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*