Gene is a difficult character to write. I do it in a way that sanitises him a lot and I’m aware I do this --- I like Gene for all the things he’d probably rather put down ditch and destroy, you know? (At least in other people's perceptions.) I love his honesty, and loyalty, and protective drive. I love his quiet ‘thank you’, and his thoughtful ‘We can’t change this world, Sam. Only learn how to survive in it.’
I know he’s a bigot. I also know that he’s racist through ignorance, not hatred. He’s homophobic through words, not actions. He’s sexist --- but he’ll put that to the side, if it means getting the results he wants. These are not excuses - but they're distinctions, they're important. He’s a contradiction – because he says he sees things in black and white, and you believe him, but at the same time, he accepts someone like Sam – who’s all shades of grey.
So, I concentrate on all the things that I find virtuous in Gene – except when I’m wanting to show his less desirable side and making it clear that that’s what I’m doing. I still have him whacking suspects, because he does, and bashing Sam, because he does, but his insults under my hand rely more on word play and tend to be slightly less offensive than in the show. I know this. It’s most often deliberate. And it weakens him, I think. I wish I had more guts.
Along with the hundreds of other ideas or impulses I have (Annie fiction! Something time related! Everything and the kitchen sink!), what I really want to do is a story about Gene as he really is. Including all those aspects I find problematic. I’ve been scared to. I’m not afraid to admit that. How far can I take Gene and not have him be a character I despise? And how did Matt and Ash and the other writers do that? I know that part of it for them was revelling in getting to be naughty little boys (and, er, girl) – but I’m not like that. I’m all for certain forms of political correctness, I’m all for social justice. Gene Hunt? Would hate me.
And it’s kind of --- it’s always about bravery, in writing, I think. In all writing, but especially characterisation. It’s about having the courage to stretch and flex and step back. Maybe I will despise Gene in that moment. And maybe that’s okay. Because, if I’m doing anything right, the next moment there will be something to counterbalance that reaction. I don’t have to always think that what the character says or does is right – I’ve managed that before. But the risk – the risk is there, staring me in the eye. What if I weaken Gene that other way – make him nothing but a bigotted thug? Which is better – a ‘castrated’ Gene, or a ‘decapitated’ one?