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Jor-El, Prophecy, and Destiny

I made the mistake of reading the comments on "Reckoning" on the TWOP right beofre going to sleep, and now I can't sleep because I'm arguing with them in my head! So some probably disjointed thoughts on Jor-El and destiny behind the cut; spoilers for "Reckoning."



Basically the impetus for this post was the argument made by many on TWOP that Clark had effectively killed Jonathan by "choosing" Lana over him. Now, as I said in my last entry on this episode, although I'm sure Clark *feels* that way, I don't think it's true--and not simply because I think Jonathan's own choices lead to his death. I'm starting to reconsider Jor-El's "punishment" of Clark.

I'm too tired to go searching for the actual quote, but from the many promos I remember it as "The life of someone you love will be exchanged for yours," or something like that. Now, we all read that as Jor-El punishing Clark for disobeying him. (Well, except bop_radar and supacat, who have been arguing for a while that Jor-El's message was more complicated than that--but I wasn't really convinced before now).

But what if Jor-El's power--to raise a human from the dead--was one of those one-time powers, like the time-travel crystal? Jor-El is not, I hope, omniscient, and can't read the future--which is why I had a hard time coming up with a benign interpretation of his prediction. But he knew that Jonathan's heart had been weakened by taking Clark's powers--and he knows (based on his experiences with Louise) that "human life is fragile, my son." Maybe he *intended* to use his one-time miraculous resurrection powers to bring back Jonathan, if necessary, but since he had to use them on Clark, he knew that at some point Clark would have to face a loss that could have been prevented if Clark had just listened to Jor-El.

That scenario works a lot better with what Jor-El had to say in this episode ("the tide of fate is impossible to stop" and "the universe will find a balance"--which seems almost like karma to me. (Btw, did anyone notice the Buddha on Lex's wall in the first scene between Lana and Lex? It was out of focus, but definitely there). The thing about karma, though, is it's a little more flexible than destiny, because the law of karma says that all of our choices--and all of everybody else's choices--have inevitable consequences, but choice still exists.

So yes, Clark's choices contributed to Jonathan's death--but so did Martha's choice to ask Lionel for money, and Lex's choice to try to blackmail Jonathan, and Jonathan's choices to accept the risks of Kryptonian powers to save his son and to provoke a fight with Lionel Luthor, and his father Hirma's choice to help a stranger, and the stranger's choice to send his son to that family, etc. etc. Jonathan's death is an inevitable consequence of choices made, but it's not a *punishment* Jor-El has sent.

That doesn't mean Jor-El isn't orchestrating some of the choices, because he has a goal for his son, which is probably shaped by the own choices he made while he was on earth. (I wonder: did he get the choice to try to save Louise? And if so, what was the outcome of that?) And this choice Clark has made is a "trial" (did he say it was the last trial? I don't remember--and maybe he was supposed to save the time travel for something important in the future, like defeating General Zod, who I assume is coming at *some* point in the future.) But I suspect we're going to find out his motives are more benign than we've been assuming.

Ok, I'm falling asleep *as I type this*, so I'd better go to bed. I hope this is somewhat coherent!

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
frelling_tralk
Jan. 27th, 2006 12:38 pm (UTC)
I don't blame Clark for Jonathons death specifically. But it does make me sad for him to be playing God. He knew if he got Lana back, that another life would be exchanged of someone he loved. It wasn't like it even came down to a choice, because Lana was already dead. By asking for her to be brought back, he was pretty much risking everyone's life, in order to change what had already gone down
norwich36
Jan. 27th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)
Well, you're right--by making one decision he changed things and has to accept responsibility for the consequences--but that, after all, is what a hero *does.* When he is Superman he is *constantly* going to be taking actions that will have profound consequences, and some of them are going to be negative ones--choosing to save one person may mean another dies. That's a "reckoning" he has to live with. And he was interpreting Jor-El's prediction as punishment, so you're right, he was making a choice--but as Martha pointed out, it wasn't a choice he was literally given between Jonathan and Lana. It was a choice to act when he could, or not to act--I don't think he can be blamed for choosing action, there.
frelling_tralk
Jan. 27th, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC)
You're right that he didn't choice between Jonathon and Lana exactly. But he did allow someone else to die to save Lana. There was no question that he knew another loved one was at risk if Lana is brought back to life.

I would understand wanting to save Lana if there was still a chance of that, as in her still being around but badly injured say (Like Martha was). But Lana was already dead when Clark made his deal, which is when it became about reversing time, and bargaining with the life of another
norwich36
Jan. 27th, 2006 04:14 pm (UTC)
I guess you disagree with my argument above, that Jor-El isn't really controlling what happens, then?

I know that it's important that Clark *feel* responsible for Jonathan's death, because (a) SV is a tragedy and (B) it's going to set in motion the whole "superheros can't have girlfriends" plot and (c) Clark needs to learn in a very personal way that making choices has irreversible costs. But actually, if anything, the fact that Jonathan is the one that died underscores for me *more* that Clark, ultimately, isn't the one in control of who lives or dies in this scenario, because he was going to have a heart attack at some point in the near future *regardless* of the choice that Clark made in the Fortress. (And I also think, you know, that if in scenario one it was Jonathan rather than Lana who had died, Clark would have still gone to Jor-El and asked for a way out).
frelling_tralk
Jan. 27th, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC)
I guess you disagree with my argument above, that Jor-El isn't really controlling what happens, then?

I see it as the show set it up as Clark being brought back in return for the life force of another, and Lana was the original choice there. While Jonathon did have heart problems, for all we know he may have still lived for years longer. Yet he dies on the same day that Lana is returned to Clark. I think that is directly down to Jor-El

And also, as far as Clark knew, it could easily have been someone like Chloe or Martha whose life is lost. He did take a big chance in asking for Lana's life to be reversed, when Jor-El is there to warn him about balance and basically straight out saying that if you save Lana, someone else you love has to die in her place. That's when I think Clark should have stopped. I guess I'm mostly arguing over the difference between trying to help save someone, and reversing time to change the fate of someone who was already dead, when you know that will put other people at risk
norwich36
Jan. 28th, 2006 08:40 pm (UTC)
I've been thinking about your comments a lot, and also some points raised by latxcvi and some other folks, and it made me go rewatch "Reckoning" and some other episodes to clarify Jor-El's motives and Clark's responsibility. I'm not sure if I've changed my perspective or not, but my new thoughts on it are here.
mkitty3
Jan. 27th, 2006 01:08 pm (UTC)
I made the mistake of reading the comments on "Reckoning" on the TWOP right beofre going to sleep, and now I can't sleep because I'm arguing with them in my head!

This cracks me up, cause that's so me! I do this all the time. My arguments are always very good in my head, only by the time I go to write them out, I have forgotten them!

I agree with frelling_tralk above. Clark did essentially choose to kill another loved one rather than loose Lana. It was the heat of the moment kind of thing and I'm sure there will be tons of regret. I believe that was Clark's "reckoning". He made a choice and now has to live with the consequences.
norwich36
Jan. 27th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
I agree with you in the sense that I think Clark learned in the most painful way possible that his choices have consequences, and that sometimes saving one person means he won't be able to save others--which is an absolutely essential lesson for a hero to learn. But even though Clark *feels* like he chose Lana over Jonathan, I don't think, in reality, he actually did--as Martha says, he couldn't have made that choice if it were presented to him that way. He chose to act rather than not act, when he had a chance to save someone he loved, and the choice had consequences he must reckon with--but I still wouldn't say it was his *fault* that Jonathan died.
(Deleted comment)
norwich36
Jan. 27th, 2006 05:27 pm (UTC)
Well, I was just trying to include as many people as possible in that discussion of choices--because my point was really that Clark's choice, though undoubtedly significant, is only is only one of the millions of choices all of the characters made that lead to Jonathan's death. But you're right, I was assuming that Lionel was blackmailing Jonathan with Griff's information, and we don't know that to actually be true.
sabershadowkat
Jan. 27th, 2006 08:49 pm (UTC)
argument made by many on TWOP that Clark had effectively killed Jonathan by "choosing" Lana over him


Jor-El never said "In order for Lana to live, I will kill Jonathan." All he said was that actions have consequences and a balance will follow. Clark loves Lana, it has been banged over our heads a zillion times, so of course he'd do anything to save her: it's actually a pretty human thing to do, and a teenager thing, too. He was never given a "choice", as is being bandied around by arguers. In the midst of grief, there is no choice, everyone on the planet would bargain with god to bring the person they loved back to life. That's why it's one of the Five Stages of grief.


;)
norwich36
Jan. 27th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, I completely agree! (Though I wouldn't just say it's a teenage thing to do. Faced with the *actual* death of someone I loved, vs. another's *potential* death, I think I would probably have made the same decision Clark did).
bop_radar
Jan. 30th, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
Clark's choices contributed to Jonathan's death--but so did Martha's choice to ask Lionel for money, and Lex's choice to try to blackmail Jonathan, and Jonathan's choices to accept the risks of Kryptonian powers to save his son and to provoke a fight with Lionel Luthor, and his father Hirma's choice to help a stranger, and the stranger's choice to send his son to that family, etc. etc. Jonathan's death is an inevitable consequence of choices made, but it's not a *punishment* Jor-El has sent.
Hooray! Someone's said it, and it's not even me! *g* I think it's as logical to say that Jonathan's own choices and the choices of those around him contribute to his death as it is to attribute blame to Clark. Yes, Clark was rash. Yes, he didn't really think about who would be taken instead. Yes, his love for Lana blinded him to Jor-El's warnings. But the trail of contributing factors to J's death was deliberately set up. And I believe both Martha and Lois are going to have residual guilt as well as Clark.

I suspect we're going to find out his motives are more benign than we've been assuming.
We so are! And I think it's clear that Jor-El is *not* controlling human destiny. He has visionary access to it, not complete power over it. If you actually listen to the words he says and not the 'scary all-powerful' voice he says it in, they are quite benign. I think what is alienating about Jor-El is his emotional distance from his son. Hell, he's not the most sympathetic character, but I suspect this is more just a case of different Kryptonian customs. A case of cultural misunderstanding, I guess!

(btw I like your quick ref to [Unknown LJ tag] and I and our crazy campaigning about the complexities of Jor-El!)

The very fact that Jor-El showed Clark how to change things so it wasn't Lana, shows that even if he *does* have the power to 'take' a life (which I don't think he does), he was not hell-bent on making it the love of Clark's life. If he was really such a vindictive bully, he could have stonewalled when Clark came to him and given him the whole 'you need to accept your destiny' tirade. He really didn't.
norwich36
Jan. 30th, 2006 11:54 pm (UTC)
We so are! And I think it's clear that Jor-El is *not* controlling human destiny. He has visionary access to it, not complete power over it. If you actually listen to the words he says and not the 'scary all-powerful' voice he says it in, they are quite benign.

Your propaganda campaign has been successful! Though actually, I wrote this and then went and rewatched a bunch of episodes from earlier in the season and I'm not 100% sure, now, of Jor-El's benign intent--in a couple of crucial scenes he's given the same dialogue that Lionel says to Lex in "Lexmas," which is a chilling parallel that can only be deliberate on the writers' part.

The very fact that Jor-El showed Clark how to change things so it wasn't Lana, shows that even if he *does* have the power to 'take' a life (which I don't think he does), he was not hell-bent on making it the love of Clark's life. If he was really such a vindictive bully, he could have stonewalled when Clark came to him and given him the whole 'you need to accept your destiny' tirade. He really didn't.

But someone has a theory--I can't remember where I read it, in the comments on latxcvi's or kho's essays on this episode, maybe?--that the "reset" was Jor-El's plan all along. (He did call it "one final trial," or something like that.) And if Jor-El is still controlling Lionel in any way, he *could* have been manipulating Jonathan into a situation where he would have a heart attack.

I completely thought Jor-El wasn't manipulating things when I originally wrote this essay, but as usual after reading everyone's theories I'm now completely unsure what I think!
bop_radar
Jan. 31st, 2006 02:15 am (UTC)
Ha! Well all joking aside, my argument is not that Jor-El's 'benign' as such, but rather that he's misunderstood and not as deliberately pig-headedly obtuse as some people feel. Clearly he has an agenda. He wants Clark to understand the consequences of his actions. He wants Clark to accept that he is Kryptonian and has a particular destiny. I don't think Jor-El is evil or stupid. I just don't think he's working in the same framework as humans.

Jor-El and Lionel are clearly paralleled. Both sons struggle against their fathers and that struggle is instrumental in creating their future identities. The irony is that they will both follow their father's prescribed paths for them far more closely than either initially wants. Both fathers can be justifiably accused of emotional manipulation and bullying. But their purposes are not *always* as evil as the reactions of the sons indicates.

The one area where the parallel between Lionel and Jor-El doesn't hold up quite so well for me, is that Jor-El only really addresses one aspect of Clark: his Kryptonian part. Jor-El shows little or no understanding of Clark's human identity. He's probably staggered that Clark developed it! Kryptonians seem such absolutists, he is probably genuinely surprised that his son identifies so heavily as human, especially now that he has lived and died a human life. For this reason, simply because Jor-El has less access to Clark's human emotions, I think he's less destructively abusive than Lionel. (Personal opinion)

However confusion arises as to what degree Jor-El is active in punishing Clark. I maintain there is no evidence to suggest Jor-El can kill people at will and/or control destiny. If he could truly control it, he'd have Clark doing what he wanted already. It seems more like he can see the future and make predictions and can try to guide Clark but he can't control everything. His agency is limited.

The Jor-El/Lionel connection is a fascinating though ambiguous feature of this season. The theory you mentioned is an interesting one. I doubt the writers will spell it out like that. But the ambiguity is interesting. One thing speaking against that viewing would be that when Jor-El inhabited Lionel last time it was quite spectacularly obvious. But, who knows? Could just be a consistency slip-up!
norwich36
Jan. 31st, 2006 04:14 am (UTC)
However confusion arises as to what degree Jor-El is active in punishing Clark. I maintain there is no evidence to suggest Jor-El can kill people at will and/or control destiny. If he could truly control it, he'd have Clark doing what he wanted already. It seems more like he can see the future and make predictions and can try to guide Clark but he can't control everything. His agency is limited.

I agree that he is not "controlling destiny" (though if Kryptonians have time travel technology, that does seem to make them god-like, from human standards, even though Jor-el specifically told Clark that they weren't gods.) I'm not even completely sure that he can actually forsee the future--because that assumes all choices are fixed. But he still could be manipulating people to try and achieve his desired end goal.

The Jor-El/Lionel connection is a fascinating though ambiguous feature of this season. The theory you mentioned is an interesting one. I doubt the writers will spell it out like that. But the ambiguity is interesting. One thing speaking against that viewing would be that when Jor-El inhabited Lionel last time it was quite spectacularly obvious. But, who knows? Could just be a consistency slip-up!

Well, the other thing is that it was obvious because it was *necessary* (at least when he was speaking with Clark--or are you referring to white-eyed crazy Lionel? My reading of that was it was all just part of Jor-El "rebooting" Lionel until he was ready to serve as his vessel--I'm not sure we have any evidence that Jor-El ever surrendered control of Lionel's body--and I'm sure the writers are leaving that intentionally ambiguous. (That also puts a *very* different spin on the Mionel thing--maybe Jor-El is so put out by Clark's human side he's deliberately taking revenge on his human parents. Though I don't actually think that's what's happening).
bop_radar
Jan. 31st, 2006 04:40 am (UTC)
Oh I'm not disagreeing that Jor-El is a manipulator. I just think that Clark, the Kents and sometimes the audience find it easy to blame Jor-El for *everything* because he has powers beyond their understanding. In that sense he is like a god, because it's always easier to blame the big impersonal omnipotent power than to take responsibility yourself. And Jor-El is just *so* alien to humans, there's a natural fear. I love that SV has deliberately created this fear and dread around Jor-El, but I don't think we should be blinded by it.

Yes, I agree the writers are leaving it intentionally ambiguous. I find it strange that the white eyes and lunacy was just temporary in the 'reboot' process. I guess I've been reading the link between Jor-El and Lionel as less total. i.e. I don't think Jor-El is wandering around in Lionel's body. Lionel seems too much like *Lionel* for that to be true. I have no evidence, but I just *feel* it's more complicated than that.

I wonder if/when we're going to get some answers on the Lionel-Jor-El connection? I really wanted to write about the bigger implications of their conflation, but I don't know when the right moment to do so is... I've been waiting for more evidence! Perhaps I should give up.
norwich36
Jan. 31st, 2006 05:09 am (UTC)
It is hard to say, because you're right, he's acting like Lionel. (I expect Lionel is going to end up dead at the end of this season--if only because he's always been established as a parallel to Jonathan, *and* because I'm sure the writers want to show Lex *directly* kill Lionel just as Clark indirectly killed Jonathan). So hopefully they'll have clarified by then!)
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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