K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick! (bop_radar) wrote,
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!

Essay: Maternal forces in Lex Luthor’s life (Spoilers to Ep2 of Season 4 Smallville)

Lex Luthor crashes his car off a bridge and would have died had the boy he hit been human. The boy he hit was not human and he brings Lex back to life: he breaks him out of a confined watery space and throws him onto the brightly lit riverbank. As Lex coughs up water, he stares into the first face present in his new life with all the wonder of a lover – or a newborn child. Clark has given (re)birth to Lex and in this sense is a mother figure to him.


Lex’s relationship with his biological mother Lillian was deeply scarring. We know she was victimised into deep depression by Lionel. It’s likely that she suffered from physical post-natal depression following Julian’s birth and possibly when Lex was born as well. Lillian killed Julian, believing this was the best way to protect him from Lionel. This could have turned her into a monster in Lex’s eyes, but he doesn’t see her this way. He could also legitimately resent her for the rejection of him that her depression must have created and for the fact that her mental illness forced him to ‘parent’ her at a young age. Rightly or wrongly, he deflects all of the blame onto Lionel. For Lex, a mother is a figure to be loved, revered, protected and idealised. Mother is also someone who withholds approval and who is ultimately out of reach.


There is something so creepy about the fact that Lex’s first words to Lillian on seeing Julian dead in his cot are ‘What about dad?’ In this moment, Lex is about to move prematurely into adulthood by unhealthily ‘parenting’ Lillian, protecting her from Lionel, and displacing his own father. The question also implies that the son and mother already understand that Lionel will disrupt and abuse this new turn of events. So even before Lillian kills Julian, I suspect Lex and Lillian have been saving each other from Lionel’s anger and abuse.


The relationship that Lex develops with Clark after his rebirth is one in which he helplessly replays these mother-son patterns. He craves Clark’s appreciation, giving him gifts to get the beaming approval of this new parent figure. He also monopolises his time and attention. His love is unconditional in its initial phase, just like that of an infant.


It makes sense that Clark’s ‘secret’ would disturb Lex at a subconscious level, because it has much the same affect as his mother’s mental illness had: it excludes Lex and gives Clark a darkness and mystery that Lex cannot control or access.


He desperately wants to ‘parent’ Clark, as we see in repeated scenes where Lex delights in giving Clark advice or helping him solve problems. Lex’s repetition of the pattern of parenting his mother-figure indicates a continuing need to be appreciated and needed in his primary relationship. The act of parenting a sick parent, while inappropriate, feels empowering and is no doubt a source of Lex’s self-sufficiency.


Clark’s secret also gives Lex a reason to protect Clark, and Lex’s need to protect his mother was overwhelming. We see Lex replay this pattern with the female figures in his life: particularly at Club Zero where he takes responsibility for the shooting. But for Clark, in killing Nixon, he not only kills in the eyes of others, he physically pulls the trigger himself for the first time, protecting Clark’s father and his secret. In doing so, Lex is again tainted in the eyes of a father-figure: this time, Jonathan Kent.

He is also tainted in Clark’s eyes, as we discover when Clark flings this act back in Lex’s face: ‘It’s not like I haven’t seen you kill before.’ This must hurt Lex so deeply because it taps another subconscious fear: that one of the reasons Lillian kills only Julian is that Lex is already tainted.


The children of depressed parents frequently channel and express their parents’ emotions, and they are likely to experience mental illness themselves. Following Lillian’s death Lex continued to live in a corrupting and abusive relationship with his father. The fact that Lex suffers from recurring mental illness is therefore no surprise: in fact, it’s convincing that he would be more insane, had his physiology not been changed by the meteor explosion.


Lex must have abandonment fears. Not only was his mother an absent figure in his early childhood due to the sick family dynamics, she died in his adolescence. Lex was old enough to feel this second loss deeply, but he rarely discusses it. Anger is not an emotion that he often displays. However, when Clark refuses him in Asylum, his rage is frighteningly intense. We know it’s not drug-induced because he hides the prescribed drugs in his paints. So could this rage be displaced grief and anger at his mother’s final abandonment of him?


If it is true that ‘a mother’s love’ is the only thing that can save Clark from submitting to his dark side (see Ep2, S4), it is equally true that a mother’s love, or Clark’s love, could have saved Lex. Lex is doomed to lose Clark without once receiving the approval he needs from a mother-figure.


Clark and the Kent family introduced Lex to healthier parental figures for the first time. But it was too late: Lex could only replay his old behaviour patterns because he didn’t value his own innate goodness (sacrificing it a second time) and he idealised Lillian and Clark too much. Lex’s offer to be the ‘bearer of darkness’ mentioned in the Naman/Seget myth, is the same gift that he gave Lillian: he internalised the darkest parts of her and externally took the responsibility for her ‘evil’ act until it didn’t matter any more. It’s beautiful that he sees how heroic an act it is and I truly agree that it is heroic. But it is also tragic: as tragic as a little boy who hopes to gain love by protecting his mother and ultimately loses everything.

Tags: smallville_meta, svseason4

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