Final Smallville Thoughts

The concept behind Smallville was brilliant. A Clark Kent-centric series for young adults that showed how the boy became a man and mastered both his powers and his destiny. Early on, despite the rhythmic meteor-derived villain of the week, the show had some strong performances and terrific writing. The dance between Clark and Lex Luthor was a delight, especially after Lex got a glimpse of his own future, a white-clad president of the United States.

More was said with less during these early seasons thanks to a strong writing staff that was the envy of the DC Comics editorial staff.  When they smartly cast Christopher Reeve as Dr. Swan in the second season, and Clark first learned of Krypton, and you heard the first stirring notes from John Williams’ classic score, we all got goose bumps. They got it right.

The problem, though, was that they cast a wee bit too old so by the fourth season, they couldn’t shoot in Smallville High anymore because they no longer could pass for high school students. The show’s success also became a creative challenge that proved tougher to handle with every passing episode. While the meteor-freaks dwindled in number, the newer threats were less compelling and the personal dramas began to feel recycled.

One by one, the regulars drifted away so we waved goodbye to Pete Ross, depriving Clark of a male peer until he began crossing paths with, of all people, Green Arrow. Then we watched as Pa Kent died, leaving Clark and Ma bereft and suddenly Clark’s moral center was cracked. Lana was possessed spiritually or figuratively more times than I can count and she wound up in a loveless marriage with Lex for most of a bad season. Lex himself finally vanished only to be revealed later to have survived and was kept on a life-support system (a thread seemingly forgotten by the final season).

But by bit, we got to watch the birth of a vaguely familiar DC Universe as we met Green Arrow, Aquaman, Zatanna, and more. It was especially cool the first time five of these heroes banded together to face a common threat. In time, though, this grew unwieldy and they were more often referred to and unseen, adding story logic complications. Once the Justice Society of America was added to the mythos, indicating there were heroes a generation before Clark, it robbed him of that uniqueness of being first (a complication similarly haunting the proper DCU since the multiple Earths concept was introduced).

Clark tried college but wound up in Metropolis bereft of a degree and wound up regaining Lana only to lose her once and for all as Lois stepped up to the forefront. Meantime, Pa’s influence waned in favor of the artificial intelligence pretending to be a Jor-El I have never once recognized. The cruel manipulations plus the AI’s comings and goings have been absurd along with a computer’s ability to take away Clark’s innate abilities.

After the initial writing staff turned over and the founding producers moved on, the series grew erratic. Entire seasons made no sense and opportunities were wasted. Structurally, great threats arrived only to be dispatched with a punch or a timely appearance to block a bullet. Characterizations came and went with the wardrobe, with Tess Mercer, Lex’s replacement foil, the most ill-served. Was she evil? Was she a religious convert? A Wall street whiz? Depended on the episode.

The clumsy characterizations were hampered by increasingly erratic writing as red kryptonite or evil doppelgangers continued the show moving forward without going anywhere. They needed some psychological mumbo=-jumbo to explain why he could not yet fly while Kara, his cousin, could.

The show regained some momentum with the eighth, ninth and tenth seasons but even so, episode to episode internal logic remained elusive. Increasingly disappointing was the appropriation of non-Superman-centric elements that got shoehorned in. The Legion? Terrific use. Checkmate and Amanda Waller? Not so much, especially as they seemed to have vanished entirely when the world needed them the most in the final season.

With 22 episodes, one would have expected the writing staff to carefully map it all out, knowing that in the final hour, Clark needed to embrace his destiny, finally put on the tights, and fly off into the sunset. Instead, we got distraction upon distraction with the Suicide Squad, Slade Wilson, the hunt against heroes, America being turned into a police state for an hour or two and then the worst decision: introducing a parallel universe. The Mirror Universe seemed to fill time and contribute nothing save a reintroduction of the much-missed Lionel Luthor into the mix and then they did nothing with him.

The threat, hinted at during the final episodes of the ninth season, was Darkseid, seemingly unleashed from the Phantom Zone in exchange for General Zod’s defeat. Things looked promising this final season as Granny Goodness, Glorious Godfrey, and DeSaad all showed up here and there, stirring the pot. We saw Darkseid’s presence like a gloomy black cloud spreading across the globe. Had the final season dealt with darkness versus light and really explored this, it could have been tremendous.

By the time we got to the final episodes, it was too late. The threat had dissipated in importance and you could tell the final two hour episode, which aired last night, would be rushed hodge-podge of wrapping things up. That Clark could defeat the terrible Darkseid by flying through the reanimated corpse of Lionel makes little sense, much as the impending collision of Earth and Apokolips seemed way too easily stopped. With a new gravitational threat to Earth, the idea that the President would be flying anywhere made no sense, much as Lois’ speech to the advisors lacked passion and logic.

Clark finally donned the suit, handed to him by Pa Kent’s ghost and with Jor-El’s final blessing, and viewers are robbed of seeing him standing tall. We got glimpses, we got cheesy CGI, but we never got the money shot. (And if you’re giving out tips of the hat, rather than have Clark on the roof for the final scene, I would have much preferred him dashing into the Daily Planet’s store room.)

The series started with tremendous promise and ended with a whimper. Just before the priest said, “I now declare you man and wife”, Clark had to go stop Darkseid. Fine. Nicely dramatic. But, why on Earth did it take them seven more years to actually complete the ceremony? It once more makes no freaking sense! The frame of Chloe (also horribly misused this final episode) reading to her and Oliver’s son about Superman’s legend, was cute but does this now mean there’s a comic revealing Clark’s identity? It certainly does by revealing it all started in Smallville. Plus, it’s 2018 and Lex was elected president, which is not an election year, and this means the rebuilt lifeform, with mirror-Lionel’s heart, has been allowed to operate to regain the public’s trust? You’re left to wonder, I suppose. I merely shrugged; deeply disappointed at the wasted opportunity of knowing this is your last hurrah.

3 comments

  • While I can’t dispute your list of “Smallville”‘s flaws (“The Saga of the Mystical Tramp Stamp” was especially painful), there was also something charming and compelling about the series, upon which I cannot quite put my finger. It did keep me watching for a decade, though.

    Even while rolling one’s eyes at the revelation that the current episode was just another ‘freak-of-the-week’ show, we’d also discover that the writer’s had slipped in a bit of mythology or foreshadowing that kept many of us coming back for more.

    And then, of course, until Rosenbaum left, there was the endless joy to be found in mocking all the ‘Clex’ subtext, both real and imagined.

    As a fan of SFX, I was impressed, more often than not, with the CGI used on the show. Bummer that the Clark-in-The-Suit FX in the finale were so, so bad.

    As to the differences between “Smallville” continuity and that of the DCU proper, I’ve always said it was best to approach the show as one big-ass Elseworlds tale. In that context, most of the nitpickers can be easily pooh-poohed away.

    I WILL disagree with you on one point: I thought tapping the multiverse for a replacement Lionel was a great idea. Anything to get John Glover back onto the show.

    All in all, I had fun with “Smallville,” and felt quite satisfied with most of the finale. Especially the fact that they popped for the rights to the Williams theme. Omitting that WOULD have been unforgivable. The tweaking of the producer credits at the very end was one last easter egg that really made me smile.

    So, before I close, I would ask how you would have wrapped up the show. Care to expound?

    My two cents.

    • Since you asked: the entire season should have been about Clark accepting is destiny set against the threat from Darkseid. If his agents have been on earth for decades, then he has targeted the planet long before and was awaiting his release to finally arrive and seek his anti-life equation. Meantime, Granny, Godfrey, and DeSaad would have reaped the seeds they had sown, causing fear and dissent among the masses. The whole “masked hero” concern could have been ratcheted up globally, and personally through Cat’s opinions.

      Clark’s inherent cautiousness and focus on the travails of his friends, including the slow corruption of Ollie, blinds him to the growing domestic and international threat. By the November sweeps episodes, the American legislation empowering law-enforcement to corral the heroes would have been enacted and we watch with growing horror as several of Clark’s allies go off the grid. Darkseid’s on Earth and exacerbates the corruption as he seeks the humans who possess the pieces of the equation including maybe Ollie, maybe Chloe.

      By the February sweeps episodes, Clark’s bumbling persona has been clearly established to throw suspicion away from himself but there would be an inciting incident that causes him to finally wake up and see that people need a symbol of hope. He needs to finally accept his heroic destiny, his need to go public and becomes a rallying point for an underground resistance movement.

      All of this would build up to a climax where Clark and the other heroes (coordinated by Chloe from Watchtower) stage a global uprising as they bit by bit restore light where Darkseid has thrown shadow. First, Clark restores Ollie’ faith in himself, then the American government recognizes their mistakes. Granny, DeSaad and Gdofrey are taken down (Giving Tess some revenge against her) until finally, it’s just Clark and Darkseid going mano a mano. Upon defeating the threat and ending the darkness, he goes to Fortress, is told by Jor-El his final test has been passed and the uniform and responsibility are his.

      Superman flies over Metropolis, a blur no more, and the people cheer. Clark and Lois marry. And then, as Clark hears a cry for help, he rushes into action. The last scene would be a crowd shot of citizens pointing and crying, “Look up into the sky…”

  • gordon

    As a writer, you see the show through those eyes and have highlighted the many weaknesses (I forgot Lex married Lana–yow, that was some bad soap opera stuff!) What got me through were some strong, charming acting (especially Lex, Chloe and the fantastic Lois), fine production values and the increasing ties to the DCU. I never got that upset with the show because I wasn’t the target audience–it was aimed for teens and 20 year olds, especially women. The show generally improved, partly because it started accepted some of the hero stuff–and partly because the lead actor got a lot better as an actor.
    The story could be weak–people hiding secrets to drive the plots, and you always knew they would resolve the story with a quick fight 10 minutes before the hour’s end–then a commercial and a soft tie up to the story. It’s the opposite of comics–pages of fighting, a page to wrap it all up. But it was likable and looked great in HD. I’d rather have a genre program with some flaws than another reality show or procedural. So I ended up with real affection for SMALLVILLE, and I know I’ll miss it!

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