Smallville - Spirit

"We are but visitors on this rock, hurtling through time and space at 66,000 miles an hour, tethered to a burning sphere by an invisible force in an unfathomable universe."
- Agent Mulder, "Syzygy" 

"Spirit," the 18th episode of the 4th season of Smallville, opens with memorable cross-cutting between a girl whose face we don't at first see, only her heels scuffling along high school halls and close-ups of the tiara she wears, and a band playing a lavishly decorated prom. 

The band is Lifehouse, whose songs were used quite a bit by the show. 
More Lifehouse.

The girl turns out to be Chloe (Allison Mack) - very much not the type of person the viewer would expect to see either wearing a tiara with mascara running down her cheeks or smashing a glass to grab an axe. She runs into Mr. Kent and punches him in the face.

To the boiler room...
Roll credits.

Smallville ran for an impressive 10 seasons, first on the WB then on the CW, starring Tom Welling as Clark and Kristin Kreuk as Lana. It was an appealing mix of retweaked Superboy mythos and the type of TV Teen Drama in which the WB/CW specialized.

I'll assume you in no way need the Superman set-up summarized, but I love this four-panel attempt from All-Star Superman:

Doomed planet / Desperate scientists / Last hope / kindly couple.

Doesn't tell you everything you need to know, but broad strokes-wise, like Baby Kal-El leaving Krypton, you're pointed in the precise direction. Anyway, we're only here on Prom business, so no need for much of that, nor (unfortunately) Michael Rosenbaum's excellent turn as Lex Luthor, or Jensen Ackles as Jason Teague. Their plotline is a season(s)-long arc, but nothing to do with prom. 

Except when Jason shows up and sees Clark and Lana dancing. He was fired as a football coach when it was discovered he and Lana had a relationship. 

Apparently, though, he can stroll into the Senior Prom.

Ackles has arguably the best of all the post-Smallville gigs on Supernatural. I'd never have guessed that show's staying power. Nothing against it - it's a damn fun show - just not what I'd have picked from the TV Class of 2005 to still be on the air.

As we've seen elsewhere, the prom episode is always the harbinger of change. Sometimes it's a catalyst for the finale; other times it's the calm before the storm. You can't have a Senior Prom without Senior Year, and you can't have Senior Year without what-lies-ahead and roads-diverging looming over all proceedings. Smallville went to some fascinating places after its characters left high school - Kandor, Darkseid, Dr. Fate, and the Justice League are just some of the sights along the way - but for our purposes today we need only concern ourselves with the Lana/ Chloe/ Clark love triangle and Dawn, this episode's bad girl.

Let's start with her: Dawn Stiles (Beatrice Rosen).

 As flanked by Dawnettes Katya Virshilis and Kandyse McClure.
On deep cover assignment from Galactica. (I know, I know.)

Dawn wasn't a series regular, but she's introduced with real gusto here. Sometimes in these teen drama shows, a new character can appear, and everyone acts like they've just parachuted in from another school or something. Not so here - everyone acts as if Dawn Stiles is a force with which they've been reckoning for quite some time, despite never having been mentioned before. She's furious that Chloe - who wrote an article about getting rid of prom altogether - has been nominated for Prom Queen.

When her boyfriend Billy dumps her just prior to prom, she's livid.
More importantly, now she needs a date and flips through the yearbook to find one.
While driving.
As for the Chloe/ Lana/ Clark love triangle -

it's no longer quite a triangle by Season 4. Chloe has settled into being Clark's closest friend, while Lana is, as aforementioned, dating creepy older guys. Thus placing almost all of the will-they-or-won't-they onto Lana's older cousin Lois Lane, who has moved back to town to take a room at the Kent Farm while she investigates her cousin's murder. 

Played by Erica Durance.  
In case you hadn't noticed, everyone who lives in Smallville looks like a model.
Or, like Ma and Pa Kent  (John Schneider and Annette O'Toole), former models. O'Toole played Lana Lang in Superman 3. Smallville was very good with those kind of callbacks. Other recurring roles went to Margot Kidder and Lynda Carter.)

This everyone-in-town-is-attractive thing is in no way limited to Smallville, of course - somewhere along the way, we stopped seeing anyone but models on network television. Some odd by-product of the War on Terror, maybe? Maybe not even an odd one.

Anyway, back to "Spirit." The title is a play on school spirit/ prom activity and what happens to Dawn Stiles after the car crash depicted above. After being thrown from the car near some glowing meteorites, she becomes a ghost, capable of possessing anyone with whom she comes into contact.

First victim: Martha Kent, who runs through her in her truck.
Martha-Dawn heads to the Talon, which is the Smallville equivalent of the Peach Pit/ Central Perk/ The Bronze, and after insulting Lana, switches bodies with her.
When she spots newly-ex-boyfriend Billy, ideas percolate.

Luckily for Billy, Clark intervenes at super-speed to save him. Dawn jumps from student to student to evade him until landing in Harmony.

Harmony-Dawn visits coma-real-world-Dawn at the hospital.

A nurse comes in to tell her to leave, and the camera cuts to Lana, Chloe, and Clark, also at the hospital and beginning to piece together that Dawn is the transferring spirit. The nurse we just saw comes out of the room to tell them that Dawn has died. (No word on Harmony! For the rest of the episode, unless I missed it.) Dawn-nurse keeps a low profile until Lois - who had been complaining about her allergies - comes into the hospital, and Dawn leaps into her.

Despite their correctly figuring out that Dawn's endgame must involve becoming prom queen from beyond the grave -

Clark still plans to sit prom out. I guess when you can get anywhere at superspeed, it's not so important, but it still seemed odd. Chloe's the only one keeping watch? 

Clark's parents are headed to the prom as chaperones, and he confesses the truth: he only ever wanted to go to prom with Lana Lane. Since that's not happening, he'll hang around at home, play Tetris, and watch Hee Haw. (Or whatever Clark does.) His Mom tells him she rented him a tux "just in case." 

Which is good because no sooner do they leave when Lois-Dawn slinks down the stairs and whisks him away to the prom.
Wink wink, nudge nudge.
Clark doesn't at first realize Dawn's possessed Lois.
But when Chloe is announced as prom queen and she gives her speech with the same Dawn-erisms we've seen all episode, he realizes what's happened.
Lois, like all of Dawn's victims after she's moved to someone else, can remember nothing. She wakes to find herself gussied up and at the prom with Clark.

When Dawn-Chloe tells the crowd that the person who should have won was their fallen comrade Dawn-Dawn, the crowd hisses and chants "Chlo-e! Chlo-e! Chlo-e!" Okay sure, no one liked Dawn, but this seems a tad much. Didn't she die, like, the day before? And where are her Dawnettes? Who cares. Clark makes the usual excuses and goes after Dawn-Chloe when she storms off to rejoin the pre-credits sequence.

Things move pretty quickly from this point. Allow me to switch over to the plot summary here

"Clark finds Jonathan and explains what's going on. Clark prevents her from starting the fire. She grabs him instead and transfers her spirit into Clark's body."
"Chloe is restored to normal, while Clark plucks the tiara off her head and pushes her across the room."
"Jonathan uses a chunk of meteor rock to incapacitate Clark and force Dawn's spirit out."

A quick interjection - the oil is still pouring out onto the floor, but at no point does Clark use his super-breath to put out the burning mop, which lies discarded perilously close to the gathering pool. Presumably someone moves it, or puts out the flame, but I kept waiting for someone to address it. Again, perhaps I missed it.

Back upstairs, Lana shows up after all.
Roll credits. (More Lifehouse!)

Not sure why there's no Prom King? Maybe they announced it while Clark was running after Chloe. 

It's a fun episode. As per usual, I probably overdid it with screencaps. This site isn't optimized for mobile, so if you're looking at this on your hand-held or tablet, I hope it doesn't look too sprawling. Looks sprawling enough on my PC monitor, so hey, my apologies. Prom tropes include storming off, love triangles, and the revenge of the Mean Girl. 



  1. Ah, "Smallville"...

    I stuck with it about four seasons, as I recall. It never did quite turn the corner for me and become a great show, and eventually, it all felt too mired in sameness. But it had its moments, and I remember liking this episode.

    However, let's forget that and talk about your genius idea of Clark sitting around watching "Hee-Haw." This is cracking me up like you wouldn't believe. I used to see a fair amount of "Hee-Haw" back in the day -- I mean, Christ, I do live in Alabama, after all! -- and when I was a kid, I just hated it. Haaaaaated it; would NOT want to date it. (There's your "Syzygy" tie-in.) But I just watched a couple of clips, and goldarn it if I wasn't laughin' my idjit head off.



    I then imagined Clark a-grinnin' and a-clappin' and a-stompin' his feet, and blowing the raspberry at the end of "You Was Gone" and blowing out a window or something. It's a rerun; he's seen it before, he just can't help himself.

  2. One thing I've enjoyed about this prom-episodes series of posts is that the episodes don't all seem to be just the same thing. I don't know that that is terribly surprising, since all the shows are (mostly) very different; but it seems as if the shows pretty much just used prom-related ideas to tell their own kind of stories. Kind of cool, really.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the "Hee Haw" joke. That was making me chuckle as well. "Clark! CLARK! Where the hell is he??" (cut to the scene you describe, Clark wholly engaged... "thhhhbbbbt!!")

      I'm enjoying that aspect of this series as well. It'd be one thing if every show's prom episode was just about the prom, but instead each series seems to use it as a familiar cultural touchstone while appropriating it as a vehicle of their own. I guess that's like any other "familiar cultural touchstone" episode, but yeah, kind of cool.

      As for Smallville, the charge of sameness is definitely fair. (All of these Wb/CW shows have a sort of sameness - I don't quite know what it is, beyond sort of looking the same, or having the same sort of model-actors in similarly-lit sets with similar color schemes, etc.) But I was impressed with how much actual Superman mythos they worked into the show while always seeming like they weren't following the comics at all. Outside of Byrne's brief era with the character, the only Superman I really care about is the old school stuff, and that seemed to be the conceptual terrain the Smallville folks were mining. So, I liked that part of it. I've got season 8 earmarked as my December spare-moment-TV background watchin'.

      Haven't had as much time for that during the weeknights as Dawn and I are taking advantage of new sleeping patterns to check out "True Detective." Only 3 episodes of s1 left - we're moving at super-speed compared to our past-couple-of-years selves!

    2. (Which re: our watching True Detective, I know you're already aware of, of course, I'm just so amazed we're actually moving through the discs that I keep repeating myself. More than usual!)