After a season's worth of kryptonite-inspired monsters-of-the-week, Clark Kent (a.k.a. Superboy but don't let The WB know I said that) tackles perhaps the one force (aside from those green glowing meteor fragments) that he is powerless against and no, I'm not talking about the three twisters that create the backdrop for the SMALLVILLE season finale "Tempest." I'm talking about change. And the aftermath, in classic cliffhanger fashion, can prove catastrophic audiences will just have to wait until next season to truly understand the ramifications.
In this week's installment, more story is crammed into one mere hour of the show than perhaps the entire season's worth combined. And only one of the four plotlines (which all intertwine as a result of the title's mega-storm) has to do with Superman. What this demonstrates is that SMALLVILLE, not unlike another popular teen series that dabbles in the fantastic, has succeeded in creating a show that utilizes the supernatural as a metaphor for teenage life. But can the series be deemed a success after only one season? In the case of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, the closest show on television with which to compare the it to, it took nearly four seasons to truly catch on with audiences. If "Tempest" is any indication, however, then all signs point to the positive.
With this episode, every major character suffers a life-altering change that will undoubtedly affect their course for the second season. Starting with the resident bad guy with a heart, Lex Luthor is publicly humiliated by his father for the "failure" of Smallville's manure factory. As a result, the plant is shut down and all of its employees, numbering in the thousands, are laid off. To Lionel Luther, the heartless tycoon from Metropolis, this is merely a ploy to get his son to return home. But to Lex this is a ruthless gesture made by a man he considers more his enemy than his father.
Will Lex's plan to lead an employee buyout of the plant succeed, or will it leave the denizens of Smallville penniless and harboring an even greater feeling of resentment toward him? More importantly, will the Luthor son save his father's life when the storm from the episode's title comes tearing through the Kansas farming community?
For Lana and Whitney, the issue at hand is one of teenage love. When Smallville High School's all-star athlete enlists in the U.S. Marine Corps., the already fragile relationship shared by the two suffers yet another blow. Will Whitney's request for Lana to "wait for him" until he returns from basic training fall on deaf ears? Will Lana even be around to "wait for him" seeing how her truck gets swept up into the "super-twister" ravaging Smallville?
And speaking of young love, things are definitely heating up for Clark and Chloe as the two attend the spring formal together. Even Chloe's impending move back to Metropolis, the result of her father being laid off from the Luthor plant, can't stop the sparks from flying between these two as an almost-kiss is interrupted by... you guessed it, the storm. But when Clark runs off to save Lana, leaving his date alone when she needs him most, will Chloe be "waiting for him" when he gets back?
And last but not least, there's that little matter of a tabloid reporter discovering Clark's extraterrestrial secret. While snooping around the Kent farm, a reporter for THE LEDGER sets up the family truck to explode... with Clark inside. Of course, the boy emerges unscathed and the entire event is captured on videotape. Making matters worse, this same reporter comes across the missing "key" for Clark's spaceship the craft that brought him to Earth, hidden on the Kent farm and returns it to the vessel. Luckily, Clark's parents come running down to the cellar as a result of... yep, the storm (See how the "Tempest" plays into all of this?), catching the intruder in the act. Jonathan goes chasing after him, intent on making sure the reporter doesn't "destroy the family," while Martha stays behind to witness the emergence of "something" from the spacecraft. I guess we'll all have to wait until next season to see just what it is.
While the temptation to go the route of Clark vs. the storm is strong throughout the entire episode, its quite evident that the series' creators did everything in their power not to take the easy way out. They've made it clear from day one that SMALLVILLE would not be so much about the early adventures of Superman, but rather what went into making the Man of Steel truly a man. And what better builder of character is there than the real life challenges of change, disappointment and tough decision-making?
Of course, the genre element is important in keeping a certain segment of the fan base happy, and the method by which SMALLVILLE touches upon it choosing to do so with the slightest of hand works to maintain just enough science fiction without going the way of the recently cancelled ROSWELL. And by pulling Clark's parents into the mix, the show looks to be leading toward the inevitable Kryptonian reveal in a "re-imagined" fashion perhaps Martha Kent (trapped in the storm cellar with the glowing spacecraft) will be the vehicle through which Clark discovers his heritage.
Regardless of whether season one of SMALLVILLE is deemed a success in the minds of viewers, one thing is certain. "Tempest" accomplished what a good season finale sets out to do it recapped the theme of the entire season, brought every dangling plot point to a head and closed with an ending sure to bring viewers back for a second season of super-entertainment.