Chloe Sullivan, Smallville’s intrepid reporter that precedes her cousin, Lois, made American fall in love with reporting before we even hit the main attraction at the Daily Planet. Unfortunately, Superman writers have left many of the female characters in his mythos poorly developed. Even Lois and Martha Kent, though important characters, often lack depth. But one of the glorious things about modern America is that we invest deeply in character development, not just plot, which we can see in television series. Series often take us through personal growth because people want TV to be different enough to escape into the world it provides us with but with heroes that are still relatable. (Not that I believe this as a general rule about literature–but I do believe this about texts that are meant to sell.)
Point being, Smallville does a lot to bring personality, not only to the world’s greatest (and often most two-dimensional) hero, but the rest of the cast as well. Enter Chloe Sullivan, the blonde sweetheart with just enough fire to keep her approachable, but interesting. Despite the unrequited love issue, Chloe and Clark manage to remain friends throughout the entirety of Smallville’s run. She becomes his acolyte–the character that is not exactly a side kick to the hero, but a protector type of aid, a confidante that is often outside of the circle of traditional heroes. A figure that’s recognizable as an acolyte would be Alfred Pennyworth to Batman. These characters give boundless love and understand the heroes in a way that their lovers often cannot, as they have usually known the hero for most of their life.
It’s clear that this is Chloe’s role when Lois’ appearance doesn’t diminish Chloe’s status. Chloe continues to be the helper for almost the entire show until the end of season eight when tragedy strikes: Doomsday kills her husband, Jimmy Olsen.
Let’s talk bluntly about this writing choice for a moment. Chloe is in a romantic drought for half the show’s run because she’s always depicted as drowning in her feelings for Clark. It’s even a point of contention for Chloe and Jimmy all the way up until their engagement party. It was never fair that she suffered from this emotional distress and that when the writers do throw her a bone with Jimmy, that relationship is senselessly ripped from her.
Regardless of whether or not Jimmy and Chloe are your OTP, Jimmy’s death caused an extraordinary change in Chloe–the portray of which I will always love Alison Mack for.
The constantly smiling Chloe with the positive vibes radiating from her is gone. The sparkle disappears from her eyes. She no longer tolerates Clark’s selfishness and tendancy to pick and choose who and what he’ll do things for. yes, she does still believe in Clark’s ability to effect change, but her faith is no longer unconditional. It’s wary. It’s skeptical to the point that it leads to a fall out between Clark and Chloe, the most solid friendship in television history.While she never intends to break Clark’s trust by keeping tabs on him and the other heroes, this is what she has to do to protect herself from him. This is what she has to do since he broke her trust and faith–she has to hold him at arms length. Chloe has finally learned in season nine that though Clark loves her, he is not willing to do what he would do in a heartbeat for Lois: Clark will not bring back Jimmy.
And understandably so.
But Chloe’s grief doesn’t just span 2-3 episodes. Jimmy’s death haunts her presence on the show in the dullness of her eyes, the way she refuses to move out of Watchtower, the way she no longer unconditionally adores Clark. Even when she’s with Oliver, she’s lost the ability to smile, to truly smile. I’m talking about those radiant, open mouthed smiles of complete faith and trust that she would give Clark in the early seasons of the show. Comparing the wedding photo of Chloe and Jimmy with the picture of Chloe that Oliver holds when she goes missing are distinctly different. The white backdrop of the bed sheet paired with the lilting, haunting smile, makes Chloe look like a ghost…like there’s something about her that’s unreachable. There is a part of her that died with Jimmy, that no matter how hard Oliver tries, he will never be able to touch.
We get less of what her grief looks like in season ten because she gets written off, in a way. But the darkness never quite lifts off of Chloe. She retreats into the shadows, living there for the rest of the series.
Though the darkness takes her, Chloe still lives in a world of hope. SHe decides to find more heroes and help them get their start. It’s a selfless and a solitary life–but it is clearly something that she would be fantastic at. Though she is the character that arguably deserved happiness the most and often the character that never got it, she still finds reasons to help others.
Chloe is never forgotten but often over looked because she’s always the one backstage, helping to come up with the plan to save the day. She would protect Clark if it meant losing her own life and seldom complains about being on the sidelines. She does get her moment of recognition when we see her at the end of season ten, telling the story of Superman to her son, because hers is one of the last voice we hear and last faces we see, placing her importance to Superman’s story second only to Lois.
The characters in Smallville are wonderfully written, beautifully flawed and at their core, very human–Chloe most of all. She could breathe and her character could develop on its own in a way that Lois and Clark couldn’t, as they both suffered under the weight of their own legacy.
To Chloe Sullivan, the original intrepid reporter extraordinaire.