is working is that there are some great dramatic beats to be had with Clark and Lana themselves, given that last season Lana felt like a dead weight of a character that should have exited at the end of season three.
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Even better at this stage is the sense of something on the horizon, a sense of change for the series. In many ways it has been on a course of development and change the whole season, but the next episode sees the series enter its one hundredth episode, and after four and a half seasons of growing up, you get the sense that a life changing lesson is on the cards.