Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Death, death, so much death

Apparently, at the start of the TV season, everyone decided it was time for some killin'. Maybe all of these sundry producers should have talked to each other. Because it's starting to seem like overkill.

Spoilers, obviously, follow.

T
H
E
S
E

A
R
E

T
H
E

S
P
O
I
L
E
R
S
!

So, anyway, tonight, both Alias and Lost killed two characters. In the case of Alias, both were former regulars. In the case of Lost, one was someone purported to be a MAJOR character, and the other was a main character we knew basically nothing about. Airing as the shows do, one after the other, it felt like some gruesome plan on the part of ABC to torment us.

On the one hand, so many shows killing so many characters (neither of these shows can compare to the bloodbath on 24 this year and in the season premiere of The Sopranos) raises the stakes. When Foreman got sick on House, you couldn't reasonably say he'd pull out of it, even though House is the sort of show that would NEVER kill a character (because, of course, NCIS killed a character last year, and it's also the sort of show that would NEVER kill a character). And, what's more, we've been told that many, many more shows are going to kill characters by the end of the year.

But at what point does it become too much?

I think it will become too much pretty soon. Any time your viewers expect you to do something, you should aim to not do that. If I were Lost, a show which has killed off four characters in two seasons (and some spoilers say one of the women shot tonight may survive), I would go OUT OF MY WAY to not kill any major characters in season three. Because such deaths would no longer be shocking, there needs to be a brief respite. Then, deaths in season four would become that much more shocking.

But what do I know?

I think that the rampant deaths on TV are a way of responding to the uncertainty of the world. In the old days, you didn't kill someone above the title unless they wanted to leave the show. But Sopranos killed Big Pussy, and then 24 killed Jack Bauer's wife. Before that, it was good enough to just kill a recurring character (like Buffy's mom or Mrs. Landingham on West Wing). After that, the stakes rose considerably.

But eventually, the stakes are going to raise TOO high. And where will you go after that, oh TV producers of the land?

Obviously, there's going to be a show that kills off its lead at some point, and that seems the logical ending point. Once that happens, killing main characters may very well join chirpy music and will they/won't they in the "things I hate about TV file.

7 comments:

Moses said...

Interestingly, one of the reasons why I was so shocked by Lost's death(s) tonight was because we just had one earlier so recently. I figured we'd lose a character NEXT season, but not now, especially one(s) that was/were still so ingrained into the plot.

David Sims said...

SSSPOILERZ

I'm reading that A-L was cooked up as a one-season character from the start. If so, alrighty then (I'm willing to take Cuse/Lindelof at their word). Libby was such a non-entity that she was in fact who I predicted to go, although her single mystery does need to be resolved (but does she even need to be alive to have it resolved?). Lost does seem to have more undercooked women than men. I can't think of one male character the show could lose without significant outcry. But it'll definitely get away with the Shannon/Ana-Lucia/Libby trifecta of death.

I hope, too, that TV shows ease up a little on the killin'. I think Edgar biting the dust on 24 was a significant mistake. I don't watch Alias, but as that show is ending, it's hardly surprising that they'd dispatch characters. But yeah, major character deaths should be few and far between. You should be able to mark X's death as a significant point in a series. How many Lost-watchers still even remember Boone and Shannon existing?

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Yeah. The very first press releases announcing MR joining the Lost cast said she was joining FOR THE SECOND SEASON. That language was scrubbed from later releases, but I was waiting for her death (or kidnapping) all season long.

And I thought the Edgar death was at least dramatically interesting. It wasn't just death for death's sake, like Tony (even if his story was "over").

David Sims said...

Ah, see, I thought Edgar's death was 'for death's sake' and it detracted from what should have been a more powerful, dramatic exit for Tony. Basically, I don't think both of them should have gone, certainly not in concurrent episodes.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Edgar's death gave many other cast members something to play for a few episodes (Rajskub in particular). Tony's death was sort of shuttled off into the background as inconvenient.

Also, Edgar's death was the first since the premiere. I think in many ways, it made the ensuing panic over the nerve gas attack that much more interesting.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

And, for what it's worth, the episode where Boone died still stands as a highlight of Lost to me.

To be sure, the Jack flashbacks were getting tiresome, but the whole central conceit of Jack all-but-torturing Boone to save him was powerfully done.

It was one of their Emmy tapes too!

David Sims said...

Do No Harm is one of my favorite Lost episodes, without a doubt. The episode run of Outlaws - In Translation - Numbers - Deus Ex Machina - Do No Harm in the latter half of the season is pretty fabulous, IMO. Definitely Jack's best episode flashback-wise, too.