Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lana Lang

Some couples were just destined to be. Their fates were simply written in the stars. Romeo and Juliet, Han Solo and Princess Leia, Robin Hood and Maid Marian. 

And Lois Lane and Clark Kent.

Over the years, the name of Lois Lane has become synonymous with the Superman legend. Even those with only the faintest knowledge of Superman lore are likely to be aware that Daily Planet's most intrepid reporter is the love of the Man of Steel’s life. A name that has been largely forgotten, however, is that of Lana Lang, the first love of the teenage Clark Kent.

As someone who has never read a Superman comic, and who wasn’t even aware that the girl in Smallville at the beginning of the first Superman film was called Lana and based on one of the comic book characters, I have to be honest with you: until I started watching Smallville, I had no idea who Lana Lang was. But then again, I think it would be fair to say that that was also the case at first for a significant proportion of Smallville’s audience.

I grew up on the first two Superman films, and therefore it had hardly even occurred to me that there could have been anyone but Lois in Clark Kent’s life. It was interesting, therefore, for me to start watching Smallville and see a young Clark Kent act like a smitten idiot and be head over heels in love with a girl I had hardly heard of, in a small farm town a million miles away from Metropolis and Lois Lane.

It would have been very easy for me to dislike the whole “Clana” thing from the get go. I may not particularly enjoy Margot Kidder’s interpretation of Lois in the films, but I would never deny that she and Clark are meant to be together. However, to my surprise, I didn’t dislike Clana. Perhaps that’s because I knew – as did the rest of the audience – that unless the producers of the show planned on changing one of the most fundamental aspects of the Superman story, there was no way in hell that Clark and Lana would ever remain a couple, and that she was only really paving the way for Lois. To be honest, if the producers actually had done something as major as that, I’d have stopped watching; I’m fine with tweaking and updating legends, but to change their fundamental cores is wrong. Therefore, safe in the knowledge that Clark and Lana would never really amount to more than childhood crushes (or so I thought), I found myself able to sit down and simply enjoy watching the Clark and Lana love story unfold. At least at first. And do you know what?  For a while I really enjoyed it. I may not have been “rooting” for them as it were, but I did enjoy seeing a side of Clark Kent that the movies only really skimmed over. Well, some skimming was done by the movies – some skimming was also done by me! As a kid I used to find all the Krypton and Smallville stuff in the first Superman film boring, and thus used to skip forward to the Metropolis scenes. Admittedly, though, I don’t think they did absolutely everything right in Smallville. For example, the first kiss between Lana and Clark happened in X-Ray. Now, I know it wasn’t technically Lana, but it was nevertheless an on screen lip-lock between Clark and the physical Lana. That, I think, was a mistake. One of the big storylies in the early seasons of Smallville was that of the budding romance between Clark and Lana. The kiss is something they should have built toward over a period of time. But instead we saw one in the fourth episode. To reiterate, I know it wasn’t really Lana doing it and therefore it shouldn’t be classified as a Clana kiss, but the fact remains that they showed an on screen kiss between Tom Welling and Kristin Kreuk, and the fact that it wasn’t a proper one cheapened the first proper one, I think. And the same goes for episode 15, Nicodemus; there was a kiss in that episode, but it happened whilst Lana was under the influence of the Nicodemus flower. Now I’m not saying that the kisses didn’t add to the plot of the respective episodes, but I feel that, in the long run, they were a mistake, because when Clark and Lana do have their first proper kiss in the second season episode Calling, it feels a bit old – nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s like in Doctor Who: the first time Rory died it was sad but not heartbreaking because everyone knew that Rory was in the next week’s episode. But then every time Rory died after that episode – even when he actually ‘properly’ died in Cold Blood - there was zero emotional impact because it was nothing we hadn’t seen before. And the same goes for Smallville. As I said, I’m not a Clana fan by any means, so the fact that they were going overboard and in the complete wrong direction on the whole kissing front didn’t really bother me, but it did strike me as something I would have done differently.

That being said, however, there are some things I think they got absolutely right. It wasn’t in the big, sweeping, romantic scenes that Smallville showcased the Clark/Lana relationship at its best, it was in the smaller moments. The one that really stands out for me is the final scene of Craving. The episode is, I think, one of the stronger episodes of Season 1, but I think the episode was at its best in that final scene where Clark, after having let Lana down pretty damn badly on her birthday of all dates, finally makes it up to her by recreating the one happy birthday she had. And just seeing the two of them in that van together, eating popcorn and watching cartoons... it’s little moments like that that prove why Smallville is such a valuable addition to the Superman canon. It shows the softer, more human side of the Man of Steel. And it showed him not trying to be Lana’s lover, but her friend. And that entire scene was just beautiful, and it’s one of the best scenes the show has done – and that’s coming from a person who couldn’t be less of a Clana fan.
Clark and Lana share a happy moment on her birthday.
Now, at this stage I’d like to mention that I’m acutely aware that although this blog entry is supposed to be about Lana Lang the character, so far I’ve focused much less on her and much more on her relationship with Clark in the early seasons of the show. There’s a reason for that. I wanted this entry to have some positivity in it. I wanted to talk about aspects of Lana that I like. But I’m afraid that, apart from the stuff I’ve already said, I’m struggling to think of much more. I didn’t mind Lana until Season 4 or so, but from that stage onwards, it all went rapidly, rapidly downhill. There are a number of reasons for that – some aren’t even to do with Lana herself – but the fact ultimately remains that even at the mid-way point of Season 4 I was hoping against hope that Lana would just bugger off back to Paris again and never come back.

Just trying to articulate all my thoughts about Lana is making me lose the will to live. I hated her, I really did! Although actually, now I think about it, I’m starting to wonder my if intense hatred of her in the later seasons of the show is intensifying what was originally only my mild hatred for her in the earlier seasons of the show, because, in hindsight, I don’t think I found her as loathsome in the earlier years as I did in the later ones. I  mean, I didn’t like her at all, but I didn’t hate her as much as I came to do. In fact,  don’t think I’ve hated any fictional character as much as I came to hate Lana bloody Lang. Well, that might be a slight overstatement, but not by much.

Hypocrite, unstable and insecure are the first words that spring to mind whenever I think of Lana. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to have flaws, but Lana, during her tenure on the show, abused the privilege.

The first episode of the show made clear that Lana was never going to be the most straightforward of characters; seeing her parents killed in a freak meteor accident at a young age was always going to leave mental scars, and to some extent I think seeing Lana try to address those wounds made for quite good television, but in the long run the emotional trauma she experienced at that young age did very little to compensate for the lacklustre nature of her character. Also, just something I want to throw out there: it’s fine to show Lana missing her parents from time to time; it’s also fine to show her visiting her parents graves from time to time. But come on, surely only an idiot would go into a deserted cemetery in the middle of the night – especially when there’s a history of bad things happening to her in that cemetery! I mean, come on, Lana, daylight hours were invented for a reason.

During her time on the show, Lana spent hours and hours and hours either complaining to Clark or about Clark - more specifically, about the lies he told and the secrets that he kept, both of which went on to colour a large part of their troubled relationship. And I guess you can argue that it’s fair that she had a problem with that; nobody likes being lied to, nobody likes being kept in the dark. But what I found unacceptable was how she complained about all that stuff and then did so much of the same thing herself. She was just as guilty as Clark – if not more so – when it came down to not being open and honest, and to chastise him for such things when she has so many of those same issues herself… it really grated after a while. We never really heard Clark complain about her hidden, darker side, and to hear Lana moan on and on, episode after episode, was  pure torture.

There’s also a small question I’d like to raise about Lana. We’re told time and time again that she’s supposed to be this very clever, straight-A student. But where’s the proof of that? From what I saw in the first few seasons of the show, Chloe was by far the smartest character of the lot, and yet Lana was the one praised to high heaven. I’m sorry, but Chloe wasn’t the one constantly wandering around graveyards at night, and she certainly wasn’t the one who got into her car IN THE MIDDLE OF A BLOODY TORNADO. What. An. Idiot. Plus, there was that episode, I forget which, in which it was noted that Lana always retreats into a book every time she’s let down… well, she was let down an awful lot in that show and only once did I see her with a book, and that was in that episode, so I’m not sure how that works. So yeah, I guess what I’m trying to say is that we were told so many times how perfect Lana is, and how clever she is, and how great she is, and yet I never really felt as if that was seen on screen. The number one rule of storytelling is show don’t tell, and in this respect the writers failed spectacularly. If I’d seen even a glimpse of the greatness about Lana that the writing alluded to, I would have been in a better position to begin to understand why Clark was so in love with her, and why he became a one-dimensional, boring cardboard cutout every time he was around her, but the fact that I didn’t meant that I never ever understood why he even bothered with her. I mean, I went along with it because I wanted to see how the story progressed, but I never bought into it, and that was a big problem.

But I think mostly my problem with Lana is that she’s Just Plain Boring. It’s like the writers wanted her to be so many different things but failed in making her be anything. We’re supposed to like her because she’s clever? Her actions show her to be one of the thickest characters on the show. We’re supposed to like her because she wants to be independent? Most of the time she plays the sweet, innocent, wronged little girl card. We’re supposed to like her because she’s believable? She oversees the running of a whole coffee shop when previously she was unable to keep a waitressing job for a single day. We’re supposed to like her because she’s kind? She was selfish and manipulative, not to mention spiteful, for a damn long time (dating Lex just to get back at Clark? Puh-leeze).

She couldn’t be more unlikeable.

But as I said earlier, though, I didn’t mind her for the first few seasons. However, that all changed in Season 4 - and I can tell you why. Lois came along. Now, I don’t want to talk in too much detail about Lois because I want to save that for another blog entry, but it was like, when Lois came along, I finally saw the kind of female character that I’d wanted to see in Smallville for so long. She was everything that the writers had hoped Lana could be: clever, independent, believable, kind and, let’s face it, pretty damn amazing in every single way. And it was only then, seeing those two side by side – each almost the antithesis of the other in terms of good and bad characterisation – that it really dawned on me how pathetic a character Lana really is. Whilst Lois was out giving Clark a run for his money, calling him Smallville and punching him in the arm, Lana came back from Paris and was miserable, spent half of her time sounding silly talking in Latin and looking at her weird tattoo, and for the other half of the time kept herself busy by fcontinually flashing Clark her puppy dog eyes.

Don't get me started on her in Season 8. Some of the stuff in that season really made me scratch my head in disbelief. Lana, of her own accord, got somebody to physically and mentally torture her just so that she could don a super suit and be more like Clark. Not only is that one of the most absurd and ludicrous things I’ve ever heard, but it’s also mildly amusing because after all that misery and all that pain, Lana still couldn't even begin to hold a candle to Lois. Not even close; Lois was still ten times the character Lana could ever hope to be. All that super suit did was give Lana the skin of steel she’d always wanted; but what she continued to lack was the one thing Lois had all along – a spirit of steel.

So I guess that’s my way of saying how, despite everything, at the end of Lana’s time on the show, she was more pathetic than ever.

That being said, it’d be good to end on a positive note, and believe it or not there are plenty of positive things I can say about the final few minutes of Lana’s final episode, Requiem. Firstly, she left, and you don’t get much better than that. Secondly and more seriously, her final scene was actually rather sad, and, to be fair, very well conceived (and even, believe it or not, well acted): she was infused with Kryptonite, thus meaning Clark would never be able to come anywhere near her ever again. Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

Clark and Lana say their final farewell.

I did have issues with the fact that Lana was forcibly separated from Clark, though. I’ll probably address that more in my Lois blog, but for now I’ll just say that Lana's storyline should have ended with Clark choosing to move on from her. The fact that he had no choice meant that it becomes very easy to argue that Clark merely ‘settled’ for Lois because he knew he’d never be able to be with Lana. Now, I don’t agree that that  was actually what happened, but it very easily could have, and the writers were treading on very thin ice with that one. But, on the whole, it worked out for the best. One of the show’s weakest characters was given an undeservedly strong send-off, and now I’m just glad that I don’t have to worry about her cropping up again when I come to watch Season 10.

It’s a shame, really, because Lana did have a lot of potential as a character at first, but it all remained frightfully unfulfilled. Perhaps her banality could have been lessened somewhat had her story had been wrapped up earlier; that way, people would have been less sick of her towards the end. But the fact remains that her average story and overall blandness was stretched out way too much, to the extent that she didn’t just make storylines less interesting, she hindered their progression, too. Season 8, for example, was very much Lois and Clark’s season (forget Doomsday, those two were undoubtedly what the season was about) but Lana’s presence severely threatened to derail it. As I said earlier, if she’d been there and Clark had chosen to pursue the possibility of a relationship with Lois despite her presence, it would have done wonders to the storyline. But she was put there as an obstacle, and her storyline concluded with her being unwillingly removed from Clark’s life. Now, as good as that final scene was, that was a big mistake. Big. Just like the whole Lana Lang character turned out to be a big mistake in the end, too.

Lana leaves Smallville - and Clark - for good. At long last.

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