Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Strange Case of Todd Grimshaw

There is a long tradition in literature and drama of exploring notions of villainy, and exquisitely dreadful characters have transferred to and been born on our television and cinema screens. From Dorian Gray to Walter White, we have been presented with complex characters who make us doubt the clarity of the boundaries between good and evil, and pose questions which run to our very core. 

These are not mere mischief makers, but human beings whose stricken moral compasses invoke both an intellectual and emotional response in reader and viewer alike. From the silent battles occurring within us all between who we are, who we want to be and who we should be, and what is right versus what is desired, emerges the concept of The Double where, as Robert Louis Stevenson puts it in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, “man is not truly one, but truly two.”

Some might say that such weighty themes are not the realm of soap, but I ask, why not? In fact, Coronation Street has a history of complex villains, and presents an excellent example in the form of Todd Grimshaw.

Todd is intelligent, quick witted and clever, and has undergone a metamorphosis that has triggered his transition from good-natured individual to a manipulative, scheming adversary. I would prefer if we knew the reason for his transformation, as it would certainly go some way toward explaining it, but it is likely that he experienced some disappointment in London which has induced his current state.

In The Uncanny, Sigmund Freud considers the notion of The Double, and writes “…there are all the possibilities which, had they been realised, might have shaped our destiny, and to which our imagination still clings, all the strivings of the ego that were frustrated by adverse circumstances, all the suppressed acts of volition that fostered the illusion of free will.”

With this in mind, I like to think of Todd as railing against the utter disappointment of his failure to achieve his potential in life, and that his machinations are the result of sheer boredom, bitterness and frustration. He uses his intelligence for bad rather than good, and gains satisfaction from making others miserable. He is therefore a complex character, and while I will shortly question what he has become, his presence has been welcome as far as I’m concerned, not least on foot of what Bruno Langley has brought to the role.

There was a point at which I recall Todd sparkling as something of a Shakespearean fool, and in March 2014 wrote the following in an episode review from that time: “I’ve been singing Todd’s praises lately, and he continued to be exceptional this evening. He is ever ready with a witty aside, some wise words, and is increasingly a source of deadpan humour. Steve faces stiff competition after Carla sings Peter’s praises to Michelle. As he comes up with ideas to treat her, Todd indifferently swats away his suggestions like so many irritating flies. Flowers are unimaginative, the idea of theatre makes him choke on his lollipop, and karaoke at the Hen and Squirrel, where it’s a pound a pint, invokes particular disdain….His insistence that Eileen go through with her apology to Liz is in essence the reason why they make up, and succeeds in making him endearing despite his, at times, deplorable behaviour.”

He appeared at this time like an outsider commenting on the programme from within. His disdain was a source of humour, and despite all his unpardonable deeds, there was nevertheless a goodness at the heart of his cynicism. His lines were metatheatre, and it was a joy to watch.

However, by October 2014, having seduced Marcus and been responsible for almost ruining Jason’s business, Todd’s Machiavellian chickens finally came home to roost and he was completely frozen out by his loved ones. His twinkling disdain for the world around him was royally doused, and despite his genuine attempts to make amends and his sincere remorse for what he had done, he was roundly rejected by all, making him a sympathetic character.

The following month, Todd found a true friend in Roy who advised him to build bridges with those he had alienated, citing it as “good for the soul”. 

Todd took this seriously and attempted to do so. After he cleaned up the cafĂ© following an egging, Roy later declared in front of Todd’s detractors that “everyone deserves a second chance,” and bought him a pint. A genuinely grateful and humble Todd was sincerely relieved at what he considered progress. I wrote at this time, “he strikes me as a character with plenty of potential who could demonstrate positive change from the hard lessons he’s learned. While we’re sadly assured Todd’s difficult times don’t end just yet, let’s hope he’ll come out the other side a fully redeemed individual so that we can see the best he has to offer.”

Unfortunately this has not come to pass.

A good character underwent a metamorphosis which saw him transform into a malevolent individual. However, on realising the full weight of his misdeeds and demonstrating true remorse, he achieved redemption, and I feel a man of Todd’s intellect is unlikely to regress following such an experience. However, despite his subsequent assault and facial scarring gaining him the love he so craved, he seems to have done just that, and is now lashing out at all around him, albeit in a covert way.

The mirror image is a classic trope when it comes to The Double, and as villainous Todd stares at his reflection, scarred and bruised, he is faced with his Jekyll and Hyde duality. Instead of rejecting it on foot of his recent redemption, however, he resigns himself to inflicting continued pain on others.

My problem with this is that his scheming appears devoid of worthy purpose, and his motives are far too weak to do a man of his intelligence any credit. Like Todd himself has failed to fulfil his potential in life, I feel his characterisation is heading the same way; art is imitating art.

Now you may say that Todd is simply a bad person who likes to do cruel things, but I feel there is more to him than that. A character of such quality with depth and dimension who acts with intelligence and who has shown feeling and remorse  deserves a storyline to match, and for me, his current schemes are simply beneath him.

Todd’s malice is borne out of a poor motive, and therefore doesn’t ring true for me. Bring back the metatheatrical jester who doesn’t claim to be anything he isn’t unless for playful purposes, who offers an alternative window on the street, and puts his cynicism and intellect to good use. Have him retain his relief at his redemption. Show that he has learned a lesson from the pain of rejection, and allow the scars of recollection rather than those inflicted physically to guide his actions.

By Emma Hynes
Twitter: @ELHynes

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Humpty Dumpty said...

Brilliant effort, Emma, on behalf of a character who doesn't deserve it. Clearly the writers have no idea what happened to Todd in London and have been making the story up as they go along. There isn't a deeper motive because nobody's thought of one. Try as we might amongst ourselves to come up with a motive, the fact remains that the writers are pushing the character through the hoops until they can think of something better. His latest villainy only occurs because Eva has to have an exit story. Todd is simply a male Tracy who I really thought would be redeemed after Rob's exit. No way, they've just given her this silly storyline with Tony. She stands a chance of growing up, though, after Deirdre is written out. As for Todd, he must either leave as a result of another family fall-out or some reason must be quickly provided for his personality change. He's quickly becoming very irrelevant, and I wouldn't be surprised if the actor was actively looking for other work.

Kathryn Paris said...

Great writing Emma. He needs to get a boyfriend who he adores and challenges Todd. I think we would see a side of Todd we havent seen before

Anonymous said...

I agree that Todd's latest cruelty was clearly motivated by the need to dispatch Eva, but that doesn't mean the writers can't make his behaviour multi-dimensional. These are, after all, the same people who write the complicated Roy Cropper and the even more complicated Peter Barlow. I totally agree with Emma's analysis that this depth is what's missing and it's what needs to be added to allow viewers to sympathise with Todd. If a character can't elicit that, at least occasionally, then what's the point of them.

I also really like the idea of the meta-commentator. This is exactly what Sophie Webster used to do as a child, but sadly no more.

Great writing, Emma!

Anonymous said...

What thoughtful writing - Emma, your writing talents are clearly wasted writing about this poorly written character. If only you worked as a scriptwriter instead! Stec.

DollyTubb said...

Great post, Emma. My problem with Todd is that there's no consistency to his character, and he's currently just a Tracyluv clone which we don't need. Again, his recent actions are just a product of lazy writing. Agree with Humpty too, and I guess we'll never know what happened in ThatLondon because it would require some serious input on behalf of TPTB. As with Sophie, Tracy, and now Todd, the curse of The Pen of Doom strikes again and we have a character that we don't 'love to hate', we just generally dislike intensely so that we fast forward to the Meerkats.

Flaming Nora said...

Brilliant stuff and the blog prize for the first ever use of Freud too!! :-)

Zagg said...

It it a great post Emma, although I agree with Humpty, I see little or no redemption for Todd. Since his return, I've never felt he was endearing or a sympathetic character at all. While there are always "villains" on a show, for me once they made Todd completely screw over his brother (more than once) and Eva, the two nicest people on the street, I am just done with him. Even Tracy stuck up for Peter and push come to shove, she generally sides with her family. That's what still makes her human and have some saving graces.
But Todd's complete destruction of his brother and lack of motive save for a fading scar has crossed the line for me. I can't muster up any sympathy or empathy or anything for this character. He is just an annoying panto character now that they insert here and there for contrived scenes.
And if....they end up writing a big dramatic crying scene of "what happened in London" to explain his horrible forward....I could care less.

ChiaGwen said...

I may be wrong, but wasn't Todd barred from little Billy's funeral.....the death of his son could have a lasting effect which could surface well after the fact. Plus it is obvious he is jealous of Jason's close relationship with his mother...Jason has his Dad back in his life...Todd doesn't. On Sarah's return there will probably still be animosity from her towards Todd, so that will be added to his anger. Bright spot though....that life-changing scar is all but

Katie said...

Emma, you are such a wonderful writer! Always happy to see your byline. I love how you dig under the surface to discuss emotions, motivations, etc. and your observations are invariably apt. If only the writers were as thoughtful as you.

Anonymous said...

We never did find out what happened in London to Todd and little explanation as to what turned him into a horrid little Toadie, but it's beyond boring now to watch the carry-on and the slimy sideways glances that seem to be his only expression.

Anonymous said...

All I want to know is, when are you going to become a writer on Corrie.
If anyone is paying attention, then they will soon be paying you. I am from Canada, not related, and have the utmost respect for your writing skills and deep understanding of this fabulous show.
I sincerely hope that I will have the privilege and tickle in my belly when I see your name on the screen as one of the corrie writers that I can look forward to the episodes of.
Canadian Bacon Sarnie

Shan said...

Great post!

I don't mind the character of Todd being this evil, scheming person. However, as the viewer you have to know why they are like this and they have clearly let things go on to far without explaining. As one commenter said, they obviously couldn't come up with something good, and maybe they're hoping we don't notice.

They could have written Eva out without Todd ruining things. It could simply have been Jason going into town to buy something for Eva and he sees them leaving the hotel together, or he walks by the window and sees them having a drink. They had already put it into Jason's head that Tony was messing around with someone.

I think Todd had the potential to be a likeable villain, but they haven't given it enough back story and they are once again throwing characters into stories they don't need to be a part of.

Martin Leay said...

What a great post! There were shades of Iago and Othello in Todd's manipulation of poor Jason. I hope Eva will forgive Jason when her three month (maximum) US holiday visa expires. They are good together.

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