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Character Deep Dive: Kaz Brekker

NETFLIX © 2021

Portrayed by: Freddy Carter
Book | Show: Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdomand Netflix’s Shadow and Bone season one

“His presence reverberated through the cramped rooms and crooked hallways as every thug, thief, dealer, con man, steerer came a little more awake” (Six of Crows).

Kaz Brekker didn’t need a reason, but he always has plenty—meticulously crafted plans, a purpose for everything, and tremendous heart buried deep within his stoic, immaculately accumulated demeanor. A thief, a leader, a monster, a man with no beliefs and yet, a man who’s discovered vehemence in a woman’s laughter. A man with desires, goals, an aim. It’s not just about survival, and no matter how hard he tries to conceal it, it’s bigger, it’s bolder, and most of the time, even he doesn’t understand it himself.  

Better terrible truths than kind lies.” Kaz Brekker is not someone who sugarcoats anything, he is not a boss that holds anything back, but still, somewhere deep within, he is completely human and complex. A boy with trauma and heartaches hidden underneath the flesh and bones, aching to burst through. There’s a great deal we still don’t know about Kaz in the TV adaptation, only glimpses of what Freddy Carter shows through his physicality and expressions. A few things still stand, he’s driven by his vengeance towards Pekka Rollins and clearly focuses on doing whatever is imperative for survival.

There’s a lot to excavate when it comes to Kaz; his layers are so acutely structured and he is so heavily guarded, it’s what makes him riveting. But above all, Kaz’s heart stands out exquisitely in the face of a morally grey character. He’s a man driven by love, both in the books and in the TV series, and as much as he cannot seem to grapple with his feelings, as much as he tries to deny it, Inej’s freedom stands at the forefront of almost every reason. He’s a man who has lost everything and is doing all that he can in order to hold onto the found family he’s grown to appreciate immensely with The Crows.

But before we get into that, it’s vital to touch on just how careful Kaz is with his words and what that represents for the kind of character that he is. So often where people are generally quieter and appear to keep to themselves, they’re observing, probing, and making careful choices that’ll not only benefit them but everyone else in the room. In almost any situation, in both the TV series and in the books, Kaz is studying his surroundings—he’s looking into how people operate and what strengths they draw on, and he uses them as leverage whenever he can. Where his enemies are concerned, the weaknesses matter in bringing them down, but where his friends are concerned, it becomes something he looks out for, slowly, meticulously trying to figure out how to uphold them instead while appreciating them through everything regardless. (For instance, Jesper’s gambling addiction is never something he’d use against him, but he’s mindful of it and does what he can to ensure it doesn’t become a bigger problem.) And there are certain scenes, book fans know, but getting to those in the series will be so fascinating to dissect because they’re an ultimate showcase of the fact that Kaz fights for the people he believes in. He doesn’t give up on people, he keeps looking onward even when situations seem grim.

Kaz Brekker: The Morally Grey Anti-Hero

Kaz carries a myriad of crutches around that aren’t even his, but he does so because part of how he functions is reliant on what his surroundings do. His observant nature and the carefully concocted words often work best in allowing him to understand those he cares most about while figuring out parts of himself in the process as well. In the series and in the books, Kaz’s mind is seldom a place of serenity, but rather a conundrum full of one excavation after another. Brick by brick has a plethora of meanings and thus, even while he’s breaking his walls down, he never stops building.

Kaz can be ruthless. There are monsters in him that no one should dare to cross, but he’s loyal in a multitude of ways, and it’s that very loyalty that makes him the anti-hero. He’ll brutally murder the men who deserve it, he’ll test the waters in villains, he’ll jump cane at the ready in front of volcra, but his motives are never driven by a thirst for power. He’s the Bastard of the Barrel, Dirtyhands, but he isn’t cunning or cruel. And it is a result of his experiences in the hands of Pekka Rollins, which exhibit he’d never do to others what was done to him. When he makes comments about being driven out of spite, and not fear, it’s because he’s rightfully still searching for ways to make terrible men pay, but never once would he harm someone who is undeserving of his rage.

The Fears Hidden Behind His Armor

It comes down to the detail that there is fear in Kaz Brekker. As much as he’s a rising star of the criminal underworld, as much as he’s intimidating and fiercely devoted to the causes he protects, he’s still human at the end of the day. A human being with an injury, a cane as armor, that’s both his legacy and his tell. He’s far from an immortal, and thus entirely susceptible to pain, discomfort, and trauma—the haphephobia. What the TV series doesn’t show us blatantly, but what we know from the books can be seen when looking closely into Carter’s means of embodiment. Kaz Brekker suffers from the kind of trauma that makes him severely uncomfortable with physical touch. He is, at the end of the day, a human being who’s experienced heartaches he didn’t deserve, and one who pays the price ceaselessly.

It’s the kind of discomfort that leaves him struggling to push through the gut-wrenching, visceral pain he feels when Inej is injured for instance and there is nothing he could do about it. It’s the kind of discomfort we see in the detail of the gloves, the inability to do anything more, but to use his eyes and words to thank her for saving his life at the chapel. And in the books, we see it most evidently on multiple occasions, specifically in chapter twenty-six when the all-consuming desires for something more are met with the drowning sensation that’s triggered right as his lips touch her neck. Kaz Brekker wants more, but there is so much trauma to work through, and the inability to cope is due to the fact that for so long, he’s had no one in his corner to talk to, no one to confide in. No mourners, no funerals, in the way that his brother Jordie never experienced, it left him with the grief marinating and the demons awakening.

Grief isn’t linear, and no two people grieve the same way, but it’s something we know that’s actively pronounced in Kaz’s means of drawing, carding, and dealing. Jordie’s death broke him, shattered the chances of contentment, and set an avalanche of darkness loose in his soul. Kaz never got to grieve Jordie because grief demands conversations, it demands celebrations, and it demands acceptance in some kind of a healthy form. When bottled up and tucked away, it simmers and damages. Jordie was deserving of celebration because Kaz loved and continues to adore his brother in every way, but as a kid forced to grow up secluded into a world that demanded survival, he never got to share his grief with another soul. Instead, the darker the confines of his soul became, the harder it was for him to heal, to laugh, to find the kind of autonomy and bliss that he deserved. 

The Bastard of the Barrell and His Heart

In place of, Kaz Brekker met a girl who’d seen loss and trauma in ways he might not have understood, but with the realization that they’re somehow kindred souls, he worked towards finding the freedom she deserved. And thus, I reiterate, so much of what Kaz does, so much of what he’s driven by is the agency he is adamant on giving to Inej. It’s the very agency that no other couple has yet to reach on this show (and universe) because he has come to understand that she isn’t bound to him, and her losses deserve to be returned in tenfold. In the books, he liquidates all his assets and gives her the ship she’d been wanting, which serves as the ultimate showcase of the bestowment of sovereignty while at the same time, he reunites her with her parents. He learns to give without armor because he grows to understand that it’s what she deserves, and simultaneously it’s what he wants as well. On the TV series, while we’re still in the first season, he put up The Crow Club for collateral, and thus, her freedom becomes the cornerstone of his motivation.

Kaz’s comprehension of a woman’s agency speaks volumes about his character because while most crime lords are at the root of the problem when it comes to sexual assault and mistreating women, Kaz Brekker’s indulgences have never been at the expense of anyone else. And his trepidations aside, because the foundation of his survival has been geared towards robbing the world of monsters, it’s what reveals the fact that even if he didn’t have haphephobia, he’d never take advantage of someone.

While he became a monster himself in the process and while the complexities in his character go deeper than his trauma, the essence of who he is caters to his greatest strength—his loyalty.

“You see, every man is a safe, a vault of secrets and longings. Now, there are those who take the brute’s way, but I prefer a gentler approach—the right pressure applied at the right moment, in the right place. It’s a delicate thing” (Six of Crows).

The mechanisms within Kaz Brekker are deeply hard to crack, but worn on his face, shown through his innermost thoughts, and brought centerfold with his actions, he’s a man whose darkness hasn’t controlled him, instead it’s fueled him.            

On a show and in a universe where the powers of darkness largely focus on how intently it can consume a man, for Kaz Brekker, it’s been a steppingstone, never a weapon. His trauma and the gruesome pain he has endured never defined him, but they elevated his diligence and secured his humanity. They have been a form of armor, in more ways than one, but at the first real understanding that someone cares for him, Kaz Brekker cracked, brick by brick. Because of Inej Ghafa, the padlocks inside of him twisted, turned, and begun to soften. In spite of how much vulnerability it entailed, the boy he’d once been started latching onto the magic he’d begun to discover. In spite of how undone he was becoming. Finding the key to his heart, the mechanisms inside of him started tethering themselves onto the notches and ridges of the empathy Inej ceaselessly brought forth.

She became his world, slowly, carefully, and through fire in her eyes by regarding the depths of his being no one had ever wanted to look into. Bardugo states: “If Kaz was their leader, then Inej had been their lodestone, pulling them together when they seemed most likely to drift apart” (Six of Crows). No man with a position like Kaz’s would stand by and allow a woman to be the very reason they meet success at every position, but while Kaz Brekker doesn’t believe in Saints, he believes in Inej Ghafa. He believes in the very empathy that she has shown him. He is worth the faith she has placed in him because she has seen the parts of him that are good and kind and desperate for something more. And he relies so heavily on her because the humanity in him clings onto the benevolence that she so effortlessly carries, wrapping them all tightly in a place of a warmth, in a world that is otherwise dark and cold.

Kaz is to be feared by many, but at the end of the day, he has often been but a mere boy searching for family. The kid inside of him who’d been robbed of companionship, happiness, and love never truly left behind the desire to find that glimmer of hope somewhere even when he stopped believing, even when he’d been too jaded, too broken, seemingly too far again. He chose to prioritize a woman’s agency because her very soul was the magic he’d discovered when it seemed his life was too bleak to ever know happiness of any kind. 

“The ache in his lungs was unbearable. He needed to tell her … what? that she was lovely and brave and better than anything he deserved. That he was twisted, crooked, wrong, but not so broken that he couldn’t pull himself together into some semblance of a man for her. That without meaning to, he’d begun to lean on her, to look for her, to need her near” (Six of Crows). In both the TV series thus far and quite evidently in the books, Kaz Brekker’s desire to become better is entirely solidified by his actions and just how far he is willing to go for Inej. A million kruge be damned if she opposes the mission, he’d opt out of it. Thirty million be damned too if she’s captured in the process. Where money and survival were once his greatest ringleaders, the only tangible thing he could grip onto, Inej’s freedom later surpasses all (even if it leads her sailing away from him), it is now his very anchor. She is the best part of his world and in adoring her, he continuously tries to find ways to become better, stronger, and more noble.

It’s a testament to Kaz’s loyalty, and the fact that though he might not be nearly as empathic as Inej is, there is nothing he wouldn’t do for those he cares for, and this loyalty extends gorgeously to all The Crows. In “No Mourners,” he puts aside his discomfort with touch to actively push Jesper aside when they were under threat on the skiff. There are countless occasions in the books where he proves he’ll never leave someone behind. It’s the decision to continuously share his uncertainties with people not to damage them further, but because he understands the unfortunate sadness that comes from lost hope. And thus he extends that knowledge to other people (Inej, Zoya, etc.) with the sincere belief that he’s doing them favors. Kaz had closed himself off from the world because before meeting people who cared about him, the world disassembled him instead. And that level of darkness is so often met with deep desolation. 

This kind of life and trauma so often results in villainy, but Kaz pushed towards the preservation of humanity amidst feeding the monsters within him.

And so much of what becomes palpable on screen is entirely a testament to Freddy Carter’s brilliant understanding of the character’s sensibilities. A large majority of Kaz’s backstory depended on Carter’s performance and with so few words, we were given plenty.

We see it best when Kaz has scenes with Inej, thus solidifying how excellent he and Amita Suman are as scene partners. Scenes with Kit Young that ultimately reveal how different they are and yet still, somehow on the same page. We see his discomfort with touch anytime someone places a hand on him and he silently looks to the spot while subtly glowering. We see so much of who he is through the colossal vulnerability he’s shown, along with what’s been an utterly impressive showcase of the locks turning inside Kaz’s head at every chance when book readers could understand, he is scheming. But unmistakably so, even for non-book readers, Carter has done an exceptional job of conveying the details that Kaz is resourceful and equipped for a tremendous amount, but deep within, there are damaged parts of him that he has yet to disclose.

Through his physicality and a full range of emotions at every angle, Carter shows so much of what Kaz cannot seem to grapple with or utter aloud. When you look into Carter’s eyes, the floodgates into Kaz’s being poignantly blaze through. And what’s most impressive is the detail that this exhibits the fact that Carter isn’t just acting, but he’s insightfully embodying the character.

Kaz Brekker is no Saint, not even close, but the complexities in his grey areas are so diligently constructed that the good cannot be disregarded even while the monstrosity is acknowledged. He is just the kind of leader that Ketterdam needs because his madness is driven by loyalty, and his heart is simultaneously at the forefront of all his decision making. There’s a levity to the void that’s inside of him and there’s hope intertwined through the painstakingly rigid bravado he must mask himself with. And there are so few characters truly like him.

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