WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME (Isla Nublar)
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: A little groggy, feeling guilty about watching on a Saturday.
It’s been said that one of the best ways to analyze a story is to watch it again from the villain’s point of view. Since all we do around here is “watch it again,” I decided to use this viewing of Back to the Future to get inside Biff Tannen’s head. What’s he thinking? What are his ultimate goals? How does he achieve them? Most importantly, how can a single week of his life change who he is in the future?
Who’s his barber?
Our introduction to Biff in the film is his older self in 1985. He’s shown as a jerk right away. He borrowed George McFly’s car and drank while driving it, getting into an accident which he tried to blame on the car having a blind spot. I can’t think of any upper hand it would give Biff to intentionally get in a crash, other than damaging George’s car just because he hates him, so I’m going to assume that Biff doesn’t have that part of your brain that says “don’t drink and drive” or “don’t drink and drive while borrowing someone else’s car.” He’s simply stupid and knows he can blame that stupidity on someone else.
Biff and George work at the same company. Is this by design? Biff knows he can push George around without any retaliation; did he apply at the same office as George in the hopes of getting another free ride through life? It certainly paid off, as Biff is George’s supervisor in 1985. This means Biff can do more than just threaten physical violence. He can also have George fired and take away his means to provide for his family.
Aww, it’s a little game they play.
Is Biff even smart enough to plan a scheme like this, or did it all just fall into place? We know he’s gotten damn good at bullying George from all those years of doing it in their teens. In 1955, we see George being threatened by Biff to do his homework, and because the Back to the Future universe thrives on cute parallels, it’s almost identical to the scene in 1985.
Oh, these two!
Here’s what I don’t understand, and maybe you ’50s kids can tag in on this one: is it really easier to make someone else do your homework? Honestly? Even ignoring whether or not George actually writes good papers, how does Biff know that George isn’t going to tell his teachers or go to the police? Did you just not inform the authorities about threats of physical violence back then? Maybe this is why I never took up bullying. Does it require a lot of foresight? Perhaps Biff has a whole bullying ring that he lords over, with Match, Skinhead, and 3-D to back him up. Most wimps don’t think they can take on one guy, let alone four. Hell, maybe George isn’t their only victim. When Biff and his crew drive off at the end, they’re probably stopping off to beat up more homework nerds.
Pictured: Biff Tannen’s class schedule.
Oh, here’s something else I don’t get. Biff tells George not to come into Lou’s Cafe ever again. When he catches George there later on, he tells him he’ll allow it if he gives him all his money. What? Cops. Absolutely cops. “Officer, this man is taking my money and threatening to hurt me.” It’s that simple. And that’s not even taking into account that only one man has the power to decide who does and doesn’t enter the cafe: Lou Caruthers.
“How’s about a nice hot cup of Get the Fuck Out of My Establishment?”
If George told Lou that Biff was making threats like this, Lou would have Biff banned from the premises. Some big meaty asshole bothering customers isn’t good for business. Sure, George is stupid for never talking to Lou about it, but Biff is even dumber for never considering this outcome.
Oh, murder. Biff also doesn’t think about the consequences of being a murderer.
Driver’s ed quiz: who goes to jail in this scenario?
I get that ’80s bullies are pretty goddamn intense, but murder. Murder, Biff. There is no way that you can aim your car at a shit truck with a Canadian on wheels between the two while shouting, “I’m gonna ram him!” and claim that he is not about to be a corpse. If it weren’t for Marty’s quick thinking, Biff would be arrested for killing him and George might finally be able to live in peace. (Minus the whole paradox of him never having a son for Biff to murder in the first place… oh, Christ, let’s move on.)
If this isn’t enough evidence for you that Biff just kind of spontaneously flails his way through his shitty bully life without a care in the world, consider the scene at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Biff drunkenly stumbles over to Marty’s car to beat him up for costing him $300 (you know, by escaping from his own murder and all). When he gets there, he sees Lorraine in the car… and completely forgets his original goal. He tosses Marty to his thug buddies and has them do the job, while he attempts to go for two unforgivable crimes in one week by raping Lorraine.
Whoa, side note… was Biff Tannen chemically castrated in this timeline? That would explain some things in the alternate 1985.
Pictured: Some things.
Okay, let’s put aside the really interesting drug treatment theory that I’ve been frantically searching for in Internet nerd circles and just assume that Biff’s wimpiness in the new 1985 is purely the result of any changes Marty made in 1955. In the old timeline, Biff bullied his way through town like it weren’t no thing, and this resulted in him pushing George around well into adulthood. In the post-Martification timeline, Biff tries to kick George out of Lou’s Cafe and gets socked in the face by “Calvin Klein.” Then he tries to ram him with his car and ends up in a huge pile of shit. Then he tries to rape Lorraine and George practically punches his goddamned jaw off.
This is a Biff that now understands consequences firsthand. And a Biff that understands consequences eventually ceases to be such a dick all the time.
So, in conclusion, Biff’s master plan of evil in Back to the Future is nothing. Biff and the word “plan” have never met. He acts on base instinct and has no regard for cause-and-effect. And aren’t most time travel stories about the subversion of cause-and-effect? Ironically, it takes the past-altering nature of time travel to teach this bully the permanence of his snap decisions.
Seriously, though, service with a smile, or government-issued medroxyprogesterone acetate?