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ComicsAlliance Recaps ‘Smallville’ Episode 4.6: Transference

Love it or hate it, the Smallville TV show has been one of the most popular mass media adaptations of a comic, reaching millions of viewers each week with stories of what Clark Kent’s life was like before he became Superman. Now, we’re marking its passing by having ComicsAlliance’s Chris Sims and David Uzumeri, two guys who have never actually watched the show, watch and review every single episode of the tenth and final season.

Chris: This week, Smallville‘s return to new episodes was delayed for mysterious reasons, so we had time for another look back through the archives at an allegedly “classic” episode.

David: Actually, the reasons aren’t so mysterious – it’s because Vampire Diaries required an “encore” episode at the usual Friday night timeslot, especially against new Friday night genre sci-fi showcase Fringe. Either way, it got us to see “Transference,” where Tom Welling is empowered by the concept of not having to be an ineffectual douchebag and John Glover is left with the Kryptonite of any true Samson – the death of his hair.

David: Before the prison sequence that sets up the episode’s general Wacky Wednesday premise, we get a short piece of exposition showing that an Important College Scout About the Future is visiting town to watch Clark be a football star and presumably cheat a number of hardworking human athletes out of glory and recognition they would get were it not for the gloryhounding alien.

Chris: I keep trying to think of something to add, but you basically nailed it. My pal Chad once summed up Superman’s morality by saying that he’s a guy with X-Ray Vision who never uses it to look at girls, but with the Smallville version, who knows? I’m willing to bet that there’s an entire episode where Clark does just that, shortly before melting the wall of the girls’ locker room with his heat vision.

David: After this we have a meeting between the always-identifiable Lex Luthor and his father in prison because Lex turned him in for murdering his own parents, a crime Lex is able to convince the court of after linking him to the burning of a Suicide Slum tenement referred to back in Season 3′s “Relic,” another cinematic masterpiece we were blessed enough to experience.

Chris: Apparently, the State of Kansas believes that the key to rehabilitating criminals is through dramatic mood lighting.

David: I’m sure everyone wanted it look as much like a toned-down network TV version of Oz as possible. While Clark comes to investigate a mysterious ringing sound that brings him there to have a reason to have him there so the story’s main conceit can manifest, Lionel and Lex yell at each other about being dicks, and then Lionel tries to use a magical Kryptonian Water Stone of Power that he stole from Link’s inventory screen in The Legend of Zelda: The Violin of Vathlo to switch with Lex except Clark is all NAWW and tries to stop him because he thinks it’s a gun and then, in classic Smallville Ineffectual Clark style, he trades bodies with his archenemy. Also, Lionel was dying of cancer, so now you are too, Clark. LOL!

Chris: Do they actually say it’s cancer? I know that they say Lionel has a liver disease, but I assumed that was because the only thing we have ever seen him ingesting is single malt scotch.

David: I just assumed, what with the skeletal appearance and the specificity of the liver. Wikipedia just says “terminal liver disease,” though, so I guess I’m wrong.

Chris: He’s contracted a severe case of MacGuffin’s Disease! The only cure is an infusion of Deus Ex Machina, but where will we be able to find that on Smallville?!

David: Only if we have a full amount of Krypto-Hearts after getting four Krypto-Heart Containers to increase our total amount to at least six, and are reliably able to rotate the analog stick precisely enough to get the desired heat vision result in a tunnel.

Chris: I take it from your tone that you did not think the Four Kryptonian Element Stones of Power and their attendant Three Mystic Kryptonian Statues Hidden In Caves were not a great plot device. Also, when Lionel and Clark switch bodies, they stand there shaking for like 30 seconds while two giant glowing tribal tattoos that represent their souls fly out of their bodies and into the other person.

Chris: Nobody reacts to this at all, so I’m guessing that it’s just meant to be a visual representation of the magic, but at that point, why bother? I mean, did they really think we were going to need an extra hint when John Glover started saying acting wide-eyed and useless and Tom Welling started boozing it up and telling Lex how disappointing he was?

David: After that, there’s an entire television cast of attractive women for that thirsty Luthor blood to awkwardly attack as he tries to take advantage of being a 27 17 year-old high school football quarterback hero. First up on his list: Martha Kent, right after admiring his new penis. No, SERIOUSLY:

Chris: I’m starting to think that think Tom Welling smirking obliviously while looking down at his own junk is a metaphor for this entire series.

David: …you know, there’s a LOT of merit in that analysis. Not the least reason of which being that it takes a smarter person than Superman to inhabit Superman’s body and realize his potential. The only thing more emasculating would have been if Lionel/Superman flew.

Chris: The producers of this show seem to really like going to the “Clark Goes Evil” well. I mean, we’ve seen it twice in our limited experience, and I know that there’s a Red Kryptonite episode out there that we haven’t watched. And a Bizarro episode, too.

David: And the sad thing is, it’s when Welling does his best work. Ultraman’s douchebagginess was entertaining, and he actually did a pretty good job of adopting Glover’s tendencies as Luthor – the hands behinds his back, for instance.

Chris: Yeah, it really makes me wonder if Welling’s almost-nonexistant acting as Clark is actually some kind of a weird choice to represent the fact that Clark Kent is a guy who’s holding back all the time. Like, he’s going for “repressed” and we just end up interpreting it as “mobile cardboard.”

David: That’s still an evolutionary step beyond the stationary – and stationery – cardboard of Jensen Ackles. But at the end of the day, none of that matches up to Superman’s need to admire his own Bottle City of Kandor.

Chris: I have to say, though: Watching this episode, I came away with the idea that John Glover has an extremely low opinion of Tom Welling’s acting. When he’s playing “Clark,” it’s like he’s the understudy in a high school play, and it is hilarious.

David: He’s so wide-eyed and innocent, begging anyone to believe him – it’s definitely a more radical change than than that Welling is able to enact, but then again Clark is trying to convince people he’s stuck in someone else’s body, while Lionel is trying to convince people that he ISN’T, and the latter is a more sane-sounding option.

Chris: And as you mentioned, he starts with Martha Kent.

David: I know that Smallville throws in some kind of unseen past continuity here, so I’m assuming Lionel has wanted this lady for a while – either that, or much to my possible surprise, this is a totally new plot point and Lionel is just this aggressive about literally every woman he sees.

Chris: I think in this case, the lust is genuine. You can tell because as soon as Ma Kent gives him a hug, he immediately starts smelling her hair and shoots fireballs out of his eyes, which is what Kryptonians in Smallville do when they get aroused. Not even kidding.

Chris: Either way, it’s at this point that the show finally catches up to the more unsavory portions of LiveJournal, which I assume were slashing “Clartha” halfway through the debut episode.

David: Yeah, absolutely – Lionel’s frustrated about not being able to access any of his money since it turns out the secrutiy features at his bank include voice verification (ha ha). Meanwhile, we also catch up with Clark in Lionel’s body in his grand prison adventure, where it turns out that his cellmate – and Lionel’s – is a brilliant mathematician and researcher placed in prison on a false charge basically to hang around with Lionel and help him research his Kryptonian Videogame McGuffin of Random Attribute.

Chris: The cellmate is one of the dumbest things we have ever seen on this show, and that’s saying something. It’s not just because the guy playing him is going for Rain Man and missing by a long shot (but still ending up more likeable than anyone on The Big Bang Theory), either. This is a dude who is supposed to be a genius at spotting patterns, but can’t figure out that being framed for embezzlement and winding up in a cell with Lionel Luthor, who he knows has a massive worldwide organization and resources that include MAGIC BODY-SWITCHING ALIEN TECHNOLOGY and who also has need of an expert cryptographer, may in fact be related.

Chris: It has never been more clear that Hollywood Actor Ted Raimi was unavailable for a role.

David: It’s not until another, larger inmate threatens to kill him, and Clark pretends he’s gonna fight back and realizes he’s powerless, does Clark-as-Lionel come to the realization that his powers didn’t somehow switch bodies with him for no conceviable reason.

Chris: You’d think he would’ve realized he was powerless when the cellmate broke the bad news about his pickled liver, but Clark never has been very bright.

David: At the end of this episode, I expected everyone involved to jump onscreen, take a bow, strike a pose and yell “THE ARISTOCRATS!” Next up on Lionel’s Gotta Bang ‘Em All Checklist was Chloe Sullivan, who finds Lionel trying to hack into LuthorCorp servers on what appears to be the school newspaper’s computer room.

Chris: Say what you want about the Kansas building their prisons to look like a set from Silk Stalkings, but apparently they put good money into education.

David: He decides he doesn’t actually want to play Chloe, though, so he basically leans in for a kiss, then moves out, makes fun of her, and leaves. Lionel Luthor: Amazing Dick.

Chris: I think what was happening there was Lionel taking revenge on Chloe for putting him in jail by breaking her heart. Which means that at some point in the past, Lex and Chloe must’ve teamed up to unearth the truth about his murder of Lex’s grandparents, meaning that we’ve seen LEX FRIGGING LUTHOR fight more crime than Clark Kent.

Chris: The best part, though though, was that he gets frustrated and breaks a desk, then when Chloe walks in and asks what happened, Tom Welling gives her this huge smile and goes “It was like that when I got here.” That is seriously the best line delivery anyone has had on this show.

David: I love how the two times we’ve had occasion to praise Tom Welling on this show, it’s when Superman’s been possessed by a total dick.

Chris: Well to be fair, it’s got to be more fun playing Lionel Luthor than doofy-ass Smallville Clark Kent.

David: Oh, totally. In any case, next up is Lana, who comes over to ask Clark not to tell everyone that she’s getting with the football coach, since that’s student-teacher even though they’re “both adults.” Lionel’s reaction, of course, is to try to force himself on her.

Chris: I think it’s worth noting that in this episode, Lana is talking about her witchity ancestor, as seen in “Spell,” which happens two episodes after this one. Meaning that the producers of Smallville had the absolute brass chutzpah to do two Body Switch episodes within TWO WEEKS OF EACH OTHER.

David: Producer (Uncredited): Chris Claremont

Chris: Also, was it just me, or did you only see a vaguely man-shaped blur whenever the camera was pointed at Jensen Ackles? It’s like, you know how some actors have to put on weight or get really buff to do a role? I think before they let him on Smallville, they had him drained of all charisma. And probably had it transfused into John Glover.

David: Anyway, we’re now into the wind-down mode, as Lionel’s already done about as much damage to Clark’s life as he can. Clark finally gets Martha to come visit him in prison, where John Glover basically plays Smallville Clark as a four year old lost in the woods, which is hilarious.

Chris: And yet, it’s somehow even weirder for Martha to grab John Glover and call him her special boy than it was for Tom Welling to get a Heat Vision Boner from hugging her. This is a weird-ass show, Uzi.

David: You’re telling me. Things go predictably from here: Lionel goes to threaten Lex to get the money and company back, but he’s stopped by Martha Kent, who shows up rocking kryptonite. Seriously.

Chris: In the comics, Superman trusts Batman with a piece of Kryptonite to use in case he ever gets out of control. In Smallville, Jon and Martha Kent have a closet full of it just in case he sasses back. Amazing.

David: Lionel runs off to go beat up Pa Kent, but just as THAT’S happening, he gets a phone call from Edgar informing him the transference is only temporary, but if he kills his original body, maybe that’ll prevent him from switching back. Which seems pretty hypothetical for something life-or-death like this. I mean, there’s no guarantee that would work.

Chris: It’s pretty clear that there was a scene cut out here where Clark convinces Edgar the Cellmate to help him out, since this comes out of nowhere. I assume it’s on the cutting room floor along with a shot of John Glover looking at his junk and frowning.

David: So yeah, Lionel runs to prison to straight up ice Clark, erupting a prison riot with an absolutely ridiculous soundtrack.

Chris: “Nails, get the riot guns from the guards! Bill, you flip over the mattresses and barricade the doors! Hammer, you find us a CD player so we can rock out to this week’s hottest Warner Bros. Records recording artists!”

David: I’m pretty sure I would have committed suicide ten years ago if I had to have my life scored by whoever chooses the songs for Smallville. Clark uses the stone on Luthor after getting him close enough, they switch back to their original bodies, and Clark passes off the superstrength and speed he showed when fighting Lex as a side effect of the transference. Which makes no sense, because then Clark should have had superstrength in the jail too, but whatever. This nonsensical lie is quickly followed up with a nonsensical truth as it turns out the body swap magically cured Lionel’s liver disease completely.

Chris: And we are right back where we started with Clark Kent: The Guy Who Is A Dick To His Friends. Lana’s pissed off at him because he basically threatened to tell everyone that she and Jensen Ackles were re-enacting “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” Chloe’s pissed off at him because he fake-seduced her, and while Lex knows it was Lionel in Clark’s body, Clark doesn’t bother to tell anyone else or explain anything about what’s going on at all. And there’s absolutely no reason for it. He just makes himself a martyr and keeps his friends miserable for however long just because… you know, because.

David: Oh, and he quit the football team, and has to deal with being a school pariah since he was kicking ass at it. And, I mean, let’s be fair here, Clark playing football in the first place is a total dick move.

Chris: Yeah, I’ve always hated that.

David: In any case, Clark does at least one thing right, which is that he asks Lex to arrange for Edgar’s release from jail. Except he manages to screw that, too, as he gets in a car and gives the stone of power to Margot Kidder. I dunno if that’s even sinister or not.

Chris: I think giving anything to Margot Kidder is sinister.

David: Wikipedia tells me she was the emissary for Dr. Virgil Swann, who was played by … Christopher Reeve.

Chris: Because of course.

David: At least Henry Cavill ducked into the franchise too late to get thrown into Smallville as a special guest star. Surprised they haven’t used Brandon Routh, either.

Chris: You know what I’ve noticed about Smallville?

David: What?

Chris: The actual “plot” of an episode finishes like ten minutes before the actual episode ends. Like, Lionel and Clark are back in their regular bodies, and then we’ve got ten minutes of standing around tying up plot threads and setting the next thing up. I realize that’s at least somewhat necessary for a serialized story, but man, it sure does lead to a quarter of every episode being boring as all hell.

David: It’s like in all those Morrison comics in the ’90s, where he’d tack on at least three different epilogues at the end of issues, all two pages each, and actually number them.

Chris: Yes, except those were interesting and good.

David: Well, true. I guess a lot of TV shows do that that try to juggle episodic and long-term storylines. I mean, you have shows like the Wire where you can’t even tell where episodes start and end, and it’s all forward momentum. But shows like this try to drop hints in each episode while still being largely standalone.

Chris: Smallville: Definitely Not The Wire.

David: God help me: Tom Welling.

David:I thought he did a really good job as Lionel, I really did.

Chris: No joke! Welling and Glover were both great in this, but it’s way more noticeable with Welling, since he’s usually so bland. The scene where he walks into Lex’s office and goes “Crunching numbers… or spinning daydreams?” is just a perfect Lionel delivery.

David: It just makes me really want his next project to be him being a dick.
Tom Welling, definitely the high point for me. Glover was good too, but Welling was a real surprise.

Chris: Welling does really well with any episode where he gets to show his range. Even in the first Zatanna episode, where he forgets he has super-powers, he’s still really entertaining. It’s just that he’s really bad when he’s plain old Clark Kent, which is kind of a major drawback when that’s exactly what he’s been playing for the past ten years.

David: I wonder if he’s just Clark on autopilot now. I bet if you ran an MRI during his performances, you’d see, like, no brain activity unless his character was possessed or amnesiac. Or is that a CAT scan? Whatever, science sucks.

Chris: That would imply that he was ever good as Clark, and our trip to the Pilot Episode will bust that little myth.

David: Is he a bad Clark, or is Clark just a bad character?

Chris: Can’t it be both? But regardless, before we get too negative here: Good Job, Tom Welling!

David: Everyone Else. Kristin Kreuk and Jensen Ackles, you are a charisma black hole. Especially with the two of them in the same room, it just catalyzes this godawful reaction that sucks the joy out of the air.

Chris: Yeah, it’s weird. I still haven’t watched any Supernatural, but I’ve seen YouTube clips of the guy, and it’s not like he’s awful all the time. It’s JUST SMALLVILLE.

David: He apparently plays Jason Todd in the new animated Red Hood joint, and is a pretty entertaining dickbag there from what I hear.

Chris: I think the worst bit was Edgar the Cellmate, though.

David: I was gonna say. Stereotypical Obsessive-Compulsive Brilliant Scientist with No Common Sense. I’d like to think Lionel set this up by being like, “okay, who’s the most insanely gullible pattern recognition specialist in the world?”

Chris: Bad acting, dime-store Rain Man ripoff characterization, expert at pattern recognition who can’t recognize the pattern that even Smallville Clark can spot a mile away, inexplicable face turn at the end, and then suddenly he works for Margot Kidder.

David: Yeah, unquestionably the worst part of the episode. I was really bored by that entire subplot.

Chris: Also, and I can’t believe we haven’t mentioned this yet, the lowest point of all: THEY CUT JOHN GLOVER’S HAIR.

David: I wonder if that or the transference is the reason he suddenly, inexplicably developed a conscience.

Chris: There are clearly dudes in prison with long hair, so I assume they had to cut it because that’s the only way to keep him in jail. No walls can hold that lustrous mane!

David: This is the kind of guilty-pleasure entertaining I can at least somewhat get behind.

Chris: Exactly. Not a great script, but not absolutely insulting tot he audience, and a good chance for the actors to have a good time. You just know John Glover got the script and had a total Grinch moment where he started planning how he was going to play Tom Welling.

David: To all of you who recommended this instead of Justice, thanks, guys. You’re all right.
I think it’s safe to say that, for every other classic week we do, we should go back to the well of evil-Clark episodes.

Chris: Is there an episode where Lionel and Lois switch bodies? Because I think that would be everything Smallvillains loves.

David: Dear Lord, that’s a terrifying prospect.

Chris: Terrifyingly awesome.

Previous Episodes:

10.1: Lazarus

10.2: Shield

10.3: Supergirl

10.4: Homecoming

10.5: Isis

10.6: Harvest

10.7: Ambush

10.8: Abandoned

10.9: Patriot

10.10: Luthor

10.11: Icarus

Past Seasons

8.17: Hex

5.9: Lexmas

1.1: Pilot

4.8: Spell

3.6: Relic

9.13: Warrior

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