Waiting for Superman, week four: How important is the ending?

With only five more weeks of Smallville, there are mixed emotions in the TVS headquarters. To work out those conflicting feelings, I’ll be writing a pre-episode piece every week from here on out until the final episode on May 13. You can the first three pieces here, here and here if you missed them.

You might think that my headline question to this post is sort of obvious and dumb. You’re probably thinking “OF COURSE THE ENDING IS IMPORTANT YOU TOOL. WE HAVE WAITED 10 YEARS FOR THIS.” I can understand that perspective, I really can. Endings are always important, but in today’s quick-reaction social media era, they feel even more important. Those of us who spend hours and hours on message boards or on Twitter talking about our favorite television series are just so invested in how things play out in the conclusion. And if we don’t like what we see, we have all those digital spaces and avenues to express our disappointment, grief and anger — very, very loudly.

One controversial final episode and series that people fawned over for half-decades become the targets for so much rage-filled scorn that it seems impossible to understand how and why those people liked the series to begin with. Lost and Battlestar Galactica will never be looked at the same after their complicated (and some might say, terrible) finales. These are two of the best television series ever and from now on, we won’t be able to think of them in the same way because we cannot separate them from the context of their respective finales. And these were series that didn’t last as long as Smallville (and thus didn’t have time to build up the anticipation as long) and didn’t belong to a larger picture about one of, if not the, biggest and most beloved characters in popular culture. Smallville‘s ending, in theory, is for more than just Smallville fans. It’s for Superman fans as well. The stakes are most certainly high.

But even with that built-in audience and the extended period of time that we all have had to wait for this version of Clark Kent to take on the Superman moniker, put on a suit and fly, I’ve been wondering how much the ending really matters in the grand scheme of things. Clearly, it’s important, the fans want to see certain things and have some closure with these iterations of their favorite characters. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that while I certainly want to see those things as well, I’m not sure how much impact they will have on the ways that I look back upon Smallville as a whole story and series. I think the way in which the finale episode is handled will certainly shade my overall viewpoints on the series and its relative success, just as any ending to a story shapes our perspectives. And the ending will most certainly reflect how I feel about this final season, which has struggled in spots to establish and define a real narrative of its own (instead going for a collection of farewells and big moments) and where it fits in to the larger scheme of the series. Those things are most certainly true.

And yet, I can’t say that a finale without full-blown suit action or extended flight sequences are really going to anger me. I might be disappointed in the moment, but I recognize the external factors on this series that could impact the ways that the finale was developed and produced — most notably the small budget, which I am unaware if got a slight increase for the finale episodes. I would much rather these episodes focus on Clark, Lois and Lex (with some due-respect paid to Ollie and Tess mind you) and their character journeys. These are people who I’ve spent so much time with over the formative years of my life, ones that inspired me to start thinking about television on a more analytical level and I really just care about seeing them get to the places they need to be in a concluding fashion. Obviously for Clark that might involve a suit and some flying, but it doesn’t have to be all about that because this series has never been all about that. Smallville, for better or for worse, has been about Clark Kent, not The Red and Blue Blur, The Blur or Superman. And that’s who I care about. I know that in the theoretical future he’s Superman, but I just want to see him take  those final emotional steps to get there. It’s about a lot more than putting on a suit.

I think that’s a big part of it, actually. With series like Lost or Battlestar Galactica, we didn’t know the endings. We went on these original, crazy rides with the series’ creators and hoped they would deliver a compelling, satisfying finale. There were so many questions that we wanted answered and mysteries we needed solved in those finales, which was all part of the excitement as the series progressed and part of the disappointment when the finales came calling. But with Smallville, we already know the ending of this story. Clark becomes Superman, continues to work at the Daily Planet, marries Lois and re-establishes his eternal battle with Lex. That’s how this story goes. That pre-determination is thus sort of comforting. The fear of the unknown is completely removed in the final episode of Smallville, leaving us to fret only over the execution. For me personally, that’s a much less stressful situation to deal with. It’s probably less exhilarating too, but there’s something to be said for comfort.

Finally, I mostly refuse to let one or two episodes, or really one or two moments within those episodes, define my experience with a series, its world and its characters. I’m more of a “journey over destination” kind of guy, so even if I’m slightly disappointed by what Smallville presents me in those final two hours, it’s not really going to soil the ten years and the 218 episodes that I’ve spent with the series. Missteps in “Finale” are not going to take away Christopher Reeve’s two fantastic appearances, Chloe’s wit, Clark and Lois’ first real kiss, Jonathan’s death, the construction of the Fortress, Lionel’s death or the look on Jimmy’s face when it thought he figured out that Clark was the Blur in “Identity.” Smallville has provided us with hundreds of fantastic moments and probably just as many groan-inducing ones, so it’s actually probably fitting that the finale have a few missteps or “ugh” moments in it. But that’s the series we all love. I wouldn’t really want it to change dramatically in the final hours just because it’s the end. Sure, if the finale is just terrible, I might be really angry. But it won’t be. There’s so much care being put into these final few episodes and it really shows.

Perhaps you’re not like me. Perhaps you have a checklist of what the finale needs to do to make you happy and bring you closure. That’s fine. Everyone’s different. But as important as the finale is going to be, just remember that this thing has been going for a long time. And one episode or one moment shouldn’t totally define 10-years of stories.


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