I'm trying to approach Smallville from different angles. In this essay I hope to explore the ways in which the Clark-Lex dynamic on Smallville works from an Eastern philosophy perspective: ‘the yin and yang of their ongoing relationship’ as Al and Miles say in the Pilot commentary. I am using the principles of yin and yang as my starting point.
Everything can be described as either yin or yang
If we accept that the Superman myth was originally constructed as a good versus evil dichotomy, Smallville represents a morally complex rewriting of that myth. In Smallville, Clark’s actions are not all good. And Lex’s are not all bad.
Clark as principally yang
Sun: the source of Superman’s power
Day: Instinctively, it feels like Clark is more at home in daylight. He is less successful in darkness.
Light: The Kent farm is always sundrenched, Superman is associated with light and hope and moral absolutism. Light can also blind and Clark is blind to the ways his actions harm others.
Warm: The Kent family is warm and loving, Superman doesn’t feel the cold as much as humans, Clark has several warm friendships. The flipside of warmth is that of being hot-headed and emotional, which Clark certainly is. He is driven by his emotions, not his mind.
Active: Superpowers! Clark is most comfortable when he is acting, even when it involves taking over the agency of others.
Masculine: Superman is physically the supreme form of masculinity and displays classically masculine behaviour patterns.
Heaven: Clark comes from the heavens.
Clark also has some yin attributes: he is right-handed and he is introverted (although as Superman he will become extroverted)
Lex as principally Yin
Moon: Apart from the obvious physical resemblance, Lex is far more comfortable at night than Clark. In fact, the sun drives him insane on the island (we fanwank).
Night: Lex is also associated with nightlife (only Red-K Clark really goes out to clubs).
Dark: The master of shadows! Ryan tells us that Lex is ‘full of darkness’. Seget is the ‘bearer of darkness’. Lex suffers from extreme residual depression from his childhood and he continually confronts and accepts the dark in himself and others.
Cool: The Luthor family dynamic is distinctly chilly. Lex is uncomfortable with physical contact, using it only in moments of extreme emotion. This coolness also reflects his analytical mind and the emotional distance with which he forces himself to view events.
Feminine: Apologies in advance! Let’s start with the lavender shirts… Lavender is described in colour dictionaries as a ‘grown-up pink’. It’s a feminine colour and Lex as a character is comfortable with his feminine side (thanks largely, I believe, to MR’s knack for conveying this). In relationships, he frequently acts in a manipulative or passive-aggressive way: traditionally the feminine role. His baldness represents physical emasculation.
Lex’s decidedly yang traits: extroversion (although he developed this late in life), left-handed.
(Aside: Isn’t it interesting that there are so many scenes of sunset in Smallville? Particularly those involving Lex and Clark in the barn. This is where the yin and yang of the two characters clashes, connects, crosses and merges.)
1. Yin and yang are opposites, but only comparatively, not absolutely.
Superman’s opposite will be Lex Luthor, Naman and Seget. In their unevolved forms Clark and Lex are not absolute opposites in Smallville but they frequently display opposing views. The Kent-Luthor family history works well to make these two ‘opposites’ in Smallville, as well as in the future. Within specific episodes, Clark and Lex are often paralleled or compared.
2. Yin and yang are interdependent.
Lex literally would not exist without Clark Kent: he is brought back from death by him. This moment is also the one that uncovers Clark’s true identity: were he human he would have died in the car accident. His first act in his new ‘life’ is to save someone: a sign of who he will become. In a sense they give birth to each other in the moment when Clark saves Lex.
If we accept the myth of Naman and Seget, one cannot exist without the other.
On a daily level, Smallville shows us the two in their unevolved identities as leading interdependent lives: Lex looks to Clark for approval and acceptance, Clark looks to Lex as a role model and for advice. The both ‘worship’ one another to a certain extent, seeing in the other a latent aspect of themselves.
3. Yin and yang can be further subdivided into yin and yang.
Within Clark Kent/Superman there is: Clark Kent and Superman (sorry! stating the obvious!) but also Red-K Clark versus his normal self. Within Lex Luthor there is both the Luthor heir and the self-defined man he wishes to be. Both are killers and saviours.
4. Yin and yang consume and support each other.
The ideal is for yin and yang to be held in balance. This is what Lex offers Clark when he hypothesises that ‘Seget is the true hero of the story’. Clark dreads the imbalance that will occur if there is no-one to check his yang aggression. Within Smallville, the intensity of their connection scares Clark (see Shattered and Asylum): he fears being consumed by it, at the same time as he loves the support it offers him.
5. Yin and yang can transform into one another.
Lex and Clark trade turns at playing the saviour and the victim, the tyrant and the oppressed, the liar and the betrayed, the friend and the enemy, the parent and the child. Clark ‘transforms’ into the most extreme form of Lex under Red-K. Lex transforms when he is allowed to be part of the Kent family.
6. Part of yin is in yang and part of yang is in yin.
There is always light within the dark: a particularly beautiful concept. Smallville gives us a rewriting of canon where there will always be some good in Lex Luthor and some evil in Clark Kent.