Recently Kati wrote a post about how much she despises the character Xander from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” When I told her I was going to write a post defending him, I was treated to a ten minute rant about how evil he is. Really. I timed it. So I decided to do something a little different – instead of trying to defend Xander, I decided I’d just look at what makes a character despicable versus redeemable.
What seems to bother Kati most about Xander isn’t that he’s done some bad things, it’s that he’s never called out on them. If he admitted he was wrong, or felt guilt about his actions, or was even blamed by his friends, would that make his error in judgement more forgivable? I think so.
For example, the character Theon Greyjoy from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, does some truly evil, awful things. Seriously, I couldn’t stand his character in the second book at all, but then he’s put through the most horrifying torture, and suddenly I found myself hoping he’d escape, hoping he’d redeem himself. In other words, I forgave him. I forgave him for attacking Winterfell and killing innocent children and betraying Robb. And those are very serious crimes, more serious than anything Xander did. But he’s forgivable because he has suffered for his actions.
Another George R.R. Martin character who I initially despised was Jaime Lannister, and now he’s one of my favorite characters in the whole series. When did I start to like him? Probably right around the time he lost his sword hand, which was his whole identity. In other words, as soon as he started to suffer, and also to show regret for some of his earlier actions.
Veering away from this series, a while back I got hooked on a Korean drama where the main love interest is terrible. He’s bullying another kid in their school so badly that that kid tries to kill himself just to escape it. It seems like it should be unforgivable but…I found myself rooting for him just a few episodes later. Because we’re shown why he is the way he is, and we start to pity him, to feel bad for his plight, and to hope he can become better and get out of that situation.
So. It seems like when creating a character, you can have them do pretty much anything and still be forgiven by the readers or viewers, as long as that character pays the price. They need to suffer and suffer a lot as they sink lower than they’ve ever sunk, yet have sparks of something in them, guilt, or remorse, or a desire to change. Something that hints that they can be better than they are, and then, I think, most people will root for them.
What do you think? Can any action in a character be forgiven as long as that character reaps the consequences? Or are there some actions that are just too horrible to ever be redeemable?