I loved the structure of this episode: the two distorted reflections, superficially similar but fundamentally different. For me this reflected the Smalville paradox: destiny cannot be escaped, but it can be influenced. Clark cannot change time: destiny will roll on, taking a toll, but he can influence it by the decisions he makes as an agent with free will.
Not only did I love the structure for what it said about the show as a whole, but also for what it allowed in the way of symbolism. The echoes it created, the different splinters of possible destinies, were wonderful. Here’s just some that spring to mind:
- the scene opens with Clark holding a piece of carbon (if I remember my science correctly), which in the first reality he turns into a diamond and in the second reality does not (symbolising the evolution or disintegration of his relationship with Lana)
- when Clark takes Lana to the caves she says ‘whatever it is is ok’ and he says ‘it’s ok, trust me’ in return when she gets nervous; in the second reality, Clark says ‘trust me’ and Lana says ‘Clark: you know that goes both ways’.
- In the first reality, Lois’s announcement of Jonathan’s election upstages Clark and Lana announcing their engagement and Lois rushes the Kents off to do publicity, allowing Lana to slip away to Lex’s; in the second reality, Lois is injured and in the chaos of her being taken care off, Lana slips away to Lex’s.
- In the first reality Clark tells Lana the whole truth; in the second reality, Lana tells Clark if he’s not going to tell the truth say nothing. He chooses silence.
- In the first reality, Lex asks Lana ‘how could you lie to me?’; in the second reality Lana asks Lex ‘how could you lie to someone you love?’
We see that some things are inevitable. Lana ends up going to Lex in either reality. Lana and Lex end up on the same part of Route 40 at the same time. Clark, we know, has the power to change reality, but it is only limited. He only just reaches the bus in time in the second reality. Smallville always brings the sense of destiny to momentous occasions. Lana collides with a yellow school bus full of Crows fans, both of which are visual echoes from the Pilot. She’s speeding and talking on the phone, just as Lex was when he collided with Clark five years ago.
The same motifs, the same symbols, the same themes recur over and over, refracting in different ways and different patterns as time and destiny unfold.
In discussing distorted reflections, we automatically come to Lana and Lois. In the first reality, when Clark lifted Lana in the classic Superman pose and flew her in his arms, I experienced a moment of thinking ‘that should have been Lois’. But I need not have feared that the show had forgotten Lois. In beautiful Smallvillean irony, Lana shares her experience, albeit obliquely with Lois. (Beautiful, self-centred Lois, who is so locked up in her own world that she doesn’t see the signs all around her!) Lana asks Lois a question that Lois herself will face in the future: what do you do when you discover the man you love has another identity? Lois replies ‘that depends if it changes the way you feel about him’. Lois is spot-on. That is the most important question and one that will test both girls in time.
It’s also fascinating to explore Lois’s position in relation to the Kents in comparison to Lana’s. While the Kents have known Lana for years, their reaction to the announced engagement was formal and polite, rather than intimate. They were not unfriendly, but Lois showed more intimacy with them in the brief moment when she rushed to hug Jonathan in congratulations him on winning the election. In a short time Lois has developed close friendships with both Martha and Jonathan. So much so, that in the moment of Jonathan’s victory, she’s at the heart of proceedings, with their own son Clark slightly sidelined, busy with his separate romantic life. In some ways Lois is already more actively a daughter to them than Lana would ever be.
In this ep we hear Lois speak admiringly of Clark for one of the first times: ‘I would be lucky to end up with someone as honourable as Clark one day.’ While I think she is genuine in saying this, I suspect she is thinking more of Martha and Jonathan and how much she admires the type of person they are, rather than Clark himself. She’s built her own identity out of running Jonathan’s campaign. At the moment she is more interested in her relationship with the Kent adults than with Clark. She still views him as ‘tall, dark and bumbling’. It is Lana who replaces the final part of that triptych with the usual ‘handsome’ when she reassures Clark that he’s ‘the same handsome man’ she has always loved. With this statement Lana appeases Clark's fears that her feelings may have changed for him when she discovered his true identity. Perception dictates emotional connection here: if the image is altered, the emotion is. One day, Lois will replace 'bumbling' with 'handsome' in her own mind...
For years Clark hung back from taking a risk with Lana and revealing his feelings. In Reckoning he put everything he had on the table and risked his whole self for her. In some ways who he was weighed in her hands. He tells her not to answer immediately but can’t wait to hear from her. He doesn’t hide his fear when he sees her and asks ‘yes as in yes I’ll marry you?’ Clark Kent has grown up.
In the first reality, Jonathan acknowledges this. Clark tells his parents that ‘if I was ever going to share my secret with anyone, it was going to be with her’. Choosing to tell Lana his secret is the first large life decision that he has made alone, without consulting either his parents or a friend. It’s the first time Clark alone has really chosen to reveal his secret to anyone. The exercise of free choice, independent of his parents, marks his graduation to manhood. The revelation of the whole self to a sexual partner also represents his final separation from them. Jonathan says ‘it’s hard to look over at your son and realise he is a man and doesn’t need your advice.’ While Clark responds ‘I’m always going to need you’, the dynamic is forever changed.
If Jonathan is symbolically eclipsed by his son in the first reality, the reality turns truly Oedipal in the second reality with Jonathan’s death. Clark assumes his father’s position when he tells Martha he can help her put on her necklace, an intimate act that Jonathan has always performed for her in the past. The death of his father is linked to his own growth into adulthood. In the same ep Lex talks about wanting to be out from underneath Lionel's shadows. Fathers have always cast long shadows on Smallville... Clark is now on his own.
Victory and defeat
Jonathan wins the senatorial campaign. Lex loses it. Let’s not even get started about the plausibility of that, but focus on the symbolic (the domain in which Smallville is so much more coherent). Jonathan tells Martha ‘the only victory that’s ever changed my life was when I won your heart.’ Lex is shattered by his political defeat, turning to alcoholism and self-destructively ringing Lana. To her he reveals it’s not really the loss of the Senatorship that stings the most: it’s having lost the hearts of those he cares for. His conversation with her quickly turns to competition: ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ her. In the first reality he discovers he has lost her to Clark. In the second reality, she is free and he sees an opening to win her but moves too fast and too intensely, in classic Lex style, driving her away in fear.
In the first reality, Clark wins Lana’s heart. In the second he voluntarily experiences defeat. Both Clark and Lex, this season, have given up their ultimate happiness, their ultimate ‘victory’ in winning Lana. They both do so to keep her alive: for both what prompts them to give her up in self-sacrifice is the experience of first-grief at her death. In Lexmas, Lex’s vision ended in Lana’s death. The experience of that grief is so horrible he would rather live alone that experience it again. In Reckoning, Clark finds that the revelation of his secret results in Lana's death. He chooses to give up the only romantic destiny he can envisage to extend her life.
Lana asks Clark ‘what could be more horrible than losing the person you love?’ Clark answers ‘nothing’. Ultimately that's what both he and Lex base their decisions on. In both cases it's as much a self-motivated act (to protect oneself from grief) as it is an act to protect Lana.