Savage seasons: a little whingeing on TV character exits, cliffhangers, and gutwrenchers 2014-15

I’m grateful to have a very full life, so actually watch much fewer TV shows and movies and read far far fewer books than I’d like. But when I want to escape into other worlds and decompress from my own (though sometimes these other worlds leave me more agitated than I’d been before I tuned in), there are some worlds and families that I dutifully reconnect with, and often binge-watch, when I can.

I don’t know if I’m more tired than usual, or if the breakup, death and character exit count has been higher this last year in my favourite shows than normal, but I found a little beleaguered after last season, and I found myself compelled to wonder about a number of things. Things like what it means to commit to watching serialised programming like TV, which in many ways requires a greater investment than watching a stand-alone movie or a novel without any sequels (even with movie and book sequels, they’re generally finite in number, not sometimes reaching into the dozens and hundreds). Things like how attached, as a result of that investment, we often become to characters and situations that we literally invest hours and hours of our life in, the outcome of which we — against all reason and logic — we become attached to. Things like techniques writers and producers use in this age of impatience, viewing on demand, spoiler-full interwebs, viral story leaks, and shortened attention spans to keep viewers engaged and protect their storylines and their brands. Things like viewers being collateral damage when actors and producers fall out, or when an actor (quite rightly) feels like they need to move on from a serialised TV character lest they become known for that and only that character forever.

I’ll single out the TV shows that most bummed me out this year, from least bummy to most bummy. And I’ll whinge a little. Or a lot.

Position number one goes to The Good Wife and the exit of everyone’s favourite PI, Kalinda Sharma. News of her departure broke long before the end of the season, so at least this wasn’t a complete shocker, for which I’m grateful. They also opted to keep Kalinda alive and just have her character sail away to parts unknown, leaving the door open for her return should it ever be desired. I also appreciate (like I did for Grey’s Anatomy when the beloved Cristina Yang left at the end of the 2013-14 season…but more on Grey’s in a moment!) that the writers seemed to carefully plot the send-off, thoughtfully and lovingly, in a way that allowed viewers to “feel the feels” but still feel like it was OK. Though, of course, no matter how tastefully or gracefully or gently a character is given their on-screen send-off, there will still be some people for whom that is not enough because, well, they still want to see the character on the show, and they’ll just throw their toys out of the pram and threaten not to watch the show again, which of course is also their prerogative. Cristina’s and Kalinda’s exits, however, were not reason for me to stop watching either show, which I’ve been watching since the beginning.

And on the topic of Grey’s… This show, now going into its 12th year, is one that I actually still watch. And despite the later success of Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, I still feel this is still the best of the shows that Ms. Rhimes produces or writers. As much as I love Viola Davis, I’m not sure I’ll be watching HTGAWM next year, and Scandal hasn’t felt rewarding to me this last season. One of the other areas of disappointment or mild frustration is that the Olitz phenomenon is long played out for me, and mah boy Jake looks to be riding out. So I’ll check out the commentaries next season on those two and see whether to pick them back up and binge-watch then their couple dozen episodes are up in 2016. But back to Grey’s.

We were warned. We were. She said the show’s two big, longstanding, plane-crash PSTD-ing couples were marked for potential breakup this year: Mer-Der (who she claimed were almost certain would make it); and Cal-Zona (who she said had a 50-50 chance). In pretty short order Cal-Zona were in break-up land. And then Derek went AWOL. And rumours began flying of trouble on the set between the EP and Mr. Dempsey. And then, in what felt like a hasty move that was in turns heavy-handed, callous, and poignant, Mr. Dempsey’s character — who’d been there and romancing Meredith since season one some 11 years ago — was summarily killed off. Even the episodes after seemed to rush to eliminate all traces of Dempsey’s much-loved character with as much haste as possible.

The choice to kill him off so abruptly (not to mention the particular situations it left his wife, kids, and family members in) might have been dramatic catalysts for writers and actors, but are tough to swallow for viewers. The question always comes: couldn’t he have been written off so that he remained (as he had been) in Washington doing groundbreaking Alzheimer’s research? Couldn’t they have been estranged, or divorced? Nearly died? In a coma? (Cliché, yes, but no less cliché than an over-the-top death…) Not the same bold dramatic impetus of a death, but still enough that decent writing and strong dramatic arcs can be crafted from it. Ms. Rhimes’ death count on Grey’s is high, one of my biggest reservations with the show — unnecessarily high, it often seems. So while unlike militant fans who vent on the show’s Facebook page every week about the offing of McDreamy, I’ll continue watching — as the show will likely end within the next year or two, and hell, I’ve come this far —and it’s still, I think, Shonda’s best. Plus, with any luck, if Cal-Zona don’t manage to reunite and give us all some on-screen hope for the resilience of longterm relationships and enduring love, at least maybe I can see mah girl Callie happy. As a musical theatre geek, I’ve been a big fan of Sara Ramirez’s for years. So of course that makes me much more invested in her fictional character’s happiness and endgame on the show than I should be. 😉

So, more deaths and cliffhangers. Namely: Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black and Orphan Black. I have to confess, I was kinda hoping to see Lorraine Toussaint back for OITNB. And in a way they kind of left it kind of open as to the possibility that she might just have escaped that hit and run. As Toussaint said, she’s dead; but is she dead-dead? Nevertheless, the season skipped along and dropped one of my favourite characters within the first three eps (Nicki, come back from Max!). And then in the final episode (which was otherwise so beautifully done, as the characters escaped to the lake, at least for a few moments in the sun!), my other girl Alex found herself in a potentially life-threatening position. No stabbing, no shooting, not body, so I’m hoping for the best with this one, that Alex manages to get herself out of this in tact and get some damn help. I wish I could say the same for my other two stabby-shooty shows. *frowns with disapproval*

I’m holding out hope that despite Jon Snow (GoT) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (OB) taking multiple stab wounds and a gunshot to the gut, respectively, that they aren’t really dead. I mean, those two characters are critical to their shows, no? Isn’t Jon Snow the Prince that Was Promised? Isn’t he an embodiment of the Song of Fire and Ice? And in the face of neolutionist evil scientists apparently infecting people with mind-controlling parasites, wouldn’t a former neolution scientist and specialist in epidemiology be kinda critical as we enter the home stretch? If these two deaths, which were the ones which niggled be the most — and statements by the writers and/or producers and/or actors — are just a ruse, a tease, a plot device to keep us talking for a year and eager to tune in next season… I will not be amused. Is that level of manipulation really necessary? (This is what I was talking about re: the investment we make in characters… *steups*). I don’t think I’ll go as far as boycotting the show over two characters’ deaths, but I sure will be disappointed if they’re really gone. And if they are really gone, I will also be annoyed if they could just have definitively put us all out of our misery at the end of the season, rather than leaving us vainly guessing and hoping.

All that said, there has been some wonderful news on the horizon about the rebooting of some of my favourites: The X Files, Twin Peaks, and last year Arrested Development. So here’s to that. 😉

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