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10 December 2005 @ 06:14 am
Smallville 5.09 Lexmas  
Rant: I am not a fan of Christmas specials
I found this episode too much of an emotional roller-coaster to take in all at once. The coupling of a dark Lex-centric plot with a twee Christmas stereotype plot resulted in a lot of unhappy justapositioning for me. Here’s the rant, people: Santa Claus should not exist in the Smallville universe! What were TPTB *on* when they wrote this? Please tell me it was WB-imposed, I am begging you. Somehow I could forgive the Lexana elements far more easily than Chloe’s ‘maybe he is real…’ line and I am experiencing a lot of rage against Clark for sitting on a rooftop with a drunk old pseudo-Christian myth figure while his nemesis was taking one more step into darkness. Rant over. (I realise I’m probably alone on this one but Lex doesn’t deserve his plot squeezed in amongst the tinsel and gingerbread, damn it!)

Rebirth and the relinquishing of power
Each season, Clark and Lex are paralleled in their journeys towards their future personas. These journeys involve recurring twin rebirths, and the Season 5 rebirths are linked to letting go the idea of leading a simple ‘normal’ life. Clark experienced life without powers before his death in Hidden. In Lexmas, Lex gets a taste of a life without Luthor power and wealth. Unlike Clark, he doesn’t experience this in real life, but through a dream vision. Symbolically they are both shot in the chest and their rebirth after this event results in the death of the possibility for simple, untarnished happiness.

For both Clark and Lex, a normal life includes a perfect partner: Lana. On first viewing, I was extremely uncomfortable with Lana being attributed such a key role in pushing Lex into darkness. However, there is part of me that appreciates that she works well as an iconic figure holding out the hope of love and acceptance. Both Clark and Lex view/treat her this way, even though she rebels against both of them in real life.

Lillian and alternate reality
At first Lex reacts to his vision with shock and disbelief. It is Lillian that guides him through it, insisting on its reality and asserting that it can come true if he makes the right choices. Lex sees Lillian in a mirror: she (and the vision that accompanies her) are one reflection of Lex, an alternate Lex to the one he’s developed in his real life. Lillian has been absent most of Lex’s life and the affects of her absence are hard to gauge. Certainly Lionel has gained much control over his son, shaping him in his image. If Lillian is read as a balancing force to Lionel’s parental control, she represents what Lex could have been. While Lex has embraced his current persona, he still has regrets he has to let go of and these surface within the vision.

While initially frightened by the vision, Lex gradually relaxes, and finds joy and freedom in this alternate life. At first he seems to think he can find a way out of the vision: when he sees Clark and Chloe he rushes up to them (most obviously to Clark) saying ‘you have no idea how happy I am to see the two of you’. He expects them to return him to his real self. Instead, they play into the vision, with Alexander asking ‘Uncle Clark’ to make him fly. Amazed, Lex learns that Clark and he are close. He quickly moves through astonishment at Clark’s familiarity with his child and when Chloe tells him Clark’s been promoted to reporter, he gazes at him with pride. At every point, disbelief and shock are quickly overpowered by Lex’s heart, which longs for such a reality. He can buy a Christmas tree and admit it’s for himself. Furthermore, he receives external validation from Lana for this un-Luthor-like action.

Lex’s vision world is full of physical affection, which he responds to with bemusement but also delight. Only in a dream sequence is he free to do so, slowly realising that he will not be rejected. Clark welcomes him to the Christmas party with a big smile and hug, Chloe, Martha and even Jonathan embrace him, representing acceptance on a scale I suspect he’s rarely believed possible. Lana tells him that what his father rejects in him is what makes her love him the most and she embraces him tenderly in a way that clearly astonishes and delights him, so far is it from anything he experiences in his real life.

Within Lex’s vision are several threads of long-buried Lexian desires. Jonathan plays a central role in Lex’s vision, presenting Lex with a humanitarian award. He says the words we know Lex has longed to hear: ‘I couldn’t be prouder of you if you were my own son.’ Yet it has been a long time since we have seen Lex display his desire for Jonathan’s approval. He has accepted it as impossible, so when Jonathan announces Lex as ‘the finest man I ever know’, Lex is too disbelieving to even smile properly. He is similarly struck speechless when he learns that he teamed with Chloe to do an expose on Luthorcorp. That too is an echo of a past time, when Chloe stepped forward to testify against Lionel. At that time, the possibility of them working together against the corporation was very real, but it has long passed.

Lex is overwhelmed with emotion and he can only express it to Lillian, telling her ‘I can’t remember ever being this happy’. Lillian tells Lex to follow his heart, not his ambition. In Lex’s vision his emotions override his usual rational self, resulting in unusual displays of emotion and affection, yet he desires it greatly, requesting the secret of how to obtain it from Lillian. As Lex asks Lillian about the crucial decision, Clark calls out to him and he turns away from her. For me this was a chilling sequence, with Lillian vanishing to be replaced by Clark. Clark is also a figure associated with great longing for Lex, but one linked tightly to his driving ambition for control, knowledge and power. In this way, Clark is a dangerous figure, displacing the possibility that Lillian offers for the idyllic normal life.

The life offered in the vision is not the one Lex is working towards: ‘my life hasn’t turned out at all the way I’d planned and yet I’ve never been happier.’ He tells Clark that the strangest piece of the puzzle for him is how he and Lana got together. Clark tells him that he ‘became the kind of man that she could love’. Lex’s love for Lana (if it truly exists) is hard for me to understand, but I do believe that part of him longs to be this type of man: if Lana can love him, he will be rendered ‘acceptable’. Interestingly, Lex immediately assumes that this type of man is someone like Clark, while Clark himself is puzzled by this. Clark tells Lex that he offered Lana something Clark couldn’t. I think this conversation shows that Lex feels both superior and inferior to Clark. However the conversation ends with Lex expressing gratitude that despite these mysteries, they were able to remain friends: without that, his vision would be incomplete.

Heart versus ambition
Lex experiences his most intensely intimate form of love in being present at the birth of his daughter. Shortly after that, with Lana in critical condition, Lex approaches Lionel for help. The intimacy of his new family is contrasted directly with Lionel’s cold dispassion, the same dispassion that Lex is developing himself. Lex finds himself in Clark’s position of approaching a wealthy and powerful figure to ask for help, despite being out of favour. Lionel responds with a level of rejection that not even Lex has reached himself yet, although he is increasingly failing to jump at Clark’s every request.

Lionel tells him that money and power would have saved Lana: ‘don’t you realise that every decision you have made has brought you to this moment’. Lex ends up accepting the truth of his father’s message. While what he may want is to live ‘happily ever after’, he is sure that the path to happiness is money and power. This is not something he learns in his vision: it is something he already accepts as truth. It is his first recourse of action when Lana faces danger and he remains determined on this path despite all logic, since it’s clearly a fallacy that money can conquer death forever.

Lex rages against Lionel for playing god with his life, yet he wants that same power for himself: the power to prevent others from dying. He is megalomaniac in the scope of his ambition. In fact, Lionel makes the same decision that Lex made for him when he was in danger of paralysis: operate at risk. However, they make the decisions for different reasons. Lex chooses what he believes Lionel would want. Lionel chooses for himself, since, as Lex says, he couldn’t bear being the father of a cripple.

Lex’s instinct is to blame Lillian for Lana’s death. He can’t bear the pain of loss and is overpowered by grief resurfacing about the deaths of Julian and Lillian. He shows no signs of processing this pain and rejects her view of this vision as a ‘better life’, dismissing all elements of the vision in one moment of overwhelming emotion. All Lillian can tell him is that this is a life of love. In fact, her message is a powerful one, since Lex’s alternate life is still better than his real one, but Lex focuses only on the pain. In the end his vision only serves to reaffirm everything he has turned from, everything he has fought to conquer, all the emotional weaknesses that he has avoiding indulging. Lillian is still present beside Lex in the reflection at the end of the episode, just as his buried desires and unresolved grief will be carried deep inside him for the rest of his life.

Although Lex’s vision at first seems to be about Lex reaching a new decision, I actually find it more successful at showing us a snapshot of Lex’s internal life and the ways in which he is pushed and pulled between the figures of Lionel, Lillian and Clark to a point where he longs for ultimate control at all costs.

A final note
I found this episode quite difficult to process. I have not read Lex's interest in Lana as being this powerful and I still can't quite accept some of the heavy-handed dialogue in this episode. At this stage in his development, Lex has closed down and locked off from everyone around him and that means as viewers that we are not allowed as much access to his development. This episode demanded more imaginative leaps for me than any other episode. However there was much that I did enjoy about it. I'll be ok! Really I will! Whimper! *pats herself on the back for exercising admirable restraint*
Current Mood: exhaustedexhausted
rhiannonherorhiannonhero on December 9th, 2005 07:46 pm (UTC)
I tended to view Lana in this episode as a Clark-substitute.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex consequencesbop_radar on December 10th, 2005 04:51 am (UTC)
I'm not able to make that leap, somehow. I'll check out what other people have to say but I think while Lana and Clark are linked in Lex's mind they are slightly different versions of each other and the distinctions between them are important. His longing for Clark is a longing for full disclosure and intimacy from Clark. Whereas, with Lana, he longs for acceptance of himself. Two sides of the same coin, I guess, but different. Longing for Lana is not about Lana. But longing for Clark IS about Clark, if that makes sense. I think that's why I don't read Lana as a Clark-substitute. Lex shows no interest in controlling or possessing her in the vision. He is simply staggered by her acceptance of him and is drawn to that.

I'd love to hear why you DO read her as a Clark substitute though! :)
(no subject) - rhiannonhero on December 10th, 2005 02:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on December 11th, 2005 12:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
tragicllyhiptragicllyhip on December 9th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC)
brilliant as always, I tend to take the hard-nose approach to Lex, thinking he has choices, he needs to make the right ones, but your review nearly made me misty. Its so tragic how much he doesn't get, and he'll never be happy because of it.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex purple evilbop_radar on December 10th, 2005 04:11 am (UTC)
Thank you. I love Lex and am fascinated by him, yet his choices are ultimately unforgiveable, and I'm glad that this is shown. I like that there is both destiny AND personal choice involved in his path to darkness. For me, that makes it more fully tragic.

Thanks for the comment!
Beckysadface on December 9th, 2005 08:45 pm (UTC)
See my viewing of Smallville this week went like this.

"It's good, Lex is happy, I'm like to see Lex happy."

"OH what the fucking fuck, fuck you Smallville."

I did calm down a little eventually.

Within Lex’s vision are several threads of long-buried Lexian desires.

And this is eventually what made it bearable for me in the end. Ultimatly I see this as despite Lex's claim that ‘my life hasn’t turned out at all the way I’d planned and yet I’ve never been happier' this is what Lex thinks life could be like if he changed his ways. The whole thing was *too* perfect. Since we canonically know that Lois and Clark are together, the idea that they aren't in this, to me, means that he isn't really stepping that far from his subconscious, his natural partner for Clark is Chloe. He is with Lana and she loves and accepts him and Clark is still his best friend. The Lex I know would never give up his quest for answers but some part of Lex knows its one of the bad qualities holding him back in life. One of the ones he'd have to relinquish for his 'better life'. Lionel acts with the same coldness that Lex perceives him to, even though we know from past experiences that Lionel will go to great lenghts for Lex and while Lex may thing that dropping out of the race would be shameful to Lionel, I dont think that the Lionel of now will react quite the same.

He ultimatly though desires the money and the power more, to save the people he loves, yes. Manifested through Lana because in his sphere of experience he doesnt really have any other options right now. And to him and Clark both, Lana is the very essence of normality. Like you said. She is that icon. If Lana can accept you then you've made it. Lana makes people feel normal because she is so ordinary herself. They don't see it as ordinary though, its more perfect because she is everything they want to be. Chloe could never fill that role, even though we the audience can see what a better match she is, because she is special, she has these skills and understanding of how the world works, she makes mistakes and takes great risks. Lana doesnt do any of these things. Her occasional expressions of outrage do nothing to ausage the fact that she is a passive person, being reacted to rather than reacting and by that token is the only one who can *be* that person to Clark/Lex. Someone who will never really challange their dominance and will sit back and quietly accept everything. Someone who will just say "I love you." because that is everything they need her for.

At first I couldnt help but scream at the fact it was all about Lana and really? I still think it was. Lex is going bad because he wouldnt be able to protect the people he loves, that is, Lana. He knows that money and power *destroyed* his mother and Julian.

I'm going to run with the control thing that you said though, because I can buy that and I like it better.

Great essay by the way, *loves you lots*
rhiannonherorhiannonhero on December 9th, 2005 08:52 pm (UTC)
I don't think it was all about Lana. As a friend, LaT, put it, Lex would have made that choice if it were any woman that he was married to, loved, and was happy with. If that woman had been Chloe or some other random unknown woman from his past, he still would have made the same choice. So it isn't about Lana, per se, it's about trying to control everything about his life. And he would have come to that same conclusion if the person in question was Chloe or Random Woman. YMMV, of course.
(no subject) - sadface on December 9th, 2005 09:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on December 10th, 2005 04:46 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on December 10th, 2005 04:25 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - bop_radar on December 10th, 2005 08:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
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Nora Norwichnorwich36 on December 9th, 2005 11:40 pm (UTC)
Although Lex’s vision at first seems to be about Lex reaching a new decision, I actually find it more successful at showing us a snapshot of Lex’s internal life and the ways in which he is pushed and pulled between the figures of Lionel, Lillian and Clark to a point where he longs for ultimate control at all costs.

Yes, I agree--I actually am not completely certain we are supposed to accept the vision as a true vision at all; it could equally all be Lex's subconscious, manufacturing Lillian as well as all the other elements, in which case it is a good case study in what he longs for and how he doesn't really believe these longings can be realized.

*That's* how I read Lana's death: not that Lex has "always loved" Lana, but that he's always longed for love and always lost it, or been betrayed, or both, and so what he was truly grieving for was not actually Lana, but losing the possibility of human connection. I think that's what makes that scene with his father more poignant: he knows he can't appeal to Lionel's love, but he thinks the human connection (mother of your grandchildren) may be effective, but ultimately it is not, which just reinforces Lex's idea that love is ultimately powerless against loss.

Lex's instinct is to blame Lillian for Lana's death. He can't bear the pain of loss...and rejects her view of this vision as a better life.
Assuming Lillian is real, and not a figment of Lex's imagination, isn't the fact that Lillian actually killed Julian a factor in Lex's interpretation here? (Have you been following the interesting conversations about this over at mecurtin's and rivkat's journals about this?) How can he trust her vision of love when his experience of it is that it ultimately destroys? I think that is influential in the choice he ends up making.

I really liked your discussion of the parallels between Clark and Lex's development in this episode I had noticed Lex becoming a suppliant to his dad just as Clark always comes to him, and thought it was foreshadowing. (It can't be foreshadowing Lana's death, alas, but I think it might be foreshadowing someone else's--maybe Jonathan's? Maybe Jonathan will have another heart attack and Lex will refuse the medical aid he has always offered before, perhaps because the election has turned to mudslinging?)

I also really liked the way you've traced the emotional journey Lex undergoes in this episode (even though my initial reading of Lex's responses was very different, I think you have persuaded me).

K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex mysterybop_radar on December 10th, 2005 04:36 am (UTC)
Thank you for commenting! I have briefly checked out the discussions you mention and will head over to them shortly. (Aside: I just HATE being a day behind you guys because of timezone!)

I agree that he was not grieving just Lana. In fact, the more I think about it, what made Lex emotionally connect with his vision (once he got over initial shock) was not Lana but acceptance generally and also his children. I think something in him deeply longed for the possibility of being able to give birth to something new and pure. In his current life that possibility is extremely remote - and it is linked to the true human connection that you refer to. I think the scene with Lionel is one of the most fascinating because he DOES think he can appeal to Lionel with this argument. Yet we have already been shown that Lex despairs of Lionel ever acknowledging the power of family. This is tragic because in his own sick way Lionel is deeply attached to Lex - in fact their 'human connection' has done him more harm than good.

I want to think further about Lillian in this episode - there are a few loose ends I need to resolve, so I'll definitely check out the other discussions.

I also wondered what was being foreshadowed in the ep and I am still betting on Jonathan's death, so I think your theory could work.
(no subject) - norwich36 on December 10th, 2005 05:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on December 11th, 2005 12:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - norwich36 on December 11th, 2005 09:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
rumpuso on December 10th, 2005 03:02 am (UTC)
You see, I'm with you in feeling troubled or saddened by this episode. I was not bothered so much by the addition of the *real* Santa Claus in this episode. To me, that discovery lightened the heavy emotional burden this episode was gunning for. What did bother me about Santa (and is the primary reason why I cannot in good conscience share this episode with my daughter) is the fact that this Santa was so down on the state of humanity that he felt his best option was to escape through death. That is profoundly upsetting for a childhood/iconic hero to give up on humanity to that point. Clark's intervention in this portion of the episode was very much appreciated and very well done. But it set the tone for my deep sadness in this episode.

As for Lex, my heart has completely broken for him. We were given a glimpse of another Lex...the one which Lex fans are so desperately pulling for; however in the end, we receive the reasons for this happy, light-hearted Lex to never exist in Smallville *reality*. The reasons are many and each of them are very significant, as well as brilliantly played out within this series. I felt completely stripped bare at the end of this episode. To see Lex standing at the hospital window, overlooking the snow covered night sky after having made his very chilling decision to become the man his father has pressured him to become...and then to see the image of his mother as she gradually disappears, succumbing from failure to help her beloved son chose the right path. Visually, this tragedy could not have been portrayed more brilliantly. But, sometimes Smallville gets it SO right, that I am left shattered; which is how I still feel one day later after Lexmas.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex mysterybop_radar on December 10th, 2005 04:41 am (UTC)
Mmm, yes that's interesting about Santa - it certainly wouldn't work for children either, so that makes me wonder even more about the writing choice there? What were they gunning for with that? I am just baffled. I couldn't encompass it. I was really charmed by Clark *playing* Santa, complete with milk and cookies, but once the actual alcoholic arrived on the scene... it lost me. And it flung me out of the emotional journey of the episode.

I, like you, admit to being truly heartbroken by this episode. The scene with the snow outside the hospital window was heart-wrenching and worked so wonderfully. Did Lillian fade away?? My torrent didn't show that - it just cut off. What a massive part I missed out on! That makes it way more emotionally powerful. I am so shattered I can barely string sentences together as you probably noticed! I'm in a state of extreme emotional turmoil and I have a feeling it's going to take some time to work through it... Oh Smallville, why have you taken possession of my soul in this way?!
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(no subject) - sadface on December 11th, 2005 03:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - bop_radar on December 11th, 2005 12:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - elli on December 11th, 2005 11:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(Anonymous) on December 10th, 2005 03:50 am (UTC)
*sigh* You made me all sniffly over this episode. And, what?!, no Santa in Smallville? How about a Secret Santa then?
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex mysterybop_radar on December 10th, 2005 04:42 am (UTC)
Yes please! :)
darenothopedarenothope on December 12th, 2005 11:30 am (UTC)
Just finished watching Lexmas and reading your post. Brilliant by the way :)

I don't know if you answered this... I read your post before I watched the ep... I had deep misgivings about watching this ep at all. But this alternate future thing is it a dream/hallucination or is it the future that he would have had? Because I still can't decide. Because if it follows the same train of thought as A Christmas Carol or It's A Wonderful Life then it would be the future that could have been. And it appears that if Lex hadn't gone bad that Clark wouldn't have been Superman and maybe he'd never be with Lois (perish the thought).

My main problem in this ep was the lack of Lois (that and just Lana being a stepford wife). One little mention, maybe by Chloe saying... look what Lois got me or that Lois is spending Christmas wherever.

So is it a dream??? or is it the future that never was??

K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on December 12th, 2005 11:54 am (UTC)
Hiya! Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad you liked my review.

In answer to your question, I feel strongly that it was a dream/hallucination, rather than an actual future. I've read a lot of other commentary on the ep this week and it seems like this is the conclusion most people are reaching. There are many clues that it's not a true future because some things don't make sense in the vision unless you think of it from Lex's (limited) point of view. Among these reasons are:
- Clark is not Superman and there is no Lois (because Lex doesn't know this is the true future)
- if Jonathan really thought that highly of Lex and was a senator in the future, then Lex could have gone to him for help, not Lionel (but Lex can't ever imaging getting emotional support from Lionel)
- Lex isn't actually shown to have a job (probably because he can't really imagine doing anything but being CEO)
- Lex's vision is triggered by things in real life - he remembers Lillian when he takes off her watch, when the surgeon says 'we're losing him', he goes to the part of his vision where he loses Lana
- the vision is too simplistic and idealistic (e.g. apparently Lex overspends, but this is just a joke between him and Lana - in real life it would be a real issue)
We're not shown any alternate futures (or pasts) either so I don't think it follows The Christmas Carol model.

It's the future Lex thinks he wants and also concludes he can't have - but I think the entire vision shows the limitations of his point of view. If he was really loved and respected by all those people, he wouldn't have been alone when Lana died - he would have had other people to turn to. It's all about his desires and fears ...

well, that's what I think anyway :)

And, yeah, I missed Lois too. I understand why she wasn't in Lex's vision but grr... she could have been there with Chloe and Clark or something. Can't believe we have to wait until end of Jan for more! :(
nehellania on December 13th, 2005 05:45 am (UTC)
I read this finally, since I saw Lexmas tonight. I don't want to analyse anything right now, so I may be back later when I've calmed down.

I've got to say though that I hated this episode. Despised it in a way that I didn't even despise Spell.

...I'll be back later, definitely to babble about Lillian and the non-love I feel for her.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex alcoholicbop_radar on December 13th, 2005 08:38 am (UTC)
Heh. Yeah - I gathered you were not in a happy place about it. You might want to join supacat whose response (posted to LJ) to the ep was: Ctrl + Alt + Del!

I understand where that comes from. And as you saw above, I had a lot of issues with the ep myself. But there's been great discussions all over LJ on this ep (hilarious that it took *this* ep to prompt them) so I'm kind of finding the good amid the pain...

Good luck with the calming! Have a strong drink. You know Lex would!
(no subject) - bop_radar on December 13th, 2005 08:40 am (UTC) (Expand)
Vicki: young lupinmyownghost on January 28th, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC)
hello. i found my way to this post via a rather circuitous route. your writing about this episode is very persuasive, but also very moving to me. i hope it's all right if i friend you, so i can read back over your writings about other episodes. lex luthor is, for some reason i'm not remotely clear on, a powerfully significant character to me. i respond to him (as do many others of course) with all kinds of emotions, which tend to cloud my ability to reason things out. you've done a beautiful job here. thanks!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex neckbop_radar on January 29th, 2006 11:13 am (UTC)
Of course you may! It's great to hear from another Lex fan and please feel free to share your thoughts any time too. I love hearing from different people, and I'm really happy that you got something out of this post.
(no subject) - myownghost on January 29th, 2006 12:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)