Vengeance or Justice?
I really enjoyed the echoes of Clark’s future in this week’s episode. The Angel of Vengeance (have completely forgotten her actual name!) was an interesting if obvious way to explore Clark’s future identity and how his handling of emotional issues will play a key role in shaping his future behaviour. Both the Angel girl and Clark experience grief which turns to anger. Angel chooses to express it in vengeance. She calls it ‘justice’ but when they find the man who killed her mother, she takes his life. She appears to be emotionally shaken by this later, and so we get a sense that Clark is not so different from her. He could have been like this if he’d had different emotional development. Clark saves Lionel from her, but Lionel suggests that Clark did it ‘for her’. He’s right, and taking this a step further, Clark does it for himself, for the part of his self that will become the Justice League character of the future. Clark defines himself as the person who doesn’t take that last vindictive step.
I was really happy to hear Clark confess to Chloe that he felt like crushing the thief’s windpipe would make everything better but realised it wouldn’t. The danger in Clark’s denial mechanism is that his repressed grief comes out in moments of extreme rage and he needs to acknowledge his emotions in order to gain control of them. Chloe has become an important voice of reason in Clark’s life.
X chromosomes win
I liked the gender reversal with the Angel character and there were a few other interesting developments with the female characters this week. I found Martha’s scene with Chloe interesting. With Jonathan gone, we see Martha turn to Chloe, saying that she’s happy someone else shares Clark’s secret. Martha visits her at the Daily Planet, Chloe’s workplace, something that we haven’t seen before. It’s a subtle exploration of the way relationships are redefined after a death. The dynamics shift and realign. Clark’s secret is now shared by two women rather than his parents. Martha has also assumed control over Jonathan’s senate seat and what’s to happen with it. In subtle ways the women on the show (especially Martha, Lois and Chloe) are slowly growing in power within Clark’s life.
After Clark saves him, Lionel places his hand on Clark’s shoulder, in an echo of Jonathan’s trademark parental/dominant body language, and says ‘thank you, son’. I found that scene quite chilling although I really enjoyed Lionel’s return to open gamesmanship with Lex in this episode. Lionel’s motives have been ambiguous all season and remain so, but it was interesting to have at least some of his agenda(s) revealed. I remain unsure of the exact nature of the connection between Jor-El and Lionel. Lionel’s ‘I’m back’ line could be read as indicating that Jor-El’s time of using Lionel has completely passed. On the other hand, Jor-El has stated that he can access Lionel as his ‘vessel’ at any time. It’s also unclear just how much Lionel has deliberately orchestrated this season. In that way Jor-El and Lionel are easy to conflate since both of them are powerful figures whose power is amorphous and undefined. We know some instances where they’ve clearly exercised it but it’s possible to attribute many more actions to them.
Just as the Angel of Vengeance served as a stand-in for Superman, Lionel serves in this episode as a stand-in for Lex in the future. We can imagine the same scene played out between Clark and Lex in the Luthorcorp tower in the future. In fact, Lionel was only there temporarily. Since Lex is blackmailing Lionel with the knowledge that he met with Jonathan before his heartattack, we can presume this information is not going to be revealed to the Kents in the near future. Angel asks Clark what he would do if he was face-to-face with his father’s killer and in an extreme reading, that’s what Lionel is. Since Clark doesn’t have the knowledge to actually confront Lionel, this was a nice way of handling the audience’s privileged knowledge.
Jonathan the real person is gone. What remains is his memory and the collection of associations that people have with him. The classic Smallville markers of identity--physical space (the barn) and clothing (old flannel and farm clothes) were used to show how Martha and Clark are coping with their grief. Martha admits to her emotional response to these reminders of Jonathan, but Clark initially only admits to frustration. He’s locked in denial.
Martha offers him a personal memento (watch), which is another classic Smallville trope. Lana and Lex have both carried objects that remind them of their lost parents. Clark initially refuses the watch but admits its significance at the end of the episode and puts it on.
But for me the most telling aspect of the grief-processing that Martha and Clark did in this episode was in the final scene where they watch the home video. Smallville plays with image and truth and this scene really brought home to me how much Jonathan exists merely as image now. He’s the smiling father playing with his son on the tractor and it’s important for Clark and Martha to hang on to that. Clark admits in this episode to hearing his dad’s voice in his head holding him back from vengeance. There is irony in that, since Jonathan was a man who lost his temper more than most and from whom Clark learnt stubborn denial as a coping mechanism. But that real Jonathan, with all his flaws, is gone. The grief process has turned him into an iconic figure for his son and wife.
I’ve had a lot of time for Lana this season: she’s demonstrated that she has a backbone, she’s asserted herself appropriately and she’s behaved with dignity under difficult circumstances. But I really didn’t like her behaviour in this episode. For me, this was a real return to Season 1 Lana, who desperately loves being ‘needed’ by her boyfriend, and who uses grief as a way to connect with people. I was sorry to see this sort of character regression.
Lana and Clark have broken up, yet Lana still has ‘full access’ to Clark, entering the Kent premises without knocking and immediately bringing up Clark’s loss. Although she says that Clark doesn’t have to open up to her, her behaviour suggests that that is exactly what she would like, that despite her rejection of their relationship, she’s desperate to reconnect with him now he needs her. Yes, I do think this stems partly from genuine sympathy and compassion on Lana’s part. But I also think she’s self-serving. She doesn’t respect Clark’s boundaries. Having her around can only be emotionally distressing for him, and she doesn’t give him space.
She’s not the only character to tread a thin line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in this episode. Lex visits Lana at the Talon and attempts to repair the rift between them. Despite her deflections he remains insistent on pressing home that he is there if she needs him (obviously not picking up on the signals that she’s far more interested in being needed herself—by Clark). Lionel visits Martha and attempts to form the basis of a new type of relationship with her. In Lionel’s case, he visits Martha in the barn, a space occupied in the past by Jonathan, so although Lionel makes no overt move towards her, the undercurrent that he is seeking to replace Jonathan is there.