This wasn’t necessarily the episode I was expecting this week, but I was pleased to see the exploration of Chloe’s heritage. Parents play a heavily determinative role in the Smallville universe and we have, until now, known relatively little of Chloe’s mother.
In the past, Chloe’s own evasiveness or emotional outbursts about her mother have gone unnoticed by Clark. For example, in Lineage when her prying into his own (adoption) history resulted in someone claiming to be Clark’s mother, he angrily demanded ‘why don’t you find your own mother?’ She replied ‘I know where she is, Clark. The difference is she doesn’t want to see me.’ This may have been what Chloe told herself to live with the difficult knowledge of a mother that was emotionally and physically unavailable to her due to mental illness. That arc came to a beautiful close, when Clark suggested at the end of this episode that Chloe go and find her mother. It is one of the first times we’ve been able to see Clark reciprocate the ‘best friendship’ role of advice-giver. He was able to use his own experience with grief to add resonance to his argument, but he also had to confront complex emotions himself, since his own fears about mental illness run deep (see below). I think it’s a shift that should be noted, as it shows a growing maturity on his part.
One of Clark’s deepest fears about mental illness, and specifically the way it is treated, is the exposure of secrets. When he breaks Chloe out of hospital, he tells Lois that he doesn’t want ‘Lex and those doctors getting inside her head’. He has a real stake in this, since his own secret could be revealed in the process of therapy. Belle Reve is one of the most threatening places for Clark, since he saw his own secret exposed there by/in Lex. The Lex he visited in Belle Reve had had all the many layers of his psyche stripped back to one pure fact: the wonder of Clark’s identity, which had been revealed to him. That memory, and Lex’s complete inability to hide the knowledge under those circumstances*, would leave Clark very frightened about seeing someone else with that knowledge transferred to the same institute.
Furthermore, Clark knows the abuses that occur there and has had direct experience of experimentation himself. He fears medical facilities, but most of all those associated with mental illness, and his reasons for fearing them run deep: right back to Ryan and the experiments conducted on him at Summerholt. While I don’t think he feared experimentation directly in Chloe’s case, I do think that he really believed that he was acting in Chloe’s best interests, protecting her, in removing her from the hospital.
The irrationality of this action was exposed by Lana, Lex and Lois, who all argued for the intervention of medical staff. That Lana turned to Lex when she found Chloe in an apparently irrational state is no surprise. She knows that Lex confronted a serious mental crisis himself and came out with dignity and his self-identity apparently intact. She does not have Clark’s knowledge about the nature of that (induced) mental break or what its treatment involved. Lex responded in his usual manner, with offers of specialists. Lois too suggested that Chloe’s experience be taken at face value. In some ways, they were all proved right: Clark was unable to control Chloe or protect her from what she was experiencing, and it endangered others.
*ETA: I did not mean to imply here that Lex betrayed Clark in Belle Reve, either deliberately or unwillingly. Rather, I meant that Clark's visit to Lex there was confronting because Lex was so intensely emotional with him and obviously vulnerable. Clark has a vivid memory of seeing someone he cared about reduced to a state of victimhood there, and it is connected in his mind to Lex learning his secret. I'm suggesting that's left a strong impression on his subconscious. Certainly in both Lex's case and Chloe's case, Clark's primary motivation was to protect his friend. But the added fear of secret-exposure is mixed in there as well. The secret was so near the surface, Lex could not hide his rapture... that's threatening to Clark, and I think it conflated in his mind with the fear of being exposed by the meteor freaks there as well. Belle Reve is a dangerous place for Clark.
Image versus Truth
However, Clark knows that there can be more to mental illness than the surface appearance. In an act of faith in his friend, despite his own disbelief, he scans the wall where Chloe claims there is a girl, and he finds her dead body. (Poor Lois, btw! You leave the room for one moment and suddenly your bathroom wall is destroyed and there’s a mouldy body falling out of it!) Chloe’s experience is proved to be real and valid. A subtle recurring theme when mental illness is explored or encountered in the Smallville universe is that of the validity of the experience of the sufferer. In the past we’ve seen Lex suffer visions that are suspect in origin, but which prove to have a powerful role on his psyche. In this episode, Chloe’s visions prove to be true despite the surface appearance of insanity. The image versus the truth again.
Truths lie ‘beneath the surface’ in the Smallville universe. Everyone carries their own truths/secrets, and this week’s freak centred on accessing those in an abusive way. He is the very archetype that Clark fears most. Clark, as we know, fears penetration of his ‘self’, both physical and psychological. This week it was Chloe and Lois who were threatened with forced ‘penetration’ of their secrets. Michael said that he ‘got under all his girl’s skins’, he accesses their inner secrets and they are left entirely vulnerable to him. Their very lives are threatened.
It was particularly interesting to see this explored through blood, which is often used as a metaphor on Smallville. This week, Lois was told to slit her wrists and thereby ‘release all your secrets’. So secrets are carried in one’s blood? Yes, that holds true in the Smallville universe, where one’s ancestry marks one with deep secrets. It also harks back to the arc surrounding the vial of Clark’s blood and its symbol as ultimate act of penetrative knowledge. If you have someone’s blood, you have their self. In this case, the penetrative knife was turned on the attacker himself and it was Gretchen, who knew all his secrets, who was able to turn his own tactics against him (although in a strangely abstract special-effects-y way!).
Fears in balance
All of this brings us back to Clark and how he handled the issue of mental illness in Chloe’s family.
Lana comes to see Clark at the end of the episode and tells him she wishes they had come together as a couple to handle the situation. This wish indicates the degree to which Lana is still clinging to an unrealistic image of them as a couple. In reality, their perspectives are so entirely different that they wouldn’t have acted together without arguing. As the holder of privileged secret information, Clark’s reasons for breaking Chloe out of the hospital could not be shared with Lana. And as one excluded from that circle of knowledge, Lana is inevitably thrust into the same outer ring as Lex. Without Clark’s knowledge they can only act on a practical, superficial level: Chloe appears mentally ill so she requires medical help, which in this case was not the truth. Once again, Clark’s secret-keeping creates a divide between Lana and Clark that will always keep them apart.
So Lana and Clark were not able to integrate their approaches. However, Clark himself is able to handle the subtleties of the situation. Chloe tells him that there were moments when she really thought she was losing her mind. Clark does not respond with fear to this statement. Indeed throughout the whole episode, he remains remarkably calm, given that Chloe is running around irrational and could possibly expose him to the world. Instead, Clark asks Chloe about her mother. I found this really moving, as no one has stopped to really ask Chloe about it. No one has prompted her to investigate her own self (she is so busy investigating others).
Chloe confronts her fear that she’ll look her mother in the face and see something of herself there. It’s a deep-seated fear that sits within the Smallville theme of fearing to become one’s own parent. However, the act of facing the reality of one’s heritage and identity is part of becoming an adult, and so we see Chloe prompted to greater self-awareness and understanding. In embracing her mother and accepting her, Chloe is accepting that part of herself as well.
The staging of the final scene in the mental care facility was fascinating. It was brightly sunlit, open, friendly and full of calm and serene patients painting beautiful pictures of flowers. It could not have been more different from Belle Reve! How fascinating… the fear was greater than the reality. It suggested subtly that perceptions are in the eye of the beholder. When Clark visited Belle Reve, out of desperate fear, he was confronted with his darkest fears (revelation of his secret and being accountable for the devastation of the lives of the meteor freaks). When Chloe visited her mother in the institute out of love, she saw a beautiful tranquil reality.
It suggests again the difficult nature of determining truth where mental illness is concerned. In this area more than any other, what one sees and what the truth beneath the surface is can be very different. It seems that Clark has learnt this and is able to keep his own fears in balance, in perspective, when his friends are concerned. That’s a fascinating breakthrough in Clark, away from black and white thinking.
Yay for Martha as senator and for Clark supporting that! Wheee!! I could not be happier about that plot. I also really enjoyed Martha telling Lionel to go to the front door or, better still, phone first before popping round. In the Smallville world, where access to one’s personal space means access to self (also shown in Michael invading Lois’s space at the Talon this week), putting up these sort of boundaries indicates that Martha doesn’t want Lionel to have access to her, despite the apparently benevolent interest he’s taking in her. Go Martha! You’ve got the smarts. *g*