As writers, we’re frequently told that our characters need to suffer. They need conflicts, challenges and flaws. They need to risk losing everything, be in danger, maybe even actually lose everything…No one wants to read or watch someone who’s good at everything and has a perfect life. Right?
And that’s solid advice, until you go overboard. I think there comes a point when the writers take a character and make him go through hell (sometimes literally, as in the case of Supernatural) and back way too many times. Sure, it’s a fantasy show where everything is possible and not even death is final. But surely when you take a guy’s mother and have her killed by a demon, have him raised by a monster hunting-obsessed father and brother, have his girlfriend killed by a demon, kill him a couple of times, kill his brother a couple of times, have him live in hell for months, go through excruciatingly painful trials, separate from the girl he loves…
I’m sure he went through more. I just stopped watching. And this is probably the luckier brother…
We watch shows where we are invested in the characters. We root for them, feel for them or at least feel strongly about one way or the other. But sometimes that character becomes a tragic caricature. This is what I call tragedy for tragedy’s sake. It doesn’t feel natural, realistic or welcome.
Many TV shows lose viewers (or viewer’s passions if not entirely their loyalty) because of this. Yes, let’s keep the stakes high, but for goodness’ sake, let’s not go overboard.
So, I want to talk about Brody, Damian Lewis’s character from Homeland. For the first two seasons I was a true addict of the show. I would sit through 4-5 episodes in a row and still want more. Then I would watch them again with a friend or family member who didn’t watch it before just so I could go through that wonderful rollercoaster again and again.
However with the third season, the fast forward button became my best friend as they put Carrie (Claire Danes) through more hospitalizations and forced Brody to be a drug addict. You know where Supernatural has hell and death, Homeland has Carrie hospitalizations and unlucky Brody, and TVD has doppelgangers…
BRODY: TO HAVE HIM SUFFER OR TO HAVE HIM SUFFER A LOT MORE?
If you have never seen Homeland, you might think I’m overreacting. What’s a little drug addiction for a character in the grand scheme of drama, right?
Let me tell (or remind) you what Brody has been though. And then you tell me if he has had enough: (P.S. Major spoilers for Homeland)
– Brody, as a young marine, left his wife and 2 young kids behind to go to war. He saw combat, and that’s in my book enough ground for trauma and PTSD to last a lifetime.
– But Brody never had the chance to get home and suffer through his PTSD in peace (yes, I’m being sarcastic.) No. He was captured with his sniper friend/fellow soldier by the enemy. He was tortured in the worst possible ways for 3 years. At one point, they forced him to kill his friend (we later learned that they only made him think this.)
– Later, the terrorist leader took Brody, messed his brain by being kind to him and having him live in his house and tutor his young boy.
– Brody, away from his family and country, taught English and football to this lovely boy who was blissfully unaware of his father’s crimes. Brody loved this boy like a son. And I guess he was even happy, up until the point where American VP and the head of CIA thought it was OK to bomb an entire school region and kill 83 kids in the name of killing the terrorist leader. He wasn’t there. Instead, his son died in front of Brody. Yeah, I know, like Brody wasn’t traumatized enough.
– Then 8 years after he was first captured, he was saved by American soldiers. He got back home, where no one was smart enough to give him a psych evaluation. Instead, he was deemed a hero, and was immediately used by the VP for political agenda.
– Brody tried to adjust to being back, feeling conflicted about becoming a “terrorist” to avenge those kids’ death by killing the VP and a group of other politicians and being a Marine.
– His wife was screwing his best friend while he was away.
– He couldn’t have sex with his own wife, even when he didn’t know about the best friend.
– His sulky teenage daughter was ready to rebel any moment, and his adaptable and nice son didn’t mind seeing the best friend as a second dad.
– He was stalked and monitored by bipolar CIA agent Carrie, who failing to obtain legal reasons to tail and watch Brody, decided to learn his intentions by getting close to him.
– There was intense chemistry there, and they did fall for each other. Yep, falling for a CIA agent who was sure he was a terrorist isn’t too complicated.
– When he learned about Carrie’s initial intentions, he was pissed. And he almost blew up the VP and the politicians as planned, but Carrie stopped him by emotionally getting to his daughter. But the confession video was already obtained by others, and his terrorist/not-dead-sniper friend wanted to kill him for chickening out. Brody talked the terrorist leader into doing things his way. And he got to kill his friend for real this time.
– He played for the Senate, and he got Carrie committed to hospital- the one person who was right about him all along, and the CIA learned about her condition. He screwed her over big time. Yeah, this guilt didn’t eventually get to him at all.
– Carrie was eventually proven right after the confession video was found by the CIA and she was recruited again. She got Brody in by having him sort of almost attack her. Then she got very honest, very emotional and got Brody to confess everything. Great episode, awesome confession session which won Emmy for Outstanding Writing. Had never agreed more with an award before. Imagine the catalysis Brody went through. I mean it. It’s one of my favorite TV episodes of all time.
– Of course he now became an asset for the CIA. Either he helped them, or he went to prison for life or worse. And his family would find out the vest…
– So more lying, more internal conflicts, unresolved feelings for Carrie and stress made Brody run, and Carrie got to him again. She got Brody back in more ways than one.
– The terrorist leader kidnapped Carrie and forced Brody to kill the VP. More lying to friends and family, of course. Brody killed the VP to save Carrie.
– Unknown to Brody, Quinn (Rupert Friend) was hired to eliminate him once they caught the terrorist. Thankfully he saw sense and told the director to shove it.
– After the leader was captured, Carrie and Brody discussed if they could ever be together. His past, her illness…but Brody believed they had a shot because, let’s face it, no one could be a better match for the other after everything they went through.
– And despite a pissed off mentor, Carrie picked Brody over CIA. A second chance given at everything, Brody could finally have some peace, right? Nope. CIA was bombed. Everyone thought it was Brody. It wasn’t.
– Carrie got him to the border. Great goodbye scene. Maybe they will find each other again after Carrie can prove his innocence?
Surely, Brody can’t go through more terrible ordeals during season 3. Surely, all the pressure, identity crisis, guilt, PTSD, love lost and found and more are enough…
But nope. Brody got shot and almost died. Gangsters who found him made him a drug addict. Somehow he was “saved” by the CIA. After suffering through going cold turkey and emotionally tortured by being kept away from his daughter (who happened to change her name, left school and became a motel maid – and this isn’t half of it!), he got sober.
Then Carrie convinced him to go on a covert mission for redemption (for the almost bombing way back in season 1). He got trained like a marine again.
Oh, he learned that his daughter tried to kill herself after she thought he bombed the CIA (and the confession video) and received a not-so-warm “welcome” from her. There’s the hope that maybe he can fix things with her and be with Carrie, right?
He’s on a dangerous mission. Carrie is pregnant, and he doesn’t know, and it might not be his.
I don’t want him to die after everything they put him through, but at this point, killing him will be the kindest thing they ever did to his character.
Have you had enough of Brody pain? Homeland season 3 isn’t over yet.
Now, I made my characters go through some really awful, depressing and/or deadly situations. Just I didn’t do…this much.
What do you think? Do you have a limit when it comes to a character’s suffering?
How much “hell” is too much for one character?