There’s a ‘go for broke’ energy to Smallville‘s season four finale on an aesthetic level that has everything you would want and expect from a final chapter in a season of the show. Smallville has a knack of delivering grandiose endings to its seasons, that are engaging, exciting and bring together many of the threads that have been woven throughout the previous episodes, and even the series as a whole, into a stunning crescendo of sorts.
One imagines that the writers on the series constructed this story and were probably thinking they’d done a great job in delivering something truly big and spectacular, but unfortunately since it’s also bringing together story arc threads that are amongst the weakest the series has delivered, one can’t help but not really care at a lot of this despite the desperate attempts to get us on the edge of our seats.
In going back to the fourth season, I couldn’t help but feel like I enjoyed it more than I had remembered from having first watched it; there were some great standalone episodes that saw the series on good form, and the Superman mythology itself is a wonderful one with which to hang a long running television series around (I have always had this theory that the character has always managed to work better on the small screen than at the movies). However, in trying to connect the growth and explorations of a young Clark Kent to a story arc that would have felt more at home on something like Charmed, the series went somewhat off the rails, and sadly ‘Commencement’, despite some moments of some drama and brilliantly constructed set-pieces – always a Smallville strength – ends up summing up the weaknesses that were evident in many of the previous twenty-one episodes.
Having Clark and his friends graduate with the shadow of a second meteor shower is a grand idea, and regular director Greg Beeman goes to town with a sense of scale and suspense, but when its cuts back to Lana killing Genevieve, and Jason going on the rampage at the Kent farm and holding Jonathan and Martha hostage, it reminds the viewer just how superfluous these characters are and how desperately the series needs to get away from witchcraft and supernatural elements and back to the style of sci-fi tinged fantasy that it the mainstay of the Superman mythos.
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Admittedly, the final act hints at great things to come, with a sudden trip to Arctic indicating that the series might be about to find its Fortress of Solitude, not to mention bringing some of the more successful elements of the episode and the character arcs to a stunning finish. Yes, one has to admit, the final stretch of the episode when the meteors hit and Smallville is in ruins is a stunning cliff-hanger from the season and the series, and a chance to begin again with new storytelling threads and to escape from the weaknesses that have plagued the series this past season. It marks a promising new beginning for the series itself.