TV Discussion

Smallville 5×19 – ‘Mercy’ – TV Rewind

There’s an enjoyably pulsating feel to Steven S DeKnight’s ‘Mercy’. DeKnight’s episodes have frequently run the gamut of either being brilliant or missing the mark by trying something new for the series, but this is one of those intense little thrillers that Smallville frequently does well.

There’s little here that calls back to the comic book origins of the series. This episode’s antagonist is a concoction straight from the imagination of the writers of the show, and with it comes so many key moments that play with where the series is at in this stage of its run.

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While Michael Rosenbaum’s performance as Lex Luthor has always been a vital one for the series from the very beginning, John Glover as his father Lionel has also been a key component of Smallville‘s brilliance. This past season has allowed the actor and the character to shift gears somewhat. While positioned as the villain since Lex hadn’t made the turn yet, with that switch to villainy having finally happened, the writers have taken a more suspenseful approach with Lionel as a result.

© 2006 Warner Bros. Television.

Instead of just doubling down on the villainy within the Luthor family, Smallville has zeroed in on Lex turning to the darker side of his own impulses while playing something of an entertaining game with the audience regarding Lionel’s motivations. It’s not that the audience is willing to trust Lionel, but given his increasingly close proximity to Martha following Jonathan’s death and the possibility of his knowing Clark’s secret, the increasing layers of complexity and suspense that come with whatever the character is doing is more fun than the series turning Lex into a romantic rival for Lana’s affections.

While Lionel is kidnapped and his life is in danger to increasingly suspenseful effect here, you can just feel a little bit of the show die inside as it navigates its way to a love triangle involving Lex, Lana, and Clark. It’s too obvious and plays into what was mostly expected from WB/CW shows at the time. Given that Smallville‘s television homes were famous for young adult dramas that played that trope frequently, it’s somewhat regretful to see Smallville fall into that trap, given how well it has subverted expectations in the past with its use of the Superman lore.

© 2006 Warner Bros. Television.

Of course, there have always been love rivals for Lana’s affections, and with Chloe an unrequited love for Clark, but with Lois Lane around and the series acknowledging the future directions of the character and the Superman story, the audience can’t help but get the impression that the writers are stuck between staying in the very past they have created and moving forward. With Lionel here they have shown a willingness to play brilliantly with what they’ve established before. It also helps that the writing for Martha and Lionel, as well as both Glover and Annette O’Toole, brings some serious A-game to many fantastically complex scenes.

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What’s even more galling about the Lana/Lex/Clark triangle is that this season did a great job of having Lana feel like a vital part of the show again. However, in moving towards the obvious territory, it can’t help but feel as if the series might be on the cusp of losing its way during the tail end of a season that rebounded after the weaknesses of its predecessor and that would be a shame.

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