You know that really amazing feeling when a couple you have wanted to get together… happens? Sometimes you’ve waited years, or in the case of television shows, entire decades… then the writers do the unthinkable and give you exactly what you want, which is those two characters together. For one glorious moment, it is all bliss. Unfathomable happiness. And then… then it implodes. No? You have never experienced that calamity devised in the mind of the sick sadists who write television? Well, then, you were never a Lexana shipper during the height of Smallville’s days of glory. The writers gave it to me, and snatched it away… but that doesn’t mean I cannot still enjoy it for what it was, and love its heyday, before they crushed my soul into powder and fed it to the vultures.

(Who me, still bitter? Ha, ha, ha, she said weakly.)

Set before Clark Kent became Superman and learned how to fly, Smallville was often the story of Lana Lang and Clark Kent, which is a hard sell because everyone knows Clark Kent winds up with Lois Lane. It was a redundant plot point that we cycled through every few episodes and/or seasons, they would want to be together, and it would not happen, then it happened, then they broke up… teen-aged angst to the hilt. But I’m an unapologetic believer in people’s potential, and what I saw of Lex and Lana together, I liked. A lot. Why?

It started in the episode where Lana got harassed at the Talon, the coffee shop she ran, after hours. Clark was not there to save her, as he often did. That was his solution to everything—to rush in and protect people, rather than enabling them to protect themselves. But Lex did something more for Lana. Something different. He handed her the tools to empower herself. He buckled a pair of boxing gloves on her, and told her to have at a punching bag. That’s what I liked about him, and about them, as individuals and as a couple. Lana would often play the victim, feeling resentment for needing to be saved, and needing to be saved, over and over again. Lex never treated her that way. He always demanded she do something for herself. When she wanted him to save the movie theater where her parents met out of sentiment, he told her that wasn’t good enough, and to come up with a business proposal. This spurred her to create a coffee shop, which she managed for him. It gave her a purpose in life, a job, and it inspired her to be better and stronger; to become more self-reliant and ambitious. Then, he helped her learn to defend herself—not by ‘saving’ her but showing her how to kick box, so the next time she had trouble at the Talon, she could handle it herself. Without needing him or Clark.

She had a similar effect on Lex, since she urged him to be better than he was. Lana encouraged him to rise above his petty playboy reputation and grow a moral spine. She urged him to be honest with people. She pushed him to be something other than what his father tried to groom him toward, which was a ruthless businessman. I liked them together, because they challenged each other, completed each other, and pushed each other out of their comfort zones, to be something “more.” She was in a rut with Clark, but not with Lex.

Which is why it upset me so much that the writers took all of that and ruined it with their twist midway through their season of passion. They gave me what I wanted, Lex and Lana as a power couple, and unraveled my heart one strand at a time with the gradual realization that Lex had been lying to her about her pregnancy the entire time. I feel, in a sense, it was the writers chickening out on something good, a chance to explore darkness and what it means for two people. They wanted shock value and betrayal, and ruined Lana in the process. The girl so moralistic and determined to have an honest relationship becomes a wrathful, vengeful person, with the idea that Lex “did this” to her through his betrayal. It wasn’t consistent with their character arcs up to that season. But I think it bothered me the most, because I saw all that potential flushed down the drain.

The tragedy of Smallville is Lex is destined to become a villain. It’s inescapable. He will become Superman’s greatest enemy. But I still yearned to see him saved. Cheered on his moments of goodness and fretted over his mistakes. In many ways, Lana was his connection to humanity, in a less moralizing and preachy way than Clark. She was a voice of compassion and reason he would often listen to, and he was always there to help her find her own feet, her courage, and her strength. I value that in them, still to this day, because it was real.

I’ve always thought the best relationships are the ones where the two people involved push each other to become better people. I’ve been blessed to see this in my own parents’ relationship. They have very little in common and wildly diverse personalities, but I’ve seen how they have rubbed off and improved each other in important ways. It’s said you are most like the people you spend the most time around, and that is certainly true of my parents. They improve each other for the better. So I look for that in relationships. It’s often a key component of whom I decide to “ship.” It isn’t just about how cute they look together, or the amount of sexual chemistry, but… do they improve each other as human beings?

I especially like the archetype of ‘beauty and the beast’ where the feminine energy softens the masculine energy and drives the man to become a better person than his previous self. This happens between Rey Skywalker and Ben Solo, where she urges him to return to his true morality (and saves his soul in the process). It happens with Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester, where her goodness finds its reward in their eventual happiness (if she had given in to him, they would have come to despise each other for her debasement). It happens in You’ve Got Mail, where Joe Fox gives Kathleen the tools to save her business (even though she eventually folds) and then tries to become a better person and redeem himself, after he crushes her heart. It happens in Beauty and the Beast, where Belle breaks the enchantment over the magical castle and gets a spoiled prince to fall in love with her enough to let her go, when it might ruin his own chance of breaking the curse.

I suppose some small part of me romanticizes the idea of saving a bad boy, even though I have no interest in a romantic relationship of my own. It’s often a theme in my own novels, where a virtuous woman attempts to soften and tame an unscrupulous man. But it remains my favorite trope, and “Lexana” fits beautifully into it. It does not give me the happy ending I seek, but I can glory in what might have been, and in the early days of their friendship. Because that is where it started. Friends. Little by little, creeping into one another’s lives, inspiring each other to greater heights, arguing and making up, having misunderstandings and embarrassments, until that wonderful moment beside the fireplace where they first kissed.

No matter what happened later, I still have that perfect moment.

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