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April 2010

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[personal profile] k2daisy
There is a character often found in ensemble shows, someone who right from their first scene forces viewers to choose sides: you either love him or hate him (and they almost always are "him"s), a reaction which is immediate, visceral, and total. Nobody feels anything for this character halfway, and frankly, that's just the way he likes it. There's nothing halfway about him.

I am speaking, of course, of the Asshole.

Now, Assholes are not to be confused with the Villian, or the Protagonist, or even the Jerk. An Asshole can be part of the "good guy" group, and he often is. But he's rarely the Hero of the show (with a few exceptions), and more often than not, he's a supporting character with limited air time. This is often a good thing because he's extremely polarizing and caustic and he packs a big enough wallop that a little of him can go a long way, and sometimes too much of him is just too much.

The examples I will use of Assholes all come from cop shows and dramas, although I suspect there are several Assholes lurking in several sci-fi shows that I'm not familiar enough with. Also, I suspect Spike from Buffy is an Asshole, but that's only based on reading friends' LJ entries, not from any personal knowledge. So I won't be discussing those characters, but feel free to insert them if you feel they are appropriate.

Some Assholes of recent TV shows:

Nick Vera, Cold Case
Andy Sipowicz, NYPD Blue
Sawyer, Lost
Alex Karev, Grey's Anatomy
Bosco, Third Watch
Toby Ziegler, The West Wing (I'm on the fence about him, but in the end I think he does qualify because as loveably curmudgeonly as he is, he also hits all 4 characteristics)
Col. Tigh, Battlestar Galactica
Alex Krycek, The X Files

There are also two others who *should* qualify, but the writers of the shows have either stepped back from writing them as aggressively Asshole-ish or changed their minds about the character's direction once they were on for a bit and have softened them up so they are more of a Snarky Sidekick than a true Asshole: Colby Granger, Numb3rs, and Lee Scanlon, Medium. For that matter, I also think GA's Yang *and* Burke skirted the edge of Asshole-dom before the writers saw their potential and moved them into Flawed Hero status. Which is fine, because that show needed some genuinely Flawed Heroes to make up for the sodden messes of Meredith and McDreamy.

There are 4 main characteristics of an Asshole, and it's the combination of them that I think makes them so appealing to me.

1. As GA's Alex said a few eps back, Assholes are the ones who "get to speak the truth". They say what they're thinking -- and often, what we the audience are thinking -- straight out, with no embellishments or gently-phrased words. They speak bluntly, and rudely, and aggressively...but they get to do that because more often than not, they're right. Assholes cut through to the heart of a problem or a scene, and even when you wince as they do it, stomping on everyone's feelings on the way, you're also kind of relieved because you know their point is a valid one and it needed to be said.

Think of any Oval Office scenes with Toby and Josh and Bartlet, how they would yell and debate and then Toby would toss out the bellow that stopped them all cold in their tracks. Or the way Alex convinced Izzie to let go of Denny in the finale. Or Sawyer during any discussion he's in with Jack and Kate.

The downside of this is that often Assholes are not only NOT "politically correct", they are often bigoted and racist and misogynistic. (Alex: "She's ruining vaginas for me." Bosco: "The world would be so much better without people." Sawyer: "Baby, I am tied to a tree in the jungle of mystery. I just got tortured by a damn spinal surgeon and a genuine Iraqi. Of course I'm serious." And much worse.) But this again, is part of being the truth-teller; they don't have filters and they say what's on their minds. Right or wrong. Hello, that's why they're Assholes!

2. For all their abrasiveness and gruff exteriors, Assholes always have a weak spot, something that makes them vulnerable and will cut them to the quick if they let it. For Bosco, it's his family; he's ripped apart everytime he comes into contact with him. Sipowicz also is laid low by his family, and more so when the few people he lets in (Sylvia, Andy Jr., Bobby, Danny) die. For Tigh, it's his wife Ellen and his unwavering loyalty to the "Old Man". For Alex, it's Izzie. For Vera, it's children; he wants to become a father so badly it's curdled him inside. Sawyer's demons go back to his own childhood tragedy. Toby fights a constant battle between what he knows will be politically expedient and what he knows in his heart is the "right thing to do", and in the end, he will choose "right" over everything else, to the detriment of himself and those around him.

3. This weak spot usually goes hand-in-hand with the Asshole's inability to have a healthy romantic relationship; because their weakness is so personal and because they're so afraid of letting that be exposed, they tend to sabotage and ruin any relationships they do attempt to have. Witness Bosco's painful breakup with Nicole, Toby and Andie, Tigh and Ellen, Krycek and Marita, Vera and his wife, Alex and Izzie, etc. (Sipowicz appears to be the lone winner in this category, although he did clod-foot all over Katie a couple of times. And his first wife died in a hail of bullets.) The failure of these relationships for the most part is due to the Asshole, and often they *know* they're destroying it and still they can't do anything to stop it from happening. They can't change themselves enough to bend and to give in, even if they want to. They are who they are, and no one -- not their wives, not their children, not themselves -- can change them.

4. The final part of what makes an Asshole is that they are fully aware of numbers 1-3; they know themselves and they know the impact they have on people around them. They know they're disliked, they often don't like *themselves*, and still they don't budge. They know their weakesses (Bosco: "You think when I'm married I'm going to beat my wife, because that's what I saw growing up?" Faith: "I don't think it has to be that way. Not if that's not how you want it to be." / Bartlet: "You know what my mother would call you, Toby? A pain in the ass." Toby: "That's what my mother calls me, too, Mr. President." / Starbuck: "I have my flaws, too." Tigh: "The difference is my flaws are personal. Yours are professional.") and they know their strengths (Alex: "I'm talking this time. I tell the truth. It's what I do. It doesn't make me a bad doctor. Maybe I'm a pig, maybe I'm an ass, maybe I'm a vermin like everybody says. But I tell them the truth. It's the one thing that I've got going for me, and you don't get to take that away and call it a lesson. Sir."), and you know, I just admire the hell out of them for that. It's easy to make excuses for yourself (Hey, how ya doin' there, Mulder? Still blaming Krycek for everything?), or to deny your own flaws (HELLO, MCDREAMY YOU DICKHEAD!!), but Assholes don't do that. They own their own crap, and I like characters who do that.

Final point I want to make: for me, the fun of rooting for the Asshole comes from their redemptions, and they almost always get some redemption, even if it's temporary. And when it comes, OMG hand me the tissues. I'm gone. The way Alex convinced Izzie to let Denny go, and then holding her while she cried. Toby with the twins: "I didn't realize babies come with hats. You guys crack me up. You don't have jobs. You can't walk or speak the language. You don't have a dollar in your pockets but you got yourselves a hat so everything's fine. I don't want to alarm you or anything, but I'm Dad." Vera's divorce talk with his wife. Sipowicz discovering Andy Jr. is the fallen cop he's there to investigate. Krycek's badass little speech in The Red and The Black. Sawyer telling Jack about his father's regrets. Bosco's 9/11 breakdown in Falling. He and his mom crying in each other's arms after she takes back her abusive boyfriend.


Those Assholes get me every time. That's why I love them.

Okay, so that just swallowed up my whole morning. Time to go get some chores done and whatnot!
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