TV Discussion

Smallville 5×18 – ‘Fragile’ – TV Rewind

It’s been a while since Smallville has played the card of having Clark Kent find a common emotional ground with a younger character who also happens to be gifted in ways similar to him. Although it’s not a trope the show has used frequently, it’s one that remains memorable thanks to earlier classics in the show’s run such as ‘Stray‘ and its emotionally devastating sequel ‘Ryan‘ which indicated that that the writers weren’t afraid to go into deeply emotional territory.

There is more of a horror undercurrent to ‘Fragile’ which makes it an interesting comparison in terms of tone to last week’s Flatliners-inspired detour into medical horror. Some might complain about this all being nothing more than a filler episode – although there are some pivotal Lex/Lana moments that will be explored shortly – but it once again shows that what’s missing from television shows with shorter runs and emphasis on serialisation is the ability to be more open to varying stories and experimentation.

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Not that ‘Fragile’ is  the series being in any way experimental; written by Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer, this plays some of the greatest hits from Smallville‘s arsenal of previous episodes: gifted characters, evil parents with ulterior and violent motives, misunderstandings from those in authorities that leads to lead characters being placed in danger, while the supernatural gifts of its young guest star plays into the type of things we’ve seen in so many horror movies and episodes of The Twilight Zone or The X-Files.

As this is season five of Smallville, it manages to play those hits entertainingly well and benefits greatly from a great guest cast including Emily Hirst as Maddie and Callum Keith Rennie as her father Tyler. There is always something reassuring about watching a genre series and seeing Rennie show up, as he is prone to do in so many genre television shows, particularly those filmed in Canada.

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It’s a stock in trade for Smallville to bring things back to parental or authoritarian characters who have deadly motives; for all the luck Clark has in being raised by the late Jonathan Kent, not every character with gifts similar to his own have been as lucky and the moment Tyler shows up, the audience knows that things are going to take a turn into deadlier territory.

The monster-of-the-week element is very entertaining, but one can’t help but wince a little as to where the Lex Luthor component of the series is veering into. Look, it was inevitable that he would become the villain and the series has hinted at it brilliantly for the past five years, and now that the turn has happened, you can sense the series breathing a dark sigh of relief that it can let the character and Rosenbaum’s definitive performance off the hook a little.

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However, it’s heading into the direction of a love triangle which can’t help but feel a little trite and unfortunately too obvious, especially given that this was a WB/CW series. His taunting of Chloe’s lack of romance is a vindictive and hurtful scene, but is admittedly well played, showing that underneath the character we grew to love over the first four seasons lay the heart of a monster unafraid to be mean on top of the possibilities of megalomaniacal tendencies.

While his pursuit of Lana feels manipulative, you know it’s not beyond the series for him to actually be in love with her too, and given that the writers managed to make Lana feel like a solid part of the series again this season after the disaster that was her story arc in season four, it can’t help but leave a sour taste that the lead female character is nothing more but a pawn in the scheming of its villain and emotional well-being of its heroic lead, especially when it does so well with Chloe and Lois.

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