The Glitter Jungle:
The Shaving Ritual
Smallville, Covenant - Lionel: by Cerulean Cat
The shaving of the head is done for various reasons and in various situations, and the concept has a wide range of cultural associations. The removal of one's hair, especially by others, has been associated with humiliation, punishment, personal disempowerment and external control.
I was really dreading Lionel's head-shaving scene in Covenant (beyond the loss of all the beautiful hair). I couldn't bear to think of the possible implications and consequences of such an act, practically and symbolically, especially in the context of imprisonment and death row looming.
But then I saw the scene, and His Magnificence gave me quite the reverse impression, an angle I hadn't thought of, an angle that's entirely in character and was subtly and beautifully executed. This was a ritualistic shaving, willfully done, and used for self-empowerment.
That scene reminded me not of people coerced and abused, but of characters who shave their own heads when making a transition to another stage, mentally bracing themselves and preparing for some hardship or battle, a particularly important battle, or a struggle of a different level. [I know I've seen this in movies. Kurasawa's Seven Samurai possibly? Any Media people can recall specific references?].
It's a ritual that encompasses a spiritual, potentially religious, purification and concentration in preparation of the next stage, shedding unnecessary or troublesome aspects of the previous stage of one's life, embodied, literally, in the shedding of hair.
My assumption is that it was Lionel's wish to have his hair shaved. He arranged for it to be done, in preparation for a new, stronger battle.
Whether or not the shaving is enforced by his incarceration, Lionel takes full control of its performance, ordering the barber to begin and thanking him at the end, and makes full use of its ritualistic power.
[I'd say it's unnecessary by prison standards (since he's not yet on death row - he only went through a grand jury hearing - and I will not go into the amount technical loop holes in their legal procedures), but Smallville is not very good in conforming to real-life procedures].
No, he's not happy about this, but he has resigned himself to certain necessities. Throughout, he keeps his eyes open. [This is significant both on the ritualistic level and as an aspect of his character - add details of the scene and their significance]. He's the type of man to stare reality in the face, and make bold moves and gestures to combat it. He's not the sort to close his eyes or flinch away.
The ritualistic significance is also evident in his complete concentration during the process, and in the way he holds his hands together, almost in a praying position. He is so deeply in meditation that he doesn't even blink when cut hairs fall on his eyes, let alone brush them away. And when it's all done, he responds as if coming out of a trance, blinking, then feeling his bare scalp, to recalibrate and get his bearings. His final smile isn't a smile of happiness, but it does signal a sense of completion and readiness.
On a different note, I wonder what it felt like for JG as an actor, in the interplay between actor and character, to have his head shaved, while in character (assuming that the shaving was real, and it certainly looked real).
What is it like to undergo something this intimate, that affects you, but remain in character, and for it to be so much more intense for the character. After all, while it certainly affects JG in person beyond the role, for Lionel, it is almost an identity-defining rite of passage.