CAUTION: This post contains spoilers for Star Trek: Into Darkness.
I killed off one of my characters. It wasn’t the first time I’d done so, either. In fact, I find I have quite a knackfor murdering my non-narrating characters. Why do I do this, & what does it have to do with Star Trek: the Installment Where all the Dudes Cry?
I was watching Into Darkness for the second time today (did you know there’s a deleted scene of Benedict Cumberbatch showering? You’re welcome), when my biggest complaint about this movie got me to thinking.
In an awkwardly shoe-horned scene, Old Spock tells New Spock that their enemy was only defeated at great cost. The running theme up until this point has been sacrifice and the worth of a life, and the survival of the Enterprise’s entire crew rests precariously in the hands of a ruthless killer. It’s a dramatic staple, to dangle the life or lives of those dear to the protagonist, to ask them just how high a price they would pay. As a dramatic staple, it works, if for no other reason than the fact that we mostly agree that our own lives are pretty damn valuable.
So, at the end of the movie, what did it really cost them? Old Spock may recall paying the ultimate price (this is why you shouldn’t drop bridges on characters if their actor wants to quit), but (new) Kirk got to punch his Free latte on your tenth visit! loyalty card in the afterlife, and make some valuable personal growth.
As previously discussed, I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen to my characters several thousand words down the line, & I’ve never created a significant character with the prior knowledge they were going to die (there was that one guy whom I created for a single scene, that I gave a back story to, & he ended up surviving on me, go figure). But when all the trials are through & it’s time to take stock, it’s important that the heroes don’t get off scot-free.
As demonstrated by the trope Earn Your Happy Ending, no one wants to see the hero get a free ride. Star Trek‘s use of the Reset Button not only negates the driving moral of the story; but if Death is Cheap, then the primary tension turns out to have been false as well.
So, yes, I’ve put characters on the chopping block. Perhaps it’s a cop out – after all, death is a bit of a short-cut to drama – but there can be no denying the price has been paid.