Final Season: Smallville & Lionel

I consider myself supremely fortunate in spite of slogging through my second head cold of the season. (It is determined to get me down, but I refuse to surrender!) Last night, I watched two superb episodes of my two favorite sci-fi shows. In Sanctuary, we were given Victorian flashbacks and the return of John Druitt, as well as all kinds of romantic angst that will have me reeling for weeks to come. And in Smallville, I was reminded just how much I missed Lionel Luther, known online to many as the Magnificent B**stard. There’s a reason he is magnificent, and John Glover had that on full display last night…

The Story Last Week:

I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry tears of mirth last week, in which we got yet another sermon on conservation and the evils of the military. Colonel Saul Tigh from Battlestar Galactica dropped in to torture Olivier Queen and Aquaman for information, which included dunking one in a tank of water for prolonged periods of time and baking the other under heat lamps. How Oliver got there is that he signed up to work with the government instead of going rogue as a hero, hoping to not only test the waters (ha, ha) but pave the way for others and gain inside information. Everyone of course told him it was stupid, but being Olivier he did it anyway. Meanwhile, Aquaman continued blowing up oil rigs to preserve the planet (uh… did no one tell the writing team that doing that causes oil to leak? or did they not bother to, you know, watch the news for six months while we were all freaking out about the British oil spill?), this time with his new wife — a beautiful girl but I don’t remember her name.

Clark actually earns kudos from me in this episode by telling Aquaman that destroying private property is not the answer. Finally. A few seasons ago when he, Oliver, Aquaman, and Flash all blew up a Luthor Corp base just to stop what was going on there, the red lights in my brain that are sometimes preoccupied with problem solving flashed and I screamed, “DESTRUCTION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY! DOMESTIC TERRORISM! AND I’M SUPPOSED TO CALL YOU HEROES??” But this time around, Clark lived up to his reputation as the future Superman by suggesting other methods other than costing billions of dollars in repairs and loss of jobs. Lois also met Aquaman’s chick and told her off, which was nice… very Lois Lane.

The Story This Week:

Tess, being the only surviving heir of Lionel Luther, is sent a pretty mirrored rock with a symbol on it, but before she can explore more fully she is sent an SOS by Clark, who wants to meet at an abandoned Luthor Corp building. He has discovered that one of the Alexander clones is missing and when he realizes she is behind it, Clark has a tantrum  that includes finding the mirrored Kryptonite rock and twisting it — thrusting him into an alternative universe and bringing the “other” Clark back to this world. In the AU, he was found in the field by Lionel Luthor instead of the Kents and has been raised to be a brutal, evil creature only interested in his own power. Lionel is still alive, but AU Clark has killed Lex (but not before Lex branded him on the arm with yellow kryptonite — fabulous, that). Clark is horrified at the darkness of this new world — one in which he seems to be sleeping with his stepsister Tess, feuding with Lionel, oppressing and killing people in Metropolis, and is hated by Olivier Queen and his fiance, Lois Lane.

Meanwhile, back in the real world the “new” Clark is busy making the most of his situation — and Tess tries to lead him on by pretending she is “his” Tess. But it doesn’t take him long to discern the truth and she, Oliver, and Lois must work together to defeat him.

The Symbolism:

Stories of alternate realities are very sci-fi but this is one of the better representations of it that I have seen. The AU Tess tells our Clark that, “this is a darker version of reality than yours,” and it’s very true — not only is the filming much darker and more sinister, but the motivations and behaviors of everyone in the alternate universe are very brutal indeed. Lionel seems over the top but really, I don’t see him as much altered from the original Lionel in the early seasons of this series. Later seasons tried to redeem and soften him, for reasons I do not understand, perhaps as a contrast with the increasing darkness of Lex… but I never fell for it. Lionel is after all the man who murdered his own parents, then used electro-shock therapy in an attempt to manipulate Lex into forgetting the truth. He tried to have Chloe killed after she worked with the authorities against him. He had numerous attempts made on his own son’s life — he played his illegitimate children against his legitimate children, was cruel to his wife and mistresses, and emotionally devastated his son. He also blackmailed the Kents, so the fact that all the “good guys” just accepted his redemption and invited him into their little club had me seriously questioning their sanity.

This Lionel gives us a clear indication of what Lex grew up around — an unforgiving, brutal, immoral man. I think the worst part of the episode was when he gave an incapacitated Clark a sound thrashing with his belt. I cringed throughout. But I do have one major, major problem with this episode — it’s not something that will color my opinion of it, but merely indicative of a false (and I might add, liberal) belief that the show has operated on from the start: that nothing is your fault, your parents are to blame. Clark concludes at the end of this episode when all is well once more that his assumption about Luthor blood being bad was wrong; that it was Lionel who was evil. This is true, but the byproduct is excusing the behavior of the children in light of their parents’ influence. The promise in the AU was that had Clark been raised by Lionel, he would have been evil. But I do not buy that. Who you parents are, the standards you are held to, the morality or lack thereof, all do make a difference, but you are still you. Some people are predisposed to be influenced, others are not. Some children in that environment might become hard and cruel, while others wouldn’t.

Clark to me has always had a well-defined sense of good and evil, and yes, part of that is owing to the marvelous parenting of Jonathan Kent. (Sorry, I’m not going to give Martha much credit here… most of the time she’s a good mother but she strikes me as kind of a dim bulb, if you catch my drift. Her mooning over Lionel Luthor doesn’t strike me as vastly intelligent.) But it’s also because he is Kal-El. It’s who he is. It is his purpose. It is his personality.

I believe that we are responsible for our own choices, and should not place the blame on anyone else. If the psycho-babble were true about the parents or situations in your childhood being entirely to blame for your behavior as an adult, then two children raised in the same environment would be the same in their adult years — yet that has been proven untrue many times, with children taking different paths. I know a set of parents who raised three daughters — under the same rules, the same religious practices, the same compassion. One of the daughters turned out badly, the other two did not. It was not the fault of parenting, it was the one daughter’s personal choices and her predisposition toward manipulation and lying. Blaming evil inclinations and choices on anyone except the person who commits them is denying personal responsibility. We are taught and do learn from our parents, good things as well as bad, but it does not change who we are and what we are inclined toward as individuals.

Would Clark have been different had he been raised in Lionel’s household? Yes, absolutely… but I suspect that unlike the series depicted, Clark would not have lost his humanity.

Would Lex have been different raised by the Kents? Yes, absolutely… he would have been far happier and a much better human being. But his choices are his alone and not Lionel’s fault.

Immaterial Thoughts:

Until this episode happened, I had forgotten how much I miss the Luthors. It sounds horrid to admit it but having them around is what really made the series stand out for its younger seasons. The pansy villains that have replaced them cannot hold a candle to the charisma and horrors of Lionel in true form — he has always been enticing, fascinating, manipulative, and downright scary. Having him back is… fabulous. And OH MY WORD. The last thirty seconds of this episode had me shrieking and hitting my DVR’s “rewind” button, when we discover he has crossed over into our reality, he looks into the camera, and says, “I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.” Hands down the best surprise and dramatic ending to an episode in the series’ history. It was brilliant. Genius. Fabulous. Sinister. GAH.

I think Tom Welling should give up on playing good guys after this series ends and go in for playing villains because every single time he is asked to raise the bar and give a truly harrowing performance, the man brings it in perfect form. His AU Clark made my skin crawl. I was literally scared of him and that doesn’t happen very often. His red kryptonite performances in the past have been good, but nowhere near this good. Yelling at Tess, chucking Lios across the room… I wanted to see him die. So bravo, Tom!

Oliver strikes me as something of a wimp in the AU… what was up with him??

The fact that Clark asks Lois both times to look into his soul and know him is so romantic. I loved that. And his declaration of, “I do not want to live in a reality in which you hate me.” I normally hate sap but that was a really good line. I could gloat about how that line was better than anything he ever said to Lana… but that would be mean. It looks like next week we’re back to dealing with the military, but oh, well… the high was tremendous while it lasted.

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