Submitted by Aaron Arkin.
Recently I watched the third installment of PBS Masterpiece’s Mystery Series, “Endeavor.” Overall, an excellent series, this episode was flawed. It introduced a divorced mother with small child who is helping her father, a veterinarian, in his practice. She comes across as down-to-earth and vulnerable, and is just beginning to open herself to romance ((in this episode with the show’s protagonist, detective Endeavor Morse (hence the name of the series)). She is nuanced, warm, and an appealing character.
Despite initially presented as sympathetic and fleshed-out, in the end she turns out to be single-minded: a driven psychopath-like avenger who through poison-pen letters has turned the villagers in the town she lives in against each other, has manipulated her father and Endeavor, and schemed against her supposed enemies, ultimately luring her ex to a meeting where she shoots him in the back of the head. A perfect coda to her desire for retribution, he falls into a vat of melted chocolate at his own confectionery establishment. Her motivation for all this is that her ex-husband, now a chocolate-covered corpse, refused to acknowledge or support her or their son, making her, in her eyes, the object of scorn and ridicule.
I hate it when writers turn a character not only upside down, but away from being fully-fleshed-out and into just a convenient plot device. It cheapens the story and makes the audience feel cheated and manipulated. At least, that’s my reaction. They could and should have done better. For instance, they could have kept her as the person to whom we were first introduced, even kept her resentments, but used it to having her unwittingly cause harm by an act of omission or by a benign act resulting in unintended but disastrous consequences. Of course, that would require more sophisticated and imaginative writing.
They did a background presentation on this Series several weeks ago wherein the producers made much ado about the depth of the show’s characters and their relationships to and influences on each other. And, in the main, this is true. But the episode and character I’m describing makes that promotional effort seem somewhat self-indulgent; more of a filler and an effort to boost the show with its audience, than an actual insight into its production’s values. After that self-aggrandizement, I can only wonder what the actors felt following this episode’s turn of events. If they had any misgivings, let’s hope they were assuaged on payday.
The events in this installment remind me of a scene in the movie Tootsie wherein Dustin Hoffman, a notoriously difficult actor to work with in real life, plays a similarly difficult character. He is forced to take the only job his agent can get him, dressing up as a tomato with no speaking lines in a commercial. He infuriates the Director when he forces the production to stop by demanding to know, “What’s my motivation?” The joke being he can’t accept the fact that by design, he is a tomato, and no matter how ripe, will never be a fleshed-out character.
My advice to writers: if you have the opportunity and the talent to provide an audience with realistic and deeply nuanced characters, don’t turn them into tomatoes.