Friday, August 19, 2011

Smallville - Season 2 - Rosetta

Okay. Well, contrary to what I wrote in my last blog entry, my plan to write reviews for select episodes of Smallville as I watch them has spectacularly failed. A combination of watching a lot of episodes in quick succession and having my AS results come out yesterday meant that I just haven't found the time to write stuff about invidual episodes. At the moment it looks like my easiest option will be to, once again, review the entire season as a whole. Who knows, this may be the way I review Smallville in future, or it may not. It depends. So at some point after I finish writing up this entry, I'm going to get straight to work on my review of Season 2 as a whole. In fact, the only reason this entry exists is because I simply couldn't bring myself to write about Season 2 without talking at great length about episode 17, Rosetta, primarily because it's such an important episode in the Smallville universe, and also because it's such a staggeringly brilliant episode. So, without further ado, I present to you my thoughts on episode 17, with my thoughts on the season as a whole to come later.

Now, there are so many fantastic things about this episode that it's actually quite hard to know where to begin; however, I suppose a good place to start would be the most obvious place.So I'm going to talk about the one thing that this episode is remembered most for. Christopher Reeve.

Christopher Reeve as Dr Virgil Swann

In Rosetta, Clark is summoned to New York to meet with the mysterious but brilliant Dr Virgil Swann, and it is from him that he finally learns some truths about his origins. Dr Swann is an expert of his field. He's a genius. He knows more about Clark's history than Clark does. And there was only ever really one person who could play him.

Words can't begin to describe how wonderful it was to see Christopher Reeve on screen again. I've made it no secret on this blog how much I love him as Superman/Clark Kent in the original Superman films, and even though both his age and paralysis ensured that he'd never get to play that role again, to see him play such an important role in the next generation's exploration of Superman was so joyous, and so right, and as good as it was ever going to get.

In a way, though, it was kind of painful to watch him on screen again. I've seen the first two Superman films more times than it would be wise to mention, so my mental image of Christopher Reeve has always been of this tall, strong, dashing guy with a fantastic smile. It's an image of him soaring through the skies and flying through space. But to see him in a wheelchair like that; so vulnerable, almost the antithesis of what he used to be (physically)... it really does break your heart. I mean, I knew that he'd been severely paralysed after a horse-riding accident, and I'd seen pictures of him in his wheelchair, but that was it. Until Rosetta, the image of him in a wheelchair had never quite felt real. It was only when I actually saw him in that episode that it really sunk in. But then again, I don't know what else I was expecting. But you know what I'm trying to say, right? Still, even though it's obvious that Christopher Reeve wasn't, at this stage in his life, quite what he used to be physically, it's things like this appearance in Smallville that showed he was still as mentally strong as ever. He didn't let his paralysis stop him from taking on acting roles. He dedicated his later life to being an activist for paralysis causes. And that's so admirable, and good on him for it.

I can't state well enough just how absolutely right the production team got it when they cast Christopher Reeve in that role (and I've heard that he returns for a further two more episodes - hooray!), because not only did that demonstrate their respect for the original films - without which, let's face it, Smallville probably wouldn't exist - but it also allowed the series to move forward. Now, let me explain the last part of that sentence. Smallville was never going to be popular with all the Superman fans. I mean, it's so radically different to the films, and it deals with some of the Superman mythology in such unexpected ways, that it was never going to go down well with everyone. And even for those who were fans of the show, I'm sure there were at least some who had some issues with accepting Tom Welling as Clark/the future Superman, seeing as Christopher Reeve (and, to a much lesser extent, Jeff East) made the role his own. (I'd like to point out that I'm not one of those people!) So to have Christopher Reeve appear in the show, telling Tom Welling's Clark that his name is Kal-El and that his home is Krypton, is effectively the act of passing on the cape. It establishes that the 21st century is home to a new Superman/Clark Kent. He's not the same as Christopher Reeve; he very much puts his own spin on it. But he's brilliant. And his name is Tom Welling. And it was only possible for all that to be established, I think, because of Christopher Reeve's appearance in that episode.

The two Supermans

Now, the second thing I wanted to talk about in relation to this episode is all the Superman mythology it explores. Up until Rosetta, Smallville had been understandably lacking in information about Clark's past - although, admittedly, the audience presumably already knew most of it when they started watching the show. But that all changed completely in this episode, in which Clark learns his true name, the name of his homeworld, and, at the same time, the fate of his homeworld. Now, on paper that might sound insignificant, but in the context of the episode - and even the series - itself, it's massive. Hearing the name "Kal-El", or just the word "Krypton", was like seeing things slowly starting to slot into place. It was as if the whole ethos of Superman was beginning to manifest itself in the show in a way it had never done before.

And the message that Jor-El left in the spaceship...
This is Kal-El of Krypton, our infant son, our last hope. Please protect him and deliver him from evil. We will be with you, Kal-El, for all the days of your life.
It's just so beautiful. And I know that Jor-El is written as an antagonist later on in the series - something which I'm not quite sure I agree with - but, at least for this episode, you get a real sense of the love Kal-El's parents had for him. Now, I'm an atheist, and so I'm not quite reconciled with the belief that our loved ones watch over us, but it is nevertheless an idea of which I'm very fond, and I just love the whole notion of Kal-El's parents watching over him for the rest of his life.

And all of that stuff really helped to make the episode so, so amazing, and so, so epic.

Clark learns his true name

The final thing I want to talk about is something that made the soundtrack lover part of me literally jump for joy when I heard it. The reintroduction of the John Williams score.

Now, anyone who knows anything about me knows how much I adore the music of John Williams. Even though I've yet to hear all of his scores, of the ones I've heard there is literally not one that I dislike. They're all phenomenal. Every single one of them. And one score that easily makes his Top 3 in my book is the score for Superman. It's a masterpiece. When John Ottman reused some of John Williams' themes in Superman Returns, I literally thought I'd die of happiness. And a similar thing happened with Rosetta. When the theme for Krypton played, I cheered. When part of the main Superman march played... well, I refer you to my reaction to the music of Superman Returns. I think that all Smallville has to do now to be 'complete' musically is to feature the Superman and Lois love theme when Lois Lane is eventually introduced. Even if it's only played for a moment, I'll be happy.

But I guess that only really focuses on how the soundtrack plays up to fans' love of the old score. It is also incredibly significant in this episode because it just adds even more to the whole idea of this episode being the episode which is much less about Smallville, and much more about the (to use that word again) mythology of Superman.

The soundtrack of the original films helped to define them. So having the same scores being reworked into the soundtrack for Smallville helps to make it clearer than ever before just what the series is building up to. It gives you a more insightful glimpse into just what things will be like at the end of the show's ten season journey.

Do you know, there are genuinely a million other things about this episode I could talk about, but I don't want this post to be too long, and neither do I want to have to wait much longer until I watch some more episodes of Season 3, so I think, faithful viewer, I'm going to have to wrap things up here. Before I go, though, I just want to say how much I enjoyed seeing Clark's regeneration-like pose in this episode:

Clark regenerates!

And also how great the twist was at the end where, after reading Jor-El's message, Clark fears what he may have been sent to the Earth to do, and what he may be destined to become:

Clark reads his father's message. "On this third planet from this star Sol, you'll be a god among men. They are a flawed race. Rule them with strength, my son. That is where your greatness lies."

Overall, this episode couldn't have been better. I rather liked the fact that there was no antagonist to suss out and defeat. I liked that it was just about Clark and his voyage of discovery. Here's hoping for more episodes like that.

This episode was certainly a highlight - if not the highlight - of the season for me, and that's saying something when you consider how strong a season Season 2 was. But, as I said at the beginning of the post, my thoughts on Season 2 are going to come in a later post. So until then, I'll stop typing here and get back to watching Season 3 (which I'm finding a bit underwhelming after Season 2, but you won't hear about that until I write a blog post for it!).

Best wishes!


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