in the heat and apparently neither does my ISP, since it was down for most of today. The good news though is the Bob Bob is eating the stew I made him and had his first walk in the park today (he likes other small dogs but takes great offence at skateboarders).
Anyway, it's taken me a while to untangle my feelings about this latest Smallville episode.
Michael plays director
First things first, I think Michael did a great job of directing. I enjoyed seeing his innovations with the camera work, though he definitely strayed from the fixed-camera Smallville standard. Where I really think he excelled was in coaxing great performances from his co-stars, particularly Allison Mack, who has been seriously underwhelming me this season. The scene in which Clark removed the chip from her was incredibly tense and she completely sold me on it--it's some of the best acting I've seen from her ever. And Michael is evidently very good at directing himself. ;-) In the few scenes he was in, his A-game was definitely on, and his delivery was gorgeous. Bet he was loving being unencumbered by external direction since he's clearly got a very clear idea about how he wants to deliver Lex's lines!
I particularly loved Lex's outburst at Dr Bethany when he came to tell him that his laptop had been 'misplaced'. It's always fun seeing Lex take refuge in humour and deadpan delivery: 'sounds like a real blunder, doctor'. But when the real threat to Luthorcorp was made apparent, Lex shifted just as easily into true indignation with the chilly 'I don't tolerate loose ends, doctor'. The threat to Tobias felt really chilling, though I have no idea what Lex intended. I was really hoping we'd get to see those two interact as I wanted to know if Lex appeared as a meteorfreak to Tobias. Alas that was too much to hope for! In fact, his threat prompted Dr Bethany to kill Tobias--and I'm foggy on whether that's what he intended or not. (Luckily Dr Bethany doesn't know the first rule of fighting blind people--stay quiet, dickhead!)
Despite the lack of clarity on that point, I was pleased overall at learning more about what stage Lex is at vis a vis his meteor rock research. It would make sense if he is indeed building an army that he would be searching for meteor freaks, but this episode also dealt with the question of what he does with the ones who are not deemed 'useful'. It is convincing that he would 'dispose' of them: both because he despises them and because he wants complete and absolute control (he certainly wouldn't want to leave the possibility of them aiding Clark). We also Lex using a man whose wife was murdered by meteor freaks--the doctor is clear-sighted about Lex's true motives but he's still manipulated by him. This is what Lex is starting to excel at: manipulating people despite themselves by preying on their own deepest and darkest fears/urges.
Tobias and truth-seeing
I thought Tobias was a very interesting creation. As someone that can identify meteor freaks, he is an incredibly powerful force within Smallville. In this episode he revealed the truth to three characters with very significant consequences:
- he tells Clark that Chloe is meteor-infected
- he tells Lana that Clark is NOT meteor-infected, and
- he tells Clark that Lana thought he was meteor-infected.
Should we suspect Tobias? It is possible that he could lie, because it's hard to prove the 'truth' of what he sees. However, his statements were played as genuine and sincere. It seems unlikely that he was lying. Tobias also pronounces Clark 'the most normal guy I ever met'. If we take Tobias's word, he appears 'ultra-normal'. At some level that makes sense, because Kryptonite only ever has a temporary hold on him--would he look different at those times? I assume so.
Lana's growing obsession with the 'mystery of Clark Kent' continues. It's worth reflecting that for for so long Lana remained at surface level infatuation with Clark, a level which Lex blasted through very swiftly. She's finally following in Lex's footsteps in transferring the focus of her obsession (and love) onto the mystery beneath the surface. She's now in the stage where she firmly believes that Clark is 'special'--she's convinced herself that he's a meteor freak, but one who uses his powers benevolently. And, like Lex before her, she's willing to protect him by using the resources at her disposal both generously and manipulatively. She offers Tobias a cornea transplant with no strings attached if he'll cover for Clark.
As with Lex before her, just when Lana thinks she's stumbled on definitive proof of Clark's secret, a counterargument is produced: Tobias tells her that Clark's normal. This has echoes of Lex seeing Clark get injured just when he was sure he'd proven his invulnerability. The bullet was another echo of revelations past--very similar to the bullets that Lionel may or may not have seen Clark shoot into his own hand.
Lana was very Lexian in her approach to Clark, confronting him with the evidence of the mystery (the bullet, in this case) and waiting to see how he would lie to her. And of course he does--far more confidently than he used to lie to Lex. The practice has paid off!
Lana's 'you'd still be the same Clark Kent' line was confronting to Clark because he'd always feared that she would hate him as a freak. But he's forgetting the real reason he broke up with her--that his secret endangers her. From Lana's perspective this line is still naive--mainly beccause she's still missing the mark. She doesn't know that he's not a meteor freak, but an alien. Though it's just as likely that she'll change her view on aliens to fit Clark into the picture. However, it remains to be seen whether she can keep either secret successfully--the 'fake' truth she thinks she's uncovered or the real truth--Reckoning showed that she couldn't hide the truth from Lex, and she's even closer to him than ever.
Lana notices that Lex's interest in what happened to Chloe is peculiar. And I think it's that that first triggers Lana's suspicion about the abduction. When Chloe then appears a little cagey about discussing the abduction, she suggests that Chloe thinks Lex had something to do with it. There's a little bit of transference there, I think, since Lana herself is suspicious. Lana knows that Lex is lying to her.
There was some clumsy writing in this episode--the worst instance being having Lana espouse a benevolent view of meteor freaks before it was made clear to the audience that she'd changed her tune only because she suspects Clark of being one now. While that was certainly something I'd been wondering if we'd see happen, there wasn't a clear enough causal link made on the show. And that scene was clumsy for another reason--it thrust Chloe into the role of being wholly critical of them, which worked well for the dramatic revelation later but temporarily made both characters seem a little ooc: a case of the writers forcing words into the characters mouths for the sake of the plot.
Lana uses just the same upfront approach with Lex as she does with Clark--she tells him straight out that she saw him meet with the doctor, and then she watches as he lies with confidence. She's ricocheting between one liar and another. She cuts through his rambling and requests the truth. In response he swears on the soul of his unborn child. *chokes laughing* Um, hasn't she clued that it doesn't HAVE a soul yet?! Or that it's not Lex's?! Either way, that oath is worth nix. In any case, Lana's expression in the embrace that follows is one of resignation and sorrow. It's almost as if she's accepted that the world she lives in is entirely made up of lies. And if neither Clark NOR Lex will give her an honest relationship, what is she to do but make the best of what she's got?
Lana has chosen to protect Clark from her fiance. She does not attempt to persuade Lex of Clark's 'goodness', for she knows that's not a path to success. Duplicity is a necessity in protecting Clark. But will it be enough to keep safe not just the secret but Lana herself?
The problem of Chloe
And now I've come to the part of the episode I had most conflicted feelings about. Within the course of this episode I enjoyed the plotting that led to revealing Chloe as a meteor freak. But I worry about the consequences from here and I find myself deeply troubled by how this affects overall Smallville canon. I was unspoiled for this twist and remain unspoiled as to how it will pan out. I hope my fears prove unfounded, but currently I'm struggling to envisage a resolution that I would find personally find satisfying, though I'm sure mny fans will enjoy it.
The term 'meteor-infected' was used a lot this episode--the term 'freak' was avoided. But implicit in its use as the title of the episode was the knowledge that identifying someone as being affected by meteor rocks is a condemnation, a heavy stigma, one even heavier than the 'mental illness' stigma that Chloe has feared as her destiny before now. Now she's facing a darker destiny than ever.
Clark responds to Tobias's revelations with his standard denial. Eariler in this episode, we'd seen that he's using denial to avoid the complicated emotions surrounding Lana's marriage to Lex--and he successfully changes the subject when Chloe brings it up. Clark wants to use denial and distraction in response to finding out that Chloe's a meteor freak as well, saying 'I'm just glad you're back' and telling her about the computer he swiped. His anxiety manifests in non-verbal behaviour, with him staring at her while she attempts to hack the computer. Chloe reads Clark too well though and recognises this behaviour pattern. She tries to address the truth head-on, asking 'I'm some sort of meteor freak, aren't I?' It's often Clark that jumps to conclusions and Chloe that puts the breaks on, but this time it's Clark saying 'we don't know that' because it's a possibility too chilling for him to face.
Chloe points out: 'Every single meteor freak I've ever run into has ended up dead or in Belle Reve'. Or on Level 33.1, we might add. supacat reminded me there's at least one meteor freak on the run--the mindwiping guy from Season 4--but we struggled to think of any others. Clark is not able to offer much comfort to Chloe. If he's her personal bomb squad, then the possibility is thrown out that he may have to 'defuse' her by killing her one day.
The scene where Clark uses his heat vision to remove the tracking device in Chloe was very powerful. But it was also uncomfortably masochistic on Chloe's part. I couldn't help feeling that this might be foreshadowing her story arc. It's also a masochism that is kept hidden from Jimmy--she denied that it hurt just as she denied she had feelings for Clark--because it doesn't matter, and also to stop him worrying. And if this is the case, if Chloe's story is going to be one of self-sacrificing martyrdom and voluntary 'death' (symbolic or real) at Clark's hands, then this casts an uncomfortably dark shadow over Chloe's entire life. I sincerely hope this is not the way the show is going, because I genuinely enjoyed the early Clark-Chloe relationship in the days of her high school crush. While I don't ship them now, I don't want the innocence of that early relationship to be overshadowed by a romanticised eternal masochism. In terms of gender politics, this is as repugnant to me as the ultra-objectification of Lana.
So what are the other possibilities? The one I really really thought they were going for was to reveal that Chloe's power is computer hacking. COME ON! It's so FRIKKING OBVIOUS!! It is NOT normal for high school girls to hack defence networks, dammit! Even in this episode Jimmy says 'Chloe's the one with the mad techno skills' and Clark refers to 'pulling off a miracle'. I so thought they were going there. So I found the final scene between Clark and Chloe baffling in its blindness to the obvious. Is the show really going to ignore the opportunity to retrospectively make sense of Chloe's 'superpowers'? Arrgh! If they HAD gone down that path, I could have got behind it--especially if we'd seen it cause some introspection on Chloe's part. For example, Clark could have argued that it was a benevolent power, but Chloe may have been forced to think about the ways in which her behaviour may actually be a violation of others--and how she justifies what she does--a moral journey which would also be useful for Clark, who felt it was fine to swipe a suspect's computer in this ep. (Though I enjoyed seeing his creative use of powers and quick-thinking, I do think that's pretty muddy water for Clark--far more in character for, say, Oliver...)
So I don't want to see Chloe martyred, I don't want her to kill herself, go mad or be killed by Clark. But I also really don't want her to become a superhero. This would seriously mess with Smallville canon. It's way too late for the show to prompt a rethink on the status of meteor freaks--if they can be redeamed or 'saved' then this makes their past deaths/mistreatment appalling in the extreme. And if some magical 'remedy' is discovered, I will be seriously PISSED that the only prompt to find one was when Clark's best friend became one.
There's another reason I really don't like the Chloe-as-superpowered idea. Her appeal as a character has always lain in how ordinary she is. And that is not an insult! She is one of the first characters that many viewers of the show identify with, especially the female viewers. She's 'cool' but she's realistic enough for people to relate to. She has love troubles, she doesn't have a perfect life, she has ambitions but struggles to realise them--she's always been a great viewer avatar. Give her superpowers and she's something else. It also changes her dynamic with Clark. It equalises them in a way that I think is unneccessary and unproductive for the show. Chloe as trusted secret-keeper is less 'special' if she's also got a secret to keep. The relationship becomes more like the one that Clark has with Oliver. It doesn't add anything new to the show--and it also means that the only 'normal' humans on the show are the love interests: Lana, Lois, Jimmy. I dislike that because I've always liked the 'best friend' Chlark relationship.
Can you tell I'm struggling with this?! ;-) I'll be really keen to read other people's thoughts because I'm sure they'll have different views. I wish I could find a silver lining on this one.
- The scene of Chloe's abduction was genuinely creepy--and very like a cliched alien abduction. If that was intentional, it's interesting that it's not the REAL alien who's abducting those on Earth and experimenting on them, but a fellow human (and potential meteor-freak).
- It's handy that Clark has a back-up billionaire pal now--everyone needs one of those to help your friends out of trouble. But nice to know that he and Ollie are still in touch! ;-)
- It was fun to see Clark employing a creative use of powers to swipe Dr Bethany's computer, but this is somewhat murky territory for Clark--it was quite Oliver-like, I thought, to justify stealing someone's computer simply because you suspect them of a nefarious purpose.
- I wish I could believe that Lana had an alternative to hanging with Chloe for her Bachelorette Party. It was cute seeing the girls having fun together, but it also felt a bit sad--Lana's life is a very lonely one. This makes me doubly glad that she's nurturing her friendship with Chloe.