The theme of penetration, which is common in Smallville, is particularly present in Splinter. Lex says to Lana ‘I want you to help me get inside it’, referring to the spaceship with a frictionless surface. Fine has ‘got inside’ Clark literally, as we learn that the supposed ‘silver kryptonite’ was a part of him. Penetration and control are linked. Lex wants to get inside the spaceship in order to be able to control it. Fine exercises extensive control over Clark. Penetration is a way to bring the threatening ‘other’ under control: the humans want to penetrate the secret of the aliens; Clark wants to ‘penetrate’ human life (he wants an idealised human existence complete with romantic and sexual fulfilment with Lana), Fine penetrates Clark to control him.
Fine’s exercise of power over Clark appears to be twofold: he heightens Clark’s capacity for paranoia and he plants ideas in his mind, visions of things that don’t actually happen. So we cannot conclude that what Clark sees is what he fears before Fine’s intervention. However, his reaction to the visions is still telling, even if we take into account that it is exaggerated by the paranoia.
He repeats ‘No more lies’ to his father and to Lana. As such, he expresses frustration not just with them but with himself, who has been conditioned to lie about his secret but has recently found doing so so painful in his relationship with Lana. That he fears and is angered by the behaviour he himself continually uses is chilling, particularly as we see Clark and Jonathan reverse roles a the end of the episode: Jonathan is prepared to give up the senate race, but Clark talks him into it, using arguments that Jonathan has used in the past (‘it’s the right thing to do’/we have to stop the vilain/I don’t want my secret to limit us). Clark is trapped in a cycle of lying and self-hatred.
Chloe as actor
While Lex and Lana and Clark are disempowered by their lack of knowledge about the respective mysteries haunting them, Chloe is in an unusually empowered position in Splinter. Chloe has a central role to play now that she is privileged with Clark’s secret. In this episode, her knowledge is revealed to Clark’s parents. It is a shock to them that Clark no longer confides such important information to them. However, they move quickly from shock to neediness: Martha asks Chloe ‘what’s wrong with Clark?’ It is startling to see the parents as victims of Clark’s mysterious powers, needingto refer to an outsider for understanding and help. It used to be Clark’s parents who would puzzle out any challenges their son faced. Now it is Chloe who runs to the rescue.
Chloe is also in an empowered position in relationship to Lana. Chloe questions Lana about Clark’s behaviour in a way that makes it clear that she has information she’s not going to share with Lana. This must be very unsettling to Lana as Clark’s girlfriend. The scene was directed very well, with Lana and Chloe facing in opposite directions, Lana turning a chilly frightened expression to Chloe. Chloe reinforces Lana’s disempowerment, telling her to ‘stay put’ as Chloe runs off to resolve the issue.
At the end of the episode, Clark walks in to find Chloe at Lana’s bedside. The scene is warm and intimate: the girls have cleared the air. Chloe has already laid the groundwork for Clark, telling Lana a half-truth about what happened, that also clears Chloe of lying. However all three are lying to each other now, and I would be surprised if Lana fully buys even Chloe’s story. It was too obvious early on that Chloe knew things she didn’t. She could have been testing Clark when she says ‘Chloe’s told me everything’, echoing Lex’s behaviour pattern of watching for a reaction from Clark that would acknowledge some further hidden truth.
Chloe says for once she was grateful not to be the object of Clark’s affection: she is spot on. Being the object is disempowering, being Clark’s confidant is empowering. But Chloe’s empowerment is deceptive. When Martha asks her ‘did Clark tell you everything?’ she falters and replies ‘I think so’. But we learn she did not know about red K, and Clark does not (immediately at least) confide in her about Fine.
Prediction and inescapable destiny
The score for Splinter was very unusual. This was particularly obvious in two linked scenes in the denouement of the episode: Clark visiting Lana in hospital and talking to Chloe in the corridor; and Lionel confronting Lex. Eerie haunting music plays beneath both scenes: it’s unusual enough to suggest a connection between them. Lionel’s words to Lex are words that Lex already knows are true: that Lana Lang (and by implication any other desired object) will never love him because his true self is unloveable; that all efforts to change the way he is viewed by others will fail, even if he becomes president, as we know he will.
Does what is said in the hospital have the same predictive power? The power of Splinter is that it throws up dark possible truths beneath the coded surface of Clark’s relationships. Clark says he ‘can’t believe’ that his father would deal with Lionel, that Chloe would sell his secret, that Lana would betray him. His capacity for denial is still strong, but we also see how unsettled he is. The stronger the fears that are planted in him, the more he will cling to his friends and family and his fragile and desperate trust in them. There has already been a fundamental shift if Lana is lying to him about the spaceship.
Chloe asserts that she would never betray Clark, would never tell anyone his secret, would die before doing so. Knowing as we do that someone close to Clark will die, this seems to suggest Chloe as a candidate. Perhaps she will die protecting Clark’s secret. Alternatively, her words belong with Clark’s empty statement to Lana: ‘I would never do anything to hurt you’, and perhaps also with the list of things that Clark claims he believes could never happen, but which seem slightly more plausible after Splinter than before.
The power of Smallville at this point in Season 5 is that, while we know that an inescapable destiny is at work, we don’t know the details of that destiny. This places the viewer in the same mental place as Clark and increases the plot tension.
(This is also the reason why I beg you not to spoil me or anyone else who doesn’t want spoilers!!! Please!)
Thank you to anyone who managed to read this much of my ramblings on this ep! ;-) Now on a lighter note...
I spent at least half an hour in hysterical shock from Clark's line 'those things you do to me Lex'. What things is he talking about? This line is one of the slashiest we've had this season, perhaps one of the slashiest ever. Because within recent episodes, Lex has *done* very little with Clark, very little even near Clark and certainly nothing *to* Clark. He has adopted a purely reactive role in their relationship, waiting for Clark to come to him. Clark may be casting his mind back further, but there is still no simple answer to the following question: what things is Clark referring to?
Clark then refers to 'tests' but even this involves an imaginative leap for the audience. At a stretch, I can believe that in Clark's paranoia, he views Lex's passive-aggressive verbal behaviour as 'tests' - Lex testing to see how far Clark's lies will go. And in Mortal, Lex set a trap for Clark and Chloe. It's still a very exaggerated description.
Clark's hysterical and saracastic 'yes, let's go to the lab so you can experiment on me' also indicates the level of discomfort he has in his relationship with Lex. In Scare, Clark invited Lex to 'use' him as the physical subject of a biological test that would create a cure to the outbreak. So we've seen this issue arise between them before. Clark seems to fear that Lex's desire for him is excessively disempowering: he would be objectified to the point of being an object of dissection and experimentation. Even if this is pure Splinter-induced paranoia, it is frightening that Clark's mind goes this far.
I also can't help but link it to the theme of hurting and disempowering the object of your affections: what happens to Lana is what Clark things Lex wants to do to him. Just as Clark tells Lana 'we were meant to be together', Lex used to tell Clark that they had a great destiny together. Clark and Lana are drawn to the romantic purity of this idea, but are also fearful of the restrictions it places on them, the power it strips from them. They struggle for freedom.
Clark doesn't say 'those things WE do'. He sees himself as the passive object of Lex's actions. And in this scene he exercises physical control over Lex in an effort to reimpower himself. It's at once chilling and intensely sexual. Knowing their eventual destinies, this implies that their battle will continue to be fought on an intimate physical, emotional and sexual level.