Smallville: Season 9 Post-Mortem

"Smallville" has never been one of the top-tier shows on the television screen. While it certainly surprised a lot of people in the very beginning with its popularity, it has always struggled with consistency and quality. And being a show long in the tooth on a struggling network, it has been forced to do more with less, season after season.

So it's great to see the writers and the cast rise to the occasion. There were many sub-par seasons over the years, but it seems like the writing staff took it personally when a number of fans said that the loss of Lex and Lana would drag the series into the gutter. It's certainly had it's challenges, but it has been better than I could have hoped.

That said, there are fundamental problems with "Smallville" that I doubt will ever go away. This is especially true given the news that the series will end with the upcoming tenth season. Why fix what has been left broken for nine years? At this point, the remaining fans just want to see one last thrilling season arc with definitive touchstones to the Superman mythos.

One of the biggest problems has been the lack of consistent exposition and clarity. This is true for both the plot and the characters. For example, this season, the character of Tess Mercer was all over the map in terms of her motivations. From week to week, it was practically impossible to know what she was going to do or why. Some would call that "maintaining a sense of mystery", but it's really just sloppy writing.

It's also nothing new. Longtime fans remember when Lex's personal motivations changed each and every episode. The constant back and forth in the relationship between Clark and Lois is nothing compared to the whiplash relationship issues that drove Clark/Lana into the ground. It's no surprise that this season saw several groups of people with shadowy goals and motivations warring against each other for barely-mentioned reasons.

The inability of the characters to have a simple, straightforward conversation was at times a source of intense frustration. Most of the conflict between Clark and Zod, for instance, could have been resolved in about ten minutes, if they would have actually talked to each other instead of tossing ominous veiled threats at each other. Never mind the Checkmate organization, which chose to attack people to coerce their cooperation over the difficulties of a proper introduction and request for help!

Whether it was due to budgetary issues or not, the writers contributed to a needless stream of confusion and half-explained plot threads. The status of the Kandorians was constantly in flux, and a great deal happened off-screen. This was never more apparent than in the first act of "Sacrifice", when I was so confused that I initially suspected I had missed an episode.

The confusion surrounding the Kandorians, however, was nothing compared to the lack of clarity regarding Checkmate. I've said many times that the writers often fail when they assume that the audience is intimately familiar with the DC comics canon, and they simply exclude the necessary exposition to establish the characters and organizations within the "Smallville" universe. Checkmate was never adequately explained, and it seemed like they were demolished by Zod just when the writers were finally getting around to shedding some light on the situation.

This season has also seen more and more of the shortcut resolutions to episodes that has been a sore spot for quite some time. This is the scenario where an episode slowly but surely builds to a confrontation, and then the resulting fight lasts about a minute, followed by ten minutes worth of aftermath and denouement. It was precisely what hurt "Doomsday" so much, and it nearly derailed "Absolute Justice" as well. Lingering on consequences isn't the problem, so much as promising what can't be delivered. That said, I'm not sure there's a solution to that problem.

I can't complain about every example of cutting corners to preserve the budget. It makes sense for Clark to be getting more and more involved with the Justice League, but it's impossible to have them come and go. Using Chloe as Watchtower and Oliver as a local member with close ties to Clark is the best of both worlds. How they will continue with this tactic in the final season, with Allison Mack only being on the show part-time, is an interesting question.

Another good aspect was the relationship between Clark and Lois. Though the writers did play a few all-too-familiar games, the end of the season was promising. If the writers stick to their guns and don't reverse Lois' knowledge that Clark is the Blur, it will be immeasurably better than the usual quick fixes. In many respects, this season of "Smallville" actually felt more like a new envisioning of the classic Superman status quo.

Overall, the Kandorian arc came to a rousing conclusion, even if it felt like the interaction between Clark and Zod could have been more nuanced. The writers seemed to be of two minds with Major Zod. On the one hand, they consistently emphasized that Major Zod was not the diabolical mastermind he would eventually become. At the same time, the default characterization of Zod was violent and scheming. Had it been used to explore Zod's potential for good and evil in a more balance sense, the season arc might have carried more weight.

As it is, the ninth season of "Smallville" earned a Critical Myth rating of 6.9, which is effectively the same as the rating for the eighth season (7.0). While this is a clear demonstration of the consistency of the series in recent years, it is also a testimony to the persistence of the fundamental flaws that continue to be an unfortunate part of the show's DNA.


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