Monday, March 9, 2009

Everything There is to Know About Elle, part 1 (Heroes)

So, it’s been over a year now I’ve been working on this Heroes fanfiction A Very Sadistic Christmas, an Elle/Claire slash from Elle’s point of view. In that time, I’ve studied the character Elle Bishop on Heroes in an attempt to get her viewpoint and dialog pattern down. I’ve discovered that my take on Elle is pretty out of character compared to the Heroes canon. And so, I have written this article studying Elle so that I may better understand her and so that I can potentially help other Elle-writers out there.

First of all, it’s important to note that the portrayal of Elle changes radically from season two to season three. For now, I will refer to Elle as she was in the second season. Elle is a sociopath with paranoid delusions and sadistic compulsions.

Originally, Elle was a nice girl, one can imagine without any mental issues, until her electrical powers manifested. Her father forced harmful testing upon her, damaging her brain and giving her sociopathy, and he then had the Haitian remove her memories of being traumatized. According to present day Elle, she accidentally set her grandmother’s house on fire when she was six, and blacked out four counties in Ohio when she was eight. Whether or not her accidental fire-lighting was prior to the company testing is unknown. It is known that when she was eight she underwent psychological examination, during which she threatened to kill her examiners, and was ultimately given a diagnosis as a sociopath with paranoid delusions. The extent of these delusions is unknown, though Elle (probably sarcastically) speaks of the diagnosis with an ironic claim that they were just out to get her because of the death threat.

I have to wonder if her blacking out four counties isn’t related to her psychological examination, such as it being a malicious prank. She spent her ninth birthday in a hospital bed with an IV of lithium in her arm, suggesting her malicious behavior continued. She ultimately must have gained control over herself, because she was made into an agent of the company and trusted with fulfilling missions. (Although, based on Bob’s denial of Peter’s request to leave his cell with Elle to watch him, it would seem that something bad happened the last time she did something like that.) She seems to have generally channeled her aggression onto the enemies of the company, including its prisoners.

Ever since her diagnosis, she has been kept in the Primatech building, her agency heavily restricted. She expresses resentment over not being allowed to do things normal people are expected to have done, including dating. Elle appears sexually charged and, more than hitting on every guy, she violates personal boundaries and treats people like her toys. Actress Kristen Bell says that Elle just assumes she has a romantic connection with everybody.

(Elle plays with Peter’s hair as he wakes up)
Bob: “He’s not a toy, Elle!”
Elle: (shoots her father an annoyed look before smiling down at Peter) “He could be…”
–2x08 Four Months Ago…

Elle’s hobby of treating people like possessions doesn’t seem to have started with Peter. The way Bob admonishes her leads me to believe that Elle didn’t really have a name in mind for how she treats people. She accepts “toy” as an accurate description, though. I personally would say “pet” is probably a better description, but this is non-canon.

Elle’s practice of applying pain speaks of experience. After getting Peter adjusted to his imprisonment she gives him a flirtatious zap and in response to his pained complaint, responds “You’ll get used to it… and then you’ll start to like it.” Yep, Elle’s done this before, a lot probably. Adam comments he had some involvement with Elle at one point and as Adam doesn’t seem like he’d break easily, he probably wasn’t the first “toy” either.

Nor is Peter the last. Just a few weeks after he escapes, Elle bonds with her new partner, Mohinder. She first violates his space by rubbing her hand over his chest unnecessarily while dressing him with a holster thing, and when he declares his faith in the goodness of Noah Bennet, she gazes at him like one might look at a puppy and gushes, “He’s adorable! Can I keep him?” Bob just rolls his eyes, disdainful of her eccentricities. It is possible he keeps himself from acknowledging just how deeply his daughter is into playing with people.
As Peter notes, Elle likes to be in control. This isn’t true all the time, though. She seems perfectly willing to be subordinate to her father. When she and Bob make Peter the offer he can’t refuse, she doesn’t insist on being on an equal level with her father during the conversation, preferring instead to start exerting her influence on Peter as her “toy”. Elle seems fine with remaining subordinate to Bob, but dehumanizes and keeps total authority over Peter.

Elle is a sadist, deriving pleasure from causing others pain. Aside from simply torturing Peter through regular electrocutions, she has the master plan of getting him to like it. For a girl unable to have a normal romantic relationship, a Stockholm syndrome relationship could make an adequate substitute. It could, in fact, be right up her alley. She so loves being in control, and her prisoner growing to like his own torment sounds like something she could really appreciate

In addition, there is some scientific basis for enjoying pain even if one is not a masochist. The sensation of pain triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Extended exposure to pain stimulation can over time induce a positive sensation. It’s the same principal behind enjoyment of spicy foods or the runner’s high. As Elle can be rather sensual, it stands to reason that a mental association between getting electrocuted and sexual excitement could also develop.

Peter, however, doesn’t play by her rules. After two months of withstanding sadistic lightning with his morning pills, he asks for Elle to tell him something about her. “I liked you better when you just laid there,” she condescends, avoiding the question. Peter wonders if she won’t tell him out of fear and then judges by her expression that she just likes to be in control. “Figured as much. Won’t happen again,” he growls aggressively. Elle starts to walk away, but stops and shares a brief history of her life before leaving.
It is an abandonment of her usual tactics. Normally Elle seeks to be in control through not letting much be known about her. When Mohinder asks her how many people she has killed, she bluntly suggests that’s none of his business. At any rate, I think it’s unlikely that she refrains from telling him out of any kind of shame at killing people. So, it seems quite strange that she’d lower her walls for Peter. Maybe the change is because she likes Peter more than other people, or maybe because she just thinks it would be more effective at getting him to submit to her. In any case, the difference in technique is notable.

Its effectiveness is questionable. Peter doesn’t exactly submit. He does come to request a little jolt on his last day before escaping, but he quickly takes control away from her. Instead of letting her shock him through the hand, he pulls it away from hers and kisses her. Elle responds eagerly and to complete the kiss, she delivers a shock through her lips.

Elle seems to love the experience. It is possible that she specifically enjoyed Peter taking control, but this is tempered by her getting sadistic at the end. It is also possible that she got something out of Peter showing he liked her instead of just being obedient, which could mean a lot of things not necessarily that he likes her.
When Peter then moves to take his pills, she questions whether or not that’s the end of their visit. This may suggest that she has stayed for more than just one zap in the past. Additionally, it could mean she’s happy going along with Peter’s ‘control’ just so long as he realizes who’s in charge in the end. Whatever the case, she seems too happy about the kiss to care about Peter ostensibly taking the pills and holding the cup for her to take away. She walks out with a smile still on her face.

Of course, Peter then escapes and it can be expected that Elle wouldn’t lower her walls again anytime soon. Her refusal to talk to Mohinder about her history as an executioner is evidence of this. That said, her grip on reality is then shaken by the revelation that her father abused her as a child. Following this event, her whole mindset could potentially change.

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