It would be really easy to have trepidations about watching this ninth and penultimate season of Smallville. While the show has consistently stayed at least a mildly entertaining diversion for its entire run, calling anything past the fourth season of the series great would be a tough sell, even for the most forgiving of fans of the series or the Superman character. The eighth season of the show was a prime example of this, with its engaging depiction of the blossoming romance between Clark Kent and Lois Lane getting undercut by a less than satisfying Doomsday arc and a rotten bait and switch concerning Jimmy Olsen that left a bad taste in your mouth. Thankfully, while the show can’t quite shake the feeling that it may be spinning its wheels a bit in anticipation for its tenth and final season, Smallville’s ninth go-round still ends up a return to form in many respects.
Perhaps the series’ biggest sin over its last few years has been its failure to produce a really compelling villain since its early run with the fall of Lex Luthor, but this season saw the rise of perhaps the second most recognizable villain in the Superman mythos: General Zod. Filling the shoes of Terence Stamp in the iconic role would be a tough job for any actor, but British thespian Callum Blue does a fine job here, bringing with him a commanding screen presence and a voice that seems completely appropriate when demanding his subjects to kneel before him. Blue isn’t just doing an impression of Stamp’s villain from Superman and Superman II either, and fortunately brings more wrinkles to the character than you’d expect.
Primarily, the Zod presented here is a more fleshed out heavy; a man whose megalomania seems to come from a place of insecurity rather than pure malevolence. Mysteriously appearing on Earth with a small army of followers from the Kryptonian city of Kandor, Zod and his men have somehow arrived without the powers normally attributed to their kind. Desperately trying to keep his people in line, he must keep a brave face, and when faced with possible betrayals, he reacts with deadly force. At the same time, Zod is at odds with Tom Welling’s Clark Kent, who wants nothing more than to be able to accept the Kandorians as a new family, but is at odds with Zod’s need for power. The nature vs. nurture theme has worked well on the show in the past with Clark and Lex Luthor, and the series manages to re-use the subject well here, with Clark trying to get Zod’s people to accept the way of life that he has come to know and love.
This makes for some terrific episodes, especially “Kandor,” which tells the origins of Zod’s fall from grace and gives us a glimpse into the relationship with the then Major Zod and Clark’s Kryptonian father, Jor-El, played wonderfully by Julian Sands. The installment also features a mystery in which a younger Jor-El has also managed to come to Earth, with Clark needing to find him before Zod can enact some sort of revenge. This is really a stunner of an episode, with scenes taking place on Krypton reminiscent of sequences at the beginning of Superman: The Movie, as well as a terrific story in which Welling’s Clark Kent must wrestle with finally meeting his father face to face.
“Kandor” is one of the finest hours for Callum Blue, who shows us sides to Zod we’ve never seen before. The episode tries hard to add moral complexity to the character, a hero of Krypton beloved by his men who falls prey to what he perceives as a personal betrayal be Jor-El. The symmetry with those scenes and the current timeline give you both sides of one of the Man of Steel’s most formidable villains, making for a character much more interesting than previously seen, even in the character’s comic look lineage.
Unfortunately, the season’s most controversial moment can also be attributed to the Zod arc, with Clark Kent responsible for what can only be described as a terrorist attack in an episode where the General attempts to build a tower that will grant him and his people super powers. The big problem comes from the imagery used, which was sort of reminiscent of 9-11, and that’s an issue that should have been sorted out by the show’s creative team before the show went to air. A misstep like this could have been avoided, and plays badly in context of the episodes in which it’s featured. That said, the issue has been addressed in a season 10 episode which does make up for the decisions somewhat, and the problem seems quickly swept under the rug and forgotten over the course of the rest of the season.
Besides, there is still plenty to like here, with Smallville’s usual array of romance, action, and tons of DC Comics references including the introduction of selections from Superman’s Rogues gallery, including the government agency Checkmate, determined to eliminate all costumed heroes. Of course, the highest profile DC crossover this year came from the awesome double episode “Absolute Justice”, featuring members of the Justice Society of America. With costumes for DC’s characters usually having to be updated for Smallville‘s TV universe, the series’ decision to go with very faithful versions of Hawkman, Dr. Fate, and Stargirl is a fun one. Written by DC’s own Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, the two-parter sees the JSA getting murdered one by one, with Clark and Green Arrow (Justine Hartley) coming in to lend a hand to the surviving heroes. Doing battle with an icy villain, the episode features cameos from tons of classic characters, with many more hopefully revealed in the show’s final season.
Last but not least, the series mainstays, most notably Tom Welling as Clark Kent and Erica Durance as Lois Lane, all have a particularly good season. Each actor in the cast, including Justin Hartley as Green Arrow and Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan, look invested this year and don’t simply sleepwalk through their roles, which is a bad tendency after playing the same roles for so long. Everyone looks like they’re having fun, and the chemistry between the actors is natural, probably due to the extended time they’ve all worked with each other. With the show truly moving past anything having to do with Kristen Kreuk’s Lana Lang, the relationships between these players has finally started to really evolve and Smallville is all the better for it.
Smallville isn’t a great show, but it’s an awfully entertaining one that knows how to have fun with its own mythology, especially in relationship to the storied past of Superman. Even with its final season currently on TV, the series is still evolving, and while the format of television may halt the progress of storylines in order to stretch it out over a longer period of time, Smallville is finally starting to hit its home stretch. To be honest, it’s impressive that the series has lasted this long, and despite its problems, it’s remained intriguing even if there’s been some significant bumps in the road. This ninth season wasn’t the best season that Smallville has had, but it’s certainly one that fans of the show should be happy to check out.
As per usual, Smallville looks great on DVD in this 9th go round. While the blu-ray set is more than likely superior, this DVD season has a nice clean look with bright colors throughout. The sound on this set is also quite exemplary, as is again usually the case with this series.
Deleted Scenes – These are really marginal deleted scenes and are usually only a few seconds long.
Commentaries – Two of the episodes this season get commentary tracks, featuring tons of cast and crew. These won’t blow you away, but it is fun to listen about how the show gets made. Erica Durance and Callum Blue especially seem to have a good time recording these tracks and are a lot of fun to listen to.
Kneel Before Zod! – If you’re a big fan of the character of Zod or Superman II, then this will entertain you to no end. Featuring the likes of Richard Donner and Geoff Johns, this look at Zod is wonderfully entertaining, from his initial appearances in DC Comics to Terrance Stamp to the current Callum Blue version of the character. Zod is one of Superman’s most memorable foes, and this featurette is a terrific way of finding out why that is.
Absolute Justice: From Script to Screen – Another fun mini-documentary on this set has some great interviews with the cast and crew, including Geoff Johns, who goes into detail about how this episode came about. We also get a neat look at the costumes and effects for the episode, which is really in-depth and talks about the process of bringing each character to your TV screen.
This ninth season of Smallville is a blast for Superman fans, with the return of an iconic villain and tons of great references to the history of the Man of Steel. Overall, this was the best season of the show in some time and bodes well for the upcoming final year of the series. The set also comes with some nice features that should make DC fanboys pretty happy.
Warner Home Video presents Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season. Starring: Tom Well, Erica Durance, Justin Hartley, and Allison Mack. Running time: 1012 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Released on DVD: September 7, 2010.
Robert Sutton feels the most at home when he's watching some movie scumbag getting blown up, punched in the face, or kung fu'd to death, especially in that order. He's a founding writer for the movies section of Insidepulse.com, featured in his weekly column R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema as well as a frequent reviewer of DVDs and Blu-rays. Also, he's a proud Sony fanboy, loves everything Star Wars and Superman related and hopes to someday be taken seriously by his friends and family.