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24 September 2005 @ 03:12 pm
 

Essay: Maternal forces in Lex Luthor’s life (Spoilers to Ep2 of Season 4 Smallville)

Lex Luthor crashes his car off a bridge and would have died had the boy he hit been human. The boy he hit was not human and he brings Lex back to life: he breaks him out of a confined watery space and throws him onto the brightly lit riverbank. As Lex coughs up water, he stares into the first face present in his new life with all the wonder of a lover – or a newborn child. Clark has given (re)birth to Lex and in this sense is a mother figure to him.

 

Lex’s relationship with his biological mother Lillian was deeply scarring. We know she was victimised into deep depression by Lionel. It’s likely that she suffered from physical post-natal depression following Julian’s birth and possibly when Lex was born as well. Lillian killed Julian, believing this was the best way to protect him from Lionel. This could have turned her into a monster in Lex’s eyes, but he doesn’t see her this way. He could also legitimately resent her for the rejection of him that her depression must have created and for the fact that her mental illness forced him to ‘parent’ her at a young age. Rightly or wrongly, he deflects all of the blame onto Lionel. For Lex, a mother is a figure to be loved, revered, protected and idealised. Mother is also someone who withholds approval and who is ultimately out of reach.

 

There is something so creepy about the fact that Lex’s first words to Lillian on seeing Julian dead in his cot are ‘What about dad?’ In this moment, Lex is about to move prematurely into adulthood by unhealthily ‘parenting’ Lillian, protecting her from Lionel, and displacing his own father. The question also implies that the son and mother already understand that Lionel will disrupt and abuse this new turn of events. So even before Lillian kills Julian, I suspect Lex and Lillian have been saving each other from Lionel’s anger and abuse.

 

The relationship that Lex develops with Clark after his rebirth is one in which he helplessly replays these mother-son patterns. He craves Clark’s appreciation, giving him gifts to get the beaming approval of this new parent figure. He also monopolises his time and attention. His love is unconditional in its initial phase, just like that of an infant.

 

It makes sense that Clark’s ‘secret’ would disturb Lex at a subconscious level, because it has much the same affect as his mother’s mental illness had: it excludes Lex and gives Clark a darkness and mystery that Lex cannot control or access.

 

He desperately wants to ‘parent’ Clark, as we see in repeated scenes where Lex delights in giving Clark advice or helping him solve problems. Lex’s repetition of the pattern of parenting his mother-figure indicates a continuing need to be appreciated and needed in his primary relationship. The act of parenting a sick parent, while inappropriate, feels empowering and is no doubt a source of Lex’s self-sufficiency.

 

Clark’s secret also gives Lex a reason to protect Clark, and Lex’s need to protect his mother was overwhelming. We see Lex replay this pattern with the female figures in his life: particularly at Club Zero where he takes responsibility for the shooting. But for Clark, in killing Nixon, he not only kills in the eyes of others, he physically pulls the trigger himself for the first time, protecting Clark’s father and his secret. In doing so, Lex is again tainted in the eyes of a father-figure: this time, Jonathan Kent.

He is also tainted in Clark’s eyes, as we discover when Clark flings this act back in Lex’s face: ‘It’s not like I haven’t seen you kill before.’ This must hurt Lex so deeply because it taps another subconscious fear: that one of the reasons Lillian kills only Julian is that Lex is already tainted.

 

The children of depressed parents frequently channel and express their parents’ emotions, and they are likely to experience mental illness themselves. Following Lillian’s death Lex continued to live in a corrupting and abusive relationship with his father. The fact that Lex suffers from recurring mental illness is therefore no surprise: in fact, it’s convincing that he would be more insane, had his physiology not been changed by the meteor explosion.

 

Lex must have abandonment fears. Not only was his mother an absent figure in his early childhood due to the sick family dynamics, she died in his adolescence. Lex was old enough to feel this second loss deeply, but he rarely discusses it. Anger is not an emotion that he often displays. However, when Clark refuses him in Asylum, his rage is frighteningly intense. We know it’s not drug-induced because he hides the prescribed drugs in his paints. So could this rage be displaced grief and anger at his mother’s final abandonment of him?

 

If it is true that ‘a mother’s love’ is the only thing that can save Clark from submitting to his dark side (see Ep2, S4), it is equally true that a mother’s love, or Clark’s love, could have saved Lex. Lex is doomed to lose Clark without once receiving the approval he needs from a mother-figure.

 

Clark and the Kent family introduced Lex to healthier parental figures for the first time. But it was too late: Lex could only replay his old behaviour patterns because he didn’t value his own innate goodness (sacrificing it a second time) and he idealised Lillian and Clark too much. Lex’s offer to be the ‘bearer of darkness’ mentioned in the Naman/Seget myth, is the same gift that he gave Lillian: he internalised the darkest parts of her and externally took the responsibility for her ‘evil’ act until it didn’t matter any more. It’s beautiful that he sees how heroic an act it is and I truly agree that it is heroic. But it is also tragic: as tragic as a little boy who hopes to gain love by protecting his mother and ultimately loses everything.

 
 
 
supacatsupacat on September 24th, 2005 07:52 am (UTC)
FASCINATING.

There's a sexual element to this too, since we know that Lex seeks out physical echoes of his mother in his sexual partners, who are uniformly long-haired brunettes. Lex's confusion of sexual desire with his need for a mother figure explains why his yearning for Clark's approval reads as sexual. Added to this, Clark also--at least superficially--resembles Lillian physically, possessing the dark brown hair that trips Lex's "Lillian" wire.

Lex's need to best, or "kill", his father combines with his desire for his mother to read as Oedipal in the classical sense: Oedipus killing his father Laius to marry his mother Jocasta. In terms of Freudian Oedipal theory, Lex is even more interesting, because (from memory) Freud states that the first stage in a child's development is fixation on his mother as the object of libidinal investment, but the second stage is the expectation of resulting paternal anger, while the third and final stage is the internalizing of the rules pronounced by father. This third stage is the formation of the super-ego, and during this stage the father becomes the object of identification. Lex's development follows this pattern: the fear or Lionel's retribution that we see in Memoria is followed by a process of Lex inexoribly becoming like Lionel. Arguably it is the development of Lex's super-ego that we are watching on the show (um, alongside the development of Clark's super alter-ego. Um).
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on September 24th, 2005 08:09 am (UTC)
Oooh yes, Freud's three stages work so well for Lex. Oh but **sobs**. Poor Lex.

Hey, when I rewatched the pilot it struck me how well the car crash itself is a microcosm of what leads to Lex 'turning evil'.
1. His history: the meteor shower and his relationship with his father explain why he's there in Smallville.
1. His own recklessness: he's using his mobile while driving, and driving damn fast
2. Terribly unluckly circumstances: coil of wire stuff fallen off a truck on the road in front of him
3. Fate: Clark's on the bridge.
Just as there are multiple motives for all Lex's actions, there are always multiple causes for his character development.
Beckysadface on September 25th, 2005 01:55 am (UTC)
um, wow. I saw you over all GleeWeek and thought i'd come say hi *waves*.

I wasn't actually expecting to see an awesome essay, so er, i'll comment properly later when im more awake.
But I want to *cough* recruit you to join our community at the_mas, where fannish squeeing and meta is strongly encouraged *g*
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on September 25th, 2005 02:26 am (UTC)
Thank you! **flattered** As you can probably tell, I'm still getting used to the tech aspects of LJ (see crazy tags in the middle of my essay!) but the need to articulate about SV over-rode my embarrassment about this. I will try and get over the glitches soon and yes, will check out your community!
See you soon! *waves*
nehellania on September 25th, 2005 05:43 am (UTC)
Hi! *waves* I'm Jen, I'm a mod (that still sounds cool) over at the_mas, along with toadstoolsmiles and shadowstar_gzan (who would be here commenting too if she weren't so busy writing her fic). Just thought I'd pop over and say hello and welcome you to the Mutual Appreciation Society.

Feel free to post whatever you want over there, or just browse through our craziness when you have a minute.

Sorry. Tend to get a little long-winded. My primary purpose for being here is to tell you how insightful and interesting I find your essay.I've never really thought a whole lot about Clark as a maternal force (or even a parental force, really) in Lex's life, but you're absolutely right. It's always interesting to read about something else's way of seeing something and you've definitely hit on something here.

I like and appreciate that your essay touches on the complexity of the relationships between people, the different facets that exist in each connection we make with other people. Just because I didn't see the Clark/mother figure thing doesn't mean that it's not there. It's entirely possible that Clark is both a mother figure and a potential mate/lover to Lex (if clex is the filter through which you see the relationship that is).

Alright, I'm obviously in academic geek mode right now, so I'll sign off. Hope to see you at the comm! Oh and also? If you ever want somewhere to post something else like this? You're more than welcome to post it over there. I live for essays like these!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on September 25th, 2005 08:11 am (UTC)
Awww thank you! **blush** I'm really glad you are interested. I like viewing the relationships on the show from different angles. I don't think there is one definitive way of viewing things - I think the Luthors and the Kents have very well constructed character psychology so the relationships are convincing on several levels.

I do tend to view the relationship through a Clex filter - I didn't make that explicit here, but I think our parental conditioning strongly influences the way we engage with significant others. The fact that Lex both identifies himself with Clark and acts out his family behaviour patterns with him is strong evidence for a sexual and/or romantic relationship.

I also tend to be longwinded, as you can see!

Anyway, I have to run pick up my friend Supacat, so we can watch more SV tonight (wheee!). When I get back on LJ tomorrow, I'll head over to your comm and see what's going on.

Thanks for the welcome! K
Nora Norwichnorwich36 on January 21st, 2006 12:06 am (UTC)
Oh my god, K, if I weren't already in love with your brain this would totally make me be. It is utterly brilliant--really the most original and interesting essay on Lex & Lillian, not to mention Lex & Clark, that I have seen. (When I have a little more time, and am not just taking little five minute breaks from working, I want to revisit this essay with you as it might apply to Lexmas.)

By the way, don't think you have to respond to every single comment I make on your old posts, because when you have free Smallville time again, I want to talk to you about "Lockdown."
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Ameliebop_radar on January 21st, 2006 01:40 am (UTC)
Wow! Thank you. I can't believe you're reading my old entries... *blush* Glad you liked, and yeah, I'd love to revisit this one.

BUT I would far rather be able to talk about Lockdown IF I COULD ONLY DL the damn thing! Torrents are a bitch this week. Lots of fakes out there--i think I've got a good one now at about 60 per cent but I've got to go out in an hour or so for the rest of the day... *cries*
Nora Norwichnorwich36 on January 21st, 2006 05:37 am (UTC)
Well, I only started reading your essays in November, so there were all these amazing Smallville essays just waiting to be be appreciated!

And I'm sorry you're having such bad luck with toreents today. *Hugs*
Becky: [SV] Lex all cool-likesadface on July 10th, 2006 07:32 am (UTC)
Interestingly, I think it should go on record that Jen and I did discuss this essay on Yahoo, so it wasn't like I completely forgot. :D

I'm trying really hard to come up with a good comment now. *wonders*

Lex’s offer to be the ‘bearer of darkness’ mentioned in the Naman/Seget myth, is the same gift that he gave Lillian: he internalised the darkest parts of her and externally took the responsibility for her ‘evil’ act until it didn’t matter any more. It’s beautiful that he sees how heroic an act it is and I truly agree that it is heroic. But it is also tragic: as tragic as a little boy who hopes to gain love by protecting his mother and ultimately loses everything.

*nods*

I know some people *cough* take exception to it, but I think this is a *huge* part of Lex's mental illness. It is far outside of the realm of 'normal' to go to these lengths to protect an ideal, to go as far as to take a person's evil and make it their own. Lex so unable to cope with his mothers betrayal of everything he beleived (whether a rational belief isn't relevant), *makes it his own failing*. Then the repetition of the pattern with Clark, as you say his new 'mother', taking the faults in their relationship and making them *his*. I wonder if Lex's strong desire to find Clark's secrets might somehow be based in here somewhere. Subconsciously Lex *knows* that he didn't kill his Jullian, but he still doesn't know *why* she did it, even on a subconscious level. Could Lex be trying to know everything about his new 'mother' so that he is never hit for six like that again. That said, I don't think Lex could be happy even with that knowledge, tbh. Lex doesn't really want to be validating that Clark is lying, that Clark is really just like them, I like to think that's why he's never really successfully discovered everything about Clark, it's a kind of wilful ignorance and a source of constant frustration for him, the choice between the knowledge and the potential ability to 'help' his mother, against his (I think *much* stronger) desire to not taint this person that he has chosen as his new saviour.

The Lillian dynamic is one of my favourite Smallvillian things, and I would super *love* to see a new essay on her incorperating the new canon, Lexmas and Hereafter(? - did I just make that title up, well, you know the one).
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex lonelinessbop_radar on July 10th, 2006 10:14 am (UTC)
Awww, hon! You went and commented!? Good god, how did you even *find* it back this far?! Wow. This is a weird flashback! (And sweets I wasn't meaning to 'get at' you--I just think it's cute and funny, and I do so love your comments, so yay!)

I think this is a *huge* part of Lex's mental illness. It is far outside of the realm of 'normal' to go to these lengths to protect an ideal, to go as far as to take a person's evil and make it their own.
I totally agree, though as you say, I know not everyone does. It just makes complete sense to me that this would create a psychological imbalance in someone--it's such a huge thing to do, to take on that darkness and make it your own--and if he doesn't succeed the stakes are SO high, because he loses his ideal mother-figure.

I wonder if Lex's strong desire to find Clark's secrets might somehow be based in here somewhere.
Well I think he has a huge drive to protect, because it gives him purpose and reaffirms that he was doing the right thing in protecting his mother. And if he knew Clark's secrets he could protect them. It creates intimacy, just as knowing his mother's secret bound him closer to her, albeit in the most unhealthy of ways. It's a pattern that's hard to fight. So yes, I think that fits.

Could Lex be trying to know everything about his new 'mother' so that he is never hit for six like that again.
I think he's trapped between two impulses--the desire to bind himself closer and take on the burden of protector, and then the desire to be strong and whole himself and not suffer that pain again. And both hook him in to investigating Clark.

a kind of wilful ignorance and a source of constant frustration for him, the choice between the knowledge and the potential ability to 'help' his mother, against his (I think *much* stronger) desire to not taint this person that he has chosen as his new saviour
Yes! Fantastic insight and I completely agree. That's Lex as I see him. I *do* think it's wilful ignorance. At this stage he basically knows that Clark is lying, but he hates it when that's made really obvious and he's in a horribly cycle of denial himself. I think he's self-aware about it, and I'm not surprised he takes to drinking as an escape. And yes--the last thing he wants is for Clark to be reduced so far in his eyes. And when he IS reduced, then we'll see the true vitriol and rage come out in Lex. It flickered at the end of this season before he got Zodded. It's unbearable for Lex to have his idealised object reduced in his eyes, especially given the deep psychological links to his childhood trauma.

A new essay on Lillian is a good idea really. I do want to revisit it--I'll put it on my fannish 'to do' list.

You are AWESOME for commenting after all this time! I'm really touched. *hugs*
Vicki: lex wakes upmyownghost on September 29th, 2006 02:47 am (UTC)
i'm glad there was a link back to here from the sv_ledger. the pathos of the lex character, from the first show on (with his back-story gradually revealed), is very moving to me. everything you say here makes sense. it's all so sad.

>a mother’s love, or Clark’s love, could have saved Lex. Lex is doomed...

that's where a lot of the pain of loving this show comes from for me: lex could have been saved, but he's doomed instead.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex lonelinessbop_radar on September 29th, 2006 09:47 am (UTC)
*smiles* Thank you for the comment! I agree that the most moving part of Smallville (for me at least) is that Lex could have been saved. Although I wrote this a long time ago, this still shapes a lot of my thoughts about Lex (and Clark) on the show. I'll be writing an essay on 'Rebirth' soon that will revisit this idea.