It must seem like an unusual thing, to watch the final season of a television show and search for the spiritual symbolism in it. But long ago, someone very dear to me taught me that every story is telling a deeper story, promoting a vision that may or may not be full of truth, and the mind is best engaged in the notion of discernment. In its last season, Smallville has revealed some profound truths and insights, no doubt unintended but nevertheless prevalent. This is the final episode before the last hiatus and both in terms of scripting and its messages, it is perhaps one of the finest episodes the series has ever produced.
The Story: Clark becomes a father-figure to Alexander, who has been renamed “Conner” since the discovery that he is genetically half Lex Luthor and half Clark Kent. Excited about his new abilities and struggling to learn to control them, Conner does not know the secret of his heritage since his memory loss has erased everything apart from the influence of his friends. Tess is desperate to keep him away from Lionel, who hopes to use him to his own advantage, but she cannot prevent the inevitable when Conner discovers his roots and returns to the mansion. There, Lionel slips a red kryptonite ring onto his finger and Conner begins a downward spiral that promises to end in tears, particularly when he kidnaps Lois Lane.
Initially this article was going to bear the title “the devil you know…” but as I re-watched the episode a second time this morning, the symbolism and meaning became much more obvious to me, in part because I have recently been making my way through The Truth Project, a series of theological sessions exploring the complexities of good and evil by Focus on the Family. The first installment in the series struck me profoundly, because it illustrated a point that I have always known but not given much thought to — that although we are made in the image of God, we follow the inclinations and passions of the one who corrupted us; in that sense, we are both a child of God and — if you will forgive the terminology — a child of Satan. Our base instincts are for evil, rooted in selfishness, lust, ambition, and carnality, but our higher purpose is a desire to become more like God.
This is the plight of Conner, a blend of good and evil, of positive and negative genetics, or as Lois puts it, “the genetic love child of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.” Good and Evil. Light and Dark. In this episode, the parallels are obvious — Conner is Humanity, struggling to find a balance between his desire for good and his inclination for evil. Clark is the Christ-figure attempting to model good behavior, who first accepts and begins to work in Conner’s life, but then loses him temporarily for a time to Lionel. Clark fights for Conner’s soul, ultimately breaks his bondage to red kryptonite (sin), and sets him free. He then offers Conner acceptance, love, and a home. Lionel, justly, is left in the position of Satan — his claim to Conner is through blood, his manipulation is full of charm and enticements, but ultimately his desire is for destruction, corruption, and perversion. And he uses an innocent third party (Lois) to do it, caring nothing for what might happen to her in the end.
Yet at the conclusion, it is Lionel who faces his downfall, when one who knows the truth about him is able to discern the evidence to have him removed from his position of power — cast out. Tess, in the role of one who has been redeemed, even if the partial truths he tells her (“You will always be a Luthor” translates to you are mine, and you are evil, and you cannot deny that for long) are haunting. If Conner is a newly saved aspect of humanity, then Tess is one who has been redeemed much longer and no longer faces any such doubts.
I have always liked the “darker” episodes of this series because it is in the darkness that the light shines much more profoundly, and the most memorable and life-impacting instances in the show have taken place in the episodes that dared to “go there.” But I will say that this is the only episode of the series ever to consider going where it almost went, and by that I mean Conner’s intentions with Lois. They were careful in that scene but we all know where it was headed — and even though I knew the show wouldn’t go there, I still flinched when he forced her onto the floor. We have seen kryptonians on red kryptonite before but not even Clark ever went that far. He was a total jerk the few times he was on it, but when it came to sexual aggression he showed more restraint. Was Conner’s lack of similar moral guidance an indication of the Luthor genetics of his personality or the fact that as a hybrid, he has greater capacity for evil?
Yet the greater evil here comes in the form of Lionel, who had an inkling of what might happen and did nothing about it — it amused him enough that he made a joke about the famous “Luthor libido.” There is a hard question for you — which is more evil, the intended rapist or the man who intentionally put the woman in the role of a victim?
Even in spite of the heaviness of this episode’s themes, the lighter moments were wonderful. I especially liked the moment with the heat vision in the barn and the comedic attempts to teach Conner to focus and control it (alas, the back of the barn, a couple dozen candles, and one of Clark’s primary color shirts did not survive). The awkwardness between Clark and Tess was lovely, and the interaction with Clark and Lois were meaningful. I like how comfortable they are with one another now, that she isn’t afraid to reassure him when he needs it — and I smiled when she talked about having kids of their own one day and what a great father he would be. I also must say that Lucas, the actor who plays Conner, turned in an awesome performance, the most powerful moment in the aftermath of the ring being broken, as the anger fades from his face and transforms into soul-gripping remorse. John Glover has always been the powerhouse actor in the cast, but Lucas can hold his own against him just as well as Michael can.
The last scene in the episode is startling but incredible, and I imagine is going to foreshadow the return of “our” Lex in the finale. I love that in a moment of weakness, mourning his son’s death at the monument, Lionel is approached by an evil much more powerful than his own — the implication is that Lionel will barter his soul for the resurrection of Lex.
Dark stuff, my readers… dark stuff.
Bring it on.