Tag Archives: antagonists

Blacklist, Bad Guys, and Bedeviling Behavior

If you haven’t checked out Blacklist this season, you are missing a thrill ride of dips and dives, twists and turns, that serve to spin a tale around the complexity of the human spirit. Raymond “Red” Reddington is one of the most complex antagonists I’ve enjoyed in a while. It helps that James Spader doesn’t so much play the character as inhabit him. However, even with an actor of his talents, you still have to have good writing and this show does. It even flashes with brilliance, something I rarely say about television writing. This isn’t just my opinion since the show has become a hit this season.

The premise is Reddington, a former government agent on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, turns himself in to authorities with an irresistible offer that has a catch. He’ll help them snag bad guys so evil the FBI doesn’t even know they exist but only if he can work with a rookie profiler, Elizabeth Keen. The games begin there. Keen is suspicious, rightly so, about Reddington’s interest in her. The adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer becomes her mantra as she tries to decode her new “partner”.

The plot [so far] is terrifyingly tight and full of secrets that if carefully revealed will make the character arcs totally satisfying. It’s not easy to write this kind of thing in serialized TV. The aspect of the writing that fascinates the most is the carefully drawn and orchestrated Reddington. While all the characters are richly drawn, with layers that allow the writers to leave us suspicious of nearly everyone, it is Spader’s “Red” that lights up the screen.

Case in point: In spite of his obvious criminal nature, viewers develop a comfort level with him. It’s difficult to say an audience “likes” someone who has committed the type of atrocities Red has but viewers definitely find themselves cheering for him against the bad guys he and Keen are seeking. Red is presented in this heroic mold for weeks before he stuns us by killing Keen’s father and his friend. A horrifying scene, it revealed a side of Reddington that remained buried in the back of our psyches. [We love to see the good in people.] Now, the reality came roaring back. People filled the air with questions, “Why did he do that?” or statements of outrage, “He didn’t have to do that!” Yet, that’s who he is. He’s a criminal with a dark past. The reminder saddened us.

We showed up a bit stunned the next week to find that karma had caught up with Reddington. An enemy comes after him, but the Feds protect him. Even Red doesn’t have the code to release himself from an impenetrable cage. When the man threatens to kill Red’s friend and sidekick, Red struggles to get someone to give him the code to save his friend’s life. A completely selfless act and not at all what we’ve come to expect from Red, at least not with anyone but Keen. During the tense scene, he struggles with his inability to save someone his friend. In a bittersweet moment that shows a humanity in Red that touches the heart and we’ve not seen from Red, not even in his scenes with Keen, he communicates with his friend in his native language. Suddenly, that scene in the hospital room when he brutally killed Keen’s dad drifts away. After all, the man was dying anyway. Reddington saved him from lingering, right? Red is redeemed. When he escapes, we cheer him on.

Raymond “Red” Reddington is a criminal, a thug, a killer, immoral, a lost soul. He is also a friend, a companion, a caregiver, and a leader. The best of bad guys are so much more than the ‘evil’ label allows. They are the proverbial onion with layers of complexity. When written this way, it is easy to believe in and cheer for guys like Raymond “Red” Reddington. So much so, that now I worry that Keen needs to watch out for her husband. In spite of everything, Red has convinced me that her husband is a threat to her. I didn’t start the season with the intention of cheering on a bad guy, but I’ve never had more fun doing it.

Who’s your favorite bad guy in literature, TV, or film?



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Power Up: Writers Amp up your Battle Plans

We’re a culture that loves super heroes. Look at the movies released every year from the genre; Batman, Superman, The Avengers, Spiderman, and the list goes on. In the superhero world, the power is usually on the good guys side. I mean no mere mortal can take on a Batman. For a battle to exist, the antagonist has to rise to the same ‘super’ status of our Batman character. Novelist Michael Shaara defines a story as the power struggle between equal forces. (Burroway)

Watching a boxing match between mismatched fighters or a game in which one team whoops up on the other is no fun. We want that competitive battle everywhere, especially in our fiction. For writers, this means spending just as much time developing your antagonist as you do your hero. Match the two in a lot of ways. This allows them to truly battle for the shifting of the balance of power. However, somewhere in there plant some small differences which allow for the final triumph to fall with the character you choose. (As a reader I’m hoping the good guy wins, but I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.)

Check out your WIP. Pit your two against each other in an arm wrestling match. Who will cheat? Who is physically stronger? Who’s mentally more agile? In an end of the book battle, will it be to the death or will one simply put down his weapon? These two should see themselves as equals. If they do, they know the other represents a true threat. Thus, the reader knows it also.

As a fan of the superhero genre, my favorite bad guy has always been the Joker. He’s twisted and proud. In literature, I love to hate Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird. He represents man’s darkest nature. Who is your favorite bad guy from books or film?

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Home of the Brave

We live in an age of heroism. It’s in our films (seen a comic book based film lately?) and our novels and our news reports. Unlike the sixties, we have revered our troops for their bravery in the field. We take these boys (for the most part) from their video games and attempts to nail pretty girls and place them in the worst that hell here on earth has to offer. From deep within the human psyche, they find the courage to do things most of us could not even conceive. When we think of bravery, there’s a common list: police officers, firemen, soldiers,  people who risk the ultimate daily for the rest of us.

When we think of bravery, it’s easy to think of the obvious. I don’t want to diminish that, but it’s not the type I want to talk about here. If you look at those comic heroes, Peter Parker?  A nobody until a lab accident makes him Spiderman. Bruce Wayne? A rich orphan whose psychopathy turns him into the elusive crime fighter in an attempt to right the type of wrong that robbed him of his parents. What’s the point? Bravery is a trait inherent in all of us. It is circumstances that awaken it.

When I place my character in the right set of circumstances, it doesn’t matter who he was before. It doesn’t matter what traits he exhibited or how he manifested himself in life. In the right set of circumstances, he can find that gut entrenched trait that will cause him to rise against the largest of foes. David didn’t take on Goliath because of who he was, but because of what he had within him.

When you place your protagonist in the right circumstances, he or she will display the type of heroic behavior one would expect. We see it everyday. I have a friend battling breast cancer. Her courage amazes me. I know single mothers struggling to raise families with no help. I couldn’t do that, I say. In the right circumstances, maybe I could. Until the circumstances are right, we don’t know. Until you give your character the opportunity, you won’t know either.

Brace yourself though. Once you give them the chance to shine, the book is all theirs. You’ve lost control to a certain degree. Feel good about it.

What circumstances do you provide for your characters that require the inner reserve and strength we call bravery?


Filed under Writing