Let me begin this rant by saying that Dan Scott is one of the most interesting, dimensional characters “One Tree Hill” has ever seen, and Paul Johansson is a fantastic actor, director, and all-around human being. He also has very excellent hair. This isn’t meant as a criticism of Johansson at all.
It’s also not meant as a criticism of “One Tree Hill” executive producer Mark Schwahn or any of his writing staff. It’s simply a (very opinionated) look at a character from a dedicated fan of the show. (Because, for the record, I do really, really love this show, and have since I was 16.)
In this week’s episode, Dan saved Nathan from his kidnappers and, quite literally, took a bullet for him. Because of Dan, Nathan will be reunited with his wife and children. It was arguably one of the most thrilling, suspenseful episodes in the series’ nine-year run, and Dan was undoubtably the hero of this particular story, in the most basic, action-movie sense. He went in fearlessly, guns blazing, and took out the bad guys who stood between him and his son. Where Nathan was weak, Dan was strong. There’s no denying that.
It’s not the first time that Dan has done a heroic thing. Dan has saved the lives of beloved characters before — including Jamie, his grandson, and Haley, his daughter-in-law. But there’s something about watching a man literally step in front of a speeding bullet to protect his weak, weary son that makes us sympathetic to him.
But is it enough to forgive him for what he’s done in the past? A major theme of this season of “One Tree Hill” has been redemption and forgiveness. Because the show has never had a particularly recognizable religious undercurrent, I’ll consider “redemption” to be in the eyes of the audience and in the eyes of the other characters, not necessarily redemption as issued by a higher power.
Let’s consider Dan’s bad side. There’s the financial and physical abandonment of Lucas and Karen. There’s the systematic verbal and emotional abuse inflicted on Nathan and Deb throughout Nathan’s childhood and adolescence. He faked his car dealership’s financial records. He blackmailed Lucas regarding his heart problems. He paid a woman to seduce Keith over an extended period of time, and ultimately, to break Keith’s heart at his wedding. He repeatedly tried to destroy his son’s marriage. He blackmailed his wife into supporting his bid for mayor. The list is seemingly endless.
His greatest crime, however, overshadows all of that.
Jimmy Edwards, a depressed, bullied student, opened fire at Tree Hill High School in Season 3. To save the kids he loved, Keith bravely entered the school and tried to talk Jimmy down. He was ultimately unsuccessful and Jimmy killed himself.
In the terrifying moments that followed, Dan took the gun that had been used in the shooting and shot Keith at point-blank range, killing him. Keith, the brother who had done his best to save Dan from himself — who had cleaned up Dan’s messes and shown compassion to the people who Dan abandoned.
As if that wasn’t terrible enough, Dan then allowed the town — and, if you think about the kind of media coverage that follows a school shooting, the whole world — to believe that Jimmy Edwards had killed Keith Scott. Jimmy’s mother had to carry that. His former friends had to carry that. The handful of people who reluctantly attended Jimmy’s funeral stood at that grave believing that Jimmy had killed Keith Scott. Dan allowed those people, that grieving mother, to believe that.
Can we forgive Dan for that? Can Haley and Nathan forgive him for it?
I certainly can’t. I’ll admit that I teared up upon hearing Nathan call Dan “Dad” for the first time in years, but I wasn’t tearing up for Dan Scott and his epic redemption arc. I was tearing up for the Nathan who we met in Season 1 — the Nathan who still looked up to his father and hoped to make him proud.
Yes, Dan was an action hero in this week’s episode. But parents are supposed to protect their children. That’s the natural order of the universe. His taking a bullet for Nathan was a wonderful moment, but if you ask any worthy parent if they’d take a bullet for their child, they wouldn’t hesitate. Of course they’d do it.
Because of Dan, Jamie has his dad back. But also because of Dan, Lily Scott will never know her father. And I can’t forgive him for it. If, indeed, Dan dies from the injuries he sustained in that warehouse, he’ll be missed as a dynamic and layered character. But a few moments of heroism does not a hero make. As far as I’m concerned, Dan is the greatest villain “One Tree Hill” has ever seen. He wasn’t an outsider who came to town, wrought havoc, and left. He worked from the inside and destroyed people who loved him despite his faults.
I hope that in next week’s episode, as we see Dan reflecting on his life, a lot of mind is paid to Keith. In Tree Hill time, it’s been almost 10 years since the murder. That’s an entire decade that the citizens of Tree Hill have been without one of the most reliable, trustworthy, and compassionate people they’ve known. Who knows how the world may have been different if Keith was there? Perhaps Nathan never would have found himself in that warehouse to begin with.
People can be forgiven for a lot of things. Cold-blooded fratricide, coupled with framing the dead child of a grieving mother? That’s not on my list of forgivable offenses, no matter how many lives are saved in his decade-long quest for redemption.