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Jeff Eastin! Stop making me have thinky thoughts...
Matt TNH 1

...a.k.a. you said what at PaleyFest?

So there are no episode spoilers in here, but for the sake of folks who don't even want to hear anything that anyone connected with the show says (does that describe any of the handful of people who probably read this journal?), I'll put the rest of the post under a cut.  Basically, JE made a comment (not sure what, if anything, it was in response to) that made me go, "Really, Jeff?  You sure you want to go with that?"  So, here we go...

First, the quote: "He may want to be good, but he was born bad."  Jeff Eastin, apparently regarding the "core of Neal."

This strikes me as at best a gross oversimplification, and neither is it something that I buy as especially realistic.  Maybe some people (the really scary sociopaths?) are "born bad," but in general we are products of both our genetics and our environment, and in general we are not all one thing.  On top of that, I don't think the statement even really agrees with the way Jeff has written the character to date.

Neal may think he was "born bad," as suggested near the end of, "What Happens in Burma," when Peter tells Neal he's not his father and Neal replies, "If I'm not my father's son, who am I?  Certain things, they're in my blood."  In reply, Peter says, "I don't believe that."  I'm with Peter.  Neal's first instinct may not always be to do the right thing from a legal standpoint, he may not even feel guilty about having conned people (Matt said at the same Paley event that Neal "believes they had it coming"), but there is also ample evidence that he does have a moral compass.  Now what he thinks is "right" and what is legal are not always the same, as in "The Portrait," when he forges the painting to give to the museum so that he can return the original to Julianna (who, btw, is the rightful owner).  And while part of his motivation there may have been to get at the annoying curator, it also seems clear that he feels Julianna (and her grandmother) have been genuinely wronged.  We've also seen him do the "right thing" at risk to himself.  In "Bad Judgment" he risks going back to prison to steal the videotape to protect Peter.  One could say that he really does owe Peter, or that there is enlightened self-interest driving him (what happens to him if Peter goes down?), but I think it's also clear he genuinely cares about Peter (and there are other instances of him risking himself for those he cares about).  And in "Front Man," he's actually working with the law, at risk to his own life.  Peter and Agent Rice show up at the airport to pull Neal out, but Neal stays because Gless' daughter is in danger.  We don't yet know the full story of how Neal ended up a criminal.  And it's important to remember that he is a criminal.  He made a lot of money forging and conning and stealing, and it's not clear that he's particularly remorseful about much of that.  He originally made his deal with Peter to get out of prison not because of some guilt-driven epiphany, but so that he had a chance to find Kate.  But he's also the guy who did all of those other things I talked about.  He's a three-dimensional character, who is perhaps even changing and growing (I'm talking to you, Jeff).  And to reduce him to having been "born bad" does a disservice to the character.

Which makes me wonder - what were you thinking, Jeff?  My best guess is that he is aware of the need to continue the underlying tension, the push and pull for Neal between his past existence, the life he's living now, and even the life he seems to long for.  I get that.  You lose that dramatic tension if Neal simply "turns good," so to speak.  But I don't you need to resort to, "He can't because he was born bad."  He spent years being a con artist (and thief and forger).  He was very good at it, he liked doing it, it got him things he wanted (though ultimately not the thing he wanted - a life with Kate).  People don't change overnight.  Four years in prison didn't change him.  He can have the capacity for change, he can have the capacity to "be good," and still struggle with becoming a different person.  It's been said before that Neal in some ways envies Peter.  That he wants that "white picket fence" life.  We now know that he wanted to marry Kate and settle down and raise kids with her.  People have speculated (and maybe Matt has even said?) that while he wants that, he doesn't quite know how to get it.  That makes sense to me.  He lived that other life for so long, that it's hard to operate in a different way.  And I ultimately think that that is both more interesting and more realistic than some fatalistic "he wants to change but is somehow, at his core, incapable of doing so" thing.  But maybe that's just me.

So...if you're still with me at this point...thoughts?

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Oh, don't make me take JE out in back of the woodshed, again.

I'm going to go for a nice cup of coffee, get my BP down and then think about how to answer this. Because saying Jeff Eastin is a poopyhead is just not the total answer.

Maybe not, but can we call him a poopyhead anyway? :-)

I wonder if Jeff Eastin's an old school Calvinist, subscribing to the theology of Predeterminism and the Elect. That could explain his assertion that Neal was "born bad."

Or he is just a poopyhead.

And I am reminded of Jessica Rabbit's famous line, "I wasn't born bad, I was just drawn that way."

Love the Jessica Rabbit quote.

Not so up on my old school Calvinism, though - remind me? Predeterminism I more or less get, but "the Elect"?

On the other hand, my current theory is that he's just a poopyhead. :) I love Jeff, but sometimes I just don't get where he's coming from.

Its hard for me to imagine that Eastin has such a simplistic view of the very complex character he's created. Believing that Neal was "born bad" makes the entire arc of Neal's relationship with Peter an exercise in futility. If he's born bad, then he cannot change, and all of his and Peter's attempts at rehabilitation are useless.

I don't believe that. Neal is clearly capable of good, just as much as he's capable of lying, cheating, stealing and manipulating. Even if the white picket fences aren't in his future (and who know, they could be), I'd like to believe that his unique version of it is.

Oh, I'm with you. It's simplistic, it doesn't fit with what we've seen so far, and it negates a whole lot of what the show seems to be about.

On the other hand, where else am I supposed to get information on how JE sees the characters? He said it, after all. And then I went, "Huh? Really??" :)

I know. Still can't believe that came out of his mouth. I feel like my brains have been stir-fried.

There was a collective "WTF, Jeff?" on Twitter after Jeff's comment was shared with the world. I'm curious if he'll respond to the questions and criticism he has received. Putting aside I don't buy into the 'born bad' theory unless a person is a sociopath, which, clearly, Neal is not, I was rather shocked a writer would reduce his creation to such simplistic (and WRONG) analysis. The only way I can make sense of his statement (yet, I still wouldn't agree with it) is if he's taking a nature vs nurture stance. Neal was born bad, but with Peter influencing and guiding him he can - and will - change. Otherwise, Jeff is telling us the character development, and many would say changes Neal has made, are for naught. Once the anklet comes off, Neal will just go back to being a con man and nothing he's gone through will have had any meaningful or lasting effect on him. O_o

So far, he doesn't seem inclined to answer. :( And you're right. What's the point of any of the apparent character development if none of it can ultimately be "real"? Would the Neal of early Season 1 have been so quick to give up the ring? Am I now supposed to believe it doesn't matter?? Argh.

In other news, anyone reading this thread who is on Twitter, please tweet Jeff to ask about that quote. Maybe if enough people ask we'll get a response. ::looks hopeful::

I'm with you here. I am a firm believer, that save for some exceptions", no one is "born bad". I'm going to go with the whole "Jeff Eastin said that referring that that's what Neal truly thinks of himself" theory...

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