“I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it’s 9:30 and Clark Kent hasn’t done a goddamn thing.”
It was May 13 of 2011 — a Friday — and instead of partying or watching slasher films (or both), Rafael Gaitan (the French Tickler of Comics Bulletin), our roommate Shaun, infrequent CB writer Nathaniel MacDonald, his girlfriend Steph and I were doing the complete opposite of having fun: watching the series finale of Smallville.
Smallville was a show I watched and relatively enjoyed as a teenager even though it was like Buffy the Vampire Slayer if Joss Whedon hated teenagers. And, let’s be honest, it’s really easy to hate teenagers. I haven’t watched the show for about four or five seasons, but I kind of keep up with the details, namely things like the entire DC Universe being imported into the series (Zatanna? The Legion of Superheroes? Blue Beetle and Booster Gold?). This entire final season has dealt with the battle against Darkseid, who’s often been the major villain in DC comics TV adaptations. Which makes sense considering most of them are cartoons. I suppose coming back to sit in on the finale of a show that I kind of liked provides a degree of closure, like seeing the murderer who killed your wife get the electric chair.
Early in the episode, my Comics Bulletin co-managing editor Morgan Davis appeared via Google Chat to cheer me on:
comicsbulletin: I kind of wish DC would have found a way to make Flashpoint tie into Smallville.
dannydjeljosevic: Here’s where we find out that Superman’s not a huge player in Flashpoint because he’s too busy being ineffectual on Smallville.
And ineffectual he is. In fact, even in this final episode, as Apokalips — a bad guy planet made entirely of giant volcanos, pretty much — draws ever closer to Earth like the moon in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Clark Kent is subjected to an interminable gauntlet of pep talks. That’s right — nearly every scene in this two-hour episode is about somebody telling Clark Kent that he’s awesome and that he can rise to the occasion and be a hero. Ma Kent tells him. Lois tells him. Chloe tells him. Oliver Queen tells him. Lex Luthor tells him. Even Pa Kent, appearing as a ghost (henceforth referred to as Ghost Dad) tells him twice. Where I come from, Superman’s the guy that makes the speeches. It’s like Clark is so dumb that he forgets he’s a demigod on Earth. Someone just play him the R.E.M. song.
I must have blacked out for twenty minutes, because suddenly it was forty-three minutes in, and the same tearful pop song resurfaced during a really well-produced Kay Jewelers commercial. Wait, no — it was the big Clark/Lois wedding scene, in which Ghost Dad still dresses in flannel even though he’s at his adoptive son’s wedding.
This is also where we get our first bit of excitement: Oliver Queen (otherwise known as the Green Arrow), Clark’s best man, presents the wedding ring, but something is amiss, and a fight scene ensues that involves Ollie hurling Lois in Matrix slow motion for some reason.
Shaun: “Is that Green Arrow throwing brides just now?”
Me: “Yeah, they’re trick brides.”
Raf: “One of them is a boxing glove.”
After the fight scene comes the greatest and best revelation I’ve ever heard: the wedding ring was made of gold kryptonite, which can take away Kryptonian powers forever. That’s the cleverest thing Smallville ever did in its entire life, and Mark Waid agrees with me. It’s just a really creative use of an obscure bit of Superman mythology, and that it sticks out even more in a TV series where Kryptonite is as plentiful as Snickers bars at a gas station. It is otherwise a silly, unintentionally hilarious fight scene.
Which made me realize that the series finale of Smallville has two kinds of scenes: somebody giving Clark a pep talk, or a scene where something really stupid/hilarious happens. After the wedding scene, we have a scene of Tess Mercer (a.k.a. Lutessa “Not a real first name” Luthor) strapped to a surgical table by an unkempt Lionel Luthor, looking like he just came out of a gold mine he was trapped in for six years. This scene, unlike any of the ones that feature a pep talk, has some choice moments, like Lutessa pulling a Jason Bourne to escape her captivity and Lionel Luthor selling his soul to a CGI Lost smoke monster version of Darkseid to bring back Lex Luthor into the mix.
Lex’s return has a handful of purposes:
1. To make the fangirls squee.
2. To give Clark another goddamn pep talk, half of which is cribbed from the end of Unbreakable.
3. To quickly resolve the subplot of there being another member of the Luthor family, by stabbing poor Lutessa.
4. To quickly resolve the subplot of “Um, so when does Lex become a bad guy? Because he’s the only well-written, likable character on this show” in the most ridiculous, idiotic way: Lutessa poisons him with a substance that will erase all of his memories. So, basically it’s is like the infamous “Adamantium Bullet” from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but even stupider because there’s no reason for Lex Luthor to have amnesia. But, whatever — being pissed but having no memories of why you’re so pissed will totally make you a supervillain.
All that’s left for the show to do is to have Clark Kent rise to the occasion and do something heroic, preferably while wearing a cape — but not before a few more pep talks. First, Clark fights Darkseid/Lionel Luthor in a barn until the voice of Jor-El (the original Ghost Dad) gives him a pep talk accompanied by a clip show of every special effect from the previous nine seasons in a manner that looks like an animated DVD menu screen for Smallville: The Complete Series. This montage emboldens Clark to fly through Lionel’
s body, effectively destroying Darkseid (!?!?!?).
At this point, my entire apartment burst into a thunderous roar of frustration as we all shouted “Hurry up and put on the suit” in varying volumes and punctuated by different expletives. Thankfully, Clark Kent heard our pleas and decided to change into the costume while flying at superspeed. Thank gods. All of them.
The rest of the episode (read: the last five minutes) is a reenactment of Superman Returns: Superman saves Lois’ plane from slight turbulence and then throws Apokalips into space. It happens about as quickly as I wrote it, because we still have a denouement to get through.
And that denouement involves Chloe telling the story to her son (with Oliver Queen, natch) of how Clark Kent finally did something interesting for once in a TV series that ran for 217 episodes (unacceptable), and Clark and Lois doing stuff at the Daily Planet newsroom until they get word of “a bomb in an elevator downtown” and he runs into the camera while opening his shirt, in classic Superman fashion. And I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that the ending credits are done in a flashy Richard Donner style.
AV Club-esque Random Observations:
Didn’t Ma Kent used to be a redhead?
Surprisingly absent: Pete Ross and his massive dong.
Goddamn, adult Clark Kent is well-dressed. I want him to play in my indie band.
Total missed opportunity: Smallville should have taken place entirely in high school. For ten years. Imagine thirtysomething actors playing teenagers running satellites, forming superhero teams and working at major metropolitan newspapers.