It’s been an emotionally draining, depressing, and frustrating few weeks in various fandoms. It seems TV show after TV show has been doubling down on the idea that shocking deaths make for good television, without thinking about what certain deaths might mean for large groups of their fans. And even if characters aren’t dying on your favorite show, chances are it’s still gone into darker territory this season. It seems almost every show I watch has dealt with heavier material this year. Even the usually light Brooklyn Nine-Nine ended with an atypical life-threatening cliffhanger this week. (Even though I think we’re all 99.9% sure Holt’s going to be fine.) And the offerings at movie theaters aren’t much better lately, with superheroes fighting each other all over the place.
In short, if you feel a little beaten down by the media you’re consuming lately, you’re not alone.
There’s a tendency to judge the quality of a piece of media by how serious it is. Most of the “prestige dramas” we hear so much about are incredibly heavy and often bleak. So people often stick with television shows that make them feel hopeless and upset more often than not because they think that’s what “good” television is supposed to do. They think that walking away from a TV show when it starts to feel oppressively negative says bad things about them as a viewer instead of bad things about the show that made them walk away. Because a good drama can never be “too dark,” right?
It’s not just okay to walk away from a TV show when it starts negatively affecting your emotions on a consistent basis; it’s smart. There’s nothing wrong with putting your mental and emotional health above a television show’s ratings or your reputation as a fangirl or fanboy. Even if you loved a show for years, if it’s making you feel miserable or triggering you in some way, you’re not less of a fan if you stop watching something that’s not good or healthy for you anymore.
This trend of prioritizing shock value above quality character development needs to stop. This is especially true when the shock value comes from killing or traumatizing characters simply to show that no character is safe and that the world they inhabit is awful. If a character dies, that death should mean something—and not just that anyone can die. And if a character is put through a traumatic situation, it should be treated with care not just in that moment, but in all the moments that follow it. Death, beatings, torture, and rape shouldn’t be added to stories only to get people talking or to show how horrible a person or a society is. They should resonate thematically; they should carry weight not just in one episode, but throughout the rest of the series. They should matter.