Thursday, February 03, 2005

The State of the Union

Last night, George W. Bush delivered the first State of the Union address of his second term in office. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about it.

So, on to last night's Smallville. My general impressions were that the episode was a bit "off." The music seemed different than normal, more baroque. The timing of the episode was also off, with the breaks going into the opening credits and commercials going on a beat too long. Normally Smallville does a pretty good job with that (not as well as Buffy, but Whedon was a master of the art, I think).

The beginning, with Chloe and Lois singing karaoke at the Talon, seemed a little odd, and it seemed out of character for Chloe. I wanted to know how she ended up doing it, which we never learn. Also, it appears that Clark at least kept up a friendship with Alicia, despite it seeming that they weren't going to at the end of last week's episode, so I wanted to know what had happened there as well.

And Lex doesn't even appear until 38 minutes in! I was beginning to wonder if he was even still in the show or not.

Overall, I found the episode somewhat flat and disappointing. But there are some good/interesting things that I wanted to talk about in lieu of the State of the Union.

For one, the idea of the freak-of-the-week was cool. Not the execution, which I thought was kind of weak. Since, in Smallville, Kryptonite seems to act sort of like the Wild Card virus from the Wild Cards anthologies, giving a person the power he or she subconsciously wants*, the idea of a guy obssessed with history turning into dust is a great idea. I read it as a sort of "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," or a "Dust in the Wind" kind of thing, though I may be reading into it and giving undeserved credit.

I also liked one of the themes of the episode, the theme of Clark feeling like he is a freak himself, rather than being apart or better than the meteor rock freaks who he regularly defeats. Though he has had friends who were freaks before, like Ryan, mostly freaks are adversaries to Clark. But here, he feels that maybe he has more in common with them than he had thought. Of course, Clark isn't a freak-of-the-week but something very different. The freaks are people who are given powers by Kryptonite that they really shouldn't have, which more often than not destroys them. But Clark isn't a normal person infected with something that will eventually destroy him -- his powers are part of him, his heritage. I presume that this will be a developing theme as the series continues.

The other theme I liked is that Clark lost someone he loved because he didn't trust her. Why is that important? Well, I see it as having to do with the old Superman/Batman dichotomy, where fans of Batman like to say that Batman learned the hard lessons Superman didn't, and that's why Batman is a cynical and streetwise dark hero (read: better) and Superman is just a naive, credulous Boy Scout (read: idiot).

I, for one, have often argued that the truth of the matter isn't that Superman is just too much of a big child to be cynical, but that Batman can afford to be cynical because he doesn't have the power to destroy or take over the world. Superman, on the other hand, cannot afford the luxury of cynicism, because if he really looked too deeply at humanity and its flaws, he might fall victim to the temptation to try to "fix" the world, and thereby become a tyrant.

But, in this episode, I think we have an even better, more character-based explanation: The lessons Clark learns are different than the lessons Bruce Wayne learns because they have different lives. In this episode, Clark learns that failing to trust and see the best in others leads to death and ruin, and loss of those he cares about. Somewhere, Bruce Wayne is learning the opposite lesson from his life experience. But that doesn't make either of them right and the other wrong, or one "better" or "wiser." They both learn the lessons that his own life teaches him, as we all do, and end up the person they become, in part, due to the course of their lives. If you learn that mistrust leads to terrible pain, you will become trusting. If you learn that trusting leads to terrible pain, you will mistrust. That's all. That's the difference.

So, anyway, those are my thoughts on the State of the-- er, Smallville.

*For example, the chubby girl who wants to be thin is made thin, the old guy who wants eternal youth is made young, Alicia wants to get away from her life so she is made able to teleport, etc.


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