Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Berserk Buttons

Welcome back to Fanundrums, fellow fans! This week we’re going to take on a fun new topic: berserk buttons! (Edited to provide link to TV Tropes, which is where we first heard the term. Enter at your own risk. It's a rabbit hole.)

As in, what makes a character go from mild-mannered to HULK SMASH!

Precisely. For example, in Leverage, every one of the main characters has a berserk button. For Nate, it’s sick children. For Elliot, it’s children being in danger or messing with his food. For Parker, it’s orphans. For Hardison, it’s messing with Lucille (his van). For Sophie, it’s questioning her talents as an actress and a grifter.

In general, if you hurt a child in Leverage, you’re going to get slammed. Hard. By very scary, talented people.

Basically, don’t mess with kids. And don’t be a dishonest insurance company, because that’s Nate’s other button. So why are buttons important?

Well, berserk buttons reveal a lot about a character. They show values and personality. For example, you can learn a lot about Nate by the fact that he gets angry over sick kids, and you can see how he’s different from Sophie, who loses control if you call out her skills. You can see that Nate has a soft spot (maybe from a past event) regarding sick children and that Sophie takes pride in her skills.

Berserk buttons are also important in writing, as you can use them to push your character over the edge. When you introduce your character to the thing that sets him/her off, you make that character behave in an extreme way. That character becomes catalyzed to do things he/she wouldn’t normally do while in a calm mood. You can rile this character, call him/her to action, or make him/her do something stupid.

Here’s a thought: knowing your own personal berserk buttons can help you control yourself when you get into such situations in real life. For instance, if someone says something sexist and means it OR thinks it’s funny, that can really set me off, and since I know that’s one of my buttons, I can make sure to take an extra deep breath or two so that I don’t blow up.

True. I’ve been told my whole life that I have a temper, so I’ve had a long time to determine my berserk buttons and tame the beast within. But still, don’t laugh at me when I’m being serious. That’s the worst.

Yup. Also, don’t mess with my friends. That’s a button for lots of our favorite characters, like Director Phil Coulson, for one.

Or Harry Dresden. And, dare I mention, Jeremy Wilderson?
Harry Dresden_thumb[6].jpg

Dean and Sam.jpgSure! Many of the characters we like are good people because they are loyal. The fact that they will blow up if you hurt people they care about is a sign of that. If you hurt anyone Dean Winchester cares about, you had better have a dang good hiding spot. Preferably not on planet Earth.

And if you hurt Sam, not even that will save you.

This is why we hate the villains: they hurt people we care about.

Like in Gravity Falls: the fandom loved Bill Cipher until he hurt Mabel. That was the fans’ berserk button, and now the show has a new most hated villain.

Stan’s berserk button is the possibility of losing Ford. I kinda can’t wait to see what he will do next, though it worries me greatly.

Personally, I love seeing a character’s berserk button get hit. It always means something exciting is going to happen next. Plot advancement, character development...I get shivers.

Same here. When you see a bad guy hit a berserk button, you know they’re going down. Hard. The minute that Lucille got blown up, you knew just how badly Hardison was going to react and how much trouble the bad guys were in. And the anticipation of seeing them get what’s coming to them is incredible.

My favorite is when the sweet, nice character, the “Cutie,” so to speak, finally snaps. It’s more than a simple Berserk Button-pressing; it’s like the button exploded. Like, when Cassandra in The Librarians finally starts shouting in the “Heart of Darkness” episode. It’s not only freaky to the villain, but it can really unnerve the viewers.

Exactly. I was just thinking of the golden apple incident, personally, though that’s not a berserk button case. She is scarily powerful and there’s a reason she’s a Librarian.

I dismiss the golden apple incident because she wasn’t herself. But, I like how that episode shows what Jake Stone’s berserk button is!

I’d say that they were all the absolute worst versions of themselves. Anyway, that’s our take on the berserk button. Now that you know about it, you’ll see it everywhere, IRL and in pretty much everything you read and watch.

MARVEL is a great one for this. Everyone has a berserk button.

Something that they will not abide. Banner’s isn’t necessarily the things that turn him into the Hulk, by the way. He’s probably the best of all of the Avengers at controlling his reactions to berserk button pushing, I’d say.


He’d have to be. Anyway, we could talk about this forever.

But we’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks for reading!


  1. I like the term "beserk buttons" did you come up with that yourself?

    1. We originally found it on TV Tropes, actually. We'll edit to provide a link. It's a concept that we like so much that we now use it all the time. It just works so well. :)