The Death of Major Television Characters: Does it Propel a Story Forward by Opening Doors, or Does It Slowly Mark the Death Knell of a Fantastic TV Show?
Is it me, or has this proliferation of using key character deaths to move storylines forward been overdone and needs to be nixed from this point forward? In my mind, it all started with “LOST.” I mean, who has not been shocked and disturbed at how easily “LOST” has killed off primary characters season after season? Or perhaps it began with the death of Jack Bauer’s wife, Terry in Season 1 of “24.” Either way, somewhere along the line television writers decided that it was the cool thing to do by killing off major characters right smack in the middle of a television series.
As a viewer, nothing ticks me off more. It shows so little respect for the affection, time and energy that I (as a fan) have invested in these characters. After all, I devote an hour (or more) a week of my time to slavishly devote myself to watching their show. Should they not reward me for this commitment and sacrifice of my time? I mean, if I were at work, my time would have to be compensated. My job cannot just make me sit there at their leisure without some reward (e.g., an hourly salary). But, in the television industry, I think they are taking us, the viewers and fans, for granted. They just figure they can blow-up, strangle, eat, or kill off any one of our beloved characters (without notice) and we will still continue to watch their show. Such naïveté is astounding!
I mean, in this past 2008-2009 television season, “Desperate Housewives” killed off Edie Britt, George O’Malley was killed off on “Grey’s Anatomy” and Jimmy Olsen was killed off on “Smallville” – all fan favorites. (And do not even get me started on the death of Kutner on “House” – which I will only forgive because Kal Penn got his dream job in real-life to work at The White House, so I cannot really blame the guy.)
But, as a viewer, the answer is a resounding: NO! I do not like or appreciate having major characters killed off. After all, they are the reason we tune in week after week to watch these shows. We want to spend time with these characters. Watching these characters die is NOT the reason I watch TV. In fact, it makes me assess why the I am even watching the show in the first place. At what point is the line crossed and I say “enough” and stop watching the show? Looking back, I find it IS usually after the death of a character that I find I cannot watch the show without them and do stop watching.
One good such example is the British television show “Primeval.” I think they have just crossed the line. They had the audacity to kill of the lead character, Nick Cutter! It strikes me as sheer stupidity to kill off the primary character of a hot primetime TV show. After all, the show did not kill off a mere second hand lieutenant, like the character Steven in “Primeval’s” 2nd season. They dared to kill off Nick Cutter, the main guy – this was the guy who started it all – the guy who introduced us to our characters and made them a team. That was the primary reason we all watched this hodge-podge group of people – they invited us to be a part of their “family” – a special team who chased dinosaurs in modern day England.
In Season 1, they pulled an alternate-reality switch in order to turn one character into another: Nick Cutter’s love-interest Claudia Brown vanished in a “butterfly effect” when the timeline was slightly modified, only to have the same actress resurface as a different character. Then in Season 2, they had Steven, the right-hand lieutenant, sacrifice himself to save the entire team. It was heart-breaking and poignant – and ultimately forgivable. But now, I find myself thinking that this is “it” – the point of no return. How dare they seek to kill off the one character you are not supposed to kill off?!!! Such arrogance and delusion is perhaps unforgivable.
I mean, are we truly a society where only the young and beautiful are allowed to “live” on television shows. Must the older adults (and who said that anyone over 35 was “old”?) be killed off to make room for the younger and more attractive actors? I don’t buy it. I took a distinct liking to “Primeval” BECAUSE it felt like a family. Nick Cutter was the “dad” who took everyone under wing and mentored and looked out for them. To kill him off to make room for the younger actors is wrong.
An analogy would be to compare it with the TV show “NCIS” which also uses the patriarchy formula to create a successfully working family-unit under the brilliant leadership of a charismatic male lead/father figure. Would “NCIS” even be watchable without Gibbs carefully grooming and watching over Tony and Ziva? It would not make any sense to kill-off Gibbs and just focus episodes on Tony and Ziva’s characters. The family unit is the key to success on that show and the show creators and writers of “NCIS” are very careful to preserve the shows carefully crafted character chemistry and balance.
Or another example would be the TV show “Smallville”: Do they kill off Clark Kent and Lois Lane to make way so that Jimmy and Chloe can carry on with the story? Again, the answer is a resounding: NO. The story is about Clark Kent and his lady love and the adventures they have with their made-up television family, which consists of Jimmy, Chloe, Oliver and all the rest of their friends. Never does the show stop and think, let’s kill off Clark Kent and focus on the younger generation. The story just does not work that way.
Another example of a show that has perhaps foolishly killed off lead characters is the show “Torchwood” – perhaps a bit more analogous for the British folk. It was a huge risk to kill of two of the five principal characters at the end of its second season. But, as we are on the brink of Season 3 being broadcast in July, I am not even sure the show will recover from the loss of two integral “family” members of the core Torchwood team. But, never in a million years, would they ever dream of killing off John Barrowman’s character, Captain Jack. To do so would be the death knell of “Torchwood.”
So in my mind, for this avid sci-fi viewer, “Primeval” fails if it perceives itself as solely a show about the dinosaurs and that the humans are merely expendable background characters.
So I posit to you: has the death knell sounded for “Primeval”? Does the death of Nick Cutter spell the doom for a show that has callously ripped its own heart out?
One thought on “Pin-Pointing When PRIMEVAL Sounded Its Death Knell (2009)”
I think you’re right about Primeval. Its super sad seeing as it had a lot of great potential, but the supporting character’s just aren’t strong enough to carry the show. By taking out Cutter, they’re basically ripping out the backbone.
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