Nine seasons of Smallville, with one more still to come. Seriously, who saw that coming? Probably no one, since the pace set in the first two seasons had young Clark Kent squarely on his way to becoming Superman by the end of season five at the absolute latest. Which begs the question, how the heck did the show end up at season nine?
Season eight of Smallville ended with the world of Clark Kent (Tom Welling) in kind of a jumble. Clark had cast off his connections to the human world after the death of Jimmy Olsen and gone off to train with the computerized ghost of his father (Terrence Stamp) in the Fortress of Solitude. Lois Lane (Erica Durance) had left the present altogether to travel a year into the future and see the horror the world will become under the rule of Major Zod (Callum Blue). In true fashion, season nine begins with everyone coming home to Small... well, Metropolis, actually, where most of the stories take place these days. Anyway, this season Clark finds he has to outwit Zod and his small army of Kryptonians from the city of Kandor before they can figure out how to regain the powers they should all have under a yellow sun (if you’re one of those rare folks who’s never seen Smallville, the Superman movies, or picked up a comic book, Superman and any other Kryptonian aren’t born with their powers, they get them from exposure to our sun). Along the way, Clark’s juggling his growing relationship with Lois, his secret identity as the Blur (more on that below), and the appearance of a variety of other superhero icons such as the Justice Society, the Wonder Twins, Zatanna, and the Martian Manhunter. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also dealing with a number of other threats on top of the Kandorian army: the Kryptonite-powered Metallo, the Toyman, the Silver Banshee, and super-government group Checkmate (not to mention its side agency, the Suicide Squad).
If that sounds like a bit of a mess, well... it is. The makers of Smallville are trying to cram in so many cool ideas and guest stars in the hopes no one will notice the one thing they’re not putting in -- Clark as Superman. It’s a classic example of trying to delay the inevitable. While there was a point this show could pull that off, said point was probably three or four seasons back. Smallville doesn’t really hold together anymore because it’s been holding itself back for so long it’s just become one long, ongoing pile-up.
The big problem, of course, is Clark himself. In the show’s early days, he mastered all the classic Superman powers one after another, in record speed. It was pretty standard for him to discover a new power at the top of the episode and have it mastered 40 minutes later, just in time to defeat the meteor-freak of the week. The one thing he couldn’t master was flight, because it was long-established once Clark can fly he’d be Superman, no ifs, ands, or buts. The result has been a series of ongoing, convoluted twists to explain why Clark can’t yet fly. At the top of season nine, Jor-El tells him he can’t access this power, which would set him apart from mankind, because he’s hung up on being human and doing human stuff. Y’know, like catching trains, deflecting bullets, seeing through walls, and shooting microwaves out of his eyes.
Which, of course, brings us to the Blur, the secret identity Clark has created for himself in the meantime. The Blur is the super-fast, super-strong, invulnerable hero of Metropolis who kind of exemplifies this problem. Much like the stories he features in, The Blur feels like a “filler” identity for Clark, one neither he nor his allies are taking all that seriously. Since the story of Smallville can’t progress to its natural conclusion (heck, then everyone would be out of a job), it gets bogged down in twists and turns and tired plot devices. The characters never really get to mature and grow up because the show isn’t allowed to grow up, even though it’s long since outgrown its small-town origins and embraced life in the big city. Smallville is trapped in this eternal adolescence of “in the meantime,” because adulthood means the end.
All that space where Clark isn’t growing up and becoming Superman has to get filled with something else, and that something else includes time-travel and government conspiracies and multi-colored kryptonite and younger clones of older characters (you were wondering why Zod was only a major, weren’t you?) and other characters who switch sides every episode. Seriously, 21 episodes and I still have no idea what motivates Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman) to do anything. At this point Smallville has a convoluted mythology and interwoven cast of characters that makes you long for something simple and straightforward like LOST.
With all that being said, I’ll still admit the show can be fun on an episode-by-episode basis. Tom Welling’s been a great Clark from day one, and Allison Mack is fantastic as his long-time Girl Friday, Chloe Sullivan. Justin Hartley does a wonderful job as Oliver Queen a.k.a. Green Arrow, the Emerald Archer who needs to get his groove back, and there’s never been a better screen version of Lois Lane (although you’re always left with the nagging question of how the best investigative reporter on the planet can’t figure out where her partner keeps vanishing off to...). The effects look good, the dialogue is pretty snappy, and it’s great to see a lot of characters most of us know will never make it to the big screen. Heck, they even did a zombie episode.
Credit where credit is due: Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season is a slick collection that comes well-packaged and with a nice little guidebook that offers episode credits and story summaries. Almost half the episodes in this collection have deleted scenes, although the majority of them are so unnecessary you wonder how they got to the shooting phase. Some of them were cut before they even got music or sound effects. There’s also a pair of commentary tracks, but they’re more of the reminiscing-about-that-day type than any deep insights into the creation of the show or a particular episode.
The real treat are two featurettes on the final disc. One of them is “Kneel Before Zod!” which walks through the development of the iconic character in the films and the series. There are some new interviews with Richard Donner and actor Terrence Stamp (who played Zod in the movies) and the creative team who came up with a way to bring “Major Zod” to Smallville without violating the earlier interpretations. This feature’s worth it just to hear how Terrence Stamp originally got the part and how he deals with fans today.
The other featurette is “Absolute Justice: From Script to Screen.” Here the production team, cast, and crew talk about the many challenges of bringing actual, costumed heroes into the world of Smallville with the double-length episode at the middle of the season. Half of it is about the production nightmare of juggling production costs and demands with the need to display these legendary characters in an honorable way, which, well... does justice to them. Anyone who thinks it’s just a matter of throwing the characters on screen “just like they are in the comics” needs to listen to these folks as they discuss Doctor Fate’s bright yellow cape, Hawkman’s wings and beaked helmet, and only having enough time to build half of Stargirl’s costume (no, don’t get your hopes up).
There’s a lot of fun stuff in this set. Is it worth paying for, though? Ehhhhhhhh. Maybe if you’ve been a die-hard fan since the start and can keep it all straight. Otherwise it might just be worth cherry-picking a few episodes such as "Idol" and "Absolute Justice" off Netflix.