B.J. Blazkowicz and the Humanization of Badassery
Wolfenstein’s latest saga gave its iconic protagonist BJ Blazkowicz a new set of ideals and vulnerabilities, granting him more depth than ever before
Before there was Captain Price, before there was Duke Nukem, before there was the Doom Slayer, there was B.J. Blazkowicz. With his origins harkening to the very first generation of first-person shooter games ever made, there is no doubt that B.J. Blazkowicz is the father—if not the grandfather—of badass FPS protagonists.
Owing to the simplicity surrounding his first adventures, Wolfenstein developers made B.J. with little regard for character depth. It is easy to carry that design philosophy over to the new saga that began with Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014), and developers MachineGames won’t be faulted for doing so; he is there to kill Nazis and little else. Even if he came across as one-dimensional, his undying drive to destroy the Nazis would have made up for it; they deserve no sympathy.
But in the new saga spanning three games, Blazkowicz was remarkably given more character without compromising the inherent traits that made him great in the first place.
Of course, an important question arises: what does William Joseph Blazkowicz fight for?
As seen in his interactions with other characters in the first two games, B.J. vehemently states that he fights for the American way of truth, justice, liberty, and freedom. He is an uncompromising patriot fighting for a strong ideal against the oppressive fascism championed by his Nazi enemies.
However, as the games’ story progresses, B.J. finds himself fighting for something more. Starting from The New Order, B.J. fought for his shared future with romantic interest Anya Oliwa as well as for the future of his children in The New Colossus (2017), which was further explored in Youngblood (2019) to an extent. Through this new set of values, players find B.J. fighting for something more tangible and human compared to an ideal that, while justifiable, is vague in nature and can be easily misconstrued.
After all, ideals are human in nature. While some ideals are better than others, ideals are flawed at their core as a result of human imperfection. When it comes to the American ideals B.J. was fighting for, it represents all that is good about the American dream, a life of liberty and freedom. However, while it applies to all Americans in theory, history has shown that it has failed to serve the socially marginalized and the racially oppressed.
As a result, Blazkowicz’s patriotism has been brought into question multiple times throughout the games, with guitarist J in The New Order and freedom fighter Grace Walker in The New Colossus. Both characters openly prodded (or in J’s case, defied) B.J.’s idealism in the American brand of liberty for its failure in protecting the Afro community before and during the Nazi takeover. They did not cause B.J.’s spirit to waver; instead, they gave B.J. something to think about, an insight into the faults of his driving force. The new Wolfenstein saga does not shy away from questioning the values that B.J. is fighting for, and they came in the form of the two Afro characters that B.J. encountered in his journey.
By adding a more personal stake into his battle against the Nazis, B.J. was no longer just fighting for a far-reaching but flawed ideology; he is also fighting for something more profound, a personal brand of happiness with those he cared for, serving as a much-appreciated layer to his character.
Another dimension added of vulnerability is found in B.J.’s psyche. He is a wounded veteran tormented by memories of the deaths of his comrades and the destruction of everything he fought for.
First hinted in The New Order and further delved into in The New Colossus, B.J.’s inner monologues provide an interesting juxtaposition: he is a perfect man and a perfect soldier to everyone around him, and yet he feels inadequate for the ones he cared about. The reason? His inexplicably dangerous lifestyle, his multiple instances of tempting fate, and his moments of relative powerlessness, all of which led him to believe that his presence around his loved ones endangers their lives.
These story beats reveal moments of despair and hopelessness during the campaign, moments where B.J. expressed his wariness and the possibility that he was losing his will to fight. He might have not said it to other characters verbally, but it was made clear in his interactions with Anya and even clearer to the audience. All of this was as if to say that it was normal for someone to have these kinds of internal struggles, even for a bona fide badass like B.J. himself.
Not only that, The New Colossus also introduced players to Blazkowicz’s childhood backstory, which opened a plethora of layers to his character, one of them being the source of his troubled psyche. Years of abuse and neglect from his racist father led to him becoming a damaged person with his own brand of contempt and his own set of insecurities.
This was followed up by his heartwarming reunion with his mother, with whom he gets to confess his fears and embrace the one aspect of his childhood that he does not despise. The encounter reaffirms his insecurities while at the same time validating his badassery; it is perfectly acceptable to be badass and vulnerable at the same time. The scene confirms that B.J., too, has fears, regardless of how much of a badass he is.
All B.J.’s distinctions are brought to life by voice actor Brian Bloom, who added to the character’s depth with an excellent performance. Bloom’s more subdued, whisper-like but earnest take on B.J.’s voice allowed him to uniquely convey B.J.’s best traits, from his hatred against the Nazis to his deep-cut internal wounds. Many would have settled for a stereotypical gravelly voice akin to that of Jon St. John’s Duke Nukem or Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle, what with all B.J. has gone through, but Bloom’s subversion worked wonders for the character of Blazkowicz.
Even with all these human vulnerabilities—inherent or acquired—B.J. never lost sight of what he was fighting for. The slight shift in his principles thanks to his experiences did not weaken his resolve; it only made it stronger. Despite his shortcomings and insecurities, he pushed on—and ultimately prevailed.
The story of B.J. Blazkowicz in MachineGames’ latest Wolfenstein saga proved that even an uncompromising badass can have fears, doubts, and insecurities. Not only that, even a badass is free to openly express or even embrace those imperfections. He has transcended badassery by making imperfection the domain of the badass.
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