Evil, One Step at a Time: Lex Luthor

Since have already addressed two other villains this week in the form of Mr. Tulkinghorn and Mary Carson, I may as well blog a bit about Lex Luthor, as he has been on my mind of late.

I discovered Smallville quite by accident in its second season and it did not take me long to become a fan, in spite of its numerous problems, not the least of which being inconsistency in the writing! I am unusual in the sense that traditionally I do not favor the hero. Oh, I want him to succeed and in that sense root for him, but I find more complicated characters far more interesting. It was not Clark that drew my interest nearly as much as the tormented Lex, the product of a seriously twisted upbringing that eventually led him down a long, dark road.

I have never really understood the animosity toward Lex from a decent chunk of the fans (they are also Clark fans, so I guess that is fair considering most Lex fans likewise cannot stand Clark!) because I never really considered him a foregone conclusion. Obviously, I knew where his story would end — as the diabolical adversary of Superman. But for awhile there was a fragment of hope in his redemption, a fondness for him and enthusiasm in his struggle as he attempted, against insurmountable odds, to remain good. And for several seasons (well, really, five if you want to get technical) he was good, or at least striving for it. Then, seemingly for no reason, Clark ceased his friendship with Lex. Don’t ask me why — that is something I have pondered many times. Within the context of the series it makes no sense, which leads me to presume the blame lies with the writing team. Perhaps it was because Lex’s popularity was escalating, or they had a sudden realization of “Oh, hey, we need to make him, like, evil now!” … that portion of the story never quite made much sense — one moment Clark and Lex were BFF and the next Clark wasn’t speaking to him. One minute Lex is saving Chloe from Lionel blowing her to kingdom come, and the next breath she is warning Clark not to trust Lex. Etc.

Bad writing!! And that is putting it nicely! It doesn’t take an expert to spot it, either, something other screenwriters should bear in mind. (Yes, Michael Hirst of The Tudors fame, I am indeed looking at you! But I will save your tarring and feathering for another day!)

All such complaints aside, let us pause and consider Lex for a moment.

I do not believe people just wake up one morning evil or beyond redemption. Things happen in their life journey and through their various decisions that cause them to go down that road. Hitler was not evil as a five year old, and neither was Lex, but both wound up in a very dark place. Much of Hitler’s “issues” remain a mystery, but with Lex we get to see the things that contribute to the end result.

Firstly, his relationship with his father. Lionel pretends to be nice and it makes me crazy how much people fall for it — especially Clark Kent. (His mother too, but let’s not go into her mass stupidity.) A wolf in sheep’s clothing, Lionel seems nice now and again but deep down is his own particular brand of evil. He murdered his own parents for financial gain, for heaven’s sake! He bullied and intimidated his wife so much that out of desperation, she smothered their second child! Lex took the blame, and Lionel proceeded to emotionally punish him for the next sixteen years. At one point, he drugged his son to make him behave like a lunatic so he could be committed to an asylum and undergo electroshock treatments. Nice guy. With a father like him, who needs enemies?

Lex then turns to the Kents for emotional support — for a time, he finds trust and friendship in Clark and it really seems to make a difference. But Jonathan Kent is quite another story. Unlike Barnabas and Paul in the Bible, he sees no reason to intervene for and show support toward Lex due to the fact that he is a Luthor and therefore damned by association. Time and again he states that the son is just like the father — and his prophecy comes true, in part through his disinterest in mentoring a young man who clearly needs guidance. Jonathan threw Lex to the sharks — it’s no wonder Lex adapted to his environment and became one himself! Nor did it help that Clark “gave up” on him, because I firmly believe that Clark is the one individual who might have prevented Lex’s inevitable evil.

Through it all, there was… Lana Lang. Considered irritating by most of the people I happen to know, I liked her in spite of her obvious faults — at least for awhile. And I blame my contempt for her now on yet another bad decision by the writers, but we’ll reach that in a moment. Lana interested Lex from the get-go, but he was content to sit back and encourage her to be with Clark provided Clark was willing to go for it. Unfortunately, Clark could not be honest with her about his gifts and so emotionally devastated her. Lana in the meantime developed a remarkable friendship with Lex — which I admit I loved. Lex brought out the best in her. He encouraged her to be independent and strong, a businesswoman in every sense of the word, a philanthropist. He taught her to kick box and balance a spread sheet. Romance was inevitable — and then it all crashed and burned and I used up my allotment of annual swear words and death threats. I get the sense that the writers intended the meltdown of Lexana to imply how “evil” Lex had become, but I didn’t exactly see it that way. I see it as Lana not being able to stand on her decisions and going running back to Clark in spite of being in a committed relationship with someone else. Nice.

After his relationship with Lana implodes, Lex commits the most serious of all his crimes (which include Pollution — ooh, scary — and using a few super cool… err… inventive techniques to torment meteor freaks…) by pushing Lionel out a sixty story window. It was an epic moment. Not that I’d been waiting for it for five seasons or anything. Back when Lionel was frying his son’s brains with electroshock therapy, the thought did cross my mind.

Clark is astonished. How could Lex do such a thing? How could he murder his own father?

One step at a time, my friend. That’s a lesson Clark never learned. Just as people can be damned one step at a time, they can also be saved one step at a time. There were any number of moments along his journey in which Lex could have been redeemed. But he wasn’t strong enough to do it alone, so he stopped fighting. Why fight against it when everyone is convinced you are “that person” anyway? Our expectations of people may seem insignificant, but in reality they make all the difference. Some Christians would even suggest our words contain such power that we can condemn others to a fate based on our opinion of them. (If so, wow, a lot of our government officials are in deep doodoo!) I think one of the greatest mistakes we can make is not caring about someone. The world is full of lonely, broken, hurting people — and as Christians, we have the truth. It’s not enough that we know it, that it accompanies us to Church each week, and warms our heart at night — if we never share it, if we never care about someone whether or not they are deserving, if we never contemplate what the end of their life’s journey may be, we are worthless.

If Clark would have had the foresight to look into the future and see what Lex would become, I have no doubt he would have fought much harder for Lex, given him more chances, and affirmed rather than condemned and accused him. Maybe, just maybe, Lex would not have become his arch-nemesis. Maybe his legacy would have been different. Maybe he would have even been what he dreamed of as a child — a hero. But first, he needed a hero to save him.

Be a hero in someone’s life this week. Assume life has no coincidences and you are there for a reason. It may make all the difference.

3 thoughts on “Evil, One Step at a Time: Lex Luthor

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  1. I'm afraid I never got into Smallville, even though I was just a little bit younger than the characters when the series started out. But what little I did see of it, I was drawn to Lex Luthor. And I just love your post; it's so well-written, and I never thought about about heroism in those terms before. Instead of condemning people, we have to build them up. Christ certainly didn't go around criticising those he hung out with. He loved them and pointed them down the right road.
    Thanks for reminding me of the responsibility we as Christians have towards our friends and all those we interact with.

  2. Paige,

    Well, when the series starts out most of the characters are fifteen, so you cannot expect too much maturity from them. I wish I could say the series improves, and in some ways it does through the second season, but it's pretty standardized. For me, Lex was the most interesting thing about it — the most “human” since he had faults as opposed to some of the “good” characters. Plus, he's cute. (If you think he was cute in season one, try several years later! W-O-W.)

    That was a great scene — I remember it well. The episode is “Jitters,” and is also one of my favorites from the first season. šŸ™‚ One of the best episodes later in the series (I believe in season two or three?) is “Memoria.” You learn a LOT about Lionel and Lex in that one. Heart-wrenching. I actually cried the first time I saw it.

    Here and there, the series has its epic moments. =)

  3. I tried to get into Smallville this year (got through most of the first season), but it just didn't work for me. I've heard it gets better after season one, so I'll probably come back to it later, but it was too much teen drama/too little real plot, to satisfy me.

    From the little I've seen of it though, Lex was definitely my favorite character. I have to admit, I had a total crush. šŸ˜€ But in season one, there is very little of the evil super-villian, Lex Luthor is famous for being. Mostly I felt sorry for him. Jonathan was a jerk to him, and Clark was nice, but still didn't really understand him.

    My favorite moment (from just seeing one season šŸ™‚ came from an episode where there is some sort of discovery in one of the Luthor buildings, and Lex helps save Clark's entire class from a hostage situation. At the end of the episode, Mr. and Mrs. Kent give Clark a hug, and tell him how happy they are he is safe. Across the room, Lionel gives Lex a hug, and says something about the PR nightmare this is going to be. Lex looked so jealous of Clark right then… it just broke my heart. šŸ˜¦

    I really like your points about ho'w we can all make a differences in others lives. Its a sobering thought, and one that we need reminded of more often.

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