Waiting for Superman, week one: How Smallville can stick the landing

With only five more weeks of Smallville, there are mixed emotions in the TVS headquarters. To work out those conflicting feelings, I’ll be writing a pre-episode piece every week from here on out until the final episode on May 13. This is the first one, obviously.

Smallville‘s tenth and final season has been a bit of a disappointment. There have been some really great episodes and some fantastic individual moments, but the overall narrative of the season has been choppy, disjointed and sometimes stupidly aimless. Part of that comes from the writers biting off more than they can chew because they are excited that it is the final season, but some of it comes from just messy execution of story beats that could have been much better. This is certainly nowhere near the worst season of the series, but with final seasons come final season expectations and season ten hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

But now, it seems like many of those various plot points and threads have been wrapped up and streamlined as we head into the final six episodes. And this is it. There are roughly 245 minutes left of Smallville ever and after ten years, it’s time to stop screwing around and actually provide a successful, effective conclusion to a story. And to belittle the writing process or anything like that, but Smallville isn’t Lost and it isn’t BSG. There isn’t a massively complex mythology full of questions that need to be answered. There are big, high-water moments that the final episode(s) need to hit, but really, that’s it. The story this series is telling isn’t too complicated and it would appear to be really, really difficult to screw up. But unfortunately, I’ve watched Smallville for a very long time and I know not to just assume things will go smoothly. Therefore, I’ve come up with a rubric for these final seasons. The scripts have already been written and 100 percent sure no one related with the series has ever read TVS, but nevertheless, if Smallville doesn’t do these things over the next half-dozen episodes, I’m going to be disappointed.

1. Focus almost all of your attention on Clark Kent: This whole thing is about one man who is surely about to become Superman and after more than 200 episodes of false starts, stupid detours, lots and lots and lots of moping and misdirects, it’s time for Clark Kent to be the character that everyone who is watching this series wants him to be. The last three seasons have shown marked improvement in his development and after some dumb back-tracking at the beginning of this season, Clark has been on the right track for the last dozen episodes or so. I don’t see any reason why things shouldn’t go smoothly, especially with Chloe’s arc out of the way and Oliver presumably taking some episodes off to spend time with his new wife. That basically leaves Clark, Lois and Tess, all of which are directly tied into whatever is going to happen with the season’s endgame.

But yet, next week’s episode brings in Booster Gold and Blue Beatle at a really odd time and subsequent episodes are bringing back both Zod and Kara, two problematic characters. Obviously, I haven’t seen the episode and it’s written by Geoff Johns, who has done good work for the series so there’s a lot to be hopeful about, but I don’t know, folks. Bringing in some brand-new characters right as you’re beginning your final arc seems a bit wasteful to me. I understand that Tom Welling can’t be in every single scene of the last six episodes, but he should probably be in 90 percent or more of them. This is his time and if there’s one thing the series can’t screw up, it’s Clark’s journey in the final few efforts. I don’t even necessarily care about the suit or some of the hallmarks that the die-hard Superman fans care about, I just want Clark to be a real f**king hero.

2. Stick the landing with this season’s mythology elements: Despite my general fear that this is all going to end so poorly, I actually have little concern that the writers will be able to pull in good stuff for Clark and Lex in the final episodes. Michael Rosenbaum and Tom Welling are so good together and there’s so much in-series history between those characters that bringing them together in any capacity is bound to be well-received and for good reason. My larger fear is with the narrative plot-points that are fully endemic to this final season and how they will be handled. The “new era” of the series (S8-S10) has had two season-long arcs thus far and one of them started beautifully but ended terribly (hello, S8) while the other started roughly and came together well at the end (S9). This season’s story with Darkseid hasn’t as bad as the end of S8 or the middle of S9, but it’s also not been given as much time to develop, with all the guest stars, the VRA, the engagement and the 193 other things the season tried to accomplish in the first 16 episodes.

Therefore, I’m hoping that the next few episodes actually invest some story time in whatever it is that Darkseid is doing and how he intends to accomplish those goals. Surely things are being kept under wraps, but the episode descriptions leading through the penultimate episode have very little mention of this story and I read an interview the other day with EP Kelly Souders that mentioned we won’t even see Darkseid in a physical form. Of course, the Doomsday disaster tells us that might actually be a good idea*, but it seems like an odd decision to introduce the character, sort of stagger around with him and then not really bring the hammer down at the end. Again, I’m sure that’s not exactly what will happen, but these final episodes cannot skirt around, hint at things and then drop all sorts of narrative bombs on the characters and the audience in the two-hour finale. That’s just terrible storytelling. The end-games are easily in-place, but hitting the points leading up to that will make this season exponentially better.

*Although, you’d think that Warner Bros. would give the series a bigger budget for these final few episodes. But probably not. Sigh.

3. Give the fans what they want, but not too much: When you’re writing the finale to a series that has been on the air for 10 years, sustained a move to a new network (and basically kept that network afloat), has a very rabid fanbase AND most likely has to tie into a larger, recognizable picture of what these certain characters should look like, it’s definitely tough. And it is probably especially tough to figure out how to tell an original story without pissing off the die-hard Superman people who have a finale checklist and it might be just as difficult to line up those big moments when there are a lot of fans who don’t actually care about the mythos at all because they’re only invested in these versions of major pop culture characters.

Recent hyped series finales (although Smallville won’t be nearly on the same scale) like Lost and BSG were not fully well-received because the writers of those stories appeared to be crafting a tale different from the one the fans thought they were watching. I’m not sure Smallville producers are going to have that kind of problem, but the decades of Superman canon and fandom suggests there is definitely some pressure to hit all the big moments, just as the full-decade of Smallville fandom suggests the writers still have to be true to this series. The point is that the writers do need to be smart and execute some of the more obvious things all the fans have been waiting for — more glasses, flight, suit, Lex, etc. — but that’s not all they need to do. I want the writers to be free to still tell some interesting, complicated stories in these final few episodes, especially with Tess and Oliver, two characters that either don’t exist in the comics at all or exist in this form.* There’s a fine line between giving the fans exactly what they want and still staying true to what you write and how you write it and sometimes this season I think the writers have forgotten that with all the returning guest stars and tacked-on plots. That cannot happen in these final six episodes.

*I’d be remissed without mentioning Chloe, but I was fine enough with her ending in “Fortune” that whatever she gets to do in the finale is icing on the cake.

I hope this doesn’t come off as too critical or pessimistic, because I love this series and have been supporting it for a very long time. But I can’t turn a blind eye to its issues either, so let’s hope that the final half-dozen episodes nail it. These characters deserve it. We deserve it.

6 thoughts on “Waiting for Superman, week one: How Smallville can stick the landing

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