The Men of Boston Legal: Denny Crane

Denny Crane, played by William Shatner, is a man that, for all his wealth and respect, is someone I can only ever feel deep pity for. He was once a brilliant man, but now he’s gotten to the top of the hill, to discover that all there is to see is the decline into oblivion. And oblivion can be a pretty lonely place for the heart when all you have to show for the last fifty years is several ex wives and a bunch of sycophants. He embarks on his sixth marriage with a woman who excites him sexually, and you just know it’s going to end terribly; but all he can think about is how much he’s enjoying himself now, and he lacks the foresight – even after five failed marriages – to stop and think, well, will this make me happy in the longterm?

Maybe because being happy in the longterm requires a fair deal of sacrifice, and thinking of other people, being considerate in return for consideration. Basically, not thinking about yourself all the time. And this is something Denny is completely incapable of doing.

Denny thinks of himself as the God of Lawyers. He’s brilliant, and his brilliance has bought him fame, fortune and plenty of women. He has trouble grasping that he is not the centre of the universe, and as Alzheimer’s sets in, he clings even more tightly to his former legendary. Perhaps he knows that legend is all he has, because he certainly doesn’t have a longterm, fulfilling relationship to fall back on. He’s chosen to let such relationships – or potential relationships – fall by the wayside as he pursues money, fame and women. And now he’s seventy and alone, having just lost half his fortune to wife #6 because he cheated on her on their honeymoon. Uh, dude, with that level of commitment towards relationships – or lack thereof – then you deserved to lose every cent.

Basically, he has no concept of anything but himself. Why should he? He’s a white male with a brilliant mind, he’s been raised to believe the world evolves around him. And it seems to be slowly dawning on him that it doesn’t. Life is going on without him. People no longer care about Denny Crane; the sycophants have other Gods to worship. He’s petrified, because the legend of Denny Crane is all he has, and he’s losing it.

It’s sad to see a once-great man slide into oblivion, but refreshing. As far as the Patriarchy is concerned, men never slide into oblivion; if they do give up being legends, it’s because they’re ready to kick back and retire (always to the disappointment of their millions of idols), not because they’re being shoved out the door. I really love the way BL shows Denny as a man who in fallible, despite his refusal to accept that, a man who has caused his only misery by singled-mindedly pursuing the wrong things, a man should have everything – but as far as it counts, has nothing.

Read the rest of this series: Brad Chase, Alan Shore


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