Smallville, “Luthor”

Time travel, alternate universes, these storytelling techniques are such gimmicks — gimmicks Smallville uses on a fairly regular basis. However, because the series is so good when they do employ this gimmicks, I’m willing to give them a reprieve for dipping into an elseworlds-type tale in “Luthor.” Plus, the series is based on a comic book for god’s sake, so I’m not sure the same televisual rules really apply.

For the most part, the events of Luthor don’t really have that much of an impact on the ongoing plot of Smallville‘s final season. Tess comes across one of Lionel’s Kryptonian artifacts, shows it to Clark and bomb, CK is transported to an alternate universe where he was raised by Lionel to be a blood-thirsty killer who takes part in a slightly creepy, but kind of compelling sexual relationship with his “sister” Tess. Meaning, the evil version of Clark from this universe gets transported to the “normal” universe, and all hell breaks loose in both places. It’s a total gimmick and an obvious way for the series to bring back John Glover’s Lionel for the first time since season seven, but the episode is so damn fun to watch that it doesn’t really matter.

When people always discuss Lionel’s appearance on the series during the first seven years, they usually go straight for the excellent relationship between he and Lex, which kept the series afloat during some of the weaker seasons and always gave Smallville more credibility than some think it deserved. And while Glover and Michael Rosenbaum were awesome together, it seems the chemistry between Glover and Tom Welling has flown under the radar since Glover left, and so above anything else, it’s nice to see the two of them back together, especially in an antagonistic way, here. Moreover, Glover is having an unbelievably good time in this episode, playing the vicious side of Lionel that he really didn’t get to play for most of his last three years on the series. This is big bad Lionel from season three, only on steroids. He’s in full magnificent bastard mode and it’s just a beautiful thing to watch.

Of course, the alternate universe means everyone gets to play a different version of themselves, or at least a slightly different version. Tess, having been raised and then discarded by Lionel, his much more vicious and attacking than the one we’re used to seeing. Lois and Oliver are kind of the same people, but just more dejected and beaten down by their world’s Clark so that they just seem depressed on the day of their own engagement party.

And on the flip side of the universes, Tom Welling’s performance as Clark Luthor is unsurprisingly awesome. Welling has, from the very beginning of the series, been much better as a different version of “normal” Clark and though his performance of that role has certainly improved to a nice level in the last few seasons, Clark Luthor/Ultraman allows him to connect with that dickhead, evil, son of a bitch version of Clark that is always so awesome to see.

So, in a lot of ways, an episode like this just relies on the enjoyment that the audience gets out of the actors playing slightly different roles. On that level, “Luthor” is a total success. However, the more I thought about the episode, I realized that it did have some sort of point, albeit not a very massive or obvious one.

A lot of this season has been about the “darkness” inside Clark and some of the inner turmoil he’s faced with his familial issues and so it makes sense that “Luthor” falls into that storyline expansion because it discusses what would have happened had Clark not been raised by the Kents. It’s an easy card to play, but I think Clark’s time over in the other universe will show him that he was raised the right way, and no matter what kind of dark feelings are inside of him, he will figure it out because he’s been taught the right ways to do it. It’s not a major lesson and the series might not even bring it up again, but it at least gives this episode some character and story importance past “Damn, that’s awesome!”

More obviously, this episode is going to have impact later in the season because altLionel snuck into the “normal” universe behind Clark, which is just one hell of a move on the writers’ part. Sure, it’s gimmicky, but again, there’s really no better gimmick or no better character to bring back into the fold. I can’t wait to see how this Lionel wrecks Metropolis and tries to take down Clark’s life. Just a fun episode this week, folks.

Other thoughts:

  • Nice work by Kelly Souders in her first directing stint, and especially nice work by the director of photography/cinematographer. The alternate universe looked beautifully ugly and grey in all the best ways.
  • I would never say that I’m happy Allison Mack is gone, but it’s very, very obvious that her departure has meant a lot more stuff for Cassidy Freeman and Tess to do, and I will never, ever complain about that. Tess has been the MVP of the season thus far, and her relationship with Clark is compelling as hell. I love Clark and Lois together, but Clark and Tess? Wow.

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