In praise of evil characters

I’m a “House of Cards” junkie. Have been for awhile now, ever since I mainlined that first episode.

And I’m not alone.

I suppose everyone has their reasons for why they love this show (those of us who do), but I’m guessing that the magnetically charismatic attraction of seriously depraved individuals is a large part of why we tune in as often as we can. Sometimes over and over again thanks to the newly created verb (by me) of ‘To Netflix’. As in there is a difference between simply watching your favorite series and Netflixing your favorite series. Me? I be Netflixin’ hard, because ‘To Netflix’ is to binge blissfully in a video-induced haze from Episode One all the way through to season’s end all in one sitting, eyes a-burnin’.

This show is extremely well-written, even if somewhat over the top. Admittedly, it’s a bit tough to accept the President of the United States as a murderer, but hey, if the President can’t get away with murder in a fictional drama, what other options does he have? The thing is, murderer or no, Francis Underwood, and his wife Claire, are powerfully compelling characters. Not simply because they are both so twisted in their own unique ways, but because their twisted natures are even more complex when woven together in the bonds of holy matrimony. That is, if you feel comfortable referring to that bond as holy…

But when it comes to true depravity, I think Doug Stamper runs away from the pack at full gallop. And that’s not easy to do with this cast of societal misfits. But Doug is the kind of character that I think any writer would love to take credit for having created. He is loyal to the point of fanaticism, he is lethal and deadly, he is sexually tormented and perverse, and he has no life of his own that is not intertwined with his masters.  And yet, despite all this, Doug struggles to be capable of at least some form of kindness and/or normality but can’t sort out how to get there from here. Doug doesn’t know how to manage morality because morality interrupts and interferes with his survival instinct, and his survival instinct is employed full-time in service to his boss Francis Underwood.

It’s complicated.

To write a character like Doug Stamper is to know joy, because there is so much more to work with than if you’re trying to compose a deep portrayal of Mr. Rogers. Nice guy, but where do you go from there? Think back to all the most memorable characters in your favorite books, movies, and television dramas,  and I’m willing to bet you find that the vast majority, if not all, were darkly conflicted in one way or another. J.R. Ewing in “Dallas”. The Godfather in “The Godfather”. Jax Teller in  “Sons of Anarchy”. Neo in “The Matrix”. And on and on. These are just some of my favorites.

It’s that internal conflict, that struggle with the side of ourselves that none of us want to admit to that makes a character so much more interesting. And why is that? Because all of us are flawed, some of us more deeply than others. And we can relate much more easily to what we know.

This is being cross-posted on Detroit Ink Publishing

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