Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Shades of Grey

Bonnie Tyler once sang "I Need A Hero" and I suppose it's the Great Romantic Fantasy - the tall, dark and handsome stranger on his white stallion - but it's not actually mine. Heroes are... well, predictable. Good guys are the ones your mother likes, and while they make great friends, they're not exactly lust fodder (that was almost something much ruder, lol).

Guys that I do lust after have several things in common, but the largest factor is they're not portrayed as good. One of them not be a very long way, but I digress. They are antiheroes. Unpredictable, morally ambiguous, complex, complicated and deeply layered.

 The first character I remember being like that is one most people consider a hero - the Doctor. But he stood with his hand on the Big Red Button that would have wiped out the Daleks and considered genocide. Not particularly heroic, is it?

However it's dealing with uncomfortable moral issues that makes the antihero so much greater than the gun-slinging hero who would cut a swathe through the Armies of Evil and come out the other side with his hair untouched (but his shirt torn) and the line "It's what I do."

Oh, please. It might be, but kindly go and do it somewhere else. You are not the hero I'm looking for.

Bialar Crais, however, is.

I have mentioned him before, but I'm going to do it again because his character epitomises the antihero for me. His was the one that made me look for more than surface actions, that taught me that bad isn't monotone, that every character has a story they are the hero in.

Up until his last moment, the viewer was never truly sure whose side he was on. His character arc is, in my opinion, the best in sci fi. Possibly in television history. He grows and develops and becomes complicated enough that even eleven years on, I still find aspects I've not seen before, that surprise me, that wrench my heart (Crais remains the only character to reduce me to a blubbering wreck)

He was also indirectly responsible for my current crush.

Because without learning to see all the shades of grey in the dark characters, I'd not have realised how layered Baal truly is.

He's supposed to be bad - hell, he's supposed to be evil. Fortuntely someone failed to read that memo and what we're given is a character that most definitely breaks out of the given box.

Without a doubt, there are things Baal does that are bad. He is self-serving, determined to survive and quite frankly doesn't give a damn as to what measures that takes (which tends to be explosive).

However there are a lot of things he does that, on reflection, pose questions not only on his motivation, but on the nature of his species. The bad things are a given, putting himself in the line of fire for the greater good of the galaxy really isn't. He's not supposed to do that, he's not supposed to care. But he does, and he does it more than once.

The trick with the antihero is to make the audience think they know what's going on, then turn it on its head. It's Han Solo leaving the Rebels to fight the Death Star, only to charge in as the proverbial cavalry. It's Mr Darcy disappearing in a righteous huff, only to be shown to rescue Lydia. Bialar Crais apparently betraying Crichton, only to put into action the sacrificial plan to save his friends. Baal risking his life to help his "mortal enemies" save the galaxy.

We all expect the hero to fight the dragon, rescue the princess and save the kingdom. Sometimes though, it's more fun to have the less heroic guy do it, grumbling all the way.


  1. Great article, Misa. I have a gray area character in one of my novels who was very popular with my beta readers. One of them even tried to persuade me make him the MC. (I didn't, but it was fun entertaining the idea.)

    BTW, you might want to check in at Spacefreighters Lounge if you didn't get the message yet...or the tweet. :)

  2. Dark, dangerous, and sexy - yeah, I've got the bad boy vibes, too. If they're well written they are better than most cardboard heroes. Any character that is too one-dimensional comes across as flat and unbelievable. This is the real appeal of the "gray" characters for me. The whole moral dilemma really is a dilemma and we don't know which way they're going to jump.

    Great post!