Saturday, August 1, 2009

More Thoughts on Lindsey McDonald


Lover of moral ambiguity that I am, the character of Lindsey McDonald on Angel always fascinates me. Although he had signed on to fight for the side of Evil, he showed enough cracks to allow us to hope that eventually he could be persuaded to join Angel in the fight for Good. Even though Angel and Lindsey periodically joined together in some pretty uneasy alliances, Angel never trusted Lindsey and ultimately had him killed by Lorne in the last episode of the series.

I've speculated before that Angel, with his deep understanding of human nature, had probably met a lot of Lindseys during his time on earth and knew Lindsey McDonald was only out for himself. I also speculated that maybe the town just wasn't big enough for these two supercharged alpha males.

The second time I saw this scene where Lindsey recounted his tale of childhood woe, I was struck by (in addition to his humorous gesture of pretending to let his elbow slip off his desk) Angel's response. "I'm sorry. I nodded off. Did you get to the part where you're evil?"

Lindsey really was leaving a huge chunk of the story out of his narrative. As I mentioned in this post a few days ago, Lindsey and Charles came from similar (as in, poverty-stricken) backgrounds, but Charles decided to devote his life to Good while Lindsey chose Evil.

One technique I use in trying to figure out puzzling characters and plot lines is to take what I'm looking at on TV as a metaphor, apply what I'm seeing to real-life equivalents, then take what I discover and exaggerate the details so they will fit back in with the on-screen action. With Lindsey, I decided to not look at him as simply an Evil lawyer for demon-loving Wolfram & Hart. I decided to look at him in terms of an ordinary person with great ambitions of success.

I wish I could remember the name of a library book I checked out several years ago that really influenced my way of thinking. If I ever find the title of this book, I'll update this post. [Note: See Update below.] Regardless, I believe it was about the next generation of politicians who popped up after the Founding Fathers, and were probably too young (or hadn't been born yet) to fight in the Revolutionary War. The author found an interesting common thread in a lot of these men's lives. The vast majority of them grew up on small farms, which made sense because the U.S. was predominantly an agrarian society at that time. Many of these families were destitute to the point of starvation. Their very survival depended on their ability to produce as many young farmhands (children) as possible to work the fields. The loss of even one farmhand would be a devastating blow to the entire family.

When a boy would get older and start feeling restless, the father would plead or use threats to try to keep the boy home. Both parents would warn that the family would starve without the son, and try to appeal to the boy's guilt and sense of honor in order to keep him on the farm. Their pleas would often fall on deaf ears, since the boys would leave the farm to seek their fame and fortune, and, ultimately, become successful politicians.

Many times, the sons would later on characterize their fathers as being drunkards and dim-wits, always jumping from one harebrained get-rich scheme to the next, and always leaving the family that much worse off after the inevitable failures. The Charles Gunns of the world stayed home because they were devoted to their mothers and siblings and truly wanted to protect and care for them. The Lindsey McDonalds of the world would escape from the farm as soon as possible.

If a boy decided to stay home on the farm, what was the best he could expect? For the most part, despite all of his hard work, he could look forward to a life of grinding poverty. His best hope for continued survival would be to marry and raise as large a family as possible in order to get the requisite number of farmhands. If he left the farm, unencumbered by all of the additional mouths he needed to feed, he could work hard, make money, and start moving up the social ladder.

Despite all of the horrible things we say about politicians, our nation is definitely better off because those boys decided to leave their farms in the early 19th century. There's always a tension between societies that encourage people to stay home with their elders, and societies that encourage young people to leave the nest as soon as they reach adulthood. If given a choice, and despite the real problems associated with the abandonment of the elderly, I always prefer the latter option. I don't want to live in a closed world where I'm perpetually beholden to my parents and grandparents, and harmful superstitions are passed down from one generation to the next.

So, from a real-world point of view, Lindsey told his dad, "screw you" and turned his back on him and presumably, the rest of his family. (Abandonment of the rest of the family is always collateral damage in father-son disputes.) Again, presumably, Lindsey hustled to get some college scholarships, and was ultimately recruited by Wolfram & Hart. Change "Wolfram & Hart" to "Goldman Sachs" or "Microsoft", and Lindsey's story starts making a lot more sense.

In the exaggerated, metaphoric world of Angel, all power has been subverted by Evil, with Wolfram & Hart seemingly at the epicenter. It seems as though if you're ambitious and really want to make a name for yourself, you'll have to align yourself with Wolfram & Hart sooner or later. Presumably, Lindsey put his dad in the "dim-witted" category, always going from one harebrained scheme to the next. What better way could Lindsey find to rebel against his father than to rise to the top as quickly as possible?

Closing Thoughts. I loved the choice of casting Christian Kane as Lindsey McDonald. In his interviews, Kane always comes off as being proud of his Oklahoma background, and one always senses he strives to keep a sense of that "cowboy" persona about him.

Lindsey didn't look natural in a suit and tie. Whenever I look at Lindsey, I think of him as peeling off his suit the minute he got into his apartment and putting on a pair of jeans. Since I first saw Lindsey in Angel's Season 5, I wish I could go back in time and see him for the first time in Season 1. I wonder if I'd be able to guess at his Texas/Oklahoma roots and impoverished childhood.

Update 8/1/09: I still can't remember the name of the book I mentioned above, but Joyce Appleby's Inheriting the Revolution, which was published in 2000, offers a more than acceptable substitute. Not every father was painted as badly as what I depicted above. Some were described as "pleasant failures". However, as Appleby wrote on pages 172-173:
Somehow the young acquired the psychological resiliency to enter the entrepreneurial vanguard of America's developing economy or...to thwart the plans of their parent and follow their heart. These displays of early independence juxtaposed against paternal weakensses or disapproval indicates that some family traditions had depended in part upon fathers' control of their children. Other forces were at play. The disruptions caused by the Revolution probably sapped parental authority; poor parents have never enjoyed the same respect as those with financial penalties to exact for insubordination. Poverty eroded filial compliance in addition to offering a repellent contrast to the imagined fortunes that might be garnered elsewhere. .....Less easy to measure is the importance of the early signs of intelligence that aroused the attention of outsiders who often helped negotiate the break with home. [Think of Wolfram & Hart rescuing Lindsey.]
Lindsey did not turn Evil just because he wanted to seek his fame and fortune. Lindsey equated his father's inherent goodness with weakness, and perhaps overcompensated by turning to Evil as an antidote to everything that ailed his family during his childhood.

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