A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece talking about the character GLaDOS in Portal 2. Here is my accompanying piece (possibly the first of two or three) about GLaDOS’ male A.I. counterpart, Wheatley. Two things of note: there will be spoilers in this article, and it’s going to have a very pro-feminist slant because I’ve been reading a lot of anti-feminist things the last few days and I need to balance all of that out somehow, so you may need to take a few things with a grain of salt.
As mentioned in the previous article, GLaDOS is predominantly a cold, calculating character (alliteration FTW). Wheatley, on the other hand, is a bit of a comedic tool — very jittery, a little awkward, strangely inept, and more of a joke than anything. At the beginning he acts as Chell’s guide, leading her through Aperture in hopes of escaping. While looking for a way out, they stumble upon GLaDOS, restarting after her defeat in the first game, and she immediately begins sending you through tests again. Before long, Wheatley devises a plan to take GLaDOS down by putting himself into the position to control Aperture and leaving GLaDOS to rust.
What makes Wheatley interesting to me is that his personality almost completely changes once he gets a taste of power. As soon as he replaces GLaDOS as the main controller of the facility, the phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely” comes into play, in the literal sense. He goes from being unintentionally goofy to being openly hostile in less than two minutes, praising himself for taking over and marvelling at his greatness. Not a minute later, he becomes enraged when GLaDOS points out that Chell did all of the work for him and that his actual purpose at Aperture was to make GLaDOS less intelligent by offering up bad ideas in order to keep her from becoming completely independent. In retaliation, he tells Chell that he’s the boss now, does the only thing he can think of to humiliate GLaDOS — turning her into a potato battery (quite a step down from being an all-powerful A.I., wouldn’t you say?) — and then smashes both GLaDOS and Chell into a pit in the floor, yelling, “COULD A MORON DO THAT?!”
After taking some time to cool down, Wheatley realizes that Chell doesn’t take him seriously in spite of his new power. He tries to take a leaf from GLaDOS’ book in emotionally whittling her down, but it backfires:
Wheatley: All right, so that last test was seriously disappointing. Apparently, being civil isn't motivating you, so let's try it her way, all right, fatty? Adopted... fatty! Fatty, fatty no parents?
GLaDOS: What exactly is wrong with being adopted?
Wheatley: What's wrong with being adopted? Um, well, uh, Lack of parents?
GLaDOS: [to Chell] For the record, you are adopted and that's terrible. Just work with me.
Wheatley: Some of my best friends are actually orphans.
GLaDOS: Also, look at her, you moron. She's not fat.
Wheatley: I AM NOT A MORON!
While researching for this article, I found a clip on YouTube full of quotes from Wheatley. I don’t remember a lot of them from the game, strangely, so perhaps they were yanked. Or maybe my memory’s just awful. Anyway, they exist, apparently, so I’m going to talk about one of them. For one particular ‘exchange’, Wheatley tries to convince Chell to jump into a pit. When it doesn’t work, he tells her that at the bottom of the pit, in addition to her long-lost parents and an escape elevator, are: a trendy fashionable jumpsuit, a handbag, a yacht, hunky men (“possibly a boyfriend!”), members of a boy-band (who “haven’t seen a woman in years, and they’re not picky at all — they don’t care if you’ve got a bit of brain damage, they don’t mind if you’ve been running around, if you’ve been sweating”), and a pony farm.
Everything about this belittles Chell, though probably unintentionally on Wheatley’s part, I’m sure. He, like GLaDOS but not as clever, believes that if he appeals to everything that women are ‘supposed’ to want, Chell will do anything he asks. He also apparently believes that the promise of men who are so desperate to see a woman that they won’t care if she’s at full mental health and doesn’t look absolutely gorgeous is a positive thing in a woman’s mind.
Nearing the end of the game, Wheatley becomes more and more unstable. He begins hurling blame at Chell for everything that’s going wrong, accusing her of using him for her own gain and for taking advantage of him because he wanted to help her. It doesn’t take long for him to make threats of violence against her either.
A lot of these things parallel abusive relationships, and (this may be a bit of a stretch, but humour me) they even reflect the “friendzone” baloney that’s becoming a greater and greater problem in the world of dating. What I mean by that is that Wheatley (read: bitter men, generally) felt a connection with Chell that she doesn’t reciprocate. When she doesn’t help him to further his own gains, he feels used and resents Chell (read: women who aren’t interested in said bitter men) because he voluntarily did things for her when she didn’t promise any reward (read: relationship, be it romantic or sexual; in the game, the reward would have been to escape Aperture) for such tasks, so he gets angry, acts out, becomes violent, and accuses Chell of being the problem.
The only point at which Wheatley feels any remorse at all is when he’s stuck out in space, completely alone and stripped of power (by two female characters, which would make it all the worse for him if he was a human instead of a machine), which makes it quite clear how absolutely hollow his apology is. Even then, ‘remorse’ isn’t the right word; he simply says in mild tones that if he had the chance to, he’d say he was sorry and make things right, all the while completely devoid of any actual guilt like the sociopath he’s become.
Art imitating life, ladies and gentlemen. The only difference here is that the abusive character still comes across as entertaining during his antics, which thankfully isn't generally true to life.