If it’s Friday night, it must be time for a sci-fi/fantasy series about heroes from one world warring with their angry doubles in a bleak parallel world located across the quantum divide. Usually, that show is Fringe – but last night, it was both Fringe and Smallville, which gave us an episode in which Clark Kent made a return visit (against his will) to The Land That Color Forgot, an utterly un-Pleasantville of bruise-hued black and white. The ‘over there’ Clark – in this world, the adopted son of Lionel Luthor and a super-sociopath, not a Superman – used a high-tech thingamajig to ‘port to the ‘over here’ world and tried to maroon our Man of Steel in his de-saturated dimension. (Meanwhile, where Smallville got all Fringe last night, Fringe ripped a (funny) page from Smallville and got trippy-comicbooky on us. Check out Ken Tucker’s recap here.)
“Kent” was about each Clark’s relationship to the concept of “home.” Clark Luthor had become Public Enemy No. 1 on an Earth he had exhausted as his own pleasure pit, so ‘over here’ offered the promise of a new start, a chance to pursue his perverse will to power differently and more successfully. Step 1: Kill his bad daddy Lionel, who several episodes ago also decided to abandon ‘over there’ for ‘over here.’ Actually, there was a step before that step: Scoring assistance from sister Tess – and then just scoring with her. Seems the Luthor kids were very, very close — like in a Boone-and-Shannon/Lost way. Clark was bent to continue their socially inappropriate relationship and was determined to hold Tess to the arrangement, whether she wanted it or not. And she did want it… except she didn’t. In his powerful presence, Tess struggled to hold onto all of her power — to the strong sense of self she had gained since escaping her awful past. She felt herself buckling to the soul-sucking undertow of her lecherous brother’s threats and seduction, as well as her own old patterns and desires. When Clark made Tess dress up in that revealing gown and forced her to dine with him while he feasted on bloody steak and ogled her falling-out flesh… shudder. This whole subplot was sick and sinister and so not 8:00 hour appropriate, which is to say that I enjoyed it a lot. Well played by actors Cassidy Freeman and Tom Welling, who rocked the double duty of bringing to life two Clarks.
Meanwhile, in the ‘over there’-‘verse, Clark Kent had to lay low as his demented doppelganger had made things totally unsafe for anyone playing his part. Clark Luthor’s Kryptonian secret had been exposed, and everyone carried green kryptonite rocks to protect themselves. (But why keep their anti-Clark magic charms locked up in a bulky, hard-to-stuff-in-your-pocket lead box? It’s not like the radiation was harmful to humans.) This world’s Jonathan Kent was still alive, but he was badly broken, his pride, dignity, nobility and all-around manhood destroyed by having lost his farm to Oliver Queen. Martha? She had left his downward-spiraling self-pitying ass long ago. Clark couldn’t resist seeking out this version of his adopted dad, even this JK he was pale shade (literally) of super-farmer who raised him. But it was because Clark had been raised by a better iteration of Jonathan that he was able to give this fallen father figure exactly what he needed – which, in a reductive nutshell, was a spiritual kick in the ass, to reignite in him the man of steely principles that had gone lost and dormant. “It is better to risk everything than to hold onto nothing,” Clark said, parroting all the platitudinous-but-true parenting he had received from one Jonathan back to another. The scenes between Welling and John Schneider were genuinely affecting and reminded me of just how far Clark has come and just how well the show has fleshed out the character of Clark Kent by detailing his development from adolescence to adulthood. Kudos to Team Smallville for finding a reasonably credible way to get Schneider/Jonathan back on the show one last time during the swan song season.
In the end, Clark Kent got back and saved Tess from her sadistic bro. After a brief tussle, Kent floored his dark-side doppelganger with an amazing grace that on one hand was Superman-impressive but on the other hand was somewhat morally murky. Kent diagnosed Luthor’s twisted, cynical character as the result of messed-up parenting and not being truly connected to the true power of his home world, i.e. knowledge of who he really was and where he really came from and what he was really meant to be. So CK brought CL to his home away from home, the Fortress of Solitude, and introduced him to Databank Jor-El. We were left to think – or rather hope — that by getting rehabbed and tutored by his own version of the awesome A.I., Clark Luthor will be inspired to be a better dude and pursue a life devoted to redeeming his hurtful and damaged past. That’s all well and good, but I did want to see ‘over there’ Clark punished a little more severely for his semi-incestuous sins. Yes, Tess confessed that she put herself at risk with her own dark wants, and we were encouraged to view both she and her brother as victims – as products of a profoundly unhealthy home life. Still: I wanted Dark Clark pounded a little harder for his willful f’d-upness.
The lesson of “Kent” was that home is not a place but what we carry with us – our heritage, our belief in our better self, and our relationships. In the episode’s tender last scene, we saw Clark wearing Jonathan’s old jacket but resolving to sell the farm. He didn’t need his childhood homestead to feel connected to home… although I have to admit, if he decided to keep the place, I wouldn’t have interpreted the choice as the sad expression of someone stuck in the past, who couldn’t “let it go.” The Kent Farm is a sweet piece of property! Nothing wrong in keeping that in the portfolio! Still: Point taken. And anyway, he’s getting married. Maybe making this one last cleave from his family was a Genesis 2:24 thing for him. In a quiet coda, the moral of the tale was underscored with a moment that saw over there Jonathan by giving up his soul-squelching nothing and moving out from the ruins of his past and seeking out Martha for reconciliation. Home is where the heart is. Hopefully, she’ll let him in.
Next week: Booster Gold! Blue Beetle! In a story scripted by comics superstar Geoff Johns! See you then.