This isn't so much a review as it is a love letter, to the best episode of Smallville I've seen in a long, long time. To say Salvation exceeded my expectations would be the understatement of the century. I don't think I realized how deeply ingrained my wariness toward this show had become until I found myself waiting to be disappointed while watching the finale. And of course I never was. By the time Clark finished his impassioned speech to Zod in the Fortress, I had completely let go of my doubts, and given myself over to the pure joy that was this episode. It started big and ended bigger, leaving me in awe of the extraordinary man Clark Kent has become, and stunned to think that the end of this season is just the beginning of the next one. Wow.
So what made Salvation so special? In a word, Clark. This was his story, and in it he was allowed to emerge as the hero he was born to be. The teaser set the tone: this is a Superman story, people! Clark's dream of the future immediately turned my squee factor up to 11. I loved all the iconic shout-outs: Perry White as EIC, Lois as journalistic superstar and Clark's wife, Lex Luthor for President, Jimmy Olsen in the house, Clark's glasses and the spinning chair, the MUSIC, and random guy exclaiming, "Look, up in the sky!" Whee! We even caught a glimpse of the Man of Steel himself. Awesome. And then, when Clark awoke, the SUIT, a gift from Martha herself. I had tears in my eyes, and the credits hadn't even rolled yet!
Many elements came together to make the magic we saw on our TV screens this week. First and foremost, Greg Beeman returned to direct. I don't think his influence on Smallville can be overestimated, and I've missed him terribly. His vision for Clark's story was apparent in every frame of Salvation, and the episode will forever stand as his gift to the show and its fans. Al Septien and Turi Meyer wrote a fantastic script, centered on Clark and full of his POV. Louis Febre's score was exceptional, enhancing every scene. The action sequences and special effects were phenomenal. What this show continues to accomplish within the confines of ongoing budget cuts amazes me. I also loved the new set, that expanded the Blur's favorite rooftop. But of course, in the end, it all came down to the performances.
Every actor was notable in Salvation. I think that's partly the mark of a good director, combined with the extra energy filming the season finale must bring to the set. But mostly it's a reflection of the talent and commitment the members of Smallville's stellar cast bring every time they step in front of the cameras. They routinely rise above the material, and when they're given an outstanding script, as they were this week, they soar. This episode was a showcase for Clark, Lois, and Zod. Callum Blue finished his run as Zod in grand style, showing us first the master manipulator, who attempted to charm Lois, only to turn coldly menacing when she saw through him, and then the maniacal megalomaniac, building in intensity as the episode progressed, and finally erupting in fury, all pretense gone, as his plans crumbled around him. Erica Durance gave one of her best performances to date as Lois, hitting just the right balance between unsettled confusion, investigative curiosity, and stubborn faith in Clark. And then there was Tom Welling.
In this finale, Tom WAS Superman. All season long we've watched Clark take strides toward his destiny. He gained confidence, learned to trust his instincts, stopped letting the dissenting voices in his life sway him, and consistently put the welfare of the world above his own personal desires or the needs of his family and friends. He was challenged, he struggled, and at times he faltered, but he never stopped moving forward. And in Salvation, he arrived. He may not be wearing the suit yet, or flying, but those are the icing on the cake anyway. And Tom embodies this hero in every way. He was magnificent.
Clark's strength of purpose in this episode was glorious to behold. He didn't debate his decisions, he only explained them, never wavering from his determination to make his own choices. He was no longer looking for guidance, he was giving it, and his leadership was a revelation. We've all had our ideas about what Clark thinks and believes, but in Salvation we no longer had to wonder; we heard it from his own lips. In his first conversation with Chloe, he was sure of his destiny, and held true to that, not because he selfishly wanted to stay on Earth, but because he knew in his heart it was right. Later he would make a different choice, but only as a last resort, when no other hope remained. And then he made provisions for the planet's safety in his absence, charging the collective forces of the JLA and the JSA to take up his mission of protecting mankind.
I was so proud of Clark when he confronted Zod in the Fortress. He was furious to find the console destroyed, his last remaining link to his father cut off, but he controlled his anger, never letting it overtake him. He showed compassion for a man who had clearly become a monster, truly willing to find the good in him, no matter how deeply it was buried. When he said that everyone is worth saving, I knew that he meant it. But in talking to Zod about peace, he never backed down from his opposition to his actions, and assured him that he would face a formidable enemy if he went to war against the world. Clark was impossibly strong and good, a hero in every way. I loved that he reached out to Zod with a story from his own past, but I will never blame him for Jonathan's death. That was all because of Jor-El and the idiotic, draconian trials he put Clark through.
Another incredibly moving scene for me was the video conference between Clark and his allies at Watchtower. Finally all those countless screens were put to good use! :) We saw Martian Manhunter, Cyborg (yay!), Black Canary, Hawkman, Stargirl, Green Arrow and Chloe, all arguing. They were talking over one another and getting nowhere, until Clark strode in and took command. Tom's sheer presence gave me chills, and his delivery of Clark's speech was inspiring. Clark was so quietly powerful, and so noble, as he outlined a plan that would take him away from everything he loved for all time, all for the sake of his adopted planet. And he didn't betray a single moment of self-pity, only a somber resolve to find a peaceful solution to Zod's attack. It was no surprise that he won the admiration and loyalty of every member of his team. *loves him* Did anyone else catch the video screen on the far left in the wide shots? Was that Bart?
As Clark figured out his plan for how to deal with the Kandorians, Zod was going after Lois, pretending to be the Blur in an attempt to turn her against Clark. She was obviously disconcerted to discover that Zod was the Blur, and perhaps disappointed as well. She couldn't tell the difference between the real Blur and the fake one over the phone, but in person her instincts told her that something wasn't quite right about Zod. I think her subconscious was working overtime, jumping up and down to get her attention as each new piece of information came to light. She couldn't ignore Zod's allegations, but she wasn't about to give up on Clark either. So yes, she snooped on Clark's computer, and in his trunk in the loft, but more to prove Zod wrong than right, I think. What she discovered was that he was keeping much more than a little mystery between them, and that she might be missing some important pieces from the puzzle that was Clark Kent. And that was very sobering news indeed.
When Clark found Lois in the loft, he was completely focused on making her understand what she meant to him, and he told her the story of when he first knew she was "the one." It was a moment we all remember: his return to the Daily Planet at the end of Metallo. It was wonderful to hear Clark describe in his own words what we all saw on his face as Lois rushed into his arms that day: that he had been lost without her, and that her love brought the light back into his life. Clark all but declaring his love for her was one of the most romantic moments these two have shared on the show, and in spite of her uncertainty about what he might have been hiding from her, Lois didn't hesitate to let him know he came first in her heart, too. But when she insisted they stop keeping secrets from each other, he put on his patented clueless act, saying he didn't know what she was talking about. I loved the directness of her response: "Yeah, you do, Clark." I know he was only trying to protect Lois, as he always does, but it broke my heart to see Clark disappoint her that way, as she struggled to keep her faith in him, and gave him every opportunity to open up to her. He hugged her goodbye and uttered the same words the Blur did in their last phone call: "I will be watching over you." Devastated, Lois slipped the Book of Rao out of Clark's pocket, but as her eyes filled with tears and she rushed away, her subconscious must have been turning cartwheels as it processed the significance of what Clark had just said.
Lois went to meet Zod, but her unease with him only grew. When she covered his hand with her own, just as she did with the Blur in Charade, the last clue fell into place, and she knew in her heart he wasn't her hero. She refused to give him the BoR, and he unleashed his wrath upon her, hurling her across the street in his fury. And that's when the good part started. :) Clark had realized that Lois took the BoR, and came looking for her, arriving just in time to deliver the most awesome punch ever, sending Zod into the stratosphere, and rescue the woman he loved. He cradled her, unconscious, until she began to stir, and then retreated into the shadows, but didn't leave. She approached him to return the BoR, and begged him to say something, anything. He reached out to take it, touched her hand, and pulled her into his arms.
Clark held Lois close in the dark, signaling his intent (and making me weak in the knees) as he looked down at her, and then he gave her one of the hottest kisses I've ever seen on this show. It was passionate, tender, deliberate, hungry, and full of love. Without saying a single word, Clark told her everything: how much he loved her, how much he wanted her, how much he would miss her, and most importantly, that Clark Kent and the Blur were one and the same. And then he was gone, leaving Lois breathless, but with one word on her lips as comprehension dawned, and a smile spread across her face: "Clark!" *applauds wildly* Don't you dare take this back, Smallville. I will never forgive you if you do.
Clark returned to his rooftop to put the BoR in the console Tess had hidden there, but Zod and his army swooped out of the sky to challenge him. And this is where Clark impressed me most of all. Knowing that he had no chance of defeating all the Kandorians in a physical fight, Clark relied instead on his intelligence and leadership skills to manipulate Zod into revealing his deception, and win his followers over to his side. In his arrogance Zod underestimated Clark, and that proved to be his downfall. Once the truth was revealed, his people rejected him, and accepted Kal-El's peaceful alternative of a new home. But when Clark activated the BoR, and the Kandorians started to ascend, Zod had one more trick up his sleeve: a Blue!K knife that somehow counteracted the effects of Jor-El's device. Soon only Zod and Clark remained, which made me wonder if the BoR would have worked on Clark after all. In any case, in the end it came down to a fight between good and evil, and what a fight it was!
The final conflict between Clark and Zod was a thing of beauty. It was expertly choreographed, and exquisitely filmed. Every frame was gorgeous, and the decision to shoot the whole thing in the rain was brilliant. It was a rare treat to see Clark in a knock-down, drag-out fight, all bulging biceps, flying fists, and grim determination, and the scene brought all the action, drama, and suspense that were missing from last season's showdown with Doomsday. Finally the two combatants ended up on a corner precipice, high above the streets of Metropolis, struggling for dominance with the knife between them. Clark knew he could not allow Zod to remain on Earth; his hunger for power, and his hatred for the human race Kal-El had chosen over him, made his defeat imperative. In a moment of supreme self-sacrifice, Clark grabbed Zod's wrist, plunged the Blue!K knife into himself, and fell. Removed from the knife's protective power, Zod ascended, the world was saved, and our hero, arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross, plummeted to his fate. The screen went black, and then the words that will torture us for the next four months appeared: To Be Continued.
Tess has been woefully underused this season, but at least she played a critical role in the finale. In the end she came back to Clark's side, and did what she could to help him. Her direct confrontation with Zod ended in disaster, but revealing to Clark the location of the console she rescued from the Rao Tower went a long way toward saving the day. I read the spoilers that said she would die, and watched her scenes in the hospital with a heavy heart, but when that mysterious old woman slipped into her room after she had been pronounced dead, I knew her story wasn't over yet. Yay!! Tess will be back! Or at the very least Cassidy Freeman will, and that's all I really care about anyway. What a relief!
I liked Oliver in Salvation. He was funny, charming, heroic, and supportive of Clark. Much like Jimmy before him, I enjoy him much more as Clark's friend than as Chloe's boyfriend. His romance with her is kind of adorable, but I just can't bring myself to care about it much, and I was surprised to hear them professing their love for one another, even under dire circumstances. Having them move so fast makes it hard for me to take their relationship seriously, especially compared to the rich, carefully considered feelings we've seen grow between Clark and Lois over two whole seasons. Besides, I can't get it out of my head that Black Canary is waiting in the wings. I still think the show should have given Chloe a love interest who was an original character, like she is.
I was glad to see Chloe back on the team, doing what she does best: running tech, coordinating support efforts, and delivering exposition like no one else can. I'm not sure why the writers had her argue with Clark over the BoR. Has second guessing his judgment become her permanent role on the show? And why did she walk away from Clark instead of saying goodbye, leaving Oliver to make excuses for her actions? Were they trying to show us that Oliver knows Chloe better than Clark does now? Or was it an honest attempt to show how much Chloe still cares about her former BFF? Greg Beeman said he had a hard time adjusting to the current relationship between Chloe and Clark, and I guess I'm still having some trouble with that myself. I need to accept that they will never recapture what they once had. The words are there ("I can't imagine being in this world without you"), but to me, the emotion behind them is just a shell of what it used to be. :(
On a lighter note, I was happy to see that Jeff the Intern was still around in Clark's future, and with more lines than he's ever had before! Actually, according to BQM, he will have been promoted to Assistant by then. :) I hope we see more of Jeff in S10, he's adorable. And I have to admit I'm curious about the actor who plays him. His name is Evan C. Schulte, and Smallville is his only acting credit, according to IMDb. So what's his day job? Does he work on the show in some other capacity, and they just grab him from time to time when Jeff needs to put in an appearance? What is this guy's story? :)
Random thoughts: Awesome previouslies! Did anyone else check out the articles on the front page we saw in the teaser? Besides the Lex Luthor story, there was one about gas prices in Canada, and another one about how a second meteor shower had hit Smallville, killing Genevieve Teague and her son, Jason. hee! Do we all agree that it's the suit in that box from Martha? I'm going to be disappointed if it turns out to be a new t-shirt instead. ;) Yay for the show explaining how Martha knew about the Book of Rao! I'm fanwanking that Lionel also left her a boatload of money, which she uses to finance her activities as the Red Queen. When Lois did a search on Clark's computer for the Blur, one of the folders that came up was labeled "poems." Has Clark been writing odes to his alter ego? :) The only way to switch the new satellite on is to crawl through an air duct, unscrew a panel, and fiddle with the wires inside? Really? And I don't know enough about the comics to have any idea who that old lady at the hospital was supposed to be, or the red dots that converged on Oliver, but I'm guessing one or both of them was the Darkseid/Apokolips hint Brian Peterson teased in his recent round of interviews.
It's amazing what a truly good episode of Smallville can do. I'm all fired up again, and super pumped for S10! :) All through this season, I didn't trust the show to do right by Clark. After everything that happened in the back half of S8, especially in Doomsday, I found myself always expecting the worst, and it colored how I saw every episode. I was scarred, just like the characters on the show were. Looking back now after watching Salvation, a true celebration of Clark's heroism and his ability to inspire others, I know that I judged some moments too harshly, and braced myself for bad things that never came to pass. With my hope restored, I think the first thing I want to do during this hiatus is watch S9 all over again. Now that I know how things turn out, I can watch without dread over the final outcome, and I have a feeling I'll see many of the episodes in a whole new light. I can't wait to see which ones look better the second time around!
This episode had lots of Clark, so we get an extra dose of the pretty! Thirty of my favorite caps from Salvation:
Screen caps courtesy of Home of the Nutty, with my thanks!