Season ReviewsTelevision

Episode Breakdown – SMALLVILLE Season 2 (2002-2003)

We return to Kansas to see the second year of the young Clark Kent adventures in a season that’s a lot stronger than the previous one…

Vortex
Riding high from the finale, Vortex continues to hold things at such a high pace. Lex/Clark are at odds, Jonathan’s lengths to save his family conflict with his morality and even Lana starts to suspect that Clark is keeping secrets from her. It’s very well shot, and the sense of irreversible changes in some dynamics. Lex’s steps towards darkness take their first turn as he kills Roger Nixon and his relationship wit his father starts to flip around. Rosenbaum outshines everyone else at the moment, selling the admittedly iffy dialogue to a tee. Things have changed and the episode ends with a really exciting hook. This is the show on it’s A-game, starting confidently and on another level to most of the season.

Heat
Season two keeps on trucking with a strong episode that showcases teenage development with the development of Superman. The combination of hormones and the heatwave and heat vision is great stuff. It’s also quite funny in places, with the central metaphor of sexual feelings and the heat vision leading to some humorous exchanges between Jonathan and Clark. The episode also manages to have a strong focus on Lex, with his “wife” making do typical ‘Lex Luthor’ type things in regards to his friends. It’s a different spin on the usual story telling from season one and it doesnt feel cheesy in the slightest. This is also an episode that has a great scene between Martha and Lex that finally feels as if it’s giving Annette O’Toole some stuff to do, as she felt sidelined a log this season.

Duplicity
Sam Jones III joins the “I Know An Alien Club” (to steal a phrase from the WB drama Roswell) in this episode that sees a big status quo shift. Pete knowing Clark’s secret opens up a world of possibilities and even allows to integrate Pete into stories a little more. The episode works well, as it closes off more dangling threads from the first season in the shape of Joe Morton’s Hamilton but brings Lionel into the mythology of the show. There’s a definite contrast the episode brings up as there’s the rise of a new ally and villain coming closer to Clark’s orbit. The title of the episode is apt, as Clark and Pete remove layers of duplicity whilst Lex continues with adding layers of duplicity in the relationship with his father.

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Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

Red
Red Kryptonite appears in Smallville and it turns Clark into a bit of a bad-boy. It removes inhibitions and shows us a darker side of Clark that we haven’t seen before. The idea being is that there’s a lot of stuff bubbling under our young alien and the Red K allows him to express everything without a disregard for consequences. It brings him into conflict with his father and Lana, destroying any layers of trust between the two of them; and briefly an interesting dynamic with Lex that’s not fully explored. What the show does do right, though – is that it expands on what happened last week and Pete’s role in the story allows him to feel more involved in helping Jonathan destroy Clark’s source of Red K (a cheaply made ring). What’s interesting is that whilst Welling isn’t the world’s best actor – he feels more free, more relaxed and it’s interesting to watch. Though I’m really surprised people are just accepting Clark “went through a phase” as an excuse for him acting badly.

Nocturne
Clark and Lana clash over the mysterious Byron who sends Lana love letters. As your usual freak-of-the-week structure has been subverted so far, this feels like a first season episode yet the sympathetic portrayal of Byron in general works quite well and feels slightly different to what’s come before. Also interesting is the show starting to move Martha with her own storyline for once as she accepts Lionel Luthor’s job as a personal assistant. The fact she accepts so readily is a bit of a stretch but it’s clearly setting up tension in the Kent marriage further down the line. It does give Annette O’Toole more chance to do something different for a change, though. Though the show has already used up it’s credits of “Clark uses his powers right next to a blind Lionel” already to the point it must outnumber the amount of Kent trucks destroyed.

Redux
Maggie Lawson from Psych shows up as am age-sucking freak of the week in an episode that demonstrates that the show is trying to do new things with its villains. Mainly trying to stop the habit it went through it season one. That said, this part of the plot is secondary to one about Clark and his grandfather and trying to patch up the rocky relationship between him and Jonathan. Also introduced is Smallville High’s new Principal, Reynolds, and immediately he’s not going to be an easy obstacle to overcome for Clark. There’s quite the unifying theme of repeated history running through the storylines and it works well with varying success. Not too sure on the Lana subplot of finding her real father though, it does reek of giving her something new to do.

Lineage
A great episode that gives John Schneider (and John Glover) some meaty stuff to do. The ongoing mystery regarding Clark’s adoption and Jonathan’s hatred for the Luthors is explained and it’s a great little tale. It’s nice to go and delve into parts of the Superman mythos that the show is in a unique position to explore. The modern day story ties in well as a woman claims to be Clark’s biological mother and the resulting story is surprisingly exciting and leads to further shocks regarding Lionel. The Lana/Henry storyline also works well with the overall theme and a disagreement between Chloe and Clark revolves around absentee parents. Sadly, Pete has already started to be treated as a handy plot device as all he does is be a DNA sample in place of Clark.

Ryan
Ryan returns and the episode works as it builds upon built up relationship with him and Clark and immediately. It manages to hook the audience sympathy for someone that we know. There’s some great little scenes between Ryan and Lex about heroes and villains and the inevitable tragedy of Ryan’s fate is the first real sad moment in the show. Ryan’s ability allows for some little touches – the Pete situation gains some momentum when it’s revealed that he’s stressed out about Clark’s secret. Then there’s the way of writing out Sarah-Jane Redmond as another reason to give Lana stuff to do. There’s a genuine shock of Martha having “a secret”.

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Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

Dichotic
The higher consistency of season two dips with an episode that applies stunt casting with Jonathan Taylor Thomas with a story that’s badly written. The contrivance of trying to get Clark on bad terms with Chloe and Lana is very stretched and Clark comes across as petty and jealous rather than suspicious. It’s a very forced unsubtle way of trying to further the main love triangle in the show. Plus Ian’s plot of dating two girls at once who live together not only is hilarious on paper but makes Lana and Chloe look like idiots. Also: the Bechdel test? Forget about it! The sub-plots of Jonathan and Lex are better, as the Kents cope with an injured Jonathan that has a knock-on effect on the tension between him and Martha. The Lex aspect is more set-up for a longer storyline which sees him finding a possible kindred spirit in a nurse at Smallville hospital. Probably to find a reason to use that set.

Skinwalker
Arc development in the theme of *what* Clark is as we’re introduced to caves that contain prophetic drawings that reference Clark’s future as Superman. Kyla’s fate is sealed when she learns of Clark’s secret but it’s a change seeing him with someone else he can be open with even if the identity of The Skinwalker is blatantly obvious. The episode also does a good job in fitting in conflict and tension with recent developments in the show with Martha and Henry Small’s jobs are actively helping out with the story. It’s also a reminder that when Lex gets involved – things get more interesting. It’s unintentionally funny when it seems Tom Welling can generate more emotion for a girl he briefly met than a surrogate brother a couple of episodes ago.

Visage
A story ruined if you read the guest-starring credits at the start but if you haven’t then the twist then the episode has a much bigger impact than it has. There’s a lot of stuff that happens with the character arcs of Clark and Lana that lead to some great moments. A constant theme I’ve noticed is Lana is better than I remembered and it echoes throughout here. There’s a genuinely well-written scene near the end which sees Clark comment on the heroism that Whitney showed and if he would have that quality if he was human and with an assurance from Jonathan this ideal is something that is a foundation within the Superman character. The Lex story is quite over-the-top with some really bizarre soap-opera style twists which do lead to a big leap for Lex in him revealing that he doesn’t want to become his father.

Insurgence
I remember this episode being the best episode of the show to date at the time, and it’s still one of the best in the show’s run. It’s the first real look at Metropolis but it also gives us a lot of interesting developments in revealing a few things that Lionel knows and has. The story is tense, and as secrets come to light it just gets a lot more exciting. Anette O’Toole gets more stuff to do for once, and it’s great to see her get a key focal role in the overall story. There’s plenty of stuff to enjoy for Superman fans: The Daily Planet building for one, and a name check for Maggie Sawyer, a bit character from the comics. The Lana scenes are superfluous to the episode, but they’re short and snappy before going back to the main plot. There’s even a more where Clark flies (kinda). There’s a nod back to the end of Jitters, and the Kents decide to be a bit more Luthor.

Suspect
CSI: Smallville as Jonathan is framed for Lionel’s shooting in an episode that seemingly forgets Martha and Jonathan continuing to work for Lionel. But the story, like the last one, is void of meteor freaks and continues a trend of the better episodes having no sci-fi enhanced villains. The mystery is well established, and the actual perpetrator is quite a surprise. The show has let Ethan stew in the background and it’s a good choice for a resolution as his role in the episode feels natural and we don’t know much about him for this revelation to feel cheap or out of character. It also covers the frequent mentions of the Lowell County Sheriff’s Department being quite incompetent. That said, Ethan’s plan of shooting Lionel in the hospital? Maybe the Sheriff’s Department is incompetent…

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Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

Rush
The show remembers Pete exists and the idea of someone who knows Clark’s secrets turning against him. It’s a spiritual successor to the first season episode Nicodemus as characters expand from their comfort zones and basically be evil versions of themselves. The less-sci-fi-is-more rule kicks in as the origin of the parasites is never revealed, focusing on the character relationships. Chloe gets wind of Clark’s abilities but conveniently forgets afterwards – but the show does hint in an uncharacteristically subtle move that Chloe knowing is a bigger risk than expected. Some interesting scenes of Clark and Lex at odds that fade, but the relationship is moving into different directions.

Prodigal
Aside from the characters forgetting who they’re supposed to be mad at (seriously, Lana seemed like she’d never speak to Clark again), the episode uses Lex’s long lost brother to shake things up. A parallel is made that Lucas would be Lex and vice versa, with Lucas being what Lex could be. The funny thing is that Lex turns out to be even worse, but it’s all part of the twisted Luthor family dynamic. As per Smallville tradition, Lucas does turn out to be a psycho, and Lionel being able to see is a predictable twist you were waiting for. Bonus point for the good and slightly funny scene where Lex and Jonathan seem to Bury the hatchet.

Fever
A strong episode that again feels as if it’s pushing character development as more secrets come to light. Alison Mack gets a chance to shine when speaking to an unconscious Clark in a great scene that you realise was ripped from an episode of Buffy five years previously. There’s the fun if mad concept of Jonathan breaking into a Government facility (and subsequent car chase) and having to reveal to Helen about Clark. Schneider always does well when he gets some good stuff to do. The ending feels a little deus-ex-machina but it manages to expand the ongoing mystery of Clark’s ship. Sub-plot wise we have the growing relationship of Lex and Helen taking a step further.

Rosetta
Clark learning his origins had to happen at some point. A massive turning point for the show, the greater Superman mythos finally kicks in and who better than to tell Tom Welling than Christopher Reeve himself! The lead up to the moment is strong, the direction of the episode feels different, feels more epic. There’s a lot of work being done to build up to this, and it pays off. There are moments of the classic movie theme tune playing throughout and the scene between Welling and Reeve sizzles – particularly when terms like “Krypton” and “Kal-El” start getting thrown around. As much as it’s felt as if the pace has increased – this one skyrockets and the show is all the better for it. Topped off with a great little twist with the apparent reason for Clark being sent to Earth…

Visitor
After learning he was alone, Clark tries to find another alien and nearly does with Cyrus. It’s obvious he isn’t, but it’s natural for him to perhaps find other Kryptonians in the world. But what fits the character is that Clark still wants to help people no matter what. The show does well when it remembers this aspect of Superman’s character. There’s not really much else to the episode, but there’s a strong sense of continuity from the previous episode which is a definite plus considering quite a few episodes this season forget what happened the previous week.

Precipice
Helen’s ex shows up and (naturally) he’s a murderous psychotic stalker and Clark gets sued. Taking the law in your own hands and the consequences of actions echo throughout this episode as we see the darker vengeful side of Lex. He’s not got that far ahead yet, but his arc is great. The Clark sub-plot is an idea I’m surprised they haven’t done more of in the show, but feels rushed and is resolved by…violence? I’m all for Lana learning to fight to get more self-confidence but the way it’s handled doesn’t feel right.

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Smallville (2001-2011) – The WB

Witness
Clark has to deal with three super-strong Kryptonite-infected robbers. The show has had him dealing with physical threats before, but dealing with three guys who go after his parents feels different. The episode does a bit of an unsubtle job (by Smallville’s standards) to show that Clark has other abilities (which Clark needs to be told) but it furthers storylines involving Lionel’s refined Kryptonite. The show has been building up these stories and character arcs brilliantly this season, so when Chloe and Clark fall out over some that seems so trivial and that he’s done before…it’s a bit weird. Even if it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, the inciting incident is a little underwhelming.

Accelerate
Lionel gets further and further into full-on villain mode and becomes “The man who took the bunnies away” in a genuinely creepy episode where Lana is stalked by what might be a ghost of her deceased friend who died six years ago. There’s nice little touches of direction and suspense, and it has a strong isolated mystery around what exactly has happened to Emily. What it does do is help Clark and Lana finally get closer together and ‘shippers worldwide breathe a massive sigh of relief. With Lionel helping develop these techniques in cloning; Smallville has finally started to transition away closer to more science-fiction concepts. When you compare it to the previous episode, this is more in line for the show could be doing rather than the freak-of-the-week.

Calling (1)
It’s all setting up for part two, but things all move in place ready for the finale as the season gets ready to go out with a bang. Lionel becomes obsessed with the caves himself and the importance of Clark is made apparent as Clark struggles to go against the apparent destiny that is set out for him. Clark and Lana *finally* appear to be a thing now, and Alison Mack continues to wear the same expression on her face whenever she sees Clark and Lana. Whilst that is the character and sets her closer to Lionel’s orbit; it’s apparent that Alison Mack (one of the better actors of the cast) has been doing the same pining for Clark and it’s about time she got other stuff to do. It’s exciting and is all ready for the pay off in the second half of the episode.

Exodus (2)
With 24 hours before Jor-El’s plans for his son apparently about to happen; Clark decides to take matters in his own hands and go against Jor’El. To do this he decides he wants to destroy the ship that brought him to Earth. On the one hand, it’s easy to see why he’d want to do this – on the other it does feel reckless and rash. But the motive behind his actions works towards Clark’s characterisation to want to protect the people he cares about, even going against his own heritage. The episode is slower in pace to Tempest, but it allows for characters to breathe and react to events. However, some elements come across as soapy and frustrate (which might as well be the show’s tagline) including Chloe and last minute changes of heart from Helen. The destruction of the ship and the storm cellar is a very impressive visual and does lead to a really good cliff-hanger; ending what is a much stronger season than the last.

What do you think of this season? Let us know on Twitter, on Facebook, or in comments below.

Episode Breakdown – SMALLVILLE Season 2 (2002-2003)
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