It can’t be easy to play a parent who has lost a child. 😢 And Sisanda Henna gave the Thobela Mpayipheli character the gravitas he needed for handling this – spoiler alert – insurmountable loss.
Think back to the first episode of Devil’s Peak. Thobela and his adopted son Xola have a playful fun and loving relationship. 😍 There is an ease between them that is natural and wholesome.
⚠ Spoilers ahead ⚠
It is no wonder then that after the untimely death of his son, at the hands of petty robbers at a petrol station, Thobela goes on a vengeful rampage. It is also worthy to note that he does this only after the justice system fails him.
He uses his skills from the army to perform questionable acts against those who have harmed children. His weapon: an assegai. Yet not everything is black and white. It is grey.
Gone are the days when the hero was clear cut, with a strong distinction between good and bad characters. 👼👿 As a viewer, you can feel sympathy for a villain, and anger towards the hero.
Author Joseph Campbell muses in The Hero of a Thousand Faces, a hero is someone who:
towers in stature ... a boon bringer ... the hero is the man or woman who has managed to battle past his personal and local historical limitations. The hero has died as a modern man; ... he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed, therefore ... is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed.
Things have since changed. Enter the rise of the antihero in entertainment.
The traditional definition of an antihero, as per the Merriam Webster dictionary, is: “a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities.”
This flips the script a bit if we look at Campbell’s heroic qualities.
In The Rise of the 21st Century Antihero, Stephen Garrett argues that TV drama is, other than entertainment, a great indicator of the age that gives birth to it.
“And I believe the heroes of today are radically different from the heroes of two or three decades ago,” he writes. “They have evolved to represent a dramatically transformed world. They have had no choice.”
These characters divert from the traditional hero trope. Writing for the student newspaper at University of Edinburgh, The Student, Ali Lakhany writes that anti-heroes are nuanced and morally ambiguous nature. 🤝
Much like Garrett, Lakhany notes that “this evolution paralleled the changing values and beliefs within society.” The antihero is inherently flawed. “Antiheroes defy the hero mould – their morally complex and unconventional nature pushes readers to rethink traditional notions of heroism.”
Thobela is the perfect local antihero. In a starkly unequal socio-political and economic society, where justice is flippantly bought, he sought to right those wrongs – the violation of a girl to cure Aids, the kidnapping and murder Jacob, the murder of his son Xola – in the only way he knew how after the courts failed him.
His vigilantism, much like Batman’s, has a moral compass to it even though many could question if his methods were humane. Yet, did these alleged criminals give a humane thought towards their victims? How will Xola and Jacob’s names live on?