***!!Warning – contains spoilers in relation to previous seasons!!***
Season 9 kicks off with a very eventful recap. Clark has become “the Blur”, dressed in black and leaving the Superman logo (his family crest) at the scene of his heroics. He has defeated Doomsday and Oliver Queen/The Green Arrow is coming to terms with the emotional toll of having killed Lex Luthor. Lois Lane donned a mystical ring and been transported a year into the future and Jimmy Olson has been killed. A pod from Krypton has been opened, releasing clones of Major Zod and dozens of his soldiers, who are currently scattered across the Earth.
This season spends very few episodes on stories that do not over-arch the entire series. There are occasional “freak of the week” plots, but even those contain elements that develop and progress the overall arc, namely Zod’s mission to acquire the powers that Kal-El possesses and restore his army to planet-ruling glory. In terms of other season-spanning themes, we have Oliver Queen coming to terms with what he does done, Chloe’s realisation that as she runs the show from her tower-top digital fortress, life is passing her by and the rise to prominence of shady government agency “Checkmate”. We also meet the surviving members of the Justice Society of America in a thrilling and mythology-building mid-season two-parter (Absolute Justice) and are left guessing to the very last minute as to the identity and loyalties of the mysterious Red Queen.
Essentially, this season is all about Clark and Zod. We see through flashbacks how Zod became a tyrannical monster and his changing relationship with Jor-El. We see Clark fighting for the loyalties of Zod’s followers, trying to work out whether Zod is simply a villain or merely misunderstood. Clark desperately wants to save Zod and believes he can, which seems naïve to us, but this is just because of our familiarity with General Zod in Superman II and how irredeemable a villain he was in that film. In the end, it is a race between Clark and Zod to find the Book of Rao, which Zod believes will give him and his people unlimited knowledge and power. Callum Blue plays Zod as less aristocratic than Terrance Stamp did in Superman II and although it occasionally gets a bit hammy, he is nonetheless an intimidating, charismatic presence amidst the sometimes tiresome frowning of much of the rest of the cast.
We see Clark and Lois’s romantic relationship develop and the opportunities for her to find out his secret increase. Erica Durance as Lois Lane gets a suitably meaty episode in Pandora, as she remembers in a dream all that happened when she travelled to the future at the end of season 8. She sees a powerless Clark and an omnipotent Zod, but the usual end of episode memory wipe leaves her back in the present day none the wiser.
Ultimately there are frustrations with the slow progress towards Clark donning the tights and cape. We get a fantastic couple of teases which suggest it is not now far off, especially given that the upcoming season 10 will be the last, but the show’s producers must be careful. Lost taught us that too much tease and not enough pay-off will switch off your audience. They have brought us this far, now it is time to deliver.
There are a few micro-second deleted scenes, which add nothing and which were best left on the cutting room floor. There are however two excellent features, one on Zod and his development as a character and the other on the making of the aforementioned JSA two-parter. Two random episodes (Kandor and Idol) are selected for commentaries, featuring producers, writers, Callum Blue (Zod) and Erica Durance (Lois). There is a certain amount of insight into how the episodes are written, changes that were made and how they fit in with the overall span of the series, however far too often it amounts to a lot of “they were so great to work with and did such a great job”.
This is a season that seems to be feeling the pinch of budget constraints in some of its special effects and scope, but the cast are clearly very comfortable in their roles. Zod is a great character and is able to pose a very real and serious threat to Clark and the writers have succeeded in plotting an overall arc for the season while still leaving room for great stand alone episodes and some fun along the way too. Season 10 has just started airing in the States and will no doubt find its way to these shores before too long.