In the turbulent era between the end of the First World War and the full swing of the Roaring Twenties, a cunning and aloof gangster must navigate a treacherous criminal underworld to rise in power, while being pursued by a staunchly religious but morally grey police officer and trying (unsuccessfully) not to fall in love with a timid girl who’s more of a badass than she seems. Shall we visit this case in Birmingham or Atlantic City?
Basically, everyone’s got a bit of a hype for period drama gangsters right now, leading to the existence of both Peaky Blinders, which follows the English gang of the same name, and Boardwalk Empire, which follows the rise to power of a corrupt politician in Prohibition era America. They both bring up questions of morality, power, religion, corruption, family, and a lot of slick dialogue as they play with the intricacies of criminal politics. After watching the first season of each (a while ago, in Boardwalk Empire’s case, and in the case of Peaky Blinders, I watched all of it in the wee hours of one night, so I apologise for any inaccuracies in referring to either) I’ve decided to have a poke at both to see if one of them wins this proverbial turf war for our viewership. Major spoiler free! Continue reading
You ever come across a character with all the guise of furniture? They get walked all over, used to push the plot along, and could easily be replaced by an attractive lamp and have it not affect the story. I think, understandably, we’re quick to notice and damn these types because it’s irritating to read or watch a character that only exists to get shoved around, or to shove forward the development of the plot or other characters. However, we mustn’t confuse the characters’ actual traits and role in the cast with the way they’re being written. A character with a passive personality is not necessarily a doormat, nor is one in a love interest role doomed only to be a love interest. It all comes down, to borrow phrasing from this post, to the respect and power they’re given by the narrative.
Margaret Schroeder, who remains the best thing about my brief watch of Boardwalk Empire, immediately seemed like a damsel pushover the first time I saw her. She was an abused housewife just trying to do right by everybody even if they pushed her around, her own passive nature and kindness getting the better of her. Until, of course, Nucky has her asshole husband framed and murdered, and sets her up with a job, a better angle in life and eventually a position as love interest to the main character (him. Of course). She still seemed unable to do anything for herself if she wasn’t nudged in that direction by other characters, namely her doting love interest, with whom she kind of filled the role of She Who Will Bring Out His Good Side.
But, Margaret grows over the first season and comes out of her shell, the resilience and kindness we see exhibited with her children mixing with her developing charisma and ability to Play The Game, all the while going into a tiny crisis of morals while trying to get the best lot in life for her and her family. So, Margaret’s plotline is intrinsically tied to Nucky, and if he hadn’t been interested in her none of it would have happened, but even with her position as love interest she manages not to be reduced to furniture. Continue reading
We take a break from staring moodily out the window to bring you this post
Oops, I’m talking about villains and anti-heroes again.
I read and enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but was never really a die-hard fan at heart… nonetheless, the group that is are always interesting to watch, and one of the areas I note they’re most divided in is the case of Severus Snape. Half of them burst into tears at his very mention and mourn and praise the tragic unrequited love story between him and Lily Potter, the other half recoil at the concept and are in absolute denial that Harry named one of his kids after the sometimes-villainous professor. Both sides have their valid points, but looking at this crevasse-like opinion split I do have to wonder whether JKR succeeded in her attempt to make Snape a likeable, sympathetic and morally interesting character by giving him tragic feelings over a pretty girl.
Which, as discussed before, seems to be a bit of a go-to if you’re looking for emotional growth, motivation explanation or the excuse to get your hero weeping on his knees figuratively or otherwise. Now, when done well this can be fantastic and poignant, when not, it falls a little flat. There’s some genuine pathos and poetry in a tragic love story that the hero must mourn (perhaps leading him down the road to become a villain, even), but as with all things it’s about execution. There’s a difference between setting up a tragic loss in a character’s backstory or current adventure to give him (and I’m using ‘him’ because this post is discussing male heroes and their often but not always female love interests/cute little sisters/doting dead mothers etc.) motivation, conflict or just some emotional depth, and throwing it in there as a hook for sympathy and a quick attempt to humanise a character that does awful things.
Snape’s love for and loss of the woman who shaped his life is sad, yes, and you feel bad for the guy learning all of that as he dies, but does it redeem the past seven years/books worth of bullying and evil deeds? Again, some believe so, some refuse to. At least that was considerably thought out, as far as I remember, and Lily Potter was an important character in her own right and didn’t just exist to die for Snape’s look-he’s-crying-he’s-not-totally-evil redemption. By all means, kill off characters to create a story via cause and effect, but don’t do so in a way that cheapens both parties. Continue reading