ComicsAlliance Recaps ‘Smallville’ Episode 1.1: Pilot
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: You know, thematically speaking, we should’ve done this one next week to mark the New Year, but here we are: The long-promised Smallvillains recap of Season 1, Episode 1: The Pilot.
David: Some shows try to incorporate the necessity of naming the first episode “Pilot” into the mechanics of the script, but they didn’t even bother here, not even a line about how Clark’s ship was auto-PILOTed or anything.
Chris: If they had, though, it would’ve been the best pun line of the episode. This thing has more groans than a massage parlor.
David: I watched this episode on my laptop sitting across from my dad who was working, and he had to look up and ask me what was wrong.
Chris: Even so, I’ve got to say that it was way better than I expected. Then again, since I was expecting to have to tie my arms to the chair to keep me from stabbing out my ears and eyes, that’s not saying a whole lot.
David: Honestly, it’s amazing the show lasted this long, because the number of liberties taken with the Superman origin story here is astonishing. They’ve really been working overtime trying to reconfigure things to be more like the DC Universe.
Chris: Our story begins in the dim, distant past of 1989, when the world was barely containing its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-mania, and had yet to even imagine the thrill of catching its first Pokemon. We’re introduced to little kid versions of the three major players — Lana, Lex and of course Clark — as well as some supporting characters, like Lana’s super-slutty aunt, who hits on Jonathan Kent IN FRONT OF HIS WIFE.
Chris: I was about to ask if you think she comes back in future episodes, but this being Smallville, it’s pretty much a mathematical impossibility that she doesn’t.
David: I was shocked with how soon after the beginning of the show they hit the Queen Industries angle – they’re in the newspaper Lionel is reading in the helicopter with Li’l Lex and his adorable red hair.
Chris: I’m pretty sure this means that they were planning on replacing Batman with Ollie from the start. I mean, I know it was originally supposed to be a Bruce Wayne show before they decided to go with Superman, but it is hilarious that on DAY ONE, they were like “Oh screw it, we’ll just use Green Arrow.”
David: Looking it up, this apparently was teasing a season seven plot involving a guy who may or may not be Vandal Savage and a secret society that was supposed to look after Superman since they prophecied his coming, which is completely ridiculous. You’d think WAYNE MURDER would work better. I just read that apparently Gough and Millar planned on having Lionel hiring Joe Chill to off the Waynes eventually, but it got shot down.
Chris: While everyone’s going about their business — Lana’s pretending to be a princess, Jonathan is explaining to Martha that he doesn’t know how Lana’s aunt got his cell number, Lionel and Lex are attempting to crush the proletariat — the meteors that are going to drive the show for the next eight or nine years crash into the ground, killing Lana’s parents in what is pretty much the most hilarious death scene I’ve seen that wasn’t part of a SyFy Original picture.
David: Oh my GOD. I lost it when Lana’s parents kicked the bucket — they literally just stare up as a meteor conveniently hits them, JUST them, in the middle of a crowded small town street that was celebrating a Homecoming game.
Chris: Seriously, it’s up there with the guy jumping directly into MegaShark’s mouth. Fan. Tastic.
David: Also fantastic was the meteor that conveniently blew up the Smallville sign.
Chris: And if you’ve ever wondered why Lionel is so mad all the time, it’s because he literally just signed the papers to buy one of the local farms, and a giant friggin’ piece of Krypton falls on it. You’d be pissed too.
David: Let’s also not forget that Lex is off wandering in the corn field when this happens, having just met a dude who’s being strung up like a scarecrow in the middle of the field in what has to be the most amazingly illegal high school “prank” ever.
Chris: Yeah, we’ll get to this in a minute, but after a dude gets Scarecrowed and then, as a direct result, goes into a coma for a decade, you’d think they’d crack down on it. I mean, I’m not saying high school jocks are all that concerned with other people, but still.
David: Yeah, exactly! The dude goes on this massive revenge spree to try to stop the tradition, but you’d think the original tragedy would be enough, you know? I guess there was enough crazy crap going on in Smallville that day.
Chris: So Jonathan and Martha are driving home when the meteors hit, and they end up running off the road — which nixes my theory that in Smallville, Pa Kent is actually Bo Duke after he turned state’s evidence on Boss Hogg and entered the Witness Protection Program, because Bo would’ve cold jumped it — and they end up finding the rocket, and out comes Baby Clark. Except… he is totally not a baby.
David: He is, like, three years old, with a full head of hair, and he walks towards their car. I half expected him to save them. But then again, that would be entirely too altruistic for Clark Kent.
Chris: Seriously, he walks over to them. He is really old for someone who has no memory whatsoever of his home planet.
David: Or someone who has no memory that he even had a home planet, for that matter. I guess when he’s older he knows he’s adopted, but he has no idea who his real parents are. But, you know, at least the Kents raising him probably prevented him from turning into this:
Chris: That’s another thing that I simultaneously don’t like and kind of like about this show: How in the hell do the Kents explain where Clark comes from? He’s a friggin’ five year-old, so the old comic book explanation of how the Kents just played it off as Martha being pregnant during a long winter doesn’t cut it, unless Kansas had an Ice Age in 1989 that I am completely unaware of.
David: But what really blows my mind about this entire thing – completely blows it away – is that this makes Lana and Clark 3, right? In 1989? And the show premiered in 2001, with them in their first year of high school, ostensibly. So… they’re supposed to be fourteen years old.
Chris: Really?! All this time I’ve been grousing because I figured Clark was like 30 and still hadn’t become Superman. It actually makes more sense if he’s younger, although it’s still a long, long time to go with no Superman.
David: Yeah, 24 was always the age I figured he put on the tights for the first time. I can understand your mistake, though – Tom Welling, as far as I can tell, was born in 1977, which would have made him 24 when he started this show. They chose a dude literally TEN YEARS OLDER than the character was supposed to be. And it really shows, since Tom Welling 2001 does not look anywhere even remotely close to 14.
Chris: NOBODY on this show looks 14.
David: I can KIND OF buy Pete and Chloe.
Chris: Sam Jones (18) looks pretty young, and I’ll give you Chloe (19), because she doesn’t look any older than, say, Alyson Hannigan did on Buffy, but Lana and Clark? Seriously?
David: Funny thing is, Lana’s actually 19. I mean, it’s not super young, but it’s definitely closer to the character’s age than Clark at 24.
Chris: Wait, wait. That can’t be right. Lex buys Clark a car.
David: …This… is… an exceptional point. But they repeatedly state that Clark is a freshman. Holy s-t, did nobody notice this gigantic plot hole?
Chris: And if it’s 12 years ago, are they saying that kid who came out of the rocket was two?
David: I think that kid was three, same age as Lana. They explicitly mention her age, I think, although I could be mistaken.
Chris: Probably best to just move on, I think.
David: Yeah, definitely, though you also totally skipped over my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE part of the episode, where Lana tells Ma Kent to make a wish, and she does, and it’s for a kid, and then it’s immediately granted. So if Lana has witch powers, is the entire Kryptonian mythology in Smallville the result of Lana Lang’s magic powers?! Anyway, I think we’re about at the point where it jumps forward in time, but not before Lionel finds Lex in the field with all of his hair removed due to the meteors.
Chris: It is the one time on the show where I’ve seen Lionel look genuinely concerned, because he realizes that his son will never share his magnificent mane of power.
David: He’ll just have to become a critically acclaimed comic writer instead. It’s his destiny.
Chris: So Clark wants to try out for football and Jonathan won’t let him because he doesn’t want him to hurt someone with his super-powers. And yet, he’s really surprised later when Clark shoves his hand in a woodchipper and comes out unscathed, and he’s really concerned when he hears about the car accident with Lex. Nobody seems to have a clue as to what’s going on with the other characters from one scene to the next.
David: Honestly, I figured Jonathan was more concerned for the woodchipper. I would be.
Chris: We also get Clark’s first interaction with Lana, and while you liked Martha wishing for a kid, this was my favorite part: Lana wears A RADIOACTIVE NECKLACE MADE FROM THE METEOR THAT KILLED HER PARENTS. That’s the craziest damn thing that has ever happened on this show.
David: At least until the graveyard scene.
Chris: Seriously, It might even beat out that part in Batman: Year Two where Batman talks about how he has no choice but to use the gun that killed his parents.
David: This is also used as an explanation for why it took until age fourteen for Clark to even attempt to build a relationship with Lana, since if that relationship already existed, all of the drama would be taken out of their interaction in this episode.
Chris: No, seriously. Think about it for a minute. How did she even get that? Did someone go over to the spot where her parents were vaporized by space rock and think it would be a good idea to give her a chunk as a present?
David: Maybe she grabbed it herself. She WAS right there. She used her magic star wand to summon it like the Force.
Chris: So you’re saying she took it to a jeweler herself and was like “you know, this might be a horrible deadly meteor that made me an orphan, but it also REALLY goes well with my skin tone. Could you slap that sucker on a gold chain?” Seriously, melting down the thing that killed your family and wearing it as bling is the sort of thing mercenaries and gangsta rappers do.
David: You just made Lana Lang sound 40,000 times more awesome than she ever has before.
Chris: It also got me thinking about Clark and Lana’s entire relationship. Now Uzi, I don’t mean to pry, but you and I were both 14-year-old boys once, right?
David: I dunno, I was fifteen when I came out of the rocket.
Chris: Well let’s say for the sake of argument that you were once a hormonal teenager. When you saw the person you had a crush on, it made you feel funny, right?
David: Yes, definitely.
Chris: You got all clumsy and lightheaded and you’d get so nervous when you’d talk to them that you kinda felt queasy, right?
David: That’s pretty much how being a teenage boy works, yeah.
Chris: Exactly. So here’s my theory: Clark didn’t have a crush on Lana at all. He was just getting Kryptonite Poisoning and mistaking it for a crush. Their entire relationship is built on a false positive for cooties as a result of space radiation.
David: That doesn’t explain his constant spying on her with the telescope.
Chris: Well, that’s because Clark is a creep.
David: Unless he just thinks it’s, like, the normal thing to do or something. Bryan Singer watched this before doing Superman Returns, didn’t he?
Chris: The signs are there. Anyway, we also find out that Chloe’s been keeping track of all the weird stuff going on in Smallville with her — sigh — “Wall of Weird,” which also includes Lana on the cover of Time Magazine.
David: In a completely improbable sequence of events, some kind of metal coil falls off of a truck, Lex Luthor is speeding and runs over it, and then he swerves off, hits a brooding Clark and ends up in the river where Clark saves his life. I can’t help but wonder how much future pain could have been avoided if Pa Kent had just let Clark be buddies with Lex instead of being a total dick about it.
Chris: So it turns out, Lex and Clark being Childhood Friends happened when Clark was 14 and Lex was, what, 18? 20?
David: Is Lex going to go to Smallville High? I mean, he’s driving a sweet-ass car and he looked a hell of a lot older than 3 when he lost his hair.
Chris: He looks like he’s wearing a boarding school jacket in the opening, but, I mean, he’s clearly older than Clark.
David: You can kind of tell they just didn’t think out this age thing at. all.
Chris: I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground here when I say that there’s probably a whole hell of a lot they didn’t think through in this show. Clark ends up pulling Lex out of the wreckage and gives him mouth to mouth, and thus, Smallville slash fiction was born.
David: Lex tries to repay him by giving him a car, but Pa Kent insists Clark return it, since A) Pa Kent thinks Clark shouldn’t take payment for doing decent stuff and B) Kent thinks the Luthors are dicks.
Chris: Honestly, Lex seems like a pretty good kid at this point. He even makes a joke about the accident, referring to himself as “the maniac in the Porsche” on the card. The card he sends with the NEW CAR HE BOUGHT FOR THEM.
David: As far as I can tell, Lex turning super-evil is entirely the result of Jonathan being a total douche to him. At this point, Lex clearly thinks his dad is kind of a dick.
Chris: You get the feeling that if he Jonathan would’ve let him come over and hang out and refer to him as “Mr. K,” everything would’ve been all right.
David: Rather than being about how the Kents were moral paragons who inspired Clark to become Superman, this show is really about the Kents being spiteful dicks who inspired Lex to become a mass murderer.
Chris: Pretty much! Meanwhile, Clark and Lana hang out in a graveyard talking to Lana’s dead parents.
David: A graveyard Lana rode to on a horse.
Chris: It is basically amazing.
David: Lana is basically totally crazy and pretending to speak to her dead parents, at which point Clark decides it’s time to put on his pimp game and he pretends to talk to the dead parents too. OH, and Mr. Lang asks if Clark is gay, at which point Lana mentions he has a “twisted sense of humor.” Which, I mean — what?
Chris: It is clearly Lana’s way of asking if Clark’s gay and then trying to play it off as a joke, which actually is pretty hilarious. But either way, you’ve got a bat sh– crazy girl and a brooding dope in a graveyard under a full moon hashing out the details of their relationship. Somehow, Smallville managed to pre-emptively out-Twilight Twilight.
David: Man, I hadn’t realized it, but that’s a pretty great point.
Chris: This leads directly to Clark getting hassled by Lana’s boyfriend, who is hilariously named “Whitney,” for trying to make time with his girl. He beats him up, which normally wouldn’t be a possibility for a kid who can shove his hand in a woodchipper, but he pulls it off because Lana loaned him her meteor necklace, and right here, I have got to call Shennanigans. If you’re the kind of person who wears a necklace made from the object that killed your parents, YOU DO NOT LOAN THAT SH– OUT.
David: Especially to someone like Whitney, where – I mean, really, Lana hasn’t figured out he’s kind of a creep by now? There’s no way she doesn’t know about the scarecrow tradition.
Chris: The worst thing that could possibly happen happens: Whitney gives Clark the necklace and then Clark loses it in a cornfield. How in the hell did he explain that? Lana rides horses in graveyards and talks to her dead parents, you think you’re going to break it to her gently that you lost her jewelry made of the space rock that blew them up? SHE IS GOING TO MURDER YOU, WHITNEY. Awful decision-making on his part, man. Just straight up AWFUL.
David: So yeah, after Clark gets crucified with the S on his chest and drops the necklace, Lex happens to be in the cornfield and comes to help him out.
Chris: The only thing sloppier than the plot hole that allows for Lex to just happen to be hanging out in the cornfield is the crucifixion imagery. And yet, someone probably got a raise for the idea to paint an S on his chest.
David: Seriously, HOW does this tradition survive? I know it’s small-town America, but NOBODY has done anything about a kid getting kidnapped EVERY YEAR? Has nobody thought to press charges?
Chris: Oh come on, Uzi. Boys will be boys. And occasionally kidnappers who leave their classmates to die of exposure.
David: I admit we had a somewhat similar prank in first year of university, but A) it was first year of university and B) you had to sign a permission slip since the entire hazing season was overseen by administration and school lawyers. Actually, it wasn’t similar at all in retrospect, since the point was that you’d get stuck in the middle of nowhere with friends and some cash, not crucified in a cornfield. I take that back.
Chris: You know, I think we’ve completely forgotten about the actual villain of this episode, but that’s okay, because I get the feeling that he was an afterthought for the producers as well.
David: I presume this is the first in a line of METEOR FREAKS, and I hope they all have recognizable superpowers just like this guy is clearly the white version of Black Lightning.
Chris: Apparently getting exposed to meteorites can give you the ability to shoot lightning out of your hands. But that’s comic book science at work, so…
David: I realize this is going to sound ridiculous, but I think the current season is far more narratively well-constructed than this.
Chris: Yeah, this is all over the map, even for a pilot. Clark ends up stopping the lightning guy from killing the entire homecoming dance, and then has an insane lucid hallucination where Lana comes over to the barn and dances with him. Which, now that I think of it, gives a whole new layer of meaning to that scene we liked in Season 10 where Lois shows up and they have their homecoming dance in Clark’s barn.
David: Wait, what? Lucid hallucination? I thought that actually happened. I mean, I remember his absolutely hilarious football fantasy for sure.
Chris: Nope. That was a dream sequence.
David: That… yeah, that makes more sense.
Chris: The horn honks and he looks up and Lana’s across the way at her own house.
David: Man, what a Goddamn loser.
Chris: I know you were probably distracted by the AMAZING proto-Nickelback song playing over that scene.
Chris: Oh my God, was it? So awful. So that pretty much sums up the episode: Lex is nice, Clark’s a creep, Lana’s crazy as all hell, an Chloe and Pete are barely in it.
David: Lex was easily the most likeable character in this episode.
Chris: Are we counting Lionel’s hair as a character?
David: Well, he’s only in the opening, but I can subscribe once again to the majesty of his lion(el)’s mane.
David: I can’t tell what was high and what was low. The “low” points were the most interesting of the show, since they were so hilariously ridiculous. I mean, the High Point in general is Rosenbaum as Lex.
Chris: I’ve got to say, as much as they were barely in the episode, it was nice to see Pete before he made sex tapes and dealt oxycodone and Chloe before one too many Dragon*Con signings led her to say “screw it” and quit the show.
David: They should bring back Pete Ross as having had trouble with sex tapes and oxycodone… METEOR OXYCODONE.
Chris: I’d like to officially enter that in the record as one of our predictions for this season. And yeah, I agree with you: The scene in the graveyard was hilariously bad, but I enjoyed it. Does that make it a high point? Also, as strange as it is for us to say this, Tom Welling was actually pretty good in this episode, as far as acting. He seems a lot more into it than he does nowadays.
David: That’s probably because he didn’t spend this entire episode getting steamrollered by Lois.
Chris: Considering Erica Durance has been my favorite part of this show that isn’t attached to Lionel Luthor’s scalp, them’s fightin’ words.
David: I agree with that, but I’m just saying, the more scenery she chews, the less Clark can act.
Chris: I think the culprit might be ten years of doing this show. It wears on a man. Even.. a Superman.
David: I dunno, I wonder – he still seems pretty psyched about it, to a degree. I mean, he’s producing the show and directing some episodes, although I guess that could also be a sign of him wanting to step back.
Chris: I’m glad you let that line slide. Although after Lex asking “do you believe a man can fly, Clark?”, it probably doesn’t seem that bad.
David: I’ll have to go with basically anything involving the dumb scarecrow meteor freak.
Chris: There are forgettable villains, and then there are villains so forgettable that two guys getting paid to talk about your show don’t bother to mention him for a couple thousand words.
David: We say that now, but in ten years some chucklehead who grew up watching Smallville will write that dumb meteor freak into a Superman comic.
Chris: Also, the fact that in order to make 24 year-old Tom Welling a cool, hip youngster, they give him a skateboard to carry around, which he never uses because he lives on a dirt road. Which I am pretty sure had the Superman logo on it.
David: If I sat down and watched this in 2001, there is absolutely no way in hell I’d think “yeah, this is gonna last ten seasons.”
Chris: My thoughts exactly. There’s actually a lot of interesting stuff here, but I cannot imagine it going for an entire decade based off this launch. I mean, I’ve said before that one of the reasons I think we’re enjoying the final season is that we didn’t have to sit through the ten years before it, and I feel the same way about this. Interesting stuff, more-or-less likeable characters, but going through 200+ episodes of the stuff in between? That seems completely insane. And I say that as someone who reads comic books.
David: I mean — Smallville has now lasted longer than other, more successful teen dramas. The OC, Gossip Girl… I guess 90210 had ten seasons.
David: Smallville is like a lumbering dinosaur, making it to the finish line based on nothing but pure grit. Honestly, I kind of admire it – Hell or high water, even after the producers left, they somehow guided the guy from that crazy-ass opening episode to something remotely resembling Superman.
Chris: Well. Sort of.
David: What’s going to be entertaining about watching random episodes during off weeks from here on out is that we’re going to be collecting discrete data points on the continuous story – we’ll be able to make up our own bridges!
Chris: Like how Lana died because she wore a radioactive rock around her neck for 12 years?
David: And how Pa Kent had a heart attack yelling at Lex for daring to bring over Christmas presents.
Chris: And how Lana is actually Pa Kent’s daughter from an illicit affair with Lana’s aunt and her leopard-print blouse.
David: I hope Aunt Ella becomes a meteor freak called the Cougar that Clark has to fight.
Chris: Please, someone, tell us that happened.