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26 September 2005 @ 06:09 pm
Sexual anxiety in the SV episode 'Bound'  

So in order to process the episode 'Bound' (SV S4 Ep9), I had to write this essay. It's long and self-indulgent, so proceed with caution! And your Clex-fan hat on ;-) Obviously, spoilers for this episode abound.

Bound
I’m still reeling from ‘Bound’ and its abundant Clex-ness, so this essay is largely self-indulgent recapping. Why do I love this episode? Let me count the ways. In ‘Bound’ the writers explored Lex’s anxiety about his own sex life – as well as Clark’s anxiety.

Lex’s anxiety
This episode essentially established Lex as having a sex addiction, a potentially unsavoury aspect of his character. No doubt a hyper-moral audience would have found it so. Being a Lex fanatic, naturally enough, I did not. However, I don’t think it was just my Lex-sympathy at work. The opening scene, where we see Lex as a lonely figure in a crowd, strongly establishes Lex’s motivations. He’s not a predator. He’s a lonely man trying to make a connection but unable to sustain a relationship. We’ve seen how scarring relationships have been for him in the past, so it is convincing that he would now have an intimacy-withdrawal pattern.

Lex’s world is one where people act out of self-interest and where manipulation is rife. Lex can play in this world, but, when confronted with his actions, feels deep guilt. When tied up by a homicidal stalker who is angry that Lex seduced her twice and did not recognise her the second time, he displays no real anger. Even the stalker admits that Lex had no idea she had a fiancé. His actions in seducing her the first time do not sound cruel: he made her no promises. His worst ‘crime’ with her is to have forgotten her. Essentially his crime is that he has a pattern, an obsession, and that the girls themselves are meaningless to him. This is the same obsession that he revealed to Helen, who also turned homicidal.

The obsession has also hurt Clark himself, as I’ll explore in a minute. Lex always faces the worst about himself, and he fully internalises his stalker’s criticisms. He then confides his anxieties and shame to Clark, expressing regret that people have been hurt by his actions. He bares his soul to Clark even though Clark is withdrawing from him (his body language is classically closed-off in the barn scene). Lex’s ‘I’m sorry’ to Clark works on multiple levels. Lex declares that the sex is a compulsion: he’s not sure he can stop.

The final and deepest revelation of Lex’s sexual anxiety comes when he reveals a desire to destroy himself. He tells Clark he finds it hard to carry on with normal life and that, when facing death, part of him thought it would be better than continuing a life in which his obsession continues to create pain and suffering.

Clark’s anxiety
I reeled back in amazement when Lionel made textual (to Clark, no less) what we have known for so long: that Lex has a ‘type’ that reveals his subconscious desire for his mother. A type that exactly matches Clark: tall hot brunette.

Clark-as-voyeur has been a recurring theme in the show since S1, so having Clark view the security cam footage of Lex and ClarkSubstituteWoman worked well. His discomfort was palpable. Yet we know this is not for moral reasons since he frequently spies on friends. We are left to conclude that he is uncomfortable not with the act of voyeurism but with the content he is viewing. This is further reinforced by his reactions to Chloe’s calm discussion of Lex’s promiscuity. Clark is not just morally shocked but deeply and personally hurt by Lex’s actions.

As if their audience still couldn’t be trusted to join the dots, the writers then included a scene where Chloe and Clark re-enact the sexy lift scene. This was hilariously unnecessary for the plot – Clark didn’t need to do this to find the earring with his x-ray vision – but hey, who’s complaining? The scene was interesting because it made textual the fact that Clark, when viewing the tape, was personally identifying with the participants. When they begin, with Clark as ‘Lex’, he looks painfully awkward and uncomfortable (reminding me of the incredibly gay scene in Devoted where he has to pretend to be interested in bonking a female cheerleader). But then Chloe takes the lead, shoving him against the wall. Clark enjoys being dominated sexually and, sure enough, he swoons and nearly lets Chloe kiss him, even though we know he is not attracted to her. This was a clever way of showing that Clark identified, not with Lex as the dominant male, but with Lex’s partner.

Clark has had a very conservative upbringing so it’s no surprise that he is shocked by Lex’s promiscuity. However when he confronts Lex about his discomfort, he does not focus on the moral issues, but on the personal betrayal, saying ‘there is so much I don’t know about you’. Clark is afraid of Lex’s sexuality. But Clark *does* know that Lex has been promiscuous: Lex has admitted to a wild youth. So the only revelation is that Lex continues to have an active sex life, something Clark just cannot stomach.

Insurmountable obstacles to love
The barn scene beautifully and tragically demonstrated the insurmountable barriers between Clark and Lex at this stage in their development. Tragically, what Lex needs from Clark, Clark can never give him. And vice versa. Clark would love Lex to deny everything, but it is not in Lex’s character to do so. Instead Lex makes the most intimate revelation he possibly could: that he has an out-of-control self-destructive sexual obsession that he fears and hates. This is a massive cry-out to Clark to help him, which he makes explicit in the line ‘Don’t give up on me yet.’ Only consummation with Clark could cure him of the obsession.

Clark, however, cannot bear that Lex is so flawed. He is frightened of Lex’s intensity, as we saw in Asylum when Lex displayed adoration, love and awe after discovering Clark’s secret. I would argue that Clark is, at least subconsciously, aware that Lex’s sexual obsession and obsessive interest in Clark are linked. However I also think he opts for conscious denial of this link because it is too confronting. Clark desperately wants it all to be simpler and he needs Lex to stop the obsession on his own. But Lex needs Clark’s help to do so.

Ultimately these two are externalising different faces of the same fear and sexual anxiety.

 
 
 
Lishlishel_fracrium on September 26th, 2005 08:56 am (UTC)
*claps* Bravo, well said I completely agree. You have aperfect grasp of the episode and what is not being said I didn't even realise half these things myself, but you brought it to life in a very concise,well wriiten essay. I think every clex shipper should read this, maybe you could post or link to this on the_mas? If you haven't already Jen gave me the link and said go here and I followed. again beautifully done. *g*
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on September 26th, 2005 10:49 am (UTC)
Thank you! That's very flattering. I am not always sure that other Clexers will agree with my readings - I'm pretty Lex-centric. But i'm always curious to hear other povs too. The thing I loved most about this ep is how well I understood both boys' perspectives.

Love your icon btw - I've used it myself. *g* It's so perfect!
Lishlishel_fracrium on September 26th, 2005 07:09 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah defintely. *g* my icon makes me smile everytime I look at it. I love the way that you have everything covered, you leave nothing out in your analysis. like I said very well done. so are you liking the community?
Shattered: Pilotshattered on September 26th, 2005 06:01 pm (UTC)
Just added you, so hi!:-)

I love your insights into the show. I think sometimes it's painfully obvious the writers have a muddled vision, but I really appreciate how you break it down here.

I look forward to more.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on September 26th, 2005 11:39 pm (UTC)
Well, yes, the writers do have a muddled vision. They have several writers and Al&Miles don't control SV as tightly as, say, Joss did with Buffy. But I've reconciled myself to this and I kind of like the ambiguities because it allows for lots of interpretation and creative potential in fandom.

Well, that's really me just admitting to being a total SV-slut. I'm even liking the hated Season 4. Not for the same reasons as Season 3, but even so...
complicatcomplicat on September 26th, 2005 09:36 pm (UTC)
Hi!

I love your analysis here, it's brought several things that I hadn't thought of to my attention and made me a lot more comfortable with an episode which I wasn't very happy with the 'intended' message of. I'm pretty Lex-centric too!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on September 26th, 2005 11:41 pm (UTC)
Yay for the Lex-fans!
Shattered and Asylum made me a Lex-slave for life.
I used to have a lot of trouble with the Clark character - I've been known to throw things at the screen. But TW is acting so well in S4, I'm getting more into him. Which also helps from a Lex-fan perspective, as I can understand Lex's attraction to him better.
Crisduskwillow on September 26th, 2005 10:11 pm (UTC)
Wow, this is very interesting view and inside! It actually helps make Bound a better and more tolerable episode for me. I'll have to watch it again keeping what you just said in mind.
I do kinda like the last scene -they act like an old married couple in it. :)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on September 26th, 2005 11:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks everyone! It's interesting to know you guys weren't comfortable with the ep. I really liked Bound (as you can probably tell) but I definitely had to read between the lines. When you do so, I find SV a very subversive show. On the surface it looks so clean-cut: Clark's a virgin, the Kents give heavy morality lectures, Lex is condemned as 'villain' for having pretty normal real-world behaviour. But I think keeping the 'surface' clean like this lets the writers get away with a lot. I mean I just watched Clark go to Vegas and have a sex-romp wedding with a song about a transvestite playing in the background of the scene - and Alicia is such a Lex-substitute: his relationship with her could definitely be read as an exploration of what his relationship with Lex could/would be like. (Hopefully my friend Supacat will hurry up and write an essay on that soon.
**nudges Supacat**
Cris: Lex - darksideduskwillow on September 27th, 2005 11:02 am (UTC)
I guess my biggest problem with Bound was that I was excepting much more from a Lexcentric episode. They are always extra awesome and this just, well, wasn't as good as others. And all the 'Lex - you slut!' attitudes pissed me off. I mean he slept with what - basically a woman a month. Considering who he is, that really isn't some over the top sexual life. Although the attitude was coming more from certain parts of the fandom, so I guess that might have coloured my view of the episode.

Hm, Alicia as Lex substitute? Interesting. I adore Alicia as well as her and Clark together.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on September 28th, 2005 04:27 am (UTC)
Yeah, fair enough! I agree - his behaviour is not that abnormal given the world he moves in. And the fact that the Smallville community haven't let him in to their world. **glares at Clark** I was kind of glad Lex was getting some action - I read his behaviour as a massive cry for intimacy, not as something to be condemned.

Will try and write more on Alicia at some stage too. I liked her a lot!
amandajaneamandajane5 on September 27th, 2005 10:01 pm (UTC)
I really like your Clark analysis here! Okay, and the image of him liking to be dominated - which is something I can totally see from someone who is in reality so strong that he couldn't really be. Good stuff!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on September 28th, 2005 04:47 am (UTC)
Oh cool! I'm glad you like my reading of Clark. I find him a really complex character to get a grip on.
I'm especially happy that you like the idea he would want to be dominated. Yes - I guess that's the crux of it. His strength is so great, he can't really take that role himself. It would be too abusive. It's also psychologically convincing that it would be so normal for him to be stronger than others, that it wouldn't be a turn-on for him. (unlike other control freaks like Lex!)
Naomi: Smallville mad world by WarriorAngelGabrfrelling_tralk on September 27th, 2005 10:34 pm (UTC)
Interesting review, thank you
rhiannonherorhiannonhero on October 10th, 2005 05:02 pm (UTC)
Oohh, I like this a lot. Excellent! Thank you!
Nora Norwichnorwich36 on January 20th, 2006 11:57 pm (UTC)
I'm still reading your old entries, and I really like your review of "Bound"--it almost made me like the episode, and frankly (except for the Lex sex scenes--pause for brain melt--and the cute scene with Clark and Chloe in the elevator) I hated that episode with a fiery passion when I first saw it, in part because it seemed unbelievably moralistic and unrealistic for the show to condemn Lex so harshly for sleeping around. I always thought that the most out of character and obnoxious part of the episode was Lex's speech to Clark in the barn, but I really liked the way you have framed his confession below:

Lex always faces the worst about himself, and he fully internalises his stalker’s criticisms. He then confides his anxieties and shame to Clark, expressing regret that people have been hurt by his actions. He bares his soul to Clark even though Clark is withdrawing from him (his body language is classically closed-off in the barn scene). Lex’s ‘I’m sorry’ to Clark works on multiple levels. Lex declares that the sex is a compulsion: he’s not sure he can stop.

This makes a great deal of sense to me, though I suspect Lex has internalized not so much his *stalker's* criticisms as the criticisms he already assumes Clark would have of his actions.

And this bit made me somewhat less angry at Clark for not responding to the obvious pain and self-revelation of Lex: Clark, however, cannot bear that Lex is so flawed. He is frightened of Lex’s intensity, as we saw in Asylum when Lex displayed adoration, love and awe after discovering Clark’s secret. I would argue that Clark is, at least subconsciously, aware that Lex’s sexual obsession and obsessive interest in Clark are linked. However I also think he opts for conscious denial of this link because it is too confronting. Clark desperately wants it all to be simpler and he needs Lex to stop the obsession on his own. But Lex needs Clark’s help to do so.

"Frightened of Lex's intensity" is a very good way to put it, and it makes it a little easier for me to accept his continued rejection of Lex when Lex has just basically admitted to being suicidal.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex hotbop_radar on January 21st, 2006 02:37 am (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it. I really loved Bound for its rampant subtext and while textually it was unbearably moralistic, I was kind of used to that by then. I suspected it was very WB-driven like Ageless, but the way Clark was so clearly upset in a 'but Lex is *MINE*' way made up for that. Also I confess I was just glad Lex was getting some!

It's funny because I was really hating Clark around this time. His rejection of Lex was fresh and painful. But I started to understand how threatening Lex was to him. I keep coming back to the intensity thing. I feel like in Asylum Clark saw how he could be almost 'swallowed alive' by that intensity. It's really interesting to look back on it now with time and distance. I feel far more sympathetic to Clark now than I did then. He still longed naively for a 'normal' life and 'perfection' in himself and others. I think there was a time when he looked up to Lex as someone who had struggled with his own 'alienness' to lead a successful life; Lex's sexual addiction is confronting to him because it mars that perfect picture. Yes, it's really callous of Clark to ignore Lex's suicide remark. But that too is dark and confronting for Clark. And I think part of him really wishes that part of Lex WOULD die. He's too conflicted to respond properly. Lex's self-hatred at this stage reflects Clark's revulsion (as you rightly pointed out, it's Clark's implied criticism that most affects him): it's horrible.
Alison: becklexacampbell on September 18th, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)
What a wonderful essay. You clarify and perceive so many elements in this episode. I'm still not comfortable with Lionel's role in all this, and with the messages I (think I) perceive TPTB want us to take away from this episode regarding Lex's morals, but if we leave them out of it, yeah!

*bookmarks*
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: House Cameronbop_radar on September 18th, 2006 10:10 am (UTC)
Yes, fair enough! I do agree that there are some uncomfortable messages in this episode. Thanks for taking the time to read--I think that's very openminded of you!
Romany: sv: the space between can never be fullyromanyg on October 25th, 2006 11:25 pm (UTC)
*hopped over from your link*

Very insightful! I do have a tendency to buck against fandom's desire for bottomboy!Clark, but that doesn't mean that I don't see any veracity in that image. I do agree that there is a part of him that just wants to be taken, and the image he, literally, gets of Lex using women and discarding them alarms him. And it alarms him because he overidentifies with them.

At this point, their friendship is so fragile, any trust between them is brittle. Clark is afraid that Lex is/will use him. Because whether he's consciously aware of the sexual side of Lex's intensity, he's aware of the intensity itself. As much as it attracts him, it repels him too. Someone who *needs* that much is just freaking scary. Clark's just a kid and he's got the whole alien thing to deal with too.

I have other thoughts but I have to go play mom now. *sigh*
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex lonelinessbop_radar on October 25th, 2006 11:43 pm (UTC)
I do have a tendency to buck against fandom's desire for bottomboy!Clark, but that doesn't mean that I don't see any veracity in that image.
I can understand that. And I actually find Clark's sexuality very complex. supacat and I have an ongoing struggle to develop a Grand Unified Theory of Clark's Sexuality. Because a control freak but then also identifies heavily with women--who in Smallville, unless they are evil/freaks, are usually the passive ones in sex. That's just the tip of the iceberg regarding Clark's sexual complexity and what it takes for him to be attracted to someone. What's at play here in Bound is not what's always the case for him, and I certainly don't see him as always playing 'bottom'.

As much as it attracts him, it repels him too. Someone who *needs* that much is just freaking scary.
Yup, definitely! On first viewing, I was very much a 'Lexian' until Season 5. But I've rewatched from Clark's perspective and I'm far more inclined to see his viewpoint now. Attraction/repulsion is there from the start for Clark, as is love/fear. They're in a constant tug-of-war, and for me Bound showed that really well.

I have to go play mom now. *sigh*
And very important that is! *shoos* Your thoughts can return any time. No rush! *g*
Romany: sv: dude! a clexian taleromanyg on October 27th, 2006 10:53 pm (UTC)
And I actually find Clark's sexuality very complex. supacat and I have an ongoing struggle to develop a Grand Unified Theory of Clark's Sexuality.

Oooooh, I would that *really* fascinating. I think about Clark's sexuality all the time. Er, I know that doesn't sound quite right. *g* But I really do.

Kate had a poll not so long ago, about Clark and Lex and orientation, and I was *astounded* by the number of respondents who chose 'asexual but gay for Lex' for Clark. I don't see him as *asexual* at all. That boy has a lot of issues, and a ton of sexual issues at that, but *lack* of desire is certainly not one of them. And I think they're misinterpreting his discomfort?

Clark feels such a deep need for sexual *connection* that he doesn't just fuck everybody/anybody when he's on Red K. He still has *specific* needs and desires: He wants to hook up with Lana; he wants to run off to Metropolis with Lex; he wants to make out with Chloe; he wants to marry Alicia. But he really doesn't want much to do with his nightly pick-ups in Metropolis. Maybe he could have done something with Jessie, he entertained the idea. I'm not sure. But on Red K, he certainly seems capable of sexual aggression which doesn't fit the always-a-bottom-boy image.

He's a complex guy. *g*
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clark identity crisisbop_radar on October 30th, 2006 01:57 am (UTC)
Er, I know that doesn't sound quite right. *g* But I really do.
*giggle* Right! He's unusually complex, I think. There's no pat description that fits in all instances for Clark. At one stage we did start writing it all down, but we didn't get much further, partly because this essay got kinda freaky and then Lexmas threw supacat temporarily out of SV fandom.

I was *astounded* by the number of respondents who chose 'asexual but gay for Lex' for Clark. I don't see him as *asexual* at all. That boy has a lot of issues, and a ton of sexual issues at that, but *lack* of desire is certainly not one of them. And I think they're misinterpreting his discomfort?
*nods* I definitely think people voted that way because he falls into an 'uncategorised' category. A lack of desire is definitely not a problem for Clark! Lack of control over his desire is though.

He still has *specific* needs and desires: He wants to hook up with Lana; he wants to run off to Metropolis with Lex; he wants to make out with Chloe; he wants to marry Alicia
Yes--and this points to the fact that he casts different potential partners in different roles subconsciously. Some have more 'weight' than others--but that can be deceptive too, as he found with Lana.

But on Red K, he certainly seems capable of sexual aggression which doesn't fit the always-a-bottom-boy image.
Oh, hell no! His Red K self is part of him. Likewise, a lot of people characterise Clark as scared of girls. He's been shown to be uncomfortable with sexual aggression from some women, it's true, but only, I think, when there isn't a natural connection there with them, or when they push that connection too fast or too soon (like Alicia). There are other times when he gets quite turned on by women taking the lead (eg Lana in Spell). And about his tenativeness with anyone, we have to remember that part of it is being afraid of his powers, his own strength. I don't read that timidity as necessarily meaning he wants to bottom all the time--he just hasn't found a way to trust himself yet. Complex, yes! *nods* Poor Clarky!
Romany: sv: amorality in a cornfieldromanyg on October 31st, 2006 04:29 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for the links to supacat's posts! I am dazzled by her thinkiness. DAZZLED!

Lack of control over his desire is though.

*nods* Next to the unwelcome revelation of his secrets, I think this is one of his major fears. I think supacat said this much better and with bigger words. *g*

Some have more 'weight' than others--but that can be deceptive too, as he found with Lana.

I'm still not caught up with canon, so I'm not sure that I understand all the implications of this. *loses at fandom*

or when they push that connection too fast or too soon (like Alicia).

Yes, well she was *incredibly* pushy. *g* And then that connection didn't disappear but only deepened to the point where he did express desire for her, even *after* the RedK! betrayal.

he just hasn't found a way to trust himself yet. Complex, yes!

I concur!