Smallville: Death and Salvation

JULY / AUG 2012: BY CHARITY BISHOP

smallville

The best obsessions  begin by chance: a conversation with a stranger, a spontaneous choice in the library… you pick up, read, or hear something that forever changes your life. For me, that was Smallville. It may have been about Clark Kent’s journey toward becoming Superman, but as a Christian, I saw elements of my faith in it. It was about more than teenage angst; for me it was about faith.

Smallville’s defining point is the relationship between future arch-enemies Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. Lex is a capable, intelligent young man raised without any defining morals. His friendship with Clark aspires him to strive for self-betterment, but over the years, Lex slides further into darkness due to the continual rejection and distrust of those around him. From his father’s attempts to humiliate him to the Kent family’s reluctance to trust him, Lex as a character reveals the harsh truth that our choices define who we become, far more than who we are in the moment.

Superman has always been a Christ figure. He is not of this world but was sent by his father to “save” it. Jor-El chose Jonathan and Martha to raise his son; God chose Joseph and Mary. Clark has a destiny beyond that of his friends, something he works toward that comes into fruition after he has gone through tests and trials. Clark’s befriending of Lex is not an accident. He “saves” Lex physically but cannot save his soul because rather than accept this free gift Lex wants to know more about it. He wants the power that comes with it. This leads him to question and conflict with Clark as Lex takes after his father, Lionel.

If Clark is the Savior in Smallville, Lionel is its Satan. He enters a small community and blackmails the locals into business transactions. Luthor Corp is behind most of the evils that transpire in town. He never wastes an opportunity to humiliate, berate, or hurt his son, whom he hates, because Lionel sees Lex as an inferior, weaker version of himself. Lex is Mankind, yearning for a Savior but born sinful and under the temporary control of a brutal, cruel “earthly father.” His kinship with Clark has potential to save him, just as his budding romance with Lana Lang offers him a chance at happiness, but out of a desire to “have it all” (wealth and power) he rejects both and takes his father’s place as a villain. In the end, Lionel gets what he wanted from the beginning: a ruthless, amoral son who shoves him out a twenty story window to his death without a shred of remorse.

The series preaches the secular idea that circumstances shape who we become; while that may be part of it, our choices ultimately define us. One tenth season episode shows us who Clark might have been if his father had not chosen the Kents to raise him. In Lionel’s home, he is brutal, lethal and untrustworthy. He is responsible for the death of Lex, has an affair with his stepsister, and is wholly out of control. Through this, the series implies that Lionel, and ultimately even Clark, are to blame for Lex’s eventual corruption. He is, after all, the direct result of his father’s upbringing… or is he?

Lex has many chances to redeem himself. He could choose to be good and keep his relationship with Lana and Clark. He doesn’t. While Clark’s decision to abandon him does play a part in his slow descent, Lex chooses who he becomes; it is not forced upon him. He gives up being good because it is hard and surrenders to a fate he could avoid, much as how we as sinners can’t overcome our sinful inclinations on our own; we need Christ to take them on for us.

Clark’s role as a savior in the final season is shown in startling clarity. He faces doubt, isolation from his father, is betrayed, dies/resurrects (multiple times), confronts old enemies, defeats Darkseid, does not succumb to the Seven Deadly Sins, recruits followers, saves his friends from utter darkness, and fulfills his destiny. He even redeems young Conner (a depiction of humanity, equal in heavenly inspiration and sinful tendencies) by freeing him from his “evil” origins, as Christ’s role in our lives removes us from sin and extends us grace.

Lois Lane represents the Church, at times fearful but placing her faith in a savior that she is convinced will not forsake her. Even when he is gone for months, she still plans the wedding and prepares for their life together on faith that he will return. Her gradual acceptance of Clark as a hero reminds me of my own faith: full of mistakes as I struggle to know and trust Him, but making me a better person in the process. Lois can save herself sometimes, but she still needs him.

Even the theme of the last season (life, death, rebirth, eternal love) is the message of salvation: He lived, He died, He rose again, and through His eternal love, we are reborn. Maybe Smallville is best known for its monsters of the week, its snappy and clever dialogue, and its often wonderful and at times frustrating characters, but it also taught me it is okay to have faith in someone, and it’s also okay to need a savior. And for that, it holds a special place in my heart. ■

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!

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