I have about a million things to do today, but I can’t go there just yet. No, I have bottled up thoughts and feels about television and movie writing, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to purge them before I can move forward with my day. This is your one and only warning, you folks who eschew the spoilers. I’m about to talk The Force Awakens and X Files and Castle and Return of the Jedi and Mad About You and the Good Lord only knows what else. Turn back now if you haven’t seen the first two especially.
Okay. Now that we’re all here together below the lovely meme, let’s talk about how writers are doing an injustice to relationships. It’s no wonder the divorce rate in our nation is as high as it is because, apparently, writers for television and film don’t believe married couples can be interesting. How are our children supposed to learn?! (I’m only half kidding with this sentiment.) Soap operas run on the premise that married couples can’t be interesting. We all know that. How often have we bemoaned shows going into the crapper after the main characters got together? (Moonlighting, anyone?) Even Mad about You, which quite successfully navigated the lives of a couple already together had this crazy moment at the end of season four where Paul and Jamie kinda sorta cheated on each other? Why do we have to consider cheating as an unavoidable fact of life? Why do we have to break up couples that are already together?
I say it’s lazy writing. It’s not knowing where to go next and manufacturing a reason for conflict rather than digging deeper for organic conflict.
It just so happens that the kids wanted to watch Return of the Jedi not long ago. The love story between Han and Leia is gorgeous and fully realized. There’s a moment when the famous tables are turned and he says, “I love you” only to have her respond, “I know.” Any lingering jealousy toward Luke is erased when Leia tells Han that Luke is her brother. The movie ends with everyone happy. Ewoks are dancing. Jedi ghosts are gazing on in approval. It’s a happy ending–that the writers destroyed with The Force Awakens.
Seriously, if there’s one problem I have with TFA, it’s that Han and Leia are split up, seemingly accepting of the fact, and we don’t even know what happened. It’s not fair. The happy ending promised by Jedi is just. . . . gone. Someone’s reading this now and telling me that it’s reality, and I just need to get over it. Nope. Not gonna do it. Leia and Han could’ve still been together. Wouldn’t it be braver to try to work through the disappointment of having Ben turn into Kylo Ren together?
Instead, we get lazy writing: conflict thrown up on the screen with little explanation and no resolution, possibly done as an intentional–but unfair and unearned–tug of the heart strings.
Once again, we’ll have tension between these two characters. We’ll let the audience assume that at some point they threw up their hands and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” But that reneges on the contract of Jedi. Even worse, TFA doesn’t even get Han and Leia back together. Harsh, Abrams. You have two iconic, well beloved characters, and you kill Han before he even has a chance (so far as the audience knows) to make right the contract that Lucas made with us. I will argue to my dying day that having Han and Leia split up was not necessary for the movie. It was a choice you made to manipulate the audience through manufactured conflict.
Now, we’re going to get to the show that made this rant inevitable: The X Files. I love me some X Files, but I think we can all agree the show has its ups and downs. In fact, I can’t keep up with everything that happened because the shark was jumped, my friends. I will say this, though. Last time I checked in, Mulder and Scully were together. They’d been through hell, but still together. Reboot starts last night, and . . . they’re not together. Of course not. The tension that made the original show great just had to be re-enacted. Fine. Whatever. Carter, you had best fix this before the end of the reboot. I WANT TO BELIEVE. THE TRUTH–AS WELL AS TRUE LOVE–IS OUT THERE.
(As a side note, why in the blue hell was Scully wearing five-inch heels? Part of her appeal as a character was that she actually dressed for her job as an FBI agent. She had pant suits and sensible shoes for when she ran after aliens and random whackjobs. Don’t tell me she wants stilettos after standing on her feet all day in the operating room. I’m not buying it. It’s like that poor woman who had to run from dinosaurs IN HEELS for two hours during Jurassic World. Consider my campaign for sensible shoes begun.)
Now, let’s talk Castle. I haven’t seen an episode of Castle in many moons. Why? Season Six. We start with Beckett doing the FBI thing which killed one of the best parts of the show: the ensemble cast. Then we end on the horrifically botched wedding complete with Castle’s disappearance. Folks, it only goes downhill from there because the reason Castle was abducted? Never satisfactorily explained. I’m going with. . . . lazy writing.
Here’s the deal: one can believe that Han and Leia have their ups and downs as a married couple. One can believe that Mulder and Scully have had trouble. Breaking up Castle and Beckett? On a show that could revolve around a hundred other things? I call shenanigans. They have enough personality differences that they could keep at each other for another two or three seasons. Not only that, but there’s a murder to solve every week and a rotating cast of other people who could have problems. This is why *I* have broken up with Castle.
For a world that denigrates romance novels, there are a whole helluva lot of other writers who could learn something from the craft. If you can’t sustain a storyline without breaking up the couple you worked so hard to get together, then end the series. Or, if you’re truly brave, you’ll write those characters going through what a real relationship/marriage is all about which is tackling the problems of life together. Just because a couple gets married doesn’t mean that it’s all puppies and unicorns and sunshine and roses, but it also doesn’t mean the couple should split up at the first sign of trouble. At least half of all real-life couples come up against obstacles and work through them and come out on the other side stronger in real life, and I’d really like to see more of that in the realm of television and film. Yes, yes, I know that doesn’t always happen in “real life.” I’m talking about fiction. I’m talking about the contract between reader/viewer and the writers.
Writers, don’t be lazy. Execs, quit making shows drag on just because. . . . ratings. Tell your story and make it a good one. If you don’t have anything else to say, then quit the show/series and start a new project. If you’re going to ship a couple, then allow them to sail off into the sunset. If you’re really good at what you do, then maybe you can take us along for the ride, but please, please–I beg of you–quit breaking up characters just to create conflict out of thin air.
That’s lazy a$$ writing.