"Pilot" (Season 1)
Smallville‘s premiere episode on The WB — watched by 8.4 million people — made an immediate impression with its cinematic panache and inspired reformulation of Superman’s small-town coming-of-age beginnings. Tom Welling was instantly winning as a humble, hunky Clark, and he had crackling chemistry with the show’s key supporting players — John Schneider’s Jonathan Kent; Kristen Kreuk’s Lana Lang; and especially Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor. The premise of a heartland town forever changed by a catastrophe from the sky (the radioactive meteor shower that attended Kal-El’s arrival) had provocative resonance one month after 9/11, as did a high school hazing subplot that evoked the Matthew Shepard hate-crime tragedy. Credit series developers Al Gough and Miles Millar for delivering the geeky goods while working the Man of Steel mythos for meaningful, accessible metaphors for alienation and adolescent angst.
"Heat" (Season 2)
Some boys find themselves daydreaming about the cute farm girl that lives down the Lang… I mean Lois Lane.. err… just… ROAD, and feel a strange stirring in their skivvies. But when Superboy gets his tighties in a twist over a cute lass (or gets hot for a femme-fatale biology teacher imbued with radioactive pheromones), he shoots fire out of his eyes. Smallville was often ingenious in the way it used teenage Clark’s developing powers to access those previously mentioned ”metaphors for adolescent angst,” and ”Heat” was one of the funniest and best.
"Red" (Season 2)
One of the sillier parts of the Superman mythology is the idea that different kinds and colors of kryptonite — remnants of Kal-El’s exploded home planet; the ”meteor rocks” that showered Smallville on the day of Clark’s arrival — could affect him in different ways. For example, while green kryptonite can kill Superman, gold kryptonite takes his powers away, and red kryptonite makes him bad — the anti-Superman. But kudos to Smallville for embracing almost everything about Superman, and even making the silly parts work for effective drama. ”Red,” which exposed Clark to crimson meteor rocks and turned the humble superpowered square into a selfish superpowered jerk, was a nifty allegory for teenage rebellion that allowed Tom Welling the chance to stretch and play with his performance. Even Lana Lang was dazzled by his bad-boy act.
"Rosetta" (Season 2)
Smallville was slow to deal with Superman’s Kryptonian backstory — a calculated decision that may have irked impatient fanboys, but gave the series somewhere to go once it exhausted its early freak-of-the-week storytelling conceit. In ”Rosetta,” Clark finally began decoding the mysteries of his extraterrestrial origins with the help of a big-screen Super-friend: Christopher Reeve, stirring and inspiring as a twinkle-eyed, Stephen Hawking-esque astrophysicist.
"Crusade" (Season 4)
The producers of Smallville promised a version of Superboy/Superman that stayed away from the more overt comic-booky elements that could limit the show’s broad-skewing potential or strain the show’s budget. (Though let’s pause to note that Smallville‘s special effects have always been top-notch for series television.) However, at the start of the fourth season, one tenet of the show’s well-known ”no flights, no tights” philosophy fell by the wayside when the producers allowed Clark Kent one awesome, well-produced flight, in a rousing episode that saw Kal-El temporarily renouncing everything Earthy about him and go Kryptonian warlord on everyone. (As for the ”no tights” part of the mantra, all signs point to the May 13 series finale finally breaking that rule in equally triumphant fashion.)
"Reckoning" (Season 5)
Pa Kent’s death loomed from the start of Smallville. Yet his demise was a wrenching shock, nonetheless, well disguised in a poignant time-travel episode that also dealt smartly with the inevitability of Clark and Lana’s doomed romance. The show’s terrific ticktock chronicle of a maturing Man of Steel owes a huge debt to Schneider’s portrayal of the man who taught Clark to be super.
"Justice" (Season 6)
Over the years, Smallville found ways to import more characters and story lines from the DC Comics universe, much to the delight of fanboy viewers. ”Justice” marked an ambitious attempt to bring many of them together — most notably Green Arrow (Justin Hartley), who became a series regular. (”Absolute Justice” from season 9 — featuring old-time heroes from the Justice Society of America — was also a geek blast.)
"Arctic" (Season 7)
This was a tumultuous time in the long life of Smallville. The seventh season — interrupted and shortened by the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike — marked the swan-song years for producers Al Gough and Miles Millar and stars Kristen Kreuk and Michael Rosenbaum, whose always-riveting and nuanced Lex Luthor was as much a reason to watch as Welling’s Clark or the show’s strong, confident storytelling. Complex Lex was ostensibly killed in ”Arctic,” Smallville‘s momentous season 7 finale, although he’s slated to make a return appearance in the series capper on May 13. And yet, while many fans and critics thought Smallville was doomed by these departures, the show would hold its own for three more years under the stewardship of longtime writers Kelly Souders, Brian Peterson, Todd Slavkin, and Darren Swimmer.
"Homecoming" (Season 10)
Smallville found new creative traction in the middle of its decade-long run by adding Lois Lane (Erica Durance) and moving Clark to Metropolis. In ”Homecoming,” a riff on It’s a Wonderful Life, Clark got a peek at his Super-future (complete with knowing nods to the Superman movies) and revealed his identity (and heart) to the love of his life. Will they seal the deal at the altar? The May 13 finale will tell the tale. Bring tissues.