The Non-Titular Hero’s Journey in the Marvel Netflix Universe
The Fifth Defender
Why Claire Temple is Vaguely Insulted by Post S2 Fics That Stick Her Right Back on an ER Shift
Scenario: You discover a bleeding-out weirdo in the dumpster next to your apartment.
A) Call 911 and let them handle it,
B) Pick him up and take him into your home?
If you chose B, congratulations! You have embarked on a Hero’s Journey!
Ah, the Hero’s Journey. The classic plot by which an ordinary, everyday person discovers they are actually extraordinary. It comes in many forms, but generally speaking, it’s a story of entering a different world, adapting to it, and returning home, having Leveled Up.
Characters who go on a Hero’s Journey usually have their own stories, or they’re part of an ensemble, but sometimes, for whatever reason, they’re stuck in the background of someone else’s. Or, a few other people’s. Really, though, are we not all the heroes of our own stories?
And since you’re no sidekick, that makes you a Hero, right? Right. Let’s examine your Hero’s Journey so far.
Your journey begins, as all journeys do, in a place of comfort, a place of familiarity. Your apartment, on your night off. But something happens to disturb that comfort: Your neighbour comes running, screaming for help. He’s found a dying man in the garbage. And you have to make a decision. As eloquently distilled by (your good friend, now) one Jessica Jones, “One, keep denying it, or two, do something about it.”
Yeah, you’re gonna do something about it.
You’ve just received a Call to Adventure, the first stage of the Hero’s Journey. And at this stage, you have a single choice. Option One is Refusing the Call. Option Two is Heeding the Call.
The True Hero, immediately or eventually, chooses Option Two.*
Now, you can Refuse the Call, and it won’t immediately discount you as a True Hero, but Heeding the Call is what separates heroes from perpetual supporting characters. It’s your basic first step. Well done.
You’ve Heeded the Call! Now what?
Now, it gets messy. Especially if none of the shows you’re on are named after you, and your arc keeps getting interrupted by your actor’s contract. A minor setback. Let us press on into the Unknown!
The Call you Heeded may have been placed by a mysterious figure.
This figure may be weirdly dressed and/or affected.
This is your Mentor Figure. And, uh. Sorry. Your Mentor, like his outfit, kinda sucks. You’re a bit hard-pressed for Mentor options when you don’t happen to be the title character. In his defence, much like his outfit, he, too, is a work in progress, only a couple steps ahead of you on his own Hero’s Journey. Essentially, though, his job is to hold out a hand and lead you across a Threshold from the Mundane World you’ve always known and are comfortable in, into his world, a Special World, and he certainly does that. His other job is to protect you and test you, often at the same time, and he does that okay, too.
Okay. Your Mentor has, however ineptly, shown you the Threshold into the Special World, and asked you to Cross it. You now find yourself in the Special World. The Underworld. The Unknown. There are people in and around the edges of this world who don’t want you there. These are Threshold Guardians. The outright bad ones will try to kill you. Check. The friendlier ones will try to pull you back, or distract you, for your own good, you understand. Come back to work, keep your head down, etc.
Your Mentor will, hopefully, help you push past these assholes and mother hens and say, no, not today. I’m on a Hero’s Journey, here.
You’ve Crossed the Threshold, and…
You are now a resident, if not quite yet a citizen, of the Special World. The culture here is… not what you’re used to. And you’re going to have to use your innate Special-ness, the thing your Mentor saw in you and chose you for, to adapt and survive. You have embarked upon your Special World Citizenship Test, the Road of Trials.
Here, you will encounter scenarios you haven’t trained for, you couldn’t have trained for, back home in the Mundane Universe. And you’re going to have to adapt, on the fly, to pass the tests. So if your innate skill is healing, let’s say, and you learned it with real-world technology and sanitation on phenotypically normal human bodies, you’re going to be thrown out of your element. You might find yourself called upon for major emergency surgery with nothing but a first aid kit.
Or to help one of the Threshold Guardians who tried to kill you.
Or to diagnose and treat internal head trauma with no imaging equipment. You might have to break into an unbreakable body to do it.
You might be called upon to treat multiple patients with an unknown and possibly unearthly condition, without the aid of proper anything.
And you will persevere and pass all of these tests, though some people will try very hard to stop you. You might even pay a price for passing the tests, but deciding not to try would have been worse, trust me.
Hey. Maybe you’re feeling pretty good about yourself at this point. Brace yourself, babe. The s^%^’s about to hit the fan.
First, your mentor’s gonna Die
Sorry. The good news is, this isn’t necessarily literal, and since I know you feel kind of responsible for his life, I’ll reassure you that it’s not, in your case, so put down the first aid kit. Since your Mentor happens to be the title character of the show you’re in, he’s gonna be around for a while, yet. Also? His Mentor didn’t die, either.
No, your Mentor, like his Mentor before him, will undergo a different sort of death, for our purposes known as The Dickening. He will transform himself, from the reasonable person you agreed to follow, into a colossal douchebag, and walk out, making himself henceforth unavailable to you.
I mean, let him go. To become a True Hero, you need to do this next part completely on your own.
And now, you’re gonna “Die”
And you’re gonna do it willingly.
This one is definitely not literal.
Unless your Special Universe is an afterlife, which has happened, but is not the case for you. So don’t worry.
Really, don’t worry. By “Die”, I mean you’re going to have to make a very big decision that will permanently cut you off from the life you knew. And that sounds terrifying. But it actually won’t be. It will be so clear a decision, so obvious a choice given what you now know about the universe, that you’ll barely even think about it. So, go on. Go for it.
I SAID NOT LITERALLY!
There ya go.
You’ve just Died. To become a Hero, you have to be Reborn. THIS is the terrifying part, because it’s all up to you, now. You’ve cut yourself loose. Nobody knows you anymore. Before you is not a forked path, but an infinite number of paths. Anything is possible.
Well, almost anything. It’s actually not really an infinite number of paths, because nothing is set out for you anymore. It’s more like a junkyard full of materials with which you need to rebuild yourself. Many are full of splinters, nails. Others are sitting on top of out-and-out landmines. It’s going to be hard, and probably painful. More people are going to try to stop you. Your earlier decision will come with heavy costs, and you might even start to regret making it. But you can’t go back. You Killed that life. This is your new one.
And it’s gonna be okay. Because you are a True Hero.
That’s where we leave you. Halfway through your Hero’s Journey, ready to start your Rebirth. Yeah, you could go work at a different Mundane ER, but are you really going to? After all that work, you’re just going to rebuild a new life that looks exactly like your old one? You Crossed the Threshold. You pushed through your Road of Trials. You Made Out with your Mentor. (Okay, that’s not a CRUCIAL step on the Journey, but it was pretty hot.) You Died. If you were just going to go back to the same thing, why have to do all of those things? That’s not really fair.
Because you’re a fictional character and can’t really tell, we’re at about episode 9 in the Claire Temple Show. Know where Matt was at the end of his episode 9? You do! He was lying in the middle of your Road of Trials, face down in a pool of basically ALL of his own blood. You said yourself, it was kinda hard to forget.
And Jessica? Was actually smiling, but, her big plan had just failed spectacularly, Snuffcarcass had just escaped and left a pile of bodies in his wake. So, sorry, you MAY yet have further to fall before you come back up. But I’m confident that you WILL come back up.
I can’t wait to see how.
* In some stories, it takes a Refusal or two to truly become a Hero,
while the person who Heeds the Call immediately is a False Hero. In your case, we’ll let that slide. Your particular Hero’s Journey suffers from a rare condition we’ll call Guest Star Contract Syndrome, and is thus not completely straightforward. So your version of Refusing the Call is Heeding and then Dropping the Call. Going Through the Subway Tunnel of Temporary Non-Adventure, we’ll say.
** Well… in your case, it actually might help.
My read is that he hasn’t gotten laid in a few, as many as ten, years, and he’s pretty tightly wound, so it might actually do him a world of good. You’re probably pretty pent up too, after all those endless shifts, am I right? A little NSA mutual itch-scratching, that’s all I’m suggesting. Take it or leave it.
No? *Sigh* At least I tried.