That scene comes after a climatic fight with Superman-villain-of-lore Zod, who has been (mis)leading the Kryptonian Kandorians in a violent quest to rule Earth. To make a long story short, Clark had found a device to transport all those of Krypton (including himself) off Earth. Clark is willing to sacrifice his life and relationships on Earth to give the Kandorians a place where they could start over (and also protect the Earth from Zod)—but Zod will have nothing of that. As the rest of his people literally beam up to their new haven, Zod pulls out and goes after Clark with a dagger of Blue Kryptonite (the effect of which renders any Kyrptonian human—and thus being in the proximity of it also prevents him and Clark from being beamed to the new world as they are no longer recognized by the device as Kryptonian).
At the height of the battle, Clark is stabbed by the dagger in his side (some suggest he allowed it to happen) and Zod smiles with victory—but it’s short lived. Calmly and deliberately, Clark leans back and falls off the top of the building with the dagger still thrust in his side, and it dawns on Zod what Clark is doing. As Clark falls, Zod’s proximity to Blue Kryptonite increases until he is no longer affected by it—and the device beams him up to join the rest of the Kandorians.
And Clark? As he falls he stretches out his arms and darkness enfolds him. To be continued.
While some critics found the deliberate messianic imagery hokey, I’m among those that think it fits right in with the messianic themes in Superman mythology in general and Smallville in particular. Sent to Earth by his father, Clark grows up among humans, sympathizes with them, loves them—but he is also greater than them. He faces temptations regarding his powers, but chooses to use them sacrificially to help others (even at heavy costs to himself). He constantly confronts evil, risks his life for others and has saves the world from destruction more than once—threats of destruction often brought on by selfishness, greed and pride (ie, sin). Clark also has an optimistic view of human nature and the faith that good should, can and will overcome evil. In the Smallville rendering of Superman, Chloe notes in “Varitas” that Clark has an “inherent need to find good in people” and a willingness to forgive. And as Lana notes in “Legion,” Clark has a tendency to seek a way to save the individual as well as the world. Clark always wrestles with finding a way to do the right thing and what is best for the other—even someone who might be his enemy. And by using Jesus imagery at the end of this episode, it enhances all this and adds depth to the sacrifice that Clark is making.
On a theological note, Clark’s motives throughout the series and in “Salvation” in particular echo some important aspects of our own Story. Specifically, I’m thinking of how—even after all Zod had done and in spite of the urging of Clark's friends and colleagues to kill the Kandorian—Clark doggedly searches for a way to protect the Earth from Zod without ending Zod’s life. That desire was so strong that, in the end, Clark was willing to sacrifice his own life to do so. In effect, this willingness allows Clark to not only protect the world from destruction and death but also offer Zod the same salvation as well.
And that echoes and gets at an aspect of the salvation Jesus offers. From the beginning of our Story, with a honed, ferocious will to redeem, restore and free us, God set about to rid us of the insidious darkness that infiltrates and threatens to destroy the world and our very souls. So great is his love for us and his desire that not one perish that he walks among us—and in those moments of Jesus’ God-in-flesh life, death and resurrection, Jesus steps with finality between us and that death, darkness and destruction, giving us a chance to embrace a new and abundant-beyond-imagination life.
Unfortunately, this “saving” aspect of Jesus is misrepresented as a protection or salvation from a God-with-a-big-stick who wants to pummel us—and this scene in Smallville gives a good image leading towards a truer understanding. Clark didn’t want anyone to die—including Zod—and he was willing to lay his life down for that. This echoes God’s desperate desire that no one perish, which bursts forth in Jesus as God-in-flesh. His furious Love incarnates, bent on saving each and every one us from the death, destruction and evil that has infected us and his creation no matter what the cost to him. Jesus isn’t saving us from a God that hates us but the thing that is bent on hungrily and greedily destroying us. God’s wrath isn’t directed at us but at that thing, like a mother’s furious love swatting a swarm of bees away from her toddler son or a parent’s hatred of a cancer that is killing their child. And in a Love that explodes outward in the Jesus event, all death, destruction, evil and sin are swallowed whole. And when we grasp the kind of love by which we are loved, we understand why would God sacrifice even for those who would be his enemies—and why he calls us to do the same.
Of course, the salvation Clark offers to the world and Zod are only echoes of the kind of salvation Jesus offers—and Jesus offers far more than protection or deliverance from death. He offers us the chance to become once more who we were created and now enabled to be. He offers us a new and abundant life in the wide open spaces of his grace and glory. And, as Scot McKnight puts it, he not only restores us and reconnects us to himself but also restores and reconnects us with others and the world.
But I loved how the exploration of salvation in Clark’s story helps us recall salvation in our own Story—and how it brings more God-talk into these open spaces.