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Iron Woobie / Live-Action TV

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  • Michael Westen from Burn Notice. Raised by an abusive, alcoholic father who died mysteriously, he joined the military where he worked with sociopaths on a constant basis, only to lose his job and find himself stuck in a city he's out of place in and constantly targeted by a mysterious evil organization. Every time it seems like he might get his old job back, he is violently reminded why the show has the title it does. Even despite all this, he takes most things in stride and has a fairly optimistic view of the world.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • Picard picks up the role in The Next Generation. Assimilated by the Borg, living a whole lifetime's worth of experiences in a few moments, which effectively gives him the last memory of a dead civilization, suffers through centuries' worth of rage and heartbreak for Sarek, and was tortured for weeks by Gul Madred. He feels responsible for what he did as Locutus for years afterwards, as indicated by his interactions with Sisko in the Deep Space 9 pilot and in First Contact. Even after all that, Picard sticks to his beliefs and keeps going.
    • Also Data from TNG. He's constantly the victim of Fantastic Racism due to being an android, his "brother" turns out to be an Evil Twin, his "daughter" died and his body's been hijacked more than once. The fact that he can't feel emotion just seems to make it worse somehow.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The title character. Life screws her over royally time and again. Even when demonic forces aren't actively threatening everything she holds dear, she is still risking her life on a nightly basis and constantly alone, but she just keeps going. In fact, most Buffyverse characters are this trope. Joss Whedon is just mean to his characters.
    • Xander Harris. He's been the most unfortunate of all of the main characters (except the titular character herself). Bad things happen to him for nearly no reason other than to provide comedy and/or angst for the main character, to the point that at one point he declares himself the butt-monkey of the BTVS universe. Furthermore, despite a highly impressive track record, his achievements, loyalty, and bravery are always downplayed/dismissed by his friends until such a time that he becomes useful for them. He is an Iron Woobie because, despite this treatment, he never turns on his friends or the fight against evil, and you have to admire him for that determination. Xander addresses this in the episode "Potential". After Dawn acknowledges that she is not the new potential slayer the Scoobies were looking for, Xander tells her that the others will never know what it's like to be normal when all of your friends have ridiculous amounts of power that keep growing, but that he knows how much strength it took for Dawn to not let everyone continue to think that she was the potential. It's actually a pretty touching scene.
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  • Heroes: Edgar, a new Season 4 character, is an interesting case—he kills people with his super-speed/weapon accuracy abilities, but he has said that he does not actually want to do it—and then Samuel started to Force-choke him. He has emotions, remorse, and feelings for people, but still does bad things rather coldly.
  • Supernatural:
    • A case could be made for Crowley. Sure, he's a bad guy, but he also spent most of Season 5 alienated from his own kind and with a death sentence on his head that could just as easily have been delivered by the Winchesters as by the demons he betrayed. Yet he snarks on.
    • Castiel, especially in Season 5 when he's falling. But even after he's re-angelfied and accepted into Heaven, he finds that he has to become the figurehead for an incredibly personal civil war between his brothers, and he's more or less had to go it alone.
  • Smallville: Jonathan Kent basically spent his entire adult life working to protect Clark's secret, and (along with Martha) dealing with Clark's developing powers. Then, he makes an unfortunate deal with the Jor-El AI that leads to his developing a heart condition that eventually kills him, all for the sake of saving Clark. Along the way, poor Jonathan had to deal with the stresses of running a barely-profitable farm that was constantly beset with financial difficulties. And how does Jonathan react to all of this? By NOT taking refuge in Wangst. Instead, he tells Clark and Martha not to worry about him and focuses on getting the job done. In Season 10, when we see Clark talking to Jonathan in the afterlife, Jonathan reminisces on his own life and still refuses to dwell in self-pity. Now THAT'S an honorable character. Even before Clark came on the scene, Jonathan had more than his fair share of trouble in life. Martha says that Jonathan and his father never really got along, and Jonathan regrets never being able to patch things up between them. He met Martha while taking some classes at college (probably to manage the farm better), and she was way out of his league: daughter of a high-powered Metropolis attorney and her father no love for the yokel Martha was falling for. In the end, Clark's grandfather was invited out of the family, and never really reconciled with his daughter, son-in-law, or grandson. Jonathan and Martha were also unable to have children of their own, despite numerous attempts. And through it all, Jonathan had to keep a rather powerful rage in check to be the good man he always wanted to be.
  • Fran from Power Rangers Jungle Fury. Poor, poor Fran. As the only employee to not be a Ranger, she is consistently the only one left to deal with the mass lunch rush. While she occasionally confronts Theo and Lily about always being gone, once to the point of quitting, she just as easily sets it aside. And this isn't even covering her crush on Dom...
  • Torchwood:
    • Ianto Jones, who's been through just about everything. One of only 27 employees of Torchwood One to survive Canary Wharf, he saw his girlfriend turned into a killer cyborg that eventually had to be shot in front of him, he was half beaten to death by cannibals, and mind raped by an alien into thinking he's a murderer. And he does most of it with the wry efficiency of someone who was effectively hired to clean up after the team.
    • Jack is probably the biggest Iron Woobie of the series. Dear god, he's been buried alive, had all the life sucked out of him, was buried in concrete, and in Torchwood: Miracle Day was murdered over and over again in a butcher shop. He's also died over two thousand times and spent a year being tortured to death over and over. Oh, and he was also forced to kill his own grandson in order to save the rest of Earth's children the day after his boyfriend died. How Jack isn't a babbling mess by now is kind of a mystery.
    • Then there's Tosh. She was forced to commit treason because her mother was being held hostage. Then, instead of getting rescued, UNIT sentences her to isolation until Jack shows up and recruits her for Torchwood. The man she has a crush on is a jerk who won't give her the time of day, but at least she has regular contact with him. Another interest was a soldier suffering from PSTD who had to go back to a time that didn't understand the disorder. Then there was her other love interest Mary who was revealed to have been using her the entire time. When Tosh finally does tell Owen she loves him, she's dying from a gunshot wound and it turns out he didn't even hear it. That poor woman never got a break.
  • From NUMB3RS: Josephine Kirtland, the victim in the Season 3 episode "Nine Wives". She grew up in a polygamist cult. She was forced to marry its leader, Prophet Stone, who subsequently raped her. Instead of giving up, she escapes from a desert hideout and treks through the wilderness at night. Later, she faces two awful truths: her mother betrayed her to Stone, and she is the product of Parental Incest (she and her mother have the same father). Despite all of this, she's a mostly stable individual by the end of the episode. Oh, and did I mention that she's only sixteen?
  • Aaron Hotchner from Criminal Minds is possibly the best example of an Iron Woobie on TV today. Hotch is trying to raise his son after his ex-wife - his high school sweetheart - was murdered by the Reaper, who made him listen over the phone while she died. Hotch was so grief-stricken that he beat the Reaper to death with his bare hands. Oh, and this was after he got stabbed by the Reaper, and had his son taken into protective custody. And after that time he nearly got blown up by a suicide bomber, lost an old flame in the same attack, and had painful hearing problems for some time afterward as a result of it shattering his eardrums.
  • Bree Van De Kamp, from Desperate Housewives. Let's get this straight: She lost 3 husbands and 2 boyfriends, her son hated her with passion for several seasons, her daughter does not like her very much either, and she succumbed to alcoholism. Despite all of this, she managed to get back on her feet each time, despite the odds, the people and the universe working against her. That is, until season 8, where she finally snaps and is on the verge of committing suicide herself like Mary Alice by the end of the 9th episode.
  • The title character of Merlin (2008). Just look at the last half of Series 2. Forced to tell your best friend that magic is evil in order to spare a man who would have you slaughtered? Check. Your best friend kills your girlfriend? Check. Forced to poison one of your friends for the greater good? Check. Finally meet your father only for him to die saving you two days later? Check. And while this is a compilation of the worst things to happen to him, they certainly aren't limited to just lining up in a row and hitting him. Only one person has learned his secret, accepted it and lived. Everyone else is dead.
    • Oh, and did we mention that these are just specific events? His normal life is being called an idiot and distrusted despite always being right, getting abused and belittled by Arthur despite constantly saving his life, and if he's ever discovered saving all of Camelot, he will be killed. Why? Because he was born magical and thus must be evil. And it would most likely be Arthur who gives out the order.
    • He has never gone into Heroic BSoD, rampaged, broken down, or sunk into depression. He cries, sure, but he'll get back on his feet and keep trying with the same episode. Even on the one occasion when he truly felt his cause was hopeless after accidentally killing Uther and possibly turning Arthur against magic forever, he stuck around because Arthur needed his emotional support. He's not even that emotional towards Gaius, the one person who he can rant to. He's had one rant (early series two, before all the above happened), and the rest of the time he just takes comfort in the fact that there is one person who knows how much he's done for Camelot. Forget iron, this guy is an Adamantium Woobie.
    • Oh, and his final fate? To Walk the Earth, immortal, until he's needed again. As most fans have noted, this is a curse to see everyone he cares about die, but he's still waiting for Arthur.
  • Al Calavicci from Quantum Leap. In order: his mother ran out on her family; he bounced in and out of orphanages because his father was working overseas; his little sister died in a mental hospital; his father died from cancer (thus causing his falling out with religion); his father figure, a black man, was arrested for playing pool in a whites-only pool hall (this being the 1940s); he was a POW in Vietnam, during which time his first wife, the "only woman [I] ever really loved," left him; four more failed marriages; and he was a raging alcoholic, to the degree that he was in danger of getting fired from his job running a government project. Rock bottom was implied to be when Sam Beckett found him piss drunk and beating a vending machine with a hammer. Despite all of the crap that Al's been through, he's a pretty laid-back guy and rarely mentions any of these things unless it's relevant (all of these were learned when he used them to put a leap into context for Sam).
  • Alex Cabot from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit was shot by a hitman and forced to go into Witness Protection Program. Most of her friends think she is dead, she wasn't allowed to attend her mothers own funeral because she is placed under another identity and the man she was in a relationship with thought of her as a woman with another name. She arrives back for one episode to testify against the man who shot her and when she lets her walls over around Olivia, it really hits home. And when she arrives back as ADA permanently again in season 10, her infamous cool-headed personality remains and rarely lets up.
  • House of Anubis- Patricia seems to be a downplayed one. She's gone through a lot of struggle and genuine pain since the first series, including betrayal, kidnapping, heartbreak, jealousy issues, and even getting her soul stolen. Despite this, she is the show's biggest Determinator, and she has a tendency to bounce back after getting hurt, no matter how badly.
  • Elliot in Mr. Robot has been through so much hell throughout the series. He suffers from a lot of mental illnesses and drug addiction and was abused by his mom and lost his dad. He is put through so many obstacles such as getting thrown off the pier, losing his friends, almost getting beaten to death, almost getting raped, getting shot by Tyrell, getting gaslighted by Angela and almost getting executed by the Dark Army. With so many things happening to him all the while he has mental illnesses, he could've killed himself or went insane, but he is able to bounce back and keep his head held high.
  • Hook in Once Upon a Time while being tortured in Season 5. His suffering is visible on his face, but he tries to not scream out when his tormentor, Hades, is in the room and instead Hook threatens to destroy him, something he helps his friends achieve later. However, he does let on a little when Emma comes to his rescue.
  • Theo in The Haunting of Hill House. She's described by her siblings as a "clenched fist" and dealt with the trauma from Hill House by becoming an ice queen. The only time she's truly warm is when she's at work, treating children as a child psychologist. She can sense hidden truths by touching people, allowing her to see her patients' traumas and help diagnose them. One of them is being molested by her foster father, which Theo psychically experiences while investigating. Imagine experiencing not just your own traumas but the traumas of every person you've ever touched.
  • Outnumbered: At the best of times, Sue has to juggle work with keeping the household running; her boisterous kids and well-meaning but feckless husband aren't much help. It gets worse, though, as she has to come to terms with her father's condition and watch his gradual deterioration; by the end, he doesn't even remember who she is. Despite all this, though, she never lets the stress get too much for her; she remains the rock upon which the Brockman household rests.

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