Few would look to Smallville for examples of how best to pull off a high concept episode – certainly not an alternate reality one. The last time the show attempted one of these was last season’s underwhelming ‘Lexmas’, a Christmas-themed fantasy where Lex found himself married to Lana and living the perfect life; until she dies giving birth to their second child. It was a pretty pathetic episode, not to mention completely pointless. “I want it all!” proclaimed Lex at the end of said episode, hinting at the evil coming up the surface; only for that plot to fall on the backburner for the rest of the season.
‘Labyrinth’ is a similarly meandering episode. After being attacked by some form of monster from the Phantom Zone (they escaped along with Clark in the season opener and have been harassing him ever since) Clark wakes up in a mental institution, his powers gone. Everyone thinks he’s crazy; his bespectacled doctor tells him he dreamed up all the super-powers business as a way of coping with the death of his birth parents. “In a world where you had no power, you chose to give yourself super-powers,” he drones sagely. Wow, deep stuff. After an astonishingly easy escape, Clark finds that everything has changed: Lex lost his legs and is in a wheelchair, his mother is married to Lionel, and, most enticingly, Lana is still in love with him.
Alternate reality episodes can be gripping, even when they are so obviously false; a good example is ‘Normal Again’, a sixth season Buffy offering. ‘Labyrinth’, however, spent too long trying to come up with convincing explanations for how and why Clark dreamed it all up, an utterly pointless venture since we all know it’s fake. There were some freaky moments, though – Chloe getting gunned down was somewhat terrifying, especially if it's foreshadowing something – and overall it was a fairly entertaining episode by Smallville standards.
The good bits:
-Although I said the stuff explaining how Clark dreamed it all up was pointless, I must admit that the sequence where everything in his room reflected his life – a book called ‘Fortress of Solitude: A Prison Memoir’, a nurse called Raya, and soap called Jorel – was pretty amusing.
-The confrontation between Clark and alternate Lex was well done, especially by Rosenbaum, who sold one particular line (see the post title) with a startling level of emotion.
Some of the bad stuff:
-Lana, alternate or otherwise, was just as irritating and wishy-washy as ever.
-Tom Welling, sadly, cannot act. He proves it in every episode that puts him centre stage, and he’s proved it again here.
-If the Phantoms really wanted to entice Clark to this alternate world, wouldn’t they have put Jonathan in it too? Is it too easy to criticize Smallville for its plot holes? Yes, and yes.
Plot-wise, the episode concluded with Clark admitting to Chloe that he’s still in love with Lana (who will soon be marrying Lex). It also marked the debut of Phil Morris as The Martian Manhunter; you'll know Morris better as the hilarious Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld. Lets hope it's all leading somewhere interesting.