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"Smallville"'s fifth season soars - and then plummets
on March 27, 2007
*POSSIBLE SPOILERS WITHIN*
It seemed like "Smallville" couldn't get much worse than its frankly absurd fourth season, but it nearly did during the subsequent season. Season Five of "Smallville" is the season of change, throwing out one life-altering development after another, sometimes gracefully, sometimes not so much. Unfortunately, though the fifth season clearly aspires for greatness, only on select occasions does it actually reach it. During the first four or so episodes it appears as though the show may have actually reached the level of greatness it held during its first few seasons, but immediately thereafter it becomes clear that though the season arc has improved, the overall quality of the show is still barely mediocre. At times, this season nearly falls to the rank of television trash. As a major "Smallville" fan, I felt almost as devastated through this season as I did during the fourth season. However, there were a few saving graces that convinced me to hold on to my fleeting hope that someday, this show may be as good as it once was.
First off, as a major "Buffy" fan, the thing I was anticipating the most in this season was the numerous guest appearances of James Marsters as professor Milton Fine - better known to Superman fans as Braniac, the evil, brilliant android who survived Krypton's destruction. Marsters doesn't disappoint. He makes Braniac a delectably devious and intriguing villain. The best part of this season is that it draws heavily from the Superman mythos, foreshadowing things to come while introducing major characters like the aforementioned android, giving Clark the Fortress of Solitude (a tasty development indeed), and pushing Lana Lang toward her destiny away from Clark Kent.
There are a number of episodes ranking among the show's best. In traditional "Smallville" fashion, the bombastic premiere picks up precisely where the last season's finale left off. In fact, "Arrival" may be the series' best premiere yet. "Mortal", in which Clark is left without his powers (again), is a surprisingly fun episode, showcasing a light-hearted wit that disappears instantly in the next episode. "Aqua", though not a particularly great episode, introduces the character of Arthur Curry (Alan Ritchson), a.k.a. Aquaman. ("Aqua" wound up as the WB's highest-rated Thursday night episode ever, spawning a spin-off, which was not picked up.) "Exposed" is a blast, reuniting John Schneider with his "Dukes of Hazzard" co-star Tom Wopat.
Then there's the 100th episode, "Reckoning", an utterly epic episode that throws one shocker after another to us, including the death of a major character (sorely missed in the sixth season, but a wise move on the writers' parts, one of the few times "Smallville" has actually followed the comics continuity). "Cyborg" introduces the titular DC comics character. Finally, the season closes with the super finale, "Vessel", an especially grandiose, bleak, and cool episode introducing a fan favorite villain who happens to have a strong liking of those who kneel before him.
Those are the pros. Unfortunately, the cons are far more numerous. For one thing, the acting is for the most part stale. None of the actors try anything new. Even previously sensational actors like John Glover and Michael Rosenbaum have become bland by the season's end. Maybe the writing is to fault for this. The writing isn't just ridiculous: it's downright stupid. The dialog is particularly awful - overblown, overdramatic, and without any of the realism or wit that makes the dialog in shows like "Gilmore Girls" and "Buffy" so compelling. The directing, for the most part, is astoundingly uninspired and amateurish, and the music is simplistic and silly.
Then there's the season's share of foul episodes. That includes trash like "Thirst", arguably the worst episode in the show's history, in which Lana joins a vampire sorority and becomes one herself. (That episode is worth watching, however, if only to see ex-undead James Marsters' deadpan delivery of the line "There's no such thing as vampires, Clark.") "Mercy" is an unbelievably absurd episode, a plain-to-see "Saw" ripoff, in which Lionel Luthor is taken captive by a man in a painted mask with a husky voice who, through televised messages, informs Lionel that he has "a game to play".
My final beef is that the writers in this season seemed unclear as to an episode's typical structure. When the climax has occured twelve minutes before an episode's end, you know you're in trouble. Thus the episodes drag on and on to the point where they occasionally seem preachy. What became of the concise, fresh writing of the first, second, or third seasons?
I expected greatness from Season Five of "Smallville", so I suppose it's my own fault that I was so disappointed. However, there is no excuse for a show that began so wonderfully to fail so badly when it's clear how to fix the series' many mistakes. This season is still an improvement over Season Four, and has spots of near-greatness, but ultimately, it's a failure. The next season, however, more than makes up for it.