So two weeks ago, I ruminated briefly about NBC’s new dystopian TV show Revolution, where I waxed a little philosophically about one of the background characters, a Stereotypical Street Preacher who claimed God caused the blackout as punishment for people’s sins. This time around, I thought we’d look at one of the more central characters, namely Captain Tom Neville.
Neville is one of the bad guys, a captain in the Monroe Republic militia. He’s a petty, evil man, one who is quick to violence for the sake of the cause. In the first few episodes, we watch as he slaughters a man in cold blood for hunting with a rifle and having an American flag. He’s ruthless, more than willing to beat up a helpless eighteen year old prisoner to establish his dominance. In short, he’s not a nice guy. Not nice at all. So what kind of man was he before the Blackout, before society completely collapsed? Well, we finally found out in the latest episode.
Dear Mr. Neville was an insurance salesman.
That’s right. He was a quiet, soft-spoken doormat. He’s lost his job, he can’t stand up to his thug of a neighbor, and the only way he deals with his repressed anger at life is by walloping a punching bag in his basement. But then, after the power goes off, Neville unleashes his rage when the aforementioned thug tries to kill him in front of his family. Neville snaps and becomes a monster. I suspect the writers want this to be a profound commentary on human nature, a way to hold up a mirror to ourselves and make us wonder, “Is there a Neville-like monster lurking inside me?”
For a Christian, the answer to that question is “Duh.”
The problem here is one of competing viewpoints. For most people, the idea that a monster lurks within them is abhorrent because they assume that deep, deep down, they’re really a good person at heart. Oh, sure, they have their foibles and their occasional moral failings, but when push comes to shove, their hearts carry that little spark of goodness that somehow redeems them as a whole. They can’t possibly imagine that they could ever fall so low as a Tom Neville because they assume that nothing could corrupt their innate goodness.
But what does the Bible say about that attitude? I think the Psalmist says it best: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) The Bible teaches that each of us are sinful from day one. There’s no spark of goodness within us. We all have sin at the core and it’s waiting to drag us down in a heartbeat. The truly frightening thing is that the same is true for Christians. We Lutherans call it simul justus et peccator (saint and sinner at the same time). St. Paul describes the inner tension in Romans 7 when he talks about the struggle between his desire to do what is right and the clamoring of sin to do what is wrong. It’s the tug-of-war that each of us lives with in this life, one that we will be free of only in the life to come.
And it’s acknowledging this struggle that makes for great characters.
I’m not saying that Tom Neville is a good character. Truth be told, he’s a bit one-dimensional for me. But what makes a character fascinating is the understanding that a monster lurks within them, even inside the heroes. It makes them relate-able and all the more real.
And that’s a great thing in a story.