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21 May 2006 @ 04:54 pm
Smallville 5.22 Vessel Part I  
Damn! I'm only halfway through this and I've got to go out. Expect more later.

Parallel dillemmas
The parallels between Oracle and Vessel are obvious. Both episodes pose one central question: is there anything that would make Clark Kent kill? Let's add 'deliberately' and 'with premediation' and 'a non-freak' to that sentence, because let's face it, Clark's caused the death of many a character before now! Chloe, Clark's staunchest supporter, first asks this question aloud in Oracle, but it echoes throughout Vessel as well. In Oracle, Clark's 'goodness' was proved in the moment when he refused to kill Lionel despite all the incriminating evidence he has against him, despite a lifetime of suspicion and mistrust of the Luthors, and (most significantly) despite provocation to vengeance in knowing that Lionel precipitated his father's death. If Clark won't kill a longtime enemy who he holds at least partially responsible for his father's death, who will he kill?

In Vessel, Clark faces a far darker and more difficult dilemma. He is told that he must kill the 'vessel', the human means by which Zod will return. And the vessel is Lex. In Oracle, the instruction to kill appeared to come from Jonathan but proved to be an evil force in disguise. In Vessel, Clark's other father-figure, Jor-El, tells him that he must kill the vessel 'no matter who it is' (implying Jor-El suspects that Zod may choose his vessel deliberately to make Kal-el's job emotionally challenging). Faced with a parallel situation, Clark chooses to believe that there is a 'way out', a way to avoid killing the vessel. He turns the knife on Fine, just as he did in Oracle. And then we see how layered Fine's deception and manipulation of Clark has been--it is by stabbing Fine that Clark opens the other dimension and facilitates Zod's return. Paralleled situations are omnipresent in Smallville plots, but rarely has one been used to such good 'twist' effect, and with such damning consequences to the main character. The subtle message behind this--that Clark cannot rely on one set of actions alone to overcome his adversaries--was also a welcome, if rare (!), complexity.

To kill or not to kill
Vessel was a fast-paced episode, as we would expect with a season finale. There was little time for Clark to dwell on the question of killing Lex. In one scene only does he consciously reflect on his dilemma, and unexpectedly he does so with Lionel. In terms of pace, this scene was out of kilter with the rest of the episode, but it was emotionally extremely significant and successful. Lionel observes that the knife could be the symbol of a 'rite of passage' from a father to a son. (Does that justify violence, Lionel?) Clark then confides in Lionel, who encourages Clark to do 'one evil act' for the greater good. Clark then shares the crux of the issue with Lionel--'even if it's your son?' We see Lionel catch his breath at this and reel back in shock.

I loved the way this scene worked on so many layers. It paralleled Jor-El and Lionel as morally ambiguous father figures and demonstrated Clark's maturity in being able to face complexity. He does not immediately dismiss Lionel's arguments, as he would have once. The fact that the interaction occurs within the loft underlines the fact that Clark is allowing Lionel unprecedented access to his inner world. It also teases out the idea that it is not the rational or moral aspects of the question 'to kill or not to kill' that Clark is most strugging with--it is the emotional aspect. Clark and Lionel are paralleled as 'father figures' to Lex. Later in the episode, Lex accuses Clark of seeing himself as a 'saviour figure' to Lex, as playing a defining role in creating the man Lex is. Lex can point the finger at two men who 'fathered' his current identity--Lionel deliberately and Clark unconsciously. Lex argues that Clark suffers subconsciously from guilt about being a failed 'parent' figure. He also mocks Clark's egotism in seeing himself as so influential, yet we know that the truth is more complex than Lex admits.

For years we have wondered if Lionel was capable of killing his son. He has at times had both opportunity and motive, but has shied away from the final act. His emotional investment in Lex may be abusive, but it is a tie that binds. Clark now has a similarly complex investment in Lex. They may be superficial 'enemies', but their history binds them, and the emotional consequences of killing Lex may be more than Clark would be capable of living with. Chloe may be able to be blithe about the need to kill Lex, but Clark will be damning himself on many levels if he does so.

Lionel argues that there has always been 'a dark force at work' in Lex. That's a nice way of abnegating parental responsibility. Clark could argue this to himself. He could choose to believe that Zod (through Fine) chose Lex for his 'darkness', and that that justifies killing him. But does Clark really believe that, even now? I don't think so. It's a fear he holds, certainly, but I think it's a fear he still hopes will be proved groundless.

Invinceable
I forgave that damn implausible vaccine the moment that Fine turned it on Lex. Yes, I'm very fickle! But yay, cartoon-world greatness! A super-vaccine that gives Lex healing powers? I like it!

I loved the writing of Lex's discovery of his new powers ('I have been given a gift'), and the fact that his first act was to share this news with a shocked and apprehensive Lana. Like Clark in Red, Lex flamboyantly shoots his own hand to prove his invinceability. He doesn't dress the truth up in romance or magic--the contrast to Clark's confession of his powers to Lana in Reckoning could not be greater. Where Clark made his confession a romantic and magical excursion to another world, Lex simply turned up in his own home and demonstrated the truth quickly and violently. He didn't agonise over Lana's understandable shock, he simply presented her with the truth, knowing that that was the quickest way to her heart.

Rise of a superpower
The framing of Zod on the Luthorcorp roof goes down as one of my all-time favourite Smallville shots--the red sky, the full moon, the black coat! Yum! However, before we get to that, I'd also like to say I adored the barn scene. Rarely has there been a Smallville scene shot in such shadow and I loved that Clark's darkest moment, facing hard truths about himself and Lex and putting himself on the line, played out in his own space. Lex and Fine together have penetrated his subconscious and cast a long shadow, but Clark himself is stronger than ever before. Yet Fine cleverly turns Clark's moral 'strength' against him, and the portal is opened for Zod to return.

'You have your father's eyes' was a wonderfully creepy first line from Zod. Nice to know his priorities lie close to Lex's own! (Nice hair… nice eyes… we know!) I was delighted that Zod was such a master of zen calm. No evil cackling or hand wringing to be seen! Just slick and smooth evil, and he sure ruffled Clark quickly. Identifying Clark as 'Kal-el' and reminding him of his family heritage was a good first step. Telling him Lex was dead twisted the knife in further. Clark may not have killed Lex with the knife, but the result was the same, and we see Clark wince.

More later...
 
 
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Nora Norwich: Zod complexnorwich36 on May 21st, 2006 07:20 am (UTC)
It paralleled Jor-El and Lionel as morally ambiguous father figures and demonstrated Clark's maturity in being able to face complexity. Of course, it's more than just parallelism if Lionel is Jor-El, here (or is Zod--a lot of the speculation about this episode has been regarding the extent to which Lionel is channeling someone else).

Clark and Lionel are paralleled as 'father figures' to Lex. Later in the episode, Lex accuses Clark of seeing himself as a 'saviour figure' to Lex, as playing a defining role in creating the man Lex is. Lex can point the finger at two men who 'fathered' his current identity--Lionel deliberately and Clark unconsciously. Lex argues that Clark suffers subconsciously from guilt about being a failed 'parent' figure

That's an interesting reading. I remember your discussion of Clark as parent figure, a while back, and that explains a lot of Lex's animus in that scene, I think (betrayal is worse coming from a parent, especially the good parent--and Lex has been searching for a good parent for the whole series). I don't think Clark understands it in the same way, though.

Lionel argues that there has always been 'a dark force at work' in Lex. That's a nice way of abnegating parental responsibility

Seriously! It made me completely furious the first time I watched the episode. And one thing that struck me in that hospital scene was the way Lionel was trying to frame Clark's decision as Lex or Lana. That's a move we have seen Fine make, before, in "Splinter"--which made me think the first time I watched the episode that Fine was actually impersonating Lionel here, manipulating Clark to ensure that he *didn't* kill Lex, since Fine obviously needed Lex's body to be the vessel. I later gave up that theory--the obvious parallelism between Lionel's disgust after finding Lex in the field and the Pilot episode would be wasted symbolism, if it were Fine the whole time--but that conversation still makes me think there's something more than just Lionel at work there.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex mysterybop_radar on May 21st, 2006 11:38 am (UTC)
a lot of the speculation about this episode has been regarding the extent to which Lionel is channeling someone else
Really? I thought it was pretty clear that he channelled Jor-El only at particular moments, but that Jor-El's possession of his body had a lingering influence over Lionel in his own right (rather as Clark's temporary possession of his body in Transference had a lingering if temporary effect). However, I'm interested by other interpretations...

Predictably I was joyful when Clark finally entertained the notion that Jor-El may just be trying to protect him. I imagine there's a Jor-El Conspiracy Reading to be done, and it's obviously still ambiguous, but I was glad that within the show a different interpretation of Jor-El's messages was explored.

that explains a lot of Lex's animus in that scene, I think
Yes, I think the idea of Clark as parent or influential figure came initially from Lex, who as you say, has always searched for a 'good' parenting figure. I believe it was he who seized on Clark as a role model, someone to look up to. And at a more Oedipal level, to envy and try and replace. Like a resentful and disappointed child, he projects the flipside of this onto Clark, accusing him of not being the shining image of perfection he held himself up to be. I agree with you--I think it came a bit out of leftfield to Clark, who isn't nearly as hyper-conscious of the subtle energies in their relationship as Lex is. In these terms, he is guilty of no more than having soaked up Lex's idolisation as a teenager, not knowing how deep it ran for Lex.

but that conversation still makes me think there's something more than just Lionel at work there
Interesting! I agree that conversation is a bit of a loose end in the ep. It was very deliberate scripting, and I admit I don't quite know what to make of it. Why did he want to make it about Lex or Lana? How does that serve Lionel's interests? I honestly don't have a satisfactory answer to that on first viewing.

However, I did read Lionel as largely Lionel himself for most of the episode. A Lionel deeply affected by his connection to Jor-El, but Lionel nonetheless.
Nora Norwichnorwich36 on May 21st, 2006 02:42 pm (UTC)
Really? I thought it was pretty clear that he channelled Jor-El only at particular moments, but that Jor-El's possession of his body had a lingering influence over Lionel in his own right (rather as Clark's temporary possession of his body in Transference had a lingering if temporary effect). However, I'm interested by other interpretations...

Did you watch them all at once? I'm trying to think about the origin of this speculation, and I think it had to do with the body language JG was using in his final scene with Clark after he finds out the secret (I forget if that scene was in "Mercy" or the episode after that), which if you watch the episode is *completely* Jor-El's body language, rather than Lionel's body language. Then we got the return of the Lionel-with-glazed-eyes later, which more obviously telegraphs possession, so that earlier interpretation became less plausible--but it had seemed likely at the time.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex mysterybop_radar on May 22nd, 2006 02:15 am (UTC)
Yeah, I did, which no doubt has influenced my viewing. I definitely want to rewatch. To be honest, I feel like I need to rewatch the whole season to pick up on the Lionel clues properly. Like you, I had a more open interepretation of the Jor-El/Lionel earlier on (Mercy or thereabouts), but the glazed eyes thing implies a more clear cut division. I guess that's why I felt that Jor-El left a lingering impression on Lionel, even when he wasn't actually possessing him.
Nora Norwichnorwich36 on May 22nd, 2006 06:46 am (UTC)
I rewatched most of the core mythology episodes and took a lot of notes, which I may eventually write an essay on, but right now I'm mainlining BSG, so it probably won't be a while.

I just watched 5 episodes in a row and am off to look for your reviews. (I've been keeping some notes myself which I may post in a day or so--maybe. It's so different when you watch episodes all at once! No time for long periods of discussion and speculation in the middle, and no time to become attached to your own theories before they are disproven. Like, I had a theory about Lee's behavior in 2.11 (both parts of it) that may have been disproven by 2.14 (I must go look up episode titles), but I wasn't very attached to it since it was only an hour old or so!

It's only with great discipline that I'm not staying up for 24 hours to watch the rest of the season. Must ration myself and make myself do the other things due this week!!!!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lee licked my woundsbop_radar on May 22nd, 2006 08:33 am (UTC)
Wow! Exciting! I'm so irked I have to go out now--want to talk BSG with you. Argh! So much to say! But yes, watching all at once definitely changes things. There were a few below-par eps in the second half of season two, but still lots of interesting things going on. So it may benefit from watching them quickly. I will be back later!
Echo: Lex/Bleedstir_of_echoes on May 21st, 2006 09:17 am (UTC)
I just wanted to say how much I love your thoughts on each episode and appreciate the time you take to write evrything down :)

Thank you!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex mysterybop_radar on May 21st, 2006 11:40 am (UTC)
Thank you! Thanks for taking the time to tell me! ;-) It always makes me happy to hear people found something of interest in my thoughts. *g*
Naomi: Clark thinking is hard! by eowyngiulifrelling_tralk on May 21st, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC)
Interesting thoughts :)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Chloe ironicbop_radar on May 22nd, 2006 03:00 am (UTC)
'sanks! (cute thinky icon!)
tragicllyhiptragicllyhip on May 21st, 2006 02:19 pm (UTC)
I have a lot to comment on, but I wanted to say thank god you're back! I never feel like I've really watched an episode until I read your insight. Wonderful as always *runs off to read the others*
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex dancebop_radar on May 22nd, 2006 03:00 am (UTC)
Awww, thank you! *hugs* Good to see you again too!
mystical van of doom: clarkvoldything on May 21st, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
I really really think you should send your meta to the SV writers. It would do them good to know there are people who actually analize whatever it is they're doing, and I bet they would start working harder on everything *nods*
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: MR dorkbop_radar on May 22nd, 2006 03:01 am (UTC)
*giggle* Oh, that's so funny! I swear there are days when I feel like doing that. Hee.
mystical van of doom: ggvoldything on May 23rd, 2006 04:56 pm (UTC)
you should, you should!
Talitha: groaty lex yellow squarestalitha78 on May 21st, 2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
Mmmmm. Yummy essay. Looking forward to the rest.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lois adorablebop_radar on May 22nd, 2006 03:02 am (UTC)
Yuh, me too, dude! ;-)
(I'm at work, so am frustrated in my efforts to finish formalising my thoughts on the eppy)
(Deleted comment)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Ericabop_radar on May 22nd, 2006 03:18 am (UTC)
Ok, I definitely pay Lionel's attempt to trap his son in his dying body--when it comes to a matter of survival, Lionel would sacrifice Lex to keep his own life. Definitely. But I'm not so sure about the poison attempt. I read Lionel as quite psychopathic at that time, but I also thought he knew of his sons healing powers--he knew he'd seen him miraculously cured of asthma as a child, seen him never suffer illnesses, and seen him bounce back from the island torture. I think in poisoning him, he felt there was a fair chance it *would* kill him, but also a chance it would not--and if it didn't, then it also achieved one of Lionel's goals, which was to test the full extent of his son's 'powers'. But I guess this still does count as a full blown attempt on his life.

The different interpretation of Lionel is interesting to me--see, I guess my reading comes from suspecting that Jor-El's possession of Lionel has had an effect on him. I don't read him as completely feigning his fatherly emotions anymore--just as I don't read his concern for Martha as entirely feigned. I think there IS real emotion at the bottom of both. In the case of Clark, I think Lionel is really loving acting out the role of 'good father', and actually starting to feel it himself. Plus, despite the fact that Lionel has made attempts on Lex's life, he has always displayed mixed emotions when faced with the reality of Lex's death. To what degree those are ever genuine, I don't really know... But if ever there was a time when I might believe in Lionel having a genuine pang of concern for Lex, it is now, when he's being part-time inhabited by an actually concerned parent, Jor-El (although that opens up a whole other kettle of fish in terms of how 'good' an influence you read Jor-El as!).

To me, it was telling that he rushed off to the field. And yes, I agree that he was immediately back to his old insufferable self. But could it be that he doesn't know how to show affection (but there is some beneath the surface)? I do find it interesting that the show throws up this question now.

I'm not going to turn into a Lionel apologist, and I am going to be one very unhappy camper if the 'redemption' of Lionel is extended beyond the current Jor-El-ian connection. But this episode did make me wonder if in acting as a good and concerned father, Lionel was starting to actually genuinely feel it a little.

Yes, he's well and truly thrown his lot in with Clark--which certainly shows his ability to turn his back on his own son. That was something I'd hoped to get back to in the later half of my essay. I think he's in raptures that he's got such a fascinatingly powerful person to invest in. I'll be interested to see it play out--I want both Lex and Clark to turn on him eventually. And hey, I definitely forgive you Lionel hatred, even if my own feelings about him were more curiousity than rage.
(Deleted comment)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex purple evilbop_radar on May 24th, 2006 07:22 am (UTC)
Re: fathers & sons
I agree that Lionel knows what being a good parent looks like and sounds like--but knowing the theory and being able to act it out with your own son are two different things. As is being a good 'father' to Clark--the history is not there. Lex and Lionel have preestablished patterns--years of conditioning that are hard to break. Far less dysfunctional parents have difficulty breaking bad patterns. I'm not surprised Lionel would find it difficult. Also, I'm not saying that Lionel has suddenly turned into a perfect loving father--but I do feel he might be having mixed feelings, including some genuine pangs for Lex, among the playacting for Clark.

Re. Jor-El: I can understand you saying you don't see him as a force for good, but that presupposes that he is either a force for good OR a force for bad in human terms. Jor-El comes from another world, with (we assume) a completely different moral code and way of acting. He is certainly not preoccupied with human concerns or protecting humanity. But he IS very concerned about his son. And I don't think the fact that he's done some harmful things to humans precludes the possibility that his other actions won't have good results--both for Clark and by human standards. Even if it's accidental. Plus, I don't think Jor-El is deliberately 'evil': he's just like a comet crashing into Earth from outer space--it's not good for humans, but it's not 'evil' either--it just works to laws of its own doing. And what if from that crash, something miraculous occurred on Earth as a consequence? That's more how I see Jor-El--with Clark/Superman the miracle arising from the ashes.

I wouldn't be so irritated by Clark's distrust for Jor-El if it wasn't so wildly inconsistent. Why was he not more suspicious of Fine?! He barely asked him any questions at all when he revealed he came from Krypton. It's Clark's complete lack of curiosity that does the most harm--has he bothered to go and ask Jor-El what his intentions are? Some of Chloe's investigative skills would come into play well. And if Clark's going to go the 'ignore and distrust' route, then he should go it with ALL forces from Krypton, Fine included. The fact that he didn't implies to me that his distrust of Jor-El is not rational but emotional--it threatens his identity to acknowledge Jor-El as his father. But avoidance is cowardly, and I wish he'd just face his father (if it IS his father) down and challenge him about the affects of his actions. They have the most cursory exchanges, and even passing some of that off as the necesssity of writing/editing, I think Clark is still foolish to ignore Jor-El. That also holds true if your theory is correct about Zod--the 'maybe if I ignore him, he'll just go away' tactic isn't going to work in the longterm for Clark!
(Deleted comment)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Jor-Elbop_radar on May 25th, 2006 05:42 am (UTC)
Re: fathers & sons
Jor-El has *never* spoken plainly and directly with him
I disagree--Jor-El's always very straightforward with Clark. In fact, he wastes no time on small talk and always gets straight to the salient points. E.g. 'You must return by sunset.' The 'problem' with Jor-El's way of speaking is not that he's too indirect, it's that he doesn't soften his messages with human niceties. His empathy extends to statements such as 'I know you are hurting, my son' but no further--my human standards, that's not enough, so Clark is pissy. And I'd be pissy too, but not pissy enough to dismiss the very clear messages that Jor-El imparts. Clark feels bullied by Jor-El, but ignoring him has always had terrible consequences.

I guess we just disagree over this, because I don't think 'Life is full of pain' etc statements are useless. Actually, that's exactly what Clark needs to learn to accept! The problem for Clark with the statements is that you can't just *tell* a human that--they have to work through pain to get to it. But Kryptonians have a far more aloof view of events--if you believe in an absolute destiny (and maybe can predict some of it), it's far easier to be zen about hardships. For me, the problem between Jor-El and Clark is one of culture clash--both sides failing to understand one another. I honestly think Jor-El *thinks* he's telling his son something helpful and supportive. And while Clark's impatience with all of that may be 'human' and comprehensible, it's become increasingly less so for me over time. I don't agree that he has really tried to communicate with Jor-El. He runs to him in Reckoning when he is angry and demands something, gets what he wants and *never goes back* until he's faced with his next crisis. And then he makes a token effort to get information out of Jor-El and gets angry again within a split second of entering the Fortress. Regardless of how terrible a parent Jor-El is, that's some pretty bratty behaviour on Clark's part. And I just think he's only hurting himself by doing that.
(Deleted comment)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Kalbop_radar on May 22nd, 2006 03:28 am (UTC)
Re: part II
Ah yes, not the straightest of comments that 'father's eyes' ones! I agree, it's nice that we know that it's true. And yeah, I just adored the implication that Zod and Jor-El were 'close'. At the very least they must have had many confrontations, and in this Smallville universe of repeating parental patterns, it does imply that the Jor-El/Zod relationship may have been as complex as Lex's and Clark's. Joy!

And I will be handing you tissues and whimpering along in chorus, if Zod is bumped off in the S6 premiere! We need more of him, and oh boy, it was hard for me not to just litter my review with 'MR is so great!' comments. He really is masterful. I was on tenterhooks to see what Zod would be like, and I never doubted that he would be able to create a convincingly different character from Alexander and Lex. But even trusting him, I didn't expect the subtelty of his actual Zod performance. He always outdoes my best expectations! *loves MR*

So here's a question--do we think Zod (in Lex) has all the knowledge about Clark that Fine had built up? Including all that intimate knowledge so important for emotional manipulation? Because it seemed to me that it was implied that he might have at least some residual Fine-knowledge, from the injection--he seemed to know who Lana was, and be right on the ball in terms of unsettling-the-hell out of Clark.

And yeah, I'm endlessly curious about Lex's consciousness in all this. Clark may believe that Lex is 'dead', but we can't possibly believe that--so yes, presumably Zod's going to have a good old struggle on his hands. In picking Lex, Zod may well become his own worst enemy! And I can't wait to see it. In hiatus time, there's definitely a lot of fun speculating to get on with!