The Smallville Project: Episode 1.08 – “Jitters”
|August 9, 2013||Posted by Jess under Comics, Television, The Smallville Project|
Jess: A beautiful sunny day. I guess winter is over now? Jonathan is under the Kents’ truck working on it; he cuts his hand and Kent-swears (“Son of a gun!”). In the kitchen, Martha reminds Clark not to use the backed up toilet upstairs and that there’s chili in the fridge for dinner that night, so I guess she and Jonathan are going out of town. Clark’s wearing headphones that abruptly remind me that this was filmed twelve years ago. OH MAN I BET HE’S LISTENING TO A DISCMAN.
Rebecca: If the soundtrack is to be believed, he’s listening to Smash Mouth on his Discman. #2001
Jess: Jonathan hollers for help and Clark dutifully Clarks his way outside and hoists up the back end of the trunk with one hand while eating cold pizza with the other, as Martha gives him last-minute instructions. Jonathan fixes the truck, crawls back out, and says “I’m definitely raising your allowance.” Clark beams. Everything about this scene is so overwhelmingly cute I just want to stick my head in the sand like an ostrich in order to process it.
Rebecca: God this scene is adorable. Somehow it’s the cold pizza that does it.
Jess: Anyway, Martha frets, and Clark assures her that “It’s just two nights in Metropolis, I’ll be fine.” Jonathan puts on an amazingly dorky high-falutin’ accent as he adds, “And soon, madam, so shall we.” Clark scrabbles in his pocket for a pizza-sauce-stained envelope with “Mom and Dad” scrawled on it all teenage. “I almost forgot. Happy anniversary.” AND BACK INTO THE SAND I GO.
Rebecca: The rate of successfully adorable Kent scenes compared to, like, every other scene on this show is astronomical. I DON’T NEED THESE OTHER CHARACTERS (Lex can stay).
Jess: The Kents drive off and Clark smiles and waves while taking tremendous, Thor-eating-shwarma-style bites of his pizza. Why can’t this show just be Clark loving his parents while consuming enormous teenage boy amounts of food? WHYYYYY.
Rebecca: Let’s make a supercut of these scenes and watch only that until we die.
Jess: Cut to
Toronto Metropolis at night. A mother tucks her incredibly adorable baby into its crib and leaves the nursery. A shadow looms over the crib, with Smallville’s trademark “eerie shit” music vamping under the baby’s mobile tinkling “Brahms’s Lullaby.” It’s a man, who picks the baby up, kisses its forehead, puts it back down, and whispers “Don’t worry. Daddy’s gonna get better.” His hands start shaking violently, and he backs away from the crib as the mobile shakes along with him.
Clearly shaken (ha!), he staggers out. Mom walks in: “Hello? Is anyone there?” Crying baby, curtains billowing in the wind, thunder outside. These writers write thrillers with all the creativity of Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse typing “It was a dark and stormy night” over and over again.
Rebecca: I don’t know who they thought was coming to this show for watered-down horror and not the Clark/parents/food BrOT3.
Jess: Outside, the Kents’ truck drives past and Dad crosses the street behind it and takes shelter under a bus stop-looking thing labeled “Luthorcorp Plaza.” Breathing hard and still shaking, he fumbles a pill bottle out of his pocket, drops it, picks two pills off the ground, and tosses them into his mouth. Literally the second they hit his tongue – like, he doesn’t even close his mouth – he stops shaking.
Rebecca: Also, the jitters effects are SO bad. Surely there was an easier way to do this than speeding up the film weirdly?
Jess: He lopes across the plaza to an office building, where a janitor is waxing the floor while rocking out to loud music. Dad knocks on the door: “Will!” Janitor Will turns around: “Earl? What are you doing here?”
“I need to see Lionel Luthor! I know he’s here!” Earl tells him. “Sorry, man, you know I can’t let you in,” Will says. “They did something to me,” Earl says. “At his plant in Smallville.” Finally the plant pays off! Will, who is defo the Extremely Poor Man’s Ethan Hawke, tells him that kind of crazy talk got him fired, and he should get some help, but Earl brokenly tells him that no one can help him, and it’s getting worse. Will walks away, but Earl starts shaking again, and the glass door he’s touching shatters and explodes. Alarmed, Will helps him up, and Earl begs him for help, but while he’s clinging to him he has another spasm, and Will falls to the ground, apparently dead. Horrified, Earl runs off into the night.
SOMEBODY SAAAAAAAAAAVE MEEEEEEEEE! AND EARL!
I was gonna say that I’m glad we’re getting a non-Smallville, non-murderous-teen plot, but post-credits we immediately pick up with Clark, Chloe, and Pete walking past a cowfield.
Rebecca: Well, it is the name of the show. Gotta live up to it now before Clark and Lois start working at the Planet (S8).
Jess: Clark invites them to a small-gathering-not-a-party-seriously-you-guys-I-mean-it while he’s home alone. I see no possible way this could go wrong.
Smash cut to a huge party at the Kents’. Ahahaha, that was a quick payoff! Chloe mocks Clark while he agonizes about all these people messing up his parents’ nice house, and it’s great. There’s a closeup of dancing girls, each with an inch of midriff showing. 2001, everyone!
Clark gives up trying to stop it and mopes on the loveseat. A boy flops down next to him. “Dude, think I’m gonna hurl.” In an actually cool effect, Clark zips into superspeed and everything slams into slow motion. He races into the kitchen, dumps the trail mix into a larger bowl (slow-mo falling trail mix! I love it!), straightens a vase that’s in the process of falling, brings the smaller bowl back over to the loveseat, and shoves it into Barf Boy’s hands just in time. “Thanks,” the kid croaks. Clark pats his back while making a face. No lie: this is the show’s best use of superpowers yet, and Clark is more likable in this episode than he’s been all season.
Rebecca: YES!! Now I remember why I loved this show. This also reminds me of Sky High, the best superhero movie of all time. Also also, Tom Welling has never looked older than he does sitting next to all these teen extras with a pained, concerned look on his face.
Jess: SKY HIGH 4EVA. That movie’s costuming alone is magic.
Clark is attempting to tidy when Lana walks in. He tries to pretend that he intended this huge party, but she, charmingly, sees right through him: “If I had a hundred people trashing my house I’d be a little freaked out.” Their usual subpar flirting ensues. I know I never recap these scenes properly, but it’s because their conversations jump around in completely unnatural ways in order to shoehorn in “romantic” or “significant” lines – like, somehow they get to Clark telling Lana she’s braver than she thinks? what? – and also both of their acting ability goes straight downhill the minute they’re on camera together.
Anyway, he asks where Flash is, and Lana’s like “I am capable of enjoying myself without him.” Acting ability aside, Lana’s been pretty great in this scene. Outside, someone starts setting off fireworks, and Clark and some others walk into the front yard to watch. Someone is wearing a bucket hat. 2001, EVERYONE!
Clark starts yelling at Pete for setting off the fireworks, but Pete says it wasn’t his idea. “It was mine,” Lex says, walking up behind them. LEX YOU ARE SO WEIRD. “Consider it a party present. Don’t worry about the police, it’s covered. I know this kind of party can make or break a reputation, I want to make sure yours is a hit.” WEIRD WEIRD WEIRD.
Rebecca: Doesn’t Lex have a job and, like, stuff to do? Does he just tell his assistant at the plant to google “how to be a cool teen” and then have her buy at that stuff for Clark?
Jess: That explains the massive case of pogs Clark received that one time!
Everyone beams at the fireworks. Awww.
“I hear you’re taking a tour of my plant tomorrow,” Lex continues. Chloe makes a face: “It’s a class field trip.” “What’d you do wrong?” Lex asks. HEE ADORABLE. Why isn’t this show just Mack & Rosenbaum? Why isn’t Mack & Rosenbaum an awesome buddy cop show starring them? I’m also still holding fast to my will-they-or-won’t-they sitcom idea. Come on, NBC!
Rebecca: I WOULD WATCH EVERY EPISODE AND BUY IT ON DVD.
Jess: Lex’s date, all dolled up with every TV identifier of “hot,” slinks up to him. “Sorry I took so long. Someone overflowed the bathroom.” Clark makes the saddest face in the world.
Inside the house, the phone rings, unheard. At a fancy restaurant in Metropolis, Martha hangs up and walks back over to the table. Jonathan stands up and pulls her chair out for her. AWWW. This episode is killing it, you guys. She frets about Clark not answering, and Jonathan assures her that Clark’s fine. He asks her if she ever misses Metropolis, and she says, “Sometimes. But I didn’t move to Smallville for action and glamor, I moved because a certain man told me we’d never be rich or travel the world, but he’d always love me. How could I pass up an offer like that?” They hold hands and kiss. BACK INTO THE OSTRICH HOLE WITH ME!
Rebecca: The Kents are adorable and perfect. Also, I want to know so much more about Martha’s Mysterious Metropolis Past.
Jess: I’m calling it now: Secret Agent. (Confidential to DC: I would read eight thousand issues of Martha Clark: Secret Agent.)
Rebecca: Also, after the comic is a runaway success, the TV adaptation would be a great lead-in to Mack & Rosenbaum.
Jess: Back at Chez Kent, Flash rolls into the party all leather-jacketed and cranky and asks Lana why she didn’t tell him she was coming to the party. She says she didn’t realize she needed his permission and he asks if they can talk outside. She sighs and follows him while her gal pals look at each other in glee.
Out in the barn, he asks what the deal is and she tells him she told him when they got back together that she needed some breathing room. It took me forever to remember when they broke up. According to the timeline of the show it was like six months ago. This is the first time she’s requested space in all that time?
Rebecca: (This episode was shot fourth.)
Jess: (Ah, that makes a lot more sense, as does the time of year.)
“So you sneak off to a party without me?” Flash demands. “I didn’t sneak, I walked. Why are you mad at me? Is it because it’s Clark’s party? Starting to get the feeling that you don’t trust me.” Lana is great in this episode and Kreuk is much better opposite Flash.
Suddenly the barn starts shaking. Flash grabs a rake and Lana runs inside and gets Clark. Chloe follows. When they get back to the barn, Flash is on the second story, aiming the rake at something. “Kent! Get up here.” Clark runs up beside him with a flashlight and we see something moving under a dropcloth. The boys advance on it slowly. Flash whips the cloth away – and it’s Earl, of course, shaking and terrified.
And. Um. Can I just say that there is something REALLY FUCKING DISTURBING about a very blond white boy thrusting a rake at a terrified black man in a barn? That and “the looming black man here to steal your baby” imagery in the opening scene are, um. Show. For the love of God, think about the images you’re putting on the TV, please? Because, well. They’re super racist.
Rebecca: 🙁 🙁 🙁 Tony “Candyman” Todd deserves so much better. He’s great.
Jess: Anyway, Clark knows Earl and tells Flash to back down. He gently asks Earl what he’s doing there. “I came to see your dad,” Earl says. “He’s the only one I can trust.” Clark asks what’s wrong and reaches for Earl. Earl starts to shake and Clark jerks his hand back as his veins go green. Okay, so Lionel’s experimenting with kryptonite, I guess?
Rebecca: Are you really all that surprised?
Jess: Not really, but what reason does he have to suspect it has special properties?
“Call an ambulance!” Clark shouts. Cut to Earl on a stretcher at the hospital. Chloe and Clark are in the waiting room. Man, Pete’s devotion to not caring about Clark is amazing. “This guy should be in a detox center,” Chloe says. “He’s not on drugs, Chloe,” Clark says with a wonderful degree of quiet hurt. Good job, Welling. “Then why was he shaking like a junkie?” Chloe asks. Clark explains that Earl worked on the farm for six seasons and “even tried to teach me how to play guitar.” He’s clearly very upset about Earl and seriously, good job, Welling! Also, he couldn’t play guitar because he “kept snapping the guitar strings.” WHY IS THIS EPISODE SO GOOD. WHY. I am bracing myself for something terrible to undermine it all, but right now, YES.
Rebecca: The way Welling says the guitar strings line with such natural, muted embarrassment adds so much shading to this story: Clark being subtly honest with Chloe for once about difficulties he’s faced as a superkid; his frustration with not being able to do normal things; Clark and Earl’s close relationship and Earl’s patience with him. It really tells us more about being Young Superman than anything else on the show so far. GOOD JOB, WELLING! Ugh, savor this feeling.
Jess: SO GOOD. Chloe says Clark might not know all of Earl’s secrets and Clark says that Earl’s like family. He exposits that Earl took a job at Luthorcorp because it was full time and paid better and Chloe gives him a look like “Paid better…in drug money???”
Rebecca: Chloe is so inexplicably judgmental about Earl’s hypothetical drug use. Chill out, girl.
Jess: In come, I’m guessing, a sheriff and a deputy, who ask the nurse at the reception desk for Earl. Clark asks if he’s in trouble and the sheriff’s all “You have no idea.” A commotion down the hall sends both cops and both kids running to Earl’s room, where he’s shaking violently. I guess they used up the effects budget on that super-speed scene from the party, because this looks terrible, especially when a nurse walks calmly within range of Earl and kind of shrugs at the cops rather than looking scared. The cops try to calm Earl down but get flung back by his flailing arms. Clark tries as well and gets thrown through a glass window. Earl looks at him in horror and stops shaking.
Rebecca: No one in the hospital is even remotely concerned about the teenage boy who just got thrown violently through a plate glass window.
Jess: Eh, it’s just the Kent kid, he looks like he’s dying 30% of the time and he’s always fine.
Morning. Clark trudges into his trashed house, makes a lot of theatrical dismayed faces/gestures, then super-speed cleans it up. ADORABLE. He sits down at the kitchen table, satisfied, then hears a slow clap behind him as the camera pans around to show Jonathan and Martha standing at the foot of the stairs. Big wince from Clark. THIS IS SO CUTE.
Rebecca: KENT SLOW CLAP, YOU ARE MY FAVORITE. KENT SLOW CLAP FOREVER.
Jess: “You guys are home early,” he says, and Martha tells him they called six times last night and spoke to six different people, none of whom knew Clark. He tells them he was at the hospital and about Earl, who, aside from everything else, is wanted for murder. Again, show, black man wanted for murder and suspected of drug use = YOU ARE PUTTING SOME PROBLEMATIC IMAGES ON THE TV. I mean, I’m glad to see some additional diversity with the show (not that they don’t get a certain amount of credit for Lana and Pete), but even though Earl didn’t mean it, maybe don’t have two episodes in a row where black men are portrayed as rapists and murderers? Seriously, fuck you.
Rebecca: Seriously. The worst. I can’t wait for Pete to get involved in illegal street racing (not a joke). Also, please recall that both of Lana’s parents are played by white actors in the pilot, everyone we see who’s biologically related to her in the series is white, and Kreuk’s actual half-Chinese heritage is entirely whitewashed. The WB, everybody!
Jess: SUCH BULLSHIT. I always assumed they cast a half-Asian actress because, you know, “Lang,” but I guess not.
Anyway, Clark goes on to explain that he couldn’t talk to Earl because every time he gets close, he gets sick. Like, meteor rock sick. The Kents look concerned.
Cut to Clark and Jonathan at the hospital, looking through a window into Earl’s room. A doctor comes out, and she is both a she and black, so that’s something. Jonathan asks what’s wrong with Earl and she tells them she doesn’t know. She shows them his X-rays and explains that there are tiny fragments of “a mineral” under his skin and his body is trying to push them out. Jonathan asks how this happened and the doctor says Earl claims there was an explosion at the Luthorcorp plant, but neither Jonathan nor the doctor heard anything about an explosion, and neither has OSHA or the EPA. Not entirely sure why Jonathan seems so dubious about Earl’s story when he hates and distrusts the Luthors so much, but whatever.
Rebecca: Jonathan’s just an asshole to whoever he’s most recently set his eyes on, just like my dog most loves whoever’s pet him most recently.
Jess: Jonathan asks to talk to Earl alone and the doctor agrees, because you should always let a murder suspect talk to the one person he wants to talk to in private. Clark wants to go, but Jonathan refuses, because he’ll get sick and “I don’t want you passing out around here. That could bring us a whole other set of problems.” Not because, you know, he doesn’t want Clark to get sick. Wow, that was a steep nosedive in character, Jonathan.
Rebecca: “Maybe.” – Jonathan Kent, Man of Steel. #neverforget
Jess: Jonathan enters the room. There’s a deputy there, so that makes sense – except then it looks like the deputy leaves, which…again, do not let these two talk alone. I mean, obvs Earl is not a deliberate killer, but they don’t know that. Anyway, Earl is thrilled to see Jonathan, and apologized to Clark through some kind of two-way radio clipped to his bed. Clark assures Earl that he’s fine and Earl flops back onto the bed, relieved.
Jonathan asks Earl what’s up: “I can’t believe that you would want to kill anybody.” Earl explains what happened and that he just wanted to see Lionel Luthor and find out what was happening on Level 3, where the wacky fertilizer experiment lived: “There was something unstable in that fertilizer. There was a huge explosion. I was cleaning at the time. The stuff in it…got under my skin. The next thing I know, they shut it all down and I was transferred to Metropolis. Then two months ago…the jitters started.” This speech would have been a million times better if he’d said “seizures” instead of “jitters.”
Earl adds that no doctor could figure out what was wrong with him, and when he went back to the plant, he was told that Level 3 didn’t exist. With tears in his eyes, he begs Jonathan to help him get into the plant. Jonathan tells him to rest and walks out. Clark asks if he thinks Earl’s telling the truth and Jonathan says he’s not sure. Clark suggests that he look around during his field trip that afternoon and Jonathan tells him that Earl’s in too much trouble and not to do anything. Pan back into Earl’s room, where he has his finger on the radio button, and has heard everything.
Rebecca: This is such a weird moment. Up until this scene, I found Earl wholly sympathetic, but this action seems so weirdly sinister, the way Todd plays it. From this point forward, the episode is not sure whether Earl’s a bad guy or not.
Jess: Cut to Earl handcuffed to a wheelchair, in an elevator with a guard. He starts shaking. When the elevator opens, Earl is gone and the guard is unconscious. They seriously cannot keep people in wheelchairs on this show.
Luthorcorp plant! The school bus rolls in and we cut to Chloe’s dad introducing himself as “Gabe Sullivan, plant manager and proud father. Hi, sweetheart!” Hee. “Hi Dad,” Chloe says, sounding mortified, and hides behind Clark’s enormous self. Hee again. “Welcome to Luthorcorp, where we give a crap,” Gabe goes on, and hee a third time, what, this has never happened before!
Rebecca: Gabe Sullivan is among the best underused recurring characters on this show. Also, Chloe hiding behind Clark 4ever.
Jess: Gabe asks the kids to remove any cell phones or jewelry and place them in plastic bins, which they do, including Lana and her Necklace of Angsty Significance and Making Clark Puke. Clark raises his hand: “I heard the plant has a third level. Is that true?” What a weirdly-phrased and unsubtle question, Clarktopher. Gabe snarks that it’s where they do the alien autopsies and there’s some polite laughter. Clark squirms, possibly remembering that he is a candidate for an alien autopsy, and Chloe tells Clark not to encourage Gabe. Wait, why is Flash on this tour? He’s a senior. What class is this for? This trip makes no sense.
Rebecca: It’s for Plot Device 101!
Jess: Meanwhile, Earl skulks around Level 2. He opens a door to find a bricked up wall, freaks out, and starts gasping “Where is it? Where is it? Where’s the elevator???” Uh, speaking of acting ability precipitously dropping for no reason…
Back on the tour, Gabe tells the kids not to touch something because it’s 260 degrees, which will surely not be a plot-related peril later. (Spoiler from the future: it actually wasn’t. Just leave Chekhov’s gun there, guys, no one needs it.) Clark, lagging behind, spots a door marked “Authorized Personnel Only” and zips through it. Meanwhile, the tour continues into the plant’s control room and Gabe makes more poop/fart jokes, much to Chloe’s dismay and Pete’s amusement. Pete has just noticed that Clark’s not there when a door handle starts shaking. Gabe goes over to check it out – and the door opens and Earl steps through with a gun. He presses it to Gabe’s temple: “Take me to Level 3.” “Dad,” Chloe whispers. Ooh, Clark’s foster uncle versus Chloe’s dad! Dueling loyalties! I love it!
Rebecca: Except that Earl is a kryptomutant, so he’s a bad guy now? I guess? This episode is good but occasionally weird/racist.
Jess: Post-commercial, we cut to all the parents of the kids on the trip outside the Luthorcorp gates, including the Kents, demanding to be let inside. Law enforcement officials – looks like, um, SWAT team and forest rangers, but probably not – holds them back but open the gates to allow Lex to drive through. Lex gets out of his car, then tells the SWAT rangers to let the Kents in.
The Kents demand to know what’s going on. Lex: “There’s a lunatic inside demanding to be taken to someplace called Level 3. We’ve managed to evacuate the plant but he’s taken the students hostage.” I am intrigued to see if he actually knows about Level 3 or not. I’d buy either one.
Rebecca: That’s the beauty of how this show writes Lex! One of the few things they do consistently well!
Jess: Lex tells them the hostage-taker is someone named Earl Jenkins and Jonathan, dismayed, tells Lex he knows him and exposits about Level 3 and Earl’s condition. “Then we’ve got a serious problem, because there is no Level 3,” Lex replies. They all look at the monitor showing the security camera in the control room, but… “Where’s Clark?” Martha asks.
Oh, just superspeeding around the restricted area like it ain’t no thing. He sees the same security footage, the authorities outside, and an empty room with filing cabinets. So…he’s just going to leave his classmates in a room with an armed gunman and not do anything to stop the SWAT rangers from killing Earl? I mean, okay, yes, finding out the truth will resolve both situations and I believe that an adult Superman in full possession of his powers and good at plans would get the truth and stop the dangerous situations in time, but this Superman is a really young, really dumb one.
Back in the control room, Gabe continues to insist that he doesn’t know anything about Level 3. Earl calls him a liar, but… “He’s not lying!” Clark declares, striding in with some blueprints. Huh, I guess I underestimated you, Clarktopher.
Rebecca: Just this once.
Jess: “There is no Level 3.” Clark gives the blueprints to Earl. Chloe is in tears, which is a nice touch.
Earl glares at the blueprints and wanders around the room, shoving them – and the gun – in various main characters’ faces. The extras are all like “Jeez, thank God I don’t have my SAG card yet.” Flash looks like he’s thinking about trying something, which…no, Flash. “Every night, I go down to Level 2. Follow the red pipes down that long hallway. Go to the door, I open it, and I take the elevator down to Level 3!” He thrusts the blueprints at Clark. “Just like everybody else.” He yells at Clark to sit down with the rest of the kids, and Clark crouches down next to Lana and Flash.
Outside, Lex and the Kents watch a helicopter approach. “Who’s that?” Martha asks. “My father,” Lex says, looking like he wants to run inside and take his chances with Earl’s gun.
Rebecca: I don’t want to make this whole recap about me typing characters’ names in all caps, but: LIONEL. LIONEL YOU ARE PERFECT. John Glover is magnificent on this show.
Jess: Lionel disembarks and runs up to Lex, running his hands through his luxuriant mane to remind his son that Lionel has hair, ha ha ha. “Lex! How did you allow this to happen?” Lex is surprisingly docile as he tries to defend himself against Lionel’s berating, and Jonathan marches forward: “Can we focus on what’s important? We’ve got innocent kids in there.”
“This is Jonathan Kent,” Lex says, but Lionel knows him, though “it’s been a long time.” They shake hands.
Rebecca: Aw yeah. We’ll get to this payoff late in Season 2.
Jess: “Kent’s son is inside and he knows the gunman personally,” adds Lex, who was not planning on having his future in-laws meet his dad this way. “Well, what’s your assessment of this lunatic?” Lionel asks. “He’s sick, he’s desperate, he blames your plant for his condition,” Jonathan replies.
“I’ve assured everyone there is no Level 3. That is the truth, isn’t it?” Lex says. Aw, Lex. “Of course it is,” Lionel lies like a big lying liar, the first syllable of whom’s name is “lie.” There’s some significant Luthor eye contact, and Jonathan asks what Lionel’s plan is. Lionel says he’s going to let the SWAT rangers do their job, and Martha is like FUCK THAT NOISE: “You need to get on the phone and talk to him!” Lionel’s all “I do not negotiate with terrorists” but Martha just gets indignant-ier. “He’s not a terrorist, he’s sick and he needs help! If you won’t talk to him, Jonathan will.” Jonathan walks away all “You just got told by my awesome wife,” hee. But Lex points out that Jonathan isn’t the one Earl blames, “is he, Dad?”
So Lionel calls in to the control room, and Gabe, per Earl’s order, puts him on speaker. “I finally got your attention,” Earl says. “Earl, why don’t you come out? We’ve got a lot to talk about,” Lionel says. Earl asks what they were using on Level 3, and Lionel sidesteps the question by saying Earl is sick and they can get him help.
Earl looks unconvinced, but another seizure hits him before he can respond. He grabs the wheel to the nearest valve. Clark stands up to try to calm him and Earl accidentally rips the wheel off and hits Clark with it. Clark goes flying (NOT ACTUALLY, NO FLIGHTS NO TIGHTS) and several students, including Lana and Flash, rush to see if he’s okay. The valve Earl broke is for the methane levels and he watches them rise with growing horror, then runs up to the camera and whispers “See what you made me do?” Except I don’t think the camera has sound? Whatever.
“Way to go, Dad,” Lex drawls outside. “I see you haven’t lost your touch.”
Rebecca: God, every intra-Luthor interaction is pure gold.
Jess: I guess the camera does have sound because Earl tells the people outside that the methane levels are rising. Flash whispers that they should try to take Earl down; both Clark and Lana think that’s a bad idea. “I’m not putting my life in that man’s hands,” Flash says. “Two of us can take him. How about it, Clark?” Lana rolls her eyes, and why is she so great in this episode?
Rebecca: It’s kinda sad that Lana is still with Flash when she clearly knows that he sucks. If this show treated Lana like a real person, maybe we could explore that.
Jess: Well, in her defense she does think he rescued her from Sweaty Greg, and he’s pretty delightful in his few scenes in “X-Ray.” But in general, yeah, pretty much. Maybe she’s staying with him because her having a boyfriend is the only thing keeping Lex from locking her and Clark in a supply closet with a box of condoms and some Luther Vandross every chance he gets.
Jess: Clark tells Flash he (Clark) can’t fight Earl, and Flash decides to do it himself, despite Lana’s pleas. He starts walking slowly towards Earl, who is still talking to the camera: “I trusted you. You told me you’d try to help me.” Lionel and Lex see Flash going for Earl and look distressed. Earl spots Flash, who manages to knocks the gun out of his hand before getting backhanded to the floor. Earl grabs the gun and Clark pulls Flash away. Well, that ended better than I expected.
Angry, Earl shoots out the camera and the SWAT rangers go into “full alert.” “What was that boy thinking?” Lionel demands. “He wasn’t,” Jonathan says. “He’s a teenager who’s been waiting for somebody out here to take the initiative. Look, you’ve got a hostage situation, a potential bomb in there, somebody’s gotta do something.” “You’re right,” Lex declares. “I’m going in.” Lex!
Jess: Lionel tells him not to be a hero, Billy, but Lex’s is like hey, my plant, my responsibility. “I won’t allow it,” Lionel says, grabbing his arm. Lex looks down at his hand: “Don’t ever do that again.” He storms off into the plant, overruling a SWAT ranger and demanding another one’s bulletproof vest, and Lionel watches with a proud/calculating smile on his face. The Kents fret.
Rebecca: Lionel is worryingly gleeful about the possibility of Lex dying in a hostage situation. Oh, Luthors.
Jess: Well, think of the awesome PR he could get from it!
Inside, the methane levels are still rising and the kids are worrying, when Lex walks in, be-vested but arms wide and hands open to show he’s unarmed. “What kind of man sends his own kid to do his dirty work?” Earl asks. “I’m not doing anybody’s dirty work, Earl. This is my plant,” Lex says. He glances at Flash, who’s awake but has his head in Lana’s lap and is inexplicably bleeding from the arm and asks how he is. Lana says he needs a doctor.
“What are we gonna do about these kids, Earl?” Lex asks. “I never meant to hurt anybody,” Earl says. “I tried talking to your father but he wouldn’t listen to me.” “I know the feeling,” Lex says, and takes off the vest. “Earl, you say that everybody’s been lying to you? I’m gonna tell you the truth. My father doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t care about anyone in this room. ‘Cause if we all die, his PR firm will spin it, his insurance company will pay out, and you, Earl, will go down as the bad guy.” Earl insists that he’s just trying to get better, and Lex asks how the kids’ deaths will accomplish that. Then he plays his trump card: “If you let everybody go, I’ll take you to Level 3.”
Clark starts in surprise. Earl cocks the gun at Lex: “You stop lying.” “Let them go and I’ll show you where it is. Earl, trust me. I’m a man of my word.” Earl pauses, then tells the kids and scientists to get out. They flee as Lex loosens his tie, clearly more worried about all this than he’s letting on. Clark goes over to him and whispers, “Do you really know where it is?” “Yeah,” Lex says, “it’s in his imagination. There is no Level 3, Clark, now get out of here.”
Rebecca: Clark is great in this episode, but the most fully-realized character on this show is definitely Lex. He’s terrific.
Jess: Clark makes some bizarre faces but backs away, especially when Earl also tells him to leave. Pete is waiting at the door for him: “Come on, man, let’s go!” AW EVERYONE LOVES CLARK.
The methane creeps higher as SWAT rangers usher the hostages out. Chloe and her dad are holding hands, aw. Outside, the Kents are relieved to hear that the kids are leaving, but a SWAT ranger tells Lionel that they need to lower the fire doors and seal the building since the gas levels are so high – with Lex inside. Lionel gazes inscrutably at the camera and says “Do it.” Do you think that when he read for the part the casting director just said “Inscrutable: go” and whoever was the inscrutableiest got the job?
Rebecca: I would love the see the tapes from that casting session.
Jess: Clark is the last to go out the fire doors, but he ducks and rolls back inside at the last minute, yelling “Don’t worry about me!” He heads back into the plant, following the red pipes as per Earl’s instructions.
Martha hugs Pete as he comes out and asks where Clark is. Where are Pete’s parents, I wonder? Pete stammers that Clark went back inside and he couldn’t stop him. I wish Sam Jones was a better actor because his distress is very sweet and could be sweeter with better delivery. Martha tells Lionel to open the doors, but Lionel says they physically can’t be opened until the gas levels have been brought down. “My son is still in there,” she tells him. Punch him, Martha! You know you want to! “So is mine,” he replies.
Rebecca: In another instance of the writers seeing what character combinations work, this is seeds of an actual Martha/Lionel arc, presumably because these two are so wonderful together. I found out from her Twitter that Annette O’Toole considers John Glover to be her work husband. D’AWW.
Jess: THAT IS ADORABLE. Also, burn, John Schneider!
Clark finds the room where Earl’s missing elevator should be and X-ray visions the back wall. And wouldn’t you know it? There’s an elevator there. Meanwhile, the methane is almost at the top of the gauge. Earl demands Lex take him to Level 3 and Lex tells him it’s all in his head. Earl pistol-whips him. Sorry, Lex, I laughed.
Rebecca: Lex gets a lot of blows to the head on this show. If, in Season 8, they were just like, “He got so many concussions that he went evil,” I would have bought it.
Jess: Incidentally, also a great explanation for Hal Jordan as Parallax.
Rebecca: Burn, Parallax!
Jess: Suddenly Clark’s voice comes over some kind of radio that I’m pretty sure just appeared on this set when they needed it for this scene: “Earl, I found Level 3!” Earl is suspicious and Lex wants Clark to get out of the building, but Clark insists that Earl come look. “I want you to see the truth,” Earl growls at Lex, and drags him out of the control room. Once they’re out of the room, Clark zips back in and forces the broken part of the gauge that the wheel was attached to back down. The methane levels start to lower. Outside, a SWAT ranger tells Lionel and the Kents that the gas levels are lowering, much to their befuddlement.
Rebecca: Jonathan’s “I bet that was Clark” look to Martha and her answering “Yeah, probably” shrug are so precious and AHH KENTS.
Jess: Earl drags Lex to the elevator room, where Clark’s broken open a hole in the wall. The elevator lies beyond it, with an axe on the floor. On the one hand, I like that Clark left an explanation for how he broke through the wall. On the other, breaking through a brick wall with an axe is still pretty unbelievable for a 14-year-old boy, and also introducing another weapon into this situation is maybe not the best idea.
“How do you explain that?” Earl demands, pointing to the elevator. Lex can’t. Earl drags him in and they see that the elevator only has two buttons, for Levels 1 and 2…but Earl presses a spot below 2, and it lights up as the doors close. Lex looks like his father is levelling up another “evil douchebag” notch in Lex’s head.
They emerge onto Level 3, a giant warehouse-looking thing, and walk into a catwalk above it. “Where is it?” Earl demands as Lex marvels. “There used to be a…there was a field of corn, with sprays all over, and every night they’d spray this green mist on it. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH IT?” “I don’t know,” Lex says. “They lied to me too, Earl. I had no idea this was here.”
Clark appears at the end of the catwalk. “Earl, let’s go back upstairs and talk about this.” “It’s all gone, Clark,” Earl says. “How am I gonna get better if I don’t know what poisoned me?” “I didn’t know about this place, Clark,” Lex says quickly. “You gotta believe me.” Clark assures him he does believe him, but Earl doesn’t. “He’s lying! He’s just like his father!”
Rebecca: Why doesn’t Clark tell Earl exactly what’s poisoning him? It doesn’t implicate him at all to tell Earl about other kryptonite-related incidents that Chloe wrote about, and it could maybe help Earl out.
Jess: Well, Clark’s not very bright. Also, the only reason he knows for sure it’s kryptonite is because he’s affected by it, although “my friend thinks weird things happen in Smallville because of the green meteor rocks and you said the spray was green” is a workable excuse.
And then: another seizure, with Earl and Lex still out on a thin metal catwalk. The (separate) segments Earl and Lex are standing on tip precariously, and Lex somehow manages to somersault over the railing of his so that he’s dangling by his hands. One of Earl’s railings falls away so that he’s also only holding on by his hands. Clark runs out help as Lex calls his name, but stops, wincing, even though he’s been way closer to Earl than this. Lex slips and grabs Earl’s legs.
Clark carefully inches his way down the section they’re hanging from, which looks like it could go at any second. He grabs Earl’s hand and holds on through the pain, even as his veins turn green. Slowly, he pulls Earl up and tells him get to the elevator as Lex grabs the catwalk. Earl starts to crawl towards safety as Clark pulls Lex up much more easily. They also crawl towards the elevator, Clark helping Lex onto the level part of the catwalk.
Rebecca: Clark straight-up shouldn’t have been able to pull Earl up, right? This show has a very nonspecific view of kryptonite poisoning.
Jess: I don’t think it’s just this show. Hey, remember than time Brandon Routh threw a continent made of kryptonite into space?
Rebecca: Fair point.
Jess: Oh no! Earl’s still leaning against the railing, and he’s having another seizure! Clark and Lex tackle him onto solid ground just as the entire catwalk falls a couple stories to the ground.
Lex stares. “Clark, how did you pull us up?” “I dunno,” Clark says after a pause. “Adrenalin, I guess.” Lex wonders what it would be like to kiss Clark right on the mouth.
Rebecca: Bad lying and impossible feats of strength are Lex’s two main fetishes.
Jess: Outside, Earl is strapped onto a stretcher and wheeled away. Clark runs into his parents’ arms. As they group hug in the background, Lex stalks over to Lionel. “You lied to me.” “No, I didn’t,” Lionel says. “I said Level 3 wasn’t on any plans. It wasn’t. It’s plausible deniability.” Lex asks what Lionel was doing down there, but Lionel won’t tell. “You almost got me killed,” Lex says. “No, you almost got yourself killed,” Lionel replies. “It was your call, remember?”
A crowd of reporters appears and Lionel tells Lex to let him handle it. He starts spinning a story about Level 3 being “a redundant storage area at the base of the plant,” and tells them that Earl is very sick. “That’s why my father and I have pledged to find Mr. Jenkins the best medical care possible,” Lex says quickly. “He was a Luthorcorp employee, and here at Luthorcorp, we always put family first. Isn’t that right, Dad?” Hee, and also now I want Lex to hang out with Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars, who pulled a similar stunt on his evil dad, although with fewer superpowers and more bumfights.
Rebecca: I’d read a “Lex’s wild past sleeping with movie stars’ ne’er-do-well sons” crossover fanfic.
Jess: Lionel dismisses the reporters, saying that Lex has had a dreadful ordeal, and gives him a huge, fake hug. Lex tolerates it while staring wistfully at the Cuddlin’ Kents. And…scene.
…Hey, so is Earl still going to go to jail for killing that guy?
Rebecca: Maybe he’s just going to be hospitalized for Kryptonite Parkinson’s and Lex is going to pay off the cops, like he did with the fireworks?
Rebecca: This episode is one of the high points of the first season for sure. It feels a little cursory in ticking so many Teen Superman Show boxes (superpowered chores! wild parties! superspeed! field trips! hostage situations!), but at the same time, it feels more confident than the other episodes in knowing what its audience might want. Also, if these were the versions of Clark, Lana, and Lex that we got all the time, this show would be roughly 400% better overall. The secret is cold pizza.
Jess: Cold pizza is the real hero! But yeah, this episode is astonishingly good compared to the other ones we’ve seen so far. It helps that there aren’t any inexplicably sociopathic teenagers or slut-shaming and that the Clark and Lana scenes are kept to a bare minimum. The Kents are wonderful and supportive, Clark is altruistic while still being very young and vulnerable, and there’s some wonderful incidental stuff with Chloe and Clark and Chloe and Gabe. And the Luthors, of course. But I really do think the writing and acting on Clark’s end sells it (I know, I can’t believe it either!): as with the next episode, he’s really anxious about doing the right thing but too young to be sure of how, and also a bit of a goody-goody. It’s GREAT.
Rating: Smallville to Metropolis in less than an hour.
Next week: If you can believe it, someone actually outsmarts Clark.