Didn’t love it.
SMALLVILLE: “Finale” (spoilers)
It is difficult to review “Finale” as an individual entity, because it is no such thing. TV shows are already charged with providing the answers in a medium which is built on questions. SMALLVILLE goes much further. It exists only because we know who Clark Kent becomes. As such, “Finale” is the deliverance of a promise which was made in 2001.
To provide you with a context, dear reader; I am one of those people who had grown hugely disillusioned with this show since, probably, season 5 or so. Though, the seasons have merged together so much that I cannot easily differentiate them. As a Superman fan, I have been watching out of a sense of obligation, and hope. It’s similar to supporting your sports team even though they are rubbish. You are the afflicted fan, doomed to hope that things will get better, despite overwhelming evidence that they are getting worse. So, as you can imagine, my expectations for the end were not high, but perversely my hopes were.
When the show started, we awaited the birth of evil genius Lex Luthor, and the maturation of Superman. Happily, both of these things were delivered, and satisfaction can be found in that. But, in both instances, the job was shoddy.
Lex Luthor’s return was exciting, in of itself, even if the plot machinations to bring him back were wholly unconvincing. That irritates, but it is, unfortunately, par for the course. It would be easy to fall into the trap of accepting such poor craftsmanship on the basis that we have been buying it for a decade, but I won’t. The finale is full of the same eye-rolling inconsistencies and seemingly lazy jumps in logic that have plagued the show for years. Its commonality should not result in our acceptance.
We shouldn’t be satisfied that the show asks us to believe that Clark Kent would awkwardly address Lois as “Miss Lane” years and years after they were friends, partners, after her relationship with the Kent family, and after almost getting married in front of 50 or so people. We shouldn’t be satisfied with meta sequences like the Chloe-reading-the-kid-a-Smallville-comic which seem to have no real relationship with the universe depicted. We shouldn’t be satisfied with being asked to invest in Faux Lionel’s love for a son he’s never met. Or the baffling existence of ghost-Jonathan. I could go on, but suffice it to say, “Finale” is just like the rest of the show, in that it demands you once again compromise your standards for story telling in exchange for giving you moments with the characters you love. It’s not good enough.
But worse was to come.
The character of Lex Luthor is completely undermined by an off-the-shelf mind wipe. They essentially deleted the Luthor they made, and created a new one. Lex might as well have never appeared in the series. He is no longer shaped by his relationship to Clark in the way he should have been, and it is a betrayal not only of good storytelling (a mind wipe?) and the audience’s investment, but the show’s DNA. You remember? SMALLVILLE was about their friendship. How one became a hero, and the other a villain. The villain Lex becomes is now a stranger to us. The writers have wasted our time.
Rosenbaum is, however, the best live action Luthor we have ever had. Watching him in this, I was again surprised at how he can colour every line, every movement, with ambiguity. He’s charming, he’s intense, he’s inspiring, and he’s dangerous. But it shouldn’t be a surprise, he did it for years on the show, and he remains the biggest asset SMALLVILLE has ever had.
I actually love this cast, and I cannot help but feel an element of misguided sadness that they have completed their journey. Erica Durance is a stunning woman, and for a long time I was among those who simply dismissed her as the latest beautiful face thrown at us by an industry that rarely rewards talented women over sexy ones. How wrong was I? Durance has managed to find vulnerability in this character without compromising her strength. When she waited for Clark in her wedding dress, my heart was breaking for her. Her look of awe and love out of the window of Air Force One was enchanting. She sells it so well. It’s strange to think that such a weak show may have not only contributed the most interesting Lex Luthor, but also the most vibrant Lois Lane.
But the biggest expectation for “Finale” was to see Tom Welling finally become Superman. And he did. He took the suit, flew out of the Fortress, and the lamentable Blur became a red and blue blur. Superman, after ten years, was born. Yes, I wish that the production crew had been given the tools beyond that of youtube-based Smallville fans. Recycling the suit and footage from SUPERMAN RETURNS was underwhelming to say the least. The tight shots on Welling’s face in amongst the action broke up the rhythm of the scene, interrupting the audience’s enjoyment by forcing them into a narrow canvas when the bigger story was happening. I don’t know if these choices were made because of Welling’s refusal to don a full body suit, financial implications, or an attempt to continue the “tease” and maintain the idea that once a genuine Superman shot is revealed, the show is over. I do know that a show about the formation of Superman has given us a better look at Booster Gold. That hurts.
But for all of the frustrations of the episode, season, and series, some relief comes with the final shot. A bespectacled Clark Kent learns of a crisis and heads to the roof. The John Williams theme rumbles, Clark throws open the door and strides out. Welling – now playing something close to his real age for the first time – looks every inch the hero, every inch Superman. He discards his glasses, opens his shirt and reveals the “S” underneath. It may not have been enough, perhaps nothing could have been, but for me, it was an appropriate note with which to leave this universe.
So we say farewell to SMALLVILLE and salute it for its longevity as we turn our gaze to MAN OF STEEL. I don’t think Goyer, Nolan, and Snyder have much to learn from this show, but let’s hope it earned them some new Super-fans in 2012.
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