Portrayed by: Bethany Joy Lenz
Show: The CW’s One Tree Hill
Writer’s Note: When we write about this show here at Marvelous Geeks, we want to make it abundantly clear that our support goes to the actors and the characters. We do not condone vile, malicious behavior or credit the writers, Mark Schwahn especially.
One Tree Hill’s Haley James (later Scott) was a relatable, comfort character from the moment she appeared in the Pilot. There was something about the way Bethany Joy Lenz carried her from that very first episode that told us she’d be the character we’d grow to rely on and find some semblance of hope in when the rest of the show faltered. Haley was never perfect, and that’s perhaps why she falls in the trenches of a comfort character because she never needed to be anything but herself. As a fan, I was beyond frustrated with her in the second season despite understanding why she went to tour and how she did it the way she did. It’s easy to wonder today how much better a situation like this could’ve been handled if women had written the show.
Still, Haley James was unparalleled and remarkable not for her brains or her dry wit but because of her innate kindness that she sprinkled into the world even when people didn’t deserve it. A type of kindness that consistently anchored everything she fought for and the ingrained loyalty she was profoundly beloved because of.
Haley James: The Woman Who Deserved the World
The thing about most of the women on One Tree Hill is that they deserve the world. This sentiment is especially true for Haley James, Brooke Davis, and Peyton Sawyer. It’s an homage to the women forced to grow up too soon and the ones who endured the most heartaches because they were tireless caretakers.
Haley James was everyone’s anchor. She’d be there no matter who needed her or what they had done. And her relationship with Nathan Scott alone is a testament to everything she’s endured because she chose to be beside someone else. Haley’s loyalty is unceasing from the moment we meet her. It’s clear as day that there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for Lucas as his best friend.
She’s a fascinating character because, as we learn early on, Haley is incredibly independent in her approach to everything despite having a loving family (that’s established later). She has enough agency throughout the show’s run to do whatever she’d like to, and, more often than not, agency equates to putting her best foot forward and being there for someone else. Haley James would give the world for those she cared for, and in doing so, she sacrificed her joy as a result of it in earlier seasons. She was, in every way, Lucas’ crutch in Season 1, then Nathan’s afterward.
But the trait that always stood out the most was the detail that despite her kindness, she was not someone anyone could walk all over. Yes, people tried, but she stood her ground throughout it all. She wasn’t afraid to bite back when necessary, and though it was catty at times, it’s a reflection of the writers more than the character or the actress. The first season alone was a sloppy puzzle that digs into the depths of High School atrocities, but it does a great job of cementing Haley’s agency above all things.
That said, while some believed her to be selfish in Season 2, (including the show pitting the women against each other as it consistently happened in the early 2000s), Haley’s choice wasn’t wrong. It was the contents of the writing which didn’t allow viewers to see that a woman choosing herself isn’t a bad or selfish thing. That’s especially the case for a woman like Haley, who has consistently spent her time nurturing and taking care of others while forgiving and loving to no end. As Brooke states in the final episode, there’s been no one with more grace, and that very grace bleeds into everything Haley touches.
Haley James deserved the world not because she was flawless but because her heart was too big to contain, and even when she rightfully fought against the people who deserved her rage (Nanny Carrie, Dan, Rachel, Taylor, etc.), the grace she showed was always insurmountable. She never once needed to tuck compassion underneath her fury, but she did so anyway. Haley was apologetic when need be. She was empathetic where it mattered. And she gave pieces of herself, not because people deserved them, but because she didn’t know how not to.
If One Tree Hill aired today, it would’ve been rewarding to see Haley go to therapy for just how much she endured in the face of giving herself to people. She was allowed to be vulnerable, but her pain was often diluted for the sake of petty drama. It’d be rewarding to see how much of her strength was brought on by her own agency and the decision to take care of other people because of the reserved loneliness she couldn’t always disclose.
The Pieces of Her
Nathan Scott wasn’t always the perfect husband, but Haley wasn’t always one hundred percent, either. Still, she endured far too many dramatic undercurrents stirred in their lives, but when the time came for her to find herself again after the hurricanes brought on by grief, Nathan was tirelessly beside her, reminding her of the very grace that’s always been her unyielding strength. For a woman who gave so much of what she was to the people she loved, it was always entirely understandable that her mother’s death would affect her tremendously.
When Haley lost her mother, she lost the pieces of herself that brought strength forward because the grief overshadowed every ounce of love that remained. Nothing made sense. The world was dark and treacherous, and the one person she needed most was no longer beside her.
In short, the pieces of Haley James are layered. So often, people walk all over characters like Haley, and they’re written with one-dimensional coatings. Still, the pieces she dispersed were bright, bold, fierce, and brutal at times. Her bravery was a cascade to be admired as a woman with sufficient kindness and grace. She was meant to be a teacher from day one because alongside her compassion was the bravery to stand up to bullies. She was bold and brave when it came down to protecting herself, her friends, or her family, and she was never afraid of being transparent with people when they messed up. And this same bravery made her the influential teacher she was, inspiring people to become better than they were before entering her classroom. (The same goes for Nathan, too.)
She taught with warmth and integrity, which students could utilize outside the classroom. Haley’s compassion and the kindness she sprinkled everywhere made it easier for people to feel safe beside her, knowing she wouldn’t judge them for needing help or further explanations. She took this same approach with her friends, consistently being beside them through everything and allowing them to feel safe enough to confide in her amidst bad days and decisions.
Haley’s kindness was rooted in her adoration for people, but it was never the only thing about her. Her grace was drawn from a choice to give people the benefit of the doubt, to believe in them, and to try before jumping the gun with words that she knew would put them in their place. That’s where it mattered. She forgave when necessary, and she screamed when appropriate. Again, it’s unfortunate to think of how much better this show could’ve been if women had been given a more prominent voice behind the scenes. While some of the language was far from graceful, Bethany Joy Lenz always wore Haley’s heart on her sleeves, reminding people that she’s a character who cannot be replaced because her empathy is boundless and her strength should never be trifled with.
Still, strong characters also fall, and it was easy to appreciate that we got to watch Haley scream, cry, doubt, and make mistakes. None of the women on One Tree Hill were perfect, but those imperfections made them feel that much more relatable. Her edges amplified her kindness because what she gave to those she adored was every part of her. If Haley chose to love someone, she loved every part of them, flaws and all, and she’d fight to ensure that they’d be the best versions of themselves through everything. It’s why she was transparent with characters like Brooke, Lucas, Peyton, and, most importantly, Nathan. She saw their strengths, and when their weaknesses started to take the reins, she pushed forward to reach for where she knew the better parts of them.
One Tree Hill’s Haley James Scott was a brilliantly compelling character whose grace and kindness were a form of unceasing strength. She deserved far more than she got, but her layers and flaws made her more real. In her darkness, many of us saw pieces of ourselves. In her means to give, we found ways to be better. In her decision to fight for what she believed was right, we found the courage to push forward. There weren’t many characters in the early 2000s giving as much, but there she was, fighting with every breath for a better tomorrow. She was a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, a singer, a teacher, and, most importantly, a believer.
Gissane (pronounced Geese-enny) or, as people often call her, "Goose," is a Christ fan above all and a romance enthusiast who's taken her Master's degree in English and love for essays into writing lengthy analyses about pop culture.
She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Marvelous Geeks Media and the co-host of Lady Geeks' Society Podcast. She drinks too much coffee, wants to live in a forest, and cries a lot because of her favorite characters. She's a member of The Cherry Picks and can also be found writing features for Looper.