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How to Make a “Bad” Character Loveable

I decided to do this week’s quote as a continuation on Wednesday’s discussion. The idea is: could a lead character be a “villain” and still gain interest. My initial idea was no because of a new cop show on NBC. However, I started to second guess that decision when thinking about a show I love “the Blacklist.” Therefore, I have come up with the most “lovable” leads with strongly questionable characters. After making this list, I am ready to say why they work while the cop show does not…in my opinion.

1. Michael Corleone, The Godfather. A son who inherits a mafia empire, he begins the series as an “honest” citizen. Then he is pulled into the family business and spends the rest of the time trying to survive while always wanting to get out. Why does he work as someone people want to follow? I think in part we sympathize with his plight. In a way, he did not “choose” this lifestyle. It was handed down to him, almost pressured upon him. Then the series became a curiosity. Can he get out? Can he make the business clean? The evils he commits along the way are excused because it is part of the life he was thrown into. Kill, or be killed.

2. Raymond “Red” Reddington, The Blacklist. I thought long and hard about why I like this character so much. It really has nothing to do with the actor, because this is the first time I really like him. The character was not thrown into the life. He chose to leave the CIA for a life of crime. Why he chose is unknown and irrelevant. He admits he’s a criminal. But he is also very charismatic. Part of what makes him acceptable is that he does not disguise who he is. He does not pretend to be innocent. And he always has a reason for what he does…in his own mind.

3. Iago, Othello. I had to throw one literature character in here. Most people think this play is about Othello. I believe it is actually about Iago’s revenge upon the general. He may be twofaced toward Othello and his men, but Iago tells the audience from scene one what his intentions are and why. Then he goes about orchestrating a master plan, manipulating Othello toward demise. His motivations are those the readers can clearly understand. He is not simply psychotic. He was driven toward his endeavor.

So, what do these characters have in common and why do I care even though they are “bad.” They never deny who they are. Their deplorable acts are justified by the life they chose. They have charm, and they are not simply “insane.” I can see their motivations, even if I don’t accept it. And they never trick me. A dirty cop doesn’t work for me because it is a contradiction. Cops are supposed to be good and honest. Taking bribes is not justified in that particular line of duty.