Smallville's biggest problem has always been its own success. It can certainly roll with most punches as adeptly as the Man of Steel himself, but its core always remained the synthesis of comic book origin story and angsty teen drama. In order to retain that, they had to keep things in Smallville, keep Clark (Tom Welling) out of the red and blue jammies, and keep the later events of the Superman mythos safely at bay. How can you do that if your show runs nine full seasons? The bright-eyed teenage cast grew up and couldn't stay stuck in high school forever. So bit by bit, developments crept in that pushed Clark closer to his destiny until suddenly, the show stopped being Smallville and became Superman in all but name.
The series creators still seem to be in denial about this. They've taken so many steps down the road of Clark's life--he's reporting for the Daily Planet, the Fortress of Solitude is fully operational, his arch-nemesis is dead for God's sake, and now his battle with Doomsday has more or less taken place--all sans heroic name, secret identity or shiny red cape. There's nothing else left to do… and yet they keep deferring the moment of truth again and again until their very act of denial becomes a joke.
That ends up foiling the big season finale, as Doomsday splits from Davis Bloome (Sam Witwer) amid promises of a major death and countless other turbulent developments to blow our fanboy socks off. Turns out that major death wasn't Clark like everyone expected. Instead, it's Jimmy (Aaron Ashmore) who takes the fall, done in by the now-human Davis who's still an obsessive lunatic even without the beast inside of him. They quickly follow that up with an even bigger surprise: this Jimmy may not be the Jimmy, since he has a bow-tie-wearing younger brother who inherits his camera and could "follow in his footsteps" someday. Setting aside the fact that it smacks ominously of "Peter Parker is a clone" ret-conning, the subplot's only real purpose seems to be to tease out the narrative further--to give Clark a "real" Jimmy Olsen whenever he's finally ready to commit to canon, reducing the one we've followed for the past three seasons to a quickly forgotten also-ran.
So too does the remainder of the season finale waffle and dodge and do everything in its power to avoid the big leap forward. It spent over a dozen episodes building towards the big showdown with Doomsday, only to deliver another deferral in its place. We leave him trapped underground after an all-too-brief scuffle, and he'll presumably spend another five or six years digging himself out before the "real" showdown takes place. Meanwhile, all the energy and anticipation the show cultivated so carefully vanishes in a three-minute fight scene and a confusing bit of hand-waving: hardly the way to endear yourselves to your loyal viewers.
To do so with a season centerpiece draws doubts over every other twist Smallville wishes to throw at us. Sure, Zod appears at the last shot, but who cares? Clark's not Superman yet, so any confrontation will either be interminably delayed or won't be a part of Superman's "real" adventures anyway. The twist also further stresses the fact that the DC universe is now pretty much up and running on this show--fully-fledged heroes fighting crime, villains rising and falling, and Chloe (Allison Mack) playing Maxwell Lord when she isn't enabling intergalactic sociopaths with her forbidden love. In light of that, the reluctance to fully break with the show's title--to put that "S" on Clark's chest once and for all--pushes false modesty to ridiculous extremes.
Smallville still has life in it, to be sure. It boasted plenty of solid episodes this season, and with decades of DC canon to draw from, there's nothing that says it can't continue for another eight years. But not as Smallville. The show has proven remarkably adept at evolving to fit new circumstances--a key to its continuing success--and now it needs to cut that final link. The cape is waiting for Clark, and as this season finale proves, it's long overdue. Let him put it on, and allow him to acknowledge the passage of time in the only manner left that still carries any meaning. Until they do, the show remains mired in a past which has long since faded in the rear-view mirror.