How Do You End a Cult Series?: Fans Respond

I asked for your thoughts about how cult series should end and in particular your expectations and responses about the resolution of Smallville. Here are your responses:

Hello:

Read the twitter from Allison, then read your blog. Very interesting stuff.

I watched Smallville at the beginning and kind of faded out when Jonathan died. I left it alone for a couple of years and picked it back up again in season 8. I’ve since watched all the episodes in order and truly love the series for so many reasons. The messages were so positive, family was important, good, truth, justice and all the things that we seem to be lacking or maybe I should say we’re trying to uncover again.

I thought the end of the series was excellent. I truly was not disappointed other than learning it took another seven years for Clark to marry Lois. I’m not a comic book fan so I don’t know what’s happening in that reality. As far as Chloe goes, my impression was she was happily married to Oliver, she’s a mother and she’s still involved in the Justice League albeit in a role that keeps her anonymous for her protection and the team’s. Given her propensity to stick by Clark no matter what, I can’t imagine Chloe doing anything else with her life. It would have been nice for them to work Lana in there somehow. I wanted to know what happened to her but I wasn’t disappointed per se.

Hope this is what you were looking for. I’m just so grateful not to have a St. Elsewhere or Dallas kind of ending.

As it was done, Smallville and Superman live on.

Happy writing!

Kim Kloes

Smallville fan

Prof. Jenkins,

Thanks for your recent blog post about Smallville‘s ending and more specifically, character Chloe Sullivan’s ending. As a Chloe and Smallville fan myself, I’ve been engaged in some passionate discussions about this ever since the finale aired.

First of all, I was so happy to see Kelly Souders’ statement about Chloe’s career:

First I have to give a big “HUH?” to the Chloe part. As a woman who has a pretty demanding job and two children at home under the age of four, I have to say I was floored by that one. I’m not sure why anyone thought her reading a book at night meant she wasn’t going to her computer down the hall to check in with the JLA.

This is precisely the point I have been making to people arguing the converse. We were shown nothing in the finale to contradict what had been established in “Fortune”: that Chloe was going to be a reporter and a JLA headhunter/recruiter. Working mothers still read bedtime stories to their kids. How anyone could think that the Chloe we have been shown for the past 10 years would ever give up all her personal goals and career ambitions just because she became a mother is beyond me.

I know that some fans were disappointed that Oliver did not appear with Chloe in the scenes with their son, and it was not stated outright that the child WAS their son and they were still happily married. It seemed clear to me that Smallville was operating under some constraints from DCU and the producers still did their absolute level best to push those to the limit to show Chloe’s happy ending: her prominent wedding rings, the child actor obviously cast for his resemblance to both Allison Mack and Justin Hartley; accessories in the child’s bedroom including the bow and arrow set and the carpet decorated with targets (!).

I know there are Oliver/Dinah fans (and Chloe haters) who continue to argue that we don’t know the child is Oliver’s, they might be divorced despite the wedding rings, she might be married to someone else, etc. Some fans have claimed that a close-up screenshot of the envelope Chloe sent the blue ribbon to Lois in, postmarked from Singapore, with a return address of Chloe Sullivan (rather than Queen) is proof they are not married. Despite the fact that a happily-married Oliver called his wife “Sullivan” affectionately in the finale and it’s been established that they both travel internationally for business and own a jet. Some posters on a SV fanboard pointed, apparently without irony, to a quick closeup of a supply locker at Watchtower containing both Oliver’s and Dinah’s equipment as proof that even in the SV-verse, they ended up together. (Yeah, I don’t even know.) I guess what it boils down to is that some viewers need things spelled out very, very literally and concretely and specifically, and some of us are happy that the writers and producers actually trust the viewers NOT to need very heavy-handed expository dialogue to Get It.

As for where I’d like to see Chloe go in the future? Easy. The DCU reboot offers a unique opportunity to give Green Arrow a fresh start. Disgraced, isolated, divorced from Dinah, he really seems painted into a corner right now comics-wise. Why not do a reboot or at least a Smallville Alternate Universe spin-off with an Oliver Queen/Green Arrow who is younger, less of a bastard and has more possibilities for redemption? And all the better if a young reporter named Chloe Sullivan, already introduced in a Jimmy Olsen title, came along to verbally spar with him, tell him when he’s being a jackass, and ultimately become something of a partner for him?

What I loved most about the Chloe/Oliver relationship is that they started out as teammates and friends first; knew everything about each other, both the good and the bad; weren’t afraid to call each other on their crap; and still saw the hero in each other. They elevated each other; together they were more than the sum of their parts. Contrast that with comics Oliver cheating on Dinah repeatedly, having at least 2 out-of-wedlock children with other women, and the ultimate failure of their marriage. I don’t like that Oliver Queen much, and thrilled as I was that Chloe was being introduced into the comics, I hated that it was in a Jimmy Olsen title, since the Smallville Chloe/Jimmy relationship was largely reviled by fandom. Give Chloe and Oliver a fresh start with each other in the comics, and let’s see all the interesting new stories to be told.

Thanks again for the interesting topic–I plan to go back and read more now that I’ve found your blog.

–Susan

Hi Allison I have been watching Smallville since my dad had me watch it with him which was “Justice” in season 6 as my starting episode. It was awsome and I have loved your character ever since. And just between u and me I think chloe was more fun with Oliver then Jimmy. Besides the Finale what episode do u think u liked the most of the ones u were in for season 10? For ur role I think the best was probably “Masquerade with Desaad” but u looked like u had a lot of fun with “Fortune.” What kinda props did u take home when the season ended? Did kristen and erica not like each other that much because after season 5 they actually (and i looked back) had only 6 scenes together in 2 whole seasons. Or was it the writers who did that? Im sorry if this is a little akward and u dont have to answer but i always wanted to know was it akward that u and tom knew each other for 9 years and u guys did a naked scene together in season 9 in “Escape”? With Silver Banshee? I think thats enough questions and I loved Smallville and I will always love it. I also was happy with Chloes ending being a recruiter of heros, a mom, and still a reporter. Your character always developed in fun ways and whats good is that it never changed it just kept adding on. Thanks, Justin your Smallville fan

My 1st response is about the show: The most awesome part about it is that, because of it’s origins of Comic books, it already had it’s core fan base; Those that weren’t comic book geeks are more abstract/contemporary viewers.

I think with these ‘types’ of Shows, you have to stay true to the skeleton of the story line, though one can be creative with the flesh part, if I can put it in those terms. I don’t mean to cast out the other viewers, their opinions count too (they add to the success), but because their perspective is more abstract/contemporary (where they want to change/challenge the very skeleton, I think there has to be that standard without apology, because then you disrespect the whole origin of the comic book storyline & it’s genre (especially since the origin of the show is birthed from that, what an insult to the artist). It’s always a bad idea to step on creative toes, or hands- lol!

If you want my honest opinion, opinions fluctuate so often, there is just no pleasing [everyone]. I think if the agenda is upfront in the beginning, eventually everyone will respect the outcome.

However, to alleviate the abstract/ contemp. crowd, I think there could’ve been a more consistent forum on the shows website. I think it lacked an online team specifically for that purpose (it’s very time consuming). It could’ve used consistent interviews with the actors (both personal & the show), people like that personal connection, even if it was sharing one piece of personal information that isn’t commonly known, along with the interview about the character on the show. You’d be surprised how most people are forgiving/fickle with their perspective if they like the interview & if they feel the actor was personable-Fans don’t feel so “used”….and they forget they were upset. LOL!!

As for the continuation, wow! That you’re even asking that question, cause in my opinion your heart & soul reflected your passion off screen! Wow! You could also sense the heart of the writers & basically everyone involved wanting to finish well. I think y’all (excuse the Texan in me-hehe) did the best you could.

I am curious though since the Chloe character was integrated into the comic’s chorology, I wonder about the chain reaction in all the comics now? In Smallville the super heroes from the future came and said they never heard of her, How about now I wonder?

It would be cool to see THAT dynamic on a web series to start. Showing the ending of Smallville‘s “likeness”, where Chloe is reading the book to the child as the beginning of the series (much like Clark being found as a child scene), whether the child that Chloe is reading to, is one she had with the Green Arrow, or the one that Green Arrow is supposed to have mentored and becomes “Speedy”(Red Arrow), his sidekick (a lot of content there in that relationship between Speedy & Green Arrow and how he grew from “Speedy” to “Red Arrow”). It would be great to see THAT Dynamic of the family type effort with the other Heroes: Ardimus (Arrowett) & Batman, Green Arrow was known to work them the most, on a show! I wouldn’t cover the child growing up though, just that intro. (no one wants to see Chloe as a mom, just knowing she was) everyone knows she could do that & run a country from another galaxy. LOL! (Did I make sense? Sorta rambled in my brainstorm lol!)

I would love to see Chloe’s part in the whole integration. Making Chloe a solid place to fit inn would be AWESOME! I think there is a pool of creativity yet to be discovered & written!!! I would LOVE!!! L-O-V-E- to take part in it’s writing!!

I think it would do better as a web series, because of it’s un-explored (to my knowledge) content. Man! It would be so killer!

love you woman!

Irene

Howdy,

Wow, you are a brave person, opening up your inbox to comments from a horde of Sci-Fi fans :)

I appreciate the opportunity to weigh in, so I’ll keep my comments brief. I’ll lead off my comments by pointing out that there’s obviously no way they could have satisfied everyone with the finale, especially with a Canadian TV show budget. If you did everything all of the fans wanted, you’d spend a hundred million dollars, which was clearly not in the cards.

I also note that many folks appear to be quite satisfied with the finale. For my part, though, I found the finale to be monumentally unsatisfying, but not for the reasons that are being cited by many. My only expectation was that I expected the producers handling the finale to deliver a cohesive, meaningful story that wrapped up the TV series, its characters, and its plotlines during their last outing, and it is in this basic storytelling respect that it really came up short.

The best example of this fact is the way in which the Lois and Clark wedding was handled. The fact that Lois and her relationship with Clark was so important to his destiny was one of the truly innovative and memorable things about this season and a really novel, welcome addition of the Superman mythos; the storyline and accompanying great performances by the two actors really enhanced the show. They ultimately built up the wedding into one of the prime narrative drivers of the season, to the point where it took up half of the time in the series’s final episode. The Lois and Clark wedding was, of course, also heavily hyped by the network. If you spend that much time building up to something, you have raised audience expectations to the point where you really, really, need to cohesively deliver a satisfying resolution onscreen.

Instead, the wedding gets interrupted at the halfway point to the show, we get to the end of the final episode, there’s a brief 7-year flash forward sequence, and the two main characters still aren’t married. As a viewer, my response to that moment was roughly: “WHAT?!!! Are you kidding me? All that buildup and this is what we get?”

The fact that the ending of the show establishes that they are still trying to get married is really just a bad storytelling decision. It rudely snaps the viewer out of the story. This ending raises a host of uncomfortable questions that the viewer really shouldn’t have been induced to ask, since they completely ruin the “suspension of disbelief” that is absolutely required for a show with an (admittedly zany) premise like this one.

Questions like: Why didn’t they just finish the wedding in the parking lot with the minister 7 years before? Why did it take so long for them to try to get married again? More importantly, why haven’t Superman and Lois Lane, of all people, not been able to find a day–or heck, even an hour–in seven years to finish their 90% done wedding, which had been portrayed as immensely important to them both for an entire season? You make time for what’s important, and waiting seven years is very much out of character for them.

The Lois character in particular goes from “never accepting defeat” just two episodes prior to apparently blithely accepting defeat in the case where her own wedding doesn’t get finished. Bottom line: the whole thing just defies belief, and having a prime narrative focus of the series be handled in this fashion really makes no sense.

What makes it even more frustrating is that there are any number of ways this plotline could have been handled more satisfyingly; I for one would have been A-OK if that last scene had just established that they were were married offscreen at some nebulous point beforehand, which would have been shockingly easy to do (a simple “Hello, Mrs. Kent” would have worked just fine…). Instead, although we did get lots of wedding-related character moments and the ending clearly shows that the two characters are still together, the viewers categorically did not get a satisfying onscreen narrative conclusion to the season-long wedding plotline. You spend that much time building up to something, you have to deliver, and they did not.

It would be interesting to hear about the thinking that went into this decision; to a completely average TV viewer such as myself, it is absolutely befuddling, and I just felt insulted by the way that the wedding plotline was handled. It felt like my time had been wasted for an entire season.

Now, I don’t know if the non-wedding was mandated by the studio or was a misguided effort to leave the viewer “wanting more”, but no matter whose responsibility it is, it was a huge mistake to end that plotline (and the show) in such a nonsensical and unsatisfying manner, especially when handling it in a more straightforward and crowd-pleasing way would have been just as easy and let them tell the same story.

The completely illogical conclusion to the wedding plotline is emblematic of other, similar problems in the finale, like (for example) the bizarre Chloe-and-the-comic book framing story that gives away Clark’s identity already noted by many, as well as the fact that (despite two seasons of some pretty thick foreshadowing) we never get to see Lois name Superman and reveal him to the world, a fairly important and defining moment for both characters.

In the cosmic scheme of things, of course, it doesn’t really matter. Griping about the final episode is of course a symbolic gesture at this point since the show is over, we’ll never see the actors in these roles ever again, and everyone (myself included) is moving on.

But, that’s just why I think some people remain frustrated. The producers apparently took the position “We don’t need to show [insert really important Smallville character milestone here] on our TV show, since we all know from [insert comic book or movie here] that it will eventually happen!”. Well, that’s just lazy.

As a fan of the TV show, I wanted to see these iconic story moments with “our” versions of these characters, and that’s what the viewers really didn’t get. I had always held off buying the Smallville DVDs, because I knew there would inevitably be a big box set at the end of the series, and I knew that for me the payoff from the destination (the finale) had to be worth making the journey. Let’s face it, this show had some real clunkers along the way.

Unfortunately, the final episode (and in particular, that final scene, where the two main characters are inexplicably not married after a whole season of buildup) was such a let down that I’m not going to waste my time and hard-earned money on the DVDs in order to relive a journey that has such an unsatisfying destination. Which is kind of a shame.

Thanks again for the opportunity to offer an opinion! I don’t mind if you utilize the preceding paragraphs for public consumption, but I would request that my identity remain anonymous.

Cheers,

Samuel Lawrence

I am a huge Smallville, Superman fan and have been from day one. I am also

involved heavily in the online fandom on various sites including Twitter and Kryptonsite forums so I have a very good idea of how the Finale of Smallville was perceived. Generally, I’ve only come across a small minority who didn’t enjoy the finale for various reasons and unfortunately these people are also the most vocal.

Many people loved the episode, myself including. I couldn’t have think of a more perfect way to end the show after 10 years. Clark Kent, the boy who was so scared of being alone finally became the man he was destined to be with the woman he loves by his side. The show is about Clark Kent, not Chloe or Lex and he was the reason I watched from beginning to end.

The only thing that offended me was having Chloe being the only one to call him ‘Superman’ by name. I waited till the end to hear Lois call him that so I was disappointed. In my opinion, only Lois deserves that.

I don’t have a problem with the way they ended Chloe’s storyline. It was ambiguous, yes but that’s what makes it interesting. For those that want it, they can imagine her and Ollie married, in love and happy. My scenario for Chloe would be to have her successfully raising her son away from the heroes and carving a life for herself outside it all. For too long, she’s been defined by the heroes that surround her and sacrificed so much of herself to their cause. Working for JLA doesn’t make her successful. She could be a

editor, painter, journalist and be more powerful, successful because success comes with inner happiness and strength in what you do.

Since I was a little girl, Lois Lane has always been my favourite character. I wouldn’t love her any less if she wasn’t the Pulitzer winning reporter that she is. Her character, integrity, her never-ending faith in others is what draws me to her.

With shows, movies, books – there is always controversy to who belongs to who and the right way to end characters. You’re never going to satisfy everyone. When JK Rowling ended her 7th Harry Potter book, there were people who said it was the worst book written but it doesn’t make it any less a work of brilliance. But such is life that the negatives always get the focus over the positives.

I wanted to use this opportunity to thank everyone involved with the Smallville and for 10 years of love, laughter, tears and magic.

*Anon*

I wish I could write a logic piece analyzing bit by bit how the writers broke the contract with the audience they established in the pilot.

I’m a writer myself (in Spanish, English is not my first language as you probably can tell in my bad grammar) and I studied for years creative writing, plot points, chekhov guns, the journey of the hero and the heroine….so many other treaties about the art of writing and if the writers really think they did their job I pity any new fans that engage into their projects because they lack basic storytelling skills.

But I can’t. I’m still mourning.

The connection the first five years created with this characters and me was strong and powerful, and it was downhill from them on and in the end they just destroyed it, to a point that all I can feel is rage thinking about it. I wish I could be more rational about it, is just a TV show that no one will remember in 10 years (maybe because of the horrible ending), but I can’t.

I was in love with Smallville.

I usually call it my only abusive relationship, always believing the promise that the good times will come back and kept coming back for more mistreatment almost every week, like a beating husband that brings you flowers and promises not to hurt you again and you forgive because you are in love, but then the beatings continue coming and in the end you end up dead.

This is what Smallville did to me. It killed my faith on TV series.

I will say I haven’t seen any other series and I don’t plan to, I can’t have faith again. Heroes started great and also ended in a mess, and the perfect TV series Pushing Daisies was canceled. There are many other great series that also suffered the same faith so is obvious that TV shows are stale like Hollywood movies are becoming now with nothing new or original just rehash, unlikeable characters and bad writing that they cannot see it for the life of themselves.

I really hope the producers of Smallville are really happy about being part of the many problems I have with TV that lead me to quit it altogether. For as much as they say this is the planned ending for the last 10 years I would love to see the original planned ended script or layout, I’m pretty sure it was totally different.

As for my kids I will be buying DVD of good TV shows of the past for them to actually enjoy watching good stories. Star Trek TNG for example, also finished in its own terms and their ending was perfect, IMO. It got closure for all the characters, gave us a glimpse of the future that was logical for them in most ways and opened new possibilities, organically integrating even the special guests….just perfection in writing.

But new TV shows and cable networks can keep airing bad written shows and Reality TV 24/7 if they want to. This viewer, that was willing to purchase the special 10 seasons package of Smallville if only the ending would had been…decent, Is going to take her disposable income and investing on good stories and people that are willing to actually do their homework and keep their promises, YMMV as usual.

Thanks again for the chance and who knows I might be able to write something proper in the future, at this point I just can’t.

Ana Bastow

Editor’s Note: Thanks to everyone (whether fan or professional) who took the time to share with me your thoughts on Smallville‘s ending or on the ending of cult series more generally. There were many different and sometimes conflicting perspectives expressed here, and it’s worth remembering the range of production contingencies and restrictions which also figure into this process.

I’ve always contended that cult series are often most satisfying in the middle when these diverse sets of expectations can all be put into play and where fans feel free to speculate and generate a range of possible endings through their conversations which open the series to many diferent potential interpretations. The minute a series starts to close down, some of those possibilities will be rejected and some heavily invested fans will be crushed. In part, this is because even though fans ultimately play a huge role in how a series will be remembered, fans ascribe much greater value to canon, the officially generated storyline, than fanon, their own interpretations, speculations, fantasies, and productions.

Another theme here that interested me a lot was the sense that the ending determines the value of the series. My own views as a fan are rather different. I know I’ve been disappointed in the resolution of certain series but it also doesn’t take that much away from the pleasures I had in the process of the series. If I had a series which had 100 plus great episodes and a bad ending, I’d be rewatching and remembering fondly the 100 great episodes, which was my primary experience of the series, and if my frustration was too high, tossing the disc of the final episode. Fan communities as a whole have developed purposeful amnesia, denying the existance of plot twists which they disliked, and writing their fan fiction starting just before the plot twist occurs. Blake’s 7 fandom developed a whole genre of fan fiction involving writing beyond an ending which many found frustrating (though which I found especially provocative and clearly, given the number of stories fans wrote, generative.) We need put only as much weigh on the ending of the series as we chose to in our personal and collective imagination, and for me at least, a bad ending doesn’t take that much away from the experience I had with the series as a whole.

Thanks again to our friends at the Alchemists for helping us to organize this exchange between fans and producer/actress.

Comments

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