Spoilers: Spoilers through Season Three
Personal Website: Aeloralane.com
I have to admit, I’ve been hesitant about writing this. When it comes to the character of Lex Luthor, I’m extremely biased. I’ve spent hours and hours discussing Lex with anyone I could get to sit still long enough to listen. I’ve argued, I’ve ranted, I’ve agreed whole-heartedly, I’ve cried a few times – and then started all over again. The thing is, I believe Lex is far too complex a character just to be summed up by one individual. It’s a task I’ve dreaded taking on, especially with my determination to attempt to present him to you in a fair and unbiased manner. When you grow to love a character this much, it’s not an easy thing to do.
There have been several prior versions of Lex Luthor. First, there's the Lex Luthor from the Superman movies. He’s evil because… well, we don’t really know why. He’s greedy and wants to take over the world because… well, we don’t really know why. What we do know is that he surrounds himself with incompetents and is more of a gigantic fool than any true genius.
There is cartoon Lex who, though he has never been on the side of the heroes, he most certainly can do a good deed or two when the outcome affects him and his.
And there’s comic Lex, who has been in turn a mad scientist, greedy and dangerous businessman, the President of the United States (with all of the dirty, under-handed dealings which follows most politicians) and… well, we don’t know what the ‘and’ is yet, because a new and updated version of DC’s Lex is just around the corner. Confused yet? Not to worry. We’re just going to stick with Smallville’s version in this discussion.
I admit I was reluctant at first to watch Smallville. Being a longtime Superman fan, I was terrified as to what a show on the WB would do to the universe I loved. It only took one episode, though, and their take on the character of Lex Luthor, to reel me in. I stay because of Lex. Even when an episode may leave me feeling disappointed, when writing may not be up to par, when continuity flies out the window or characters seem to forget who they are, the character of Lex remains the one constant.
If you ask a Lex fan to give you a one-word description of their favorite character, it will more than likely be ‘woobie’. It may be said with sorrow, with a bit of sarcasm or even with a slight twinkle of amusement in their eyes, but somewhere within their synopsis of the entire character of Lex Luthor, the term ‘woobie’ will be listed.
I know, I know, I know. It doesn’t make any sense. Lex Luthor is no ‘woobie’. He’s one of the most cunning and dangerous foes that the DC Universe has to offer. He’s rich, powerful, driven and intelligent. Why in the hell would anyone refer to him in any kind of endearing terms? Answer: Because that is what Smallville has given us.
Opinions on Lex are always going to rage off the charts. While we’re always given just enough information to add to the character’s complexity, we’re never given quite enough to solve the puzzle of just who Lex Luthor is supposed to be. Call it ambiguity, if you like. In all actuality, I see it as just another facet of the personality traits that create Lex – we’re not supposed to understand him completely because he doesn’t understand himself. And I think this is partially what assists in the creation of the Lex Luthor of the future. He is always searching, never quite understanding, always reaching for something that is just out of his grasp. And in this eternal process, he scoops up everything around him and tosses it aside; if it gets in his way, he destroys it; if it’s something he can use, he uses it. His need to have answers to the world around him – and specifically his part in it – is one of the main keys in understanding the character.
Alexander Joseph Luthor was born in 1980 to Lionel and Lillian Luthor. He was destined for a life of luxury, with a billionaire industrialist father and doting mother, the best schools money could buy and anything that his heart desired. He grew up in those first years as one would expect – a little too pretty with his red hair and blue eyes, bratty and spoiled. His only real affliction was in the form of asthma, which his father probably viewed as a weakness, and his mother a reason to pamper him further.
In 1989, though, young Lex’s world was shaken on the day his mother insisted that he spend some ‘bonding’ time with his father. They traveled to Smallville, where Lionel was finalizing the acquisition of the local creamed corn factory. Lex, ignoring his father’s orders, wandered off alone into a corn field that was to become the first strike of a major meteor shower. Unable to escape the meteor strike’s radioactive blast, Lex was finally found by his father, unconscious, and stripped of his hair that would never grow back.
Growing up isn’t easy. Growing up as the freakishly bald, extremely rich Luthor kid is unimaginable. Over the next few years, Lex became increasingly isolated; he was without friends, his mother’s health was failing, and his father, though still affectionate, obviously looked at his bald son much differently than before. Hope arrived, though, in the birth of his baby brother, Julian. Finally, Lex would have a confidant, someone who might look up to him, who might both love him and be his friend.
Unfortunately, Lex was sheltered, as most children are, from the problems between his parents. Lillian didn’t want a second child. She hated Lionel’s parenting methods, accusing him of “chipping away” at Lex’s spirit (3.19, Memoria). She believed that her husband would pit their sons against one another, forcing them to fight for his affection, turning them into monsters. She wanted a divorce, and more than likely wanted to take the boys with her to protect them from their father. Lionel wouldn’t allow this, and Lillian was left with the belief that all of her nightmares would come true.
Tragically, the brief moments of happiness with Julian’s arrival were brought to an abrupt end when Lex discovered his mother standing over the baby’s crib, smothering her own child. Unable to stand the thought of losing his mother to his father’s wrath at what she’d done, Lex took the blame for Julian’s murder. In one fell swoop, Lex was handed both his father’s hatred for the act he had admittedly committed, and the burden of blame that should have been shouldered by his mother. Apparently, his eleven-year old mind was unable to fully withstand the sudden horrific events, and accepted the truth of his lie that he had been responsible for committing this heinous act.
At 13, Lex’s life was dealt another blow when his mother finally succumbed to the illness she had been battling for years. Left with only his estranged father, Lex reacted as any normal teenager, resorting to rebellion and acting out his anger. Over the course of the next seven years, he seemed to do everything in his power to get his father’s attention – sex, alcohol, expulsions from school, very possibly drugs, and certainly run-ins with the law that racked up an impressive juvenile record (1.04, X-Ray). Lex was eventually ‘banished’ to Fertilizer Plant No. 3 in Smallville, where Lionel intended to prepare him for the role he would one day take on as the head of LuthorCorp.
It was on his way to his new home, after his first visit to the plant, that Lex’s life took another swift change on the path to his future destiny. Distracted in his attempt to answer his cell phone, Lex didn’t notice a roll of baling wire in the middle of the road until it was too late. Losing control of his Porsche, he veered off toward the railing of Loeb bridge, catching sight at that moment of a young man caught in the path of his car. Hitting him, they both plunged over the edge and into the river below. Rendered unconscious by the impact, Lex drowned and would have died if not for the rescue by Clark Kent, the young man he had hit. From this moment on, an unlikely friendship sprang up between Lex and Clark (1.01, Pilot).
Lex was immediately fascinated by the teenager. Unlike the people Lex had grown up knowing – the ‘friends’ he could acquire if he named the right price, the people who alternately used him and discarded him when they had their fill – Clark’s offer of friendship was genuine. This, coupled with the strange circumstances surrounding the rescue that shouldn’t have been, drew Lex to Clark like a moth to a flame. Here was someone different from anyone Lex had ever known, someone who appeared to actually be interested in him as a friend, someone who had provided him with a completely new lease on life. Here, Lex had been given a chance to start over, shown that there was something better out there, that he could be better if he only tried.
During his first year in Smallville, Lex struggles to make the operation of Fertilizer Plant No. 3 a success, as well as garnering the respect of the townsfolk. Having already arrived with marks against him for both being the son of Lionel Luthor and being known as a wastrel from his exploits in Metropolis, he has his work cut out for him. But in a typical manner that comes to define Lex Luthor, he rises to the challenge.
In the first few weeks of his stay in Smallville, we see him defy his father’s orders to cut the workforce by 20% by instead cutting operating costs by the same amount. It gains him a warning by his father, and though never mentioned, it obviously builds a tiny amount of respect in the town as well (1.03, Hothead). Later, Lex offers himself in trade for the lives of the students that are held hostage by Earl Jenkins, an ex-employee of LuthorCorp (1.08, Jitters). Jenkins believed that the experiments done by the company while he worked for them were the cause of the strange illness he had acquired – sudden, violent jitters that would rack his body. Lex’s life is in danger at the hands of the angry man, but he willingly puts himself in this position to save the teens. In the end, it’s only the intervention of his friend Clark that once more rescues Lex from death. Creating an even greater niche for himself in the town of Smallville, Lex goes into business with Clark’s crush, Lana Lang, converting a closed theatre, The Talon, into a coffeehouse (1.13, Kinetic). The venture is well-received by the town and becomes a success.
Lex’s love-affair with the townspeople is short-lived, though when his father, in a bold attempt to bring his son to heel, closes the factory, putting 2500 people out of work and demanding that Lex return to Metropolis (1.21, Tempest). Desperate in his attempt to once more rise to the challenge, Lex convinces a group of employees to join together with him in an employee buy-out of the Plant, through which he creates his fledgling corporation, LexCorp.
The second season becomes even more involved in the growth and development of Lex’s character on the path toward his destiny. He’s married twice – once under the influence of highly potent pheromones (2.02, Heat) and once under the influence of love (2.23, Exodus) . He loses (2.13, Suspect) and regains his company (2.15, Prodigal), LexCorp, to and from his father. He finds a brother he never knew he had, and is subsequently disinherited and brought back into the fold as the only truly worthy heir (2.15, Prodigal). And he delves ever more deeply into the circumstances surrounding the meteor strike, as well as his belief that a ship landed that day. For a short time he acquires guardianship over the Kawatchee caves (2.10, Skinwalker), exploring the mysteries they hold as well as Clark Kent’s involvement with them. Throughout this time span, conflicts begin to arise between Clark and Lex, leaving the friendship on shaky ground. When Clark’s father is framed for the attempted murder of Lionel Luthor, Clark points the finger at Lex, demanding to know if he did it in order to get his father out of the way (2.13, Suspect). And later, Clark’s lies become even more unbelievable with regards to the caves and his ties to them (2.17, Rosetta), chipping away some of Lex's trust in Clark, and further straining the friendship. By the end of the season, Lex is alone on a jet headed into the ocean and a watery grave.
When season three opens, we learn that Lex survived the crash only to be stranded alone on a deserted island for the past three months. Left alone with the thoughts of who in his life betrayed him, Lex’s mind creates a companion by the name of Louis, who provides for us a sneak peak into Lex’s dark side. Through Louis we are able to glimpse his thoughts of murdering his father, of striking back at the Kent’s who he feels have always ridiculed him behind his back, and the fears that his wife, Helen, was just another in the growing line of women who have betrayed him. By the time he is saved, Lex conquers Louis by killing him. The question is, exactly what side of Lex has been metaphorically destroyed in this act?
After dealing with his second wife’s perfidy, Lex returns to work for his father at LuthorCorp, making a bold statement that he feels he has more to learn from the man. Shortly after his return, Lex is first given to believe that the effects of the meteor shower when he was a child have created within his body some kind of invincibility. He runs with the idea, especially after the jet crash and his time on the island, going so far as to wonder if it wasn’t Clark that saved him that day in the river, or that perhaps his body was invulnerable(3.03, Extinction). During his work for his father, another major arc is set into motion for Lex when he discovers information leading him to believe that his father killed his own parents, using the money to establish LuthorCorp (3.06, Relic). Using this knowledge in the hope of bringing his father to justice, Lex is instead drugged, made to look as if he has suffered a psychotic breakdown and committed to Belle Reve Sanitarium by his father (3.08, Shattered). When finally released, with seven weeks of his memory erased from his mind by ECT (3.09, Asylum), Lex is left floundering again, without any knowledge of what had happened. It isn’t until a friend comes to him with the truth of his grandparents’ murder that Lex is set back on track to bringing his father down (3.21, Forsaken). In the end, he gets what he set out to do so early in the season, but not before losing his best friend, and finally unknowingly drinking poison that may or may not have been placed in his brandy by his father (3.22, Covenant).
I scratch and tear
Until it bleeds
I do not want
I only need
Lex is a contradiction unto himself. What he longs for the most, he inevitably pushes away. At the core of Lex is his absolute need for unconditional love and acceptance. This comes up time and time again in both his relationships and his motivations. It works both for and against him, starting out as a strength regarding his interpersonal relationships, and eventually becoming his downfall. This desire for love is an enormous draw for many female fans – it’s difficult not to consider the differences in the character, and his future, if he simply had someone to stand by him through everything, who gave him the unconditional love and acceptance that he longs for.
If there is one trait that few can argue, it’s Lex’s loyalty to those who are loyal to him. If you are good to him, he will return that tenfold. He’s proven this with regards to family and friends. From taking the fall for his mother regarding the murder of his brother Julian, to taking the blame for Amanda when she shot her fiancé, Jude. In the first season, Lex did everything he could to fix Clark up with Lana, short of forcing them to marry at gunpoint. At the beginning of season three, he purchased the Kent’s farm outright for them, handing over the deed while only asking to be a part of the family. Unfortunately for Lex, the belief is deeply rooted within him that friendships and love are generally bought and paid for. And even when the people closest to him have tried to explain it’s not necessary to do such things in order to have their friendship, Lex has always been unable to do otherwise. As he told Lana, “The grand gestures have always come easier.” (3.10, Whisper) As it is, these grand gestures usually go sour for Lex, in that most people regard them as either an attempt to buy them off or some form of future blackmail.
Lex’s loyalty and devotion toward his friends seems to stem from that desperate desire for unconditional love. This overwhelming need leads him to jump into relationships without thoroughly thinking them through. When his first wife, Desiree, shows up claiming that she’s there to save him, he’s swept away by the invitation, making him vulnerable to her meteor-enhanced pheromones.
After making a vow not to let his passion get in the way again, Lex is once more caught up in the desire for love when he meets Dr. Helen Bryce. Even when presented with photos of her with his father, information that should lead him to be wary of her true intentions, he chooses to accept her explanation and move ever further into the relationship. Helen learns how to control him through his desires, be it from instruction given to her by Lionel, or her own observations. She learns, as anyone can by watching him, that guilt plays a heavy part in his decisions. Whenever he questions her motivations or actions, she turns it around on to him, feeding on his paranoia of failed relationships, claiming things would be fine if not for his questions and constant prying.
Lex’s eternal search for love continually leads him into making stupid mistakes in his desire to achieve it, leaving him blind to betrayal. When Lex is faced with the possibility of losing Helen to a new job, he uses a sort of emotional blackmail to keep her, offering her the option of moving in with him (2.16, Fever) and then using his own form of guilt when she takes her time in making the decision(3.17, Rosetta). Unfortunately for Lex, as good as he may be in the game of manipulation, he’s far too blinded by the hope for eventual love at this point of his development to notice when it is being used on him. This is exceptionally obvious when he admits to Helen that he was the one who stole the blood from her office and gives it back to her, hoping that she will forgive, forget, and move on with their marriage(223, Covenant). In the last episode of season two, this is exactly what he’s led to believe, even though it doesn’t quite work out that way. Helen sells the blood to his father, the information to Morgan Edge and tries to kill her loving husband.
Never forget that Lex has an ego. It’s innate to his nature – who he is, who he was raised to be, who he will become. While this ego provides him with confidence to achieve many of the tasks laid before him by his father in the business world with an almost fearless recklessness, it often backfires in his personal life. Besides being regarded as overly arrogant by the people around him, Lex has trouble accepting betrayal by people he believes should be loyal to him. When it happens, when he doesn’t receive the love and acceptance he feels he should be entitled to or receive for his own loyalty, he lashes out in anger. We are shown this behavior in his relationship with his nanny, Pamela, and his reaction to her when she returns to ask for his forgiveness after leaving on his mother’s death(1.19, Crush). We see it again during his friendship with Clark, specifically with regards to the caves and the lies he knows his friend is telling him. In anger of this believed betrayal, Lex turns his focus to researching Clark and what he knows, with the help of Dr. Walden, using his friend as a lead to the answers he is searching for(2.14, Rush). And finally, when he returns from the island to discover Helen’s perfidy, he responds in an apparent attempt to leave her with the same fate she left him to. We’ll never know his true intentions, though, as she boarded the plane armed, and it ended in her grabbing a parachute and diving from the jet to save herself(3.02, Phoenix).
All of these reactions, in the midst of Lex’s attempts to find that ever elusive love and acceptance that guides his life, leave his motivations suspect to those around him. While his ego prevents him from admitting his fears and needs to others – even those closest to him – many of his over-the-top reactions to situations makes him appear irrational, illogical and inexcusably cold-hearted. It never occurs to people that the opposite is true, especially when it comes to someone like Lex Luthor, who is often seen as having everything.
The more I feel
The more I die
When examining the character of Lex Luthor, one has to look closely at the people around him – friends, family, lovers, enemies – all of whom mold the man he was, is and becomes. More than most, Lex is influenced by the people in his life. Whether it be by his need to have them in his life or the will they quietly impose on him, one of this character’s greatest weaknesses is his inability to become and be his own person. Again, his desire for love and to be loved, reflects here through how others see him.
“I think he saw Julian as his second chance. A chance for him to have a son he could truly love.” (Ep 116, Stray)
“The only picture of my father and me appears in the LuthorCorp annual report… I just want you to understand if I'm guilty of anything regarding your family, it's envy.” (Ep 117, Reaper)
“I've only loved two women in my life. One died and the other betrayed me…. Some people are meant to be alone.” (Ep 119, Crush)
“From the time I was born, I was raised in an environment of suspicion and distrust. My father taught me to regard everyone as an adversary no matter who they are….When my mother died, I began to build a wall around my heart. Every year that wall grew taller and more fortified until eventually it became impenetrable. I want to tear the wall down, Helen, I do. I just-- I don't have the slightest clue how to do it.” (Ep 211, Visage)
Chloe: Why do you keep doing this to yourself? Why can't you just walk away from your father?
Lex: Because he won't give me the only thing I've ever wanted from him.
Chloe: And that would be?
Lex: I want him to love me. (Ep 318, Truth)
“Yes, Dad. You might've actually loved me.” (Ep 319, Memoria)
If he is not worthy of love, either by someone he holds up as good, or his own family, then who is he? What kind of man is he? Through his own weakness and phobias, Lex becomes a reflection of the man the people around him see – his attempts at molding himself into a person they might be able to love. Unfortunately, Lex has a history of making bad choices - decisions without thought, ruled by his emotions - and he pushes people away. By giving in to this, he provides those who actually could love him with little reason to do so by his actions.
All of the people in Lex’s life have shared a role, however minute, in guiding him toward his future. Good, bad or indifferent, Lex is incapable of inviting someone into his life merely for the sake of being there. It’s not always a conscious manipulative action on his part – he genuinely wanted Clark in his life for a friendship that he’s never experienced; he honestly loved Helen; and he truly cherishes the partnership he has forged with Lana. There have been those who are merely pawns to him in achieving a greater end – Chloe, who though he obviously respects and values because of her relationship to Clark, has only really been there as an ally in his fight against his father. Roger Nixon, Frederick Walden, Stephen Hamilton, and even Victoria Hardwick, have simply been vehicles in his life to attain certain goals. They are used and discarded, often after having turned against him, their use to him no longer of any value.
I tried so hard to hate you
But it only makes it all worse
I only end up hating myself
At the core of understanding Lex is understanding, or attempting to understand, his relationship with his father. A child cannot help but become ingrained with the teachings of their parents, for good or bad, especially when raised by a parent with a strong will. While it can occasionally be argued that at one point, Lionel only had the best intentions for teaching his son to be strong enough to one day take over LuthorCorp, those lessons became soured along the way. Lionel succeeded in creating someone as strong as he was, but in doing so, turned his own son against him. And though Lex has every reason to not trust his father or his motivations, harboring such unresolved ill-feelings toward your own father leads to complications with other relationships throughout your life.
We have never been given actual proof as to Lionel’s initial objectives or feelings for his son. The most we can do is hypothesize that Lionel did love Lex, in as much as he is capable of loving anyone, in a flashback scene where Lionel seeks to comfort his young son when no one showed up for his birthday (3.19, Memoria). He tenderly wipes his tears away, while at the same time teaching him to lock his fears and doubts away where no one can see them. Lionel admits to Lex at the end of this episode that if he had known Lex was not responsible for Julian’s death, then things would have been different between them. What combats this explanation though, are Lillian’s remarks to Lionel in the flashbacks, when Lex is listening in on their conversation. From her words, it is likely that Lillian did not believe her husband was meant to be a father:
Lionel: I will not let you inflict psychological scars on my children.
Lillian: That's why they have you, Lionel.
Lionel: No, you don't mean that, Lillian.
Lillian: I told you I didn't want any more children. I see how you treat Alexander, chipping away at his spirit…. I won’t let you turn them into monsters.
What the truth is, we may never know. But the conflicts that have arisen between Lex and his father certainly have bearing on the progression of their relationship, escalating the animosity between them. Lex obviously feels that his father should have never believed his son capable of killing his own brother, or at least still loved him through the pain of the events.
Over the course of the first three seasons of Smallville, we see the relationship between the Luthors go from mere push and shove, to all out war. Lex seeks love and acceptance from his father; he wants to know that he’s worthy of being his father’s son, that he’s worthy of having his last surviving family member love him. Even though he sees what his father is, knows that Lionel Luthor is not a good man and someone he has no desire to emulate, that doesn’t detract from the fact that he is still his father. Lionel is all that Lex has left. Lex wants his father to love him, and is willing to do almost anything to prove his worth.
Unfortunately, Lionel’s lessons in life probably aren’t sanctioned by Dr. Spock. Apparently disturbed by Lex’s success in Smallville, in the change in his behavior, Lionel offers all but the moon (and the words Lex most longs to hear) for him to move back to Metropolis and work at his father’s side (1.16, Stray). When Lex drugs and ties up his father’s assistant, Dominic, and delivers him to his father in the trunk of his car as a warning to stay out of his business, Lionel congratulates his son. Tells him it was a job well done (1.17, Reaper). These instances through season one, as well as others pointed out in the discussion above, are only a few of what Lex likely sees as the continual emotional abuse or conditioning by his father.
With the onset of Lionel’s blindness in season two, we are shown once again how easily Lex is manipulated by his father in his simple need to please him. Lex constantly gives in to his father’s demands through the use of guilt, a manipulative tool that works on him every time it’s used. The reasons for this could simply be a Pavlovian reaction to a programmed response ingrained in Lex through his interactions with his father throughout his life. It could relate back to his mother, his inability to save her and the guilt he feels as a result. The fact is, Lex allows this guilt to guide his decisions far too often, and while guilt can be a good thing and shows that Lex does understand right from wrong, this response is most dangerous when the inflictor of the guilt does so with nefarious intentions, with the purpose of using it against him. It has been Lionel’s greatest weapon against his son again and again. Only recently, with the incarceration of Lionel for the murder of his parents and the knowledge that his own father had him committed and his memory wiped, does it appear that Lex has learned to ignore those feelings so as not to be manipulated by his father further. But at what point will Lex ignore all feelings of guilt and push the conscience, that has plagued him throughout his life, to the side?
And everything I've hoped to be or ever thought I was
Died with your belief in me so who that hell am I?
While Lex’s relationship with his father might be the most influential on his path toward his future, inarguably the most important relationship in Lex’s life is the one he shares with Clark Kent. Time and again, Lex has referred to Clark as his only friend, his closest friend, the one person he believes in above all others. Even with the lies and the accusations and the pain caused by both of them, it is to Clark that Lex continually turns, begging for both forgiveness and acceptance.
There are probably many contributing factors contributing to Lex’s devotion to Clark. It could be something as simple as Clark initially saving his life on that bridge, to the countless times that Clark has been there to save Lex’s life again and again. Clark is someone that Lex can count on, and Lex hasn’t had many of those in his life. He is also the first person who, when offering a hand in friendship, didn’t seem to want or ask for anything in return. Over the course of their friendship, this has very obviously changed as Clark has realized there are some things in life that only a person like Lex Luthor can obtain, and having him for a friend can be very beneficial. Lex has allowed these requests both because he can afford to do so, and because he already values Clark’s friendship. It is very possible that he is afraid to say no, having been conditioned that everyone wants something from him, and worried that if he refused Clark, he would lose his friendship as well. Even when Lex finally did say no to Clark, and his friend resorted to stealing from him in order to gain what he needed to help another, Lex let it go without pursuing the matter (3.18, Velocity). It’s an almost symbiotic relationship that exists between Clark and Lex – both, at their turn, has had what the other has needed. Lex uses Clark to gain the acceptance and love from the first truly good person he has ever met. Clark is his validation. In turn, Clark uses Lex to gain those material things he may need for his family, his friends or perfect strangers in order to protect them in a way that sheer strength cannot. Lex is a window into a world Clark has only begun to glimpse.
Another facet of Clark that continually draws Lex to him surrounds the secrets between them. It’s been demonstrated to us over and over again that Lex is by nature a curious individual. This is especially true when it comes to the meteor shower that stripped him of his hair and rid him of his asthma in 1989. Now that he is living in the town where it happened, he can’t escape the memory or how that day changed his life. He wants answers; he seems to believe that in finding these answers, his life may have purpose. Meeting Clark simply provided him with more questions. And when those questions began colliding with the questions he had regarding the meteor strike, his curiosity began to override his better sense. Had Clark been honest with him early on, perhaps he may have set Lex’s mind to rest. Then again, we don’t know. Lex is constantly searching, and sometimes when he is provided with answers, it only causes him to dig more deeply. His inability to let things go brought their friendship to a major crossroads at the end of season three when Clark discovered the room in which Lex had his dedicated research filed away (3.22, Covenant). The Porsche from the accident on the day they met, bullets presumably from the time Lex was mind-controlled by Bob Rickman to take down Kyle Tippet (1.11, Hug), a Nicodemus plant, both green and red Kryptonite, computer simulations of the accident and the key to Clark’s ship, and the family tree on which Clark had doodled letters from the Kryptonian alphabet (2.17, Rosetta). Lex’s reasoning behind this room is that it was meant as research into his own life, surrounding the meteor shower and the day his life had changed forever, which obviously does tie to Clark. While Lex probably believes that on some level the room was all about him, it’s difficult to deny that that he was researching Clark, as well. Understandably, Clark was outraged by this find. Not only had Lex not stopped his investigation into Clark's life, but Lionel Luthor also knew of this gathered evidence. Lex, in his obsession for finding out the truth, had unthinkingly made his best friend vulnerable to others.
Since the moment they first met, Clark has been the moral compass for Lex: the person who, with his simple, good spirit, showed Lex, that he could do more with his life, that he could aspire to be someone other than his father. Lex set out on a path from that moment on to be better, determined to gain respect and admiration from his employees and the people of Smallville. He didn’t want to be regarded as the rich brat from Metropolis; he didn’t want to be judged by his name only. He was once more seeking acceptance, but this time, he thought he finally understood the way to gain what he longed for. With Clark’s friendship, Lex was almost certain he would be pointed in the right direction, that he would always have someone there to prod him, warn him that he had taken the wrong path. Once again, Lex handed the growth of his self to someone else, refusing to take responsibility for his own choices. His faith in Clark, and any one he esteems as being better than himself, blinds him to the realization that no one can be responsible for his life, and his choices, other than Lex.
At night I cling to you, I'm so afraid
Afraid the day will come
And I'll wake and find you gone
With the death of his mother at a very impressionable age, Lex set the image and memory of Lillian Luthor on a very high pedestal. With no one left to take her place as someone who loved him without reserve, Lex placed her apart from all others, turning her into a virtual saint. Even when he acknowledged the truth of her part in his brother’s death, that he had buried away for so many years, he was quick to dismiss her actions as protecting her children, perhaps even choosing his life over that of his brother’s. And ever since the day of her death, Lex has been searching for someone to replace her, to fill the void left by the absence of her unconditional love.
Prior to season two, Lex had claimed to have ever loved only two women – his mother and his nanny, Pamela Jenkins. Pamela looked after him while his mother was sick and his father was off on his business trips. According to her own words, she was the one person who never looked at him differently after the meteor shower (1.19, Crush). She was a replacement for his mother, when Lillian couldn’t be with him. After his mother’s death, Lionel sent Pamela away, leaving Lex completely alone and vulnerable to his parenting.
In season one, we see Victoria Hardwick, the statuesque brunette who was brought up under the same lifestyle as Lex (1.09, Rogue). Rich family, overbearing, untouchable father, the need to do whatever it takes to please him and be deemed as worthy. Victoria is a safe playtoy for Lex because he understands her. There’s no love between them, but there is a grudging respect for her because she knows how to play the ‘game’. She fascinates him because she’s so very much like him. It’s apparent, by Lex’s interactions with her, that this is the woman he is most accustomed to dealing with, someone he believes is even less deserving of love than he is.
Desiree Atkins, Lex’s first wife, also a brunette, is the woman who claims to Lex that she is there ‘to save him’(2.02, Heat). Though we don’t get to see this introduction, such a bold proclamation, while on the one hand being suspect, also had to be very appealing to Lex. The last woman who was out to save Lex was his mother. Blinding him to any danger, he willing follows the crook of her finger, unsuspecting of her true nature and abilities, and almost loses his life because of it. Desiree was a lesson to him in being ruled by his passion.
Dr. Helen Bryce, yet another brunette, followed quickly on the heels of Desiree (2.09, Dichotic). Whereas his first wife was everything fiery and passionate about love, Helen seemed to represent something gentler, quieter. At first she spurned his advances, intriguing him and drawing him in. When he became suspect of her motivations regarding their relationship, she cleverly wielded the same sword of guilt that his father has always so brilliantly bandied about. Desperate not to lose the love of a woman Lex apparently believed could fill the empty space left by his mother, he almost pleaded with her to save him from himself, to help him to be a better man (2.11, Visage). Helen was supposed to be the surrogate for Clark – spinning Lex on a different and better path, guiding him toward salvation (1.19, Precipice). He fought against his own ingrained nature, changing himself for her, exposing his underbelly and willingly making himself vulnerable. What he received in return was yet another betrayal, this time by someone Lex thought he knew (2.23, Exodus). Even after three months alone on a deserted island, he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe that she had any part in his attempted murder until he was face to face with the proof. The actions of Helen very possibly destroyed Lex’s last capacity to truly love and trust another woman. Lillian’s pedestal was still intact.
A more complicated relationship for Lex is that of his partnership/friendship with Lana Lang. When he first came to Smallville, she merely represented the teenage crush of his friend, Clark. She stood up to Lex in ways that others might not, and he seemed to respect and admire her for this. So much so, that he went into business with her, converting the old movie theatre, the Talon, into a coffee shop (1.13, Kinetic). He put the money up for it, and she managed it, whether to flounder or succeed(1.18, Drone). From that enterprise, a friendship began between the two of them that didn’t necessarily need to include Clark. Lex pushed Lana to be her own person, to see herself as something other than a fairy princess. Lana was one of the few people in town who had truly gone out of her way to treat him like a friend, with kindness and acceptance, without dubious purposes in mind. Here was this beautiful brunette, known throughout the town as a good and honest person, and she seemed to see something in Lex that others didn’t. Lana has, more than any other, embodied the spirit of his mother. We have yet to be shown how Lex specifically regards his feelings toward her, be they romantic or brotherly. Lana could very well represent Lex’s last chance at obtaining love and filling the void that has been empty for so long, that is, if he isn’t setting himself up for yet another heartbreak.
What do I have to do to make you happy?
What do I have to do to make you understand?
Jonathan and Martha Kent provide to their son Clark the family that Lex has always longed for. He is constantly shown how proud they are of their son, protective, loving and accepting. Lex has longed to be a part of this family since the moment he first came into contact with them. Not only is Clark a part of this, but they represent a life he has never been a part of.
Martha is the mother he has lost. From the start, she has been more accepting of him, more caring. She stands up to her husband in defense of him, and even occasionally has to defend him to her son. Martha seems to glimpse the little boy in Lex that wants to be loved, but understands that her son comes first. Something which has probably never been made clear to Lex.
Lex looks to Jonathan Kent and sees a good man, an honest man, someone unlike anything he has been exposed to with regard to his own father. He longs for acceptance from Jonathan, to be worthy of the respect of such a man. To this end, Lex has gone out of his way to insert himself into their lives, both appropriately and, occasionally, inappropriately.
Already holding a grudge against Lionel Luthor(2.07, Lineage), Jonathan’s bias toward Lex began early on with Lex’s reckless driving that resulted in the accident on the bridge. Not only had Lex put Clark in danger, but he unknowingly changed Clark’s life, forcing Jonathan to tell his son the truth about who and what he is. Jonathan has always worried that Lex has been too close to Clark’s secret, that if he ever knew the truth, he would hurt Clark. While this conclusion has no basis in fact – especially since Lex learned Clark’s secret and never told a single soul, even while drugged (3.08/3.09, Shattered/Asylum) - it is understandable that Jonathan would associate Lex with his father, and therefore be unable to trust him. Lex doesn’t understand this because he has no knowledge of the depth of secrets this family has been forced to keep hidden. He constantly strives to please the Kents, to gain acceptance, never realizing that their wariness has less to do with him and more to do with them. He becomes frustrated and angry when every overture of kindness is pushed aside or viewed as self-serving.
Again, Lex’s very honest desperation for love becomes twisted into something less pure. While the Kents represent the family he wants, they also represent that which he’ll never have.
When I think of all the people
I have damaged
And I'm tired
I'm so tired
And there's no one else
Except myself to blame
To judge Smallville’s Lex Luthor by the future incarnations of him found in the movies and the comics is a great disservice to the creators who have developed his past, and to the character himself. This is a man who began with a good soul. He is still hopeful, desperately searching for a different life than what he has been given. Throughout this search, he becomes misguided, deflecting his faults away from himself, where the greater capacity for change is needed, and instead reflects it back to those around him. One by one, the people around him either betray his faith, or are pushed away by his need.
Lex is an amazing character simply due to his sheer complexity and tragedy. He’s a man who has fought so hard to be good, to do the right thing, only to have his attempts thwarted or his definition of good be completely misguided. He fears being himself because he doesn’t believe the soul that exists inside of him can be good, so he reflects what the people around him see, stumbling in his attempt to do what he believes is right, and failing at almost every turn. Too late, he is slowly learning to draw from the strength he possesses, and depend on himself. But his trust and faith in those around him has diminished, his search for unconditional love has soured, and Lex Luthor is left believing that the only person who won’t betray and hurt him, is himself.
“I plan on being great all by myself” ~ Lex Luthor, (1.12, Leech)
Notes: Special thanks to my betas, pepperjackcandy and chicklet73, and to my flist for their support and encouragement. Lyrics from songs by Stabbing Westward.