It’s over. It’s finally over. After ten seasons, the poor beast is finally dead. At first genuinely watchable, then watchably terrible, and finally just terribly unwatchable, Smallville has had a longer life than anyone could reasonably have expected. For a while the most entertaining part of the show has been speculating as to the mental state of its writers, who would repeatedly paint themselves into a corner, up the wall, through the roof and into outer space. It does not deserve our respect – only a thorough postmortem.
Having started out as a low-key, ‘early years’ retread of the property the show strayed into increasingly outlandish territory, losing its original focus on familiar, everyday subjects such as ancient tribal caves, mystic crystals, lesbian vampires, and kung-fu witches. It ultimately succumbed to the temptation of plundering DC’s vaults, and Smallville started getting some pretty big visitors. In the first few seasons the popular mythology of ‘Superman’ was alluded to only in a few tantalising glimpses of Metropolis, or the odd, heavily loaded comment about Clark’s “flights of fancy”, or his “burning gaze”, or how he looked “great in little red pants”. It felt good, the writers nodding to a trove of knowledge shared with their viewers without relying on it too heavily for material. By the later years they had burned through not only the small fry of Superman’s all-growed-up enemies, but even the big boys like Brainiac, General Zod, and Doomsday, shoehorning comic-book giants into the show’s half-baked, Saturday morning universe.
Over the years it also became increasingly difficult to imagine what exit strategy the team behind Smallville could possibly have in mind. How could this experienced, globetrotting manchild, who has relied solely on conveniently timed unconsciousness to keep his identity secret for a decade, possibly transform into a fully-functional version of Superman? In the end, it turns out their grand plan was to not have one – Clark belatedly adopts a pair of glasses for the last few episodes in hopes that all friends, acquaintances, enemies, teachers, co-workers and waiters from the last decade of his life might suddenly forget what he looks like. Until his wedding in the finale, of course, which he attends unglassed before a large congregation including several professional photographers, employed expressly to snap multiple pictures of his naked, grinning face. Sure he’s putting the lives of everyone he loves at risk, but it’s not every day you rent a tuxedo.
To be fair, circumstances sometimes conspired against the show’s writers. When Michael Rosenbaum left, unable to drop his character, they were reduced to depicting Lex Luthor without an actor, which got to be downright hilarious. At first he orchestrated events from offscreen, other characters discussing him in hushed tones as though he were plotting sinister schemes in the next room. Conveniently injured in a way which disguised his face and voice, he was then confined to the back of a particularly evil-looking freight truck, which idled malevolently on street corners until it met its demise in a climactic showdown. Rosenbaum returns sportingly to play a sort-of clone of himself for the finale, who gets his entire memory, including that of Clark Kent’s naked, grinning face, erased. Leaving him a mental blank slate, this obviously should raise all sorts of nurture/nature questions about whether or not he’s still the same old bald-headed bastard, except that apparently it just doesn’t so shut up right now.
“That’s the thing about memories,” he says at one point, pre-brainswitch, “you can’t forget them”. I’m certain the line wasn’t improvised, meaning that someone typed it into a script on purpose, which sums up the level on which the show has operated for some time. At this point it’s become so devoid of basic coherence that it’s hard to imagine what kind of person could still be seriously invested. Ultimately, although in its dying throes the show was more or less as bad as it’s ever been, it’s impossible to hold a grudge. Not only was it quality teen TV once upon a time, but the very fact that despite being so crap so consistently Smallville lasted so very, very long is some kind of perverse testament to the character and his mythos. Only the Man of Steel could have survived ten years of this. Now let’s see how he copes with another movie ‘reboot’ from “visionary director” Zack Snyder.
I apologise for those quotation marks, he absolutely earned that title.
Fuck you, he did, ok?
No, look, just shut up—
You guys are dicks.