Thursday Five: Heroes

To complete the set after covering villains ( and anti-heroes (, this edition of Thursday Five will focus exclusively on the very noble genre of heroes, cataloguing notable instances of characters whose morality and overwhelming goodness is the only precursor to their actions. Heroes are often our eyes into the world in which television and films place us, and are the characters the audience look toward to resolve the increasingly narrow odds that seem to face them. The personal battles that arise often leads to a question of moral code, and it is through their decisions that the audience can learn about the human condition and outlines an interior composition to emulate.

1. The Doctor, Doctor Who

First on the list is the titular Doctor from BBC cult hit and now mainstream fixture Doctor Who. I detailed in the villain portion of Thursday Five the relationship The Doctor possesses with his varying types of enemies, concluding that The Master was ultimately his finest foil due to his striking similarities in both physical and mental configuration separated only by the finest line of philosophical postulation. Where The Master is a sociopath fuelled by hatred, The Doctor completely the other side of the coin. His love for the sheer vastness of his universe is enduring and his depth of understanding the motivations of even his most fearsome of foes is what makes him such a strong candidate for this list.

Throughout all versions of the series, The Doctor’s compassion for the entire universe is equivocal to a doting parent watching their child grow up and it’s clear that his actions in restoring the peace and defeating the villains is merely guidance for a galaxy tilted on the brink of self-destruction. What makes The Doctor such a strong protagonist is that there are times when his plan to save the cosmos seem doomed to failure yet prevails in the end, which is made far more poignant in his commitment and dedication to nurturing the goodness in every being contained within. While The Doctor sometimes doubts himself and his effect on his environment, his irrevocable faith in the morality of the universe sets him apart as a bona fide hero.


2. Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel

David Boreanaz’ portrayal of the tortured vampire with a soul Angel is an interesting case to observe on this list. Throughout his existence in Buffy as well as in spinoff Angel, the vampire is largely heroic excluding a few intervals back to the dark side here and there. His motif upon opening his detective agency in LA upon consolidating his break from his paramour’s show is that he exists to ‘help the helpless’. This practically becomes the entire concept of the show, where Angel will do anything to help those that need it on the dangerous streets of LA, his selfless crusade to preserve the good of humanity clearly an indication of the noble constitution of Angel’s character.

However, what makes this a particularly interesting example of a hero is that his soul and conscience is granted to him by way of a gypsy curse that was cast to punish the vampire for his malevolent actions as an unfeeling monster. In this sense, a question mark lingers over his good deeds insofar as we have to wonder whether his heroism stems from an inner desire to help others or merely from the roots of a vengeful hex on his being. Perhaps the answer is evidential in the first season’s crossover episode I Will Remember You, where being reunited with his one true love Buffy leads to the vampire accidentally becoming human again. Given the prospect of a future previously unavailable to him with Buffy, Angel chooses to turn back the clock in order to regain his vampiric powers so that he can aid Buffy in the fight against evil. By sacrificing his own happiness, Angel displays in this crucial and touching episode that he is truly heroic beyond debate, thus earning a place on this list.


3. Clark Kent, Smallville

Talking of being heroic beyond debate, how could you possibly create a list of screen heroes without including Superman? While most heroes have ruffles and foibles that undermine and conflict with their heroic status, Clark Kent as a protagonist is one of the few that genuinely lack any sort of diversion from their overwhelmingly good stance. Superman is a squeaky clean representation of Americana, and even within the context of Kent’s evolution into the role of the Man of Steel as chronicled on teen drama Smallville, his actions are conclusively noble and righteous.

Through ten seasons, Clark Kent battles numerous nefarious villains, and even though the majority of his emotional and dramatic conflict is often rooted in his coming to terms that he will never live the normal life he craves, Kent’s actions moor him entirely in the hero camp. Despite occasions of turning to the dark side in similar fashion to Angel as mentioned earlier, the evilness of Kent is manufactured out of chemical reactions to Kryptonite, so is ultimately fundamentally heroic in essence. Furthermore, the show drew criticism and backlash for a regular reference and sometimes patently transparent allusions to Kent as Christ, the symbolism exposing a key trope of the goodness of the character. Through this characterisation, it is impossible to fathom how any protagonist could be cast in any more of a heroic light.


4. Donnie Darko, Donnie Darko

Tackling the huge spectacle of the film world now, Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the troubled teen Donnie Darko in the film of the same name has been lauded as a prime example of a hero on the precipice of good and evil, struggling to understand his role in a confusing world of time travel and giant rabbits named Frank. In many ways, Darko could well have made the anti-hero list from last week, his actions and attitudes to a number of situations potentially qualifying him substantially for that list. Yet what nudges me towards placing him in the hero section is that similarly to Clark Kent, his narrative is a tale of learning his significance to a doomed or fragile world. While never easy and difficult to comprehend, it’s the challenge of accepting the role as saviour of the world that makes for such fascinating viewing in this cult classic.

Again striking parallels to Clark Kent, there are a number of allusions to Darko as Christ in the movie, and the subtle religious hallmarks in some scenes of the film are part of what makes it such an atmospheric piece of cinema. The conflict of Darko recognising his importance with his overwhelming fear of sacrifice is what contains the events of the film within the sphere of relatable human drama, and the journey toward Darko standing up as the hero is what gets him on this list.


5. Dr Jack Shephard, Lost

I’ve written a lot about Lost over the course of my short time writing at RhettMedia, but that is largely due to how well it conveys a portion of what I’m writing about. While Ben Linus is the reproachable villain of much of the series and Sawyer is the sentimental favourite as anti-hero, the main protagonist and our eyes into the world of the Island is Dr Jack Shephard. Originally meant to be killed off in the pilot of the series, a rewrite saw Matthew Fox’s character swiftly become the leader of the survivors and the beating heart of the show, his character’s journey being the focal point in relaying the overall message of the show to the viewer.

It is important to note that Lost as a show is essentially an assembly of character-driven dramas joined together by the most complex of tenuous links, the time travelling and science fiction elements sometimes seeming to get in the way of the writers purely wanting to create a multitude of interesting characters based in the real world. This focus on character drama meant that the conflict and narrative is derived from internal clashes of conscience within the characters, usually resulting in a character having participated in some less-than-heroic actions within their troubled lineage. Jack is no different, and by proxy of being the show’s main protagonist, the doctor actually ends up being perhaps the most flawed of the bunch. However, there’s a resoluteness to his character and noble manner underscored by his determination to fix everything that makes him such a well-drawn and compelling hero to attempt to break down. In this era of television narratives, an immaculate hero is dull and fails to create fascinating programming, and Jack is the perfect example of the modern day hero; driven by the interior good inside him yet vulnerable to the crippling uncertainty of who he is and who he is meant to be.


n.b. apologies for Thursday Five appearing fractionally late this time, please feel free to comment on what you think and omissions that you believe should make the list. Also, the official Twitter feed of RhettMedia is available on the right hand pane so why not click the follow button.


~ by jrhett on February 24, 2012.

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