This review may contain spoilers.
He might not be the Luthor that everyone has been waiting for all season, but Lionel Luthor – as portrayed by the great John Glover – is certainly an exciting addition to a season already richly tapping into the decade of history that “Smallville” has established.
As viewers know, Tess (Cassidy Freeman) recently discovered that Lionel was her biological father, making her a Luthor by blood. This secret is at the forefront in the aptly titled “Luthor,” as Clark discovers that the final Lex clone – whom Tess has been keeping hidden – has gone missing. Declaring Luthor blood to be “poison,” he is then swept into an alternate reality wherein he himself has been raised as Lionel’s son.
The theme here, of course, is whether or not one’s genetic history predestines them to follow in their parent’s footsteps or if they possess the ability to shape their own fate and achieve redemption, just as Tess has been attempting to do all season, first by trying to prevent Alexander from turning into the monster that Lex (Michael Rosenbaum) grew into and then by assuming Chloe’s (Allison Mack) Watchtower duties.
The alternate reality makes for a fun ride, allowing Glover to relish the deliciously fiendish character he played during the show’s first seven seasons. Plus, it gives the show’s talented cast some room to stretch their muscles and explore how these characters would be the same as well as different if Clark were to never become the hero we all know and love.
Glover may have been absent from the show since season seven, but it feels as if he never left. As soon as he appears onscreen, he demands every bit of your attention. Lionel has always been one of the more fascinating “Smallville” characters, and this storyline gives him a chance to receive a proper send-off, since he was unceremoniously killed off in a disappointingly anticlimactic confrontation with Lex.
The writers also do a great job giving the episode something of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” feel but without ever slipping too easily into cliché. Oliver’s (Justin Hartley) desire not to face the criminal element of Metropolis – including Ultraman, the alias that alt-reality Clark uses to terrorize the city – alone but to have a team of heroes with him was an especially nice touch, as was the seemingly omnipresent bond Lois (Erica Durance) and Clark.
“Luthor” even featured a cool reference back to Veritas, the secret organization Lionel spearheaded to find The Traveler from another world a.k.a. Clark. Despite being one of the more random and poorly conceived subplots of season seven, its reference here does earn the writers some points, continuity-wise.
What Didn’t Work
The entire crux of the episode hinges on Clark’s assertion that anyone in the Luthor clan is essentially as toxic as Lex was. However, while it serves the purposes of this story and provides a nice moment at the end between Clark and Tess, this statement doesn’t really fall in line with the “Smallville” mythology.
True, Lex may be pure evil and Clark’s arch-nemesis, but Lionel did eventually see the light and spent his last few seasons of on-screen life protecting Clark’s secret from his own son. One can’t help but wonder if the writers couldn’t have found a way to drive home Clark’s point without contradicting the story they’ve been telling all along.
In addition, the final scene is lacking any sense of logic whatsoever. It’s never explained how Lionel managed such a feat. Hopefully, this will be explained in a future episode. Otherwise, it’s a remarkably huge plot hole.
In any case, this marks another solid episode in the show’s final season and truly does whet fans’ collective appetite for Rosenbaum to finally make his long-awaited reappearance by season’s end. Let’s just hope that “Smallville” can deliver the goods.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
“Smallville” stars Tom Welling, Erica Durance, Justin Hartley, Cassidy Freeman and Allison Mack. “Luthor” was written by Bryan Q. Miller and directed by Kelly Souders.
“Smallville” airs Fridays at 8pm E.T. on The CW.