Tony Lazlo gives his post-mortem on the show’s series finale – and looks back fondly on its long run.
SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD!
The CW’s Smallville wrapped up a surprisingly strong 10th season with a finale that put a lousy season-long storyline out of its misery while still delivering the goods that the show’s fans would expect after 10 years – meaning, the costume.
For the record, I watched Smallville in fits and bursts over the years. There are a full four seasons’-worth of content I’ve missed, but I watched almost all of the final three seasons, and I watched all of the 10th-season episodes as soon as they aired. So here are some random thoughts about the finale, as well as the show’s final season.
• Darkseid was disappointing. For the whole season. Looking back at the final season, why did they even promote Darkseid as the villain? Most of this season’s episodes (as I remember ‘em at least) were standalones, and even though I enjoyed them – “Homecoming” was especially good – it didn’t feel like Darkseid was a presence at all.
I suppose that raises the question of how you present Darkseid in a Smallville-esque setting, and I think the showrunners’ biggest mistake was to present Darkseid exactly as he appeared in the comics – which meant they had to throw a fully-CG (and fully cheesy) representation of the classic Darkseid look onscreen.
Smallville has always trafficked in camp to some degree. I mean, they had Doomsday bust up someone’s wedding, for Crom’s sake. But given how liberally they borrowed from Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis for their Darkseid storyline, why not follow his lead and downplay Darkseid’s appearance? I would’ve been totally happy with a guy in a blue and gray suit. (Hell, I liked Andre Braugher’s voice performance so much in the animated Superman/Batman: Apocalypse – why not just cast him?)
• Was Ollie armed with Link’s silver arrows when he slayed Darkseid’s minions? One of them was Granny Goodness. Isn’t she a New God? (He says while thumbing his glasses back onto the bridge of his pimply nose.)
• Am I right in thinking that Clark just pushed Apokalips out of the way? Superman’s even more powerful than I thought.
• It’s too bad they couldn’t have pulled a Joss Whedon with Darkseid. One of the potential problems with Darkseid as a villain is that he’s not much for plotting and scheming and skulking. He’s a man (or a New God) of swift action. He’ll decide that he wants to turn the universe into hell, and then he’ll just do it. Meaning that he would prove challenging to keep around (and keep active) for a whole season.
Smallville isn’t the kind of show that could sustain that sort of narrative intensity for a full season – but then again, neither was Buffy, and yet, Whedon always found a way to execute season-long storylines that kept his archvillains in the foreground. Buffy season five would’ve been a good model for Smallville season 10. Heck, both Glory and Darkseid are demigods.
• Enough of the bad stuff. It was great to see Michael Rosenbaum again. Rosenbaum is probably still my favorite onscreen Lex, although I also liked John Shea on Lois and Clark. They gave Lex a couple of strong scenes, and I applauded the choice to kill off Tess – and not because I disliked her character. I enjoyed Cassidy Freeman’s performance, but they had to kill someone in the finale, and as long as they weren’t going to whack Chloe, it pretty much had to be Tess and Lionel Luthor.
• President Lex Luthor. Yet another nice shout-out to the comics.
• Richard Donner’s and John Williams’ influence on the Superman mystique remains pervasive. How wonderful was it that they were able to get Williams’ classic score for the final scenes? It’s funny – as much as I’m looking forward to Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel, I can’t help but think that he’s going to have to jettison the entire Donner/Williams canon of imagery and music in order for his movie to truly be a reboot of Superman. Bryan Singer tried to keep the Donner Superman legacy alive and wound up with an inert movie.
But Smallville has always been about celebrating the entire world of Superman, a quality best seen in the showrunners’ commitment to casting as many Superman alums as possible: Terrence Stamp, Helen Slater, Annette O’Toole, Dean Cain, Teri Hatcher – and even the great Christopher Reeve himself.
So needless to say, it was fitting for the show to use Williams’ score and recall the aesthetic of the old Donner movies in its final scenes.
• Where will comics fans go now? Yes, yes, yes – I know that there are countless comic-book movies coming out. I know that Marvel is assembling a grand onscreen universe, and if Geoff Johns and the rest of the DC brass have their way, the DC universe will unite onscreen, too.
But Smallville – for all of its cheesiness, for all of its goofiness – presented a unified onscreen comic-book universe on a grander scale than anything seen before. For better or for worse, it did. And I’m sorry to see it go. As much as the show felt like a guilty pleasure for me, I always got a kick of seeing an obscure character from the DCU appear onscreen wearing a sex’ed-up, leathery, CW-friendly version of their comic-book costume. I got a kick out of the countless in-jokes about the DCU.
I also deeply enjoyed the performances of the lead actors. Erica Durance wound up being my favorite onscreen Lois ever. As said, Rosenbaum’s my favorite Lex. (Side note: As much as I liked Michael McKean’s Perry White, the Superman franchise will be hard-pressed to ever top Lane Smith, the southern-fried Perry from Lois and Clark.)
And Tom Welling. Where does he fit in? Well, if you’re asking me, I feel like the Superman character falls neatly into three sections:
Superman. This is the guy with the cape and tights who leads the JLA and saves the day. This is also a largely invented persona used to protect the Man of Steel’s loved ones. He sees the earth as his proudly adopted home.
Clark. For my money, the persona that’s closest to the center of the character’s personality. This guy grew up in Smallville and was raised by a pair of fantastic adopted parents who instilled him with a true-blue sense of right and wrong.
Kal-El. The last son of Krypton. Memorably portrayed in the opening scenes of Kingdom Come, this is the alien (and alienated) creature who grieves over the loss of his homeworld and broods in his fortress of solitude.
Over the years, different actors have captured different parts of these three sections with varying levels of skill. Dean Cain made a great Clark, but only a middling Superman. Brandon Routh was a middling Clark and Superman, but he was a great Kal-El. Christopher Reeve remains the gold standard for Clark and Superman, although he never really got to play Kal-El.
Welling got to play all three. To be sure, the show was always about Clark – and therefore, very heavy on Clark – but Welling did a great job of playing all three sides of the Superman character, and he did it for 10 years. Kudos.
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.