“Duplicity” is episode three of Smallville’s sophomore season, and in my eyes, it’s one of the best episodes in the series so far if you’re looking to understand what makes Superman … Superman.
In this episode, Pete Ross, played by Sam Jones III, helps a guy who is run off the side of the road by Dr. Steven Hamilton, played by Joe Morton, and in so doing, he discovers Clark Kent/Superman’s spaceship. Pete, not knowing that Clark is Superman, tells him about the spaceship thinking they’ll be rich and famous for this discovery. But Clark is obviously freaking out and doesn’t want his secret revealed.
All of this results in Clark feeling like he has no choice but to tell Pete his secret: He’s Superman. Pete flips out, peeved that Clark had been lying all this time. But eventually, Dr. Hamilton, who wants to show the spaceship to Lex Luthor, catches up with Pete and threatens him.
The scene where Dr. Hamilton is threatening Pete reveals one of the first aspects of what makes Superman … Superman.
1.) Superman’s friends and family.
That’s the true secret behind Superman is that he has friends and family who support him unconditionally and protect him. And though they are human, like Pete, they are literally willing to lay their life down for Superman. That’s courageous and admirable, and I’m such a geek, it gives me chills writing it.
And contrary to what people think about Superman (he’s too powerful), this is what makes Superman so human and relatable is the human connections he’s formed with his parents, his friends and his lover, Lois Lane. The fight for “truth, justice and the American way,” isn’t just a fight that Superman wages.
When Superman does arrive on the scene to save Pete, Dr. Hamilton is in danger of dying, and even though Clark is hurting himself (he’s exposed to kryptonite), he still tries to save Dr. Hamilton. Pete asks him later why he would do that since Dr. Hamilton was trying to expose his secret and even kill him. Clark responds that he can’t let anyone die, even the bad people.
2.) Superman saves everyone.
That’s the second ethos that makes Superman … Superman. He saves everyone, even the villains who are trying to literally kill him. And that’s because the Superman ethos is that he can’t let anyone die. A Superman against capital punishment is my kind of Superman and superhero.
There are more reasons for what makes Superman … Superman, but I thought this episode showed extraordinarily well what Superman and his family and friends are all about.
3.) Superman is Superman even without his super powers.
I’ll do one more from a different episode that stands out. In the first season, episode 12, “Leech,” due to a lightning strike with Eric Summers, played by Shawn Ashmore, Clark/Superman ends up giving his powers to Summers, and as such, becoming human.
Because Summers didn’t have Jonathan and Martha Kent as parents, he’s not quite equipped to handle those super powers like Clark is. But what makes Superman … Superman, is that he’s Superman even without the powers. That’s another aspect of Superman people who don’t like him overlook. Being Superman is defined by more than merely the super powers he has. It’s a mindset. It’s an ethos.
Like in this episode. Even without his super strength, speed, and x-ray vision (he didn’t have any of his other powers yet), Clark is willing to jump into the fray and risk it all to do what’s right still. And he does that by going up against the bad Superman in Summers here.
I love this show so much.