Though it certainly has had its high points, Smallville has never been the same since its 100th episode.
Travel back to 2006 with me if you will. At that point, the series was right in the middle of its fifth season and arguably was hitting an unmatched creative stride. The opening 11 episodes of season five make up one of the series’ strongest and most consistent streaks of high-quality and there was little to complain about.
The transition to college didn’t seem to drag things down (it helps when your lead character can super-speed anywhere in an instant), Jonathan Kent was getting his own awesome storyline, Lex was become particularly nasty, Brainiac was proved the series could bring in comic-y villains with relative ease, Chloe knew the secret and though he was still hung-up on Lana, Clark had proven time and time again he was ready to be a hero. Even without his powers in early S5 episodes like “Mortal” and “Hidden,” he was willing to risk his life for others.
Then the 100th episode came. Lana died right after she learned Clark’s secret, so he risked fate, turned back time and saved her, didn’t tell her the secret this time and then subsequently came home to watch his father die. It was a heart-wrenching moment, and a game-changer if you will.
But instead of being the catalyst for Clark’s maturation process, Jonathan’s death served as the pivot point that allowed the writers to completely neuter Clark for seasons to come. The character and the series have never been the same since that moment, and again, despite many high points, Smallville just hasn’t been as good.
I guess it’s then only fitting that 100 episodes later in the series’ unbelievable 200th effort, Smallville finally rights a number of the wrongs it caused with its first time crossing the century mark. Although “Homecoming” deploys a number of familiar and sometimes tired approaches, it sells them all completely by making sure that this five-year slump Clark Kent has been in is about to come to an end. No more whining about the past, blaming himself or dreading the possibilities of the future; Clark Kent, with a little help from a re-programmed Brainaic 5 from the future, realizes it’s time to let go and live in today’s world.
In short, let me be just another one of the Smallville fans certainly saying this tonight: It’s. About. Damn. Time.
And in that context, that’s what makes “Homecoming” such a fantastic episode of the series. Most of the series’ die-hard fans feel exactly the same way as I do about that 100th episode, no matter if they’re Chlark’ers or Clois’ers. With that said, we’ve all experienced the emo, doubtful, oftentimes lame Clark Kent that’s pouted his way through multiple seasons, stumbled his way into defeating some of the baddest DC Comics has to offer and been too scared to be open with the women he loves. It’s been a frustrating and exhausting ride.
Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders know this too, and they make sure to stuff “Homecoming” full of acknowledgments for all the awful things they’ve done to Clark over the years. While acknowledging that the man who is supposed to be Superman has been hanging on too long when you’ve been the ones responsible for writing him that way doesn’t absolve Peterson, Souders and the rest of the writers who have killed CK over the years, “Homecoming” does such a great job of giving reasoning for all the struggles that it’s easy to buy into the last four years of pensive looks in the barn and exclaims of “this is all my fault!”
When Brainiac brings Clark through the series’ second iteration of “A Christmas Carol” (they’ve played the “This is the world without you” card in episode 150, “Apocalypse”) and we join them in stops at Jonathan’s funeral, Lois’ interactions with the nosy punch monitor, Oliver’s aimless life without any support system and ultimately, the future, the previous 100 episodes somehow make sense.
I now totally buy that the biggest issue Clark’s had all these years is that he’s blamed himself for Jonathan’s death and because of that, he’s held on both to his father and the past for far too long (versus feeling like he’s just being a baby). I now totally buy that he’s been slightly distant with Lois because things turned out so horribly with Lana, and really, with Alicia and Chloe too (versus feeling like he needs to just sack up and say something to her instead of sticking in this awkward friends-but-not-really zone). I now totally buy that despite his regular assistance to the Emerald Archer, Clark’s been holding a grudge against Oliver for killing Lex, not following a good hero’s code and becoming a self-destructive dick (versus, well, okay, I kind of already knew that one, but at least it’s mentioned in the open here). And finally, I now totally buy that Clark’s been slow to embrace his destiny because he’s had it shoved down his throat for so long that now the future seems like a stressful place that’s already bearing down on him in the present (versus feeling like again, he’s just being a baby).
What’s particularly frustrating is that the writers have had 100 episodes to sprinkle these beats in with Clark and for the most part, they’ve ignored them until now, so although it’s just in time and it feels like Clark now has a clean slate to be the confident, component hero he needs to be, the “one last, great pep talk” gimmick is just a smidge disappointing. He could have come to some of this on his own years ago, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. He’s there now and though this one episode doesn’t make up for four years of frustration, it comes damn close in accomplishing that goal.
This episode is smart to emphasize two important things: The idea of choice and Clark’s relationship with Lois.
Because Clark lives in a world that’s full of discussions about destiny, it’s easy to lose track of choice, particularly when you’re throwing countless pity parties for yourself. But Brainiac is completely right. Jonathan chose to protect Clark until it killed him. Sure it was the fatherly thing to do, but Jonathan Kent took being a father to a whole new level and in the end, it led to his demise. Oliver chose to make bad decisions in the past, but he’s ready to make the right ones now and he needs Clark’s help. In the future, Lois chooses to support Clark in every single way possible. And just because he’s the most powerful being on the planet, Clark still gets to make choices too. Even amid his series of crybaby outbursts, he’s saved the world and the people he loves countless times without any reparations. He didn’t just do those things because he was forced to, he made the conscious decision to do the right thing and help the world. His personal hangups don’t change that.
Moreover, because of his interactions with the future version of Lois, Clark finally recognizes that he can find the right balances between being a Kryptonian and being a human. She isn’t judgmental or scared or expecting or even vengeful like Lana was at times, she’s just supportive. That information is enough to make him let go of the fear of the future and although he probably should have recognized some of that in Lois previously, I’m willing to go with it, again, because “Homecoming” sells it fully.
Thus, armed with knowledge of the future and a refreshed perspective on the past, Clark can finally embrace his destiny without feeling controlled by it. He won’t be alone and if he continues to make active, conscious choices, he’ll be just fine. Finally.
In retrospect, the first three episodes of the season make more sense because the writers were obviously driving towards the high moments and realizations in this episode, but they all still felt awkward because they were trying to take Clark from his most heroic back down in the gutter and then back up again in just five episodes and that’s a steep hill to climb. They didn’t really execute it their plan in the middle and perhaps it would have just worked better to have Brainaic come to Clark when he was “undead” or whatever, but if it means that the Clark from “Salvation” and “Homecoming” is the Clark we’re going to get for the next 18 episodes, I’m in.
Again, this episode is kind of a cheat, as anyone who goes to the future and learns that their life works out for the better is probably going to feel pretty good about themselves. But it doesn’t matter, Clark needed this, and good lord did we as viewers need it. Just as episode 100 was a transition point in the series, “Homecoming” will be — but this time, in the best of ways. I’m not sure I could have asked for anything more. Well, except Lex.
- I thought Lois’ struggles to be identified at the reunion were a nice way to suggest that she’s kind of lost out there in the world without Clark, just as he flounders without her.
- Clark just standing outside in broad daylight with the new Blur get-up on? Kind of dumb and sort of ruined that moment for me.
- One other downside to this episode: No Tess. No Tess makes me sad.
- The flashbacks were used more sparingly (and thus more effectively) than I suspected they’d be, and Welling particularly sold the moment in front of the Wall of Weird well. You could totally see his remorse towards what’s happened with Chloe since their innocent freshman year.
- I’m hoping the moment with Clark and Oliver suggests great things for them as friends, because though I enjoy their sarcastic sparring matches, it’ll be nice to see Clark with, you know, a friend.
- The future sequence was obviously wonderful, especially Lois’ continued insistence on Clark putting on his glasses, her rant about forgetting their special anniversary (that we of course don’t get to see) and the whole dual CKs in the elevator.
- And of course, the final barn scene is definitely the best Clois moment of the season and one of the best ever. The fact that Clark takes control, asks her to dance and is the one to say he loves her is a huge and emotional moment for the characters and us as viewers. The floating was great too, obv.
- Is there any question that Welling and Durance should just play these characters in the movie? I know it will never, ever happen, but they deserve a chance.
- Of course, there’s always a concern that the writers will fumble all these great moments with more back-peddling from Clark in future episodes, but with this being the final season and this milestone finally crossed, things do feel different in way that haven’t in a long time. I’m hopeful.