What is abundantly clear at this stage is that Smallville has a great streak of confidence coursing through its veins this season. Even if ‘Extinction’ feels as if it needs more time to deal with the idea of an antagonist that makes Clark question whether or not he is any different from this week’s villain, the number of story threads the script and the season as a whole is juggling has so far made the third season a wickedly entertaining one.
Third seasons by their nature can go either way. It’s the point where the writers’ room is now occupied by the contributors who are about to define and drive a television series if they haven’t joined the series already (more often than not) and it’s the moment when you can pinpoint when a series either loses its way or starts to smash it out of the park with hit after hit of great episodes and story arcs.
Given that Smallville has a lot of shared creative DNA with The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that it appears to be hitting a creative and storytelling peak here, as both those shows did so similarly in their third seasons. Thankfully, it’s not shaping up to be Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, the last live-action prime time Superman series prior to Smallville’s premiere that wound up tying itself up in storytelling knots and subsequently going as far as to jump the shark with that awful third season ‘wedding episode’.
‘Extinction’s’ guest villain is a vigilante who targets characters who develop powers based on their exposure to the meteor rocks. It’s a great set up for an episode and its teaser sequence subverts expectations as it opens with an attack on Lana (itself reusing a problematic trope that series has been frequently relied on) and which puts the audience in mind of something from season one. It then changes course in the middle of the sequence when the character we think is going to be this week’s monster of the week, Jake (Harris Allan), is despatched with very quickly.
Even more brilliantly, Darren Swimmer and Todd Slavkin’s teleplay even gets to play around with Smallville now being somewhat of a semi long-running show with a plethora of guest villains who have tried to kill our lead characters at various points over the last two seasons. Chloe, Lana and Clark get to list the number of times their lives have been put in danger and even mention previous monsters-of-the-week while they are it; a lovely bit of self-referential humour for long time fans and viewers who have stuck with the series up to this point.
There’s even a similar level of acknowledgement going on with guest villain Van McNulty, played by guest actor Jesse Metcalfe, who would go on to appear in Desperate Housewives not long after this. He has a similar squeaky clean and hunky all-American look to him more befitting of a superheroic flavour. But instead of trying to do good and protecting the innocent, he shoots first and asks questions later, bringing to the forefront how different Clark is from a character like this when he too goes after meteor inflicted villains.
The real answer comes down to their methods; Van Allen uses guns, Clark doesn’t. It’s a potent and powerful declaration from a series about what constitutes the methods of its lead character and what, in the end, makes him a genuine hero against those he goes up against.