While much of Season 4 didn’t work for me, it succeeded in positioning Lex closer to being Clark’s enemy than ever before. This post is a bit of a recap and reflection on Lex’s path throughout this season. Spoilers ahead.
Lex started the season in a weak position. He was dependent on Clark forgiving him and relenting on his ‘this friendship is over’ statement. A fundamental shift occurred for Lex when Clark said this. He learned that for Clark, unlike for himself, there was a line that could be crossed. The friendship could have an end point. I don’t think Lex ever really believed that before. Lex re-enters the friendship warily. He continues with the grand gestures (giving Clark the contents of his ‘file’, clearing out the CoCK, sponsoring the football team), but he also tests Clark out. He waits to see whether Clark will be willing to be more honest with him this time around. Clark continues with his deceit. And so does Lex. He’s levelled the playing field, but they are both deceiving one another and this time they both know it. Innocence has died.
For me, Lex was at his weakest in ‘Devoted’, even though I loved the episode. He is alone in the stands watching Clark. He’s been rejected by the Kents, by Lana, by Chloe. And Clark deigns to give him only so much. I was desperate for Lex to regain some dignity and some genuine self-assurance. He’s good at the act but full of self-hatred underneath.
Lex’s strength does return, but it comes from his darker half. Mid-way through the season we see Lex pursuing his own goals with more assurance than ever before. Normally Lex’s actions have been shown to be either double-motivated with a benefit for him and a gift to someone else (e.g. saving Chloe) or purely motivated by generosity and/or affection (his gift-giving to Clark). Not any more.
In Season 4 Lex breaks up Lana’s relationship with Jason, at least partly to win her for himself. Clark identifies the significance of this action, reminding us that until recently Lex would have done this for Clark. Clark’s jealousy is at least as much about Lex acting selfishly as it is about Lana. His shock is palpable. In return, Lex treats him to a silent stare, a biting reversal of their usual patterns in conversations.
We eventually discover that Lex had good reason to distrust Jason. But even if we accept that Lex genuinely believed he was protecting Lana, there are other ways in which he is shown to be more self-centred than ever before. The rock-plot bored me, but the fact is it did show Lex’s passion in pursuing knowledge. I liked Lex as a globe-trotting adventurer, no matter how cheesy it was. In Onyx and Scare we saw him as a scientist. Notably he ends up as the subject of his experiments in these episodes. Lex’s quest for knowledge is a quest to master himself.
Transference provided the writers with another way of showing us how much Lex has changed. Clark cures Lionel’s cancer. He also cures the cancerous ‘evil’ part of Lionel’s brain make-up, at least temporarily. Lex remains suspicious of his father and they fall into a reversal pattern, with Lex as the manipulative distrustful but bafflingly benevolent figure and with Lionel as the ingenuous do-gooder.
Onyx showed us that the dark side of Lex is now dominant. Alexander quickly overcomes Good Lex and locks him up. This allows for the re-enacted sword fight where Lex overcomes Lionel and throws his own words back in his face. Significantly this brings Evil Lionel back out again. This showed us that the family connection between them was powerful enough to overcome a primary state of ‘goodness’. We can conclude this is what has happened to Lex himself. When re-united Lex hears Lionel’s declaration that he is back to his ‘old self’, he is shocked but he does not try to fight it. Lex now knows that his dark side is the stronger side. After all, Good Lex has lost everything. He has nowhere else to go.
The episode Lucy allowed us to explore the idea of familial love and how it could co-exist with animosity. At the end of the episode, Lex tells Clark that he is ‘closer to him than any blood brother’. Lex has told us before that Clark is like a brother to him, but here, at a stage when their friendship is at best suspicious, at worst icy, this is a big statement to make. The message to Clark is that, like Lois and Lucy, no matter how much they may fight and how different they may be, Clark will always be significant to him. He’ll always be connected to him. He’ll always love him. Clark, blessed with a loving family, finds it baffling. In the final scene with Lois though, he manages to empathise with her, presumably because he has seen how his relationship with Lex parallels Lois and Lucy’s.
Everyone’s a player
Until Season 4, Lex moves in two very separate worlds. There is the corporate upper-class world of his family upbringing and there is Smallville. In Luthor World, everyone manipulates and uses other people for their own ends. In Smallville, people are honest and you can take them at face value. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. In Season 4 these two worlds conflate for Lex and nothing will ever be the same.
The Teagues, god bless their crazed little Oedipal souls, invade Smallville and corrupt it. On the surface, Jason Teague is a quintessential Smallville citizen. He’s a loving devoted boyfriend to Lana and the coach of the football team. But then we learn that he comes from a rich family. Lex himself knows from the start that he’s potentially a player, a manipulator, a liar. By the end of the season Jason is well in the running to obtain the stones and to learn Clark’s secret.
That Jason and his mother are players is no surprise for Lex, although it does help blur the lines between Luthor World and Smallville for the audience. For Lex, the significant revelations are that both Lana and, most significantly, Clark are players themselves. In Blank, Lex takes unfair advantage of Clark for the first time ever. He’s had opportunities in the past to discover Clark’s secret through unfair means and has even shot someone rather than have them reveal the truth. Lex doesn’t quite go as far as finding out Clark’s secret, but he does discover how much Clark has been keeping from him about the caves, something Clark has kept secret since they re-formed their friendship at the start of the season. This is ultimate proof for Lex that Clark is a player. And if he’s a player, then Lex will step his game up.
In the final episode, Lex discovers that Lana is also willing to double-deal and hide things from him. She gives the final stone to Clark and I think this another slap in the face for Lex. I think what Lex is attracted to in Lana is very much the same thing as he was attracted to in Clark. When Clark disappointed him and rejected him, Lana was still grateful for Lex’s protection and generosity. So Lex receives a second shock when he learns that Lana is also willing to use him.
Lex’s final statement to Lionel that he’s ‘got the son you’ve always wanted’ is the final signal of change. Lionel certainly does now have a son who is suspicious of everyone, who will match every show of power with equal power and who looks after himself before everyone else. I don’t think Lex is quite ready to use his full resources and power against people, but he’s not far from it.