Descent belonged to Michael Rosenbaum. The man is an incredible actor, capable of showing a depth of emotion that astounds me. The Lex we saw was by turns furious, confused, anguished, nostalgic, ruthless, desperate, wounded by betrayal, and hopelessly lost. He embodied villainy, but more than anything I wanted to give him a great big hug. Only MR could inspire that reaction in me, and it is his nuanced performance that has made Smallville's Lex Luthor such a fascinating, complex, sympathetic character ever since this series began. I bow to his talent, and especially to his commitment to excellence in bringing to life this week's story. If he is unable to return next season, I will mourn his loss. Thank you, Michael, for this episode, and for the past seven years.
The episode started with a confrontation we've waited years to see, between Lex and Lionel Luthor. When Lex emerged from the darkness of Lionel's office to loom over his father, I got chills. Lex was holding court, though his father didn't know it, and Lionel was on trial for his life. One last time, and with tears in his eyes, Lex gave Lionel the opportunity to tell him the truth, a truth I have no doubt Lex already knows, and Lionel's pathetic lie that Lex himself was the Traveler sealed his fate. You could see Lex's resolve harden on his face as Lionel spun his tale, and in the next few moments the villain we've waited seven years to see was born before our eyes. Lex hurled his father to his death without reservation or remorse, and even though I knew it was coming, it still took my breath away.
I thought it was interesting that Lex's final words to Lionel were, "No one will even remember your name." Presumably Lex will now work to erase all evidence of Lionel's life and legacy, providing us with a neat little explanation for why no mention of Lionel comes up in Superman canon. That was a nice touch.
And so we bid goodbye, to both Lionel Luthor and John Glover, certainly one of the most talented actors to ever grace this show, and an amazing presence who elevated every scene in which he appeared. But we seem to be left with a great debate, with fans still wondering, as we have all along, was Lionel good, evil, or something in between? Clark sought to honor him, but I think it's natural for us to emphasize the good we saw in someone who has recently died, particularly if they were the victim of an act of violence. In time I'm sure Clark will remember, as we do, the many atrocities Lionel visited upon his son, as well as the countless evil acts that made up his life.
Lionel thought of himself as a reformed man, one who lived only to protect Clark and his secret, but I think he was deceiving himself. Lionel has always acted in his own self-interest, and was still committing murder and mayhem long after he became Jor-El's vessel. I see him more as a man who late in life sought to redeem himself, but who could never quite conquer his darker impulses, a struggle to which he alluded in his final words to Lex. If he were truly reformed, wouldn't he have apologized to Lex for all the abuse he meted out over the years? Or how about giving his locket to Clark, or telling him the location of the safe deposit box, so he could destroy whatever is inside? No, I think the Magnificent Bastard may have gone out a little less magnificent than before, but he was still a bastard all the same. In any case, both the character and the actor will be missed.
Lionel was not the only character to die in this episode. We also said goodbye to newly named Gina, Lex's lovely and devoted minion. I'll miss her. I liked her unabashed admiration for Lex, and her willingness to commit any act necessary to protect him. Although I have my suspicions, her killer remains a mystery to me. I refuse to believe Lex himself could have ordered her demise.
Throughout the episode Lex was visited by visions of little Lex, who represented the goodness buried deep inside him, and who begged Lex to turn back from his dark path. Connor Stanhope was once again impressive beyond his years in the role, and his voice of truth and diminishing hope tormented Lex. His first appearance was heralded by the otherworldy experience of Lex's realization of the enormity of what he had done. Reality retreated, much as it did for Clark when Chloe died in Bizarro, and Lex was similarly overwhelmed by the death of such an important person in his life. Ultimately Lex thrust little Lex into the fire, and symbolically rejected the side of himself that still trusted Clark. I believe, however, that little Lex remains, albeit hidden for now, tucked away in some corner of Lex's mind and heart. I can never completely give up on Lex.
Clark, however, may not feel the same way. The heart of this episode lay in the scenes between Lex and Clark, and the emotion of those moments was beyond powerful. Two of their three scenes had no dialogue whatsoever, which did nothing to lessen their impact, and the one scene in which they did speak was positively explosive with the amazing chemistry Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum share.
First we saw them at the scene of Lionel's death, on the street in front of LuthorCorp. Clark positively stalked a dazed Lex, studying him with fierce concentration, his face full of worried confusion as it dawned on him that Lex may have done something truly beyond the pale. Lex looked back at him starkly, Clark's bleak realization reflected in his own eyes. The moment of truth between them, stunning in its significance, with not one word spoken. The scene haunts me even now.
Next Clark was caught by Lex as he searched the mansion's study for Lionel's key. Both men were wrapped in grief for Lionel, Clark in spite of Lionel's past acts against him, and Lex even though he himself deliberately ended his father's life. Their emotions were heightened by this, as well as the knowledge that each was hiding secrets from the other, and they lashed out. They both said hurtful things, things that were not true, but contained a kernel of truth, just enough to cut to the quick. I have to say Lex was more truthful, but of course Clark had righteousness on his side. Either way, it was an upsetting scene. Both actors were phenomenal, Michael capturing perfectly Lex's anguish over what he saw as betrayal from all sides, and Tom embodying Clark's barely contained masculine outrage. And while Lex and Clark stormed at each other, all I could think about were those happy scenes of seasons past in this same room, full of Clark's shy glances and Lex's amused smiles, when anything seemed possible for these two. The realization that those days are gone forever was the most devastating part of this scene for me.
Finally, they met again over Lionel's grave, with a gorgeous shot of the Daily Planet in the background. Lex banned all but himself from the funeral, but Clark attended anyway, throwing down the gauntlet in every way possible. Again not a single word was uttered, but the actors said it all in the intense looks they exchanged. Clark's eyes were full of challenge and determination, while Lex's answering glance showed first a steely resolve, and then amused acceptance. "Game on!" his eyes seemed to say. Our boys have truly become enemies. It was inevitable, and anticipated, but my excitement is slightly tempered by the sadness of opportunity lost. Have I mentioned this was an amazing episode?
Chloe and Clark once again made a formidable team this week, but Chloe's most memorable scene was with Lex. Upon learning that Lionel visited the basement of the Daily Planet in the hours before his death, Lex knew instantly that he must have given the missing key to Chloe, and he wasted no time in going to confront her. The scene that followed was a masterful battle of wills. Every word out of Chloe's mouth was a lie, but you'd never know it by her open gaze and calm demeanor. Lex was positively menacing, but Chloe never flinched, even when he summarily fired her and had her escorted from the building. These two make intriguing adversaries! Allison Mack was wonderful, as always. Please give her a new contract, show, pronto!
Chloe also gave us a great loft scene with Clark. It's natural to throw a pity party when someone dies, and Clark has always been inclined to wear a mantle of guilt anyway. As he lamented the three father figures who died on his behalf, as he saw it, Chloe helped him find a different perspective, and lifted Clark up. How refreshing! Along the way she used the words "total absence of love," to explain how Lex could kill Lionel, which I took to describe the environment in which Lex grew up, not his own capacity for human emotion. Regardless of any admirable actions Lionel may have taken recently, he will always bear full responsibility for the twisted torture that filled Lex's formative years.
So, who am I missing? Oh, right, Jimmy and Lois. Once again their story took place in isolation from the rest of the main characters, but at least it was related to the main story line this time. I didn't mind Jimmy. He came off as the smarter of the two, and he showed a sweet concern for Lois's injury. I do wish he would get over his petty jealousy of Clark, however, and just make friends with him instead. I think they could be really great together.
Which brings me to Lois. You know, I'm a Lois Lane fan from way back. I've loved her in the comics, in the movies, and on Lois and Clark. I think she represents Superman's heart, and it's his love for her that humanizes him and makes him accessible. I think Lois and Clark go together like peanut butter and jelly. But I just can't feel the love for Smallville's Lois. When she first showed up I thought she was great. She was funny, and snarky, and a breath of fresh air. I liked how she helped Clark lighten up, and I thought they made an attractive couple. I think Erica Durance is fabulous, and beautiful, and fun, and she does the best she can with the scripts she's given. But I think Lois is a disaster. She has some wonderful moments, but mostly she's not very smart, she's not a good reporter, she has questionable ethics, she falls in love too easily and too often, and she doesn't seem to like Clark very much at all. And that just kills me. I'm no Chloiser, but when I compare Chloe's spirit, intelligence, dignity, and unquestionable loyalty to Clark to Lois's antics, I'm awfully tempted. [/rant]
Random thoughts: Big focus on eyes in this one. It was a cool unifying theme, but I'm not sure what it meant. What was with the roaring lions every time Lex made an especially aggressive move? Weird. Maggie Sawyer! She rocks! Clark's new heat vision effect (defrost?) was cool. And Chloe asking what on Earth could possibly pull Clark's strings? Hello?! Remember Jor-El? Brand your chest, turn you into Kal-El, freeze you in a block of ice Jor-El? That's what I'm thinking, anyway.
Well, Smallville, I feel vindicated for loving you still. This episode was beyond satisfying, with a story worthy not only of the iconic characters of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor, but also of the wonderful performances gifted to us by Michael Rosenbaum, Tom Welling, and John Glover. You've returned from the writers' strike rested, rejuvenated, and inspired, and I can't wait to see what comes next. Same time next week? I'll be there!