It seems that, at the least, in today's society, everyone has become infatuated with television and films that deal with the anti-hero. That's right, not the hero, but rather the one that poses the biggest threat to our morally right characters. At the root of every anti-hero though, there is a reason for why they are the way that they are. Whatever reason that is presented to us, we, as viewers, latch onto it and become invested in the story. It could be a character making an illegal drug in order to provide for his family, a man that has turned to a life of crime to quench his own thirst, or even someone who is downright despicable and moonlights as a playboy at night when their relationships fall apart. For whatever reason, we are attracted to this glitz and glamor, even though it is nothing like what is portrayed on television. The simple answer, we are drawn to it because it is an escape from our lives. The long answer is listed below.
6. Hank Moody - Californication
We're going to start off simple and light in analysis. No need to jump to the people who have gone off the deep end just yet. In other words though, Hank Moody resembles what writers see; a man confident enough to put his thoughts down on a sheet of paper. It is much harder than it looks, and that is where the writers of Californication excelled. Sure, it can be argued that Hank is no anti-hero, but at the end of the day, he is one to his partner and daughter, but most importantly, himself. After seven full seasons, the intent is that we see a man hit rock bottom not once, not twice, but numerous times, only to find himself being able to pick himself back up and defy the odds. As a writer, it is truly marvelous to watch, even though it is pure fiction. It glamorizes writing to the fullest extent, while also showing the drawbacks. We see Hank fighting to keep the love of his life, Karen, around, but he ultimately keeps squandering every chance he gets because he lets his inhibitions get the best of him. On the surface, he is not a likable character, but when the episodes play that show his true feelings, his true intentions, that is when the audience becomes invested in him. He is nowhere near as bad as the man portrayed on the show, and deep down, the man has a heart of gold, and is one hundred percent misunderstood.
5. Don Draper - Mad Men
Don Draper is one that exemplifies it all. He has the woman of his dreams, he has a job that he makes more than enough money to get by, and he was finally able to shed his past that plagued him for so long. The woman of his dreams though, was not who he thought she was, his job is demanding, and leads him to become dependent on alcohol and cigarettes. With his failing marriage, he begins to sleep around in order to fulfill his needs that his wife, Betty, can't. His story is one that is tragic for sure, becoming someone who picks up 'Don Draper's' identity during the Korean War and ultimately leaving behind Dick Whitman. As a viewer, in this study, I can only find myself wanting him to find a happy ending because of the hell that he has gone through only to try and feel happy. There are few times throughout the show that he has appeared genuinely happy, and that is the point. As we all enter the final seven episodes of this series, we hope that he will find the peace of mind that he deserves, because once again, he is someone with good intentions deep down, but ever since he was damaged as a child, he does not know how to be generous and caring to those around him.
4. James McGill - Better Call Saul
Crooked lawyer? True. A man doing whatever it takes to make the quick buck? Also true. Part of what makes Better Call Saul a watchable show is knowing where James McGill ultimately ends up by the time Breaking Bad rolls around. As fans of Breaking Bad fully know, we enjoy seeing how characters transform to become something that they don't think they are, but deep down, ultimately want to become. They are ruthless because they know that they can stop at nothing if they want to be successful. McGill is doing all that he can to pick up some money in order to be as successful as his brother, Chuck, once was. James is not a bad lawyer, he just picks the wrong clients in order to represent. At the way that the show is going, he does not find himself being profitable until he is in debt to Walter White, but that may never be seen. James at this time is a push-over, it will be once he hits the transformation to Saul that we as viewers are hinged on. That is what keeps us glued to our television screens every Monday as we are excited to see the next chapter in exposition to one of our beloved Breaking Bad characters.
3. Francis Underwood - House of Cards
In politics, there will be inevitable backstabbing. There is no way around it. People will do whatever it is to reach the top of the food chain, and that is something I cannot fault Frank Underwood for doing. What I do fault him for is the motives and intentions that he has in order to obtain these goals. He has killed for his own political gain, which is morally wrong. But while watching the latest season, something becomes evidently clear; there is more to the man than meets the eye. For the first time, we are introduced to a vulnerable Frank. This man does not deserve the presidency, nor does he deserve a happy life, but when you see him sobbing when there are no supporters there wanting to back him for the upcoming election, something strikes a chord. He may not be the devious man that we have been led to believe. It would seem that he and his wife, Claire, have switched roles. He appears ruthless in order to get what he wants, but he hesitates in carrying out those actions. He is all talk, while Claire states what she wants, and follows through, as evidenced in the Season 3 finale. There is much to this character that is yet to be explored, but who knows if they will cover it all before the show reaches its end. As dangerous and villainous as he is, his motives may be clear, but there is a side to him that we only get glimpses at that do not give his full character justice. We only hope that one day the writers and producers will allow us to see Frank Underwood fully, to see what drives him to be the man that we have come to 'despise' on the small screen.
2. Walter White - Breaking Bad
Now we've crossed into the unthinkable. The two anti-heroes that are hardened criminals; the ones that don't deserve second chances, but there comes a point in their arcs that sympathy comes their way. What makes Walter White a great character? He was once a normal person. Normal is a relative term, given that he was a genius when it came to science, but he always played by societal norms. Anything that was outside his boundaries, he did not want any part of. The most interesting part is that he used to encourage Jesse Pinkman to be the best that he could when he was his student, and while Walt did encourage him when they were cooking partners, he also manipulated him past the point of no return. Walt was always in it for himself, as evidenced in the last episode when he talks to his wife, Skyler, "I did it for me." He takes a step back and realizes that after he's lost everything, (all 80 million dollars, all the men that have died by his hand), that he has messed up, and sees that it was for his own personal gain. He wanted to gain the recognition that he never received from his former Grey Matter partners, Gretchen and Elliot. This is something that people want always: recognition for their accomplishments when they do not receive it. Sometimes it is hard to find the meaning in some things when work goes unnoticed. Walter was superior to all of those around him, and it is a shame that he had to succumb to a life of crime in order to feel free. In the end though, that is what makes his story so great. It is hoped that he will one day redeem himself for all of his actions and put others before himself, and that is what the last episode was about. He took down those that hurt his family the most as well as saved the person who was loyal to him until he learned the truth. Walt saw it as an opportunity to right his wrongs, and that is exactly what he did. No one escaped unscathed from 'Felina,' and that was the perfect note that the series needed to end on.
1. Tony Soprano - The Sopranos
Without Tony Soprano, there would be no anti-hero. That is why he is listed last on this list. It would seem that there is not much that can be stated about him that has not already been said, but there is. He exemplifies everything that a family man wants to be: someone that provides for them, someone that will never let them down. Time and time again, Tony could have walked away from the game, but he refused to. Not because he would be humiliated because his family would question his loyalty, but because he did not want to let his Mother and Uncle down. He did not want to seem weak in their eyes. How many times have people come to find themselves pushing themselves past their limits because they do not want to be a disappointment in the eyes of those around them. Pretty regularly. That is why the hustle never ends, as stated by Tony in the series. He always tried to live up to the expectations of those around him, and when he was nagged about what he wasn't or what he couldn't accomplish, he would have panic attacks. This got to him, breaking him down to the core. This is another man that has it all, but could never quench his thirst unless he was loved by those around him, mostly his family. His biggest fear was always being a disappointment, and that resonates deeply with viewers. Nobody wants to be a failure in the eyes of those around them, and it kept viewers coming back hoping that one day Tony would turn it all around and finally get his act together. It would seem, that he did get his act together, but that ambiguous ending has many fans debating what actually happened. I have my own feelings as to what the ending is trying to convey, and frankly, it is ingenious.
At the end of the day, all of these characters may seem as though they have wrong meanings to them, and sure they have violated the law in more ways than one, but there is something that makes us as viewers come back to them. Sure, like I stated at the beginning, the simple answer is that they perform acts that we would never think to because we are morally conscious. These characters are morally conscious, but we tune in waiting until they do find their compass. It makes us chomp at the bit, hoping that they will see a happy ending, and even when they don't receive a happy ending, we aren't disappointed. We understand that if they don't, it is because they do not deserve it. Not everyone deserves a happy ending, and that is what sticks with us the most. How many times are these series viewed upon a second time that maybe things will be different, only to find out that they aren't? That is what I call great story telling; if there are enough clues to point toward a possible redemption and it falls short, or maybe in some instances, it is achieved and it is still satisfying. The era of anti-hero is coming to an end and it is a shame, but that will usher in a new era of television and film that will become a crazed addiction. Until that time occurs, we can enjoy these characters and all that they done presenting some of our favorite lines, stories, and series.