Series Finale — Smallville, “Finale”

Here we are at the end of a long, winding and oftentimes bumpy, 10-year road. Smallville is over. As someone who tries to review television objectively, I’ll be the first to acknowledge this series’ weaknesses, both those within its control and those not. I want to point out all of those things first as to say how I’m reviewing this episode (and how you might want to take my opinion with a grain of salt). First, Smallville has, from the beginning, been trapped in this odd tension between writing its own story and fitting in with the DC Comics/Superman mythology. Sometimes, Smallville can do whatever it wants (Chloe, Tess, introducing Jimmy), other times it has to stay true to the mythology (killing Tess, killing “Jimmy”). That’s an awkward situation to be in, and one that was on display a few times in this finale.

Second, this is a series about Clark Kent pre-Superman. It’s not about Superman. It never was supposed to be, so even when the last few years have basically made Clark Superman without the costume, it’s more of a byproduct of the fact that WB/CW wanted more of the series and the writers, producers and actors had to keep going. Of course the series should have ended much longer and of course it is moderately ridiculous that Clark Kent has faced all of Superman’s biggest villains already. But what the hell else was the series supposed to do when it kept getting renewed? Because I know that everyone involved with the series feels the same way (i.e. it’s about Clark, not Supes), I watched this episode with that in mind. I knew that there would be Superman-related things happening, but 85 percent of it would focus on Clark and his journey leading up to that. Yeah, it’s a stupid-long journey, but that’s this series. It wasn’t going to change in the final hours.

Finally, the budget. This production has done so much with so little for three years now. It’s extremely difficult to a super-hero series on television, even with a major broadcast network budget. Heroes struggled with it, as did No Ordinary Family and The Cape. Those kind of action shots, the costumes, whatever, it costs an unbelievable amount of money. Smallville has very little money, and it’s been that way for three or four seasons. The “big” fight sequences are always way too short and disappointing, it’s just the nature of the beast.

That’s a lot of pre-review justification, but I feel it is necessary. Listen, I know that Smallville is not a “good” series. It won’t be remembered in any sort of pantheon, not even when talking about the WB-era of programming. It just won’t be. But if you’ve been following this web site or know me personally or whatever, you know that I think the series is much better than people give it credit for, especially in how it deals with the relationships between these characters. Of course it’s cheesy, of course it’s sappy and sometimes really dumb, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

And I would say the exact same thing about “Finale.” This two-hour episode is literally exactly what I figured it would be in most spots (with a few pleasant surprises), and I’m 100 percent satisfied with that. This isn’t a series built around mystery or big surprises. The ending of Smallville has been known since the first episode aired on the WB, I just wanted to see how Clark and to a lesser extent, Lex, Lois, Tess, Chloe and Oliver took their steps to get there. In that respect, with that focus on the characters that made this series so charming in the goofiest of ways, “Finale” is a tremendous success.

For Clark, this entire story has been about embracing one side of his identity or the other. Is he Kryptonian? Is he human? Clark has gone back and forth so many times throughout the series (again, another byproduct of the length) and his final crisis of confidence here was kind of dumb, but logical. He’s been on this very specific, idealized path in season ten but Lois’ suggestion about whether or not they should get married gets him thinking. Maybe he shouldn’t hold on to anything if he has to be the hero the world needs, maybe not. Clark has tried to be only Kryptonian and he’s tried to be only human, but here he first tries to just be “Clark,” but recognizing that he can do that without letting go of all the things in his past. We all know that this version of Clark is a bit more self-pitying and worrisome, but I thought that Clark’s issues here worked because they allowed the episode to focus on his two (really three, I guess) most important relationships: With Lois and with his fathers.

Clark and Lois’ relationship issues and cold feet dominated the first hour of the episode, which I’m sure angered a lot of people. Not me though. Smallville has been all about their relationship for the past three seasons and even if they don’t actually get to say “I do,” the sequences leading up to and including their wedding were some of the best of the season and the series. Chloe bringing Lois’ Clark’s vows? Tremendous. Clark and Lois’ act-long conversation with a door in between them? Glorious, and innovative for this series. Clark grabbing Lois’ hand before walking her down the aisle? Swoon. There’s a lot of things that Smallville hasn’t done well over the years, but Clark and Lois’ relationship is not one of them. The focus on them might have led to a less action-packed episode than people might have been expecting, but it was all worth to me. Even though they didn’t get married in 2011, they figured out the perfect balance in their relationship and made that commitment to one another that paid off all their discussions and arguments over the past two-and-half seasons. Totally, absolutely worth it.

The exploration of Clark’s issues with his two fathers was less successful, if only because it felt a bit familiar. Clark shutting down the Fortress last week was childish and damaging to the character so that “Prophecy” could have another cliffhanger in its final act. Jor-El has been something of a dick, but the two of them came to more than an understanding earlier in the season, making that moment last week kind of false. His desire to separate himself from his human father and the farm, however, was better-executed. I love Jonathan Kent and I love John Schneider, but I see Clark’s logic. It took him so long to recognize that he needed to stop holding himself even remotely responsible for Jonathan’s death and when Lois drops the “nah” bomb on him, he starts to think about what is and what isn’t holding him back from being, well, super. The external tension of the series’ ending has meant that Clark has really been ready to be Superman since “Homecoming,” so I can buy his reaction here as the final step he think he needs to get there. Sure, he’s ultimately wrong and he figures out that he needs both fathers around, but it wouldn’t be a finale of Smallville if Clark didn’t question his familial bonds.

I really, really liked how the episode handled flight and suit and tied it into Clark’s daddy issues. The three-minute clip show with Jor-El explaining to Clark that the entire series has really been the “trials” we’ve been hearing about for years was very well-done and smartly explained. Having Jor-El say he was proud of Clark and THEN having Jonathan be there to hand off the suit was heartwarming and fitting. It took a really long time for Clark to recognize that he could embrace both sides of his heritage, but when he finally got around to it, the series handled it pretty masterfully.

As for the villains, I thought “Finale” did a much better job of setting the table than providing a totally satisfying conclusion, at least in spots. Lex’s return was, as expected, fantastic. Michael Rosenbaum fell right back into the role and he and Welling nailed their showdown in the destroyed Luthor mansion. The conversation was perfect for Smallville‘s development of their relationship: Clark and Lex still don’t totally hate one another, but they now understand that they can’t be anything but enemies. Different ideologies, too much water under the bridge. The fact that Lex Luthor of all people gave Clark Kent his final push towards becoming Superman was just so fitting and well-played by Rosenbaum and Welling.

Unfortunately, Lex was also involved in the worst part of the episode, which is the mind-wipe. After she escapes from Lionel’s grasp, Tess finds her long-lost brother and they have an entertaining conversation that’s been three years in the making. Again, I loved how the episode didn’t make Lex to be completely villainous. He kills Tess, but does so because he thinks he is saving her from the dangers of living in this world that he’s about to try to control. It’s classic Lex, always thinking he’s the hero when he’s actually the villain. But the mind-wipe? UGH. I discussed this up top, but if there’s ever been a scene that exemplified this series’ issues with serving two masters (their own story and the DC Comics story), it’s this one. If the whole series’ narrative is developing this relationship between Clark and Lex and explaining why it is they do the things that they do, isn’t wiping Lex’s memory just wiping away the importance of all that narrative weight? I understand that Lex doesn’t usually know Superman’s identity and it’s actually sort of fitting that internally, Lex will have this hatred for the person he knows as Superman but not really understand why it’s there (and it’s kind of fun that Clark knows all this but Lex won’t), but COME ON. The memory wipe was great for Tess and works for the future we can imagine, but it betrays a big part of what this whole series is about.

Predictably, this season’s villains had little impact on the overall story. Oliver nearly ruined the wedding and to get his ass kicked and saved by Clark (in the episode’s best fight, hilariously). The three cronies (Desaad, Gordon Godfrey, Granny Goodness) were dispatched with ONE ARROW (presumingly sending them to the Phantom Zone) and while he looked and sounded pretty cool, Darkseid only appeared for a brief second to rip out Lionel’s heart and take over his body. Clark flying into zombie Lionel Darkseid was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too easy, but that’s about as good as Smallville can do it. Plus, it clearly allowed the series to NOT actually take Darskied out. Clark dispatches of his Lionel vessel and the baddie team is also gone, but it’s just for now. It’s probably too much set-up, but again, that’s part of fitting in to the mythology.

Finally, the suit and the flying. I have to say, I loved it. I understand why people are upset that we never actually saw a full-body shot of Welling in the super-suit, but I find that fitting. This is Smallville, it’s about Clark Kent, not Superman. I was actually pleasantly surprised we got to see him put on the suit and fly around in it for a while. Sure, it was a CGI’d Superman, but I’m ABSOLUTELY fine with that. I thought the CGI, both the generated Supes and Welling when he was actually flying, was shockingly good-looking for this series. I not only expected less of what we actually saw, but I expected it to look much worse than it actually did. For a television series in its tenth year on a terrible network that doesn’t care about it, that looked damn good. I assumed that all we would get was the final shirt-open reveal, so anything on top of that was just icing for me. Throw in a flashforward to 2018, the “real” Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore!), a Perry White voice cameo, Lex as president and the promise for a real Lois-Clark wedding, and I couldn’t be happier with this episode.

I guess how you react to this episode is all about expectations. For me, Smallville has always been about the characters of Clark, Lois, Lex and Chloe, partly because I knew the series couldn’t provide the big comic book action sequences and partly because that’s just what appealed to me about Smallville. In that respect, this finale gave those characters the closure or growth or whatever you want to call it, I hoped that it would (for the most part). It might have been light on the action and there might have been too much “talking about our feelings” scenes, but that’s Smallville. It’s a series about Clark Kent’s feelings, for better or for worse, and I’m really happy that it ended the same way.

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