Waaaay back in the day, in mid-2001, just before SMALLVILLE debuted on The WB, I had a chance to interview Al Gough, who developed the series alongside Miles Millar. Gough talked about how the series would be completely focused on Clark Kent before he becomes Superman. He told me about the No Tights, No Flights Rule, meaning Clark would not be able to fly, and he would never don the iconic long underwear. Well, not never: Gough admitted he could envision the last shot of the last episode showing Clark putting on the red-and-blue suit and flying out of frame.
Flash-forward 10 seasons, and SMALLVILLE has wrapped up on The CW on May 13, 2011… without Gough or Millar, who left the series after the seventh season. Both guys were always gregarious and forthcoming whenever I interviewed them for SOAP OPERA WEEKLY, and I have missed their influence on the series. SMALLVILLE changed after the original executive producers left – I’m not sure the Blur would have been the same huge element under Gough and Millar – but the show has finally arrived at a destination somewhat similar to what I think Gough and Millar had envisioned. Clark put on the suit and flew – just for a little bit longer than originally planned.
This story had to function as an end to the series, but also set up Clark’s future as the greatest superhero of them all, so not all the story threads could be tied off; in fact, Lex had to be revivified as a threat and turned loose on the world. Jumping the story seven years into the future was a bold move, but a good way to show viewers the new status quo; everything is the way we want it: Lois and Clark work at the Daily Planet under Perry White (Who shouts, “Great Caesar’s Ghost!”); they are a couple and planning to get married; and Clark is still saving the world. In addition, Lex has been elected president – which actually happened in the comics.
But what happened on the TV show to get us to that point?
Lois (Erica Durance) refused to marry Clark (Tom Welling) because she thought she would distract him from his work defending the globe. It took reading his wedding vows for her to understand that she’s not standing in his way, she’s by his side. Clark and Martha (Annette O’Toole) clashed over the best way to face his destiny: Clark wanted to leave his past behind, but she encouraged him to embrace it and build upon it. Jonathan (John Schneider) appeared as Clark agonized at his father’s grave site before deciding to confront Lois. She shared her vows with him, which convinced him to go through with the wedding. It was a romantic affair (He even walked her down the aisle) – right up until a mind-controlled best man Oliver (Justin Hartley) tried to substitute a gold kryptonite wedding band (which would permanently remove Clark’s powers). Chloe (Allison Mack) foiled the gambit, leading Clark and Oliver to battle, until Clark’s belief in his friend inspired him to slough off Darkseid’s control. But by then, the planet Apokolips had arrived. Clark returned to the farm, where he saw Jonathan, and suddenly realized that it’s the people he cares about that make the world worth saving. Martha echoed the sentiment, and then Jonathan sent his adopted son to Jor-El.
Meanwhile, Lionel (John Glover) captured Tess (Cassidy Freeman) and planned to use her heart to complete a superclone for Lex, but she turned the tables and shot him. Darkseid manifested and gave Lex his father’s heart in exchange for Lionel’s soul. When Lex (Michael Rosenbaum) was healed, he confronted Clark in a most non-threatening way, assuring him, “We have a destiny together, Clark – only on different sides.” Lex went on to kill Tess, who had booby-trapped her own blood with a neurotoxin that erased the events of the entire SMALLVILLE series from his memory. Clark returned to the farm, where he retrieved a crystal, and Lionel, possessed by Darkseid, attacked. Clark’s consciousness travels to the Fortress of Solitude where Jor-El (voiced by Terence Stamp) assures him it is time to embrace his destiny. Clark blasts through Lionel/Darkseid and goes to the fortress, where Jonathan’s ForceGhost gives him the red-and-blue costume Jor-El prepared for him. Finally embracing his destiny, Clark dons the suit and flies out into space, where he sends Apokolips back into space, inspiring the masses to such a degree that Darkseid’s dark power is vanquished. Clark has finally embraced his destiny as a symbol of hope for all mankind.
The framing device of having Chloe read a Smallville comic book to her son was cute (and referenced Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman movie, which used a similar framing device) – and tells us that Clark’s dual identity as Superman is known to the world.
Strangely, the two-hour finale still felt very rushed, even as the narrative pace lagged. The first hour unfolded leisurely, concentrating on the human-interest elements and setting lots of pieces in place; then the second hour tried to pay off on not only the first hour, but the previous 10 seasons; and there was just no way it could accomplish that feat. Despite an overarching feeling of menace, the episode lacked a concrete threat. Was it supposed to be Darkseid, who briefly manifested, only to rip Lionel’s heart out of his chest? Was it supposed to be Lionel, who showed up at the barn to rough up Clark and trigger flashbacks of the previous 10 years? Was it supposed to be Lex, who was resurrected at last, only to kill his (annoying) sister, Tess? Lex also helped push Clark that last little way on his journey to being a hero – echoing the brotherly bond the two shared in the early seasons of the show. No, the only true threat I saw was the coming Apocalypse. Excuse me, the literal arrival of the planet Apokolips. As in, a new planet entered our solar system. I’ll say this much: Apokolips looked exactly the way Jack Kirby must have imagined it: sinister and violent and spewing hate. But it really had to look good (er…bad) because it represented the only real threat in the story. And all Clark had to do was push the planet aside.
Uh, excuse me? How did Clark solve the problem? Can’t Darkseid simply turn Apokolips around and come back at Earth?
Maybe we were not supposed to think about it that way. By that, I mean, perhaps we’re just supposed to accept the fact that now that Clark has embraced his destiny as Superman, he’s always going to be saving the Earth from some threat or another. I suppose that’s why last week’s episode featured the Legion of Doom – not to set them up to attack this week, but rather to establish that they are out there, ready to oppose the heroes of the world. And now that Lex is president, he is in a position to do a lot of harm.
The best line of the night (beating out Lois’ “I’ve been such an idiot!”) came from Chloe, who quipped to Clark, “Seeya in the funny pages!”
As I noted earlier, these two hours had to wrap up the TV continuity and set up the comic-book timeline, and I think it accomplished this goal, even if it was a bit inelegant about it. Could it have been better? Of course. However, the final scene, in which Welling got to rip open his shirt to reveal the iconic “S” symbol, made the whole 10-year journey (including the final two-hour slog) worth it.