The premiere of Smallville‘s tenth(!) and final season is in a weird position. On one hand, this is the final season! By that I mean the writers should have no trouble moving towards the end of the story that we’ve all been waiting since 2001 for, the journey is almost completely. On the other hand, because the series has lasted so long and dragged out the story to nearly 200 episodes, wrapping up honestly wouldn’t and shouldn’t take another 22 episodes so Brian Peterson, Kelly Souders and company have to come up with another season’s worth of half-assed stalling before we’re given flight, Clark wearing the suit and the name Superman.*
*I’d be shocked if any of this happened before the finale or last 3-4 episodes. I’d love to be wrong, though.
With that in mind, “Lazarus” is noticeably being pulled in both those directions. It’s at once ramping forward, pulling back and ultimately in a space that’s certainly better than stalling, but something I couldn’t absolutely sign off on as directional movement towards a finale. There are a number of moments here that such the end is near, but there are also multiple instances of classic Smallville logistical wheel-spinning and avoidance. And though those latter moments annoy me just as they always have, the former moments are so good that the episode is ultimately a success as a beginning to the season and the end of the series.
The episode’s biggest problem is that there’s an obvious lack of stakes. Last season led up to a world-wide throw-down (even if budgetary reasons kept us from seeing much of it) and in the aftermath of that, the events of “Lazarus” feel small in a way. Each one of the five main characters is personally in peril at some point during the episode, but only the 17 random people in the street outside the Daily Planet Clark saves with his basically-flight move is the only other instance of real danger. I know the world can’t be under siege in every episode and it’s too difficult to set up the new villains in one episode (and I’m glad that didn’t happen), but the premiere hums along at a moderate pace that never feels too urgent or too interested in making us feel like something bad could happen.
What it does do in place of those major stakes, however, is make Clark’s journey in the episode particularly gripping. The series has killed Clark an otherworldly amount of times already, but the purgatory sequence with Clark, his tombstone and “Lex” was particularly engaging, even if the episode isn’t really interested in explaining how or why Clark was actually brought back (unless Lois pulling out the Blue Kryptonite is the only reason). For most of the episode’s running time, this is Clark’s story and we see him deal with the aftermath of his actions right before he took down Zod. Lois knows his secret now and his totally willing to play along with the lie — her dipping under the table for an extended pen search just so Clark could super-speed read some files in front of her without getting caught was tremendous — but Clark doesn’t even really have time for her because he’s hung up on stopping the coming evil, who he believes to be Lex.
And it just so happens in a fit of serendipity, Lex is back. Or, versions of Lex, I should say. Without Michael Rosenbaum, the series is limited in the ways it can tell stories including Lex and honestly, I’d rather have varying-in-age clones of Lex to face off with Clark than just getting shadowed glances at him. We all know it’s not Michael Rosenbaum and despite his amazing performance in the role, he’s not coming back. The series has to move on with stories that involve Lex since everyone knows he’s part of the future after this all ends and this is about as good as they can do, so we should move on too.
Therefore, not only is the older, defective Lex (with all of the real Lex’s memories, of course) a formidable villain for a Clark who is desperate to save the world and prove to Jor-El he shouldn’t, well, be dead, but also a way for the writers to explain two glaring plotholes, one in the past, one in the present. First, big-eared clone Lex tells Clark that the real Lex died in the truck explosion back in “Requiem,” something that was never completely clear — so check. Secondly, having multiple Lex clones (with the possibility that more than just little Alexander escaped) means the series can always bring out one more towards the end of the series that’s perhaps the “best” version (i.e. one that looks more like Rosenbaum, or perhaps is Rosenbaum). Or, I guess a third option is that old big-eared Lex is wrong and the OG Lex is still alive. In any event, I like having Lex back in the story, even if it means not having Rosenbaum. The actor who played old Lex tonight nailed Rosenbaum’s mannerisms and voice cadence, so it felt as natural as can be.
But after the Lex confrontation (and really in the middle of it), the episode’s main thematic concerns get murky and the classic Smallville characterization rears its ugly head. Lex of course is trying to get inside Clark’s head by making him feel like a villain, so he tells CK that he has darkness in his heart as well, and just because Clark chokes Lex out a little bit, Jor-El zaps him to the Fortress, locks up the Red and Blue suit and basically calls him a prideful, hateful brat. Wait, what? So just because Clark gets a little physical with the evil cloned version of his ARCH NEMESIS, who, by the way, he just saw in purgatory right as there was mention of a great evil, and then feels kind of good about it, he hasn’t learned anything? He can no longer be the savior of humanity just because he has a little bit of a dark side? Didn’t we already go over this last season? For the most part, Clark learned that he couldn’t completely detach himself from his humanity, but had to be weary of its influence on him. That’s what all last season was about. And then he freaking sacrificed himself to save everyone! Everyone!
Again, this beat feels like the series again going to the Clark beats himself up well. The dude saved the planet, died, came back to life, stopped a villain, saved some people, including his girlfriend and then was pretty excited — how is that a bad thing? And didn’t the series already establish that Clark being able to fly, which he did a little here, mean that he was in-tune with his Kryptonian side and ready to be Superman?
And so, the finale scene with Jonathan Kent’s return was a little ruined. Yes, I was nearly in tears as soon as I saw John Schneider in that damn coat with those gloves on and yes, the scene between he and Tom Welling is the most emotional moment of the series in years. But it’s completely unclear why Jonathan appeared to Clark or there’s an insistence on proving Jor-El wrong, particularly when the series seems to always like to prove Jor-El right. It’s possible that Jor-El’s speech and Jonathan’s appearance are really one in the same in the sense that Jor-El is trying to teach Clark one final lesson, but the series seems more willing to write Jor-El however they want, so I can’t trust it.
Thus, here’s my point: It’s all deflection. The introduction of th costume, Lois finding out the secret, Clark being Superman-like, all that from “Salvation” last season was awesome, but the series couldn’t operate for 22 episodes with that as the new equilibrium. That means that Jor-El has to be a total ass in a way that makes Clark second guess himself and derail what he really already has become. That means that Jor-El has to also “lock up” the costume, as if that really matters to a damn A.I. in an ice palace. That means that Lois has to decide to stay, then be saved by Clark just so she could actually leave anyway.
This approach is perhaps necessary to last another 21 episodes of drama, but it’s disappointing to go down this road again, particularly for Clark, who has come very far in the last two seasons. It’s not a complete character assassination or anything, but as he says, it’s a trade off between doing good and bad that I don’t quite buy. “Lazarus” is a promising start for the final swan song of Smallville, but it needs to be more willing to take risks that actually keep instead of creating false risks that are quickly taken back. The time for pulling punches is over.
- The one good thing about Clark’s 329th “woe is me” speech? He fesses up for being an idiot when he trashed the Rao tower last season in “Persuasion.” In that moment, the episode almost convinced me he was a reckless, human idiot.
- The downside to lots of Clark is not much of anyone else (though it’s not much of a downside): Lois gets those few cute moments at the Daily Planet and then gets to look attractive on the Scarecrow post before heading overseas. Oliver spends the episode naked and beaten by a stranger, but ends up freed when the secretive, government-looking types capture Chloe instead. Too bad the two lovers don’t get to spend any time together here, because I believe this Allison Mack’s last episode for a long while. I’m sure we’ll learn more about her Dr. Fate helmet-wearing experience later in the season.
- Tess gets her own bullet because gets the most to do in the episode. She’s alive and with a healed face (that’s thanks to a Lex clone) inside the long-forgotten Cadmus Labs, but there is absolutely no indication of who brought her there in the first place. Anyway, she’s taken up watching Alexander, the kiddie clone of Lex and that’s a new, interesting role reversal for the character that I’m very intrigued by.
- Speaking of Tess and who brought her to the lab, the CGI appearance of Darkseid is a confirmation of our villain, but there’s no connection brought up between that, the old Granny last season or the guy who tortures Oliver. I assume they’re all connected, but I have absolutely no clue how Lex or Lex clones play into it. In that sense, I like that the series is keeping us guessing as to what the heck is actually going on, but combined with the lack of stakes here, it adds up to a whole bunch of nothing thus far.