Leverage showrunner John Rogers was pretty open about the fact that the show’s scriptwriters utilized plenty of tropes in their stories. In his blog, he often wrote, “You say trope, I say well-honed narrative tool.” However much they used those tools in the writer room, Leverage somehow managed to escape being a showcase of stereotypes, and no example is more obvious or satisfying than the character of Alec Hardison, the team’s expert hacker with a plethora of other talents, one of which is avoiding becoming a walking, talking cliché.
Can I just say how very much I enjoy the fact that the black male member of the cast is the least physically aggressive man on the crew? Dear god, Hardison, you know I love you, but you are the most hilariously unconvincing hoodlum I have ever seen, and it is glorious. I loved this exchange, right after a confrontation with a street gang in The Miracle Job:
HARDISON: How about that, man? Did you see me?
ELIOT: He was injured.
HARDISON: Well, somebody gotta fight the injured. Shoot, that’s my niche!
Hardison can do any number of incredible things: he can disarm a bomb on a plane while he’s miles away on the ground, he can forge an antique artifact in less than a week, he can even manipulate a mark’s perception of reality to a truly astonishing degree. And he’ll try really, really hard to be intimidating when the job needs it, but more often than not he’ll end up shooting a car engine while aiming for the enemy, or needing a rescue after his tough guy act gets him kidnapped. And that’s more than okay. I’m happy that Hardison escapes the racist stereotype of black guys as hardened gangsters, that he tells Nate when he has to pretend to rob a grocery store that he has “no frame of reference” for that kind of violence. It’s great that Hardison portrays a different kind of masculinity than Eliot’s, that he’s allowed to express fear and panic without being declared a coward or somehow less than a man. Who the hell cares how hard this hacker genius can throw a punch? He certainly doesn’t need that skill set to overthrow a president.
Another stereotype that Hardison definitively rejects is the image of the shy, socially awkward nerd. Hardison is charming, witty, and self-assured–he can smooth talk his way in and out of most situations as long as he doesn’t get overly cocky, which is the opposite problem of being shy. Also, next to Sophie, he’s the most stylish member of the group, with his scarves, vests, and bowties–and dear god, the man looks stunning in a suit. And for all of these, he is proudly and unapologetically a geek, with passionate opinions about Star Wars and a healthy obsession with fantasy RPGs. Also, his artistic, creative gifts are shown to be as much a part of his genius as his more “masculine” engineering skills. He paints, he sculpts, he plays the violin, he mixes his own music–he’s a goddamn Renaissance man, and nobody ever questions it.
One more facet of this character that doesn’t play according to formula is Hardison’s history as a kid in the foster system. While Parker shows how very, very badly this situation can go wrong, Hardison’s story proves that not all foster kids end up traumatized. He was raised by a foster mom who cared, his Nana, who instilled in Hardison not only his convictions but the healthy self-image of a child who grew up knowing he was loved. Of everyone in the group, Hardison seems the most emotionally secure, the one who sleeps peacefully through the night. He has his own inescapable issues, sure, but his life as a foster kid is no cause for pity. He had Nana. He was loved.
Basically, Alec Hardison is a foster kid, a geek, and a black man, and he owns the hell out of these identities while rejecting the tired clichés associated with them. What’s more, he does it all with a sexy, confident flair, and we can’t help but fall in love with him for it. After all, it’s the age of the geek, baby. Age of the geek.
(bethanyactually, do I get tea and cookies now?)