Ranking ‘Smallville’ Episodes, Pt. 2: The Second Episodes

Posted on October 4, 2010


TVThis is Part Two in a series.
Visit Part 1: The Premieres

As this tenth and final season for Smallville has kicked off, a lot of retrospectives will be flying around, no pun intended. Many fans will also attempt to rate the show in context, particularly in ranking episodes. I’m working on a complete series ranking, an undertaking already accomplished for the first 9 seasons by one viewer.

During that process, I thought I’d address each episode with its counterpart from across the 10 seasons. So premieres will be ranked against other premieres, second episodes against second episodes, and so on.

More after the jump.

So here we are into part two of the series, ranking the second episodes of each season. Second episodes are mixed bag. Sometimes they completely carry on the threads started in the season premiere, like ‘Phoenix’ being a direct continuation of ‘Exile’ in Season 3. Sometimes, they carry one point along but completely go off in another direction that’s but tangentially connected to the season story arc, like ‘Kara’ or ‘Plastique’.

There are good and bad arguments for either path, but the one thing a second episode should do is really help to solidify the tone of the coming season. You’ve had the premiere to tie up outstanding story from the previous season and kick off some new threads and directions. Now, the second episode really works to establish tone. Some might say this is even more critical to a season than a premiere. Don’t know if I’d go that far, but second episodes definitely have – or should have – some weight to them.

The second episodes…

10. Kara (Season 7)
This really helped to define the tone of Season 7 for me … and, boy, was it not good. In full disclosure, I’ve never been a fan of the character of Kara Zor-El from Superman lore. Honestly, the whole concept of a lost city from Krypton never really sat well with me and worked to diminish Superman’s uniqueness. (For some reason, this has been an unwritten agenda since the Big Blue was created.) So the idea that they were introducing her into Smallville was met with eyerolling by me. But, I was open and gave them a chance to turn me around on her. (After all, I got kind of a kitschy kick from Helen Slater’s Supergirl back in the ’80s, even though it’s an absolutely wretched film.)

Needless to say, they didn’t. I found the character distasteful, Laura Vandervoort’s performance somewhat amateurish, and the fact that Kara had full capacity of her powers another way to make Clark look dumb by comparison. I also was never really comfortable with the whole vision of Kara as an angel by Lex. It opened far too many avenues for Lex to find out about Clark, which is eventually what happened.

9. Plastique (Season 8)
There’s been an interesting theme in the last four seasons of the show to introduce new DC characters in the second episodes. We said hi to Kara in Season 7, Metallo in Season 9, Cat Grant and Deadshot in Season 10, and Plastique here in Season 8. This was also the episode that introduced us to Davis Bloome, the human “camouflage” for another DC Comics character, the best Doomsday. For the record, it should be noted that I liked Davis in the beginning and enjoyed Sam Witwer’s presence on the show. I can’t say the same for Plastique.

I hadn’t been that familiar with Plastique from the comics before the episode, seeing her in passing but not having explored much of her. This episode did nothing to spark my interest. Here we had yet another petulant meteor freak who couldn’t fully control her powers when it came to moments of stress. We’d seen this story before on the show and this really added little to it.

The Supermanliness of Clark on his first day of working at the Planet was great stuff but it could really disguise the lackluster story that they were telling. And in the end, we had overblown set-up with Tess “collecting” Bette to keep in storage for later use, and a character who didn’t really add much to the show. Even in her subsequent appearances in ‘Injustice’ and ‘Shield’ didn’t do much for me, though I do like her better in the Suicide Squad than anywhere else.

8. Sneeze (Season 6)
‘Sneeze’ was an okay episode, but has to be the weakest entry in the “power gained” series of episodes. The set-up was kind of fun, with Clark actually getting “sick” from having overworked himself cleaning up after ‘Dark Thursday’. And superbreath – and subsequently freeze breath that would manifest itself without a dedicated episode in Season 9 – is actually one of Clark’s more substantial powers. The episode itself, though, is rather staid and actually focuses on Clark’s new ability more like an afterthought than a prime dedication.

Sure, we get the funny scene of the barn door being blown across Smallville and landing in the field near where Lois is running. (I did actually love the reference back to this in Season 8’s ‘Infamous’.) But we also get an episode where Lex is kidnapped once again. We also get Lana moving in with Lex to shift the ugly Lexana story arc into a higher gear. I mean, she catches him having cameras on her in the room she’s staying in … and let’s it slide after throwing her requisite little fit! And we find out Oliver is behind Lex’s kidnapping, which should’ve been kind of cool but ended up being a yawner. One that even the cool shot of Ollie shooting an arrow into the Borneo on the Daily Planet globe could not pull us out of.

7. Metamorphosis (Season 1)
The one thing that I really liked – and still like – about ‘Metamorphosis’ was that it starts the same night as the ending of the pilot. I really liked how it transitioned from that first episode into this new story and left me with a great deal of hope that that’s how the series was going to run. I was proven wrong, unfortunately, and also treated to my first real distaste of Lana Lang and what she would mean to the show.

The pilot ostensibly set up this rivalry between Clark and Whitney over Lana, a girl who, although cute, didn’t real seem to offer much more. Only the second episode in, we’ve got another guy who is obsessed with her, criminally obsessed. Sure, not as much as his bugs – at first. They become just the stepping stone to get what he wants.

Greg was one of the more interesting FOTWs (freak of the week) from the first season and his story, though kind of silly, was kind of tragic as well. In fact, a lot of people kind of equate Bug Boy to Spider-Man in a sense, and I kind of get that. The bug aspects, particularly how he takes out his mom, were pretty gruesome and played as a good counterpoint to Clark’s own maturity-through-powers-as-metaphor.

‘Metamorphosis’ is a fairly well done episode. It ranks lower because the others above it are better. Plus, it really started a pattern that would become too familiar – and far too frustrating – on the show in the Lana worship.

6. Gone (Season 4)
We finally get Chloe back and find out just what happened to her during the events in ‘Covenant’. Though, the time it would’ve taken her to escape the house explosion was far too long for how quickly it happened in that season finale. More importantly, we get the first “investigation” of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Lois makes this episode and the chemistry – and fun! – between Tom Welling and Erica Durance is what made this episode a must-see. In fact, for all Season 4 got wrong, the big thing it got right was Lois Lane, what she brought to the show, and the ways she improved Clark’s character.

The story of ‘Gone’ isn’t very special. The T-1000-Lite FOTW really didn’t do much for me. Plus, our three “heroes” basically served to kill the freak in the end. But… we did get Michael “Ham Tyler” “Have fun at the party, Richter” Ironside as General Sam Lane, Lois’ dad. Great bit of casting.

5. Metallo (Season 9)
You can read more on my thoughts and feelings of this episode here. I loved that this took the FOTW concept from the earlier seasons and made it relevant. Brian Austin Green is fabulous as John Corben and Metallo and he made the rationale for Corben’s hate of the Blur palatable for me. I was also extremely impressed with his chemistry with Erica Durance and his ability to make me actually care and feel sorry for a rather notorious villain in the DC pantheon.

We got continued tension between Chloe and Clark that I wish played out much better during the rest of the season but really stung in this episode. And I just fell gooey at Lois’ growing infatuation with the Blur.

The real treat, though, was probably the most thoughtful fight of Clark’s of the series. When Clark and Metallo fought, he actually had to put on his thinking cap and do three different things to shut this guy down. Sure, it wasn’t a knock-down-drag-out, but it showed a side of Clark we don’t often get to see. That actually elevates this fight to one of the best for me. This was a fight Superman would be involved in.

4. Phoenix (Season 3)
Like I mentioned earlier, this was actually a Part II to the premiere of Season 3. We were left with this great cliffhanger of Red-K Clark and Super Pa Kent going out of the window of a high floor of the LuthorCorp building. Not only do both hit ground, but they get right up and continue the fight, ending in this great confrontation when Jonathan tells Clark to kill him if that’s what he thinks he’s capable of.

Clark has to return to Smallville to face everyone and everything that he’s done. In addition, Lex returns from the island, surprising Lionel and Helen Bryce at still being alive. And you get a genuinely happy reunion between Clark and Lex. Plus, everything goes down between Lionel and Morgan Edge, leading to his supposed death (and plastic surgery).

There is so much story in this episode and in ‘Exile’ before it, it sometimes surprises me how dense (in the good way) the show was at points back then.

3. Heat (Season 2)
The second of the “power gained” episodes is still probably the most controversial. This is the episode that sort of epitomized AlandMiles’ concept behind the series, the powers as metaphor for puberty and maturation. Yes, some people take offense to Clark’s heat vision being reduced to fiery premature ejaculation. I found it to be a hilarious episode.

In fact, the whole episode was kind of silly. We have a villain who does Maxima better than the “true” version who would appear in Season 8. We have Lex’s first wedding, kicking off the abysmal failures that all his marriages end up being. We have Clark exploding each time he gets worked up before Jonathan teaches him some tricks. Lana and Lex become partners in the Talon. And Lana and Chloe become besties, despite ol’ Clarky between them.

Silly or not, it was infused with a great energy and sense of fun and, honestly, felt like an inventive way to introduce this power for Clark.

2. Shield (Season 10)
I loved ‘Shield’. You can read my full review of it here. I know they are many that didn’t like it or felt like it was okay but nothing special. For me, it showed a great deal of care in treating characterization in this final season of the series. Lois may be running from her relationship with Clark but not because she’s scared of it. She’s confused and searching for answers, trying to find rational solutions to the circumstances that surround where her heart still is.

The Suicide Squad feels like a true threat in a way Checkmate in Season 9 never did and the building of their crew, including bringing Deadshot onto the show, is ominous and exciting. I dug the Western interpretation of Floyd Lawson and this even made Plastique tolerable for me. Rick Flag is a great adversary in counterpoint to Darkseid’s coming offensives, and both serve great storytelling challenges to have Clark overcome in his final journey towards being Superman.

There wasn’t much action in ‘Shield’ but the character work was phenomenal and necessary to get the people in place as the plot moves them along in these final episodes. It always surprises me that people complain about the characters on the show and yet when an episode like ‘Shield’ or last season’s ‘Hostage’ comes along that focuses more on character, they dismiss it as boring and doing nothing to move the story along. Believe me, ‘Shield’ did plenty. And it made an annoying Cat Grant endearing. Considered me stunned.

1. Mortal (Season 5)
Ah, a powerless Clark. Somewhat of the bane of the show’s existence. Yet, this is an episode that dealt with what that meant for Clark being powerless and the repercussions of choices that brought him to that point. One of the things ‘Mortal’ really tries to address is that Clark being a hero isn’t about his abilities. It is something within him that drives that. Granted, this is something the show has often had a problem with conveying convincingly. Even in ‘Mortal’ Clark is basically forced into action when everyone is taken hostage, but he’s still able to contribute to the solution.

Of course, he’s also able to get the reward of some Lana lovin’ in the end, which marks this as a milestone episode in the series. This also represents the first of the Watchtower-Boy Scout type of relationship between Chloe and Clark as she helps him break into LuthorCorp, and leads to the great conversation about Pete having known of Clark’s abilities and alien nature.

The big milestone of this episode, though, is that this was the last time Clark and Lex considered themselves friends. Though they had been going back and forth over the trust issues in the friendship for such a long time, this was the final blow and started a significant shift in the entire series moving forward. After the ludicrous events of Season 4, leading to a stunning finale and to the best season premiere of the series, ‘Mortal’ helped to imbue the show with a distinct and directed energy that would serve to reenergize the series as it was making its transition into a different kind of show.

Part 1: The Premieres