Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rage Against the Cheap Plot Trick

I recently finished watching the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. **Warning, several spoiler alerts ahead.** She died at the end. Just as Monarch of the Glen season three kills off a main character at the end, just as Torchwood kills off several main characters at the end of season two, just as Serenity kills off one of my favorite characters in a completely unnecessary twist. It's very depressing, to say the least.

It's my second to least favorite plot device. If a story has reached a point where characters being in immense danger is no longer extreme enough, and the only next step is their death, does that mean that the story is more real, or just that the author(s) made a wrong turn? I don't think I have it in me to kill one of my main characters in a novel. Does that make me a weak writer?

Worse yet, I know from my helpful Netflix that Buffy will come back. That's my all-time least favorite plot device—the trickery that the character is well and truly dead, buried, headstone and casket and the whole works, then miraculously returns from the grave. It's one thing to make the readers think the person died (in fact, it's one of the key steps of Campbell's Journey of a Hero), but to carry through with the death, then resurrect the character is cheap. It takes everything you've believed in before—the suspension of disbelief to fall into the author's world—and cheapens it down to a parlor trick. A "oh, you had a bad dream, and none of it really happened, Dorothy" moment.

Yeah, I never cared for the Wizard of Oz either, not even as a kid.


Shaida said...

Buffy season 6 is, for me, one of the most beautiful, powerful, heartbreaking seasons of television ever made. So while I usually agree with the problem of the resurrection plot device, in this case I think you will be surprised by how not cheap it is. It raises some really interesting questions about life, death, and Buffy's role in the grand scheme of things. I hope you'll give season 6 a try!

Alaina said...

It had partially to do with the move of the series from WB to UPN, too, I think. The fate of the show was hanging in the air before UPN finally agreed to take it, if I recall right, so Whedon might have wanted to um... go out with a bang. Or give the WB execs the finger. I'm not quite sure.

Rebecca Chastain said...

Shaida, you've recommended too many great TV shows for me not to heed your recommendation again. I've already talked Cody back into watching season 6. :)

Alaina! It's been so long! You might have a point there about the network switch. I don't think I could kill off a character even if the publisher said they were stopping a series, though. Joss must be made of sterner stuff.