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On the Outside Looking In

Banes at 12:00AM, Sept. 17, 2020
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I was surprised and saddened to learn just the other day that Rene Auberjonois passed away at the end of last year. Even before the upheaval of the pandemic hit us, I think life was busy and a bit chaotic, and I just missed it.

I'd been a fan of the actor for my whole life, really - on the old sitcom ‘Benson’, Mr. Auberjonois played the cranky, cynical ‘friendly adversary’ character Clayton. Those types of characters are great; often it's the character who goes against the grain that makes a piece of fiction really work.

Of course, the actor later played another ‘outsider’ character that became iconic - he was Odo on Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Star Trek had a tradition of characters who stood outside of humanity, looking in. Of course, Spock was first, and then on Next Generation it was the android Data. The new iteration when Deep Space Nine came along was Odo, an alien of unknown origin (at first) whose natural form was a gooey liquid. He was alone, not even knowing where he came from. He had elastic and shape-shifting abilities, but was isolated living among ‘solids’.

The Outsider character might not be an essential ingredient, but they are pretty close. I think of Dr. Smith back on Lost in Space, who was the ‘villain’ of the show but the one who made it worth watching.

In OG Star Wars, Han Solo was the cynic who didn't buy in the the Force, or the heroics of Luke and company. His presence is an antidote to a trilogy that might have become too sincere and earnest. Now that we've gone through a few years of everything being some kind of ‘subversion’, top to bottom, we see that this kind of thing can go too far. But that's another article.

Back in the comedy world, I find that on rewatch, the show Friends would be much less tolerable without the outsider character Phoebe. Later, I think Joey became the ‘outsider’. While everyone else was occupied with romance and relationships and kids,and too much sweetness, Joey was the one who went against the grain and saved the show. Steve Urkel, the wacky kid next door, became the breakout star of Family Matters.

I've even noticed on some podcasts I used to listen to, it was the one person who went against the grain that made it work. Something about that tension, whether it's comedic or more serious, makes for a much more interesting experience.

Of course, I can't let a chance to mention the legendary Jughead.

Sometimes the Outsider is the Protagonist - the character and show ‘Dexter’ come to mind.

But the outsider really shines in shows or movies where they're not the clear lead of the story: Wolverine, Alex P. Keaton, Spock, Kramer. They go against the grain - I can't think of a better phrase. Through wackiness, having different priorities than everyone around them, or by rolling their eyes and mocking the proceedings…or a gruff ‘harrumph’ like the crusty changeling Odo, their presence is a welcome spice to a story or series.

A belated RiP to Rene Auberjonois

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anonymous?

Kou the Mad at 11:05PM, Sept. 17, 2020

I just got around to watching Deep Space 9 last year (I finished it a few months ago.) as someone who just doesn't Care about Star Trek. Hoo Boy was THAT a good show.....shame what makes the Show Good (More Focused Setting, a plot that is more grounded, a War Story, etc.) in my eyes makes it the Black Sheep of the series (Halfway Through Voyager, it is NOT as good by a long shot.). Odo (And Quark. And Nog. And Sisko......really the entire cast.) was among the best parts of the show, it's genuinely sad to see such a talented Actor go.

Jason Moon at 4:41PM, Sept. 17, 2020

@dpat57 - Joey was great in the Lost in space movie! His helmet mask was so cool! When it comes to outsiders Dexter Morgan is such an incredible character. It's gotta be the writing that keeps me so invested because it is brilliant, Or maybe it's Michael C. Hall.

dpat57 at 11:23AM, Sept. 17, 2020

I often think of Joey's terror in the Lost in Space movie, as they strap him into a fighter and send him out against kamikaze pilots. He was the outsider, too.

bravo1102 at 10:40AM, Sept. 17, 2020

Rene Auberjonois was cast in DS9 because of the performance he gave in ST VI: the Undiscovered Country as a Star Fleet intelligence officer. Very talented actor all around capable of ver different characters. He started out as the priest in the original movie of M*A*S*H. As far as outsiders go, some have spent their lives always on the outside looking in.

usedbooks at 4:42AM, Sept. 17, 2020

Another thing about the "outsider" is that their lack of ties to the other cast members means no one can be certain where their loyalties lie. I've seen the role used often in anime and jrpg, quite often the comedy relief/renegade is also the traitor -- or the apparent traitor who pulls a double or triple cross against the antagonists. My favorites are the ones that pull the bad-guy-but-not fake-out -- often taking great personal risks to help the protagonists despite not being part of their clique.

kawaiidaigakusei at 3:47AM, Sept. 17, 2020

Long live the outsider characters! Every good gang needs a wildcard. Rest in Space, Odo.

PaulEberhardt at 3:10AM, Sept. 17, 2020

The cool thing about outsider characters is that they're often so relatable even when on the surface they're so strange that you'd think they'd have no right to be so. It's probably because everyone has experienced how it feels to be the odd one out at some point of their lives; everyone has to find their place while growing up and you can't be an insider everywhere. Odo's character development throughout DS9 is a textbook example for a story of initiation, basically.

PaulEberhardt at 2:53AM, Sept. 17, 2020

You're not the only fan who missed this sad news. RiP, Rene Auberjonois :(


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