Before I get to the AWESOME of this episode, I do just want to say that I think there was a lot of 'WTF' going on in the writing and the plot. Since when have Lois and Kara been so close (they borrow each others' clothes now?!)? And Finley seemed like a very convenient psychopath. No one wants Clark to use the intercept, but Lana brings it up and then Lionel supports the process? Hmm. But I'll handwave all of that since it gave us CLARK INSIDE LEX'S HEAD. (And omg, the Clexian subtext there about penetration and knowledge and power and violence was OUT OF CONTROL.) The shots of the two of them on the machines, being lowered in tandem were fabulous--and reminiscent of them both going into the memory tank in Memoria. And once again, they're given a tandem 'rebirth'--a simultaneous potential fresh start.
An episode that starts with Lex running around in the rain carrying a gun can never be bad. An episode that starts with Lex >chased by Lois has got to be awesome. And Lois was, as always, brilliant. I loved her 'rhetorical question, Lex!' line best of all. HA! She knew Lex would sacrifice her in a heartbeat--the last thing she wanted to hear was an invite for him to do so.
But it was Tom's performance in this episode that really blew me away. He looked gorgeous, of course, but I thought he did a fantastic job at conveying in body language and facial expressions his emotional journey through Lex's subconscious and then it's residual effect on him afterwards.
Passages of the mind
There were so many fascinating touches in the representation of Lex's subconscious--including lots of pay-offs for longterm fans. The darkened corridors of Lex's mind were very reminiscent of Lex's walk of evil-overlord-dom through 33.1. They deliberately shot Clark's feet from a similar angle as he began to walk. And so the image of all the prisoners reaching out to Lex takes on another layer of meaning. Lex's past has been locked away, imprisoned by a master who feigns not to care so well that he has started to believe himself.
Through a crack in a windowpane, Clark spies Kara the way Lex encountered her for the first time--as a rescuing angel. Even before we'd been introduced to Alexander, I found the fact that someone looked back at Clark oddly moving (as well as unsettling). Clark's 'peered in' to Lex's life many times before--as a critical observer of his descent into darkness. But we haven't always been sure there was someone looking back.
I loved it when Lex intercepted Clark in his own subconscious--it was so terrifying. And he was wearing the white suit from the visions of his future we first saw in 'Hourglass'! And some of the angles they used (particularly one of him turning and smiling) were very similar to shots from those vision sequences. That was a powerful representation of the fact that in his own mind, Lex already envisages himself in that future role, as self-justifying megalomaniac.
And he used the Kryptonian neckgrip on clark! That blew me away! In his subconscious Lex has Clark's strength and behaves like Clark's alter-ego! I'm not exactly surprised--he's always aimed to absorb into himself that which most terrifies and angers him, and in his pursuit of power it seemed very fitting that he strove to reverse their roles (which we see later in the punching scene as well). Lex uses the neck grip on Alexander, his 'good' self, too--which is fitting given that his rage is self-damaging as well.
There were just SO many echoes of other episodes in here: Lex pulling the sword from the wall reminded me of Clark's nightmare from Restless; and then Lex smiling after Clark punched him was reminiscent of Clark's smile after he goaded Lex into punching him in Mortal.
Some of the allusions to earlier episodes and themes were textualised: Lex called Clark on his voyeurism with the telescope. While never overt, there was a lot of suggested subtextual voyeurism in early seasons of Smallville, but to hear Lex joke about it now was quite confronting. It suggests an awareness on his part from very early on and therefore raises the question of how much of his behaviour was/has been/continues to be a performance for Clark. It seems that Lex has mixed feelings about this voyeurism, both past and present (in the infiltration of his mind without permission): he's understandably angry, but he then uses it to his own ends, controlling where Clark looks. With Lex seizing Clark's head and literally forcing his gaze in a particular direction, the entire Lexana relationship was reduced to a vignette designed to inflict maximum pain on Clark. *reels* Clark breaks free but can't look away straight away from the painful vision--well, there's season 6 in miniature! ;-p
Alexander, as Lex's good half, has shrunk since we last saw him--chained up in a basement in Onyx. Of course, in that episode both halves of Lex looked identical because they'd been split in real life. But the symbolism of having Alexander be so much younger than the dominant, evil side of Lex was very powerful. This episode textualised SO MUCH about when the schism in Lex's mind first occurred. If Memoria hadn't already done so, this episode strongly suggests that the point at which Lex lost his humanity was when he took on Lillian's burden of guilt and responsibility for the killing of Julian.
Alexander hides Clark in a very old memory, a memory Lex 'never goes to'. It's an instance when he told the truth to his father, at the expense of his mother. A memory so painful that Lex can't confront. It's not surprising that he doesn't go here--until Memoria, Lex's memories of Julian's murder were buried too. But what is so dangerous/significant about this memory? It's the key to one of Lex's biggest struggles: his relationship with truth and honesty. In this memory he is punished for being honest--first he is bullied into it by his father and then he is rejected by his mother. Honesty is seen as a weak act of self-protection and he is abandonned for it. As we know, later he opts for self-sacrifice instead--he martyrs himself by taking the blame for Julian's death and protecting his mother. His decision to do so makes more sense with the context here. But it also presents him (and us) with a strange mixed message about truth, secret-keeping and lying to protect others.
This mixed message has ramifications for Lex's behaviour right up to the present day as we see in his interactions with Kara, which I'll get to in a minute. And I loved some of the ways they used effects to intimate the importance of this residual memory--for instance having Lionel's words 'lie to me' echo in the corridors as Alexander and Clark run through them.
I'm absolutely IN LOVE with the smile that Clark gave Alexander as he disappeared into the tunnel. It was a smile of relief and recognition--the 'that's my friend!', the 'I've come home' smile. When we next see Clark, he's smiling lovingly at little Alexander painting his Roman soldiers. This smile is echoed later on in Lex's mansion when he picks up the box with Roman soldiers on it. And of course viewers who've watched from Season 1 will remember that the model soldiers featured early in the Clex friendship.
My theory on Clark as a maternal force in Lex's life is supported here by little Alexander muttering 'don't go' to Lillian as she walks away, and later repeating that appeal to Clark. Unlike Lillian, Clark turns back. He is a far more loving mother figure than she was and he acts to heal the rift in Lex's mind--not to force it apart again as we've seen Lillian do when she's resurfaced in Lex's visions. The tragedy is that it's all too late, just as Lionel's words of paternal love come too late. But there's a world of difference between Lionel's attempt at healing a 'fracture' and Clark's: Lionel's words of affection are drawn from him so grudgingly, not supported by his body language or actual behaviour, and quickly abandonned as soon as Lex rejects them. Clark is far more sincere and persistent.
Clark is so gentle with little Alexander. Repeatedly he turns away from the rapidly disappearing door to stay and make Alexander promise that they'll see each other again and that he'll never give up fighting. And oh, how his voice shook as he asked that! He grips Alexander's shoulders as he tells him he's his friend--just as Lex used to grip Clark's upper arm when he most wanted to appeal to him. And Clark reaches out to stroke Lex's face just as Lex reached for Clark's face in Asylum. There's another echo here--to the way that young Clark's touch, a stroke of his cheek, calmed young Lex after he was rescued after the first meteor shower.
I think it was hard for Clark to leave--he looked heartbroken and torn waving goodbye. Going into Lex's mind was never an easy decision for him to make--when he glanced across at Lex before he went in he looked determined to get it over with as fast as possible. Finding Alexander was more than he would have hoped for and I think it will give Clark a lot of hope. It's basically what he's always wanted to believe: that there is good in Lex and that the struggle is not over.
I also love that despite finding and supporting Alexander, Clark never really lost sight of his focus and goal--saving Kara and Lois. The minute he snaps awake he says 'I know where they are'. But for a while it looked like he had gone in too deep and made the ultimate sacrifice.
The issue of life and death and risking one's life to save others is raised repeatedly in the episode. Chloe is the first to offer it and Clark is immediately reluctant to allow her to do so. But as soon as Clark found out that there was a way for him to get access to Lex's memories, he didn't hesitate. He immediately became determined to undergo the intercept process, seizing on the difference in his physiology as a plausible reason why he wouldn't be affected. Kara too braved her life by stepping in front of Lois. Without her powers she's as mortal as the next person and it was a lovely character touch to show her as still brave without them. Of course, Lex too risked (gave!) his life for Kara--though his motives are called into question.
It is Chloe who articulates the message here: as a protector of others, one of the responsibilities is staying alive. I couldn't help feeling there was some foreshadowing going on here, as well as the intra-textual parallels. Chloe's powers are problematised even more, with her remaining unconscious for over 18 hours. And this issue of heroic self-sacrifice is a huge one. I expect it will be raised again.
I found the Lionel material in this episode about as subtle as a sledgehammer: 'a lot was said, a lot went unsaid'?! Puh-lease! And I've so totally HAD it with Lionel's hypocrisy. He was clearly more distraught about Clark's potential death than with the death of his own son. And yet he had the audacity later on to play the self-sacrificing saint, telling Lex he'd given up serum that he'd originally kept to save himself. (As an aside: could that have been why he originally kept the cord blood too?) Lex seemed so totally bored by his exchange with Lionel--and I'm glad. The words he's waited so long to hear rang hollow now. Lionel's final expression seemed almost an acknowledgment of that.
Second best pie
That has to be Kara's epitaph, LOL!
Finley was not exactly the most subtle villain of the week that Smallville's ever used. But he was clearly meant to parallel and comment on Lex. The obvious parallels were that Finley had had a father that screamed at him, knew what it was like to try and 'start again', seemed like a friend on the surface but could 'snap' and enter jealous rages. He acts as Kara's protector but actually ensnares her. Lois points out that this guise of 'helping' is a common trap ('like I've never heard that one before!'). But Kara is still reading people at face value.
The saddest part of the entire episode for me was Kara saying 'Clark didn't mention you guys were friends' and Lex turning away. I also loved Lex's reaction to Kara saying she's got the feeling Clark is hiding something from her (he is, he was). And Lex's reply when Kara asks what happened to their friendship ('I grew up'), although a lie, works on multiple levels. It brings to mind little Alexander (who IS still friends with Clark), and implies that Lex's affection for Clark was naive and immature.
Kara turns to Lex for help in uncovering her memories--but Lex has lost memories of his own. And I found it very telling that in the same episode we saw Lillian striving to find a buried truth--about a project called Veritas no less! So when Lex says 'We'll get the truth once and for all', I have to wonder what truth that will be. Will Lex find out more about his past as well as about Kara?
Nothing lost that can't be found again
Of course all of this adds enormous resonance to Lex's statement that 'there's nothing that's lost that can't be found again'. I was absolutely in love with Clark's expression when Lex first said that to Kara. He looked completely cynical. It's the kind of grandiose statement that Lex is prone too, and Clark has learnt to be suspicious of what it might mean. He's also learnt on his own that it's not true--the loss of his own friendship with Lex being the most poignant example. So it's even more meaningful that Clark ended up using that same statement to appeal to Lex.
I thought that scene was WONDERFUL--so well scripted and acted. Like many of their best exchanges, it's not easy to tell who's in the right. The great thing about Lex claiming that he HAD rung Clark is that it's unproveable, but it unsettles Clark. He knows it's possible that Lana would hang up. He's also probably going to feel uncomfortable asking her in case she lies again. But he still thinks it could be Lex that's lying. And I think he's spot on in thinking Lex doesn't even know when he's lying any more.
Even though this scene starts in cliched fashion with Lex on the defensive and Clark trying as 'voice of reason', there's a surprise in store for Lex--and it's in the sincerity and depth of Clark's appeal to him. Clark's faith has been strengthened by meeting little Alexander, and although Lex hides behind humour as he so often does, Clark's last line resonated with him.
I love Clark SO MUCH in this episode--I think largely because his love for Lex was so evident. I remember when my love for Lex was just as overwhelming: when HE was the one with the love pouring out of him (for Clark). One of the things I love most about this ship is how it's made me take a journey from being fully in Lex's perspective to being fully in Clark's. I love both of them but in terms of where my sympathies lie, I was once wholly with Lex (while wishing Clark would 'come round') and now am wholly on Clark's side (wishing against destiny that Lex could somehow still be reached). The strength of feeling on both sides of the friendship is overwhelming--but the tragedy is in the timing.