Long-running series have an aversion to change. Which makes sense, since it’s hard to ditch the actors and plots that were working. But it is important to see the signs that they aren’t working anymore.

There are times when a character’s arc has come to an end. They’ve served their plot purpose and now it’s time for them to make a graceful exit. Keeping them around and trying to force the story to accommodate them does not work. It diminishes the character and confuses the plot.

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For example, do you remember how long Heroes held on to Sylar? Now, I can imagine they didn’t want to lose Zachary Quinto, but the plot contortions the show went through to keep him around were absurd. Memory loss! Ghost! Resurrection! He was a villain, and a great one for a while. Defeat is the natural end to his story and it should have ended there.

But, why not avoid the problem of ending a character’s arc by never ending it? Just go around and around in circles until no one remembers what the point was anymore!

This is a miserable choice. Fiction requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but there is a certain point where the sheer number of obstacles facing main characters in their quests becomes untenable. Or, the fact that they haven’t succeeded forces the audience to conclude that the protagonists are incompetent.

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This is becoming increasingly true on Once Upon a Time. It is time for the Charmings to ditch the spotlight, because they are, not to put too fine a point on it, the worst. I cannot believe that there has not been a bloody revolution overthrowing these royal idiots. Everything bad that happens is because of either some bad decision they made or a villain they pissed off. Quarantine them somewhere where the blowback can’t ricochet back onto innocent bystanders. Every single one of this season’s three episodes contains a misfortune befalling the dwarves that should send them into a proletarian rage.

The options aren’t always character carnage. Sometimes a character needs to die to move the story forward. Sometimes not. They can just transition into a less prevalent role. Serve as a guide to a new generation. Have a completely different story as a supporting character. Either way, the goal should be forward momentum, not a determination to do the same thing ad nauseam.


Contact the author at katharine@io9.com.