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Theories on the mastermind in "Mercy"

Ok, I rewatched "Mercy" with the squee turned down a little, and thought about it in light of some conversations I've been having with juxtoppozed and mbcorp and comments made by latxcvi and bop_radar, so now I have some theories on the mastermind in SV: "Mercy".




I rewatched "Mercy," and I'm still undecided as to whether the mastermind of the whole thing was Lionel, Lex, Jor-El, or simply Lincoln Cole, but here are what I see as the most likely theories, from most to least likely, with supporting evidence:

(1) Lincoln Cole was the ultimate mastermind, but Lionel did manipulate the scene in the elevator with Martha to his advantage. On rewatching the episode, this now seems most likely to me for a couple of reasons. latxcvi pointed out that the producers never really trust us with subtle interpretations of the plot; when manipulation is going on, it is usually acknowledged somewhere in the text of the episode. Clark, in the last scene, accuses Lionel of knowing there were no bullets in the gun. When I was rewatching that scene, it is true that Lionel plays with the gun for about a minute before handing it to Martha, and I think that obvious bit of business was to show us he figured that the gun wasn't loaded, and therefore used this as a way of gaining Martha's confidence.

So Lionel really wasn't willing to sacrifice his life for Martha; he was manipulating her, having figured out by evaluating the weight of the gun or something like that that it was unloaded.

At first I thought this explanation was unsatisfying, because it leaves Lincoln Cole as this villain who comes out of nowhere and doesn't really advance the seasonal plot very much. But then bop__radar in her review called attention to Cole's speech about puppets and people who pull their strings, and it suddenly became clear to me that Cole is paralleling Jor-El: both of them are controlling Lionel to their own ends, and perhaps even for similar purposes. I'm sure Jor-El's main purpose in controlling Lionel is to somehow protect Clark (and possibly to continue the tests he is setting for Clark), but on rewatching the episodes I also wondered if Jor-El is, like Cole, punishing Lionel for his misdeeds. I suggest that because the first two times Lionel gets headaches in the episode are (a) immediately after he has fired those people he was talking to over the phone and (b) immediately after he has been a total jerk to Lex.

More importantly, I think Jor-El is setting up Clark to get rid of Lionel. I think it was Jor-El, not Lionel, that Clark encountered in the last scene. (The rest of the episode I think it was pure Lionel). My reasons are as follows: not only does Lionel, in that scene, call Clark "Kal-El" and say "I've been expecting you"," but more importantly, JG was playing that scene AS Jor-El. Not with the accent, but with the body language. Lionel is always leonine: large, energetic, in motion, flamboyant in his movements, whereas JG has always played Jor-El as very contained, with a sort of stillness, very precise movements and closed-in body-language. That is the body language JG was using in that final scene with Clark. I now read that scene as Jor-El taunting Clark and trying to push him to aggressive action toward Lionel, possibly because Jor-El realizes Lionel now knows Clark's secret, or possibly related to some other larger plan of his. That little half-smirk at the end of their conversation, when Clark has just threatened him, I read as triumph that his plan succeeded. And then he surrenders control of the body back to Lionel.

(2) Possibility #2 is that Lex set up the whole situation--maybe found Cole and set him in motion. I'm not entirely sure why he would do this--revenge? To set up a situation where he might find out information Lionel has been concealing? To draw Clark back into his orbit and find out more about his secrets? Even though I now think this possibility is less likely, there were still a couple of textual pieces of support for it, I thought:

--the fact that he is teaching Lana to play chess, and talking about anticipating your opponents moves. I really read that as a statement about his larger chess game with his father. We all know Lex hates to lose, and Lionel kind of rubbed it in his face that he always beat Lex at chess, but Lex didn't really respond emotionally. That may just show that now that he has the upper hand, he doesn't react emotionally to his father's jibes--but I wonder if it signals some deeper game that he's playing. Especially since that line "I'm not playing to win, I'm playing to instruct" seemed so apropos to the instructional tortures Lionel went through in this episode.

--the fact that there were, actually, clues for Clark and Chloe to find and trace. Why would Cole have left behind the figurine with the camera, if it was inactive? Why was there a sheet of paper saying "game over" on the monitor? Why leave any clues at all for trackers to find, unless you're expecting people to be tracing you and you *want* them to find you at a specific time? Plus, if Lex set up this scenario, it would be precisely like what he did in "Mortal," except he upped the stakes a little bit. Furthermore, the *last* time Lionel and Martha were taken hostage it was an inadvertant result of Lex's actions; it would be nicely symmetrical if this time it was a deliberate result of Lex's plan to gain knowledge about his father (and knowledge about Clark).

--Lex was acknowledged to be the one who found Cole, at the end. Possibly because he knew exactly where to look?

(3) Possibility #3 is that Lionel set up the situation himself. That I also find less plausible, now, after having conversations with mbcorp and juxtoppozed and latxcvi about it, since there is really no reason why, for example, he would force himself to walk through fire when no one was watching. I did think, however, that the scenes with Martha were so incredibly useful to Lionel's ends that they had to be contrived.


(4) Possibility #4 is that Jor-El set up the whole situation to get rid of Lionel or for some other purpose that we don't now know. I still believe, however, that if Jor-El was physically manifesting in the episode, it was only in that final scene with Clark, not throughout the rest of the episode--though maybe the headaches occur when he tries to break through unsuccessfully? Or maybe, as several people have suggested, Jor-El's possession is causing permanent brain damage to Lionel.

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
xtremeroswellia
Apr. 22nd, 2006 05:48 am (UTC)
I'm totally on the bandwagon that Jor-El is controlling Lionel...and I'm not so sure it was just in the last scene...the way he called Clark "Son" not once, but twice in the eppie really, really stood out to me. *shrugs* I don't know about the rest, though. But your first theory seems pretty plausible to me!
norwich36
Apr. 22nd, 2006 06:41 am (UTC)
That's true, but if it is Jor-El in all the tests Cole puts Lionel through, I'm not sure why he'd be interested in preserving Lionel's secrets. (For example, Lionel denies to Cole that he killed his parents, but we know that's a lie--I'm just not sure why Jor-El would be interested in perpetuating that lie.)
juxtoppozed
Apr. 22nd, 2006 05:59 am (UTC)
More importantly, I think Jor-El is setting up Clark to get rid of Lionel. I think it was Jor-El, not Lionel, that Clark encountered in the last scene. (The rest of the episode I think it was pure Lionel). My reasons are as follows: not only does Lionel, in that scene, call Clark "Kal-El" and say "I've been expecting you"," but more importantly, JG was playing that scene AS Jor-El. Not with the accent, but with the body language. Lionel is always leonine: large, energetic, in motion, flamboyant in his movements, whereas JG has always played Jor-El as very contained, with a sort of stillness, very precise movements and closed-in body-language. That is the body language JG was using in that final scene with Clark. I now read that scene as Jor-El taunting Clark and trying to push him to aggressive action toward Lionel, possibly because Jor-El realizes Lionel now knows Clark's secret, or possibly related to some other larger plan of his. That little half-smirk at the end of their conversation, when Clark has just threatened him, I read as triumph that his plan succeeded. And then he surrenders control of the body back to Lionel.

I'm really really starting to cotton to this idea here. There are *so* many repeated themes and verbatim or almost verbatim phrases from Jor-El in Arrival and Hidden. It's not at all like Lionel Luthor to talk of "destiny" and sacrificing that destiny. (wheras Lion-El says in Hidden, "You're imminent destiny is too important to sacrifice"). Here, he also strangely talks about Clark "just [giving] it time" before he trusts him, just as Lion-el, when Clark calls him "Jor-El" says "And I hope the time is coming when you will call me father." Not to mention the same line from Arrival "I have been expecting you Kal-El" I need to re-watch the scenes in Arrival and Hidden as this is just from memory; I'm sure there's even more parallels. Also the strong continuity this seasons suggests that all the Jor-El talk in Fragile was meant to lead in to this.

It's great that you broke this down since that last scene where Jor-El is affecting Lionel indicates they'll return to this...I wonder if they'll return to this question of who really masterminded it. My money's on Jor-El...Lex seemed to surprised at some points, but also too composed at other points...this is all very intriguing.
norwich36
Apr. 22nd, 2006 06:39 am (UTC)
If Jor-El is masterminding it, though, I'm not really sure *why.* But I guess if it's a significant plot point, it will eventually be revealed.

I agree with you about how the dialogue in that last scene with Clark is repeating phrases from "Arrival" and "Hidden." Also, there's an interesting double reading of some of the lines, like "To reveal your secret would change your destiny and harm someone I care deeply about": if it's Lionel, the "some he cares deeply about" is Martha, but if it's Jor-El it could be Clark. And the "Jonathan Kent was my father"/"I'm not trying to take his place" exchange, if anything, becomes even more creepy to me if it was Jor-El, because of course Jor-El *is* trying to take his place.
(Deleted comment)
prim_rose_etta
Apr. 22nd, 2006 06:14 am (UTC)
I now read that scene as Jor-El taunting Clark and trying to push him to aggressive action toward Lionel, possibly because Jor-El realizes Lionel now knows Clark's secret, or possibly related to some other larger plan of his.

This is the only way for the comix!Jor-El to be realized in this show: that when Clark passes all the tests according to Kent-standards (though failing them by 'conqueror'-standards), then Jor-El or surrogate will say, 'Good Boy - had to test you to see if you'd fall for the planet-ruling god biz'.

Man, the weight just dripped from so many phrases in this ep and you caught so many of them.

I've been figuring that option #1 is most likely since there was no way for Lionel to save himself from the elevator fall, short of Clark's intervention which I for one would not bet my life on, especially when I've been trying to shtupp Clark's Mom, so he wouldn't have designed that into the game.

But I like the idea about Lionel punished by Jor-El, but it's only consistent with a 'good' Jor-El who cares about mortal matters.

norwich36
Apr. 22nd, 2006 06:23 am (UTC)
But I like the idea about Lionel punished by Jor-El, but it's only consistent with a 'good' Jor-El who cares about mortal matters.

Yes, that's the problem, isn't it? SV's Jor-El hasn't been good, as we've seen him. Even it all does turn out to have been just a test, his tests for Clark don't seem to have been significantly more moral than Lionel's tests for Lex! I mean, even if you interpret Jonathan's death as a consequence of Jonathan's own choices, not Jor-El's direct actions, there's still the minor problem of Jor-El basically kidnapping and reprogramming that blond chick from the season 3 finale, (Kara, I think her name was?).
prim_rose_etta
Apr. 22nd, 2006 05:26 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly - that was a real moment of no return for our comprehension of SV!Jor-EL. I mean, blasting that chick to nothingness is like, uh, wrong, and yeah, there is a strong parallel between the MB and the Celestial MB.
norwich36
Apr. 22nd, 2006 06:11 pm (UTC)
Right, I had actually forgotten about how that ended for Kara.
(Deleted comment)
norwich36
Apr. 22nd, 2006 06:16 pm (UTC)
Covenant is the episode where I realized that they couldn't ever give me comic!Jor-El in this version of the character. 'Cause once you start killing innocents and torturing people to get what you want, all bets are off for me thinking you're a *force for Good*.

*Nodding.* I think a lot of the other things Jor-El has done to Clark could be explained as cultural misunderstandings/Clark misreading what he was actually saying/ Jor-El misunderstanding earth customs, but I can't really see how the events in Covenant can be justified in any way.

bop_radar
Apr. 22nd, 2006 11:42 am (UTC)
I also wondered if Jor-El is, like Cole, punishing Lionel for his misdeeds.
I wondered that too on first watch but didn't want to jump to conclusions. And I haven't had time to rewatch.

I now read that scene as Jor-El taunting Clark and trying to push him to aggressive action toward Lionel, possibly because Jor-El realizes Lionel now knows Clark's secret, or possibly related to some other larger plan of his. That little half-smirk at the end of their conversation, when Clark has just threatened him, I read as triumph that his plan succeeded. And then he surrenders control of the body back to Lionel.
That's a really interesting reading on that scene. One way or another it seems that Jor-El has Lionel completely under his control and is exercising his influence strongly. I think he's also delighted at the opportunity to take a more 'active' role in Clark's life.

I haven't had much time to think about all of this or read other people's ideas, but I think Jor-El taking possession of Lionel has fundamentally changed him, just as in Transference, Lionel claimed that having been temporarily in Clark's body had changed him permanently. Lionel, even when he is not possessed by Jor-El, is not exactly the man he was. I think some of Jor-El's paternalism has become part of Lionel. So I don't read Lionel as being Jor-El in most of this ep. Rather, I read him as being heavily influenced by him. Jor-El's still pulling the strings, but he's not actually in the body. At least for most of it. Perhaps Jor-El can choose to exercise more or less power over Lionel's psyche, and when he does exercise more, it hurts Lionel (as we saw). That would explain the timing of those particular instances.

I agree that #2 is possible, though I don't know if it's the most likely explanation. I find it interesting to explore though. I agree that Cole seemed to be anticipating trackers. And there was something very neat and organised about the way that Lex managed to 'trap' Chloe and Clark for a while there.

As to whether Lionel knew the gun wasn't loaded. I'm not sure... I think there are arguments either way. Damn, running out of time

Damn, damn, damn my holiday timing! Curses! I have more to discuss this week than in weeeeeeks, and I have to leave! grrr....
norwich36
Apr. 22nd, 2006 06:27 pm (UTC)
Have fun on your trip! I'm sure when you get back, we will still be talking about the episodes. Besides, you always see underlying themes and patterns that most people miss, so I'm sure when you get back you'll just spark another round of analysis.

I think Jor-El taking possession of Lionel has fundamentally changed him, just as in Transference, Lionel claimed that having been temporarily in Clark's body had changed him permanently. Lionel, even when he is not possessed by Jor-El, is not exactly the man he was. I think some of Jor-El's paternalism has become part of Lionel. So I don't read Lionel as being Jor-El in most of this ep. Rather, I read him as being heavily influenced by him. Jor-El's still pulling the strings, but he's not actually in the body. At least for most of it. Perhaps Jor-El can choose to exercise more or less power over Lionel's psyche, and when he does exercise more, it hurts Lionel (as we saw). That would explain the timing of those particular instances.

That makes a lot of sense. I did wonder if Jor-El is changing Lionel's basic thought patterns by being in there, similar, as you said, to what Clark did in "Transference." (Of course, whether or not this is a change for the better is still up in the air. Jor-El is certainly no less controlling than Lionel, and while presumably he wants to protect Clark's interests, he certainly doesn't have Lex's, or Martha's, best interests at heart).
(Deleted comment)
norwich36
Apr. 22nd, 2006 07:33 pm (UTC)
I definitely think now that Jor-El is intermittently controlling Lionel (much like Isobel did with Lana; she was dormant until/unless Lana was in danger and then she asserted herself to protect the vessel holding her soul) and I think it's physiologically damaging to Lionel at the same time. The spasm Lionel had in the last scene, after Clark left, is possibly what happens when Jor-El cedes control of the body. We know from Jonathan that being infused with Kryptonian powers or Kryptonian essense when you're a mere human is physically damaging, so it's consistent that Jor-El's uninvited time-share of Lionel's body is hurting Lionel in some way.

Yes, and Lionel is popping pills a lot in the episode, which supports the theory that Jor-El's control is damaging him. It would actually be be nicely ironic if, just as having Clark inhabit his body somehow healed it, having Jor-El inhabit his body ended up killing him.

I didn't think about the Isobel parallels, but that's a good point, and an argument for Jor-El coming and going at will.

while having a self-contained purpose makes Lincoln Cole somewhat distinct among the S5 VotW, it wouldn't make him ununsual in the show's overall history.

That's certainly true!

I like the way you explicated why each of the possible explanations would have been satisfying to the overall plot arc, above. That's probably why I would like to believe it was more than just Cole ultimately in control.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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