The Mentor Figure is a vital element of the Hero's Journey and the television landscape is awash with these venerable and respected teachers, coaches, guides, and bosses.
Some are warm and fuzzy. Others come with a bit more of an edge.
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The unifying trait is always the understanding that they care about what happens to their charges. We would like to think all their motivations are noble and self-less but that would be pretty unrealistic, wouldn't it? Not to mention BOOOORING.
We've collected here some of the most memorable mentors whose secret (and not-so-secret) flaws came to light. Whether a Watcher with a wicked childhood, a captain with capricious aspirations, or a doctor with a dark side, we thank them for their service and appreciate their humanity, spots and all.
Stick was young, recently-blinded Matt Murdock's salvation, teaching him to harness his enhanced senses to become a formidable fighter. Keeping his affection for his student tightly under wraps, Stick trained him with ruthless brutality. Even when Matt grew up to become the Daredevil and discovered that Stick had been manipulating him all along to fight for the Chaste against The Hand, he still begged Elektra to spare the life of their mutual mentor.
Bull: Dr. Jason Bull
The captain of the T.A.C. Team addresses his crew regularly from his own special sort of podium but left to his own devices, often finds himself making personal blunders and waking up in strange places with stranger company.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Rupert "Ripper" Giles
Buffy's Watcher is one of TV's most reliable mentors, with an encyclopedic memory for demons and magicky stuff (and actual encyclopedias for everything else). However, he spent much of his youth rejecting his path as a Watcher and earning the moniker "Ripper" while he was at it. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 Episode 6, "Band Candy", the Scooby Gang gets an eyeful as exciting-as-oatmeal Giles regresses to his Ripper days... and hooks up with Buffy's mom? Woah.
C.S.I.: Gil Grissom
For most of his time on the O.G. C.S.I. iteration, Gil Grissom could be summed up in three words: evidence, logic, bugs. He seemed to have less than no private life to distract him from the job and never got emotionally involved with a case. EXCEPT for that time (CSI Season 3 Episode 15, "Lady Heather's Box") with Lady Heather, the amazing recurring dominatrix entrepreneur character. Yeah, THAT Lady Heather.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Melinda "The Calvary" May
Agent May is the kick-ass, most-experienced S.H.I.E.L.D. operative on Coulson's team and the one you want at your back in a fight. But her experience came with a price as she voluntary left life as a field agent after the Rescue in Bahrain (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 Episode 17, "Melinda") which left her traumatized and eventually led to the breakdown of her marriage.
The Wire: Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin
The Majors of the Baltimore P.D. don't come any larger than life that Bunny Colvin. But despite a decorated and respected career, he was forced to resign when his fervor to make a difference in the Baltimore drug landscape caused him to overstep his authority in setting up "Hamsterdam," a pseudo-legalized drug-dealing zone in his corner of the city.
Gotham: Harvey Bullock
Harvey is a long-time, on-and-off-again, member of the Gotham City P.D. initially mentoring (and later, good friends with) young Jim Gordon. In a police force as corrupt as Gotham's, an officer doesn't last long if he's not willing to get his hands dirty. Whether Harvey's drinking problem sprang from those necessary evils or vice versa is really not the point. He's proven he can be better than he's been and serves as better police than that city really deserves.
Arrow: Moira Queen
The matriarch of the Queen clan was the picture of the high-class, highly-capable lady of status. The public saw a loving mother, resilient widow, and principled business woman so it was no wonder when she chose to run for mayor. What came to light was her involvement in a business cabal with nefarious goals, an extramarital affair with Merlyn which resulted in Thea, and her knowledge (and hiding) of Oliver's son. Like many on this list, she made these deals with the devil for well-meaning purpose but her last moments seemed infused with silent regret.
black-ish: Earl "Pops" Johnson
Pops is the epitome of "Do as I say" sort of mentoring. Andre and Ruby regularly point out the various vices (smoking, gambling, drinking) and morally ambiguous (con games) activities he revels in on a seemingly daily basis. However, to his grandkids, he does appear to be the one adult in their world truly living his best life and enjoying the heck out of it.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Captain Raymond Jacobs "Ray" Holt
A credit to the uniform, Holt is known throughout the NYPD as a principled officer of valor and professionalism. He has overcome racism and homophobia to earn his captainship and takes the time to understand his officers in the interests of making them better at their job, thus improving the 99th as well. He owns his past gambling addiction and uses that experience to empathize with those still struggling with their own personal challenges.
Rick and Morty: Rick Sanchez
Grandpa Rick is probably the least suitable and most effective mentor for anxious and overlooked Morty. Rick's constant reckless but brilliant schemes never fail to drive home some sort of lesson and, so far, Morty's survived them all. Well, SOME version of Morty has survived.
Into the Badlands: Sunny
Sunny is the killer with a conscience in the world of The Badlands. Like Gotham's Harvey, he's become what he needs to be to survive. Doesn't hurt that he's REALLY good at killing. He mentors M.K. so the boy can train to be a Clipper versus laboring as a Cog. M.K.'s trust in him is destroyed when he is finally able to remember that his mother and the camp they were living in was slaughtered by Quinn's Clippers, led by Sunny.
Salvation: Darius Tanz
As President of the United States in the context of imminent destruction, it is understandable that Darius is annoyed by bureaucratic red tape when he's interested in SAVING THE WORLD. As a businessman and entrepreneur in a field rife with espionage, he is very good at keeping secrets. So many secrets.
Defiance: Joshua Nolan
As Chief Lawkeeper in Defiance, Nolan commands a lot of official authority. As Irisa's adopted father, he is protective and caring. Unfortunately, both sterling personas are tarnished a bit by his problematic relationships, often with prostitutes, and his low threshold for B.S.
Santa Clarita Diet: Sheila Hammond
Mother, wife, real estate agent. Sheila Hammond makes juggling it all look easy and sets a high bar for "owning her truth" especially as that bar includes killing and eating hapless bystanders when her undead urges get out of control.
Grey's Anatomy: Chief of Surgery Doctor Richard Webber
Always the Chief in our hearts, intent on fostering young and great medical professionals, and even teaching the interns and residents of Seattle Grace from his recovery bed, Webber struggled with his alcoholism, most notably losing his position to McDreamy for a period of time because of a regression.
Supergirl: Catherine Jane "Cat" Grant
Smart and savvy, Cat is both mentor and nemesis to protagonist Kara Danvers. Running a media empire is no mean feat and she does it with style and an eye for building the future. Although she gives good advice and demonstrates that her decisions are often tempered by a sense of humanity, she is no one's BFF as Cat will always be her own top priority.
The Blacklist: Raymond "Red" Reddington
Who WOULDN'T want to learn everything the man we've come to know as Reddington knows? It's the whole premise of "The Blacklist" really. That being said, he's only able to do what he does so well by owning a particular brand of ruthlessness when it comes to business strategery. And, as has been demonstrated multiple times, he's not above getting gritty himself to bring a plan to fruition.
Law & Order SVU: Captain Donald Cragen
Cragen was a rock of law enforcement across not one, but TWO, Law & Order franchises but it was on Law and Order: SVU that he really came into his own as the commanding officer of possibly the most difficult department of investigation in the NYPD. As a recovering alcoholic, the SVU's real-life horror stories made him yearn for the bottle on a daily basis, something he admitted in confidence to his counselor (Law and Order: SVU Season 1 Episode 22, "Slaves").
Castle: Captain Roy Montgomery
Captain Montgomery was Kate Beckett's career mentor from the moment she joined the police force. For years, he guided and advised her as she rose through the ranks of the department, even putting up with Castle because he saw that the partnership made Kate a better investigator. So it was a devastating revelation for Beckett to discover that Montgomery had known all along who had ordered her mother's murder decades before and had kept her from the truth.
Scrubs: Dr. Percival Ulysses "Perry" Cox
Arguably the most quotable entry on this list, the misanthropic and talented Dr. Cox can be depended on for two things at all times - solid medical care and a terrible bedside manner. His students suffer but thrive under his tutelage and somehow his dysfunctional combining of excellent job training and verbal abuse produces brilliant doctors with resilience and passion.