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04 February 2006 @ 11:52 pm
Smallville 5.13 Vengeance  
I am certainly Late to the Party this week but thanks to the lovely katetheother I was able to view this week's ep with only a day's delay, despite my DL capacity being maxed. Hopefully I'll be all back to normal very soon.

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.

Fathers
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.

Grief
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.

Boundary transgressions
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.
 
 
Current Mood: lethargiclethargic
 
 
 
Kate: Lanamskatej on February 4th, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC)
I totally agree about Lana's behaviour, which I found reprehensible in this episode, and yes, I too have liked her a lot more this season, so it was disappointing to see her act so amazingly selfishly in the wake of her ex boyfriend's father's death. Somehow she managed to make it all about her. For starters, there is no comparison between what she has been through and what Clark is going through. And telling him he needs to talk about it and all her other "advice", god, is like, so off the scale out of order, that I just wanted him to deck her. He's grieving. He'll do it without you, thank you very much. DEAL WITH IT.
rumpuso on February 4th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC)
I think she was being 'happy helperton' and for a lot of us it came off as her being a bit too presumptuous of her ability to connect with Clark in his grief. I really thought she should back away a tad so that Clark could work out his grief in his own way. But then, to me, she saved face at the end of the episode by searching and finding the beloved watch. That was a beautiful thing for her to do and showed much more compassion than her false empathy in the beginning of the show.
(no subject) - bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 12:41 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 12:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
Nora Norwichnorwich36 on February 4th, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
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.

Well, so far you are joined in this by latxcvi, kho, acampbell, maskatej, and probably some others I'm forgetting, so that seems to be the consensus view of Lana in this episode, and it's kind of freaking me out that I have the urge to *defend* Lana. Because I *don't* read her behavior just as someone who needs to be needed--I read it as her being the one person (of the four who explicitly expressed concern over Clark's emotional shutdown in this--Martha, Chloe, Lex, and Lana) who actually had a *shot* at getting Clark to open up, so that's what she was trying to do). I think she thinks that, but I also think the writers think that. Lana has a dual role here: her own motivations, and what the authors need her to be doing symbolically--and maybe it's because I'm hyperaware of the second part of this that I'm not as mad at Lana as some other folks seem to be.

I mean, yes, she was definitely crossing boundaries--when she just came into the house without knocking I was a little stunned, and I do think she's acting a little too much like they haven't broken up--but on the other hand I thought, actually, that this was finally a scene where her own experience of grief was being used appropriately, for once. Losing a parent at 4 isn't the same as losing one at 19, but it is a starting point for connection. And Lana clearly feels guilty for breaking up with Clark when she did, and is trying to reconnect.Plus, the fact that she went to every pawn shop in Metropolis to find that watch does a lot toward rehabilitating her beahvior in the episode, for me.

I do agree with you that her boundary crossing is paralleled with Lex and Lionel's , though I guess I didn't see her use of her own experience of grief with Clark as *quite* as manipulative as Lex and Lionel's. Actually, I loved the way this episode managed to remind us of the griefs that all the major characters in the series bear, and the different ways they let those griefs shape their lives. And in *that* sense I agree with your criticism of Lana, in that she needs to figure out where she is going and not dwell in the past, but unlike Lex or Clark she doesn't have any kind of moral legacy left from her parents. A kryptonite necklace is *only* a symbol of loss, whereas Lillian and Jonathan's symbolize the values they passed down to their children.
Nora Norwichnorwich36 on February 4th, 2006 03:56 pm (UTC)
Umm, that's supposed to be mskatej, up there. And Lillian and Jonathan's *watches.* Ok, I was so excited you were posting I made the mistake of replying before I had my morning coffee!
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(no subject) - bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 12:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 05:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - norwich36 on February 5th, 2006 02:03 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 12:48 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - norwich36 on February 5th, 2006 02:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 06:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
Nora Norwichnorwich36 on February 4th, 2006 04:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, I am spamming your comments like mad, but I wanted to respond to this separately so it didn't get lost in arguments about Lana.

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.

It was chilling and creepy, especially when he called Clark "son." And *damn* I wish we knew whether "I have returned" meant Lionel's back in control, or Jor-El is, but I guess speculating is half the fun, as long as they eventually make it clear by the end of the season. If they don't, I'll be *so* mad!

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.

That's just all so *true*! I had the same thought you had about how ironic it was that *Jonathan* would be the one telling Clark to control his temper, but you're right that he's now just an iconic figure. And that makes an interesting contrast to Jor-El, who is also dead but remains an active presence in his son's life. (Though I am frankly relieved that we don't have an AI spouting Jonathan's platitudes to Clark!)

K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Boppy iconbop_radar on February 5th, 2006 12:59 am (UTC)
If they don't I will be SOOOO mad! Oh yes.

The Jonathan-as-icon moment really hit home for me in the scene when they paused him on the screen and panned across to his son and mother grieving. It was a very haunting image. It reminded me of the time when Clark tried to reach out to his grandfather and he brought him a book of family photos, saying 'this is what we're really like'. Clark thought he was showing his grandfather the *true* Kents, but actually, it was Clark who was trapped in the golden image of his family, not recognising the painful political truths.
Lackey: lilah-empty-_elektralilahlackey on February 4th, 2006 04:31 pm (UTC)
It's always so nice to read such a thoughtful analysis. It probably makes me think about the episode a lot more than it merits, but it's fun!

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’.

Lionel really is trying to step into Jonathan's shoes in this episode, isn't he? I was really surprised that Clark didn't react to that in any way. He just stood there and accepted it. They looked disturbingly similar as the camera pulled back - similar stances, looking out over the city, hair blowing in the wind. It would be interesting, especially if Lionel and Martha get closer, to see if Clark would be desperate enough to look for a father figure in Lionel.

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.

Although Martha was capable of seeing Jonathan's flaws, and loved him despite them, I don't know that Clark was ever aware of them. Perhaps if he had lived longer, there would have been a chance for Clark's hero-worship to diminish a bit, but now it's just increased. Of course, he could be a much more positive influence now that the flawed reality isn't going around giving sanctimonious advice to everyone, so this could be good. We'll have to see.

Lana and Clark have broken up, yet Lana still has ‘full access’ to Clark

Ah, the oldest question in the book: If you break up with your boyfriend four hours before his father dies, does it take? Seriously, though, this seemed very in character for her and reminded my of why I dislike Lana so much when she's with Clark. I don't think she is capable of growing when she's with him, it's as though she is trapped into the image he had of her at 14. Her continuing friendship with Lex should make her more watchable - I was surprised by how well she pulled off the awkwardness of their meeting in the Talon.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Jor-Elbop_radar on February 5th, 2006 01:57 am (UTC)
Great to hear from you! Thanks for the comments. (And you're a Lilah fan! yay! she was one of my favourite Angel characters)

The shot of Lionel and Clark together was interesting as it seems to have provoked a number of different reactions. latxcvi above mentions Clark's indifference to Lionel, I was overwhelmed by the Jonathan parallels, and you've pointed out the similarity of stances, which I had missed on first viewing. It was a very deliberate shot that perhaps does foreshadow Lionel's plot in the future.

I agree about Clark not seeing Jonathan's flaws, whereas Martha was more aware of them. I must say I am enjoying Jonathan far more in absentia! And perhaps the fact that he did pass away before Clark came to be more clear-eyed about him will serve Clark well.

Yes--I'm enjoying Lana with Lex a lot more than Lana with Clark. I definitely agree that Lana can't grow when she's with Clark. I'm glad they've had their relationship and it was shown to be so fleeting, so limited and so age-appropriate (in terms of naivety and romantic dramatism). I guess I was just so glad it was over, I didn't like her clinging around him still.
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K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: TW grinbop_radar on February 5th, 2006 01:44 am (UTC)
Re: part I
Thanks LaT! I really appreciate the compliment. I guess I'm a symbolism geek. The show just works so well at that level! I always look forward to your comments.

You're right about Clark and Lionel--he really couldn't care right then! That IS kind of great. gnat!Lionel!

Like you I was really relieved to see that Lex has been following Lionel's activities a lot closer than indicated earlier. It's a relief after Lex's apparent hopelessness in eps like Fanatic and so on. The Lionel-Lex power struggles are back on, and that's very exciting! I can't wait for the showdown.

The Jonathan-hagiography was one of the most interesting things about this episode. I found it really convincing, especially since Lana and Lex have also done this with their lost parents. I agree that it's not necessarily a bad thing, especially since in comparison to Lex and Lana, Clark is using Jonathan's iconified memory as a moral compass. norwich36 pointed out that Lex loses his mother's watch (and rejects her as moral compass) and Lana's memory of her parents is simply an image--not a moral compass. In comparison, Clark has something constructive to carry forward. That the image is not the *true* Jonathan no longer matters. It's very interesting because I think this happens in real life a lot, even if people would rather not acknowledge it.
rumpuso on February 4th, 2006 06:38 pm (UTC)
Your reviews always interest me because you give the episode much deserved thought and you are kind enough to share your analysis with us.

Two points I want to mention. 1) In reference to Lana, other than her trying to connect with Clark in the beginning of the episode when she obviously was failing miserably, I thought her role in Vengeance was quite beautiful. (Please see my above comment to mskatej above). I loved that she was the one who had searched to pawn shops to locate the watch. Clark has loved her for his whole life practically and whether or not they made it as a romantic couple doesn't negate the fact that both of these characters have deep feelings of affection for one another. The gift of finding his father's watch at the end spoke volumes of her ability to connect with Clark in a way others have not been able. 2) I found that the writers dropped the ball with Chloe this week. To me, she was shown with a lack of empathy to his plight at the beginning of the episode. She showed more interest in her front page news story, than Clark's grief and upset over his mother's mugging. I suppose though, that is Smallville canon since she and Clark have had this argument in the past. What comes to mind first is her refusal to back off her investigation into Clark's adoption a few seasons ago. Then, she acknowledged it herself in the episode 'Truth' from season 3. I just don't like this part of her personality. At all. Never have. But that's Chloe, I suppose. I also am not comfortable with the importance they are putting on such a secondary character. I understand that Martha was concerned for Clark when she went to see Chloe at the Daily Planet, but I somehow wish that scene had been written in a different location, with Chloe and Martha meeting, but not making it a 'Martha going to Chloe for advice' scene. Martha is worlds smarter than Chloe and doesn't need a kid's advice for anything in my opinion.

I guess if anyone bugged me in this episode, it was how they wrote Chloe. I did adore her mugging scenes with Clark. That was funny. But I'm not buying her as being the 'James Bond' expertise, computer afficianado. She's a kid in her first year of college. Nothing more.
rumpuso on February 4th, 2006 06:44 pm (UTC)
I forgot to add, that she is also Clark's best friend. That serves great importance for Clark because he no longer has Pete to go to with his alien concerns or his real life relationship concerns. But that's where it should end.
(no subject) - bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 02:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
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Re: part II - bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 02:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
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Re: part II - bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 05:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
blowjobs for jesus: sad clarkkristiinthedark on February 4th, 2006 07:54 pm (UTC)
I'm still so amazed with how you make me think deeper about SV.

I really appreciated the way the grief of Martha and Clark was handled. First with the watch and second with the video. There was so much symbolism in both of those things for me. I saw the way Clark reacted to watch as denial, and to the video as acceptance. Not total acceptance, but a step in that direction. And while I found the funeral last week to be beautiful, it didn't touch me near as much as the video.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clex lovebop_radar on February 5th, 2006 02:30 am (UTC)
Yay comment! *hugs* Yes, I agree that Clark shifted from complete denial to some level of acceptance. And the video was really moving. I got teary-eyed again despite myself. And that's perhaps appropriate as funerals themselves are often so formal and so much about the people left behind that they can be less emotionally cathartic than, say, sorting through the lost person's things. Not always, of course, but in SV they did seem to contrast the cold formality of the funeral with the warmth and intimacy in this episode.
valentinesecret: From Your Secret Valentinevalentinesecret on February 4th, 2006 08:11 pm (UTC)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clex strollingbop_radar on February 5th, 2006 02:32 am (UTC)
Why thank you! *blush* That is a very cute icon and a lovely surprise. How intriguing!
Cris: Clark - cryduskwillow on February 5th, 2006 03:30 am (UTC)
I just read your review. Enjoyed it. A lot.
Then I read all the discussion in the comments. Wow. Amazing how everyone can have similar but still different views of the episode.
I'm late to the party, even later than you ;) , so yeah, everything I feel has already been said, so I'm just commenting to let you know how much I love your recaps. :)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Yay!bop_radar on February 5th, 2006 05:23 am (UTC)
Yay! Thank you. *g* You're always welcome, no matter how late. I love hearing different people's povs. We all have subtly different responses.