Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Five Faces of Robin Hood: Eliot Spencer

Eliot Spencer is larger than life. He's a tank of a guy who can get on a boat full of gun wielding thugs, count them up while he's being escorted around and then count them all down again while beating the crap out of them to save his teammates. He can also cook, sing, play baseball, charm the ladies, and outrun mobs of screaming fangirls--uphill!--all while delivering witty one-liners and engaging in witty repartee with Alec Hardison.

He is a blast to watch. The writer in me experiences "character envy" just about any time Eliot does something. He's the kind of character who can say more with a facial expression or a raised eyebrow than most people say in their dissertations. Yet at the same time, I can't think of an instance when he didn't speak his mind if it was necessary. Although he doesn't like to show it, he also has a remarkable capacity for compassion. In short, Eliot is really, really awesome. He's the most overtly Robinesque of our six Robin Hoods: the former soldier turned outlaw turned vigilante who rushes in to save the day and sends the Sheriff's men running for their lives. Okay. Maybe he's a little more of Little John than Robin when you consider that he's also huge and prefers to use his fists where Robin preferred a bow. Either way, he's still the one who most closely fits the analogy that this series has been making. So, today Eliot is Robin. But is he relatable? Can he be someone's personal Robin Hood the way that Hardison and Tara are mine?

I had trouble answering that question at first because I couldn't think of anyone who reminds me of him. With the other characters, I could think of all kind of instances when I said, "I know exactly how he/she feels," and I could come up with a whole list of people who reminded me of them. In this case, I could think of several people who probably wished they were more like Eliot, but that's not the same thing, and I had to think a while before I remembered the times I was able to really empathize with him.

As the crew's hitter, Eliot's role is largely defined by violence. He's the one that the rest of the team look for when things get rough and trouble comes in the form of scary guys with lots of guns. Yet, there's much more to his job (and his character) than the ability to impersonate the Hulk or play a high-powered Energizer Bunny.

He's referred to early in the show's history as a retrieval specialist. Somewhere along the way, he acquired the tag of "hitter"--probably because it's punchy (no pun intended) and rolls off the tongue a lot more easily than retrieval specialist. I envision the powers that be on Leverage sitting around one day thinking up the clever tags, and it goes something like this:

"The mastermind, the thief, the grifter, the retrieval, no, that sounds clunky. Hmmm.... the brains, the thief, the grifter, the hitter, the hacker! Much better."

Whatever name he's given, Eliot is a professional. Early on, he worked pretty hard to keep his relationships with the rest of the crew strictly at that level, and although he has grown to care about the others, there are times that he seems uncomfortable with that reality. He's extremely self-controlled and precise in everything he does, and he's as capable of acting a part as any other member of the team. When he hurts someone, he inflicts exactly the kind of damage he means to inflict, and I have the feeling that accidentally harming someone would seriously rattle his self-image.

We know that he ex-military, and from the kind of things we've seen him do, it's reasonable to infer that he's had the kind of high-level training that governments would prefer the public not to know about. He seems to have a particularly intense dislike of anyone who mistreats children, and in The Scheherezade Jobe he mentioned having fought in third world countries where child labor practices were pretty despicable. We also know that he has a price on his head in three countries, although it isn't clear whether either of these things have to do with his military service or if they're related his current profession.

Whatever the case, Eliot has a lot more hidden under his muscles than more muscles. At this point in the show, I think that his teammates are aware of that, but clients rarely seem to take notice unless he's cracking skulls on their behalf, and the season 2 episode The Zanzibar Marketplace Job illustrated that the phenomenon off underestimating him extends to recurring villains like James Sterling. We also learn in this episode that Eliot either cultivates or uses the image of "the brainless hitter" to his advantage.

That may be so, but I for one was glad to see him shine and put Sterling in his place in Zanzibar Marketplace. (I won't go into specifics because I recently learned that one of Fandombouquet's readers hasn't seen the second season. If you have, then you know what I'm talking about, and if not then I'll happily leave you curious.)

I mentioned previously that most of my offline friends only know me in a context limited to the specific interests we share. I think that's true of a lot of people, and I think most of us have been underestimated or felt boxed in by the assumptions of others from time to time. It's nice to see Eliot find a way to use that to his advantage, and I can't speak for anyone else on this point, but the fact that he is so overwhelmingly awesome about it makes me, at least, feel like I've vicariously stuck out my tongue at the Sterlings in my life.

Eliot intrigues me. I'm really hoping that the writers will stop dancing around his background at some point this season and give us some meat to chew on besides his ill-fated romance with Aimee Martin. And of course, I hope he gets to take one James Sterling down a few more pegs. Would it be too much to ask that he gives Sterling a little taste of what Hardison calls Eliot-Fu?

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