The Best Background Characters: Agent Harmon

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Show:

‘Stranger Things: Season 4’

The Character:

Agent Harmon

The Scene:

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

Recently, I watched all four seasons of ‘Stranger Things,’ a show with a great many characters both major and minor, but one of whom stands out as one of the most awesome redshirts you’ll ever see on TV.

For those of you who are unaware, a Redshirt is a minor, typically unnamed character in a movie, show, or book who exists sorely to die and establish how dangerous a situation is for the main characters. Named after the famous crewmembers from Star Trek, they’ve become a joke in pop culture, and I was expecting the two government agents in the fourth season of Stranger Things to be the same.

Boy, was I wrong.

When military spooks break into Will and Jonathan’s house to kill them, I thought agent Harmon would quickly fall like his partner, leaving the boys to fend for themselves. But to my surprise, Harmon immediately morphed from an overweight, lazy, tv-watching agent into a stone-cold warrior who fearlessly takes on an entire squad of soldiers with only a pistol and wins. Granted, he doesn’t kill them all, but he does stop them from getting Will and the others, ensuring that they escape to find Eleven.

What’s so great about this scene is that even though we know so little about Harmon, we quickly become invested in his struggle because we subconsciously know he doesn’t have plot armor and could die at any time, making his fight even more engaging than the main characters who we know are going to survive until the climax of the story. He’s a redshirt who temporarily becomes a main character, one who is responsible for keeping the others alive… but, sadly, at the cost of his life.

Rest in peace, Harmon (AKA, Unknown Agent Hero Man). We only knew you for a few minutes, but you were unquestionably one of the biggest badasses in Stranger Things. If you had gone to the Upside Down with the others in the season finale, you’d have killed Vecna in seconds with that legendary pistol of yours and saved the world.

The Best Background Characters: The Tip-toeing Nazi Soldier

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Game:

‘Wolfenstein II – The New Colossus’

The Character:

A tip-toeing Nazi soldier.

The Scene:

(The soldier appears at 2:03)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

In the opening of 2017’s, ‘Wolfenstein: The New Colossus,’ the player’s enormous U-boat hideout is boarded by dozens of Nazi commandos intent on killing him and his allies. At one point, the player meets up with Set, a Jewish scientist, who defends both of them with the use of a microwave-lined hallway, which obliterates multiple Nazis as they blindly run through it. But near the end, one soldier realizes that something’s not right about the hallway and stops to consider his next course of action, which is to carefully – and hilariously – tippy-toe through the hallway… only to be blown up like everyone else.

The common Nazi in ‘The New Colossus’ exists (as they rightfully should) to be mowed down by the hundreds. Players expect them to be little more than cannon fodder, which makes moments like these great because it gives individual soldiers a little personality and makes them stand out in a crowd of characters we’re conditioned not to care about… but because this soldier’s still part of the most monstrous regime ever to exist in human history, we laugh at his explosive death instead of mourning him, because f*** Nazis.

The Best Background Characters: Unimpressed Spider-Man Guy

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Movie:

‘Spider-Man 3’

The Character:

A guy who’s not impressed at seeing New York City’s most famous superhero.

The Scene:

(The guy in question appears a few times in the repeated crowd scene, but for the purposes of this article, he appears at 4:33 in the bottom left between the two firefighters)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

Unless you’ve been living in quarantine in an apartment with no internet, TV, or magazines to read for the past year, you’re probably aware that this Friday, December 17th, marks the arrival of a new Spider-Man movie! But while most superhero fans (myself included) are excited at the thought of seeing some classic characters from Sam Raimi’s time with the webhead, there might be one guy who couldn’t care less.

2007’s ‘Spider-Man 3”s climax features Spider-Man arriving at a construction site to save Mary Jane from both Venom and the Sandman, beginning with a crowd cheering his arrival. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that not everyone is enthusiastic to see him. Specifically, this guy:

Who is this man? Obviously just some unnamed citizen of New York City, but while everyone else is excited and clapping at seeing Spider-Man coming to the rescue, he responds with half-hearted clapping and a look of profound indifference. Maybe he’s an ignored nobody, someone working two jobs just to make ends meet, and he admires Sandman and Venom, in the way that a lonely, powerless individual admires those with the power to get what they want, and wants to see them stick it to The Man.

Sadly for Unimpressed Spectator Guy, Spidey’s interrupted his fun, and he’s going along with the crowd while trying to hide his disappointment at knowing that Spider-Man’s going to save the day. Makes you wonder if he would have been cheering and clapping when Thanos wiped out half of all life in the Universe.

The Best Background Characters: Floppy Hat Guy

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Movie:

‘Jaws’

The Character:

A guy in a white hat who’s way too happy during a shark attack.

The Scene:

(The guy in question appears at 2:15 at the bottom of the screen, and at 2:18 on the far left)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

Humans are weird creatures. When faced with catastrophe, disaster, or the wrath of a man-eating shark, you’d expect people to be frozen in fear, frozen in shock, or being one of the few brave souls who charges in to save others.

What you don’t expect is for someone to be having the time of their lives, as one beachgoer does in 1975’s classic, ‘Jaws’.

The fellow in question, a mustached man with a white floppy hat, charges into the water with other adults when the shark attacks poor Alex. But unlike the adults who are trying to get the kids out of the water, Floppy Hat Guy just frolics about with the biggest, dopiest grin, nonplussed at the terrors of the deep turning him into Purina shark chow.

Naturally, one wonders what this man’s story is. Is he high on drugs? Mentally challenged? Secretly in love with the idea of flaunting danger? Getting a thrill out of seeing kids get eaten? Of course, the real answer is that he’s played by an extra who was probably just really happy to be in a movie, but that’s nowhere near as much fun as watching a guy having fun when surrounded by death and sharks.

The Best Background Characters: The Backflipping Goon

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Movie:

‘The Matrix Revolutions’

The Character:

A goon with radical backflipping skills.

The Scene:

(The guy in question appears at 2:03)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘Don’t bring a gun to a knife fight.’ Another equal saying should be, ‘Don’t expect aerobatics to save you in a gun fight.’

The goon in this scene distinguishes himself when, after running out of ammo for his pistols, decides that the best course of action is to do backflips across the room. Then he’s shot and dies, complete with a ‘you failed!’ music cue on the soundtrack.

Much like one of Snoke’s guards, this goon stands out because his actions are so nonsenscial. Tactical backflips may look cool, but it’d have been more effective to take cover behind a pillar and survive to keep fighting. But with his sacrifice, Backflip Goon provides a valuable lesson to fighters in fiction: Unless you’re in a comedy where exaggerated actions are used for humorous effect, staying alive in a fight is more important than showing off how acrobatic you are.

The Best Background Characters: Middle-Aged Karate Dude

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Video:

‘Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins’

The Character:

A middle-aged man in a karate outfit

The Scene:

(The guy in question appears at 3:42)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

In case you haven’t stepped into an arcade, or read video game news since 1992, ‘Mortal Kombat’ has been rightfully called one of the most controversial video game franchises of all time due to its unprecedented violence, blood, and gore, which meant that it would inevitably have cartoon spinoffs marketed to kids (If Rambo and Robocop could do it, why not Mortal Kombat?). Perhaps the most infamous one, ‘Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins’  acts as a prequel to the 1995 movie, ‘Mortal Kombat,’ and is fondly remembered for its so-bad-its-good animation and fight scenes.

However, one moment stands out among the endless loops of recycled animation and atrocious CGI: When our heroes meet the other aspiring contestants for the tournament to determine the fate of the universe, one of them is a middle-aged guy practicing karate moves. He’s only on screen for two seconds, but what makes Karate Dude so memorable is how he’s hilariously outmatched: Mortal Kombat is a series about people, ninjas, gods, and mutants with superhuman strength literally ripping each other apart in the bloodiest ways imaginable. In a fight against any one of them, Karate Dude is like a chihuahua fighting a wood chipper: he’d be dead in seconds (can you imagine him fighting this guy and winning? Didn’t think so).

Yet, that underdog feel is what makes Karate Dude so endearing: He willingly went to this tournament to try and protect Earth despite having an average physique, being older than every other human present by at least two decades, and not having any chance of winning. But, like the best underdogs, he’s still willing to try, and proves that what he lacks in physical power, he more than makes up in courage, and for that he deserves our respect and admiration.

Or, alternatively, he could also not have any idea of what he’s about to face, and dies shrieking like a little girl while facing a ninja who shoots fire from his mouth. That’d be funny, too.

The Best Background Characters: Don’t Bring A Stick To A Swordfight

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Movie:

‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’

The Character:

A Rohan swordsman who chose a strange weapon when fighting for his life.

The Scene:

(The swordsman in question appears at 4:08 in the upper left corner)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

The climactic battle at the Black Gates is a gripping scene, filled with tension, drama, and the fate of all Middle-Earth hanging in the balance. Victory here means that Sauron will be defeated forever, and failure will mean not only death for the combatants, but the enslavement of Middle-Earth until the end of time. All the soldiers and warriors who volunteered to go on this dangerous mission no doubt took their time to carefully select the best weapons they could find to protect themselves… including the guy who thought that bringing along a stick was a good idea.

What distinguishes this background character from all the other swordsmen and warriors in the battle is that he’s wielding a stick. A stick! I’m not versed in the art of armed combat, but I doubt a long, thin, piece of wood is going to do you any good when facing swords, axes, clubs, arrows, and spears, which makes me wonder about the story behind such an odd choice for a weapon; did the warrior want two weapons for the upcoming battle, but he was too late getting to the armory, and just grabbed a stick for lack of anything else?

In any case, aside from wielding a stick in the most important battle of Middle-Earth’s history, Stick Guy’s only other distinction is that he’s the sole spectator to Aragorn’s battle with the troll. Judging from how he jitters in place, it’s amusing to imagine him thinking if he should help Aragorn, only to realize that while his sword might help, his beloved stick wouldn’t do a thing against steel armor and troll hide.

The takeaway from Stick Guy is that, when doing battle scenes, it’s logical for the participants to have lots of weapons, but when someone brings along an oddball weapon, it’s an opportunity to show how desperate the situation is by having characters resort to fighting with anything they can get their hands on, no matter how ludicrous they might be. Not only is it funny, but the audience will find themselves rooting for them, whether they wield a stick, an old sword, or a cactus.

The Best Background Characters: The Praetorian Guard With Questionable Judgement

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Movie:

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

The Character:

A Praetorian Guard who doesn’t exactly think things through

The Scene:

(The guard in question appears at 1:40)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

All of Snoke’s Praetorian guards – who have no special abilities – deserve recognition for taking on two very powerful Force users. Granted, they all die, but they still put in a comendable effort to avenge their… Well, their master who we didn’t get to know too well, but I’m sure they liked him.

Today’s background character, though, is the guard at 1:40 (let’s call him Bob), who, in the most important battle of his life, attacks Dark Side user Kylo Ren by… ramming his armored forearms against Kylo’s lightsaber blade and immediately dies.

Why point out this guy? As the elite guard to the leader of the First Order, it’s logical that these guards are at the peak of physical conditioning, masters with their weapons of choice, and have been trained for countless hours in all manner of hand-to-hand combat so they can take on any threat that might attack their leader. So why on earth does Bob perform such a silly act against a lightsaber user? (A question that others have pointed out) He doesn’t have any weapons, and leaves himself open for a fatal counter attack. Perhaps he was trying to distract Kylo so one of his buddies could take him out, but I like to imagine that it was a momentary lapse of judgement, showing that, while highly trained, Bob can still make mistakes or not think clearly when fighting for his life against someone he has no chance of defeating, humanizing someone who would otherwise be just a nameless, faceless dude who’s killed off in a few seconds and has a $250 Sideshow Collectables figure made after him to appease the Star Wars fan who will buy anything based off of any character, no matter how short their appearance.

But best of all, I like to have fun imagining what Bob was thinking in those final seconds of his life:

‘Okay, this is it! I’m gonna charge this emo punk and ram his lightsaber with my forearms! Yeah, that’ll show him! Okay, here I go! Wheee! I did it! I did it! I… Wait; wait, what do I do now?! Oh shit, I didn’t think think this thruooourrararrrrrrgghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!’

The Best Background Characters: The Guy Who Walks Away

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The movie:

‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’

The character:

A random guy out for a stroll.

The scene:

Why it’s great:

Years before ‘The Matrix’ blew up a government lobby, ‘Terminator 2: Judgement day’ had Arnold storming a lobby and taking on armed guards as well (but without killing anyone, which is something Neo and Trinity can’t say). It’s a great scene that oozes 90’s nostalgia for me (blue, silver, and black color schemes, 90’s architecture, synth music, etc.), but I only just learned something about it that’s been hiding in plain sight for decades that only a few people have noticed, which makes me like this scene even more.

At 1:36 in the video, the SWAT team start shooting at the Terminator. But if you look closely in the background, you’ll see a random guy casually walk to the outside windows and peer inside, then turn to walk away. It’s a goof, something that’s easily missed because our focus is on the SWAT team firing away. But I love the idea that in the middle of this big, corporate espionage operation, where the police have barricaded the building and sealed it off, one bored officer decides to take a peek inside, only to see the shooting start and decide that maybe it’s a good idea to turn around and walk away.

It’s little details like this that remind us that, in the world this movie inhabits, there are ordinary people just going about their lives, and, like us, they can be overcome with boredom or curiosity. It’s fascinating to imagine what the events of this movie are like from the perspective of this random guy who has nothing to do with John, Sarah, the Terminator, Skynet, or Judgement Day. I like to think his name is Daryl, and he’s a career cop who really would rather be back at home watching a football game, and is so jaded from his years on the force that not even the sight of a SWAT team blasting away at a guy wearing leather is enough to faze him anymore.

SUPER FUN BONUS FACT: When I was preparing this post, one of the Youtube comments on the video pointed out that there is, in fact, a second random guy in the video, this time at the right of the lobby at 1:47, apparently wearing 90’s oversized headphones. Who is he? Why is he there? Does he even see all the destruction taking place? We’ll never know.