Clark’s confused identification
Clark watches Lex kiss Lana. This scene is relatively simple, yet there is a lot to unpack in it. Lex and Lana stand before the fire, which has long been linked in Clark’s mind with his romanticisation of Lex: in Slumber we saw his idealised image of Lex sitting before the fire with a goblet of wine in his hand. Clark has walked in on Lex and Lana in front of the fire before (Forsaken). And he’s also stood there with Lex himself. We also know that Clark uses fireplaces as romantic locations himself: he and Lana made love in front of a fire at the Talon apartment. So it is confronting for him to see Lex and Lana in front of it.
He also hears them discuss a secret, a spaceship, and the implication is that they are keeping secrets from him. Clark is a habitual liar himself but also fears being lied to. He of all people knows how powerful lies can be. If he can lie to Lana, she could lie to him. It erodes his trust in the relationship. In the same episode, we saw how desperately he clings to Lana as the last person he can trust, because she doesn’t know his secret. That she might have her own secrets is threatening. He wants to keep all secrets locked away so to hear them discussed is confronting.
Lex reaches out and touches Lana on the upper arm, an area of the body that is heavily eroticised on Smallville, particularly where Lex is concerned. We have seen him do this to Clark when he really wants to connect with him. We have seen him do it to Chloe in a moment of rare affection when she offered to testify against Lionel. We have seen him do it to lovers. Clark knows the intensity of that gesture. The cut away to Clark’s face reinforces that. He is shocked and I suspect that at this moment he confuses who he is identifying with: Lex as the seducer of his girlfriend, or Lana as the object of Lex’s intense gaze and gestures.
When we cut back, we see something that doesn’t usually happen: Lex’s hand moves from Lana’s upper arm to her neck and they kiss. Clark is effectively seeing what can happen after the upper-arm gesture, the truth beneath the coded surface of the gesture. It’s threatening to him not just because Lex is seducing Lana, but because it implies that this step could be a natural extension of the gestures Lex has made to him in the past.
The kiss itself is more romantic and sensual that sexual and Lana collapses against Lex’s chest. It is a scene of emotional comfort. The kiss was not chaste, but it implies that sexual and emotional comfort can be found in the one source. Clark finds it in Lana, but here he sees that Lana finds it in Lex. It enrages him.
In the confrontation with Lex, Clark reveals that he has conflated Lex’s intensions and desires with his own. He suggests that Lex is not obsessed with him, but with Lana: ‘it’s always been about Lana’. The scene in front of the fire has confused Clark because he both identifies with Lex and wants to be him (as we’ve known ever since Red) but he also wants to be the object of his desire. The accusations he throws at Lex are absurd to an intelligent audience and demonstrate just how far gone in paranoia he is. We know Lex is more obsessed with Clark than he is with Lana and within this very episode he’s shown that Lana is just another way of getting to the truth of Clark: he asks her to help him investigate the aliens. Clark claims the actions Lex has taken with him (‘those things you do to me, Lex’) are really about a Lana. The opposite is true: Lex’s actions with Lana are all about Clark.
Protecting or hurting the one you love
Clark says to Lana ‘you know I would never do anything to hurt you’ and yet he has hurt her both physically and emotionally beyond repair. Lex says to Clark ‘I don’t want to hurt you’ and yet Clark reveals that he has been emotionally hurt by what he perceives in his paranoia as Lex ‘testing’ him. Clark himself reveals that he wants to hurt Lex. This is a fundamental difference between Clark and the others.
Both Lex and Lana have been deeply and permanently scarred by Clark in the past and they continue to be abused by him. While both of them have had moments of rage against him, neither of them has demonstrated a vindictive need to hurt him in return. Yet Clark tells Lex that he wants to hurt him. Setting aside the heavy sexual overtones in this scene, this statement is revelatory. To get to this level of vindictiveness, Clark would have had to move through the emotional states of shock, denial, pain and anger. It suggests a deeper residual anger than that triggered in Splinter by paranoia.
This is backed up by what we have seen of Clark’s recent actions with Lex. He is triggered into anger by relatively minor actions and he continually assumes the worst about Lex: as he shows at the end of the episode in conversation with his parents and Chloe about the ‘evil dynasty’ of the Luthors. And he has taken his anger as far as wanting to hurt Lex phyiscally before, when he punched him in Mortal.
Clark has not acted out this level of vindictiveness with anyone else. Lex is the object of Clark’s abuse because he is the fallen object of Clark’s desire. When Clark tells Fine that he will ‘always believe in his friends and his family’, he no longer includes Lex in that list. Yet he once trusted Lex. Lex is a splinter in Clark’s subconscious: he can no longer truly believe that everyone he loves will never betray him and that’s why his statement to Fine reads as naïve and defensive. He still desperately wants to believe in everyone else, but he has been betrayed once and could be again.
Nevertheless, you do not need to have angered Clark to be hurt by him: all people close to him are hurt simply by encountering him in this condition. Lana hides from him in the same way that she would from a serial killer or a meteor freak. Clark borders on insanity, and words that should have affection behind them (‘we were meant to be together’) now read as threats.
At the end of the mansion sequence, Lex and Clark run to Lana’s aid. Clark gets there fast and lifts her in his arms. He stands in hero pose, cradling her in his arms and looks across at Lex. It’s a pose he should be triumphant in. Yet Clark looks shattered, his face creased in an expression of pain, near to tears. Lex says ‘what have you done?’ which surely echoes Clark’s internal voice at this moment. Yet despite this shared moment of painful understanding, neither of them can bridge the distance between them. The figure of Lana as unconscious victim works as a metaphor for what creates this distance: Clark’s continual abuse of those he loves.
Lana and Clark are paralleled in this episode. Lex tells Lana ‘some doors can’t be closed once they’re opened’: Fine opens a door for Clark when he tells him ‘I’ll be here when you’re ready for the truth’ at the end of the episode. Lex shows Lana the spaceship and invites her help to uncover the mysteries that have ‘haunted her’ since the first meteor shower. Both Clark and Lana are haunted by their pasts. This episode used many horror movie and haunted house cliches: the empty rocking cradle, the lights flickering out in the mansion, the sound of frightened breathing and running footsteps, disembodied voices, etc. As a way out of the maze of horror, Fine repeats to Clark ‘just remember whatever happens, we’re in this together’. This implants the idea that Fine is the only one that can rescue Clark from his troubling subconscious. Lex has a similar message for Lana, telling her ‘you’re my partner now’ and acting as an ally in getting to the bottom of what’s affecting Clark.
When the episode ends, neither Clark nor Lana tells anyone the full story about what has transpired. Lana doesn’t come clean with Clark about having seen the spaceship. This effectively makes their relationship more equal, because Clark continues to lie to her about his true nature. Assuming that neither of them has confided in Chloe, which seems likely, the decision that each will face (whether to step through the open door to further knowledge) will be taken alone. Without being able to exorcise their fears in discussion with loving others, their subconscious fears will continue to dominate them. It seems inevitable that both of them will eventually seek further information.