Determined to find out where he came from, Clark travels to New York to meet Dr. Swann, a brilliant scientist who holds a message for Clark from his home planet. Meanwhile Lana decides to move out of Chloe's house after the two girls get into another argument about Clark.
→ see also Category:Screencaps from episode 2x17
Clark is having a dream of flying through the skies of Smallville into the Kawatche Caves. He stops in front of the circular etching surrounding the keyhole, stands upright, and puts the key into the hole. When he touches it, a burst of light wakes him up and he is confused to find himself in the middle of the road in his pajamas. A car speeds toward Clark, stopping just short of hitting him. Lex gets out, confused to find Clark in the middle of the road.
He gives Clark a ride home, and when Clark tries to sneak in his parents catch him and ask where he's been all night. Clark tells them about the strange dreams and says he believes the caves are calling out to him, trying to give him answers. Jonathan tells Clark that it is dangerous, but Clark wants to find out more.
Dr. Walden arrives at the Luthor Mansion, and Lex questions his decisions regarding the caves, thinking Dr. Walden is cutting him out of the process. He says the State Preservation Society is objecting to Dr. Walden's intention to remove a section of the cave wall and is on the verge of revoking LexCorp's custodianship of the caves. Lex believes his father is behind it. Dr. Walden says he is on the verge of a major breakthrough and Lex gives him three days to show results before he fires him.
At school that day, Pete is enthusiastic about a family tree project they've been assigned, but Chloe, Clark, and Lana are all collectively objecting because their families are so complicated. Lana suggests they get together at the Talon to start on it, but just then, Clark begins to hear a high-pitched ringing. He clutches his head, but Lana and Chloe don't hear anything. The noise continues and Clark doubles over in pain, says that he has to leave, and stumbles out. Looking worried and puzzled, Lana and Chloe watch him go.
Clark follows the noise to his barn where he finds it emanating from the key, glowing in its hiding spot in the tackle box. It stops glowing and ringing when Clark picks it up. He then goes to the caves and stands in front of the octagonal recess. When he holds the key out in front of him, the key flies into the recess and the symbols around it realign while shining red, yellow, and blue. A burst of energy shoots through Clark, lifting him into the air. When the beam stops, Clark collapses. Once again, Lex discovers Clark under unusual circumstances. Lex shakes Clark awake. He is disoriented. Dr. Walden appears and asks Clark how he got past the guard. Having found Clark unconscious twice in one day, Lex is worried and tells Clark he needs to get checked out. Clark says he just needs to get home and leaves. When he's gone, Dr. Walden tells Lex that Clark surely knows more than he admits.
Chloe is just finishing up at the Torch when Lana asks to borrow her computer. She leaves and Lana starts downloading her homework. She sees a download labeled "CK." Lana clicks it out of curiosity and finds photographs of Clark and Chloe at last year's spring formal. Chloe returns to see Lana looking at the pictures and gets upset that she is snooping. Lana is genuinely sorry, but Chloe is too upset to listen. She declares the Torch office off-limits and Lana leaves. As she is walking away, Chloe tells Lana that she did tell Clark how she felt about him when he was sick, but he murmured Lana's name in his sleep.
While Clark and Jonathan are loading hay in the pickup, Clark reports that he stopped having the dream. They talk about the new baby and Jonathan assures Clark that it will be a big adjustment, but a happy one. Martha comes out and Jonathan turns to go when Clark hears the ringing again. Suddenly his heat vision activates and he burns the side of the barn uncontrollably. When it stops, he and his dad rush to put the fire out just as Chloe drives up to take Clark to school. All four are shocked to see a Kryptonian symbol burned into the barn wall. Chloe takes a photograph. Jonathan covers the symbol up with boards and they send Chloe away. Clark feels guilty for almost burning the barn down and informs his parents that the symbol means "hope". Martha and Jonathan are surprised that he can read it, and Clark reluctantly admits that he put the key in the wall and it "downloaded" him with the language. Clark thinks that the key disintegrated. Jonathan is concerned that Lex and Dr. Walden found him down there, but Clark says that to find the truth is worth the risk.
At the Talon, Clark is ostensibly doing his family tree worksheet, but he is really practicing his Kryptonian writing skills, putting symbols in the blanks for "father" and "mother," when Lana approaches. She admits that she and Chloe are not talking right now over a breach of privacy. Clark quickly assumes that Chloe is at fault, but is surprised to learn that it was, in fact, Lana snooping. Lana still feels guilty and says the incident reminds her that she isn't part of anybody's family. Clark tells her that he's been researching his roots and Lana advises he shouldn't stop. She notices the symbols on his family tree and Clark abruptly crumples it up, throws it away, and leaves. Lex arrives, and he and Lana are confused at Clark's hasty exit. Lex sees Clark's crumpled drawings and takes it with him. He shows it to Dr. Walden, who doubts that Clark could have deciphered the symbols. Lex shows him a photograph of the burned barn on the cover of the Smallville Torch but Dr. Walden says it's a hoax. Lex insists that something happened to Clark and tells Dr. Walden to work with him, saying he might be the Rosetta Stone he needs to decipher the language.
Clark is annoyed at Chloe for publishing the story because people have shown up to see the barn symbol. Chloe is not very apologetic because she thinks it is intriguing and deserves to be investigated. Clark myopically says he'll let it go if Chloe forgives Lana for snooping. Chloe refuses to let Clark save Lana from this. Their argument is interrupted when Chloe discovers she has dozens of identical emails from someone named "V. Swann", but they are all for Clark. They open the email, which is Chloe's picture of the barn wall, the word HOPE under it, and the message "I have something for you". Clark gets Pete to bring his laptop to his loft so he can contact Swann without Chloe or his parents looking over his shoulder. He gets an instant message back from Swann that says "I'm a friend" in Kryptonian.
Dr. Walden finds the key wedged sideways in the wall of the cave and puts it in the hole. Clark arrives to see a burst of energy throw Dr. Walden back and when he rushes over to revive him, he quickly pockets the key. Dr. Walden is taken to the hospital completely catatonic, with cataracts over his eyes. Lex is there and questions Clark about his involvement with the three recent strange events in the caves. He is convinced Clark can read the language, showing him the family tree worksheet. Clark doesn't admit to anything, but Lex admits he believes that language is alien. Just then, a courier arrives with a letter for Clark, but Clark waits until he is alone to open it. It is a postcard from Virgil Swann, with another Kryptonian symbol and Swann's address in New York. Lex later learns that Dr. Walden's brain was fried from a sort of "information overload" and he will likely not regain consciousness.
Chloe informs Clark that Dr. Virgil Swann is a brilliant but reclusive physicist and has a company that maintains extensive space communication devices. He sold his company, donated his millions to charity, and currently devotes himself to searching for intelligent life in the universe. She tells Clark that the address is the New York Planetarium. Chloe guesses that Swann thinks the symbol on Clark's barn is important and urges Clark to find out why. Later, Chloe finds Lana at their home packing up her things. She doesn't want her to leave and apologizes for overreacting. She shows Lana her family tree, in which she has put Lana's name under the blank titled "sister," saying her family tree should contain the people that love her, instead of the people that aren't there. Lana is touched and she and Chloe make up.
Clark's parents object to his going to see Dr. Swann, saying that all anybody wants to do with Clark's secret is exploit him, but Clark insists that he can't rest until he learns more about his origins. In New York City, Clark meets Dr. Swann, who received a message thirteen years ago, the day of the meteor shower in the form of an encrypted transmission. He found the mathematical key to decrypt the message. Since then, he has been wondering what happened to the infant until he saw the symbol on the barn in Kansas and learned that couple who lived there had adopted a little boy. He assures Clark that he does not want to expose him, he just wants to know the truth. Clark turns to leave and Dr. Swann tells him that if he is satisfied, that's fine, but he will not have another opportunity to learn the rest of the transmission.
Clark is unable to contain his curiosity and Dr. Swann shows him the rest of the message. Swann reveals that he followed the message's origin from a planet called Krypton, but found nothing, only a space where it used to be. Clark is dismayed to realize that he is probably the only Kryptonian left.
Back in Smallville, Jonathan finds Clark in the storm cellar contemplating the ship. He offers to listen if Clark wants to talk and Clark admits that he now knows that he's totally alone. Jonathan tries to reassure him and Clark tells him that he figured out the other piece to the ship—it is the heart, but he didn't want to try inserting it alone. He puts the key into the ship and it opens. When he inserts the heart, another Kryptonian message appears. Clark says it's a message from his biological father, but he must be reading it wrong. Clark is horrified to learn that he was sent to Earth to conquer the human race. He starts to panic and Jonathan repeats Dr. Swann's advice that Clark must write his own destiny. Despite Jonathan's reassurances, Clark looks uneasy.
The Kryptonian messages included in the episode are "real", using the official Kryptonian alphabet from DC Comics, which has a one-to-one character transliteration for all 26 letters of the alphabet and is provided to the Smallville production staff by DC Comics. Sometimes the letters are seen in a linear string, like Dr. Swann's screen. Alternately, the show's art department stylizes the individual Kryptonian letters into one character to represent a word (like the symbol for "hope" seen in this episode, or the symbol for "crusade" seen in Covenant)
Note: the Kryptonian symbol for "hope" contains the Kryptonian symbol for "fire", which later in Crusade is seen in the Crystal of Fire.
Swann's full transmission reads:
- This is Kal-El of Krypton, our infant son, our last hope. Please protect him and deliver him from evil. We will be with you, Kal-El, for all the days of your life.
On this third planet from this star Sol, you'll be a god among men. They are a flawed race. Rule them with strength, my son. That is where your greatness lies.
- Tom Welling as Clark Kent
- Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang
- Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor
- Sam Jones III as Pete Ross
- Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan
- John Glover as Lionel Luthor (credit only)
- Annette O'Toole as Martha Kent
- John Schneider as Jonathan Kent
Special Appearance By
- Barclay Hope as Doctor
- Joe MacLeod as Delivery Boy
- "Leaving Town Alive" - Pancho's Lament
- "The Scientist" - Coldplay
- "Nuclear" - Ryan Adams
- "Satellite" - Kid Lightning
- "Superman Theme"- John Williams
- "The Fortress of Solitude" - John Williams
- The Rosetta Stone, an ancient stone tablet with the same passage written in Egyptian hieroglyphic, Demotic Egyptian, and classical Greek. It made it possible to translate the entire Egyptian language, and nothing like it has ever been found to translate any other ancient language.
- The title refers to the encrypted Kryptonian transmission found by Dr. Swann.
- Clark uses the following abilities in this episode: super strength, heat vision and Flight (dream).
- Lionel Luthor does not appear in this episode.
- In this episode, Clark dreams of flying to the Kawatche Caves and woke up in the middle of Route 8, apparently having flown there in his sleep.
- This is the first episode in the entire series to have no real antagonist, not even a disease to fight against. Instead, conflict arises from the effects the key is having on Clark, Clark's arguments with his parents about finding out more of his alien heritage, suspicions of Dr. Swann (who turns out to be nothing but helpful), Lex Luthor and Dr. Walden getting more suspicious of Clark (and while both men later become antagonists, they do nothing hostile in this episode), and from the final alarming message from Kal-El's ship.
- As many viewers know, Christopher Reeve's portrayal of Dr. Swann is significant because Reeve portrayed Superman in Superman: The Movie and its sequels. Swann's backstory is referenced as someone who gained prominence during the 70's, a nod to Reeve's blossoming career after his appearance in the 1978 Superman film. The episode contains many strains of John Williams' original movie score.
- At the end of the episode, Tom Welling and Christopher Reeve star in a PSA for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Reeve was paralyzed in 1995 in a horseback riding accident and worked tirelessly to expand paralysis treatment options in hopes of a cure until his death in 2004.
- Virgil Swan's address is V.S. Room 434 939 Walnut 54th Street, New York, New York. His email address is V_swann@thedigitalwave.com
- Chloe compares Virgil Swann to Howard Hughes a brilliant, eccentric, billionaire aviator, and J.D. Salinger a reclusive author. In addition, Swann's character is similar to Stephen Hawking, a British physicist who studies theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity and is also severely disabled due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig's Disease.
- This is the first time that Krypton is mentioned in the series.
- This is the first episode in which Clark's Kryptonian name Kal-El is mentioned.
- The idea that Superman might be destined to rule the world as a tyrant was the theme of a comics story line titled Absolute Power. This storyline played out in a comic titled Superman/Batman (issues #14-18). Summary: time travelers kill all the members of the Justice League, except for young versions of Superman and Batman. They kidnap these two heroes and raise them as their own children. They are taught to become ruthless, murderous dictators. In the end, they restore the timeline, but they are haunted by the lives they once lived. .
- This was also the theme of the unpublished 1933 Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster story "Reign of the Super-Man" which led to the development of the original heroic Superman concept.
- Chloe mentions that Virgil Swann is often referred to as "The Man of Tomorrow", a nickname sometimes given to Superman.
- Some letters in Lana's e-mail are signed by Megan Poss and Dustin Farrell. Megan Poss is an assistant art director and set designer of some "Smallville" episodes since the first season. Dustin Farrell is Art Director (and sometimes he is an assistant art director) for some episodes since the sixth season.
- In the comics, the Kryptonian symbol for hope is the House of El symbol, not the symbol shown in this episode. 
- Virgil Swann's line "We all have our windmills" may be a reference to Don Quixote by Cervantes. A two part novel written in the 1600s about a middle aged knight searching for adventure that fights ferocious giants that are in fact windmills. Don Quixote was also referenced more directly in Shattered.
- The photographs that Lana is snooping into were of Chloe and Clark at the Spring Formal in Tempest, and the ones Chloe chose not to delete in Vortex.
- Chloe refers to when Clark was sick, which happened in the episode Fever.
- Dr. Walden was last seen in Rush.
- This episode marks the 5th appearance of Clark's Red jacket/Blue shirt outfit.
- Lex later showed Kara Kent a photograph of the Kryptonian symbol burned into the Kents' barn in Season Seven's Hero.
- Dr. Swann returns to give Clark advice in Legacy.
- Dr. Walden wakes up from his coma in Calling.
- Dr. Swann speculates about certain doom scenarios which could have happened on Krypton. The true reason that led to Krypton's destruction will be revealed years later when Kara Kent comes to town in Kara.
- Jor-El's Rule them with strength message is referenced by Jor-El in Lazarus. His dialogue in that episode makes it clear that he did not mean that Clark was supposed to conquer Earth.
In the Comics
- In one comic, Clark is given a scrap of parchment. He is told that it was found in his hand when he was a baby. It was written in Kryptonian and read: Whoever on the planet Earth finds this, please care for my baby as you would your own signed by Lara, wife of Jor-El. 
- New York City
- New York Planetarium
- Chloe: (about the family tree project) There's just so many variables to take into account. Like, what if your mother abandoned you? Is that branch of your family tree technically cut off?
- Lana: Yeah, and what if your biological father comes back into the picture? Which family do you claim?
- Clark: What if you're adopted?
- Pete: Okay, I get the point but, is it my fault that I'm part of a nuclear family? Is it? Later.
- Chloe: Unfortunately for the rest of us, our nuclear family was nuked years ago.
- Lana: Chloe, I'm sorry.
- Chloe: Don't look at me like that.
- Lana: Like what way?
- Chloe: Like I'm some lovesick loser who's trying to hang onto something that she never had.
- Lana: Well, if you have feelings for Clark, maybe you should just tell him.
- Chloe: This isn't about me and Clark. This is about you violating my privacy. This office and everything in it is now-off limits. (Lana walks out)
- Chloe: Oh, and by the way...I did tell Clark how I felt. I poured my heart out to him when he was sick, and in his delirium the one name he called out, was Lana.
- Clark: Can I tell you a secret?
- Lana: That would be a first!
- Clark: I've been looking into my roots, and it's freaking my parents out, but I think I'm getting close to finding out where I'm from.
- Lana: Then you shouldn't stop.
- Chloe: I mean, this guy has so much hardware in space that "Scientific American" dubbed him the "Man of Tomorrow".
- Dr. Swann: Hello, Clark. I've been expecting you.
- Clark: Dad, I have got all of these questions, and I can't leave them in the storm cellar anymore. Why'd my parents put me in that ship? What was so bad that they had to send me away? I have to do this.
- Jonathan: Then let's go together, we'll go as a family.
- Clark: Dad, I have to go alone. It's the only way. But no matter what I find out, it's not going to change the way I feel about you. You're still going to be my mom and dad.
- Clark: Why me? There must be a reason I was sent to this planet.
- Dr. Swann: You won't find the answers by looking at the stars. It's a journey you'll have to take by looking inside yourself. You must write your own destiny, Kal-El.
- The Kryptonese Language Project
- Kryptonian Guide on Ezrasmall.com
- KryptonSite gallery of official episode stills
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