Clark’s self-doubt lingers as the episode opens with a nice synergistic shot of some Time Warner magazines with superheroes on the covers. Lois pops by to remind Clark that their 5-year high school reunion is the next day and she does not want to miss it (never mind that she was enrolled in Smallville High for all of 23 days, five of which she actually attended). The on-hold status of their relationship notwithstanding, Clark agrees to go.
Back at Smallville High, a beleaguered guidance counselor looks back over a decade of dealing with meteor-rock malfeasants (in early seasons of SMALLVILLE, pieces of kryptonite scattered around town would imbue random people… usually teenagers… with various strange powers, giving Clark powerful foes to battle). The one key figure in all of those hard luck cases was one Clark Kent, and she plans to exact some vengeance with a letter opener. Suddenly, time freezes and a familiar figure enters the scene: Brainiac (James Marsters), who shoves a nanite-tendril into the counselor’s brain, saying that HE’LL take care of Clark Kent.
It’s the day of the reunion, and while nobody seems to remember Lois Lane, everyone (including the guidance counselor) is thrilled to see Clark. Except perhaps one stone-faced alum: The villainous “Bug Boy” from Smallville’s second episode in Season 1 (he seemingly died at the end of that adventure, but okay). Clark is struck with memories of Lana Lang and Chloe, neither of whom will be in attendance.
Clark discovers, much to his chagrin, that he’s been crowned the Alumni Homecoming King. As he and Lois sit in their thrones, Clark notices Bug-Boy, who glares unblinking. As if on cue, time again freezes, and in walks Brainiac, who informs Clark that “this is the moment your life changes forever.” The two are whisked away as things get back to normal at the reunion (but why does it sound like the band is playing the 1960s SPIDER-MAN cartoon theme?)
They reappear in a snowy graveyard, where Clark threatens to stop whatever evil Brainiac has planned this time, but there’s no nefarious intent; This is Brainiac 5, reprogrammed by and now a member of the Legion of Superheroes in the 31st century, back from the future to go all Dickens on our hero by taking him on a journey of his past, present and future through the usage of the Legion’s time-travel-abled flight ring.
Brainiac points out that he and Clark have much in common, both being “created” by Jor-El, destined to save civilizations, but being vulnerable to corruption. A frustrated Clark (echoing the sentiments of Superman acolytes) says, “All of a sudden, everyone’s telling me that I have a darkness within me, but I don’t understand what it is or how I’m supposed to change it.” Brainiac promises to explain, and suddenly they are back at Jonathan Kent’s funeral from Season 5, the point where Clark first began to blame himself for any and everything bad that happened to those around him.
Brainiac tells Clark that his adoptive father chose his own destiny, as does everyone, and they travel to the present, where Oliver Queen, now revealed to the public as Green Arrow, watches the media hysterically demand answers as to why and how a rich playboy chose to don green leather and become a vigilante. Oliver, however, is unsure of what to do, and waits for counsel from Clark (which is slightly odd, since for the past four seasons, he’s been telling Clark what to do). Brainy tells Clark that he needs to let go of the past, to stop punishing himself and others, that he can’t expect perfection from anyone… including himself.
They return to the reunion, unseen, where they watch a peppy alum regale Lois with tales of how perfect Clark and Lana were for each other. Brainiac asks Clark why he keeps Lois at arm’s length when he obviously cares for her. Again, it’s Clark’s dwelling on the failures of the past that keep him from moving forward. Suddenly, the ominous music signals the return of Bug-Boy who approaches Lois and says he has a message for Clark Kent. Clark finally recognizes him and demands to be returned, grabbing Brainiac’s Legion ring…
…. And FWOOSH! Clark, sans Brainy, is at the Daily Planet, but a newspaper headline declaring “Superman Saves the Day” reveals that it’s seven years later. Clark’s a little slow to catch on, and is startled to discover that Lois Lane not only knows his secret, but is helping him to keep it, reminding him to don his glasses and act all nerdy so as not to arouse suspicion. Clark tries to explain to Lois that he’s lost in time, but she simply thinks he may have sipped some memory-dulling Red Kryptonite cocktail or something, and rushes off to cover a story. Clark steps onto the elevator, only he’s not alone. “She’s a handful, isn’t she?” asks a mild-mannered reporter clad in glasses and suit, black hair slicked back.
Future Clark tells our Clark that he’s been expecting him, since, well, he’s been there before (gotta love the mind bending paradoxes of time travel stories) and he has to head to the roof to stop one disaster while Superman averts a nuclear explosion on the other side of town.
Meanwhile, on the roof, the Daily Planet helicopter has malfunctioned and is about to plunge to the streets of Metropolis… until our boy in blue pulls it back to safety. Lois plants some grateful smooches on her hero and rushes off to her interview as Brainiac finally catches up. Clark says he always wished his future would be this bright, and Brainy points out that Kal-El’s darkness “lies not only in dwelling upon the past, but fearing the future.” Clark remains skeptical, but they return to the reunion to see that the message from Bug-Boy is one of gratitude; That Clark is the reason a lot of people are still alive or turned themselves around.
Brainiac gives Clark one final platitude about a hero being made “in the moment” and returns to the 31st century. Clark goes to Lois, and they are about to dance when the reunion abruptly ends.
Sometime later, Clark (in his Jean-Paul-Gautier-80s-looking red leather Superjacket) visits the grave of Jonathan Kent and does something he’s never been able to before: He says goodbye (he also buries the watch his father left him, which makes no sense, but okay).
Back in Metropolis, Oliver finally sits down with the media, and a cynical TV interviewer begins lambasting him for being spoiled and self-righteous. Ollie looks defeated until he spots Clark walk into the room, and becomes inspired to stand up for himself, proudly stating that he IS hero “and I’m not doing it alone.”
A bit later, Lois is beckoned to the Kent farm, where she finds a disco ball hanging in the barn, and Clark dressed up and ready to get that dance they missed at the reunion. Lois is hesitant, and the dance begins badly when Clark steps on her foot (somehow not completely crushing it). Lois steps onto Clark’s feet, and as they dance, Clark finally says “I love you.” A stunned Lois returns the sentiment, and in that moment, they lift off the ground in a moment that’s cheesy for sure, but not altogether unrewarding.
There’s some fuzzy logic in this episode (why are they able to interact with people in some times, but not others?) and the sentiment is ramrod-subtle, but for Superman fans, it’s chock full of the kinds of final season payoffs we’ve been promised. The chemistry between Tom Welling and Erica Durance is phenomenal, and the glimpse into their future helps to remove the bad taste of the wretched LOIS & CLARK series of the 1990s. The helicopter scene is a nice callback to 1978’s SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and personally, I love that Clark’s “darkness” isn’t some suppressed evil, but borne out of a sense of responsibility. When Tim Burton was planning his Superman movie in the 90s, he expressed interest in exploring Superman’s “darker, more murderous side,” completely missing the point that what makes the character interesting is that he DOESN’T HAVE ONE. He’s absolute power absolutely UNcorrupted. It’s nice to see SMALLVILLE again grounding itself in the essence of the legend that’s made Superman one of the most enduring figures in pop culture.
NEXT UP: Lois and Clark’s new relationship may be short-lived as Lois is possessed by the spirit of ISIS!