Some thoughts on Redux – Smallville

These are the Best Times of Our Lives, says the spirited maiden/the devouring crone.

Oh. Really.

Eighty years in high school and Krissy’s never read A Tale of Two Cities. Well, that’s the problem. She’s frozen herself in high school and never went onto college. Never struggled through her twenties. Never came into her own in her thirties. Never, well you get the picture.

I’ve been mulling on Superman recently. Thinking about the graphic novel Kingdom Come. The Fleisher cartoons. The Adventures of Superman. Lois and Clark. The movies. The evolution of an American hero. Elements that are different. Elements that have stayed the same.

I like Superman. He’s one of my favorite heroes, as may be apparent from the title of the website.

More than that, he is an interesting hero. All surface boy scout writ in primary colors. Truth. Justice. The American Way. He stands up straight. He smiles. He spends half his life “disguised” as a mild mannered reporter. Still waters run deep. He could be angsty, but he isn't, because Life am Good if you let it.

So, yeah, I like Smallville. Okay, I’m secretly obsessed with it. So, secret that I can only fully articulate it on the internet. Obviously, I’m as silent as the grave. Or perhaps, I’m better at expressing myself to myself, since really this is what this is. Rambling until I hit upon the idea at the heart of my mind, that unquiet sea.

I digress. I ramble. I get to the point. Watching the episode was like watching a series come into focus. Four plot lines, weaving, interrelating, delving towards a theme.
1) Krissy the non-kyptonite mutant (she’s been up to this since the 20s).
2) The attempted reconciliation with Martha’s father
3) Lana’s desire to discover the truth about her mother
4) The introduction of the new principal. How he relates to Clark and Lex.

At times, I’m not sure if the writers of Smallville intend the complexity of the story that that I am seeing. Is it is on purpose or it is the alchemical result of my gaze interacting with flashing RGB lights. Actually, I think it may a bit of both. I think they got lucky, because they’ve hit on that classic story, the story of becoming.

Where will you be in five years? What a stupid essay to give a teenager. Teenagers, on the whole, have no clue about where they are going to be in five years. I didn’t. Could 17 year old Martha have imagined the life that she now leads? Would she even have wanted it? How can Clark know? How can Lex?

We, the viewers, know the future. The writers mention it every week. Pulling the viewers into the complicity of that secret. A secret that we can’t share with the characters, no matter how much we long to do so. No matter how much we long to save them from what is to come. To freeze them in this moment, the best time of their lives. When they were innocent, even Lex, and young and beautiful and had a whole lot less baggage. Well, that’s what fan fiction is for.

Where will you be in five years? What a clever essay to give a teenager. They can be earnest. They can quip. By writing, they can begin to think about the internal truth of themselves. Really, the point is to get them thinking. Since, growing up (at least for me) wasn’t about becoming something different, it was about growing into my own skin. As old friends will say, I haven’t really changed. I’m just more me.

As Clark is already Clark. Lex is already Lex. Everything that they will be is already there, they just need to see it. Figure out how to get at it.

In Clark we have a boy with a tight nuclease of a nuclear family. Denied a grandfather because his parents were afraid that he’d reveal his true self. A bright boy not living up to his full potential. Not allowed to. An outsider, who always holds a little bit of himself apart. A slacker who dropped out of football with very few extra curriculars, because each extra curricular is just another point of possible exposure. A boy who is tired of secrets, but is afraid what opening Pandora’s box will bring. 

It never really occurred to me what becoming Superman means. Clark so longs to be open and honest with the world that he is going to crack himself into two. Create an alternate identity that he will gift with all the good things in his life. Superman will have all the abilities and all the difference. Superman will be clothed in Clark’s preferred primary colors, while that future Clark will fade to black and gray costuming suits. Superman gets all the glory. Superman will save the world over and over. Superman will admit to the alien and he will be loved for it. Lois will love Superman. The world will love Superman. Clark will become a hidden byline. An anonymous face in the crowd. A normal guy. The man behind the masking glasses.

Not that being Clark isn’t important. One of my favorite episode’s of Superman: the Animated Series, The Late Mr. Kent, plays with this idea. In this episode, Clark Kent, investigative reporter, discovers evidence that will clear a man on death row. Since Clark never gets any of the glory, he decides to drive to see the relevant authorities. All of this is told in flashback, because he, his car and the evidence blew up before careening into the ocean. Superman is attending Clark Kent’s funeral. Clark/Superman spends the rest of the episode in a bit of a quandary. He is Clark and he needs to be Clark. A small town man who is not Kal-el, Superman, Last Son of Krypton, yada, yada, yada. However, the only way he can save the man on death row is to reveal that Clark is Superman, but how then to save Clark from being Superman full time? Thankfully, Lois gets to save the day, but the issue remains, who is Clark/Superman/Kal-el? How can Clark find validation as Clark?

What’s clear is that Clark, not Superman, is the secret identity. Clark is a man with secrets. Always longing for someone to take off his glasses and say, “Why Mr. Kent. I never realized how beautiful you were without your glasses.” And perhaps a little angry. One of my favorite episodes of Lois and Clark is the one where the villain Tempus rants to Lois, “What are you stupid?” Puts on the glasses. “I’m Clark Kent.” Takes off the glasses, “I’m Superman. Clark. Superman. Clark Superman” It’s a pathetic disguise. Although, in all fairness, at least Clark has pockets.

Of course that’s not all that lies ahead. The tragedy that really gets me as I watch Smallville is Lex. In Redux, once again he turns to someone that he admires only to be slapped down. Only to discover that his gesture of friendship replicates his father’s actions. 

I’m inclined to think that Lex isn’t going to go evil. That he is as evil as he will ever be. That Lex’s weaknesses are his strengths. 

His willingness to do anything for his friends. Need someone investigated. Sure. Kill to protect the ones that he loves. All unknowing that he is only following in Clark’s wake. Pay attention. In this episode, Clark racks up another, well, hard to call it a dead body, dead enemy. Perhaps, one shouldn’t mess with Lex, but really Clark is the wide eyed smiling dangerous one.
But, I digress…

Lex hunger’s to be great, i.e., to beat his father. To be better than his father. For Lionel to be known as Lex Luthor’s father, rather than Lex to be forever Lionel Luthor’s son. 

Lex reaches out over and over in an attempt to be known. Understood. Yet, he fears that understanding. He lies to Clark because he fears loosing his friendship, just as he’ll eventually hide half the aspects of his life, the shadow Lex Luthor, his own secret identity. 

Although, that Lex will be more Portrait of Dorian Gray. 

No wonder Lex is not really pushing Clark for his secret any more. How Lex must fear that knowing, instead of bringing them closer, will cost him the thing that he most requires.

That moment in the café, Lex refers to the new principal’s censure as the price of their friendship and Clark smiles one of those megawatt smiles. A smile that Lex tries to repay with protection from censure. And perhaps he  wants a little display to an admired father figure that he, Lex Luthor, can have a friend. That unlike Lionel, Lex stands by his friends. Ooopps. Still Lionel like after all.

Quite a bit about familes in this episode. Lionel who paid off a school board to keep Lex in school. Martha’s father who didn’t want this life for his daughter. All of a sudden I understand Jonathan’s reactions to Lex and his money a bit more. They must have some roots in his altercation with Martha’s father. And finally, Lana’s revelations about her parents.

Briefly, I consider Lana. It seems that her parents were killed by meteors. Ever since she’s been frozen in that moment of tragedy. Waving the flag of her grief. Perhaps, it’s because she doesn’t want to leave the concept of the perfect family moment behind. Does she really remember or does she just remember the sanitized stories that her Aunt has told her? Now pay attention. Nell, her last living relative, never reveals the secret. Just as Clark’s parents don’t tell him the truth about his grandfather’s attempted reconciliation until he digs. 

Clark determines to ignore his parents fears and reach out to his grandfather. Lana has the same choice. To reach out or to continue her life as a memento mori. Face the fact that that eternal grief may well be a lie. 

Or is it? Now I’ve never minded Lana’s constant references to her dead parents, killed by a meteor don’t you know, because blank mournful eyes and misty tomb wanderings point at the tragedy at the heart of the text. Or put another way, Lana interests me not because she is interesting, but because she reflects something interesting.

For awhile I saw Lana as Clark’s Beatrice. Beautiful. Blank. A focus for heroism. 

However, she isn’t Beatrice at all. She is that woman in the Vita Nuova, who upon seeing Dante’s sad eyes, begins to weep. Seeing her weep, causes Dante to weep and express his sorrow. In time, the cause of the grief becomes irrelevant as they loose themselves in the ecstasy of weeping. 

Lana expresses the grief that that Clark cannot. Does not even know to express. The meteors that killed her parents weren’t just rocks. They were tomb stones from a planet that literally tore itself apart. If she grieves every day of her life, tears welling in her Madonna like eyes, she cannot grieve enough for such a monumental loss. 

No wonder Clark feels guilty. Constantly works to expiate his sin of survival. He is the last living representative of an entire people (depending on your universe). He just doesn’t know it yet. He feels the loss without understanding. He is the same age as Lana, but he doesn’t know. Doesn’t remember his parents or the world in which they lived.

His only real weaknesses are the last remnants of his world reaching from beyond the grave like some maddened Cronos to kill it’s last living son.

A boy, crucified in the first episode, for whom a lifetime of sacrifice lies ahead. A lifetime of schism. Perhaps, Lana grieves for what is to come.

But all that lies deliciously ahead. Because these characters won’t be frozen as teenagers. Forever their most beautiful unwritten on selves. 

Doesn’t matter anyway. Really every character is a palimpsest. They look clean, but if you look closely you can see the remains of previous writing that has only been scraped off of the surface, so that the writers can now write anew.

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