“Jesus Christ, the Teen Years”

A being with strange powers descends from the heavens, sent to Earth as a baby. He takes on the role of humanity, embracing it, experiencing everything that man typically experiences. Then he grows up to enter into a ministry to save mankind from the many dangers that mankind faces. Sound familiar? That’s because the story of Superman draws a lot from the story of Jesus. The movie, Kill Bill vol. 2, makes note of the mythology surrounding the super-hero, singling out Superman in particular. What that movie notes is that most super-heroes (like Batman or Spider-Man) are people (Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, respectively) who have super-hero alter egos. Not so with Superman. Superman is who he is; Clark Kent is his alter ego. What’s the difference? Clark Kent is his disguise to blend in with us. Clark Kent is him taking on humanity, to be like us. If you think the comics are unaware of this parallel, or that somehow I am reading into things, consider the following. A few years back, DC Comics, the publishing house of the Superman comics line, had a mini-series entitled DC One Million. The premise of the series was to take a look at the DC canon of super-heroes one million years from now. But what did the story revolve around? Superman, at some point in the future, ascends into the heavens to live a glorified life within the sun. It had been “prophecied” that one million years from now, he comes back to bring lasting peace. Which brings us to Smallville.

Smallville, named for the small town that Clark Kent landed in and grew up, works under, and within, its own metanarrative, its own over-arching story: that of the Superman mythos. The show is also not unaware of the Christ comparisons: the pilot featured the image of Clark on a wooden cross (a freshman hazing tradition known as “scarecrow”-ing). The premise of the show is simple: what did Superman, then only Clark Kent, do from the time we see him as a child until he fully becomes Superman. Again, to draw Biblical allusions, we see Jesus as a child teaching in the synagogue (the story of him being lost was the inspiration for the movie Home Alone), but we don’t know what he was up to until he comes on the scene as an adult. So what Smallville explores is a concept known as “the Messianic Consciousness.”

Not all scholars believe this theory, but the principle works nicely for my Superman comparison. Basically, the Messianic consciousness works like this: Jesus gradually grew into his knowledge and role as the Messiah. The same idea is at work in Smallville. Clark Kent (Tom Welling) is a teenager. And his body is undergoing the same growing pains process as any other teen. The kicker is that in addition to the usual brand of awkwardness that accompanies the teen years, he also has to deal with the responsibility of also being different. And not just different in the way all teens think they are different (although, in the context of the show, he’s not that different): he has budding powers to deal with. So, over the course of the series, he has been learning who he is and coming to terms with that fact and its implications. Imagine Beverly Hills 90210 mixed with The X-Files, or The O.C. with super powers and you have an idea of what the show is like.

Clark Kent has his gang of teen pals: Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) his childhood love that remains just out of reach; Pete Ross (Sam Jones III), whom, along with Clark’s parents, shares his secret; Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack), budding investigative reporter, and cousin to Lois Lane (the woman destined to be Superman’s love). But the most intriguing relationship is the one that Clark shares with Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum). While Clark Kent is learning what it means to be good and selfless, we watch Lex slowly walk the path to the dark side. It adds another layer of subtext to the mythos.

One of the main themes of this season (though it started in the middle of last season) is that of fathers and sons. It is Lex’s father Lionel (John Glover) that is screwing up his moral bearings as he tries to shape his son into his own image. And there is a battle over Clark, as his biological father, Jor-El, tries to mold him into a world conqueror while his adopted father, Jonathon (John Schneider, yeah, from the Dukes of Hazzard) tries to shape him into world savior.

The show has been in “monster of the week” mode, lately, (the meteor shower that accompanied Superman’s arrival to Earth showered Smallville with kryponite, which has varying affects on humans, not just weakening Clark), but it still has the promise that it showed in the first season. If you like teen angst mixed with creepy adventure, with a coming-of-age, messianic subtext, this show’s for you.