Monday, December 28, 2009

Love to Hate Him, Hate to Love Him

I've written a fair amount on my favorite soap females, the antiheroines. I freely admit it : I love the multi-faceted female characters that soap opera has always been so good at bringing to life. The misunderstood antiheroine. The long-suffering heroine. The shrewd bitch who harnesses her sexual power. Give me a Holly Norris, Vanessa Chamberlain, Karen Wolek, Brooke English, Heather Webber or Dorian Lord any day of the week. I do, however, enjoy a well-developed male character, as well. Keep the squeaky-clean good guys to yourself. The male characters worth watching are those who are no less complex, no less troubled, and no less ruthless than their female counterparts. Some of them are just as interesting. Submitted for your approval.....

The Bad Boys You Just Can't Help Rooting For

1. The Lovable Rake

You know him. He breezes his way into the lives of women, wreaking havoc with their emotions. Maybe he's even downright cruel and heartless in his betrayal of them, but he's full of boyish charm, and he's loads of fun. He knows how to have an honest-to-goodness good time. He's an overgrown boy, really, who'll make a halfway decent man if he ever finds his way. And, despite the way he treats women, the fact is, he adores them. He just makes the stupid mistake of believing he can adore them all at once. He's Tad "the cad" Martin dating Liza Colby, while having steamy sex with her mother, Marion, on the DL. He's Billy Abbott letting his brother assume responsibility for a pregnancy that's the result of one of his booty calls.

2. The Dangerous Guy

He's not from around here, Ma'am. He swaggers his way into town with no connections, and no one to answer to. He doesn't give a shit what you say, and doesn't care if you think he's a nice guy. He's AW's Mitch Blake, circa 1979, who shows up in Bay City with every intention of breaking up the Cory marriage and making off with the family loot. He's OLTL's Nash Brennan who doesn't want to hear that Tess is the one who has to go, and doesn't give a damn about anyone named Antonio. The source of this guy's danger? He doesn't sound or look or think like anyone else in town, and he's completely aware of the fact that his uniqueness makes him attractive.

3. The Aging Ne'er-Do-Well

If there's a way this guy could have messed things up, he's done it ten times over. He's been a lousy father, an awful husband, a terrible businessman. Everything he touches turns to shit and, truth be told, he's an irresponsible bastard who runs away when the going gets tough. He's a con man, and there's always an angle for him. He's not good-looking or young, and he never has much money but, for some reason, women flock to him. On the plus side? He's got the gift of gab. And, deep down, his conscience bothers him. Eventually, he does the right thing. He's Buzz Cooper, returning to Springfield years after abandoning his young wife and babies, demanding his cut in the family diner. He's Marco Dane, blackmailing Karen into a life of prostitution.

4. The Blackguard

You know him, because he's been around for ages. Emily Bronte named him Heathcliff. Not exactly a Byronic hero, but pretty close. The Blackguard exhibits a truly sadistic side. He's hurt people and enjoyed it. He's stolen that which he's thought he rightfully deserved. He's incapable of not leaving pain and heartbreak in his wake. His dark side goes beyond that of the Lovable Rake or the Dangerous Guy or the Ne'er-Do-Well combined: people's whole lives have been ruined - maybe even lost - at his hands. The Blackguard takes on mythical proportions by his seeming inability to be stopped. Push him off a cliff, and he'll end up with only a few bruises and broken bones. Crash his plane into the ocean and he swims to shore. The worst mistake you can make with this guy is to assume he's done the worst he can do.

The Blackguard, when well written and acted, is my favorite male soap archetype, because he is the most complex. His ability to be seemingly heartless in the pain he inflicts is coupled with a great capacity for love and devotion that borders on obsession.

Great writers and actors have created the unthinkable in the best Blackguards: villains we can't help but root for, in spite of our own better judgement, even as they perpetrate unspeakable acts. How is this accomplished?

1. Give this guy a personal tragedy: The greatest Blackguards are men who have been damaged by nightmarish childhoods/young adulthoods. Do some digging, and you'll find a little boy who lost his mother and was was abused/abandoned by his father. Roger Thorpe, Victor Newman, Todd Manning...these are the great ones, and they all have this in common. They don't know how to love the way normal human beings love because it hasn't been part of their personal experience.

2. Acts of Heroism: Saving the life of someone in peril goes a long way towards buying a bad guy some redemption. Roger, Victor and Todd have often stepped forward to do the right thing. Heroism, though, does not always come in such grand packages. For my money, one of the most touching bits of quiet, every day heroism on the part of Roger Thorpe involved the making of a tuna sandwich.

3. The Platonic Female Ally: For the most part, The Blackguard has no friends. Business associates, ex-wives, enemies a-plenty, but no real friends....except for the Platonic Female Ally. She's the decent, law-abiding woman who understands him, doesn't judge him, and in whom he can place his trust. Roger Thorpe had Maureen Bauer. Victor Newman has Kay Chancellor. Todd Manning has his older sister, Victoria Lord. The Platonic Female Ally loves the Blackguard and, unlike most others, she isn't afraid of him. She will be brutally honest with him, but she will also defend him to others. She, alone, seems to understand that nothing is ever just black or white, and that, for the most part, The Blackguard is misunderstood.

4. His Legacy, AKA: The Kids: The Blackguard has kids, probably a few of them. Probably by more than one mother. Having suffered such a nightmarish childhood, himself, he's determined to make sure everything runs smoothly for his children. Unfortunately, he goes overboard and doesn't so much support his kids, as try to control their every move. He means well, but it rarely works out for the best. The Blackguard's history of abandonment and abuse makes him see the world in terms of people either being for him, or against him, and this is especially true of his children. As much as he adores them, if he perceives one of children as betraying him, things can get very, very ugly. In truth, though, The Blackguard would rather die than see any one of his kids come to harm.

5. The Girl of His Dreams: If Heathcliff had his Catherine, Roger had his Holly, Victor has his Nikki, and Todd has his Blair. Or is it Tea? (Honestly, these days I'm rooting for a Tea and Blair pairing, but YMMV.)

6. Surround him with Hypocritical, Self-Rightous Indignation: Let's face it, soaps are full of morally bankrupt people passing themselves off as pillars of society. Springfield's leading good guy was Ed Bauer: a sloppy alcoholic whose inability to keep it in his pants caused the tragic death of his wife, Maureen. How many times did this guy fall off the wagon and drive drunk? Ed found monogamy impossible to achieve : he had sex with Claire Ramsey mere hours after getting the false report that Maureen had been killed in Beirut! Genoa City's Paul Williams may be a good guy, now, but remember when he was the guy carelessly passing a veneral disease all over town? And don't get me started on Michael Baldwin. Llanview is teeming with "good people" who betray their spouses, have sex with their brother's wives, switch paternity tests to fool their partners, kidnap babies, and play fast and loose with legal proceedings. (How the hell is Nora still practicing law and considered a woman of good standing???)

One of the reasons The Blackguard, when written and acted well, makes us love him in spite of his despicable, deplorable behavior is the fact that he serves as a foil to the phonies. When Roger Thorpe stood before a room full of Springfield's most esteemed citizens - including Alexandra (most manipulative woman on earth), Billy (duplicitous alcoholic who married his brother's lover) Jenna (a professional crook whose chief goal in life was to steal the Chamberlain fortune), and Dylan (an ex-con and an arsonist!) - all of whom haughtily passed judgement on him, I couldn't help but be on his side. When Jack Abbott tries to make himself as the good guy to Victor's bad guy, it turns my stomach. Every time Nora and Bo are hyped up as untouchables, I like Todd a little bit more.

The Blackguard's stark contrast to those who are perceived as virtuous is a large part of his allure. It's why J.R. Ewing was the shining star of Dallas, and Bobby wasn't. It's why Magneto is so damned awesome in X-Men. It's why The Young and the Restless has been such a bore since Victor Newman has been gone.

Next: The Heir Apparent

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

1 comment:

Thermos said...

Spot on analysis...I always loved Todd me he was the best anti-hero in Daytime. Brilliantly written and acted. And yes, it's a formula-driven character, but the anti-hero, when the right guy is playing him, is also completely unique. Another thing that makes us love these guys.