Undying Optimism Veiling Tragedy
We, the viewers, know our characters really well. We know who we like and who we don’t. We love our Samwise Gamgee’s, the resilient loyalist who sees his corrupted friend through the darkest of times, and we hate our wardens of Shawshank, the cold-calculators who will go to extreme lengths to cover their misdeeds, and everyone else’s loss is mere collateral damage.
We also have a special place on our multi-dimensional spectrum of love, hate, attachment and distance for the optimistic varieties, Leslie Knope, Phil Dunphy and Aang. In these cases, their optimism is usually a setup to either throw everything at them and see what breaks them, or it presents an inability to grieve.
For some, however, it is simply a coping mechanism. Characters like Cinderella and Phoebe Buffay either in the past or within the story, face an onslaught of abuse, neglect and tragedy. Their optimistic nature serves to present to us that no situation is beyond redemption. No one has to commit to their pain and trauma and, with the right support system and societal aid, one can keep the shadows of their past as an individual entity rather than a defining characteristic.
“When I was growing up, you know my dad left, and my mother died, so I barely had enough pieces of parents to make one whole one. And here's this little baby who has like three whole parents who care about it so much that they're fighting over who gets to love it the most. It's just, it's just the luckiest baby in the whole world.”
I want to discuss two characters who exemplify this quality, one of whom is rather new to me.
“I was never angry with you. I was sad.”
What really can be dissected about this man’s life which hasn’t been a thousand times over? Uncle Iroh drops the wisest pieces of advice, facilitates the most poignant moments in both Aang’s and Zuko’s character arcs, and to top it all, he himself has lived through Zuko’s arc before he ever did.
Iroh, too, was a good-natured man who stuck to what he believed to be his destiny: taking down Ba Sing Se, and consequently the last hindrance for Fire Nation's total victory. Once Iroh lost his son, his next goal became clear to him once he returned home: he had to be the last decent parental figure in the royalty, and he did so as he accompanied Zuko in his banishment, without any belief in the goose chase Ozai sent them on. His goal was clearly to guide Zuko into self-care, the idea that he cannot let someone else, especially Ozai, have so much power over everything he does and wants to be.
This objective is accomplished through a minor participation as the comedic relief, as the incongruent grandpa who would talk about tea before a major battle against the strongest kid in the world. Iroh rarely let Zuko’s degradation and aggressive dominance consume him and would, instead, maintain his composure, much to Zuko’s frustration.
Zuko would, however, break completely once his actions pushed Iroh over the edge, losing forever the dynamic the two used to have. At the sight of Iroh’s betrayal, he would refuse to shine any advisory or optimistic guiding light for Zuko. Spending his time in jail, Iroh would rather stay silent and weep over the loss of his nephew’s soul than to give himself a single chance to be the father figure, the father he wished so desperately to be to Lu Ten.
Iroh’s humorous sapience was not a random character choice. It is hard for a father to see any universal meaningfulness for the senseless death of his son, but through that strong sense of morality and a tight grip on hope, he achieved a chance to be a father to someone who needed one desperately. Now, Iroh has lost that, and the show would remain noticeably grimmer afterwards.
But wait, this is NOT the end of this section, nor the show. Iroh doesn’t regress to a hopeless, miserable old man. He spends day and night planning his escape. Iroh will NEVER, for any long periods of time, lose a direction in life. The dynamic that we lost forever is now replaced with mutual respect and love, and there is nothing more rewarding for both of them than that.
Reginald McCallister III (Duckie)
“It’s not the same without you, Tabitha. Never was. Never will be.”
Life is Strange is a highly character-driven series and tries to emphasise the flaws and weaknesses of its characters. The truly empathetic ones among us are thus strongly attracted to these games, to feel the joy of sitting on a boat in a junkyard, the fear of a gun-wielding maniac threatening you, and sheer hatred for the ones who took away the ones you love.
Now, this series has cut out the middlemen and has decided to supply you with strong emotions through the supernatural abilities themselves. There is always tragedy in Alzheimer's, but jumping into their head and witnessing the fear first-hand is a horrifying experience. A mother’s self-loathing for feeling anger against her child for killing her boyfriend drowns you into a deeper sense of discomfort.
One of the most interesting such encounters, however, is completely missable. Alone in the Black Lantern on the night of the Spring Festival is the town goofball Duckie. By now, you can associate his character with the one who celebrates life and every single one of its elements even on the most mundane of days.
Tonight, however, this guy, who you can always get to chat with, refuses to let Alex in. There is no possible way for him to express what the blue aura is about. After all, when has he ever? At Gabe’s wake, his lost friend’s sense of humour.
“You know, Alex, on this particular matter, I don’t have much to say.”
As with any other character, Alex is given the option to explore his anguish, experience it for herself what he cannot frame with words. As the story begins to unwrap itself, Duckie is revealed to have been sharing his rustic romanticism with his lady love, later wife, Tabitha. She has left an impact too strong on this festival to not send him into waves of nostalgic sombre in the middle of the sparkling joy. He thus chooses to stay in and wait for the next morning, where he can do what he always does.
“Duckie, you’re gonna outlast this whole damn town.”
Alex, instead, uses this opportunity to push him further into his nostalgia. He does not deserve to have such a powerfully joyous life with the woman he loves holding such negative power against him. She set up the jukebox and invited him to a dance, a dance she felt he misses so deeply. As he held Alex, engulfed in the memories of Tabs, all he was left to do is thank this young woman who somehow knew exactly what to do, and actively try to embrace his nostalgia among these people who love him.