Final Season: Smallville & the Phantom Zone

If I did not know better, I would think Smallville was playing up the spiritual parallels on purpose this season. Maybe it is, because in a sense this last episode seemed self-aware enough to realize, “The Savior descends into hell to deal with Satan! Let’s go for it!” I am sorry to see my favorite television show go (only two episodes left) but glad that it is leaving us on such profound notes. I did not review the last episode about Booster Gold because it aired on Easter weekend and I preferred to focus on deeper things, but I will briefly talk about what stood out to me in that episode here as well.
Last Week:

Clark Kent is distressed to discover that a new hero is in town and determined to steal his thunder, a flashy, media-savvy, attention-seeking individual known as Booster Gold. Not afraid to smile for the cameras and interested in an exclusive with Lois Lane on how wonderful he is, Booster has become quite popular in Metropolis but Clark suspects something darker is at work behind him. In the end, Clark cannot “save the day” so much as inspire Booster to find the courage to save the day himself. Meanwhile, he finds it disheartening to adopt the attitude of a glasses-wearing dork even if it does cover up his “by night” job.

This Week:

When prisoners begin escaping from the Kryptonian prison known as the Phantom Zone, Clark and Oliver travel there to discover what is wrong and discover that General Zod has taken over. Due to Zod’s theft of the crystal that controls the portal, they are trapped there together, with Zod intent on corrupting Oliver and killing Kal-El. On Earth, Lois convinces Tess not to initiate the self-destruct on their crystal, convincing her to have faith in Clark’s return.

Spiritual Symbolism:

In spite of some obvious changes (Jesus would not live with his girlfriend, much less have one), Clark Kent continues in his symbolic destiny of portraying a much more powerful and greater Savior. Last week was more of a fun romp through the glory days of the series than anything but even “Booster” had its moments of inspiration — namely, when Clark inspired Booster to become a hero. It would have been one thing for him to super speed in there and save the day as usual, but instead he confronts Booster with his sin (envy, coveting, and deception) and inspires him to repent of it and also live up to his full potential. Booster knows he has done wrong and in a sense, confesses to Clark prior before making a life change. Clark is therefore his “salvation” in the sense that Booster will not be the same man having known him. Clark has had this effect on many individuals over the course of the series but this one stood out more, because it shows that Clark has matured; he showed restraint in his actions. He also saved Kat Grant… yet again… after she had chosen to follow a false super hero.

In “Dominion,” it was obvious where this was going from the start: if you go with the subtle spiritual undercurrent the Superman figure has, it becomes quite obvious — the Phantom Zone was created by Jor-El to imprison the worst of the worst, the irredeemable and unrepentant criminals of the galaxy, including General Zod, who was instrumental in the destruction of Krypton. In other words, it is Hell, Zod is a Satan figure, and the Phantoms are demons. Jor-El has always been the God figure, sending his only son to Earth to be its savior, and the irredeemable souls trapped there represent the lost. Therefore, what is it but Jesus descending into Hell to defeat Satan, a very popular theme in iconic Christian tradition. It’s obvious from the moment they arrive — right down to the snakes slithering all over Zod as he sits upon his throne of human bones. Grisly stuff. Dante’s Inferno type stuff. Brilliant stuff.

One of the most powerful scenes in the episode is not when Clark and Zod face one another down, but when Zod gets Oliver on his own. It is essentially a Temptation and Intimidation scene, in which Zod warns Oliver that he is unworthy of Clark, that he has been branded by Darkseid and belongs to evil. Oliver sinned. He made a terrible mistake — he allowed his anger to overcome his goodness; Darkeseid has marked him, claimed him, and according to Zod, he cannot be redeemed. Olivier represents the lost, those souls who acknowledge their sin and believe it is too great to be forgiven; those who are ashamed of it and choose to hide from their Savior. Zod offers him the chance to be a god of the Phantom Zone, to rule with him “as brothers” (why does that sound familiar?) in exchange for betraying Clark. Everything he has told Oliver is a lie… but that’s what the Devil does best, is it not?

Even though Oliver would never betray Clark, he pretends to but through his dedication, the two are able to deceive Zod and steal the crystal that opens the portal, traveling through it and condemning the souls there to eternal damnation. Zod (Satan) loses because he is arrogant enough to believe that he has beaten Jor-El’s son (God’s son) ; in return for it, He must stay in the Zone (Hell) forever. Nice bit of symbolism, but it doesn’t end there — when Clark returns, he has been gone three weeks. Anyone familiar with Jewish prophecy knows the importance of three — it was three days Jonah spent in the belly of the whale, and according to the Jewish calendar, three days that Jesus spent in the center of the earth preaching to the lost souls of the dead. And like the women of scripture, it is Tess and Lois who see him first after his return. This reunion with Lois is particularly meaningful, because even though she feared he might be dead, she held out hope for him — the Bride awaiting her Bridegroom’s return.

Much time has passed for her, time in which she must have feared he would never come back, but did not push back the wedding date, remaining faithful that he would come for her. But for Clark, it seemed only a few hours. So here we have a perfect example of Clark/Christ as the Church, and Lois/The Faithful… awaiting the triumphant return; an allusion to Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Christ after His Resurrection, and a reference to Christian theology (many wonder if time passes quickly in Heaven, but slowly on Earth). Nice.

Immaterial Thoughts:

“Booster” was a fun throwback to the lightheartedness of previous seasons, as well as a step forward in the legend of Superman. Clark wears glasses, fumbles and drops things, causes coworkers to roll his eyes and changes into his Blur suit in a telephone booth! All that is pretty epic but what is more epic to me is his relationship with Lois — how it started, how it has grown, and how it continues to inspire greatness, because he would not be all that he is without her. I love Lois. Where Lana would have pouted and cried and sulked that she could not have him all to herself, Lois is the one encouraging him to embrace his destiny, even if it means acting like a total dork. One of the sweeter moments between them is when Clark says he hates that he must become a dowdy reporter, because of what others will think not of him, but of Lois in choosing to be with him. But in true form, Lois doesn’t give a damn what other people think — she just wants Clark Kent, her Smallville, dorky glasses and all.

Finally, a relationship they have managed to do right on this show.

“Dominion” on the other hand — is a bold, ambitious and downright amazing directoral debut by Justin Hartley (Oliver Queen). It also may be the finest episode I have ever seen in terms of creative clout. I was I-M-P-R-E-S-S-E-D. It was gorgeous. He made spectacular use of the eeriness of the Phantom Zone set. The constant lens flairs added a surreal quality. The occasional use of slow-motion was impacting. His choice of close-ups and distant shots kept up the momentum and made me feel a part of the action. I know that some were nervous about handing the director’s reins over to one of the leading actors this close to the end, but I really feel that he made this episode particularly pop. I don’t know what the future holds for him, but he should be proud of this achievement — it may very well be the most artistic achievement in the show’s history.

LOVED the ending scene, in which Oliver is praying about the fate of his soul in the Church and the statue weeps not blood, but darkness. That was brilliant.

I am both excited about and dreading the next two weekends. Next Friday, Lois gets a chance to experience what it must be like to be Clark Kent for a day as a wedding present from her disembodied father-in-law and then… it all comes to a violent confrontation in the finale, including the much-hyped and exciting return of Lex Luthor, black glove and all. I don’t know whether to squeal with excitement… or cry.

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