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TV Snapshot: The beast within

The scene opens on a priest inside a confessional, who slides open the panel to reveal paramedic Davis Bloom who is struggling with trying to control his seemingly inevitable transformation into a monster-like creature called the Destroyer.

Bloom: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I. . . have hurt many people—people that I care about.

Priest: I’m here, my son. Go on.

Bloom: Something . . . takes over, without warning. It’s a beast inside of me, fighting to get out.

Priest: We all have our inner demons, but we must learn to control them.

Bloom: I’m trying, Father, the best way I know how.

Bloom puts a his hand over his face.

Bloom: But . . . I—I drive through Metropolis at night, searching for a way to save myself.

The image switches to a memory and we see Bloom, driving his ambulance at night, as he comes upon a drug dealer roughing up a boy.

Bloom (in a voiceover): Too much sin committed on those streets.

We watch Bloom turn on the siren in his ambulance and get out of the truck as the drug dealer runs away. Bloom runs up to the boy on the ground.

Bloom (continuing the voiceover): When I find someone who’s lost their way, I reach out.

We watch Bloom step on and crush a vile of drugs lying next to the boy, who he grabs and pushes away from him, growling at him to go home. Then Bloom goes after the drug dealer.

Bloom (in voiceover): And when I come across . . . evil . . .

We see Bloom, his eyes now glowing red, approach the drug dealer.

Bloom (voiceover): . . . I do everything in my power to put it to an end.

We watch Bloom grab and beat the dealer, and we hear Bloom snap his neck.

Bloom (voiceover): When I stop the wickedness that I see . . . it keeps the beast from coming out.

We watch the red light fade from Bloom’s eyes as the drug dealer slumps to the ground. The scene changes again, and we now see Bloom, back in the confessional talking to the priest.

Bloom: It makes me feel . . .

Bloom pauses and shuts his eyes.

Bloom: . . . human.

Priest: Stay on your righteous path, my son. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Emotion runs across Bloom’s face and he lifts a crucifix and kisses it.

--the opening to “Turbulence,” last night’s episode of Smallville (you can see this part of the episode on YouTube).
As I watched this opening to Smallville’s “Turbulence” (an episode loaded with God-talk, both literal—did you catch the reference to Billy Graham?—and thematic) I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s letter to Roman believers where he talks about how we live when we are under the "law," trying to be good and do right under our own power:

What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight.

Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?

Indeed, it is as if a beast lurks within. We do what we don’t want to—and we don’t do what we do want to. And Davis Bloom’s desire to do good but his difficulty in and lack of ability to control that beast he’s becoming is a worthy image of what happens when we try to control all those broken, dark and selfish bents we have with in us. We can’t do that on our own. We can’t “save” ourselves.

I find the priest’s words to Bloom insightful—to a point. He is right in that we do need to find ways to deal with those impulses and bents. But I don’t think it’s as much about “controlling” them as it is turning away and learning to live a new way. When we try to use our own methods (even in trying to be "good"), things get messy (as it does for Bloom as the episode goes on). Interesting, earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul says this about sin:
Sin simply did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover to tempt me to do what would finally destroy me. By hiding within God's good commandment, sin did far more mischief than it could ever have accomplished on its own.
But we aren’t doomed. Paul reminds us that we can be freed from this beast within:

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!
God doesn’t just give us a way to control the beasts within us; he heals us—deep to our very core. He changes us. He gives us a new and amazing Life.

And God doesn't leave us on our own, trying to figure out what to do now. He gives us ways to work with him in learning to live in this new life. These “spiritual disciplines” (as we’ve come to refer to them)—like talking with and listening to God (prayer), spending time reading Scripture (meditating, studying), learning to put the needs of others ahead of our own interests (serving), celebrating God’s goodness and reality (worship, celebration), etc.—are some of the ways we can bring ourselves before and open our hearts to God so that he transform and teach us more about living in and out of this new life.

It may seem to be a somewhat subtle difference, but I think it is significant. God is not about teaching us to control our sin but healing us so that we can live as we were created and meant to. That doesn’t mean we won’t struggle with our brokenness and bents—afterall, we are still in the middle of the Story where darkness, sin and evil thrash about in their throes of death—but it does mean we will work from a different place and understanding when we confront it within ourselves and others.

In some ways, Davis Bloom discovers something similar at the end of this episode. Caught in the consequences of his own attempts to save himself and do “good,” he is “saved”—at least momentarily. But he doesn’t save himself. Someone else does. And that person is associated with love more than any "law" or action of his own. That moment is less a Christ-like metaphor than an echo of the power of being loved—and loving others. But, then again, that is what God is all about.

On a last note, I’ve always found Smallville to fall solidly on the side that we are the ones who choose our own destiny and path. It is interesting to me that Bloom’s been told more than once that he has "no free will"—that he is doomed to be the Destroyer and has no choice in that matter. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with this one.

(Image: WB) smallvillectgy


Ken Brown said…
I finally got around to watching this episode last night and it's definitely a good one, but heartbreaking. I appreciated the symbolism that love (or at least, concern) was the only thing that could save Bloom from "the beast," but the whole thing between Chloe and Jimmy just kills me. And the worst of it is, I'm not sure the mythology of the show allows them to get back together (at least not permenantly). There's no Chloe in Jimmy and Superman's adult lives...
Carmen Andres said…
i read somewhere (can't remember now) that the recent episode where clark goes back in time presents on option on how chloe could disappear from everyone's memory. while that seems to be a way to go in explaining how such a significant here-and-now character disappears, i don't see how they could do it because chloe has been such a formational relationship for clark as he grows into superman.
Ken Brown said…
I don't think they can just disappear her like that and remain plausible; besides, they have already made a point of destroying Clark's means of changing the past again. I hate to say it, but in the end she probably has to die, but at least we can more or less expect her death to be heroic and sacrificial (and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it is what precipitates Clark's final transformation into Superman).

The only other option I can see (apart from abandoning continuity, but they have pretty much ruled that out by having the Legion not know who Chloe was) would be to send her on some sort of permenant trip very far away, but I'd have a hard time buying that, and even if that were happier ending, it'd likely be less meaningful. :/
Carmen Andres said…
but if the Legion doesn't know who she is, doesn't that support the idea that the writers are going to disappear her? how can jimmy lose her in death and not be affected by that permanently? plus doing some sort of memory thing would take away all the darkness jimmy is experiencing now. how does he recover from that and be the jimmy olsen of superman lore? i don't think he can. i think it's going to be some sort of memory thing--though i think Clark (and thus we the viewers) will be the one to remember, because i, like you, think that whatever happens to her will be the catalyst that will bring Superman into being.
Ken Brown said…
Hmmm, I suppose you're probably right about Jimmy, and it does seem unlikely that the Legion wouldn't know about one of the most formative figures in Clark's life, even if she did die young. Not that I like it, but that's the problem with inventing a new backstory--some story compromises have to be made to explain future ignorance. We can at least hope that the context of her "disappearance" is still heroic or sacrificial in some way, though.

I suppose it's the same problem BSG faced, since (last I checked) there are no ancient starships lying around...
Carmen Andres said…
i'm thinking the writers of "smallville" had chloe figured out before they started, or at least some ideas of what they would do with her. unlike BSG, the mythology of superman is pretty dang set so they had to have back doors out of that in case the characters left or they really did get enough seasons to get clark to superman. (though, of course, it does fluctuate within itself, if i understand all of it right.) at least that is what i hope! i guess what i really want to say is that ron moore's storytelling development is a bit irritating to me, heh.
Ken Brown said…
lol. Not as irritating to you, I think, as to Barbara, but I agree that the whole fly by the seat of your pants approach was a poor choice for a show like BSG; even if the results worked (more or less), it could have been so much more if they had thought it through in advance.

So yes, I hope Smallville wraps things up a bit better, but given the way the early seasons worked (meteor-freak of the week), I'm doubtful they really had character end-games established that early, apart from the basic dictim: no one who knows about Clark can survive/remember. Still, the show has been popular long enough now that they ought to have plenty of time to think about it, so I'm hopeful that they will end well (more hopeful than I was before Daybreak aired, anyway).
Carmen Andres said…
heh, i've been waiting for nicolosi to followup that post. my husband thinks my post on the finale was too generous (he liked the first half but the last half was a bunch of hooey--my word, not his).

thanks for the conversation, ken. a pleasure as always!
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