Late to the Party: Smallville

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Mar 29, 2018

Here at Fangrrls, we know there’s a lot—A LOT—of great genre TV out there. How could anyone watch it all? Well, any one person probably can’t, but that’s why we have our recurring feature Late to the Party, our nod to all of us who missed out on a potentially great show.

In honor of Superman’s 80th anniversary, I revisited Smallville, a show that I somehow missed despite its ten-year run that happened to coincide with my coming of age. Our own Tricia Ennis, who once, in her own words, “watched [Smallville] all the way through twice in a month,” picked out the episodes for me to watch. You might think that’s a tall order for someone who’s seen 218 episodes of a show she’s definitely into—and you’re not wrong—but if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Tricia.

Let’s explore the teen drama of an angsty Superman. (And, if it wasn’t clear, what you’re about to read contains spoilers for Smallville.)

Season 1, Episode 1: "Pilot"

Origin stories are tricky, especially as I’m viewing this 2001 pilot from seventeen years in the future. Overall, and taking into consideration the time when the show premiered, this is a pretty good first episode. Personally, I enjoy backstory, so I adored seeing the tiny human versions of Lex Luthor, Lana Lang and Superman.

We all know that Lex is one of Superman/Clark Kent’s greatest foes, so seeing them presented first as friends (or lovers, in my brain) makes us want to know what happens next. When we see Clark in high school, he's a nerdy outcast who is chosen for the annual homecoming hazing (which also, conveniently, first gives us a glimpse of Clark with an S on his chest). Turns out Lex is the one who rescues him. It’s the beginning of something truly special.

First impression: This episode gave a lot of winks to the nerds, starting with the opening credits where we see Lex’s dad reading a newspaper with a headline about Robert Queen’s disappearance. It’s also a lot more clever than I was expecting, dropping little bits of foreshadowing here and again.

I’m honestly shocked I’ve never seen this. From what I’ve surmised, Lana and I are supposedly the same age. I also grew up in a small town, so this all feels verrrrry familiar and makes me a little nostalgic for early-aughts music. (When Lifehouse's “Everything” came on, my brain almost exploded.)

Overall, the pilot is good. The show lacks diversity and there’s one weirdly unnecessary homophobic moment. At the same time, it tackles bullying, the weird feelings of puberty, and the topic of adoption in interesting ways. If I could influence the future of the show (yes, the one that is already off the air), I would make Clark and Lex boyfriends.

Regardless, I’ll give it a chance.

Season 2, Episode 4: "Red"

What a melancholy episode! Our very good Clark Kent, under the influence of red Kryptonite, becomes a misogynistic bad boy. His buried desire to be out as as a superhero manifests in some careless showing off and we also see the raw power of a pissed-off Superman. Viewers know it’s all temporary—Clark is only acting this way because he was exposed to the red Kryptonite that was used in place of a ruby on his class ring.

Solid episode. We get a nice overview of Clark’s issues: his desire to use his powers, his normal-ish teenage frustration with his dad, and his big crush on Lana.

It’s also nice that Clark’s friends catch on fairly quick and try to help him.

My impression: I adore that it’s his school ring that messes with him. That’s just perfect teen drama writing, and it opens up the world of Superman a bit. I also really enjoy the angsty, powered-up Superman, because it’s nice to see him make mistakes and tap into more emotions.

I really do think this show nails the whole science fiction/fantasy teen drama genre. It actually reminds me a bit of early Buffy the Vampire Slayer when everything had something to do with the Sunnydale High swim team and whether or not Xander would be interested in Willow, etc.

Plus they showed Lana riding a horse and she didn’t look like a fool, so I give it a 10.

Season 5, Episode 12: “Reckoning”

In the 100th episode of this wonderfully dramatic show, Clark comes face-to-face with death—twice. Obviously, it’s not his own death because how would we then get five more seasons of television? 

At the point when we catch up with Clark three seasons later, he and Lana are dating and his dad is running for Senate against Lex. Sensing that he’s losing Lana (the implication being that it’s because he’s hiding his powers), Clark decides to hit her with the double whammy: he shows her his powers by creating her an engagement ring out of coal, which he then forms into a perfect diamond.

They get engaged, fly around, yadda yadda, his dad wins the Senate, things are great. I actually caught myself wondering when the other shoe was gonna drop, and then Lex appeared right on cue. Hyped up about his lost Senate race and his jealousy over Lana and Clark, Lex gets real creepy and toxic and grabs at Lana. She gets away, but then Lex chases her with his car, resulting in a fluke accident that KILLS LANA. (This is when I got very angry with Tricia.)

Don’t worry, though, this is Superman’s story and the Fortress of Solitude provides him with a reset button! As with all reset button episodes in the history of television, everything works out fine and that’s the end.

JUST KIDDING. Clark gets to do the same day over again, starting with the moment when he told Lana his secret. Realizing his confession is what eventually leads to her death, Clark decides not to tell her. Lana is spared, but the fates are not kind to young Clark. In trade for Lana’s life, guess who dies? Well, I’m not going to tell you. You’ll just have to watch the show (or keep reading this article).

My impression: This show really knows the audience. When Clark asks Lana the question, “Do you trust me?” I had a visceral reaction and immediately thought of that moment from Aladdin when he asks Jasmine the same thing. Everyone who grew up with that movie knows that when one person asks another that question, it actually means: I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.

I really enjoyed seeing Clark cry and be vulnerable—it’s a good look and a nice counter to the toxic masculinity on display with every other dude in the episode. I’m not saying I’m happy Lana died at first, but it’s still nice to see a Superhuman as emotionally accessible.

They also landed a good joke about Superman’s powers in the comic books. When he tells his kickass journalist friend Chloe how he’s repeating the same day again, she asks, “What did you do, spin the Earth backwards on its axis?”

Other than that, I wasn’t anticipating this episode having me all up in my feels, so THANKS A LOT, TRICIA.

Season 6, Episode 11: “Justice”

As soon as this episode started, I immediately forgave Tricia for assigning me the last episode. In the season since we last saw Clark, it seems like the comic book-y-ness of Smallville has been kicked up a notch. In the first few minutes there are references to the Phantom Zone, experimentation on people with powers, and 33.1, some sinister something that is bad for powered folks. Oh, and the Flash just ran by.

Despite the Flash’s suit being terrible, truly bad, and the overwhelming use of sunglasses as part of superhero costumes, I really do enjoy team-up episodes (and crossovers) and this is no exception.

The world Clark lives in has expanded and now includes the Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg, and even the Green Arrow/Oliver Queen. Clark is no longer entirely alone, which raises some interesting questions for his development and his choice to embrace his powers. Beyond that, Oliver is a good foil for Clark (and Tricia told me he plays some of the role that Batman did in the comics because DC wouldn’t let Smallville use Batman). Seeing Clark and Oliver clash a bit highlights the strengths and weaknesses of Clark’s approach to heroism. They even give him the codename “Boy Scout” (a cute nod to a similar reference in the comics), and it’s nice to see Clark come around to Oliver’s way of thinking in regards to defeating the enemy.

The other big shift in this episode is how tech-savvy Chloe is now. She’s hacking cell phones and searching the internet to help Clark on his mission. At one point, she says, “All the vital data is still secure in the mainframe,” which might be the most 2007 line of all time.

Overall, it’s a fun episode, complete with slow motion walking away from an explosion.

My impression: Stephen Amell is the only Oliver Queen I want.

Otherwise, I’d say it’s a solid team up of young heroes, but you definitely feel the absence of Wonder Woman from the Justice Little League of America.

Season 7, Episode 16: “Descent”

Well, let me tell you, this is by far the darkest of the episodes I’ve watched. We spend a lot of time with Lex, who might be having a psychotic break and who definitely just killed his own father by pushing him out of a window. The whole thing is played off as suicide. (Side note: the lighting is really good in this scene.)

Meanwhile, Clark and the gang, which now includes Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, smell something fishy. Clark goes for the head-on approach (shocking, I know), but the intrepid reporters use their snooping skills to find photographic evidence of Lex’s wrongdoing.

Clark confronts Lex and they share this very tense moment when Lex essentially blames Clark for everything that’s happened to him. Clark leaves and Lex ends up fighting with the redhead child version of himself, who clearly represents what is good and innocent about Lex. Lex ends up BURNING HIM IN A FIREPLACE, so you know, maybe he’s not that good after all?

Clark finds out Lex’s dad was trying to help him, and still is posthumously, which causes him to spiral as he recalls his list of dead father figures. (Can you guess who died in “Reckoning”?) Chloe, ever the saint, tells Clark not to make their deaths meaningless and—boom!—Clark remembers who he is.

There’s a moment where Clark and Lex face off over the grave of Lex’s father and an image from “Reckoning” repeats, as Clark grasps a handful of dirt and spreads it over the casket.

My impression: Up to this point, the episodes I’ve watched have been relatively campy and fun (except for one; damn you, Tricia!). “Descent” seems like a significantly dark shift and the beginnings of a villain we can really love and hate.

I really liked seeing Lex’s slide into darkness, and how he’s started to adopt some of the rhetoric from the comic books that makes him such a compelling bad guy. When he talks about protecting democracy before throwing his dad out a window, I can almost get on board.

This was an excellent final episode for my Late to the Party, too, because it gave me a good sense of where the friendship between Lex and Clark ends. Apparently, patricide is a bridge too far for ol’ Clark.

Overall impression: One of the show's strengths is how they slowly but steadily build the world up around Clark—showing us not just his powers but a world quickly filling with powered people alongside those who would rather there were no super powers. 

Lex Luthor has always been a pretty compelling villain to me, but Smallville does a particularly excellent job of showing us how he went from traumatized child to angry adolescent to one demented SOB.

Overall, the show was better executed than I expected, filled with great details that expand the world or show us something new (or old) about Clark or call back to the comic books. For instance, Clark consistently wears red and blue. They didn’t have to include that, but as a fan of comic books I enjoy knowing the extra touches that go into adaptations. Tricia clearly chose great episodes for me to watch.

Decision: Well, folks, I’m sold. I plan on losing myself in this nostalgic teen drama superhero TV show for the next month. (Hey! Maybe I can pull a Tricia and even watch it twice.)

I’m fairly certain this will be me when I come up for breath, talking fan theories just seventeen years too late.