The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: TV Needs to Raise the Stakes

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Just as Fall TV is getting ready to kick off, some of the summer shows are airing their season finales (or in some cases, like Entourage, finally going off the air for good). So I got to thinking about finales in general and about what makes a good finale and what makes generally entertaining television. And I came across one thought over and over: these days in TV the stakes aren’t high enough.

Remember the whirlwind that followed Ned Stark’s death on Game of Thrones earlier this year? How saddened and outraged and deeply affected most people were (even the ones who had read the books and knew what was coming)? That’s because this was a death unexpected and major. It broke the coddling barrier TV often presents us with. I went into detail about how good a job Game of Thrones did in general of breaking with expectations, but recent events on TV have made it necessary for me to expand on my point and demand of TV writers and makers that they raise the stakes once again.

Which TV events make this expansion necessary? For example the (Spoiler Alert) scene in True Blood’s Season 4 finale with Eric and Bill burning at the stake. Yeah, no, not buying it. While True Blood packs a lot of carnage on any given day (and mostly provides instant cures as well), I didn’t believe for a single second either Eric or Bill were going to die. Even though, had I seen some of the later scenes of the finale before this vamp burning, I might have bought into it. (More on the True Blood finale in the podcast below.)
But really True Blood is a show that won’t work without either Bill or Eric, so there is no way I could see either of them dying. See, that’s the fallacy though. I – and therefore I assume you too – have been so coddled by serialized television to expect the main characters to be always safe, no matter how dire the situation, that I am unable to buy into the heightened tension such moments of danger are meant to provide and can’t even physically imagine a show without these major characters, even though I am certain you could make it. And make it well, too.

I am aware there are plenty of “major character deaths” one could bring up in an effort to diffuse my argument, but I am willing to bet for any actual death you mention, I can name at least two scenarios – probably within the same show – in which major characters have seemingly been in life-threatening danger and yet came out alright. It’s a go-to device for oh-so-many shows, especially the action dramas, and it is the more tiring move of all. If nothing else works, let’s put some of the major characters in danger.

It’s old-fashioned storytelling, is what it is. Everyone knows I am the biggest Buffy-enthusiast and –apologist out there, but one thing that bothers me now when I go back to it, are the many episodes in which one of the Scooby Gang was put in seemingly mortal danger, when we all knew Buffy was going to save the day. Granted, Buffy handled these scenarios often-times with a little more oomph than other shows, because subsequent episodes would deal with the fall-out of such life or death situations nicely, which is something such shows as Bones, for example, continually cop out of (remember any fall-out from Hodgins and Bones being buried alive? Yeah, me neither.)

Buffy has been off the air for a decade though, and it was always more of a teenage-demographic show anyway, so it seems to me TV should have grown up by now and figured out ways to raise the stakes without having to pull the same old stunts over and over.
Remember The Vampire Diaries‘ finale in May? Did you really believe Damon was going to die? I didn’t, not for a single second.

Supernatural/fantasy shows such as The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Supernatural and even The Walking Dead are even more at fault here than any other show, because they trade in blood and horror and shock value, yet they too seldom really cash in on the hype they try to create. Of course there are reasons for this and they are manifold, not the least of which is that no network (especially not a broadcast network) would willingly accept the lead actors changing every season or two. The audience wouldn’t accept it either. Or would they?
I maintain that if a show is truly well-written, then it would gain viewers instead of losing them by killing of a major character, simply because the viewers need to keep watching in order to grieve with all of those characters who are left behind.

I know I demand a lot from my television, I always have. I don’t want my show to just mollify me and make me happy. I want to be emotionally involved, I want to have my heart broken and I never want to already know what’s coming next. It’s a lot to ask, especially in an age where it feels every story has been told a million times and it’s hard to put a new twist on anything. I just feel that lately a lot of TV and film lacks the ambition to want to be more than it currently is. And lame moves like putting Callie in the middle of a hostage situation on The Glades or putting Sam in the hands of a known mobster and killer on Rookie Blue just make me insanely mad instead of entertaining me.

Most shows have a track record of always tying everything up in a neat little bow, hence I don’t trust them to ever truly make a gutsy move and kill a major character off. And if you’re not planning on doing that anyway, then please don’t make all of us go through the motions of pretending you are. Seriously, don’t these writers bore themselves to death writing scenes we have all seen a thousand times before?

Maybe I have just watched too much TV and have become cynical over the years. Maybe I want substance where others want light fare. Or maybe the low expectations audiences seem to have nowadays just feed right back into the lackluster writing we seem to get, because we don’t demand anything more.

Come on, Fall TV, kill off Owen Hunt, James Wilson, Angela Montenegro, Damon Salvatore or Javier Esposito, I dare you!



Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra”, Episode 15 below.

Topics include the season finales of True Blood, Rookie Blue and Combat Hospital, as well as a Haven/Buffy quiz!


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