Angels in the Outfield features a team and a coach that are all washed up, the disappointment of every fan who still believes in them. Then, in both the 1951 original and 1994 remake, the team starts receiving some divine assistance. Unseen angels interfere slightly, ensuring that a missed catch makes its way back into the mitt, an inexperienced batter finally gets a hit, and a pitcher’s wide throw curves back into the strike zone. The team starts to make some real progress, putting one win after another under their belt, until–to everyone’s great shock–they find themselves playing for the league pennant!
And in that game, the angels don’t show up.
It is explained that some contests have to be won on their own. And so the team tries to go it without the angels…and discover that they have what it takes! This whole last season they haven’t just been being handed victories by the angels, they have been being coached by them into discovering their natural potential. The angels were only training wheels until they could ride on their own, and in the end the team does win the pennant!
And really this does seem to be the fairest outcome. If the team had won the championship with the angels’ continued intervention it would have felt like cheating. In the end they needed to show that they could earn it, they needed to prove that they’re worthy of the advantage they had been given.
You see this same concept in The Edge of Tomorrow, later rebranded as Live. Die. Repeat. In this film Major William Cage is imbued with the unique ability to reset each day whenever he dies. This comes in very handy because he is in the middle of a war between human forces and invading aliens. Any time the battle gets out of hand and he dies, he simply wakes up before the fight, ready to try it again.
Slowly he fights his way through the enemy lines and follows a series of clues until he finds where the alien leader is located. This entity controls all of the other aliens, and taking it out would rid the invasion once and for all.
But then, of course, Cage loses his all-important ability. He receives a blood transfusion while unconscious which has the side effect that he cannot reset the day if things go wrong anymore. Not only this, but the army doesn’t believe his intel, so he and his team are going to have to strike at the heart of the enemy territory alone. They’ll have just one shot, and if they fail it really is game over for good.
Once again, this setup just feels the most fair. It gives real weight to the final encounter and it lets Cage and his team prove to the audience that they have what it takes all on their own. It shows that they don’t require a crutch anymore.
Discover Your Own Power)
Let’s consider a little more this idea of a hero standing without a crutch and learning for themselves that they have what it takes.
Consider the example of Aladdin in the Disney animated film. At the outset we see that he his a wily trickster, able to wriggle his way out of every tight spot. Throughout the course of the film, though, he comes to depend on the power of others instead; specifically the acrobatics of a flying carpet and the wish-granting abilities of a magic genie. He uses these to redefine himself and assumes the pretended role of a prince.
Eventually this impostor lifestyle leads him into trouble, though, and an evil vizier named Jafar manages to gain power over Aladdin. Bit-by-bit, all of the crutches Aladdin has come to depend on are taken away. The genie is enslaved to Jafar, the magic carpet is reduced to threads, and even his pet monkey Abu is turned into a toy. Suddenly Aladdin finds himself all alone, with no one to count on but himself.
And there, in that moment, he remembers himself. He is a trickster, not a pompous prince. And so he does what he does best: he cons Jafar into his own demise. It works, but Aladdin had to lose all of his support first to find the right way forward.
The Will to Do)
Another major reason for making a hero stand alone is to show that they are the only one who is able to do what has to be done. All of the Mission: Impossible films surround Ethan Hunt with a team of operatives, but at the end there is always one last battle that he has to fight alone. And it’s not because he doesn’t want to have his team working with him, it’s because they literally can’t keep up with his pace. He’s the only one standing against the end of the world because he’s the only one who can get there in time.
And sometimes it isn’t a matter of the hero being the only one physically capable of rising to the occasion, but being the only one who has the right motivation to do so.
In Glory, Colonel Robert Shaw is assigned command over the first black regiment in the American Civil War. Things aren’t very smooth between these men and their commanding officers, though. Years of oppression have raised a strong resentment in the slaves for any white leader, and on a few occasions they are given reason to be cynical of the Union’s promises. Colonel Shaw must even make decisions against his own men at times, in order to keep them from falling under the control of worse commanders.
Even so, Shaw’s pledge to lead and vouch for his men is sincere. His constant campaigning leads them to being taken seriously by the rest of the Union army and they are given chances to prove their valor on the field. This escalates in the final act when the regiment volunteers to lead the charge against a heavily defended fort.
Here the process of heroic isolation begins. First they march out from the rest of the army, proceeding alone to the assault. Then all the horses and drummer boys are sent away, unnecessary casualties that Colonel Shaw would rather avoid. Then the charge begins and one man after another is gunned down the closer they come to their target.
Eventually the opposition becomes to great, and they come to a stop, too petrified to make the last charge up the walls of the fort. Colonel Shaw tries to rally his men but they refuse to push up. There simply isn’t anything for them to believe in enough to face that last, great hurdle.
So he goes it alone. Sufficiently motivated by his vision of a better future he takes the charge against the enemy himself. And then, when he is gunned down, his regiment catches the fire of his sacrifice and finishes the charge.
There is nothing as heroic as a hero standing alone. It shows that true heroes are pioneers, the ones who are willing to go and do what no one else can or will. In the last chapter of The Favored Son I also made my main character stand alone. In his case it was not towards triumph, though, it was to a bitter defeat.
As I come towards the end of the tale, though, his triumph will ultimately be revealed. And it will be a very lonely one. Come back on Thursday as I drive the wedge between him and his friends still deeper, and pay attention to all the different ways I am trying to isolate him before the grand conclusion.