Smallville season 3 is the best out of the first three seasons, and probably ranks as one of the better Smallville seasons period. It’s firing on all cylinders. It’s a tightly plotted season with strong character arcs, a bevy of great episodes, a more mature and darker theme, and an expansion of the Superman mythology. The show had finally found its groove. Mind you, there were some missteps though most of those happened early on in the season. Characters like Pete and Martha were underused, and there are still a few clunker episodes mixed in with the greatness.
Season 3 picks up with Clark living as Kal in Metropolis, still infected by the Red-K ring. He supports his new lavish lifestyle by robbing banks. This brings him to the attention of Morgan Edge, notorious crime boss. To bring Clark home, Jonathan makes a deal with Jor-El. Lex, meanwhile, is stranded on a desert island and slowly succumbs to madness before he is rescued. Chloe begins to regret her deal with the devil in the form of Lionel Luthor to spy on Clark, but isn’t sure of how to get out of it. Lana is trying to move on with her life after her short lived romance with Clark. Pete is dealing with the struggle of keeping Clark’s secret and living in his shadow.
If this season had a theme, it would be one of consequences. Clark’s decision to run off to Metropolis impacts his relationships with everyone in the season. Because of that, Jonathan asks Jor-El for the power to bring Clark home. This would cause Jonathan’s heart problems, and also factor in heavily in the season finale. Lex’s time on the island, and his madness, will affect him heavily this season. Lionel’s shady past will come back to bite him on the butt big time. Chloe’s deal with Lionel factors majorly into the season and causes her to end the season with a bang, pun intended. People and events from past seasons also appear, as Clark ends up facing off against three past bad guys who have teamed up to take him down, one from each season on the show. Summerholt, the institution that effectively kidnapped, tortured, and experimented on Ryan in season 2 returns and they are once again up to no good.
This is a darker season than the past two, with the characters dealing with problems that aren’t easily handled. Lex’s descent into madness and eventual recovery, plus the revelations he makes about his past and baby brother Julian, is very dark stuff. Clark suffers major guilt over Jonathan’s health problems. Lana deals with recovering from a bad injury and then dealing with new character Adam Knight. Lionel casts a long shadow over the entire season and most of the characters. This is the season where he’s really at his worst and is truly the big bad of the season, IMO. There are also more deaths it seems. In “Velocity” the bad guy threatening Pete gets into a wreck and dies and Clark and Pete are partially to blame. In “Resurrection” Clark fails to save Vince and then his younger brother Garrett, who has strapped a bomb to himself in an attempt to get Vince the medicine he needs, is taken out by a police sniper just as Clark starts to defuse the situation. There aren’t always happy endings to the episodes.
As I mentioned, the characters this season have a lot more to do and are just better handled. For Clark, this is really a season where he grows up some. After his stint in Metropolis he has to own up to the consequences from his actions. He becomes estranged from his all of his friends at one time or another. He also gains super-hearing in an episode where he goes blind. He struggles with his destiny, believing that Jor-El sent him here to conquer the planet. Added to that is the belief of the Kawatche Indians that he is their prophesized savior Naman. It’s a heavy burden he bears this season. He also grows up a little in the romance department, as evidenced by his hands off approach to Adam Knight. Since Clark decided he and Lana should just be friends, he decides to stay out of her personal life even if she is get overly friendly with another guy. Of course, once the truth about Adam is revealed he stops the guy from killing Lana. He also gets a serious romance with Alicia, a teenager with teleportation abilities. It was nice to see him actively engaged in liking another girl besides Lana, even if Alicia did end up being a crazy obsessive stalker. The season ends with him willingly going with Jor-El (well, semi-willingly since Jor-El was threatening to kill Jonathan). It’s a major step in his evolution to Superman.
Lana also matures this season and, while the Clana aspect of the show is still strong, it doesn’t dominate her character like it did last season. She ends getting friendly with Adam before he reveals his true colors. This is also the season where she gets closer to Lex, and the two start to look at each other as more than friends. Or at least it seemed that way to me. While she is still treated as an object of desire by several characters and is a damsel in distress more than I’d like, she also takes the initiative this season more. This is shown most clearly by her applying to an arts school initiative in Paris towards the end of the season. She doesn’t want to be tied down in Smallville, waiting to see if she and Clark will ever get together. She wants to define her life, not have it defined by others. The season does drop her father, which seemed odd. Her discovering her true father and getting to know him was a major part of season 2 and the fact that he’s never mentioned here felt like a major oversight.
This was a great season for Chloe. Her character felt stifled last season by the Clark/Lana/Chloe love triangle and it hurt her character. Here she is more or less free of that and her character shines. She shows the gumption and fearlessness that makes her such a fan favorite character as she tries to take Lionel down to get out of her dark deal with him. Her reporter side gets a lot more focus and she deals with the dark side of that, especially in the episode “Truth.” There she gains the ability to get everyone to tell her the truth and it makes her very unpopular and slightly crazy. It’s great to see her more or less over her crush on Clark, and getting stories that don’t revolve around him. True, her initial reason to work for Lionel was predicated on her feelings for Clark but the story is expanded to deal with Lionel’s treacherous dealings and doesn’t stay focused on Clark. This is also where she reveals that Lois Lane is her cousin.
It’s sad that when the writers finally start to do interesting things with Pete they write him off the show. In season 1 Pete was in the background mainly. In season 2 I had hopes that his role would be expanded thanks to knowing Clark’s secret. That didn’t happen. For the first half of season 3 Pete is stuck in the background. However, in the second half of the season he’s given some strong material. In “Velocity” he shows just how much he hates living in Clark’s shadow sometimes and also forces Clark to use his powers to get Pete out of the serious mess he’s in. It certainly damages his relationship with Clark. The writers also show just how much strain he’s under knowing Clark’s secret and fearing that he will slip up. His love for Chloe gets put out in the open. He also deals with his parents divorcing. It’s too bad he leaves in the penultimate episode because the writers showed that they could integrate Pete into the show better and give him some strong stories.
It’s a mixed bag for the Kents. Jonathan has a strong season while Martha is pushed to the back. A lot of the season revolves around the deal Jonathan made with Jor-El and the health problems he has because he gained Clark’s abilities for a little while. There are plenty of goof Clark/Jonathan scenes and the episodes dealing with his health are strong because Clark feels guilty and there’s nothing he can do. The fact that he promised to send Clark back to Jor-El sometime in the future as part of the deal comes to light in the finale and causes a rift in the family.
Martha, on the other hand, has no real arc this season. In season 2 she worked for Lionel and had the pregnancy. Here she’s just in the background for the most part. She does get a moving scene with Clark at the end of “Memoria” when Clark tells her he learned his birth mother’s name.
This is an amazing season for the Luthors. Lex is really put through his paces as he descends into madness, aided by Lionel, and then slowly recovers. This is also where his war with his father escalates as he learns the truth about his grandparents’ deaths, forgets it thanks to Lionel frying his brain, and then re-learns it later and goes to the FBI to get his father arrested. He also finally learns the truth about Julian, his baby brother. Honestly, “Memoria” was simply an amazing episode. It’s the strongest episode of the season, and maybe even the series. The fact that Lex hid the fact that his mother killed Julian, took the blame, and then repressed the entire affair is horrifically tragic and sad. He also, briefly, learns Clark’s secret before that too is fried out of his brain. Michael Rosenbaum takes his game up to another level this season, and proves why he’s probably the best Lex Luthor out there.
Lionel takes his villainy to an entirely higher level this season. He takes Lex, who is already balancing on the edge of sanity, and drives him over the edge. He then submits Lex to a potentially deadly procedure to erase Lex’s memories of his villainy. Lionel threatens Chloe throughout the season as she fails to deliver on her promise of dirt on Clark. He arranges for Clark to be kidnapped inside on Summerholt and basically tortured to get at his memories. Even in prison, he seemingly orchestrates the poisoning of Lex and the bombing of Chloe. He sets up horrific experiments on innocent people to test a cure that could save his life. Lionel is at his worse here and it’s pretty terrifying. The show does give reason for Lionel’s actions, though. He’s dying, and is doing whatever he can to save himself.
Least Favorite Episodes
I could go on and on about how great this season was. Despite a few missteps, it proves that Smallville could be more than just a teen drama or a Freak of the Week show. It could be a serious, darker show while also being about teen drama and Freaks of the Week.