and i love eleven so it's difficult to make him a villain

Internal Conflict:  Five Conflicting Traits of a Likable Hero.

1.  Flaws and Virtues 

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but characters without flaws are boring.  This does not, as many unfortunate souls take it to mean, imply that good, kind, or benevolent characters are boring:  it just means that without any weaknesses for you to poke at, they tend to be bland-faced wish fulfillment on the part of the author, with a tendency to just sit there without contributing much to the plot.

For any character to be successful, they need to have a proportionate amount of flaws and virtues.

Let’s take a look at Stranger Things, for example, which is practically a smorgasbord of flawed, lovable sweethearts.

We have Joyce Byers, who is strung out and unstable, yet tirelessly works to save her son, even when all conventional logic says he’s dead;  We have Officer Hopper, who is drunken and occasionally callous, yet ultimately is responsible for saving the boy’s life;  We have Jonathan, who is introspective and loving, but occasionally a bit of a creeper, and Nancy, who is outwardly shallow but proves herself to be a strong and determined character.  Even Steve, who would conventionally be the popular jerk who gets his comeuppance, isn’t beyond redemption.

And of course, we have my beloved Eleven, who’s possibly the closest thing Stranger Things has to a “quintessential” heroine.  She’s the show’s most powerful character, as well as one of the most courageous.  However, she is also the show’s largest source of conflict, as it was her powers that released the Demogorgon to begin with.  

Would Eleven be a better character if this had never happened?  Would Stranger Things be a better show?  No, because if this had never happened, Stranger Things wouldn’t even be a show.  Or if it was, it would just be about a bunch of cute kids sitting around and playing Dungeons and Dragons in a relatively peaceful town.

A character’s flaws and mistakes are intended to drive the plotline, and if they didn’t have them, there probably wouldn’t even be a plot.

So don’t be a mouth-breather:  give your good, kind characters some difficult qualities, and give your villains a few sympathetic ones.  Your work will thank you for it.

2.  Charisma and Vulnerability

Supernatural has its flaws, but likable leads are not one of them.  Fans will go to the grave defending their favorite character, consuming and producing more character-driven, fan-created content than most other TV shows’ followings put together.

So how do we inspire this kind of devotion with our own characters?  Well, for starters, let’s take a look at one of Supernatural’s most quintessentially well-liked characters:  Dean Winchester.

From the get-go, we see that Dean has charisma:  he’s confident, cocky, attractive, and skilled at what he does.  But these qualities could just as easily make him annoying and obnoxious if they weren’t counterbalanced with an equal dose of emotional vulnerability. 

As the show progresses, we see that Dean cares deeply about the people around him, particularly his younger brother, to the point of sacrificing himself so that he can live.  He goes through long periods of physical and psychological anguish for his benefit (though by all means, don’t feel obligated to send your main character to Hell for forty years), and the aftermath is depicted in painful detail.

Moreover, in spite of his outward bravado, we learn he doesn’t particularly like himself, doesn’t consider himself worthy of happiness or a fulfilling life, and of course, we have the Single Man Tear™.

So yeah, make your characters beautiful, cocky, sex gods.  Give them swagger.  Just, y’know.  Hurt them in equal measure.  Torture them.  Give them insecurities.  Make them cry.  

Just whatever you do, let them be openly bisexual.  Subtext is so last season.

3.  Goals For the Future and Regrets From the Past

Let’s take a look at Shadow Moon from American Gods.  (For now, I’ll have to be relegate myself to examples from the book, because I haven’t had the chance to watch the amazing looking TV show.) 

Right off the bat, we learn that Shadow has done three years in prison for a crime he may or may not have actually committed.  (We learn later that he actually did commit the crime, but that it was only in response to being wronged by the true perpetrators.)  

He’s still suffering the consequences of his actions when we meet him, and arguably, for the most of the book:  because he’s in prison, his wife has an affair (I still maintain that Laura could have resisted the temptation to be adulterous if she felt like it, but that’s not the issue here) and is killed while mid-coital with his best friend.

Shadow is haunted by this for the rest of the book, to the point at which it bothers him more than the supernatural happenings surrounding him.  

Even before that, the more we learn about Shadow’s past, the more we learn about the challenges he faced:  he was bullied as a child, considered to be “just a big, dumb guy” as an adult, and is still wrongfully pursued for crimes he was only circumstantially involved in.

But these difficulties make the reader empathize with Shadow, and care about what happens to him.  We root for Shadow as he tags along with the mysterious and alternatively peckish and charismatic Wednesday, and as he continuously pursues a means to permanently bring Laura back to life.

He has past traumas, present challenges, and at least one goal that propels him towards the future.  It also helps that he’s three-dimensional, well-written, and as of now, portrayed by an incredibly attractive actor.

Of course (SPOILER ALERT), Shadow never does succeed in fully resurrecting Laura, ultimately allowing her to rest instead, but that doesn’t make the resolution any less satisfying.  

Which leads to my next example…       

4.  Failure and Success 

You remember in Zootopia, when Judy Hopps decides she wants to be cop and her family and town immediately and unanimously endorse her efforts?  Or hey, do you remember Harry Potter’s idyllic childhood with his kindhearted, adoptive family?  Oh!  Or in the X-Files, when Agent Mulder presents overwhelming evidence of extraterrestrial life in the first episode and is immediately given a promotion?  No?

Yeah, me neither.  And there’s a reason for this:  ff your hero gets what they want the entire time, it will be a boring, two-dimensional fantasy that no one will want to read.  

A good story is not about the character getting what they want.  A good story is about the character’s efforts and their journey.  The destination they reach could be something far removed from what they originally thought they wanted, and could be no less (if not more so) satisfying because of it.

Let’s look at Toy Story 3, for example:  throughout the entire movie, Woody’s goal is to get his friends back to their longtime owner, Andy, so that they can accompany him to college.  He fails miserably.  None of his friends believe that Andy was trying to put them in the attic, insisting that his intent was to throw them away.  He is briefly separated from them as he is usurped by a cute little girl and his friends are left at a tyrannical daycare center, but with time and effort, they’re reunited, Woody is proven right, and things seem to be back on track.

Do his efforts pay off?  Yes – just not in the way he expected them to.  At the end of the movie, a college-bound Andy gives the toys away to a new owner who will play with them more than he will, and they say goodbye.  Is the payoff bittersweet?  Undoubtedly.  It made me cry like a little bitch in front of my young siblings.  But it’s also undoubtedly satisfying.      

So let your characters struggle.  Let them fail.  And let them not always get what they want, so long as they get what they need.  

5.  Loving and Being Loved by Others

Take a look back at this list, and all the characters on it:  a gaggle of small town kids and flawed adults, demon-busting underwear models, an ex-con and his dead wife, and a bunch of sentient toys.  What do they have in common?  Aside from the fact that they’re all well-loved heroes of their own stories, not much.

But one common element they all share is they all have people they care about, and in turn, have people who care about them.  

This allows readers and viewers to empathize with them possibly more than any of the other qualities I’ve listed thus far, as none of it means anything without the simple demonstration of human connection.

Let’s take a look at everyone’s favorite caped crusader, for example:  Batman in the cartoons and the comics is an easy to love character, whereas in the most recent movies (excluding the splendid Lego Batman Movie), not so much. 

Why is this?  In all adaptions, he’s the same mentally unstable, traumatized genius in a bat suit.  In all adaptions, he demonstrates all the qualities I listed before this:  he has flaws and virtues, charisma and vulnerability, regrets from the past and goals for the future, and usually proportionate amounts of failure and success.  

What makes the animated and comic book version so much more attractive than his big screen counterpart is the fact that he does one thing right that all live action adaptions is that he has connections and emotional dependencies on other people.  

He’s unabashed in caring for Alfred, Batgirl, and all the Robins, and yes, he extends compassion and sympathy to the villains as well, helping Harley Quinn to ultimately escape a toxic and abusive relationship, consoling Baby Doll, and staying with a child psychic with godlike powers until she died.

Cartoon Batman is not afraid to care about others.  He has a support network of people who care about him, and that’s his greatest strength.  The DC CU’s ever darker, grittier, and more isolated borderline sociopath is failing because he lacks these things.  

 And it’s also one of the reasons that the Lego Batman Movie remains so awesome.

God willing, I will be publishing fresh writing tips every week, so be sure to follow my blog and stay tuned for future advice and observations! 

Epic Movie (Re)Watch #176 - Logan

Spoilers Below

Have I seen it before: Yes

Did I like it then: Yes.

Do I remember it: Yes.

Did I see it in theaters: Yes.

Was it a movie I saw since August 22nd, 2009: Yes. #477

Format: Blu-ray

0) This is Hugh Jackman’s final turn as the character he made iconic seventeen years ago. While there might still be a chance the character could come back (likely if it were for a Deadpool crossover or if he got to fight The Avengers) this is likely it. And embracing that allows this film to go to places no X-Men film before it could (as does its R-rating).

1) The opening scene with the carjackers establishes a lot for this film. First of all, we get a good look at just how fucking disheveled and miserable Logan is. It even shows in his imagery; the gray hairs, the tired face, all of it. It also establishes the film’s more grounded tone. This isn’t X-jets and time travel, this is war and violence. R rated and bloody violence, which is also established in the opening scene.

2) Marco Beltrami returns to compose this film after The Wolverine, and his score is quite strong. It is subtle, nuanced, moving, and embraces its Western still in a surprising and emotional way. I absolutely loved.

3) Logan IS a Western more than it is a superhero film. In a superhero film characters KNOW what they are. Superman is aware he gives people hope, Batman knows he is order in a world of chaos just as the audience does. Logan however? He’s not a symbol. He’s not a warrior. He doesn’t play into tropes. Life is a sad, abysmal, bloody mess where nothing makes sense and it’s all just HARD. A lot of the best Westerns are like this (notably Shane), so Logan is really setting itself apart from the superhero crowd by embracing this.

4) Boyd Holbrook as Donald Pierce.

Originally posted by prettieparker86

Holbrook makes the villainous Pierce wonderfully skeezy. He’s got this wonderful energy and charisma which makes the audience just love to hate him. Holbrook is an absolute delight in the part and helps elevate the film be being totally despicable.

5) Stephen Merchant as Caliban.

Originally posted by neondragonfly

I mentioned in my X-Men: Apocalypse recap that both that film and this one features an adaptation of the character Caliban from the comics. This was the result of just poor communication between the filmmaking teams meaning both characters ended up in both films. But they play notably different roles, with Caliban being more of a plot device in Apocalypse but an actual character with decisions and consequences in this film. I have a head canon that Apocalypse Caliban is Logan Caliban’s father. I don’t know if anything supports this but I like it.

Merchant is wonderful in the decidedly NON comedic part (considering the actor has considerable comedic talent which he has shown off in the past). He is quiet, understated, you see that there is a pain there always lurking underneath (or not so underneath) the surface. Wonderful at drumming up empathy and occasionally giving exposition without forcing it down our throat, Merchant is the hidden gem of this film and absolutely glorious.

6) The decline of Xavier’s health in this film allows Patrick Stewart to play the character notably different than before.

Originally posted by hughxjackman

For one thing, it is really interesting to hear Xavier dropping, “fucks,” left and right. But more than that the hope which has so defined the character for seventeen years is now largely gone. Not totally though, it’s still there. But it’s mixed in with pain and heartache, anger and confusion, bitter disappointment and self doubts. It is an absolutely heartbreaking and conflict filled role which allows Stewart to really shine in what is also HIS final turn as the beloved Professor X.

7) This line is very telling not only of Charles’ state in the film but also Logan’s conflict.

Xavier: “I always know who you are its just sometimes I don’t recognize you.”

8) When I first saw the film I thought this was just a nice wink to the first X-Men film.

Logan [after Charles says someone is waiting for him at the statue of liberty]: “Statue of liberty was a long time ago, Charles.”

Only with this viewing did I realize the motel where Logan meets Laura and Gabriella is the Liberty Motel with a statue of liberty logo.

9) This is part of the whole “the characters don’t know what they’re supposed to represent” trope in Westerns, but Xavier is kind of a dick in this film.

Xavier: “What a disappointment you are.”

Like, I get that you’ve had a hard life too Charles. But Logan is around 150 years old (I think). He’s been through the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, lost his memories, got them back at some point, and of course went through the events of every single X-Men film that happened before (including losing everyone in Days of Future Past then getting them back then losing them again before this film).

10) I thought it was a smart decision to only HINT at what happened with the X-Men instead of actually showing it.

Xavier: “Logan, what did you do? What did you do!?”

I’ll talk more about this in a little bit though.

11) Gabriella going to Logan for help feels like a Western trope. Like in The Magnificent Seven, the former outlaw/gunslinger trying to lead a quiet life is pulled back into it by someone who NEEDS them. In this case Logan is the gunslinger.

12) Dafne Keen as Laura.

Originally posted by sonjackcarl

Holy shit. Holy fucking shit. This girl. This fucking girl. This fucking girl is so fucking incredible. It is wildly difficult for me to wrap my head around how fucking amazing Dafne Keen is as Laura. I mean, her first sign of unique character and strength is when she fucking knocks out Pierce by throwing a damn pipe at his head! A mostly silent part for the first half (two-thirds?) of the film, Keen is able to embrace the physicality of her role BEAUTIFULLY. The way she moves, the look in her fucking eyes. She’s SO intense and that’s amazing. Everything about her. The fact that an eleven year old girl could be so damn intimidating speaks massively to her performance in this film. Hugh Jackman has been playing this part for longer than she’s been ALIVE and she can hold her own with him in every one of his her fucking scenes! This girl is a tiny badass! You know you don’t want to mess with Laura because she will fuck you up! I mean holy shit, she walks up to a group of bad guys with a fucking decapitated head. SHE GETS A HARPOON SHOT THROUGH HER CHEST AND IT BARELY PHASES HER! That entire first fight scene with her, Logan, and Pierce’s crew at their makeshift home shows off her skills as an actress phenomenally! She is a raging force of nature you do NOT want to piss off! Dafne Keen is the breakout star in Hugh Jackman’s last time as Wolverine! That tells a lot!

13) Bad guys deluding themselves into thinking their good guys is very honest to reality, but honestly how can you hunt down and murder children like a fucking sack of shit and think you’re still the good guy?

Pierce [to Caliban]: “I’m gonna need you to do one more thing for the good guys.”

14) Fuck Transigen. This film really did a good job of making films who you are hoping get brutally massacred by Logan and Laura. THEY BIRTHED CHILDREN FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF STUDYING THEM AND SELLING THEM AS SOLDIERS!

Dr. Rice [Transigen head scientist]: “Do not think of them as children. Think of them as things with patents and copyrights.”

I cannot begin to express how absolutely fucking horrific and despicable that concept is. THIS IS A COMPANY WHO TRYS TO KILL CHILDREN BECAUSE, “They could not be controlled.” BECAUSE THYE DIDN’T SERVE A PURPOSE! BECAUSE THEY WERE ACTUALLY HUMAN CHILDREN TRANSIGEN TRIED TO FUCKING MURDER THEM!

I look forward to their deaths.

15) I dig this.

Xavier: “She’s your daughter Logan.”

In the comics X-23 is a female clone of Wolverine, pushing that forward into a father/daughter relationship I think is strong. You can feel their relationship in her performance. Even when Laura is giving Logan a death stare you can feel that they’re connected. I mean, he’s the only one who gets ANYWHERE by telling her what to do.

16) Shane is prominently featured in a scene during the first half of the film.

Xavier talking about an early memory of seeing Shane in the theaters (when he was a kid) was reportedly an improvised moment. According to IMDb, this is an actual memory Patrick Stewart has from his youth which he brought up for the film. Shane was a large influence on the film, and one of the most iconic moments from the film ties very significantly into the movie.

Shane: “A man has to be what he is, Joey. Can’t break the mold. I tried it and it didn’t work for me. Joey, there’s no living with…with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her…tell her everything’s all right. And there aren’t any more guns in the valley.”

17) Logan losing it at the X-Men comics he finds is very telling of how he views the past. The very first page he opens to is Wolverine saving Rogue, who is notably absent from this film and who Logan had the strongest relationship with in X-Men and X2. This is how he WISHES life was. A big adventure, where he got to save his friends and the world on a more regular basis. Instead he’s left with pain and heartache.

17.1) The X-Men comics had to be special made for this film, as Marvel wouldn’t allow the studio to use actual X-Men comics.

Originally posted by everythingstarstuff

18) Xavier’s Oklahoma City seizure.

Originally posted by moviesandotherdrugs

When I first saw this film in theaters, this was the moment I went, “Holy shit, this film is amazing.” The fact that they turn this scene where everyone is frozen into a pseudo-action scene is amazing. Logan taking the time to go around and kill the bad guys is not only intelligent and organic but amazing to the eye. According to IMDb:

Professor Xavier’s Psionic blast was done by shooting shaky footage and then re-stabilizing the frame in post. Resulting a footage containing strange motion blur with smearing effect, that is both organic and very unusual. The team shot the sequences slightly wider than was needed so that shots could be blown up to hide the edges of the stabilizing effect.

All of this makes the scene CRAZY strong and memorable, with Laura even participating by killing the one guy Logan missed.

19) What exactly happened to the X-Men.

News Reporter [reporting on the Oklahoma City incident; referring to a similar instance back in Westchester a year ago]: “…and took the lives of several mutants, including seven of the X-Men.”

In the comics, because of a psychic attack on Wolverine, he killed what he thought were super villains attacking X-Mansion which turned out to be his fellow teammates. In pre production there was the idea to film this as a prologue to the movie, while in the later dinner scene there was a deleted moment where Xavier went into detail about what happened at X-Mansion. I prefer this because it allows us as the audience to have hope that our favorite X-Men survived. (I may have even gotten the quote wrong; the reporter could have said, “seven mutants, including several of the X-Men.”)

20) Logan and the family dinner.

Originally posted by anothermoviepage

This was a concept first introduced in X-Men Origins: Wolverine; Logan finding a bit of peace and normalcy before his life goes crazy again. It is a nice moment of warmth in a story of heartache. What makes it all the worse? Logan, Xavier, and Laura. They WANT this. They are eager to have it.

Xavier [to Logan, about the family]: “You should take a moment and feel it.”

This is the goal. Xavier wants the Sunseeker boat with Logan, Laura wants her friends and family, but only one of the three gets this. Excuse me, I’m sad now.


Will Munson [after Logan takes care of some redneck thugs]: “You’ve had training.”

Logan: “Some.”

Originally posted by imabeast78

22) Well. This is heartbreaking.

Charles: “This was without a doubt the most perfect night I’ve had in a long time. But I don’t deserve it, do I?…I think I finally understand you. Logan?”

Except he’s pouring his heart out to NOT Logan, but a Wolverine clone who murders him!

23) Fucking Logan clones.

(GIF originally posted by @notias1)

The dual Hugh Jackman-s in this scene are amazing, especially the seamless transition between X-24 walking down the stairs and Logan looking after him. The fight is strong as well, but nothing compared with what’s to come.

24) I love that these are Caliban’s final words, in reference to what Pierce told him earlier. It’s surprisingly badass.

Caliban [before setting off some grenades]: “Beware the light.”

25) Can I be totally honest with you guys? Hugh Jackman deserves a fucking Oscar nomination for this film. Like, 100%. Maybe there’ll be enough better performances towards the end of the year, but it at least deserves to be TALKED about. Just look at the scene where he’s standing over Xavier’s grave. He barely says a fucking word but still there is so much incredible raw emotion in his performance. There is heartache, there is anger, and it is all just SO amazing. But of course it’s the Oscars. He won’t even be a part of the conversation because it’s a comic book movie that came out in March.

26) Having a mute character speak COULD take away from what makes them interesting, but because of Dafne Keen’s performance Laura she is even MORE compelling.

Logan: “I don’t know how you got me here [to the hospital] but thank you.”

Laura: “De nada.”

The passion, honesty, ferocity, and focus which made her physical performance so compelling in the first half of the film all carries through beautifully into her voice and it just works so seamlessly. I fucking love it.

27) I’m not crying, promise.

Laura: “You’re dying. You want to die. Charles told me.”

Logan: “What else did he tell you?”

Laura: “To not let you.”

This was the exchange that made me think Logan was going to survive the film. Boy, was I wrong.

28) Okay, um…

Logan [when Laura shows him his adamantium bullet]: “Actually, I uh…was thinking of shooting myself with it.”

In X-Men Origins: Wolverine Logan got shot point blank in the skull with an adamanitum bullet and survived, he just lost his memories. You could say he wouldn’t survive in this film because of his healing being weaker, BUT that’s how they kill the Wolverine clone X-24 by shooting him in the head with it. BUT IT DIDN’T WORK IN X-Men Origins!

Originally posted by arthandlin

29) Laura is vicious!

Logan [when Laura is being distant from him]: “I even gave back the money!”

Laura [coldly]: “Such a nice man.”

(GIF originally posted by @rocktheholygrail)

30) I’m not crying. I promise. Not yet.

Logan: “Bad shit happens to people I care about. Understand me?”

Laura: “Then I’ll be fine.”

(GIF source unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)

31) Wolverine fighting in the woods to save the kids from being murdered by Pierce and Rice is probably the worthiest cause Logan has ever fought for, and the way he is choreographed as fighting alongside Laura shows their relationship is as strong as ever. They work with/off of each other, making each other stronger and helping the other survive. Because they’re family.

32) The fact that Wolverine’s final battle is against himself (or, a clone of himself) is probably deeply poetic but I’m too fascinated by what’s going on screen to analyze it. Again, he and Laura are fighting side by side here. Hell, it’s Laura he’s fighting for! And it’s Logan Laura is fighting to save. She’s the one who shoots X-24 in the head to kill him in an attempt to save Logan. But…oh boy…I don’t know if I can write this…

33) Pierce’s death is horrible and gratuitous and SO fucking cathartic considering he spent the entire film DESPERATELY TRYING TO MURDER CHILDREN! (Warning, below video features graphic content from an R-rated film. Viewer discretion is advised.

34) Logan’s death.

For one thing (holy shit I’m tearing up as a write this, what the fuck?), the prophecy Yukio made in The Wolverine comes to pass.

(Screenshot taken from a GIF set originally posted by @highsmith)

Except it’s not literally his heart, like in The Wolverine. It’s Laura. Laura is his heart. And, um…wow this is fucking hard. Okay look: I didn’t cry when I saw this in theaters. Everyone else did, but I kinda saw it coming. But a lot has happened between now and then so it hits closer to home. Anyone who has lost a parent or a loved one will be moved as Logan’s daughter watches him while he dies.

Logan: “Don’t be what they made you. Laura…”

Originally posted by darkblo0d08

Logan: “Ah, so this is what it feels like.”

This is the only time Laura refers to Logan as her father and also the only time Logan doesn’t deny it. Showing that they’ve accepted their relationship, but then he dies. Holding his daughter’s hand in his own. Because she’s his heart. Okay now I’m tearing up.

You know what makes the scene even harder? The little fucking funeral all the kids have for their savior. For the Wolverine. For Logan. And the fact Laura uses the same quote from Shane harkens back not only to a brief moment of just being a kid with Xavier and her dad in the other room, but also just what kind of impact those words have in a new light.

Laura [quoting Shane]: “A man has to be what he is, Joey. Can’t break the mold. There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her everything’s all right. And there are no more guns in the valley.”

And then, in what is probably the most fitting final image of this 17 year old character, Laura turns the cross into an X.

Logan is a masterpiece. Working in a different style and going against established superhero and X-Men tropes makes this a worthy finale to Hugh Jackman’s tenure as the character. He is as strong as ever, Patrick Stewart is as strong as ever, and newcomer Dafne Keen fucking hits it out of the park. It’s heartbreaking and brutal and amazing because of these things. It’s fantastic and I think everyone should see it. Just…wow.

Are KO and TKO really the same person?

Is TKO a part of KO’s subconscious/a manifestation of his anger through anime rules/etc., or is he a separate entity in a Naruto/Ninetails type situation? We don’t have a lot of solid information yet, but what the characters say about him offers clues.

First up: Shadowy Figure

He clearly knows the most about TKO/the ominous purple goop. Here’s what he had to say to KO about it in his debut episode:

“I see something in you that no one else sees… the great power that already courses through your veins. Locked up tight within you is more strength than all of your little friends combined.”

“The secret to unlocking your true power is your anger.”

“[The goop] is your anger, the key to your power.”

“Everyone holds you back because they’re afraid of your raw, natural ability. They want you… blissfully unaware of your true potential.”

“Make [your anger] stronger! Strong enough to unleash your true power!”

“It’s time for your friends to see how powerful you’ve always been.”

In all but the first quote, Shadowy Figure uses terms like “your power” and “your potential” to make it seem like the goop is naturally a part of KO, like Rad having telekinesis or Potato being an anthropomorphic rabbit. SF is obviously manipulating KO with his “mentor” angle, but he could also be manipulating him by choosing his words carefully to influence KO’s perception of the goop. He’s way more transparent in “Let’s Have a Stakeout!”, where he’s dropped the mentor act and is straight-up hostile towards KO, which is reflected in both the beatdown and his wording.

“I could have never gotten through that pesky door without that… power of yours.” At face value, SF is referring to KO’s power fist, which he pulled off without any apparent help from the goop, but let’s be real here. That specific phrasing would definitely remind KO of his Plaza-destroying tantrum. Not to mention that claiming it’s KO’s fault he got in there is a blatant lie. A distraught six-to-eleven-year-old child might not be able to see through it, but we the viewers can. SF is saying he couldn’t open the door himself, but was able to easily trounce the kid who could? Bull. It’s absurdly easy to get weapons in this universe, SF could have dug around in the junkyard at the back of the Bodega for five minutes and found some leftover Boxmore part with a laser or saw or something to open the door. He’s just saying it’s KO’s fault to get him to bust out TKO again.

“You can’t even begin to comprehend the incredible power that lies within.” It sounds like SF is talking about the glorbs here, but his actions say otherwise. He didn’t make much of an effort to collect them, and wasn’t upset when he had to leave them behind. He even said “my work here is done” while falling into that pit, meaning the glorb objective was simply a cover for what he’s really after- the “incredible power” that is the purple goop. To make matters worse, both KO and Mr. Gar bought the fake glorb motive, which will throw them off when they try to stop SF.

“You’re pathetic and your only saving grace is the delicious dormant power that courses through your veins.” The creepiness of this line (“Delicious”? Seriously?) and his angry tone make it stand out from the “ohohoho I’m a cool suave mastermind who has everything going according to keikaku” attitude he had previously. This contrast suggests the line is significant, especially since it’s the second time SF hasn’t referred to the power as inherent to KO.

After our near miss with TKO, SF is ticked that he can’t access the power (as opposed to him not caring when he loses the glorbs) and says “That won’t do at all. We can’t have you ruining all of my hard work.” Stalking a child for a bit, giving a little speech about anger, climbing onto a roof, being a dweeb on camera for a few nights, traipsing through the sewers, and beating up a child doesn’t really add up to “hard work”. This suggests SF has put more effort into getting his hands on this power than we’ve seen onscreen so far. How does he know about this power? Was he involved in its creation or discovery? Did he seal this power inside KO? If so, why would he do that? If not, then who or what did? Since the “mentor” option is out the window, how does he plan on getting, controlling, and using it? As of right now, we don’t have an answer that’s more specific than “evil stuff” and it’s driving me crazy.

SF’s apparent insider knowledge gives us most of our information, but looking at what other characters don’t know about the situation can also help us.

Carol, KO’s own mother, didn’t seem to recognize Shadowy Figure from his card, or find TKO’s power set familiar. Most people can’t convincingly lie or conceal info under stress. While such a skill could be useful in her former superhero job, it begs the question: why would she conceal this information? At this point, KO being in the dark about this power is a danger to both himself and others, so either Carol has an extremely good reason for keeping it under wraps, or she’s just as clueless as everyone else. This possibility makes the whole situation even more scary for KO- his warm, loving, powerful mother can theoretically protect him from creeps in capes, but can’t protect him (or anyone else) from himself.

KO seems to have the most experience with TKO/the goop after SF since he’s probably been Traumatized by all of this, but his “knowledge” is all impressions and guesswork rather than the facts SF presumably has. In “Face Your Fears”, his reasoning that you need a powerful villain to defeat a powerful hero is what makes him summon our first look at the goop. We don’t see KO’s previous playthroughs of the fear game (though a flashback of something other than that darn sandwich would be nice), but it’s clear he views it as evil. His statement that “It came from inside [him]” as opposed to something like “It’s my shadow self” suggests that, KO-shaped as it was, he still saw it as a separate thing.

After he cools down in “TKO”, KO describes the titular character as a “kid who looked just like [him].” Once again, he considers TKO/the goop a separate entity, though this could just be a way of emotionally distancing himself from the destruction he caused.

In “Let’s Have a Stakeout!” KO states Shadowy Figure “tricked [him] into unleashing TKO and making [him] so mad that [he] wrecked the Plaza". It still sounds like he considers TKO separate, but he also holds himself responsible for the Plaza’s destruction. That’s good if TKO is a part of him since it reduces the chance of blowups in the future, but if they’re separate then he’d be blaming himself for someone else’s actions.

TKO calls KO a “faker” during their fight, so even he seems to consider them as separate entities.

Finally, (and maybe I’m just a sap here) TKO’s “any last words?” to Carol make me want to think he’s a separate entity because we’ve seen KO have nothing but positive interactions with his mom. Even in Evil Tantrum Mode™ I don’t think he’d attempt to murder her.

Let’s set theories aside for a moment and assume that TKO is a separate entity from KO like Naruto/Ninetails. If that’s the case, how would he benefit from pretending to be KO to the point of resembling him in the mindscape? Having KO as his host is a good strategy. If KO thinks TKO is a part of him, then trying to get rid of him is futile. But if KO thinks of TKO as separate from him, then he can theoretically be removed or destroyed. TKO’s assertion that KO needs him cements this. For one reason or another, he does not want to be separated from KO. If TKO can get everyone to think he and KO are one and the same, then the only way to kill him would be to kill KO too, and anyone who tries that is going to get their ass kicked by everyone in the Plaza.

Shadowy Figure’s wording suggests he also believes they are separate, while wanting everyone else to think otherwise. It’s highly doubtful he’s got altruistic leanings, so the “hard work” he’s put into the situation must benefit him somehow. As it stands, he got KO (and the goop) alone with him twice, one of those times being after KO recognized him as a serious threat. He might even know where KO lives at this point. Right now he theoretically has easy access to the goop. If it’s destroyed then his plans for it go kaput, if it’s removed it’s going somewhere more difficult to access, which makes getting it harder for him. Trying to get KO to keep the goop inside of him makes his job much easier.

Heck, let’s go for the amnesia plot and say even TKO thinks he’s KO. If he thinks he’s KO then he’s not about to leave KO’s body to take on a hypothetical “true form”, because he thinks it’s his body. It’s a lot harder to take over the world when you think you’re a six-to-eleven-year-old boy instead of, say, some ancient malevolent power that once trashed Konoha village. What’s an edgy anime rival without an identity crisis?

TLDR: KO might be straight-up posessed.

I welcome any additions/corrections/questions/etc!

A Celebration of the Supporting Women from the Legend of Korra

As a follow up to my “I love Korra” post from a few days ago, I thought I’d write a post celebrating the other women from the show.

Asami Sato: does she deserve more screentime and lines? Yes. Is she still a great character with a subversive storyline? Hell yes. She’s set up to be a classic femme fatale, creating love triangles, being cool and collected, with a character design that screams “This girl will be a Villain”. She flouts these stereotypes as she defies her father, and joins Team Avatar, fighting the good fight across the world. Her too-cool exterior is peeled back as she struggles to save her company, all that’s left of her family, and falls back into an ill-advised second relationship with Mako. But being Asami, she bounces back from this, learning from her mistakes and making future industries a pioneering company. And really, she was never too cool: she was always an adorable nerd. She geeks out over probending, criticises the shoddy workmanship of cabbage corp, makes mock villain threats to destroy Bolin at Pai Sho, and is a thrilled enginerd as she shows off her hummingbird designs. Not that she isn’t super cool too: she tases the crap out of low level bad guys (frankly, fighting the equalists with more success than the benders), is capable of driving and flying anything, designs the roads for the reconstructed Republic City, and designs the machines that play a crucial role in taking down Kuvira’s mech suit. Oh, and she’s devoted to the most powerful woman in the world, who just so happens to love her back.

Lin Beifong: that lady is my hero. Seriously, she puts up with so much crap. She has a difficult relationship with an ex who (probably unintentionally) hurt her badly, but is willing to put aside those differences and sacrifice herself protecting said ex’s kids. She puts up so many barriers after the disappointments of her past. She’s a tough police cop, and is devoted to her job, but cares more for the people she loves than she’d dare say. And while she goes through a classic, “thaw the ice maiden” plot, that plot doesn’t come from finding love with a man, but from breaking down the barriers she puts up, and reconciling with her sister and mother. Lin Beifong rocks.

What about a female villain? Let’s talk about P’li. She’s an anarchist who has a relationship with Zaheer that resembles two teenagers who are madly in love, and it’s kind of cute – plus, she’s way taller than him! I dig those unconventional height differences.

Let me tell you about Jinora. She’s a bit awesome. Why? She’s only a record breaking airbending master and spiritual leader of a new nation by the age of eleven. She fights for those tattoos and earns them. She’s an adorable bookworm. She’s impatient with her younger siblings (I feel you there, Jinora). She helps Korra save the day in two season finales. She has the cutest relationship with Kai. It’s pretty much impossible to not love her.

Opal Beifong is, at first glance, a shy bookworm, but this shyness hides the sheer force of will she contains. She is devoted to her family, a devotion she has to balance out with her calling as a member of the new air nation. She loves Bolin, but holds him fiercely accountable for his mistakes, something that helps ground him, and makes sure her needs from their relationship are always met. Oh, and she plays a key role in stopping her aunt and mother from pushing their unhealthy sibling rivalry? Opal is absolutely fabulous.

Ming Hua scares the hell out of me, as a good villain should. But my word is her water bending cool. She makes herself water arms. She uses them as pickaxes rather than take the lift. Frankly, if I had powers as cool as hers, I’d flaunt them as much as possible.

I suspect at least some of the things Zhu Li said while pretending to betray Varrick were true. And good for her: her fighting to gain equal status in her relationship with Varrick and finally getting the respect she’s owed makes for one of the most quietly wonderful moments in the show.

Kya, is the coolest aunt the airbabies could possibly have. She has Katara’s ferocious waterbending skill and healing talent, and Aang’s nomadic spirit. She’s also the most realistic of her siblings, understanding Aang’s parental flaws with a maturity Tenzin and Bumi never quite manage. I bet she knew about Korra and Asami before anyone else.

Su Yin is such a morally ambiguous, awesome woman with utterly compelling characterisation. She did so much for Kuvira that it’s hardly fair to say she should have done more, but it seems clear that Kuvira felt like Su gave her a cold shoulder, and felt unloved by her. She’s against a monarchy, but this attitude holds her back from taking the responsibility of changing the Earth Kingdom when it’s in chaos, a decision that is neither condemned or exonerated by the text. While she’s trying to reconcile with Lin when we meet her, let’s be honest: she burned her sister badly. The disparity between her reconciliation with Bataar and her dismissal of Kuvira when both committed most of the same crimes is understandable but fascinatingly hypocritical. However, she’s clearly a loving mother with her heart in the right place, working hard to make up for the mistakes of her youth, and is the Matriarch of one of the most forward thinking, technologically advanced cities in the world. She’s awesome, complex, flawed, and I love her.

Ikki quite clearly suffers from middle child syndrome. She’s adorably hyperactive and attention seeking, quite probably because she often feels ignored in favour of Jinora with her growing powers and coming of age and Meelo with his sheer insanity. Yet she spends her time being quietly awesome, getting guards to warm to her so that she can gain crucial information to help find Korra, reconciling with her own siblings to help Tenzin do the same, and welcoming baby Rohan to the “super awesome family” she clearly loves, in spite of its messiness.

Kuvira seems to be the problematic fave of many fans. This is understandable: look at the cocky little dance she does while fighting Korra at Zaofu. Listen to her tragic backstory. See her good beginnings as she saves Tonraq’s life and dances in Su Yin’s troupe. Her relationship with Bataar Jr. is rather sweet. Her intentions are clearly good, and obviously stem from a desire to gain the control she lost as an unloved child. You could almost forget she ruthlessly killed people and started concentration camps. But she did: she is a ruthlessly efficient Dictator, whose desire for power and control ran out of control. She is a wonderfully complex villain.

I’d like to finish by celebrating one of the least discussed women on the show: Pema. She’s usually kept well out of the way of the main plot, as she isn’t a badass fighter, or a world leader, but she’s still hardcore. She uses her experiences to point out how hard adjusting to air nomad lifestyle is for the new airbenders to Tenzin. She is the loving mother of four airbending kids. She keeps a terrified crowd in order with an adorable song about a hungry lemur. Like I said, hardcore.

These women are all, in their own ways, wonderful characters, and it’s entirely possible to say that while still loving Korra, and acknowledging her importance as the protagonist of the series. In fact, I’d say it’s crucial to appreciate Legend of Korra, not just for its ground-breaking, convention smashing protagonist, but for the diverse range of complex women surrounding her. These women should not be held in competition with one another: they deserve so much better than that.