Possibly the worst part of being an adult is the constant hassle of doing things you have absolutely no interest in doing. Like today, I absolutely did not want to get out of bed and be a functional human, but hey—I have to pay my rent somehow. But what if the consequences of not complying with your responsibilities could mean death for you or your loved ones? In this week’s free read, Delilah S. Dawson’s Hit, protagonist Patsy is confronted with a choice: either become a bounty hunter for Valor Savings Bank (the defacto ruler of everything in her society) or watch helplessly as they kill her mother for not paying her bills. The rules are simple: find the ten delinquent account holders on her list and either make them pay up, join Valor as bounty hunters, or terminate them (and you thought your job was rough!). In honor of Hit, I’ve put together a list of other media that features protagonists pushed to the edge by circumstances, shady corporations, or society itself.
1) Repo Men
Repossession is always a messy situation. It’s infinitely messier if you’re repossessing someone’s liver. Jude Law and Forest Whittaker play Remy and Jake, the titular repo men in this 2010 action flick. In their world, organ donation is no longer an issue, as artificial organs have been perfected by a shadowy organization called The Union. However, these organs are wildly expensive, and when people inevitably default on payments, well, they better hope they don’t need that artificial heart to survive. When a repo job goes horribly wrong and Remy ends up with an artificial heart, he becomes a wanted man when he can’t fork over the payments for his new heart. Though not necessarily a classic, Repo Men provides an intriguing premise and is worth checking out for fans of dystopian sci-fi.
2) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Yes, I know, the brand is totally played out now. But that doesn’t mean that this series doesn’t fit snuggly into this category, or that it isn’t a massive amount of fun. Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute to protect her younger sister from being pulled into the Hunger Games—an annual tournament where one boy and one girl from each of the 12 districts are forced to fight to the death. While Katniss’ motives for volunteering for the Hunger Games are good, that doesn’t stop the fact that while participating in the games (and while not participating in the games), Katniss becomes responsible for several deaths. Meaning she isn’t all innocent. Though the premise is similar to things like The Running Man and Battle Royale, the popularity of individual characters like Katniss truly helps the series stand out. This series has garnered massive acclaim, adapted into 4 feature films and were some of the driving forces behind the dystopian YA craze.
3) Scythe by Neil Shusterman
Rowan and Citra live in a world with no disease, no hunger, and no death, controlled completely by a powerful AI called the Thunderhead. In this Utopian society, the only way to die is to be selected and culled by a Scythe—grim reapers who work to keep the population under control. To be selected as an apprentice Scythe is a massive honor, and it also bestows immunity to your family if you are able to complete your training. When they are both picked to be apprentice Scythes, Rowan and Citra learn about the complicated politics of being a Scythe—some of them choosing their victims based on statistics, others because they truly enjoy having the power to foist death onto others. And the entire time, they know that at the end of their training, one of them must kill the other. This is a clever meditation on morality, duty, and rebellion, sure to entertain and foster hours of discussions among friends and colleagues.
4) Bioshock Infinite
Yes, I know this isn’t the first time I’ve included this one in a round up—I’m a fanboy, sue me. (Note: actually, please don’t do that. I don’t have a lawyer and I don’t think the company will foot the bill for one). Here, the troubled Booker DeWitt is presented with a perplexing offer from a mysterious pair: “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.” This seemingly simple task is proven to be a tall order, as the girl in question, Elizabeth, is held on a floating city ruled by a tyrannical prophet, and protected by a colossal monstrosity called the Songbird (not to mention a bevy of steampunk androids and human soldiers). The latest installment of the Bioshock series features a great combination of action, intriguing backstories, and plot twists—definitely one to check out if you haven’t already.
5) Shut Up and Dance: Black Mirror
Black Mirror has proven itself to be one of the most heart-wrenching shows currently playing. Following the monster-of-the-week formula of classics like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, each episode examines the far reach of technology in contemporary and futuristic settings. We all have secrets. Some are bigger than others. In this episode of the third season, we are introduced to Kenny, a teenager who is recorded through his webcam in a… compromising situation. He then receives a message from a mysterious entity threatening to expose the video (and by association, his darkest secret) to the world if he does not comply completely with a list of demands. As the demands escalate from the bizarre and quirky (like delivering a cake to a hotel room) to the more and more violent and potentially life-threatening, Kenny is forced to make choices we all hope to never have to make. Then again, the viewer is forced to question what secret could possibly be worth so much to keep quiet? This episode is a white-knuckle ride, and an absolute must-see for fans of thrillers.
6) Teen Titans “The Apprentice” story arc
Ah, Teen Titans, we barely knew ye. This under-appreciated animated series ended with a whimper back in 2006, but throughout its all too short five-seasons-and-a-movie life span provided Cartoon Network viewers with some of the best superhero depictions of the time. Its blockbuster first season concluded with “The Apprentice” story arc, where the Teen Titans main antagonist, Slade, coerces Robin into becoming his apprentice by revealing a startling secret: Slade has infected all of Robin’s teammates with deadly nanobots. If Robin wants to keep his friends from an excruciating death, he must take up the mantle of Slade’s apprentice, become a super villain, and turn his back on his teammates. Packed with action and a surprising amount of heart, you’ll probably find yourself binging the rest of the series fairly quickly.
Do you have any favorite media where a character is coerced into action? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out Hit, available as a free read until 4/24/2017!