Hal, Son of Tom, has gotten a lot heat on this blog, and I can’t say I fully understand why. Not because I’m such a fan of Hal. More because I can’t claim to have any opinion about him whatsoever at this point. Therefore, I hereby invite you, the unbiased reader, to explore the possible opinions I could have, if I only thought about it for, let’s say, the 20 minutes it takes to write a blog article.
First of all, one thing keeps happening in each and every episode. I forget that Hal is 16 in the pilot and 17 at best now. He doesn’t act like a teenager at all. He acts like a young man – early to mid-twenties – who has to step up and take the role of a protector to his younger siblings. On one hand, that’s a bit weird because the Mason brothers lost their mother and Hal steps in as a classic father figure, though the actual father is alive and filling this role. But hey, outdated gender roles shouldn’t be in the way of this article! Because on the other hand, it makes perfect sense for him to not act his age and take on a parental role.
It’s hard to overlook that there’s sort of a war going on. In war, all fathers are soldiers. Especially in a war against a superior alien force, everyone who can pick up a gun is a soldier, regardless of age and gender. Desperate wars, and we certainly have one at our hands here, force children to grow up faster and accept more responsiblity than they would in times of peace. It doesn’t matter what hopes and dreams Hal had when he was 15. Now, he can forget about all of them and has to fill the neccessary role – that of a soldier. Fighting aliens day in and day out, living on the run, having lost family, friends and pretty much everyone he knew; those are things that make a boy forget that he wanted to become something else. Looking at these circumstances, it’s not a valid complaint to say “but he’s supposed to be 16, why does he act like an adult?”
The moment when this becomes a bit of a problem for me is in S02E05 – when Hal tells Maggie about his first crush. All “forced to grow up fast due to war” considered, a 17 years old teenager – born in 1995 – does not get teary eyes when he thinks back to a jazz singer he fell in love with by hearing her sing. Your average 1995-born boy had his first crush on Jessica Alba, Kiera Knightly, Scarlett Johansson or, if he had exceptionally good taste, Summer Glau. Here’s a list of the 100 Hottest Women of 2010, when Hal was 14 in a perfect world, with a healthy family: http://www.popcrunch.com/the-100-hottest-women-of-2010-20-1/ (moderately NSFW). And another: http://www.maxim.com/hot-100/2010-hot-100 Does any of those women look like a jazz singer that captures the imagination of a boy who just hit puberty with her voice to you? That scene, when Hal tells Maggie about it in the car while hiding from mechs, doesn’t drive the point home that he grew up fast because he had to. “Look, everyone, he’s so mature, he never drooled on a picture of Jessica Alba in a bikini!” doesn’t make Hal look mature, it makes him look artificial. He is not the boy that the target demographic of the show can identify with. He is not me when I was 16, he is not you when you were/are 16. He isn’t your 16 years old brother, or your 16 years old classmate or your 16 years old next-door-neighbor. He is nothing more than fiction, reciting a line that was more likely written for Vic Fontaine, the holograpgic lounge singer from Deep Space Nine. And that character was written to be a refined, elder gentleman from 1962. That guy did have his first crush on a jazz singer. Hal Mason, the functional family’s son from 1995? My money is on Jessica Alba.
Now, when talking about Hal, it is impossible to not address his romance plot with Maggie. Let’s just forget for a moment that there is an age difference that would raise a few eyebrows, hadn’t there been an alien invasion, and let’s forget that this is never addressed by anyone, in any way. It is still a problem. For the very reason that it is impossible to talk about Hal without taking this into account. The romance subplot overshadows the development beyond it and that is a pity. Before the romance started, Hal did relevant things. He lost his girlfriend Karen. (And here’s a plot hole: He never dealt with this loss in a visible way. It took quite some episodes until her disapperance was addressed, and Hal only slightly freaked out about it when provoked by Ben before returning to being flirty with Maggie.) His role changed from “older brother” to “second daddy” to his little brother Matt, while he also became less of a son and more like a best friend to his father. He then had to reconnect with his estranged brother Ben. All those things are very relevant to his growth as a character, but you can barely see it because most of his scenes are focussed on trading flirty remarks with Maggie.
Hal was the perfect choice of character to tell the story of a boy who was robbed of the best years of his youth; about being torn between just wanting to be a teenager and having to fill a different role. A tale of innocent dreams crushed by aliens and finding a new direction in life. Instead, all we get to see is Hal flirting with Maggie, under enemy fire, so to speak.
Do I have an opinion about Hal now? I think so. My opinion is that Hal is a character with a lot potential – but written into the wrong direction. The angsty romance is not what will define him and not what the viewers can identify with. And sadly, at this point, I have little hope he’ll get back on track soon.