Smallville Series Finale - Big Overture, Little Show!
(WARNING!!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!)
I'll start with a disclaimer and a confession: I stopped watching "Smallville" years ago, around the time the network started using the show to cross-promote its WWE Smackdown program by having WWE wrestlers play Phantom Zone escapees. Since then, I've only watched three episodes (the Legion ep, the first Zatanna ep, and the Booster Gold ep) in their entirety prior to the finale. Any knowledge I had of the events of this season has come primarily from Chris Sims and David Uzimeri's weekly "Smallvillains" installments over at Comics Alliance.
I set the DVR to record the finale Friday while my wife and I watched "Thor" at the theater. (We both enjoyed it immensely. Screw the Avengers, I want a Warriors Three movie!!) I watched the "Smallville" finale Saturday..... and was immediately reminded WHY I stopped watching the show in the FIRST PLACE.
I watched this for the same reason that most people did: 1) To see Clark's showdown with Darkseid, 2) to see Clark actually fly, and 3) to see finally see Clark in the Superman costume. I was disappointed on all counts.
The pacing of the episode was horrendous. This finale could have served as a tutorial for how to needlessly pad a television program. This made reality show final results episodes look quick and efficient by comparison. There's no doubt that many viewers shared the same thought I kept having through the vast majority of this show: "GET...... ON......WITH.....IT!!!!!!!!!!" Say what you will about the "Twilight" movies and their excessive angsting over the Edward/Bella/Jacob triangle, but at least they actually delivered some memorable action sequences. Not so on the "Smallville" finale. Sure, there was ample time for two or three extended speechifying scenes between Clark and Jonathan Kent's ghost, but apparently not enough time to treat "Superman vs. Darkseid" as more than an afterthought.
After the "Previously On..." portion which quickly recapped the entire series and got me up to speed, we see a framing sequence set 7 years later with Chloe Sullivan reading the story of "Smallville" to her son. After that, we're back in the present with the first hour focused on several simultaneous plots. There's the "will they or won't they" question about whether Clark and Lois' impending marriage is still on, as well as the efforts of Tess Mercer aka Lutessa Luthor to notify people that Apokolips, a planet the size of fucking Saturn with fire shooting out of it, is headed towards Earth. It seems that Apokolips has been drawn to Earth by the collective will of the millions of earthlings possessed by Darkseid's Omega mark, one of whom includes
Bruce "Batman" Wayne Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen, who has not only replaced Clark's wedding band with Gold Kryptonite designed to permanently negate his super-powers, but has also shut down the satellite tracking systems of the Watchtower (not the Jehovah's Witnesses group but rather the Justice League's HQ, which is essentially the Birds of Prey Clock Tower lifted clean) in order to prevent them from detecting Apokolips, because apparently otherwise there would have been no way to detect the approach of a planet the size of fucking Saturn with fire shooting out of it heading towards Earth.
Clark and Lois agree they're going to tie the knot after reading each others' wedding vows (with Lois' having been edited and marked up with a red pen - a very nice touch!) and we actually proceed to the wedding scene, at which point I knew that this finale would be really bad.
Why? Because after watching the "Booster" episode, I know that this season Clark and Lois have been taking great pains to cultivate the Clark Kent persona we know and love, a major part of which is having Clark wear horn-rimmed glasses to disguise his face so that he may appear in public in his hero persona maskless without them and not get recognized as Clark. It was explained as "if The Blur (Clark's pre-Supes codename) doesn't wear a mask, Clark Kent has to". Secret identity, right?
So, of course, after all that, Clark actually decides to forgo wearing his horn-rimmed glasses for his wedding.
As someone who just got married back in 2009, allow me to point out the glaring problem here: You know all those clicking noises you heard as Clark and Lois were walking down the aisle? Those were cameras. If that wedding is anything like real-world weddings, that means there are not only the official wedding album pictures but also friends' and relatives' individual pics. In short, a groom will probably be photographed more on that day than at any other point in his life. Perhaps even more than at every other point combined.
And don't think those pictures won't get around. In addition to the wedding albums, there are modern technological marvels like scanners. And jpeg files. And e-mail. And Facebook. There were pictures of my wedding on Facebook roughly one year before I even got a Facebook account, thanks to my friends. So you can see why Clark Kent not wearing his glasses on his wedding day is an extremely dumb idea.
Look, I wear glasses during about 90-95% of my waking moments, but I'm still vain enough to ditch the specs for contacts during nights out, parties, and especially weddings. So I understand a guy wanting to look his best for his own wedding day. However, I'm not trying to maintain a secret superhero identity.
That severe lapse signalled to me as clear as day: I'm in for a rough ride. That, and the fact that Clark's mom Martha Kent was actually saving a place for Pa Kent's ghost.
Bruce Oliver is about to place the Gold K ring on Clark's finger because, for some reason, "Smallville" Gold K only takes away powers if the intended victim wears it first. Whatever, "Smallville"! Chloe warns Clark, a fight ensues, Clark gets thrown through the stained glass chapel window, Clark somehow inspires Bruce Oliver to fight off the Omega mark, and Bruce Ollie cries an X-Files-style black ooze tear. At which point Clark turns to see the planet the size of fucking Saturn with fire shooting out of it through the broken stained glass window. So it's back to JLA HQ to get more info on the problem.
So far, all this stuff has happened in the first hour, and it's a 2-hour finale. Still plenty of time for a grand battle royale in the second half, with Clark marshalling the forces of the Justice League, the Justice Society, Booster Gold, the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, and every other hero on the planet in an epic showdown with Darkseid and his evil minions, right? Yeah, right. If you believe that, boy, are you watching the wrong show! This is "Smallville", after all.
So of course we need to have a side plot where Tess/Lutessa is captured by an alternate Lionel Luthor, who has sewn up all of his son's cloned parts into a FrankenLex. FrankenLex is only missing one organ, a heart, which Lionel plans to extract from Tess. Tess has other ideas and goes all Jason Bourne on the scientists before shooting Lionel. Tess runs away and
the Smoke Monster the Man In Black Darkseid appears. After Lionel offers his soul in exchange for reanimating FrankenLex, Darkseid rips out Lionel's heart Temple-of-Doom-style and takes over his body.
We also have a scene where
Bruce Oliver confronts Granny Goodness, Desaad, and Glorious Godfrey as Batman Green Arrow, complete with green hoodie and voice modulator. (I'd love to see an episode where that thing goes on the fritz, leaving him sounding like either Barry White or a talking chipmunk.) Batman Green Arrow then fires three Batarangs arrows into their chests, exploding them into smoke. No, really!
And finally, we have Lois learning that the President and his staff plan to nuke Apokolips, so she steals a press pass from a similar-looking reporter and boards Air Force One, where we're treated to Lois giving an inspiring speech about heroes and the Blur in particular and the staff reacting like she's completely insane, but holding off on the nukes.
The bulk of the last hour consists mostly of Clark getting pep talks. Pep talks from Martha. Pep talks from Chloe. Pep talks from the speedily-recovered Lex. Even pep talks from the Jonathan Kent's ghost. Don't get me wrong: It was nice to see Michael Rosenbaum, John Schneider, Annette O'Toole (still hot at 59), and John Glover and his Magnificent Mane back again, but it would have been even nicer if they'd gotten material worthy of them. Schneider is especially ill-served here, with the repeated scenes of Clark consulting throughout the show with his the vision of his dead dad , who advises him to trust Jor-El and acts as if Jor-el is still alive rather than a computer simulation. Has Clark somehow become Super Haley Joel Osment? Or Super Raines?
So now we finally get the fight we've been waiting for: Clark versus ...... Darkseid in Zombie Alternate Lionel Luthor's body. (Once again, whatever, "Smallville"!!) Zombie Alt-Lionel throws Clark around the Kent barn, when suddenly Clark hears Jonathan's voice once again advising him to listen to Jor-El. At this point we are treated to another a five-minute series retrospective in Clark's head, and then we see Clark floating in midair! He's .... instantly learned to fly!(Cue the Foo Fighters music.) Now it's time for the battle royale where Clark.... flies through Darkseid/Lionel and makes him disappear into smoke. Just like that. Fight over. Yawn.
From here there's a final scene between Lex and Tess in which Lex stabs Tess to death to spare her from becoming like him and Tess infecting him with some kind of memory-wiping toxin that erases his memories via yet another series flashback sequence. By all rights, Lex should be drooling on the floor like an infant after this, but, hey, it's "Smallville", so he's just casually walking around his office instead.
Finally - FINALLY! - Clark heads to his Fortress, consults Jor-El, and gets the super-suit, at which point Clark flies out of the Fortress while switching into the suit and I'm thinking finally - FINALLY - I'm going to get to see what I've been waiting for since the show started: Tom Welling in the Superman costume. Even this show couldn't possibly disappoint us with this moment, right? Right?
Sure, maybe Tom Welling puts on the suit, but it's not like the viewers get to actually see it. Instead, we get either 1) far-away shots where you can see the cape and a shadow and little else, 2) tight close-ups of Welling's face, or 3) extreme close-ups of the costume, particularly the cape. Why did they cheat their viewers like this? Welling apparently has the physique to make the costume work. Did they think the costume was too corny? Sure, they can show Aquaman, Hawkman, and Booster Gold's NASCAR outfit with full decal array, but Superman's outfit is too hokey? Come on!
The next thing we see is Superman (from a really far distance, of course) pushing Apokolips away from Earth . In the space of about ten minutes, he's gone from not being able to fly to singlehandedly moving a planet the size of fucking Saturn with fire shooting out of it into space. But wait! There's a shot of Supes floating over Earth. Closer. Closer. We're about to get a clear view of Welling in the suit......
.....Aaannnd we immediately pan over to a Superman comic! ARRGH! We've jumped 7 years later to 2018, where Chloe is reading her son a "Smallville" comic. (And, hey, the cover price is still $2.99. Man, when DC says "holding the line", they mean it!) We see that the kid, despite being around 5, has a full-blown adult-sized bow and arrow set in his room, because Chloe apparently has no concept of child safety.
Pan over to the Daily Planet, where we discover that Lex, despite having his memories completely erased 7 years earlier, is somehow lucid enough to have just been elected President, despite the fact that 2018 is not a Presidential election year. We hear Perry from his office (Michael McKeon or a soundalike?) and we see that there's a new Jimmy Olsen replacing his "brother" who died a few seasons ago (both played by the same guy.) The scene also undercuts the suspension of disbelief required to accept Clark's horn-rimmed glassed as a plausible disguise by........having Lois also wear horned-rimmed glasses! And Jimmy 2.0 still recognizes her!
Lois goes down the stairs and collides into Clark, who's apparently calling her "Miss Lane" in public despite the fact that they were almost married 7 years ago. Apparently, they'd put off their wedding for seven more years instead of merely a month or two. Once again: Whatever, "Smallville"! Clark hears an emergency, unbuttons his shirt on the roof, we see the "S", aaannd....Credits!
God, the writers couldn't have messed this up more if they were Marvel sleeper agents.
The entire finale reminded me of DC's World War III miniseries a few years back. That was when DC finished up Infinite Crisis, immediately jumped all their comics forward one year under the "One Year Later" banner, and then began publishing the maxiseries 52 that was supposed to chronicle what went on in the 1-year gap. I say "supposed to" because over the course of the maxi, writers Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, and Greg Rucka came down with a severe case of "mission creep" and forgot to address many of the DCU status quo changes from the missing year. So, to fix that, DC released the World War III mini which, like the "Smallville" finale, was designed to fill in all the continuity gaps and, also like the "Smallville" finale, was terrible.
The actors, for the most part, did what they could with the material. Erica Durance stands out as my favorite live-action Lois so far. Justin Hartley, despite the bad hoodie and voice modulator, did an admirable job as
Bruce Oliver, and would have shined in either a Green Arrow series or as Aquaman in the aborted "Mercy Reef". O'Toole, Schneider, and Alison Mack did well despite what they were given. And Rosenbaum and Glover were, well, Rosenbaum and Glover.
But Tom Welling's acting on this show has been an enigma. It seems any time he's been called upon to make a departure from his default Clark mode, whether it's being Bad Clark, being Lionel-in-Clark's-body in "Transference", or crying while watching an old film of Pa Kent shortly after Pa's death, he's delivered the goods. But his standard Clark line readings are as flat as a pancake, and the finale is no exception.
The essential problem with "Smallville" is that it stayed around for about four or five seasons too long, with no established game plan of how the series would proceed, save for the ending status quo. The "no flights, no tights" rule kept Clark far too static for far too long. Clark's constant moping and vacillating and his inability to fly were fine when he was a teen; it was part of his evolution. But in full-grown adulthood, these got irritating. Having Supergirl, Zod, and practically every other Kryptonian except Clark flying made Clark look like he belonged in the remedial class, rather than looking like the exceptional character he should be. (It would have been more organic if he had discovered his flight power much earlier and developed his control over time, even having some comedic "Greatest American Hero" style mishaps along the way, rather than having it all handed to him by Jor-El at the last second). And having all these other heroes, including even Booster and Beetle, make their debuts before Superman makes Supes look much less like a superhero pioneer.
As the show plodded through and started to lose ratings, the producers started bringing in more and more DCU guest stars. But what I found telling are the DC characters they didn't bring in. No, I'm not talking about Batman, Wonder Woman or Green Lantern. I mean characters that would have actually been relevant to a high school or college age Clark. Sure, we got the Legion, but where was Mon-El? Where was Lori Lemaris?
For most of the show it looked like the producers and writers were throwing things at the wall hoping for traction, and they forgot they were supposed to be giving us Superman's story.