A Soap Opera Staple
My mother's favorite soap opera was Guiding Light.
I think she told me she started watching it with her mother when she was in fourth grade. When I was growing up, the show was a daily tradition in our home. My mom would watch it, then call my grandma and talk about everything that happened. Sometimes they would spend an hour or more just talking about "the stories."
It was inevitable that I, too, would become a fan of the show. And, like my mother, I think I was also in about fourth or fifth grade when I first fell under that well-known soap opera spell. And there was one character we (my mother, my grandmother, and myself) all fell head-over-heels in love with. Roger Thorpe.
Do you remember Roger Thorpe? He was a scoundrel. I mean, he did some seriously awful things. But he had one vulnerability: his undying love for Holly, his ex-wife and the mother of his child. Yeah, I know, some of the most heinous acts he committed on the show were done to Holly. Viewers never forgot that, and neither did the characters. Still, we all secretly hoped for a reconciliation. I remember my mother saying countless times, "I think Roger could finally be good if Holly would just give him another chance."
We really wanted Roger to be good.
But he wasn't good. He had his moments, yes. A scene here and there where the audience was allowed a little glimpse of vulnerability. An entire storyline centered around his quest to turn his life around, usually for the sake of either Holly or his daughter Blake. But given enough time, he would always come back around to the dark side. It was incredibly frustrating, but it was also a mark of genius on the part of the writers. You see, they knew if they wrote a villain who was completely evil, he would come off as two-dimensional and not very realistic. But if they gave him a softer side, women would swoon for him. But the writers also knew something else. They knew that if they took Roger's softer side too far, to the point that he finally turned good and never looked back, viewers would get bored. There'd be nothing left to root for. Turning Roger Thorpe into a good guy and allowing him to live happily ever after with the love of his life would ultimately require writing him off the show altogether because he would no longer have a purpose. And, let's face it, he would lose a lot of his appeal.
The Harry Potter Character Who Broke Our Hearts
I won't beat about the bush. We all know I'm talking about Snape.
The question of whether Snape truly qualifies as a villain is too complex for me to deal with in this post. Suffice it to say that he is presented as a villain in the first few Harry Potter books. Even when the story begins to probe deeper into his character, we still think of him as a bad guy. At first, we view all those traumatic events from his past as his motivation for turning evil. Then we get to the end and, well, if you're a Harry Potter fan, you know what happens.
Still, it's an example of the same type of writing. What makes Snape different from Roger Thorpe is the fact that Harry Potter is not a soap opera. It is a story that has a definite beginning and a definite ending. So a character like Snape can come full circle and never go back to where he started because there's no more story to write. The pressure to keep viewers interested by having him vacillate between good and bad is not there, so he can be good and stay good. And we all love him for it.
The Latest Iteration
Are you a fan of the Marvel movies? It's okay if you're not. They're not really my favorite genre, to be honest, but there's one character I can't get enough of. If you think I'm talking about Loki, you guessed correctly.
In trying to categorize Loki, I'd say he's something of a combination of Roger and Snape. Like Snape, he is consumed by bitterness and jealousy. Like Roger, he's driven by ambition. Like Snape, his trustworthiness is constantly being called into question. Like Roger, he can never truly be good because then his character would have no further use. Like Snape, he consorts with the enemy and we wonder whose side he's really on. Like Roger, and every other soap opera villain ever written, he has a tendency to die and then come back from the dead.
And we can't help but love him. Even when we hate him, heaven help us, we still love him.
If you have a favorite character whom you "love to hate", let me know in a comment.