Faux Morality and Character Development

A Hotel in Barcelona

I’ve been watching two of the three new superhero shows. Runaways and The Gifted. Both have interesting takes on morality, and one of them has made a fairly major misstep in that regard, while the other one has done a far better job.

So, Runaways. The morality is quite complex, the main characters are all the children of wealth and privilege. They are, for the most part, good people. Maybe a little bit entitled, but decent human beings. They discover that their parents are literally supervillains. Well, they haven’t hit the super bit yet, but still, they have discovered that their parents are murdering teenagers for some reason.

The characters are completely freaked out, trying to make excuses, find reasons, find ways to reconcile their inner morality, their preconceptions about their parents, and their new information. It’s really well done, even if some elements are… well, it’s a Hulu original. The budget reflects that.

The Gifted clearly has a larger budget. More sets, bigger name actors, hell, more actors. It’s clearly been made with a different process. It has a lot going for it, but it has some glaring failures. The episode I just watched had one of the biggest ones.

The show centres around The Mutant Underground. They are freedom fighters trying to overcome their government. There is a huge element of grey morality, the whole one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist deal. There is a lot around how you create enemies, on both sides (both sides make some serious missteps and set the other side more clearly in their stance).

So, what failed? There is a minor character, the handsome young rogue love interest of the teenage female lead. He’s discovered to have a checkered past. What kind of checkered past? Well, this young man who is currently a member of a terrorist organization, who is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars, just like every other character in this group, if he’s ever found… well, he used to be a con man. Not a huge one, just some minor stuff. People freak out about this, he is at risk of losing his place in their (terrorist) organization. It’s completely unrealistic. Hell, there are characters committing much worse crimes in the episode. It’s like someone dumped a script from Seventh Heaven in the middle of this gritty, fairly realistic drama.

Not to say morality is wrong to include in your story. As I said, Runaways actually uses morals a lot. When the characters in Runaways find out about the misdeeds of their parents they freak out completely, but that makes sense. Morality has to make sense in the story, and it has to fit the story.

Actually, The Gifted has another example of morality just failing. A character makes a deal with a drug cartel, his assistance in exchange for information. The information is to free his girlfriend from prison. He does, then he goes to work for the cartel. His girlfriend finds out and freaks out. This doesn’t work for the characters or make any sense. Why would he not just say “Yeah, I have to do a bit of enforcer work for getting you out of prison?” to his girlfriend? It’s pretty clear she’d be mostly okay with it, having more of an issue with the fact that his ex runs the cartel than anything else.

Anyway, yeah, morality. Make it consistent for your characters, and make it make sense in world. People can tell if it’s tacked on.

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