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Title: The Caldwell Manifesto
Author name: Icarus
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Auburn suggested I post my comments on Caldwell, which she nicknamed the "Caldwell Manifesto." Okay, so I have a lot to say about Caldwell. I like the guy.
This came out of some conversations with reviewers of Necromancy For The Living who mentioned that the story presented a positive and complex spin on Caldwell. I understand he's usually cast in the bad guy role in fic, or at least that's what I'm told. I don't know, I've read relatively little Caldwell fic. Most of my perspective of Caldwell come from episodes like "No Man's Land," "Misbegotten," and "Critical Mass," though I have also been influenced by JiM's Retromancy.
The rest is my attempt to fill in the blanks on a very American military commander whose words are tough, who's clearly hard-headed if honest, who displays curious vulnerabilities alongside his autocratic arrogance.
The Ordinary American Guy.
It helps that Caldwell's behavior is typical of a certain kind of American guy. His accent is midwestern. His tendency to stand with his legs braced indicates someone who's done a solid amount of physical labor. His body language, the open stance, way he leans on an elbow, slouches in a chair, all say "middle class America." This is the kind of guy who needed to join the military to go to college. (Lorne, by the way, is cut from the same cloth, though his accent is classic New Jersey and he grew up in a slightly more affluent time. Sheppard's practiced leaning can't quite disguise the fact that he has a bit more polish than average, possibly picked from travelling with a military family, though my guess is whoever his dad was, John Sheppard never lacked for anything. Oh, and John exudes California.)
The Caldwell in my mind is a very average middle class guy who's had to work hard to get where he is, and carries a bit of bitterness towards those who have it easy. I noticed that after he was Goa'ulded (is that a verb?), once he wasn't immediately rejected by the Atlantis crew, the rather sheepish and humbled Caldwell worked to earn their trust again. That's someone who is used to earning his way.
The Caldwells at 1552 Maple Street.
In terms of his body language, the way he stands on the show is rather confident (more confident than Sheppard), comfortable in his skin, which I associate with someone who has strong family roots. Given his age, he probably a stay-at-home mom in a typical white picket fence community.
He has the construction worker stance, so his father was probably a carpenter or some other sort of tradesman.
Caldwell very obviously does not expect people to be warm or caring, so I suspect that his parents probably loved him, and hated each other; the all-too-common facade of the "loving family." Somewhere Caldwell got the idea that most things are a false front, and his cynical sense of irony is bone-deep. Sheppard is disillusioned, but I don't think Caldwell ever had any illusions. And he seems bound and determined to not be fake, even if it costs him. That's how I add it up anyway.
Ambition vs. Being Phony
His lack of surprise yet distaste for anything phony shows in his interactions with Wolsey in "Misbegotten." He says "this isn't my first Barbeque" if I have that line right, but his interactions with others are always forthright, almost too much so. He's ambitious and he knows better, knows what will get him ahead, and chooses not to play political games. Although he's not above petty stuff (re-writing John's work when he's incapacitated).
Caldwell says unpopular things without apologizing or softening them ("It doesn't matter if Hermiod doesn't like it, he's given us a go" and "we can't commit the Daedalus to go after one man"), like it's a point of honor to state bluntly the bad news. He expects people to be tough enough to take it.
Under Caldwell's Turtle Shell.
Yet Caldwell has a soft underbelly. When Elizabeth orders him into battle to die in "No Man's Land" he can't take the same sort of bad news that he himself would dish out very harshly.
That's when I decided I liked him. He wasn't as tough as he acted.
I see him as hard on himself, as someone who ruthlessly examines his own motives. He's over-sensitive, his pride is easily pricked, so he's developed a tough outer shell of arrogance. When someone criticizes him, his first reaction is cold anger. But he can't help but take it to heart and examine if it's true, damn it, hating the person for pointing it out.
He spent most of his childhood feeling superior to his parents (seeing through their bullshit), feeling superior to the people who had laurels heaped on them easily (favoritism, silver spoons in their mouths, luck, inability to work for it), all as a defense against hurt. But he doesn't see other people very clearly and tends to make assumptions. It's apparent someone (a tough father?) was hyper-critical and demanding for Caldwell to repeat that pattern, yet still be so vulnerable.
Fear of Failure resulting in Overwork.
Deep down, Caldwell thinks of himself as a fuck-up or potential fuck-up, and tries very, very hard to always be on the ball. The way he hung his head and slunk around Atlantis after "Critical Mass"... even though being a Goa'uld host wasn't his fault... he took it hard.
Caldwell, because that protective pride is such a thin shell, has an exaggerated sense of guilt then when he screws up. Along with that tendency to be over-responsible and probably a work-a-holic. His sense of his own importance can be a bit magnified, and it goes both ways.
Steady Leader for the Average Soldier.
Caldwell's pride, oddly, has made him patient and kind to people who screw up. That's part of why he expected to earn back trust after being the one who almost blew up Atlantis; people expect of others what they themselves would do. So Caldwell's talented at bringing out the best in soldiers who are just average. You can hear the patience in his voice, that steady tone that calms unsteady men. It makes for a valuable commander. When people screw-up around him, he rubs his forehead, but he's amused and feels a strange kinship. He likes Sheppard better when he blows it. (I can practically see him smirking in "Misbegotten" when Sheppard forgets to de-cloak the jumper.)
The Engineer making things Right.
His degree is probably in engineering because he's one who likes to fix things, to make things right. Uh. Well. His version of right. That provincial "Leave It To Beaver" middle class view will always be part of him. One reason Atlantis is lucky to have Sheppard as the commander.
His many flaws aside, Caldwell is a good soldier and a good man. And he probably makes a mean barbeque.