Ricky Church and James Garcia with the top 25 episodes of Smallville…
For a long time, Smallville was the longest running science fiction show on television, beating out The X-Files and the individual Star Trek series for that honour. With 218 episodes, no one expected the show about a young Clark Kent in his pre-Superman days to last that long. While it had its fair share of downs, there was plenty to make Smallville a good show which honoured the long history of the character and the world he inhabited.
For its anniversary, fellow Flickering Myth contributor and Smallville fan James Garcia and I decided to compile a list of Smallville‘s top 25 episodes with each of us explaining our reasons for why they deserved that placement. Read on and take yourself back to Smallville…
25. Leech (Season 1, Episode 12)
Ricky: First up on the list is Season 1’s episode ‘Leech’. It’s rare to see Clark without his abilities, especially at such a young age, but in ‘Leech’ Clark loses them after a freak accident with kryptonite and lightning. What he doesn’t know, however, is that his powers transferred to a kid in his class who eventually uses his powers for selfish reasons. Tom Welling really sells the joy Clark experiences at first, such as how he smiles at getting scraped in a game of basketball, but of course comes to realize only he can have access to his powers. This is also the introduction of Shawn Ashmore’s Eric, one of the few Freaks of the Week to plague Clark again later on.
24. Booster (Season 10, Episode 18)
James: “Booster” is one of my favorite Smallville episodes for a number of reasons. It features stellar writing once more from Geoff Johns, introduces us to Booster Gold (one of my all-time favorite superheroes), and features Lois and Clark working out the kinks of his bespectacled, mild-mannered alter ego – while giving some pretty legitimate reasons to why the oft-maligned disguise works at all. It’s stellar superhero television, and a showcase of just how great Smallville’s final season was as a whole.
23. Zod (Season 6, Episode 1)
Ricky: About halfway through Smallville’s run, the show took clearer steps to turn Clark into Superman by introducing more elements from his mythology. Season 5 ended with Zod’s arrival to Earth, taking control of Lex Luthor’s body and banishing Clark to the Phantom Zone. Season 6’s premiere continued from that point as Clark desperately tried to stop Zod, but the real star of the show is Michael Rosenbaum as he delivered a cold and evil take on the villain. Add the fact that ‘Zod’ threw in some nods to Richard Donner’s Superman, such as the spinning glass Phantom Zone to Zod’s Phantom form looking like Terrence Stamp, and you have a pretty good season premiere.
22. Insurgence (Season 2, Episode 12)
Ricky: What seemed like an innocuous episode of Smallville became a fairly integral one in the series’ canon. After Lex hires people to bug his father’s office, it quickly turned into a hostage situation that revealed just how much Lionel was obsessed with the Kent family, even showing he had a safe full of refined kryptonite. We knew by then just how bad of a man Lionel was, but this episode changed the way we saw him after the reveal of just how deceptive he had been, making him one of Smallville’s best villains.
21. Exile (Season 3, Episode 1)
James: “Exile” is one of my favorite season openers. After a heartbreaking season 2 finale, Clark is wearing Red Kryptonite full time, living in Metropolis under the name Kal, and using his powers to commit crimes. The bank robbery sequence is spectacular (and very reminiscent of The Dark Knight), and there was something chilling and exciting about seeing the S symbol burned into Clark’s chest in the phone booth. Couple those scenes with a super-powered Jonathan Kent fighting Clark in order to bring him home, and you’ve got one hell of a memorable episode.
20. Red (Season 2, Episode 4)
James: Smallville specialized in finding ways of turning Clark evil for short periods of time, but there’s something truly special about the first appearance of Red Kryptonite. This offered Tom Welling a chance to cut loose and do something different with his role. It was fun to see a more rebellious side of Clark, and to see him actually enjoy some of his powers.
Ricky: ‘Red’ introduced viewers to different versions of kryptonite, specifically one that loosened Clark’s inhibitions by making him full of anger. In this episode we saw Clark go to some dark places like insulting his parents, blackmailing his friends and assaulting people for very little reason. Though Smallville’s use of red kryptonite was arguably more significant at the end of Season 2 and start of 3, there’s something special about seeing Clark under the influence of Red-K for the very first time, most likely due to Welling’s excellent acting.
19. Commencement (Season 4, Episode 22)
James: “Commencement” was an exciting episode not only because of the impending second meteor shower, but because it marked the end of Clark’s tenure as a high school student. It was the end of one era in his life, and the beginning of another – as evidenced by the creation of the Fortress of Solitude. “Commencement” also had some of the most iconic sequences in the entire series, like Clark saving a child from getting hit with a meteor. Season 4 itself was a bit of a disappointment, but it sure ended with a bang.
18. Crusade (Season 4, Episode 1)
Ricky: Though Season 4 isn’t my favourite season of Smallville, it did have a handful of episodes that are quite good. Perhaps the quality of ‘Crusade’ built the season up for me, but its one of my favourite premieres of the series because it places many of the characters in very different circumstances from where Season 3 left off. It is also the introduction of Erica Durance’s brilliant take on Lois Lane and shocked viewers when Clark (or technically Kal-El) actually flew for the very first time. On a show whose mandate was “no flight, no tights”, ‘Crusade’ gave us a stellar flight sequence that is truly epic and the best time Clark flew in the series.
James: “Crusade” is a great episode for a number of reasons, most notably being the introduction of Lois Lane, and of course the incredible sequence of Clark flying for the first time (though, to get away with it, the series positioned him technically as Kal-El, devoid of Clark’s humanity). In a show that had tried really hard to keep Clark grounded, that flight sequence was arguably the most exciting moment of the series up to that point, and still one of its most iconic.
17. Luthor (Season 10, Episode 10)
James: Long before The Flash got so much credit for introducing parallel universes, Clark Kent accidentally traveled to Earth-2, where he discovered he was found as a baby by Lionel Luthor instead of the Kents. “Luthor” is a great episode that acted as more than just a fun “what if?” scenario, and actually led to conflicts that would affect the entire final season, like bringing back John Glover for more Lionel Luthor greatness.
Ricky: Despite the comics being riddled with parallel universes and alternate timelines, Smallville never played around with this concept until its final season. When it did, it featured a world where Clark was raised by Lionel Luthor instead of the Kents, bringing forth a very dark world where Clark Luthor abused his powers and killed his adoptive brother Lex for some twisted approval from Lionel. More than that, though, ‘Luthor’ explored just what it is that makes the Luthor name so dark; are Luthors raised that way or are they just inherently evil? After several seasons off the show, John Glover’s return as Lionel reminded us just how nasty he really was.
16. Vessel (Season 5, Episode 22)
Ricky: One of the earlier episodes that made the list was Season 6’s premiere ‘Zod’, but Season 5’s finale is where it started. ‘Vessel’ featured many aspects that are the hallmarks of great Superman stories: a nefarious scheme by Brainiac, Zod coming to Earth and Lex just being evil, but believing himself the hero. It’s somewhat at this point in the show that Lex really starts to turn to the dark side and Michael Rosenbaum sells the turn well, not to mention his take on Zod in the closing moments as all hell breaks loose across the planet.
James: “Vessel” was, up until that point in the series, the most jam-packed and exciting finale of the series (which is saying a lot considering the meteor shower that arrived in S4). The arrival of Zod (via using Lex as a human host) and a city-wide attack by Brainiac put all of the characters in danger. It even ended with Lana embracing Lex (er, Zod) on top of the Daily Planet while Metropolis burned beneath them, while Clark was sent adrift into space, trapped in the Phantom Zone. Try saying again that Smallville wasn’t actually a full-blown Superman show in disguise. I dare you!
15. Justice (Season 6, Episode 11)
James: “Justice” was a revolutionary episode when it aired in 2007, though it’d be seen as just another run-of-the-mill hour of something like The Flash or Arrow by today’s standards. Smallville had done a great job of introducing a few classic DC characters throughout the series, so teaming them all up for an actual Justice League mission was a no-brainer. I will say that it only increased my frustrations at Clark’s red jacket and refusal to embrace a superhero persona, but it was still a fun hour of superhero television nonetheless. Too bad it never led to an actual Justice League spinoff show.
Ricky: In today’s age of superhero movies and television, team-ups and crossovers are everywhere, but it’s easy to forget how rare that was 10 years ago. Smallville’s ‘Justice’ was the first superhero team-up we received in the modern live-action age as Clark, Green Arrow, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg worked together to shut down one of Lex’s labs for experimenting on meta-humans. All the previous heroes had appeared before in Smallville, slowly building to the beginnings of the Justice League. Though they wouldn’t appear in Smallville again for a while, this iteration of the League paved the way for the later seasons and arguably set the ground work for shows like Arrow and The Flash today.
14. Salvation (Season 9, Episode 21)
Ricky: As Smallville approached the end, Clark took some very big steps to becoming Superman during Season 9 as he proudly wore the ‘S’ shield on his chest, though was dressed entirely in black. In Season 9’s finale, Clark had a choice of leaving Earth behind to go with his newfound Kryptonian brothers and sisters in an effort to keep Earth safe from Zod’s clone or to stay behind and risk the wrath of Zod and his army. ‘Salvation’ examined the growing awe people felt around Clark as he got closer to embracing his destiny, but it ended in a pretty well choreographed fight between Clark and Zod where the hero used both his strength and wits to defeat the would-be tyrant.
James: “Salvation” may be the best single season finale of the show, and is a story I could easily see playing out in the pages of Superman comics. The episode is jam-packed with fantastic moments: Zod pretending to be the Blur to trick Lois, Lois discovering that Clark was actually the Blur, the great final fight sequence in the rain, Clark receiving his Superman costume from his mother, and of course, an opening sequence that flashes forward to 2013 and shows Superman saving a plane in front of the Daily Planet! It’s Smallville at its very best.
13. Onyx (Season 4, Episode 17)
James: “Onyx” is one of the series’ best Lex episodes. Splitting Lex in two – his evil side and his good side – provided a fun and engaging way to explore his inner conflict, while giving viewers a taste of the person he would eventually become. It also gives Michael Rosenbaum the chance to play a more classical, villainous Lex, chewing the scenery with a few great, memorable monologues.
12. Legion (Season 8, Episode 11)
Ricky: One of Superman’s strongest traits is his ability to effortlessly inspire those around him. While Smallville delved into this trait with other heroes and Clark’s friends a bit, none was stronger than in ‘Legion’. As Brainiac inhabited Chloe’s body and attempted to destroy the world, the young Legion of Superheroes came back in time to help Clark, but believed the only way to do so was to kill Chloe. Clark’s emphatic refusal to consider that path not only saved Chloe, but was enough for the Legion to change their ways one they went back to the future. A very creepy performance by Allison Mack as Brainiac elevates ‘Legion’ even further, but it also helps this episode was written by DC superstar Geoff Johns.
11. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
James: There are so many great things to say about “Pilot,” but I’ll try to keep this short. The episode is a perfect introduction to the world to Smallville, and still holds up to this day. The episode perfectly captures the tone and mission that would carry throughout the entire series: That this is not a Superman show, but a show about Clark Kent, and his journey from young man to Superman. The episode does a fantastic job of introducing us to Clark, the kind of person that he is, and why his various relationships are so important to him.
Ricky: Without a doubt, the very first episode of Smallville ranks among its best. Right from the opening moments as a meteorite shower pounds Smallville, ‘Pilot’ delivers a lot of fun, emotion and some stellar performances. You immediately buy into the relationship Clark has with his parents as Welling, John Schneider and Annette O’Toole have great chemistry while Michael Rosenbaum easily makes you believe Lex Luthor was truly a good person once upon a time. ‘Pilot’ also has one of the most iconic images not just of Smallville, but of the Superman mythos: Clark Kent tied to a scarecrow’s pole with an ‘S’ spray-painted to his chest.
10. Labyrinth (Season 6, Episode 12)
James: “Labyrinth” is another bright spot in Smallville’s mid-seasons, and while it’s a bit of a filler episode, its cleverness and ingenuity lands it a spot on our list. I love how the writers handled the various reveals that things we’d been watching unfold on the show for the past 5 years – including Clark saving Lex in the Pilot, the Fortress of Solitude, Level 33.1, Kryptonite, the Phantom Zone, and Jor-El – were actually things Clark has made up while inside an insane asylum.
9. Transference (Season 4, Episode 6)
Ricky: Earlier I said I wasn’t much of a fan of Smallville’s fourth season, but among the handful of Season 4’s great episodes was ‘Transference’ because it focused so heavily on the elder Luthor. Even behind bars, Lionel continued his machinations and this one was nefarious. Intending to swap bodies with Lex, he instead switched with Clark thanks to his intervention. If you thought Lionel was evil before with the millions of dollars at his disposal, that’s nothing compared to Clark’s abilities at his fingertips as he abuses them in various ways. What makes this episode standout though is Tom Welling and John Glover’s acting as the other by copying their speech patterns and body language.
James: I’m a sucker for body-switching episodes, especially those done well. “Transference” was a lot of fun because it gave Welling and John Glover a chance to try something new and play each other. The result is pretty stunning – to this day I’m still convinced by their performances. It’s also a great emotional Clark/Martha episode, and does a good job of driving some wedges between Clark and his various friends/romantic interests.
8. Metallo (Season 9, Episode 2)
James: Clark may have gone by “The Blur” for the majority of its final seasons, but Smallville was basically a full-blown Superman series by season 9, complete with a House of El shield on his chest, phone booth calls with Lois, supporting characters like Dr. Emil Hamilton, and iconic villains like Metallo. I’ll never forget the “What gives you the right?” speech Metallo gives to Clark in this episode, about his sister being killed by a prisoner that Clark had saved as the Blur. Smallville was always at its best when it examined why Superman saves lives, and the weight and consequences of his actions.
Ricky: Aside from Lex, Smallville rarely used any of the known villains from Superman’s rogues gallery unless it was a big occasion, such as with Zod, Brainiac or Doomsday. As Clark stepped closer to embracing his destiny, the show introduced John Corben in Season 9’s premiere, but didn’t waste anytime turning him into Metallo in the next episode. Corben’s turn to Metallo was sympathetic, but it also brought to light some interesting questions regarding Clark’s role in humanity because someone Clark once saved later killed Corben’s sister, prompting Corben to ask what right Clark has to change the destinies of those around him? It’s a heavy question as Clark and Superman are rarely affected by any negative implications of saving someone’s life.
7. Memoria (Season 3, Episode 19)
Ricky: As well as being Clark’s evolution into Superman, Smallville was also about Lex’s transformation into the villain. There are plenty of great episodes that examine Lex’s journey, but ‘Memoria’ is one of his outstanding episodes by taking a look at his childhood and tense relationship with Lionel. Growing up with Lionel Luthor as a father proved to be just as twisted for Lex as a child as it is as a grown man. The revelation of what happened to his younger brother is truly tragic, showing just how messed up the Luthor family was. Its not all dark, though, as Clark has his own very heart warming revelation about his birth mother Lara-El this is sure to have you thinking someone is cutting onions in the room. I’m not crying. You’re crying!
6. Descent (Season 7, Episode 16)
James: I can think of a few really defining episodes for Lex, who had a pretty fascinating and entertaining arc through the series. “Descent” is probably the best Lex episode, as it brought the darkest parts of him out into the open, and lead to him killing Lionel, something we’d been waiting for for a while. It really positioned him as the villain Lex Luthor; like we’d reached the end of his origin story.
Ricky: For those waiting for Lex’s full turn to villainy, this was it. The series had steadily been building to a confrontation between Lex and Lionel since the very beginning and ‘Descent’ featured Lex murdering Lionel not in the closing moments, but at the very start of the episode. What made this even more powerful was the thematic nature of the story; the last couple of seasons Lionel had actually been on a redemptive path, becoming an important ally of Clark’s, while Lex slowly succumbed to his darker urges. Throughout the episode Lex tossed and turned with remorse, but embraced his full Luthorness by the conclusion. Lex’s final line to his father remains one of the best of the series: “I grew up in your shadow. Now your going to die in mine.” Pure chills thanks to Rosenbaum’s delivery.
5. Rosetta (Season 2, Episode 17)
Ricky: Despite how Man of Steel has modernized Superman for today’s audience or how Smallville examined Clark’s youth and development into a hero, many still hold Christopher Reeve’s Superman films as the pinnacle of the character’s mainstream appeal, even with the cheesiness associated with the old movies. It was a big deal, then, when Christopher Reeve made a very rare guest appearance on Smallville as a man holding the answers to Clark’s heritage. Seeing Reeve next to Tom Welling, along with musical cues to John Williams’ famous Superman score, was an excellent passing of the torch moment that not only reminded viewers of Superman’s legacy in cinema, but just how much we appreciated Reeves dedication to the Man of Steel.
James: While Smallville’s first season had a heavy freak-of-the-week focus, season 2 began really diving into actual Superman mythology. No episode is proof of that more than “Rosetta,” the famous hour when Clark learns about Krypton – from none other than former Man of Steel Christopher Reeve! As someone who loved Reeve’s Superman films as a kid, it was great to see him pass the torch to Welling, who was really “my” Superman right up until Henry Cavill hit the big screen (sorry Brandon Routh).
4. Reckoning (Season 5, Episode 12)
Ricky: In this day and age of television, it is very hard for any series to reach 100 episodes. Smallville’s 100th episode was a big one with several twists for fans as Clark finally revealed his secret to Lana, got engaged, but then lost Lana to a tragic accident, forcing him to go back in time and relive it all again. Fate’s hand targeted many of the special people in Clark’s life to balance things out (tellingly, fate choice to target Lois after Lana), but ultimately, it was Jonathan Kent who passed in an eerie homage to Superman: The Movie. Jonathan is one of the most important characters in the Superman mythos and throughout his time on the show, John Schneider imbued a great sense of fatherly love, wisdom and compassion. Schneider and Welling shared an immense chemistry with each other and Schneider’s loss was felt throughout the rest of the series’ run.
James: “Reckoning” is undoubtedly one of the most important episodes of the entire series. It remains one of the brightest spots of the show’s mid-seasons, which were famously bogged down by frustrating storylines designed only to keep Clark from becoming Superman too soon. It’s also the show’s most heartbreaking episode. The death of Jonathan Kent would continue to have an impact on Clark until the series finale, and while the Clark/Lana relationship was at times incredibly frustrating (and would only get worse in the following two seasons), “Reckoning” knew exactly how to handle it.
3. Absolute Justice (Season 9, Episode 11)
James: With the Arrowverse currently in full swing on the CW, it’s easy to forget that just a few years ago, full-blown comic book television and superhero team-ups were not par for the course. “Absolute Justice” had everything we expect from shows like Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow (and debuted characters that have now become staples on several of those series). Hawkman and the Justice Society of America teaming up with Clark Kent’s “Blur” and Green Arrow??? Back in 2010, that was revolutionary, and a dream come true. It’s the one episode I always point to when a friend or colleague tells me they abandoned the series at an earlier point. Who would have thought that a show that began with such a strict “no tights, no flights” rule would have reached this level of comic book-y Geoff Johns greatness?
Ricky: The only episode of Smallville to have two words in its title, ‘Absolute Justice’ deserves its name. While ‘Justice’ served as the first adventure of the proto-Justice League, its spiritual sequel raised the bar and showed what lengths the Arrowverse could eventually achieve. Clark’s team-up with the Justice Society was nothing short of awesome. One aspect that really stood out was the costume design as the show faithfully adapted the comic book looks of Hawkman, Stargirl and Dr. Fate in particular. It really examined the concepts of legacy and heroism within the DC universe, but could you expect any less from something written by Geoff Johns?
2. Finale (Season 10, Episode 21)
James: “Finale” is, in my opinion, the greatest and most satisfying series finale on television. Part of that is undoubtedly because it had a very simple goal: Turn Clark Kent into Superman. But the way it handled that goal, while tying up loose ends and bringing back characters like Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor, was truly impressive. While the show itself was ending, it truly felt like it was setting up stories that, in another series starring Tom Welling as Superman, could be told for years and years to come. I dare you to show me a more satisfying and exciting final shot of any television series.
Ricky: Smallville’s finale is among the best episodes of superhero television ever produced and surpasses all but one episode of the series. It took its time to get Clark in the suit, letting it build steadily to that epic moment. Though I do think that after 10 years it would have been cool to see a full shot of Tom Welling in the suit, the brief glimpse at the end as he does the traditional shirt-pop set to John Williams’ soaring score was the best way to close out the series. We also got some very emotional performances by Welling and Durnace, specifically when each of them are reading their wedding vows when they’re on opposite sides of a door to the reunion of the Kent family. That is one aspect that actually surprised and impressed me most about that finale: rather than featuring all Smallville’s heroes in an epic brawl against Darkseid’s forces, it instead brought back much of the original cast, John Schneider included, to focus on the characters. The fact that it was the vision of Jonathan Kent who handed Clark the suit was just icing on the cake.
1. Homecoming (Season 10, Episode 4)
Ricky: Earlier I said it is difficult for TV shows now to reach 100 episodes, so you can imagine how hard it must be to reach 200. Who could have possibly thought when Smallville began it would go on for so long? The show’s 200th episode brought it all back home as Clark and Lois attended his high school reunion, taking a look at just how much had changed for them. It was a complete examination of his journey as Brainiac 5 took him through the past and present, letting Clark see some of his defining moments in a different light, but it was the bit in the future that really stole the show as Clark briefly glimpsed his life with Lois and his future-self in all his nerdy and heroic glory. The episode even brought back one of the very first meteor freaks, but rather than seeking vengeance against Clark, he actually shows how he’s changed thanks to Clark’s actions. The real kicker, though, is just how emotional it is as Clark realizes just how important Lois is in his life, sharing a heartfelt dance where Clark is fully confident and sure of himself that, unbeknownst to either of them, he actually flies. That is what Lois Lane brings to Clark Kent: an assuredness of who he is and what he is meant to do. ‘Homecoming’ was nothing short of a celebration of everything Superman and Smallville stood for.
James: I was tempted to list “Finale” as the best episode of the series, because it finally lead to the moment we all waited ten years for, but “Homecoming” was the purest Superman episode Smallville ever had. I’d argue it’s also the best written episode of the series. It could have easily been bogged down by its obvious A Christmas Carol inspiration, but perfectly displayed past, present, and future events in a way that helped propel Clark to his destiny, and address some of the biggest issues that had been holding the character back for several seasons. We all assumed that the series would end the moment Clark donned the cape and costume, so seeing a glimpse at what the Smallville universe would look like after the series itself would come to a close was both exciting and bittersweet. The episode tied up some loose ends, showed Clark that he was truly needed not only by the world, but by his friends, and that – most importantly – he needed to embrace his relationship with Lois. The final moment of the two of them hovering in the barn, dancing after professing their love to each other – will remain my favorite moment of the entire series.
What are your favourite episodes of Smallville? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…