Keeping a secret identity must be hard work. It’s even harder when you’re in high school, don’t own a spandex suit, and can’t fly away from your troubles. These are the problems facing the young Clark Kent. He’s still living at home with his “parents”, years before he’d become a journalist and be known the world over as Superman. Picking up after the supremely entertaining first season, Smallville really hit its stride with the sophomore year. Producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar continue to tell Clark’s history with a great deal of panache; revelling in the stories they can tell, and loving the chance to add new ideas to the mix. It’s a comic fan’s dream concept, and luckily, Smallville does the premise justice.
Season Two doesn’t waste any time, and jumps straight into the spectacle we’ve come to expect. The last time we saw Clark (Tom Welling), he had plenty of problems on his hands - a flurry of tornadoes have hit the town of Smallville, Kansas, and the love of his life, Lana (Kristin Kreuk), is caught in the storm. Not only that, he’s left Chloe (Allison Mack) at the school dance; their date left in tatters. He also has to save his parents Jonathan (John Schneider) and Martha (Annette O’Toole), and deal with the possibility that “best friend” Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) is having him investigated. It’s a tough time to be a teenager, super powers or not.
From the beginning onward, it’s clear that Gough and Millar have found their footing, since Season Two improves on the formula greatly. It does this by focusing on what we really want to see - Clark’s origins. Unlike, the heavy “Freak of the Week” nature of the previous year, the writers introduce deeper and more complex story arcs, that effect every member of the cast. Early on, another one of Clark’s powers is introduced; the dangerous force of “heat vision” (which is actually pretty useful, if he can control it). Welling seems to be loving the chance to explore these famous comic book tales - the episode in which he meets Red Kryptonite is especially memorable; the actor thankful to trash that goody-goody image and play bad for a day.
However, big changes are afoot, and Clark continues to ponder his destiny. When some underground caves are discovered beneath Smallville, his anxiety is heightened. The cave paintings talk of a man that fell from the sky; with supreme strength and the ability to shoot fire from his eyes. It doesn’t take a genius to realise, that the legend talks of Clark’s race. Why was he sent here? What’s his purpose? We may know the answers, but the skilful writing keeps us hooked. It’s a journey that provides fascinating viewing - how exactly does Clark Kent become “The Man of Tomorrow”?
However, Smallville isn’t only about its main character. In fact, Lex continues to divert the attention, providing many of the most memorable episodes. Following the tornado incident, his father Lionel (John Glover) was badly injured, and blinded. Despite his new handicap, the power struggle continues. This father-son relationship is one of the shows most intriguing elements, and often veers off in unexpected directions. Lionel - played to sneering perfection by Glover - continues to develop as a wholly evil character. In most respects, Lex’s destiny as a criminal mastermind is presumably the fault of his upbringing. Rosenbaum clearly loves to play these scenes. The camaraderie between them is always a highlight, and comes to the fore in the brilliant Insurgence, which is also notable for one of Smallville’s many money shots - Clark leaping from the Daily Planet to LuthorCorp in one swoop.
But of course, this season is fondly remembered for the episode Rosetta, which features the late Christopher Reeve as Dr. Swann, a man who holds the key to Clark’s past. It’s a wonderful episode - possibly the best this show has ever seen - and I got goosebumps when the producers slipped in some of the music from John William’s Superman score. It was a great idea perfectly executed. It’s nice to know that Reeve’s last screen character would be connected so deeply to the franchise that made his name. Giving him the chance to build Clark’s mythology only helps to give Rosetta a degree of importance. Not only does it signal a turning point in Smallville’s history, but it provides a fitting denouement to a career that made the Man of Steel a figure for the ages. Such events rarely happen in cult television - for one episode, it raises Smallville from enjoyable hokum to exceptional drama.
With some truly astonishing computer effects (in comparison to other shows), a long list of imaginative foes, and some exciting plot twists, the second season of Smallville really does impress. Fans of comic book lore, and Superman will no doubt be followers already, and those who picked up the previous set should definitely purchase this...
2.01 Vortex • The tornadoes continue to tear through the town, but Clark has managed to save Lana. However, Jonathan and the unscrupulous reporter Nixon (who knows Clark’s secret) are caught in the storm, and become trapped underground. Meanwhile, Lionel is dragged into hospital, followed by a guilt-ridden Lex. Still, graver problems are on the horizon - the storm has taken Clark’s ship, and dropped it somewhere in town...
2.02 Heat • Things are warming up in Smallville - Clark has finally developed heat vision! But it comes suddenly; so sudden in fact, that he almost burns the school down. However, he must put his new power to the test, when his new female teacher unleashes a powerful pull over the town’s men. Naturally, local millionaire Lex Luthor is her target.
2.03 Duplicity • Clark is struck by another moral dilemma - Pete (Sam Jones III) has discovered the ship in a cornfield. Excited by his discovery, Pete has fame on his mind; leading Clark to tell him everything. This knowledge proves dangerous, when Pete is kidnapped by Dr. Hamilton (Joe Morton). Will he learn to keep Clark’s powers a secret?
2.04 Red • The school has class rings for sale, but unknown to Clark, they’ve used red Kryptonite as decoration. Going against his father’s wishes, Clark buys a ring, only for the Red K to have an unprecedented effect on his body - it takes away his conscience, and soon, Clark is on a crime spree...
2.05 Nocturne • Who’s been leaving Lana love letters? It certainly wasn’t Clark. But all is not well with her secret admirer. If he goes into daylight, he turns into a crazed beast; putting Lana in peril once more. Meanwhile, Martha accepts a job from the blinded Lionel, which doesn’t go over too well in the Kent household.
2.06 Redux • Financial troubles have hit the farm, prompting Martha to call her father for help. But bad blood between Jonathan and Clark’s grandfather only help complicate matters. Not only that, trouble strikes at school, when a “young” girl begins sucking the life out of her peers in order to stay youthful. Lana meanwhile, has discovered a photograph that suggests her father is still alive...
2.07 Lineage • When a woman arrives in Smallville claiming to be Clark’s mother, Jonathan is forced to tell him exactly what happened in the cornfield that day, and why he hates Luthor so much. It was Jonathan who saved Lex, and in return, it was Lionel who fabricated Clark’s “adoption”. Elsewhere, Lana has made contact with her biological father, Henry Small (Patrick Cassidy).
2.08 Ryan • Ryan James (Ryan Kelley) returns after the previous season’s Stray, only to be locked up inside a government facility; where tests are being done on his telepathic abilities. Our hero breaks him out, but after Ryan falls ill, Clark has to face the painful truth that he can’t save everyone...
2.09 Dichotic • Lana and Chloe seem to be moving on from their love of Clark, by dating the same guy! Unknown to them, hard-working student Ian (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) can split himself in two, allowing him to be in several places at once. But will the girls believe Clark?
2.10 Skinwalkers • After an accident, Clark discovers the secret caves hidden underneath Smallville’s farmland. This brings him to the attention of the beautiful Kyla (Tamara Feldman), who shows him the cave paintings - drawings that hold the key to his past. Meanwhile, wolves have attacked LuthorCorp employees who are trying to build on the site. Could this be the work of ancient creatures known as “Skinwalkers”?
2.11 Visage • Whitney (Eric Johnson) has returned from his service with the Marines. Or has he? Clark begins to put two and two together, and realises that old foe Tina Greer (Lizzy Caplan) has escaped from jail, and taken his appearance. Will he rescue Lana in time?
2.12 Insurgence • Lex is distressed to discover that Lionel has bugged the mansion, watching his every move. To retaliate, he hires a crew to bug his Metropolis office. However, events take an unexpected turn when the group try to rob Lionel’s safe - taking him and Martha hostage in the process. Clark needs to think fast to save his mother’s life without exposing his powers. And he sees a chance - he has to leap from the Daily Planet building over to LuthorCorp. But can he do it in a single bound?
2.13 Suspect • Someone has taken the law into their own hands, and shot Lionel. He’s alive, but in critical condition. The problem is, Jonathan has been framed for the murder attempt, leading Clark and Pete to question possible suspects. The only problem is, almost everyone had motive to shoot him - including Lex...
2.14 Rush • After a rave in the underground caves, Pete and Chloe are infected by a parasite in the cave walls; making them dangerous and unpredictable. Clark tries to get them to hospital, but after Pete slips him a red meteor rock, that’s the last thing on his mind.
2.15 Prodigal • Lex has found his long-lost brother Lucas (Paul Wasilewski), who according to his father, was dead. However, an attempt to unite against Lionel falls flat, when Lucas takes the mansion from Lex...
2.16 Fever • After Martha falls ill, the farm is quarantined. Apparently, dust from the meteor rocks is to blame. Clark’s search for a cure is halted, when he becomes sick too - leaving Jonathan to save them both.
2.17 Rosetta • Determined to find out where he came from, Clark travels to New York to meet Dr. Swann, a brilliant scientist who holds a message for Clark from Krypton.
2.18 Visitor • One of Clark’s fellow students has been acting strangely, with fires erupting in class. According to him, he’s not human. Could he be from Krypton too? Clark is determined to find out...
2.19 Precipice • After Lana is almost assaulted, Clark loses control and injures the boy - leaving the Kents open to be sued for punitive damages that could cost them the farm.
2.20 Witness • Clark stumbles upon a robbery of a LuthorCorp truck carrying kryptonite and is stunned to realise he can't stop the thieves because they are as strong as he is. To keep Clark from going to the police, the thugs attack Jonathan and Martha.
2.21 Accelerate • After Lana is visited by the ghost of a childhood friend, she turns to Clark for help but he realises the little girl is actually a kryptonite-enhanced clone, he rushes to save Lana before the revenge-seeking child harms her. Lex uncovers Lionel is responsible for the clone research.
2.22 Calling • Dr. Walden (Rob LaBelle) wakes up from his coma and tells Lex and Lionel that Clark is an alien and must be destroyed. Meanwhile, a romantic encounter between Clark and Lana hints at a promising future.
2.23 Exodus • In the season finale, a sense of foreboding surrounds Smallville as Clark must choose between staying with Lana and his family or fulfilling his destiny to rule the Earth. Lex and Helen (Emmanuelle Vaugier) plan their upcoming wedding, whilst a hurt Chloe considers Lionel's offer to investigate Clark...
Warner continue to give Smallville the best possible treatment, and in many respects, this beats their work on the previous set. Once more, the episodes are spread across a six-disc package, in a digipack that exudes quality. As television sets go, this is up there with the best of them (in fact, it’s almost as good as their Superman “Special Edition”).
The Look and Sound
I don’t know how they do it, but on a reasonable TV budget, the producers get movie-style visuals, week-in, week-out. Smallville must have had an increase in funds, since Season Two looks even better than the last. The episodes are once again presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), and they look the superhero tits. The colour scheme has been improved greatly, with those all-important reds and blues showing more vibrancy. But the picture is more detailed all-round, with a sharper look. Even the blacks are pretty solid. Only a smidgen of compression here and there brings down the score. Otherwise, Warner have done wonders...
Likewise, the audio is a notch above most competitors. Smallville seems built for 5.1 supremacy, but we’ll have to make do with the perfectly robust 2.0 tracks. The effects and music are all handled very well indeed - so much of the sound design is used to sell Clark’s powers, and they do a great job of keeping the viewer engaged (the “heat vision” effect is a doozy). Putting the icing on the cake, is Remy Zero’s theme song, and Mark Snow’s score, both of which have deep resonance. Only the lack of constant surround activity truly disappoints, with much of the action projected from the centre stage. Still, it’s difficult to imagine Smallville looking or sounding better on home video.
These follow the same layout and pattern of the previous set; albeit with a different colour scheme. After a montage of footage, the menus begin. They’re animated and anamorphically-enhanced, with scrolling pictures of the cast. These are some of the best menu designs I’ve seen for a TV release - well-presented, nice to look at, and easy to navigate. Naturally, the theme music completes the experience.
The materials here improve on the previous set in leaps and bounds. In most respects, you’ll probably give these extras a second look.
There are four commentaries across two key episodes --
The first track for this episode features executive producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, and is a pleasant and enjoyable discussion. It’s a fan-favourite instalment, so naturally, the creators have a lot to say about the development of the story, particularly the introduction of Red Kryptonite to the Smallville mythos. They talk about the decisions that went into the script, how the shooting of key shots were staged, and how fun it was for the actors and crew to react to “bad” Clark. Once again, the pair kept me interested.
The other commentary is the real winner of this set, and comprises co-executive producer Greg Beeman, Tom Welling, Michael Rosenbaum and Kristen Kreuk. Cast commentaries are usually painful affairs, but this my friends, was hilarious. It’s a really fun, gag-filled track, and the cast clearly have affection for their roles and each other. While the joking comes thick and fast, they also offer some insight. Welling, for instance, is quick to point-out that Clark isn’t evil in this episode, but merely stripped of conscience (a point that many network execs failed to notice). Rosenbaum makes plenty of witty comments, with Beeman trying his best to interject valid points about the show. Kreuk chimes in here and there, after some good-natured humour about Lana, the “Danger Magnet”. Plus, this is probably the only place you’ll hear Welling’s spot-on impersonation of Gollum. Fabulous.
The tracks for this episode follow the same format, with Gough and Millar’s comments proving the most valuable. They both agree that it’s the best episode they’ve ever written (and will most likely remain their greatest), and they clearly have a lot of enthusiasm for the story they continue to tell and reinvent. On another note, this box set was released before Christopher Reeve’s tragic death, so some of the discussion may prove bittersweet. The pair tell us how they convinced Reeve to appear on the show, and the lengths they went to, in order to make it happen. A great listen.
On the other track, Beeman and the cast are joined by “Rosetta” director James Marshall. Like before, they offer plenty of fun comments over the episode, with Marshall being prompted for technical details about the demanding shoot. Welling has nothing but respect for Reeve, and he was clearly honoured to work with him. It’s a breezy track that is effortlessly entertaining. These commentaries are definitely worth a listen...
These are spread throughout the set, and include excised footage from several episodes. The most interesting, is probably the unseen ending of “Dichotic”, which includes the death of body-splitter Ian. Interesting, because he would later return in a Season Three episode. The cut footage is no doubt worth a look for fans.
“Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Effects of Smallville”
The title pretty much sums up this featurette, which takes a neat look at Smallville’s groundbreaking CGI wizardry. The producers really do push the envelope; competing with motion pictures in what they can achieve on the small screen. Among the scenes analysed, is Clark’s leap from the Daily Planet in “Insurgence”, and his super speed in “Accelerate”.
“Christopher Reeve: The Man of Steel”
The importance of this piece has clearly gone up a notch in recent months. It perfectly documents Reeve’s life, with emphasis placed on Superman and its sequels, naturally. It shows Reeve as a true fighter; a man with passion and genuine conviction. It’s rather sad to watch so soon after his death, but we should remember him, and the role that made him famous. We see him talk about the show, and it’s good to know that he gave Smallville his blessing.
“The Chloe Chronicles”
Originally shown online, these were filmed by the WB to introduce audiences to the show. Allison Mack is on fine form once again as Chloe, documenting “The Wall of Weird”, the strange events that happen in Smallville, and the hero that is Clark Kent. There are several of these vignettes, all of which prove entertaining.
Don’t you just love to see actors mess up? Unfortunately, most gag reels turn out poor, lacking in any funny moments. Thanks to the great Michael Rosenbaum, this one is definitely worth seeing. The cast seem to have a blast making this show, from screwing up dialogue, to engaging in Keanu Reeves impersonations between takes. To top it all off, Rosenbaum does the funniest dance routine I’ve seen since American Wedding. Give the guy a sitcom already...
The set is completed by a book with liner notes by Gough and Millar, episode details/air-dates, and full-colour photos. A stellar package.
The immortal Clark Kent continues to develop those awesome powers, in a show that improves with each passing year. Smallville: Season Two is a must-own for die-hard fans, and those who diet on nothing but comics. Purchase recommended.
The Superman legend soars to new heights, in the second year of "Smallville". Clark develops heat vision, leaps his first tall building, and meets the late Christopher Reeve. D.J. Nock reviews the box set...