Looking back over the various sci-fi television shows I have watched over the years, I am intrigued by the idea that some of the characters wear masks – not literal masks, but instead facades behind which they hide their true nature. For not everyone is Darth Vader with such an obvious desire to hide who he is. Thus, such characters are a fascinating study in duplicity and to see whether the “masks” they wear are successful.
Double agents, sleepers, traitors, turn-coats, opportunists – these are but just a few of the names we have for those who wear a mask. They dance in the masquerade of life weaving their spells of illusion.
Some of the most treacherous moments in sci-fi television were only achieved through such careful and clever use of masks. Among those astounding, eye-popping moments were:
Double Agents –
Looking first at double agents, there are quite a few that standout in recent television history. Most recently, there was Ruby in “Supernatural,” who convinced Sam to unleash Satan from the pit of Hell. That little nasty demon certainly had a big comeuppance coming her way.
Another surprising reveal was finding out that Mr. Dominic from “Dollhouse” was the NSA’s inside-man who kept tabs on the nefarious dealings of the Dollhouse. After the first season, it appeared that Mr. Dominic’s days were over when banished to the Attic, but as viewers of “Epitaph One” have seen, he may yet be a player and still a man to be reckoned with, for beware the man who realizes he can be so casually tossed aside.
In probably one of the most tragic double-agent storylines, in “Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles” we saw the doomed-from-the-start Riley worm her way into John Connor’s life in order to try to sway his affections from Cameron who Jesse deemed to hold too much power over him and which may jeopardize the human race. That Riley was ultimately sacrificed by Jesse in order to implicate Cameron was the ultimate betrayal of the fragile double-agent by one of her own.
Then falling on the side of the good guys was triple-agent John Scott in “Fringe.” For over half the debut season, everyone presumed that he was but a mere double-agent, working for those who would undermine our government. But, in the end, it was revealed that John Scott had been recruited as a faux double-agent in order to find out what the enemy was up to. The reveal that he was a double-double agent turned the tables on the bad guys.
In a heart-breaking turn, we saw Gina in “Battlestar Galactica” infiltrate the Pegasus, which led to her brutal incarceration and heinous interrogation. Thus, it was not really a surprise when she escaped and, with Baltar’s unknowing aid, got her hands on a nuclear bomb which she promptly detonated taking out one of the largest ships in the fleet.
And last, but not least, was the mysterious double-agent role of Beverly Barlowe in the first season of “Eureka.” We never did find out who she was working for. Perhaps one day we will learn what she was really up to and whether it still poses a dire risk for the entire world.
Looking next at sleeper-agents, the gold star goes to Boomer on “Battlestar Galactica.” She was the ultimate sleeper-agent, first shooting Adama, then later kidnapping Hera. She was the ultimate deceiver as we never truly knew if she was a Cylon yearning to be human, or a Cylon good at pretending to be human and successfully managing to conceal her deeply-rooted evil nature from even those closest to her.
Outstripping Boomer in her lethalness, River Tam in “Firefly,” was a paradox of facades. With her brain shattered after multiple medical experiments at the hands of the Alliance and the Blue Men, River appeared to be childlike and harmless. It was only under great emotional stress or a “trigger” that her training and instincts kicked-in and she took out everything in sight.
Then, in a nice jaw-dropping turn, Mellie in “Dollhouse” turned out to be a cleverly placed sleeper as the neighbor next door to Paul Ballard, who got the drop on her assassin and took him out with one well-placed kick. No one saw that twist coming!
This is perhaps the most ugly side of human nature, those who will turn on their own. Benjamin Linus in “Lost” is a shining example of a traitor to his core. Just when we thought he was on the path to redemption, he not only snapped John Locke’s neck, he then stabbed Jacob.
Also in a stunning turn of events on “Lost” was Michael’s cold-blooded execution of both Ana-Lucia and Libby in order to break Ben free of his cell in the hatch. Though, in the end, it seemed Michael truly regretted his traitorous actions and tried to make amends by assisting in blowing up the freighter.
Giving Ben a run for his money was Helen Cutter in “Primeval,” who went back to the dawn of humankind in order to prevent the human race from ever existing.
Another girl you wish you could strangle for her willing complicitness in espionage on the side of the enemy is Jill Roberts, Chuck’s college sweetheart, who came back time and time again to betray Chuck repeatedly in the TV series “Chuck.”
And the ultimate traitor who broke our hearts was Gata in “Battlestar Galactica.” His well-intentioned mutiny on the Galactica had us shaking our heads and screaming “what the frak are you doing?!” to our television sets. His noble intentions led to an internal bloodbath from which the show never recovered.
There are characters that are constantly changing their alliances and you are never quite sure if you can fully trust them.
One of the best turn-coats was Angel in “Buffy.” One minute he was the Slayer’s dreamboat protector, and then the next he was a soul-less demon killing everyone he could get his hands on. Perhaps there was no more heart-stopping moment of shock than watching Angel kill Jenny Calendar.
Following in those vicious footsteps, we now have Sylar on “Heroes” who also changes his colors of loyalty from episode to episode. One minute he is a sociopathic serial killer and the next he is returning to rescue fellow “heroes” from the clutches of the evil government agents. But, if there was any doubt, one only had to watch him slowly and gleefully kill his girlfriend, Elle, to realize that he is truly evil.
Returning back to the “BSG” realm, it was rather disheartening to realize the extent of Tom Larek’s willingness to do everything to undermine the fragile society created in the aftermath of the Cylon genocide of the human race. We so very much wanted to trust and believe in him, but in the end, he masterminded a mutiny that ended up with him airlocked.
Another kind of mask is that of the opportunist. Such an individual does not seek to be evil for the sake of being evil, but rather is motivated out of base desires, such as lust, power and greed.
One glaring example of this was Gaius Baltar on “BSG.” He was not only driven by his base desires, but also his overwhelming need for survival. Gaius Baltar would sell his soul to the Cylons or to a misguided cult just to survive. However, in the end, perhaps Gaius was simply a man seeking redemption for all the evil he had inflicted on those around him.
While not quite fully understood, the brief glimpses we have about Captain John Hart’s (played by James Marsters) in the series “Torchwood” showed a man who was driven by his desires – whether it be survival, greed or lust. He is a man who wants what he wants and will do whatever he needs to do to get it.
In “Firefly,” Jayne was the most honest of all the characters as he would tell you to your face that he had sold you to the Alliance. Jayne always appeared to let his loyalty fall on the side of greed. It was all about the filthy lucre with him. The only thing that trumped greed was his base instinct for survival, but even then it was a toss up.
Looking next at those who deceive themselves more than they deceive anyone else, it is appropriate to acknowledge those who wear a mask that only they can see.
For all his speeches about not being willing to stick his neck out for anyone and keeping his head-low to stay off the Alliance’s radar, Captain Malcolm Reynolds in “Firefly” was entirely self-deceived. For he consistently put the well-being of others ahead of his own and took every opportunity to willingly engage the Alliance in order to piss them off and thumb his nose at their clumsy attempts at tyranny.
Similarly self-deceived was King Silas in “Kings.” Except in his case, he was self-deluded into thinking that what he did was for the good of his kingdom. Yet in reality, nearly all of his actions were self-preserving and self-aggrandizing. In King Silas’ world, there was only room for himself. He left no room for God, nor the people he was entrusted to watch over.
In a painful revelation, we saw all too clearly the mask slip away to reveal Captain Jack Harkness’ true nature in the recent “Torchwood: Children of Earth” special. Jack was perhaps the most deceived, but he was forced to face himself in the mirror when he saw the end result of his willingness to give up 12 children in exchange for a virus cure, and then was forced to sacrifice his own grandson in order to defeat that same enemy.
Then, in a sad twist, we saw Henry in “Eureka,” create an alternate future timeline so that the love of his life would not die. It was a revelation to see the lengths that Henry would go to ensure a future with his beloved.
Another master-deceiver was Nathan Petrelli in “Heroes.” Despite his best intentions, Nathan kept on making things worse for those who had abilities. His outing them to the U.S. government was perhaps the biggest disaster he could have inflicted on them all.
A newcomer to the world of deceit is Mitchell on “Being Human,” the vampire in complete denial about his true nature and who so desperately wants to be something other than what he is. It remains to be seen if Mitchell will acknowledge and confront his despicable nature.
Also self-despising and willing to endure the tests of Hell to get his soul back was Spike on “Buffy” and “Angel.” Spike wanted to be human so badly he constantly tried to shed his vampire nature in order to prove he was still a man. In the end, did Spike’s ruthless nature belie a gentler human heart?
Lastly, also hailing from the Whedon-verse, was Wesley in “Angel.” He so desperately wanted to do the right thing, but by stealing Angel’s son, Connor, he unleashed a destiny that nearly enslaved the entire planet of earth and destroyed a young man’s childhood.
In the end, whether with malicious intent, handcuffed by fate, or simply through bumblingly bad decisions, these are a sampling of the types of villains that populate the sci-fi universe. They may send shivers down our spines or make us shake our heads with dismay, but without these multi-faceted characters our sci-fi shows we would surely suffer from anemia due to the lack of drama, intensity and surprise. Evil is after all a necessary ingredient in any good story – and in sci-fi there is no lack of masks that evil wears.