Sunday, September 04, 2005

Death and Drama

Over on PopWatch, the Entertainment Weekly blog on, Michael Slezak ponders whether Alias might get a much-needed shot in the arm by actually killing off Michael Vaughn. He notes that Alias suffered from two major maladies in the fourth season, one new and the other ongoing. Both involve Vaughn. First, he argues, that the chemistry between Sydney and Vaughn (former real-life lovebirds Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan) is kaput. Second, he suggests that the otherwise excellent pacing, suspense, and excitement of Alias is weakened by the fact that none of the major characters -- and even none of the minor good guy characters -- ever dies. In fact, at this point, we "know" they won't. Slezak's point is that both of these shortcomings could be completely remedied by allowing the car crash (which I discussed here) to be the vehicle to shuffle Agent Vaughn off this mortal coil. (Get it? Vehicle . . . okay, whatever.)

Let me premise this by saying that I don't necessarily agree with Mr. Slezak that Alias's fourth season was disappointing and certainly not more so than the third. Nevertheless, I'm particularly intrigued by this notion of the expendability of major characters being a way to ratchet up the drama and suspense on a show. I think Mr. Slezak is definitely onto something. Both 24 and Lost have proven that few of the main characters are unexpendable (save, perhaps, the Jacks on each show). Even Desperate Housewives proved, with the deaths of Martha Huber and Rex, that all but the 5 "housewives" are likely expendable. As a result, on those shows, when a character faces danger, my sense is that the danger feels more immediate. The drama is more intense. The suspense is palpable. While it's a kick to see how Sydney's going to get herself out of her latest life-threatening imbroglio, it's not the same.

Of course, there's a trade-off for this kind of danger, drama, and suspense. We have to be willing to let go of the characters we know and love. Are we willing to say goodbye to Vaughn? Perhaps. (Although some are clearly not ready for that.) But what about Sloane? Or Jack?*** Or Sydney? Is the increase in drama really worth the loss of the show's core characters? I don't think so. After all, the soul of Alias is really the relationships, not the action.

***NOTE: What's with all the Jacks on these shows? It's like the go-to name.


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