Season ReviewsTelevision

Episode Breakdown – SMALLVILLE Season 3 (2003-2004)

Clark Kent and Lex Luthor flirt with their darker sides of their personality in a third season that contains a lot of the series best ideas, and a few of their not-so-best…

Exile
Smallville comes back in the first of a two-part story that features how people react to a Clark-less Smallville and what Clark did in Metropolis. It feels soapy at times, but characters deal with events in a calm pace that doesn’t feel rushed. A lot of stuff sets up arcs for the season, including a deal made between Jonathan and Jor-El that undoubtedly come back to bite Jonathan in the rear. It delivers a great cliff-hanger though, as Jonathan gets powers of his own and throws Clark off the 60th floor of Luthor Plaza. Talking of the Luthors, Lionel embraces full comic-book villainy and John Glover enjoys every minute of it. The Lex storyline is more intriguing, as he comes face to face with his own darkside.

Phoenix
The pay-off to the set-up of the previous episode is exciting. A lot of cool stuff happens here, with Clark pretending to be a bad-ass and blowing himself up to stop Lionel learning his secret. Lana even kills a guy (with typically no emotional fallout). Rutger Hauer hams it up as Morgan Edge, being one of the more entertaining guest stars we’ve seen on the show. There is an issue regarding what feels like a massive ret-con in regards to what happens with Helen. It’s revealed that she’s been working with Morgan Edge to kill Lex to get at Lionel? It doesn’t make a lick of sense but apaprently escaping a crashing plane turns you from a woman who could fall for a damaged man like Lex to full-on soap opera villainess. It doesn’t quite work and feels like the show cheating itself out of a storyline and semi-regular character.

Extinction
Subverting the usual tropes in the teaser, a great episode that explores a vigilante shooting Kryptonite infected individuals and the ethics and moral responsibilities that Clark has against the foes he fights. The show’s track record with human antagonists is usually strong, and Van McNulty is one of the better villains. There feels a genuine threat to Clark in this episode, and the reactions of some of the cast to Clark’s apparent demise leads to some strong scenes. There’s some strong development for Chloe in this episode, with McNulty using Chloe’s files for the torch to figure out who to hunt. Lionel continues his descent into further villainy with a chilling scene with Chloe at the end. John Glover at his maximum scariness.

Slumber
The 18-year-old me fell for the twist and didn’t realise it was a dream and Clark/DreamLex scene aside; the plot was a bit wishy-washy. The episode didn’t feel as if it was about anything and felt more like a second season episode of the show trying to be more complex when it really wasn’t. The Clark/Lana relationship stuff is started to show signs of stagnation already, the attempts at humour do not work (the skinny-dipping exchange at the end) and it’s a real waste of Katherine Isabelle. Not to mention Sara’s uncle’s motivations are muddled and make no sense whatsoever.

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Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

Perry
The great Perry White, Clark’s future boss, appears and he’s brilliantly cast as Michael McKean (Annette O’Toole’s husband). Whilst the show has done the “reporter stalks Clark” idea before, the episode plays it a little more light-heartedly and makes Perry to be more sympathetic. It’s a nice lighter episode that has a bit of fun with Perry, even if it forces tension with Lana for a split second that doesn’t really make any sense. The development of Lex’s anger from his stay on the island is interesting, though – and it does crossover briefly into the episode’s main plot.

Relic
On the one hand, the idea of the episode is sound – with Clark learning more about Jor-El and the idea that the Kents were chosen to protect Clark. Though it does mess up a little with some mythology where Clark was sent to escape Krypton, then to colonise it… and then to live amongst them? It’s not the biggest crime in the episode though, as we see Jor-El fall for Lana’s great-aunt Louise and it’s basically the Clark/Lana story in period costumes. I guess it’s supposed to try and humanise (Kryptonise?) Jor-El to be less an antagonistic force and make him more relate-able to audience but I don’t think it works — it feels like a gimmick that’s not working properly.

Magnetic
A season one plot that’s utterly ridiculous and feels like the show reliving its own history as someone transfixed on Lana alters her behaviour and drives a wedge between Lana and Clark. Which fades. Clark doesn’t come across well, appearing to be a crazy jealous stalker even though we as the audience knows he’s right. It’s not good for bad writing for the main character to feel like that. Thank heavens that the episode’s saving grace is the growing alliance between Chloe and Lex as they learn what each other knows about Lionel’s possible involvement in his parent’s death. It’s dark, moody and suggests interesting stuff to explore in the future.

Shattered
As always, another Lex-centric episode that’s one of several highlights as Lex’s psychotic break means that it’s never unsure just exactly what is real and what isn’t real. The relationship between Lex and Clark gets it’s first real focus this season, and Clark’s loyalty to his friend is tested as he tries to find the truth yet help his friend. Rosenbaum is awesome and leads to great moments of genuine tension and threat. The confrontation between Lex and Edge is great, and seeing Clark stop Edge’s car is brilliant, but helps carry on the story of Lex’s psychosis. A key strength of the episode is that it’s a mixture of Lex going crazy and Lionel manipulating his son and the episode ends on the haunting image of Lex in a strait-jacket as Lionel looks on. Bonus points for having a strong feeling that the show is having actual developments to lead to permanent changes in the dynamics of the characters. As strange as it sounds when you think about it: the image of Lana’s broken form post-horse attack is quite shocking to see and whilst it’s to get Lana and Clark at odds *again*, it does help that this is a shift for the main trio.

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Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

Asylum
Lex’s situation is explored, and the idea of him knowing Clark’s secret is hinted and wiped away with amnesia, but I like the idea that Clark could be technically making the mistake in hiding his secrets to Lex at this point. It’s a huge turning point for the both of them and retrospectively, I believe Lex finding out beyond this point would’ve been detrimental. The episode does mix this in well with the reappearance of three former freaks-of-the-week teaming up to take their revenge. It’s good to see Jesse Metcalfe and Shawn Ashmore before, Jonathan Taylor Thomas…not so much. It leads towards a great scene where Clark inadvertently causes Lex’s therapy to go ahead after unknowingly delaying it. Elsewhere, Ian Somerhalder makes his first appearance as Adam Knight as Lana learns to walk again with her broken leg and he’s pretty much Ian Somerhalder, slightly cocky yet charming in some bizarre way – but he’s got “romantic foil” written all over him. At least the Henry Small arc (remember him?) wasn’t tied to Lana’s relationship with Clark.

Whisper
Another episode where Clark gets a new power, and it’s not as entertaining as “Heat” was in it’s use as a metaphor for sexual urges. What’s interesting is how it ties into Chloe’s arc plot and gets her fired from the Daily Planet for Clark stupidly telling Lex what he heard. I get the idea, but the execution of it doesn’t sit right. It’s also got some dodgy sunglasses which I’m assuming is covering up any attempts to show Welling acting blind. There’s a great visual reference to Superman when Clark has to wear glasses that’s surprisingly not brought up a million times. This episode, like the last, does start a worrying trend that the final scenes are in the wrong order as the better scenes to end an episode on gets an added Clark and Lana scene tacked on to conclude a story that wasn’t the episode’s main focus.

Delete
MIND-CONTROL again! Stuff that even affects Clark as someone is after Chloe and wanting her dead. The show returns to Summerholt and the method of getting people to kill is quite creepy (for 2004). The episode is really about the Chloe/Clark friendship and for them to really repair the damage that was done to it. But other than that, there’s not much else apart from Lex wanting to find out what he lost during his break. An in-joke from Sheriff Adams about Kent trucks is involved here. Oh – and we get the name of Chloe’s cousin to use as a pseudonym: Lois Lane. And some dull stuff involving Adam moving into the Talon.

Hereafter
The question of Clark’s role in fate and destiny is touched upon this week as someone who sees the death of people witnesses a glimpse of Lana’s death. The mystery of Adam finally gets more intriguing, but it’s hard to figure out what the point of it all is; but the implementation of it feels as if it’s trying to link to some greater storyline that just doesn’t connect. The cliff-hanger is at least more of a hook, as we see Jonathan seemingly having a heart attack.

Velocity
The characterisation of Pete is often uneven, and whilst it wouldn’t be a stretch for Pete to feel like he’s in Clark’s shadow – this episode feels like it’s coming from out of nowhere. It shouldn’t, but Pete’s appearances before the episode should at least be establishing this a lot more aside from the odd reference that he’s stressed. The drag racing plot doesn’t really excite and it unfolds in the exact same way that you’d expect it to, except the hilarious image of Adams and the deputies storming a chop shop armed to the teeth. The Adam subplot unfolds as the episode’s major B-Plot, with some interesting science-fiction mystery and mythology padding out – but it also feels as an excuse to give Lex something to do that’s not involving his father.

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Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

Obsession
I remember having fond memories of Alica as a character, and I do have a soft spot for Sarah Carter in general; so I was looking forward to revisiting this episode. It’s pretty much how’d you expect it to go, with Alicia turning psychotic and inevitably going after Lana. The general idea is solid, however, with Clark trying to find a kindred spirit. It isn’t the last time we’ll see Alicia, but I do feel as if there was much more potential here for the character to last a little longer and be built up as an actual character rather than disposal love interest and freak of the week. At least the episode starts to answer some questions about Adam, finally linking him back to Lionel’s search for information about Clark.

Resurrection
It’s the annual hostage situation episode that the show seems to love to do so much. The main story ends three-quarters of the way through before it takes its time in moving through a bunch of character arcs. It doesn’t give much time to develop Garrett as a guest character or to really understand him, and it’s a bit of a letdown. It’s pretty much an excuse to get Clark on Lionel’s radar in line with a serum that’s definitely been used on Adam. I’m not 100% sure about how Clark disposes of that bomb, however – the show really stretches its own rules of physics at this point.

Crisis
The Adam aspect of the season is wrapped up as Clark gets a phone call from the future that sees Lana get shot. As the mystery-of-the-week unfolds, the episode finally seems to get Clark and Adam in the same scene and his role as a pawn in Lionel’s season arc plot is revealed. But Adam’s final moments don’t really work, mainly because the relationship between Clark and Adam has been so underplayed that any connection between the two of them doesn’t really want to work. That said, the final moments of the episode in which Lionel contemplates suicide encapsulates a lot of the weirdness as Lionel’s liver disease is revealed to the audience and ties his actions through most of the ongoing stories in the second third of the season.

Legacy
Christopher Reeve comes back in an episode that carries on the mythology of the season and brings Lionel’s quest to explore the possible alien lineage of the caves. The return of Swann is on the one hand exciting, but his apparent double-crossing of Clark doesn’t really feel like it’s as worth anything. The ending doesn’t really make sense either in how Swann gets the octagonal key at the very end. But there’s good development with Jonathan, and the struggle in the cave is well shot.

Truth
So Chloe gets the power to get the truth out of people (except Clark) and since this is Smallville, it unfolds as you’d expect. Some characters drop hints about Clark, Lana tells Chloe she doesn’t trust her and Lex reveals a key component in the relationship with his dad. Pete manages to hide Clark’s secret with another secret which doesn’t really make much sense (or highlights just how sidelined he’s been throughout the series since learning Clark’s secret). The interesting stuff is again Chloe’s relationship with Lionel in a really tense scene in which Chloe’s gets the truth out of him (and Glover is great in that scene) and it’s confirmed he arranged for his parents to be killed. The bastard.

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Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

Memoria
One of the strongest episodes of the entire series, the episode gets right down to what happened with Lex’s baby brother Julian and the root cause of his repressed memories. Trying to rediscover what he lost during the period of Shattered and Asylum he ends up going further back and we learn that Lionel was an actual father at one point. John Glover is very Lionel-ish with Lillian Luthor, but he seems to care for a younger Lex. Lionel’s feelings towards Lex is due to both believing that Lex caused Julian’s death when in fact it was Lillian Luthor who did it. It leads to one of the very few times in the show we can honestly take what emotions Lionel is experiencing at face value. He genuinely tries to apologise to Lex, and Lex gets the control in the dynamic. It’s amazing television. It even allows for Lex’s relationship with Clark to start to deteriorate as they start to disagree on what Lex is doing, and Clark ends up being victim to Doctor Gardner’s memory therapy and experiences memories of his biological mother, Lara. It takes its time, but through the relationship with their mothers, there’s a strong contrast between Lex and Clark that’s highlighted here: Lex is alone whilst Clark has his adoptive mother for support as he remembers Lara.

Talisman
The third season of Smallville has worked on starting to fracture the friendship with Lex and Clark. This episode is the one that begins to really start to show the cracks. Clark’s immediate reaction is whether Lex is behind everything, and Clark’s belief that he’s a “chosen one” means that Lionel or Lex will be his greatest enemy. The stuff involving the TA Jeremiah is insignificant to the moments of Lex and Lionel grabbing an old dagger at the same time, or Jonathan being able to cure a fatally wounded Clark via Jor-El. This latter part of the season is starting to lay down the Superman references a lot more explicitly, and a scene between Lex and Clark is foreshadowing Lex’s future motivations as he understands a villain of a legend to be the hero. It’s a chilling moment, but a great one to end the episode on.

Forsaken
Emily Dinsmore from the previous season’s “Accelerate” is back in a slightly disjointed episode that has quite a few ideas in it that it can’t quite juggle together as it tries to align the characters en course for where they need to be for the finale. Because the episode tries to have Lana in jeopardy again and also throws Pete in the mix, but the Pete aspect is wrapped up before his impact is even felt. The underlying theme of the episode is trying to be Clark deciding whether to reveal his heritage to Lana (I say heritage because it’s at the point that “my secret” feels like a tangible MacGuffin) but more could have been done with Pete deciding to leave to protect it and for Clark’s decision to reach that point. As usual, it’s Lex and Chloe that get the good stuff, finally getting their stories straight and using the voicemail from “Truth” against Lionel. Its re-appearance feels very lazy though, which is a real shame.

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Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

Covenant
A young Adrianne Palicki turns up as a young woman claiming to be Kara Zor-El and all the stuff in the season all builds up to help put Lionel Luthor behind bars. Clark learns more about Lex’s investigations and the scenes between them are quite exciting, if lacking in subtlety (which might be the show’s tagline from here on in). There’s definite feelings of development and status quo changes which signal season four going to be a bit different. The twist about Kara is a little sign-posted, and the Supergirl allusion is brushed away; but it does lead to the main idea of the season in that Clark’s struggling between his Earth and Kryptionian heritage. His loyalty always seems to be for Earth, which is quite in character at this moment in time. The multiple cliff-hanger at the end of the season is very well filmed, with many character’s fates all up in the air as Lionel’s hair is shaved off. A great image to end on.

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Episode Breakdown – SMALLVILLE Season 3 (2003-2004)
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