“Get over it. Don’t bring it up again.”
This moment from “The Spread” (season one, episode three) is frozen in my head forever like a mosquito in amber. It is Vic’s Billings line, in which he elegantly lays out his motivation, thought process, and the first variation of what he will command people to do, over and over again. It’s what will make him the tragic protagonist and drive so much of the evil he does over the course of the series. It’s a precise line that Michael Chiklis delivers precisely – I feel like I’m glimpsing at Vic’s very soul when he says this. I would have thought seeing Vic’s soul would be a moment of horror, like the moment Lovecraft’s protagonist witnesses an unnameable horror from beyond space and time, but instead what I see brings me relief. I like to think of myself as a sympathetic person in that I value the emotions of others and like to build up their joy and happiness as much as possible. This probably means my patience doesn’t extend as far as I like to think it does and it definitely means I recognise those limitations when I slam into them. There are times when I find myself exhausted by people escalating conflicts for the sake of feelings that strike me as trivial. I know it won’t work out any better for me than it did for Vic, but I really want to tell them to get over it.
“Shane, what are you doing?”
“Being an asshole!”
What makes Shane oddly sympathetic through the violence, racism, stupidity, and cheerful corruptness is that he’s always fully aware of his motivations and doesn’t feel the need to justify them to other people. It’s something that’s present all the way back to season one, in which he openly admits he lost the truck full of guns and drugs because he was trying to get laid – he wanted something and he tried to get it, and he’s more embarrassed about failing than in anyone respecting his motivation. This is a quality I often find myself lacking. What strikes me about this scene in particular – in “Streaks And Tips”, season three, episode four – is that Shane is open about the fact that he’s, you know, being an asshole. He has no larger goals than being irritating. So often you see people intentionally act like an asshole specifically to be an asshole and then insist that they’re completely morally clean. I will admit – and I realise the hypocrisy in this article – to sometimes being drawn into a Bugs Bunny-like situation in which I am so outraged by someone’s assholery that I aim to be the smarter, more effective asshole and find it extraordinarily easy to justify myself on the basis of self-awareness. It’s harder for me to be honestly mad at someone being true to themselves like Shane here.
“Stop. I don’t need to hear this.”
This is from “Spanish Practices”, season six, episode ten. Vic shows up at Aceveda’s door to offer him a mixture of a threat and a peace treaty (which is their relationship in a nutshell) involving the picture of Aceveda’s rape. Aceveda has been denying the truth of the pic the entire time, but Vic manages to corner him; he takes a moment and starts to give the same explanation he’s given anyone he’s had to tell about it. But then Vic interrupts with the above line. I do not consider myself to be a survivor – I can see how being a neurodivergent person in *gestures wildly* all this is its own kind of trauma and even how it fits on a larger spectrum, but it’s not the same thing as getting raped at gunpoint – and I do consider myself to be someone who has made the effort to understand how a survivor thinks and feels out of a sense of compassion for people suffering. One aspect of the human condition that survivors as a community have codified is Validation – the human need to be empathised with.
What I’ve personally observed is how many people think their problems are solved with validation; that once people can empathise with you and see your perspective, they’ll stop hurting you. I see resonance with some of the bizarre behaviour of Joss Whedon, where he seems to be under the impression that if he puts the right combination of words together, you’ll see his perspective and stop being mad at him. In practice, validation is at best an early step in negotiation, and often I find myself frustrated by people who think the problem is that I don’t get it rather than that I don’t care – I recall that much of the discourse that churned over the Smith/Rock Oscar slap controversy was effectively ‘This upsets me and I want everybody to acknowledge that’ while going into their personal feelings in great detail. Even if I were in a position to affect Smith, Rock, or the Oscars, I wouldn’t give two shits what some random jackass with no power over me feels about the situation.
Validation and acknowledgement of one’s motivations is nice and all, but there does come a point where it’s less about every aspect of what’s driving you and more about what you’re going to do right now (does the fact that I feel bad that I can’t help someone in trouble really matter to them?). This is where Vic’s ruthlessness comes into play; he genuinely doesn’t give a shit about Aceveda beyond his utility. The delightful thing about Vic and Aceveda’s relationship is that both see the world largely in terms of how they can use elements within it to achieve their goals, so they fundamentally speak the same language to each other in a way that, say, Vic and Dutch don’t. Ironically, I think that Aceveda feels validated by this – he steels himself up when he’s about to explain himself, and he’s genuinely surprised and almost relieved when Vic cuts him off.