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04 December 2005 @ 10:11 pm
Reflections on Rosetta  
Rosetta aired in Australia for the first time tonight. It was an interesting experience to revisit a Clark who did not know his true name.

For me the most poignant moment in Rosetta is when the young fresh-faced Clark moves to the screen behind Swann and asks ‘Is that where Krypton is?’ Swann answers: ‘No. That’s where Krypton was.’

Nothing prepares Clark for this moment. He has lived, until now, in the belief that he has a point of origin: a real and physical space that exists somewhere in the galaxy. He studies the stars in his spare time and his telescope is among his most prized possessions. He longed, we suppose, to learn more of his home, to understand it and thereby to understand himself. In this way, Clark could, as a young boy, externalise his alien identity, deflect it onto his imagined ‘home’. It was an unattainable and unknowable object, distant yet always in the corner of his eye (mind).

The caves have unlocked the secret of his identity and he is drawn to them helplessly. The ringing in his ears overpowers him. Clark is curious about his true nature (he expresses this to his human parents), but there is also a force more powerful than Clark’s will at work. He hears ear-splitting noises no one else can hear. He wakes up in the middle of the road in the middle of the night. To Clark, who knows so little of his nature at this point in time, this must be a frightening reminder that he is not human and is not fully in control of himself, the two intrinsically linked.

With the truth revealed to Clark that Krypton no longer exists, he can no longer externalise his alien self. Swann tells him that he is the last of his race. Clark is alone with himself and the only other remaining remnant of Krypton: the ship. I do not believe Swann means Clark any harm, and yet his words must tear Clark’s soul apart. Swann twists the knife deeper by telling Clark that he will not find the answers among the stars (where Clark has been looking until now): the answers lie inside Clark/Kal-El himself.

Clark does seek solitude and reflection on his return to Smallville. Jonathan finds him in the cellar with the heart of the ship in his hand. However, he has hesitated to explore it on his own, suggesting that he is not yet confident acting as an individual. Jonathan, no doubt comforted that his son still needs him, suggests they do it together. At this point, the soundtrack strikes a deep and ominous note in its echo of the Superman theme. Deliberate or not, it suggests that there is much to fear in this moment. When viewed in retrospect what is to be feared in this moment is not just Jor-El’s message, but Jonathan’s presence. In the movie Superman I, Jonathan dies before Clark explores his alien identity. He reaches adulthood and makes the journey alone. Smallville’s Clark is younger and more malleable: he is more likely to respond with fear and emotion than adult rationality.

At this stage in Clark’s development we had far fewer clues about his internal life than we do now in Season 5. I am therefore speculating to some extent and this reading is highly subjective. Clark is sixteen, an age when most humans are struggling to develop an individual identity. Traditionally most teenagers move from being defined by their family to being defined by their friends. Clark seems trapped a stage behind, perhaps because his family origins are still a mystery to him. To understand them will be to gain mastery and understanding of his self, but he has just discovered a powerful absence at the heart of this mystery. He is without a ‘self’ and is defined by powerful paternal figures: Swann, Jor-El, Jonathan.

Clark asks Jonathan why he believes he is good. Jonathan replies ‘because I am your father and I know you better than anyone’. Clark still mistrusts himself and he looks to others to define him. When Jor-El’s message tells him that his greatness lies in ruling humans with strength, he interprets this as meaning he was sent to conquer Earth. Jonathan suggests that he may have ‘misread’ the message. Regardless, Clark’s immediate logic leap has linked power to oppression. It strongly implies that he already has an implicit fear of his alien nature. So far his alien self has manifested physically, both in the development of his powers and in physically drawing him to the caves and the ship. He is not in charge of this part of himself. It is something that happens to him. Jor-El’s ‘rule them with strength’ message resonates with the part of Clark that feels ruled by his alien nature.

Jonathan’s argument that he can make his own destiny is powerless against the overwhelming wall of Clark’s fear. Clark has spent his life looking for the answers outside himself. As a teenager, he has little to draw on internally that tells him he is good. Most teenagers experience self-doubt and Clark, with much of his physicality beyond his control, has more to mistrust than most. He accepts Jonathan’s hug with the air of one clinging to a life raft. Without Jonathan's presence would he have been forced to find that strength within himself? Perhaps he would simply have been broken by his interpretation of Jor-El's message. Regardless, the truth revealed to Clark in Rosetta is a scar he will bear the rest of his life, and one he was not emotionally prepared for.
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Melissa: Björk - Fuschiaradioreverie on December 4th, 2005 11:44 am (UTC)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Ericabop_radar on December 6th, 2005 09:40 am (UTC)
I only just got this! I am having one hell of a bad week... heaps of overtime and work politics: I flew back to it after I posted. *attempting to find small moment of personal time amidst chaos*
rumpuso on December 4th, 2005 11:56 am (UTC)
This episode, now almost 3 seasons later, still remains one of my all time favorite hours of television. They were able to encompass the essence of a lost boy searching for his origins with the fundamental values of nurturing over biology, and wrap this premise inside a very neatly constructed, beautiful piece of art including the late Christopher Reeve and the most spine tingling score to ever provoke immediate reaction. There is so much about this Superman legend that plays perfectly within this episode. When Smallville does it right, this hour of television cannot be surpassed.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clark wetbop_radar on December 6th, 2005 09:43 am (UTC)
Yes, I agree: it's one of my favourites too. This time round a few of my friends saw it for the first time. It was lovely to hear they enjoyed it too. Definitely a stand-out episode.
Alison: arrivalclarkacampbell on December 4th, 2005 03:21 pm (UTC)
It's a wonderful episode; for some reason, it always makes me sad. It's so somber and heavy for Clark. I generally watch with the cast commentary track to lighten things up a bit!

And then there's that wonderful bit where Lex finds Clark in the road, in the dark, in a t-shirt and sweats, barefoot...and the next we see, the sun is shining and Clark is sneaking into the house.

That always makes me smile!
tragicllyhiptragicllyhip on December 4th, 2005 08:06 pm (UTC)
I so wish you could write reviews for Ksite or some place like that. Your reviews are by far my favorite and so incredibly insightful, you always go beyond the surface and show us what is plainly there, but most of us easily miss. You really get to the heart and essence of the show
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: MR joyousbop_radar on December 6th, 2005 09:49 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! That is a wonderful compliment. I'm so happy to know that you find them interesting. I began writing them as a way of thinking through things about the show. I really enjoy exploring the themes and imagery that the show gives us: it's such a rich world to explore. It's lovely that other people find my reviews interesting. Thank you! *squee*
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clark wetbop_radar on December 6th, 2005 09:46 am (UTC)
It makes me sad too. I think it's really subtly constructed that way: the lighting and the score and the direction is all quite dark and poignant. Sombre is a good way to describe it: definitely. I totally agree about watching with the cast track! I have to say it was tough going on TV without that option and I had only one eye on it most of the time!

And yeah - LOVE that moment: it's just totally overt. And then later when Clark says, I woke up in my own bed this morning... um? yes? why did 'own' need extra emphasis?! ;)
eletryxx on December 5th, 2005 01:56 am (UTC)
wonderful insight. I also notice Clark's desire to define himself through others. One example that immediately came to me as I read that was in "extinction" when Clark asks Jonathan "do you think I'm like Van?" It was such a strange thing to say and yet it came from a true place within the character. also in "Leech" when he doubts his parent's love because now he does not have his powers. He seeks acceptence and a definition and tries to do all he can to gain it through others.

wonderful article!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Chloe ironicbop_radar on December 6th, 2005 09:55 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you found it interesting - and thank you for making the link to those other examples. It certainly is a prevalent aspect of Clark's personality. To a certain extent it's age-appopriate. Yet with Clark I think it runs deeper because it's complicated by confusion about who he is - with powers, without powers. Essentially, he doesn't have a mirror to see who he is: he has no Kryptonian parents he can model himself on. So he seeks to see who he is reflected in/by others and is continually confused when the messages are confusing or give a less than complete picture.

Thanks for commenting.
(Anonymous) on December 7th, 2005 02:08 pm (UTC)
Just your secret santa here checking in to say hi!