That’s what the 18th episode, “Apocalypse,” of the seventh season of Smallville tries to imagine: What if Superman never existed on earth? What if Kal-El was never sent from Krypton to earth to be raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent as Clark Kent?
The previous six and a half seasons have built to this point. Clark Kent has always felt guilty for what he believes he’s brought to earth for both his family, friends and the earth as a whole: death and destruction. If he never came to earth in a meteor shower in 1989, he believes there would be no “meteor freaks,” there would be no menaces, like Brainiac, Zod, and phantoms from Krypton and other planets, and perhaps, his father would even still be alive.
As it happens, Brainiac is trying to manifest that alternative universe by going back in time to Krypton and killing Kal-El as a baby before he can be sent to earth. And Clark Kent is going to let him for the aforementioned reasons.
That is, until Jor-El, his Kryptonian father, shows him a world without Superman. At first, it seems … okay enough. Chloe Sullivan seems happy with a fiancé, and Lana Lang has a Parisian husband and kids. Jimmy Olsen seems his same photography goofy self at The Daily Planet, and Lois Lane appears to be the editor (or one of the editors) at the newspaper.
But then Superman sees that Lex Luthor is the president and Brainiac is his chief of staff, and together, they are going to set off a nuclear war to kill most of life on the planet. Superman is powerless to stop it when he’s shot twice with Kryptonite bullets. The nuclear missiles begin raining down upon the earth.
Basically, it’s Smallville meets It’s a Wonderful Life. The fun part is that it’s the third time out of seven times that Tom Welling, who plays Clark Kent/Superman, directed an episode himself. I need to see a behind-the-scenes on one of these. How do you both direct and act in a show/movie at the same time? I don’t get, but that’s neat!
The point, though, is that while Superman thinks he’s brought chaos to earth, a world without Superman’s influence is a scarier alternative reality … an apocalyptic reality, if you will.
That’s because Superman is a god-like entity, and once you remove god from the equation, it’s hell on earth.
Which ties into a line Chloe Sullivan told Lionel Luthor in the 15th episode of this season that touches on this theme, and I don’t have another good place to insert it:
The “him” here is Clark Kent/Superman, of course. Chloe Sullivan doesn’t trust Lionel Luthor at that point in the show, and is sick of the way he’s used Clark Kent/Superman. So she tells him that’s the closest he’ll ever to get any sort of spiritual reawakening or redemption, is by being within the aura of Superman.
That’s Superman in essence, literally. That his existence makes everyone around him better. That his existence itself is a beacon of hope for the world, and without it, it’s a mad, mad world indeed. All the heroics he does is an added layer of goodness.
The Superman/Christianity connections resonate with me, even as someone who doesn’t consider themselves a Christian. I still gravitate toward the idea of a savior and a beacon of hope for mankind.
I’m a geek, I know.