In my previous post I talked about Season Three of Smallville maturing a little. Season Four is all grown up.
Continuing my journey through Smallville, I believe I’ve come to the show’s peak, Season Four. It’s a season that is comfortable with itself, isn’t afraid to have a little fun, and is finally good enough to set up an emotional moment and ensure it delivers.
1. Martha Kent is the Most Important Thing in Smallville
I know Lois is hot, but a story doesn’t work unless you care about the characters and Annette O’Toole (Martha Kent) is the emotional center of the series. If there’s a touching scene in Smallville that works, O’Toole is usually part of it.
There’s an openness and warmth to her face, her expressions, her voice. It’s easy to feel for her, and O’Toole utilizes her gifts to earn our empathy. Like the scene at the beginning of the season where Jonathan is in hospital and the doctors want to turn off his life support. Martha refuses. When Jonathan wakes up, she tells Clark and Jonathan that, “My Father used to say, ‘life asks of you what he thinks you can handle,'” and that she held on because she knew they would all be together again. It’s not just a great speech, it works because O’Toole is the best one to sell the weight of what family means.
Later, there’s an episode where Lionel Luther and Clark switch bodies and Clark (from inside Lionel) must convince Martha that he is actually Clark. He tells her a story:
Remember when I was six and I was playing tag with Dad. And all of a sudden I started running faster than I’d ever run before and I was in the middle of Palmer Woods, completely lost. And you and Dad had to call Sheriff Ethan. And when you saw me you started crying. And I thought something was wrong with me. And you said, ‘No there wasn’t.’ And then you held me in your arms and you told me I was just special.
This is very weird coming from Lionel and hard to believe, but as soon as we see Martha’s face as she understands the situation, we buy into the story, we buy into the body swap, and we buy into her love for Clark. All because of O’Toole.
2. Dean Winchester Is In It
Smallville seems to be a revolving door of actors on their way to greater things and this is the case for Jensen Ackles who plays Jason Teague on Smallville (Lana’s love interest and assistant football coach). After leaving Smallville, Ackles goes on to play Dean Winchester in the Supernatural series.
I love Supernatural. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. It’s much, much darker, and has a far stronger horror element to it than Smallville, but if TV shows were family members, I would call the two shows cousins.
On Supernatural, Jensen plays a badass demon hunter. He suffers a lot on the show, so on the one hand it was nice to see him play a character on Smallville who doesn’t have to suffer so much. On the other hand, it was extremely frustrating to watch someone who is so adept in Supernatural at hunting demons be so inept at fighting dark forces in Smallville.
In the episode where Lana, Lois, and Chloe get possessed by witches’ spirits, Jason uncovers this, rescues Clark and runs off to go find them. I started to get excited. Finally, I was going to see a little bit of Dean.
Nope, Clark saves the day all by himself. Such a waste of one of the Winchester Boys.
3. The Witches
I was really worried about these witches. When it was airing, every so often I would check in to see if I should re-dedicate myself to the show. I distinctly remember doing this and seeing the episode where Lana, Chloe and Lois get possessed by witches from the 17th century. It was just too weird for me and that was it — no more Smallville. In fact, every time someone mentioned the show to me in the future, this was the episode I would think about. “Oh God, not Smallville. That show is terrible.”
But you know what? There’s only a few witchey episodes here and there and they’re not that bad. Certainly less unappealing when you’ve seen four seasons of meteor rock freaks, and powers, and aliens, and native american prophecies, and characters afflicted with an insanity that comes and goes. But a few witches? I can live with that. No matter how ridiculous they looked.
4. It Finds its Comedy Feet
After awhile, a TV series gets comfortable. Whether it’s the cast, or the writers, or some combination of both I’m not sure. But in this comfort, people start to have fun.
There’s an episode this season where a sorority-type girl gets body swapping powers and swaps into various bodies, including Martha Kent’s. Lois asks, “I don’t mean to be rude Mrs. Kent, but did you crack open the cooking sherry?”
Martha replies like an angry spoiled child: “Of course not. I’m just SUPER PUMPED about prom!”
Since Smallville is full of things that are hard to believe, I think it works best when they have fun with it.
5. Alicia, Alicia, Alicia
Alicia is my favourite. She should be everyone’s favourite. (Bigger-than-normal spoiler alert incoming).
This is how you do loss. Unlike the lackluster attempt in Season Two I discussed, the loss of Alicia works better because the show does a better job of establishing her vulnerability and likeability.
In this season, Alicia is released from the mental hospital. All she wants is a second chance with Clark despite the fact she tried to kill Lana. And Clark can’t help himself. He can be honest with Alicia. They’re vulnerable with each other. Clark’s willingness to believe in the best in people is just as strong as Alicia’s desire to be accepted by Clark and those around her. So when she’s taken from him, we already understand and accept how much they mean to each other. There’s more clearly defined loss.
And it is deeply felt.
6. Lois is Great
In this season we’re introduced to Lois Lane. While she’s not in every episode, it’s clear there is something special about her, something that even distinguishes her from all the other women on the show. And it’s not just that she’s abrasive, and gung-ho, and funny, and straight-forward, and that she and Clark don’t like each other, it’s that she doesn’t call Clark for help. She thinks she can do anything on her own. What happens when Chloe is in trouble? She calls Clark. When Lana is in trouble? Calls Clark. When Lois is in trouble? She thinks she can solve the problem all by herself.
7. Pappa Clark and Momma Lana
Did you think I was going to let you get away with this nonsense, Season Four?
There’s an episode where Clark and Lana find a baby boy in a mysterious crater. Clark brings him back home and he and Lana start to treat the child like their own, holding him, changing him, caring for him.
Clark likes kids, I get it. But he and Lana immediately assuming parenting roles when they don’t live together and aren’t dating is just bizarre. I’ll go as far to say this is the most uncomfortable, unbelievable episode yet, and this was the season with the witches.
I’m not mad, Season Four, I’m just disappointed.
8. It’s Figured Out it’s Emotional Power
Like most guys, I’m not very good at expressing my emotions. I like to keep them to myself and try and bury and forget about them. Usually they keep pretty well under the dirt, but we all go through tough times and when we do, the mound gets bigger.
Every so often, a TV or movie executes a heartfelt moment so well that a little emotion escapes, and the mound gets a little smaller, a little lighter. That’s a good thing. I could use a mini excavation right now.
There are a lot of moments in Season Four that have disturbed the dirt, and allowed some emotion to seep through to the surface. Like when Martha gives her speech about family, or when Lois convinces Clark not to kill a Meteor Freak, or when Martha recognizes Clark inside Lionel.
Season Four has probably been the best in that respect. I believe it is some kind of culmination of certain actors getting better, and the show evolving to a point where direction of the season and the projected storylines for all the characters is working well, and everything just sings. Mostly.
And it becomes like a friend, taking a moment, silently acknowledging that the pile of dirt is getting too big, grabbing a shovel, and digging.