Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Hook vs. The Spike

From "The Killian Jones" on Twitter

Let's talk about men in black. Specifically pokey-named 200-year-old men with a penchant for long black leather coats and blonde women with super powers. The comparisons are so strong that it's impossible not to measure the men against each other... and it's not favorable.

I've had issues with the writing of Killian Jones/Hook on "Once Upon a Time" for quite awhile, but it wasn't until rewatching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" that I was able to solidify exactly what bothered me.

(Please note, unless you've watched all of Buffy and through OUAT 4.6, you may find spoilers below)

Spike is perhaps one of the best representations of "bad guy turned good" in television - at least in supernatural television. There are a lot of reasons for this, but first and foremost is the strength and consistency of his character, both in acting and writing. We loved Spike because he was funny, not because he was romantic (although his soft spot for Drusilla showed early on that he was not an ordinary vampire). He was the bad we loved to watch being bad - because he was so hilarious while doing it without once becoming a pathetic comedic character. He was strong, no matter how many times his big bad plans got messed up.

Secondly, he didn't turn good overnight, or even over two seasons. It was a really long process, starting with the insertion of a chip in his skull that prevented him from killing humans. He was forced to ally himself with the Scroobies for protection, blood and fighting kicks, and over time slowly began to care about their well-being. This ramped up with the advent of Dawn in Season 5, with whom he soon struck up a big brother/little sister dynamic. Dawn never saw him as a big bad, and we stopped seeing him that way too... and eventually, Buffy began to be won over as well. But it was a really long road that never quite resolved happily. Spike failed in his quest for goodness on his own merits, so he went off to find a soul and nearly destroyed himself in the attempt. (Well, actually he did, but then he got resurrected for Angel and the comic books. Yay!)

All of this was written slowly, naturally and consistently. We bought it because Spike remained true to character in every episode, on every step of his transformation. Part of this was the genius of Joss Whedon and his writing crew, part of this was the excellent casting of James Marsters in the role.

Spike sets the bar. His character archetype is exactly what OUAT wanted Hook to be. The problem is, they didn't write him consistently. His strongest episodes are the flashbacks, which don't have to be consistent with the current storyline. Instead of serving the character or even the plot, they decided to serve the fans and give them the Hook/Emma ship they wanted, which makes Hook a weaker character. They never wanted to fully commit him to being evil, so in every episode his reactions have to be 'justified.' Instead of making his character stronger, it undermines it. He is never allowed to be a true 'bad boy' and thus is never allowed a clear, strong path of 'redemption.'

Yes, these elements are present, more so in some episodes than others. But it feels as though there has been a battle among the showrunners as to what they want to do with Hook, and somewhere along the line it went from "bad boy" to "romantic lead" and the change was clumsily handled.

The thing is, OUAT is perfectly capable of creating and continuing delicious (and consistant!) baddies. Regina and Rumplestiltskin are pretty universally considered the most intriguing characters on the show. Part of this is due to the strong presence of Lana Parilla and Robert Carlyle. In lesser hands, these characters would not shine nearly as brightly. Would a different actor have helped the problems with Killian Jones? Honestly, I don't know. The writing is undeniably inconsistent and wishy-washy for him in a way it isn't for Rumple and Regina, to the extent where it is difficult to gauge Colin O'Donoghue's actual acting chops.

This bugs me like crazy, because Hook has such potential to be an excellent character. It would be too much to expect him to equal Spike, but even to match 80% of that bad vampire's awesomeness would be amazing. Instead, the wavery writing makes Hook a weaker character with every season, leaving him little to do this year besides making goo-goo eyes at Emma and blame his attitude problems on his hand.

It's a real tragedy, especially because, even operating with writing like that, Hook manages to command one heck of a fanbase (who are undoubtedly going to be ticked off at me for being critical here). All I say is, my expectations are higher because I know a stronger character is possible, and furthermore, that OUAT is capable of pulling it of. So why don't they?

1 comment:

Elora Shore said...

I agree that his story could be stronger. I didn't care so much, probably because I'm too obsessed with Rumple and Regina, that he wasn't better--I found him amusing and passable. But I think his story definitely could be improved; his character was rather easy, even if believable. I suppose some of the reason I don't pay too much mind to it is because, from a writing point of view, it's hard to juggle so many realistic people. So someone more "normal/easy" although not quite as intriguing turning up is almost expected. I didn't have high expectations. OH--actually, now that I reflect on it, it probably had more to do with the fact that I think so highly of Dustin Hoffman and Jason Isaac's performances to expect another portrayal to reach par. Hmm. It WOULD be awesome though if he did...let's see what they do with him. ;)
I strongly agree that he is mostly doing googly eyes in this season though. I'm really hoping they bring in something...more interesting. Real. Although I liked the point Rumple made about Hook's hand--I was expecting it, and I thought it was an interesting element for that episode. Some interesting points are being made between him and Emma, but they just not that strong, yet. Hopefully that will change!