Looking back on Clark Kent’s best saves in 'Smallville'

Tom Welling as Superman in 'Smallville.'
Tom Welling in the final scene of 'Smallville.' (Image credit: The CW)

On May 13, 2011 — ten years ago! — Smallville aired its series finale, the long-awaited culmination of a journey that took Clark Kent (Tom Welling) from farm boy to Superman. For ten seasons, the show employed a “no tights, no flights” philosophy that series creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (and series-ending showrunners Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson) took very seriously – often to fans’ frustration. But in “Finale,” Clark at last embraces his Kryptonian destiny, dons the red and blue suit (borrowed from Brandon Routh in Superman Returns!) and flies up, up and away. Do we actually get to see much of his flight or his tights? No! Is it still thrilling? Yes! And it all starts with this scene: 

Clark’s in the Kent barn, where so many crucial moments have taken place throughout the course of the series. He’s confronting Darkseid, who’s currently puppeteering the corpse of Earth-2 Lionel Luthor (John Glover). Darkseid tries to convince Clark to give up on humanity (as if!), and he Force-strangles Clark into the air. Clark then hears the voice of his Earth father, Jonathan Kent (John Schneider), who directs him to be guided by his Krypton father, Jor-El (voiced by the great Terence Stamp). Mentally, Clark’s now in the Fortress, absorbing all of the knowledge and insight afforded him by his legacy, and Jor-El tells him that he’s always had the power inside him. And we’re treated to a montage – an epic, magnificent, crowd-pleasing montage – of all of Clark Kent’s best saves throughout the series. 

So why are these particular heroic feats so integral to Clark’s ultimate destiny? Let’s examine the best of them! 

1.01 "Pilot" — Lex and the bridge

The save that started it all. Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) is texting and driving while Clark stares moodily out onto the water from a bridge. Lex loses control of his Porsche and drives off the edge, taking Clark with him. Clark rips the door from the car and brings Lex to shore, giving him CPR and gaining himself a frenemy for the ages. As Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman) tells Clark seven years later, “I have this feeling you’ll never fulfill your great destiny… until you meet your greatest challenge.” There is no Superman without Lex Luthor.

1.09 “Rogue” — The bus and the bench

A bus driver has a heart attack, leaving the bus to careen toward a sleeping unhoused gentleman and his shaggy dog. Clark stops the bus with his body, inadvertently capturing the attention of a dirty cop (Cameron Dye) who tries to make Clark do his bidding. (That doesn’t go well for him.) It’s Clark’s first rescue in the big city, a glimpse at his future as the Savior of Metropolis.

1.12 “Leech” — The Ashmore and the lightning

Shawn Ashmore plays Eric Summer, making the first appearance by an Ashmore twin before Aaron shows up in Season 6 as Jimmy Olsen. Eric’s being melodramatic on a bridge (so many bridges in Kansas!) when he almost falls to his death. Clark catches him in time but gets struck by lightning, somehow transferring his powers to Eric, who does not use them wisely. We get to see Clark problem-solve and save the day without his gifts, learning that it’s not only his Kryptonian abilities that make him super. Later, when a clueless and newly evil Eric tauntingly asks Clark what he’d do if he had superpowers, Clark replies, “I’d stop people like you” — and we know he's right.

1.21 “Tempest” — The truck and the tornado

Lana (Kristin Kreuk) is driving home from the bus station, somehow completely unaware that a tornado is ripping its way through Lowell County. Clark bails on his prom date Chloe (Allison Mack, and yeah, yikes) to rescue Lana from the devastating vortex, lifting off the ground in a way that doesn’t feel like it can be entirely credited to the wind. Sure, Al and Miles said “no flights,” but they’re not above hinting at Clark’s aerial fate even as early as the first season.

2.02 “Heat” — The siren and the new skill

A sultry cradle-robber (Krista Allen) who has the power to hypnotize men marries Lex for his money, tries to seduce Clark but discovers he’s the only fella immune to her charms, then convinces Jonathan Kent to murder her new husband so she can become the richest widow ever. Clark shows up in the nick of time to save Lex from getting ganked and Jonathan from committing murder. He’s only just discovered his heat vision – in a mortifying manner we might call “premature eyejaculation” – but he’s already a precise enough shot to burn a bullet midair with his peepers. And any time Clark uncovers a new power within himself, he’s one step closer to becoming the Man of Tomorrow.

2.10 “Skinwalker” — The shapeshifter and the cave

Clark has fallen for Kyla Willowbrook (Amara Zaragoza, here credited as Tamara Feldman), a beautiful young member of the local Kawatche tribe who introduces him to ancient caves marked with drawings that look a heck of a lot like Kryptonian symbols. After he shields her from a collapsing boulder, she tells him he must be Naman, a star-fallen legend among her people. Their romance isn’t meant to last – turns out, she’s a vengeful werewolf – but she teaches Clark more about his future path, and reveals to him a source of Kryptonian knowledge and technology that Jor-El somehow left for him (the origins of the Kawatche caves remain pretty fuzzy, tbh).

2.14 “Rush” — The dosing and the dare

Speaking of the caves, they’re home to a parasitic worm that enlarges the adrenal gland of its victims, turning reasonable people into thrill-seeking psychos. Chloe and Pete (Sam Jones III) are infected, and Pete (who knows his friend’s big secret by now) doses Clark with Red Kryptonite, which inevitably results in turning Clark into a thrill-seeking psycho. Chloe and Pete decide to jump Pete’s car over a gorge, an impossible distance they could never make, when Clark shakes off the Red K effects and catches the nose of the car before it crashes into the rocks below. It marks the first time – but certainly not the last! – that someone uses Red K on Clark to obliterate his inhibitions.

3.05 “Perry” - The future editor and the gorge

Speaking of gorges, there are a lot of them in Smallville thanks to the meteor shower. Michael McKean (husband to Smallville’s Martha Kent, Annette O’Toole) shows up as the legendary Perry White, although here he’s a tabloid scumbag who gave up on real journalism years ago. He’s drunk-driving (gross, Perry!) when he crashes into a utility pole, and he’s just sober enough to realize the way Clark rescues him isn’t quite human. He stalks the poor kid, trying to get the scoop, and eventually stages a stunt to force Clark out of the closet. But Clark’s being affected by some weird solar flares, zapping him of his powers, and he has to save Perry the good old-fashioned way. Here we have Clark learning the source of his powers (the yellow sun) AND meeting his future boss, who sobers up after his brush with death and tells Clark to look him up if he’s ever in Metropolis. It’s great.

4.22 “Commencement” — The moppet and the meteor

Two meteor showers? In this economy?! That’s Smallville’s unlikely luck, as Jor-El decides to punish Clark for general disobedience by pummeling his town with more Kryptonite, and Clark must save the day while the sky rains down the one thing that can kill him. As the city erupts into chaos, a smol child runs away from his dad to retrieve a dropped toy, and Clark speeds in to save him just before he gets pancaked by a meteor. It shows, once more, Clark’s selfless courage even when his own life is very much on the line, and the look of hope and gratitude in the father’s eyes as Clark hands him his son is an early symbol of the effect Superman will have on humanity in the future.

5.03 “Hidden” — The nuclear missile and freaking OUTER SPACE

I shouldn’t play favorites, but this is definitely my favorite of Clark’s big saves. He’s been without powers since the beginning of the season, another one of Jor-El’s lessons for disobeying him. But when an avenging citizen shoots Clark then lets loose with a nuclear missile, intending to eradicate Smallville off the map, Jor-El re-animates Clark, zaps his powers back into him and sends him to superspeed off and stop the missile. Clark JUMPS ON THE MISSILE, RIDES IT INTO SPACE AND PUNCHES A HOLE IN IT, disabling it before falling back to earth a charred, exhausted mess. It’s the first time we see Clark die, and though we knew he had to come back in some fashion, Smallville really didn’t have to go so hard.

6.01 “Zod” — Zod and Lex

Zod’s taken over Lex Luthor’s body, and Clark saves, well, pretty much the whole world by getting the best of him in a historical whoosh and a clever repurposing of the iconic “Kneel before Zod” line, leveraging his own humility against Zod’s arrogance and tricking him into grasping a crystal that will send him right back to the Phantom Zone. While it’s not the last time Clark will confront one of his worst foes, it’s the first, and having him represented in the form of another one of Clark’s greatest enemies is just the icing on the cake.

7.01 “Bizarro” — The boy and his dad (redux)

Mimicking the excellent rescue of “Commencement,” here we have another little boy and another dad, peacefully fishing with no idea that a flood is rushing to drown them after Clark’s insane fight with Bizarro breaks Reeves Dam. Just as they’re about to be washed away with a quickness, Clark speeds in and uses his heat vision to evaporate the threat, leaving the two well and truly steamed, but safe. It’s one of the most clever and original uses of his power, and a beautiful example of the dichotomy between Clark and Bizarro, who uses his heat vision to arbitrarily murder a good Samaritan who stops to help him.  

7.05 “Action” — Warrior Angel and Devilicus

Warrior Angel is the fictional comic book hero within Smallville’s universe, a Superman corollary with his own nemesis, Devilicus. When a Hollywood production comes to Smallville to film an adaptation of the comics, a crazed fan (Ben Meyers) realizes that Clark is like Warrior Angel, and takes it upon himself to kill his girlfriend as Devilicus does to Warrior Angel in the funny pages, a tragedy that helps Warrior Angel reach his destiny. He throws Lana from the top of a skyscraper, and Clark leaps after her, catching up with her in mid-air, cradling her in his arms and gazing at her lovingly for the rest of their fall. It’s a beautiful moment and an astonishing rescue, but it also takes Clark one step closer to realizing that Lana isn’t the woman that’s going to help him become Earth’s greatest hero.

9.06 “Crossfire” — The archer and the bullet

Moving onto the woman who will help Clark fulfill his destiny, in the early part of Season 9, Clark is feeling some rivalry from his old pal Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) over the heart of one Miss Lois Lane (Erica Durance). Ollie and Lois accidentally get mixed up in the criminal element, and Clark arrives just in time to save both of them from several speeding bullets. It’s an extremely cool effect, complete with a cocky little flourish from Clark right at the end, but it also serves as a reminder that Superman isn’t much without his super friends.

10.04 “Homecoming” — The journalist and the future

Boy oh boy, do I love this whole scene. Brainiac 5 (James Marsters) has popped up during Smallville High’s five-year anniversary to give Clark his own little Scrooge experience, taking him to the past, various moments of the present and finally the future to convince Clark to stop fighting his fate. After meeting the future version of himself, witnessing the cape in action and seeing how gorgeous his future will be with Lois (who knocks out a helicopter pilot to keep a glasses-less Clark from being recognized, God bless her), “Homecoming” is truly the moment that Clark embraces his future as Superman – confirmed when, at the end of the episode, he tells Lois he loves her for the first time, and his feet lift just a few inches off the ground as they dance in the barn. 

Meredith Borders is a full-time writer working on her first novel. She's formerly the editor of FANGORIA and BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. publications, and has written essays in the books CREEPY BITCHES, SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE and MY FAVORITE HORROR MOVIE. She's programmed films for the Alamo Drafthouse and served on juries and panels for South By Southwest, Fantastic Fest, Sundance, Fantasia International Film Festival, Telluride Horror Show, Chattanooga Film Festival and Comic-Con International. She and her husband Matt own City Acre Brewing in Houston, Texas.