In Defense of Lionel Luthor
Lionel Luthor. Barely a blip on the screen of comic book canon, this character has been brought magnificently to life by the wonderfully talented John Glover. In part, it is his portrayal of Lionel Luthor as a layered, human character instead of the single-dimensioned caricature of evil most view him as that brings this essay forth. Another part is the general Smallville fandom's accusations of Lionel as "twisted and evil." He is none of those things, and proving that is the purpose of this essay.
It began with this email that I composed on March 30th, 2003.
Lionel isn't twisted.
He's emotionally crippled, unable to express anything close to affection, and he's definitely got a skewed system of mores.
However, he's not twisted.
Think about it. Lionel's got a double PhD, he owns this huge multi-national conglomerate SUCCESSFULLY, he has more money than Bill Gates (I'm assuming), and he lives in a world that very few of us can actually comprehend.
He has a son who has defied him at every turn, who has taken his every advantage and thrown it back in his face, and despite the lessons that Lionel has tried to teach, through any method known to him and available to him, his son still doesn't believe in him, doesn't trust him, and doesn't seem to care about him.
I think that puts Lionel in a very, very different caste/bracket/whatever than you or I or any other average person is in. He's had one child die, had the other despise him, he's lost his wife, his eyesight (though he got that back) and his other child turned out to be just as psychotic as his mother was.
Give the man a fuckin' break, why don't you?
A friend of mine, who is also one of the few Lionel supporters in the fandom, read this email and applauded it. That got me thinking; perhaps expansion would be a good idea. But, I put it out of my head as project for later, not to be done in the moment. Over the course of the discussion, however, I ended up writing longer and longer emails with details, canonical facts, and deep explanations. I had the essay written; I just had to delve through the emails and put it togetether in some kind of coherency. Here is that essay.
Lionel isn't twisted. He's emotionally crippled--possibly by the death of his infant son and then his wife--unable to express anything close to affection, and he definitely has a skewed set of mores and values. However, he's not twisted. There are far too many canonical examples of his caring for Lex, protecting and teaching him lessons, etc., for me to believe that we're even intended to perceive Lionel as twisted. I believe that we're supposed to perceive Lionel as a man who is doing his best to raise his son, be a father, and failing miserably, just like any parent is capable of doing. He is trying to teach Lex, and Lex sees these lessons as successes and/or failures, depending on the situation. But with Lionel, there are no successes and failures. There only the lesson. Everything that Lionel does is another lesson. He loves Lex. It's been shown, in canon, over and over again. Does he have a fucked up way of showing it? Yes, he does. But he loves Lex. He wants Lex to be THE best. So what does he do? Puts Lex up against the best possible opponent--himself.
When Lex loses? He still wins. For example? Lex lost LexCorp to Lionel. What did Lionel do? Safeguard it until he could give it back to Lex. He didn't break it up and sell it, he didn't absorb it into LuthorCorp. He held it as a separate, whole entity until he felt like Lex could deal with it, and he gave it back to his son like a little toy. Lionel himself makes the point that if Lex were ready to have a company like LexCorp, then nobody would have been able to take it away. The implication? LexCorp was ripe to be taken over BY ANYBODY and Lionel saved his son's bacon by doing it himself, so that he could preserve Lex's company and return it to him in due time.
The crap factory? In Hothead, Lionel could have fired every single one of those people despite Lex's bookkeeping tricks. What did he do? He let Lex have his way and win. And again, in Tempest and Vortex, he closes it down, and what happens? He lets Lex buy it and reopen it under the LexCorp name.
Murder? In Zero, Lionel is told by Phelan (a police officer that is on Lionel's payroll) that Lex murdered someone (Jude Royce) in the middle of the club. What does Lionel do? Condones it, covers it up, and protects his son from the consequences of it. But is that ever acknowledged? No. It is merely one of many indulgences that Lionel allows his son to have, without question. He merely takes care of the offensive event and it's never spoken of again. And yet... it was murder. Lex was responsible for the termination of another human life, so Lionel is presumably led to believe, and yet, there is no condemantion nor anything other than protection.
Where are the failures in that? If that were the "real" business world, you know that those people working at the factory would have been fired, that LexCorp would have been absorbed and/or sold off again in pieces as soon as a profit could be taken, and the plant would have remained shut down no matter what. Lex would be in prison, and we would not have a show.
Another argument that I have come across is that Lionel is a horrible father because of all the things he did to Lex as a child or denied him. My favorite term for that is Lex being a punk-ass bitch, but spoiled brat is also appropriate. In Stray, Lionel comes TO LEX and says that he wants Lex back with him. Why would he do that, if he didn't think that Lex had matured to the point where it was possible for the two of them to work together?
I made the point above that Lionel is emotionally fucked up. This is the closest to a compliment that Lionel is ever able to give; "I am so proud of you that I want you to come back and work with me; you are good enough now." Lionel comes out and says it... "On the contrary, your performance has been... more than adequate." Lionel is smiling, and he is in a good, playful mood as he comes to approach his son about coming back to Metropolis with him. Instead, Lex is a little brat and tells his dad to blow off. There is evidence there that Lionel is pleased with Lex's progress, and yet, Lionel's the bad guy when he asks Lex to come back with him? He's the bad guy when he tells Lex how good he's doing?
We never know what Lionel's reaction to Julian was. We don't know that he would have raised them to be enemies. For all we know, Lionel was decimated by the loss of his son and his wife, and that is why he ended up raising Lex the way he did, because he wanted to protect Lex from the emotional pain and suffering Lionel himself had gone through.
In Reaper, the implication is he was given seven to eight digits worth of "pocket money" to blow on a Hong Kong weekend. Would your father give you that kind of money to blow on sex, hookers, drugs, cars, etc? If he would, I want your family. In Reaper again, Lionel is obviously stunned to find the news that Lex thinks that Lionel believes he's not living up to his potential. After all, it was in the VERY PREVIOUS EPISODE, the very PREVIOUS DAYS/WEEK that Lionel made the offer for him to come to Metropolis with him.
In Tempest, when Lex shouts out that he thought they were enemies, Lionel is completely shocked to see this, because he doesn't think that at all. He thinks that Lex is his son, whom he loves deeply, and is trying make happy and raise into a certain kind of man.
In Duplicity, Lionel tosses his pride out the window and comes to Lex for help. Here is the direct quote: "Do you have any idea how degrading it is to be constantly poked and prodded by occupational therapists? How demeaning it is to be told by a Braille instructor that one day, *one day*, all of this will feel natural? You want the truth, Lex? I was tired of being treated like an object, an invalid. I had to get away from that."
Lionel is throwing out all vestiges of pride and dignity that he has left, and is seeking help, solace, sanctuary, whatever you want to call it, from his son. Lex does nothing but reject him, tell him to go away, and turn away every attempt that Lionel might be making to bridge the distance. He is giving Lex his weakness; he is trusting Lex enough to expose to him the fact that Lionel now has weakness and needs, and that trust is thrown back in his face with a loud slap.
In all these examples, Lionel is obviously attempting to mend and rebuild the relationship that he and Lex share, and in every attempt, Lex shuts him down without thinking or attempting to give Lionel the benefit of the doubt. It's no surprise that Lionel would eventually cease attempting to mend fences with his son, and let Lex have the distance and such that he so obviously desires.