Season 2 of Breaking Bad. Jesse is dating a his drug-addict neighbor, much to Walt’s disappointment. Long story short, he lets the girlfriend die, though she would have been very easy to save, because he thinks that would be best for Jesse. It’s not until the next episode, that we see neighbor-girl’s dad is so upset and shaken, that he fails at his job, which is making sure planes don’t crash into each other. Therefore, two planes do crash, right over Walt’s house, causing the death of over 100 people. Consequences.
Too many stories, I’ve noticed recently, have failed to have consequences. Also, stories with consequences have been bashed by audiences for not being the same. Consequences make us care about what happens. It’s what brings us back to the next episode/movie/book. Seeing how other characters/the world react to the actions of the protagonist is what gives us a fleshed out world that we can empathize in and care about. If story tellers don’t give their characters actions meaning in their world, then what is the point of creating this alternate world?
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is a great show when it comes to consequences. So many people say that this show/book series kills off characters left and right for the shock factor, purely just so the audience never knows what is coming next. But when you pay attention, you notice that beheadings were forewarned, Red Weddings are because of broken promises and embarrassment, and duels are lost due to cockiness and self-serving speeches.
I think a writer, even a fantasy writer, has an obligation to tell the truth and the truth is, as we say in Game of Thrones, all men must die. Particularly if you’re writing about war, which is certainly a central subject in Game of Thrones…You can’t write about war and violence without having death. If you want to be honest it should affect your main characters. We’ve all read this story a million times when a bunch of heroes set out on adventure and it’s the hero and his best friend and his girlfriend and they go through amazing hair-raising adventures and none of them die. The only ones who die are extras.George R. R. Martin
That’s such a cheat. It doesn’t happen that way. They go into battle and their best friend dies or they get horribly wounded. They lose their leg or death comes at them unexpectedly.
Death is so arbitrary. It’s always there. It’s coming for all of us. We’re all going to die. I’m going to die. You’re going to die. Mortality is at the soul of all this stuff…Once you’ve accepted that you have to include death then you should be honest about death and indicate it can strike down anybody at any time. You don’t get to live forever just because you are a cute kid or the hero’s best friend or the hero. Sometimes the hero dies, at least in my books.
I love all my characters so it’s always hard to kill them but I know it has to be done. I tend to think I don’t kill them. The other characters kill ‘em. I shift off all blame from myself.
Then there are comic book movies, which, like their print counterparts, are notorious for acting like nothing happened and continuing with the story.
Let’s look at the end of Justice League. Is Clark Kent really going to return to the Daily Planet? Wasn’t he reported dead, at the same time as Superman? Now he is going to come back, at the same time as Superman? It’s not like Clark Kent is the owner of a Deli, he is a semi-prominent reporter at the largest newspaper in a literal Metropolis. All of his coworkers jobs are literally to look into stories and find the truth. No consequences.
This is where things get really bad however. Marvel seems to be the worst ever culprit of this.
ScreenRant has a video series called “Pitch Meeting,” and in the Captain America: Civil War, the video makes fun at the fact that Marvel movies never have any consequences. (3:12-3:40 & 5:10-5:20)
While this may seem like a fun jab, lets look at the evidence. Not only does no one of significance die in this film, no named protagonist has died in any Marvel film. No one in the first two Iron Man movies, nor Thor, nor The Incredible Hulk. Captain America: The First Avenger had Bucky die, but not really because he came back in the very next Cap movie. The Avengers killed Coulson, but brought him back immediately in his very own TV show. Iron Man 3 almost killed Pepper Potts, but she is super back to normal now. Thor’s mom Frigga died in The Dark World, but we didn’t really see her until right before she died. The Winter Soldier killed Fury, but not really, Guardians killed Groot, but not really (it’s actually his son, but no one seems to notice).
Age of Ultron kills Quicksilver, who was a villain at the beginning of the movie. Ant-Man doesn’t kill any protagonists. Civil War seen in the video above, except for Peggy Carter, where we get the only important death we have seen, which the movie uses as a way to let Cap be romantically interested in Sharon without it seeming (as) weird. Doctor Strange finally kills the Ancient One, but she was verging on evil anyway, so doesn’t really count? Guardians 2 kills Yondu, but cracks jokes during the eulogy. Homecoming doesn’t kill anyone. Thor: Ragnarok kills SO MANY PEOPLE OF IMPORTANCE, like Odin or the Warriors Three, but Thor never mentions it, and it seems like no one even cares about these great characters, just dying. Lastly was Black Panther, and we see one death that is given any respect, but again, it’s the movies antagonist.
Marvel fails so hard at surprising the audience because everything follows a very simple plan, or formula, making sure that what happens in these movies doesn’t matter. Sure it’s one thing when the audience trusts that the movie will end with the heroes winning, because that’s what most movies are, not even just comic book movies. But when you aren’t even trying to make it seem like something lastly might happen, it just feels like you have the movie spoiled for you, which is disappointing.
I really hope that moving forward into Avengers: Infinity War that SOMETHING happens. We know that many of the original Avengers’ contracts are up, but hopefully that means that they will DIE, and not just retire. Hopefully we can have Avengers: Endgame be the Death of Captain America storyline, along with some Kree?
The Last Jedi
I saved this for last, because I might get some hate for this. I loved The Last Jedi, because I think it showed consequences.
Snoke dies, without any explanation to who he is, or how he rose to power. He just gets cut in half, without any kind of push back. But throughout this movie, and The Force Awakens, his whole tactic on leadership is just abuse and arrogance. He probably sees himself as the next Emperor Palpatine, rising out of the ashes, with Kylo being his Vader. But if you remember to the prequels, a.k.a. the method to the madness, we see that it was Palpatines kidness toward Anakin that brought him to the dark side. He was being constantly being disrespected and looked down upon by the Jedi Council, and Palpatine told him that his feelings for Padme were okay, and that he would do whatever he could to help Anakin (even though it was a lie). Now look at Snoke, no empathy, no caring about Kylos emotions, so much so that he belittles him and tells him “You’re no Vader. You’re just a child in a mask.” That’s a consequence.
Luke Skywalker, hero of the Rebellion, has turned his back on the Force, and never raises his hand in badassery, like so many people expected him to. This wasn’t meant as an insult to life-long fans, but as an explanation for what J.J. Abrams gave Rian Johnson to work with. So when Luke just died, after not even really fighting, that was a consequence to previous actions. The following video starts right after Luke tries and fails to lift the X-Wing out of the swamp on Dagobah.
Luke is clearly out of breath, which means that using the Force uses energy. Yoda succeeds because he has grown that muscle of using the Force for centuries, but Luke being new to the Force, still needs to build up stamina with the Force. So if using the Force requires energy, and training like a muscle, then doesn’t it make sense that after years of completely shutting himself off, an old man such as Luke could exhaust himself to death using the Force in a way that we have never seen before?
At the end of the day, I might be the only one, but I think that stories should have consequences. In this day and age of fandom, where audiences don’t just enjoy our stories, but analyze them, filmmakers should give those stories the same amount of thought that we will. If one thing happens, something else should happen because of it. No one wants stories that live in a vacuum and don’t affect or be affected by the surrounding world.