This post will contain some mild spoilers for the final season opener for Entourage. If you want to see it and haven't yet, hold off on reading this post. Otherwise, soldier on for a discussion of why a certain plotting technique doesn't always work with antiheroes and other scoundrels.
If you watch Entourage, you know that talent agent Ari Gold isn't always a nice man. And he isn't always a bad man. In fact, he's cut in largely the same mold as Vito Corleone, the classic antihero: ruthless about business dealings, fiercely loyal to his people, willing to stop at nothing to destroy his enemies, and above all, a dedicated husband and father. Above all? Yes, above all, because the "family man" angle on this character type is what allows an audience to cheer for and ultimately love these characters. Sure, they stole (clients and cash) and committed all manner of other bad acts. But they did it for their families.
Ari says it over and over again to his wife through the course of the series. "I'm doing this so you can have six weeks traveling this summer, and our children can go to the best schools," and so on. He loves his wife, and that's evident even if he doesn't always treat her well. (In fairness, she's not always a devoted and supportive wife, either.) In fact, they spend much of the first 8 seasons in marital counseling. Some of the clips from these counseling sessions are genius, and here's one that demonstrates the tension in his character between work and family life:
So,he loves his wife. He loves his kids. It's not all smooth sailing, but if there is one person on the planet who can bring Ari Gold to his knees, it's Mrs. Ari. In fact, the clip I really wanted to show you guys, but couldn't find on youtube, was the one where they hired a clown for Ari's son's birthday party. Ari is hanging out at the party when he gets a call that he must go take care of something in person. His wife protests. They quarrel. He insists that he has to leave because his job pays for all these things, and she says something like, "Listen, Agent Boy, if you're not back in time for the clown, you're in big trouble." And he sort of collapses, all the bravado deflating in one whoosh, and he promises to be back in time for the clown. Mrs. Ari wins, and you get the feeling she's one of the few people, if not the only person, who can win this kind of response from him.
This brings us to the plotting device. We've all heard the suggestion. Imagine the worst thing that could happen to your character, and then do it to him. This can be a very useful plotting tool, but it's not all-purpose, and Ari Gold shows us why. In the season finale last series, Air's wife asked him for a separation. And in the season opener this week, when he begs to move back in, she tells him she's seeing someone else. The most important thing to Ari is his family, his wife and kids, right? So now we see that being removed from him.
But here's why this is a problem. Ari's not an heroic character. He's an antihero. His redeeming virtue -- the characteristic that is largely responsible for keeping him from sliding over into villainous territory -- is his love for his family. And they're removing that from his world.
Now, we don't know how the season will develop. It's possible that Ari will move heaven and earth to get his wife back. This would be in keeping with his character, though her betrayal might be something he can't get over. Loyalty is very important to him. But if they spin the subplot so that it becomes a challenge to Ari's notion of loyalty rather than a removal of his redeeming characteristic, we might not have a problem.
Otherwise, we're in a bit of trouble here. Ari could quickly become despicable. At the moment, he's just lost. He wound up the episode by diving into a bottle of vodka, and he was so emotionally wrecked that he didn't even realize it was fake, non-alcoholic vodka. Where he goes from here could be somewhere interesting, or somewhere that the audience won't want to follow. Anyone have any guesses as to what might happen next? Anyone see another path to redemption for Ari, other than fighting to get his family back?