Get thee hence, nerd!

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 Daniel Jackson with a Bookthe 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.

Rupert Giles 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.

Gandalf 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’.\

Comments

  1. Longasc

    I agree. Characters that travel far away, get captured, get lost/disappear or something like that always return as more than they were before.

    I know some novels where the heroes were tortured and broken, but still gained other characteristics that made them stronger than before in a certain way. Joe Abercrombie’s (“Before they are hanged”) Sand dan Glokta for example was a master swordsman with dashing looks and a ladies man with fine manners. Before he was captured by the enemy and tortured. He returns as a quite nasty and vile Inquisitor, troubled, having nightmares and he does not look good anymore, nobody likes him, he cannot fight, he can barely walk. But he became shrewd, learned the dark sides of the nature of man. In a way , the old saying “what does not kill one makes one stronger” applies here.

    What exactly happened to the character is rarely told, and if we get to know what happened, we are given a report and only sometimes flashbacks, but never a full story. I read that Tolkien planned to write about the adventures of Gandalf after he fought the Balrog, before he returned to the Fellowship. I wonder if he did not do it because it simply is a bad idea to write about things that the imagination of the readers themselves can fill in much much better? The event that changed Gandalf is still told in retrospective. So he basically defeated a Balrog and levelled up – DING, you are now Gandalf the White. 😉 Other things happened. But they are not told. They do not need to be told. They should not be told.

    Imagine writers writing a story for Jackson or Giles what happened during the time they were away. This would most likely be rather uninspired – while leaving there a creative void for the reader to fill with his imagination works so much better.

    • I don’t know where I stand on this one. On one hand, I agree that explaining the excursions takes away a lot of the mystery, but at the same time, I’m the kind of reader/viewer that wants to know every last detail about characters in which I invest myself.

      It’s kind of a double-edged sword. But one I’m familiar with. I took on that same dichotomy when I became a lit major in college. I can’t just read a story anymore. It has to be fully examined from various angles.

    • I’m the same way. I get hit my wanderlust often and burnout from various regular activities and need a small break from everything that isn’t me often to recharge my batteries.

  2. While your thoughts on the effects of these disappearances are very greatly appreciated and also ring true to my ears, I feel the pedantic urge to point out that to the best of my knowledge, Daniel Jackson was written out because the actor desired a break. I’m glad the writers managed to make that make sense with his character’s arc, but I think if you call it something that happened because his character is an intelligent one, you might be a touch too optimistic of the creative influence in the decision to have him go away. That was certainly the case with Giles, whose actor disappeared because he had spent too many years on Buffy away from his family and England. When he came back, he never reverted back to regular status and remained an (admittedly very frequently) recurring guest star until the series ended. It is very true what you point out about how this was used in the writing, but… I don’t think either would have happened if the actors behind the characters didn’t desire the break in the first place.

    Which begs the question – would this happen to a less intelligence-based character involved in a similar periodical disappearance? Oddly – perhaps tellingly? – I can’t think of such examples. There are sure to have been other actors, portraying less intelligence-based characters, that have desired a hiatus from their TV-shows. It’d be interesting to see if they, too, exhibited similar changes upon their returns. (By the way, I’m here talking of the literary characters you mention and Gandalf – I’m not spoiling you on whether or not Daniel will change)

    Another example of the tendency you hold forth, by the way, could be the equally intelligence-based character of Wesley on Buffy/Angel. And in this case, it was certainly not about actor availability, which indicates you’re right about this being a frequent creative device in TV as well as in literature perhaps a bit more strongly than the other two examples. Wesley developed greatly both from his absence between appearances on the two shows, and also from a period of alienation from the rest of the characters on Angel. The latter of which he remained in the show for the entire duration of, and still had very similar developments as a result of.

    As to what you can expect from 7-10, my memory of SG-1 was that the final three seasons were my favourites of the entire run – at least as far as the writing was concerned. Admittedly, I never felt as head-over-heels positive about it as you seem to do, never really falling much for the majority of seasons 1 through 3. 4 through 7 was fine fun, and some of it was very good indeed, but I felt they still had some rather dull fillers, a problem that mostly had gone away by season 8. You’ve already seen one of my favourite episodes, though, “Heroes”, so it’s not like the show didn’t have some really great moments before well then as well.
    .-= Loki´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

    • Loki, I didn’t know that Michael Shanks needed a break. I don’t know a lot about the behind-the-scenes happenings of SG-1 like I do other shows, but it makes sense.

      I wonder, though, if, like you mention, the character would have been able to come back had it not been the intellectual. I can’t think of any non-intellectual characters ever making stunning returns after a meta-break. If RDA had wanted a break, would they have just killed him? What about Teal’c? He’s a warrior, so his departure would have made most sense in his death. Daniel Jackson, however, was an intellectual, so he had to go on a journey of enlightenment.

      There’s a paper in there somewhere, I think.

      • RDA SPOILERS…

        RDA did want a break. His role in Season 8 is greatly reduced, and he’s almost gone in S9 and S10. They didn’t kill him off, though, they promoted him. I’m not sure which is worse.
        .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Acronymicon: MGORPG =-.

        • RDA spoilers continued

          I always thought they handled it pretty well, even though the character’s absence was a great loss to the show. By promoting him they allowed the odd guest appearance, and created the handy “friend in high places”-guy for subsequent seasons as well as both spin-offs. (Which reminds be – as Beej watches SG:U, he’s probably already aware of the eventual promotion and implied lack of dying. Though I suppose he’d like to remain unawares of when it happens.) I loved how they awkwardly tried to keep the character alive with one-sided phonecalls and the like, and how they then later mocked themselves about it with their characteristic use of meta-jokes on their own format.
          .-= Loki´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

          • Yeah, now that you guys mention it, I had read (maybe it was from you, Tesh) that RDA’s influence in the show was significantly reduced during the final seasons. And based on his small role in SGU, I agree; I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing that he hit General.

            I was actually thinking about this topic this morning, and I was thinking that perhaps Jack wouldn’t be killed but finally allowed to retire to his fishing cabin. Being promoted to General, however, is a good way–like you said–to keep a favorite character around.

  3. Aye, Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson) wanted a break. Perhaps it’s a “chicken and egg”, though, since it could easily be noted that creative and intelligent types need a break sometimes (whether that was MS as an actor or DJ as an intense character or some mix of the two, is perhaps irrelevant in the balance). Often, the subconscious will solve problems that the conscious wouldn’t have handled well, if you just shift around your thinking and do something else for a while. I know that some of my best ideas for writing, game design and even art come when I’m puttering around doing something else.

    (This is also why it’s often a fool’s errand to make creative workers slaves to a punch clock… but I digress a bit…)
    .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Acronymicon: MGORPG =-.

    • You’re right. Making creative types hit a punch clock or reach a deadline is really hard. Even though I generally work best with a deadline of sorts as far as making sure my ducks are in a row, my best work comes from when I am able to take my time and let the ideas ferment a while.

      I’m with you. My best ideas come from other things, which is why I always have Evernote on my iPhone available or my handy dandy Moleskine notebook on hand at all times. I’m constantly jotting things down, and I’m pretty sure the people around me think I’m a nutter.

  4. I like the intelligent hero in Sci-Fi/Fantasy series or movies for the exact reasons you’ve stated. I think it also has something to do with the down to earth attitude of these characters. While they are intelligent, they know the bounds of themselves and the conflicts that surround them. Another good character that springs to my mind of this intelligent hero is Bobby from the series Supernatural. He is intelligent and interesting. He also picks up the mantel of father figure for the Winchester brothers as the series progresses…

    • Which is another reason I like the intelligent characters: they tend to be the ones who evolve over the course of the series instead of staying stagnant playing the same, stock role season after season (*cough Jack from LOST or House from…well, House cough cough*)

  5. Wow that’s a different point of view. I’ve never thought those characters usually leave because they’re more intelligent than the rest of the crew. I know i was sad when i thought gandalf died >_>