Let’s Talk Partners and the ‘Enemies to Friends’ Trope

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You’ve seen some version of this pairing countless times: two characters who couldn’t be more different are forced to team up to accomplish a goal, solve a crime, and/or save the world. It’s a time-tested trope that’s been explored in popular culture, from Tango and Cash to Wall-E to Lucifer to, well, the list goes on. And it’s a trope that will be explored further in Disney+’s upcoming series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier .

Everyone loves a mismatched duo, and Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes couldn’t be more different. While both men are U.S. soldiers, Sam is a present day veteran and support group leader while Bucky is a former World War II soldier who was captured by Hydra, brainwashed to be an unstoppable assassin, and has spent the last century on ice. Aside from a loyalty to their mutual friend Steve Rogers, these Avengers have little in common.

This pairing had us thinking about our favorite reluctant team-ups, and the “enemies to friends” trope. So we examined some of our favorite pairings, and why they work so well.

Princess Weekes:

While we always knew they were going to end up friends, I think Elementary did a good job of highlighting that Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) needed someone, and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) needed to be useful, but their personalities clashed really well. I also think her Watson was put in a great position of being responsible for Sherlock, which added an extra layer to both Sherlock’s sobriety journey and their eventual friendship.

Chelsea Steiner:

So many of our favorite mismatched pairings spring from previous experiences and assumptions about the other person. But on Netflix’s women wrestling series GLOW, Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin) start their journey together after a friendship-ending betrayal. Their friendship is irrevocably damaged when Debbie discovers that Ruth slept with her husband in the pilot episode. But when show producer Sam (Marc Maron) sees how explosive their chemistry is, he realizes that he needs the duo to make the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling work.

Taking on the classic wrestling roles of the Hero and the Heel, Debbie and Ruth must find a way to fight one another without actually killing each other. Few series have delved so deeply into the dynamics of a dysfunctional female friendship, and have been so willing to make its women unlikeable. Both women push one another to the brink physically and emotionally, but when they work together, they make wrestling magic happen. And while both characters experience romantic relationships with men throughout the series, even the most casual viewer understands that the central love story is between Debbie and Ruth.

Briana Lawrence:

Haru Kato and Daisuke Kambe from Millionaire Detective Balance: Unlimited had the ultimate rough start with Kambe driving through cars, nearly hitting Haru, blowing cigarette smoke in his face, and letting him fall from the edge of a bridge. Cue segway into them being detectives working under the same “low tier” department and Haru being told to show Kambe around. Kambe is the type to throw his “unlimited” wealth at any situation, while Haru’s the exact opposite, but since this is a buddy cop anime series with extremely shippable leads, they turn out to be a great asset to each other. Also Kambe, like, totally has the Black Panther vibranium suit, and Haru gets one, too.

Lyra Hale:

Walter White and Jessie Pinkman from Breaking Bad. They were reluctant partners who turned into family, even though it was messy as hell sometimes. Correction: even though it was super messy sometimes and they tried to sabotage the other once…or twice. Well, maybe three times or more.

Rachel Leishman:

Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger were two characters who, seemingly, didn’t go together as partners. But as Parks and Recreation went on, the two became good friends because they understood why they needed one to balance out the other. Sure, Chris’s optimism probably drove Ben crazy, but he still needed to listen to Chris’s advice to keep him going so he didn’t get so in his head, and vice versa and I love them both for that.

Jessica Mason:

From Woody and Buzz to Sully and Mike to Dory and Marlin to Joy and Sadness, Pixar has built an entire film empire on this trope. But I think my favorite of their variations may have to be Russell and Carl in UP. These reluctant teams work for us because it’s always two people bringing something each of them needs to the table. Russell inspires Karl to care about life and adventure again and Karl gives Russell the role model and hero he didn’t know he needed.

Who are your favorite reluctant partners? Let us know in the comments!

(featured image: Marvel Studios/Disney+)

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