Character: Lionel Luthor
Author email: email@example.com
Spoilers: through current (4th) season
Essay contains screencaps from : aelora, oxoniensis, and myself. Many thanks to aelora for her great beta job.
"Greatness is a rarefied air one must be taught to breathe."--Lionel Luthor, "Tempest"
Lionel Luthor. When this name is mentioned in the Smallville fandom, you may be surprised at the amount of vitriol that awaits you. The mob will gather with pitchforks and torches, ready to burn Lionel Luthor to a crisp and dance on his grave.
Look on the second row, with the bright pink pitchfork and the boom box. That's me. I hold no illusions about the character, and I don't think anyone else does. He is an evil man, driven to it by his own personal demons and his own skewed worldview, and most of the fans who like Lionel Luthor tend to keep it quiet, because he's not really a character *to* like. You're supposed to hate him, and you do.
Only you hate yourself, because you end up loving him too.
"You have a destiny, Lex. You're never going to get anywhere with your eyes closed."--Lionel Luthor, Pilot
In a way, Lionel's entire existence is built on this philosophy, only taken to the next level. Stephen King says it best in The Golden Years television series; "Perfect paranoia is perfect awareness." Fox Mulder of the X-Files puts it another way; "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."
Lionel is a paranoid individual, and we find that out in the Pilot. Because despite his self-assurance, despite being secure in the knowledge that he *is* Lionel Luthor, and he is, in fact, that damn good, his one fear is that Lex--his only son--is *not.* It's an almost paranoid fear, down to the point where Lionel himself refuses to put up with a child's fear of heights.
And that is our introduction to Lionel Luthor; less than five minutes of screen time with his son, Lex Luthor, who is accompanying him to Smallville in October 1989. The character was initially meant to be a one-shot appearance, and John Glover was cast in the role. After the episode was filmed, however, the producers had such a wonderful reaction to the character--and Glover's portrayal of it--that he was brought back again and again, appearing in seven more episodes (eight in total, almost a third of the first season's twenty-one episodes) before being made a cast regular in the second season.
"You get one." "One what?" "One chance to defy me."--Lionel Luthor, Hothead
As first impressions go, Lionel Luthor doesn't make a very favorable one. He is very brusque with his son, almost to the point of meanness, and while he exhibits concern for Lex when he is missing after the meteor shower, his reaction to his now-bald son is shock and revulsion.
But that in itself is something surprising. Lionel *does* exhibit a near-frantic fear and concern when Lex is nowhere to be found in the cornfield, running towards the flattened stalks of corn, pausing and looking out in shock and fear over the landscape, with his child nowhere to be seen.
It is only when the wind blows a lock of Lex's red hair over Lionel's shoe that he sees a quivering lump hidden under fallen cornstalks, and Lionel hurries to his son's aid, ripping the stalks away to make sure that Lex is all right only to be faced with a bald, near-catatonic boy. Shock, revulsion, and disbelief dance over his face as he takes a step back, trying to comprehend what he sees.
But that isn't the end of the story, although you have to wait until the second season's Lineage (2.07) to find out the rest of it; a desperate Lionel flags down the first passing motorists to get his son to the hospital as quickly as possible, encouraging them to dump the load in the back of their truck because it is slowing them down, and ordering that everything be done at the hospital once they arrive.
The most telling shot, though, is of Lionel's face, when he is looking into the hospital room to see his small, fragile son covered in tubes and blankets. He looks lost, as though he is just realizing that he is not God, and cannot control the world. I believe this, in part, is what drives Lionel in his later years, because he seems determined to toughen Lex up in his own image, so that Lex can never again be hurt by anything, either physical or emotional.
Two years is a long time to wait to make a first impression, but Lionel does it. He makes you feel for him, makes you understand his fear and his shock, and his determination to protect his son no matter what the cost, to himself, to Lex, or anyone else.
Other episodes carefully help you formulate your opinions of Lionel only to have them blown away by the next one; the Pilot presents Lionel as a firm but gruffly caring father; Hothead shows Lionel as unwavering, determined, and disdainful of Lex's ideas because he thinks Lex is still a child. Jitters takes the uncaring parent impression a step further, and compounds it with false affection and a willingness to sacrifice his son.
This starts to fall apart in Shimmer, when Lionel comes to Lex and warns him about Victoria Hardwick (whom we later find out is trying to take advantage of Lex, which he knows and has already countered) and warns Lex that trusting someone who isn't family can be dangerous. He proves this in absentia during Leech, when Roger Nixon reports back to Lex (complete with photographs, I might add) that Victoria has been sleeping with Lionel.
Stray and Reaper both deconstruct Lionel's heartlessness a little more.
In Stray, Lionel offers Lex a chance to come back and join him in Metropolis, going so far as to subtly offer him a powerful position--Lionel offers Lex the position of Special Advisor to Chairman Emeritus, and indicates that Lionel himself is the Chairman Emeritus. Using that title shows Lionel's willingness to step down--(Chairman Emeritus is a retired chairman) and open the avenues of power for Lex to slide into after being advisor for a time. However, Lex declines, and subtly threatens Lionel at the same time; he will return to Metropolis on his own terms, and that seems to satisfy Lionel for now.
Reaper, on the other hand, in one brief scene, finishes the careful shattering of Lionel's heartless towards his son. Lionel has one scene in which he meets Lex in a Metropolis alleyway. He tells his son, in few words, that he treats him just as he does any other employee, including the fiscal checks and accounting checks, and when Lex retaliates by having stuffed Lionel's personal assistant Dominic Senatori in the trunk, Lionel congratulates him. Not only on passing the business expenditures check, but also on proving that he is a Luthor, and is well able to care for himself.
Paternal pride, of the only kind Lionel is capable of, and we are suddenly presented with a Lionel who does obviously care for Lex, to the point of being willing to sacrifice *other people* in the quest for Lex's glory (a theme which will resurface later, in 2nd season's Prodigal.)
So, in the span of eight episodes, your first impressions of Lionel are both completely shattered and completely upheld at the same time, giving you a first taste of what Lionel's character is going to be like.
When the second season begins, you're forced to revise your impressions of Lionel. He has gone from a strong, independent man to a bitter man frustrated by his blindness and his disability and who is forced to adapt to a completely new situation. All is not lost, however, because Lionel is able to use this situation to his advantage in the attempt to reconcile with his son, which only reinforces the impression that you're left with at the end of the first season, that Lionel does truly, somewhere inside, love his son.
"It may be hard for you to imagine, Lex, but some sons don't ever question their allegiance to family." --Lionel Luthor, Prodigal.
Prodigal (2.15) is one of the most important turning points for Lionel's character, and it once again changes your impressions of him entirely while keeping them completely intact. In this episode, Lex finds that he has a half-brother, Lucas Luthor, floating around in Edge City, and brings him back to Smallville. There are the typical Luthorian machinations involved, and the plots culminate in Lionel's Metropolis office. Since Lucas has come into the fold, Lionel disinherited Lex, and named Lucas the new heir.
Unsatisfied with that, Lucas calls his father to Metropolis, where he holds Lex captive, and he demands--including putting a gun to Lionel's head--that he pull the trigger on Lex. Lionel refuses, and turns the gun on his youngest son, and pulls the trigger on Lucas instead. Ultimately it is revealed that Lionel has regained his sight and that Lex and Lucas worked together to trick Lionel, but the important occurrence is what happens beforehand. Lionel chooses Lex. Over his second son, over his second chance for a heir, Lionel chose the son he disinherited. He thought, in fact, that he was killing to *protect* Lex.
That choice, the ultimate choice of Lex no matter what the cost, fits in with the earlier impressions that we have of Lionel as a father who loves his son, but cannot express it, while the lie about pretending to be blind when he could in fact still see would seem to contradict that. (Unless you choose to look at it like I do, and know that if Lionel had told the truth about regaining his sight whenever he did, instead of in Prodigal, Lex and Lionel would not have had the chance to reconcile as much as they did.)
"When Alexander the Great was dying, his generals asked who he would leave his empire to. If he would appoint a successor, it would keep the legacy intact... prevent generations of bloodshed! His answer was simple--I leave it to the strongest."--Lionel Luthor, Tempest
Lionel's strengths are many; his faults almost twice that much. His main strengths, however, are the ones that we see every day; tenacity, ruthlessness, intelligence, wealth and power, even rationalization. These are the qualities that define Lionel Luthor, because they are the qualities that have helped him achieve the position he enjoys today.
Tenacity. Stick-to-it. Dog with a bone. Whatever imagery you choose, tenacity is certainly one of Lionel Luthor's strengths. Whether he's engineering a takeover of Hardwick Enterprises or setting up his son to take the fall for multiple murders, Lionel leaves nothing to chance. Anticipating nearly every possible contingency, Lionel's schemes sometimes seem as titanic as a general's battle strategy, complete with retreat and strategic withdrawal points noted. Rarely willing to compromise, Lionel is more than willing to wait out a bad situation and use his information for the greatest benefit at the opportune moment.
Lionel has no problem biding his time, weighing the options and the timing, the expense and the retribution, and then acting in his own best interests. There are many examples of this, but the greatest occurs in the finale/premiere arcs of seasons three and four. In the finales of season three, Lionel finds himself in prison, betrayed there by his son and aided by Chloe Sullivan, whom he had aided in the past. Because they have betrayed him, he waits several days at least, until they are least expecting his revenge. Lex finds his brandy poisoned, and Chloe's safe house is destroyed, presumably with her inside, both taken care of by Lionel.
Even in the premiere of season four, the first two episodes that resolve the cliffhangers, we find that Lionel, though still in prison, hasn't lost any of his tenacity, because he taunts Lex (and the newly-arrived Lois Lane) from behind the bars of his cell, letting them know he has not forgotten anything.
Intelligence. Lionel is an intelligent man; according to the LuthorCorp website, Lionel is a double-doctorate, with PhDs in both biochemical engineering and macroeconomic modeling, both from Yale. (His BS in Chemistry, summa cum laude, was obtained from Princeton).
He is not only book smart, but street smart as well; Lionel knows both sides of the world and is willing to play either side to get what he wants. He is smart enough to know when he should stop and wait, intelligent enough to out-plot his son, who is intelligent in his own right. (In the comics, it's well known that Lex is a genius, if not super-genius; it could be argued that since Lex of the future is, so is Lex of Smallville, thereby elevating Lionel's intelligence to that stature as well, if not superior to it.)
Ruthless. It cannot be argued that Lionel is a ruthless individual, but most people would see it as a weakness, instead of a strength. But it isn't. Lionel's ruthless nature makes him dangerous, and that danger gives him some level of protection, because most individuals wouldn't dare to take on someone like Lionel Luthor. In fact, those that do tend to come out decidedly short; Sheriff Ethan (Suspect, 2.13) Lucas Luthor (shot by his father, Prodigal, 2.15), even Lex himself, who is told by his father "If you're going to take me on, son, you're going to have to bring your game up to a whole different level." (Tempest, 1.21)
In Suspect, Lionel takes advantage of Sheriff Ethan's poverty, and uses him to obtain blackmail material on the members of LexCorp's shareholders. When Ethan rebels, Lionel refuses to let him go, instead reminding him that even Ethan's lawyer works for Lionel as well, and that Ethan has no choice. It results in Lionel's near-fatal shooting at Ethan's hands. In Prodigal, Lionel first tries to use Lucas to oust Lex, and when that doesn't work, and Lex is threatened, Lionel has no qualms about shooting his youngest son.
It is well known that Lionel's ruthless streak runs deep; it runs as far back as his early teens, when he and fellow conspirator Morgan Edge collaborated to murder Lionel's parents for the insurance money. From that moment on, Lionel has used that ruthless streak to move into higher and more powerful places, because even as he says in his biography on the LuthorCorp website, "…but to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs."
Wealth and power. The strength that comes from this comes not from the fact that he *has* power, but from the fact that he is not afraid to *use* it for any means necessary. Whether it is to cover up his son's indiscretions, manipulate a multiple murder scene, clone a small child killed years ago, or wrest control of a natural historic monument away from his son, Lionel's uses of power are usually firm and overwhelming, occasionally ostentatious, and never uncalled for.
Take, for example, the events of Zero (1.14). Lionel's wealth and power were used to cover up a murder that he believed was performed by his son. In Tempest (1.21) he used his power to close down the crap factory in a failed attempt to bring Lex to heel; in Lineage (2.07) we find that Lionel used his power to engineer Clark's adoption by the Kents, in return for a small favor (Jonathan's assistance in convincing the Ross brothers to sell the creamed corn factory to Lionel).
The biggest misuse of his power--though he believed it to be for a good reason--occurs in the third season, in the episodes of Shattered and Asylum (3.08/3.09). In Shattered, Lionel uses his power to drug Lex and force him into incarceration inside Belle Reve, a lunatic asylum. In Asylum, Lionel forces Lex to undergo involuntary electroshock therapy to erase certain memories. But his ability to wield that power, combined with his determination to see the plan through and his ability to rationalize things made this misuse of power the most frightening thing that Lionel has ever done.
Lionel's ability to rationalize what he does is something we don't see often, but when it does come into play, it's a terrifying thing. The example of before, Shattered/Asylum, is the most horrific of them all. After having his son falsely committed to the asylum, Lionel leaves Lex there for "treatment," and Lex tries to escape. He is unsuccessful, and Lionel laments that fact to Lex, pointing out that Lex's escape attempt foiled Lionel's plans to bring him home and care for him there.
It's the quietness with which Glover delivers Lionel's lines that gives them honest weight, as opposed to the gregarious over-the-top delivery that comes to mind with Lionel's usual dialogue. And then the most frightening quote, which is delivered with tears and a nearly silent voice; "It's sad to see a man who's lost his mind. But it's tragic when he's convinced himself that he's sane." (Asylum, 3.09)
Lionel has convinced himself that Lex has not been drugged, but is, in fact, in serious need of psychological help, and he is doing the right thing in keeping Lex committed. Later in the episode, this same sincerity is chillingly present when, despite Lex's pleas, Lionel orders the ECT. From an episode transcript: Be strong. I'm sorry, son. I didn't think it would have to come to this. (Lionel has tears in his eyes.) If it were a gangrenous limb, we could amputate. But the brain, unfortunately, is infinitely more complex. Lionel obviously believes what he is saying; we have only seen him moved to tears once before, and that was during Lex's funeral in Exile (3.01) Later in the same scene, we see that Lionel's tears have not disappeared; though Lex is likely completely unaware of them, Lionel still weeps for what he feels Lex has forced him to do.
The power of Lionel's ability to rationalize what he does is frightening in its capacity, but it is one of Lionel's strengths, because without it, he could not function.
We live in a meritocracy, Lex. The weak get left behind.--Lionel Luthor, Tempest.
In some ways, Lionel's weaknesses are more important than his strengths, because it is in those weaknesses that we see not only ourselves, but the seeds of his downfall and the future of his son. Lionel is able to depersonalize, to underestimate people who are not as intelligent as he is, and finally, his son. All are Achilles' heels for the great man, but none more so than Lex.
Because Lex *is* Lionel's greatest weakness; the boy is a murderer, several times over in Lionel's eyes, and Lionel still loves his son. He goes out of his way to protect Lex, to hide his indiscretions, to provide a future, a company, a *destiny* for his son. Everything he does is a test; even Lex admits to this in Reaper (1.17): "My father made ever question a quiz, every choice a test. Second best was for losers, compassion for the weak, trust no one. Those were the lessons I grew up with. "
This upbringing is intended to turn Lex into a great leader; these plans are even reflected in Lex's name; he is named for Alexander the Great, though he goes by the diminutive Lex, there is no doubt that Lionel intends for Lex to be a second Alexander. He sets himself up in the mold of Phillip of Macedon, who conquers the world and hands it to Alexander, giving him the caution to rule it and mold it as he sees fit.
Lionel believes that there is nothing he would not do for Lex, and that includes murder, because he believes he murders his youngest son, Lucas, to protect Lex and ensure a safe future for him. And even until he is taken away by the FBI (Forsaken, 3.21) Lionel finds it hard to believe that Lex has actually betrayed him; "The details. I've always tried to teach you, Lex. The devil is in the details. If you don't pay attention to the details, (whispered) he'll win." With that whispered admonition, he realizes that Lex has won; Lex is his Devil because that's one detail he overlooked; because he loved his son, he never expected betrayal from him.
Lionel's intelligence is also a weakness, because he tends to be dismissive or derisive of anyone who is not him, for all intents, and it leaves him open for attack. This is precisely what happened in Suspect (2.13); Lionel underestimated Sheriff Ethan, and it nearly cost him his life. His intelligence blinds him to the fact that those who are beneath him can sometimes outfox him. This also comes into play with Chloe Sullivan; he believes that he has her under control, that he erased the voicemail message she recorded in Truth (3.18), but he doesn't believe she will go to Lex and tell him what she knows. She does, and through her and her sources, Lex is able to obtain the voicemail message, which leads to Lionel's arrest and incarceration.
Lionel's other greatest weakness is depersonalization. He turns on the charm only long enough to ensnare someone, and once they are caught in his net, they become a mere resource, nothing more, and he moves to the next resource he needs. This is the weakness that allowed Chloe to beat him; he charmed and seduced her in the last episodes of the 2nd season (starting in Witness 2.20, when he destroys the Torch and then offers to rebuild it), only to turn her into a resource in Exile (3.01) and eventually leads her to petition Lex for assistance.
Lionel does this with others as well; Mr. Dinsmore and Emily, whom he charms until they are firmly under his control (Accelerate, 2.21), Rachel Dunleavy (Prodigal, 2:15; though he is mostly unsuccessful with her, because she still kidnaps Lex), even Martha Kent, whom he charms into working for him as his assistant (Nocturne through Insurgence, 2.05-2.12) until Insurgence, when she discovers that he is merely keeping her close as a way of keeping his eye on Clark as well. It casts a slight doubt on the obvious affection that he holds Martha in, though the watch he presents her with (To Martha, with deep affection, LL; Insurgence 2.12) would certainly point to honesty and flattery rather than insincere charm.
In each case, the object of his depersonalization turns on him, and yet, he does not realize that is why.
"So the son becomes the father."--Lionel Luthor, Red (2.04)
Lionel is a fluid character, changing and evolving as his situation dictates. From the Pilot episode where we see him as a gruffly devoted but still firm father to Red, where we find him a bitter man trying to recover from the loss of his sight to Crusade (4.01), where we find him a shorn lion behind bars, but who has lost none of his bite or determination to make those who put him there pay.
He lets nothing stand in his way; as we find out in Crisis (3.16) Lionel has been fighting a fatal liver disease, going so far as to use Clark's blood to resurrect people who had died of the same disease in an attempt to find a cure.
We see in Red that Lionel moves Lex's office around to suit himself, and when Lex changes it back and tells Lionel to grow up and stop feeling sorry for himself, that is precisely what Lionel does. He even goes so far as to hire Martha Kent as his assistant, much to Lex's chagrin.
When he is held hostage in Insurgence, Lionel adapts quickly, offering the captors anything they wish, topping the offers of the anonymous man on the other end of the phone and ultimately shooting one of their attackers when Clark's rescue attempt nearly goes haywire.
But in the bigger picture, Lionel's *character* flows in different channels almost from the first episode. He goes from, in the first season, a father who is astonished that his son doesn't love him to, in the second season, a father who is trying to win his son's love, and in the third season, he becomes a father who is realizing he will never have his son's love, and as we've entered the fourth season, we've seen Lionel become a father who no longer *has* a son.
The first season's evolution, naturally, comes to a head in Tempest, when Lionel seems shocked to find that Lex sees him as an enemy. When Lex overcomes that, and ends up saving his father's life, despite the blindness, Lionel reaches out, a conciliatory attempt that works quite well through Insurgence and later Prodigal when Lex and Lionel each realize that they have torpedoed the proceedings in their own fashion; Lex caused the hostage situation in Insurgence and Lionel caused the Lex/Lucas tension in Prodigal.
The second season comes to a head in Exodus, in a missing scene that is included on the second season DVDs but not in the actual episode. In this scene, Lionel appears at his son's wedding, demanding that the wedding be halted and Lex not marry Helen (whom we find out later in the third season tries to murder and betray Lex, not just to Lionel but to Morgan Edge as well). When he makes his demand, the lights in the chapel explode and cause massive chaos, allowing Helen and Lex to elope. It would seem in this that Lionel is repenting his collusion with Helen, which is borne out in Exile when he threatens to avenge his son's death and reminds her, "You know, Helen, black widows may be powerful predators, but every predator is somebody else's prey."
By the time Lex returns in Phoenix, Lionel's regret in losing his son turns into a desire to *know* his son, and rebuild their relationship, a desire that Lex seems to mirror; "I know that now. [Turns to face Lionel] If I was anybody else's son I would have died on that island. All the tests you put me through . . . made me a survivor. If I keep my pride in check I know there's more to learn from you. [Pause] I was hoping your offer still stands to run LuthorCorp together. "
Through the end of the third season, even through Forsaken, Lionel is attempting to make amends with his son while at the same time, continuing to groom him, to test him, and occasionally neuter him if he tries to lunge for the reins of power too quickly. But that ends with Lionel's incarceration, and his subsequent revenge on Lex and Chloe.
The single most damning moment in Lionel's life comes during Memoria (3.19), and it begins the downward spiral of his third-season evolution. It has its roots in Truth, when Chloe forces Lex to admit that he knows he'll never have Lionel's love, and it ended in Lionel's office, when Lex tells Lionel that Lillian was the one who killed Julian, not Lex. And then he leaves Lionel alone, in the miserable realization that he has wasted most of his son's life with a meaningless hatred.
From that point on, Lionel seems to have hit rock bottom, and he knows that he has lost his son, because it is only two episodes later in Forsaken (3.21) that Lex's betrayal is complete and Lionel realizes he has no children left.
"But once love has been stripped away, then we see the real person clearly. They're revealed to us with all their flaws, their foibles, and their secrets."--Lionel Luthor, Exodus
Lionel Luthor's relationships have been few and far between, but the ones that exist show us a great deal about the man himself. There have been six significant relationships that Lionel has had, at least that we know of; Lillian Luthor, Lex Luthor, Lucas Luthor, Martha Kent, Clark Kent, and Chloe Sullivan. Each one of them has given us another insight into another facet of Lionel's personality.
Lillian Luthor. Beloved wife and mother of Lionel's children--two of them, at least. His eldest son, Alexander and his second child, Julian. Lionel tells Lex in Lineage that "I, uh, loved your mother very deeply, Lex, but I was not a perfect husband. I strayed." And there is nothing to contradict that, not even Memoria, when Lionel deals very gently, but firmly, with an obviously unstable Lillian, encouraging her to bond with her son so that he isn't scarred by the thought that his mother doesn't love him. It is painfully ironic, in fact, to see that Lionel himself later inflicted that same scar on Lex.
However, Lillian's influence on both Lionel and Lex seems to be greater from beyond the grave than it was in her life. Whenever Lex speaks of her, it is in almost reverent tones and intimating that Lex has idolized his mother, turning her from the slightly neurotic and somewhat deranged woman we see in Memoria to a paragon of love, virtue and kindness which she never hesitated to shower on her son. Lionel shares this idolized vision, to some great degree.
Witness the grand monument that marks Lillian's grave: the winged angel that in one hand holds a fountain, the other a flame, both of which we are to assume are eternal. This could be Lillian herself; the flame being the side that Lex presents to us, that we see through his filtered eyes, the fire that drives Lex to become not his father's son, but his mother's. And the water being Lionel's vision of his late wife--steady, soothing, eternal balm for his hotly embittered soul.
Lionel refuses to believe that Lillian smothered Julian; though he saw himself that when he was born, she didn't want the baby, his love for her and his ability to rationalize things to fit his worldview would not allow him to believe that Lillian would smother the baby; when Lex tries to tell him, Lionel refuses to believe until there is no other choice, and it nearly breaks him. The final break for Lionel is, as has been mentioned before, the realization that he could have had his son all along, if Lex had not been afraid of him and that he has likely lost Lex forever now.
Lex Luthor. Lionel's oldest son, and his chosen heir. You could write a book on the familial issues between Lionel and Lex and still not cover half of what their issues are. But at the core of it, Lionel and Lex are both seeking the same things; the love of their parent/child, and enough power to force the issue if the love can't be earned. "Friendship’s a fairy tale, Clark. Respect and fear are the best you can hope for," is Lex's feeling, and what he says next is echoed in Phoenix; "You can learn a lot from someone you hate." (Both are from Hug, 1.11) Lionel has a similar epiphany in Memoria, when he realizes how much of his life with Lex he's wasted. Both men are seeking the same thing from each other, but neither can find it.
Most of Lionel's machinations are to make Lex "his" son, instead of Lillian's; even Lex's old nurse Pamela tells us that; "Because he wanted you to be his son, not hers." and "I needed to see if you’d found a way to be true to yourself in spite of Lionel's efforts." (Crush, 1.19) In the context of the episode, that is, as it is a first season episode, a rather harsh portrait of Lionel and his relationship with Lex, but taken in context of the entire series and what we are shown of their relationship, it becomes quite a different statement.
Lex, a child-killer is obviously running amok under Lillian's tender care, and Lionel sends the too-gentle nurse away and takes the boy under his wing, treating him with all the gruffness, firmness, and strength required to deal with a young man capable of suffocating a smaller, younger child in his cradle without realizing that Lex is not the hard-hearted child-killer. He works tirelessly to tame the boy's wild side, to instill in him the ideas that whatever you do, you must not get caught, you cannot afford for your misdeeds to come to light. Rather than learn those lessons, Lex rejects them, which brings them to the impasse of Lex's adult life in Smallville.
More information can be found here: O Captain My Captain
Lucas Luthor, his youngest son. Illegitimate and a victim of the foster care system, Lucas Luthor was put into what we first assume is a loving home. In Lineage, in fact, we see Lionel with a lock of hair in a locket, rubbing his fingers softly over the lock of hair. A picture is in the locket as well, of Lionel and a young blondish boy, no more than four or five.
We are to assume that this child is Lucas, and this is the home he was placed in. However, we find out later that this period of idyllic happiness did not last long, as Lucas was shifted from foster home to foster home as Lionel acted as a behind-the-scenes protector, always making sure that Lucas was provided for and whatever problems he found himself in were taken care of.
Both Lex and Lucas accuse Lionel of turning them into a social experiment, giving Lex everything while Lucas had nothing. If that were the case, then Lionel would not have taken care of Lucas as he did, nor would he have striven to place Lucas in a happy household that Lionel presumably visited at least once because the child in the locket photo was not unhappy or skittish in any regard.
Despite the drastically different raisings, Lex and Lucas react similar to their father, and Lionel finds himself with two problem children on his hands instead of one. Indeed, Lucas seems set to take the same path Lex did, including the murder of a brother to clear the way for his ascension. Perhaps that is what frightens Lionel more than anything, and urges him to pull the trigger on Lucas, only to find out that Lucas and Lex were working against him the whole time.
Based on the limited interaction that Lucas and Lionel have, it seems safe to assume that Lionel's relationship with Lucas would mirror his relationship with Lex, seeing as how everything else was paralleled as well.
Martha Kent. Lionel's relationship with Martha can be traced, very tenuously, back to the day of the meteor shower, October 1989. It was Martha and her husband Jonathan who stopped to pick Lionel and Lex up, Martha who first mentioned that Clark was adopted to then-deputy Ethan. While it was Jonathan who was involved with the actual dealings with Lionel, Martha was obviously a part of them too, because when they meet again in Jitters, Lionel is taken slightly aback when he recognizes her, and then Jonathan.
Their relationship doesn't actually grow past that until Nocturne (2.05), when Martha comes by with the monthly produce bill, and finds Lionel out in the garden, trying to read the flimsy newspaper with his electronic reader. When she not only takes the newspaper from him and reads it, but figures out the reasoning behind Lionel's business strategy, Lionel compliments her, and then in the next scene with Martha talking to Jonathan, we find that Lionel has offered Martha the job of his assistant.
It is interesting to note that Lionel has been firing people left and right, people presumably better educated than Martha, and certainly those more well-trained than Martha, and yet, in the end, he chooses a decently-educated and likely less-qualified farmer's wife to work with him handling LuthorCorp's business. It is also worth noting that Martha begins to influence Lionel for the better, and even Lex remarks; "You better watch it, Dad, or your new executive assistant might start rearranging all your priorities." (Nocturne, 2.05).
Lionel even allows Martha to defy him; in Skinwalkers, Martha sides with her son Clark, Lex, and the Kawatche Indians to protect the caves underneath a proposed LuthorCorp building site. Lionel asks, "Are you willing to lose your job over this?" Martha's answer is, "That's up to you," (Skinwalkers, 2.10) The implication is, Martha believes that Lionel must make his own decision, but trusts him to make the right one.
We find in Insurgence that he has; he has not fired her. In fact, he is ready to offer her a promotion, a corner office in the Metropolis LuthorCorp building, and possibly his love, if we are to judge the inscription on his gift; "To Martha, with deep affection, LL." While he and Martha part ways at the end of Insurgence when Martha finds that Lionel has been collecting information on Clark, Lionel continues to miss Martha. He sends his greetings with Clark several times, and in Memoria, tells Martha that there is always a job waiting for her.
Clark Kent. Lionel's relationship with Clark Kent is the one that is the most… honest. He has one interest, and one interest only in Clark, and that is to find out his secrets and use them to his benefit. It could be argued that Lionel's interest in Clark ranges as far back as Reaper, when Dominic brings Lex's investigation to his attention, and that is likely very accurate. Without Lex's tip-off that something might be interesting about the Kent boy, it's unlikely that Clark would have ever come into Lionel's notice other than the boy who saved Lex's life.
Throughout the second season, Lionel is handed clues to Clark's secret; first, the spaceship that Hamilton shows him while blind, and the hint that Lex has or had the missing piece. Second, the bullets that were flattened against Clark's hand in Red, then later, Clark saving *Lucas'* life in Prodigal, coupled with the molten metal from the ceiling grate that was melted with Clark's heat vision. By the end of the second season, Lionel has Clark's blood in hand, along with a stockpile of refined Kryptonite and a Kryptonite key, made from the original while it had been briefly in his possession.
The third season, however, is when Lionel makes the greatest leaps towards finding out the truth about Clark, and it's quite possible he does know and simply hasn't tipped his hand yet. Lionel regains possession of Clark's blood--though not the original sample. While Morgan Edge does not give Lionel the name of the source, he does attempt to bring Clark to Lionel, but the truck was destroyed in an explosion. The largest piece of proof he ever had, however, slipped through his fingers in Asylum (3.09); Lex knew Clark's secret, and Lionel erased it before he knew Lex knew it. All Lionel is left with now is the video surveillance tape of Lex telling Clark that "I know your secret. Don't worry, I haven't told anyone."
Their relationship, however, is not just about Lionel using Clark; it's about Clark using Lionel to control Lex. In Memoria, Clark goes to Lionel to tell him that Lex is undergoing treatments to regain the memories Lionel erased while Lex was in Belle Reve. Lionel is quick to point out that Clark has not come for Lex's well-being; Clark has come to protect himself. Lionel, used by Clark, does not hesitate to use Clark in return, luring him to the Summerholt Institute in the hopes of using Dr. Garner's techniques to find out Clark's secrets.
This seems to have created a bond of reluctant trust in Clark, seeing as how Clark takes Lionel's words for truth over Lex's, and sides with Lionel over Lex. Perhaps Clark feels that Lionel is the more useful ally, or the lesser of the evils, but for whatever reason, they have formed a dangerous relationship with each other.
Perhaps the most ill-advised relationship that Lionel has embarked on is the one with Chloe Sullivan. First contacting her when she was in need of assistance after the vandalizing of the Torch. He offers his assistance there, and slowly pulls Chloe into his web, using her and playing on her anger and jealousy of Clark and Lana's relationship to win her over against Clark. Once he had her, Lionel began to try and *use* her for his own ends, and he was only successful to a point, because Chloe refused to betray Clark, or to tell Lionel that she knew where Clark was.
Even when Chloe manages to somewhat extricate herself from Lionel's influence, he still menaces her, threatens her, and in the end, Chloe joins forces with Lex, giving Lex the evidence he needs to put Lionel away in prison, for good. This has been the least successful of his relationships, because Lionel has been unable, almost from the first, to control the wild young woman he contracted with.
"One day you'll thank me, Lex. Smallville isn't in your future. It's just a brief chapter in your biography."--Lionel Luthor, Tempest
Lionel Luthor is a sociopath. Plainly and simply, there isn't another word to describe him. But like so many others before him, Lionel's sociopathy is deep, twisted, convoluted, and detailed. Inside of his head is a frightening place to visit, but richly rewarding in insight.
He is, with the exception of his son Lex Luthor (portrayed by Michael Rosenbaum) the most complex and fascinating character on the show. His motives are layered, his rationale frightening in it's exactitude, and his reach quite long indeed. No one is safe from Lionel Luthor, and if you cross him, you *will* pay the price.
That, I think, is the biggest draw of the character. You have a man who is larger than life, embodying everything that we have glorified in men like Al Capone, Charlie Manson, Billy the Kid, even Wild Bill Hickok, in a grandiose package provided by John Glover. Glover's well-honed technique and his unique approach to and understanding of the character makes him the best possible man to take on this role, as an actor who is well capable of giving Lionel an over-the-top performance without once crossing the line into camp.
Lionel is a frightening character, but as frightening as he is, he is just as compelling, because we all see enough of our darkest desires in him that he makes us squirm.