5 TV Characters With Secretly Tragic Character Arcs
As millions of sad and/or angry fans can tell you, it's hard to end a TV show satisfactorily. Every character somehow has to get a neat ending, even after spending 200 episodes in a universe in which no problems get solved for long. One shortcut that shows often take is to give characters an ending that seems happy, complete with shots of everyone smiling in some kind of montage. But such wrap-ups can often be kind of tragic when you think about them. For example ...
How I Met Your Mother: Marshall Abandons His Cause
While most of the focus of the last episode of How I Met Your Mother is on Ted Mosby being married for roughly six seconds before becoming a widower and going back to his ex, we shouldn't forget the other main characters, who listened to him complain for nine seasons. For example, his best friend Marshall Eriksen is happily married, has one kid and another on the way, and gets appointed to the New York State Supreme Court. That seems like a success story. Seems like.
If you actually watched and remember the early seasons, you'll recall that Marshall was making a living through corporate law while dreaming of becoming an environmental lawyer. In fact, a prestigious judgeship isn't even presented as something that he cares about until Season 8. It's like if The Dark Knight Rises ended with Batman learning that he's finally going to be police commissioner.
Marshall had pursued that dream since he was a kid and his anthropologist hero "inspired" him by telling him that the gorillas he loved would all be dead by the time he was old enough to work with them. Instead, not only is he forced to enter a field he hates, but he also has angst about how his late father never got to see him save the world.
Yet for some reason, Marshall doesn't care about this by the end of the series. In Season 7, he briefly gets a position at an environmental firm, but the show abandons the storyline pretty quickly. And if you think that now that he's a judge, he'll be able to make real environmental change, that's absolutely not how judges work! They don't even get to pick which cases they want to oversee, and certainly can't dedicate their lives to pursuing a single cause.
Maybe in the universe of the show, the environment got totally cleaned up in the interim and rendered his dream career obsolete? If so, it seems like somebody would have mentioned it.
Friends: Rachel Turns Down A Dream Job For A Toxic Relationship
When we first meet Rachel in Friends, she's just ditched her fiance at the altar. At this point, she's meant to be viewed as a spoiled rich girl whose father funds her entire life. By rejecting Barry, however, she begins an arc in which she's trying to figure out how to support herself, rather than move from one wealthy caregiver to another. This works out ... until it doesn't.
We'll ignore how unrealistic it is that she's able to rise through the ranks of the fashion industry so quickly and skip to the last season, when Rachel is offered a dream job in Paris. Even when offered the chance to stay in New York, she tells Ross, her longtime on-and-off boyfriend, that she'd still rather take the new position because of the excitement and challenge. This makes sense, as she's devoted about ten years to her job. She even had fights with Ross when they were together about how much her career means to her.
At this point, of course, Ross has inconveniently realized he's still in love with her, because he is just the worst. He can't follow her to Paris because he's bound to New York by a son from his first marriage, and also most countries probably have some kind of anti-Ross laws on the books. So in the series finale, he asks Rachel to stay. She ultimately agrees, getting off the plane to declare her love for him. It's positioned as the incredibly romantic and happy conclusion to a "will they / won't they" relationship that was mostly made up of one-sided obsession, miscommunication, and petty arguments.
I really can't emphasize enough how awful they are as a couple. Their most famous argument is about whether Ross cheated on Rachel, and it's never actually resolved, as they clearly don't agree on boundaries and are unable to communicate in a mature and civil way. So in the end, this is how her whole arc resolves: She no longer needs to rely on anyone to provide for her, but she is willing to give up on her professional goals because her shitty ex couldn't come along.
Breaking Bad: Jesse Is Definitely Going To Prison
Jesse Pinkman has a rough go from start to finish in Breaking Bad. As Walter White's partner in crime, dodging the DEA while dissolving murder victims in acid became his 9-5. Despite his issues, however, Jesse's portrayed as a guy with a good heart, pushed to do bad things by circumstance and a misguided desire to please people without his best interests in mind (mostly Walt). By the final season, he's sick of hurting people, and when he escapes the Nazi compound where the final episode climaxes, he's laughing and crying hysterically. It's a pretty emotional sendoff for a guy whose most famous quote is "YEAH, BITCH."
The tone is positive, and the script indicates that creator Vince Gilligan believes Jesse will ultimately find something better. But that seems incredibly unlikely. Jesse has just fled a property that contains A) an active meth lab, B) a house full of Nazis who just got blasted apart by a giant machine gun, and C) the corpse of an infamous drug kingpin whom he was known to associate with, who was responsible for getting at least two federal agents killed. It will also be pretty clear to any investigators that Walt was acting on Jesse's behalf there, implying their partnership never ended.
Every law enforcement agency in America, and probably some outside America, will be demanding that someone be held to account for this mess. What are the chances of Jesse getting away here? He's already on the cops' radar, having had several run-ins with the law in the past. He doesn't have the connections or resources that came to the rescue before -- no Walt, no Gus, no Mike, no Saul. Even his parents have cut ties with him.
So although it's nice to think that Jesse will wind up as a carpenter living peacefully in Alaska, it's far more likely he'll get chased down, scapegoated for Heisenberg's crimes, and tossed into the worst cell in the worst prison the feds could find, ineligible for parole until the Sun goes supernova.
Then again, there's a Breaking Bad sequel movie currently in the works, and unless it's about a zombie Walter White looking for brains to eat, it's presumably going to be following Jesse and his seemingly impossible escape. Figuring out the logistics there will make for some long nights in the writers room, if nothing else.
The Office : Pam Will Have To Abandon The Arts
The Office gives Pam Beesly a super perfect romantic conclusion. She starts out Season 1 with a fiance who takes her for granted, actively discourages her artistic dreams, and has seemingly forgotten that an engagement usually leads to a marriage. But by the end of the show, she's married her best friend Jim, who's rarely shown as being anything but supportive, and even has nice hair. It's a win-win!
The aforementioned artistic dream, though? It goes nowhere. From the beginning of the series, Pam is portrayed as deserving of a more challenging and artistic career than the dull office job she has. She admits that she doesn't think many little girls dream of being receptionists, so at the start, her arc is also about one day doing something she loves. By Season 9, though, Pam's progress begins and ends with a single mural that she paints at her office -- one that a mean warehouse worker eventually draws butts on.
Over the course of the series, all we see is that she bails on art school, and when she does have a show, the only person who shows up is Michael. And sure, she goes from being a receptionist to an "office administrator," but a running joke is that people still kind of expect her to do the same things, and she often just puts up with it. So it's not like she gave up on art because she realized her real passion lay in ordering supplies.
In the end, her husband is starting a new job in a new city, and they have two kids who need to eat. She has nothing on her resume that would get her even an entry-level job in the field she wants. The message is supposed to be something about finding the "beauty in ordinary things," but it's hard to imagine Pam won't have regrets 20 years down the line. Though those regrets will be minor compared to the poor bastards in the next entry ...
Game Of Thrones: Bran Stark Likely Won't Be A Great King
Game Of Thrones fans weren't particularly pleased with the way the series ended, in the same way that bees aren't particularly pleased when a drunk guy spin-kicks their hive. It's not that it was too sad -- if anything, the concluding chapter was uncharacteristically upbeat. For example, look who won the titular chair game! It wasn't the incestuous terrorist or the demonic embodiment of winter or that guy who chops off dicks. It was Bran Stark, a relatively innocuous guy from the show's most honorable family.
Bran Stark is also now the "Three-Eyed Raven." This means he's basically the internet of Westeros, if the internet only contained accurate historical information. These magical powers make him insanely knowledgeable, and supposedly an impartial ruler as well, since it seems he's no longer capable of harboring ill intent or resentment toward anyone. Bran developing from a useless-feeling disabled boy to the king of the
Seven Six Kingdoms definitely feels as happy an ending as we could get.
But here's the thing: Although Bran doesn't experience the negative sides of human emotion, such as bias or irrationality, the show makes it clear that he doesn't experience positive emotions either. Since he became the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran is barely even capable of being moved to a facial expression. He no longer shows affection to the people he loves most, and doesn't even seem to care when they leave him. So why would he be able to feel things like kindness, empathy, or mercy?
We don't have to speculate about why this is a problem. Bran makes it clear in the finale that he knew exactly what string of events would allow him to become king (he says so to Tyrion when he's put forth for the position). That implies he knew Daenerys would lose two of her dragons and all her closest friends, then go insane and burn thousands of innocents in a fit of rage. Bran knew it and said nothing. He never says anything.
The kind of emotionless and purely logical leadership you think you want after a string of murderous rulers only seems like a good idea until you realize this one oversees just as much murdering, only without moving his eyebrows. Millions of people can still die as long as Bran determines through some unfathomable calculation that it's For The Best. Considering that previous Three-Eyed Ravens have been known to live thousands of years, it looks like King Bran the Unsmiling will make future generations of Westeros long for King Joffrey.
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