Sometimes origin stories take 10 years — Ranking the episodes of Smallville, Episodes 79-50
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.
As I’m closing in on the upper echelon of the list, I’ve gotten some complaints about being too negative on episodes that are so high up here. That’s probably true, so I’ll try to be more positive! Let’s do it.
79. “Traveler” (S7): The Veritas arc was messy as heck (the WGA Strike is at least partially to blame), but this episode started it with some fire and intrigue. The Kryptonite-laced cage is awesome, Patricia Swan works fairly well without seeming too retcon-y and Lex’s actions are particularly dark.
78. “Infamous” (S8): Sure all the events of this episode, including the whole world knowing about Clark’s secret, are erased. But that doesn’t make watching them beforehand any less enjoyable.
77. “Zero” (S1): This episode sticks out like a sore thumb amid the Freak of the Week-stuffed first season, and that’s perhaps why it is so good. Dipping into Lex’s past rarely disappoints.
76. “Stray” (S1): I’ve noted before that the series likes to make Clark responsible for troubled little kids as a way of teaching him some lesson and this is certainly the first and best of the ilk. “Stray” is emotionally resonant and familial in the best of ways.
75. “Mortal” (S5): The human Clark arc to start season five is one heck of a stretch, even if it does only last 2.5 episodes. “Mortal” is fairly uncomplicated in its premise, but the interaction between Clark and Chloe combined with the legitimate concern for Clark based on his lack of abilities makes for a fine, fine hour.
74. “Forsaken” (S3): Emily Dinsmore’s return is generic and weightless, but everything else in this episode — Lionel’s arrest, Pete’s departure, most notably — is wonderful. It isn’t the best penultimate episode of the series, but sets the table for “Covenant” in a great way.
73. “Nicodemus” (S1): The WB loved to re-air this episode thanks to Kristin Kreuk’s body double, but that’s not all this one offers. Smallville loves to have its characters act a fool thanks to some random substance or infection, so it’s fun to have it happen to everyone all in one episode.
72. “Gone” (S4): The villain who comes after Chloe is one of the series’ most egregious thefts (hello, T-1000 rip-off), but Clark and Lois’ first team-up (and first shower) is awesome.
71. “Rabid” (S9): This season nine stand-out is shockingly good despite the dumb premise (Zombies!). Amid all the zombie nonsense is a nice character story that the series needed to tell between Clark, Lois and Oliver.
70. “Prey” (S8): His arc sure came to a horrible and abrupt end, but at this early point in S8 Davis Bloome was one of the best additions to the story in the series’ history. This episode really begins the season’s arc when Chloe begins to trust Davis while Jimmy and Clark remain skeptical.
69. “Hostage” (S9): Martha being revealed as the Red Queen is ridiculous, but the execution of it in this episode works better than expected. Plus, it’s hard to knock an effort that brings back both Martha Kent and Perry White and puts them at a table together with Clark and Lois.
68. “Arrow” (S6): Though Oliver was already on the series at this point, his alter ego’s official introduction is one of the best super hero-centric efforts of the series. I actually enjoy the lecture-offs Clark and Oliver like to have, so it’s nice to be reminded that it all starts here.
67. “Lineage” (S2): This is a sneaky little episode full of history and backstory that always sneaks up on me during the DVD re-watch. Tying the Luthors and Kents even closer together is a really smart move and is well-established here.
66. “X-Ray” (S1): The first and still one of the best “power” episodes.
65. “Talisman” (S3): The cave mythology is one of the most original aspects of Smallville and the scene with Lex and Lionel touching the knife at the same time is just fantastic, even though we know the answer to who is Clark’s biggest nemesis.
64. “Lara” (S7), 63. “Bloodline” (S8) and 62. “Kandor” (S9): These three episodes are mythology-heavy and shade in a lot of the El family history without seeming too expository or boring.
61. “Leech” (S1): It’s funny how so many gimmicks the series implemented in the first season continue to be brought back. This fine effort introduces Clark without powers, and just like “Stray” or “X-Ray,” the season one iteration of the story is about as good as it gets.
60. “Asylum” (S3): While it’s not as good as the episode that precedes it (“Shattered”), “Asylum” is still gut-wrenching and entertaining, especially as Lionel wipes Lex’s memory away.
59. “Charade” (S9): The season was in a bit of a slump and really, so were Clark and Lois as a couple, before this one. Thankfully, the writers rediscovered how to write for their two main characters at the right time, giving us a playful, but emotional, even if it does signal their break-up.
58. “Vortex” (S2): The conclusion to the first season’s finale is well-paced and exciting, but also sets the stage for a fine second season to follow.
57. “Pariah” and 56. “Unsafe” (S4): I noted earlier in the list that I love Alicia Baker, so it’s no surprise that these two episodes are this high on the list. Though the arcs here are fairly self-contained, Alicia’s death is oh so sad. Plus: Chloe finds out!
55. “Duplicity” (S2): Although Pete learning the secret should have opened up more storyline possibilities for the Boss, the episode itself is still damn great.
54. “Reckoning” and 53. “Vengeance” (S5): The former episode is more enjoyable and saddening overall, but that final scene with Jonathan riding away on the tractor in the latter is most definitely the most tear-jerking moment in Smallville history. I’m crying right now.
52. “Tempest” (S1): The season one finale seems so simplistic after all these years, but all the cliffhangers still hold up.
51. “Perry” (S3): It’s funny how fairly traditionally-structured episodes stand out so much more when there’s an epic guest star character right in the middle. This episode is so great that people were begging for Mr. White’s return for more than six years.
50. “Arctic” (S8): There’s a lot of clunky missteps in getting there, but the as-of-now final confrontation between Lex and Clark is tense, angry and thrilling without involving any fighting at all — which makes it even better.