Wow! Well, SDK's already redeemed himself somewhat in my eyes on the 'Thirst' commentary (which I'm yet to write about), but this ep would have gone a long way towards redeeming him regardless. Undeniably fucking brilliant.
At the start of Season 5 TPTB said they'd give us 'everything you've wanted to see'. I didn't really get that in Season 5--but I reckon they came pretty damn close in 'Zod'. I couldn't be happier about this season premiere and the dynamics it seems to be setting up. It was so damn good it's really hard to know where to start, and from a meta perspective so much was textual in this episode that there is little to deconstruct. But here goes...
I honestly never expected to see inside the Phantom Zone, but I loved that the writers took us there on the journey with Clark. And how brilliant is Jor-El?! He not only created the Phantom Zone, he also built in a safeguard in case
One thing I was mildly uncomfortable with was Clark's willingness to let Raya die for him. I thought he could have at least fought to bring her with him out of the Zone a little more. I can understand his obsession to return home and save his world, but I felt that he deliberately kept his distance from Raya partly because her affection for his father was so uncomfortable for him. Regardless, it was interesting to see Clark make a decision to save the world rather than an individual in front of him. He will have to live with her self-sacrifice, and the fact that that self-sacrifice was largely motivated by her love for his father will, I hope, haunt and influence him.
SO MUCH LOVE FOR ZOD!! He was steaming hot and spine-tinglingly chilling. I loved the way he reduced Lana to 'breeder' in his mind, and his indifference in the face of her 'escape' was delightful. The hand-spearing with enormous phallic object was almost too major to take--I had to pause for recovery there! ;-) And I absolutely completely loved and adored seeing him fly and holding Clark in that mid-sky embrace/body-lock was incredible. O.O Just when I thought it couldn't get any hotter, we got 'Kneel!' Wow. Seriously my favourite thing on Smallville ever! Of course, Clark kneeled. (Although again, I had to pause to gasp for breath!) I had a moment of bafflement when Clark took his hand and they appeared to be holding hands for just a leeetle too long--but then of course it was a fake out!
Squee factor aside, I thought Zod was an awesome enemy for Clark to face at this juncture. The fact that he had to feign capitulation in order to defeat him was brilliant on a number of levels. This episode showed many characters proving their determination, and Clark showed his by his willingness not to alpha it out with Zod, not to make the fight physical, but to sacrifice his own pride and get close enough to hurt Zod effectively.
Of course the other character who showed equivalent determination was Lana. I loved that she was willing to kill Zod even if it meant killing Lex. She proved her strength in ripping the bar out of her hand and in her courage to return and face Zod with the dagger. Lana was right that she could get closer to Zod than Martha, but she couldn't get as close to him as Clark. It was Clark who, as Jor-El's son, was Zod's real weakness. While Lana was sexually intimate with him, Zod never let his guard down for a moment (how great was the 'do not toy with things you do not understand' line?!). Whereas, Zod did let his guard down in the pleasure he took in seeing Clark capitulate to him. It couldn't have played out better.
I also loved Martha's heroics, though I'm very glad that it didn't come down to her facing killing Lex, as I feel that would have pushed things too far. The scene between her and Jor-El brought tears to my eyes, particularly in Jor-El's thank you to her. It seems as if Jor-El always respected (and loved?) Martha, but saw Johnathan as a more problematic influence over Clark--and I have to agree with him there. While the AI's emotionlessness can be difficult to deal with (he appears callous and inflexible), this episode also demonstrated a way in which it is a strength--he doesn't hold a grudge against Martha for the vitriol she spits at him in her fury (beautifully and passionately acted by Annette), and he narrates the tragedy of Clark's actions calmly. This gave them a tragic weight for me that would have been lessened by an emotional outburst from Jor-El. I particularly loved his calm explanation that 'my son chose instead to use the dagger on the Brain InterActive Construct.'
My Martha/Lois love was also well served in this episode--I can forgive Lois having nothing to do all ep in order to see Martha save her. *squishes my cuties* Plus, I adored Lois's 'I've died and gone to heaven' interpretation of the Fortress. What to Clark and the Kents is the coldest most hostile/alien place on Earth seemed to her like a warm and nurturing place. I love the irony and beauty in that. I also loved the way the dying Fortress was lit in red and black, rather than its usual steely blue. (Aside: the aesthetics of this ep once again showed what a strength this is of Smallville's--I loved the greyness of the Phantom Zone, and the way Clark's colours almost immediately became more muted there, as if he was fading into a wraith himself.)
The world that Clark returns to is one of permanently changed dynamics--and it's one in which he is more isolated than ever, pushing him forward into his future self. Some of these changes were developing last season, but it's only on Clark's return that they seem really irrevocable.
For starters, there's the uneasy and sexually tense alliance between Martha and Lionel. When Clark lifted up the fallen debris to rescue them, huddled together, I felt that a distance had been created between mother and son. Their mutual silence around the subject of Lionel is interesting--Martha is willing Clark to deal with it, and Clark is obviously uncomfortable but won't talk about it (yet, at least).
Clark himself lists the ways that 'everything's changing'. First he says that 'Dad's gone', then that 'I can't talk to Lex'. That this is still the second thing he thinks of is very telling. Though it's been a long time when he had any actually meaningful dialogue with Lex, there's still regret there, for Clark must remember the argument they had just before Zod took over Lex's body, far more bitter and adversarial on Lex's side than ever before. And once upon a time, Lex was his second most significant confidant after his family.
Clark's third observation is that he's lost Lana. He says 'I don't know where to go from here', a statement which resonates at several levels. While he's talking about life direction on one level, he's also talking about intimacy and companionship--the lack of someone with whom he can be truly himself. So it was unsurprising to see him approach Chloe about the possibility of intimacy with her. I am ever so glad, though, that Jimmy was positioned between them. I don't want to see Clark with Chloe if it's just as rebound, and honestly, I think it is. He's never loved her romantically for her own sake, and she deserves better than that. It's been a long long time coming, but I'm glad it was Chloe who shutdown the possibility of romance between them--an echo of the Season 2 premiere after Clark abandoned her at the formal. Clark has a bad habit of only becoming attracted to people once they show an attraction to him.
Besides, how cute was Jimmy?! 'Acutally, it's James!' (Whoever wrote that line deserves a medal--SDK?) Clark's expression when he called him CK was also priceless. And I thought the sparks between Jimmy and Chloe were brilliant--they already seem to have real chemistry. If this means that Chloe will have more to do this season than just be Clark's prop, then I am delighted--I think she and Jimmy would make an adorable couple!
It was also interesting (read: exciting for me!) to see Clark more affectionate with Lois. The hand-holding was very cute, as was Lois's weirded-out look. They're adorable! I'm glad that Clark just smiled when she withdrew her hand, rather than pouted. He's really grown up. But despite my desire for Clois-ness, I think this scene also demonstrates the degree to which Clark finds himself alone and desperate for that missing intimacy on his return. (Another reason why I would have been unhappy if he'd hooked up with Chloe--since he seems to be reaching out for anyone right now--even Lois!)
In contrast to Clark's lonely search, there was the Lex/Lana reunion post-Zod, which was marked by its absolute honesty. I loved that Lana said she would have killed Zod, and that Lex had no hesitation in admitting he would do the same. Lana was also honest about how emotionally challenging it was for her to see him now, though she knew he wasn't himself. She's faced this situation with Clark before now, so the contrast between Clark's old behaviour, and Lex's mature determination to face the future and do what he can now to make up for the past was great to watch. Lana's path is so so dark--she's a different person after all she's gone through in Seasons 4 and 5 (and in this episode!). And at the moment it seems as if Lex and Lana could lend each other real support, of the sort that Clark currently lacks.
Finally, I am left wondering what it means that the Fortress is 'dead'. Is Jor-El really gone? Lionel clearly remembers more than he's telling, and it seems that he may be returning to his evilly ways. Or not? And are we to assume that Zod too is dead for good? Ok, but surely the Fortress is needed for Clark in the future... *confused* Ah, Smallville, even when you rock, you still leave us with puzzles!