"Reckoning," the 100th episode of WB's Smallville (Thursdays at 8 pm/ET) lived up to the hype with the heroic, if not altogether unexpected, death of Jonathan Kent, who perished doing what he's done for much of the show's run: protecting adopted son Clark's secret. But what did original cast member John Schneider think of the patriarch's passing? TV Guide spoke to the actor about his reaction, what he is most thankful for, and more.
TV Guide: How do you feel about the way your character bowed out?
John Schneider: I thought it was really, really good. For me it was reminiscent of The Red Badge of Courage. There was a character in The Red Badge of Courage who refused to die laying down. I think if anyone was going to have that feeling, it was going to be Jonathan Kent. And personally, there was a goal to make it as "John Wayne" a death as it could be. [Laughs]
TV Guide: What was it like filming the death scene?
Schneider: Of course, we didn't shoot it last we never shoot anything anywhere near the logical order but it was very heartfelt. The emotion that's there was very easy to get, because it was very real. It's a sad thing in that I've been on this show for all this time and I knew that was the swan song. It was kind of bittersweet [because] I'm not a big fan of all the commuting back and forth to Vancouver, but at the same time, other than my Dukes of Hazzard family, I've spent more time with these people than anyone else I've ever worked with maybe anyone else I've known short of my wife and kids. But I really, really enjoyed every bit of what I had to do in those last several episodes, especially pulling Clark out of the car and protecting him [when Lana "dies" in "Reckoning"]. He didn't want his boy to see Lana in the car like that. I think Jonathan is a tremendous role model for fathers everywhere, I really do.
I also think that in the subsequent episodes [the death] is necessary. It's the catalyst that actually causes Clark to become Superman. Clark has to fill the void of this tremendous role model that he's had in his life. He's trying to become his dad in a world void of his dad.
TV Guide: That was a great scene with John Glover (Lionel Luthor) at the end.
Schneider: Good. Over the course of the series, I didn't have a chance to work with John that many times, so it was a reward for me to work with him. I love the fact that Clark is moral because of his upbringing that's a message we really needed to hear just as Lex is what he is because of his parents. I'd really have loved to have Jonathan ask Lionel what in the hell he is doing "Why are you doing this to your son?" only to find out that in Lionel's own very strange way, he sees the world as a place that needs to be conquered before it conquers you. Jonathan sees it as a place that needs to be helped and nurtured along. In a very odd sense, I think Lionel's approach is every bit as loving as Jonathan's. It's just put on its feet in a very different way.
TV Guide: When were you told about Jonathan's death, and what was your initial reaction?
Schneider: I was given the news during this season's ninth episode ["Lexmas"], and ["Reckoning"] was our 12th. I have an office at Warner Bros., with a development deal and a company there and all that sort of stuff, so I was given the news a bit early so that I could shovel myself into some of the things that we've been developing over the last two years. I thought it was very kind that they gave me that sort of notice so I could get my ducks in a row. The awkward part about all that is that I was told "Nobody knows this but you and us, so don't tell anybody," so I had two-and-a-half episodes in "Smallvilleland" to keep this secret. I kept looking around at people, wondering if anybody knew. [Laughs] I think we've all been assumed dead at [various points]. Certainly when meteors are coming into your living room, you have to assume somebody's not going to make it.
TV Guide: How did they explain it to you as to why they were doing this?
Schneider: It was explained that in the story of Superman, Jonathan Kent dies, so it was an inevitable event that had been set up so long ago. I just thought that perhaps it would be at the end of the season, not in the middle, but there you have it. [Laughs] But it's OK with me because in many senses, Jonathan is in the show more after he's dead. His memory is kind a talisman for the second half of Season 5. I'm in it in spirit more than I was in Season 4 at all. [Laughs]
TV Guide: Given how much [series creators] Al [Gough] and Miles [Millar] have drawn from the Superman movies, was it always in the back of your head, even back in Season 1, that Jonathan wasn't going to make it?
Schneider: Yes. It was always there. Granted, I thought he would make it to a little closer to the end of the series [Laughs], but it was a not a big surprise to me. It was not really a matter of if, it was a matter of when. Again, my appreciation lies in the fact that they gave me enough time to get myself situated for next year, which I'm still doing.
TV Guide: That leads to my next question. What is next for you? What would you like to do?
Schneider: In a perfect world, I would do a half-hour sitcom out here in Los Angeles. My wife and I have three kids, and I've spent much of the last five years age 6 to 11 in my youngest daughter's life not knowing whether or not I was going to be able to make her soccer game or her birthday party or her parent-teacher conference. So I would really, very much like to be at home for my two youngest ones, who are 14 and 11. I hate the notion that I play a better father on television than I am at home. That really, really bothers me.
TV Guide: So you're looking at this spring's pilot season?
Schneider: Yeah, yeah. In fact, I'm pitching WB [a series] there's some interest in that would not only put me in the half-hour genre but would put me back in the music business. It would be about someone very much like me who used to travel around doing country music and now is urged back into that world by his family, who realize that something is missing in their daddy's life. That's my first choice. It's called Johnny Black. I hope it works out.
TV Guide: Well, I wish you luck with everything.
Schneider: Thank you. I've really appreciated the opportunity on Smallville. The [respectable] father figure really has been absent [on television] I tell that to Miles and Al quite often.