One of the biggest problems with "Smallville" over the years has been the writers' inability to produce a solid season finale. Too often, the writers fail to map out a solid season arc, and the finale reflects the last-minute retroactive modifications to the story required to make it come to a semi-logical conclusion.
Looking back on just the past few seasons, one can point to the final confrontation between Lex and Clark and the final battle with Doomsday as examples of how the writers fail to stick the landing. So going into this season's finale, I was prepared for another disappointment. After all, the second half of the season was an exercise in frustration, from the spotty treatment of the Checkmate organization to the choppy development of the Kandorians. (In fact, the Kandorian storyline never seemed to come together as cohesively as it could have.)
This season, the writers finally got it right. Not only did this bring the Kandorian arc to a satisfying finish, but it managed to link together with the Clark/Lois relationship arc in a way that has game-changing potential, if the producers are willing to commit. Add to that an opening teaser that just about caused loyal fans to pass out with joy, and it was one of the best finales the show has ever had.
One thing I liked about the episode was how consistently the writers used Zod's main weakness against him: his ego. Zod always assumed that he was more clever than everyone else in the room, and that was all about convincing everyone that he was. First with Lois, and then the Kandorians, Zod's notion of his own superiority gets the better of him.
We all know that "Smallville" doesn't have the kind of budget to pull off a true Clark/Zod throwdown. More and more often, the writers are forced to keep an episode's resolution short, leaving the audience with a bittersweet taste of what might have been. The solution in this finale is as obvious as it is effective: bring the action to a more human level and let the bloodshed begin.
For instance, there was the confrontation between Tess and Zod. Granted, Tess' motivations have been all over the map this season, but they managed to bring her character back to where she was at the end of the eighth season: firmly in Clark's corner. Those kryptonite knuckles were inspired, but the consequences of her defiance drove home Zod's single-minded desire for power. It's a solid follow-up to the events of "Sacrifice".
I also enjoyed the use of Watchtower. It was always supposed to be the central hub for the Justice League, and this episode did a great job of demonstrating how that could be used effectively as a plot point. The story would have suffered from bringing all those characters together in person. Having them conference in for a little exposition and to follow up on Doctor Fate's prophecy regarding Clark's leadership was a brilliant use of the "less is more" philosophy.)
It's wonderful that Zod is completely undone by the results of his own bid for power. He managed to get the Kandorians to follow him far enough to pronounce his impending rise to the world, but lost control long enough to forget that his people would have super-hearing. It's the pride that goes before a fall, and it would be interesting to learn what happens on whatever planet the Kandorians end up inhabiting.
But that's merely a side note, since the battle between Clark and Zod was brutal, yet staged to give a reason for Clark's continued presence on Earth. He'll have to recover from his stab wounds, of course, but that's a given. What's great is that the writers actually planted the seeds for that outcome in previous episodes, so when that plot device emerged, it didn't feel like a cheat.
The writers are going to have to be very careful to apply the same level of consideration to the Clark/Lois relationship, Tess' apparent impending resurrection, and Oliver's encounter with the non-Kandorian threat. All of these plot points were clearly designed to set up the arc for the tenth season, and so far, I'm definitely intrigued.
Before getting into that, the writers have to ensure that they don't drop the ball on the consequences of the Kandorian incursion. Zod's mark is everywhere now, and it would be almost impossible to believe that humanity is still in the dark regarding the presence of alien threats in the world. (It's already hard to believe that the world is still largely ignorant.)
In other words, as this was the reason for Checkmate's existence, the organization (or a new incarnation under the control of the Red Queen) should have a part in the next arc. And given the various apparent signs of the coming of Apokolips, and the initial hint given to that effect in "Absolute Justice", it should all be tied together.
This clearly ties into the experience that Oliver had while trying to provide Watchtower with a satellite uplink. Oliver made it clear that he was not being attacked by Kandorians. Since there was no clue that Zod was working with anyone else to achieve his goals, this points to some sort of prelude to the anticipated Apokolips arc. (As I have no experience with Apokolips as a character or the stories surrounding him, I can't guess what it is Oliver faced.)
I also have to wonder if longtime DC fans were supposed to recognize the character that paid Tess a little visit following her apparent demise. (Seriously, how often is Tess going to die? The actress is going to develop a complex!) Whoever she was supposed to be, the visual reference to one of the Fates was hardly subtle. That said, I would love for Tess to come back with a much more focused direction for her character.
The big test, of course, is going to be the treatment of Clark/Lois and Lois' realization that Clark is the Blur. The standard treatment would be a quick backtrack in the season premiere, removing the knowledge from Lois' mind and resetting the status quo. But there did seem to be enough wiggle room to give hope that the writers will completely ignore the usual trappings of continuity and let Lois retain her knowledge. It may not be the classical treatment, but it would fit the "Smallville" continuity far better.
Which brings me to the teaser itself. If nothing else, it is a hedged bet. I'm sure the producers have no expectation that "Smallville" will survive until 2013, and even if they do, they can always say that Clark was simply having a dream, should the need arise. But how much better to believe that the writers have actually given the audience a glimpse of where the story could be going?
After all, 2013 is not that far away, and in the meantime, Lois is apparently married, she seems to know about Clark's true identity, Superman is front and center, and Lex Luthor is fulfilling the prophecy that he will run for president. While there's no chance of Michael Rosenbaum coming back to play Lex, they could easily keep that plot thread in the background.
But more to the point, Clark now has his iconic costume in his hands, Lois knows about his abilities, and that could be used as a huge step towards the much-desired evolution of Clark into his destined role. In the past, there were limitations on "Smallville", based on the film franchise. With the film franchise currently in limbo, perhaps the producers will finally have their hands untied.
Let's face it: the chances are remote. But if not, why bother with giving a date for the teaser? Do the producers know that the tenth season will be the last, and are they simply setting up some plot points that will come to fruition in the series finale? It's hard to say, since the series has survived longer than anticipated. But one thing is clear: the producers have given the remaining fans a number of good reasons to come back in the fall.