Henchman of the Week (3/28/01): Leon Kowalski
Featured In: Blade Runner (1982)
Specialty: Strong-arm stuff
Takes Coffee: Black, two sugars
Needs to Work On: Interview skills
Termination: Forced retirement
Temporary Assignment: It appears to be a typical interview, aside from the fact that on the desk is a whirring, breathing, futuristic contraption, and outside the window is a vast industrial wasteland, drenched with acid rain.
It's the year 2019, and Leon Kowalski is being interviewed by the Tyrell Corporation, which resides in a huge pyramid-shaped building that rises above the hellish landscape.
Temps, despite the fact that they may have several different jobs in the span of a year, only have to interview once, when they join their agency. Generally, that is. Some companies take it upon themselves to interview a temp as well, perhaps fearing (and rightly so) that the agency has been a bit lax in their screening procedures, although sometimes it's to ensure that they have hired a human and not an android.
Leon, a waste-disposal engineer (in the future, they still use politically correct terms), isn't overly bright to begin with, and appears nervous and twitchy during the interview. His anxiety is compounded by the machine on the desk, and by Holden, the condescending interviewer, who smokes huge, stinky-looking European cigarettes, uses Leon's name in every other sentence, and asks him questions about tortoises.
"Tortoise, what's that?" Leon asks.
"Know what a turtle is?" Holden says smugly.
The interview becomes even more strained when Holden asks Leon about his mother.
"My mother?" Leon replies. "Let me tell you about my mother."
Leon abruptly shoots Holden through the table with a concealed gun (Han Solo/Greedo style), driving Holden through a wall and into the next office. Leon then stands and pumps another round into him. The interview, clearly, is over (and, shit, it still went better than most of mine do).
As it turns out, Leon is no ordinary henchman. In fact, he's no ordinary man. He's what's known as a replicant, a synthetic human engineered for Off-world slave labor. Possessing superior strength and agility, replicants were the perfect drones for hazardous space exploration and colonization, but due to a bloody mutiny, they are now illegal on planet Earth. To guard against these replicants developing their own emotions (and labor unions, probably), they were engineered to only last four years. Talk about temporary.
A special unit of the police, called Blade Runners, are licensed to kill, or as they call it, retire, any trespassing replicants.
Holden was, in fact, one of these Blade Runners, and the machine he used on Leon was called a Voight-Kampff machine, designed to tell the "skin-jobs" (in the future, they still use racial slurs) from the humans. With Holden out of action ("He can breathe okay, as long as no one unplugs him"), a scowling cop named Rick Deckard takes over the case.
Leon and a handful of other replicants have arrived on Earth after hijacking a shuttle and killing everyone aboard in a thrilling sequence that no one bothered to capture on film. Leon's boss and fellow replicant, the Aryan-looking (and rather theatrical) Roy Batty, is intent on finding a solution to the replicants' lack of longevity, and believes the answer may lie within the Tyrell Corporation, the manufacturers of the synthetic humanoids. The replicants attempted to gain access, first by breaking in, then by acquiring jobs there, which led to Leon's interview.
Later, Leon wants to fetch some photographs he owns, but Deckard, who is poking around in Leon's apartment, prevents him from doing so. What would a replicant, an organism with no real past, want with photographs? Well, we all know how permanent employees like to plaster the walls of their cubicles with photos, and it seems Leon, in an effort to fit in better with humans, clearly wishes to do the same. Maybe he had some Dilbert comic strips, too.
Leon and Batty then pay a visit to Hannibal Chew, an engineer who creates synthetic eyes for replicants. In Chew's sub-zero lab, Leon shows his superhuman nature by sticking his hand into some ice-cream, then by ripping Chew's heated parka off. As Chew shivers, trembles, and spills his information, Leon places goopy synthetic eyes on Chew's shoulders and head, like any good henchman would do in a similar situation.
After Deckard retires (shoots twice in the back) a female replicant named Zhora, Leon catches up with him. He has some questions for Deckard, so he politely inquires about his age and potential duration while slapping Deckard around like a red-headed synthetic stepchild.
"Painful to live in fear, isn't it? Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch," he informs Deckard, while cuffing him about, throwing him onto a car, punching a hole into the side of a truck, and grinning bitterly.
"Wake up!" he tells the groggy Deckard. "Time to die."
It is at that moment, ironically, that he is shot through the head by a woman named Rachel, who is, also ironically, a replicant (in the future, they have twice as much irony).
Performance Review: In his interview, Leon followed the cardinal rule: "Never let them see you sweat, but if they do see you sweat, never let them see the powerful futuristic handgun you have under the table." He fell into the old henchman trap, though: taunting and toying with the hero, instead of simply killing him quickly. The result: early retirement for Leon, and not so much as a gold watch to show for it.
Leon was played by Brion James, a well-known character actor who appeared in over one hundred films and television shows. He died in 1999.