TV Discussion

Smallville 5×09 – ‘Lexmas’ – TV Rewind

You have to give a round of applause for the title of this one. You get the sense the Smallville writers must have been sitting on that one for a while just waiting for a Lex-centred Christmas episode to come around so they’d have an excuse to use it. Thankfully, it’s being used for another more-than-solid fifth season episode.

It’s almost a staple for American network television shows to do a yuletide episode. Those twenty-plus episode orders that run from the autumn to early summer means that one gets a sense of time passing in TV shows with a structure that has been somewhat lost in this day of age of eight-to-ten episodes being made available to binge practically on the day of release. What’s even better here is that Holly Harold’s story could only have been told five seasons into Smallville‘s run.

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For anyone who’s been following these retrospectives, it goes without saying that I adore Michael Rosenbaum’s performance. In the pantheon of modern day live-action Lex Luthors (Jesse Eisenberg, Jon Cryer), Rosenbaum’s complex portrayal has always had the ability to stand out for being both part of a very long running television series and also having a group of writers showing themselves to be unafraid to explore the character from a potentially sympathetic one to the iconic villain that he is best known as.

© 2005 Warner Bros. Television.

While Smallville is ostensibly known as a Superman television series, the fact that the name of the town is the title of the show and not ‘Superman’ (although it did have Superman: The Early Years as a subtitle in the UK), and that Rosenbaum is as prominent on the posters for the show as Tom Welling, is evidence that this is as much Lex’s story as Clark’s. It conceptualises the character as one with an inevitable and perhaps even tragic descent into the metaphorical darkness while Clark literally flies to the heavens as the great saviour of humanity. Yes, religious symbolism abounds throughout with that description.

© 2005 Warner Bros. Television.

Stories of characters being shown the lives they could have if they take a different direction are themselves a frequent mainstay of genre television, with nearly any iconic genre series you can mention having taken a pivotal character on a journey to see the road they could take. This being a Christmas episode, comparisons to It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol are inevitable, the sacred texts of this type of story, but unlike those stories Smallville doesn’t cheat here in order to delay Lex’s inevitable turn towards the dark side by the episode’s end. Instead, the whole alternative universe he finds himself in ends up just reiterating the path that he is on, and he declares by episode’s end this is path he is going to take in a moment of embittered character development that Rosenbaum grasps with both hands.

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It’s a very daring conclusion to an episode that even features an appearance from Santa Claus and some fluff involving Clark delivering Christmas presents. Five seasons in and Lex has now seemingly turned, and the series has gone and done it by subverting the ‘Scrooge changes his way’ ending that Dickens made a concrete trope when he wrote A Christmas Carol. Smallville has just used the most iconic type of holiday season story to finally have Lex turn away and become a villain and it leaves the prospect of where the rest of the season is going to go a very promising one indeed.

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