On Friday, after news that Michael Rosenbaum refused to appear on the Smallville final season, the erstwhile Lex Luthor finally acquiesced to appear on the show's last episode. This news gave last Friday's episode, "Beacon," a little more narrative heft, as the episode was all about the super-fast-aging clone Lex and his machinations for Clark and company. Unfortunately, "Beacon" was also filled with start-stop character development that prevented anything interesting from actually happening.

Lately Smallville stories have been of four vintages, which tend to overlap:

1.)"Big moment" episodes (i.e. Lois figures out Clark's identity, Clark proposes to Lois, Clark gets a new pleather jacket).
2.) The "old cast member makes a victory lap" episodes (James Marsters as Brainiac, John Glover as alternate universe Lionel Luthor, Rosenbaum).
3.) The semi-obscure "DC character gets Smallvillized" episodes (Mera, Rick Flagg, Glorious Godfrey).
4.) Episodes that focus on the Vigilante Registration Act (VRA), that nasty piece of legislation which is making the superheroes' lives so difficult.

"Beacon" relied heavily on vintages 2 and 4. We had cameos from Alt-Lionel and Senator Martha Kent, who's shot by a mysterious assailant at an anti-VRA rally. Her would-be assassin turns out to be clone Lex, whose Kryptonite bullet (groan) was meant for an overprotective Clark. Clone Lex (whom I will henceforth refer to as "Clex") has escaped from the prison cell Tess condemned him to before Smallville went on a holiday hiatus.

It turns out that Clex wants to kill absolutely everybody — Clark, Lionel (his neglectful father from an alternate reality), Martha (for being related to Clark), Tess (for sending him to evil clone jail) — but not in any narratively cogent way. In fact, his main ploy is to pout, throw whiskey bottles, and wave his Kryptonite revolver (double groan) in character's faces like it was the shame-inducing visage of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. There was the interesting possibility that Tess or Clex would reach an uneasy alliance with their estranged alternate reality father, but that plot went nowhere fast.

This was the greatest sin of "Beacon." It tried to accomplish so much (alt-Lionel's return, Clex's return, Chloe's return, the repeal of the VRA) in 60 minutes that absolutely nothing happened. Cassidy Freeman's been doing a fine job depicting Tess' wavering allegiances (Is she loyal to Clark? Granny Goodness? The Luthors?), and every time this episode gave Freeman something to work with, the plot point was immediately shelved. "Beacon" was also hobbled by some heavy-handed soap operatics. Clex just couldn't stop throwing those damn whiskey bottles. Well, they could've been Cognac or grappa bottles, but who's keeping score?

The biggest plot payoff came at the end of the episode — after accepting Clex back into her life, Tess has a volte-volte-face and decides she's going to mercy kill him (in the Kent barn, no less). Instead of poisoning Alexander's little rich kid ceviche or uninstalling the radon detectors in his bedroom or shooting him in the neck with a blowgun or any number of mildly subtle ways to murder somebody, Tess literally stabs him in the back with a big-ass syringe filled with cyanide. Well, technically she stabs him in the nape of his neck, but "stabbed in the nape" sounds like an early draft of Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name."

Anyway, the syringe breaks in a half because — in addition to his super-aging — Clex has mysterious super-indestructibility. Tess begins crying because she's ashamed of herself or because now she has to schedule 50+ depressing birthday parties for Clex in the next two months. But in all seriousness, kudos to Freeman for giving this facepalm-worthy metaphor some emotional gravitas.