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Monday, May 16, 2011

Smallville presents the series "Finale"

Smallville: The Complete Tenth Season     Ten years in the making, the CW's Smallville finally comes to a close this weekend. Clark Kent (Tom Welling) realizes that to become the Superman the world needs him to be, he must embrace the past and both of his fathers, as well as what they have taught him. It is not a realization reached easily, but once discovered, his destiny is achieved hard and fast, in time to stop Darkseid from destroying the world. As Clark is doing this, Oliver (Justin Hartley) searches for Darkseid's minions, Lois (Erica Durance) tries to stop the government from making a horrible mistake, and Tess (Cassidy Freeman) squares off with Lex (Michael Rosenbaum) for the family legacy. And there's a wedding.


     There can be much written about what is not in the "Finale" of Smallville (the other heroes in the Justice League, for example), but that would be counterproductive. The most important thing that has to happen in the series finale, as known since the show began, is Clark embracing his destiny once and for all, so of course, a very large part of the hour is about that. And that is done incredibly well, leaving nothing to complain about.
     Since Clark must look to his fathers for who he is supposed to be, bringing back Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) seems a no brainer. While it is never clear how exactly Jonathan appears, it can be assumed that Clark thinking about him being there is represented by a visual image for television viewing audiences. Jonathan isn't a ghost, and he isn't resurrected. Clark can imagine the words his father would say to him in his head, and to make that more digestible to viewers, Smallville gives a physical man in place.

     Martha Kent (Annette O'Toole) also comes to town, a real, life person, to attend Clark's wedding to Lois. Having both of Clark's parents sit together in the front row is a nice treat, and a pleasing image. They are both a very big part of who he is, so it is appropriate to have them there for his special day. As such, she doesn't bring her boyfriend, who it would have been nice to have a cameo from, but it is understandable that he would not fit into this scene.

     Jor-El (Terrence Stamp), by contrast, must remain a voice in a cold, ice prison. It's what he's almost always exclusively been, and so it is the best way for Clark to relate to him. It doesn't make his advice less pertinent, or his words less meaningful. In the ultimate show of cohesion, Jonathan and Jor-El, who have been at odds plenty over the years, come together to give Clark the costume that he will wear when saving the world. It's a big moment, symbolizing all of Clark's experiences coming together to make him Superman.



     Once Clark puts on the suit, there's a little too much CGI, but the point is made. We then see Superman in action. While many wondered what rights Smallville would get to show the caped crusader, since DC has another movie currently in the pipeline, clearly, they were given carte blanche. John William's historic score cinches the moment, and there is no doubt that the figure on screen is the legendary Superman. Ten years, and oh such a satisfying pay off!

     Less satisfying is the payoff of the Clark/Lois relationship. Much of the first hour of "Finale" is spent as each have their doubts about the marriage. Those doubts are soothed by reading each other's vows. They belong together, and that is as plain as day to viewers and characters alike. The jitters are calmed, and they go to the chapel, where, interestingly, the vows are read again. Perhaps repeating those words of love drills it into fans' heads that yes, these two feel very strongly and must be together, despite what is about to happen.

     Then, right as the rings are going on the fingers, disaster strikes, and the wedding guests flee. Clark is able to save the day, and the chapel remains only partially destroyed, a triumph compared to other, similar disasters in like series. Yet, after all is said and done, the ending reveals it take seven more years before Clark and Lois make it back to the altar. Why!? Sure, Clark probably gets a little busy as soon as he becomes Superman, but seven years seems pretty excessive to not be able to find time to make it down to the courthouse. The pair are in love! It just doesn't make sense they would wait so long! The best theory is that it puts the characters more in line with the comic book timeline. But it doesn't make it any less frustrating.

     That being said, the rest of the seven years later glimpse is nearly perfect, with Clark and Lois at the Daily Planet, a screaming Perry White (Michael McKean), who we sadly never see, and young Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore) being told he has big shoes to live up to (his brother, also played by Ashmore, was a beloved central character on Smallville before being killed off). Also, a mention on TV of Lex becoming president in 2018 (that's not an election year!). Only thing missing is, no Cat (Keri Lynn Pratt)? Then one last look at Superman as he takes off to save the world.

     One quick note about Ashmore's cameo. While it is more than welcome to see another Jimmy played by the same, very talented actor, it would have been nice if the surprise were not spoiled in the opening credits. Once Ashmore's name pops up on screen, it isn't hard for long-time fans to summarize just why he is here, especially since the episode begins with the seven years later framework, so it is likely to end in the same time frame. Couldn't Ashmore's name have been saved for the ending credits?

     Chloe (Allison Mack) gets the honor of opening the show, reading to a little blond boy who has to be her and Oliver's son, seven years in the future. She is reading him a story called Smallville, about Clark's journey into becoming the great superhero. As a participant in most of the journey, it is an appropriate story for Chloe to be sharing with her child. It's also nice to know that she gets a happy ending, as she has had plenty of pain in her life.

     It is unclear if Chloe and Oliver stay together, though they must have at least had a child together, because the resemblance in the kid is uncanny. In comic lore, Chloe has been added late, after her popularity among Smallville fans, as she is a character created just for this TV series. Oliver, who is the Green Arrow, has a relationship with Black Canary, who has been seen on Smallville, but not in "Finale." Not establishing that Oliver is with Chloe, while leaving room to stay comic canon, does hang a slight bit of sadness over Chloe's happy ending, though.

     Oliver isn't seen in the future sequences at all, but he is more than triumphant in the present. He has been marked with the Omega, a symbol for Darkseid, for awhile, which causes Oliver to betray his friends. While much of Oliver's struggle for redemption in the series is self-driven, this time, Clark comes to Oliver's rescue. Because Oliver is a hero, too, with his own story, this would have been a very unsatisfying end for him. It is nice that Clark can help a friend out, but fans of the show need to see Oliver being personally triumphant, too.

     And so he goes after Darkseid's three minions, and single-handedly takes them down with one shot. It's actually three separate arrows fired at the same time, but still hella impressive. Would Darkseid's minions be quite so easy to take out? It almost seems a cheat, though Oliver already got his fight sequence with Clark, so another is not necessary. It's a slightly weak sequence if over thought, but if emotion is allowed to rule, Oliver is served well.

     Perhaps the second most anticipated thing about "Finale," after Clark putting on the Superman suit, is the return of Lex Luthor. While longtime Superman fans knew that Lex would have to return at some point as Clark's greatest foe, the detaile were sketchy. In Smallville, the writers chose to have the new Lex assembled from the best parts of imperfect clones, then given life by Darkseid in exchange for Lex's father, Lionel's (John Glover) soul. That'll do.

     Lionel himself is dispatched with. Darkseid takes him over, zombie like, and in an encounter where Clark learns to fly (another momentous moment!) Clark destroys both Lionel and Darkseid. At least, that's what appears to happen. The real Lionel's death several seasons ago was shocking and moving. This Lionel has never been more than a shadow than the other one, and he deserves no less than a quick ending, without frills. Which is what he gets.

     Sadly, Tess also meets her fate, as she confronts her brother, Lex. Tess has struggled with her goodness after learning she is a Luthor. In the end, she proves herself on the right side, though that is little comfort as Lex guts her with a knife. She manages to rub something on his face first that wipes his memory, thus making her death heroic, though regrettable. Presumably, since Tess was created just for Smallville, and not part of comic lore, the writers wanted to remove her from play. That's too bad, because she has been a complicated, interesting character, and could have had plenty of story left.

     Lex and Clark's conversation, before Lex's memory goes, is everything Smallville needs for a scene between the two. Lex tells Clark they are connected, and one can only be as great as the other. They do not physically fight, as this Lex is not ready for their first battle yet, and Clark doesn't seek one out. But there is a real sense of set up between the two, a hint of their shared destiny. It's chilling, and perfectly executed between two wonderful actors. Thank goodness Rosenbaum agreed to return for "Finale," as losing this small bit would have weakened the overall episode noticeably.


     All in all, a very strong "Finale" for Smallville. At times, it has the epic power of a movie. Others, it resorts back to a long running, successful TV show. Clark Kent, the boy on his journey will live on on DVD, but Superman has a lot more adventures to come. Is it too soon to start campaigning for a Tom Welling / Erica Durance / Michael Rosenbaum starring full length feature?

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Article first published as TV Review: Smallville - "Finale" on Blogcritics.

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