Ranking ‘Smallville’ Episodes, Pt. 4: The Fourth Episodes

Posted on October 17, 2010


TVThis is Part Four in a series.
Visit Part 1: The Premieres
Visit Part 2: The Second Episodes
Visit Part 3: The Third 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.

On to the fourth episodes of the seasons in the fourth part of our series. I’m not sure there is really a general theme, motif or design you can really assign to this collection of episodes. Basically, we’re getting into the meat of the season and generally delving further into various characters to help fill out the episode count, if nothing else.

Actually, in review, there appears to be two overwhelming directions these episodes take: character introduction or power introduction. Even Season 10’s ‘Homecoming’ is somewhat introductory because it features the first appearance of Brainiac-5 on the show, which is kind of a cheat, I know. ‘Slumber’ and ‘Devoted’ seem to be the two odd episodes out when matched against the others, though ‘Devoted’ and ‘Homecoming’ share a similar DNA.

The fourth episodes…

10. Aqua (Season 5)
This is the episode I tend to consider the worst of the series, though it’s fighting with fourth episode cousin ‘Instinct’, ‘Fierce’, and ‘Ageless’ for that dubious “honor”. This is definitely the worst of the hero introduction episodes. And it’s not because it’s Aquaman.

Personally, though I can see where the razzing comes from, I’ve never really had issue with Aquaman. With his Atlantean past and the fact that he is essentially king of 3/4 of the entire planet, the potential for the character is vast and could be quite compelling. He hasn’t been treated as such, which is why he’s become the butt of so many jokes, and this episode doesn’t help matters at all. (Though, to be honest, it’s much more reverent than the horrendous treatment they gave him on the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold.) In fact, this episode was so fish-stanky that when it came time to pursue a spin-off of Smallville, series creators Al Gough and Miles Millar did everything they could to distance their Aquaman show from this episode, going so far as to say it would have absolutely nothing to do with Smallville.

Yes, when your creators want to disown you, it’s not going well for you down at the shop. I don’t have a problem with them wanting to make him a UM student who is practically an eco-terrorist. But it was a wretched choice to make him a surfer dude and then to cast an American Idol contestant in the part. Granted, Alan Ritchson has gotten markedly better in each appearance of the character on the show since, but they haven’t exactly knocked A.C. out of the park yet.

One has minimal hopes for the upcoming episode ‘Patriot’ that will feature A.C.’s return. It sounds like they might have just delved into his past and enriched the character immensely. He’s hoping Tom Welling’s direction will help pull something valuable out of Ritchson.

9. Instinct (Season 8)
This was the episode that nearly killed Smallville for me. I might have mentioned how I was hanging on to Season 8 at this point after the noxious Season 7 more out of habit than anything else. The first episodes of Season 8 didn’t really seem to be that much of an improvement and when ‘Instinct’ aired, I was pretty much done with the series.

Not only is Maxima a ridiculous character who I could care less about in the comics let alone the show, but they wrote her so ineptly that I couldn’t help but cringe when she was on-screen. And then, with all due respect to actress Charlotte Sullivan, she was rancid in the role. It felt like I was watching a Z grade movie the entire time, the only saving grace being the T&A display they were trying to drum up with her and Tom Welling. And the costume, inspired by the comics or not, was unflattering and felt more like Star Trek (Original Series) than Smallville.

My only moments of joy in ‘Instinct’ revolved around Lois. The exchange between Clark and Lois after she finds he and Maxima in the elevator was delightful, as was the banter between Lois and Maxima prior to the requisite catfight.

You know, the more I think about this episode, the more I’m tempted to move it down into the 10 spot in place of ‘Aqua’. Just an outright bad outing and I can’t say what it was – other than perhaps routine – that got me to (thankfully) come back for ‘Committed’ the following week.

8. Devoted (Season 4)
This was just a dorky episode. On some levels, it’s fun. It also felt like an episode to try to give Chloe something to do . They’d brought her back from the supposed dead but she was kind of sidelined with Lois arriving and everyone else but her really involved in the Stones of Power storyline that was beginning to thread through the season. Now that I think about it, Chloe really had very little to do in Season 4 up until the point in ‘Pariah’ when Alicia showed her Clark’s abilities and completely changed the course of her life.

Yeah, it was kind of cute to see Allison Mack playing cheerleader. I’m someone who finds Allison quite attractive and I got a kick out of her in the cheer outfit. But there wasn’t much else beyond that. We got some football action as Clark makes his way onto the team and becomes starting quarterback. We also get some more nascent Lois & Clark investigative team action as they look into what’s turning people into devoted idiots.

I recant that because we do see Lex attempt to get back in Clark’s good graces by showing him that he’s removed all the evidence he was investigating on Clark from his special room. We also get some fun dialogue between Clark and Lois and she prepares to head off to college.

But those events can’t save an otherwise silly episode.

7. Slumber (Season 3)
The R.E.M. episode. While this wasn’t as glaringly bad as a product placement episode as Season 7’s Stride-infected ‘Hero’ would be, it always seemed kind of odd to have used this band as the feature for the whole episode. Don’t get me wrong. I’m an R.E.M. fan and the music is actually fitting. Plus, there is the whole gag about the episode being about dreams and R.E.M. yadda yadda yadda. But was the majority of the audience for the show R.E.M. fans? I kinda doubt it.

There’s nothing particularly bad about this episode. Nor is there anything particularly good. This is just one of those episodes that exists in a series, a perfect example of filler.

The only thing of real note in the episode is that the creature in the red cape/robe was called “the Traveler”. Clark would come to be known by this name in the prophesies of the Veritas group in Season 7.

6. Echo (Season 9)
You can read my full review here.

After Season 9 showed some potential in its shake-up of the familiar in the first 3 episodes, ‘Echo’ kind of brought it squarely back to well-traveled Smallville territory. We had rehash of Oliver’s drunken spiral storyline from the previous season – though it was capped off by a disturbing moment where Ollie basically decides to commit suicide. But not just the story was familiar, the style of the show was back to a traditional style, which was disappointing after the significant changes they made to start the season.

I did like the set-up of Clark gaining the ability to hear people’s thoughts, though the rationale on Jor-El’s part is still a little fuzzy. This led to great scenes between Lois and Clark and Erica and Tom shined. In the end, this “trial” didn’t amount to much and it was the last time any such trials were attempted for the rest of the season.

The character work in ‘Echo’ was great but the plot was mediocre.

5. Cure (Season 7)
So Smallville had managed to score great casting coups in getting the most well-known of Superman franchise alums in Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder to guest on the show. But there was always a glaring oversight regarding the most recent bearers of the tradition prior to Smallville, the stars of Lois & Clark. They finally got to correct half of that problem in Dean Cain’s appearance in this episode.

I’m convinced that if they had gotten anyone else for the role, the character would’ve been named Vandal Savage, though other than the long life, the characters’ histories were distinctly different. But with Cain in the role, they wanted to play on the C.K. initials and so we have Dr. Curtis Knox. And I thought Cain did an above average job with the role. I’ve always liked Cain even if I thought he was kind of limited in his range. Thankfully, his role as Knox was within his purview and I thought he did well.

I actually probably like ‘Cure’ more than most people. I understood Chloe’s desire to rid herself of the burden of her meteor power. And the idea of a doctor going to such lengths with people of noted abilities seemed like a fitting story. There’s talk of possibly bringing Knox back to give Dean Cain a supposed final bow in the franchise, just as his co-star Teri Hatcher makes her own appearance in Season 10. I’m not sure what you could do with the character beyond this episode.

4. Arrow (Season 6)
The show finally gets its Batman, er, Green Arrow. Yes, just as Green Arrow was originally a derivative of the Dark Knight in the comics, the powers that be use him as their de facto not-so-Caped Crusader, actually probably boosting the prominence of the character in general.

We’d already been introduced to Oliver Queen in Season 6, but now his alter ego – the first true costumed hero on the series – puts in an appearance in a relatively fun and well-done episode. The look of the character was a bit jarring and would kick off the so-called Smallville-ization of other beloved DC Comics characters – and which they have slowly been trying to pull back from in these later seasons – but it fit within the context of the series and has actually served to influence his comic counterpart.

Justin Hartley is perfectly cast in the role and, while at times I have issue with where they take Oliver and what they give him to say, he’s a hoot in his brusque approach to life in counterpoint to Clark’s. By bringing in the Green Arrow, the show drastically changed to a more comic-book-oriented series, which isn’t outright a bad thing as it needed to bridge the gap between the show’s early seasons and the DCU we all know. It did, unfortunately, force the show to operate more “at night” for the next few seasons, which one can hope is now being resolved in the final season.

3. X-Ray (Season 1)
The very first of the “power gained” episodes and still arguably the best. The story hits all the notes you’d expect of a story of a teenager gaining x-ray vision, including the silly moment when Clark looks into the girls’ locker room during gym.

It’s also an inventive episode that paved the way for future reveals. You really get the feeling throughout the episode of what Clark is experiencing with this new ability, from seeing beneath Pete’s flesh while climbing rope to the truer x-ray style views when Clark discovers Tina Greer’s mom and finds Lana in the cemetery.

Lizzy Caplan perfectly creates the first truly memorable of the show’s early villains, so much so that she’s one of the few to recur on the series. It was also a great way to give other actors a chance to play slightly off versions of themselves as Tina masquerading as them. I’d say the only downside of Tina was that she was as obsessed with Lana as any of the male characters had been up to this point. We also get the first appearance of scum journalist Roger Nixon as he tries to blackmail Lex.

‘X-Ray’ showed the potential of what the show could be and it stands out as one of the premier episodes of the first season.

2. Red (Season 2)
The first and probably the best of the Red Kryptonite episodes, though ‘Crimson’ could make a challenge for that too. Comics veteran Jeph Loeb joins the series and introduces a completely new kind of Kryptonite to the Superman mythos, taking the red colored rock from the comics that always seemed to change its effect on Superman, and honing it on one effect: removing Clark’s inhibitions.

In doing this, we have a Clark who plays with more flexible morals and is entirely self-involved. It was great vehicle to allow Tom Welling to play an entirely different side of Clark and he ran with the chance. Interestingly, his tastes run more towards Lex Luthor’s side of life while on Red K, as he ditches his primary colors for mostly black, including an all black suit at one point, and wants the expensive things in life.

This was a watershed episode for the show and kicked off a plot device they would return to a few more times throughout the years. It also allowed for Clark to see sides of his personality that are there but often get trumped by his upbringing and values. Most specific, is the desire to just be himself in the world, something he sadly will never be allowed to be. Not fully, in any one instance. (Though closest with Lois in the end.) This begins the idea that Clark must present multiple identities in the future.

‘Red’ is well-written, well-acted and a fun episode.

1. Homecoming (Season 10)
You can read my full review here.

I am in love with the second through fifth acts of this hour. If only the teaser and the first act were better this would be a perfect episode. There is so much forward movement in this story and its all because of a little Christmas Carol-like decision on Brainiac-5’s part.

Erica Durance is exceptional throughout this episode, embodying both the present and future Loises and imbuing both with distinct personalities, even though you could see how Future!Lois came from present Lois. This all allows Tom Welling to open up as Clark about 2/3 of the way through the episode and it actually plays like a calculated choice on his part. His Clark seemed kind of lost and rudderless during the first part of the episode and Tom didn’t necessarily do anything exceptional throughout. But it was just what was necessary to allow for a distinctly different Future!Clark and also give present Clark some place to go once he makes the helicopter save in the future.

Boy, as soon as he does that, Clark comes alive and Welling’s performance becomes top-notch. One can only hope that they are able to sustain this energy and this place Clark is at throughout the remainder of the show. They’ve pushed this agenda about Clark’s darkness during the first part of the season so much that it needed to be resolved quickly. And they did resolve it in stunning fashion. The last moments with a confident Clark declaring not only his love to Lois but taking flight were absolutely necessary for the series and still have my heart aflutter.

‘Homecoming’ has its problems, but it’s also an instant classic.

Part 1: The Premieres
Part 2: The Second Episodes
Part 3: The Third Episodes