Smallville: The Complete Fourth Season Review

Lana Lang: It's funny, isn't it? After everything we've been through, I thought it would take us longer to get over it.
Clark Kent: Us?
Lana: You and Lois.
Clark: Lois? ...She's bossy! She's stuck up, she's rude. I can't stand her!
Lana: The best ones always start that way…

I guess it was only a matter of time before Alfred Gough and Miles Millar - the executive producers of Smallville - brought the infamous Lois Lane into the picture. The news quickly separated the fans into two camps: those that felt her presence would add an extra dynamic to the show, and those that would have preferred the series to maintain the comic book continuity; making her appearance slightly puzzling. After all, Clark Kent (Tom Welling) isn’t supposed to meet Lois (now played by Erica Durance) until he leaves for the bright lights of Metropolis. But Smallville is a new interpretation of the legend, and no one seemed to complain too much after the producers weaved Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) into Clark’s early life. The latter is one of the shows best characters, so it’s hardly surprising that Gough and Millar were able to give Lois a similar revamp.

As Season 3 closed, the future of the characters was uncertain. Clark was whisked away by his biological father, Jor-El (Terence Stamp); Lana (Kristin Kreuk) had left for Paris; Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) was badly injured, after a botched attempt to save Clark; Lionel Luthor (John Glover) was arrested for the murder of his parents; Lex was poisoned by his father for his duplicity, and Chloe (Allison Mack) seemed to die in an explosion, after Lionel exacted revenge. Only Martha Kent (Annette O’Toole) got away unscathed…

Season 4’s premiere, Crusade, picks up three months later, as Lois arrives in Kansas to investigate Chloe’s apparent murder. They are cousins after all - yet another pet-peeve for comic book anoraks, but it provides a perfect excuse for Miss. Lane to appear. Crusade begins the season in barnstorming fashion, tying up some of the loose ends, while giving us some more questions; setting-up a variety of story arcs. Lois’ introduction is one of the many things to appreciate about Smallville’s fourth season, but that didn’t stop it from becoming the weakest so far. For fans, it’s a controversial chapter in the shows history, for a variety of reasons. But I’ll highlight the good points first.

Truth be told, the season rarely scales the heights set by Crusade, but it’s a highly enjoyable beginning to a mixed year. It’s notable for one very important reason - Clark flies! Going against their “no flights, no tights” rule, the producers have achieved something special here, and the moment Mr. Kent takes flight is something I’ve longed to see since the Pilot. Technically speaking though, it isn’t Clark - Gough and Millar have bypassed their rule quite cunningly. Clark was “re-programmed” by Jor-El, and returns to Earth as Kal-El; embracing his Kryptonian heritage. Still, seeing the computer boffins achieve the effect is wonderful. They even manage to throw in the “is it a bird? Is it a plane?” line. Brilliant.

After returning to normal, Clark is once again earth-bound, and he’s back to saving the lives of those he holds dear. In Gone, he teams up with Lois to track down Chloe, who is actually alive and well. Have I spoilt this revelation for you? It doesn’t seem to matter, since Warner continued to feature Allison Mack in the opening credits (on DVD at least; apparently the titles were Mack-less on TV). The episode also furthers an important aspect of the season - the search for three Kryptonian crystals, which were scattered around the globe. Legend has it, that when the artefacts are combined, they lead to a fountain of knowledge beyond your wildest dreams. Naturally, they’re meant for Clark, and the plotline spans all 22 episodes; leading to a very satisfying conclusion. But more on that later.

Unfortunately, few episodes attain “must-see” status this year, and there’s nothing here to beat the wonderful Rosetta, or the heartbreaking Memoria (the latter is, in my opinion, the best instalment to date). But you shouldn’t trust those misery guts online, who write-off the entire series. The writers still manage to produce a few classics, which is more than some TV shows ever get. As you’d expect, most of them concern the Superman mythology, and Smallville only seems to soar when providing the building blocks for Clark’s later life.

That said, there are some standouts; beginning with the excellent body swap episode Transference. We all knew that Lionel would still be a danger in prison, so when he swaps bodies with Clark, all hell breaks loose. Such an idea is nothing new in science fiction, but the stakes are placed pretty high. Lionel’s evil lust for power is given a boost by Clark’s powers, and the episode is a real pleasure. Transference mostly succeeds due to the performances of Welling and Glover - both of whom excel here. Welling is rarely given anything meaty as Clark, but he manages to convince as Lionel. It’s all about body movement and dialogue delivery, but the young star makes the shift noticeable - no mean feat for a guy who modelled underwear before the show began. Likewise, Glover manages to show his versatility as a performer, projecting an innocence that makes you forget Lionel is the biggest bastard around. Thankfully, the producers tie the episode into the season pretty well, and it signals a massive change in Lionel’s personality.

I also loved the episode Run. Plundering the DC back-catalogue, Gough and Millar bring another superhero onto the show; in the form of hot-headed youngster Bart Allen, a.k.a. “The Flash”. It’s a genuinely fun story, allowing Clark to realise that the world has more superheroes than he thought. The reference to Justice League should raise a smile from geeks, too. Jinx maintains the vibe, with an appearance from dastardly villain Mikail Mxyzptlk. He was a Leprechaun-type creature in the source material, so it was only fitting that the producers turn him into a tall, dark and handsome mortal (this is an American show, after all). His ability to control people (and Clark), provides one of the better standalone episodes. Yet, I’d be a fool if I didn’t mention the excellent two-part story of Unsafe and Pariah. Featuring the return of Alicia (Sarah Carter), it’s an emotionally-charged tale; providing Clark with a brief romance that ends in tragedy. The affair is given extra resonance when a disgruntled Alicia causes Clark to reveal his powers to someone close. Suffice to say, such a revelation was a long time coming…

Despite these landmarks, the flaws in Season 4 are always apparent. The biggest problem, is the sub-plot with Lana and her new boyfriend, Jason Teague (Jensen Ackles). The romance just about works, despite some horrid writing, but it’s Lana’s development as a character this season, that proves so irksome. Gough and Millar have attempted to give her more range, cooking up a story in which Lana is descended from a witch named Isobel, who was burned at the stake in the 1600’s. Isobel gained her powers from the Kryptonian artefacts, and her spirit is still hungry to claim them; taking control of Lana’s body at random. The way she ties into the season’s over-arching plot is a little too convenient for my liking. I know a show like this takes a suspension of disbelief, but this was just sloppy writing. It adds nothing to the mythology, and her story arc finishes with the finale. If Lana is going to be the same next season, what was the point?

It’s also clear that the crew are trying to move away from the “freak of the week” stories that dominated the other seasons, which was a wise call. However, they’ve replaced it with a new fad - the “out-of-character” episode. All of the characters undergo some sort of personality change this season; whether it be through supernatural means or otherwise. This is all well and good, but it gives the season a repetitive nature. It’s a testament to the cast and crew that Smallville is still an entertaining brew - even with some real clangers like Krypto and Ageless. The massive budget gives the series a gloss that many action shows don’t possess, with some cutting-edge effects work and stunts. It certainly helps to elevate certain episodes, that would have collapsed otherwise.

The quality of the cast keeps us watching too. Mack, Schneider, Glover, Kreuk and O’Toole continue to treat their characters with warmth and respect, and they all get their moment to shine. But it’s Durance who gets most of the attention this season. Stepping into a role made famous by Margot Kidder and Teri Hatcher is no enviable task, but Durance brings a fresh charm and wit to Lois. She’s everything you’d expect from the future Daily Planet reporter - opinionated, bossy, strong-willed and beautiful (Durance has a body to die for, which certainly helps). In most respects, she lightens up the mood, and her constant sparring with Clark allows for plenty of humour.

But what about Lex? This is perhaps the most significant season for Rosenbaum’s ambiguous millionaire. He’s finally stepping out of the light, and into the darkness; growing ever-more twisted. He’s not evil yet, but the signs are showing. This is definitely true with Onyx, a great episode in which Lex is split into two entities - his good self, and his bad self. Rosenbaum has a total ball here, and his evil persona is convincingly ruthless. This isn’t the comical Luthor portrayed by Gene Hackman. This is the sinister businessman from the comic, that will do anything to get what he wants. When Lex is returned to normal at episode’s end, you have to question which personality came out strongest. Creepy.

Meanwhile, Welling continues to define Clark Kent for a new generation. His charismatic performance is largely why the show works - projecting the ideals that have made Superman so timeless. He’s given the opportunity to show his range here, and Welling is a better actor than many have given him credit. He’s particularly good in the season finale, Commencement. It might have been tough getting to this point, but Season 4’s faults are mostly forgiven with this memorable conclusion. Meteors rain down on Smallville yet again, as Clark tries frantically to reclaim those Kryptonian crystals. The last scene, in which he is transported to a snowbound location, will have you gagging for the new series. Those familiar with the Superman mythology, will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Ultimately, Smallville’s fourth season is a rocky entry in the shows run; enlivened by some excellent episodes, and a finale that promises a lot from Season 5. Early word is stating that the new series is a return to form for Smallville, and the producers are describing it as “Superman in training”. With Superman Returns on the horizon too, 2006 is shaping up to be a very good year for DC’s flagship crime fighter…

Episode Guide


4.01: Crusade
Written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
Directed by Greg Beeman

Clark is returned safely to Earth, but has been re-programmed as Kal-El. Determined to fulfil his destiny, Kal takes to the skies, and steals a Kryptonian crystal from Lex’s jet. In a desperate bid to save her son, Martha enlists the help of Dr. Swann’s emissary Bridgette Crosby (Margot Kidder). Meanwhile, Lois arrives to uncover the truth behind her cousin’s death; Lana returns from Paris; Jonathan lies in a coma, and Lionel begins his spell in prison.

4.02: Gone
Written by Kelly Souders & Brian Peterson
Directed by James Marshall

After realising Chloe isn’t in her grave, Clark begins to investigate with Lois, but their efforts are thwarted by General Sam Lane (Michael Ironside) - Lois’ father. If they don’t find Chloe and get her to testify against Lionel, he’ll walk free. Therefore, Lionel sends out a super-powered hit man to finish the job. Elsewhere, Jason turns up in Smallville.

4.03: Façade
Written by Holly Harold
Directed by David Carson

A girl at school takes her desire for beauty a little too far, with her meteor rock-enhanced looks. Unfortunately, her kiss has a disastrous effect as a result. Meanwhile, Lana and Jason continue to keep their relationship a secret from Clark.

4.04: Devoted
Written by Luke Schelhaas
Directed by David Carson

After years of wanting to play football, Clark finally joins the team - awarded the starting quarterback position by the new coach…who happens to be Jason. However, Clark soon stumbles upon a plot by the cheerleaders to control their boyfriends; which involves spiking the water supply with a certain green substance…

4.05: Run
Written by Steven S. DeKnight
Directed by David Barrett

During a trip to Metropolis, Jonathan’s wallet is stolen by a thief faster than Clark - the young Bart Allen, a.k.a. “The Flash” (Kyle Gallner). Bart later shows up at the farm and tries to convince Clark to leave with him for a life on the road. Elsewhere, Lex has acquired a Kryptonian artefact, which hides a map leading to the missing crystals.

4.06: Transference
Written by Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer
Directed by James Marshall

Clark is summoned to the prison by a high-pitched noise; like that which alerted him to the crystal, and sees Lionel about to injure Lex with some sort of mystical artefact. He intervenes, but the stone makes Lionel and Clark switch bodies. Using his form, Lionel proceeds to wreak havoc on Smallville - as well as Clark’s private life - while the latter attempts to escape prison. Yet the transference has an unforeseen effect on Luther, with Clark’s genes ridding him of his liver disease. Is this the dawn of a “good” Lionel Luthor?

4.07: Jinx
Written by Paul Shapiro
Directed by Mark Warshaw

Chloe uncovers an underground gambling ring, led by foreign exchange student Mikail Mxyzptlk. However, she doesn’t know that Mikail has the power to control anyone - including Clark. Upon discovering his gift, Mikail kidnaps her, and unless Clark throws the championship game, he will kill her. Ever the opportunist, Lex blackmails Mikail into using these powers to his advantage…

4.08: Spell
Written by Steven S. DeKnight
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

Lana reads from a spell book, written in the 1600’s. As a result, she along with Lois and Chloe, are possessed by three witches who were burned at the stake. Clark tries to stop them, but finds that his powers are no match for magic - will he find a way to return the girls to normal?

4.09: Bound
Written by Luke Schelhaas
Directed by Terrence O'Hara

After a night at the opera, Lex awakens to find a dead girl by his side. He is promptly arrested for murder, but released on bail soon after. Clark decides to uncover the real murderer, but his snooping brings several distressing facts about Lex to light; prompting Clark to re-evaluate their friendship.

4.10: Scare
Written by Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson
Directed by David Carson

An experiment at LuthorCorp goes awry; releasing a deadly toxin into the atmosphere. Several Smallville residents - including Clark, Chloe, Lex and Lana - soon begin to hallucinate their worst nightmares, before falling into a coma. In a bid to rescue his friends, Clark gives Lex some of his blood, and is shocked by what his “pal” does with the sample…

4.11: Unsafe
Written by Jeph Loeb & Steven DeKnight
Directed by Greg Beeman

Alicia Baker (Sarah Carter) is released from Belle Reve hospital, and returns to Smallville in order to rekindle her romance with Clark. Naturally, he doesn’t trust her at first, but soon finds himself enjoying a relationship in which he can be honest. However, Alicia asks for more than Clark can offer; forcing her to use red Kryptonite on him. As a result, Clark whisks her away to Las Vegas to get married…

4.12: Pariah
Written by Holly Herold
Directed by Paul Shapiro

After Lana and Jason are attacked by an unseen assailant, Alicia is the prime suspect. Clark is reluctant to believe this at first, but evidence soon stacks up. His reaction hurts her feelings, and she engineers a plan in which Clark reveals his powers to Chloe…unknowingly, of course. Clark realises that Alicia was innocent far too late, but manages to stop the real culprit. Meanwhile, Chloe tussles with spilling the beans about Clark, but decides to keep it a secret…

4.13: Recruit
Written by Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

A football star from Metropolis University comes to Smallville to entice Clark to sign-up, but when Lois is arrested for paralysing one of his team mates, he uncovers the jock’s sinister plan to claim the spotlight for himself.

4.14: Krypto
Written by Luke Schelhass
Directed by James Marshall

Lois discovers a dog with superpowers - the result of yet another botched LutherCorp experiment. The pup was being used to aid criminal activity, and when the crooks attempt to cover their tracks, they kidnap Lois. Clark attempts to save the day, but is stopped by Kryptonite. Can the dog - named “Krypto” by the Kents - rescue the pair? Meanwhile, Genevieve Teague returns to town with a proposition for Lex.

4.15: Sacred
Written by Kelly Souders & Brian Peterson
Written by Brad Turner

Lex and Jason travel to China to claim one of the Kryptonian crystals, but are soon followed by Clark and Lana. The hunt is hindered when Isobel takes control of Lana’s body again, and a fight with Clark ensues. But who will take home the artefact?

4.16: Lucy
Written by Neil Sadhu & Daniel Sulzberg
Directed by David Barrett

Lois’ sister Lucy arrives unexpectedly from Europe, and charms everyone she meets. However, Lois warns them that Lucy isn’t to be trusted, and Clark soon realises she’s right, when he sees Lucy trying to steal money from the Talon. Lucy tells him that she owes money to a loanshark, and faces death if she doesn’t pony up the cash. Clark, Lois and Lex grudgingly decide to help; a situation that spins out of control when both Lane’s are placed in jeopardy…

4.17: Onyx
Written by Steven S. DeKnight
Directed by Terrence OHara

Lex continues his experiments with Kryptonite, but an accident causes the meteor rock to become unstable. The blast covers Lex with radiation; splitting him into two entities - his good self, and his bad self. The evil Lex proceeds to lock his counterpart deep in the bowels of the mansion, before launching a crime spree. When Clark learns the truth, he searches for a way to reverse the split…

4.18: Spirit
Written by Luke Schelhaas
Directed by Whitney Ransick

The prom is looming, and Chloe is shocked to see herself in the running for Prom Queen. However, planning the festivities takes a backseat when a fellow student develops a gift to leap between bodies at will. Meanwhile, Clark and Lana rekindle their old romance on the dance floor.

4.19: Blank
Written by Brain Peterson & Kelly Souders
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

A boy named Kevin can erase people’s memories, and Clark gets his mind wiped while attempting to stop Kevin from committing a robbery. When Chloe discovers what happened, she must teach Clark to learn about his superpowers, while making sure he doesn’t reveal them to anyone else…

4.20: Ageless
Written and Directed by Stephen S. DeKnight

Clark and Lana discover an abandoned baby in a field, and rush him to the Kent farmhouse. However, the baby isn’t normal - it begins to age at a rapid rate, and unless they find a cure, he will die. Elsewhere, Genevieve orders Lionel to kill Lana, or she will send him back to prison.

4.21: Forever
Written by Brian Peterson & Kelly Souders
Directed by James Marshall

A demented student doesn’t want high school to end, and kidnaps several students with the intent of keeping the spirit “forever”. Lex and Lionel are kidnapped and tortured by the Teague’s, in their attempt to find the crystals. But when Genevieve realises Lana has the element from China, she decides to take it from her by any means necessary…

4.22: Commencement
Written by Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer
Directed by Greg Beeman

The future of the Earth hangs in the balance, as Clark must reunite the crystals within the cave to save the planet from destruction. Smallville is also a target however, as another meteor storm heads for the town; bringing with it a sinister force from space. Lana - possessed by Isobel - kills Genevieve, and Lex offers to help in dispatching the body. Meanwhile, a pissed-off Jason takes the Kent’s hostage, as the meteors begin to decimate the town. Clark manages to combine the crystals, hurtling him across the world to the North Pole, where he throws the element into the unknown…

The Box Set

One of the WB's most successful shows, Smallville surprised the studio when it started to do better business on DVD. Their previous two sets seemed to acknowledge this; with wonderful transfers, and some enjoyable materials. Season 4 is spread over six-discs (each of which, is adorned by its own character), in an attractive digipack. While the extras are slim, Warner have still provided a first-rate package.

The Look and Sound

Smallville has always impressed visually, and the transfers for Season 4 are just as robust. As per usual, we get the entire series in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), and it looks excellent. The materials are clean and very sharp, with no print defects; as you’d expect from such a recent series. The colours are wonderful - leaping from the screen with panache (especially the reds, yellows and blues). Only the darker scenes reveal heavy amounts of grain, and I noticed some compression here and there, but the show has used its massive budget to great effect. Overall, Smallville is a pleasure to gawp at…

Audio meanwhile, doesn’t pack the same power - my ranting about Smallville’s lack of 5.1 is getting a little stale, so I’ll cut to the chase. The 2.0 tracks are well above-average for a television show, projecting a great deal of range. The music (especially the title song) has plenty of resonance, and the frequent action scenes sound great. Incidental effects and dialogue are clear too. While the show would benefit greatly from surround sound, there’s nothing wrong with these tracks on a technical level. They do their job.

Warner also provide English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Bonus Material

The special features for Smallville have always been quite sparse, and the new box set doesn’t see a rise in extras. However, Warner still provide some very entertaining materials, that I’d probably watch again. Hardly a “super-heroic” platter, like the box art states, but when it’s Superman-related, I’ll take what I can get.

Audio Commentaries

We get three of these: one on Crusade, with Gough, Millar, producer Ken Horton, O'Toole and Durance; another on Transference, with Gough, Millar and Glover; and the last on Spell with Durance, Kreuk, Mack and director Jeannot Szwarc. Those who have listened to previous Smallville commentaries will know what to expect - light and informal discussions, that combine behind-the-scenes facts with playful banter. None of them offer much replay value, but are worth a listen.

“Being Lois Lane”

This 10-minute vignette is one of the more interesting produced for Smallville yet, and as the title would suggest, concentrates solely on Miss. Lane. It’s a string of interviews with those who have played the character on screen - Margot Kidder, Noel Neill, Dena Delaney from the animated series, and Smallville’s own Erica Durance. Unfortunately, Teri Hatcher is nowhere to be found; rather strange considering her appearance in the Lois & Clark set. The featurette never goes into any major detail, but the comments are fun and enthusiastic. It would have been great if the producers had really explored the character and her motivations, but the piece is enjoyable regardless.

“Behind Closed Doors: Inside the Writer’s Room”

An equally-brief look into the creative process behind Smallville, that should interest curious fans. The choice of episode is perplexing (the rather poor “Forever”), yet the piece does manage to reveal how a television show is prepared at the scripting stage. Interesting.

You’ll also find a good helping of deleted scenes - all of which are actually worth sitting through - and for those who pre-ordered the box set, one of Warner’s commemorative discs; celebrating 50 years of television. The show included here makes perfect sense - an episode from the short-lived Flash TV series, which aired in the early 90’s. It’s cheesy fun, and a nice addendum to the adventures of Clark Kent.

The Bottom Line

Superman is such an enduring icon, making this box set a must for collectors and aficionados. Season 4 may be the weakest season yet, but Smallville is still an entertaining brew - overcoming narrative faults with its technical prowess, indelible characters, and fun stories. Warner continue to treat the show with a great deal of respect, with a first-rate collection, that should certainly plase fans. Bring on Season 5!

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