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‘Smallville’s Best Episode Asked Clark Kent To Do the Impossible

The Big Picture

  • Smallville
    ‘s 100th episode “Reckoning” changes Clark Kent’s destiny, forcing him to make a fateful choice that alters his superhero journey.
  • “Reckoning” highlights Clark’s struggle between love and duty, showing that even Superman can’t save everyone and must face mortality.
  • The episode pays homage to
    Superman: The Movie
    , echoing its themes while pushing Clark closer to his traditional superhero status quo.



It’s common practice in television for a milestone episode, such as the 100th, to introduce serious changes to the overall narrative. This is especially true of Smallville‘s 100th episode, “Reckoning,” in which Tom Welling‘s almost-Superman is forced to make a fateful choice that will change the course of the rest of his life. This isn’t anything new for Smallville‘s Clark Kent though, who seems to make these life-or-death decisions every other week, but never before have his actions hit so close to home. In this episode, Clark is forced to choose between the lives of the two people that, at this point in the series, he cares most about—and the results are cataclysmic. Whether you believe he made the right decision or not, “Reckoning” remains an important milestone in the Smallville story, and pushed Clark Kent even closer to his destiny as Superman.


smallville-poster-01

Smallville

A young Clark Kent struggles to find his place in the world as he learns to harness his alien powers for good and deals with the typical troubles of teenage life in Smallville, Kansas.

Release Date
October 16, 2001

Creator
Alfred Gough, Miles Millar

Seasons
10

Studio
The CW


‘Smallville’s 100th Episode Changed the Series Forever

“Reckoning” goes the way plenty of normal Smallville episodes do, with Clark sulking in the loft of the Kent barn. But things brighten up when Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) arrives just in time to lift his spirits — only Clark lifts Lana’s even higher when he takes her to his arctic Fortress of Solitude. There, he reveals his Kryptonian heritage and proposes to her by forging a diamond with super-strength and using heat vision to adhere it to a ring. Try topping that. After some careful deliberation and a heart-to-heart with Lois Lane (Erica Durance), Lana accepts and she and Clark are on their way to their happily-ever-after. Things get even better when Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) wins the Senate race against Michael Rosenbaum‘s Lex Luthor, and it seems like things will turn out alright after all. If only they stayed that way.


After Lana is chased by Lex down Highway 40, her car is hit by a bus barreling down the road. Clark doesn’t get there in time to save Lana and finds her dead on the ground. Distraught, Clark demands that Jor-El (Terence Stamp) send him back in time, but the Kryptonian A.I. reminds Clark of a previous “life-for-a-life” deal they’d made. Nevertheless, Jor-El sends him back anyway. This time around, Clark enlists Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) to watch out for Lana as he tries to prevent history from repeating itself. After saving Lois (who wasn’t caught by a shocked Lana in this timeline), Clark manages to stop Lana’s car accident, but in doing so unwittingly allows Jonathan Kent to drive on back home (he had originally stopped to console his grieving son). After confronting the conniving Lionel Luthor (John Glover), Jonathan succumbs to a fatal heart attack, and the scales of time are balanced, after all.


“Reckoning” Was Monumental in Clark’s Superhero Journey — for Better or Worse

Clark Kent (Tom Welling) chooses to go back in time in 'Smallville's 100th episode "Reckoning."
Image via The CW

Smallville‘s 100th episode puts Clark Kent in an impossible situation. On one hand, if a superhero can’t save the woman he loves, how can he save the world? But how does one choose a life over another? Martha asks Clark this very question in the aftermath of Jonathan’s death, knowing her son would be incapable of picking between saving Lana and saving his father. It’s easy, right off the bat, to condemn Clark for this choice in hindsight. Ultimately, Clark Kent ends up with Lois Lane and not Lana Lang (he proposes to her shortly after the show’s 200th episode), and had our hero had his father to guide him throughout the show’s next few seasons, things might not have been so rocky. But we forget that Clark, blinded by love and deep responsibility, had no idea what would happen. He naively thought he could save everyone.


We know for a fact that Superman can’t always save everybody. Clark knows this too. He learned this back in Season 2 when Ryan James (Ryan Kelley) died despite his attempts to find the right doctors to save him. He learned it again the previous season when he discovered the suspended body of his one-time girlfriend Alicia Baker (Sarah Carter) in “Pariah.” The truth is, the Man of Steel is not a god, and Jor-El reminds Clark of that fact here as he grieves Lana’s death. Despite recent attempts to make Superman more god-like and mythological, Clark Kent was still raised human. For all his Kryptonian adventures, he still sees himself as such. Clark makes human choices, for better or worse, and it’s this choice in particular that haunts him for years. It wouldn’t be until the show’s 200th episode, “Homecoming” (which likewise deals with time travel), that Clark fully and completely forgives himself for the events of “Reckoning.” This pain sits with him for a long time.


‘Smallville’ Would’ve Been Completely Different Had Lana Stayed Dead

It’s hard to see Jonathan Kent go. As the bedrock of Clark’s stalwart morality, Jonathan was always there to guide Clark during every new trial, amid every new power, and in the face of every new danger. He is about as vital to Clark’s journey toward becoming Superman as anybody else in Smallville, and his death makes that clear. Considering how Lana’s arc progresses in Seasons 6 and 7 — and especially Season 8 — it’s easy to wish she had remained dead instead of Jonathan. We can look back on the show now and wish that Clark hadn’t gone back in time at all, that he would’ve accepted the lesson that he can’t always save everyone and learned to deal with that. The problem is, then Clark would’ve learned the wrong lesson. The lesson wasn’t that Clark shouldn’t tell people his secret, but rather that he needs to be wise when he does, and when things go wrong, there’s no “edit, undo” button there to reverse it.


It’s hard to imagine what would’ve happened if Clark hadn’t made his choice to save Lana. Season 5 might’ve been a bit more depressing, and considering how angsty he was after losing his dad, that’s saying something. However, Clark may have been able to focus more on his superheroics. He might’ve joined Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) and his “Super Friends” on their post-“Justice” mission against Lex’s 33.1. He wouldn’t wrestle through the Lex/Lana love affair and may have been a better support to his cousin Kara (Laura Vandervoort) upon her arrival in Season 7.


There are a lot of possibilities as to the direction Smallville could have gone had Lana Lang been written out here, but that’s not what happened. Again, that’s not the point of “Reckoning.” For better or worse, Clark learned that regardless of all his incredible powers, he is just a man. A super man, yes, but still a finite, mortal being who makes imperfect choices. In some ways, this lesson in mortality was the last one he needed to better understand his place in the world, to understand that he’s really not so different from the rest of us.

‘Smallville’s “Reckoning” Echoes ‘Superman: The Movie’

Another thing “Reckoning” does exceptionally well is the way it calls back to Richard Donner‘s Superman: The Movie. At the end of the first Christopher Reeve film, Superman turns the world back on its axis to reverse time and save Margot Kidder‘s Lois Lane. In essence, Clark does the same thing to save Lana here, and Chloe even makes a joke about Clark spinning the world backward. But unlike in Superman where there are no consequences for this monumental action, Smallville gives us a different take in which this “get out of jail free” card (which Reeve’s Superman uses again in Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut) only works once. Even then, it’s used to push Clark closer to the traditional Superman status quo with the death of his father, further echoing the 1978 film.


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Smallville is full of references to the original Superman films. The show’s Fortress of Solitude is a dead-ringer for the one seen in Superman, and the John Williams “Superman March” is featured in multiple episodes. Furthermore, main cast member Annette O’Toole once played Lana Lang back in Superman III, and Terence Stamp was the original General Zod in the first two films. Even Superman stars Marc McClure, Margot Kidder, and Christopher Reeve made it onto the show to officially pass the torch. “Reckoning” proves that Smallville was worthy of that passing, and the series would continue for years afterward.


“Reckoning” Is ‘Smallville’s Best Episode

Clark Kent (Tom Welling) holding Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) in 'Smallville's 100th episode "Reckoning."
Image via The CW

Despite the absence of meteor freaks, metahumans, and alien invaders, “Reckoning” remains Smallville‘s most powerful hour. It isn’t a traditional Smallville episode, but it manages to hit all the necessary points that pull on the heartstrings. The 100th episode is both a stand-alone story (minus the usual “freaks-of-the-week”) and an important installment in the series’ overall mythology. It honors the past (the Kawatche Caves) while embracing the future (the Daily Planet/the Fortress). Of course, that future isn’t what Clark had envisioned for himself, but that’s sort of the whole point of Smallville. In the show’s early years, Clark often runs away from his destiny, his responsibility to use his powers for the good of others, and yet, that’s exactly where his story has always been going. Like Spider-Man, Clark’s powers come with a greater responsibility and a higher moral calling.


Had Lana lived and married him, Clark may never have stepped into his future as Superman. Yet, in the wake of his father’s death, Clark hopes to live up to Jonathan’s example and takes slow steps toward honoring the Kent legacy within him. That process lasts through the rest of the series. We’re only halfway through Clark’s journey here, but as he begins to see that potential in himself, the same potential Jonathan died believing in (see “Void”), it changes the entire dynamic of the show. As possibly the most pivotal moment in Smallville history, “Reckoning” gives everyone an important part to play, and presents us with this heartbreaking morality play that we don’t necessarily want in a format that we have no choice but to accept. The pacing here is impeccable, and the episode is excellently constructed. It’s an emotional weight, as a rare instance where Clark is almost directly responsible for the death of a loved one.


Smallville is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.

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