Check out Dan’s review of first episode of the final season of Smallville.
It’s hard to believe I’m starting a review of the first episode of the tenth and final season of Smallville. As amazing as it is to imagine, this series has been with us since the month following 9/11. I know I’m not alone in saying that watching the rise of the world’s ultimate hero has sustained me through some of the hardest periods in my personal life, and also those of our country. Indeed, the world has needed a hero, and not just the fictitious world of Smallville. I’m both excited and saddened that we’re nearing the close of what has proven to be a monumentally entertaining decade of television. When I began my fascination with this show back in 2003, quickly catching up and watching the latter half of Season 3 as it aired, I had no idea that I had become a part of something that would become so incredibly special and dear to my life. I’m honored to be writing the reviews for Season 10. While, for sheer time considerations, some of them may be a bit shorter than my Season 9 offerings, I will do my best to maintain the quality in these articles that you’ve all come to expect. On that note, let’s get on with the end of the beginning: “Lazarus”.
After a wonderful opening recap sequence (ending with Tom Welling’s own bittersweet voice proclaiming “and now, the final season of Smallville”), we pick up right where we left off, with Clark plummeting to the city floor. Lois sees this and runs over to him to help. I have to say, I was immediately struck by the instant change in Lois’s character from the person who didn’t know who Clark really was to the one who now does. Her yelling “Clark!” took me immediately back to Margot Kidder’s portrayal of Lois in the feature films. I couldn’t put my finger on what the difference was exactly, but it was convincing and most welcome. Clark “wakes up” in a state between life and death. Visualized here by a cornfield, I was thrilled to see that the show was already paying homage to its own 2001 roots. There’s just something so innately Smallville about the imagery of Tom in a field that it’s pretty undeniable. Jor-El tells Clark that he’s made the wrong decision in sacrificing himself and “taking the martyrdom route” instead of ruling with strength as he was instructed, and that the world will now face its darkest hour alone. But this isn’t the same Clark as a few seasons ago. He’s assertive and strong, and knows he did what was necessary. He also knows that his destiny is to “step into the light and be a symbol of hope”. I know I’m not the only one incredibly excited to hear Clark say those words with so much conviction.
Right around the time we’re teased with a shot of Lex in the field, Lois removes the blue Kryptonite dagger from Clark’s side and runs away so as to not be discovered. This allows Clark to heal himself. Now, some have speculated (and rightfully so) as to how exactly this is possible. The Book of Rao is, in theory, still activated. No one has removed it, and Clark should now be exiled from Earth with his powers restored. At the risk of being an apologist, I’m going to speculate that when Clark “died”, the Book of Rao powered down, all Kryptonians seemingly removed from Earth. Kryptonians without powers is one thing. Dead Kryptonians is another. And I think once Clark had his near-death experience, that was just enough for the Book to be fooled into shutting down. Or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Lois has this great moment where she sees Clark speed away and then we get our first look at the opening credits of our final season. This is a minor aside, but does it bother anyone else that Allison Mack’s credit has never changed since Season 5? I thought surely, with this year being her big goodbye, that they’d finally see fit to give her a new beauty shot. But oh well. I really loved the shot of Clark on the cross from Season 1 being used in the credits again. That was pretty amazing. It almost makes me wish that they’d used all of the character’s earliest seasons in their respective montages to pay tribute to their longevity as characters.
After the opening, Chloe has one of her few scenes in the premiere. She’s trying to trace what exactly has happened to Oliver, and she sees a man on the video feed promising that “we’re coming after all of you”. She then goes to get a key just before Clark shows up to tell her what happened. They decide that the evil that Jor-El warned Clark about must be some plot that Lex was concocting, perhaps years ago before digital records were commonplace. This takes Clark back to The Daily Planet to see if the paper had run a story about any of Lex’s suspect pet projects years earlier. This is our only scene with Lois and Clark, and it’s played just wonderfully by Erica. She’s having far more fun with Clark than anyone ever has who’s known his secret. While Chloe tended to shoot Clark knowing looks and make comments that might indicate that she knew more than he was aware, Lois is more playful and involved. When Clark arrives, she knows instinctively that he must be there following up on a lead. But Lois is has a bit of fun with him first, telling him how great her kiss was with The Blur. She must know what a predicament this puts Clark in, having to maintain a false front of minor jealousy. And she’s also actually observant enough to follow his line of sight and know that he wants to look through The Planet’s hard copy files, creating a hilarious diversion for herself with a pen to allow him the time he needs.
Clark gives Chloe a call, but finds that she’s already taken matters into her own hands trying to find Oliver. She puts on Dr. Fate’s helmet to see where Ollie has been taken and is unconscious by the time Clark reaches her. We then cut to a rather disturbing scene where Oliver is being interrogated. We’re not sure who the interrogator is or why he’s so interested in Oliver, but I’m sure these questions will be answered more thoroughly as the season progresses. In any case, this was probably just an excuse for Justin Hartley to remain shirtless for the majority of the premiere, which I’m sure made plenty of fans happy. Meanwhile, Tess awakens in Cadmus Labs (in another great throwback to Smallville’s early years) to find that her face has been miraculously healed. She’s surrounded by clones of Lex Luthor, some of them in better condition than the others. She releases a particularly malicious version of Lex by mistake who proceeds to destroy all of the other clones. I must say, I wasn’t expecting quite so many unanswered questions going into Season 10. Not knowing who’s after Oliver (and the other members of the JLA) or why, being unsure what Cadmus Labs or these Lex clones have to do with the over-arching mythology this year just yet, etc., was a lot to take in in the first 45-minutes of the year.
Back at Watchtower, Chloe finally comes to and tells Clark exactly what’s happened to her and to Oliver. I had to wonder why this information wasn’t pertinent to share earlier in the episode. Yes, Clark was in a hurry (as he pretty much always is), but that was pretty important stuff. Then again, operating on her own has become Chloe’s preferred method of operation lately, and it does remain in keeping with her character. I did love her line, though, about Clark not being in black when he becomes the world’s hero. It’s such a great, small moment on Clark’s face when he receives this information, as if he instinctively knows that she’s talking about the suit Martha has made for him. So chin up, Chloe fans, you can rest easy knowing that she made the comment that finally pushed Clark to want to don the iconic red, blue and yellow. Now, over the years, there’ve been plenty of other Lois comments as well (such as capes looking good and a more colorful costume being about giving people hope), but I’ll give this one to Chloe. She’s has it a bit rough in this episode, and we’ve only got her for four more episodes. The scene ends with her letting Clark know that Cadmus Labs is burning and that he has to go.
Next, we get a scene that I both loved and hated. It’s Lois’s first trip to the barn since finding out Clark’s secret, and it starts out just perfectly. She’s walking around with her patented, knowing look. She’s pleased with herself at finally piecing all of this together, and it’s great to see her character granted this kind of feeling after the last five years. She’s earned it. Another thing I love is the contrast we see with all of the other permutations of “Lois knowing” that we’ve seen before. In “Infamous”, she was a bit overwhelmed along with the rest of the world. In “Idol”, I think she almost felt guilty for finding out when maybe he hadn’t wanted her to know at all. This time, she’s found out organically, as she was always intended to, because of her love of Clark and his for her. She’s not weighted down with the knowledge this time. She’s not unsure of how to protect him or apprehensive about proceeding forward knowing who he is. This time the knowledge has freed her. I absolutely love how Erica played this scene, and the line about the suit looking “so much better in Technicolor” really cracked me up. I must say, I had no real issue with the suit in “Superman Returns”, stylistically speaking. I simply feel that the film was shot too dark and drab. And that made an already slightly-darker-than-usual Superman suit come off looking brown and ugly. I’ve held out hope that Smallville’s shooting style would do wonders for bringing out the life and fun that I always knew was in that suit, and wow, does it ever.
No, my problem with this scene is how the writers are persisting in knocking Lois out every few episodes. I mean, I hate to sound like a broken record here, but that’s how this device feels at this point. What in the world would have been wrong with clone Lex just overpowering Lois but not knocking her unconscious yet again? Someone recently pointed out to me that that would have robbed us of the shock of Lois coming to and having to ascertain her surroundings on the cross. Perhaps so. But I think I’d gladly sacrifice those few seconds for knowing that the creators of this series were actually beginning to treat our heroine with a bit more respect or, at the very least, a modicum of compassion. I’m sorry to spend an entire paragraph on this one facet of one scene, but this is really something I feel strongly about. Lois Lane’s head has become the punching bag of Smallville, and now that she’s aware of who Clark is, it’s simply not necessary to keep doing this kind of damage to her on a weekly basis. And yes, I know we’re only talking about a fictional character here, but even setting that aside, it’s become a tired contrivance to always solve the problem of her seeing Clark by forcing her to endure some sort of head trauma beforehand. I truly hope that as this season progresses that we’ll see a lot less of this, because this aspect of the show is coming dangerously close to becoming a parody of itself. But I digress – probably until next week.
Lois finds herself tied up as a scarecrow just as Clark was in “Pilot”, with clone Lex offering up a rather ingenious explanation of why this works for him emotionally as well as just thematically for the series. He lights the field on fire and leaves Lois to her fate, saying that her death will finally break Clark once and for all. When Clark finally catches up with clone Lex, the two speak about the damning powers of pride and how it may have corrupted Clark’s view of himself and clouded his judgment. I really love that this is being acknowledged. And it’s pretty fantastic to put those words of truth in the mouth of our hero’s nemesis. I also need to take a moment here to say that I absolutely love the way this version of Lex was written in the script. I know I couldn’t have been the only one who pictured Michael Rosenbaum delivering several of those lines. They seemed written just for him to deliver (much more so, I must say, than the lines fed Darth Lex in “Requiem”), and it really gave some credibility to this version. On the other hand, I sincerely hope that they do get Michael back for the end of this year. If not, this teasing is really going to sting, especially upon repeated viewings after the series wraps and we all know how it turns out.
There’s a fantastic moment toward the end of this scene where Clark nearly loses control of his anger toward clone Lex, which all but proves the point that clone Lex was making about him. He’s then given the classic hero ultimatum: prevent an imminent disaster or save the woman he loves. It was just pitch-perfect how they gave “Superman: The Movie” a shout out by having Lex smugly say “even you aren’t fast enough to save both”. The difference here is, we have the most amazing version of The Man of Steel ever, and Clark essentially says “oh yeah?” and proceeds to save both. On the one hand, this does make clone Lex seem a bit incompetent, but on the other, boy is it satisfying! Naturally, he goes after Lois first (the romantic in me loved that touch, by the way). Now, I did have to ask myself why he didn’t use arctic breath here and just blow the fire out instantly instead of running around so fast in circles that the air extinguished it. Perhaps he was supposed to be blowing it out, too, but if so, that wasn’t really made clear. It just seemed like a bit slower of a solution to me. But hey, I’m not Superman, so what do I know? Lois’s “go get ‘em” after getting up was really wonderful, and I’m so glad to see her finally in on this and being a participant for a change.
Now, this next sequence is just the stuff of dreams for us long-time Smallville fans. We see Clark pushing himself to the limit, running faster than he ever has before to get to The Daily Planet globe in time. I did have to question – just for a brief moment – the whole “rush hour traffic” comment from clone Lex. Are we to believe that it’s the middle of the night in Smallville and the sun’s just setting in Metropolis? The whole geography of where these two cities are in relation to each other has always been a major bone of contention for us anal retentive types, but that sort of a major difference in light and dark would only be possible if Metropolis was in the New York area and Smallville was near, oh, San Diego? But again, I digress. These kinds of things really aren’t important in the end, but they’re admittedly pretty amusing to ponder. In any case, this sequence is just epic through and through. Every time I watch it, I’m amazed again at what this network is able to do with the resources they have. Seeing that globe falling into the crowd, the look of determination on Clark’s face as he FLIES it up to the top of The Daily Planet, and that totally iconic image of his holding that globe over his head as the city comes together in support for him was just a moment of pure geek joy.
Just before he’s able to put on the suit back at the farm, Clark is taken away to The Fortress of Solitude by Jor-El. It’s an odd moment where Jor-El is simply able to transport him to the Fortress with the key without it being inserted into the panel in the caves. But they’ve pretty much established in Smallville that Jor-El’s able to do what he wants to do with Kryptonian technology, so I’ll let this one slide (ditto for the control panel being repaired when Clark gets there). But this scene really upset me. I understand that Clark has made some bad choices, and that he’s gone too far a time or two. But on the whole, I think for someone going through the early growing pains of learning to basically be a God amongst men and never over-reach what that responsibility entails, that he’s done pretty well overall. Now, granted, after the way he treated Tess in Season 9 and then went off on clone Lex in this episode, I don’t dispute that Clark was due for a bit of a dressing down by Jor-El here. On the other hand, I think a slap on the wrist might have sufficed. In the end, Clark did manage to save everyone and not truly hurt anyone, even if he may have wanted to momentarily. Telling Clark that he’d have just died if it’d been his decision and that he’ll “never be the world’s savior” was a bit harsh, even for Jor-El. And he’s beginning to come off to me as even more immature than Clark, simply shutting off the lights in the Fortress every time he doesn’t like how Clark handles something. That’s not the way a good parent behaves. You guide your child, and you tell them when they’re wrong, but you don’t just turn your back on them when you disapprove of their actions and tell them you don’t have faith in them anymore.
Next up, we get a montage sequence of a young Lex clone under Tess’s care at The Luthor Mansion. We also see Chloe turning herself in to the same organization who had been questioning Oliver. Again, it’s not made clear just yet who these people are or what they want with our heroes, but I’m sure we’ll find out down the road. This essentially serves the purpose of getting Chloe out of the show’s way for a while so she can appear only in her five episodes. I’m sad to see her character fading out, but honestly, I think Season 10 needs that extra character time to really delve deeply into the final miles of Clark’s journey to becoming Superman. That’s the most important thing. That’s what people have been watching this series for all these years to see come to fruition, and I’m glad that the show runners are going to be giving themselves the time and narrative space to accomplish that in a thoroughly satisfying way. We also get a shot of Lois (in the most picturesque dune setting of all time), and Clark getting a letter saying that she’s gone to Africa. All of this is great stuff, but if I have one problem with this scene, it’s that they chose to recycle the song “One More Day” by VAST, last heard back at the end of “Veritas” in Season 7. As some of you may be aware, I also run The Definitive Smallville Soundtrack, and so perhaps I’m more sensitive to these things than the average viewer, but that song really stuck out like a sore thumb to me. It was used just as prominently when they used it in Season 7, and it inadvertently conjured images for me of a Brainiac-possessed Lana and Clark crying at her side. I just couldn’t help it, and those kinds of mental images just really have no place in our series here in Season 10. It was one of the oddest song choices I’ve seen this show make in years, and it injected an unfortunate air of staleness into an otherwise altogether fresh-feeling episode.
I’m going to do something I’ve not done in my reviews yet and move past the scene with Jonathan here. I will come back to it in a moment. Here we get our first shot of Season 10’s baddie, Darkseid. It’s a bit hard to make out everything, as he’s just a smoky, vague presence that materializes atop Clark’s crow’s nest. But I will say that what we do get to see here looks really dark, foreboding, and awesomely evil. I thought this was handled really well. The last shot of the episode is of the supersuit, encased in ice. I do very much like the implication here that perhaps Jor-El was just giving Clark a hearty dose of some much-needed tough love, but that he still truly does believe in him. Otherwise, why would he be holding onto that suit at all? I still feel that perhaps Jor-El was a bit harsh, but this shot did a lot toward assuaging my anger with his behavior in the earlier scene. And there’s no denying that seeing that suit waiting there as a final reward for Clark is nothing if not tantalizing for those of us who’ve been waiting so patiently to see that moment happen.
So back to that scene with Jonathan Kent. I purposefully wanted to save this scene until the end of my review for a reason. I really loved “Lazarus” as a season opener, but this scene really sealed the deal for me. Before I go any further, I want to say thank you to Louis Febre for writing a truly wonderful, heartfelt, and tender score for this episode, and for this scene in particular. The rest of this is a bit personal, but in the context of this scene, the series as a whole, and my own life in the real world, I think it important to share here. My grandfather just passed away on the 10th of September. He was like a father to me. For all intents and purposes, he was my father. My “real” father was a man I never knew and only met once I turned 22 and decided to track him down. He had a rather large extended family, including four other children, but he had no contact with any of them. And so I got my sense of self – and my knowledge of what was right and wrong – from my grandfather. After he died, I had a rather profound dream in which I spoke to him about life, death, and where I was going in my life. I came away from the experience feeling a calmness about his passing that I’d not had before. And I knew he would always be there for me. The interesting thing is that, while I knew that was a dream, I also knew he was really there. Smallville has – somehow – always managed to stay one step ahead of my life. I’ve looked to it, in fact, more times than I care to admit to know where my life was headed. I’ve never failed to see mirrors of what I was going through in what the characters I knew and loved were going through onscreen. But this scene was different than any other for me.
Some might find fault in there being no real context for this sequence. Is Jonathan “real” or is he not? Is Clark dreaming? Was it a ghost that he spoke to, or is Jonathan really there looking out for him? Prior to this month, I may have had many of these very same questions myself. But now, having lost someone who was, to me, the equivalent of Clark losing Jonathan, I can say with total assuredness that this scene was handled absolutely perfectly. Those who’ve passed on don’t come to you in a definite context like that. And there’s something unreal about the experience, that’s very true. But there’s also a sense of peace and boundless love that you feel that’s maybe more real than anything else in life. And I can’t explain that. Nor can anyone else who’s been there. Nor can Smallville. But this show is my life. It’s more than a love of Superman or a fanboy attraction to a show steeped in comic lore. This show has accompanied me, sometimes guided me, through some of my most difficult moments. I’ve marked time by episodes. The first episode that aired after my son was born, the last one that aired before my divorce, etc. Perhaps that’s an odd way to look at a television show about a superhero, but whatever I’ve gone through in life, Smallville has always been my friend. But at the end of “Lazarus”, it really reached into my heart and found what mattered to me most for perhaps the very first time. It showed Jonathan as that steady, invisible hand of support and guidance for Clark…that same hand that I know my grandfather still holds steady for me every day of my life. This review is lovingly dedicated to his memory.