Final Season: Smallville & the Rise of Superman

 Ten years ago, our journey into the young adulthood of the man who would become Superman began with Clark Kent being stripped down to his boxers and “trussed up” in a cornfield with a symbolic “S” painted on his chest. In the final season, we have come full circle — and this time it his the love of his life, Lois Lane, who partakes of his former fate… and becomes the bait in which the diabolical Lex Luthor forces him to choose… saving the innocent or saving the woman he loves.

But this is Clark Kent. Superman. The savior of the world.

He doesn’t have to choose.

Though the series has occasional missteps and unfortunately is secular in its morals, it cannot escape the symbolism that pervades the original — Superman is after all a Christ figure, something that featured prominently in the big screen version several years ago, and has been hinted at but not until now fully explored in the television series. Entering the “final season” of a show has in so many ways defined me as an adult is emotional, particularly in the themes they have chosen to represent. I hope to blog about the current season of Smallville — for the first and last time, and in doing so celebrate something of importance to me, as well as relive memories from the past. So without further ado, let us look at last night’s premiere of the final season of Smallville

The Story: Clark plummets to earth after being stabbed with a knife infected by blue Kryptonite in order to prevent Zod from destroying the earth. Lois Lane has discerned his identity and pulls it from his chest, hoping that somehow “The Blur” will survive. Clark awakens in a place “not of this world,” midway between life and death — he sees a vision of Lex and Jor-El tells him that he has chosen a martyr’s path, which is not what is intended for him. “You have left the humans vulnerable to a greater evil that is coming.” Clark pleads to be given a second chance — and is sent back into the world of men. But not by Jor-El.

Meanwhile, Tess Mercer awakens in Luthor’s secret labs and discovers various clones of Lex intended to be used to harvest for body parts when he makes his return from the dead. The oldest is evil incarnate and escapes with all of Lex’s memories intact. He hunts down Lois and ties her up in a cornfield, painting the traditional “S” on her shirt and setting fire to the field. He intends for Clark to choose between rescuing her — or rescuing rush hour traffic at the Daily Planet when an explosion takes down the globe on the top of the building. Clark is infuriated by this choice and almost strangles Older!Lex to death — but then rushes off to save Lois and then prevent the globe from crushing innocent bystanders. Returning to the loft, he (and a mysterious gift of a blue and red Superman suit) is transported to the Fortress of Solitude, where Jor-El castigates him for his arrogance, warning him that “pride” will be his downfall. Jor-El warns him that the greatest danger to humanity is Clark, if he does not learn humility — there is evil coming that will destroy him if he is not careful.

Held hostage, Green Arrow/Oliver is brutally interrogated by unknown persons that warn him they will be “keeping an eye on him.” He is then handed over to Watchtower in exchange for Chloe. Knowing she cannot stand in the way of Clark becoming the man he was born to be, Lois accepts a position overseas as an investigative foreign journalist for the Daily Planet. Overcome with fascination and fear, Tess takes the youngest of the Lex clones back to the mansion — a child who seems innocent but is harboring Lex’s memories. Clark experiences a visitation from his father, Jonathan, warning him that he must fight what is coming and trust his human nature. And we are given our first glimpse of the “coming evil” Jor-El warned Clark about — a shadowy figure that is not human.

The Symbolism:

 A decade ago, Smallville bet the farm that viewers would love meeting the famous Clark Kent before he became the caped crusader. They were right — and while the early seasons still had problems (Clark did become a bit self-righteous at times, as any hormonal teen is prone to do), the initial episode touched on symbolism that has finally come to pass. Clark tied to a cross in a cornfield, the “S” inscribed in his chest as obvious a mockery as the crown of thorns Jesus wore to the cross. Clark did not die that night — Lex found him and saved him — but Clark did die last night. He intentionally gave himself as a martyr to save the world and literally perished. He passed into an in-between world, what C.S. Lewis would call the outer edge of the Shadowlands (we live in the Shadowlands — a fallen existence where we “see through the glass darkly”). This analogy has been used many times — perhaps the most recent and famous of which in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, when dead Harry visits a ghostly train station (representing the passage from earth to heaven) and there encounters his former headmaster, Dumbledore, who informs him that his task is not yet done — he must return to his friends. Underneath one of the station benches is a bundle in which a crying infant lies — the reader is led to believe it is all that remains of the soul of Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort.

Similarly, Clark encounters Lex in this in-between world… an implication that both of them are meant to return to the world of the living. Is it a vision of the future or an indication that each are intended to rise from the dead? One through supernatural means, a higher power determining that Clark has much yet to accomplish (God?), and the other through evil and science? And while Lex is not the literal Devil, and much of his journey turning dark depended on mistakes made by our hero and others in his life, he has become Clark’s nemesis — and thus undertakes an iconic Lucifer role. He returns Clark to the scene of his first humiliation — in essence, his crucifixion, and forces him to choose between life for all or life for the individual. Lex underestimates Clark — Clark has been reborn. He is more powerful than he was before. He is a Risen Being and thus does not have to choose — He can save both the Individual and the Masses.

I will not insult your intelligence by explaining that particular bit of symbolism, but it is profound. Ponder that awhile!

Immaterial Thoughts:

In some ways it hurts to see what Lex has become — because as much as Smallville is the story of the “rise” of Clark, it is also about the “decline” of Lex. He has been for the most part absent for the last two seasons and this is the first time we have seen him directly interact with the hero. My initial reaction to their new vision of Evil!Lex was frustration and sadness, because the handsome Michael Rosenbaum is no longer on screen, and in my mind, no one else can ever replace him. I admit it, I enjoyed looking at him as much as I liked the intentional contrast between outer appearances and inner evil. Lex was always charming and attractive, but his actions at times were anything but. His spiral into darkness horrified as much as it fascinated me and now we have come to this all important moment — it is no longer Michael. The filmmakers could have chosen a handsome older interpretation of Lex, but they chose instead to show his exterior as evidence of what his soul has become like — hideous. There is no longer a mask for us to soften toward, a handsome face to elicit basic human responses of attraction and trust. That was hard for me to watch. I do not like the notion that Lex is “gone” forever, that his soul is entirely lost with no hope for redemption — and it took an ugly interpretation for me to see and accept it.

That being said, as a twenty-something and occasionally downright shallow female — I want Michael back!! =P

Various things about this episode have me concerned and conflicted — ranging from not being sure if Jonathan Kent is actually Jonathan Kent to Jor-El’s unusual harshness in the Fortress. I really know nothing about Superman lore and in that respect I am glad because it means impending surprises — but I am wondering who and what is manipulating the forces around Clark, and who apart from Jor-El decided to return him to the land of the living. My predictions are minimal at this point (I kind of want to sit on the sidelines this year, avoid as many spoilers as I can and watch it unfold on its own terms) but I do suspect Clark will eventually face down the inhuman villain and “become” the man of steel, only to turn around and face the diabolical return of Lex Luthor. I approve of them revisiting the past in terms of places and symbolism — and I hope the final episode does something similar in reminding us of the past. The series began as the budding friendship between two natural enemies — it should end on a foreboding note of impending doom between mortal enemies.

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