The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
shape-changing super-villain from Smallville
NOTE: Just so nobody wastes any time and is disappointed, let me say this: If you want to read about a truly, overtly Buddhist fictional character, this isn't the place to do so. A more complete disclaimer along these lines is at the bottom of this page.
After the initial essay, this page features a partial transcript of "X-Ray" (the episode that introduces Tina Greer), along with screen captures showing her and the statue of the Buddha in her home.
"Tina Greer" is the name of a character who appeared as a super-powered villain in two episodes of the TV series Smallville. Tina Greer's obsession with Lana Lang brought her into conflict with Clark Kent, Lana's friend and neighbor in his pre-Superman teenage years. Tina Greer is the only LGBT Buddhist villain ever to appear on this TV series.
Tina Greer appeared as the guest villain character first in X-Ray, the fourth episode of the first season of Smallville (6 November 2001). She later returned in Visage (Season 2, Episode 11, airdate: 14 January 2003). In Visage the character was apparently killed and she has not been seen since.
Tina Greer was born with a rare soft bone disease, which was treated with many experimental drugs while she was a baby. When she was three years old, the Kryptonite meteor shower hit Smallville and apparently the strange radiation of the meteor rocks combined with the effects of the experimental drugs and Tina's unique physiology to imbue her with the power to change her body shape so that she can assume the appearance and mimic the voice of any person. She also gained super-strength.
Tina Greer can be identified as a Buddhist, although her devotion to Buddhism seems tenuous, at best.
In Tina Greer's home, a statue of the Buddha was prominently displayed in the front room next to the stairs. This visual clue is really the only overtly Buddhist element in X-Ray, the episode that introduces the Tina Greer character. Tina's home had no identifiable symbols of any other religions (such as a Christian cross).
[As explained more fully in the disclaimer at the bottom of this page, after watching X-Ray the first two times, I was under the mistaken impression that Tina Greer and her mother lived in a home that was separate from their antique store. Actually, their home is in the back of and on the top floor of the same building where the antique store is located. The statue of the Buddha is near what might be described as the back of the main shopping area for customers in the store. The statue is located alongside a staircase that leads up to the living quarters. Some of the statements in this article that speak of the Greer's "home" are not entirely accurate in light of this fact. The statue of the Buddha is sort of located in their home, but it is also definitely located in their store.]
One may surmise that the Buddha statue was in the home because Tina's mother was a Buddhist and raised Tina as a Buddhist. However, given Tina's villainous behavior in the two episodes which featured her, it is safe to say that Tina was not particularly religious and was not a very good Buddhist. She appears to have had little interest of her own in following the precepts of Buddhism.
Tina Greer had a troubled, tragic life. Although cast in the role as a "villain of the week," she wasn't completely without sympathetic traits. Nevertheless, she was indeed a villain. She was first seen robbing a bank while disguising herself as Lex Luthor. Later, in her home, Tina becomes enraged at her mother when her mother confronts her about her thievery. Tina's mother (clearly a more observant Buddhist) tells Tina that stealing is not the way. Tina shoves her mother, who then falls down the stairs and dies. Tina did not intend to kill her mother. But with her mother dead, she decides to take advantage of the situation to try to get closer to Lana.
Later in the episode Tina tries (unsuccessfully) to murder Lana Lang and Clark Kent. In the subsequent episode Visage, Tina kills a fellow patient in the mental hospital and then kills a military officer. As stated above, she is clearly not a very religious person.
One obvious question that comes to mind is why a white middle-class family living in a small town in Kansas would be portrayed as Buddhist? The answer lies in the nature of the plot. Tina's principle super-power is the ability to change shape and literally appear to be another person.
In the episode's opening scene we see what appears to be Lex Luthor rob a bank. It turns out that it wasn't really Lex Luthor; it was actually Tina Greer using her power to make herself look like Luthor. When we first see Tina Greer in her natural form it is when she returns home (to the antique store owned by her mother) and shows her mother the money. Her mother harshly scolds her, telling her stealing isn't the answer. Tina tells her mother that she didn't rob the bank, but rather, "Lex Luthor did." While saying these words, Tina uses her powers to mimic the voice and face of Lex Luthor. With a "morphing" special effect, we see her literally transform to Lex Luthor and then back to herself.
The presence of a Buddhist statue may have been intended to serve as a visual reinforcement for this idea: A central tenet of Buddhism is the concept of reincarnation. Just as Buddhists believe that they experience a continual cycle of death and rebirth into a new body, Tina changes her body to assume a new life. In fact, we see three lives for Tina in this introductory scene: she is herself, she is transforms into Lex Luthor, and she says she wants to have Lana Lang's life.
Near the statue of the Buddha is a large mirror. In the same scene that shows the Buddha statue in Tina's home, Tina cracks the mirror. It doesn't fall to pieces, but rather stays in its frame. The mirror is cracked into many shards, each reflecting Tina's image with different angles and effects. As Tina looks into the mirror, we can see her shattered psyche: The appearance of Tina Greer in multiple disparate mirror shards reflects both her physical transformations into different people as well as her mental fragmentation.
Tina's obsession with Lana Lang further reflects this theme. Tina Greer has long watched her classmate Lana Lang with great jealousy. Tina believes that Lana has the "perfect life," and it is a life that Tina wants for herself. Tina purposefully attempts to emulate Lana's life. She wears the same clothes and pursues the same interests. After Tina kills her mother, she plots to move with Lana. She tells Lana that they'll be just like sisters. Tina later tries to permanently replace Lana, but Clark Kent thwarts her.
Later Tina Greer escapes the mental hospital where she was confined after the events portrayed in X-Ray, the episode that introduced her. In Visage Tina is no longer obsessed with being like Lana or becoming Lana. In Visage Tina is infatuated with Lana and wants to be with her in some sort of romantic arrangement, despite the fact that Lana has no feelings along those lines whatsoever. Based on Tina's romantic obsession with Lana in this episode, viewers may be tempted to classify Tina Greer as an LGBT person (GLBT) or a lesbian. It may be more accurate to simply classify Tina as "deranged." The shift in Tina's obsession with Lana does not stem from genuine romantic feeling, but is simply another facet in Tina's psychosis.
On the other hand, teenaged mutant Buddhist lesbian shapeshifting serial-killing supervillains are a rarity, so some people may be inclined to take them where they can get them.
Most viewers of the Smallville episodes featuring this character probably never consciously identified her as a Buddhist at all. We have no argument with anybody who considers it too much of a stretch to classify Tina Greer as a Buddhist. Given the otherwise complete absence of Buddhist characters in the Smallville TV series (and in comics and comics-based TV and film generally), we felt it best to make the case where the possibility exists.
Certainly there are alternative explanations for the prominent Buddhist statue in Tina's home. Tina's mother was an antique dealer who ran an antique shop in downtown Smallville. Although there was no indication that Tina's home was in any way cluttered or was used as a repository for antiques, it is possible that Tina's mother simply thought the statue looked neat and did not attach any religious significance to it.
Many non-Buddhists own statues of the Buddha. Possibly the set decorator or production designer simply thought the statue of Buddha looked cool and reflected the plot of the show, and thus included it in the scene, without anybody intending to suggest that the family was Buddhist.
It is doubtful, however, that the presence of the statue of Buddha was accidental. Even though there was no overt identification of the Greer family as Buddhist in this episode, it is not unreasonable to use a prominent visual clue such as this to assume something about the family. If one saw other religious symbols prominently displayed in a front room, such as a crucifix or a menorah or a framed page from the Quran or a statue of the Virgin Mary or an ornately adorned picture of a Sikh guru one would similarly make certain assumptions about the religious affiliation of the family that lived in the home.
There exists no concrete proof that Tina Greer was Buddhist. There is only parsimony.
Partial transcript from "X-Ray" episode
This partial transcript from "X-Ray" focuses on the scenes in which Tina Greer really embraces her evil path. These are also the scenes in which we see the Buddha statue in her home. In a way, it is almost as if the statue of Lord Buddha looks on in sadness as Tina rejects the path of righteousness and non-violence and instead embarks on a path of selfishness and violence.
The "X-Ray" episode starts with in a bank in downtown Smallville. Lex Luthor, the wealthiest man in the town, walks into the bank and says that he wants to withdraw all of his money - in cash. The request surprises the bank manager, but he says he will help. He asks Lex Luthor to fill out a cash withdrawal card. The bank manager checks the signature on the card with a signature he has on file for Lex Luthor. The signatures are completely different. When the bank manager points this out, Lex Luthor points a gun at the bank manager and tells him to fill a bag with money. This is clearly peculiar behavior. Why would Lex Luthor need to steal his own money from a bank?
(Of course, this is not really Lex Luthor. As the episode soon reveals, the person robbing the bank is actually Tina Greer, a young woman who has the power to look and sound like any other person.)
The bank manager presses a button that triggers an alarm. "Lex Luthor" (actually Tina Greer) flees the scene. While running away from the bank, the robber runs into Clark Kent and displays super strength when she throws him through the nearest shop window. Clark's X-ray vision is triggered for the first time as he looks and sees Tina Greer's peculiar internal anatomy. (Although, if one really thinks about it, how would Clark know that Tina Greer's internal anatomy is peculiar if this is the first time he has ever used his X-ray vision to view a person's internal anatomy? What is the basis for his comparison? But that's entirely beside the point.)
2 minutes, 15 seconds: We see the interior of the antique shop owned by Tina Greer's mother. A large sign reading "Hellmann's" is hung behind the shop counter. Perhaps this is the name of the shop. Perhaps this is simply an antique sign on sale or put there for decoration. The camera pans across the empy store counter and zeroes in on the back of the store. A staircase leads up to another floor. A freestanding coatrack is next to the staircase with a sweater hanging on it. It appears that the back of the shop is also the entrance to a family's living quarters.
Next to the staircase is a small end table with a large statue of the Buddha on it.
The camera stops panning while the Buddha statue is in the middle of the screen. A door in the back of the shop opens and a middle-aged woman enters, carrying a red school backback. This is the same backpack that Lex Luthor used to steal stacks of money from the bank. This woman is Tina Greer's mother. She looks very upset. She walks up the stairs.
Tina Greer's mother reaches the top of the stairs at the same time that Tina Greer herself opens a bathroom door. Tina is wearing a bathrobe and has a towel around her neck. She just finished taking a shower in this room, which is part of their family's living quarters. Tina's mother pulls a stack of currency from the backpack.
Tina's Mother: Tina, where did you get this?
Tina Greer: Promised I'd solve all of our problems. [Tina smiles, ignoring her mother's obviously disturbed state.]
Tina's Mother: Oh, please tell me you didn't rob the bank yesterday.
Tina Greer: I didn't.
[Tina looks straight at her mother. The features on her face begin to shift. Her hair recedes into her head. Her features morph until she looks like Lex Luthor. Then she speaks, using Lex Luthor's voice.]
Tina Greer: [as Lex Luthor] Lex Luthor did.
Tina's Mother: [Very upset.] Stop it. Stop it, Tina. You promised that you wouldn't do that anymore.
Tina Greer: I did it for us.
Tina's Mother: Somebody could have gotten hurt!
Tina Greer: Mom, I'm fine. Now we can afford to have the perfect life.
Tina's Mother: Tina, nobody's life is perfect.
Tina Greer: Lana's is.
Tina's Mother: Stealing isn't the way to solve our problems. I'll take it back. I'll say I found it in a dumpster.
Tina Greer: No, Mom, come on! We deserve to be happy! Come on!
[Tina grabs the backpack that her mother is holding. The two of them struggle over it. Tina's mother doesn't want Tina to take the backpack. As they struggle, either Tina's mother manages to yank the backpack away, or a strap on the backpack rips, causing Tina's mother to fall down the stairs. Tina watches as her mother takes a hard fall down the stairs. As Tina's mother falls down the stairs, we see her tumbling behind the statue of the Buddha. Tina's mother crashes hard into a full-length mirror at the bottom of the stairs.]
Tina Greer: Mom!
Tina appears shocked about what has happened. It is clear that she had not intended to hurt her mother. She rushes down the stairs. She turns her mother's body over so she can see her mother's face. Her mother is dead. The ominous music being played makes this clear to viewers. Tears are in Tina's eyes.
Tina Greer: No!
Tina picks up the phone at the store counter. She dials.
911 Operator: [Heard over the phone.] 911 emergency.
[Tina hear's the 911 operator, but she doesn't say anything. Instead, she looks into the fractured mirror. Its many shards, still in the frame, reflect multiple images of her own face. She has also noticed the cash on the floor. She thinks, and formulates a wicked plan.]
911 Operator: Hello? Hello, is anyone there? Hello? Hello. Hello, is anyone there?
Tina Greer: Sorry. It's nothing.
[Timestamp: 4 minutes, 0 seconds after start of episode. The opening credits for Smallville roll.]
[The next scenes focus on Clark discussing his new X-ray vision power with his parents, and we see Lex Luthor coming by the Kent farm to explain that he was hosting a large event with hundreds of witnesses at the time of the bank robbery. Everybody knows that somebody was disguising themself as Luthor.
[Timestamp: 8 minutes, 32 seconds. Location: Lana Lang's home. Lana Lang's aunt shows Tina Greer to the garage where Lana is.]
Nell (Lana Lang's aunt): Lana, you have a visitor.
Tina Greer: Hey, Lana.
Lana Lang: Tina, I didn't see you at school today. Is everything okay?
Tina Greer: Yeah. My mom's not feeling well. But she's better, so... So, you quit cheerleading and Nell banishes you to the garage.
Lana Lang: She's got clutter issues. I'm trying to help resolve them.
Tina Greer: Has she forgiven you for quitting the squad?
Lana Lang: Not yet.
Tina Greer: Well, at least now you have some more time for your unpopular friends.
Lana Lang: Tina, you're not unpopular. Besides, what happened to the girl who didn't care what people thought about her?
Tina Greer: She went to high school.
Lana Lang: At least your mom doesn't try to run your life.
Tina Greer: You know, you're lucky that Nell cares about you. I mean, if something were to happen to my mom... I don't anybody that'd take me in. I'd probably be shipped off to a foster home or something.
Lana Lang: Thanks for that burst of cheer.
Tina Greer: Well, what do you want me to say? You have the perfect life.
Lana Lang: You want it? You can have it.
Tina Greer: I'd settle for the outfit... Wouldn't it be cool if we were sisters? If anything happened to my mom, do you think that Nell would adopt me?
Lana Lang: Tina, nothing's gonna happen to your mom.
[End of scene. Timestamp: 9 minutes, 55 seconds.]
[Clark Kent walks along Smallville's Main Street. He experiments with his new X-ray vision powers. He sees Tina Greer going into her mother's antique store. He uses her X-ray vision to see her internal anatomy, and he realizes that this is the same internal anatomy he saw when he used his X-ray vision to look at the person he thought was Lex Luthor running away from a bank robbery. Clark runs into his mother and reminds her that she was planning to go to the antique store. Clark and his mother go there.]
[Timestamp 10 minutes, 37 seconds. Scene: The interior of the antique store. We see Clark Kent and his mother Martha Kent approaching the store from the street. They enter through the front door.]
Martha Kent: Hello?
[Hearing the chimes from the front door, Tina Greer realizes somebody has entered the store. She walks from the back into the main area of the store. She appears to be her own mother.]
Tina Greer (as her mother): Mrs. Kent-- I-- I mean, Martha. How are you?
Martha Kent: Good. How's business?
Tina Greer (as her mother): Couldn't be better. I'm doing so many estate sales in Metropolis, I'm thinking of selling the place.
Martha Kent: That would be a shame. I thought you loved this store.
Tina Greer (as her mother): Not really. I never wanted this life. It just kind of happened.
Clark Kent: Is Tina around? I thought I saw her come in.
Tina Greer (as her mother): Uh, she's at Lana's. They're inseparable these days.
Clark Kent: Really? I could have sworn that--
Tina Greer (as her mother): You must be seeing things.
Clark Kent: I need some air. I'm gonna go for a walk.
[Clark exits through the front door.]
Martha Kent: I came by to pick up the lamp.
Tina Greer (as her mother): The lamp?
Martha Kent: The one you were restoring for Jonathan?
Tina Greer (as her mother): Oh, yes. Silly me. It's in the back.
[Tina Greer walks to the back of the store and exits. Martha walks toward the back of the stoor. We can see the staircase where Tina's mother previously fell to her death.The end table with the Buddha statue is no longer there. Martha Kent looks in a mirror. In the mirror's reflection she notices a bundle of cash underneath a raised ornate hope chest. She recognizes that these must be the bills stolen from the bank. Tina, in cleaning up after her mother's death, apparently missed picking up this bundle. She picks up the money. While Martha picks up the bundle of money, we can see that the statue of the Buddha is still in the room. It was moved from right next to the staircase to a few feet away. The statue of the Buddha looks on while Martha picks up the money, and while Tina Greer (as her mother) re-enters the room.]
Tina Greer (as her mother): It's not quite ready, it's--
[Tina's mother stops short as she sees that Martha has found a bundle of money from the bank robbery.]
Martha Kent: I found this under the chest.
Tina Greer (as her mother): I'm such an airhead. A client paid me in cash. I've been looking for this all day.
Martha Kent: That's a lot of money. You should be careful.
Tina Greer (as her mother): Thanks. Why don't you stop by next week, it'll be ready then.
[Martha Kent smiles, pretending that she doesn't think anything is amiss. She turns to leave. Tina Greer notices that Martha's purse is still on the counter. Tina reaches into Martha's purse and grabs Martha's car keys.]
Tina Greer (as her mother): Mrs. Kent, you forgot your purse.
Martha Kent:Oh. Looks like we're both airheads today. Bye.
[Tina locks the front door to the store. She turns over the sign hanging in the door so that "Closed" is facing outward. She walks into the store a little bit and stops. Her features change, shifting from her mother's face and body so that she now looks like her true self. Tina looks down at the stolen car keys. Ominous music plays. She smiles. Murder is on her mind.]
[The scene changes to outside on Main Street. Martha Kent looks at a Smallville Ledger newspaper in a newspaper dispenser. The headline reads "Lex Luthor Robs Bank". A vehicle can be heard speeding up in the background. Martha Kent turns around and starts walking. A vehicle can be heard careening closer. Martha Kent sees her own pickup truck hurtling toward her. A look of shock is on her face as she sees what appears to be her own son, Clark Kent, at the wheel.]
Martha Kent: Clark!
[Martha Kent jumps out of the way, falling to the ground. The pickup truck, which is actually being driven by Tina Greer, narrowly misses hitting Martha. The pickup drives away, running into things as it escapes. The real Clark Kent sees his mom on the pavement and helps her.]
Clark Kent: Mom, are you all right?
Martha Kent: Clark?!
[Martha and Clark hug each other. End of scene. Timestamp: 13 minutes, 21 seconds.]
[This was the last scene in which the statue of the Buddha was shown. Tina Greer has now become not simply a bank robber or a person who accidentally killer her own mother. She has completely broken away from the values her mother raised her with and has become a person bent on murder.]
Author's Note (a disclaimer)
Just to be clear, I am the author of this page. I am NOT the author of any episode of Smallville.
I'm adding a few additional paragraphs to this page after the main body of this article. There are, however some Buddhist themes touched upon by this article, and you may nevertheless find it interesting. But this isn't a Hermann Hesse story, if you know what I mean.
When I first wrote this page, I wrote it a few days after watching X-Ray (the first Smallville episode to feature Tina Greer) for the second time. The first time was many months previous. I was struck by how prominently a statue of the Buddha was featured in one scene and how that was thematically appropriate given the powers, psyche and plot path of the "Tina Greer" character who was featured in the same scene.
So I decided that a case could be made that Tina Greer is a Buddhist, albeit not a very good one. That is what this page is about.
However, I just watched the scenes with the Buddha statue again, and I realized that these scenes take place in the antique store, not in a separate home. It appears that Tina Greer and her mother (the owner of the antique store in downtown Smallville) do not live in a separate building, but actually live in living quarters at the back and upstairs in the same building as the store. (This isn't so strange. The coffee shop in downtown Smallville where Lana Lang and later Martha Kent work also has an apartment in the back and upstairs. Various characters, including Lana herself, have lived in commercial property in downtown Smallville.)
What can be textually supported from this episode is that Tina Greer and her mother live in an antique shop and, because of that, there is a large statue of the Buddha in the shop. To put it succinctly: Nobody in their right mind would watch this episode of "Smallville" and think that Tina Greer and/or her mother are Buddhists.
Having said that, however, I still think it is reasonable to believe that it was an intentional choice on the part of the show's creators to have a statue of the Buddha featured prominently in the scene in which Tina Greer is truly introduced and her psychosis and powers are revealed. It may or may not have been a choice made by the writer or director. It may have simply been a choice on the part of a clever production designer or set decorator. But I think this was a deliberate, conscious choice.
In any case, let me be clear that in no way were the show's creators attempting to portray the Greers as Buddhists.
Nevertheless, I do think it is fun to think of Tina Greer as a rather unsuccessful Buddhist. We know for a fact, from watching the episode, that Tina's mother tried (perhaps half-heartedly, but at least she tried) to instill good values in her daughter. Whatever their religious persuasion (which, if we stretch our minds enough, we can imagine to be Buddhism), Tina's mother was obviously unsuccessful. Tina chose to rob a bank to try to solve her family's financial difficulties, and eventually she chose to murder people so she could get her way.
Nothing here is in any way meant to disparage Buddhism. Parents of all faiths sometimes fail to instill their values in their children. Buddhism is the only religion with imagery overtly featured in X-Ray. But this was probably done for thematic reasons related to the plot and Tina Greer's powers, and not as any sort of commentary on Buddhism itself.
Webpage created 7 May 2007. Last modified 14 May 2007.
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