When the Fortress of Solitude came down on Lex Luthor and Clark Kent at the end of Smallville’s seventh season, it might as well have brought the entire show down along with it. The series, which began in 2001 as a promising WB-styled re-imagining of the Superman mythology, had devolved into a constant stream of cringe-worthy dialogue and lame, sci-fi-meets-soap-opera plotting. Fans who thought they’d get to see how young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) matured into a journalist and super-hero were instead subjected to an angst-filled love triangle between Captain Plaid and his two “best friends”, the self-centered Lana Lang (Kristen Kreuk) and self-loathing Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum). It came, then, as little surprise that after seven years, everybody started jumping ship, beginning with series front-runners Al Gough and Miles Millar. Apparently eager to cripple their baby on the way out the door, they scripted a finale which saw Lex finally learn Clark’s alien origins (sacrilege!), Kara (Laura Vandervoort) secretly exiled to the Phantom Zone, Brainiac (James Marsters) fried to a crisp and Lana abruptly leave town. It was hard to imagine how the series could possibly recover… making it all the more remarkable that Gough and Millar’s successors – producers Brian Peterson, Todd Slavkin, Kelly Souders and Darren Swimmer – turned things around…for the most part.
There’s a new reporter at the Daily Planet: Clark Kent, who shares a workspace with Lois Lane. There’s a new hero in Metropolis, too. No one knows who he is. But Jimmy Olsen was on the scene of one of the do-gooder’s exploits, and he snapped a blurred photo of the hero in superspeed action – a hero everyone now calls the Red-Blue Blur. Red-jacketed, blue-shirted Clark Kent draws closer to his Superman destiny in the exciting 22-episode, 6-disc Season 8 of Smallville. Another Kryptonian destiny also takes shape. Davis Bloome begins to realize he is Doomsday. His mission on Earth: kill Clark Kent. So many new events (will Jimmy and Chloe’s marriage last?), so many new faces (Tess Mercer, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy among them!), so many state-of-the-art effects – so don’t miss a single thrill-packed moment!
Season eight picks up one month after Lex and Clark disappeared at the Arctic Fortress, and wastes no time establishing a new rhythm. Justin Hartley’s tanned-and-toned Green Arrow returns as a lead character, and with the aid of his proto-Justice League brings Clark home in time to land a job at the Daily Planet opposite a newly brunette Lois Lane (Erica Durance). Welling and Durance have exhibited promising chemistry since Lois first appeared in season four, but the writers always held back from pairing them up in any permanent capacity. Since season eight seemed like the show’s last, caution was thrown to the wind, allowing the legendary couple to finally start resembling their comic book counterparts. Though it still must be said – nothing tops Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher’s brilliant banter from ABC’s beloved Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
As the only character other than Welling’s Clark to have been with the series since day one, Allison Mack’s exhuberant, determined and loyal Chloe Sullivan finally gets some narrative focus. Fans are likely to be disappointed that their heroine almost inexplicably abandons her life-long dream of being a Daily Planet reporter, but the tradeoff is a storyline that acts as an anchor for the entire season, providing Mack with plenty of opportunities to shine.
To fill the gap left by Lex and his father Lionel (the wonderful Jonathan Glover, who also departed in season seven), two new characters are added to the mix. When word first circulated last summer that producers were looking to cast a handsome young man as “Davis,” the troubled Ace of Clubs bartender who eventually becomes the murderous monster known as Doomsday, fans couldn’t help but roll their eyes. Smallville has always tried to put new spins on existing characters, but depicting the creature famous for having killed Superman as a pretty boy with anger management issues hardly seemed like a step in the right direction. Luckily, they adjusted their plan and cast Julliard-trained actor Sam Witwer in the role. As the chiselled paramedic Davis Bloome, Witwer is called upon to be many things: dashing, heroic, introverted, deceitful, murderous and above all else, sympathetic. He succeeds brilliantly, proving a worthy (if reluctant) opponent to Clark and setting the stage for a confrontation the audience knows well enough could prove fatal for the Young Man of Steel.
Meanwhile, someone new takes up residence at the Luthor Mansion. A cross between Ms Teschmacher from the Richard Donner films and Mercy Graves of Superman: The Animated Series fame, Tess Mercer immediately stakes her claim to the Luthor legacy as Smallville’s fiercest femme fatale. Though she spends the better part of the season trying to zero in on the reasons behind Lex’s disappearance (and by extension, Clark’s involvement), Tess’ cobra-like intensity is balanced out by occasional glimpses of vulnerability. The fun part is that it’s nearly impossible to tell when the woman is opening up, or simply spinning another web of lies. Freeman, like Witwer, does more than fill the shoes of her predecessor – she brings a whole new energy to the table, and the series is better for it.
After all the introductions are made, the first half of the season slowly and deliberately begins building dramatic tension. Chloe accepts the marriage proposal of dull and dependable Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore), while secretly feeling drawn to toward Davis and trying to hide her newly computer-like intellect and abilities from Clark. Clark’s super-speed rescues as Metropolis’ mysterious “The Red-Blue Blur” pique the interest of co-worker Lois, who decides she will be the first to land an interview with the unseen hero. Oliver learns that Lionel Luthor was responsible for his parent’s deaths, and becomes fixated on tracking down and killing Lex, wherever he may be hiding. Then, in what could be one of Smallville’s only near-perfect runs of consecutive episodes, loose story threads from past seasons are tied up and everything boldly charges forward. Clark finds and frees Kara from the Phantom Zone, Lois admits to Oliver that she’s starting to fall for the Farm Boy, Chloe begins losing her memories and piecing together the identity of culprit behind it, Clark resurrects the Fortress and makes peace with the controlling spirit of his father Jor-El (Terrance Stamp) and Davis morphs into Doomsday just in time to crash a wedding. The whole affair is topped off by a memorable appearance from the Legion of Superheroes – a team of Superman-worshipping teens from the future who can’t help but wonder who on earth this “Chloe” person is, and why Clark isn’t wearing any glasses. It’s fun, it’s “Superman” and it keeps you glued to your set.
Then Lana returns. Hoping to provide closure to her seven-year-status as the only gal who could make Clark weak in the knees, producers concocted a plotline that might just go down as the most hated in the show’s history. The big problem with Lana as a character is she is always acting like a victim – visiting her parents’ gravesites by night, whining about Clark keeping secrets, getting involved with psychotic boyfriends and generally caring too much what everybody thinks of her. So when she stops by Chloe’s wedding to tell Clark she’s glad they both moved on, it seems like the writers have finally rectified the one big issue that made Smallville nearly unwatchable for years…only to have them then pull the rug out and make it all worse. In “Power” and “Requiem”, Lana is revealed to be an obsessive, self-mutilating liar with delusions of grandure. To make matters worse, “Power” brings back Lex Luthor in the form of a partial masked body-double (with little resemblance to Rosenbaum)…only to immediately kill him off (like that’ll stick). It’s maddening how wrong the writers got this one, and anyone who had enough of Lana in season seven would be wise to skip over these episodes.
The remainder of the season has a few bright spots, (thanks mainly to the on-going Davis/Chloe drama that unfolds in “Turbulence” and “Beast”), but for the most part, the series never recovers it’s mojo. Characters change trajectories, holes in logic pop up left and right and one gets the impression that the writers realized they’d have to bail on the planned series finale in order to lay the foundation for a new status quo in Season Nine. Much as I think Callum Blue will make a good Zod, it doesn’t justify bailing on everything the first half of the year was setting up. Lois and Jimmy are absent for entire strings of episodes, Tess starts spouting nonsense about “destiny” and making religious comparisons (much like Lex did before his departure in season seven), Clark seems incapable of making a decision to save his life – nevermind the lives of those around him, all of which are threatened by Davis’ increasingly violent alter-ego, and Chloe’s motivations for helping Davis are completely obscured. Who is she really trying to protect? Who does she really love? It’s up to the viewer to decide, but regardless of who you believe matters the most to her, by season’s end she’ll have betrayed them. Without question “Doomsday” is the worst finale Smallville has ever tried to serve up. It not only refuses to deliver on the promise of a Clark and Davis showdown that was built up all season, it practically spits in the face of one of the lead characters by pulling out an 11th hour excuse as a way to explain a difference in age that should have been addressed back when the first cast the character. Even more alarmingly, Sam Witwer is practically shoved off the series (like Glover before him) without a send-off that honors the considerable role he played in turning this show around. It’s sloppy, it’s frustrating, and it might make the whole season feel like yet another backwards step. It’s Smallville all over again.
Still, everything considered, you couldn’t have asked for more from season eight. The progress made at the start of the year restored viewer confidence in the creative team, and steadily built momentum. Character histories were acknowledged, continuity was largely respected (and almost celebrated), and the show just seemed to want to prove itself again the old fashioned way – through hard work and critical self-evaluation. Throw in a few more appearances from DC comic characters like Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Zatanna, Toyman and Dan Turpin, and there you have it – Season Eight. Sure, it soured in the end, but it also briefly soared. So much for “no flights”, eh Gough/Millar? Recommended.
If this cover doesn’t jump off the shelves, screaming Superman, I can’t imagine what would. Lois and Clark stand side-by-side in the Daily Planet newsroom, looking quite fetching in red and blue, just to drive the point home. The back cover features shots of all the leads – Lois, Oliver, Davis, Chloe, Jimmy, Clark and Tess. Season Eight is housed within a hard plastic case which slips into the traditional cardboard casing. It is a thinner, more durable solution to the all cardboard cases of past releases, and definitely a step-up. The plastic case houses the six discs, separating them so none overlap. Each disc features a photo of one of the lead characters, though Davis and Tess end up paired together.
The Smallville Torch booklet of earlier seasons is replaced with a more Metropolis-themed version. Instead of Al and Miles’ ‘We managed to top ourselves again!’ letter, the new producers (or “PS3” as they’ve come to be known) graciously thank the fans for hanging in there with them, and credit their support for Smallville’s renewal into season nine. It’s a refreshing change. The rest of the booklet provides a brief summary of each episode with production details and photos.
The usual montage of clips from the season (set to the “Save Me” theme) plays us into the main menu screen. It’s immediately apparent, from the choice of character close-ups instead the car explosions, location shots and CGI effects of previous season montages, that the cinematography of Smallville has changed over the years, as has the budget.
I’m told the Season Six set lacked any commentary tracks, so it’s a relief to see them back. This time around “Identity” and “Legion” get the special treatment, with director Mairzee Almas, Executive Producer Brian Peterson and Tess Mercer herself, Cassidy Freeman, sitting in on the first, and DC scribe Geoff Johns, Executive Producer Darren Swimmer and Supervising Producer Tim Scanlan chatting through the second. It pains me to admit that the track for “Legion” is probably one of the least interesting commentaries I’ve listed to in a long while. The energy level is low, and Johns enthusiasm about the yet-to-be-filmed finale fight between Clark and Doomsday only reminds you of the disappointments to come.
Fans will be pleased to discover they also have the option to play the recaps before each episode. These 30 second montages helped stir up excitement at the start of each broadcast, and having them here on the sets is a fun treat.
There are two featurettes. The first focuses on Allison Mack’s first time in the directorial chair on the episode “Power.” Obviously, it’s not an episode that was well-received by viewers, but it’s pretty clear Mack brought lots of passion to the task (case in point: she opts to see the script as an opportunity to depict female empowerment). Oddly, this featurette mostly veers away from discussing any specific choices she made as a director, preferring instead to give crew members and producers a chance to explain why she’s the bee’s knees. You’ll be hard-pressed to disagree – Allison is articulate, energetic and grateful throughout – but at almost 20 minutes long, your interest may fade.
The second featurette dives into a discussion about all things Doomsday – why they brought him into the show, how they originally envisioned him and how he ultimately came out. There are a good dozen or so photos of the monster suit to admire, but they’re rarely left on screen for more than a second each. Keep that remote handy! Designer Bill Terezakis’ various versions of the creature are something to behold. Sam Witwer fans, though, will find themselves doing a double-take when the actor pops up twice to briefly mention how he understood Davis to be nothing more than Doomsday’s “camouflage.” Since he first joined the show, Witwer repeated many times in interviews that he was instructed to play Davis as a decent man struggling with a dark side…not a full-out monster with a mask. It seems likely his brief appearance in this featurette was filmed to counter-act fan outrage over the way Davis was re-written in the finale. They even choose to film Witwer with dramatic lighting around his eyes and shadows everywhere else. Decidedly unncecessary for just an actor interview. And curiously, he’s nowhere to be seen in any of the other special features either. But then, neither is Aaron A, Erica D, Tom W, etc, etc.
Lastly, there are deleted scenes for several of the episodes, though fans will be especially interested in one from “Beast” in which Davis, rummaging through Chloe’s old Torch articles, reminds her how talented a writer she is. Allison Mack has already announced she will be leaving Smallville at the end of Season Nine, so here’s hoping that the producers give her character a send-off that appeases those who were hoping all along she’d turn out to be the real Lois Lane.
Definitely worth a rent, fans will want to buy! Smallville – The Complete Eight Season comes Recommended.
Smallville – The Complete Eight Season is now available to own on DVD and Blu-ray.
Smallville – The Complete Eight Season review written by Disneyboy.