Judge Jennifer Malkowski wonders where a straight arrow like Oliver Queen got such an interesting name.
Our reviews of Smallville: The Complete First Season (published November 24th, 2003), Smallville: The Complete Second Season (published June 9th, 2004), Smallville: The Complete Third Season (published December 15th, 2004), Smallville: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 19th, 2005), Smallville: The Complete Fifth Season (published October 16th, 2006), Smallville: The Complete Sixth Season (HD DVD) (published October 24th, 2007), Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-Ray) (published September 26th, 2008), Smallville: The Complete Eighth Season (Blu-Ray) (published September 3rd, 2009), Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season (Blu-Ray) (published September 7th, 2010), and Smallville: The Complete Tenth Season (Blu-ray) (published December 22nd, 2011) are also available.
Clark: "For the first time, I'm ready to stop running from who I really
am, from my destiny."
Spoiler alert! If they're your TV kryptonite, back away slowly now.
The above dialogue between Clark and Martha nicely sums up the frustrating attitude of these later seasons of Smallville. While many aspects of the series propel Clark Kent forward into his role as Superman, ultimately the goal of the writers must always be to hold him back, taking care never to let him get too close to becoming the cape-wearing hero that so many other Superman series have already explored. Chief among the necessary stalling tactics is the stubborn refusal of the show's characters to leave the title town of Smallville and the sleepy little Kent farm, despite the fact that nearly all of them now work in Metropolis.
In Smallville: The Complete Sixth Season, the Phantom Zone storyline feels like a random roadblock on that journey, and yet other subplots—notably the appearance of Oliver Queen and the first incarnation of the Justice League—help Clark make some satisfying advances. Plus, as always, there are some particularly juicy samples of the love triangles/squares/octagons that we've come to expect in Smallville.
Facts of the Case
By Season Six, I'm guessing we all know the basics, but here's a quick review: Clark Kent (Tom Welling) lives out his teen years in his adopted hometown of Smallville before embarking on his better-known adventures as Metropolis's spandex-clad protector, Superman. His mother Martha (Annette O'Toole), now a state senator, still instills good morals in him and exploits his super-speed and strength as the ultimate farmhand. His best friend Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) assists him—more so now that she knows "his secret"—with the meteor-rock-spawned "freaks" who misuse their strange powers and, this season, dangerous aliens escaped from a galactic prison called the Phantom Zone. More often these days, Clark must also battle the profit-driven corporate villainy of tortured soul Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and his ambiguously evil father, Lionel (John Glover). Season Six brings the added sting of Clark's first love, Lana Lang (Kristen Kreuk), dating his biggest rival, Lex. A blast from Clark's future, spunky reporter Lois Lane (Erica Durance), returns for her third season with a new love interest: millionaire Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley), who harbors a secret identity as the Green Arrow. Finally, Aaron Ashmore (twin brother of X-Men's Shawn Ashmore) joins the cast as the adorably ambitious photographer Jimmy Olsen.
Smallville: The Complete Sixth Season contains all 22 episodes, with special features divided between the first two discs:
• "Sneeze" (with deleted scenes)
• "Wither" (with deleted scenes)
Special Features: "Green Arrow: The Legend of the Emerald Archer," "Smallville: Big Fans"
• "Fallout" (with deleted scenes)
Special Features: "Smallville Legends: The Oliver Queen Chronicles," "The Making of Smallville Legends: The Oliver Queen Chronicles," "Smallville Legends: Justice and Doom"
• "Hydro" (with deleted scenes)
• "Labyrinth" (with deleted scenes)
• "Crimson" (with deleted scenes)
• "Combat" (with deleted scenes)
• "Progeny" (with deleted scenes)
• "Phantom" (with deleted scenes)
Though I think Smallville is a show that peaked early, around its second and third season, there is still as much to like about Season Six as there is to loath (or, perhaps more accurately, yawn at). I've mentioned the fairly weak story arc of the escaped Phantom Zone prisoners, and another entry into the "yawn" column this year are some of the major themes of the show that are starting to wear thinner than Clark's blue and red jackets must be, after six years of use. Take the "people want to protect Lana, who doesn't want to be protected" theme and compare these sets of lines, first from Season Five and then from Season Six:
From Season Five:
From Season Six:
Before it was Lex on the other end of this debate, it was Clark. Admittedly, Lana lacks a great learning curve in these matters, but this tension with her character outlasts my ability to suspend disbelief or generate interest. Though it might be too-little, too-late, I was glad to see Lana finally turn the tables on this demeaning formula by protecting Clark and withholding her true intentions from him, for once. On the other hand, that flip does make one wonder if Lana learned anything from being kept in the dark and "protected" for all those years—the lesson being, it's an obnoxious and wrong-headed thing to do to someone.
We get another dose of same-but-different with Clark and Lana this season. Though it seems like their relationship finally came to a close with Lana's "death" in "Phantom," savvy viewers know better. Just look at this quotation from the special features on the fifth season's DVD set:
"We finally ended [Clark and Lana's romance] this season…I think we ended it in about four different episodes. In case you're just tuning in and didn't see us end it, we'll end it again next week."
Whether it's a real end or just another in a series, this "end" made for some great viewing. The central episode, "Promise," which features Lex's and Lana's wedding, is not only the best of the season, but one of the very best of the season—near-perfect in its planning and execution.
"Promise" beautifully renders many of the techniques and themes that Smallville sometimes fumbles or overdoes. For a show that seems to have a pop-music song playing under every other scene, often inappropriately (as at the end of "Freak"), "Promise" left me in awe of its opening and closing musical montages, bookending the episode with a bittersweet tone. The opening sequence shows everyone preparing for the wedding with Snow Patrol's "You Could Be Happy" playing. We feel Lana's apprehension and Clark's pain without any dialogue, and when Clark hurls the framed picture of him and Lana far into the night sky, we get the perfect super-powered punchline to this touching sequence of normal-guy pain. By the time Patty Griffen's "Heavenly Day" closes out the episode with Clark watching Lana drive away in Lex's limo, that normal-guy pain has reached epic proportions. In between, we're treated to some big moments, some great lines, and some great melodrama. This dialogue between Chloe and Clark is good enough to justify its repetition when we, and Lana, hear it again later in the episode:
Chloe: "I guess I always thought you would swoop in and save the day.
But you're not gonna do that, are you?"
But by the time Clark makes that final heartbreaking plea with Lana—his voice cracking as he tries desperately to explain how he's not like other people—she already knows, and she understands…and it's too late to matter. Lionel's blackmail reverses their roles, and now it's Lana making the hard choices and trying to convince Clark that she doesn't love him.
Though "Promise" is by far the best offering this season, several other good episodes also stand out. "Zod" and "Phantom" are satisfyingly packed with action and drama, with the latter leaving us to wonder about whether several of our regular characters will live to see the seventh season. "Justice" sees the exciting and legendary team-up of several Justice League heroes, complete with some great banter (though Smallville's never quite reaches Whedon levels), as when Green Arrow refers to Clark as Boy Scout on their mission, explaining, "Maybe if you hadn't ran off all half-cocked you could've picked your own codename." Another nice exchange happens when Bart tells Lex he wants a lawyer, and Lex responds, "And I want a ponytail. Disappointment abounds." There are plenty of fun inside jokes here for comics fans, too, like the way the heroes address their communications to Chloe to "Watchtower"—really the name of the JLA headquarters. This episode also transports us into a strange parallel world where a prerequisite of being a hero is limiting yourself to only one wardrobe color combination, even when you're off duty. Aquaman must have drawn the short straw when he got orange and green! "Freak" and "Progeny" give the wonderful Allison Mack something to do (other than make out with Jimmy) now that she's no longer actively pining over Clark, and the storylines with her possible meteor freak status and her quest to save her mother are really quite touching. Although there are a few snoozer freak-of-the-week or phantom-of-the-week episodes, even a few of these are pretty good. "Wither" and "Hydro," for example, strike the right balance of freak-fighting action with interpersonal drama. "Hydro" even contains the winner of the "most justified rant" award this season, when Chloe yells at a hypocritical Clark:
"Clark, before you unload your anger on me, can I just say that I think it is incredibly unfair that everyone trusts me to keep their secrets and then they turn around and they throw me attitude for keeping someone else's secret. Look, I'm sorry that I had to take a two-second breather from hiding the fact that you are an alien from another planet to protect someone else for a change!"
Lastly, "Crimson," takes a typical silly plot—Lois, under an outside influence, suddenly falls in love with Clark on Valentine's Day—and squeezes some real drama out of it, in addition to the foreshadowing fun. Infected by red kryptonite, Clark finally says to Lex and Lana what he, and we, have been thinking about them all along:
"He's always wanted everything I've ever had…You're just a trophy to him, and he's nothing but your consolation prize."
Apart from the Lex/Lana/Clark triangle, the Green Arrow storyline was the most striking multi-episode arc.
Although it was weighted too much in the early part of the season (which felt more like the Green Arrow show than a Superman series for a while), Oliver Queen's appearances brought a much-needed mature and active social conscience to Smallville's cast of characters. Forcing Clark to see the big picture and all its gray areas more clearly than ever before, Smallville's Oliver Queen almost lives up to his comics counterpart's issue-driven persona. Oliver gives Clark a key piece of advice that pushes him farther down his path to becoming Superman:
"Clark, you have abilities that I couldn't even dream of. And I admire that you use them to save the people you're close to. But there's a whole world of people out there, Clark. They need us. With your potential, you can't wait for them to come to you."
But at the same time, the writers allow us to see the contrast between the two heroes from Clark's perspective, too. Green Arrow says that the end often justifies the means in this line of work—a rationale strikingly similar to Lex's. Clark admits, "I'll never feel that way," and we kind of admire him for it.
On a less positive note, Smallville continues its maddening tradition of hypocritical sexual prudery this season, particularly with Lana and Lois's characters. As with "loose women" in the old days of cinema, Lana has to get punished for her premarital sex with Lex. Her cruel, fake pregnancy is the means here, and Clark adds to the insult when he rejects her after finding out she is pregnant with Lex's baby, implying that now she'll have to marry Lex, of course. If you think Chloe and Jimmy have a healthy, positive, sexual relationship, note that the only time we ever see them in bed together is in the collection of deleted scenes on this set, and even that is incredibly chaste. Lastly, two mature, flirtatious adults like Lois and Oliver should at least be having a fun, sexy time, right? But as Lois points out, their relationship ends up being "all interuptus and no coitis" with Oliver being conveniently drawn to Green Arrow duties every time things start to heat up. The problem with this incredibly conservative attitude toward sex on Smallville is that the show wants to draw in T&A viewers at the same time. For example, although the series has only ever demonized actual queer characters or ignored their existence altogether (and despite his exceedingly gay name and continual avoidance of sex with Lois, Oliver Queen does appear to be straight as a damn arrow), it still goes for the insulting lesbian titillation moment when Lois tries to seduce a female cage fighter in "Combat." As my girlfriend remarked, "I feel like every episode is about Lois's boobs," demonstrated in this my very own Lois's boobs collage from this season:
Maybe if the crew spent less time thinking of ways for Lois to appear in new, cleavage-y outfits (preferably while dripping wet), we could see past that rack to the actual talent Erica Durance has for playing this role. I don't really know the fan consensus on her, but I'd say that in portraying the tough-but-spunky reporter, Durance runs circles around the dour and distant Kate Bosworth of Superman Returns. But it really is difficult to take the character or Durance herself seriously when half of her job on the show seems to be sticking out her chest as much as possible.
In terms of DVD set quality, Smallville: The Complete Sixth Season's first big success is its sumptuous images and sounds. This series has consistently succeeded on aesthetic fronts, creating visual moods as diverse as the warm Kent Thanksgiving table, the cold, metallic labs of Lex's 33.1 project, and the gritty desert wasteland of the Phantom Zone. The action format gives plenty of opportunities for well-produced sound effects, too, and the levels of voice, music, and sound effects are nicely balanced in this set. Even the "Noir" episode, a little silly in concept, really impresses with its attention to visual and auditory detail.
Special features, usually plentiful and enjoyable on Smallville releases, are a mixed bag this season. Commentary tracks are missing, but the big selection of deleted scenes offered on previous Smallville sets is again present. Serving up one to three minutes of new footage on a dozen different episodes is pretty impressive, and some of the scenes are quite interesting. It's fun to think about why they were left out, as in my Jimmy and Chloe in bed example above. There's also a scene between Martian Manhunter and Clark in which I think MM was acting too aggressive and critical for his Smallville persona, and one in which Martha stabs Clark in the back just a little too much by giving Lana an engagement gift of her grandmother's necklace, saying Lana is "like a daughter" to her. Some deleted scenes also helpfully fill in plot points, like the confrontation between Lionel and Lana in "Phantom." We're also treated to a half-hour featurette about the show's fans, which—being a big fan of fandom, in general—I deeply enjoyed. From a personal Wall of Weird to a Smallville-themed family Vancouver vacation and a line of Superman boxer shorts hanging out to dry, we get a peek inside the lives of the show's biggest fans.
There is also a fun visit to the office that deals with the show's fan mail and an explanation of the various 'shipper factions—Internet groups that root for certain relationships on the show. Surprisingly, the ultra-straight Smallville even acknowledges its queer-interested fans here with mention of the Clark and Lex 'shippers—though Michael Rosenbaum refuses to discuss the topic. There are three Green Arrow-themed extras, the best of which is "Green Arrow: The Legend of the Emerald Archer," a very informative look at the comic-book history of the character. Interviews with people in the know—including Kevin Smith, Brad Meltzer, Mark Waid, Denny O'Neil, Neil Adams, Steven DeKnight, Miles Millar, Al Gough, and Justin Hartley—explain a whole lot about this interesting character who began as a blatant Batman knock-off, complete with his own "arrow car," "arrow cave," and sidekick. This documentary short details the stylistic changes in the character since 1941, the ebb and flow of his popularity, and his groundbreaking stance on social issues like racism, drug abuse, homelessness, AIDS, and homosexuality. After learning about Oliver Queen's time learning to survive on a deserted island in this feature, I was unfortunately subjected to a low-budget, computer-animated rendition of that period in "Smallville Legends: The Oliver Queen Chronicles." These "Chronicles" features have always been kind of low-budget, but they used to be live-action and have at least one main performer from the series in them. This time, it's 20-plus minutes of blocky CGI and mediocre dialogue. And do you know what I care less about than this kind of crappy special feature? The making of this kind of crappy special feature, which, as you've guessed, is another crappy special feature on this set. It was a cool idea to do the Green Arrow island storyline, but without proper funding, it doesn't meet the standard we're used to from Smallville DVD sets. Last and also least is "Smallville Legends: Justice and Doom." Like Clark Kent, this "special feature" also has a secret identity—it's actually just one long commercial! I'm not going to mention this product by name and give it any more play than it has already milked out of Smallville's sixth season, nor am I going to dignify this insulting and unwatchable extra with further comment.
Though the "Superman's teen years" concept is now stretching into its seventh year and many of its elements are showing the wear and tear, Smallville: The Complete Sixth Season still finds some fresh ground and also keeps the repeated parts mostly digestible. Comic books, after all, are masterful at rehearsing the same themes, romances, and even character deaths over and over again, sustaining them for a period of decades. I don't think Smallville has decades (or even one) in it, but I'm not hoping for cancellation just yet, either.
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