Saturday, March 17, 2007

“Welcome to the family” – Smallville

The most accurate, all-encompassing way to describe Smallville’s latest would probably be ‘meh’. The episode, entitled ‘Promise’, was billed as an ‘event’ episode (the likes of which Smallville usually does well with – the last biggie of this season, ‘Justice’, was easily the show’s best episode to date) but actually 'Promise' did little to justify the hype. Big stuff happened, sure, and there were a few good moments – but overall it wasn’t nearly as shocking as season 5’s ‘Reckoning’ nor as entertaining as ‘Justice’.

The episode played with time by spending its first part on Clark’s emotional journey over the course of the wedding day, then its second on Lex’s and its third on Lana’s. While hardly revelatory, this approach paid off well by giving us different perspectives on identical scenes. The most important of these was Clark rescuing Chloe from a wine cellar by breaking off the door and then heat-visioning it back into place. First time around, this scene was pretty dull; only later did we learn that Lana was hiding behind some shelves watching to the whole thing. Aside from a rise in the music and Kreuk’s bulging eyes, the moment where Lana learned of Clark’s powers was curiously underplayed and felt like a non-event. Maybe this was intentional, but after building up to this reveal for five and a half seasons I would have preferred something more momentous and over the top. Still, at least she finally knows.

The main reason ‘Promise’ didn’t work, though, was the performances. At this point I’ve gotten used to the level of range Welling and Kreuk can display (Kreuk very little, Welling none) but when an episode places as much dramatic weight on them as ‘Promise’ did, one hopes they might step up their respective games just a little bit. Sadly not. Kreuk pulled the same faces as always and failed to carry off Lana's conflicting emotions – although to be fair, the writers have abused her character so consistently throughout the series’ run that she must be getting pretty tired of it all. Welling, however, was the real killer. His performance was utterly unimpassioned and displayed no traces of emotion. Normally Welling sort of gets away with this, but 'Promise' had some demanding scenes (Clark deciding he can’t let Lana marry Lex, Lana telling him she’s leaving Lex and kissing him, his reaction to Lana doing a 180 and going through with the ceremony) every one of which he murdered by barely even altering his expression at any point. And never has it been more evident than in ‘Promise’ that he and Kreuk have an embarrassing lack of chemistry.

It’s a shame really, since I've been impressed with some of Smallville’s recent episodes and I thought it was starting to settle into a good rhythm (lots of plot movement, plenty of mindless entertainment). ‘Promise’ should have paid off the Clark and Lana in a more satisfying way – either getting them together or having the girl in question reject both parties. As its ended up, it doesn’t really feel like anything has changed. Lana is still trapped in Lex’s mansion, with Clark still pining after her. You could argue that everything is different now than Lana knows about Clark’s powers, but I’m still waiting for the proof that Smallville will ever have it in itself to evolve.

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