(If you watch Homeland and are not caught up with the latest season, be warned, here be spoilers.)
I wasn’t always the cool, level-headed, detached TV-watcher I am today. Back in my youth, I was part of the what is called “the fandom”, the many-headed beast that exists for every show and series, made up of fans that take characters and plotlines… well, too seriously. Most people, by the time they’ve watched a complete season of a show, have formed at least some sort of attachment to it. They have their favourite characters, the ones they don’t care about, the plotlines they enjoy and hope to see more of, and the ones they could just do without. Most people can also drop shows when they stop feeling invested or when the quality of the writing goes down. Fandoms are where that attachment is hugely intensified, made of people who not only have favourite characters and plotlines, but get genuinely angry or upset when they are not done justice.
Now, a big part of television is character deaths. Game of Thrones might have made it a big thing, but shows were killing off beloved characters long before anyone got attached to the Starks. These days, it’s a way to raise hype, to change a show dramatically and give it new direction, and it’s almost always accompanied by fandom drama. The leads on a show are usually safe (although even that is being challenged these days, RIP Ned), but every other character is fair game. Back when I was watching television hardcore (that adjective sounds extreme, but I swear it’s justified), I remember spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about whether my favourite characters were going to get killed off (somehow I never got attached to the leads) and preemptively getting angry about it if it seemed like a show was heading in that direction.
Back in my days of fandom, a favourite character getting killed off meant I was as good as done with the show. Looking back now, I think it reveals a little bit about how and why I watched the things I did. For every show I watched, I found a character I liked (I only allowed myself one favourite per show) and grew attached to the point that my continuing to watch the show was dependent not so much on the plot, but on how much of this character I got to see on a weekly basis. This, of course, meant that the minute this character was killed off, my interest in the show immediately plunged to zero and I had nothing left to stay invested in. This clashed directly with my being a completionist, which meant that I hated, hated, leaving a series unfinished. I would therefore hate-watch these shows to their bitter ends, angry at the writers for the direction they’d taken and angry at myself for not being able to just stop watching.
I’m a much more relaxed TV watcher now. I don’t watch nearly the volume I used to, and when I find my interest level dipping, I drop shows like hot potatoes, because I just don’t have the time or energy to watch something that doesn’t give me joy. That completionist streak is gone – it’s been a very long time since I followed a series through to its end. The shows I pick to watch these days also reflect my new, relaxed policy – they’re usually plot-heavy (so the interest sits not so much with a particular character as it does with an overarching story), with an ensemble of characters I either like equally or am ambivalent about in general, because the plot is much more interesting than any one of them in particular. Of course, I still have my favourites on a couple of shows, but the attachment is not so ride-or-die.
Or so I thought until – and here be the spoilers – they killed off one of my favourite characters on Homeland, Quinn, after putting him through the wringer for the entire season. In a way, I’m glad the torture is done – they were just piling the hurt on the poor guy. However, I feel my interest in the show has now dropped several notches, and that’s despite my really liking the lead, Carrie, and the actress who plays her. On the one hand, I hadn’t expected to feel emotional about Quinn’s death, but I do, and that makes me feel like my teenage self again. On the other hand, I feel obligated to continue watching on behalf of my grown-up self, who cares more about plot and storytelling than such juvenile things as the presence or absence of a particular (handsome) character (who had great, unresolved chemistry with my other favourite, SIGH). On the third hand, being a grown-up television watcher means I can drop a show whenever I want because life is too short to spend on things you don’t enjoy anymore.
My, oh, my, what a quandary. How ever will I get myself out of this quagmire?