How to Write Nuanced Characters: Why Kadenang Ginto Succeeds Where Many Fail
The problem with long-running shows that have week-long runs is that they need to pad five days of 25-minute runtime with high-stakes action or intense melodrama in an attempt to "develop the plot". But what exactly is the plot? Is it a character's growth, as all other shows depict? Or is it the fall of an antagonist that has ruined the lives of our protagonists?
What happens when the protagonist has achieved his/her life goals? What happens when the antagonist that has haunted our heroes for so long is dead? Well, introduce a new, more powerful threat to escalate tensions. Others would create new conflicts between the cast that were not seen in previous seasons.
This leads to yet another problem: what if we face a sudden turn of events that affects a different protagonist? Do we introduce another conflict that causes this character to leave his old life abruptly? How do we make our audience believe that such a change is within his personality or the profile we have of him?
By now, you are imagining which teleserye(s) I am talking about. At this point, we see this pattern happen a lot in our staple watches. Too many plot points either leading nowhere or to an unexpected route that comes up for no reason other than "plot progression".
Teleseryes suffer from their pacing, whether they drag on for too long due to popularity or for such a short time that they barely have enough room to fill in the gaps. The latter leads to unnecessary rushing.
So how does this concern affect shows that still appeal to the public like "Kadenang Ginto", which seems to be doing well and showing some changes to the teleserye formula?
Well, the answer to that might probably surprise you. It doesn't.
Kadenang Ginto's Writing
If we were to summarize the story of Kadenang Ginto, it would be a family's journey to adapting through difficult circumstances created by their tenuous relationships.
They all fall under the Mondragon family but the main players can be easily divided into two sides: the main Mondragon family of Robert and wife Romina with their daughter Cassie and Romina's brother Neil and the Mondragon-Bartolome family of Daniela with husband Carlos and daughter Marga. Now, Daniela is the daughter of Robert and thus the heir to the sardine canning business of the patriarch. Her conflict with her stepmother Romina drives nearly every event in the story.
If the story can be read as a family feud, we see how similar it is to many a teleserye. However, it stays fresh for one reason: because the characters act. What you will see in the series is not simply two women engaged in a catfight while Daddy Mondragon and meek Carlos watch them duke it out. It is a chess game of power between two strong women fighting for their family's right to Robert's fortune. One can say that Romina and Daniela differ in motivation. Romina only wants what is best for her daughter. But the beauty of Filipino teleseryes is that both sides actually have the same motive. Just that they possess different world views over that goal. Daniela seeks wealth but she was used to that wealth all her life. Romina lived with wealth while married to Robert but she only needed it to secure Cassie's future. The same can be said for Marga's mother. The point is that the characters act out different agenda for the same resource. Their activities become the plot and engage viewers in a constantly progressing story to see who wins.
Yet their staying power does not solely reside in the activity of its main players. Arguably, its most promising strength is in the nuance of its characters.
Nuance in Character
Romina. Cassie. Daniela. Marga. Robert. Carlos.
Each of these figures are not your average teleserye figures.
The family dynamic can be best described as the usual dysfunctional big family web. Because of their mother's rivalry, Cassie and Marga are rivals as well. However, Cassie's responses opposed Marga's animosity, often avoiding the expected "sampalans" and only defending herself when necessary. Cassie does possess compassion for the people who hurt her, to the point that she was present in one of Marga's breakdowns, which led to an attempted suicide. This was actually the moment that compelled me to write this review.
Kadenang Ginto is famous for two things: its ability to translate intense scenes into memes and plot twists. So many plot twists. Season 1 delivered on key plot twists that not only worked but helped the show reach three seasons as of 2019.
Romina gave birth to Cassie because she was raped after a company party. This led to a ruined engagement with Carlos and her marriage to her boss, Robert, as well as the resentment of Daniela. We had yet to find the real father until it was revealed to be a former co-worker, Alvin. He works in Maxwell, Cassie's school, as a janitor, to get closer to the girl. Some viewers might find it odd that he does not seem as affectionate or paternal as Robert was. Well, he was an ex-convict and someone the viewers should not trust. Then there was the revelation that Alvin did not in fact impregnate Romina. So if he did not commit the rape, who did? There were too many suspicions flown around.
Then came a certain conversation that opened another valley of twists. Remember the night Romina got drunk and was raped? Yeah, on that night, Robert woke up with a hangover from drinking too much. It may have seemed like a coincidence, until it was proven that Robert, not Alvin, raped Romina. This not only made Robert's future actions more questionable and complex but makes Cassie a contender for Robert's inheritance, something Daniela took to great lengths in hiding. Anyway, Robert dies from an explosion in a helicopter and Romina was framed for his death, only to return to the company and competing with Daniela once again.
In Season 2, we see the plots of Daniela culminate in an attempted car crash that was supposed to kill Romina. Yet an unexpected change occurred. Cassie and Kristoff were inside the car and Cassie was in critical condition. This opens Daniela up to her stepsister and reveals her guilt over what happened and an actual care for Cassie that is never shown in the open. However, the conniving Mondragon-Bartolome uses this to her advantage to claim Cassie's share of the inheritance.
Kadenang Ginto's twists seem to work not only to advance the plot but to better the characters and reveal their layers in such a slow but fulfilling way.
The story now seems easier to look at with how these characters work.
Carlos is moved by his own insecurities about his place in the lives of his family.
Robert is a kind man paying for his secrets.
Daniela was a dutiful but hateful daughter who loved her family, including Cassie, in spite of her own hatred of Romina.
Marga craved for the attention her parents never gave her through social media and Kristoff.
Cassie does not engage in unnecessary conflicts with Marga and does see some good in her.
Romina's resolve is admirable but somewhat out of bounds with conventional morality.
Daniela may be the ruthless kontrabida but her capacity to love makes her more human than expected.
They are not as different as any teleserye cast. They are more human.