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Smallville – “Lexmas” (2005)

by on 2010/12/16

I watch some TV on video, but I don’t very often review it.  Episodes like “Lexmas”, however, compel me to make exceptions.

I’m a fairly big fan of Smallville but I was late to the party because I don’t reflexively follow every Superman incarnation.  I found the first season in a bargain bin, at a price too low to ignore.  That box set sat around for ages before I finally gave it a spin and, from the first minutes of the pilot, well, I haven’t given up on it since.

The advantages of being “late to the party” are numerous:  season sets are cheaper in the years after their release; they’re sharable, pausable, and rewatchable; you never need wait . . . for ads . . . for the next week . . . for the next season; and the full sweep of the mythology is easier to follow.  In the five years’ worth I’ve seen so far I’ve enjoyed a number of standout shows, but “Lexmas” is easily my favourite.

As the portmanteau title suggests, the story focuses on Lex Luthor at Christmas time.  Smallville’s most complex Grinch considers sabotaging the political efforts of Jonathan Kent.  In a plot reminiscent of both A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, Lex is visited by the ghost of his mother, who suggests he’s reached a tipping point in the progress of his life.  Meanwhile a lighter subplot involves Clark and his friend Chloe assisting a suicidal drunk (The Wrong Guy’s Kenneth Welsh), who may or may not be The Actual Santa.

Threads of the story help to weave it into the series as a whole, and yet it’s relatively independent.  Those who don’t follow along regularly will understand it nonetheless, assuming they’re familiar with the general idea of Clark Kent being a “good” guy and Lex Luthor supposed as the “bad”.  It feels like a longer development compressed, a clip show neither lazy nor cheap.

And while it plays well on its own, it’s a critical pivot for Lex.  He is first intrigued by a possible life and future with Lana involved.  This episode also marks the definitive transition between an earlier character who is victimized, troubled, and possibly misunderstood, to an aggressive, exploitative power-monger.  The irony of his transformation is that he does the “wrong” things for understandable reasons, as this bittersweet entry makes clear.

In fact that kind of complexity is one of the many things I enjoy so much about Smallville overall.  Though these ideas may have been explored in other Superman media, this series is my first exposure to them:

  • Lex Luthor may not be “evil” per se.  More than just a symbolic counterpoint to Superman, he is humanity’s necessary defense against a potential weapon (Kryptonian powers) controlled by a single custodian who isn’t even human.
  • Admittedly not as relevant to “Lexmas” is the idea that Clark Kent is the person, not the disguise.  In all other interpretations I’ve known, Clark has been the “front” for Superman.  The reverse is true here.

So if it’s somewhat atypical in showing us the happier side of Clark Kent’s nemesis, “Lexmas” is still a terrific litmus test.  It contains much of Smallville’s strength in a self-contained holiday tale.  Plus, its character focus helps to showcase the talents of Michael Rosenbaum, the definitive Lex Luthor to this point.  His portrayal is one of such versatility, talent, and charm that his eventual absence from the cast will no doubt prove a blow.

* * * *

Note:  “Lexmas” is episode 9 of season 5.

Rated PG for adult situations and violence

43 minutes

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