I kept seeing the bus ads for Chicago PD and the tagline – Don’t **** With My City – gave me a pretty good indication of the character shown on the bus: Sergeant Hank Voight. Out of curiosity, I watched the premiere and was hooked. Not on the show, but on Sgt. Voight who is most definitely my new antihero of choice. He’s abrasive, tough, and downright vicious in places but it’s his motivation that makes him the most vibrant of all the cast; he’s all about protecting a) those he loves, and b) his city. He’s basically Jack Bauer (from the show 24, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade ;o)) on a smaller scale and without the angst.
And to me, that’s what makes the difference between a hero who does bad things and an anti-hero. You’ve got two characters – Jack and Hank – and each are a man’s man who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. They will fight, torture, blackmail, deceive and use whatever tool is at their disposal to save people. There’s only one real difference between them, but it’s a biggie: Jack feels bad about it. He’s emotionally tortured and regrets probably 80% of what he’s done in his life. From what little I’ve seen on Chicago PD (and keep in mind I haven’t seen Chicago Fire, either, from which I gather this was spun off), Hank doesn’t regret a damn thing and would do it all again without batting an eye. It’s who he is and he accepts that about himself. Poor Jack would probably feel a lot better about himself if he could manage that, but then he wouldn’t be the Jack Bauer we know and love. And he wouldn’t be a hero if he did.
Ah, anti-heroes… the men and women we really shouldn’t admire and yet do. They’re the ones who cut through the bullshit and will beat a criminal to get information and then turn around and save a kid who’s future is probably ganglife and then jail or death without his/her intervention. If Hank Voight existed in real life, we would all be publicly horrified and secretly relieved that someone like that was watching out for public safety… not that we’d want to get arrested by him because that would probably involve a hospital stay or worse.
And that, of course, brings up another question… what’s the difference between anti-hero and villain? What’s the very fine line between an evil character and one that’s morally gray? It’s hard to say, which reminds me of the Supreme Court’s decision about porn: I’ll know it when I see it. Mostly, of course, it goes to motivation. If your character’s motivation is greed or power and he tortures or kills to get it, then he’s a villain. If your character’s motivation is to save his daughter (Liam Neeson in Taken), then he’s an antihero you’re going to root for until the end, even though we all know his shady past as a spook. But then, what do you call someone whose goal is gaining power in order to protect others? Or someone who lost their way and is evil now, but could become “good” again (Rumple and Evil Queen respectively from Once Upon a Time). Are they a villain waiting to fall back into old, evil ways, or were they an antihero all along, waiting for the right circumstances to do good?
This is why I love writing gray characters. It fulfills a need in me for both violence and justice. Giving someone a murky past and watching them squirm as they try to maintain the evil façade while doing good works in the shadows. Or taking someone with a ‘normal’ history and twisting them into someone who will do anything to keep their family safe. I like watching gray characters on tv and in movies, too. Evil is often portrayed in black and white without any redeeming factor(s). And sure, some characters are just evil and it doesn’t matter what road they took to get there, because they’re not going back. But when a character coldly shoots someone in the head (or more than one person) to protect someone they love, or their city, or the world, then they aren’t evil just… not quite normal.
And thank god for that because the entertainment world would be way too boring if it was populated with simple, good and evil characters.