Walter White, Frank Underwood, Don Draper, Tony Soprano…Evil or Vulnerable Men?

© Chuck Duboff

Unique characters or Everyman?

 

The television show, House of Cards, sees politician Frank Underwood go from being an upstanding representative of the people, to a shrewd, do what ever it takes politician, set on acquiring as much power as is humanly possible.  His wife Claire guides him, and is at his side as he plots his every next move.

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Tony Soprano, the lead character of the show, The Sopranos, is the head of a Mafia family; he demonstrates strength when in control of the Mob; yet his foibles, his weaknesses, come to the surface when matters of family take control.  His wife Carmella challenges him and does not allow the Mob Boss to control her and the family.

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Don Draper.  Mad Men.  Don is suave, a lady’s man, a successful advertising executive. at a time when advertising was taking hold of America.  Yet Don is controlled by his past, his family’s history and this destroys all that he is.  His beautiful wives, his gorgeous girlfriends…he can’t maintain relationships and simply uses whatever power he has.Image

Walter White, the protagonist in Breaking Bad.  Walter starts off as a simple high school Chemistry Teacher.  He is thrown curve balls in life, but rather than choosing the path which most people would take, Walter chooses a path which leads to chaos, crime and murder.  Walter’s family is destroyed, and his relationships are corrupted, by his quest for more and more money, power and control.

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These four men are all from contemporary shows; in a sense there is a certain nobility to them when we are first introduced. (though that may be questioned with Tony Soprano, there is a real empathy for him as he tries to come to grips with his past with his psychiatrist).  From a highly respected congressman, to a handsome, classy advertising executive, to a public school science teacher, to a Mob Boss, each of these men sees their lives dissent into evil.  

Much like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, each man stops at nothing in his quest for more power.  Deception and manipulation of those close to them takes over; lying, crime and murder further their quick spiral into Evil.  Is this inevitable for men?  Is this gender specific (Hello, Patty Hughes of the show Damages)?  What happens to men?  Are we so disillusioned with life as we age, that the consequences of our actions are no longer relevant?  Do we no longer care about our legacies, our families?

Frank Underwood, Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White.  Strong men, who display a power, a nobility, which we admire.  Yet their vulnerability ultimately comes to the surface and like Macbeth, they are doomed.

Are these men, everyman, or are they unique characters who make for good television?

Hamlet’s tortured soul.

© Chuck Duboff

Hamlet.

Act II, Scene 5

 131   Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d 

132   His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God! 

133   How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, 

134   Seem to me all the uses of this world! 

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 In these few lines, we so much of Hamlet’s character revealed.

  Hamlet wishes that the Everlasting, God, had not set his canon, his commandments, against self-slaughter, suicide.  In this we see that Hamlet is religious, that he is guided by God, to the extent that he can’t end the pain which is within him.  

  Life seems pointless to Hamlet, uninteresting, lacking any meaning.  He is mourning the loss of his father, King Hamlet, and is reviled by his mother, Gertrude, marrying and sleeping with his Uncle Claudius, so soon after his father’s death, 

137   That it should come to this! 

138   But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two: 

139   So excellent a king; 

Added to this, his relationship with his lady, Ophelia,  is causing him tremendous grief.

  Hamlet’s soul is tortured and he wishes that he could choose suicide as an escape from life’s endless jousting.  However, his religious beliefs do not allow him to choose this course of action…and so, his depression sets in.  Hamlet travels life’s path alone, with only his friend Horatio, occasionally allowed to offer guidance.