How a Tired Trope Can Compromise Character Development: Discussing the Trio of ‘One Tree Hill'
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Ah, love triangles. The plague of storytelling in a genre full of clichés already (and I say that as someone who devours teen dramas like a bag of crisps). For the most part, I have very strong preferences on what fictional relationships I like, so having my beloved characters run around in circles, sometimes going as far as cheating on their partners just makes me want to drag them out of the screen and shake some sense into them.
They say to always start from the top, which is why today I’m talking about the most frustrating love triangle I have ever had the (dis)pleasure to witness on TV – Brooke, Lucas, and Peyton from One Tree Hill. Although the 2003-2012 teen drama has its fair share of faults, its genuine heart and investment in its characters kept the audiences interested. That’s not to say the triangle between the trio that ran throughout half of the show’s lifespan didn’t cause fans to rip their hair out. After all, the debates on which girl is right for Lucas Scott continue even today (a common trend now being that he doesn’t deserve either, which I can’t say I disagree with).
Despite my strong opinions on the pairings, I’ll try not to discuss my preferences, but rather dwell into the characters individually, and how the four-season-long love triangle hindered their development, as well as tainting one the better female friendships I have seen on teen dramas.
Anyway, let’s begin, shall we?
To recap the major events of the trio for those who haven’t seen the show in a while: from the very first episode, Lucas and Peyton are shown to have a connection. However, Brooke also has eyes for him and when Peyton rejects him, the two start dating. Triangle ensues once Peyton changes her mind and one motel later, they start having an emotional affair behind Brooke’s back, causing major fallouts. At the end of the season, resident Tree Hill besties make up, both shutting Lucas out of their lives.
Season two is not friendly to Leyton fans, as Lucas decides he wants a second chance with Brooke, initiating a genuine friendship with her until he finally confesses his intentions in the season finale. Which leads into season three, aka Brucas 2.0. In the first half of the season, we see the pair try to be non-exclusive and fail miserably. Once they get together officially, they seem to be genuinely maturing and creating a complex relationship, really trying to make it work. Unfortunately, the triangle once again had to be put into action, completely wrecking Brooke and Peyton’s friendship and breaking Brucas up, this time for good.
Season four makes it obvious Leyton’s the intended endgame, with Brooke even giving them her blessing and eventually reuniting with Peyton (thanks to a resident psychopath in what was one of the creepiest episodes of the show). After the time jump. The series is mostly focused on Leyton drama with a handful of shameless fan baits for Brucas fans (which we ate up in desperation despite knowing they would lead nowhere). Come to the end of season six, Lucas and Peyton exit the show getting their happily ever after, never to be seen again. That’s not to say Brooke doesn’t still have enough drama of her own.
Now that we covered the basic information, let’s analyse some characters.
From the beginning, it was obvious Brooke was meant to be the ‘brainless slut’ (her own words) to Peyton’s deep tortured artist. Her interest in Lucas was framed in the light of him becoming a part of the Ravens and making the winning shot, which was meant to be perceived as Brooke seeing Lucas as yet another conquest to concur.
After rejecting her advances many times, Lucas finally sees a different side to Brooke after they save Peyton from getting sexually assaulted. Since Peyton rejected him in a previous episode, the pair start dating, and despite their relationship concentrating on the physical part a lot, almost purposefully comparing them to Leyton’s supposed ‘depth’, they work surprisingly well.
Brooke showed Lucas that a relationship can be a light-hearted fun. In turn, throughout her romance with Lucas, the audiences got to see how much she fell for him, adding layers of a hopeless romantic to her seemingly cold exterior. Which is why seeing Lucas and Peyton sneaking around behind her back, with Lucas then unceremoniously dumping her after being released from the hospital stung hard.
Now, to get it out of the way – yes, Brooke choosing to date Lucas while seeing that there was a connection between them was a bit weird. Especially considering the reason they got together is because Peyton rejected him at that party, making Brooke kind of the second choice. But then again (and this is where my team Brooke T-shirt comes out), Peyton did make it clear that she didn’t want Lucas the way he did, and at the end of the day, if she changed her mind, the sensible thing would’ve been to be honest with both of them and have Lucas make a choice of who he wants to be with. Granted, it still would’ve caused major drama, but it would’ve been better than cheating. But then there would’ve been no entertainment, right? Sigh.
While Brooke’s anger at Lucas over the affair is portrayed beautifully, it’s like the writers couldn’t think of anything better than to have her throw catty comments at Peyton. Despite how the narrative framed the couples, Brooke had a legitimate reason to be angry with Peyton, but the way that anger played out seemed to invalidate it by reducing her to a petty and immature person, while it was clear she was so much more than that. And that’s just season one.
Over season two, Brooke furthers her character journey by running for student council, discovering an interest in fashion – basically, developing without being constrained by the petty romantic drama (minus Felix, who she drops just in time, but not before the audiences gets sick of him). That being said, it was nice to watch her build a real friendship with Lucas, and while it was obvious he wanted to be with her, Brooke’s fears over giving him a second chance were completely justified.
This leads into season three, with Brooke using the whole ’non-exclusivity’ as a defence mechanism to be in control of the situation. What is baffling is that for the first half of the season, Brucas are pretty much framed as endgame, going as far as having cheesy rom-com-like scenes. Ironically, that pretty much ends as soon as they get together, minus one epic rain kiss.
While no one can deny the pair made a far better second attempt at a relationship, from the moment they made it official again their dynamic was hanging by a thread, with Peyton always in the background one way or another. As bad as it sounds, Lucas’s hero complex when it came to Peyton, as well as his inability to fully commit to Brooke and let her in despite his big complex words about his love for her end up stagnating Brooke’s character progression. The poor girl spends the latter half of season three being insecure over always coming second to Peyton and not being able to properly communicate with her boyfriend, who gradually excludes her from major aspects of his life.
Now come the end of season three, Brooke seems to reassert her own personality, going as far as exclaiming she doesn’t need Lucas. The whole exchange between her and Peyton in the season finale, which seemed like the narrative wanted to imply Brooke didn’t love him anymore but didn’t want Peyton to have him is quite insulting to the fans of the pairing (and was most likely done because of Chad Michael Murray and Sophia Bush divorce drama to make the fallout of the pair quicker so they wouldn’t have to film love scenes together).
My personal opinion is that since Brooke is a very controlled person, she could feel Lucas slipping away from her and instead of trying to hold onto him – and possibly end up being cheated on again – she chose to be the one to end things and cut both Lucas and Peyton out of her life, which frankly seemed to be like the healthiest option for Brooke’s peace of mind.
However, while season four could’ve properly explored Brooke’s heartbreak and betrayal from both her best friend and her boyfriend, it chose to revert Brooke back into the same petty vengeful persona. In my humble opinion, it was done to make Leyton getting together that fast after Lucas was claiming Brooke was the one not as douchey. It would’ve been much harder to portray them as the right couple had Brooke remained mature about the situation. It can also be the fact the show seems to be unable to let Brooke deal with her negative emotions, despite putting her through the hoops throughout its run.
In general, season four is the weakest for Brooke, having her suddenly sleep with a teacher, cheat on tests and trying to seduce a virgin Clean Teen because the writers seemed okay to sacrifice her development to prop up Leyton. Luckily, things pick up for her character after the time jump. One of my proudest moments for her was when she was strong enough to reject Lucas after he kissed her in the flashback. From that point on, her story seems to separate from Lucas and Peyton drama and follow its own trajectory, which was frankly for the better.
While her romance with Lucas was a huge part of Brooke’s journey, and shaped her as a person, he also had quite a detrimental effect on her. Inner demons from their relationship followed Brooke long after they broke up, and even as someone who is a fan of the couple can admit that in the long run, Brooke probably would’ve been better off. As sad as it is, her character almost got screwed over because of the love triangle, which I’ll always be bitter about as she is definitely my favourite of the show.
Alright. While I do understand where the writers were coming from when creating Peyton’s character, and while she does have some redeeming traits, in my opinion regarding this essay is that she wasn’t a good friend to Brooke. At the beginning of the show, Peyton seems to kind of look down on Brooke for being how she is, despite being friends with her.
This is something that stays with Peyton as Brooke and Lucas start a relationship. As it’s evidenced in a season three episode where Peyton has a nice chat with her subconscious, even after seemingly having no romantic feelings for him, she thinks Lucas should be with her instead (and that’s right after Brucas get together again). Then again, as bad as it might sounds, Peyton only seems to really want to be with Lucas when he’s with someone else.
I’m not sure about the psychology behind it, but it’s as if in the back of her mind Peyton expects Lucas to always be available on her own terms. It’s perfectly showcased in season five when she rejects Lucas’s proposal (which is all fair enough as they were quite young for that and there can only be one Naley in the show), but then gets mad at Lucas for moving on and becomes determined to break off his and Lindsay’s engagement. Despite the whole endgame framing, feeling so entitled to someone’s love is not a particularly good example to set for real-life relationships, but I digress.
To come back to the main downfall of Peyton’s character the triangle causes, is that despite which couple you ship, or which girl you prefer, what Peyton did to Brooke was inexcusable where their friendship was concerned. Regardless of her feelings for Lucas, having an emotional affair behind her best friend’s back is something that no one would judge you for never forgiving. Peyton seems genuinely remorseful for that mistake and amends her friendship with Brooke, which is why it feels even worse when the same thing happens two seasons later.
The problem isn’t even Peyton’s feelings for Lucas by themselves, it’s the fact that by telling Brooke she set off a bomb that she knew would destroy her friendship with her considering their history. Once again, Peyton pretty much shows that ultimately, being with Lucas more important to her than Brooke, and that is a fatal character flaw of Peyton’s. As she states during their argument at the end of season three, she expected to get a free pass about her feelings just because she was honest with Brooke, which implies she took their friendship for granted even after the events of season one. Even if Brucas stayed together, how was that meant to work for the girls, with Brooke knowing of Peyton’s feelings? It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.
I would say that Peyton only becomes an honest true friend to Brooke after the time jump, as Brooke moves on from her feelings for Lucas for her own sake. Moments where she stands up to Victoria and talks to Julian for Brooke’s sake show that she does care for and value her. Unfortunately, as evidenced by some drama in later seasons, the betrayal caused some long-lasting damage to Brooke, and that will always be the dark mark on Peyton’s character.
The main problem with Lucas’s character regarding the whole love triangle drama could be separated into two sections: one is that he never seems to be true to himself to what he wants and two is that regardless of his feelings, it seems that he doesn’t know how to be a good boyfriend to whoever he’s in a relationship with.
To look deeper into point one, it’s made clear by the narrative that Lucas wants Peyton, or to get to know her to be more precise, as from the pilot episode we know that they don’t even interact. This implies that Lucas has an idolised version of Peyton in his head, and has an idea of how their relationship should be, which doesn’t fit with what she wants at the time.
Now, there are a lot of potential reasons why Lucas gets with Brooke in season one despite wanting the world with Peyton not two episodes ago. After all, he’s a seventeen-year-old guy who has a very good-looking girl who’s clearly interested and the girl he wanted first didn’t want him back, so why not? Or it could be that he saw a different side to Brooke and thought he could get her to be the version of Peyton he wanted to be with.
We don’t actually know what the writers were thinking, but regardless of that, once he went behind Brooke’s back with Peyton, it was obvious that in his mind, she was just a placeholder until Peyton came around. And that’s not exactly a very flattering light to have the protagonist of your show to be in.
Once Lucas decides he wants to be with Brooke after all, he and Peyton share barely a handful of scenes for a season and a half, with Peyton even calling him out on being a crappy friend. Which kind of comes across as Lucas only investing time in a girl he’s romantically interested in. Unfortunately, that sort of mentality is common among men, but once again, doesn’t do Lucas any favours.
In Lucas’s defence, to a degree this sort of indecisiveness can be justified by being a young hormonal teenager who just can’t decide between two beautiful girls who both want him. But after the show makes it clear him and Peyton are ‘the’ couple, he seems to completely invalidate his feelings for Brooke that were present three episodes ago, and act like them being together never meant anything, which once again is insulting to the fans of Brucas pairing.
To collaborate on the second point, Lucas seems like the type of guy who, despite having strong feelings for someone and wanting to be with them, doesn’t actually know how to navigate a real, serious relationship. His second chance with Brooke backfired after he kept running to help Peyton every chance he got, excluded Brooke from his family events (like hanging out with Karen and Keith after basketball games while Brooke was stood alone outside school), and then went away for a week (I believe) after his heart problems threw him out of the game and completely forgot he even had a girlfriend. Regardless of the circumstances, that just reeks of crappy communication skills. The worst part is – he didn’t even understand why it made Brooke upset, which means he didn’t think there was anything wrong with his behaviour.
Now, he gets with Peyton in season four, but the pattern stays quite similar – Lucas goes off solving his own mysteries about Keith, keeping secrets about his heart condition, sometimes completely forgetting he’s in a relationship. One thing to keep in mind is that when psycho Derek came back to attack Peyton, it was Brooke, not Lucas, who picked up that something was wrong. Even with their friendship being in absolute shambles at that time, Brooke knew something wasn’t right and went to check up on Peyton, saving her life, while Lucas was duped by fake texts psycho Derek sent.
The main thing with Lucas is, he’s not actually a bad person. He’s a good son, a good friend, a good uncle, he’s intelligent, he’s dedicated – all the traits a protagonist should possess to keep the audience invested. But when it comes to relationships, he’s just not cut out for it, and that’s where his character gets compromised. When it comes to love triangles, the character torn between two people is usually the one who suffers the most writing-wise because the writers are trying to fan service both sides, and said character gets the most crap from the audiences. Lucas is no exception to the rule, as now he’s crowned as ‘worst boyfriend in TV history’ in pretty much every Buzzfeed list in existence, indicating that it’s not his good traits he’s remembered for.
All in all, I hope my jumble of sometimes bias thoughts made critical sense. I can guarantee that it’s definitely not my last essay on One Tree Hill, so watch this space for more thoughts on these characters. Till next time!