Is Superman Smallville's Greatest Weakness?

Illustration for article titled Is Superman Smallville's Greatest Weakness?

With the first half of Smallville's ninth season finished and the show off the air until February's Justice Society two-parter, it's time to look back at the season and admit it: The problem with the show is Superman himself.

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We're not going to argue that this season has been great - Or, at times, even good - but it feels like complaining about Zod's portrayal (In writing as much as performance from Callum Blue; I know that we're supposed to be seeing another side to Zod and everything, but there's no denying that seeing this Zod after seasons of a disembodied voice with schemes and evil oozing out of his every non-existent pore is more than a bit of a letdown. This is the guy we're supposed to kneel before?) or Clark's ridiculous Goth Matrix Hot Topic superhero outfit would be completely avoiding the real problem with the show these days: Smallville has nowhere left to go.

Okay, that's not true. Smallville has one particular place to go, but it doesn't want to go there just yet, and so we're left with a show that can't have significant character development with its lead characters for fear of reaching the (so-close-we-can-all-see-it) ending that everyone is already familiar with. When Smallville started, it had a purpose: These were the experiences that made Clark Kent from the awkward and insecure teenager into the superhero known around the world as Superman. But nine years later, it's not just that Clark is already at the age where he should be Superman already; he's at that emotional and intellectual point, as well. But, for obvious business reasons best described as "The CW wants to keep the show because it does well in the ratings," he's not going to become Superman just yet. What that means is that we get a lot of filler and distraction, which is what Smallville has become.

Sure, it's fun to see other DC characters make an appearance every now and again... But for a show that once used to try and keep the fan service (Well, maybe the comic fan service; there was always time for Lana or Lois to wear some ridiculous outfit) to a minimum of maybe a couple of "very special episodes" a year, this season has been (and, in the second half of the season, will be) full of non-Superman comic characters to try and grab the nerd nostalgia/recognition vote: Green Arrow, of course, but also Roulette, Speedy, the Wonder Twins, and upcoming, Amanda Waller, the Justice Society and rumored returns for J'Onn J'Onzz and the Legion. And, while Clark gets to meet all of these characters who'll theoretically be important in his future, he and the audience are distracted from the fact that he's going nowhere as a character. He's not learning anything he's not already learned, and even the step forward into the romance with Lois doesn't seem to be changing that.

Considering the show's frustrating "Blur" subplot - wherein Clark already has a secret crimefighting identity, it's just that's not Superman - it's likely that the show's creators already know about the problem, to some extent. A lot of the Blur plot is really just recycled Superman plot, especially the love triangle with Lois... But instead of alleviating some of the Superman problem, it just makes it more obvious: If your character development hinges on putting the characters into Superman plots with the serial numbers filed off, why not just make him Superman already? The Blur adds no value to the series that Superman couldn't, and to a greater extent... But pushing the series and characters in that direction so strongly just irritates; it makes the writers look as if they're being forced to keep Superman out of the show even though they really, really want to write him, and makes the characters look stupid (If Clark/Blur and Lois go through all of this now, no matter how it ends, doesn't the fact that they'll do the very same thing as Clark/Superman and Lois mean that they're not so good on that whole memory thing?).

The first half of the ninth Smallville season just underscores the problems with the show's set-up. Because we know how the story ends, there comes a point where the story has gone as far as it can and we're left expecting the end is around the corner. Despite all the sensible business reasons to deny that we've reached that point, the fact is, we're there. Until the writers and producers of the show accept that, it's all diminishing returns from this point onwards, especially when you make the unseen Big Bad of the show until this point into whiny, pale flesh.

DISCUSSION

The whole plan for the show was to parallel clark becoming a hero with Lex becoming a villain. The problem is that when Lex came into his own, Clark ran. Basically, Lex won: He grew up, Clark didn't. And they've never overcome that. Clark could have become an adult this year (or even last year) but they don't want to let Clark become a self-righteous know-it-all. But you couldn't do that job without annoyingly absolute confidence in your self, could you?