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sweeney and lovett

kelex in ship_manifesto

O Captain, My Captain (Smallville: Lex Luthor/Lionel Luthor)

Title: O Captain, My Captain
Pairing: Lionel Luthor/Lex Luthor
Fandom: Smallville
Spoilers: Up through the current (3rd) season
Warnings: discusses an incestual relationship

O Captain, My Captain

There are three different relationships that Lionel and Lex have, two textually canonic and the third subtextually canonic. The textually canonic relationships, that of father and son and that of business adversaries are fascinating in their dynamics, but it's the subtextual relationship--that of an incestuous affair--that is, undoubtedly the most controversial. However, all three relationships are going to be focused on in this essay.

The Father/Son relationship is the first, and possibly most important. The relationship that exists between Lex and Lionel is a complex dynamic, ranging from extreme rivalry to extreme affection, covering deep emotions while being incapable of expressing them.

It wasn't until the third season that Lex's childhood was openly revealed to us, but what was shown was a revelation. In "Memoria," through several flashback scenes--one to a birthday party, most notably--we are shown that the paternal relationship between Lex and Lionel was, while not completely idyllic, also not the monstrous travesty that Lex claims it to be. Lionel shows genuine affection for his son, comforts him when he sees that no one has come to Lex's party, and gives Lex a gift that he knows will cheer his son up.

It isn't until one of the final flashbacks of the episode (still referencing Memoria) that we find out *why* the Lex/Lionel relationship changes; Lillian suffocates newborn baby Julian, and to protect his beloved mother from his father's wrath, Lex takes the blame for it. It is in that moment, when Lionel perceives Lex as a brutal child-killer, that the rift between them is irrevocably began.

While we know little else of his life before his mother's death, it is implied by Lex's stories and memories of her that Lillian Luthor was a kind, but often ill woman who loved her son beyond anything else. Speculation still reigns despite what we are shown in "Memoria" but the common belief is that Lillian was a very open, loving woman, which would completely contrast with her husband’s problems with emotional expression.

After his mother's death, Lex was raised solely by his father, which could not have been easy because of Lionel’s emotional detachment, choosing not to love or not to be affectionate with the son who murdered his brother. Instead, he chose to focus on raising Lex with the ruthlessness that a child killer would require, to give his remaining son the tools needed to become a ruthless man, befitting the ruthless child.

The tragedy in this situation enters when you realize that because Lex chose to love his mother and protect her, he was completely deprived of his father's love for the rest of his life, and was raised to *be* a tyrant *by* a tyrant. Because he chose to be self-sacrificing once in his life, to be the loving child that he was raised by--prior to the incident with Julian--both of his parents, that choice of a twelve year old boy sets Lex on his path for the rest of his life.

As part of his education, Lionel made sure to soak his son in history, citing example after example of great rulers, such as Alexander the Great, the Caesars of Rome, the Italian Princes and Dukes, and King Arthur, going so far as to even equate himself and Lex with the Grecian Gods and heroes; Zeus, Hercules, Oedipus. These references were made in the hopes of turning his son into a man of the same greatness and caliber of these historic figures, as he felt it had been already shown he had the ability to be. This goal for Lex's education and training is the motivating factor in Lionel's actions even into Lex's adulthood.

Despite the lack of emotional communication, Lionel has consistently been an indulgent father, giving Lex everything he's wanted, and protecting his son from the consequences of his actions. Lionel has given his son money, cars, the freedom of his youth to do what he pleased, and ensuring that the boy doesn't suffer for his excesses. Lionel goes so far as to clean up what he had to believe was a murder (The Club Zero Incident, detailed in "Zero"), and yet, that supposed murder was not enough to have Lex sent to Smallville.

Although we don't know for certain that was the event that led to Lex's "banishment," it was only when Lex began to put himself in danger that Lionel moved to send him to Smallville, in an attempt to straighten the boy out. (There is a brief reference in "Hothead" to Lex having been sent to Smallville and the "crap factory" because he disagreed with his father's business practices, but more often, even in that episode as well as others, Lex's checkered past is mentioned and cited for the reasons that Lionel is unhappy with his son's behavior.)

Once in Smallville, the paternal relationship between Lionel and Lex starts to change as Lex acquires a small, but solid, power base. Once he finds that somewhat equal footing, Lex is able to begin battling back against his father, meeting him machination for machination. "Prodigal" is the example of this, because despite Lionel's attempt to use Lucas--Lex's half-brother--against him, in the end it is Lex who uses Lucas against his father.

It is worth noting, however, that when the final machinations fall into place, Lionel is forced to choose between his sons, and with no qualms ends up shooting Lucas to protect his son. Whenever it counts, Lionel chooses Lex as his priority, making sure that his well-being is protected.

The second relationship that Lex and Lionel develop is that of business adversaries. The business relationship that has developed between Lionel and Lex is one of outright competition. It stems from Lex's creation of LexCorp--and his subsequent guardianship of the caves under Smallville--and Lionel's subsequent takeover of LexCorp and the caves from underneath the young man, but actually has it's roots in the adversity of Lex's upbringing.

The parallel that Lionel draws between himself as Zeus and Lex as Hercules can be applied to their business rivalry as well. Hercules had to perform twelve labors, each of which gave him greater notoriety in the world they existed in. Hercules was Zeus' son, a possible Prince of the gods themselves as he was borne by a human princess, Alcmene. Lex's labor--his attempt to make his own name outside of the shadow of his father--can be called Herculean in nature, and it is only through the accomplishments of his labor(s) that Lex--like Hercules--gained the pride of his father.

It is also interesting to note that Alexander the Great--Lex's namesake and the person that Lionel has most tried to pattern his son after--was heavily reliant on the skills and talents of his father, Philip of Macedon. Philip laid the groundwork for Alexander's later conquests; building the Macedonian army, creating the Macedonian power base that would allow Alexander the power to range and conquer afar without worrying for affairs of state at home. Lionel can be seen as laying that same groundwork for Lex; building a multi-national conglomerate, buying representatives from the local levels to the highest (as he did the mayor of Smallville) so that there are faithful lieutenants to rule Lex's conquered territories for him.

Lex begins to deviate from the Alexandrian destiny Lionel has slated out for him when he turned down Lionel's request for him to return to Metropolis as Lionel's second and the head of his figurative army ("Stray"). In that moment, Lex cements his rebellion against his destiny and his father, which puts him on the course of creating LexCorp. Lex hopes that LexCorp will grow into an empire rivaling that of his father but in doing so, he will still achieve his destiny, as eventually, LuthorCorp will fall to LexCorp after Lionel's demise. For example, Lex uses LexCorp to gain control of the Kiwatche (there are quite a few different spellings of that tribe's name; that one sounds phonetically correct to me) caves under Smallville, which contain Kryptonian glyphs that hold the secrets to Clark's background. Lionel fights for those caves, but it is not until the latter episodes of season two, when Lex's attentions have been diverted from the caves by his upcoming wedding to Helen Bryce, that Lionel is able to take the caves from him. ("Accelerate," "Calling," "Exodus")

To further that eventual end, Lionel has made several provisions and concessions to show that Lex is and will be his chosen heir. Despite the rebellions and the attempts at defiance, Lionel has remained loyal to his son, still naming Lex as his heir and refusing to change his will or his trust to remove Lex from it completely. The temporary exile in "Prodigal" was just that--temporary, and not only was Lex restored to all his power and glory, he was given his company back on top of all that. Since LexCorp seems to have no serious rivals other than LuthorCorp, it is reasonable to assume that Lionel is somehow insulating his son's new company, protecting it from the other sharks in the water, as it were, so that Lex is given every possible opportunity to build it as he wishes.

When it is evident that Lex can no longer handle LexCorp, Lionel himself moves to take the company over whole, so that Lex's work is still intact, being held safely until such time as Lex is capable of handling it. Canonically we know that it's been kept intact, because that is the incentive that Lionel offers Lex in "Prodigal"--the return of his company so that Lex doesn't pursue using Lucas against him further, and to regain control of LexCorp--and hopefully his destiny, Lex agrees.

Quite probably the most controversial relationship that Lionel and Lex share is that of lovers. Never textually implied, it is the undeniable chemistry between John Glover and Michael Rosenbaum that give this subtextual impression. The half-flirting glances, the invasions of personal space, Rosenbaum's perfectly-timed flinches from Glover's advances, even the ease with which Lionel especially flaunts his naked or half-naked body in front of Lex. (Episodes to note: "Hothead," "Reaper," "Stray," "Duplicity," "Skinwalker", "Prodigal," "Covenant," "Talisman," "Slumber")

Begun likely around the age of fifteen or so, when we can assume his rebellions began as well, Lex would be alone, carrying the guilt of his brother's death on his conscience, and acting out in any way that he could in the hopes of recapturing the love of his father that was shown to him in his youth.

Lionel, on the other hand, would be faced with a son that, despite what he has done, he loves. Unable to show that love because of Lex's actions towards Julian, Lionel would be resorting to any other means--including the physical--to express the love he cannot afford to emotionally give. It would, as well, be another measure of control over the wild young man, and finally, it would be filling a need that Lex obviously is desiring from him. As it's established he's been unable to deny Lex anything, it's likely that he would not be able to deny Lex this, either.

Lex, hungry for the love and affection of his remaining parent, would have accepted any show from his father, including a physical one, and once accepted, the relationship would have escalated, probably until the time Lex was sent to Smallville. That would explain Lionel's expectation in "Hothead" that he would be allowed in--possibly welcomed into--Lex's personal space, and then the surprise that Lex flinches from his touch.

Lex's "rebirth" at Clark's hands, and then his later fascination with the young man eventually leads Lionel to be curious about the young man, and possibly jealous as well. Lex had not been in Smallville very long--less than a year, in fact--when Lionel makes his first offer to have Lex return to Metropolis, and Lex rejects it in favor of remaining in Smallville, working at the crap factory, and staying with the people who's respect he's earned. And we know that the only person who actually does like him is Clark Kent (and, let's be honest, Chloe Sullivan.), and it's not inconceivable that Lionel would know that also, leading into his fascination with both teenagers, and his ultimate co-opting of Chloe to find out about Clark--a double blow, one to his son and one to Clark, as he stole the young woman from both of them.

Furthermore, with the exception of Desiree Atkins, Lionel has "tainted" each of Lex's romantic interests--he flat out slept with Victoria, thereby ruining any possibility of Lex getting back together with her, and he co-opted Dr. Helen Bryce as well, (though she even turns on Lionel and goes to work for Morgan Edge.), giving Lex no recourse but to return, over and over again, to the one person who has never deserted him--his lover, his father… Lionel Luthor.

Why Ship Lionel/Lex?

Chemistry. Complexity. The most bitter love/hate relationship in existence. The most *passionate* love/hate relationship in existence.

Lex and Lionel have *passion.* Intensity, passion, obsession. Call it what you want, but these two characters have that *zeal* for one another. Lionel and Lex both have the same focal points; Clark, the caves, and each other. Lionel is determined to raise Lex up in his own image, or literally die trying; Lex is determined to utterly destroy his father. (You could even make a Vader/Luke parallel here, without the redemption because Lionel is not redeemable, bastard that he is.) Lex and Lionel are both obsessed with Clark, with finding out who he is, why he's special, and what his connections are to the Kiwatche caves underneath Smallville. Lionel is obsessed with Clark because he believes Clark somehow holds the secret to saving Lionel's life; Lex is obsessed with Clark because he *knows* Clark is hiding the secret of how he saved Lex's life.

Lex and Lionel, more than anything else, are obsessed with obtaining Clark and his secrets for his own, in order to have the ultimate *power* over the other. Whether or not that need for power is fueled by jealousy, or the desire to force the sexual relationship to continue is subjective; the fact is, the need is there, it's what drives the Luthors to compete against each other, and it's that fierce competition, with the fierce emotions that go along with it, that I believe drives these men together, towards each other always.

Lex is the only person that Lionel could accept as worthy of himself; yes, he has lovers, but no one that is his equal, except his son. Lionel is the only person that Lex could accept as well; he's been betrayed by everyone else in his life, except for Lionel. He knows where he stands with his father; Lionel makes no secret of his motivations towards Lex and despite the antagonism, the trust that implies is something that Lex clings to, because there is so little of it in his life.

The final reason to ship Lionel and Lex is because of the power dynamics. The structure of the relationship changes so rapidly and so dramatically that each time you see them together, it's almost as though you are seeing a new facet of their relationship coming to light. Fire, anger, disillusionment, hate, love, sadness, grief, determination. Capturing the dynamic is difficult, but eminently satisfying, because theirs is the relationship we would all kill to have; filled with life and *spark,* endlessly exciting and destined to last.

Recs can be found at Bastards Need Love Too


*floves you*

Brilliant essay, Kel. You know that you and I disagree on a lot of points, but I've always admired the way you defend your position.

There's no denying this:
Chemistry. Complexity. The most bitter love/hate relationship in existence. The most *passionate* love/hate relationship in existence.

Although I think future Lex/Clark(Superman) could give them a run for their money. *g*

Although I think future Lex/Clark(Superman) could give them a run for their money. *g*

See, on the one hand, I think so too, but on the other hand, I don't think that Lex will love/hate anyone as much as he does his father, because of everything that Lionel has taken from him.
I feel so dirty just reading that.

Do it again.

Lionel/Lex has worked for me from my first ep of SV.
I love it, I hate it, I can't get enough of the pairing.

Much as I adore CLex, this makes sense.
I feel so dirty just reading that.

Do it again.

*snicker* I know. baddirtywrong in the *best* way

Lionel/Lex has worked for me from my first ep of SV. I love it, I hate it, I can't get enough of the pairing.

I know the feeling. There's a part of me that doesn't really WANT to admit it, but I *love* shipping them because I hate it, if that makes sense. I love the characters, I love their history together.

Much as I adore CLex, this makes sense.

It really does, and that scares me.
I agree with most of what you say. A fascinating essay, thank you.
I agree that watching Lex and Lionel interact is a great pleasure and that there is the subtext you speak of. Antagonism often translates into sexual subtext.

However, I would never ship these characters in a sexual way. I am quite content to see the dynamics acted out on the father/son and the business rivalry plane...
A fascinating essay, thank you.

You're welcome!!

I agree that watching Lex and Lionel interact is a great pleasure and that there is the subtext you speak of. Antagonism often translates into sexual subtext.

Yeah, it really does. And in this case, it's not just the antagonism, for me, but everything in their relationship.

However, I would never ship these characters in a sexual way. I am quite content to see the dynamics acted out on the father/son and the business rivalry plane...

Yeah, I know that a lot of people wouldn't do the sexual ship, which is why I tried to include something for everyone in the essay, so nobody would feel like I left their facet of the relationship out, because as much as I'm an L/L shipper, I'm also a Luthor family fanatic, and the dynamics of the father/son and business relationships are just too juicy to leave untouched.
I only ever wrote one SV fic and that was about the father/son relationship - so you can see, this is the one pairing on the show that fascinates me.

I appreciated your broad take on the pairing. All in all, this was a pleasure to read.
Great essay. I don't ship L/L romantically, but I loved the look into the father/son dynamics. It was really interesting, thanks.
Great essay. I don't ship L/L romantically, but I loved the look into the father/son dynamics. It was really interesting, thanks.

You're welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed the insights into the non-sexual 'shipping, because that's why I added them! A little something for everyone. :)
I can definitely see your point of view here. Very compelling essay.
I can definitely see your point of view here. Very compelling essay.

Thank you! That's one of the best compliments that I could have received, having someone say that they can see my point of view. ;) that means I've presented everything as well as I meant to, and that it makes sense. So, thank you so very, very much!
I'd be interested in hearing how you see the whole drugging Lex/making him crazy/electroshock coverup thing Lionel did, and whether that counts as a betrayal.
Actually, I think it does count as a betrayal, on many levels, but I also believe that in Lionel's World (which is different from the rest of the world that we live in) it was the only thing that he could do. (I'm going to sum it up here, and see if I can find the old email and/or old LJ entry where I went into detail about it, and link it here later.)

Because Lex knew vital information, that was dangerous, not only to Lionel but to Lex as well, Lionel felt, IMO, that he was vindicated in anything that he had to do to protect his son. Because, if you remember, in the Shattered/Asylum arc, we find out that Morgan Edge wanted Lex killed outright, and Lionel refused. To protect his son, Lionel felt justified in the lesser evil--drugging Lex to get him into a safe place (Belle Reeve) and use more drug therapy to remove the incriminating memories so that Lex was no longer a threat.

When Morgan dies, the situation becomes now that Lex has dangerous information (but only to Lionel) and to prevent Lionel from having to kill his own son, the drugs continue. When Lex doesn't cooperate and refuses to take the drugs, Lionel is forced to take the next step, which is electroshock, in order to remove the information from Lex's mind and keep Lex safe from Lionel's need to silence the others who know (like Chloe.)

In Lionel's eyes, there's the lesser evil, the greater evil, and the Greatest Evil. The Greatest Evil is to kill his only son, and to avoid the Greatest Evil, Lionel will do anything he has to--including stripping Lex of a few weeks of memory--so that his son remains alive and intact.

(Spoilers follow for the latter half of season three including Forsaken and Covenant!)


It's only after Lex turns completely on Lionel, has him arrested, and prosecuted for murder amidst everything else that Lionel no longer gives Lex the special consideration of being his son, only an enemy, because Lex has finally proven to be a bigger threat than he is an asset. Truth and Memoria were the key turning points in this arc, because it's only in Truth that Lex gives up the "dream" of being Lionel's son, and it's only in Memoria that Lionel realizes that Lex no longer sees him as any sort of father figure, and the die is cast that brings this rivalry to a head in Forsaken, and then Covenant.
blue by darkhavens

January 2018



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