Monday, March 16, 2015

Developing Character: Kim Bauer

I just finished reading a book that was .... well, it could have been better.  Don't get me wrong, it was perfectly fine from the primary plot of a military thriller. The author is a friend of mine, so the names have been changed to protect, well, me.

Then there was the female lead.  The character, let's call her Rebekah, has come back from a rape, and trained herself with all the makings of a vigilante. She works with a cop in learning MMA, has a black belt in Tae kwon do. She shoots, has no problem taking fire, and yet, unless directly threatened, she has all the survival instincts of a guppy. Seriously, she has not one, not two, but FOUR stalkers throughout the book, friends and family warning her about three of them, and yet STILL persists in not seeing them as a threat? The victims on the tv show Stalker have better survival instincts! Gah!

While this would not have been out of place in a straight romance plot, it felt strange.  Rebekah already has plenty to do in this book just trying to not get killed while around her a friend who has been targeted by terrorists. She could have had an entire plot thread dedicated to gun and run, then it stops.  She makes few if any decisions that impact the plot. She's just sort of ... there.

And Rebekah is annoying me because she doesn't impact her own story. She doesn't DO anything except emotionally support a "wounded puppy" so he saves her at the end of the book. She has one shining moment of bad-assery when terrorists come for her friend, and then ... nothing. Nada. She has to be saved by everyone else in her life when it comes to her own story. She makes no choices.  And the worst part is, her actions are inconsistent with the character already established. A rape victim, who's built herself into a badass, trusts no one ... but is so trusting and helpless in this book, I want to bash my head against a wall.

It feels like there were too many moving parts around Rebekah, in order to give the illusion that she has a plot of her own in this book.

All I could think of was Kim Bauer.

If you have ever watched 24, you have learned of the awesomeness that is Kim Bauer.

If you've seen the series past the first season / Day 1, you know of all of the mistakes that were Kim Bauer.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

******SPOILERS FOR 24 SEASON 1.*****

In the series, 24, it goes in "real time," each 24-episode season being one 24-hour period in the life of Jack Bauer of the Counter Terrorist Unit. And it will be the worst day of his life. Repeatedly.

Kim Bauer, Day 1 outfit
Jack's daughter is Kim Bauer. On day 1 (Season 1), she is a teenager. She leaves the house to hang out with some boys, and a few hours in, she realizes that they are actually kidnappers. She breaks away, but is slowed down and caught again when her friend and fell kidnap victim is hit by a car. We realize by episode six that they are part of the larger plan of the day.

By this point, Kim has gone from stupid teenager to working on the great escape. She's held hostage, and over the course of the day, she plays upon one of her kidnappers, talking him into running.  They ready an escape plan, and is about to get away, when her mother is thrown into the same holding compound with her.

By episode 12, she's gone through several escape attempts, each getting better and better, and each successive attempt is thwarted by an incrementally better move by the bad guys.

And then, she and her mother are rescued. Safe and sound.  Awesome, right?

When the safe house is attacked, she's driven off, escapes them, leaps from an exploding car and is left to wander by herself.  She finds refuge with criminals. Cops ransack the house and throw her in jail.

When in jail, she's confronted by another prisoner, and awesomeness ensues.

 It was a great moment that encapsulated her growth over the length of the season.

At the end of the day, hour 21 of 24, the cops realize who she is, knows she's not a criminal, and they're going to deliver her back to CTU, where she's safe and sound.

Then the terrorists kidnap her from the cops. Yup, this is so not her day.  By the 23rd hour, she asks one of her guards, "Can I have some coffee?"

This ends with her smashing the full coffee pot over the head of the nearest guard. She runs like hell, escapes by diving into the harbor, and swims away.

It's a solid character arc of adapting and learning from mistakes. She goes from victim to fighter in 24 hours. She learns or dies.  It was awesome.

Then, they done f**ked it up.

In Day 2, it was obvious the writers had no idea what to do with her. She's on the run the whole day, running into one damn thing after another. You want to know how bad it was? I think this sums it up.

Yup. She became an excuse to have a hot girl in a white t-shirt, without a bra.  Oh yay.

I can understand why the actress insisted to have input into her character for the third season, lest she end up with more stupid over the course of the day.

Her arc for round 2 at least ended well ... mostly by having her end where she should have started the season.

Eyes red with tears ... and she literally shoots through the tears.
She doesn't quite end as the badass she was at the end of day 1, but it's close enough, given how crappy the rest of her day was.

By day 3, she's tied up exactly once.  And then manages her own escape.

Though by that point, it's more like ...

I'm not scared. I'm annoyed. I will kill you.
Day 1 and day 3 saw a lot of growth in Kim Bauer, and even though she's a supporting character in day 7, she literally saves the day.

It was a character arc with a lot of bumps along the way, especially in Day 2.  But when the writers knew what they were doing, Kim Bauer was a fun character with a solid amount of growth.

At the end of the day, the point is simple: you don't need a female action lead who's super-Buffy-badass in order to save the day and be entertaining.  You don't need Xena, Warrior Princess. What you need is Cary Grant in North by Northwest, or Ray Miland in Ministry of Fear, or almost any hero in any Hitchcock film: an ordinary person who is sucked into a plot, and must survive on their wits alone.

For that, I suggest the journey of Kim Bauer.  Going from whiny teenager, to saving the world from terrorists.

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