Even setting aside the turbulence of the Writer's Strike, Smallville's seventh season marks a show at a pivotal point of transition. Though the episodes don't betray the contract negotiations that followed, the series' eighth season shows will go on without creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar at the helm and without Michael Rosenbaum's Lex Luthor or Kristen Kreuk's Lana Lang among the regulars (both are expected to make guest appearances).
Millar and Gough's final season gives cause for reflection on the bumpy evolution of a series once intended to keep its roots planted in the title town of Smallville, Kansas. Smallville began as a sexed-up hybrid of the old Superboy comics and The X-Files, with stories soon characterized as "meteor freak of the week." To some degree, the show has had to live with that basic conception. Rather than the comic-book conception of Superboy as a junior Superman, hiding his powers behind nerdy wear and glasses, Smallville's brawny Clark Kent (an invaluable Tom Welling) has the persona of a mild-mannered, milk-fed farm boy. Appropriately, the series has examined the development of Clark's powers, the angst of his parentage and hidden secret, and the evolving relationships between Clark and future nemesis Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum, playing a mix of poignancy and venom) and Clark and first love Lana Lang (winsome Kristen Kreuk).
The series always enjoyed foreshadowing or teasing references to the inevitable adventures of Superman, but Gough and Millar also pledged "no tights, no flights" (rumored to be the straw that broke the back of contract negotiations). In Season Three, the series made room for an appearance by Perry White (Michael McKean) that reimagined the character while committing only a venial sin of continuity, but with the writers grasping for showy plot developments to attract viewers to the fledgling CW network, the floodgates eventually opened, with Lois Lane (Erica Durance) joining the cast, as well as Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore). The series had already established an absurd geographic locality between Smallville and Metropolis: moving much of the series' action to the Daily Planet was simply a further step.
Season Seven, then, has come a long way from high school or even college-themed stories. For all intents and purposes, it's Superman, but with Clark not yet having developed his flight or his fashion sense. Given the box defined by the CW, DC, and themselves, the writers have done an admirable job of keeping the series afloat with action and melodrama. Clark's girl Friday Chloe (Allison Mack, the only Season One regular other than Welling heading into Season Eight) tells him, "Someday you're going to have to play God," one of several pressure-laden references to an enormous power (and responsibility) that will have to broaden its scope if Clark is to become our savior. At this point, dad Jonathan is dead and buried, and mom Martha is off saving the world her own way in Washington D.C. Clark's the man of the Kent farmhouse--how much longer can he avoid being a Superman of the world?
Season Seven resolves the Season Six cliffhanger involving "Bizarro" (the Smallville version, anyway), introduces new regular Laura Vandervoort as Kara Zor-El (a.k.a. Supergirl), and brings to a head the relationship between Lex and his father Lionel (like Chloe, a character created expressly for the series). Brainiac (James Marsters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is still in the mix, as are Martian Manhunter (Phil Morris) and the ethereal presence of Jor-El (voiced by Terence "General Zod" Stamp) in Clark's Fortress of Solitude. Entertaining stunt casting extends to Clark's birth mother Lara (Helen "Supergirl" Slater), Kryptonian scientist Dax-Ur (Marc "Jimmy Olsen" McClure), and corrupt Dr. Curtis Knox (Dean "Superman" Cain). Two former regulars return: Sam Jones III as Pete Ross and Justin Hartley as Green Arrow, who helps Clark to deal with a troubling newcomer on the scene: Black Canary (Alaina Huffman).
As the show has succumbed to convolution, it's fair to say that even an attentive viewer may have trouble tracking who knows what about whom, and the various fallout of each person's knowledge. By the time Robert Picardo shows up as a highly unconvincing cultist, some will be ready to throw up their hands (or maybe that'll happen during the annual product-placement episode clearly designed to meet the year's production budget). But Smallville is best approached as a guilty pleasure that long ago set its own crash course through the Superman legend. Given that Gough and Millar didn't have a single screenplay credit in Season Seven (despite overseeing storylines), Season Eight probably won't feel as different as many fans fear, but with Lex and Lana largely out of the picture, the series has a chance to try something old (heating up Lois and Clark), something borrowed (an adaptation of comics villain Doomsday), and perhaps, as the show draws to a seemingly inevitable close, something blue (and red and yellow)?
Warner comfortably presents Smallville's twenty Seventh Season episodes on three Blu-ray discs. The image quality is the best yet for this series on home video. While these transfers appear a bit sharper than Season Six on Blu-ray, the image still suffers from mild softness that's no doubt attributable more to the show's photographic choices than anything else. Colors are bold, and the image is certainly clean and steady. The series also comes complete with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack that, while not up to feature film standards, adds some excitement to the experience of the show.
As usual, Warner has whipped up a nice array of bonuses to supplement the episodes. Two episodes receive commentary tracks this time around: "Persona" with the ever-gentlemanly John Glover joined by producer Ken Horton and director Todd Slavkin, and "Siren," with Justin Hartley, creator-producers Alfred Gough & Miles Millar, and writers Kelly Souders & Brian Peterson. Fans will find these worth a listen, especially the track with departing creators Gough and Millar.
The coolest feature by a mile is the historic featurette "Jimmy on Jimmy" (23:17), which gathers the four actors who have played Jimmy Olsen on screen: Jack Larson (TV's The Adventures of Superman), Marc McClure (Richard Donner's Superman films), Sam Huntington (Superman Returns), and Aaron Ashmore (Smallville). It's a hoot to watch these guys kibitz about the character and their professional experiences. I could have listened to them for another half-hour.
Running a close second is "Supergirl: The Last Daughter of Krypton" (17:49), which explores the nearly fifty-year history of the character, including her reintroduction on Smallville. Participants include DC Comics president and publisher Paul Levitz, DC senior editor Matt Idelson, DC senior VP executive editor Dan Didio, DC group editor Eddie Berganza, DC writer Gail Simone, Dark Horse Comics executive editor Diana Schutz, DC writer Joe Kelly, Supergirl director Jeannot Szwarc, Helen Slater, DC writer Elliot S! Maggin, Millar, Gough, and Laura Vandervoort.
A total of 25 Deleted Scenes are spread over the three discs, providing insight into the editing process. Disc Three also includes the digital comic book Smallville: Visions, which (fair warning) includes plenty of product placement for a certain brand of gum, and 6 mobisodes (mobile episodes, I guess, as there are no cannoli in sight) of the simply computer-animated Smallville Legends: Kara & the Chronicles of Krypton (21:23 with "Play All"), which provides the full Kryptonian backstory leading up to Kara's appearance on the show.
Though the image quality won't sparkle quite so well as it does on Blu-ray, Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season is also available in a six-disc DVD set. If, like me, you catch up to this series on home video, hustle to get your hands on this set before the eighth season premiere on September 18.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer