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08 April 2007 @ 01:03 pm
Smallville: Seven Basic Plots (Part VII Rebirth)  
With a four-day weekend, I decided that this week would be the week I finally completed my series of essays on plot structure in Smallville. I have no idea why it took me so long to get to this one, because Rebirth is, imo, the most interesting of all the plots.

7. Rebirth
As with the previous essays, I'm using Christopher Booker's Seven Basic Plots as my framework. The basic structure of Rebirth is as follows:
1. A young hero or heroine falls under the shadow of a dark power.
2. For a while, things may seem to go reasonably well/the threat seems to have receded.
3. Eventually it returns in full force, until the hero or heroine is imprisoned in a state of living death.
4. It seems as if the dark force has completely triumphed (often over a long period of time).
5. Finally comes the miraculous redemption, either by the hero (for heroines) or by the figure of a Young Woman or Child (for heroes).

7.1 Lex
It's worth noting that stages 1-4 are very similar to the development of the Tragedy plot, and in Smallville it's Lex's journey that is most instantly recognisable as taking this structure. It is little wonder then that so many fans express a desire to see Lex 'redeemed', a desire for the miraculous recovery symbolised in Stage 5 of Rebirth. What's less predictable, is that within the show, false promises of redemption are dangled in Lex Luthor's path. The first of these, in the Pilot, is Clark Kent. Clark is neither Child nor Young Woman, but Lex responds to him as if he is (alternating between playing 'father figure' and 'courting' him). When Clark, unconscious of or uncomfortable with the hopes Lex has projected onto him, fails to 'deliver' the redemption that Lex desires, Lex turns bitter, allowing the 'darkness' to take even deeper hold.

The story could end there, but the idea of false redemption is reprised in Seasons 5-6 with the figure of Lana Lang. Lana does fit, superficially at least, as the classic Young Woman figure, and Lex becomes convinced that Clark was a kind of false prophet, whereas Lana will be the source of 'true' redemption. With Lana, there is the possibility of the 'true' happy ending: union, marriage and fertility. In Lexmas he envisages a life with her that is markedly different from his own loveless 'living death'.

Booker describes the qualities associated with being in the grip of the dark power as: coldness, hardness, immobility, constriction, sleep, darkness, sickness, decay, isolation, torment, despair, lack of love. Many of these qualities are recognisable in the world of the Luthors. In contrast, the corresponding imagery is associated with redemption: warmth, softness, movement, liberation, awakening, light, health, growth, joining together, happiness, hope, love. This is what Lex sees in Lexmas. These are also qualities frequently associated with Lana's relationship with Clark. Lex concludes that if he can 'obtain' Lana, he will be able to move out of darkness. Instead, he ends up entrapping her in the Luthorian 'living death'. There are a couple of reasons for this. At the end of Lexmas, Lex resolves to pursue power and money in an effort to gain control over his world. In doing so he ignores the crucial importance of the means of achieving transformation. His methods are mired in darkness and deceit, procluding a real transformation. And Lana herself proves to be a less solid beacon of hope than she first appears. This is what Booker refers to as a 'dark or sentimentalised' Rebirth.

7.2 Clark
Clark's journey is also very close to being that of Rebirth, but his contains a twist of a different sort. In his case it is the 'dark power', not the beacon of hope, that is 'false'. When we are first introduced to the AI-Jor-El in Season 2, he has a dark message for Clark: that his destiny is to rule the human world 'with strength'. Clark questions his true identity: were his people tyrants and aggressors? His nascent powers suddenly take on a dark tinge. The 'threat' of Jor-El recedes but returns periodically, with more frightening messages: Clark must embark on his destiny or face dire consequences. Clark evades this for as long as possible, but at the end of Season 5, things are finally forced to crisis point, with Clark having to confront Zod. This results in him being trapped in the Phantom Zone--easily recognisable as the 'living death' stage of the Rebirth model. A Young Girl figure appears in the figure of Raya, bringing redemption for Clark, as well as a physical escape from the Phantom Zone. However, the redemption takes an unusual form: she lifts the veil from his eyes, showing him that Jor-El may not be the threatening force he appears to be. In Season 6, Clark reconciles himself to the idea that he can marry the destiny his father saw for him with his own struggle to become a 'good man'.

It is of course notable that in Smallville's father-dominated universe, it is the true nature of the father figures that determines whether their sons achieve Rebirth: Lionel appears to be a 'good' figure for much of Season 5 and 6, but his true nature is revealed again in 'Promise', whereas Jor-El is recognised as less destructive than originally perceived by the Kents.

7.3 Lana
Lana's journey also follows many of the stages of Rebirth. In her case, the 'dark force' dominating her life is death and the loss of loved ones. While this recedes at times, it comes back to haunt her time and time again. Lana searches for the 'hero' who will provide the happy rebirth she longs for, but each of her boyfriends proves 'false' (Whitney dies, Jason dies and deceives her, Clark deceives her...). We also frequently see her trapped in states of 'living death': in Emily's glass cube, frozen in high school, possessed by dark forces, etc. She longs for escape, but it proves more and more elusive and with Lex we see her accept that she must reconcile herself to his deceipt and engage in such things herself if she's to find any equality in a relationship.

For Lana and Lex the hope of rebirth also takes the form of a possible child. However, even while still in the womb, this child is shrouded in mystery and shadow, suggesting that it will be another case of false promise.
 
 
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Nora Norwich: Chloe squeenorwich36 on April 8th, 2007 05:53 am (UTC)
Oh, you finished! How exciting! I was just wondering the other day if you were going to do the seventh plot. (Of course, at some point when the series ends, if you are bored, you could redo them all. :P )

It is of course notable that in Smallville's father-dominated universe, it is the true nature of the father figures that determines whether their sons achieve Rebirth: Lionel appears to be a 'good' figure for much of Season 5 and 6, but his true nature is revealed again in 'Promise', whereas Jor-El is recognised as less destructive than originally perceived by the Kents.

Very insightful point. And the more I think about Jor-El, the more I think you're correct, he *had* to be revealed as good--just as Lionel had to be shown to be faking his goodness eventually-- because destiny in this show is *so* tied to parental figures.

She longs for escape, but it proves more and more elusive and with Lex we see her accept that she must reconcile herself to his deceipt and engage in such things herself if she's to find any equality in a relationship.

Well, and clearly the Luthors are the dominant dark force at the moment, trapping her in the marriage in their various ways. I'm really curious as to whether Lana is still going to be married to Lex at the end of the season or not. I kind of hope she will be--I would like her stage 4 to go on for a while, because I think dark Lana would be a really interesting plot, as I've been saying all season.

K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lana :Dbop_radar on April 8th, 2007 05:59 am (UTC)
Thanks! :-) Yes, I finished! \o/ I feel so much better now...

the Luthors are the dominant dark force at the moment, trapping her in the marriage in their various ways.
Yeah, I think they are, and it's amazing how the show's reinforced the idea that there is something inherently dangerous in being a Luthor. I agree about Lana--I would like to see her stage 4 go on for a while, and quite honestly I don't know what kind of Stage 5 they could write for her. (She would have to find another man?)
Nora Norwich: Lexana regalnorwich36 on April 8th, 2007 06:09 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm sure knowing and defending Clark's secret is eventually going to be what saves her--I just hopes it drags her down into bitterness and Luthorian-ness first.

Actually, it would be kind of nice if they changed the trope and have Lana save herself without having a man be the hero. (Actually, it could be Chloe who helps save her, and I say this not just because I'm on a Chlana kick but because the way they've defined Chloe being to Lana this season as Clark was to Lex the first season--the force of good trying to pull her away from Luthorianess.)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clark and Chloe reportersbop_radar on April 8th, 2007 12:10 pm (UTC)
I think that would be awesome. The show needs a bit more girl power, quite frankly. And they have set Chloe up as being the hope figure for Lana. If someone would write some decent Chlana, I'm sure I'd read it, even though I don't instinctively ship them. But there's quite a lot of interesting material to explore there.
Vicki: alanmyownghost on April 8th, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC)
i'm very much one of the people who've longed to see lex redeemed (and am much wounded by his fall, even though it was clearly pre-destined).

>Lex becomes convinced that Clark was a kind of false prophet, whereas Lana will be the source of 'true' redemption.

ouch, yes. i think you're right that the way lex has hardened his heart toward clark reveals a great deal of disillusionment and disappointment. he really did look at clark, at the beginning, as if he was seeing hope incarnate. the process of their mutual let-down was painful to watch. (well, for me anyway, since i'm pollyanna.)

as always, your essay is eye-opening and thought-provoking. thank you!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Pretty please clarkbop_radar on April 8th, 2007 11:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, the mutual let-down was very painful--and it was impossible to tear one's eyes away, at least for me.

I'm glad you enjoyed the essay! *g*