Here I am crying on a Saturday afternoon re-re-watching the television series Smallville. I’m about mid-way through the fifth season, and I finally got to the episode I’ve been dreading since I re-re-started, “Reckoning,” otherwise known as the episode where they kill off Jonathan Kent, the human father of Clark Kent/Superman.
Backstory context: Jor-El, Kal-El’s (Superman/Clark Kent) biological father, has basically held a dark cloud over this season by telling Clark Kent — in exchange for having restored his Superman powers at the beginning of the season — someone close to him will die. We don’t know who and we don’t know when.
Of course, I’ve seen the story before, so I know exactly who: Jonathan Kent. But the writers do a good job of throwing you off of that.
At this point in the story, Clark Kent has been agonizing in his relationship with Lana Lang about telling her his secret. So, ya know, the same conflict for the last five seasons. But he finally tells her! He takes her to the Fortress of Solitude and proposes. She knows! She said, “Yes!” Wohoo!
… not so fast.
After losing the Kansas State Senate race to Jonathan Kent, Lex Luthor is drunk, and calls Lana Lang over. He ends up going too far, and driving her out of his mansion. As she’s driving away, he chases after her. She dies in an ensuing car crash. Clark Kent wasn’t fast enough to save her.
So, naturally, he goes to Jor-El and with one of the Fortress of Solitude’s crystals, he’s able to reverse time, and re-live the day. Fate will have its claim and balance will be restored to the universe, however. At first, we’re led to believe fate cashes in on Lois Lane because without Lana Lang coming to help her, she falls off of a stool and electrocutes herself.
… not so fast.
She’s fine. And Clark is able to get to Lana Lang in time to save her (unbeknownst to her, of course). But he’s not fast enough or even capable of saving his dad from having a heart attack and dying.
There’s no turning that back. And I cried. Yup. I’ve seen this two other times, and it still hits me every time. The reason why it does? Because it is the formative test of Clark Kent/Superman’s life. At this point, he’s about to go through his “darkest hour” as Jor-El said.
Jonathan Kent dying is a beautiful, if sad, part of the Clark Kent/Superman mythos precisely because there’s nothing he can do about it. With all his strength, speed, fire power, cool breath power (although he doesn’t have that here yet), impenetrability, ability to heal, x-ray vision, and super hearing, there’s nothing he can do to stop a heart attack.
He’s God-like, but even Superman is not God. It’s a humbling and a beautiful, formative step in the myth-making of Superman. But also, it shows how his decisions — in this case, the decision to go back and save Lana Lang — have consequences.
It’s aggravating as hell, to be sure, that Clark Kent just can’t tell Lana Lang the truth, but every time he goes to, like we’ve seen previously, something happens to pull the rug out from under him, and he recants. Gah.
In this case, seeing Lana Lang die in the car crash made him recant, and I get it, but … gah. Gah!
What a show. “Reckoning” is one of those episodes that makes this an all-time show for me. It’s one of the series’ best.