Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
I just got through watching season two of The Great Pretender on Netflix. I love the show because it draws from a number of different sources in anime such as Cowboy Bebop and Black Lagoon, as well as from the heist movie Oceans 11, to create its own style. It covers a seemingly ragtag group of con men from different nationalities as they con the corrupt and criminal elements of the world and bring them to some sense of karmic justice.
Because the group is made up of such a diverse group of people, there would naturally be a focus on their characters and how they relate to each other. And it’s in this that my interest lies because I am drawn to dark and tragic character development and one in particular has the darkest: Abigail Jones. Fans of the show who are aware of its influences have compared her to a previous anime character, Revy from the Black Lagoon manga and anime. I wanted to look at the two to see why.
For context, Abby’s relationship with the new Japanese recruit, Edumura, has been compared to Black Lagoon’s own odd couple, Rock and Revy. In Black Lagoon, Japanese businessman Rock is sent overseas and kidnapped by a small time band of smugglers/pirates. After being abandoned by his company, Rock decides to join them and the groups’ gunman, a Chinese-American woman named Revy, immediately seems to attach herself to him, albeit while insulting him and threatening to kill Rock as well.
As the series progresses, we learn that she was in an abusive home in New York City. She got in trouble with the law numerous times and was at one point raped by an officer in jail. The experience traumatized her. She is later on picked by the Lagoon company and moves out to the South Pacific. Because of this, she sees Rock as a naïve man who's too into movies and idealism, which leads to them bumping heads often. Eventually, an odd relationship between the two develops, even though it is never formalized as it were. Everyone assumes the two are together, even though they don’t show the typical signs of affection that normal couples would, other than a strong loyalty to each other.
People aware of this show see strong parallels in the relationship with Abigail and Edamura. Like Revy, Abby also comes from a tragic background, being an Iraqi refugee who lost her parents during the American invasion in 2003 and joining a militia to fight them. She is nearly killed and eventually makes her way to New York, where Laurent recruits her into his Confidence Men team. She doesn’t like Edumura and finds him annoying, often only working with him because the con demands it. And like Revy, she also seems to soften up towards him over time, though nothing romantic has happened yet.
Both women are very athletic and capable. Both have odd relationships with Japanese men. Both work for a seedy group of outlaws and don’t like each other in the beginning, but their relationship improves as their relative series progresses.
I can see why on the surface that fans would see the likeness between Abby and Revy. However, on a second watching of the Netflix series, I’ve come to conclude that the women are actually very different.
"There is no time stamp on trauma. There isn't a formula you can insert yourself into to get from horror to healed."
— Dawn Serra
How They Cope
Revy’s past turns her into a borderline, hyper violent, near-sociopath. While her relationships in the Lagoon company usually keep those tendencies in check, occasionally it slips out in what her boss Dutch calls “going Walt Whitman.” Her perspective on life is extremely dark, seeing herself as one of the walking dead. Her inner pain and hopelessness translates into an outward hostility to the world and those who seem to prosper in it that live on the other side of the tracks. But you wouldn’t know it if you had just met her, where she would just look like a hot, drunken, tough, crazy woman. While Revy’s trauma drove her to become an extremely violent living extrovert though, Abby instead plays up the opposite disposition.
Though because the nature of her work requires that she wear many hats and personalities, when Abby’s not on the con, she’s almost emotionless. She doesn’t lose her temper easily. Abby isn't socially awkward, but has no filter when it comes to her opinions. Yet she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve despite being very up front with people. Early on when explaining the Confidence Men’s policy to Edamura, she flat out tells him there are no ties between the members and that anyone who can’t keep up gets left behind. Yet beneath her controlled veneer, Abby is quite unstable, suffering from PTSD and occasionally showing a suicidal, reckless streak. Sometimes it manifests as momentary loss of focus and paralyzation by reliving brief flashbacks. And it's reasonable to assume that her temper stems from those experiences as well.
Abby has shown herself to quickly recuperate from these episodes. She isn't as violent as Revy in the sense that she’ll kill anybody if she feels like it or on the job, but she has killed in her past. In one job, she nearly kills Lewis Mueller, an American veteran/retired air racer because of his involvement in the war that left her an orphan. This might even imply that she had a deep hostility towards American soldiers, retired or otherwise.
Besides her PTSD, Abby keeps her anger close to the chest, but when it comes out, it’s barely controllable. One can easily say that her off-the-job, extracurricular activities that range from dirt bike racing to boxing are Abby’s coping mechanisms for her inner rage. Her boss Laurent says as much, saying that she is looking to die. And during her attempt to kill Mueller, she instead nearly kills Edumura when he tackles her to stop it. It’s her budding friendship with him that she starts to truly develop a sense of balance and deal with her inner demons. This is why when telling Edamura to forgive himself, she reveals it was that mentality he taught her that saved her from her private death wish. It also implied that she had begun to move on from her past.
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Slow Burn vs. Fast Pace
Regarding Edamura, though Abby has softened up to him, she reveals no romantic expressions or any real attachment like Revy does with Rock. In the latter scenario, the gun woman makes it clear to everyone that Rock is off-limits to every woman they meet, despite making no initial romantic gestures herself. The sole exception being what fans of Black Lagoon refer to as “the cigarette kiss”, where after the two have a violent/verbal altercation, they make up in the back of a police car by touching cigarettes to each other while both are smoking at the other end. To many fans, this officially kicks off Revy’s relationship with Rock.
Abby, however, has no such moment, low-key or otherwise. When a job is done, they still go their separate ways and live separate lives for months at a time until Laurent gets the band back together again for another job. The closest thing to it is when at the end of season two, the two still keep in touch, as shown when Abby sends Edamura a selfie of her flicking him off while rock-climbing thousands of miles away. So clearly she is still thinking about him even in her down time.
That said, what Abby has revealed has been an empathy for the position that they keep placing Edamura in. In season two, during an operation involving Edamura’s estranged father, Abby questions Laurent about whether the unsuspecting Edamura really would accept Laurent’s true intentions regarding their target. Another example being when she goes to Edamura’s apartment to console him a bit after he learns his father was working with Laurent all along. While still keeping a physical distance, Abby tells him he can cheat and deceive whomever he wants, clearly already suspecting the young man’s own anger issues, but to forgive himself and move on somehow. Perhaps seeing that they express their demons in similar ways deepened her empathy towards him.
Again nothing overt, but a clear sign of friendship with the potential to evolve into something more, given her original declaration in season one of not caring one way or the other. Clearly if anything romantic does happen, it's going to be a slow burn. The show only hints at this when during a seemingly unrelated flashback, Laurent’s then girlfriend says the same thing to him that Abby later says to Edamura years later.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
The differences between Revy and Abby lie in how each has handled their individual traumas. Revy hides her pain by lashing out at the world. Despite her outward bravado, she hates herself for what she’s become. All while harboring an inner desire to be free of her darkness which she sees in her closeness and perhaps future with Rock. When she is confronted with this truth by others, she starts to unravel because she doesn’t know how to properly handle those emotions and this translates into her relationship with Rock in not knowing how to have a normal romantic relationship with him.
One of her friends even calls her out on this when she presses Revy if she’s slept with Rock yet and the normally blunt Revy instead tries to dodge the question. Revy more often tends to let things happen, believing that they will always be negative and accepts them with reckless abandon. It’s Rock who causes her to start taking some ownership of her choices, though there’s still quite a ways to go.
Abby also shields her inner pain, but is very conscious of it as well. She hides it from others, but not from herself. Nor does it consume her nearly as much as it does Revy, which is why the con man isn’t a cold-blooded killer. When she chooses to and is comfortable with the other person, Abby can open up about her past like she does with Edamura and Lewis Mueller. At heart, Abby isn’t motivated as the victim of circumstance as Revy is, nor is she imprisoned by it.
How this translates into their respective trades is much more forward. Because of Revy’s mindset, she becomes specialized in one specific skill: killing and to her credit is excellent at it. Yet beyond violence, she doesn’t have other benefits to offer the Lagoon company, though the same could be the same for most of the other members as well. In an emotionally blow out with Rock, she is forced to admit that out loud.
It is worth noting that many fans would not see Revy this way. Her dual-gun toting ways and foul-mouthed, take-no-shit-attitude doesn’t fit the image of a weak person. And I’m certainly not calling her that or saying she is a bad character. However, when compared to someone with similar or more extreme circumstances like Abby, I think the different paths become clear.
Abby too has flaws, but is also a jack of all trades. If she doesn’t know something, she’s a quick study. She’s not one to lose her cool in tense situations and is adaptable on the fly. She can literally be anyone you want her to be, which is why Laurent prizes her talents so much. All of this is because of Abby’ self-awareness. Even if she doesn’t say it, she doesn’t hide from who she is and therefore has fewer blind spots than her Black Lagoon counterpart.
More importantly, Abby has a life outside of conning people. She has outlets and hobbies that help her maintain some sense of self while not becoming too swallowed up by her inner darkness. When pushed, Abby can become crazy and violent, and absolutely has anger issues. She is cynical and has difficulty seeing the good in anything or anyone, at one point saying stoically that there wasn’t anything worth living for when she was trapped with Edamura during a shoot out. These factors motivate her extreme activities, but they don’t dominate her life moving forward. She travels the world from place to place, not anchored in one spot or perpetually under the same dark cloud. And with exception of the occasional flashback paralysis, she is in control of herself.
What this means in terms of the men in their lives is that one will most likely develop a healthier relationship than the other. Revy and Rock are already together, even if they’ve not romantically acted on it and the latter chapters of the manga says as much. They both know how others see them and what they mean to each other. Yet while I wouldn’t call it a toxic relationship, it is definitely an unhealthy one since neither person seems to or is willing to open up to the other about their feelings. Nor does the underworld environment that they live in prove helpful to that end.
Abby and Edamura are still in the friend zone, but are also growing closer, implied by their communications with each other outside of con jobs. They both have their own individual lives separate from being con artists. When they are together, they balance each other out and have each other’s back without one overly relying on the other. So if they do a season three of Great Pretender and if they do end up in a relationship, it will most likely still be somewhat unusual, but in a much healthier place.
That is how I see the similarities and differences between Abigail and Revy.
© 2020 Jamal Smith