Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Five Faces of Robin Hood: Sophie Devereaux

I kept wondering what title I should use for this entry. After all, Leverage fans learned a while back that the name Sophie Devereaux is really just one of an undetermined number of aliases used by the crew's main grifter. Her real name remains a mystery to viewers, although most of the team learned it at the beginning of season 3. I toyed with calling the post The Five Faces of Robin Hood: The Grifter Formerly Known as Sophie, but that sounded awkward. Then I thought about calling it The Five Faces of Robin Hood: Grifter #1, but that didn't feel right since the whole point of the Five Faces series is why viewers are able to identify with the characters on a personal level. Finally, I decided that I was spending too much time trying to come up with a clever title and just followed the formula I'd established in previous posts.

By the time I made that decision, I'd started asking myself another question: how important is Sophie's real name? In one sense, there is logic in Shakespeare's idea that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In another sense, names are how we identify ourselves. There are some cultures in which names are so significant that people are given new ones at various stages of their lives: a "temporary" name for early childhood, which is usually connected to high infant mortality rates; a more "permanent" name once a child has reached a certain age or developmental marker; and sometimes a new name is part of the rite of passage from childhood to adult life.

To put Shakespeare's words in contemporary terms: what difference does it make what you call something? Whatever name you give it, it has the same properties. So, in this case, whatever name Sophie chooses to go by, she is still the same woman. Isn't she? That seems to be part of what Sophie herself is trying to figure out.

She's spent so much time grifting--assuming false identities--that she no longer knows who she is. She spent most of Season 2 traveling in an attempt to "find herself," and although finally did come back, it's not quite clear whether those issues have been resolved in her mind or if she simply chose to put her own uncertainties on the back burner again because her crew was in trouble. She did choose to reveal her real name to three of her four teammates, which indicates to me that she has made some peace with herself. I still doubt that a problem which has been building in her psyche for such a long time could be completely resolved in a few months of aimless travel, but that's another post altogether.

I'd certainly like to know that Sophie found the answers she needed when she decided to leave, if only because I care about her as a character. I'm as curious as anyone else about what her real name will turn out to be. However, I've decided that we don't really need to know Sophie's name in order to identify with her, and knowing how the multiple lives she leads have affected her view of herself make her more sympathetic and accessible to the audience.

Sophie's character is built on ambiguity. She is worldly; sophisticated; poised and glamorous. When working a con, she can take on any role or persona that she has to. Yet she consistently makes a fool of herself any time she tries to act on stage, and she seems to have no idea how bad of a stage actress she is. She's charming and very capable of reading people while she's on the job. Her relationships with the other members of the team--especially Parker and Nate--make it clear that she cares very deeply for other people, yet she seems to have difficulty relating to anyone unless there is some barrier in place (like a false name) that keeps the level of intimacy within her control. She can think herself out of--or into--almost any situation. She's very rarely caught without a back up plan, but that in itself can be viewed as an ambiguity. A back up plan can often be very easily turned into an escape route. The need for an avenue of escape seems to imply a lack of trust in her teammates, but she has clearly grown to trust and rely on them throughout the show.

What we know about Sophie comes largely from her relationships with the other characters. I think they--and by association, the audience--know Sophie a lot better than she seems to know herself. She has a long and complicated history with Nate. Both have acknowledged romantic interest in the other, but neither one is going to pursue that kind of relationship, at least until Nate gets his act together. I suspect however, that even if Nate was sober, Sophie would have difficulty being involved long-term. The warmth and realism of her friendship with Parker is one of the most gratifying elements of the show, and it gives further evidence of Sophie's caring nature. One of the most telling glimpses we have of her life comes in the mystery that surrounds her connection to fellow grifter, Tara Cole.

Tara "auditioned" and was subsequently accepted by the crew as a grifter while Sophie was away during season 2. We learned that she took the job as a personal favor to Sophie--or not so much a favor but as to pay back a previous debt. The audience is never given specifics, but it must have been a pretty big deal in order for Tara to go to the lengths she did to win acceptance with this tightly-knit and emotionally closed group of people. The fact that the details are never discussed makes perfect sense in the context of Sophie's established relationship patterns, but the way she is willing to trust Tara with her closest friends for an undetermined length of time indicates that the two women have more than just professional respect for one another. Sophie does not make friends easily, so either she has known Tara for an extremely long time or their previous history was pretty intense.

All that said, another question comes to mind. If Sophie is this hard to pin down, who on earth is going to identify with her, and how does she fit the Robin Hood analogy? To answer that one, I'm going to take a page from Socrates and ask another. Who really knows him or herself? Sophie's experience may be more extreme than the norm, but isn't it the nature of human life to learn about and re-invent ourselves? Of course, it doesn't hurt that Sophie is elegant and downright fun to watch. So while most of us move through the more ordinary process of redefining ourselves as we find our footing in new jobs, new schools, new personal and business relationships, we can watch Sophie do the same thing on a much more exciting scale from week to week.

As I said earlier, I would love to know what Sophie's given name is. I really hope that she's more at peace with herself now than she was in Season 2. Even if she isn't, I feel confident that I know who she is. She's the one who didn't leave her friends high and dry just because she was messed up, and she's the one who came to bail them out when they were in trouble. Do I want to know more about her? Absolutely. Do I need to know her name? Not really.

Previous posts in this series: Week 1: Intro | Week 2: Nate Ford| Week 3: Alec Hardison| Week 4: Parker

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