My Top 10 Fictional Characters

As always, my opinion is limited to what I have experienced, but then how could it be anything else? Ranking my “best” fictional characters isn’t easy – because admittedly I can’t explicitly state the criteria used. But this is just for fun anyway!

Now, oftentimes the protagonist of a story becomes an everyman which all of us can relate to, and through whom we see the other characters and the events unfold. The problem with this sort of character (e.g. Harry Potter) is that there isn’t anything particularly remarkable or interesting about them in-and-of themselves; what is interesting is what they go through and what happens to them – apart from some general sense of courage and honesty. Sometimes the most interesting, frustrating, or funny characters in a story are not at all the hero. Of course the flipside of this is that everyone else apart from the protagonist can become two-dimensional and simply there to give our character someone to interact with. It takes a special kind of character to pull off protagonist/antagonist/ancillary and also capture our imaginations and have us glued to TV screen or book. Not every character listed here is a protagonist but they are some of the most diverse/complex/outrageous/compelling ones you’ll ever encounter.

-

10. God (Yahweh, Allah,  Christ, take your pick)

Being the most famous fictional character of all time, this guy has to get a mention, albeit rather facetiously. The way his fans so love to revel over competing interpretations of him is fascinating at best and pathetic at worst. You have to be fascinated by his supposed actions though, love or hate him. My personal favourite is the Christian story about him and Noah’s ark. In it, God creates man knowing they’ll fail a test, even though the knowledge required to pass the test wasn’t available to them until after they failed it (!). He then regrets making man, even knowing what would happen in the first place, so promises to destroy them because we’re so evil. He wipes the whole earth out with a flood that takes a varying number of days according to the story, somehow cramming in millions of species and billions of lifeforms into a boat 450 foot long (!!). Afterwards, he doesn’t promise never to destroy the earth again, oh no – he just promises not to use a flood. Oh, well that’s reassuring… Why does he promise not to destroy the earth again? Because he accepts that man is simply evil by nature, even though he knew we’d turn out this way, even though that was his original motive for wiping us out in the first place (!!!). Storytelling at its best!

God is probably the most emotional violent egotistical psychopath ever invented. It takes a special kind of self-hatred, racism and sexism to invent a character with this many conflicting traits. And you’ve got to give him points for that. It’s so bad you have to say “you can’t make this stuff up!” But of course, that’s exactly what happened.

-

9. Dr. Perry Cox (SCRUBS)

The classic badass with a heart of gold, Cox is hilarious. Sarcastic and condescending, his constant demeaning diatribes actually inspire students to aim ever harder to win his eternally-escapable praise. No doubt he has the best lines of the entire show, and I daresay the whole thing couldn’t have worked without him. His speech, his mannerisms, his banter and his flaws are superbly put together to make him one of the most fascinating and enjoyable characters to watch.


-

8. Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Fire and Ice)

A complex assortment of traits, physical and mental, coupled with quick words and an even quicker mind make Tyrion Lannister a joy to read (or watch). It’s precisely because he has zero physical presence that makes his dialogue so vital to get right, because anything complimentary or threatening from him must be done through subtext or clever words. He knows his weaknesses so excels at his strengths, and shows great bravery under circumstances where even the strongest man might fail. As he himself says, his sword is his mind – and such a fascinating character is he that whether it be consorting with whores, held hostage by enemies, passing subtle threats to quasi-allies, or interacting with royalty – we love what he has to say and every word has us mesmerised!

 

-

7. Jack Bauer (24)

Strong, tough, deadly, ruthless, passionate, flawed yet incorruptible – Jack Bauer is all these things. He toughened up so much that there was nothing he couldn’t do – whether it’s expose an entire government conspiracy or take on an immense fortress of bad guys single-handedly.

Jack’s a man who always does what he believes is right. You can take issue whether he *is* right or not, but he doesn’t compromise, doesn’t cheat and doesn’t shy away from doing what needs to be done. He is a patriot, and defending his country is the number one value in his life – a fact his actions consistently demonstrate.

Volunteering himself for a nuclear suicide mission or taking point on the battlefield – Jack won’t ask anyone to do something he isn’t prepared to do himself, which makes him an inspirational leader.

-

6. Buffy (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer)

Whilst not the first female hero, it’s fair to say Buffy turned the superhero gender idea on its head. She manages to save the boy in distress but also still be feminine. This statement itself has become a cliché: “strong yet feminine” yada-yada, but it’s become so overused because it appears so incredibly hard to get right. (It’s actually not).  Many movie-makers and writers think a woman who acts like a bloke, fires guns, fraks everything that moves, and acts like she doesn’t give a shit, can be redeemed back into femininity by wearing a skin-tight catsuit or holding suggestive poses. What they don’t realise is: She. Just. Looks. Stupid. Femininity isn’t a matter of how much you swear (or don’t) or kick ass (or don’t), the length of your hair, sex appeal or how much you cry (or don’t). Buffy manages to pull off being a sexy attractive badass lady because she doesn’t try too hard to be, because she doesn’t need to try. Sure, she cares about her girlie stuff and has the angst one would expect of a teenager/young woman – but she is a young woman. She doesn’t need to ram her double-Xs down our throats. She can be dirty, ragged, and unkempt, save the world and kick ass – and also be a girl. (And of course, I’m not implying that there should be any natural conflict at all between gender and strength, but since most writers and producers actually do make this assumption and then over-compensate for it, it makes it all the better when a female character comes along who gets it right for all the right reasons.)

Perhaps an easy to overlook feature of Buffy’s is her humour – she is really quite funny, obviously and subtly – and when contrasted against who and what she actually is, makes it all the better.

We like her because we know she’d make a superb friend and ally, and she genuinely cares about the world and doing right. Like I said at the start, it’s hard to make your protagonist a champion for everyone watching, whom we can all relate to, be a vehicle for the story, and also have many distinctive character traits of their own (instead of being “the funny one” or “the sarcastic one”.) For example, whilst we love watching Jack Bauer, I’d argue that we don’t really relate to him or his situations, certainly not like we can with Buffy.

-

5. Londo Mollari (Babylon 5)

Undoubtedly, a character with a lot of blood on his hands, Londo undeniably always acts in what he perceives is in the best interest of his people, his race, his planet. But how often does “Greater Good” thinking lead to misery and death? (Answer: always).

His decisions and actions lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent lives, but he makes the choices knowingly and willingly, because nothing will get in the way of the Manifest Destiny he sees for the Centuari Republic. And despite all this, we understand him, and why he did the things he did. We feel sorry for him, despite the mistakes, the lies, the murders. He is a tragic character, made so by the curious irony that he actually gets everything he ever wished for, but when his wishes become reality they are never what he thought they’d be, and the result is always misery (and often destruction.) He slowly sinks from jovial and silly to dark and allied to evil itself. He finds his way out again after realising what price his terrible decisions almost cost him and his world. But the road to redemption is never fully completed, after being forced to accept a horrible burden that he must shoulder in silence and which his friends can never know.

In Londo’s own words: “When we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. And now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all. No choice at all.”

-

4. Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galactica Reimagined Series)

Another character on this list who qualifies as genius, Baltar is brilliant, treacherous and cowardly. He is unfuriating and pathetic yet understandable and pitiful. Sometimes I think ‘well that’s exactly what I’d do in that situation’ and other times I’m shaking my head in disbelief.

There’s no denying that on the rare occasions BSG does comedy, Baltar is the best example of it. Some of his lines are laugh-out-loud funny, as are so many of the awkward unspoken positions he’s placed in.

Gaius has a continuing nack of saving his own neck (or perhaps it’s just God’s Will™), but despite the reproach he often deserves, what is tragic about him is how often he is vilified for the wrong reasons. We feel aggrieved for him, feel vindicated at times when he is, then wish he’d just shut his mouth. Just a few tiny decisions here and there and how different things might have gone. He’s enough to make you shout at the TV “you frakking idiot! Just tell the truth for once!” Despite his intellect, even he doesn’t realise how better things might’ve been if he was just honest all along.

Tagged as an unchosen antagonist for most of the show, the truth is that despite being painted as “villain”, Baltar’s genuinely reprehensible acts pale in comparison to the deliberate and remorseless crimes of the supposed heroes of the story. As the saga progresses, so often I find myself siding with him against our alleged protagonists.

He richly enhances the whole show and is as much a living breathing complex character as anything seen on TV.

-

3. Captain James T. Kirk (Star Trek TOS)

A more-womanising, futuristic, less hysterical version of Jack Bauer, without the gun – Captain Kirk is an all-round proper good guy. He leads confidently and passionately, is clever but also emotional, and is uncommonly brave to fight for his ship and his crew. He’s the perfect leader to the outside world, but has doubts and vulnerabilities which only his closest friends get to see. The expression “The Man” was invented for James Kirk.

He is, in a great many ways, what a man and a hero should be. But not through super powers or even technology – just by his wits and his courage. He is a regular guy, but an achievable hero; he simply exemplifies the best qualities of heroism and command.

 

-

2. Dr. Gregory House (House MD)

A character of many shades and levels, nearly always sarcastic and sniping, he says all the things most of us keep in our heads, regardless of who he offends. His honesty and disregard for pretention is refreshing but also cringe-inducing at times. Self-destructive physically and emotionally, he almost goes out of his way to make the wrong choices at times, despite being in all other ways an absolute genius of the highest order. If you needed diagnosing he’d be your first choice at the job, on the condition you never met him – which in itself is an interesting contrast.

He’s fast (not walking), witty, and guaranteed to keep you laughing time and again. He might make you hate him, but you’ll also feel sorry for him. A deeply intriguing character – the perfect blend of humour and tragedy.

-

 

1. Eric Cartman (South Park)

The perfect comedic characterisation of psychopathic evil. Cartman is truly despicable in every sense of the word. He is irrationally self-concerned, self-destructive, manipulative, racist, sexist and whose ultimate dream is dominating all others with his will. He is also ludicrously clever, but so often short-sighted. And all this is tempered by him still being very much a big child with all the insecurities and weaknesses that brings.

Cartman is the perfect plot device through which our likes and dislikes, loves, passions, hates and fears are seen or reflected. He is a foil to the story itself which allows a fantastically rich web of allegories and contrasts to be displayed. Like much of South Park, he is nothing wrong of writing genius. In real life, such a character would be universally despised and unloved – yet in this form, he is just brilliant and hilarious to watch. We can’t get enough of him! No doubt South Park is at its best when Eric Cartman is at his worst.

The Best TV Finales I’ve Seen

In between having several books on the go, over the last year I’ve managed to finish watching and re-watching some TV shows that are favourites of mine. Most of these appear in my two “My Best TV shows of all time” pieces I’ve written. Since I like to judge and rank things, I thought I’d evaluate the endings of these shows and which are the “best” to me; that being the ones I found the most emotional, either depressing, upsetting, uplifting, inspiring, or all of the above. Also factors are how the episode actually did bring the story to a conclusion, and the methods used.

Of course, there are thousands of TV shows out there with possibly greater endings than I’ve ever seen. I know there are all-time classics that I’ve been told about, such as Black Adder etc. But I can only write about what I know and what has meaning for me. No doubt I’ll do an updated version of this list in the future. As can be expected most of these shows also appear on my “favourite shows of all time” list, for obvious reasons.

* SPOILER ALERT – I’ve tried to keep my comments as ambiguous as possible, but if you’re watching or planning to watch any of these shows, best to not read this. *

PRISON BREAK

First time I saw the end of Prison Break, I was really moved. I thought it was touching, even if I knew what was coming well before Sarah said “let’s go and see Michael” to their son. Yeah, I knew what was coming, and it still moved me.  I’m not saying that Prison Break was brilliant in its last two seasons. It had its faults. I think there are only so many realistic twists and turns and last minute surprises you can spring on the audience and still maintain credibility.

The fact the show really struggled to keep its own contrived and arguably daft plot-twists going is the reason is ranked below all the others. But it’s a sad ending; quite depressing actually and possibly uncalled for. But moving? No doubt.

STAR TREK: TNG

I could’ve chosen other Star Treks, (the Original never had a proper series finale) but Voyager’s was rushed and unsatisfying, and DS9’s felt hollow somehow. The ridiculous Vic Fontaine program (inexplicably introduced) was hit on our heads repeatedly throughout season 7 and I can’t help but feel it was someone’s hobbie smuggled lamely into the story. I chose TNG because its ending is the best of all the Treks. Makes you wonder why more of the last two seasons couldn’t have been written this way.

It was a fun ending to a TV show that, taken overall, was above average. You can’t deny it was a solid consistent series with some fantastic episodes. But you can’t deny the crap ones either, and there were quite a lot of them. If we’re taking a show at its best then we should discard the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th seasons, but then we’d have to throw away Scrubs seasons 5-8, Prison Break’s 3rd and 4th, Friends’ 5th to 10th, and so on. But this isn’t about TV shows it’s about finales.

The TNG finale was a great episode to wrap it up; in typical Star Trek fashion we bounce around from time to time, bringing our heroes together for a grand cause. And the lesson from Q is something the Exec Producers and writers of Trek didn’t actually take home: life isn’t about charting stars and mapping nebula (or treknobabble and warp core breaches), but discovering the unknown possibilities of existence. And that, my friends, is what Star Trek was originally all about. But like All Good Things…

FRIENDS

I can look back with hindsight and spot the many flaws with this show, but it’s hard to deny that for my generation, FRIENDS was a hugely popular show, and its humour, in-jokes and story have become pop culture icons in their own right. Could I be any more over the top? That is so not what I meant. You know what I mean: “we were on a break!!”

Hard to grow up with a show like that, with characters you get to know that well, to care for – and not feel something when it ended. It was a good wrap to a comedy that went on longer than it should have. (A lot longer). But it’s hard to keep quality of earlier seasons up; look at Scrubs. But it ended well; everyone got paired off; they went their own ways. In a sense, they (finally) grew up.

ANGEL

Totally different to the Buffy ending. Totally different to almost any TV ending you’ll ever see in fact! No smiles, no wrap-ups, no happy conclusions, in fact – no conclusions? Angel and his (surviving) allies stand alone in a dark alley pouring with rain, having knowingly set in motion a series of events that will strike a massive blow to the forces of evil – and almost certainly spell their own death. After five seasons of a show with many ups and downs, with some great stories and some weaker moments, the hoards of Wolfram and Hart descend on our heroes and we’re left with a dramatic and spine-tingling cut to black after Angel simply declares “I want the dragon!”

What a way to end a series!

(No good video clip available. (God damn fan art.))

SCRUBS

Yup, gonna moan about this one too. From seasons 1 – 4, the best sitcom I’ve seen, and I’d still give it that accolade. Pretentious and obvious with its “moral of the episode”? Perhaps, but what is good storytelling unless you take yourself seriously? Scrubs was so incredibly well-written in its early days that it deserved a quality ending. It got one: a beautiful montage of flashforwards to stunning music; our characters happy and living the lives they’ve deserved. The end of the show nicely brings everything together, ties up the loose ends, and gives a satisfying happy-sad sense of closure. It’s happy, but we’re sad it’s over.

24

Now, I had my gripes with this show too, partly because I totally loved it and think it lost its way somewhat. The return and then switch, double-switch, and switch-back from Tony was…urm…slightly forced in my opinion. And seriously, is anyone else amazed that at least three people that knew Jack were still alive by the end?? Writing tip: when you keep killing off people the audience cares about, the audience stops caring, thereby rendering the story device useless.

But hey, Jack in full body armour – taking out the bad guys and exposing another nasty secret, getting the US President to stop menstruating for one minute and realise she’d made a boo-boo: epic stuff. Grand and sweeping, and in typical Jack fashion he disappears once last time. This ending might have had more emotional resonance if Jack hadn’t already played scapegoat and run off into hiding no fewer than 421 times previously in the series. But maybe I’m being harsh and that was simply “foreshadowing”, as Jack can never seem to find happiness.

He thanks Chloe one last time, the clock for the only occasion in the entire show counts us up from three to zero, and that was that.

BUFFY

What would an ending to the best show of all time be without the best ending of all times? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a bit rushed; there’s too much to get through and a lot to cram in. I would’ve liked to savour more of the victory but that’s TV.

But after seven grand and epic seasons, after battling friends and foes – to face off against the power of the Biggest Baddest Bad of them all, and to win in such heroic manner and stand victorious – with everything wrapped up and all stories concluded in a meaningful and satisfying matter, the smile – the starting of a smile – of “what now?” is just class. An epic battle with fantastic music; the elevation of Willow to goddesshood; the elevation of Potentials everywhere to Actuals; the courage and gift of the newly-ensouled Spike; the end of Sunnydale.

Yeah, we lost a lot of people along the way. It was difficult and often painful – but you can’t help feeling that it all meant something. And hey, the good guys won the day – which is the entire point of Buffy. A great way to go out.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

Oh, Battlestar. What a sweet show you starting out as, and indeed finished as. Shame about all that Balter-Six crap in between. We get it, God exists and has a purpose! Where is Kirk when you need him…

Urm, I just like to ask a question? What does God need with a starship? And incidentally, why does God care so much about saving 50,000 humans to restart a new race, instead of…urm, I don’t know… preventing the frakking nuclear annihilation of them in the first place??

And then Kirk realises we’re talking about the god of the bible, and it all makes sense.

A great show, if taxing in some places – but a bittersweet ending. Slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of perfection – a perfect face, perfect lace. Find the perfect world for the end of Kara Thrace. End of line.

A courageous and suicidal assault on Cylon HQ itself gives us superb battles in space and on the ground. A last ditch breathless escape gives us our second (and our characters’ first) shot of the beautiful world we call home. Galactica sails off into the sun…literally. The human race begins, again. An Angel ascends, the President leaves us, Adama starts a lonely new existence, the war is over. The writers gave themselves a hell of a big job bringing all this together but you have to say they pulled it off, eventually. But all of this has happened before, and will happen again. Cracking stuff.

Counterpoint: read this for a superb deconstruction of BSG and why the ending was poor. And this.

BABYLON 5

No doubt in my mind before I started writing this which was gonna be number 1. B5 is a grand story of our heroes, and on either side lies a million years of history. We witness a small slice of the temporal cosmic pie, and in the last episode jump forward 20 years to see how it ends. In a way, I think this episode is moving not because we don’t know what’s coming, but because we do. We knew what was going to happen, just like you might know that a loved one is destined to die soon from an illness, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it comes – and of course that analogy wasn’t chosen lightly.

It ends with a love story. I always find goodbyes hard, and Sleeping in Light is full of them. Our characters say goodbye to others and we say goodbye to the station. The hardest of all is Sheridan’s and Delenn’s – you can see the pain in their faces, almost horror – as the emotion finally pours out.

J. Michael Straczynski said that the episode “put him away” for a good hour, and kept doing so every time he watched it. I have to confess to the same thing: no matter how many times I watch it, and it’s not often, I find it really hard to get through. It’s a raw and primal feeling: seeing these characters older, the story over, their age past, and time to go; it does feel like coming in when the last battle really is over and many have died and been lost, and it’s quiet and still and there isn’t much left to say; a cloud hangs over the episode, very much like a funeral. Perhaps its tough because there are a lot of unnaturally early goodbyes, which are the worst kind. (Let’s also remember that Andreas Katsulas and the much younger Richard Biggs are no longer alive – the latter dying so shortly after JMS recorded his commentary for this very episode.)

Is it Christopher Franke’s heart-breaking music, majestic and harrowing – yet inspiring? It is Ivanova’s voice-over at the end, “even for people like us”? Is it the sight of the station slowly dying? Is it the sense of emptiness, of leaving things behind? Is it two lovers ripped apart before their time? Is it the sense of hope that somehow we’re left with? It must be all of this.

If the purpose of drama and story is to move the audience – then B5 must get the “best ever ending” accolade from me.  Such a sense of finality and dramatic conclusion. It’s the hardest last episode I’ve had to sit through. And I think that says it all.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 68 other followers