Over the next few weeks, I’ll be summarizing my thoughts on many of the series that ended just as the “official” television season came to a close recently.
Overview: Season eight of the series turned towards a new direction without Lex and Lana and suddenly made us remember that Smallville could be good again. After a season of stellar moments, the S8 finale was one hell of a mess and perhaps one of the worst episodes of series’ ever. Thus, expectations were not high for the ninth season. But just as Smallville has done on multiple occasions, it roped me back in with a stellar group of opening episodes that were intelligently written, well-acted and finely plotted. And despite a few hiccups in the middle arc, those attributes continued throughout the season, giving us one a number of series highlights.
Pros: For the most part, season nine continued the evolution of Clark Kent into the hero we all expect him to be. Fans know that CK spent way too long in his adolescence during the first seven years and the last two years have gone a long way of rectifying that (even said reclamation has included some jumps in logic). Although I was skeptical of the end of season eight that saw Clark say that “Clark Kent was dead,” the writers smartly played with the transition to more alien and back towards a human side all season, finally paying it off in the wonderful season finale, “Salvation.”
Moreover, the Clark and Lois relationship carried a good part of the season and made even the goofiest episodes on paper end up damn fun (most notably the zombie-powered “Rabid”). Though I do believe it was better written in the first half of the season and the relationship still works better without the melodrama, the last few episodes handled said melodrama fairly well. But more than anything, it’s necessary to praise the chemistry of Tom Welling, who despite the criticisms on the web, is legitimately underrated, and Erica Durance. It’s awesome.
More than any other season, this one focused on what it really means to be a hero in this universe and we saw a number of fun characters come into the fold that helped Clark figure out where he fits in among the expanding world. The Justice Society event was a season high-point and the number of episodes that dealt with the decision-making dynamic between Clark, Oliver and Chloe were all pretty solid. Despite the usual issues with Chloe — she’s always right! — I like her in the Watchtower role and with Oliver, it’s a nice, fun relationship to go along with Clark and Lois.
Also wanted to mention the development of Checkmate, which is a fun big bad organization that can be worked in to just about any story without seeming too goofy.
Pros: I noted this in my recaps over the season, but after the mid-season break, the Zod/Kandorian arc was fumbled on numerous occasions. The stakes never felt high enough or even there at all, Zod without powers didn’t get enough heat to seem like a real threat and once he did obtain his powers, the stalling until the end of the season felt like a cheat. A number of things obviously happened off-screen with all the other Kandorians and their relationship with Clark, but I never really bought that there were two factions trying to decide which guy they’d follow.
And as much as I love Cassidy Freeman and Tess, I think the writers took advantage of the character’s ability to switch sides with ease. It’s one thing to play everyone, it’s another to switch it up scene-to-scene within specific episodes and never really come out and say what the plan is aside from “save the world.” More subtly would be nice.
One other thing that bothered me in those middle episodes is how tonally inconsistent they felt. Certain efforts tried to balance really dark elements with really light moments and it just didn’t work, while other times the writing didn’t seem to make sense coming out the actors’ mouths. There was a weird short-hand happening where scenes were being cut too quickly or full stories felt short-changed just as a way to get from point A to point B and that was disappointing.
Best storyline: Clark’s journey from detached hero to ingrained savior.
Worst storyline: The weird relationship between Tess and Zod that completely shifted based on whatever the episode called for.
Best performer: Tom Welling — Sure, he’ll never win any acting awards, but he is underrated and plays Clark with a steely calm that gets criticized as blankness. And when given lighter material, he proves that he’s a wonderful comedic actor that has been trapped in the melodramatic sludge that was the series’ middle seasons.
Best single moment: Tie between the Zod-Clark fight in “Salvation” and CK’s leaderly speech given to the various superheroes in the same episode.
Three best episodes: “Salvation,” “Absolute Justice,” “Metallo”
Worst episode: “Roulette”
Where does it fix in the context of the whole series: It’s been a long, bumpy road, but it’s weird that Smallville is finally legitimately good since season five. I don’t want to be too hasty and say it’s the best season ever, especially because the consistency of season three is still unparalleled within the bigger context of the series, but this one is damn close.
Final grade: B+
Past days of the wrap