To Kill or Not to Kill? – When Should A Show Kill Off Its Cast?

Death is meaningless. People can try to draw meaning from the end of a person’s life by doing something worthwhile afterwards, but the death itself means nothing. It is the ending of one’s life, either from what society would consider natural causes, or a random catastrophe that can come in the form of disease, nature, or a gun wielding maniac. Death is everywhere, and it’s always just something that happens to people, but when it is written about, suddenly things are very different. In real life, if it happens from something like cancer, it’s just a random stupid tragedy the universe doled out for no reason on someone that didn’t need to go, but when you write about death, it always has meaning, because whether you meant to or not, you wanted to convey something through your writing. You may have been trying to demonstrate that death itself has no meaning by writing a meaningless death, or maybe you just wanted to say something about the character that died in general, either way, death always means something when it’s written about. It’s almost a strategic tool writers have, because it can be used in a variety of ways, but I fear people may be missing that fact when they talk about it in Television.

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The Answer is Suffering

“You go to the movies to see people you love suffer-that’s why you go to the movies.”

This is a quote from Joss Whedon, a writer, director, composer, and the crowned “Lord of the Nerds”. He is behind some of the biggest movie and TV franchises of all time (he directed The Avengers and created Buffy the Vampire Slayer), with several of his works developing dedicated cult followings. This is a striking quote that caused a lot of fans anticipating The Avenger‘s sequel to raise an eyebrow, and anyone whose watched Buffy, Angel, or some of his other shows should already have had some inclination that this was his mindset when it comes to creating stories. He kills character we love, he builds up hope for a certain thing to happen with the sole intent of shattering it, and he does not always provide us with happy endings. The most common criticism against Whedon is that he ventures too often into dark territory. That he relishes in cruelty for cruelty’s sake, and loves to punish his audience for loving his characters. I would argue that Whedon is doing the opposite of that, and that suffering is the key element in every story. By forcing characters to go through despair, he connects us with their world. Whedon isn’t punishing us for liking his characters, he is connecting the audience to their lives by sharing the most intimate thing they have: Their pain.

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