K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick! (bop_radar) wrote,
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!
bop_radar

Smallville: Seven Basic Plots (Part III)

Previous Parts here
The little baby essay of the seven!

3. The quest
This will probably be the shortest of the seven essays, because it is the least relevant plot to Smallville. Initially I thought it had no relevance at all. However, I think it is worth exploring for completionism's sake, because Smallville uses aspects of the Quest plot at different times.

The plot of the Quest centres on 'the pull of the hero towards some distant, all-important goal.'. Usually the Quest involves a literal journey. The story may begin in what Booker calls a 'City of Destruction' where life becomes untenable for the hero (and his companions) and the hero receives their Call. In the greater scheme of Clark Kent's life, Krypton could be seen as a City of Destruction. From there he is thrust on his journey to Earth and finally to his destiny as Superman there. But when this plot begins, Clark Kent is an infant. He has no personal choice in the path he is sent on. This is one of the ideas that Smallville explores: inescapable destiny.

The five stages in the Quest plot are:
1. The Call
2. The Journey
3. Arrival and Frustration
4. The Final Ordeals
5. The Goal

3.1 The incomplete Quest
The Season 4 plot arc was one instance where Smallville toyed with the Quest plot. Several characters undertake the Quest to find the stones, but for different reasons. Their Calls occur at different times and they are rivals rather than companions to one another. The Quest is perhaps of most emotional significance to Lex, for whom it represents the drive for knowledge and power. He travels to Eqypt and to China in search of his goal and encounters many obstacles. His 'ordeals' include imprisonment and torture. But unlike the typical hero of a Quest plot, he overcomes these not through a show of virtue and worthiness, but by duplicity and collaboration with 'dark' figures such as Lionel (in his escape from the Teagues). He is ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining his goal. It is Clark who obtains the stones which form the crystal that will create his Fortress of Solitude. Lex has been on a 'false' Quest: the Kingdom at the end of the quest is not destined to be his. This sets up an embittered Lex for Season 5, who is determined to forge his own 'Kingdom' in the corporate and political world.

3.2 Darkness within
One of the differences between the Quest and the earlier plots is that it is not uncommon in the Quest plot to see the hero and his companions display weakness and make mistakes. In the Rags to Riches and Overcoming the Monster plot, the dark forces stand between the hero and his goal. In the Quest plot, the dark forces may lie within and the hero must overcome an internal battle. In Smallville, this idea is set up in the Pilot, where Lana remarks that 'everyone has a dark side'. The idea that Clark battles a 'dark' self is sometimes shown literally (in RedK!Clark and in the double-headed figure in Arrival) and sometimes referred to more obliquely. For Lex, we see his literal dark half in Onyx and are aware of the 'darkness' that shadows him.

ETA: We learn of Lex's 'dark' half early on, when Ryan tells Clark that he has a lot of darkness inside 'that he keeps from the world'. Clark appears to heed this warning in being wary of Lex, although Ryan himself later reaches out to Lex and tells him to remember that the path to darkness is a journey not a lightswitch.

The Quest represents a journey to maturity, wholeness and self-realisation for the hero. In this, we can recognise both Clark and Lex in their journey to maturity. Here Smallville presents us with a paradox: it is Lex who is most self-aware to begin with, but he falls into darkness, whereas Clark rises from naïve immaturity into light.

3.3 Summing up
Smallville's structure, with the importance of a grounded geographical location, does not lend itself to the literal verion of the Quest plot, but it does contain some figurative Quests. In particular, it centres on the journey towards self-realisation for two figures: Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.

Next: the interesting stuff! ;-)
Tags: 7 plots, smallville_meta
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