'Smallville' Recap: "Finale"
SMALLVILLE Recap: 10.21: “Finale”: Previously on Smallville: Knowing the planet Krypton was about to explode, a scientist named Jor-El placed his infant son Kal-El into a rocket ship and sent him to Earth, where he was found by a kindly farm couple in Smallville, Kansas. Jonathan and Martha Kent raised the boy, named Clark, as their own son. As he grew, Clark discovered the Earth’s yellow sun granted him remarkable powers and… what’s that? You know that already? Oh, right. Let’s recap this finale ten years in the making.
In a framing sequence set seven years in the future, Chloe reads a SMALLVILLE comic book to her young son, telling the story of how a powerful boy grew into a man and thought that in order to fulfill his destiny, he had to let go of the past, just as he was about to face his greatest challenge.
Cut to: Seven years earlier. A red, smoldering planet belching fire and death—Apokolips, the realm of Darkseid—moves ominously past Saturn on its way towards Earth.
At the Daily Planet, Clark refuses to accept Lois’ calling off their wedding. She still feels that the responsibilities of a marriage will just get in the way of the Blur being able to help people. “You’re not standing in my way, Lois. You’re by my side,” Clark returns, but Lois is unwavering.
While Oliver and Chloe decorate the chapel in anticipation of the nuptials, Tess is going over blueprints at the ruins of the Luthor mansion. She hopes to rebuild the house and absolve the Luthor legacy, but a visit from Granny Goodness reminds her that, as a Luthor, she was born bad. Professing a fondness for the girl, Granny offers to help save Tess from the looming apocalypse (er, Apokolips), but Tess refuses
Meanwhile, Martha arrives at the Kent farm (which she’d given to Clark and Lois as a wedding present) and is distressed to discover that the next generation will not be living there, as it’s been sold. Clark tries to explain that he and Lois will build a life in Metropolis, that he’s moving on with his life. Martha says that moving forward doesn’t necessitate letting go of everything that made you the person that you are. She says that the late Jonathan Kent is always with her, and that he’s with Clark, too, if he just allows himself to see.
Enter the spirit of Jonathan Kent (John Schneider), none too happy with his adopted son’s attitude.
At the Planet, Lois smells a story. Air Force One is in Kansas, and nobody seems to know why. Chloe shows up to try to talk Lois into going through with the wedding, using a copy of Clark’s vows as a convincer. The pen being mightier and all that, Lois has a change of heart.
Tess races to Watchtower to find out what this “Apokolips” is that Granny mentioned, but the JL satellites are inoperative, as are those of Queen Industries. And only one person has that kind of access: Oliver. Tess checks the video feed from the new “space station” that J’onn J’onzz has brought online (comics fans know this to be the Justice League satellite) and she sees just what Apokolips is.
A darkness-possessed Oliver meets with Darkseid’s minions (Granny, Desaad and Glorious Godfrey) and says that he’s done their bidding, that the heroes will not know of the encroaching threat (although you’d think someone would notice a fiery red planet screaming towards Earth). Oliver has one more job to do: switch Clark’s wedding ring with one made of Gold Kryptonite, the variation that permanently erases a Kryptonian’s powers.
Clark goes to Jonathan’s grave to hash things out with his dead dad. Clark feels he’s spent his whole life trying to balance between two worlds, and that maybe he doesn’t fit in either of them. He’s convinced that to become the hero he’s destined to be, he has to leave behind everything: Jor-El, Smallville, his adopted parents, maybe even Lois.
Clark heads to his apartment, unaware that Lois has had a change of heart. Now the shoe’s on the other foot, and it’s Clark that needs convincing. Again, a mere perusal of Lois’ vows is all that it takes to make the wedding jitters evaporate, and it’s off to the church.
Wedding bells chime, Pachelbel’s Canon plays and the guests settle in as Lois Lane and Clark Kent walk down the aisle together (Lois’ father, the General is absent due to emergency government business, perhaps having something to do with the igneous sphere heading towards Earth?).
As the lovebirds walk towards the altar, a tooth-aching piano ballad (I will not miss Smallville’s soundtrack) supplants Pachelbel. But as comic book readers know, superhero weddings never, ever go off without a hitch. When Chloe notices that the ring Oliver gives Lois to put on Clark’s finger has a suspicious glow, she knocks it away, triggering Dark Oliver to attack. Clark yells for everyone to leave (you have to wonder what the rest of the guests are thinking) and the ensuing battle pretty much destroys the church. In the end, of course, Clark is able to convince Oliver to defeat the darkness, and the Omega brand disappears from Green Arrow’s skull, freeing him from Darkseid’s corruption. Good timing, as the skies suddenly turn red…
The team convenes to plan strategy and try to figure out what happened to Tess (who was abducted by Luthor’s henchmen on the way to warn Clark). Chloe heads back to Star City to work on bringing together the full roster of the Justice League, but not before one final big hug with her BFF Clark and one last plodding bon mot, “See you in the funny papers.”).
Clark sees Jonathan’s spirit and follows him to the barn, where he realizes that turning his back on the people who made him what he is was a mistake. Jonathan says that they’ve given Clark all the guidance they can, that from here on, he’s going to need Jor-El’s help to fulfill his destiny.
Meanwhile, Tess awakens in an mysterious lab where Lionel informs her that her destiny is to contribute the one final element needed to complete the final Frankensteinian amalgam of the many Lex Luthor clones—her heart. Tess is understandably reluctant, and manages to escape, but not before putting a bullet through her father (from another dimension, but that’s moot at this point).
A dying Lionel crawls towards the unfinished clone of his true heir and is greeted by the form of Darkseid. Lionel agrees to a Faustian exchange: Darkseid extracts Lionel’s heart and places it within Lex. In return, Darkseid gets Lionel’s soul (assuming he has one).
There’s panic in the streets as the White House makes an official statement that the thing in the sky is a mere meteor causing a solar eclipse. Clark and Lois surmise that the Omega markings (which are branded on a LOT of skulls around the world—we are a tortured species) are a sort of “anti-life equation” (another nod to the comics—Google away, non-nerds) that’s drawing Apokolips towards Earth like a magnet. If they can figure out a way to erase the mark, then they can defeat Darkseid. Lois says that Clark inspired Oliver to exorcise his Omega, but Clark says he can’t do that for everyone on the planet (wanna bet?).
Our intrepid reporters use Tess’ recovered cell phone to discover she was abducted by someone working for a company called “Preclox” that specializes in genetic research, which points to one prime suspect: Lionel Luthor. While Clark goes to find Lionel, Lois realizes that the government plans to fire a nuclear missile at the “meteor,” which won’t even dent it, but the resultant fallout could kill millions.
Clark races to the Luthor Mansion ruins, where he’s greeted by a face from the past: Lex. Fully aware that Lex is a clone, Clark tries to tell him that he doesn’t have to be bound by the decisions of the original Lex, but we all know that ain’t gonna happen. Lex decries Clark for trying to run away from being the most powerful being on the planet rather than embracing it. Lex’ envy and refusal to understand Clark’s selflessness has coalesced into a hatred that can never be undone (nice touch, that). Believing that great men are defined by their enemies, Lex says that he and Clark are destined to battle forever, but only if Kal-El can stop the immediate threat. Seems that Lex always knew about the threat of Darkseid, just as he always knew that the Earth’s savior was destined to be the Last Son of Krypton… just not necessarily “Clark Kent” (and certainly not “the Blur.”).
Oliver heads to Watchtower and brings the systems back online, then changes into his Green Arrow garb and goes after Darkseid’s minions, whom he quickly dispatches with three arrows in one shot (Hah? Am I missing something? It was that easy? Were those some Orion-forged arrows that he found in the cave last episode that we didn’t see? Weird.).
Lois finds a way to get onto Air Force One to explain the severity of the situation to the President’s staff (why they felt this global threat could best be handled in Kansas remains to be seen). Only it turns out they already know Apokolips isn’t just a meteor and that they’ll be sacrificing millions to hopefully save billions. Lois begs them to give someone else a chance to stop the threat… some colorfully clad do-gooders she happens to know
Clark rushes to the barn to retrieve the crystal that will re-activate the Fortress, but is interrupted by Darkseid (inhabiting Lionel’s corpse—a beautifully creepy image). Darkseid acknowledges that Clark has the power to eradicate the darkness, and strikes Clark, sending him hurtling through the barn walls. At that moment, finally, Clark embraces his full power—including that final (kinda defining) power on which this show’s been holding out—flight. Summoning all his strength, Kal-El flies through Darkseid, who dissipates into a swirl of sparks, smoke and crows (again, um, that seemed pretty easy). But there’s still Apokolips.
Meanwhile, Tess goes to Luthorcorps where she finds Lex in his old office, waiting out the crisis. Tess asks if Lex always knew she was his sister, and of course he did. The Luthors have always used people to get what they wanted, but what Tess really wants is redemption. Lex embraces his sister, tells her he loves her and plunges a dagger into her belly. But before she dies, Tess touches Lex’ cheek, wiping a subdermal neurotoxin on him that will paralyze all cognitive recognition, erasing his memories of everything up until that moment.
Clark speeds to the Fortress of Solitude, where a rebooted Jor-El says that Kal-El’s journey is done and that he’s proud of his son. Jor-El tells Clark that he alone possesses the courage, determination and compassion to lift the darkness from the Earth. With that, the crystal chamber housing a familiar costume rises out of the floor. Jor-El tells Clark that while his abilities may come from Krypton, it was his upbringing in Smallville that made him a hero. Clark turns to see Jonathan holding the costume, which he hands over, saying, “Always hold on to Smallville.”
With that, it’s up, up and away as Clark flies out of the Fortress, changing for the first time into the identity it took him ten years to become: Superman.
Just in time too, as Apokolips is so close to Earth that it’s wreaking havoc on things in the sky such as Air Force One, tossing Lois and the other occupants on the plane like rag dolls (bringing to mind the airplane scene in “Superman Returns”). As the plane plummets, Lois is tossed against a window just in time to see her fiancée fly to the rescue. Superman (oh, it’s so nice to finally be able to just call him that) takes a second to give her a smile and show off the new duds before taking off to deal with the larger threat.
Which happens… really easily. Superman simply pushes Apokolips out of orbit, and the Omega marks are erased from everyone’s skulls. Just like that. Nobody even has the chance to point and say, “Look! Up in the sky!”
In space, Kal-El watches as the red orb floats off, and with that, we cut back to Chloe finishing the comic book, reading, “And that was the day that the boy turned into Superman.” The awkwardness of the scene is happily undercut by the music: the exact recording of John Williams’ “Superman” score from the end of that film, where Luthor and Otis are dropped off at the prison and Christopher Reeve flies off into the sunset.
And this is just the start of the payoff. Chloe receives a call from Lois, thanking her for the “something blue” she sent in the mail. Lois rushes to the office of her editor, Perry White (a returning, but unseen Michael McKean), but is stopped by Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore, playing the younger brother of the Jimmy he played in Seasons 6-8), who says that the grumpy chief (he shouldn’t call him that) is in a very bad mood. A computer monitor flashes the news that Lex Luthor has been elected President. A bumbling Clark knocks into Lois on the steps, and while they pick up their dropped folders, they discuss their impending, seven-years-delayed nuptials. But when someone yells that a bomb’s been planted in a building uptown, Clark says to tell the minister he’s going to be a little late. As the iconic theme song builds, Clark races to the roof of the Daily Planet, because this is a job… for Superman.
A mixed bag, for sure, this finale.
The bad: There’s too much squeezed into the 90-odd minutes. After teasing the Darkseid saga all season, the denouement is incredibly anti-climactic. I understand that the producers felt the need to create a visually spectacular ending for the story, but the combination of the lack of close-up action (almost everything at the end happens in long-shots using semi-convincing CGI) and the ease with which Darkseid, his minions and Apokolips were dispatched feels like a cheat.
The deus ex-machina of Lex’ mindwipe was necessary to set the stage for the Lex-vs-Superman battle that we know lies ahead (Smallville’s alterations to the mythos aside, Lex Luthor cannot know that Clark Kent is Superman), but it raises more questions than it answers. How does he remember who he is, where does the seething antagonism towards Superman now originate and how the Hell does he become President in seven years with no memories?
The comic book framing sequence felt like mere product placement for DC Comics (right down to the “holding the line at $2.99” blurb on the cover—wow, is DC promising they're not going to raise prices for at least seven years?) because it makes absolutely no sense in context. If it’s supposed to be a nod to the opening of the 1978 film, it doesn’t really work. Regardless, for Clark’s sake, I hope that’s not a real publication in his universe (on a positive note, at least they got Gary Frank to do the very nice artwork).
While I wish they’d have created their own version of the costume rather than using the semi-tainted version from Superman Returns, at least they brightened up the maroon to its more proper red (and reinstated the yellow S-shield to the cape).
Now for the good:
It is truly remarkable that a show that’s trafficked in some pretty heavy sap managed to avoid the cliché of ending the series with the wedding. It’s great that it’s implied, but not shown, and that it takes place seven years after the series ends. The whole time-leap was a brilliant way to give a payoff to fans who were dying to see these actors play these characters in their most iconic setting. I mean, Great Caesar’s Ghost, what a great final four minutes!
For a show with so many threads, this finale tied a pretty satisfying bow. The Luthors are whittled down to Lex alone. Supergirl’s off in the 30th Century with the Legion. Kal-El’s relationship with his Kryptonian father (whatever the Hell he’s supposed to be) was nicely capped, as was Clark’s angst over his adopted father’s death. I kinda wish we’d have seen Superman meet with the rest of the Justice League, even for a half a minute, but that’s a minor quibble.
But the best thing about the Smallville finale was Lois and Clark. As in, the pitch perfect characterization of these two people by the writers and the actors. For all its dips into darkness and angst and goofy diversions, Smallville remained true to the spirit of these iconic characters. Tom Welling was always good, but came to grasp the delicate balance of strength and humility that makes Superman work better than anyone… well, except Christopher Reeve, but that kinda goes without saying. And as for Erica Durance… this may be heretical to some, but I think she was the best Lois Lane ever. Yes, I said ever.
So, that’s it. Ten years. I still say it’s about four seasons too many, that the series would’ve had an ultimately stronger legacy if they wouldn’t have had to figure out how to bring back Lex Luthor and they didn’t gloss over the college years and if Supergirl and dozens of other heroes hadn’t come along before Superman.
But I do understand the definition of the word “adaptation,” and accept the alterations to the Superman story in the context of this unique show, the longest running superhero show in the history of television. Taken on its own terms, Smallville is an undeniably important part of the overall legacy of one of popular culture’s most enduring creations. And I’m gonna miss it.
NEXT: Let’s see what Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill bring to the table. Personally, I can’t wait.