Have you ever started reading a book or watching a TV series and felt an immediate connection with a character only to have the writer(s) destroy the main reason you love the work by taking away that character?
A while ago, I posted about intellectual archetypes in SF television, and at the top of my list resides Stargate SG-1’s Daniel Jackson. While the rest of the show’s ensemble is great, watching Daniel Jackson do his nerd thing was more enjoyable than any other aspect of the show.
And then, he was written out of the series. At least for a little while. I know he’s back in Season 7 because I’ve seen the beginning of Stargate Atlantis, but there is still a whole season where my favorite character is replaced by a new nerd guy who was introduced in the episode Daniel leaves.
Daniel Jackson isn’t the alone in this phenomenon. I get attached to characters, and they are written off or take a hiatus. Why do the writers do this to me? Is there rhyme or reason to it? I think so, yes.
In Daniel Jackson’s case, departure was the only way to get the character the additional depth he needed. His insecurities and self-doubt were building up to the point where either a change was necessary or the show would lose the believable human element that makes it so great. So Daniel had to “ascend” and move into the next phase of his intellectual journey.
I’m not sure what brings him back (I’m staying away from that degree of spoiler), but he does, and I’m assuming there will be much needed narrative catharsis upon his return. He will have grown past his insecurities, his friends will have grown more self-reliant in his absence, and the plots for the remaining seasons will reflect their newfound growth.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rupert Giles has to leave in order for Buffy to learn to stand on her own during Season 6. He stays gone for roughly half a season—if spoilers I’ve heard are accurate—before he comes back as a regular character. Again, I’m not sure on the details as I’m not that far into the series, but I know the basic gist of the story based on the musical episode, “Once More with Feeling” and my wife’s love of the franchise. Giles, I suspect, has to deal with some personal issues (Ripper stuff, maybe?)as well as his fatherly feelings toward Buffy, but when he returns, his and Buffy’s relationship is strengthened by the time apart and the vamp dusting gets taken up a notch.
So these two instances of this storytelling device got me to thinking. I don’t think it is a coincidence that thesse two characters share a common trait, either—intelligence.
Is there something about being an intellectual that requires time away from others that completes a smart guy (or gal)’s maturation? Yes, I think there is. Who do you ever hear of taking sabbaticals and vacations to “find themselves?” Thinkers and introverts, that’s who. Those who exist more inside themselves than out.
If we fall back on the classics—Jung, Campbell, and Frye—we see Daniel Jackson and Rupert Giles both falling into the archetypes of Wise Old Man (and Boon Companion, in many ways) as they work their way through their respective narrative’s monomyth. Without them taking their break from the day-to-day in order to find enlightenment, their heroes (Buffy Summers and Jack O’Neill) would never be able to ultimately complete their quest. It is only through the absence of wisdom that personal heroic growth is made, and once that growth occurs, wisdom can return, albeit in a reduced capacity regarding the quest itself; the personal relationship, however, between hero and Wise Old Man is enhanced.
This kind of sabbatical takes place in almost every heroic journey, and since my love is contemporary lit, the examples you get will be from that: Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter. Without each of them taking the steps toward ultimate enlightenment, their heroes would have never been able to overcome the evil that only they could overcome.
So maybe I shouldn’t be irritated that Daniel is gone from the next season of SG-1. I know that there will be much rejoicing and an excellent story (hopefully) to come from his return, and I’m sure that he’ll be integral to much of the narrative of the remaining seasons. But no amount of understanding the monomyth can make me not sigh a little when I load up the DVD and watch hours and hours of my favorite show sans my favorite character.
There better be some awesome stuff coming in Seasons 7-10. I’m just sayin’.\