There are two things about me that regular readers of this blog are already familiar with. One is my love of professional-wresting and the other is my love of all things Star Trek (except for the J. J. Abrams remakes. That never happened in my world-view.)
Of course there is only one reason why I loved Nemesis so much: Data. He is one of my favorite fictional characters off all time and his death in that movie not only made me leave the theatre with a tear in my eye, but also made a lasting impression of Nemesis in me that has lasted fifteen years.
His death, and sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen the movie, but his death was perfect for his character, and also a perfect example of how to kill a character the right way.
If you look at Data’s character arc, he spent his entire life trying to become human, and then in his final moments, he does the most “human” thing possible, by sacrificing himself to save Picard. From a story arc perspective, his death served the plot well too. In other words, it meant something. The Romulan clone dude is getting ready to eradicate all life on Earth, and make Picard watch, so Data flies in, stops the death ray thing, and chooses to send Picard back to the Enterpise, knowing only one of them could get back before the ship blows up.
In contrast, let’s look at the death of Jadzia Dax in my favorite series, Deep Space Nine. (Or second favorite to Voyager, pending on my mood.) She had been a primary character since the beginning, and was killed off in the final episode of the sixth season (I’m assuming) because Terry Farrell was leaving leaving the show.
Casting issues put aside, her death was a poorly though out, throw-away moment that served no storyline purpose, and provided no “final act” to her character arc. Basically, she just happened to be standing around in front of a thing (let’s keep Bajoran mythology out of this post) that another character needed to destroy, so she got shot and mortally wounded and then died. No hero’s death. No self sacrifice. Didn’t even get the chance to put up a fight. Just “Hey, Gul Dukat! Ooh! I’m hit!”
And that’s it. The alien living inside her passes on to a new (younger) model and everyone moves on with their lives. It was a very disappointing way to kill a main character. I felt like Tasha Yar’s death had more meaning.
Killing everybody else
It’s important to kill people. Now more than ever, apparently, if anything I hear about Game of Thrones is correct. But when you do kill someone, remember the following:
- Make it matter to the story. Don’t just kill for the sake of killing.
- Make it emotional. Have the character go down fighting, not just standing around some Bajoran orbs.
- Make it complete the character arc. If death is in your character’s future, make sure the cause and timing of the death make sense for that character.
- Make it consistent. Data sacrificing himself to save humanity and Picard was the final act of his quest for humanity.
Oh and after I got to the end of this post, I realized I missed a golden opportunity to compare the deaths of Spock in Wrath of Khan and Kirk in Generations. Oh well. We can do that next time. Until then, take care, and don’t go around killing your characters because it’s fun. Kill with a purpose.
What other fictional character deaths have left you feeling complete? Which ones left you feeling underwhelmed? Leave a comment and let us know!