Sometimes origin stories take 10 years — Ranking the episodes of Smallville, Episodes 25-1

After the positive response to my ranked list of Lost and Office episodes, I just had to do another. Heck, even if there wasn’t a positive response for those two features, I probably would have done another one anyway because I love lists. I’ve been thinking about what series to tackle for nearly a month and finally decided on the one that I may be more familiar with that any other television series on air and one that is very difficult to organize based on the sheer number of episodes alone — Smallville.

Click here to see some insight into my process for this list.

Here we are folks, the end. I told you I’d be done by the end of the month! Thanks to everyone who has read, commented on or forwarded this to their friends. It’s been a fun, large undertaking, but I’m most of all glad that people have actually enjoyed it.

25. “Legacy” (S3): I held an odd grudge against this episode for so long, I think because it’s precursor “Rosetta” is just so good that it’s hard to compare the two. However, I’ve seen the error in my ways: “Legacy” is fantastic. Season three is all about Lionel Luthor’s permeation into the lives of the Kents, Chloe, etc. and the outcomes of that new dynamic, so it makes total sense to have him get involved with the Virgil Swann character. I think it took some risk on the series’ part to make Swann be a little villainous, and though it’s a shame we never saw the results of his actions here, said actions were surprising.

24. “Pilot” (S1): It’s wild how any one of us fans could pop in the pilot episode of the series right now and still enjoy it as much as we did back in 2001. Well, at least you all should because the Smallville pilot is still one of the better pilots I’ve watched over the last 10 years. The acting is all a little raw, but the episode resets the Superman story for a new generation pitch-perfectly.

23. “Blank” (S4): Another one of those episodes that seems really cliché and television-y on paper, “Blank” is actually consistently funny, heartfelt and progressive for the Clark and Chloe relationship. We all know that Clark’s going to regain his memory at the end of the episode, but it’s still awesome to watch him cycle through all his previous life choices on an expedited schedule just to confirm that he’s probably always going to do the right thing.

22. “Metallo” (S9): The second episode of season nine continued the upward swing in quality thanks to a fantastic guest turn by the criminally underrated Brian Austin Green, who gave John Corben a real depth that short-term villains on this series rarely have.

21. “Heat” and 20. “Red” (both S2): For whatever reason, I always think of these episodes as some sort of pair, even though they aired with “Duplicity” between them. However, both early season efforts feature Clark dealing with new obstacles to his powers in an extremely entertaining way. These two episodes probably convinced a lot of people who the series could be something more than just tame Freak of The Week stuff.

19. “Legion” (S8) and 18. “Absolute Justice” (S9): The double pairings were unintentional, but nevertheless, it seems smart to be these two Geoff Johns-penned episodes together as well. Though both episodes feel somewhat separate from the narratives their respective seasons had already built up (“Absolute Justice” certainly more so than “Legion”), but are still compelling and world-expanding in ways that the series didn’t really attempt in the early years. Even for people not familiar with the respective hero crews introduced here, the episode’s work.

17. “Run” (S4): I’m not sure if it’s the character, the actor or the writing of the episode (it’s probably all three), but this is far and away the best episode that introduces a DC Comics hero to the Smallville world. Kyle Gallner is a wonderful Bart Allen and has great chemistry with Tom Welling in all of his appearances, and it all started here.

16. “Identity” (S8): This is certainly one of my favorite episodes of the series’ later years. “Identity” is smart, thrilling and important to Clark’s journey towards being Superman. The scene with Clark and Jimmy at the Kent Farm when Jimmy starts to put the pieces together is probably Mr. Olsen’s finest moment in Smallville. I don’t care what the stupid “Doomsday” retcon says, Aaron Ashmore is Jimmy and his work here proves it.

15. “Onyx” (S4): At a time when Lex was really “trying” to be the good guy, the events of this episode really brought to the forefront that the darkness is always going to be there. Michael Rosenbaum does a wonderful job playing both versions of Lex, especially in the scenes with both of them. Watching him play two extremes of the character really makes me appreciate his normal performance as Lex because I can now see how he layers it with both of this episode’s personas.

14. “Transference” (S4): As shoddy as season four seems at first, there sure are a lot of individual highlights, aren’t there? This is yet another one that includes a light premise (body switch!), but is executed as well as it could have been. Both John Glover and Tom Welling turn in hilarious and intense performances as the other’s character, leading to a number of awkward-funny moments in an otherwise straight-forward episode.

13. “Justice” (S6): The much-hyped centerpiece of the series’ sixth season isn’t quite as great as it could be (mostly due to budgetary issues), but man is it fun just to see all the heroes together in a mini-war against Lex. The series smartly introduced the characters individually so by the time this episode came around, it felt like the band was finally coming together to blow some stuff up. The walk away from the explosion is cheesy, but in the best way possible.

12. “Exodus” (S2): I mentioned in the last post that I couldn’t pair “Calling” and “Exodus” together because I think so highly of the latter and now, you can see that. The best finales really make you feel like they brought all the weight of the previous 20-odd episodes falling down onto the lead characters and “Exodus” really hammers that home. All the changes in Clark’s life throughout season two come to a head and break him — and it’s awesome to watch.

11. “Arrival” (S5): This episode has a lot of work to do, both with the plot and its position as a transition point for the series, and thankfully, it handles both responsibilities very well. The premieres always feel like they’re zooming through so many plot beats before resetting a new status quo and this one certainly does that, but the end of the episode sets up the powerless Clark mini-arc in a smart way that avoid any “Everything’s fine again!” nonsense.

10. “Memoria” (S3): Dipping into Lex’s past is always a smart approach, and the dark, depressing aura from this season three effort is the absolute best example of that approach. The flashbacks were well-executed and ingrained into the narrative and forced us to feel sorry for Lex right as he was starting to become a monster.

9. “Bride” (S8): The season eight mid-season finale is innovative, intense and just downright awesome in almost every way. This is an episode I never thought the series could pull off, but no recent episode has so many “Holy crap!” moments as this one. Can we just pretend this is the finale to season eight?

8. “Rosetta” (S2): Another episode with a high degree of difficulty (Christopher Reeve, lots of exposition) that nails it perfectly. The scenes with Clark and Swann are arguably the best in the series’ history.

7. “Crusade” (S4): Flight. The introduction of Lois. The reveal that Chloe isn’t dead. The stones. Gah, this episode has so many iconic moments and reveals, even if it’s jam-packed all to hell.

6. “Exile” (S3): This is the episode I have seen the most thanks to a random VHS taping I had of it for so many years, so perhaps my judgment is clouded. In any event, I like that this episode doesn’t rush through plot development like other premieres and instead stops to let the characters marinate in their terrible circumstances: Clark in his exile, Lana in her sadness, Lex in his possible death and the Kent’s in their poverty. No other premiere spends time on actual character development than this one.

5. “Shattered” (S3): I praised “Bride” for its awesome climaxing of the season eight’s mini-arcs and that episode still handles those things better than season three’s “Shattered,” but man, Lex’s journey here is one gut-punch after another. The scene with Lex in the padded room as Lionel looks on while Johnny Cash plays is the most heartbreaking non-death moment the series’ has ever done. And this episode also does a great job of showing a valiant Clark who is unwilling to give up on Lex, even with all his issues.

4. “Commencement” (S4): Much the season four premiere, this episode is just chock-full of iconic, flat-out awesome moments: Clark saving the kid, the conclusion to the stones, the rising of the Fortress, graduation, Chloe taking out Lex, etc. It’s also the conclusion, nay commencement (see what I did there?) of the first four years of the series and in that sense, turns the page in an eventful way.

3. “Descent” (S7): It’s insane that this episode begins with Lex killing Lionel, as most series would have kept said seminal event for the climax of an episode. That approach allows for the rest of the episode to focus on the aftermath, which includes a deep dive into Lex’s psyche. This is Michael Rosenbaum’s finest work on the series, almost like a final cherry on top of seven fantastic years.

2. “Salvation” (S9): It might be the recency effect ruling over me, but my lord, this is such a fine episode. Putting aside all the awesome, OMG moments (the teaser! the kiss! the “Clark?”!), I love this episode because it finally paints Clark in the heroic and strong light he should have been in years before. Clark takes control of the Justice League meeting, realizes that he’s spent all year trying to ditch his humanity when to save them, he has to sacrifice himself and generally acts like a bad-ass throughout this episode. This is Superman, suit or no suit.

1. “Covenant” (S3): …and here we are, the best episode of Smallville, in my opinion, is the season three finale, “Covenant.” Season three is far and away the most consistent and thematically tight season in the series’ run, so it’s no surprise that the finale to that season tops the list. Every major plot point from the season is resolved or at least momentarily resolved, dating all the way back to Jonathan Kent’s deal with Jor-El and Chloe’s deal with Lionel. This episode is emotionally-charged (hello, Clark-Lex scene in the Clark room) and includes the least amount of “action” than any other finale, but proves that sometimes character beats and resolution is all you need to make a successful finale. Oh, and that montage? EPIC.

That’s it, folks. Thanks for reading!


3 responses to “Sometimes origin stories take 10 years — Ranking the episodes of Smallville, Episodes 25-1”

  1. Good list 🙂 I completely agree with the top 5 choices, just not about the order, so here’s my opinion

    5 – Shattered – I agree with placing this one so highly, it’s such a great performance by Michael Rosenbaum. The whole episode you’re questioning Lex’s sanity and it’s just amazing!

    4 – Descent – This was like the series finale of Lexville. Clark still has a few steps to go before becoming the Man of Steel, but this was Lex’s true defining moment. I remember actually fearing Lex after seeing what he was truly capable of.

    3 – Covenant – The cliffhangers in this one are remarkable. My jaw was literally on the floor seeing Chloe blow up, the symbol on the Kent farm, Jonathan unconscious, Lex poisoned, and Clark trapped somewhere in the cave. Such an iconic and epic episode!

    2 – Salvation – I LOVE this episode. Clark was more Superman-ly than ever and because of that the episode shined. The last 10 minutes are pure GOLD though 😀

    1 – Commencement – Still my favorite episode ever. Still epic after all these years. And the fact that it’s 50 minutes long makes it all the more satisfying!!!


  2. And so it ends. Thank You for ending on a high note and putting my favorite 2 episodes ever in the top 2. You have good taste. And great picks for the top 25. But you know what I’m curious about: Any chance you may revisit this list after the end of Season 10?


  3. Thank you so much!!
    I loved re-living these, this last post especially.
    I can say that I would have shuffled the order slightly, though not by much, and of course it depends on which characters you like better etc.
    Well done, this was a pleasure to read, so much so that I read all of them in one go. 😀


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