Making a Torture Technician sympathetic:

Total posts: [11]
1 KyleJacobs19th Nov 2011 10:58:33 PM from Connecticut/D.C. , Relationship Status: One True Dodecahedron
Here's a bit of info about a character I've been cooking up lately. Ethan Leosi is a former operative for a top-secret CIA team known as the butchers, along with several other characters. Notably, my Big Bad was the head of the unit when it was still operational. During a second American civil war, the butchers were responsible for assassinations, abductions, and all manner of operations that needed to be kept secret until they were completed and could be used for propaganda/intimidation purposes. Back then, Ethan and the Big Bad were both in charge of interrogation, i.e. a combination of torture and truth serum. Back then, they kind of had a Good Cop/Bad Cop thing going, with Ethan as the bad cop.

The problem here is that outside of the torture chamber, Ethan was the team medic and a really nice guy who had serious moral issues with what he was doing, especially towards the end. The reason that he ended up doing the bulk of the torturing was that his medical knowledge allowed him to target the areas of the body that would cause the most pain in the victim without the risk of fatality, and his very loose reading of the Hypocratic Oath led him to believe that he was doing less harm by torturing people than he would have done by passing up the opportunities for information that they provided.

17 years after the end of the war, Ethan has cut all his ties to the government. He's now a family man and a pediatrician who's carrying some serious guilt over his actions. The problem is that the Big Bad, while no slouch in the torture department himself, isn't particularly good at extracting information and at some point needs to call on Ethan to come work for him. Needless to say, Ethan wants nothing to do with whatever the Big Bad is planning until the latter casually brings far too many details about his wife and kids into their conversation.

Anyway, at some point later on, Ethan is doing his thing to one of the main characters. I'm thinking the best way to show that he's still a good guy who really, really doesn't want to be where he is but is too scared for his family to actually do something about it would be to cut from him about to go to town on someone to him looking utterly horrified and throwing up in a toilet or something.
So, my question is, does all of that justify or at least explain some of the most Cold-Blooded Torture I've ever written (which is seriously saying something) while keeping Ethan sympathetic?

edited 4th Dec '11 3:24:18 PM by KyleJacobs

2 Enthryn27th Nov 2011 11:16:45 AM , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
Doesn't excuse or justify it, but he at least doesn't come across as a Complete Monster. If you need something more to make him seem sympathetic, you could have him attempt suicide at some point; I think that'd make a fair number of readers sympathetic to him, even if they still consider his actions inexcusable (as I do).
Prendre le bien, le mal et sans trier, accepter
Sans couvrir tes yeux, tout regarder.
3 KyleJacobs3rd Dec 2011 10:46:42 PM from Connecticut/D.C. , Relationship Status: One True Dodecahedron
So how's this for a sequence: He's about to cut his wrists when the Big Bad shows up, delivers a Hannibal Lecture, and leaves. Ethan can't do it and has a minor breakdown. After that, it's revealed that he has a history with one of the Resistance members, who chews him out for continuing to work as a torturer. Later, for reasons relating to someone's (NOT the Big Bad's, for once) ongoing scheme, the Resistance is released. Because they've seen nothing to indicate that Ethan isn't the Complete Monster he's been forced to present himself as, they shoot him on sight during their escape.
4 jagillette4th Dec 2011 10:07:12 AM from the middle of nowhere
Wimpy Mc Squishy
This all sounds pretty good. You're obviously very concerned with making this guy sympathetic, and you've given it a lot of thought. I think these ideas will work out great.
Yeah, I'd say he's sympathetic. His actions aren't justified, but they're understandable. He sounds like a woobie-ish Anti-Villain.
What's the point in giving up when you know you'll never stop anyway?
6 Enthryn4th Dec 2011 07:49:59 PM , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
Sounds good, except for the part about cutting his wrists. If I'm not mistaken, that's generally a pretty ineffective method of suicide. Since he'd be quite knowledgeable about the human body, I'd expect him to know this. Plus, I think pointing a gun at himself or standing on the edge of a building/cliff might have more emotional impact, since those are perceived as more "serious" ways of attempting suicide (due to the fact that some people cut their wrists non-lethally, without immediate suicidal intent).
Prendre le bien, le mal et sans trier, accepter
Sans couvrir tes yeux, tout regarder.
7 KyleJacobs5th Dec 2011 02:09:37 AM from Connecticut/D.C. , Relationship Status: One True Dodecahedron
Fair point; I wrote the cuts-wrists thing at 2 AM. I agree, holding a gun to his head would probably be better.
8 Enthryn5th Dec 2011 03:13:00 AM , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
I've been mentally comparing your idea to Roy Mustang's characterization in Fullmetal Alchemist; there's an example of a character who manages to be considered heroic by most viewers despite having committed war crimes. Watch the flashbacks about halfway through this episode to see what I'm talking about; his near-suicide makes the scene much more powerful, and the effectiveness of that scene is basically where my suggestions were coming from.
Prendre le bien, le mal et sans trier, accepter
Sans couvrir tes yeux, tout regarder.
9 KyleJacobs5th Dec 2011 04:18:43 AM from Connecticut/D.C. , Relationship Status: One True Dodecahedron
I actually hadn't thought about that, but given that the war flashbacks in FMA have been a big inspiration for the overall tone of this series, it makes sense to make the comparison. Basically, imagine if Marcoh had less of a spine and ended up taking orders from Kimblee and you have some idea of what I'm going for. One difference is that I think my Big Bad is an even bigger scumbag than Kimblee, if that's possible.
10 Enthryn5th Dec 2011 01:08:42 PM , Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
Yeah, it's certainly possible. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple characters arguably worse than Kimblee: King Hamdo and Colonel Hopkins. King Hamdo especially. (If you've seen the series, you know what I'm talking about.)

Anyway, now that you mention it, I can see the influence of the war flashbacks in FMA. I take it the readers aren't supposed to have any sympathy for said Big Bad?

edited 5th Dec '11 1:10:13 PM by Enthryn

Prendre le bien, le mal et sans trier, accepter
Sans couvrir tes yeux, tout regarder.
11 KyleJacobs6th Dec 2011 02:34:54 PM from Connecticut/D.C. , Relationship Status: One True Dodecahedron
None whatsoever.
The system doesn't know you right now, so no post button for you.
You need to Get Known to get one of those.

Total posts: 11