Saturday, August 18, 2012

"...and all it cost was the life of one minor character."

Back when I had money, I invested $75 in Amazon.com's Prime feature, which among other things lets me stream live video from a variety of sources, including movies and TV shows.

Being a would-be screenwriter, I am always looking for ways to improve my scripts, so I have been watching various TV shows over the last few months. In the last few weeks I have rediscovered 'The West Wing,' a show about a fictional President of the United States, Jeb Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen.

I have watched the season in order, so as not to break continuity, and I reached the end of season 2 just yesterday.

Before I continue, a bit of background on the series might be useful. President Bartlett has MS, but has hidden it from the public. Up until the second to last show of season 2, only 16 other people knew about his condition, including his doctor wife, who had been treating him. He had made a deal with her that he would only serve one term as president.

Now, as we come to the end of season two, his secret is about to come out, and he faces a choice of whether to run again and face the ire of not only his wife, but likely the Republicans and his own party. Not to mention the fact that he or his wife could face perjury charges because of mistakes made along the way, and impeachment too.

Into all this drama, we have a hostage situation in a foreign country. It is an extremely tense time and the drama is palpable.

Then, at the end of the second to last episode, the president's secretary, Mrs. Lanningham, is killed by a drunk driver.

My first thoughts on hearing that was 'WTF?' What on earth would make writers kill off a sweet old lady like that just as the drama of everything else was reaching a climax? I mean, really?!

As a writer I couldn't see the point of killing off a character like that. So it was with a degree of indignation that I watched the next episode, 'Two Cathedrals.' By the end of that episode, hell, even a quarter of the way through it, I was in tears. It takes a lot to make me cry.

We see Jeb at Mrs. Lanningham's funeral, and after it's over, he asks for some time alone in the cathedral, where he blames God and his lying about MS for her death and for everything else that has gone wrong. Then he tells God he can have the Vice President as the next candidate and leaves.

A tropical storm is now showering rain, lightning and thunder on the Capitol. President Bartlett asks one of his aides if this was unusual for May, and was told it had never happened before. He adds this to his list of things he blames God for, and when he is left alone in the Oval Office, the windows fly open suddenly and it storms and rains. He calls for Mrs. Lanningham out of habit and there she is.

She chastises him for blaming God for her death and tells him if he wants to blame anyone but himself for his problems, and the choice he has to make, then she doesn't want to know him. Then she's gone and the president is soaked.

He now goes before a press conference to discuss his disease and of course, the first question asked is 'are you going to run again?' He pauses, asks to repeat the question and then puts his hands in his pocket, having made up his mind, and then the camera fades.

Now, as I said, through most of this episode I was in tears, and since I was in the library at the time, I must have looked and sounded strange, but I couldn't help myself.

That was the single best episode of any program that I have ever seen, and all it cost was the life of a minor character.

I have to wonder, in whatever writing I do in the future, could I do that? Could I kill off someone small and unimportant to set up the best writing I could do?

I just don't know.