"So what are you Clark, man or Superman?" For 10 seasons, that was the question at the heart of Smallville.
Premiering 20 years ago today and created by Alfred Gough and Mark Millar, Smallville (initially) mixed 7th Heaven's family-centric storytelling with Buffy the Vampire Slayer's monster-as-high school metaphors structure to retell Superman's origin story, and broke ratings records when it debuted on the WB. In its early seasons, the show followed a teenage Clark Kent (the perfectly cast Tom Welling) as he struggled to understand his powers and background while saving people from meteor freaks — a.k.a. people who gained powers from green meteor rocks, a.k.a. Kryptonite, that followed him to Earth in a devastating meteor shower — and other catastrophes in the titular anad picturesque small Kansas town. At his parents Jonathan (John Schneider) and Martha Kent's (Annette O'Toole) urging, he had to keep his abilities secret from those closest to him, including his school buddies Pete Ross (Sam Jones III) and Chloe Sullivan (the recently-incarcerated Allison Mack), love interest Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), and rich best friend Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) — all of whom likely had severe brain injuries given how often scripts called for them to be knocked out in the interest of protecting the drama-producing engine of Clark's secret. Furthermore, making Lex and Clark friends was one of the show's best decisions, because it allowed Smallville to not only track the birth of a hero, but also the birth of a villain, and Rosenbaum remains the best live-action portrayal of the evil businessman.
Guided by its notorious "no flights, no tights" rule, Smallville took a very slow approach to the Man of Steel's mythology, often searching for the most grounded and least ridiculous take on some of the comic's weirder material. For example, the show's second and third seasons tied Clark's Kryptonian origins to the Kawatche caves found in Smallville, Mister Mxyzptlk wore all Black instead of his colorful impish attire, and Brainiac (James Marsters) was given a very human-like appearance. That being said, the show started to embrace the canon more and more as it progressed, especially with the introductions of Lois Lane (Erica Durance) in season 4, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Justin Hartley) in season 6, and many members of the Justice League. Smallville's glacial but steady pace towards super-suits and heroes over the course of 10 seasons paved the way for Arrow and the rest of the CW's shared superhero universe, which picked up the torch and ran with it a year after Smallville ended in 2011.
In honor of the show's 20th anniversary, EW took a trip down memory lane and picked out the 50 best episodes.
50. "Leech" (Season 1, Episode 12)
The first Ashmore twin sighting on Smallville (Shawn Ashmore played Eric Summers before his brother Aaron Ashmore became a series regular in the later seasons) may not seem like a major episode on its surface, but it's always stood out to me because it's the first time we see Clark experience real pain. Eric accidentally steals Clark's powers on a school field trip (for a season 1 episode, that lightning strike scene looks so dope), and Clark is forced to feel, for the first time in his life, what it's like for humans to get hurt. Tom Welling plays up Clark's shock and absolute terror to such heartbreaking heights. Even a simple nosebleed makes Clark so scared that you're reminded of how young and sheltered he still is at this point. But on the opposite end, his joy while losing a basketball game even though he tried his hardest is so pure. And the honest and vulnerable conversation Clark has with Jonathan about whether or not his parents were ever scared of his abilities when he was a child is extremely tragic because it's clear that this has been a deep-seated insecurity of Clark's for a long time. "Leech" may be an early episode but it showed how deep Smallville could (and would) get. —Sydney Bucksbaum
49. "Odyssey" (Season 8, Episode 1)
Smallville never changed more than it did between seasons 7 and 8. That transition marked the departure of not only formerly central characters Lana and Lex but also co-creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. As far as pivots go, though, the season 8 premiere certainly threw a lot of new elements into the mix. Introducing interesting new characters like Tess Mercer and bringing back old favorites like Oliver Queen and the nascent Justice League helped inject Smallville with enough freshness to carry it through its final three seasons. —Christian Holub
48. "Fever" (Season 2, Episode 16)
Kryptonite is dangerous — and not just to Kryptonians. At a time when they were still referring to the irradiated substance as "meteor rock," both Clark and Martha become exposed to it and fall ill. Sickness is an unusual feeling for Clark! But this particular sickness unleashes a new level of plot fuel because, over the course of Martha's treatment, the truth of her unexpected pregnancy is revealed. —C.H.
47. "Arrow" (Season 6, Episode 4)
After making his debut as Oliver Queen in season 6's second episode, Justin Hartley finally suited up as his bow-and-arrow wielding alter ego Green Arrow in the aptly titled "Arrow." While Smallville had featured other DC Comics heroes in previous seasons — the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, specifically — this is the first time it introduced one who wore a flashy costume and literally fought bad guys every night, which was quite a huge step for a show that given its "no flights, no tights" mantra. Even though you can feel the show trying its hardest to avoid campiness with Green Arrow's introduction, it's still a pretty solid entry, especially because Oliver's point of view both complements and challenges Clark's black-and-white approach to superheroing. —Chancellor Agard
46. "Ryan" (Season 2, Episode 8)
Oh, Ryan. Sweet, sweet, little brother Ryan. For only appearing in two episodes total, this character has such a hold on my emotions. His debut in season 1 instantly cemented him as Clark's little brother, but his second and final episode might be the show's most emotionally devastating hour as Clark loses someone he loves for the first time. Even though Clark pushes himself to run faster and farther than he ever has before, he learns a painful but important lesson about how having powers doesn't always mean he'll be able to save someone. Ryan's telepathic powers earn him an early death that Clark can't stop, and all Clark can do is make his little brother's final days as comfortable as possible. No matter how many times I watch "Ryan," that final scene as Clark gathers up Ryan's comic books from his empty hospital room never fails to make me ugly sob like it's my first time seeing it. —S.B.
45. "Sacred" (Season 4, Episode 15)
Built around the global search for three mysterious stones of power, season 4 is the show's most ambitious season. In "Sacred," the MacGuffin hunt leads the characters to Shanghai, as Clark and Lana try to beat Lex and Jason to one of the stones. The script has some fun twists, like Lex arranging for him and Jason to be arrested so that he could interrogate him and, most importantly, the return of Margaret Isobel Thoreaux, a witch who possesses Lana's body once again. While Kreuk has spoken about how awkward she felt using magic as the witch, she looks incredibly confident in this episode as she fights Clark, who is reminded once again that he's vulnerable to magic. (Lana's spinning air move is seared into my brain.) —C.A.
44. "Bride" (Season 8, Episode 10)
You have to give Smallville season 8 credit for its ambitious attempt to bring Doomsday (the monstrous creature most famous for killing Superman in 1992's classic Death of Superman comic storyline) into its semi-realistic Clark Kent show. Unfortunately, they didn't really succeed in making Doomsday look cool on screen — but to be fair, neither did Zack Snyder in Batman v Superman eight years later. What makes "Bride" the standout episode of season 8 is the creative methods the filmmakers deployed to film around their somewhat goofy monster, in the vein of films like Jaws and Cloverfield. The cold open of the episode plays like a straight-up found-footage horror movie, with cute wedding testimonials filmed by Jimmy before the ceremony rapidly devolving into images of bloody destruction. The rest of the runtime somehow makes those events even more heartbreaking — not least because, just as you were starting to miss Lana and Lex, they come back to spoil all the cool new character dynamics established by season 8. You can't always get what you want...just ask Jimmy and Chloe, left bloodied and kidnapped (respectively) on what was supposed to be their night of romantic bliss. —C.H.
43. "Hidden" (Season 5, Episode 3)
There's an interesting debate about how brave Superman really is since he knows he's never actually risking his life stepping in front of a bullet or running into an explosion with that impenetrable skin. So what happens when Superman is mortal and actually does have to risk his life to save others? That's why I love "Hidden" so much because it proves that Clark is a hero with or without his powers. He gives up his own life trying to save Chloe (and all of Smallville) and literally dies after he gets shot by an old classmate who's trying to nuke all the meteor freaks. The resulting scenes of Jonathan and Martha and then Lana realizing that they actually lost Clark — something they thought to be impossible until now — are some of the show's most gut-wrenching portrayals of loss and grief. I dare you not to ugly cry while watching this episode. Then the hour levels up with some of the best action scenes Smallville's done yet as Clark is brought back, superpowers and all, and jumps/flies up to the launched nuke to disarm it in the air before emotionally reuniting with his parents and Lana. Plus earlier in the episode we got to see the Kents bust Clark and Lana for doing it, which is peak Smallville comedy. The awkward tension of Pa Kent's disappointment is just *chef's kiss*. —S.B.
42. "Blank" (Season 4, Episode 19)
Oh, how the tables have turned. After Clark kept Chloe in the dark for years about his secret, she'd recently been keeping it a secret from him that she learned about some of his abilities through his ex Alicia. And when a meteor freak erases all of Clark's memory, it's Chloe that has to help him relearn all his abilities (and not just the ones she knew about) and convince him not to reveal his secret to the world. For once, Clark trusted Chloe fully and allowed her to see him for who he truly is. It was as satisfying for fans as it was for Chloe. And after he got his old memories back minus his amnesia days, it felt so good watching her send him into full-blown panic with the parting line: "You trusted me." —S.B.
41. "Pariah" (Season 4, Episode 12)
The moment many people had been waiting for finally arrived: Chloe finally learns Clark's secret — but not because he chooses to share it with her. After both Lana and Jason are attacked at the Talon, suspicion falls on Clark's girlfriend Alicia because she once tried to kill Lana with her teleportation powers. Offended that Clark would even question her innocence since she's been reformed, Alicia decides to do what he's been too afraid to do and orchestrates a crisis so that Chloe can actually see how Clark is able to save the day all of the time. The moment Chloe watches Clark catch the flying car is one of the most memorable scenes in Smallville's history (there's a reason that it remained in the opening credits from this point on), and added some tension to Chloe and Clark's dynamic for the rest of the season. Furthermore, this episode also sees Clark experience true loss for the first time when he discovers Alicia's corpse, and Welling's heartbreaking performance definitely primes us for what's to come in season 5. —C.A.
40. "Salvation" (Season 9, Episode 22)
Season 9, arguably the strongest one of the post-Gough and Millar years, ended in an exciting fashion. It all begins with the finale's fan-tastic cold open, which flashforwards to 2013 and teases Clark's Superman destiny before returning to the present and revealing that his mother made him a Superman costume. From there, the hour delivers several moments that would tickle any viewer's lizard brain: Granny Goodness tending to a wounded Tess; Oliver's mysterious kidnapping; Clark and Lois' revelatory kiss; and finally, Clark and Zod's epic rain-soaked, rooftop brawl. Sure, the episode-ending shot of a powerless Clark Jesus-falling to through the sky after being stabbed with a blue Kryptonite blade is the definition of schmuck bait because there's no way he was going to die, but the promise of Clark's rebirth gave us something to look forward to. —C.A.
39. "Arrival" (Season 5, Episode 1)
From the jump, season 5 made clear that high school was over and Clark was now ready for the big leagues. The season opened with the revelation of the crystalline Fortress of Solitude, and soon after Clark found himself face-to-face with disciples of General Zod — Superman's most iconic non-Luthor adversary thanks to his memorable Superman II portrayal by Terence Stamp (who, of course, voices Jor-El on this show in one of Smallville's great meta castings). But speaking of great villains, season 5's most important contribution to the Smallville mythos (and the true "arrival" referred to in the episode title) was a certain black spaceship carrying a little organism known as the Brain InterActive Construct… —C.H.
38. "Spirit" (Season 4, Episode 18)
Is there anything more iconic than Martha Kent singing Ashlee Simpson and twerking in the Kent kitchen? How about Clark quipping, "The crown's mine, b---," while ripping the prom queen tiara off Chloe's head? Smallville's just "super pumped about prom!" and it really shows in this body snatcher episode when the spirit of a dead prom queen wannabe hitches a ride in everyone's body leading up to the big night, giving all the actors the opportunity to have some fun living out their high school queen bee fantasies. But nothing tops when Clark and Lana finally get their romantic school dance moment, slow-dancing to Lifehouse's "You and Me" while her estranged boyfriend Jason Teague spies on them from afar. It was never going to be you, my guy. —S.B.
37. "Shattered" (Season 3, Episode 8)
If Clark was an expert at gaslighting, then Lionel Luthor (John Glover) was the absolute GOAT. Just look at how easily he was able to completely shatter his own son's mental health, all so that he could erase Lex's memory with electroshock therapy to make him forget that Lionel is a murderer. We always knew Lionel was a villain, but the lengths he went to hurt his own son to cover up his past sins is about as evil as it gets. And the return of Morgan Edge (with a new face and kryptonite bracelet), who knows who and what Clark is, coupled with Clark exposing his secret to save Lex, elevates the already intense episode to new heights. If only Lana didn't decide to blame Clark for Lex hurting her, maybe this episode would rank a little higher. Because that just wasn't fair. —S.B.
36. "Unsafe" (Season 4, Episode 11)
It's easy forget how conservative Smallville could be, but then episodes like this one, which contains very serious conversations about waiting to lose one's virginity, remind you that it aired on 7th Heaven's WB. That being said, there's something entertaining about how uncomfortable it all is. Yes, Alicia drugging Clark with red Kryptonite is all kind of messed up and pretty unforgivable, but Clark on red K is also pretty fun to watch because it's clear Welling enjoyed letting loose and playing that side of his stick-in-the-mud character. —C.A.
35. "Duplicity" (Season 2, Episode 3)
Watching Smallville back as an adult is really eye-opening since most of the series is basically a case study of gaslighting and its traumatic effects after years of lying and manipulation. But it's not hard to understand why Clark was always so hesitant to tell the people he loves the truth about his origins after what happened with Pete. Clark never even had the choice to tell his first best friend about his secret; he was forced to come clean after Pete found his ship. And let's just say that Pete did not take it well. It didn't take long for the pressure of keeping Clark's secret to push Pete away for good, but it was this devastating episode that solidified Clark's dedication to never telling his secret to anyone outside of his parents because Pete confirmed all his deeply held insecurities about being an alien. Every scene between the two of them is more heartbreaking than the last. But at least Clark got to have one game of basketball with his best friend where he didn't have to hold back his powers. If only that moment could have lasted forever. —S.B.
34. "Persona" (Season 7, Episode 10)
By the time season 7 rolled around, Smallville was confident enough to start bringing in more colorful elements of the classic comics, and even tackled one of Superman's silliest villains with Bizarro. Thankfully, this version of the character did not hail from a goofy square-shaped Earth; instead, Smallville was able to make Bizarro dramatic by incorporating him into the soap opera doppelganger archetype. This anti-Clark turned out to be a better boyfriend to Lana than the real deal ever was, adding notable pathos to his inevitable defeat at the hands of blue Kryptonite. —C.H.
33. "Nemesis" (Season 6, Episode 19)
By this point in Smallville's run, Clark and Lex's friendship has officially died. (That's what happens when your former best friend marries the then-love of your life.) But that doesn't stop Clark from ignoring the drama and attempting to save Lex after someone blows up one of his secret underground laboratories and traps him inside. Unfortunately for Clark, there's tons of Kryptonite down there, which means he's powerless and thus forced to work with Lex if they are to make it out before the tunnels collapse. As they push dig their way out, the duo have a long-awaited conversation about their fractured friendship, and it's hard not to feel at least a tiny bit of sympathy for Lex because of Clark's constant gaslighting. (That being said, Clark also makes some great points about Lex.) But, Clark and Lex aren't the only highlights of the episode. It's also incredibly fun to see Lana embrace her inner Luthor as she actively plots to let Lex die in the tunnels and strong-arms Lionel. —C.A.
32. "Extinction" (Season 3, Episode 3)
To say Smallville overused Kryptonite would be an understatement. That being said, there are times when the show found ways to make it feel fresh, like in "Extinction." Clark races to stop his bigoted classmate Van McNulty, who has started murdering people he suspects are meteor-infected. At one point, though, he discovers that Kryptonite weakens Clark, so he decides to make Kryptonite bullets and snipes Clark on the farm. Even though we know Clark will survive the attack, there's something genuinely stressful about watching a bullet pierce the Man of Steel's skin and Jonathan and Martha's rush to save their son. —C.A.
31. "Solitude" (Season 5, Episode 8)
The sins of Jor-El's past come due. You can fault Smallville for rapidly switching Jor-El's characterization and personality depending on plot necessity, but at least this episode brings plot consequences for it. Given how capricious Jor-El has acted towards the Kent family over the course of four seasons, it's hard to fault Clark and Martha for believing Brainiac's lie that Jor-El is the true villain of Krypton and Zod its wronged hero (another example of the many fun meta benefits to the casting of Zod himself, Terence Stamp, as Jor-El in the first place). The climactic fight in the Fortress of Solitude finds a new use for those crystals (ouch!), and also has far-reaching consequences: Brainiac's attempts to rebuild and find a new way to free Zod shape the rest of the season. —C.H.
30. "Red" (Season 2, Episode 4)
The first of Smallville's many flirtations with red Kryptonite may not have been its best, but it certainly served as proof of concept for all the ways red K would continue to cause chaos for the rest of the show. The advantage of putting Superman in high school, after all, is that the show was able to tap into that Buffy the Vampire Slayer model of using supernatural archetypes as metaphors for teenage angst and horniness. Plus, considering how dedicated Smallville was to keeping Clark and Lana apart at all times, it was only through horny supernatural elements like red K that we were able to actually see them kiss once in a while. —C.H.
29. "Homecoming" (Season 10, Episode 4)
10 years is a long time for a TV show — so long that, when Smallville's final season revisited its high school beginnings, you could really feel the passage of time. Chloe's old Wall of Weird has since been replaced by social media savvy conspiracists, and attendees of the reunion feel comfortable openly praising Clark Kent as a local hero rather than deriding him as some kind of nerd. But the really fun thing about "Homecoming" is that it doesn't just dwell on the past — it also looks ahead to Clark's future as a dashing superhero, bespectacled Daily Planet reporter, and love of Lois Lane's life. Plus, it's nice to see Brainiac redeem himself. —C.H.
28. "Facade" (Season 4, Episode 3)
Season 4 episodes just hit different and "Façade" is no exception. The hour is pure Americana perfection as Clark once again indulges in his dreams of playing high school football and Lois learns she has to re-do senior year — at Smallville High, no less — and she discovers the joys of investigative journalism along the way. The beginning of season 4 also held the impossible task of selling fans on Lana and Jason Teague's relationship since we've been primed to root for Clark and Lana for four seasons, but I remember this episode as a major turning point in how I felt about Lana's new romantic foil (it didn't hurt that it was a pre-Supernatural Jensen Ackles, but I digress). I actually really loved Lana and Jason together before kryptonian stones and medieval witches got in the way — although the decision to get him a job at her high school wasn't great since he was only a couple years older than her, and it was his new role as faculty that made their relationship feel wrong when it was totally appropriate at first. But what makes this episode truly top tier? The moment when Chloe realizes Clark and her cousin Lois are destined to have the great love story she always wanted for herself and Clark. You can see the moment her heart breaks as Avril Lavigne's "My Happy Ending" swells in the background. I credit this episode with renewing my love for that early '00s banger. —S.B.
27. "Checkmate" (Season 9, Episode 16)
From the shot of Green Arrow leaping across a rooftop against the night sky, to the comic book panel-like shots during the save Chloe sequence, "Checkmate" has to be one of Smallville's most visually impressive episodes. It's also one of its geekiest, thanks to how much we learn about Amanda Waller (a deliciously conniving and intimidating Pam Grier) and her secret organization Checkmate, and getting a chance to see Martian Manhunter (Phil Morris) use almost all of his powers. On top of all of that, the episode develops and twists some of the show's core relationships as Chloe finally confronts Clark about no longer trusting her and Watchtower, Tess finally learns that Oliver is Green Arrow, and Chloe and Oliver move further away from just being friends with benefits. (The following episode, "Upgrade," would build on a lot of the work done in this episode, too.) —C.A.
26. "Exodus" (Season 2, Episode 22)
Smallville always knew how to leave fans dying to know what happens next in every season finale, and the wait in between seasons 2 and 3 was absolute torture after all the events of "Exodus." Right before Lex marries Helen, Clark rebels against Jor-El's destiny of "ruling" Earth by destroying his ship with a kryptonite key — but the explosion also causes Martha to lose her baby. What happens next in rapid fire succession is the beginning of one of the darkest seasons as Clark blames himself for causing so much pain for the ones he loves, and his decision to put on that red kryptonite ring and run away to Metropolis changes everything moving forward. That one moment snowballs into so much more as Lana begins to lose her trust in Clark, Chloe becomes tangled in Lionel's web, and Jonathan will go on to make the deal with Jor-El that will lead to his eventual death. How was this only one episode?! —S.B.
25. "Vessel" (Season 5, Episode 22)
The show's Empire Strikes Back moment. Of all Smallville's season-ending cliffhangers, it never got more operatic than this: Lois and Martha plummeting from the sky, Clark trapped in the Phantom Zone, and a Zod-possessed Lex standing at the top of the world with Lana in his arms. The difficulty of making stories about Superman is challenging him and making the viewer think, even for a moment, that he might not win. This is certainly as close as Smallville got, though "Vessel" also loses points for putting the wretched Lex/Lana romance into warp drive. —C.H.
24. "Gone" (Season 4, Episode 2)
The frisson of introducing Lois Lane in the season 4 premiere carries over for several episodes — but only this one includes the iconic scene of Martha Kent finding Clark and Lois in an compromising position in the bathroom. Lois' frank sexual charisma was such a breath of fresh air after several years of suffocating Lana tension, though there was enough juice left in that foundational romance to make Clark and Lois believable as friends for years. Earlier in this list, we've mentioned the amazing resonance of casting iconic Zod performer as Clark's dad in a show about growing up. Casting Michael Ironside (the voice of another great Superman villain, Darkseid, in Superman: The Animated Series) as Lois' dad continues the trend in an incredible way. —C.H.
23. "Aqua" (Season 5, Episode 4)
Need I say more than pointing out that moment of Lois Lane emerging from the lake in the skimpiest bikini known to man? Not even a head wound could take away from that iconic shot that became part of the opening credits for the rest of the series. Plus this was the first time that Aquaman was A) seen in live-action, and B) was actually pretty cool, thanks to Alan Ritchson's debut as the orange-and-green clad hot frat dude with a love for board shorts and the ocean. Ritchson walked so Jason Momoa could run. —S.B.
22. "Phoenix" (Season 3, Episode 2)
The continuation from the season 3 premiere kicks off with a shockingly brutal action sequence as a super-powered Jonathan fights Clark on Red K, and as much as it hurts to see this father/son duo deliver what would be killing blows on mere mortals, it's also absolutely legendary seeing them pull no punches. And while the rest of the hour deals with all the fallout from Clark's summer as Kal in Metropolis, it's just as devastating as that earlier destructive fight as the now-sober Clark realizes how much damage he inflicted on everyone he loves from his parents to Chloe and especially Lana. Clark's emotional roller coaster is perfectly balanced by Lex returning home after three months on a deserted island and figuring out who betrayed him, leading him to get his eventual revenge on his new bride Helen. Rooting for Lex to win always felt wrong but in the beginning, Rosenbaum really sold Lex as the empathetic hero you couldn't help but love. And seeing him win in this instance felt like true justice. Adios, Helen! —S.B.
21. "Fortune" (Season 10, Episode 15)
This superheroic take on The Hangover remains Smallville's (purposefully) funniest episode. After drinking from an enchanted bottle of champagne from Zatanna, the whole gang blacks out during Clark and Lois' bachelor and bachelorette parties. The next morning, Clark and Chloe wake up believing they drunkenly got married the night before, Emil and Tess are performing Swank's "How We Do" in a club, and Oliver and Lois lost in the middle of nowhere. The whole messy affair culminates in a truly hilarious action sequence featuring Oliver in drag, which then leads to the gang being forced to relive the entire night when Tess recovers the footage. It's episodes like this that make you wish Smallville had let loose a bit more in its early years. —C.A.
20. "Arctic" (Season 7, Episode 20)
The great farewell, a changing of the guard. From the moment Smallville began, viewers had been waiting for the inevitable moment when Clark and Lex would take on their iconic roles as superhero and nemesis — while also watching the contours of the Clark/Lana relationship, knowing those two would never actually end up together. With the end of season 7 marking the departure of co-creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, Smallville was still set to continue — but the rich relationships built between those three characters since the start of the show would not. At a certain point, they all had to face their destinies. Even more than Lana's "Dear John" letter, Lex's destruction of the Fortress of Solitude served as an on-the-nose symbol of old plot threads being finally, climatically resolved so that new ones could be written. —C.H.
19. "Tempest" (Season 1, Episode 22)
Smallville took its time unveiling all the truly dangerous Superman villains. Because of that patience, the show's first season finale was able to spin pulse-pounding drama out of...a tornado. A Midwest windstorm doesn't seem like it should pose a huge threat to Superman, but back then Clark was still a long way off from his full potential. The natural disaster adds to the already-considerable drama of the school dance (always reliable plot fuel for a teen show) and thankfully lays down an early marker that romance was just never going to work between Clark and Chloe. —C.H.
18. "Jinx" (Season 4, Episode 7)
Who knew it would take a trickster to make Clark realize his full potential? Mikhail Mxyzptlk makes his Smallville debut using his powers to run an underground gambling ring at the high school. After he makes Clark trip — shattering another player's collarbone during a football game — Clark is forced to step up and save the day, both on the field (scoring the winning touchdown during the state championship game) and behind the scenes (running faster than he ever has before to save Chloe's life at the exact same time). And that epic hero moment is preceded by Clark giving Jonathan a speech outside the locker room that reveals just how much power Clark holds back every day, making a conscious decision with every handshake, hug, and tackle to ensure he never hurts anyone — and since Jonathan can never understand that, he can't make those decisions for Clark anymore. It's the most mature we've ever seen Clark talk about his powers and shows how much he's grown since the pilot. He's no longer the confused young teenager grappling with a destiny he doesn't understand; he's well on his way to becoming the man who wears the red cape, and seeing Jonathan realize that with pride in his eyes is an incredible — and well-earned — moment. —S.B.
17. "Covenant" (Season 3, Episode 22)
Smallville's darkest season ended on an incredibly dark note as all of the season's threads come to a soul-crushing head. It all begins with the arrival of a young woman named Kara (Adrianne Palicki), who arrives at the Kent farm claiming to be Kryptonian and that Jor-El sent her for Clark. This forces Jonathan to reveal the deal — or covenant, heh — he made with Jor-El at the beginning of season: If Jor-El gifted with him the powers to bring Clark home, then Jonathan must promise to let him go when the time comes. And alas, that time is now. In a brilliant twist for comic book fans and unfamiliar viewers, it turns out Kara isn't who she says she is, and is in fact a girl who went missing in the Kawatche caves during the media shower. Nevertheless, that reveal doesn't stop Jor-El from ripping Clark away from his parents. And as if that wasn't enough, elsewhere in the episode, Clark and Lex's friendship reaches its first breaking point as Clark discovers Lex has been investigating him and, more importantly, both Lex and Chloe learn not to mess with the now-imprisoned Lionel Luthor, who exacts his revenge in the dramatic yet thrilling final sequence. (Plus: Shoutout to Kreuk's beachy waves as she fled to Paris!) —C.A.
16. "Run" (Season 4, Episode 5)
Smallville was right: Bart Allen makes an interesting Flash. If you happen to only know DC superheroes from their screen adaptations, you could be forgiven for not knowing that multiple people have carried the mantle of the Scarlet Speedster — since both the CW's TV shows and Zack Snyder's big-screen blockbusters have used Barry Allen. But The Flash is actually one of the richest lineages in superhero comics, including such other figures as Wally West and Jay Garrick (both of whom get cleverly name-checked here as fake identities for Bart). Kyle Gallner gets to bring out the lovable mischief of Bart, culminating in a classic Superman/Flash race set to Rascal Flatts — a classic Smallville needle drop in that it is both hilariously on-brand and also strangely moving. —C.H.
15. "Absolute Justice" (Season 9, Episodes 11-12)
Following Gough and Millar's departure, Smallville became even more comic booky in its later seasons, with episodes dedicated to the futuristic Legion of Superheroes, Zatanna, Booster Gold, and the Wonder Twins; however, this epic two-parter was quite possibly the show's geekiest gambit. Written by comic book scribe Geoff Johns, "Absolute Justice" was a cape and costume filled saga in which members of the nascent League met those who came before them: Hawkman (Michael Shanks), Stargirl (Britt Irvin), and Doctor Fate (Brent Strait), the remaining members of the Justice Society of America. Johns' passion for the Golden Age superteam is felt throughout the entire affair, which is filled to the brim with Easter Eggs for readers, like Hawkgirl's helmet, a shot of Green Lantern's ring, and the iconic JSA portrait and table.
What elevates "Absolute Justice" beyond fan service, however, is how meeting the JSA actually has a lasting effect on Clark and his team as they move forward and figure out how to work together. In hindsight, it's easy to see how episodes like this one helped audiences grow accustomed to seeing colorful super-suits on their TV screens every week. —C.A.
14. "Mortal" (Season 5, Episode 2)
Superman — even a young version — is practically invincible and can do almost anything, so any time Clark needs to figure out another way to save the day without his powers always leads to a fascinating episode. And "Mortal" raises the stakes through both comedy and drama when the now-human Clark and Chloe have their first mission together after she learns the entire truth about his origins as Lana and the Kents are held hostage by three Belle Reve escapees. Clark and Chloe don't realize until after everyone's safe that Lex was the one to orchestrate the entire thing to force Clark into revealing his secret, and the ensuing confrontation is savagely satisfying as Clark takes full advantage of his temporary status as a human when Lex punches him in the face. The shock, confusion, and eventual guilt on Lex's face when he sees Clark bleed is priceless, and this episode marks the official end of Clark and Lex's friendship. Another moment five seasons in the making? Clark and Lana finally sleeping together, and it was worth the long, long, long wait. —S.B.
13. "Transference" (Season 4, Episode 6)
The amount of fun that Tom Welling and John Glover had in this episode cannot be overstated when an imprisoned Lionel uses a Kryptonian stone to try and swap bodies with Lex in an attempt to both escape prison as well as doom his son to an early death in jail (savage), and he accidentally swaps bodies with Clark instead. The result is equal parts hilarious, unsettling, and terrifying as Lionel (in Clark's body) discovers Clark's secret and gains access to all his powers, giving Welling the opportunity to turn in a downright chilling performance by channeling Glover and going full villain. And Glover ate up the chance to become the confused, innocent, and now-weak Clark trapped in a dying human's body. The acting throughout the hour is a tour-de-force, and don't even get me started on the epic prison riot sequence set to Jimmy Eat World's "Pain." Smallville really knew how to deliver those needle drops. —S.B.
12. "Onyx" (Season 4, Episode 17)
Sixteen years later and I'm still not over Rosenbaum's deliciously hammy and malevolent delivery of the line, "I am the villain of the story." In "Onyx," Lex gets caught in a Kryptonite experiment that goes wrong and creates Black K, which separates his two halves: the good Alexander and the evil Lex. Throughout most of the show's run, Rosenbaum was caught in the Shakespearean familial drama with Glover's Lionel and was often tasked with being a grounding force, as Lex constantly wavered between good and evil in the early seasons. But with "Onyx," he's finally allowed to let loose, leading to one of Rosenbaum's best performances. Unencumbered by a conscience and relationships, the sinister Lex finally figures out Clark's secrets and attacks the Kents ("What do you want?" "The world, Mrs. Kent, and your son is going to help me bring it to its knees."), which leads to the amazing "villain" line. Even though Lex would end up forgetting everything he learned once Clark reunited his two halves, there was still something thrilling about spending this brief amount of time with the Lex we know from the comics, thus making this one of the most important Lex episodes. —C.A.
11. "Descent" (Season 7, Episode 16)
Most TV shows typically save big character deaths for the end of an episode, but that's not the case with "Descent." Written by Don Whitehead and Holly Henderson, this pivotal Lex episode begins with the burgeoning supervillain defenestrating his father Lionel and killing him. Up until this point, Smallville had only ever killed off two series regulars — Schneider's Pa Kent and Jensen Ackles' Jason Teague —so the moment is definitely shocking, but it also feels inevitable. How else could the Lex and Lionel saga have ended? Starting the episode with Lionel's death also shifts the focus of the story, which is less about the death itself and what it means for Lex. As the episode unfolds, Lex is haunted by his vision of Alexander pleading with him to come clean, but in the end, Lex kills his younger self, a sign that he's finally transformed into the supervillain he was destined to become. Throughout most of its run, Smallville would bring characters to the brink of their comic book destinies before turning back because who knew when the show would end, but since Rosenbaum was leaving at the end of the season, the series was finally able to push Lex past the point of no return. —C.A.
10. "Apocalypse" (Season 7, Episode 18)
How did it take Smallville seven seasons to do an It's a Wonderful Life episode? In the Welling-directed milestone 150th episode, Jor-El sends a self-pitying Clark to a world where he never existed after he laments that life would be better if he didn't arrive on Earth. As you can expect, Clark learns he was silly for saying that, because this alternate reality is awful, grey, and on the verge of nuclear apocalypse. Despite that, the alternate reality is a treat because it gives us a glimpse at Lois Lane in full reporter mode, Lex Luthor as the villainous, white-suit loving president of the United States, and Welling doing his best impression of Christopher Reeve's dorky glasses move. As if "what if" scenarios weren't enough, "Apocalypse" also includes time travel because Clark is forced to travel back to Krypton's destruction and stop Brainiac from killing him as a baby. —C.A.
9. "Finale" (Season 10, Episodes 21-22)
After a full decade of talk about "destiny," the super-sized series finale finally showed us the fully-fledged superhero Clark was born to be. But considering that Smallville started out as a reversal of typical Superman tropes (with Clark and Lex as friends instead of the mortal enemies we popularly know them as), the show also didn't lose sight of the sadness of watching fate take its course. Even more than the apocalyptic scale of the fight against Darkseid, 10 years of emotion were packed into a single line: "I'm sorry I couldn't save you, Lex." —C.H.
8. "Perry" (Season 3, Episode 5)
Perry White may not be a superhero, a supervillain, or even any kind of superpowered figure at all — but his appearance on Smallville still goes down as one of the single most fun DC Comics tie-ins of the entire series. Typically depicted as the no-nonsense editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet (think J. Jonah Jameson without the picture fixation), this Perry is...well, a drunk loser. How else would he find himself in a nowhere town like Smallville? But he still has enough journalistic instinct to correctly surmise Clark's whole deal. Michael McKean plays Perry's redemption arc with charismatic warmth, and walks out on a new path to the sound of "Walking in Memphis" — another of Smallville's corny-yet-unforgettable needle drops. —C.H.
7. "Commencement" (Season 4, Episode 22)
Season 4's yearlong quest for the stones of power finally comes to a head in the finale, which sees Smallville embrace blockbuster action for the first time. With yet another meteor shower heading toward Smallville, Clark races against the clock to unite the stones and prevent calamity in one of the show's most thrilling episodes ever. Of course, he succeeds and the stones combine to form the crystal that gives birth to the Fortress of Solitude. Meanwhile, Lana, trapped in the middle of the meteor shower, comes face to face with a foreboding Kryptonian ship, which is one helluva cliffhanger. —C.A.
6. "Pilot" (Season 1, Episode 1)
Pilots are notoriously hard to get right — for just one episode of TV, it has a lot of work to do. Not only does it have to introduce the show's world and all the main characters, it also needs to set up a compelling season-/series-long story yet still work as a solid standalone episode. But despite the near-impossible task, the Smallville pilot more than delivers on every aspect. Clark discovering his otherworldly origins makes for an emotional standalone arc as his normal teen angst becomes something much more alien — literally. Every character introduction perfectly balances fan expectations without veering into gratuitous fanservice, from Lana's "So what are you Clark, man or Superman?" to Lex's "Clark, do you believe a man can fly?" and "We have a future together, Clark, and I don't want anything to stand in the way of our friendship." Setting up a series based on Clark Kent and Lex Luthor becoming best friends was so wrong that it was right. As for the world building, we meet the first "meteor freak of the week," a high school hazing victim seeking retribution which delivered affecting pathos, which paved the way for the storytelling device upon which the show relied for more than half of its run. And while the series premiere hardly scratched the surface on anything truly comic book-y, that only served to elevate what made Smallville so wholly different from any other Superman project that had come before. The show lived in the winks and nods of moments like Clark wrapping a red fleece blanket around his shoulders rather than overtly putting him in a red cape — and that's what kept fans coming back for 10 seasons until he finally donned it for real and took to the skies in the series finale. That's not just a successful pilot — it's also one of the series' best episodes. —S.B.
5. "Exile" (Season 3, Episode 1)
If I had to pick the best episodic run of Smallville, there's no competition: "Exodus" into "Exile" concluding with "Phoenix" is unmatched. Maybe it's my bias for any red kryptonite episodes but watching Clark break bad as "Kal" in Metropolis in the season 3 premiere — to escape the pain and guilt of knowing he accidentally caused Martha to lose her baby back in season 2's finale — is the episode I rewatch the most. There's just something about seeing Clark unleash his powers with no inhibitions that is incredibly satisfying, since we hardly ever see him so free and unburdened from his deeply ingrained sense of morals and responsibility. Clark Kent is the ultimate good guy, and so watching him become the ultimate bad boy — for an entire summer! — is thrilling. And subverting the classic "Clark changing clothes in a phone booth" moment by having the scar Jor-El seared onto his chest burn brilliantly tees up one of the most emotional exchanges we've ever seen on the show as Clark calls his parents, only to hang up in tears after not saying a single word, his physical pain turning into a kind of suffering that hits so much deeper. Plus this episode also delivers peak unhinged Lex while he's stranded on an island post-plane crash and suffering from malaria, which leads to a moment that teases his natural killer instincts that he's kept so well hidden from Clark, and the world, so far. But maybe my love for "Exile" simply boils down to Clark debuting his bad boy long hair look, because it's a total vibe. —S.B.
4. "Rosetta" (Season 2, Episode 17)
Watching Smallville with 2021 eyes, it's hard to believe that it took almost two seasons for Clark to learn about his origins, but that's exactly what happened. After years of questions, Clark finally received some answers "Rosetta" when he met Dr. Virgil Swann (Christopher Reeve), a reclusive Stephen Hawking-type who spent his years studying the stars and received and decoded transmissions about Krypton's destruction and Clark's eventual arrival on Earth. Having the Superman actor be the person who gives Clark answers remains incredibly moving all these years later, but this episode isn't top 10 just because of this admittedly amazing cameo. It's also just a fantastic hour all together. I love how Clark's problems escalate in the lead up to that fateful and inspiring meeting, from Lex almost hitting him (again) in the middle of the road, to his heat vision going haywire and burning Kryptonese into the barn wall. Moreover, "Rosetta" puts an interesting twist on the Superman mythology with the revelation that Jor-El actually sent him here to conquer. Looking back on it, "Rosetta" set the template that the Arrowverse uses today for how to acknowledge and honor the past while also looking forward. —C.A.
3. "Justice" (Season 6, Episode 11)
Way back in 2007, this episode felt as close as we might get to a live-action Justice League movie. And though the lineup seemed a little strange at the time, it turned out to be a forerunner of JLA teams that would ascend to the top of pop culture over the subsequent decade: Green Arrow became the foundational superhero of the CW's DC superhero universe, while Aquaman and Cyborg are now taken for granted as founding members of the big-screen Justice League. Though Clark's ascendancy as the Man of Steel was still years away, bringing in these other DC characters allowed them all to be superheroes...if just for one episode. —C.H.
2. "Reckoning" (Season 5, Episode 12)
Very few Smallville episodes hit as hard as this one. By revealing the nature of his secret to Lana, Clark finally seemed within reach of everything he ever wanted: An honest-to-god romance with the girl next door he had pined for his whole life. Unfortunately, Lex screws it all up for everyone and gets Lana killed. With Jor-El's help, Clark is able to reverse time — but unlike the life-saving time-travel in Superman, this one has consequences. Jonathan dies instead, and Clark blames himself for it for the rest of the show — even though it was obviously Lex's fault! —C.H.
1. "Crusade" (Season 4, Episode 1)
Picking the best episode of Smallville is no easy feat. And you could make an argument for why any of the other 49 episodes on this list could also be a contender for this highly coveted top spot. But take into account the embarrassment of riches that comes in season 4's perfect opener, and that debate officially ends. Kicking off the hour with Erica Durance's long-awaited debut as Lois Lane — as well as the appearance later in the episode of Margot Kidder, the original Lois Lane, as a bonus — ushers in the best season (and era) of Smallville, which is absolutely no coincidence. Lois and Clark's first interaction sizzles onscreen — and I'm not just saying that because Clark is naked and literally on fire in a corn field after being "reborn" as his Kryptonian alter ego Kal-El. And when Clark-as-Kal-El pushes Martha away and kicks off from the ground in slow-motion to take flight for the first time, it's the most epic moment of the series — how else do you explain that shot getting top billing in the show's opening credits for the rest of its run? We were always told this show operated under a "no tights, no flights" policy, but here was Clark flying, in space, circling the world, in true Superman fashion. Whether you were a comic book superfan or only got your Superman fix from Smallville, this episode cemented the show's iconic legacy and gave us all a glimpse of the hero we knew Clark was destined to be. It didn't matter that we had to wait another six seasons to get there because Smallville was never about the destination — it tread new territory by exploring moments like this along Clark's journey towards becoming Superman. —S.B.
Smallville is available to stream on Hulu right now. Smallville: The Complete Series 20th Anniversary Edition will be released on Blu-ray on Tuesday.