Shelton-Mason County Journal - Dedicated to the citizens of Mason County, Washington since 1886

'Stranger Things,' 'Strange New Worlds' rousing resolutions

 


June 30 and July 1 were some rough streaming viewing days for fans as the ninth episodes of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” Season 1 and “Stranger Things” Season 4 bid final farewell to a pair of fan-favorite characters.

As much as I miss them both, and as much as I’m trying not to spoil too much of either episode, I feel like other TV shows and movies could glean storytelling lessons from these two characters’ deaths.

In two franchises dominated by their fictional histories and recurring characters, this season’s sacrificial lambs stood apart for being newcomers with no prior onscreen connections to their castmates. Yet, they took on roles that made them a natural fit for, and even essential to, their ensembles.

Each one was granted endearing interactions with some of the most beloved characters on their shows that not only offered insights about our new friends, but also lent depth to folks we thought we knew.

In two shows juggling no shortage of overpowering personalities, the two newcomers were given moments to shine throughout their runs, well before they met their fatal ends, one of which I suspected was coming, the other of which caught me by surprise.

While their deaths felt unfair and premature, as all genuinely affecting character deaths should feel to us fans, each one met their end on their own terms, doing what they could to defend those whom they cared about.

One died choosing to make the right choice out of courage, after previously surrendering to what they saw as their own weakness. The other died as they lived, upholding the moral ethos they’d abided by all along.

These are the moments when any story should focus on the other characters’ reactions to their castmates’ deaths, both before and after they die, to show how moved they are, and how much those folks meant to them.

Just before they die is when the misunderstood underachiever should joke about finally achieving some long-held, improbable goal, and after they die is when those who truly understood them should pay tribute to how special they were, no matter how much the rest of the world failed to recognize it.

Just before they die is when the gruff yet nurturing mentor should offer a last bit of supportive wisdom to the protégé who’s pleading with them not to go, and after death is when those who served alongside them should reflect on the positive difference they made by being their diligent selves.

And yes, it’s a cliché now, but even in a show that’s a period piece devoted to authentically recreating the pop culture of the 1980s, Moby’s 1995 “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” is still appropriate for a death scene.

When done right, character deaths should hurt precisely because of how many more potential stories we feel like we could have had with those folks, and how much better they made the stories we did get.

Of course, the larger question is, where do both shows go from here?

“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” has succeeded more than I suspected was possible. It built a coherent narrative continuity of character development out of a succession of otherwise standalone episodes, while also upgrading previously middling Kirk-era foes like the Gorn into horrifyingly credible threats.

On occasion “Strange New Worlds” has even boldly gone into the silly territory that made so many classic Trek episodes so memorable, and it’s managed to balance that self-parody with pathos as charmingly as the original series without being as cringeworthy as other Trek shows’ attempts at humor.

I love “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but I’ve undergone dental exams that were easier to sit through than its initial fits of “lightheartedness.”

What sticks with me most about the ninth episode of “Strange New Worlds” Season 1, though, is that it’s not even the season finale, and yet, it feels in every way like a proper resolution to a complete story arc, which leaves me all the more curious what this show has in store for us with its 10th episode, which begins streaming July 7.

By contrast, the ninth episode of “Stranger Things” Season 4 was its season finale, and while the season as a whole has been dramatically overwhelming, and overstuffed for satisfying content, with each individual episode amounting to its own feature-length movie, no matter how many narrative threads were deftly tied up, I was still sitting there, saying to myself, “Wait, that’s it?”

Jonathan and Nancy still need to hash out what their relationship needs to be. While Will’s deeper feelings are obviously doomed to be one-sided, he nonetheless deserves to be able to be acknowledged and accepted for who and what he is by his closest friends. And however unlikely it is that [spoiler] would recover in real life, if anyone’s earned a Jean Grey comeback among this cast, they surely have.

Each season of “Stranger Things” has settled enough of its lingering issues that the narrative has been able to sustain a time jump to the next year of the 1980s, but I’m not sure if the story can just leave Hawkins, Indiana, where it is, long enough to catch up with it again in 1987.

Author Bio

Kirk Boxleitner, Reporter

Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald
[email protected]

 

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