Topic: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Note - there are going to be spoilers from a lot of things in here, I bet.  It's going to start with spoilers from Arrow, Sleepy Hollow, and maybe The 100 (although the spoilers from that won't come from me - I don't watch it) - stop now if you don't want to see spoilers for those.  Maybe some Force Awakens considering the revival of the Rey conversation.  But I want to talk about characters dying so there could potentially be spoilers for anything where people die.  Be warned.


So there were a few deaths this week on TV this week.  Abbie Mills died on Sleepy Hollow.  Laurel died on Arrow.  Someone important died on the 100 (there's the spoiler, again I don't watch it so I can't comment but it's included in the discussion).  And in addition to these all being relatively big deaths on genre shows, they all were followed up with a phenomenon that's sorta bizarre to me - the exit of the show by many of its fans.

Television seems to be trying to make moves towards being a more diverse place.  Especially genre shows.  Whether race-swapping certain characters like the Wests on the Flash or simply creating a new character like John Diggle on Arrow, shows are trying to be inclusive of everyone.  And it isn't just race - LGBT characters are showing up more often (Curtis and Sara on Arrow/Legends of Tomorrow, at least one character on The 100, a couple characters on Walking Dead).  And it's all written where it's no big deal.  Because it isn't.  Here's Curtis and here's Curtis' husband is treated just like "here's Curtis and here's Curtis' wife."  It's cool.

But as we add more of these characters, I'm seeing a trend that's a bit bizarre to me.  When any of these characters either die or are talked about potentially dying, there are people who post that they wouldn't watch the show anymore.  There are people who are going to quit watching Sleepy Hollow because Abbie died (not because it might get cancelled or because it isn't as fun as it used to be).  There are people who are going to quit watching Arrow because Laurel died.  There are people that are going to quit watching The 100 because someone died.  When the grave plotline on Arrow was first announced, I thought Diggle might die - I was told by a black friend that he would quit watching if Diggle died.

Clearly, people want to be represented on TV.  And while it's taken way too long and is going much too slowly, I find it a bit odd that some people are getting so upset when certain characters are killed off. 

And I'm just trying to get some clarification as to why it's so important to some people.  Now I completely understand the need for heroes of all races and genders.  Little girls were empowered by Elsa on Frozen and Rey in Force Awakens.  Black Panther, Miles Morales, Luke Cage, the new Asian Hulk, and many other superheroes are inspiring children of color.  And while race-swapping heroes like Johnny Storm, Wally West, Nick Fury and others has been controversial, I think it's good in the long run.  Unless race is essential to some character (as was the argued case in the casting of a white Iron Fist recently), it doesn't really matter if they're black or white.

But as we have more female protagonists and protagonists of color, some of those characters are going to die.  And while it's clearly empowering to have characters like that, why is it equally disheartening when one of the characters is simply treated like a character and killed off?

Because I feel like we're about to get to a weird area where the only characters that are allowed to die are going to be the white male ones.  Shows are going to need diversity, but all those characters are going to be off-limits to any consequences.  Especially in today's social media - driven society where showrunners and fans can interact with each other.

And isn't that a bad thing?  And I mean that in both ways - people watching a show just because it's diverse and people leaving the show because it stopped being diverse?  And in a lot of ways, it doesn't really matter if the show stops being diverse.  I asked my black friend if he'd still stop watching if John Diggle was replaced by Andy Diggle in the main cast - he said he'd still stop.  I asked if he was replaced by both Andy *and* Curtis (making the show more diverse).  He said he'd still stop.  Sleepy Hollow is one of the more diverse genre shows (with five main characters being people of color, three of them being women), and it still affected them. 

Full disclosure - I'm a white male, and I've never had to worry about not being represented on TV.  I never lacked for any white male role models in entertainment.  And keeping in mind any privilege I have, I would just like to know if you guys have any insight on this.  Because to me, a great character on a great show is awesome, no matter who they are.  Male, female, young, old (believe it or not, ireactions), gay, straight, black, white, brown, green, whatever.  And if a great character dies, that sucks.  But I've never quit watching a show because a great character died.  I mean, hell, we all kept watching Sliders as one-by-one, they got rid of 3/4 of our favorite characters.

So what's going on?  Is this phenomenon justified?  Do you see it being a problem in the future if showrunners start protecting certain characters?

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I'm quitting Sleepy Hollow because Abbie is fundamental to the show and a far more interesting character than Ichabod.  It would be like a Sherlock Holmes series killing off Watson.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I don't know.  I don't even know if Abbie is the more interesting of the Mills sisters.  She's a good character, but the actress wanted to leave.  How can you blame the show when their hand was forced?  How do you know that they won't replace her with another character that's just as good?  Or even better?

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I would say that I am not a fan of killing off characters, but it should be considered on a case by case basis. I'll use SUPERNATURAL as an example.

SUPERNATURAL introduced a teenaged character named Kevin Tran. In many ways, Kevin was an audience insertion character -- if a fan of SUPERNATURAL got involved in monster hunting, Kevin's life would be the cynical, grim depiction of this story. Kevin couldn't fight and was always scared and intimidated and a pawn.

SUPERNATURAL also introduced another audience insertion character -- Charlie Bradbury, a comedic hacker girl who regarded the world of SUPERNATURAL with terror, amusement and joy. If a fan of SUPERNATURAL got involved in monster hunting, Charlie's life would be the upbeat, positive depiction: she discovered she had a knack for fighting and researching the paranormal.

Kevin was killed off abruptly. It wasn't the greatest storyline, but I understood it. He couldn't defend himself and the lead characters couldn't protect him 24/7. Death was his only way out. It made sense and it didn't deprive the series of its ability to function.

Charlie was killed off abruptly. It didn't work for me: it diminished Charlie representing a fan who became a capable heroine in her own right and it deprived the series of a character whose comedic perspective and metatextual existence brought light and joy to a dark series. The dramatic benefits of killing Charlie were not worth the cost of doing so. (Informant would disagree; he hated Charlie.)

So, that's my take. Nobody should be 'off-limits,' but there should be a metric applied to possible character deaths before pulling the trigger. Will this death honour the character? Will this death damage the series' ability to use its formula? And also, is this death being thrown in to promote the show with a striking scene for the trailers? Or is it a natural outcome of the story?

I don't watch a lot of shows with character deaths. The shows I watch tend to be driven by their characters -- PARKS AND RECREATION, COMMUNITY -- where it's all about seeing specific people onscreen and depriving the show of them would be negating the series' very reason for existing. If I wanted doom and gloom and misery, I would reread the newspaper.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I don't know. I think that people watch shows for a lot of reasons and if a show is that easy to give up for something like this, maybe they've been on their way out for a long time anyway.

When it comes to Sleepy Hollow, I think the show needs to end. Yes, the actress wanted off the show. Yes, there is still Jenny, who I have always liked more as a character anyway. However, the show was derailed in season 2 and it never recovered. The style of the show changed. The mission of the show changed. The feel of the show changed. I stuck with it through all of that, but the fact is that there were two central characters who were both woven into the basic concept of the show. Without either one of them, the show cannot be what it was supposed to be. Now they're proposing this Charmed scenario where the magic can pass on to some long lost relative, but it doesn't work. The season didn't work. The last episode didn't work. Killing Joe didn't work. I think the show needs to end and Nicole Beharie leaving isn't the reason for that, but it's kinda the straw that broke the camel's back.

I have always liked how Sleepy Hollow handled it's characters. It wasn't about being diverse or empowering women or black people. They treated their characters as characters, and that did more good than all of the agenda-driven diversity on TV.

Wally West... I'm more upset about them changing him in the comics than on TV. They really didn't have a choice about his race on the TV show, since Joe and Iris are black (though they could have played Iris as bi-racial, I supposed). That said, if diversity and representation are so important, I have to wonder why it's the redheads who are always tossed in this scenario. Wally West, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang... it seem like only the villains and the bullies get to remain redheads. I'm not super serious mad about that, but if the name of the game is diversity, it seems odd. A lot of redheads have been bullied because of their hair (what a stupid sentence to write, but it is true). Yet, when was the last time you saw Jimmy Olsen with red hair in live action? Never.

I don't believe in race swapping, sexuality swapping or gender swapping for the sake of diversity. I think it says more to introduce great new characters than to simply throw "groups" a bone by swapping out an established character with a long history. It's one thing to cast someone because they're the best person to play this role on screen (and again, I like the casting of Joe and Iris on The Flash, so it's fine) but to just decide to make someone a new race out of nowhere is silly.

In one of my book, I use the term "my pet gay" to refer to the untouchable, infallible gay characters who are treated as though they have a mental disability (everyone is super nice and all smiles) because they are gay. The idea that a character should be above being human because they need to represent a certain group in a positive light is stupid.

Basically, I'm against diversity for the sake of preaching. I want good characters who are good characters, and I don't care what color their skin is or who they kiss. I have no white guilt that I need to resolve, so if they want to impress me, it better be in the quality of the work, not the diversity on the screen.

And yes, I hated Charlie! She wasn't a fan-insertion character, she was indulgent fanfic who brought down the other characters around her so that she could appear to be a stronger character than she was. There are so many better female characters on the show, and I'm glad they killed her off. I'm GLAD! Do you hear me?! smile

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I don't know much about Sleepy Hallow but I can talk about killing characters. Game of Throne seem to lead the pack in this grim category.
I'm tired of seeing the "good" guys get killed while many baddies seem to prosper.  Although this is changing as I speak...

Game of Thrones season 5 I would say was my least favorite. There were some scenes of rape and extreme brutality that were not in the book and I just thought they went too far.

Now as for the "good"  any scene with Daenyrys (Emelia Clark) in it are always worth watching the show.

I loved the Sand Snakes and just wish they could have had more screen time.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Game of Thrones is a great example.  Crowd favorites die in that series all the time, but I guess there hasn't been too many times where "if you kill X, I'll stop watching."  There were clearly some big deaths, but for the most part, many of the more beloved characters have been safe (with one, recent and big exception).

What's odd to me is the idea that you trusted the show to create your favorite character, but you stop watching when that character goes away.  Wouldn't you trust that they could create a character just as good as the first one?  Or, again, even better?  For example, people were sad when Charlie died on LOST.  But Charlie leaving allowed more screen time for Desmond, who seemed even more beloved.  Or allowed for the entrance of the freighter science crew who were pretty cool.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

In the case of Sleepy Hollow, the people who created the show are not the same ones who are running it now.  So, no, I don't trust them to create a character as good as they one they killed.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Well, I'm curious how she's "fundamental to the show."  This whole time were you watching a bad show with a great character or a bad show that stumbled upon a great character?  In your eyes, did the new people "ruin" Abbie before she died?  Or is her character so great that anyone could write for her, but now that she's gone, there's no way they can write anything as well as Abbie?

I'm honestly curious because that's just not the reason why I watch certain things.  Great characters are an attraction, but they've never been *the* attraction.  Of all the characters on Sliders, I think we can agree that Rembrandt started off as the worst (he developed more as the show went on, but he was the least developed at the beginning).  He's the only one who made it.  None of the later characters were any better than Rembrandt was at his worst.

So the top 3 characters were all killed off, all in a somewhat-insulting way, and they were all replaced by worse (and in some cases, much worse) characters.  And yet I watched all 88 episodes.  Because, at the end of the day, I liked the premise of the show.  And I liked the premise of the show before I'd met any of the characters.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Sleepy Hollow had a lot of cool characters (horrible writing, but strong cast), but Ichabod and Abbie were the entire premise of the show. They were the Witnesses who were the two people who were born to stand up to apocalyptic forces. Without the Witnesses, there is no plot to the show. They're just spinning Ichabod off.

Now, they're trying to spin it by making it a slayer-like situation where the Witness title passes on to someone else, but that doesn't jive with what the show had established up to this point. It's like Charmed where a 4th sister suddenly appeared so that there could still be three sisters after one died.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Well, that sorta goes along with the whole premise of this.  Is a show where the two primary characters have to be invincible any better?  I mean the answer to that can be "yes" - it's happened tons of times.  I just think the premise of the show, as it was sold to me before I watched it, was more about Crane.  He's an out-of-time guy in modern US, fighting monsters that have connections to him.  Abbie is a better character, and the premise grew into the whole "two witnesses" thing.  But I wasn't offended at the idea that there could be multiple witnesses (otherwise, wouldn't the entire universe be banking on Ichabod and Abbie never dying?), and I think the idea of a secret US department of the supernatural could end up being cool.

And if Jenny ends up being the second witness, she's a great character too.  They've added the Mills father and the FBI agents if they want, or they can make it just Ichabod and Jenny with new supporting characters if they want.  They can do a soft reboot.

If it gets renewed at all.  I'm not saying I love the show.  But I didn't tune in just for Abbie or even just Abbie/Ichabod.  They were  a cool pair, but I think there's a show beyond them.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Should I rename this the SLEEPY HOLLOW thread? (Just want to ask.)

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Hah, I hope not.

I mean Sleepy Hollow is a great example, but I'm genuinely curious about watching a show for one specific character.  Are there any shows where if X is killed, you'd stop watching?  I literally can't think of an example.  Even if Barry was killed and they replaced him with Wally, I'd give the show a chance (and Barry is awesome and Wally has zero characterization/charisma so far).

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Yeah, Sleepy Hollow is just an example. I don't think that the people ditching the show now are necessarily doing it just because they killed off Abbie. I think it goes deeper than that.

I don't really watch shows for just one character, and I usually wouldn't give one up just because someone died. I think that a well done death is great material to work with. Lost did it all the time, and it always mattered. Even when it wasn't as much of a shock anymore, it was always sad to see someone die.

I don't think that Laurel should have been killed off on Arrow. I think that in a lot of ways, it was a mistake to kill Tommy. It was great drama, but they keep looking for ways to bring him back into the show and they really can't (though I'd be cool with seeing him as Earth-2's Dark Archer). They weren't done with that character. But on the flip side, they brought back Malcolm when they shouldn't have and he has been sucking life out of the show for years now.
The problem with Arrow isn't that Laurel died, but that so little thought seems to be put into any part of the story anymore. If there isn't much else for people to connect with on the show, I can understand why her death would be the last straw. Especially with the comments made by the producer.

Jadzia Dax was a great character on DS9. The actress was leaving, but asked producers not to kill her off. They did anyway. However, it wasn't a cheap move. It wasn't petty. It was war and to show someone we knew and love die (even in a stupid way) meant something. With that show, there was enough good to balance out the bruised feelings of losing that character.

As for Sliders... I'm still not sure why we all stuck with it for so long. The basic premise was great, but there was so little that lived up to it. I guess we were always holding out hope.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Yeah, Charlie was killed off in Season 3, 
Its funny how nobody seems to talk about or care to remember 'LOST" these days. The show was a big fan favorite the first 3-4 seasons then it became...lost?  I for one only want to remember the show as it was (season 1-4) and forget the final two seasons and the two and a half hours   finale.  I and many others will never get those 2.5 hours back....

As for Game of Thrones, I liked Stannis, he was somewhat of  an asshole but he was the last of the "Five Kings" still alive.... going to miss him and his ...

I was glad the Sand Snakes were not killed off and since I do not get HBO and will have to wait many months before watching Season 6, that being said I would think that the writers have closed the chapter on them.  The fight between them and Jaime and Bron was thrilling to watch (even though it does not take place in the book!)

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I'm still a Lost fan. I rewatch the series every so often and it is still one of the shows that I count among the greats. I liked the whole series. Even the finale.

Can I never agree with anyone about anything?!

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I loved LOST.  Still do.  I haven't gone back and watched much of it since it ended, but I thought the finale was great.  I actually saw an article today about the writers admitting that they made stuff up as they went along.  And you know what, that's fine.  Because to me, the show *started* as a collection of awesome mysteries, but by the end of the show, I didn't care about the Monster or the Island or the polar bear or any of that stuff.  I genuinely cared about Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Jin and Sun and all the other characters, and I loved the flashbacks and flashforwards and flash-sideways.

LOST came down to one fact - if you cared about the characters more than the mysteries, you liked it.  If you cared about the mysteries more than the characters, you were disappointed. 

It isn't the best show I've ever seen, but I still think it's my favorite.  No show ever got me as excited to watch, and nothing has come close since.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I didn't have any unanswered questions, really.

One problem, I think, is that the show was a push and pull between science and faith. Like Battlestar Galactica, the finale and a lot that led up to it had less to do with science and more to do with faith. To me, it makes sense. To the people who want hard science to explain everything, it didn't make sense.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Well, I don't mean "unanswered questions" as much as "poorly answered questions" - if you waited six years to find out that the Island was special because of some sort of mystical light/water that must be protected....that's probably a waste of time.

However, I was so invested in the characters at that point that it didn't matter to me anymore.  There could've been an army of clowns on stationary bikes in that cave, and I wouldn't have thought any less of it.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I think the problem with Lost was that the writers got to going and never wanted to end it. After season 4 they should have been thinking of tying up the loose ends and giving closure.  At the time, they claimed that the ridiculous ending was as they had envisioned it but later, they have gone on record as admitting that they had painted themselves in a corner and had no idea how to get out of it.

As for Battlestar Galectica, I saw that ending coming about a year early. The foreshadowing had basically tipped their hand and I was not surprised to find that they were not our descendants but instead our ancestors. I thought that it was brilliant. The human religion set the basis for the Greek and Roman beliefs while the Ceylon religion (and with the human converts including Baltar) was the basis for Judeo-Christianity.

Saying goodbye to some characters, I found the execution of Gaeta  somewhat disturbing, Callie's murder was upsetting, while
I hated to see Boomer die (she had been a favorite, the fact she was killed by one of her duplicates, Athena made no difference)
I was never clear as to the faith of Kara (Starbuck). Was she an angel of sorts? 

All in all I found the finale satisfying, unlike that ABC show that ran for six years about plane crash survivors...

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

One of my favourite comic book serieses is WITCHBLADE. It's also one of the worst comics ever made -- or it was until the publisher finally hired an actual writer to script it. WITCHBLADE came out during the comic book bad girl craze, featuring a homicide detective, Sara Pezzini, who finds a magical gauntlet called the Witchblade which responds to her thoughts, forms organic armour, fires blades and flames, can telepathically link to others and form various constructs (weapons, shields, climbing apparatus). It was mostly a fetish comic written for an audience who liked to see half-naked women and tormented, long-haired men whining about shallow emotional problems in juvenile prose.

I'd dismissed WITCHBLADE as empty fetish material until Ron Marz, one of my favourite writers, started scripting the series, at which point I went back and re-read all the (awful) material before his debut. In the pre-Marz issues, the comic attempted to create some buzz by allowing readers to vote in a death pool where they could vote for characters to be safe or to potentially be killed off until only one unlucky character would be left in the pool. There was no storytelling function served by teasing a death and letting the audience vote on it, nor was it originated from the stories themselves -- it was simply to create empty hype. What it did, instead, was communicate how little the people writing this comic cared about their stories or characters in any way.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

That's how I feel about the Laurel Lance death this year! The writers did it to get attention and get some internet buzz about who was in the grave, but it was really just empty hype which they eventually had to resolve. But the death had nothing to do with story or purpose. It was cheap.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

I agree. Now that the whole story is out, it's clear the ARROW writing staff decided to kill SOMEONE and then chose their victim afterwards. It results in a story that feels artificial and unnatural because the writers have decided someone will die before knowing if they've set up a story that actually justifies or requires a death. They also engineered a situation where it was impossible for that death to come naturally from the story because they didn't settle on who would die until as late in the season as possible.

The weird thing is that I don't think they were far from getting it right -- if they had decided from the first episode that Laurel was to die, they could have built up an entire run of episodes where the conflict between Laurel's legal exploits and her vigilante exploits is building to terrible consequences and those consequences turn out to be her death. Instead, all that stuff was abruptly thrown into one episode because it was only with this one specific episode that the writers had finally made a choice.

I disliked the Laurel character intensely in Season 1 but came to appreciate her reworking in Seasons 2 - 4. I don't object to the death or even the circumstances of her death -- I just disliked how, because of the improvised, open-ended approach, there was nothing to make sure that Laurel's story and Laurel's death dovetailed until the very episode in which it happened. It's kind of artless. On some level, I think the writers were operating from the view that death is often random; there aren't always clues, there isn't always build-up, so it'd be fine. But it makes the story feel like it's being engineered from the outside in and without much thought or care, specifically due to how the random nature of the writing is reflected in the random feel of the storytelling.

I don't hate it as much as you did, but I certainly can't defend it.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

On the subject of favorites being killed off:
I never understood why "Homeland" killed Nick Brody in Season 3. His relationship with Carrie was a cornerstone of the show and I found myself wondering ;"What are we gonna do now?"

The last two seasons in Pakistan and then Germany were just "okay" but it is so glaringly obvious that the show is missing something.  gravitas?  Seeing the actor, Damian Lewis on "Billions" is interesting. 

I was surprised when Sons of Anarchy killed Tara. To off her in the next to last season (and the savagery of her murder) was very upsetting.  I think the show lost a lot when she left.  Maggie Siff is a good actress and she has resurfaced also on Billions.  I never tire of watching her.

And as for enjoying watching certain performers, I have to tip my hat to Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black. It is so much fun seeing her play all those characters.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

It's like they wanted to play it as random, but they also didn't. Within the episode, they have Laurel holding her mask and saying "One last time..." which made it quite clear who was going to die.

They had more natural options for the death, bit they backed away because they didn't want to upset fangirls too much, and for some reason they viewed Laurel/Black Canary fans as a vocal minority.

I am all for sudden, tragic death. But it can't feel cheap when it happens.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Killing Tara on Sons of Anarchy was a mistake. In one scene, they killed every character that I actually cared about. The last season was just me hoping that everyone would die, and not caring much when they did.

Orphan Black is good, but is still say that Anna Torv from Fringe was the best at playing multiple characters on one show. The nuance was brilliant.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

KerrAvon wrote:

On the subject of favorites being killed off:
I never understood why "Homeland" killed Nick Brody in Season 3. His relationship with Carrie was a cornerstone of the show and I found myself wondering ;"What are we gonna do now?"

See, I had the opposite reaction to that...I thought killing Brody was way overdue.  I thought his storyline had run its course, and it was time for him to go.  When someone is on the run like that, an international fugitive, they can't just let him get back to a normal life.  The show was bending over backward to keep him on the show, and it was going to suffer.

Re: Race, Gender, and Character: Why We Watch

Informant said: Killing Tara on Sons of Anarchy was a mistake. In one scene, they killed every character that I actually cared about. The last season was just me hoping that everyone would die, and not caring much when they did.

I agree with you. the show lost a lot when Tara died and I just didn't care much by the final season either. As for Juice, I think his demise was long overdue.

It always intrigued me how Blakes 7 just killed everyone in the finale.  I thought Sons was going to go that route.

One character I always wanted to die a horrible death and never did was that annoying asshole, Miles from the final seasons of Lost. The writers must have really liked that jackass for them not to kill such a worthless character. Matter of fact, I hated most people from the freighter  (Farady, the annoying red headed chick and Miles, the only one that was likable was the drunken helicopter pilot)

You are spot on with Anna Torv, her acting precludes Tatians's.