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22 April 2006 @ 11:11 am
Smallville 5.19 Mercy  
What a genius episode! I adored it.

Forced alliances
It took an emergency and temporarily aligned interests to get Clark and Lex in the same room together. With Martha and Lionel both missing, they were both motivated to find them, facilitating the strange temporary alliance between the two parallel investigative teams: Lex and LuthorCorp; and Clark and Chloe. I loved the silent understandings that were crackling beneath the dialogue. When Clark pointed out a chipped statue, Lex responded merely with a 'good catch', and not outright disbelief at Clark's capacity to hone in on the one tiny hidden camera in the room. The old games of feigning shock or moral outrage are gone. Lex and Clark recognised that it was wasted effort when they had a joint goal.

There was an edge of competition to this alliance--Lex was quick to point out that his porsche was faster than Clark's van. He wanted to keep Clark and Chloe by his side and retain some control of the investigation. Likewise Lex broke down the door before Clark could. It isn't hard to imagine that Lex had a double motive here--keeping up the pretence that he suspects nothing about Clark's powers. Lex slipped for one moment only, when Clark picked up Chloe's call. Lex turned to his own investigative team for a second, and it was enough time for Clark to vanish. Lex didn't look that surprised: his look was more one of wry resignation.

This alliance foreshadowed the other, more permanent alliance between the Kents and Lionel to protect Clark's secret. Martha points out that they may have 'no choice' but to trust Lionel, just as earlier Clark and Chloe were left with no choice but to align themselves temporarily with Lex. Again, Clark is the most unhappy about the alliance. He would bolt if he could, but he resorts to threatening Lionel instead. Earlier in the episode, Clark had exclaimed to his mother that they should handle things as his father would have. In threatening Lionel, Clark was very much following Jonathan's modus operandi, and he invoked his father's memory as a warning to Lionel.

Tarnished by association
What makes these alliances darker and more interesting is that the villain of this episode explicitly pointed out that those that ally themselves with 'dark' figures are tarnished themselves: 'your puppets are as guilty as their master'. Martha is embroiled in 'the game' that the villain plays with Lionel because of her association with Lionel. The 'man in the shadows' pulling the strings was a particularly powerful image, which sums up Lionel's role in multiple spheres--politics, business, his immediate family life, his relationship with the Kents, etc. The villain's argument is that his 'puppets' are not innocent themselves. Whether or not we agree with them, it's a fascinating question that he raises, when we reflect on several relationships.

At the start of the episode, Clark confides to Chloe that he is troubled by Martha's close relationship with Lionel. Yet he is reluctant to tell her the truth: that Lionel knows his secret. He claims he doesn't want to upset her in her grief. A subtextual reason for Clark's silence may be that he has seen how happy and confident his mother has become and doesn't want to take that away from her so soon after Jonathan's death. Regardless, however good his intentions, his silence leaves Martha in a dangerous and vulnerable position, as Chloe points out. Clark has a responsibility.

When Clark does confront Martha, we see that the situation has been very much the same from the other side of the picture--Martha could have spoken up earlier about her own fears. In not doing so, she potentially left Clark vulnerable. But her own reasons for remaining silent were supposedly 'good' too, and very similar to Clark's: to avoid upsetting Clark further at a time of grief. Subtextually here, we know that Clark's drawn-out breakup with Lana also complicated matters, as Clark was distracted at the time of the blackmail threat.

The ways in which we try to 'help' or 'protect' others with damning results was also raised in the scene with Martha and Lionel in the lift. Lionel justifies his failed takeover as being for Lex's good, to try and get him to respond as a decent human being. In despair, Martha asks why he couldn't just talk to his son. In both families, open communication is the desired outcome, but when silence or manipulation takes place instead, danger threatens. By the end of the episode, the Kents have talked openly, but the Luthors have not, continuing the division between the 'good' model of family and the 'bad' model of family.

Partners
When the villain reveals Martha in her glass cage, he tells Lionel that he needs a partner 'to help you through the dark times'. If Lionel's partner is Martha, Lex's is Lana.

The symbolism of the chess game was lovely. When Lionel mocks Lex's chess abilities, Lex tells him, 'I'm not playing to win, I'm playing to instruct'. Later we see him playing with Lana, telling her patiently to take her time and anticiapte her opponent's next move. In their growing relationship, Lex may be fooling himself that he is training her into self-empowerment, but his own motives are secretly running the show. When she raises the matter of the kisses, he reveals that he has been waiting for her to raise the subject. Seems like he's been following his own advice! And Lana seems to be playing right into his hands, until the phone call 'saves' her and she slips away. But not for long, I think!

What's ironic, then, about the villain's description of a partner as 'someone to help you through the dark hours' is that this could indeed be the purpose of a Lex-Lana relationship. As a 'light' figure, Lana could comfort Lex in his darkness and potentially lead him back to the light. Instead, Lex is pulling the strings so that she becomes more like him. Leading her into darkness under the guise of empowerment. It's implied that this is also what Lionel is doing with Martha.

Continued obsession and reversal
Lex used the temporary alliance with Clark to try and reach out to him, to request that after it was over they try and find some 'common ground'. Clark blank-stared him down. At the end of the episode, Lionel tells Lex to 'get over it', demonstrating that Martha and Clark can trust Lionel, at least temporarily. Locked out of the circle of those that officially know Clark's secret--Martha, Chloe, and now Lionel--Lex is left in a difficult position. He comes so close in this episode to knowing the truth. I loved the panning shots from Lex to Clark as they were both watching the video footage of the lift. Lex watches Clark for any reaction but gets none. And later he gets as little from his own father.

While getting nothing out of Clark is not new to Lex, he might have hoped for more from his father. His probing into the meaning of Lionel calling Clark 'special' and the lift survival 'miraculous' is unsuccessful at this level. But in denying any link between Clark and 'divine intervention' or special abilities, Lionel reveals to Lex where his alliances now lie. If anything that is going to intrigue Lex further, rather than head him off.

Lex was earlier confronted with the image of his father shooting himself rather than shoot Martha Kent. In doing so, Lionel asserted that Martha was 'so good' and that her destiny was important. The audience sees that he is also protecting Clark's destiny. This image might have been disturbing to Lex, yet it is Clark that Lex is fully concerned about in that moment. It's the meaning of the action, not the action itself, which preoccupies him.

Lex has reached a place where the capacity of Lionel to hurt him has been greatly reduced. He is the more empowered of the two figures in both the corporate arena and the family one. And the final scene at the end of this episode shows that Lionel is perhaps the weaker of the two in another hidden way. His connection with Jor-El may have revealed to him Clark's secret, but he has also been left with certain compulsions--to protect Clark, to 'father' him, and to potentially become Jor-El's instrument again.

This episode was really quite dark--almost without exception the more powerful figures were the 'darkest' ones, and the 'light' characters were shown to be puppets or forced into unhappy alliances. Clark, with his powers, is the one exception. Although he is forced into awkward alliances at times, his powers also allow him to save the day. And that sets up the world of the future--where Clark will defend the 'good but weak' from the 'powerful but evil'.

Final notes and squee
I have so much more to say… but I also have a three-week holiday to plan and pack for. I leave tomorrow for the UK. Which means next week's ep review will be delayed, and the two weeks after that will have to wait until my return on 17 May. Noone could be more cranky about this than me, coming as it does so close to the end of the season. But apparently family weddings don't get scheduled around SV airing dates. Who would think!?

So final squeeage: Lex rocked so much this episode. Michael is so brilliant in that role. Have I mentioned that recently? I swear he gets hottter and hotter.

Waah! I'm being dragged off to do packing. Will be back briefly later to read other's thoughts!
 
 
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mahaliemmahaliem on April 22nd, 2006 01:57 am (UTC)
I always enjoy reading your analysis of each episode.

Have fun on your holiday.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clark muffin peddlerbop_radar on April 22nd, 2006 11:25 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm really glad, as I always enjoy reading your delightfully humourous fics! ;-)

See you when I get back! *waves*
Nora Norwich: Gorgeous Glovernorwich36 on April 22nd, 2006 02:01 am (UTC)
Good luck with packing etc. I will be posting review roundups to eat_crow for the next three weeks, so at least when you get back home and have a chance to catch up they will all conveniently be in one place. But I'm going to be very sad when you're not around to talk about the next three episodes! :^(

There was an edge of competition to this alliance--Lex was quick to point out that his porsche was faster than Clark's van. He wanted to keep Clark and Chloe by his side and retain some control of the investigation. Likewise Lex broke down the door before Clark could. It isn't hard to imagine that Lex had a double motive here--keeping up the pretence that he suspects nothing about Clark's powers.

That's a very good point, that Lex is anticipating that Clark wants to elude him and keeps asserting control throughout those scenes.

What makes these alliances darker and more interesting is that the villain of this episode explicitly pointed out that those that ally themselves with 'dark' figures are tarnished themselves: 'your puppets are as guilty as their master'. Martha is embroiled in 'the game' that the villain plays with Lionel because of her association with Lionel. The 'man in the shadows' pulling the strings was a particularly powerful image, which sums up Lionel's role in multiple spheres--politics, business, his immediate family life, his relationship with the Kents, etc. The villain's argument is that his 'puppets' are not innocent themselves.

Oh, I really like this observation, and how it relates to your theme of unwilling alliances.

I also think it's interesting to think of how the puppet metaphor connects to a number of relationships in the series, currently, that could be described as puppetmaster/puppet relationship: Jor-El seems to be in some way pulling Lionel's strongs, Lionel is pulling Martha and Chloe's strings, and certainly attempting to do so with Lex and Clark; Lex is pulling Lana's strings, and certainly trying to compete with his father for control of Clark; and I really still wonder if there wasn't a man behind the curtain controlling the villain-of-the-week, though I'm torn as to whether it was Jor-El, Lionel, or Lex.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Jake goodlooking revolutionariesbop_radar on April 22nd, 2006 11:24 am (UTC)
Yes, I am pining already! Even this weekend I don't have as much time as I usually do for LJ activities. I'm almost all packed--but tomorrow have to dash out for emergency shopping (wrapping paper for wedding present, replacement to favourite jumper that has mysteriously gone missing, etc).

I'll definitely be heading to eat_crow on my return and will no doubt throw people by bobbing up and commenting on things they posted three weeks ago...

And yes, I was really interested in the puppet metaphor--that's exactly what I was trying to get at (in such a hurry). Lex and Lionel are both 'puppeteers' and there are numerous 'puppets'. And I suspect we'll see another layer of that when Fine finally gets back into town...
Talitha: basilico Lex turquoise redtalitha78 on April 22nd, 2006 03:27 am (UTC)
I am so happy to see the squee return with this episode. From a purely visual standpoint, I thought it was genius as well.

You'll note I'm not pestering you with my vidding angst this time around. I'm taking my whining to chimosa instead. :) But this means you'll have a brand-new vid to come home to in May! Have a lovely holiday, K.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex dancebop_radar on April 22nd, 2006 11:27 am (UTC)
Thank you! I was delighted with this ep and only wish I had longer to muse on it.

And yes, I think that it was probably a good decision to go with someone else this time--the last couple of weeks have been crazy busy for me. Editing until post-midnight for work this week. *headdesk* You really get punished for taking leave in my profession...

Oh well. All done now, and off for three weeks! See you on my return! And I'm very excited about a new vid in the offing! ;-)
Veral_vera01 on April 22nd, 2006 03:54 am (UTC)
Have fun on the holiday! I'm jealous! Wish I was in the UK too!!! :)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lois Chloe comfort foodbop_radar on April 22nd, 2006 11:20 am (UTC)
Thank you! *g* Sorry I didn't get any more beta-ing done for you before I left. I'll get in touch when I get back. It's going to be fun, but three weeks without LJ (more or less) will be hard!