So in order to process the episode 'Bound' (SV S4 Ep9), I had to write this essay. It's long and self-indulgent, so proceed with caution! And your Clex-fan hat on ;-) Obviously, spoilers for this episode abound.
I’m still reeling from ‘Bound’ and its abundant Clex-ness, so this essay is largely self-indulgent recapping. Why do I love this episode? Let me count the ways. In ‘Bound’ the writers explored Lex’s anxiety about his own sex life – as well as Clark’s anxiety.
This episode essentially established Lex as having a sex addiction, a potentially unsavoury aspect of his character. No doubt a hyper-moral audience would have found it so. Being a Lex fanatic, naturally enough, I did not. However, I don’t think it was just my Lex-sympathy at work. The opening scene, where we see Lex as a lonely figure in a crowd, strongly establishes Lex’s motivations. He’s not a predator. He’s a lonely man trying to make a connection but unable to sustain a relationship. We’ve seen how scarring relationships have been for him in the past, so it is convincing that he would now have an intimacy-withdrawal pattern.
Lex’s world is one where people act out of self-interest and where manipulation is rife. Lex can play in this world, but, when confronted with his actions, feels deep guilt. When tied up by a homicidal stalker who is angry that Lex seduced her twice and did not recognise her the second time, he displays no real anger. Even the stalker admits that Lex had no idea she had a fiancé. His actions in seducing her the first time do not sound cruel: he made her no promises. His worst ‘crime’ with her is to have forgotten her. Essentially his crime is that he has a pattern, an obsession, and that the girls themselves are meaningless to him. This is the same obsession that he revealed to Helen, who also turned homicidal.
The obsession has also hurt Clark himself, as I’ll explore in a minute. Lex always faces the worst about himself, and he fully internalises his stalker’s criticisms. He then confides his anxieties and shame to Clark, expressing regret that people have been hurt by his actions. He bares his soul to Clark even though Clark is withdrawing from him (his body language is classically closed-off in the barn scene). Lex’s ‘I’m sorry’ to Clark works on multiple levels. Lex declares that the sex is a compulsion: he’s not sure he can stop.
The final and deepest revelation of Lex’s sexual anxiety comes when he reveals a desire to destroy himself. He tells Clark he finds it hard to carry on with normal life and that, when facing death, part of him thought it would be better than continuing a life in which his obsession continues to create pain and suffering.
I reeled back in amazement when Lionel made textual (to Clark, no less) what we have known for so long: that Lex has a ‘type’ that reveals his subconscious desire for his mother. A type that exactly matches Clark: tall hot brunette.
Clark-as-voyeur has been a recurring theme in the show since S1, so having Clark view the security cam footage of Lex and ClarkSubstituteWoman worked well. His discomfort was palpable. Yet we know this is not for moral reasons since he frequently spies on friends. We are left to conclude that he is uncomfortable not with the act of voyeurism but with the content he is viewing. This is further reinforced by his reactions to Chloe’s calm discussion of Lex’s promiscuity. Clark is not just morally shocked but deeply and personally hurt by Lex’s actions.
As if their audience still couldn’t be trusted to join the dots, the writers then included a scene where Chloe and Clark re-enact the sexy lift scene. This was hilariously unnecessary for the plot – Clark didn’t need to do this to find the earring with his x-ray vision – but hey, who’s complaining? The scene was interesting because it made textual the fact that Clark, when viewing the tape, was personally identifying with the participants. When they begin, with Clark as ‘Lex’, he looks painfully awkward and uncomfortable (reminding me of the incredibly gay scene in Devoted where he has to pretend to be interested in bonking a female cheerleader). But then Chloe takes the lead, shoving him against the wall. Clark enjoys being dominated sexually and, sure enough, he swoons and nearly lets Chloe kiss him, even though we know he is not attracted to her. This was a clever way of showing that Clark identified, not with Lex as the dominant male, but with Lex’s partner.
Clark has had a very conservative upbringing so it’s no surprise that he is shocked by Lex’s promiscuity. However when he confronts Lex about his discomfort, he does not focus on the moral issues, but on the personal betrayal, saying ‘there is so much I don’t know about you’. Clark is afraid of Lex’s sexuality. But Clark *does* know that Lex has been promiscuous: Lex has admitted to a wild youth. So the only revelation is that Lex continues to have an active sex life, something Clark just cannot stomach.
Insurmountable obstacles to love
The barn scene beautifully and tragically demonstrated the insurmountable barriers between Clark and Lex at this stage in their development. Tragically, what Lex needs from Clark, Clark can never give him. And vice versa. Clark would love Lex to deny everything, but it is not in Lex’s character to do so. Instead Lex makes the most intimate revelation he possibly could: that he has an out-of-control self-destructive sexual obsession that he fears and hates. This is a massive cry-out to Clark to help him, which he makes explicit in the line ‘Don’t give up on me yet.’ Only consummation with Clark could cure him of the obsession.
Clark, however, cannot bear that Lex is so flawed. He is frightened of Lex’s intensity, as we saw in Asylum when Lex displayed adoration, love and awe after discovering Clark’s secret. I would argue that Clark is, at least subconsciously, aware that Lex’s sexual obsession and obsessive interest in Clark are linked. However I also think he opts for conscious denial of this link because it is too confronting. Clark desperately wants it all to be simpler and he needs Lex to stop the obsession on his own. But Lex needs Clark’s help to do so.