Tom Welling, <EM>Smallville</EM> Tom Welling, Smallville

Is the Young Man of Steel poised to break Chloe's heart? Is Lex really dead? Even a week later, are you, like us, still processing what happened to, and with whom, and why, during Smallville's Season 5 finale? TV Guide went to cocreator Al Gough the day after the season-ender with our burning questions and to seek clues about next season.

TV Guide: Smallville's season finales always leave all the characters in very bad situations.
Al Gough:
It's become a tradition on the show and it harkens back to what was always fun about comic books. You can tell these stories that are spread out over a number of issues, but you always have a couple of points with great cliff-hangers where you didn't know what was going to happen next. We loved the idea of keeping people hanging, both the audience and the characters. It's sort of like the feeling we all had at the end of The Empire Strikes Back  "What, we have to wait three years?!" We also find that painting ourselves into these corners gives us a lot of energy going into the next season. It helps propel everything forward, rather than starting from a dead stop and trying to wind up again.

TV Guide: Do you know now how you are going to get yourself out of those corners? What is the challenge in writing a cliff-hanger?
We always know what we want next season to be. We even know what the end of next season is. But if you were to ask me today how do we get out of what you saw last night, I couldn't tell you. The writers finish in March, and we start back right after Memorial Day that way you can sit on it and think about it. Generally, the ideas you have in March or April aren't necessarily as good as the ones you're going to have in June. When we do come back, we spend the first week figuring out how we're going to get ourselves out of the corners we've painted ourselves into, and also how those events are going to propel us into the next season. [A year ago] the crystals propelled us into the fortress, which propelled us into this season. That's always the challenge of the show. Once the season-openers are done, we always go, "Well, of course that's what it would be!" [Laughs] I'm already starting to have some ideas about how Clark gets out of the Phantom Zone and what Zod does. But we definitely went to an extreme place this time.

TV Guide: What was the thought process behind ending the finale this way? Did you always know that Clark would end up in the Phantom Zone?
A lot of times when you look at our seasons, what happens at the end of the opener has consequences for the finale. In Season 3, it was Jonathan's deal with Jor-El, which came at the end of the first episode; the ship with Brainiac played itself out through this season. We knew that we had a lot of big cards to play this season. As the characters are getting older, we're getting closer to the actual Superman mythology. We introduced the Fortress of Solitude and the Daily Planet and other DC Universe characters, including Brainiac. This was the first year we could play the Lex-Clark-Lana triangle because obviously everybody was legal. How many shows can say they can't play their major love triangle until Year 5? [Laughs] So we had a lot of ammunition going into Season 5, because with the move [to Thursdays at 8] we thought we were dead in the water. We knew we had a great season arc planned and we were hoping people would show up to watch it! Our storytelling was much better [this season]. We didn't drag the Brainiac stuff out  we told the first story, put it aside to tell the election story and the death of Jonathan Kent, and then came back to Brainiac. That way it didn't feel like last year's crystal story, where you just got sick of Jason and Lana. I think we acquitted ourselves well with Lana and Lex, which has given us a lot to play with in Season 6. And reader feedback always helps. We peruse the message boards, and a lot of times it echoes what we're already feeling.

TV Guide: What exactly happened when Clark threw the dagger at Fine?
This was something that got cut out of the episode for various reasons: Remember when Clark impaled Fine on the Fortress console [in the November-sweeps "Solitude" episode]? Basically, Fine infected the console. Fine is a computer and is all about probabilities, so he knew that if he went after Lex, that would lead Clark back to Jor-El, and Jor-El would tell Clark to get rid of the vessel, and Clark would never do that. Fine sort of calculated what Clark would do based on what Clark had done previously, which is always to protect humanity and not kill anybody. That was his endgame.

TV Guide: Zod said that Lex is dead. Is he?
No, of course not! [Joking] There's some alien technology that can repair the situation. But [the finale twist] won't be without consequences for Lex, either. We wanted it to be interesting and compelling, but we didn't want a guy in spandex to come jumping out of the Phantom Zone. We came up with the idea that his body had been destroyed and he was in the Phantom Zone in spirit only. That keeps the focus on our people and put them in the most extreme danger.

TV Guide: One thing that struck me was when Jor-El told Clark that Zod destroyed Krypton. That seems a departure from traditional Superman mythology.
The idea was that on Krypton  and we'd like to explore some of this in Season 6 Zod was the ultimate terrorist. He and Jor-El were once friends and became enemies. As a result, there was a breakaway. It has more to do with political intrigue rather than that the planet started spinning too close to the sun, which has always sort of been the traditional story.

TV Guide: What about Clark and Chloe? That was some kiss. She's had a rough time of it already  you can't make him break her heart again! Might they be a couple next season?
I think there's always that possibility. That was to show the potential that that could happen. Or, it could just be a Hawkeye-Hot Lips "in the heat of battle" thing. [Laughs]

TV Guide: Well, if it doesn't work out with Clark, then give her a boyfriend next season!
That's in the cards. That is definitely in the cards.

TV Guide: Anything else you can tease about Season 6?
The theme is the rise of Lex Luthor. You're definitely going to see the more ruthless Lex Luthor you know from the comic books really start to emerge. The season will also be about the corruption of good  not only Lana, but Martha. Will she get involved with Lionel? And when Clark does come back from the Phantom Zone, what will it have done to him? We never really explored what happens to somebody inside the Phantom Zone, which is really the ultimate incarceration.