Smallville 9.9: "Pandora"

I’ve always been a sucker for apocalyptic futures and visions. There’s just something about knowing that things are on the verge of falling apart completely, knowing that familiar faces are somehow responsible, and seeing them try to make adjustments to prevent that future from occurring. It’s a well-worn plot device, but one that usually works for a reason.

It’s a convenient way to approach one of the key philosophical debates within human existence: predestination vs. free will. Are we bound by some complex law of cause and effect or the whims of a higher power with complete control, or do we have the ability to change probabilities and shape our own destiny? It is a question at the heart of humanity’s spiritual struggles, and as such, it rightfully serves as the center of much of our popular culture myths.

In a sense, “Smallville” has always been a story about destiny vs. free will on several levels. There are the obvious expectations laid at Clark’s feet by his father, and the question of whether or not he can find his own path within the confines of those expectations. But there is also the approach taken with the series: how closely must the story of “Smallville” conform to the expectations of the Superman myth, as known within modern culture? How far can the story deviate before it becomes too different for its own good? (Many might say that ship has long since sailed.)

The writers did themselves a favor by setting Lois’ experience of the future only one year ahead of the end of the eighth season, confining the struggle to prevent the fall of humanity to this season. It’s a fair bet that Clark will manage to prevent Zod and his minions from completing their bizarre plan to harness the power of an altered sun, but he cannot know which path will take him to what end.

What is interesting is that Tess and Clark both have partial knowledge of this future disaster now. Tess had her misgivings about Zod in previous episodes, but now she knows that standing with Zod will not end well for her. Just like Clark, Tess may try to shift her strategy in the hope of preventing Zod from executing his plan. The question is: will the attempt to prevent the future bring about the circumstances of its arrival?

It’s already clear that Lois’ memories depict a timeline of events that differ from the continuity of the episodes since the season premiere. The fact that Lois came back from the future altered the sequence of events. So it’s possible that everyone will be reacting to prevent a future that is already obsolete to some degree. Because they have very limited information, they could change things and actually make the future worse in comparison.

For that matter, I’m intrigued by this idea that Zod thought he was saving the world. It seems clear that the alterations to the sun brought about massive negative climate change (as one would expect), so how exactly was Zod creating this new Golden Age? He might have been talking about saving the world for his own people, except that Tess was almost fanatically convinced that following Zod to the bitter end was the right thing to do. So there is a huge piece of information missing from the equation.

I’m also not sure about how Zod’s scheme is supposed to work. The tower somehow alters the sun to shift from yellow (and its subsequent radiation) to red. Generally speaking, red stars are huge. The sun looked much bigger in the episode, but most estimates suggest that when the sun goes to red giant, it will have a diameter encompassing Earth’s orbit. So the writers were taking some creative license, without a doubt. (And this is “Smallville”, so of course they are!)

But more to the point of the mythos, it is the yellow sun’s characteristics that give Clark his abilities. The Kryptonians, living under a red star, did not have abilities. That is their default, normal state. So how would changing the sun to a red star give Zod and his minions their abilities, while taking Clark’s abilities away? It’s obviously just a plot device, similar to what occurred at the end of “Superman II”, but it would have been nice if it had made a little more sense within the context of the established series mythology.

The details of Zod’s plot, however, are a minor annoyance, and pale in comparison to the strength of the rest of the narrative. One can see the seeds of that terrible future in the current status quo, and it should be very interesting to see how the characters try to change things to thwart Zod. It will be a long wait for the new episodes to resume in January 2010.


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