Hi, it’s me again. I’m just proposing the other character from The Divergent Series whom I think warrants one; the other half of what I have dubbed “the despicable Divergent duo”, if you will (yeah, yeah, I know I’m not going to win a lot of points for creativity or wit with that, but it’s still got a decent ring, doesn’t it?). Like with Jeanine, I’m going more by the movie version, but the proposal still applies to the book version as well, especially since in this character’s case, there’s even less deviation from one version to the other.
What’s the work?
The Divergent Series is a trilogy of young adult novels that were written by Veronica Roth and have drawn a lot of comparisons to similar stories like The Hunger Games and The Giver. Like many popular YA series, it was eventually adapted into a series of movies, which unfortunately, due to declining interest, box office numbers, reception, and the common decision to split the final book into two movies, never got completed, with the second half of Allegiant, which they named Ascendant, never seeing the light of day. Anyhow, set in a post-apocalyptic, walled-up version of Chicago in the aftermath of some catastrophe called the Purity Wars, society has set up a system where all of its citizens are sorted into five different factions based on their personalities and certain virtues they most embody; Erudite for the intelligent, Amity for the kind, Candor for the honest, Dauntless for the brave/fearless, and Abnegation for the selfless, for the sake of maintaining peace and order.
The story centers on a particular girl from Abnegation named Beatrice “Tris” Prior, who upon taking a test prior to the Choosing Ceremony that everyone at a certain age has to participate in, which is meant to help them determine which faction suits them best before they decide which one they either want to stay with or transfer to in the ceremony itself, discovers she’s actually Divergent. This means that she’s among a minority of individuals who has an aptitude for most or all of the factions, which unfortunately, also makes her a threat in the eyes of some of the faction leaders, who see their independent will and inability to be neatly categorized as a threat to the established order and system. Therefore, after she ultimately decides to transfer into Dauntless, she must work hard to both pass initiation so she won’t become factionless, as well as keep her true nature a secret. In the meantime, she bonds with both some of the other initiates transferring from other factions and one of the Dauntless instructors named Four, but also discovers a rather horrifying conspiracy. Apart from Jeanine, here’s one of the other most responsible parties for said conspiracy, as well as the other best representation of the worst this dystopian society has to offer.
Who is he and what does he do?
Eric Coulter is one of the leaders of Dauntless, as well as one of the main instructors assigned to initiates who have transferred from other factions along with Four. He is easily the more brutal and unforgiving of the two though, and while the Dauntless initiation tests were already pretty demanding, he’s changed the rules from what they used to be to be far more uncompromising. For example, the new initiates have to periodically fight each other, and whereas before they were allowed to concede if they had enough, which Four still supports, Eric has essentially disallowed that so that they can’t stop until one is badly beaten enough to be unable to continue, encouraging them to brutalize each other and be as unmerciful as possible. The first real sign we get of his psychopathic personality comes when Tris’ new friend from Candor, Christina, is badly beaten in one such fight by a tougher girl named Molly, and she tries to quit. At first, Eric acts sympathetic and understanding, lending her a hand, only to then leave her hanging for dear life on a railing over a chasm with 3 choices; either maintain her grip for 5 minutes in order to stay, fail and die, or quit and automatically be left factionless. Thankfully, she manages to hold out and stay, though it leaves her badly traumatized.
Similar examples of his ruthlessness that are barely disguised as harsh lessons about not showing any fear or weakness soon follow. When Al, another new initiate whom Tris initially befriends, but struggles to make the cut like her, is throwing knives in training and badly misses the target, Eric orders him to go over and pick it up… while the other initiates are still throwing. Drawing the line at risking getting killed by a stray knife, Al refuses. In response, Eric tells everyone to stop and forces Al to stand against the wall while Four throws knives at him, and if he sees him flinch, he’s automatically out. Knowing that Al probably can’t handle it, Tris speaks up for him and volunteers to take his place. Four initially throws the knives further away, but Eric convinces him to keep throwing progressively closer, only relenting once Four throws one close enough to her head that he nicks her ear.
Of course, he remains pretty peeved that she spoke up against him, so as revenge, he immediately pairs her up in a fight shortly afterwards with Peter Hayes, another new initiate from Candor who is especially rude and hostile towards her, and who is especially ruthless. While Tris tries to put up a decent fight by following advice given to her by Four, she still loses and gets beaten up by Peter badly enough that she ends up in the infirmary. Finally, when they’re on a train heading over to a location to play a Capture the Flag-like game, Eric demonstrates how the dart guns they’ll be using simulate real gunshot wounds for a couple minutes by shooting Molly in the leg with one just because she made an unimpressed remark upon seeing them.
Of course, all of this is small potatoes when compared to the eventual reveal that he and Max, another Dauntless leader, are conspiring with Jeanine to have a huge supply of serum delivered to the faction, which he injects most of the members with, including the new members that just passed initiation, saying that it’s necessary for tracking them while performing their new duties. Of course, it’s really a mind-control serum that allows Jeanine to use nearly the entire faction as brainwashed soldiers to march en masse on Abnegation and execute the entire faction under false allegations Erudite stirred up about them so they can gain control of the government. The serum doesn’t work on Divergents though, so Tris and Four pretend to go along with the simulation to blend in, but another young man who’s Divergent is not quite as smart and goes around asking what the other Dauntless are doing while they’re robotically carrying out preparations. Upon noticing this, Eric briefly comforts him by saying everything is alright before shooting him point-blank in the head. Later, as the mind-controlled Dauntless are invading Abnegation and rounding them up for execution, when he comes across Four, he attempts to shoot him too even though he isn’t positive he’s not under the serum’s control, meaning he was likely looking for a good excuse to get rid of his long-time rival. In response, Tris pulls a gun on him and non-fatally shoots him in the leg so they can escape.
After that, we don’t see him again for the rest of the first installment, but he’s back in the sequel, which takes place a few days after Jeanine’s plot to exterminate Abnegation with the brainwashed Dauntless was foiled. Having framed the attempt on the Divergents in the aftermath, she uses this to invoke martial law, giving her even more authority. Eric is first seen leading a raid on Abnegation with Max to retrieve a box Jeanine is after, and which she needs a Divergent to open. Therefore, on her orders, he goes around hunting Divergents and bringing them to Jeanie so she can put them through torturous simulations that must be completed to open it, which results in the death of at least seven of them.
Later, after Jeanine has come to the conclusion that some Divergents are stronger than others and that they need to capture one with an especially high reading, he leads a raid on Candor where after everyone is shot and knocked out with metal disks, they round up the Divergents, who are still conscious, so they can scan them, including Tris. When an older man registers a very weak rating, Eric executes him, something that even Max doesn’t approve of since that wasn’t part of their mission, with Eric arguing that as far as he’s concerned, the rest of them are still outlaws. He then scans a young girl, and when she only registers a 40% reading, he prepares to shoot her too, only to be stopped and attacked by Tris (it’s worth noting that in the book, he actually does shoot and kill a 10 year old boy named Bobby for the same reason). He nearly kills her in response before Max reminds him she still needs to be scanned as well. Upon finding out she’s the one they’re looking for, Eric takes very sadistic joy in telling her that she’s going to wish he killed her with what she has in store. However, Eric and his unit get attacked by Four and some Candor officers who weren’t attacked while escorting her out and held at gun point. Eric then mocks Four for being nothing without a gun, to which Four responds by handily stomping him in a one-on-one battle before Four ultimately executes him for betraying Dauntless and all his other crimes.
Like with Jeanine, none. It’s pretty clear right from the start that Eric’s far from a nice guy, but initially, you could at least possibly see his brutality as him teaching the initiates important lessons about being completely fearless and prepared for anything in a particularly harsh manner, especially since Four even admits that these traits are very important while serving in Dauntless. However, once it becomes clear he’s not even loyal to his own faction, willing to have all but the few who are in on Jeanine’s plan turned into mindlessly obedient soldiers, it’s clear he’s just a sadistic, psychopathic brute who just barely uses those lessons as pretense to brutalize them as much as he can get away with, especially seeing as how he harshly punishes them for the slightest shows of weakness or disobedience. And yes, he may be an ally of Jeanine and works okay alongside others like Max, but they’re all just beneficial partnerships or working together out of shared beliefs and/or ambitions; he isn’t actually shown to have personal relationships or care for any of them.
On a related note, he was previously listed as Honorable, but even after refreshing my memory, I’m still not sure what in the world could have possibly given someone that idea. The closest thing he shows to that in either version is in the book when he holds a funeral for Al after he commits suicide and says some decent things about him in a eulogy, but Tris suspects he’s just doing it to make himself look good, which is probably true since, again, he never shows any real compassion or care for anyone at any other given point. And obviously, this isn’t present in the movie at all. Right before he’s executed in the movie, he does say something about how he’s found a way to live with the things he’s done and asks Four if he’s able do the same, but in no way is that portrayed as an invitation to sympathize with him or believe he’s troubled by it, seeing as how some of his heinous acts are completely unnecessary (like killing weaker Divergents after being ordered to capture a stronger one) and he often takes barely concealed enjoyment while committing most of them. In the book, he doesn’t even try to argue that he’s redeemable, even specifically requesting for Four to be his executioner specifically to make him live with the guilt of having done so as one last way to psychologically get to him. So no, neither version is honorable in my opinion.
While he doesn’t stand out quite as much as Jeanine, I’d still say he does enough to stand out as sufficiently heinous. After all, he was complicit in nearly all of her worst actions aside from threatening to make innocent people commit suicide so that Tris would turn herself in. Most notably, he personally injected most of his own faction with the mind-control serum, turning them into unwilling murderers, and oversaw the attempted slaughter of the entire Abnegation faction, with it being noted both in the book and the movie right before he’s executed that he’s responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Abnegation members, despite the faction ultimately being saved. He was also responsible for capturing multiple Divergents in the aftermath of said attack and bringing them to Jeanine to be tortured and ultimately killed in her simulations, even going as far as personally executing weaker Divergents while looking for one with a particularly strong reading like Jeanine requested, something even Max, who had an equal hand in the Abnegation attack, wasn’t in favor of. In the movie, this included trying to kill a young girl (while sadistically mocking her for not hiding like she was told to by Tris, no less), and in the book, he actually killed a young boy around the same age named Bobby for the same reason. Finally, of course, there’s his brutalization of his initiates, like making them fight until one is physically unable to continue, and doing so personally over the smallest shows of weakness or defiance, which is unique to him, as well as for the faction since he personally scrapped the more forgiving and merciful rules they used to have. So while he’s not quite on the same tier as villains like Jeanine and David, I’d still say he does enough with what he’s capable of to stand out as a really nasty piece of work in his own right.
For all this, I’d say both versions of him qualify. What say we?