James Bond and the Competence Kink

Bond. James Bond. The action hero who requires no introduction, Bond’s oft-quoted character became a cultural icon in the early 1960s and remains omnipresent. After seeing For Your Eyes Only, a film that appears comically outdated today, I was smitten with Bond from the start. When Octopussy was released, its title’s salacious nod sailed right over my naïve head. Instead, I delighted in Bond’s never-ending list of talents. Unfailingly competent, Bond’s expertise mesmerized me.

The man can do everything, all while wearing a perfectly pressed tuxedo and quaffing the Vesper martini he popularized. Bond is a sharp-shooter, charmer, assassin, racecar driver, Olympic-caliber skier, pilot, speedboat racer, Parkour hotshot, scuba diver, rock climber, train jumper, gambler, skydiver, tech whiz, motorcyclist, and master of disguise.

James Bond and the Competence Kink

Admiring highly skilled people isn’t just a thing; it’s a fiction trope called the “competence kink.” The term refers to the thrill of watching talented people plan, banter, and work together to solve problems. Definitions of it vary, and some commentators discount expertise in physical violence, which would disqualify Bond, a professional assassin. However, if we grant him a pardon for his career choice, he wields an astonishing array of skills, and his extraordinary competence throughout 007’s action-packed saga never disappoints.

I always assumed “kinks” were of the BDSM variety, involving raunchy porn, safe words, weird fetishes involving feet, or perhaps gerbils. In short, unusual predilections you’d never discuss in polite company. Au contraire.

Over time, the characters who intrigued me the most weren’t the muscled giants sporting a six-pack larger than a Sub-Zero refrigerator. If granted a laminated list of heroes, I’d choose Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Fox Mulder from the television series The X-Files. While both fit and attractive, each is known for professional expertise. Jones is a renowned archaeology professor, and Mulder works as an FBI criminal profiler. Resourceful and clever, each man survives formidable enemies, despite preferring intellectual banter to physical confrontation.

This brings me to The Unexpected Hostage. Initially, I set out to write a pure thriller, but when adding a love interest for Tess, I wanted her to find a brilliant partner with a moral compass. Tess, a talented executive, proves unexpectedly resourceful in the face of danger due to her rigorous upbringing by her Marine father. Dr. Mark Nygaard, an outstanding surgeon, recently served with a humanitarian organization in war-torn Ukraine modeled after Doctors Without Borders. Rejecting traditional gender roles, Tess quickly escalates to physical violence and takes charge when she sees fit, whereas Mark avoids conflict. Despite clashing over how to escape, Tess and Mark are experts in their respective fields and respect each other.

After finishing my book, I saw No Time to Die, the twenty-fifth blockbuster movie in the Bond franchise, sixty years after it began. Given Bond’s notorious one-night stands with beautiful “Bond girls” too vapid to live, I never considered him a romantic hero. However, the bubble-headed Bond bimbettes have disappeared from the franchise, replaced by increasingly intelligent, capable women. In No Time to Die, Bond encounters Nomi and Paloma, talented female operatives who showcase badass combat skills to rival his own. Each woman rejects him sexually, a turning of the tables which bemuses him.

Earlier Bond films portray him as a wise-cracking womanizer, but Daniel Craig’s serious, world-weary spy marks a dramatic evolution. Armed with a license to kill, Bond has killed many, but he also loses every person he ever loved or respected. Weathered and mortal, he finally develops depth and a degree of self-actualization.

As a wounded hero, Dr. Mark Nygaard couldn’t be more different from Bond. Driven to save lives at the cost of his welfare, Mark abhors violence and fights to heal traumatic war injuries. Multiple personal losses have damaged him, and the cumulative trauma of working in a war zone intensified his weariness. He’s human and fallible but highly skilled and calm in the face of danger. The combination of his competence and kindness attracts Tess and proves irresistible.

In The Unexpected Hostage, the relationship between Tess and Mark brings gravity to story’s action and takes an unflinching look at how people recover from an unthinkable tragedy. What happens after the fire trucks and ambulances leave the crisis and everyone goes home? Surviving disaster is only the first step—healing from loss and risking the vulnerability to love again takes courage. Tess and Mark’s struggle to battle their personal demons mirrors Bond’s realization in No Time to Die when he finds opening his heart to love and allowing himself to become vulnerable is the most dangerous mission of all.

Bond’s cliffhanger keeps us guessing, but we can hope Tess and Mark both survive and ultimately celebrate their healing together, perhaps with a Vesper martini.

Photo by cottonbro.