Season Five of Smallville continues to reward comics fans with details taken from Superman’s various incarnations over the years. In the season opener, some images pay direct homage to Christopher Reeve, who died 10 October 2004. In the first sequence of scenes, we find Clark where we left him last season, in some icy arctic clime, and watch the emergence of his Fortress of Solitude, just as it was envisioned in Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980).
Such spectacle seems of a piece with Season Five’s tagline: “Everything you’ve waited four seasons to see… will happen.” We’ve presumably waited to see Superman/Clark Kent (Tom Welling) fly and Lex Luther become his arch-nemesis. Season Four pretty much paved the way for this transformation, so it’s no surprise that this is primarily what the WB is suggesting in its marketing.
This is not necessarily a good thing. One of show’s most refreshing aspects is its willingness to muddy the traditional distinctions between Clark Kent and his nemesis Lex Luther (Michael Rosenbaum). Neither boy is completely innocent, but neither is entirely corrupted either. This brought a much needed moral complexity to the universe created by Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster back in 1938. This season, however, we are promised that Lex will turn to the dark side, forsaking his friendship with Clark in favor of his own obsession with power. Admittedly, many diehard comics fans will be happy to see Lex take up his aegis.
Lex is well on his way in the season premiere, “Arrival.” Whereas he used to be cautiously skeptical of Clark’s many inconsistent stories about his lightning-fast appearances and disappearances, now he’s downright hostile. The more Clark evades answering questions, the more Lex probes. At this point he actually knows most of Clark’s secrets but, lacking confirmation, sees in Clark’s obfuscations a betrayal of their friendship. All this depends on believing they’ve ever really been friends. The show has also allowed, throughout, a suspicion that Lex’s claims to bonhomie are just cover for ulterior motives.
But as Clark and Lex move towards their traditional positions in the Superman mythos (good/evil, altruism/narcissism), Smallville broadens its other complications of fidelity and friendship. This will become particularly important in Clark’s relationships with the two major women in his life, Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) and Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk).
Like Lex, Chloe knew about Clark’s superpowers for most of the last season, but stayed silent, preferring to let him tell her in his own time. Clark’s reticence has been understandable: in the past, Chloe has been more than willing to blab about anyone in her quest for journalistic cred. Keeping Chloe at a distance, however, has become increasingly difficult for Clark; especially as Lex has singled her out as knowing more of the “truth” about Clark than anyone (except perhaps his adoptive parents, Martha [Annette O’Toole] and Jonathan [John Schneider]). Clark continues to wrestle with his options weighing the consequences of full disclosure versus the benefits of living a closeted existence. His major personal struggle over the past four years has been over what to tell his friends, how to tell them, and how much. Who or what Clark is really protecting has come to the forefront, and must be directly addressed through Chloe. Clark is becoming increasingly suspicious that Chloe knows something about him.
And Lana. The love of his life, Clark’s lack of honesty drove Lana away at the end of Season Three. Season Four ended with a sort of rapprochement, as both confessed their love for each other. But as Lana has made clear in the past, her love is contingent on his being “truthful” with her. As in his relationship with Chloe, though with a different frisson, Clark must now negotiate the relationship between “truth” and love. While Superman is traditionally an icon of “truth, justice, and the American way,” Smallville remains focused on the vagaries of truth.