Ranking ‘Smallville’ Episodes, Pt. 3: The Third Episodes

Posted on October 17, 2010


TVThis is Part Three in a series.
Visit Part 1: The Premieres
Visit Part 2: The Second Episodes

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.

Now, to the third part of our series and the third episodes of the seasons. This is when the season has started to settle in and has gotten its main business “out of the way”. Things aren’t resolved by any means, but they’ve set the table as it were and need to start working on their B, C or even D season arcs or half-season arcs. Often, the third episodes are completely toss away with but a few threads on the whole touched upon or they are reserved for back story or character-filling for one of the tertiary members of the cast.

Occasionally, you get something as broad-reaching as ‘Hidden’ or Pete’s discovery in ‘Duplicity’. More often, you get ‘Fierce’. And then, there’s ‘Supergirl’, which is sort of an odd hybrid.

The third episodes…

10. Fierce (Season 7)
This is one of those episodes that flat-out makes me made. You realize, almost immediately, the reason why a certain character was brought into the series. In this case, we have Kara experiencing her first real days on Earth under Clark’s care and what does she do? She enters the Ms. Corn Pone Pageant (or something relatively akin to that). The whole episode was set up to get Laura Vandervoort into a bikini.

Mission accomplished. I feel dumber for having seen it. And I hate the fact that they used it to blatantly trade off of the CW’s other big franchise at the time, America’s Next Top Model.

9. Wither (Season 6)
This episode makes me mad for a slightly different reason. They actually waste the appearance of actress Amber McDonald, who had been cast as the main female lead in the pilot (and presumably the series, if it had gone through) to Aquaman/Mercy Reef alongside Justin Hartley. I’m can’t say for certain if she is a top-flight actress but she was a refreshing presence on the screen and they saddled her with one of the worst villains in the history of the show.

In fact, the writing in ‘Wither’ was so bad, McDonald really couldn’t rise above the material. She was a third-rate Poison Ivy knock-off who was actually an alien for who-knows-where on a mission to do who-cares-to-remember. And, though she presented a serious threat, Clark fries her to death, something unfathomably un-Superman-like.

8. Hothead (Season 1)
I am a huge The Wonder Years fan – it’s in my top 5 TV shows of all time – and it’s always nice to see alumni, especially Dan Lauria, turn up in other projects. The problem is, you kinda wish he turned something like this down. After ‘Pilot’ and ‘Metamorphosis’, which kinda fit together as one continuous story to kick off the series, we get the first sort of standalone adventure. While its premise isn’t altogether a bad idea for the milieu of the series, the episode itself was beyond corny and over-the-top.

It starts with Lauria’s character being named Coach Arnold, in tribute to his most famous character, and that he’s sort of a demented version of that previous character. Lauria’s bluster is appropriate but his character is far too mustache-twirly to take seriously. They don’t give enough room for Lauria to develop a character beyond a caricature and the episode just becomes about the spectacle of the things he can light on fire … with his anger.

‘Hothead’ epitomizes the random and infuriating aspect of the “freak of the week” syndrome that plagued the series in its early years. The only scene that really stands out to me is the fencing scene between Lionel and Lex, further embellishing one of the best dynamics of the entire endeavor.

7. Facade (Season 4)
Kryptonite plastic surgery. That really should be all that needs to be said about this episode. While it’s not quite as bad as Krypto-ade (soon to come in Season 4) and the K-Money from Season 8’s ‘Stiletto’, you could tell they were really stretching to incorporate this beyond-tired aspect of the premise of the show.

This episode is only really notable for three things that really have little to do with the episode’s story: the final appearance of Eric Johnson as Whitney Fordman in a flashback to everyone’s freshman year (though, it did show “Scabby Abby”‘s pain); Lex finding out about Jason and Lana’s relationship; and the dunk tank moment with Chloe looking on heartbroken as she glimpses a light moment between the future most important couple of the show, Clark and Lois.

Oh, and Clark and Jonathan square off about Clark joining the football team. While I understood Jonathan’s concern, this part of their relationship always came off as petty and whiny on Jonathan’s end.

6. Supergirl (Season 10)
You can read my review here.

While I don’t have the full blazing heat of hatred for this episode that many people seem to, I am disappointed that it just comes off like a pretty middling affair with some moments that cause hair-pulling. I don’t buy Kara’s transition to a hero with the world’s interest in her eyes. I’m not saying the character shouldn’t have eventually gone there, but there’s such a tonal shift from where she was before that you can’t help but feel they just used her because she’s been on the show in the past.

Jor-El’s tough love continues to irk me and I hate that they have to emasculate Clark in service to “strong” female characters. The idea is to present characters that are as good and as rich as the boys. Instead, that often translates to slagging down your male characters to try to paint the females in better light. It does no one any good.

And I couldn’t help but feel what should have been an important point to really delve into the Darkseid arc of the season was muted by a rather humdrum episode. This was the low point in a very good first quarter of the final season.

5. Toxic (Season 8)
Just like ‘Supergirl’, ‘Toxic’ isn’t a bad episode. My issue with it is it’s very paint-by-numbers in recounting Oliver’s “origin” story. In fact, it seemed to be far more intrigued with presenting Tess backstory than in its intended main subject.

I know the show has a limited time and budget for production, but I felt like they wasted an opportunity to give a real sense of the passage of time for Oliver on the island he was stranded on. It felt like he was there for mere days rather than two years. And it never really gave weight to his learning his abilities, particularly his archery. Yes, they showed it but you never really felt a progression and a true sense of mastery of any of these skills.

Also, we get the heavy-handed reveal that Davis is aware of Chloe’s special abilities and the beginning of driving the wedge between Chloe and Jimmy. And Oliver discovers that Lionel was behind his parents’ deaths. A couple of key points that drive along the stories of the eighth season, whether you cared for those stories or not.

4. Duplicity (Season 2)
‘Duplicity’ is another episode that’s kind of ho-hum, but it occurs during the second season when even the “lesser” episodes benefited from the strong writing and focus of the season as a whole. This is the episode when Pete finds out about Clark. One only wishes that they could’ve handled Pete knowing Clark’s secret better. I have no problems with showing the struggle of knowing his secret but they made Pete so whiny and vindictive about it and, yes, that does start right in this first episode. That said, it was great that Clark finally had someone of his own peer group that he could be open and honest with. And, to be fair, it was a little more natural and age-appropriate to see this reaction from Pete in the beginning.

This episode also sets in motion Lionel’s more full-time appearance on the show and kicks off the interesting dynamic of the Family Luthor investigating the alien aspects and artifacts of this small Kansas burg that will surely lead them back to the Kents. Already struggling with father-son relations, this would prove to be the subject in life that will ultimately pit one against the other and eventually lead to Lex’s patricide.

3. Extinction (Season 3)
How more visceral can you get than seeing Clark hit by a Kryptonite bullet and watching the horrendous damage it reaks on his body as his parents frantically try to get it out of him? This really encapsulated the particular trials this family faces when their son is from another world and doesn’t suffer from the usual maladies most parents are used to.

In ‘Extinction’, we get a use for Kryptonite that is still somewhat gimmicky but far more palatable than most uses. We also get a villain who isn’t a “meteor freak” but whose life has been just as affected by them. Sure, it’s quite a touchy subject matter to base a story on a school kid with a sniper rifle picking off classmates, but Van McNulty’s rage is understandable, even if one can’t condone it in the slightest.

One of the great pleasures of this episode is we get a Clark who actually acts like an investigative journalist in trying to track down McNulty. Sadly, even when Clark becomes a full-time Planet employee, we rarely ever glimpse him in the same capacity. One can hope for even a single story with this kind of drive on Clark’s part in the final season, even if he’s motivated by his desire to help people as much as any journalistic yearnings.

This also kicks off the threatening aspect of Chloe’s deal with the devil in Lionel that will play out for the rest of the season, leading to a stunning turn of events in ‘Covenant’.

2. Rabid (Season 9)
You can read my full review here.

I was groaning when I heard about this episode. Smallville‘s take on zombies? It sounds hellaciously bad, but nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Rabid’ is a splendid episode that, though derivative of modern zombie movies, actually makes the best of the trope and feels like it fits within the universe of the show. The purpose of the virus that turns people into the zombies is to draw out the Blur for Zod and his Kandorians, not simply a hokey way to bring zombies onto the show. And they use the zombies sparingly, which made them more effective, particularly when Lois goes the way of the undead-like.

This is also the first episode of the season where they are allowed to fully explore the Lois & Clark relationship where they spoon the romance in thickly. The scene of Clark holding Lois in the rain as the anti-virus made from his blood cleanses the city was swoon-inducing. The little moments they shared throughout the episode as Clark began to realize more and more than he was falling for her and Lois tried more and more to keep her composure were each little pockets of joy.

I don’t care for Smallville‘s gimmicky episodes like this as a general rule, but ‘Rabid’ was something more.

1. Hidden (Season 5)
‘Hidden’ is, in a way, the third part of an opening trilogy to start Season 5. It directly continues the story of ‘Arrival’ and ‘Mortal’ and brings it to a conclusion while kickstarting broad consequences that will alter the landscape of the series permanently.

In sort of a next-level follow up to Season 3’s ‘Extinction’, another Smallvillager with beefs against the town’s meteor-infected population hijacks a secret missile defense system bunker and prepares to launch nuclear missiles to lay waste to Smallville before its disease can spread around the world. It’s a high-stakes gambit and a shrewd choice on the parts of the creative team: We need to present Clark with a problem so massive that he needs to accepts his power and heritage back.

This lead to one of the most indelible images of the show when Clark superjumps the highest he ever had to that point to catch a missile. Not only does he hold on to take the thing out but actually rides it into the upper atmosphere of Earth before falling back, unharmed. This is also the first episode where Clark dies and is resurrected. Since it has since occurred a few other times, it’s become a sort of passe joke, but the moment Clark is shot and then pronounced dead later at the hospital was actually fairly shocking when initially watching it.

We also get post-coital Clark and Lana getting busted by Jonathan and Martha. A scene so funny and honest and yet one of controversy for John Schneider who felt like Jonthan’s reaction would’ve been far different than what was originally written and what was settled on in compromise for the filmed version.1

In the end of ‘Hidden’, we are left with one of the most epic episodes and one of the most dire forewarnings of events to come.

Part 1: The Premieres
Part 2: The Second Episodes