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08 October 2005 @ 12:50 pm
Thoughts on Smallville 5.02: Mortal  
Yay! Another week, another Smallville episode!

What does mortality mean to Clark?
It means being normal: at the most basic level, normal in the physical sense. In ‘Mortal’ we see Clark experience human-level pain and discomfort for the first time. This is very cutely done, with him knocking his thumb with a hammer and complaining to Chloe when they go scoobying together. It’s all very joky and sweet: Chloe’s ‘I didn’t know one of your powers was super-whining’ line delighted me. But Clark hasn’t faced an instance of real human suffering yet. At the moment he is still taking pleasure in being able to hold Green K in his hand and at minor scratches and bruises (especially when inflicted by friend-enemy Lex!). His naivety seems to foreshadow a time when he will have to realise that it’s all a lot harder than this.

Mortality means not lying: he honestly believes that his ‘Kal-el’ identity does not exist, so he doesn’t think there is a lie. Lana offers him an opportunity to open up about the ‘past’ lies: she tells him she has her own secrets and implies she is willing to share them with them. This act of intimacy and trust is rare for Clark. Usually the person demanding the secret (Lex) does not offer an equivalent confidence. Or if he does, it is thrown down as a challenge. But Clark dismisses this, just as he failed to realise in his early relationship with Lex that Lex was sharing the most personal parts of his soul with him. Tragically, Clark misses one of the most important parts of a real human relationship: intimacy.

Mortality means being able to consummate a relationship. This is just my own personal theory here, but I believe Clark’s Kal-el identity greatly complicates his sexuality. I think this is hinted at within the show. Are we even sure Kal-El/Superman *can* have sex in a normal way? His heat vision is linked to sexual arousal. Are other powers? He has to repress his sexual attraction normally in order not to set everything on fire. So at the very least he is freer to express himself as a human. I think it’s very telling that Clark will lose his virginity while mortal. I think things are a lot more complicated for him when he has the two identities, especially in their early undifferentiated forms. (On a simpler level, I think Clark would be uncomfortable about the consummation if he thought it involved lying to Lana: we know it actually still *does* but I don’t think he sees it this way.)

It means he can be ‘normal and special at the same time’. When Alicia died, we saw Clark cry for the first time. The loss was a deep one for him and he explained to his parents that she had made him feel ‘normal and special at the same time’: his most longed-for attributes. Clark has been constantly torn between wanting to be acknowledged as special and wanting to blend in as a normal teenager. His mortality fulfils the normalcy objective and in the episode ‘Mortal’ he gets to be special in other people’s eyes as well. He is the hero and saves the day and he takes enormous pride in being able to do this as ‘just an ordinary guy’. In the eyes of his parents, the sheriff, Lana and even Chloe, he is still a hero. Chloe reflects exactly how Clark most wants to be seen when she admires him for doing it ‘without superpowers’. I think this approval from Chloe is even more meaningful to him than Lana’s admiration. Lana offers another path to ‘specialness’ in the elation of first-romance and the way she reflects Clark back to himself as a desired object.

It means having the moral high ground. In ‘Mortal’, Clark learns that Lex has set up a trap for him. Lex has crossed a line for which Clark can’t forgive him. Clark’s mortality allows him to confront Lex physically about this and ‘win’. In ‘Leech’ Clark asked Lex to hit him with a hammer and Lex refused. This time, it is easier for Clark to inflame Lex into hitting him. Clark’s intentions are quite clear from the moment he enters the room. He moves quickly to Lex and without waiting for an explanation punches him to the floor. Lex responds with relative calm, attempting to reason with Clark. But to Clark nothing he says matters. He has an opportunity to demonstrate to Lex just how wrong he is to investigate him. He invites Lex to hit him and Lex does, just once. Clark’s ‘satisfied now?’ look with the blood on his lip expressed all the indignation, outrage and victim-complex that he has carried around for years in relation to Lex’s investigation of his superpowers.

The darkest side of what mortality means for Clark is that he gets it wrong in so many instances. It’s not easy to experience human pain. Intimacy is only gained through revealing yourself fully. The fact that he is human now does not mean that he has always had the moral high ground with Lex. It’s hard to balance ‘specialness’ with normalcy in human life and both are illustions that can be lost as easily as they are gained. And I don’t think sexual consummation with Lana is going to be a bed of roses, even though it might at first seem to him like the ultimate prize. It’s going to be an interesting journey for Clark: he’s got a lot of learning to do.

Lex and Chloe
I’m sorry to relegate these two to a shorter analysis this week, but there was so much going on with Clark. However I loved the development of both characters within the episode ‘Mortal’.

Lex confronted Chloe in the caves about the secrets she is keeping from him. He accuses her of avoiding him. This scene had echoes of the old confrontations between Clark and Lex. The caves are now a contested site not only for Clark and Lex, but also for Lex and Chloe. What happened there is a matter that Lex feels a right to know: it happened to him, just like the car accident. But, like Clark, Chloe has her own reasons to deny Lex knowledge. In her case they are founded in friendship and loyalty, two of her best and most desired attributes. To see these two toss threats at each other (‘it’s a dangerous game you’re playing’/ ‘I might just have to investigate you’) really brought home to me how far Chloe has come as a character. Not everyone can face down a Luthor!

Lex has come a long way too. Long enough to be able to stand on the other side of the glass wall in Belle Reve, with his father imprisoned. That scene was one of incredibly chilling reversal. I don’t think he was comfortable watching Lionel, even though it would have been understandable for him to take some vindictive pleasure in putting his father in the place where he suffered such abuse.

We learn in ‘Mortal’ that Lex has continued experiments on meteor freaks and invesigation of the powers of Green-K. This came as a great relief to me, even though the act itself is disturbing and chilling. For me the relief was in knowing that Lex is following all paths to knowledge, not just pursuing Clark. And in knowing just how powerful he is becoming. I was also glad to see some continuity in the show (I really wanted to know where Myzlpytylk went, and I can now assume he was part of Lex’s Level 3 investigations.

Lex is left at the end of the episode in a great degree of mental discomfort. His ‘that’s impossible!’ reaction to seeing Clark zapped by his security on the video surveillance mirrored his non-verbal reaction to seeing Clark bleed minutes later. Twice in this episode he came face-to-face with what he has become: on the other side of the glass from Lionel and injuring Clark (physically/emotionally).

Postscript: Obsession as a barrier to love
Clark’s ‘you’re too obsessed with me’ line was another instance of the writers textualising what we know: that Clark is disturbed not by Lex’s fascination with himm per se, but with the extreme form it takes. On the show a strong line is drawn between freaks and their obsessions (in this ep we’re told explicitly that the freaks in Belle Reve want Clark!) and idealised love (Clark for Lana). Is there, in fact, a qualitative difference? In Smallville there is and it’s the line that is drawn between permitted loves and unpermitted (predominantly homosexual) loves.

Now I'm going to hit my f-list and see what others thought...
Current Music: Mercury Rev: Secret for a song
rumpuso on October 8th, 2005 01:51 pm (UTC)
Fabulous incite here into each character's motives and reactions. You are really very, very good at explaining your observations without bias. I thoroughly enjoy your LJ and your views. Brava on a great review!
nehellania on October 8th, 2005 02:04 pm (UTC)
Okay, I need to make this extremely, extremely quick because I have an appt. to get something done with my hair in a half hour. I'll come back afterward and leave a long, more detailed comment because while I agree with a lot of what you said here (and yay you for saying it) there are some points that I...not disagree with, but am a little iffy on the validity of.

I will say now though, that I agree with your assessement of Chloe. It isn't just anyone who can face down a Luthor and I think it speaks to the way her character has grown and developed over the years that she did. (perhaps this is the one thing TPTB got right?) For me, seeing her stand up to Lex, as opposed to during the first season when she was cooperating/being bribed by Lionel is a welcome change.

Alrighty, now I'm off.

(and let me just say how much I enjoy these thoughts of yours. It's so nice to have someone who doesn't just squee about it or grr about it - like I do - on my flist!)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on October 12th, 2005 02:01 am (UTC)
OK cool! You are welcome back to comment any time...

Yeah Chloe is rocking all over the show at the moment. I think I saw a snippet of an interview with Allison where she said she was really pleased with her character development. And she should be. I get a feminist kick out of seeing the women match the men in power-battles and I felt Chloe did step up to Lex's level in 'Mortal'. It's especially good that they're writing this for her even with Lois in the show now (although I love Lois!). Chloe is an awesome character in her own right.

(sigh) Yes, I am out in the cold here with still genuinely enjoying the show...

Thanks for reading all this! I just realised how goddam long it was! oops!