Spoilers: for all five seasons
Personal Website: Desiderium Caritas
Notes: Thanks to Spren for permission to post a day early so I can go see Eric Szmanda this weekend(!).
It would be easy, when pondering the question of what makes Nick Stokes loveable, to point to him and say, "Look! Look at him! Who could help but love that man?" And sure, he's hot and he's got a great body and an even better smile. He's nice and he's polite and he's got that little twang in his voice that makes your knees go all melty. All very good reasons to love him, surely, but that's not what me fall for him.
I'm a fic writer, so when I talk about why I love a character, you can pretty much assume that I'm talking about why I love to write a character. The problem with this is that when I do fall for a character, I'm never satisfied to watch and read fic and soak up any media I can about them. I have to write, over and over and generally until I just plain run out of ideas. That's exactly what happened from my first introduction to Nick in a rerun of "Chasing the Bus" (2.18), and two years later I'm still…well, some would call it obsessed.
The thing with Nick is this: boy's got issues. No matter who you are or who you pair him with, there is no getting around this. He's a survivor of childhood sexual abuse ("Overload", 2.03), which informs a lot of things about him. His eagerness to please, for instance, and his sometimes very staunch adherence to certain rules. His gigantic hero complex is a direct result of his damaged psyche – he feels the need to fix things for other people because even though he's all grown up now and has mostly put the past behind him, it's still there. Lingering. But he can't fix himself, and he'll always feel a little broken no matter what he does, so he tries to compensate by fixing other people.
He's a bit of a Boy Scout, really, and I've heard people claiming that he's kind of two-dimensional and therefore just not interesting. Valid criticisms, surely, if you just take what canon hands us at face value and don't dig any deeper. But the parts of Nick that make him so interesting and complex are the parts we don't see onscreen, and that's what really made me fall for him.
It's not that Nick's such a remarkable character. In fact, the show's writers often use him as a mouthpiece for the audience because he's the one many of us identify with. He's an average guy from a normal family, he's still a little shocked by the Vegas counterculture (see "Slaves of Las Vegas", 2.08 and "Viva Las Vegas", 5.01) even after several years of living in it, and for the most part he just wants to be a good person. He's normal, with normal reactions to the evils he faces every day.
Just a Good Old Boy: Growing Up Texan
Nick's the youngest of seven, the second son of a Texas Supreme Court Justice and a public defender. He has five sisters and a brother, and as far as we know they're all still living in the Dallas area where Nick was raised. His family is characterized as close-knit, but his father was very demanding growing up and that helped shape Nick into the by-the-book kind of guy he often tends to be.
He went to Rice University for a year, then transferred to Texas A&M and joined a fraternity. He was active in Greek culture and a member of the college baseball team while he completed his BA in Criminal Justice, after which he joined the Dallas PD and spent three years as a uniformed officer. But his father was never happy with Nick's career choice, so after three years on the force he went through the CSI training and took a position with the Dallas crime lab. After a year there he realized he was never going to get out from under his father's thumb unless he left Dallas, so he took a position with the Clark County crime lab in Vegas.
Nick doesn't talk about his family in canon, mainly because the focus of the show is on the crimes and not the characters. But it's easy to see the influence his family had on him through the development of his character - in early seasons he's very by-the-book and eager to please, and there's still quite a bit of that in later seasons:
SARA: You know what pisses me off?
NICK: Lots of things.
SARA: Victims aren't equal. High profile cases get priority.
NICK: A ticking clock gets priority.
SARA: Every case is a ticking clock. The only difference between a cold case and a hot case is time.
NICK: I don't care if you're working on the hottest case of your career. If your supervisor tells you to leave a scene to go wash his car, you do it. You don't have a career without a job.
-- "Invisible Evidence" (4.04)*
We also get to see a bit of his police training whenever he's in the interrogation room, which is…well, kind of hot. While the fact that he used to be a cop has never been mentioned in canon (you can find his official bio on the show's web site), we get a definite sense from the way he conducts himself in interviews and the way he interacts with the cops on the show that he knows where they're coming from.
His Texas roots show up in his accent (it helps that George Eads, the actor who plays him, is from Texas) and his chivalry. He's very compassionate with people he feels deserve it, and he's generally less quick to jump to the worst conclusions about suspects than some of his coworkers. But he has his hot buttons (generally involving the abuse of kids) and he's been known to lose his cool when he's frustrated. The best examples of this are in season one's "Blood Drops" (1.07), when he punches a wall in frustration over the murder of two young boys, and in season four's "Invisible Evidence" (4.04), when he and Warrick nearly come to blows over Warrick's handling of the sister of a murder victim.
Many fans of the show have a tendency to jump to the conclusion that because Nick's from Texas and he's a little bit square that he's ultra-conservative, but I think that's really not giving him enough credit. He likes to think he's cooler than he is, definitely, and we've seen his character progress from the frat guy stereotype they started out with to the thoughtful, compassionate professional he is now. But he's never been terribly judgmental regarding alternative lifestyles, and he's never exhibited any signs of being particularly religious, both characterizations found in fic that seem to stem from the fact that he grew up in Texas.
There were a few comments about faith in general in season five's "Crow's Feet", but they were pretty generic and I wouldn't characterize them as stemming from any particular religion. We can only assume his family was active in the church community while he was growing up as part of their status in the community, but not much of that seems to have followed Nick into adulthood.
His close family and his southern roots aren't the only things that shaped him. When he was nine, Nick was molested by a babysitter ("Overload", 2.03), and although he never told his parents what happened, he exhibits some classic signs of an abuse survivor. There's the eagerness to please, which we see in early seasons, particularly in his interactions with Grissom. There's his commitment-phobia, which we see early on in the series, and there's the hero complex, which is the characteristic that defines him throughout the series.
I Need A Hero: The White Knight Complex
I'm a slasher. I'll admit right up front that it's pretty impossible for me to view Nick in heterosexual terms, because my own reading of the character and part of what makes him so interesting to me is his chemistry with and attraction to other men (specifically Greg, but that's a topic for another essay altogether). So it's hard for me to look at Nick's relationships with women on the show and not view his commitment issues as a result of his closeted homosexual tendencies, but even if you don't believe that Nick could be gay, it's pretty clear that he is not the ladies' man the writers set out to paint him as in season one.
To date Nick has only had one canonical relationship (with Kristi the Hooker, who appears three times in season one), which was more of a flirtation leading up to a one-night stand than a bonafide 'relationship'. There's some evidence that he would have pursued something beyond that one night if Kristi hadn't been murdered hours after Nick slept with her ("Boom", 1.13), but the real question isn't how far he would have pursued it, but why he slept with her in the first place.
Nick meets and turns down Kristi's advances two other times during the course of season one because he views that as the right thing to do. So why does he give in the third time? Part of it is circumstantial; he's just saved her from a fight with the man we later find out is her pimp, and in true Nick fashion, he gives her a ride home to make sure she gets there safely. So why does he go inside? Because she tells him while they're sitting in his truck that she's planning to quit turning tricks and go to school to be (of all things) a Communications major. He sees her turning her life around and wants to help her; it doesn't matter that she's lying, what matters is that he wants to feel like he's making a difference in her life.
So why did he sleep with her? It wasn't about her, it was about him. That's the only way he knows to play the hero, and he was speaking to her in a language she understood. Obviously he genuinely regretted her death, but when he tells Doc Robbins that he wants to pay her funeral expenses the reason he gives is that 'she didn't have anyone else'. Even in death he felt responsible for her, and he wanted to feel like he was helping her by doing whatever he could.
The only other real interaction we see him have with women in canon is either him playing the hero or brushing off a potential love interest. The talk about his legendary status as a ladies' man is just that - talk amongst his coworkers, who seem to think it's funny to tease him. He never really responds to it, and by the middle of season two the implication that Nick's a modern-day Lothario is all but forgotten.
Nick's commitment issues were a big theme in season one. As the character evolved the subject was sort of dropped, but it's important to remember that about him when writing fic. It takes a lot of work to get him to a point where he's willing to recognize the fact that he's in a relationship, let alone one that might last for the foreseeable future. He's very career-oriented for a reason – he's protecting himself from feeling vulnerable, which for someone who's survived sexual abuse can be a crippling emotion. In that respect Nick has always been the most consistently written character on the show.
He's also the most consistently victimized character on the show. He's been abused, accused of murder, stalked, and held at gunpoint, all during the first two seasons of the show. We've covered the abuse and the murder rap already, so let's take a look at the rest.
In season one, Nick's held at gunpoint by a very distraught murder suspect ("Who Are You?", 1.06). In season two's "Stalker" (2.19), we discover through a series of events (and quite a bit of bodily injury for our hero) that Nick has a murderous stalker living in his attic. Dramatic and fairly outlandish, certainly, but in consistently using Nick as the character through which to draw the audience into the action, we tend to relate to him as the mouthpiece of the audience. He's the one with the traditional upbringing, the one with the normal family and the average American values (so to speak), and for that reason we as the audience relate to him.
That's not to say that people from other frames of reference don't relate to other characters (or indeed, like other characters more). That's why there's chocolate and vanilla, after all. But Nick's been set up by the writers from early on to be the voice of the audience in many ways, and for better or worse, he's the one we're supposed to relate to. In spite of this – or, more likely, because of it – it's easy to write Nick off as boring or mundane, but in doing so, you're really doing a disservice to both the character and yourself.
Because in the end he's just a normal guy. A little damaged, certainly, but he's found a way to deal with it and still function in the world. He's the kind of guy you'd want to go for a beer with, the kind you could trade college stories with and never really feel out of place. So if his reaction to his past is to try a little too hard to help those around him…well, personally I find that a forgivable flaw. Endearing, even, and eminently writable, which makes him pretty much perfect for me.
*Transcript courtesy of Anthology