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 café 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.