I’ve been watching a TV mini-series that was on air in 2004 called Kingdom Hospital. It is sort of a comedy-horror developed by Stephen King. The narrative follows the doctors, nurses, and patients at (you may have guessed) Kingdom Hospital which is located in Lewiston, Maine. As you might expect, being that it is developed by horror writer Stephen King, the hospital is haunted and has all kinds of dark secrets, which play out as apparitions appear to the characters.
The show features two contrasting characters, Dr. Hook and Dr. Stegman. Dr. Hook is supposed to be the suave, cool, likable character that everyone wants to be around. Of course, he’s also the one that is laying the most attractive female doctor at the hospital. On the other hand, Dr. Stegman is the arrogant, self-centered, cynical, and otherwise despicable character that everyone is supposed to hate. And of course, his romantic interest is a much less attractive doctor.
I put the word ‘supposed’ in italics, because, quite frankly, I disagree with what the writers were trying to tell me. I hated Dr. Hook right away. The truth is, that he is just as arrogant and self-centered as Dr. Stegman. He just acts like he’s cool. He ends up, in my opinion, being more annoying than Dr. Stegman. Well, really I didn’t find Dr. Stegman annoying at all. In fact, I straight up liked him. He became my favorite character. True, he may be all the things I described him as, but his personality plays out in such a way that he doesn’t care what anybody thinks about him. He’s proud of being arrogant, and that made him likable. I’m not saying I’d like to meet him in real life, but a character like that is a lot more fun to watch, than a character, like Dr. Hook, that thinks they are God’s gift to the world.
Watching this show, made me think of how often the supposed ‘bad guy’ is actually the most sympathetic or interesting character. Star Wars comes to mind, Darth Vader was far more intriguing than Luke Skywalker (with the exception of Episodes I-III).
Perhaps, though, my favorite ‘evil character’ is Hexxus from the animated film FernGully: The Last Rainforest. I was first introduced to this character as a child. He is a big blob of toxic waste that had been trapped inside a giant tree for decades. That is until some loggers cut open the tree and released him into the forest. Naturally, this is supposed to be a metaphor for the damage caused by the industrialization of the modern world, but as a child I knew nothing about metaphors or the environment. All I did know, was that this blog of toxic waste was so freakin’ cool. I found myself quoting things that he said. For example, when he is first released, he starts sucking toxic vapors out of a smokestack and says, “mmm, mother’s milk.” I thought that was the funniest thing I ever heard, and one time I was drinking some milk and I said, “mmm, mother’s milk, ” and this friend of mine thought that me saying that was ”so” perverted. It was pretty funny.
Now, I’m not saying that I sympathize with destroying the environment, as the character Hexxus was doing, that’s a different argument altogether. What I’m saying, is that sometimes writers don’t do their jobs very well. FernGully was trying to make an argument, it failed to do so, because the bad guy was more interesting than the good guys. I can actually say the same for my opinion of the film Avatar, quite frankly I thought the Na’vi were the douche bags, and I wanted to see them get killed. (Again, I’m not saying we should destroy the environment, I’m just saying it is bad writing).
I understand that sometimes the bad guys are the supposed to be the sympathetic character. Certainly we are supposed to cheer for Darth Vader. He is, after all, the one who defeats the Emperor. But in most cases, I don’t think the bad guys are supposed to be so sympathetic. Some films do succeed in in their endeavor of creating a truly ‘bad’ guy. For example, in the film Pan’s Labyrinth, it is very clear that the bad guy, Captain Vidal, is evil. He comes off as a character that will get no sympathy from the viewer. At the same time he is still a deep character, and even though we dislike him, we still like to watch him, if for no other reason than to try to understand how he came to be the way he was. It seems to me, however, that it is pretty rare for films to present bad guys in such a way.
What I want to conclude with, is to say that bad writing doesn’t necessarily make an unwatchable movie or TV show, but it might send the wrong message to the audience. I don’t dislike the show Kingdom Hospital because I don’t like Dr. Hook. I am enjoying the show, but I want to see Dr. Stegman come out on top. I haven’t finished the series yet, so I don’t know how it turns out, but I expect to be disappointed by Dr. Stegman’s fate.