[personal profile] wingedbeast
My Own Worst Enemy, for the majority of the world that has forgotten, was a short-lived TV spy-show with a twist. The premise of the show was that some of the world's top spies underwent complex conditioning that gave them a case of controlled multiple personalities. While on missions, they were their spying, assassinating, dark-deeds-for-the-greater-good selves. While not on missions or not on that particular job, their other personalities would take over, making them happily standard members of middle American suburbia.

The conditioning of Christian Slater becomes unstable, again in the premise, enabling switches of personality. Thus, the conflict is set. On the one hand, we have Edward Albright, the lone-wolf doer of dark deeds in service to his country. On the other hand, we have Henry Spivey, the wimpier, but more moral husband and father. The two come into conflict with each other and the roles of each other as they accidentally slip between.

If I had to guess why My Own Worst Enemy was short lived, it would be that it had a tendency to be rather down on the work-a-day people who make up the bulk of civilization. Whether by intention or otherwise, it made the case that your life isn't as valuable as that of such a spy. When a show's basic message seems to include "your struggles and triumphs and failures just don't add up to all that much", I can see people being turned off.

Two items turned me off.

Firstly, the simplistic nature of both of Christian Slater's personalities. On one side, you had a clearly amoral and overly sexed spy who may well have been a sociopath. On the other side, have the character that's a good father and husband but, in any other terms, comically weak. (A part of that insult to the audience, I think.) That can sustain a two-hour movie, but a continuing series needs a bit more to it... or else to be a dramadie.

The other matter is the amoral nature of the spy-work. The show didn't just depict the amoral dark deeds, but went out of way to show darkness that went beyond suspension of disbelief. In one of the earlier episodes, the husband/father character has to interrogate a terrorist informant and, due to the expectations of those watching, has to torture information out of the terrorist.

The show even acknowledges that torture, by all available sources, doesn't work. But, it waves that away very quickly. The lines are ably acted but still fall flat.

Spivey: He lied. Studies show torture doesn't work.
Woodard: Those studies are wrong.

That's easily a throw-away line to hang a lantern on a basic reality. Torture, as a means of getting accurate and actionable intelligence, doesn't work. But, the show needs to present the dark deeds people do in service to country. So, it asks you to either agree that those studies are wrong or to go along with them in suspending that disbelief for the show.

In hanging that lantern, My Own Worst Enemy invalidates Spivey's issues, objections, and repulsion to what gets done as just... him being weak. Spivey, as a main character, gets some small victories, but he's always acting against the people who "make you safe".

That's a big issue, not just because we still have people making the argument, over and above people who actually conduct interrogations, that "Enhanced Interrogation" and torture are necessary to protect the American people. Look to the current iteration of MacGuyver, in which one of MacGuyver's friends stumbles onto his true occupation and is in serious danger of being imprisoned in a secret prison on no grounds, with no charges, and not even a hint of due process. Oh, and our President Elect not only promised to bring back waterboarding and "much worse" but has even tweeted that citizenship should be revoked in the case of flag burning.

At the very least, we should be lending weight to the notion that protecting the rights and freedoms of the American People isn't a carte blanche to run roughshod over the Constitution and the rights and freedoms of the American People as something other than the ravings of weak, lily livered liberals.

So, let's change things just a bit.

First, let's change Albright. Albright, in the show, didn't get as much focus as Spivey for a good reason. There's a limit to how much you're going to empathize with someone who's main virtues are that they're completely amoral and that people around them seem to think they're valuable. I'm more likely to believe that Albright manipulated the people around him to see him as valuable than I am to believe he actually brings something to the table.

To make him more of an equal partner, let's give Albright a moral center. This doesn't mean he wouldn't do things that some of us would balk at or that we would find morally repugnant or, in pure functional terms, just disagree with. It does mean that he would have a conscience that weighs on him, a purpose that drives him, and an abiding faith in the good that he does. Yes, he's on a certain side of the debate regarding treatment of prisoners and how to protect America. He has a position I wouldn't share. But, he's not a villain or better suited to some kind of Suicide Squad equivalent.

Second, let's change Spivey. I get the idea that Spivey is someone not too different from you or me. But, he needs to be on an even footing with Albright. Being in over his head might be fun for a bit, but it would need to be corrected, fast. That, and the jet-setting around the globe on moment's notirice needs something better than an efficiency expert as cover.

Instead, let's make Spivey an investigative reporter, someone who does go around the globe, getting stories to report. He doesn't have to be a big name, but someone competant enough at his job that there's a reason for some news organization to send him around. Like in the original, this is an artificial identity, but one that thoroughly believes itself to be true. The big difference is that this identity is, in capacity, equal to Albright, but also quite liberal, most likely to argue against Albright's actions.

An important note on both personalities is that they are both patriotic Americans. In Albright's case, this is because of how he was raised, educated, and trained. Organically, a patriotic American grew up. In Spivey's case, this has a similar backstory, but is programmed as a defense. If Spivey were to find out about something, it would keep him from turning against the organization... At least that was the thinking.

Then, we have the show. Similar to the original, we have Spivey slowly finding out that he's leading, in a more literal sense than most times this phrase is used, a double-life. We have Spivey finding out about the organization for which Albright works, even getting a deep look inside and into their practices. That sets up the conflict.

For Albright, patriotism means serving his country and doing what it takes to keep his country safe from outside forces. For Spivey, patriotism means challenging his country and doing what it takes to keep his country free in the face if internal forces. Both characters want to live and, while willing to risk their lives for the greater good, aren't quite ready to commit a form of suicide. Both characters want what's best for America and are willing to work together for that end.

But, one side supports the organization that employs otherwise illegal methods for the greater good and one side seeks to see that organization exposed and eliminated. Both sides have their points. Which one is right, which side is best for America should be left to the viewers to decide.
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