ComicsAlliance Recaps ‘Smallville’ Episode 5×09: Lexmas
Love it or hate it, the "Smallville" TV show has been one of the most popular mass media adaptations of a comic, reaching millions of viewers each week with stories of what Clark Kent's life was like before he became Superman. Now, we're marking its passing by having ComicsAlliance's Chris Sims and David Uzumeri, two guys who have never actually watched the show, watch and review every single episode of the tenth and final season.
Chris: Last week, we said we were going to do the pilot episode for our next installment of Smallvillains, but this, my friends, is a magic time of year. So just imagine how excited we were when we found out there was a Smallville Christmas episode... called "Lexmas."
David: It was the first recommended episode in the comments, and while the name enraptured us, I don't think either of us quite expected the absolute whirlwind of crazy that was headed in our direction.
Chris: So if you've ever wondered what happens when you throw Superman, network drama and It's a Wonderful Life into a blender, well, you're about to find out.
David: Please: Let's not forget Miracle on 34th Street.
David: We kick off with Lex Luthor, enmeshed in what's apparently the most interesting state senate race of all time, commiserating with some dude he's hired on how to screw over Pa Kent when some random lady comes up and mugs and shoots him in the chest in the middle of a back alley, forcing him to spend the majority of the episode in a maybe-self-induced dream state where he's imagining his future with Lana and children and being best buds with the Kents while being guided by the spirit of his mother, apparently.
Chris: I just want to say that while neither of us have watched a single episode of this season, this one seems to indicate that the state senate race was an overarching plot of at least a few episodes. And that is hilarious.
David: I honestly figured at first it was Mr. Kent Goes to Washington, but apparently it's just Mr. Kent Goes to Topeka while Lionel is grooming his son for the same position.
Chris: It just cracks me up that Lex Luthor's path to sinister corporate super-villain world domination begins with deciding how much money to allocate for traffic lights in Granville.
David: I forget -- is it established in the Smallvilleverse that Metropolis is in Kansas as well? I mean, Clark has to reasonably commute to work from that farm, even as a regular dude.
Chris: I'm pretty sure that in Season 10, Lois and Clark actually live in Smallville and work in Metropolis, and I remember hearing something when it first came out about Clark being able to see the lights of the city from the farm. Which seems completely insane for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that it means the TVDCU's equivalent of the New York Times is in the dead center of Kansas.
David: I bet we won't even see Superman fly or wear a costume when this is over; the dramatic final shot will be Lois and Clark closing on a mortgage. In any case, in the Real World, it's Khristmas with the Kents. Clark's dating Lana at this point, and Chloe needs to deliver a ton of donated presents, which she basically makes Clark do.
Chris: And in a stirring example of just why I don't think this show is a great version of Superman, Clark's immediate response is "Use my powers to deliver toys to needy children? But I've got stuff to do!"
David: Even though this could take, at most, ten minutes for him. AT MOST. And he doesn't even finish, since he gets too involved trying to talk a drunk Santa Claus off of a ledge. And when I say Santa Claus, I mean that this guy is actually Santa Claus.
David: Now, where did this scene rate for you on the Morrison-Straczynski Superman Suicide Jumper Comforting Spectrum?
Chris: I'd say it was a solid Paul Chadwick, as in the story where Superman talks a guy out of offing himself on Christmas Eve in Christmas With the Super-Heroes #2. I actually really, really like the idea of Santa Claus getting bummed out by commercialism and Superman showing up to bring him good cheer, but the execution... Well, it left something to be desired.
David: Yeah -- it wasn't the worst thing I've ever seen, but it was certainly the point I realized that this episode was going to be as insane as the current stuff we're watching, just in a totally different way. The over-the-topness is still here, but it's all on a soap opera level rather than a ridiculous DCU level. Honestly, I think it's worth pointing out that this episode really could change around a few names and you'd have no idea it was based on Superman.
Chris: Before we know it's the real Santa, however, Superman convinces him that Christmas is real after all. Unfortunately, St. Nick is so drunk that he falls off the roof anyway, and while that actually would've been hilarious had Smallville been a dark comedy rather than... whatever it actually is, Clark ends up saving him. And then, weirdly enough, Santa flips out and runs away (with the almost mandatory "Ho ho ho-ly crap!"), and out of all the things that happen in this episode, that's the one thing I don't really buy.
David: My favorite detail here is that Clark made sure to catch his drink too and give it back to him so Santa can keep getting absolutely wasted.
David: I figured Santa ran away to bail out Clark so Clark could spend the night with his girlfriend, was the thing.
Chris: Yeah, but it's the surprise that gets me. I mean, he sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're spying on the neighbor girl with a telescope from your Barn of Solitude. It's just -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- way out of character if he's the actual Santa Claus, and an obvious way to set up the twist at the end.
David: He's also completely sh--faced.
Chris: True. But I think 1600 years of child-related omniscience beats a fifth of Jack. Of course, arguing about Santa Claus is keeping us from getting back to the actual Lexmas of the title.
David: Back in his dream, Lex has the life he always really wanted -- being with Lana and having kids -- but basically, the deal is that to get it, he had to give up his inheritance and tell his dad to go screw himself. When complications arrive during the birth of Lex's second kid and Lana's going to kick the bucket, Lex goes to Lionel and his amazing hair to ask for help, and Lionel's lustrous mane tells Lex to go screw himself.
David: In other words, this entire dream sequence ended up in Lex just deciding he has to prevent this future from happening by staying with his dad and continuing on the Path of Dickery. So it's It's a Wonderful Life, but all he learns at the end is to keep bein' Lex Luthor. This is the first time we've actually seen Lex, and I'm gonna be honest with you, he doesn't seem a lot like Lex Luthor to me at all. About as much as Clark is like Superman, really.
Chris: No kidding. They really go out of their way to make him an extremely sympathetic character. All of his evil from this point forward is predicated on the fact that if he DOESN'T do it, Lana has a miserable death on Christmas Day.
David: Really, the entire show seems like Clark's failure -- if he'd just brought Lex into the loop about what he could do, they could work together to screw over Lex's creepy dad. It's like his original sin. I mean, it seems obvious that what Lex really wants is to totally not be a Luthor. Becoming Lex Luthor out of love is just ... what? At the same time, you can't have a totally unsympathetic dick as a lead in a teen drama. But this doesn't feel like Lex's slow, tragic fall into greed and power-hunger.
Chris: It's a weird mish-mash of how we know Lex has to be a villain but they still want him to be likeable, but they also want him to have a tragic fall, but his tragic fall has a heart of gold, and... why? The one thing we can really say about Smallville is that we know how it ends (well, sort of), and in the Superman story, Lex is the Capital-B Bad Guy.
David: In any case, around the time that Lex realizes that all that matters to him is money and power and his mom cries in the reflection, Santa shows up at Chloe's to help deliver the rest of the presents, and, complete with nod-and-wink-with-nose-touch, disappears like Batman when Chloe is looking the other way with all the presents, showing that he is, indeed, straight up Santa Claus. But let's keep going with Lex. It's difficult, but possible, to do a sympathetic supervillain Lex - look at what Brian Azzarello did, or what Paul Cornell's doing now.
Chris: The whole deal with Lex as I understand him -- and he's one of my favorite villains in comics -- is that he's the guy who COULD cure cancer if he wanted to, but the only thing he cares about is killing Superman out of petty revenge.
David: It's all denial, you know -- he keeps telling himself Superman's in the way of all his brilliant achievements, but he could do them whenever he wants. It's just, I think, it's just honestly way more fun for Lex to keep screwing with Superman. Lex was MISERABLE the year he was gone, looking for him almost everywhere.
Chris: Exactly. That hate is at the core of his motivation. But here, everything gets all muddled. He seems genuinely happy in the dreamworld where he's friends with Clark and getting the approval of Pa Kent, who calls him "the finest man I know." Because apparently "the richest man in Smallville" would've been too much of a tip-off. I think what they're getting at is that Lex learns that the only way he can save what he cares about is through the unrelenting pursuit of power, but I think throwing his love for Lana in there is just crazy complicating things.
David: I agree completely, since "what he cares about" is so relatively altruistic. I think he ends up marrying Lana in the real world anyway, too.
David: Yeah, but she does it just to betray his trust and destroy him or something. It's all pretty ridiculous, from what I can recall of the one episode I caught a few years ago.
Chris: Wow. Either way, instead of Lex, the guy who actually acts like Lex Luthor as we know him is, of course, Lionel. He's the one who could save Lana easily (he "saves" Lex in the real world using the same technique, though he does it for his own ends), but doesn't do it out of pure spite. So once again, this is a show where Lionel is Lex, Green Arrow is Batman, Lois is Jimmy Olsen, Clark is "The Blur," and the guy who flies around and saves Lois from falling out of buildings is Hawkman.
David: I think if I had to compare Smallville Clark to any actual DCU character, it'd probably be Conner Kent.
Chris: Because they both have stupid costumes involving jeans and t-shirts? And they've both been doing the same boring stuff for the past ten years? And they both have inexplicable fan followings?
David: And they both constantly whine about nonsensical stuff that's out of their control and have a My Two Dads complex.
Chris: You know, that explains a lot about what they've done with Conner over the years. Up to and including moving him back to Smallville where his best friend can be Lex Luthor's niece, who is to Lex what Smallville Lex is to Lionel.
David: And his other best friend is a young supergenius who may or may not turn evil in the future for unspecified reasons. And his niece was was the one with the debilitating disease that, in the absolute most epic dick move Lex Luthor has ever pulled, Lex cured and then REINFECTED HER WITH, just to prove he could do it.
Chris: Which is pretty close to what Lionel does here. That's the core of this show's insanity, I think: They have a Lex and a Clark, but the way the show's set up, neither one can do the stuff Lex Luthor and Clark Kent do. So they have to invent other characters like Lionel to fill those roles.
David: That's pretty much exactly right - although by season ten, Lex seems like he's definitely inherited the completely evil role, especially judging by the still absolutely hilarious scene where he obsessively drew S-symbols all over the wall.
Chris: I'd say that they should've just cast John Glover as Lex since he's so good at being an absolutely evil bastard, but that would require them to cut that magnificent head of hair, and that's a step I'm not willing to take.
David: I agree completely. Oh God, I love John Glover's hair. It's as captivating as Erica Durance. I want to swim in its waves.
Chris: I want to make a nest in it and feel safe and warm, like a baby bird.
David: I'm so glad that hair is coming back for the end of the show.
Chris: Me too, Uzi. Me too. Anyway, back in the episode, Lex ends up waking up from being shot and the risky operation that Lionel had performed on him so that he wouldn't be paralyzed, and despite the fact that he realizes that he hates his father and wants to reject everything he stands for, he just decides to go ahead and be evil anyway. Merry Christmas, Everybody!
David: It's a Wonderful Life, completely inverted, mashed up with Miracle on 34th Street. I take back my statement that season 10 had a stretch of just movie ripoffs; obviously that's a thing the show's been doing for a long time.
David: Man, I dunno. I thought this episode was entertainingly ridiculous, but I can't think of a single thing I actually liked about it. To be totally honest, it felt like a completely different show, and frankly it probably was.
Chris: This is the first one we've seen with Michael Rosenbaum, and despite the fact that he's in a lousy story, I think he did a great job of pulling it off. His bewilderment at the dream-world and his friendship with Clark, his anger when Lana dies, his cold resolve at the end. He's probably the best actor we've seen in the show, though I'll admit Ollie's grown on me over the weeks.
David: Rosenbaum is unquestionably a really good actor, yeah. I'll totally give you that. I guess I really enjoyed the moment where Clark got Santa his fifth back; that was pretty amusing. But overall, no discrete moments really popped out at me as high points.
Chris: You're missing something that's truly great about this episode.
David: Hit me.
Chris: Since it's from an earlier episode, the opening sequence has, in addition to the truly embarrassing theme song we're already familiar with, shots of cast members that were no longer on the show by the time we started watching it. Including a slow motion shot of John Glover turning towards the camera as a fan blows his magnificent hair.
Chris: It's a Christmas Miracle!
David: Oh, well, Lionel's hair is always a high point, but it's totally unquestionable that that GIF is absolutely amazing. I wonder how many times we'll get to see that shot as we watch previous episodes.
David: A lot of Lex's dream sequence felt really pointless, like many possible future stories like that do, but I guess if we'd been watching the show forever, the differences in the relationships between the characters would have been more interesting. I mean, I barely know how Clark and Chloe and Lana and Lex relate in the actual show, never mind a dream sequence.
Chris: The whole attempt to give Lex some kind of altruistic motivation for his actions felt completely off for me, not just beacuse of the comics, but because of what we've seen in the last season of the show. Not to mention the fact that if he's doing it so Lana won't die, he's still completely hellbent on ruining Pa Kent.
David: Yeah, he's not even attempting to win the race fairly.
Chris: You mentioned the Paul Cornell story that we've got going on in Action Comics right now, which just recently had a story where Lex had a near-death experience and talked to Death Herself. And there, he completely tries to con her, he's totally Lex in every situation. But here, Smallville Lex's near-death experience simultaneously seems to affect him and not affect him at all. He just does the same thing he was going to do anyway.
David: Yeah, like what was his mom trying to instill in him? Like, why show him THAT to make him want to reject Pa Kent? The entire mechanism is bizarre, since you can either accept that it's some actual magical visitation, or it's all just in Lex's head.
Chris: Oh man, I'm going to nerd out on your hard for a second: It has to be a hallucination, because we know that in the future, Clark ends up with Lois, not Chloe.
David: Yeah, but maybe Clark would have ended up with Chloe IF Lex had made that decision!
Chris: Wow. Nerd-blocked. Well-played, Uzumeri.
David: It's way more... bland than the recent stuff. The quality of writing is arguably better, but as a result it loses a lot of its ridiculous charm.
Chris: I've gotta say, as much as I didn't care for the episode as a whole, I really did kinda like the Santa stuff. I wish they would've taken an episode to just straight up have Clark team up with Santa Claus, rather than half-assing it and drenching it in melodrama. Which is kind of Smallville's deal.
David: Hahahaha, exactly. I thought the Santa stuff was totally played-out spirit-of-Christmas crap at first, but when it turned out to be actually Santa, I really appreciated the ridiculousness of it more than anything else. I guess that's the closest to a high point for this, other than John Glover's mane. If you teamed up that hair and Santa's beard, he'd be unstoppable.
Chris: Oh man, I want this show to go on for another season just so we can see THAT.
Next Time: The Pilot!