Season ReviewsTelevision

Episode Breakdown – SMALLVILLE Season 1 (2001-2002)

220+ episodes about a young Clark Kent and the assorted meteor freaks goes through some major re-directions during its decade on the air. Spurred on by me starting the Always On To Smallville podcast (and wanting to take my time with The X-Files) I decided to watch a show that I ended up stuck with for years…how do the episodes hold up? Let’s find out…

It’s very much how you’d expect a show about a young teenage Superman to unfold. The premise is established – a young Clark Kent discovers he’s actually an alien and the town of Smallville is full of freaks with oddly specific abilities due to a meteor shower that happened the same time as his arrival. Regardless of the countless problems that will happen to the show in its future seasons, the pilot isn’t bad. Some members of the cast don’t seem to have turned on their acting ability, but Michael Rosenbaum and John Schneider are easily the best versions of Lex Luthor and Jonathan Kent seen on screen.

Arguably the second half of a two-part pilot that has it’s own central stand-alone plot. Foundations built in the pilot reach more of a hook-y conclusion in regards to establishing the characters and the main trio of Clark, Lex and Lana. The main plot involving a boy who controls bugs is disposable, and the show misses a trick in how Greg’s stalking of Lana is mirrored by Clark staring at Lana through a telescope. It’s definitely one you need to watch right after the pilot, however. It’s doing well in setting up how and what it wants to explore.

Credit when credit’s due – the episode manages to have concurrent themes of attempting to step out of a parent’s shadow with Clark, Lana and Lex doing things against their parental figure’s wishes. Retrospectively, they seem to try and do their best with Lana’s character (and it’s even humorous). John Glover gets a proper introduction as Lionel Luthor and gives the show a proper recurring villain. Even Chloe starts to slowly get integrated into the main narratives. The main problem that the show has is the freak of the week and formulaic mechanics required to set them up. The whole build-up of the coach is hilarious in an unintentional way.

How long before the “freak of the week obsessing over Lana Lang” becomes overused? Because it’s happened again in the space of three episodes. However, this has a young Lizzy Caplan a gimmick as she shape-shifts into other people (like, um… Lex robbing a bank) whilst wanting to be Lana. The implementation of Clark’s new powers works, and it’s great to see Lana get a decent emotional plot regarding her mother. We also see the first real signs of Lex’s future self as he deals with crooked reporter Roger Nixon and we’re seeing Lex’s obsession with the car accident develop.

Chloe gets to be the damsel in distress this week when a kid absorbs heat. But the real meat of this episode is the Clark/Lana dynamic shifting towards friendship on her part and the growing distrust Jonathan has for Lex. The Jonathan/Lex scenes are really good if a little let down by some of the writing – I’d forgotten how stalkerish Lex can be. He’s very full on and he’s not really known Clark that much. He’s very much like Tina from the previous episode. Just a shame the freak plot is extremely laughable.


Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

The ideas of fate and destiny take a back-seat in an episode that should’ve taken the idea of people not being able to change who they really are as an old murderer regains his youth. The show does take a step back and refrain from trying to firmly establish itself as people either pro or against the idea of destiny despite the portents involved. The episode is probably remembered as being a lot better than it probably is due to the ending that shows Lex’s future. It’s a very, very good moment and not only shoe-horns a lot of comic ideas as canon in Smallville, Lex’s horrified reaction is played with perfection by Rosenbaum.

Oscar winner Amy Adams guests as a fat-sucking vampire with bad effects and a fat suit. As silly as it sounds and there’s not even a lot of thematic subplots to carry the episode. The Lana/Lex subplot is quite interesting as their friendship develops. There’s even a scene where Lex confides in Clark about how he lost his hair, later confirming it’s because he trusts Clark. It also introduces Steven Hamilton, played by Joe Morton – which isn’t a bad shout. The ending is also pretty sweet as well.

Tony Todd turns up as an ex-LuthorCorp employee (and ex-Kent Farm employee) who gets the literal jitters. He then takes a load of kids hostage and the story turns into a complex one that draws a lot of parallels to Lex and Clark. It’s probably the first *great* episode of the show, and Lex learns a lot about his dad in a few hours. It also manages to help shift the Lex/Clark friendship slightly – and the final image works very well. There are some fun scenes that encapsulate Superman-as-a-teen where he tries to clean the house using his speed but misses his parents coming home. John Glover chews the scenario like no-one’s business when he appears, interacting with the Kents and hinting to previous encounters….

The first episode where there’s no freak-of-the-week and you’d be not-that-surprised to find that it’s a very strong episode where the fact the villain is human works in its favour. Phelan works well as a villain and the inclusion of Lex in the main A-Plot again makes the series feel stronger. What the episode does is prove that the series is capable of being more than what it has been. The idea of Clark having the strength to kill someone isn’t touched upon as much as it should do, but the foundations of the idea are there. That said, as good as the main plot is – the Chloe/Lana B-plot is so underwritten it’s a bit ridiculous. It’s an excuse to reveal and develop the inevitable triangle between them and Clark.

YAY – it’s the return of obsessive stalkers! All the people that got affected by the meteor rocks just happen to share a bunch of similar mental health issues. This time its invisibility and a bunch of twins. The twist of who the freak is isn’t really a twist even though the episode tried still make it a twist. The season’s character arcs are developing nicely, and there’s even some nice development of Whitney (as predictable as it was) and it’s an example of Clark’s honest nature. Even though the metaphorical talk of dusk/and Clark and Lana’s relationship is unintentionally hilarious.

A low-key freak-of-the-week is quite effective as shady businessman who can make people do what he wants does battle with Clark and another guy who can make people do whatever he wants. Again the story boils down to exploring the Lex/Clark friendship and leads to a great finale where Lex. under Bob’s influence, chases down Clark with an Uzi. It’s a cool moment as the two future enemies clash with each other, and Clark learns that he’s bullet proof. The theme of clashing and being at odds with each other echoes down through to Lana and Clark being at odds over Whitney. What’s important though is that the episode also one of the first to develop the eventually annoying habits of characters lazily talking about “our friendship” far too often. Just didn’t realise it started this early…


Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

One of the Ashmore’s (I can’t remember which one, I’m going to guess Shawn) gets Clark’s powers and Clark becomes “normal”. Naturally the kid goes a bit nuts and people start seeing him as a freak; which leads Clark to realising why he has a secret. The episode’s core theme, which it makes the centre of the episode, is more about who Clark is and how he’s more than just strength and speed. A key theme of the season that Gough and Miller have said in interviews is that the season is very much asking “who am I?” This episode puts that question at the forefront and shows more about Clark’s natural tendency to be heroic and standing up for people by default. At least the show has already started some kind of self-awareness as Clark’s habit of pushing people around thirty feet away gets transferred as well. Important gift, that is.

The show’s attempt at a Whitney-centric episode with crooks that can phase through walls doesn’t really hit what it wants to hit. Whitney hasn’t earned the audience’s sympathy despite the set-up of what’s happening to his father for us to really care what happens to him, despite Clark’s attempts to save him. The episode already feels like it’s recycling similar plot beats from further episodes and cracks in the consistency of the Clark/Lex dynamic are starting to show as I’m sure they’re supposed to be more awkward with other at this point. Points deducted for the most stupid way for a villain to attempt to kill someone via crushing Whitney with a car and allowing himself to be killed.

Funnily enough, the stronger episodes of the first season of Smallville appear to be written by Mark Verheiden. He also wrote Rogue and it shows as this shares similar dark stylings of that episode. It also delves into Lex’s past and explores what happened at the oft-referenced Club Zero. The final twist of who’s responsible is a little bit of an anticlimax but the exploration of the lengths Lex goes through is good enough. A brave move for the show is that the initial sci-fi hook regarding Corin Nemec’s character turns out to not have any fantastical elements to it. The episode also introduces a storyline that is intriguing and taps into parts of Superman lore that this show is in the unique position to explore: the circumstances around Clark’s adoption. There’s a mystery here and the show sets this up brilliantly.

Certain members of the cast have a little bit of fun as a wild flower makes them do weird stuff. Jonathan Kent turns into a teenager, Pete goes mad and Lana becomes a carefree extrovert with a body double. It’s another episode that doesn’t hinge on freaks and again manage to focus on the central characters and advances the relationships of the characters. Annette O’Toole finally gets a chance to shine in an absolutely heartbreaking scene next to a comatose Jonathan. In other news: the increasing uselessness of Whitney as a character is quite hilarious, and the Smallville amnesia curse kicks in again.

Clark befriends a young boy who can read minds who is on the run from his very dodgy gun-happy step-father. The episode gives Clark the chance to be an older brother to the young boy, called Ryan, and foreshadows the inspirational figure he’s destined to become. It’s all handled in the show’s usual unsubtle way via the use of comic books and a character called “Warrior Angel”. Plus as bad as the CGI is, Clark throwing the bowling ball around thirty feet was a cool way of dispatching the villain. Unsurprisingly, the best part of the episode concerns Lex and his decision to not take his father’s invitation to go back to Metropolis, preferring to stay in Smallville. The intentional vagueness of his justification is uncharacteristically subtle but very effective.

You can write off the villain this week despite the really weak attempts at drama with what was a poor sympathetic villain with extremely awful special effects. Again, the character work is the best part of this episode with a gradual shift in the Jonathan/Lex relationship via the MacGuffin of Whitney’s dying dad. But other than that, the episode isn’t really one that’ll stand out of 220+.

Another insect-controlling freak but at least this one involves some creepy imagery. My own personal fear of wasps and bees probably is a key proponent of this. That said, the episode was quite fun as Clark attempts to run for class president and Shonda Farr is entertaining in a manic psychotic way. Considering the episode is supposed to be about Clark being seduced by the idea of being popular, the episode doesn’t really go that in-depth. The Lex sub-plot is very paint-by-numbers and almost formulaic in how Lex blackmails a potential ally.


Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

A strong episode that puts the Clark/Chloe relationship front and centre with the help of Seth Cohen from The OC. Leaps of Clark deduction logic aside that would made Sherlock question it, the story builds around a young man with telekinesis and a huge chip on his shoulder. It’s very much laying groundwork over the last few episodes of the season, and we finally see evidence of Lana’s feelings towards Clark.

Initially creepy premise where Lana sees through the eyes of Chloe’s kidnapper turns into a really weak motive that’s an excuse to bring Clark and Chloe closer together and Lana to stay insanely jealous. The more intriguing aspects of the episode involve the sudden appearance of a crop duster who saw Clark’s ship and Lex’s sudden obsession. Whilst it feels out-of-nowhere, the trait of Lex’s fascination with the unexplained has been built up quite well – so that the discovery of a part of Clark’s ship by him and Hamilton serves as a really good cliffhanger for the penultimate episode.

One of the most common praises that Smallville manages to get is that it knows how to pull out all the stops for a finale and its premieres. The tradition starts off with this episode that is just sublime. The pace is breakneck and all the slow-burn relationships that have been set start to pay off. The first three minutes sees Lionel close the Smallville plant and blame Lex for it – demonstrating that it’s time for stuff to change. Whitney ships off to the army and the Roger Nixon aspect kicks off and it’s all completely mesmerising. There’s even a truck that explodes on the Kent farm. You can see that the money has been saved for this episode as the creative team pull out all the stops and the characters reach breaking points — and as much as you wish all episodes like this, it’d run out of story by half a season. It’s episodes like this that make you realise why it’s worth going through the bad stuff.

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Episode Breakdown – SMALLVILLE Season 1 (2001-2002)
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