The other day, when looking for someone, anyone, writing anything about Regina and Snow that's not driving me crazy, I came across about the comment that "Regina has been remarkable patient with Snow", complete with somewhat later a comment about "The Charmings' black-and-white morality". Now, other than immediately thinking "you have that backwards, Ma'am, on both counts" (and massively so), it reminded me of something that I've observed in fannish circles since ye olde Highlander
days, and the more time passes, the more fandoms I travel through, the less true when one looks at the actual canon it appears to me. To wit, two basic assumptions:
1) Heroes (male or female) have a black-and-white morality, are unwilling to compromise, and have a narrow, inflexible world view. By contrast, villains (and morally ambiguous characters) have a far more sophisticated point of view and are able to appreciate the shades of grey in life. This goes hand in hand with heroes being naive and child-like whereas villains are mature and smart.
2) Being able to see the moral shades of grey as opposed to having a black and white world view equals unconditionally supporting the fannish favourite, no matter what good reasons there might be to object to actions of said favourites, act against the favourite or, gasp, dislike or hate the fannish favourite.
Going back to my earliest online fandom, back in the day, and I bet that's still the case, show hero Duncan's reactions in the Horsemen
episodes was unfavourably contrasted to Joe's. Duncan, a great many fans argued, was showing his narrow, black and white world view via his shock at the revelation that their friend Methos turned out to have a past as a mass murdering warlord, whereas Joe was able to see the shades of grey (different times). By which they meant Joe's instinctive reaction to Cassandra's revelations about Methos' past was "that crazy bitch must be lying" (classic rape culture, though the phrase hadn't been coined back in ye early 90s), and then, when it turned out she hadn't been lying at all "these were different times and Methos is totes different now" (well, yes, but a) doesn't mean Cassandra is obliged to forgive him, and b), that's not what you said when it wasn't your buddy but Kirin/Kage, an Immortal whom you only knew via the chronicles, Joe. Back then
, you declared Duncan crazy and naive for giving Kirin/Kage the benefit of the doubt and allowing for the possibility that even an evil warlord might change and become a good person.) In conclusion, what Joe was showing in the Horsemen
eps wasn't greater appreciation of shades of grey, it was buddy loyalty. Which is a very human trait, and it means he's a good friend to have, but it's really not the same thing as greater unterstanding of moral dilemmas. Meanwhile, Duncan starts by NOT declaring Cassandra a crazy lying bitch but hearing her out, then hearing Methos out, and spends the rest of both episodes despite his shock clinging to the hope Methos has
changed, at least enough not to aid and abet mass killing anymore, looking for clues that this is so, and making a massive leap of faith based on that. While trying to keep both Cassandra and Methos alive. Yep, that's truly a man of black and white morality unable to see outside of his own narrow pov.
There is an earlier episode in the same season, Valkyrie
, which also comes to mind here. Duncan's old friend Ingrid, due to guilt of having had the chance to kill Hitler and having been unable to go through with it, is currently assassinating wannabe dictators, demagogues and up and rising scum left, right and center, which often involves killing several or even alot of bystanders as well. Whenever I see this episode quoted as an example of Duncan having a black-and-white world view and Methos evidencing his superior understanding of the shades of grey in morality, I'm similarly boggled. What Methos evidences is his pragmatism. (Not the same thing.) He has an opinion from the get go, which is that Duncan should just kill Ingrid, never mind understanding her reasons. He doesn't budge from this opinion for the rest of the episode. It's Duncan who changes his opinion on what he should to several times depending on his state of information, who because he understands where Ingrid is coming from but also can't do nothing once he knows doing nothing means letting her kill both people for what they might or might not do, and people who happen to be in their vicinity tries just about everything to find another solution, including various attempts to talk to Ingrid and one, via cooperating with a mortal policeman, to get her arrested which would mean her imprisonment but not death. It's this mortal policeman (one of HL's great minor characters) who has the episodes most famous lines about seeing things in black and white as a child and now finding there were only shades of grey. He, too, understands Ingrid's reasons. But you know what he doesn't
do? Letting her continue to do her thing and look away because of that.
Which brings me my next point. Acknowledging moral dilemmas, trying to understand where the other side is coming from, to compromise instead of pushing for a "my way or nothing at all" solution, that's not something I've seen the majority of villains
do in genre tv (and cinema) during the last twenty years or so. Au contraire. It's what I keep seeing the heroes do. Take the earlier quoted Once Upon A Time
examples. If anyone has a narrow black and white world view from which she only very recently is starting to move away, it's Regina. Regina actually trying to understand someone else's pov instead of always insisting she's the wronged party (even if the wrongers in question are, say, two children she kidnapped, sent in lethal danger and who strangely don't want to live with her afterwards) is breathtakingly new (and good to see). It also puts her ahead of such other fannish favourite villains as Loki (MCU edition) or Morgana (BBCs Merlin
edition), who kept the "everything bad that ever happened to me is always someone else's fault and never my own, my point of view is the only one worth having, everything bad I did was something the other people had coming, and/or was someone else's fault as well, and/or who are these insects anyway and why should I care?" attitude till the very end, in Morgana's case, or till the most recent point in canon, in Loki's. But it took Regina a really long time to get there, and we still don't know whether it will keep, or whether she'll be able to show empathy for anyone she's not either related to or used to be friends with.
Meanwhile, also in Once Upon A Time
, you had Snow understanding where Regina was coming from when Regina was making her first attempt on Snow's life (via the Huntsman), rescueing Regina's life (for the first, not the last time) when already an outlaw whom Regina had put a price on, expressing fervent belief in Regina's redeemability and longing for her company that stopped only when presented with the dead bodies of an entire village Regina had ordered slaughtered, saving Regina from execution (again) after her own victory and giving her the chance to live another life (again), only to have that thrown back in her face. You have Snow, the two times she has wronged Regina (once as a child, with that fatal breach of confidence which however was the result of manipulation by an adult), once as an adult, this time very intentionally and with deliberation (that spoilery thing at the end of The Miller's Daughter
), doing that bemusing thing: accepting responsiblity (both times), and, following her own conviction that deeds count more than words, act
on it. (Both in self punishing ways - ( which are spoilery )
- and in more constructive ways (( also spoilery )
). OuaT canon offers a lot of examples of Snow not only trying to understand Regina but actually showing she does understand Regina rather well. (Some of my favourites ( are spoilery )
) Yup, truly a narrow-minded person unable to see anyone else's point of view, that Snow White.
There is another example that comes to mind, though more complicated, because the comics versions are written so contradictory, depending on the writers and the editor du jour and the retconned continuity du jour, and the film versions, too, have by now their somewhat internally contradictory canon, with more to come, but still: Erik "Magneto" Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier often are also quoted as examples of the sophisticated villain/morally ambiguous character able to see the shades of grey and the rigid good two shoes who can't see how much more complicated life really is than his narrow point of view. Leaving aside Xavier's own capacity for morally shady stuff in either canon and acknowledging Magneto really has the world's best backstory reason for believing everyone is out to get him and anyone close to him: I still think that estimation is having it backwards, too. Magneto in most incarnations I've seen him in has as rigid and black and white a pov as you're likely to get. He's right, everyone else who disagrees with him is wrong. Mutants are superior, non-mutants are envious little wannabe genocide committers or at best necessary historical debris. Certainly not people with an identical right to live. Compromise? Is the first step to annihilation. This isn't "seeing the shades of grey", this is a sterling black and white.
I'm not saying that all the hero characters I've named can't also be (or act) naive, or occasionally inflexible and unwilling to budge from their pov. With the longer lived ones, like Duncan, it also depends on which point of their lives you catch them. But by and large, their "narrowness" or lack of maturity seems to express itself in not being able to to look away or walk away when someone, no matter how sympathetic a someone, is actively damaging other people. And again, I point to that policeman in the Highlander
. Who, as he told Duncan, is well aware that it's entirely possible the demagogic politician they've just saved from getting assassinated by Ingrid will become someone who inflicts great damage. And then he, too, would be responsible for the man's continued existence. But he still couldn't not
act. The fact that there was no "good" solution, that there were shades of grey, all this didn't mean to him that he shouldn't have done anything at all or should have looked away.
I'd say that makes this character, and others like him, a mature character, able to see the shades of grey in morality, able to see other view points. And a hero. As opposed to a great many villains, with their emotionally childlike nature that tends to see things entirely in black and white, for-me-or-against-me, and their utter inability to acknowledge any shades of grey.