For everyone who’s been frustrated with “Smallville” in the past – whether it’s because of the show’s obsession with its own mythology or the scale of its stories – and wondered whether this particular Clark Kent would ever grow up to become anything resembling the Superman we know and love: You might want to check out the first episode of the show’s final season tonight.
I’ll admit that I’ve fallen in and out of the series in the past few years. I got bored with the repetition of the the plots, the way that Clark seemed to pout and whine instead of just deal with everything – or, often, that others would deal with things while Clark pouted and whined – and the feeling that the show was spinning its wheels instead of letting Clark just become Superman already. Each season for the last, maybe, three years or so, I’d watch the first couple of episodes and think, “Yeah, it’s okay,” but not feel compelled to watch further. Sure, there’d be some great episodes – most recently, the Geoff Johns-written ones – but far too often, the series felt uncertain about its direction and, because of that, made Clark seem less like someone who’d grow up to become the world’s greatest hero and more like a spoiled kid who couldn’t deal with the real world. Surprisingly, “Lazarus,” tonight’s opener to the tenth season of the series, manages to not only address my complaints, but make them into good things.
(Apropos of my problems with Clark, something else that “Lazarus” does is make me like Lois all the more. There’re a couple of scenes in particular where Erica Durrance’s Lois – who, thanks to what must’ve been a great kiss at the end of the last season, now knows that Clark is “The Blur” and has super powers – just shines, being charming and just tongue in cheek enough with the material to make it work. She’s had moments where she’s suffered through some terrible material, but this time around, she’s one of the best parts of the episode.)
There are all manner of spoilers I could reveal, but the plot of the episode is almost less important than everything else that’s going on. That said, the villain of the episode is great, and surprisingly spooky in a good way; I found myself hoping he’d stick around as he was setting his master plan in motion, just because he was so much fun to watch and said master plan allows Clark the chance to act out a classic Superman scene that works really well. You’ll know it when you see it. Beyond that, what “Lazarus” does so well is present what this season is all about: Clark getting himself together. More than once, Clark is told that he’s what’s stopping himself from being the world’s greatest hero, and it’s clear that what’s being talked about is everything that I’ve found unappealing about the character in recent years. The sense of entitlement and all-but-stomping his foot and complaining that life isn’t fair when things don’t go his way, the lack of self-control and serenity, and the “darkness” within himself. For a season where the Big Bad is going to be Jack Kirby’s Darkseid, it’s fitting that the show will really be about Clark facing his own dark side.
For fans of the show, don’t be put off by the above – there’s more going on than just a self-critique, including the advancing of a lot of long-running plots and resolution of three cliffhangers from last year (Four, if you count Lois’ job offer). For fans of the comics who haven’t watched the show ever, don’t worry – it’s actually very easy to jump right in and not feel too lost, thanks to some exposition that only feels a little bit clunky (Thanks in part to a surprisingly full “Previously on…” at the top of the episode). And for those who, like me, might’ve wanted to like the show but felt burned by the past – give it another chance. “Lazarus” might not be perfect, but it’s filled with all manner of things that feel right, when it comes to both “Smallville” and Superman in general. It’s the best “Smallville” since Geoff Johns’ “Absolute Justice” and the freshest the show has felt in years. You might be surprised by how much you enjoyed it. I know that I was.
(Also, I want to know how excited you’ll get when you see what’s in the box.)
“Smallville” airs tonight on the CW at 8pm.