Smallville Finale Marks the End of the Beginning

So, spoiler alert, turns out that Clark Kent becomes Superman. Who knew, right?

With its series capper airing on the CW last Friday night after a strictly-enforced "No Fly Zone" spanning ten years, two networks, and two-hundred-plus episodes, Smallville closed the loop on Clark Kent's journey toward the red, blue, and yellow future that we all knew awaited him, and in the process brought the curtain down on the longest-lived incarnation of the Man of Steel in any medium other than the comic books that birthed him. While some questions were definitively answered, others were left frustratingly opaque, and in the end, the Smallville closer exemplified the challenge faced by any show that ends its run after as much time in the trenches, whether MASH or Cheers or anything else: it's not just about giving the characters narrative closure, it's also about giving the audience emotional closure.

And for Smallville -- which more than any other show I can think of was all about its finale from the moment it began -- the stakes on both fronts were perilously high, not least of which because an entire audience has come of age right alongside star Tom Welling on his decade-long trek from boy to man to superman. While I may have dipped in and out of that audience over the years, there's no question that when Smallville premiered in October of 2001, the decision by creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar to re-envision the quintessential super-heroic paradigm as a conflicted teen coming to terms with a legacy and destiny he doesn't undersand was a stroke of genius that not only paid immediate audience dividends, but also gave renewed currency to the Superman legend. In the interim, the comic book Superman had his origin revised three different times, and the movie Superman saw his franchise revived and flame-out, with yet another take now in the offing.

Meanwhile, TV's Clark Kent struggled to find his way, his future just at arm's length but pushed further and further out-of-reach the longer Smallville's run was extended. This in turn made him seem less like the World's Greatest Hero, and more like the dull-witted man-child I describe here. But then, ten years is a long time for any series to sustain itself, much less one whose entire existence is predicated on its closing minutes. And while there's no doubting that it lost its way at times, there's also no doubting the cast and chemistry that carried it to its highest highs and sustained it through its lowest lows. That cast was in full bloom in the finale, with return visits from lapsed 'ville-agers Allison Mack, John Glover and Annette O'Toole. And while it was great to see all the familiar faces, the real treat was surely the return of John Schneider as Clark's human father Jonathan Kent, and Michael Rosenbaum as eternal nemesis Lex Luthor.

Schneider, whose quiet dignity and considerable presence have been been keenly missed in the five years since his character was given the traditional "Jonathan Kent Dirt Nap," has made several appearances during this past year, and his role in the finale was most welcome, allowing Clark (and us) a final opportunity to bid the proper farewell to Smallville and Smallville. Rosenbaum's departure at the end of year seven had also left a considerable, nigh-insurmountable void, especially given how well the series' creatives had layered Lex's gradual transition from ally to enemy into its early years. His reappearance, however brief, not only brought his arc to a reasonable conclusion, but neatly re-stacked the deck to allow his many years of Smallville development to sit comfortably alongside the villainous role that's long been designated for him.

Lastly, we come to the man himself. I've already spoken at length about how impressed I've been with Tom Welling in portraying what's been a pretty thankless role at times, and the finale was no exception. While the early section's wedding day jitters stuff, with Erica Durance's Lois Lane (I'll say it again: the best live action Lois thus far) getting cold feet about tying the knot, did stretch a little longer than it needed to, it nonetheless provided a welcome showcase for Welling and Durance's easy chemistry, and gave a clear indication of why Lois & Clark are meant to be no matter which version of this story is being told. The days of teen Clark pining for high school crush Lana Lang (the conspicuously absent Kristin Kreuk) rightly seem like an eternity ago. And as far as whether the twosome actually take the plunge? Yes, and no. And that's all you get from me.

One thing I will say, which might be considered a minor spoiler, is that John Williams' "Superman March" should hereby be designated the official Superman theme of record, period. The same way the notion of Agent 007 being accompanied by anything other than Monty Norman's immortal "James Bond Theme" seems wrong somehow, so too does the idea that Zack Snyder's Man of Steel would take to the skies with anything other than the definitive Superman theme to carry him up, up, and away. But if this does mark the last time we get to hear Williams' immortal chords in a new context, then what a way to go.

Last fall, while assessing the lay of the land as Smallville entered its final stretch, I made this observation:

I don't see how, based on the status quo as it exists going into the last year, Clark believably becomes Superman without everyone in both Smallville and Metropolis saying "Hey, why is Clark wearing those funny tights? And whatever happened to the Blur?"

To be honest, I'm still not sure they've entirely sold me on that. But I'm also surprisingly okay with it. While Clark finally becoming the hero he was fated to be is perhaps the biggest open secret since we first met a ten-year old Anakin Skywalker and wondered what was up with his haircut, the final speed bumps he experiences along the way I leave to you to discover. It doesn't all come together as neatly as we might have liked it, but that was perhaps inevitable given the sheer impossible longevity they managed to sustain. In the end, for all its missteps (and there were a few), Smallville came to a conclusion that was both appropriate and necessary, leaving a ten-year legacy to be proud of, while also ensuring that the end was merely the beginning.