Smallville Season Four – Character Development

As the fourth season of Smallville nears its end, I have decided to do a close analysis on the development of each major character throughout the past season. Some of the characters have progressed for the better, others regressed for the worst. Still other characters’ development didn’t seem to reach its potential, while other characters began their journey to their future selves.

Clark Kent: Many will probably disagree, but in my opinion Clark actually made some significant strides character wise this season. More than anything else, the one major difference between Clark Kent this season and Clark Kent seasons past is that his every move and action does not revolve around Lana Lang. Clark was confronted by a lot of important decisions this season (joining and later quitting the football team, what colleges to apply to, etc) and Lana was not a motivation for a single one of those decisions. Compare Clark’s desire to join the football team this year to Clark’s desire to join the football team in the first season. In the first season he joined the team to impress and hopefully win over Lana. This year, he did it because he felt it was an important high school experience that he didn’t want to miss out on.

I think a great deal of Clark’s growth has to do with his new relationship with Lois, but overall it seems like Clark has individuated himself: he makes decisions based on what he wants, not what other people want or expect from him. Joining the football team was his decision (despite resistance from his father), and quitting the team was also his decision (despite his love for the game and the desperately needed financial aid it would give him for college). In the beginning of the season he was reluctant to forgive Lex, despite the urging from his mother to do so, and he finally did forgive him when he was ready. His parents were skeptical about his decision to continue to pursue a relationship with Alicia, but he did it anyway (in both “Unsafe” and “Pariah”). Jonathan Kent (more than any other character) constantly foreshadows the difficult decisions Clark will have to make in his life. This season Clark has shown that he’s able to confront those tough decisions and make a choice by his own intuition.

If I have one complaint, it’s that Clark got over Alicia’s death WAY too quickly. I know they didn’t want to make the season a downer, but a woman he loved was murdered, and he was at least partially responsible for that. Her death should have had more of a long-term impact on him.

Lana Lang: Since the beginning of the series I’ve always been very pro-Lana and anti-Chloe. What’s strange this season, though, is that (for the most part) I’ve found Chloe tremendously likeable and Lana extremely unlikable. This was not entirely character driven, as I never really enjoyed the witchcraft story arc that Lana was saddled with for much of the season. I also found her relationship and interaction with Jason on the boring side. Of course, once I saw potential for the Jason/Lana storyline (after we found out Jason was working with his mother after all), the two broke up and Jason got murdered.

From a purely aesthetic perspective, I feel like it’s important to note the fact that for the first three seasons Lana was always wearing colors like pink, baby blue, and white. This season, however, she’s almost always been wearing black. This is significant, as many of the major characters wear certain colors specially suited for them. Clark is always in a combination of red, blue, and yellow (the colors of his future costume), Lex is almost always wearing a combination of blacks, grays, purples, and dark blues, and Lana was always in “pure” colors like the ones I had already mentioned. Lana’s wardrobe transformation, I believe, was intended to symbolize her maturity and, perhaps, show her loss of innocence.

It is this loss of innocence and insistence to write Lana as an adult that I found so unlikable. Honesty was always such a tremendously important thing to Lana, yet she spent a majority of the season being less than completely truthful to Clark, and there were numerous times that she hid things from Jason as well. Her motives were usually noble or at the very least understandable, but the same can easily be said for Clark when he would hide things from Lana. She also seemed, for lack of a better word, shallow this season. Part of the reason why Lana was so appealing to me personally throughout the series was the fact that you had this incredibly attractive girl who, deep down, was scared and shy and self conscious just like everybody else her age. This year she didn’t seem to have that quality, and in “Transference” she almost seemed disappointed when Clark (well, Lionel really) wasn’t hurt when he found out about Jason and Lana’s relationship. She seemed almost vindictive in wanting to hurt him over that. After “Blank” Lana started growing on me a bit, but by this point I had found Chloe a lot more likeable, so most of me was hoping Clark would give her a chance.

Another important aspect of Lana’s character is her recent decision to not force things. This whole season she was seemingly forcing herself to grow up (hence her “mature” relationship with Jason). Ultimately, though, she ended up right where she left off: In a slow, awkward, shy relationship with Clark. Her character has also always desired to leave Smallville, yet last week she made the decision to not leave until it’s on her own terms. It’s as if she spent this whole season trying to discover herself, and her self-discovery ended up being that you can’t force self-discovery. She’s able to allow things to happen now instead of forcing them to happen.

Lex Luthor: This season we got a real taste of what Lex is going to be like in the future. With that said, I was disappointed that his reconciliation with Clark happened so soon in the season. The first three seasons of the show Lex and Clark were best friends, and it was an interesting and fun dynamic considering that we know that the two will become bitter enemies in the future. However, the season three finale and beginning of season four presented us with a new dynamic, and one that could be equally fun. Personally, I would have held the reconciliation off until “Scare,” when Lex selflessly took the antidote knowing that it could have killed him. That was one of the only times all season that Lex did something with no apparent ulterior motive whatsoever. It was a completely selfless act, and having Clark witness that would have been a fitting point for them to restart their friendship.

Part of me cannot decide if Lex is being written inconsistently, or as if he has a deep inner conflict with himself. In “Onyx,” the real Lex seemed especially good (wanting to help Lionel, being protective of all his friends), and afterwards Lex seemed very concerned about the possibility of him becoming completely evil. Yet two episodes later in “Blank” he maliciously misleads Clark in order for him to reveal secrets about the caves, and then later lies to him about what they had discussed and steals the drawings Clark made from his loft. The next week, in “Ageless” Lex acts pretty noble, seeming to genuinely care about the well being of Evan and the innocent people who may be killed due to his burst of energy. However, at the end of the episode he selfishly decides to keep the test results to himself despite knowing the great good that would occur if he released it to other research facilities. Even last week in “Forever,” Lex was very protective of Lana throughout the entire episode, and even defended Clark despite his own less than admirable behavior regarding him. Despite the confusion, Lex remains one of the most enjoyable and complex characters on television, and I believe that the finale will be very significant in determining what direction his character will take.

Chloe Sullivan: As I already noted in the Lana section, I’ve always been anti-Chloe. This may sound a bit harsh, but to be honest for much of the series (especially the third season) I found Chloe to be a downright bad person. She was extremely self-serving and selfish, and would jeopardize her friendship with anybody in order to get a good story. Sure, she would regret it later and continuously apologize until forgiven, but the next chance she got she would make the same exact decision again. The story was always more important than any relationship in her life. Last year, in “Truth” Chloe maliciously and actively attempted to get people to divulge personal and private information about themselves and had no qualms about reporting it without any concern about the repercussions of doing so. It did not matter to her if she destroyed somebody’s life or reputation, all she cared about was the fact that it was news for her to report. In that episode alone Chloe (again maliciously and actively) tried to find out whatever secrets Clark was keeping about himself, without any respect whatsoever for his privacy.

This year, Chloe grew up a lot and seemed to have an appreciation for the relationship she has with Clark. And, much like Clark with Lana, Chloe didn’t spend the entire season fawning over Clark and fantasizing about being with him. When she realized she still had feelings for him in the beginning of the season, she was open and honest with him about it. When he gently told her that he didn’t feel the same way, she respected that and focused on just being his friend. Yes, there were moments where she acted ga-ga when I would have preferred she didn’t, but even in those moments she was being a good friend to Clark.

I think one of the most significant things that has happened this season (and I’m REALLY disappointed this didn’t get more attention) is the fact that Chloe took down the Wall-of-Weird. First of all, it was the ultimate sign of respect towards Clark. When she found he has super powers, she realized that these people that she has been reporting as freaks are real people, who (for the most part) never asked to be different from everybody else. Taking down the Wall-of-Weird was a big moment, and I think it would have been effective if Clark noticed it and asked why she took it down, only for Chloe to explain her new outlook on people affected by the meteor rocks. It would have further shown her growth while also encouraging Clark to reveal his secret to her.

Lionel Luthor: Lionel Luthor is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this past season, only because I felt that so much of his character was left unexplored. I read a number of interviews in which the show’s creators felt that season three was too dark because of the amount of exposure Lionel’s character received. This year they wanted to be a bit lighter, and because of that Lionel’s character was not quite as central as he had been the season before. I can understand that, however I still feel like “good Lionel” should have been better explored.

Especially considering what a prominent and evil character Lionel was in season three, for him to turn good is such a significant character shift that I was disappointed that the writers didn’t delve into the character more. Was Lionel faking? Clark didn’t seem to think so, yet Lex did. I enjoyed the fact that Lex seemingly wanted to believe he was genuine, hence his apparent reason for letting him move back into the mansion. Then in “Onyx,” Lex finally embraced his father’s change, until his double ultimately convinced Lionel to return to the dark side.

There were eight episodes between “Bound” (when we found out that Lionel’s soul had been cleansed after the events of “Transference”) and “Onyx” (when Lionel turned evil again). Yet during that relatively long period of time, Lionel didn’t appear at all in a couple episodes, and only briefly so in most of the others. The audience never really had an opportunity to wonder if Lionel was faking it (personally, I don’t think he was) or to grow to care about him, so that when he did turn evil it actually impacted us emotionally. Further, I was disappointed with the lack of depth concerning Lex’s reaction to his father turning evil again. He had finally embraced the idea that his father is a righteous man with righteous intentions, and then his double is responsible for him turning evil again. Instead of reacting with remorse, guilt, or disappointment, he just treats him with harsh bitterness. This may be further developed in the finale, but I wish Lex’s reaction would have acknowledged his inadvertent hand in Lionel’s descent.

Nevertheless, despite any disappointment I feel towards Lionel’s lack of exploration, I still feel like he’s a very complex character that is always fun to watch. I also really appreciate that there seems to be a new layer to his character where he genuinely does care about Lex and his well being. No, he’s not a righteous man anymore, but he certainly has changed.

Despite any criticism I may have, I found this past season incredibly strong and I feel like the new additions to the cast have, for the most part, really worked (especially Lois). Instead of letting the characters remain comfortable, the writers deserve a lot of credit for adding depth to each central character. Clark has shown that he’s ready to make difficult decisions and that his world does not revolve around one person. Lex has shown that he’s fully capable of becoming the evil man he inevitably becomes, but at the same time is still feeling an inner conflict. Lana has shown her desire to grow up faster than she needs to, but ultimately has decided that she wants to act her age and allow herself to discover who she is, instead of forcing her self-discovery. Chloe has shown that she truly is a loyal friend who deserves Clark’s trust, despite the way she may have acted in the past. Lionel has shown that a person can change (numerous times, no less) and that, perhaps, you cannot fight what you are. I definitely look forward to next season and finding out what direction each character takes.

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