The seventh season of "Smallville" was, quite possibly, the worst in its history. The introduction of Supergirl never met its potential, the writers lurched from plot arc to plot arc with little or no warning, and the writers' strike disrupted any sense of cohesion. Add to that a disappointing finale and the departure of Michael Rosenbaum and the original showrunners, and the series was reeling.
So the eighth season had a lot against it, in terms of major changes to the cast and behind the scenes. Most obvious was the shift away from the familiar. Lex Luthor and Lana Lang had been a part of the show's DNA since the pilot. As of the eighth season, only two of the original regulars remained. For a lot of fans, that was a point of contention, and understandably so.
The writing staff, however, seemed to be dedicated to the notion of proving the critics and naysayers wrong. The decision to introduce the Doomsday character was certainly ambitious, particularly in terms of the changes made to the DC canon to make it work on a show with a relatively small budget. A lot of the stories were character-based, focused on Clark's development as a proto-Superman in Metropolis, and there was good movement on the inevitable relationship between Lois and Clark.
The introduction of Tess Mercer as the successor to Lex Luthor, and as a former flame of Oliver Queen, was surprisingly palatable. This was particularly true when she was given room to breathe and operate in her own style, as she was early in the season. The return of Oliver Queen was another good move. Oliver had already been established as something of an influence on Clark's heroism, in both positive and negative regard.
The net result was a strong ten-episode run at the beginning of the season. In fact, by "Bride", patient fans had every reason to think that the strengths of the fall would carry into the spring. Unfortunately, the usual disappointing pattern emerged, in which the middle of the season takes a hard left turn, and the rest of the season becomes an exercise in trying to repair the damage.
It's ironic, because the mid-season lurch in the seventh season actually saved that season, introducing the Veritas backstory. This season, the mid-season lurch brought back Lana in a short arc that not only undermined all of the progress made on the Lois/Clark arc, but also took all agency out of the Clark/Lana breakup. For all that the Clark/Lana fans wanted more closure than the seventh season finale provided, this particular treatment mostly added insult to injury. in fact, this arc was so removed from the rest of the season to that point that it felt like a completely different show. That this material was all but ignored when the mini-arc was complete made it even less logical a writing decision.
The overall effect was another muddled mess of a season, elevated by the early coherence of the season arc. That early success provided much benefit of the doubt, not just for the season, but for the season to come. Previous seasons have been less than average at the end of the day, but the seventh season earned a Critical Myth Rating of 7.0, which was a half-point improvement over the seventh season (which earned a 6.5). In fact, it is the highest rating for a season of "Smallville" since reviews for the show began on Critical Myth.
The key to the ninth season will be the same as it always has been: finding strong plot and character arcs for the season and maintaining them from start to finish. Considering that the ninth season is very likely to be the final season, a sense of purpose and direction is more necessary than ever.