DeFlip Side #113: Smallville’s Big Finish


Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

Attention everyone. Attention: Superman has left the cornfield.

After 10 years on the air and 217 episodes, Smallville is no more. Clark Kent has put on his tights and taken flight, finally donning the mantle of the Man of Steel and bringing the longest-running American Science Fiction series to a close, in a two-hour finale that can only be described as a glorious mess.

Smallville’s swan song had story issues and plot holes huge enough to match its earnestness and heart, and I absolutely loved it because it epitomized everything Smallville has ever been, both great and terrible, over the course of its decade-long run.

Smallville is hands down one of the most poorly-written travesties ever to hit the air. The dialog often veered from bad to annoying to borderline incomprehensible; over the course of its final five years, the storylines were jumbled and contradictory, putting even the most melodramatic soap operas to shame; and many episodes had such gaping structural flaws—not to mention character and plot inconsistencies—that were it any other series, I would have gleefully chucked in on the ash heap of bad TV.

But it wasn’t any other series, because we always knew how it would end. We all knew that buddies Clark and Lex would wind up bitter enemies, that lovebirds Clark and Lana weren’t to be and that Lois was waiting in the wings; we knew that any enemy, from the lowliest freak of the week all the way up to General Zod, was doomed to fail because Clark still had to become Superman. And knowing that Clark would meet his iconic destiny no matter what, storylines became superfluous. It gave Smallville the freedom to be kinda dumb, so long as it paid off in other ways.

And it did, in spades. Like Superman himself, the series endured because it had tremendous heart. No matter how dopy things got, Smallville maintained an emotional resonance that kept fans coming back. You always cared about Clark and wanted to see where he would wind up next. I used to attribute this to my pre-existing fandom, but as the awful Superman Returns illustrated, love for a character doesn’t mean you’ll like or forgive bad properties that feature that character. All the credit for my enduring enjoyment of Smallville has to go to Tom Welling, who was consistently able to take whatever mess the Smallville writers threw at him and make it work. No matter how silly or confusing things got, you always rooted for his Clark Kent.

And that’s why the series finale was less about Clark finally becoming Superman, and more about stressing that the costumed hero is just window dressing on the solid, upright man who lies at that hero’s core—a man shaped by his experiences and the relationships he forged while in Smallville.

No relationship was more intrinsic to the show’s success than the one between Clark and his adoptive parents, the Kents, particularly between Clark and his earthly father Jonathan. The finale capitalized on this superbly, bringing Pa Kent back from the dead—both as the voice of Clark’s conscience early on and in a more substantial spectral form at the end—for some very touching and pivotal scenes. Take this one at the Fortress of Solitude, where Jor-El says this upon presenting the Superman suit to Clark:

“I ask you to remember one thing. Your abilities may be of my blood,
but it is your time in Smallville, with Jonathan and Martha Kent and
all the people there that made you a hero, Kal-El.”

“Always hold onto Smallville.”

And that advice applies to Clark’s failures as well as his triumphs—a point the finale hammered home with yet another resurrection from the dead, bringing Michael Rosenbaum back to reprise his role as Lex. Clark and Lex shared only one scene, but it illustrated that Lex’s influence on Clark’s growth was equally as strong as Jonathan’s, just in a different way.

“You and I, we will both be great men, because of each other.
We have a destiny together Clark, only on different sides.”

“And I’ll always be there to stop you. Always.”

“Oh, I’m counting on it. Our story hasn’t been written yet, Kal-El.
Every villain is only as great as his hero.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t save you Lex.”

Good stuff, but unfortunately Lex wasn’t the only thing Clark couldn’t save during the finale. How about the painfully long and needlessly drawn out run-up to Clark and Lois’s wedding, which apparently took place on the afternoon of a workday that neither of them took off, and which was attended by a crowd of complete strangers? And though a darkness-possessed Ollie trying to slip Clark a ring of gold kryptonite during the wedding was pretty cool, the ease and speed with which the emerald archer shook off Darkseid’s evil taint kind of cast doubt on the season-long buildup to Darkseid’s invasion. As for that, wouldn’t the gravitational forces of the planet Apokolips cause major earthquakes and tsunamis on top of artfully dramatic red skies? And what the hell happened to Chloe? Right in the thick of it, she tells Clark that she’ll see him in the funny pages, then goes off to reboot a sabotaged Watchtower, never to be seen again during the main story, apparently not having done a thing to get Watchtower back on line. Why did Darkseid need to possess Lionel to manifest himself on Earth, when Lex’s freshly cloned body was lying there for the taking? Why does Darkseid need a human vessel at all?

See what I was saying about plot holes and lousy story structure? It’s just another day in Smallville, folks, and I could go on and on, but let’s get to the biggest problem I think most fans had with the series finale: we never got a good look at Clark in the Superman suit, and he was never directly referred to as Superman.

All we got was Clark’s head with a flutter of cape behind it; a glimpse of his blue-clad shoulders outside of a plane window as he rescues Lois, and a couple of teeny, tiny, full body CGI shots. And just after he saves the world, and the camera pushes in to give us the first dramatic close up of Clark as Superman, the shot dissolves to a splash panel of Supes in a comic book that Chloe is reading to her son, seven years later.

So why bring fans to the brink of the series’ most iconic moment, only to give us the ultimate fuck you? Well, it could be as simple as Tom Welling just not fitting the suit, but I think it goes deeper.

The writers are clearly saying look, our story ends here. You know the rest from this point on, and there’s nothing new for us to show you. Is it a dramatic let down? Of course, especially after waiting ten years for the Big Blue money shot. But no matter how much the fanboy inside me shakes his fists at the merciless heavens, it’s also an artistic choice that I respect. Because Smallville was never really about Superman. It was about Clark Kent, a Kansas farm boy trying to make good. And the Smallville finale showed us a wonderful and satisfying culmination of Clark’s journey, without obscuring it in the shadow of the super man he was destined to become.