Magical Mondays: Using Magic to Make Drama

Pretty much all shows have some drama, because drama means conflict, and conflict means an interesting story, but drama for the sake of drama aggravates me. For example, if you kill a character and give them a big emotional send off that makes sense with the plot, then great. However, if you then somehow magically bring that character back so that the other characters have to go through the drama of killing them again, that is just drama for the sake of drama and it’s pretty stupid.

Probably the most grievous example of this comes from the TV show Heroes. The writers of Heroes must have hated the character Nathan Petrelli, who has probably died, or at least almost died, about four times. In Season 1, Hiro, a time traveler, travels to the future where he discovers that Nathan, who is now president, was actually murdered by the super-powered serial killer Sylar, who then shape-shifted into him and took his place. Then there is Season 2, when Peter, Nathan’s brother, travels into the future (yeah, this happens a lot), and learns that the immortal Adam has unleashed a deadly virus that killed most of the population, including Nathan. Both dystopian futures are thwarted in the show, but at the end of Season 3 Sylar finally catches up to Nathan and kills him for real this time. You’d think that would be the end of the writers getting off on killing Nathan, but nope, they manage to do it again. When Nathan’s mother realizes what Sylar has done, she captures him and uses Matt, a telepath, to make Sylar think he is actually Nathan. This culminates in a scene where Peter has to literally let his brother fall from a building, which somehow kills Nathan, and only Sylar remains. In other words, Sylar realized who he actually was and Nathan was still dead.

image via mtv

I could have handled the other three deaths. In some ways Nathan’s death is almost like when Finn finally lost his arm in Adventure Time. You’d seen it happen so many times in other realities that finally seeing it in the main timeline was kind of cool and almost prophetic, but with Nathan, the last one was just especially bad. Sylar thinks he is Nathan due to mind control, not because Nathan’s soul is actually in him. So it was ridiculous for Nathan and Peter to have this tearful goodbye and have it seem like this was finally Nathan’s real death. Killing Nathan once to motivate Peter as a character and move the story forward was enough, but why did it have to happen so many times? Ultimately this was just using the characters’ magical super powers to constantly kill Nathan and bring him back, only to kill him again, to cause drama for Peter. Which, again, might have been fine one time, but it just becomes boring and tedious when authors use magic to do this and basically rehash a storyline we thought was dead—pun intended.

In Supernatural, a similar thing occurred when Bobby Singer died. Bobby was given a beautiful death in the episode “On Death’s Door”. It was a well-done and well-written episode and the perfect send off for the long-time character of Bobby, but then Supernatural used magic to screw it up for the sake of more drama. Instead of Bobby just dying, he of course has to come back as a ghost. At first it was kind of cool, because Bobby was helping Sam and Dean from beyond the grave, but inevitably that led to Bobby becoming a vengeful spirit. Which means instead of getting the great send off that Bobby deserved, he starts going kind of evil and Sam and Dean have to exorcise his spirit. Again, this is just using magic to bring a character back for no other purpose than to kill them again. I believe the writers think this adds to the emotional impact, but it is actually just tedious rehashing. I knew the minute that Bobby returned as a ghost that it was going to end badly, with Sam and Dean having to kill him. Perhaps if he had stuck around as a ghost for another season or two, this would have been a little different, but he didn’t, and it all ended up just being pointless with no real bearing on the plot.

One of the things that makes conflict and drama worth anything in a story is consequences for the characters. If characters keep dying and coming back to life, the consequences become meaningless. But if you bring a character back to life just to kill them again a few moments later, that doesn’t only make the consequences meaningless, it also makes the whole emotional impact of their death the first time meaningless. It causes everything about that character’s death and resurrection to be pointless filler to create more drama. So could writers please stop using magic in stories to resurrect people only to kill them again? It would immediately improve a lot of TV shows.


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