I’m going to get my objectionable statements out of the way to begin. Smallville had its problems. It often suffered from bad acting, bad writing, and annoying minor characters. There were times when the creators teased the audience for far too long and nothing of consequence really happened in the show except for just another one-off villain of the week trying to kill everybody. That was acceptable in the sixties, but television as a medium has grown well beyond that, especially in a serialized series like Smallville.
And some episodes like “Spell” (the one with the witches) and “Hero” (the really long Stride gum commercial) were some of the most unwatchable pieces of crap I’ve ever seen on a TV.
Also, there were times when the show blatantly pandered to the audience with its overly generous use of “pretty people.” If you don’t believe me, go watch the opening credit sequence of season 4 onward when Erica Durance pops out of the water in a bikini James Bond style. I don’t appreciate being pandered to.
Okay, does everybody hate me now? All right. Time to make amends.
Smallville was a great show with great characters.
And there was no better character on Smallville the Lex Luthor. He may be the best anti-villain in all of science fiction. Tomorrow we’re going to look at someone who might edge him out, but today let’s take a look at Smallville’s Lex Luthor.
From the moment I met Lex in that first episode, I knew he was my favorite character. A lot of credit goes to the actor, Micheal Rosenbaum. He is one talented actor, who can turn even the most lackluster lines into something deep and intimidating. But we came here to talk about the character.
Lex is, in a word, complex. So complex that I have to list all of the points I have about Lex right here, just so you can process the interconnecting reasons he turned out to be “the villain of this story.” So don’t hold your breath. This is going to be one long blog.
- Lex is misunderstood.
- Lex is the way he is because of bad parenting.
- Lex is the victim of tragic betrayal.
- Lex lends credence to the idea that power corrupts.
- Clark is the ultimate reason for Lex’s evil ways.
Lex is misunderstood.
Lex is not a villain in the traditional sense of the word. I truly believe that Lex didn’t choose the path of evil. I think all too often in our works of art, we represent villains without heart. They simply were born evil and will die evil. Even though this type of evil does absolutely exist in the world, Lex is the furthest thing from it. He perhaps has more heart than any other character on that show, including Clark.
In Smallville, Lex tries and tries to overcome the evil nature that surrounds him. People like Lionel, his father, and Helen, his would-be wife, are examples of that kind of pure evil. It’s a wonder that Lex remained of pure character as long as he did. But there are other things that pushed him over the edge.
Lex was taught to be evil.
Lex’s mother Lillian died when he was 13, but their family already had taken the path of evil. Lionel had an affair with the nurse keeping Lillian alive due to failing health. This resulted in an illegitimate son, Julian. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Lillian killed Julian as a baby to spare him from the evil of his father. But there’s more. Lex, being such a young age, convinced himself that he was the one who killed Julian.
Lex convinced himself he was a murderer at 11 years old. With evil parents like this, is it any wonder that they taught Lex to be like them? Not once did Lionel tell Lex that he loves him. Not once. And throughout the show, episode after episode, Lionel shows his rigidly evil parenting more and more.
Lex is the victim of tragic betrayal.
To add to all of this emotional mess, throughout the series pretty much all of his friends either betray him or will have nothing to do with him. This includes Clark, who I’ll talk about later, but the most obvious example is Helen. Lex falls in love with her and marries her, only to have her make him crash in an airplane. People just want to associate with Lex for his money and power.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Let’s face it, with LuthorCorp being the biggest business in Metropolis, the one thing Lex does have is money. In effect he also has power because he’s able to pay people to do whatever he wants. But money is something that fills the physical needs, but certainly not the needs of the soul. Through the series, Lex drives the fanciest cars and lives in the nicest mansion. He has endless technology and labs at his disposal. But he ultimately can’t help but using all of the money and technology for evil purposes, like spying on his other wife Lana.
But if I were married to Lana, I’d probably be evil too. I’m sorry. I hate Lana.
All right, here’s the big one.
Clark is the real reason why Lex is evil.
You read correctly. While the other four factors certainly contributed to Lex’s moral demise, the real reason was Clark. Lex had an interest in Clark from the very first episode. He knew something was special about him since he saved his life after his car crashed into a bridge.
Lex just wanted a real friend. A real brother. Clark could have been the beacon in Lex’s life. He could have been that example of good and moral integrity. But instead Clark did something just as evil as Lex. Clark lied. He lied and lied about having powers. When pressed, he’d never reveal his secret to Lex. This drove Lex literally mad.
The thing about dishonesty is that it can never be hidden. One lie always spread disease-like into other parts of a person’s life. In Clark’s case, he inadvertently created the biggest villain in the Superman franchise. If Clark would have just trusted him, Lex could have been that partner Clark never had. Instead, because of his deception, Clark created a monster.
In conclusion, watching Lex go from misunderstood and kind to a villain is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen on television. The character is so endearing that you cannot hate him like you can with most villains. At some points in the show, you almost pull for him.
He’s one of those characters that becomes a real person in your life. A friend, if you will. And you really hate to see your friend, Lex Luthor, turn into the person he is.
[Thanks to Nikki Headley for the suggestion. And Alex Williams for being head cheerleader for this project.]