Of all the things that Smallville got right in this episode (and there were many), I was particularly impressed with the way they played the creepy menace that is Brainiac. The opening sequence in the barn played on horror tropes: the dog barking at an invisible figure, a moving shadow, a voice being heard before he's seen. His understated appeal to Kara spoke of absolute confidence. And he knew exactly the right words to stop her in her tracks. Getting her memory back has been a 'disappointment'. How could it be anything else? She has lost her family, her race, her planet. Brainiac does not go out of his way to appear as a sympathetic figure and Kara is smart enough to be wary of the stranger who knows so much about her and her cousin, but the threat he poses is unspoken until Kara turns him down so firmly. He seems to take some pleasure in saying 'just remember, if we'd have done things my way, no-one would have got hurt.' Indeed he seems to take pleasure in the horrors that follow.
The horror theme continued with Brainiac's melodramatic arrival at the Isis Foundation. Lana tries to run but struggles against his grasp. His precise attack on her was frightening but it didn't immediately become obvious how awful it was: the true extent of the torture she was to undergo would only become evident progressively, and that made it really freaky. The idea of being completely conscious but completely powerless inside your own body, while someone else controls you like a puppet is a nightmarish prospect. The excruciating pain adds another layer of horror--it's hard to believe that Lana will come out sane at the end of this.
Lana's glazed-over eyes and rigid body in that final scene were so heartbreaking. And I loved the shot construction with the angel statue by the window. It is near impossible to really understand what Lana must be going through, but my heart broke for Clark having to watch her. And waaaah, when we heard him crying!
No time for guilt
Clark is going to think back and blame himself for sending Lana off to Isis that day, purely because he didn't want to embarrass himself. Kara too is quick to blame herself for Lana's suffering. Her 'it should have been me' was entirely reminiscent of Clark's reaction when others have suffered 'because of' his existence. Her impulse to turn herself in is also very Clark-like. He's grown and matured to the point where he recognises this situation as a trap--but the impulse to sacrifice himself for others is still very strong in him. And evidently in Kara as well.
There is fault on both sides if you really examined it--Kara was right to ask Clark how he planned to catch Brainiac if he can't fly--they end up vanishing off the map. And Clark's frustration at working on flight when they hadn't even found Brainiac yet was also understandable. They're both 'human' in their inability to combat Brainiac yet. And perhaps the stupidest aspect of this is that the answer was right in front of them as pointed out in the Lex plot. It's a little hard to believe that after all the fuss over Kara's bracelet, Clark and Kara haven't considered that Briainiac may be after that. It's something that she has that Clark doesn't--it seems really obvious.
Prize for worst dialogue in the episode?
'So what does he run on?' 'Maybe energy'. NO SHIT!
Up, up and away
At first, when Kara said 'it would help if we were all on the same playing field' I thought she was going to give Clark another serve for not filling her in about Brainiac--which would have been fair enough, really. But it was a charming twist that she decided to teach him to fly. And it resulted in an adorable scene between the two cousins. Clark's nervousness when it comes to flight is very cute (and I suspect his maiden flight is not so far off after all--this seemed like foreshadowing).
Speaking of cute things, Lois staring at a blank screen titled 'Big Cool Headline here' and playing with a Planet-shaped stress ball is definitely up there. And I squeeed with joy at Jimmy proposing teaming up. I love it when these guys work together! And it was very exciting to see their first real investigation together. I am glad Lois asked about Chloe before agreeing, and I also wondered if she kind of agreed to team up with Jimmy partly because she felt sorry for him. He looked so sheepish saying that Chloe had run off with Clark again. I don't mind Lois being a bit blind to the potential of teaming up with Jimmy at this stage, because it is so early in their careers.
And I love, love, LOVE that the story they investigated was Patricia Swann's death--this ties them directly to the main plot. At first I just eyerolled at the conveniently timed email. But on rewatch, I noticed that the email came from an unknown sender... so now I'm thinking set-up.
I liked the way they played Lois and Jimmy as having some trouble working as a team--they're both so used to working alone and came to this project with different expectations. I sensed a little bit of shock and hesitation from Jimmy when Lois introduced the idea of pursuing the murder case. Was he not expecting something so dramatic maybe? It was a bit tricky to read. I also liked the way that Jimmy took over from Lois in delivering the photo evidence to Lionel--she was quite flummoxed.
I was impressed by the resourcefulness that Lois and Jimmy showed in gaining access to Luthorcorp, but the fact that they were so easily stared down by Lionel once they confronted them shows their inexperience. 'Boundless courage' and 'incorrigible stupidity'--hee! I'm glad that Lois embraced the idea that they have both.
It wasn't so long since we saw Lois unwilling to believe that Lana could be involved in anything nefarious. She appears more open to that possibility here, while Jimmy is still a bit reluctant to see a connection between her and Lionel. Their reactions to Lana's secret office of surveillance was markedly different too--Lois finding it creepy, Jimmy finding it sexy (I'd go with both!). Jimmy may be a snappy photographer but it's Lois who's pushing things along here with her reporter's instinct--so I think that balances things well since it was Jimmy who suggested them reporting together. Nice work, and I hope we get more of it!
We keep seeing more and more of Lex's new sidekick. She revealed in this episode that she's worked for him for years. I'll fanwank that she's worked her way up through the ranks of his (otherwise useless) minions. I was grateful to her for playing the voice of the audience and raising one of the key issues with the Veritas plot: supposedly Lex only learnt of it recently, but he says he's been searching for it all his life. His answer was actually quite satisfactory, I think. There have ALWAYS been mysteries in Lex's life, starting with the questions around his two miraculous survivals--the original meteor shower and his car crash with Clark on the bridge of destiny. From early on, it was never just Lex that was intrigued by Clark--Lionel watched him too. In fact, there was a time when Lex defended Clark to Lionel as just a simple local farmboy. If we accept that Lex has only recently recovered flashes of memories from before the original meteor shower, I can see how for Lex it would feel as if his entire life made sense now in a way it never had before. If Lionel's agenda and secrets were actually always linked, like Lex's own, to investigating Clark, then it must feel
The flashbacks in this episode were BRILLIANT! I adored them. I couldn't believe our luck at getting a Patti/Jason/Lex/Ollie flashback! After last week's revelations I'd been imagining the little ones playing together. And I rewatched the animated chronicle that showed Oliver's father talking with Virgin Swann. So it felt as if my own imagination had sprung to life. The children were all adorable--but Patricia in particular was very cute. I liked that they made her a little sneaky, peeking as she counted for hide-and-seek.
And yay, we have confirmation that Alexander-inside-Lex's-head is indeed his younger self. That may seem obvious but I had considered the possibility that Lex remembered himself a little differently. The fact that he abuses this younger Lex in his own mind is highly suggestive of the idea that as a child Lex was redeemable. When did his now-dominant dark side come to life, I wonder? It is very intriguing. And it's also understandable that the show is introducing this softer, younger aspect of Lex at a time when Lex is reaching his most villainous state.
I am fascinated with the representation of wee!Lex. Apart from the deliberate shoutouts to the pilot (with the Queen Industries headline and the asthma pump), we also see Lex hiding in small spaces and in cupboards. This ties to the way we saw Alexander inside Lex's mind, but it also establishes Lex early on as an eavesdropper. Potentially all the children of the Veritas families shared this experience--certainly Oliver also eavesdropped (in the Oliver Queen Chronicles)--but it made me think about the ways in which Lex is used to obtaining information through illegitimate means.
If the flashback raised interesting questions, it answered many more. It seems clear that there was a rift in Veritas between Virgil Swann and Robert Queen on one hand and Lionel Luthor and Edward Teague on the other. The accusations that Lionel makes about Queen and Teague are true, I would say: Robert has been meeting with Swann alone (if only because he distrusts Lionel) and Robert and Genevieve did develop a fixation with the stones. Veritas ties together many threads from past seasons, and now we learn that it goes back long before that--for centuries, apparently! I do wonder how these families came to be guardians of this idea of the 'Traveller' in the first place.
The rift in Veritas proved deadly for the Queens--Lionel had them killed on the way to Zurich and recovered their key. Many years later, his son would kill the daughter of Virgil Swann to recover the other one, not realising they were a pair.
And who was Lionel talking to in Flashback #2? My bet's on Edward Teague. Convenient for us and Lex that Lionel had an ally--at this time at least. It seems that Lionel planned to control the Traveller, that his goal was 'ultimate power'. I wonder then what he made of little Kal-El being found and adopted by the Kents... it makes the fact that they stopped to help Lionel on the day of the meteor strike absolutely chilling. The innocence of the child!Clark and child!Lex is contrasted so sharply with Lionel, who was already at work on his Machiavellian scheme. In many ways it does make it seem now that Clark was just yet another child who Lionel played at God with. Perhaps he deliberately left him with the Kents, feeling that he could exercise control over him later in life? It gives me the shivers
And speaking of shivers... how about Lionel asking wee!Lex if he was ready for an adventure? Eek!
In the second flashback, we also got to see wee!Lex playing with a Warrior Angel figurine. He makes it fly through the sky--that's a great riff on Clark's inability to fly in this episode and also the fear of flying that wee!Lex shows in the helicopter in the pilot.
'You've already destroyed the life of one son, you don't get a second chance.' Hmm. Well, Clark, he kinda DID. For a while there, that's exactly what Lionel was getting closer and closer too--treating Clark as his true son. But other than that, I have absolutely no quibble with everything that Clark said to Lionel. Lionel does wash his hands of the past, and he hasn't changed. He may, however, have an important message to impart. It is a sign of his desperation that he revealed how long he has kept Clark's secret. I wasn't sure we would EVER get proof that Lionel has been watching Clark for so long.
Lionel gets distracted by protesting his innocence of the most recent crime, the murder of Patricia Swann. Not the point, Lionel! And as for his line that 'I have taken moral responsibility for every attrocity that I have committed in the past'? OMG, LIONEL! You do not just SAY 'I take moral responsibility' and that's it, you've done it, get out of jail free. *rages* Because seriously lip-service is all Lionel has ever paid to the idea of repentance. Unfortunately Chloe seized on the recent murder as the contentious issue in his appeal to her--she would have done better to argue about the nature of true repentance.
I *do* believe that being Jor-El's emissary changed Lionel. We saw that. It compelled him to protect Clark, more than he otherwise would have. I believe it genuinely gave him a sense of familial connection to Clark that was missing before. I think it also probably led him to view Clark as his ultimate son. He's always aimed to control and completely mould Lex, and I think he rather wanted to do this with Clark too. As with Lex, he was able to mask this impulse behind actions that were often genuinely in Clark's best interests. But it also, unfortunately, gave him access to Kryptonian knowledge that must have only fed his appetite for power (didn't we see him doodling that word in Kryptonian symbols!?)
So it is a strange position I (and I imagine most of the audience) find myself in: I am deeply mistrustful of Lionel, but I do believe he may have a message that Clark needs to hear. Anger and genuine emotional rejection of Lionel should not stop Clark--or Chloe as Clark's messenger--listening to that message. They could then judge for themselves whether they think it is in Clark's interests to heed Lionel's warning or not. But not listening to him at all? Very dangerous.
Don't get me wrong though--I loved the scene between him and Chloe, particularly when he was on his knees but grabbing at her arms in rage ('I've repented!'). I'm glad Chloe treated him as coldly as she did. I just wish she'd said 'oh yeah? well what is this message then?' BEFORE walking off. The line 'befriending him is the closest you'll ever get to seeing God' was very cool though. And as for Lionel seeing protecting Clark as 'paying for his sins'? Pfft! That's another sign he has NO IDEA what real repentence is. Protecting Clark is an HONOUR, a privilege that few are trusted with. It is not a punishment--especially to one obsessed with the secrets in the first place. Yet I think Lionel believes every word he says here. For the power-obsessed, protecting someone they'd hoped to control WOULD be a huge sacrifice. And his ambivalent feelings on this were exemplified last week when we saw the cage he had built to contain Clark and his contrasting rage at it being used to torture Clark. Lionel is a paradox of the most dangerous kind.