Superman on Television

Smallville: Episode Reviews

Season 10 - Episode 21-22: "Finale"



Reviewed by: Marc Pritchard

So, this is what I imagined would happen:

Clark finally dons the suit and goes public as Superman in final response to Darkseid and his marked minions, in so doing restoring humanity's capacity for hope, which Darkseid would by season's end have all but thoroughly quieted - following the modus operandi established at least as far back as "Abandoned" - and for which Clark keeps being told people are desperately crying out, thereby vanquishing Darkseid and his forces, at least for the time being. Cue triumphant curtain...

I wrote that paragraph two weeks before the finale aired. It's what I've been expecting as an appropriately and acceptably logical outcome all season, prior to which I really had no clear intuition one way or the other - that, I suppose, is indicative of just how fractured this show has been, lurching through and between seasons like a drunk on a tight rope. I've known I'd be negotiable on the exact how and what of the conclusion, but not on the why.

Now we know.

And I am...

Well, tormented probably comes closest. Because while "Finale" basically vindicates the season narratively by holding to the thematic contours outlined at the beginning - and bluntly hammered on with punctuated irregularity throughout - (i.e. light/hope vanquishes dark/despair), still it persists in frustrating the expectations of at least the dyed-in-the-wool Superman fan.

(As well as, one hopes, anyone who appreciates and prefers logical outcomes over nonsense.)

So, no way else but tormented to have to think about why Clark wasn't wearing glasses in that chapel, despite the obvious fact that many of those unnamed and completely unfamiliar guests could not possibly know who The Blur is. No way else to feel about the choice to have Aaron Ashmore return to play the (putatively) real Jimmy Olsen, as though what worked about the Back to the Future trilogy was first and foremost the device where each of Marty McFly's great-grandparents is the spitting image of his real-time parents, biological absurdity be damned.

And how else but tormented to feel about finally being given a Superman on this show, only for them to go insistently (and, frankly, maddeningly) out of the way not to show Tom Welling in the suit? A quick scan of comments about the episode on this site alone reveals a striking degree of association of this fact in particular with basic disappointment. And I empathize, though I think it's not the not seeing Welling in the suit as much as it's not really seeing Clark in it. That's what this has all been about, after all. Instead, we get fleeting and/or distant CGI, a cop-out quick change ascent, head-shots of Welling with billowing CG cape (as if to say: "See? See!?," which they wouldn't need to do if we could, in fact, just see it), a wowed-crowd shot (that, truth be told, even at that point, watching, I thought they'd offer a kind of crowd's-eye-view so that the audience could feel part of the big reveal [but, no, instead we get close-up scenes of people freed from darkness by a very specific force but responding in the kind of unconvincing way that suggested there weren't even any images of Superman (never mind a suited Welling or even mannequin, for that matter) on set]), and that face-slappingly abrupt cut to the panel in future-Chloe's comic book.

So, yeah: tormented. Also because some of it was also rewarding. Despite my genuine disinterest in the wedding, I was moved enough by the decision to have Clark take Lois's hand in her father's absence at the head of the aisle not to feel the need to stress out over which part of that decision was the chicken and which the egg. The vows moved me as well, truth be told, the deliveries especially, but only the first time. My torment therefore includes agony over having to wonder not so much why the double-performance but why the double voice-over?

Seriously, could neither actor deliver those lines in full without flubbing or laughing? Could the wedding guests not hold it together? Or was it just that they figured "Well, we can't have them actually recite the lines out loud to each other through the door, and we really want to do the wedding in slow-motion, but you can't have a wedding without vows [MP: That would be wrong or something, I suppose, as would actually saying them through the door, given the Christian tones to the wedding itself, even though the only people on this show who say things like "bless you" are the bad guys], so... screw it. Tom can't say the lines the same way twice but did manage to get it right that one time, and Erica is just so good at the ooey-gooey love struck girl-in-private thing, we'll just do the voice over twice."

Either way, it was stupid. And not that we needed it, but now that the final note has sounded we can say conclusively that the Superman mythology was only ever a low-risk (because of the built-in fan base and richness of material to mine) backdrop for advancing the wholly unoriginal proposition that every great man has a great woman behind him, an idea that would seem to exult in women by implying that they are simply great on their own but that actually uses them as basically undeveloped, and therefore static, props in the service of men.

How thoroughly depressing. Ladies and gentlemen, feel free to be insulted.

But we also got to see more Superman than I was expecting - though, as I'm a quality over quantity kind of guy, I'd have easily accepted far less of that animated fan service for one genuine Clark-as-Superman shot, preferably over Metropolis, victorious and in full view of the live-news-watching world. My guess is that Welling just couldn't fill out the suit and deference was made to his insecurity, which if so way to put the art first. (Barf.) Otherwise, if the decision was owed to concerns Welling might have about being type-cast forever more, I have no sympathy: for ten years, Welling has managed to exploit to his presumably fabulous benefit (at least in terms of celebrity and wealth), the most beloved super-hero of all time. It is only fitting to return the favor, as it were. No one expected him to look like Jim Lee had drawn him.

So, all in all, bittersweet. As much as I'd like to accept Clark's remark to Oliver in the graveyard - "No one can push me or lead me anywhere. My whole life, I've been trying to fit into two different worlds and the truth is I don't belong to either one. I need to make my own path. Maybe that means letting go of both worlds." - as a kind of metafictional comment on the series as a whole trying to balance its impulse to be Dawson's Creek with its (sorry, but weaker) impulse to be true to the source material, everything comes off as far too calculated (too much the pièce bien faite [or, well-made play]) and therefore illogical. In fact, I think the real self-indictment comes in future-Lois's remarks to "Jimmy," about his latest shots of the Man of Steel: "Love the framing, love the colors, but where's the drama? I want pecs. I want cape. I want pearly whites."

Talk about antithetical.

What a shame.


Stand-alone: 2.5 out of 5. Too many typically confounding things - especially and most dismally the barn scene between Clark, Jonathan and Martha that concludes in such a way that you think he's speeding off to the Fortress, the suit and destiny only to wind up at Tess's car - to warrant a better than barely-passing score. Too much time on the wedding (at least half a point lost to that second voiced-over reading of the vows) and in reminding us that this is literally a finale (Clark's mid-fall flashback scene, in particular, as powerful as it was, deflates when mere seconds later Darkseid has been vanquished by one blow into a puff of crows, proving that Darkseid, too, was but a mere, and ultimately flimsy, prop in all this).

As a concluding chapter: 3 out of 5. Like I said, I needed them to tie all the light vs dark stuff together by having the final emergence of Superman (as much as his actions) be the thing that actually saves the day. I did not need to see those Omega symbols come flying off people's foreheads in bursts of light but I don't really fault them for that - the more they actually show stuff, the happier I am. The show-down with Darkseid was similarly unsatisfying, owing not least to the decision to spend more production dollars on him in the scene with Lionel than in the battle with Clark. Need it be said that this show is just bad with pacing? The really visually dramatic moments are over in a flash while the mundane emotional parade just keeps marching past, seemingly never to end, even when it does.

I also can't for the life of me understand why, after all the times Clark has said "I've seen my destiny" and thereby had us expect that the future shown in "Homecoming" is indeed the future to which Smallville has been categorically pointing, they would set the frame built around this episode in 2018 while leaving Clark and Lois unmarried all the intervening time (despite the future in "Homecoming" being set in 2017 and including a mention of Clark and Lois having an anniversary).

Finally, though the John Williams music never gets old, cribbing the style of the closing credits from the films was just grossly unnecessary and reminds us that despite the few new layers this show has added to the mythos generally, it's been hobbling along in utter dependence on the specific feelings and associations we've acquired somewhere else.

Is that any kind of legacy?

Thanks to Steve Younis for allowing me to step-in and close out the series with a set of commentaries that follow in the you-have-to-earn-this style of review used by Neal Bailey and continued by Julian Finn. Thanks to Neal and Julian, meanwhile, for keeping in check all this time my willingness to give Smallville whatever it wanted from me. And thanks to you for reading. There's so much more to be said about the show, favorable and unfavorable alike. With that in mind, I'll have a kind of retrospective essay, reflecting on the entire series, for posting on the Superman Homepage in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future. Until then, try not to look down.



Reviewed by: Douglas Trumble

Super Short Summary: Superman Begins!

Before I get started let me just say that I will be sending in my personal thoughts on the series as a whole to the Superman Homepage next week. I would appreciate you all coming back to check that out. So for now let me just focus on the final episode.

After watching a show for 10 years I am sure every fan had a good picture in their head of what they wanted to see in the final moments of the series. This is natural and should be expected. Some will be disappointed. Some will be angry. Some will be elated and some will react with contentment. We should all remember this as we see/hear/read reactions about this episode. The Earth is a special place and whatever or whoever you believe created or caused it to come in to being there is no denying that the result was something full of variation and diversity.

Me personally? I loved it but I will admit I had one big disappointment in this final episode. Nothing that "ruined" it for me but something that did not happen that I really REALLY wanted to see.

I more than anything wanted to see the moment Lois chose the name Superman for Clark's hero identity. They've hinted at it and even had Clark give her permission to do it and they never pulled the trigger on that story point. I get the dramatic reasons by having Chloe be the one to finally use the name "Superman" as she finished the story to her son. I do not think they just blew it off but I did really want to see Lois "name" him. I had been waiting for that moment and I kept waiting for it. It never happened.

One thing I know will bother people, and I completely understand why, is that we never once see Tom Welling dressed in a full Superman suit. It's a legitimate complaint that was expressed to me by a couple of friends, so I feel obliged to mention it but I will admit that personally it didn't bother me. It goes back to expectations as I said above. Personally I never expected to see the "suit" on this show. I figured the best we'd ever get was a shirt rip like we did get. The fact we did get to see this version of Clark in full costume for several minutes doing Superman stuff was an AMAZING bonus in my mind.

Yes, it was CGI and yes it was TV quality CGI but I still loved it. I honestly had expected everything up until the final second showing Clark ripping his shirt open would be done with Clark wearing the red leather jacket costume. That he'd only "suit up" after saving the day. I had no idea they would go full on Superman for those final action scenes.

The best thing they did in this episode was to have Jonathan be the one to hand Clark the suit when it was time. That was just flat out amazing. Having the father who raised him, with the blessing of his birth father, hand him the suit that will be the symbol of who and what he is to the world was EXACTLY the most perfect way they could have hit the climax. Clark could have just went out and buzzed airport towers after that and I would have been happy. It was something I was not expecting and I am just in awe of how great it was.

The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.

I had tears in my eyes and goosebumps everywhere. It was, hands down, the single greatest moment of the 10 years of this show.

Everything after that was just frosting on the cake and this cake was not a lie.

The second best moment in the finale to me was the scene with Clark and Lois at their apartment where they were each on the other side of the door. That moment was just so powerfully romantic in every possible way. I might have been critical of the forced drama from last week of Lois calling off the wedding but I have to admit it really did pay off here with this scene. Both Erica Durance and Tom Welling hit that scene with everything they had and boy did it work.

I found that scene also came back to mind when Clark flew up to the plane window and briefly shared a smile/look with Lois before he flew off to do some planet pushing. That was a fantastic moment as well.

The two best Clark and Lois moments involved a door or a window between them. You could almost say they were trying to symbolize that even with all the stuff between these two they still make it work. Worked for me.

Other highlights include the talk Ghost Pa and Ma Kent had with Clark in the loft, Clark finally unlocking his flying ability and blowing apart Darkseid's projection, Lex becoming president, and Chloe telling Lois how Clark needs her to ground him.

Maybe I would have liked it more if Oliver's big final moment was more than just shooting three arrows at non-moving targets, and they did "McGuffin" away Lex's memories with some techno babble but frankly those moments did not ruin the final for me.

Speaking of Lex, it was nice to see Michael Rosenbaum in the roll one more time. I did very much like how they had him come to Clark and encourage him to stand up to Darkseid. That is exactly what Lex would do. Join with Superman when it suited his needs. I don't know how much he'll remember going forward but since he becomes president I am sure he'll learn Clark's secret again as we know from the VRA his identity is on file. So many more stories I would love to see.

(Hint to WB and DC... a couple novels about this version of the character might not be a bad idea)

It was kind of sad to see Tess die but then it did make sense. She would be a threat to Lex's ability to control the Luthor empire and I did like that Lex did not waste any time getting rid of her.

The returning guests were all fantastic as well. It just wouldn't have worked if Martha Kent wasn't there, so that one made the most sense but they could have easily made a legitimate finale with no other guest stars. Maybe even a good finale but certainly not one as amazing as what they did here.

Mr Rosenbaum might have been the headliner and it was no surprise that John Glover and Allison Mack would be back for at least a small part but they really went the extra yard. I already mentioned how fantastic their use of Pa Kent was but it would be remiss of me to forget to mention the others. I was very surprised and pleased to see Aaron Ashmore coming back to play Henry James' younger brother "Jimmy" and very happy that Michael McKean found time to record a few Perry White lines, even if he didn't have time to come film a part. Two small touches for sure but those small touches really helped that final scene in the future be the perfect epilogue to the series.

I should add they did this without over doing it. Bringing in a bunch of other supers or random characters from the past would have over loaded it and took too much time away from Clark's shining moment. Everyone they had here was 100% Clark Kent's supportive cast (at least the Smallville version anyway).

Just one question. Why exactly did Clark and Lois wait 7 years to give the wedding another try?

The final episode with a perfect climax moment when Jonathan Kent hands Clark his destiny. Plus some other awesome stuff. Smallville ends but Superman certainly begins!

What a ride!

Grade it? Score it? Seriously I can't. 5 out of 5 just doesn't cut it.

Okay. I'll just call it a 10.

Thank you everyone for reading my commentary and sending me your thoughts through emails or comments. I appreciated every moment. Thanks to Steve for giving me the chance to write about what has turned out to be my favorite TV show of all time and thanks to Neal for allowing an amateur such as myself to share space with his work all those years.


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