For part I, see here.
Shows like BSG and WD also use these bleak worlds to present us with challenging situations in which there is no good solution, and people must be mature and take responsibility for their own actions. This contrasts with cheap Disney movies or other movies that always has a perfect ending that just happens to solve all problems and have little to no real sacrifice or cost involved. [Now, again, I do appreciate it when people think outside of the box and think laterally and creatively and come up with neat solutions. Indeed, that happens a lot in BSG. But not always. So when they do happen, they seem more real and are appreciated more than in (Disney or Twilight or pre-teen) movies that limit collateral damage to “hurt feelings” and “high-school drama.”]
When shows like BSG and WD present us with life and death situations, with choosing to sacrifice the few for the many or vice versa, the viewership is forced to confront and contend with these questions. The characters are forced to make decisions and stick to them and take responsibility for them, and they are forced to make peace with the fact that they live in a world in which they no longer have control. [And we won’t even begin to talk about how BSG deals with what seems to be an outside force guiding all the events taking place . . .]
These circumstances allow the viewers to empathize with the difficulty of and the necessity of certain decisions that the main characters have to make. When they make those hard decisions, we then evaluate them and ask ourselves what we would have done. We then realize that some of our decisions may not have been as easy as we had thought, that maybe we are not as morally righteous or noble as we had thought. You see, the decisions of those in these stories help shed light and give insight into what we truly are. Sometimes, we find convictions that are strongly held; other times, we see a darkness that we would not otherwise realize was within us. These challenging situations portrayed on the screen force us to think about what our own values are, how low we are or are not willing to go when push comes to shove, when we’re desperate.
This, I believe, makes us more able to empathize with and recognize the difficulty of many choices; it makes us more willing to see and listen and less quick to make a glib judgment. We become more humble and willing to consider the complexities of life and are less sure that we automatically know what’s best. When our favorite characters make decisions that we cannot fully support or never have dreamed of making, we slow down and consider if we would actually be able to make those distasteful decisions. Even if we know we would never do that, we still learn to respect a decision and extend charity to someone whose thinking is different from ours, even if we can never condone what they have done. Even if we decide that the decision was bad, or evil or wicked, we nevertheless learn about our own moral base, we exercise our discernment and judgment (which are moral faculties, no less!), and we learn to listen and respect, to understand and withhold premature judgment. We also realize we cannot and will not always necessarily make the right decision immediately in times of desperation.
All this grants us a proper humility, sympathy, and grace, as we confront these situations together with actors on a screen (but really, with another “reality” or world). At the same time, we also learn to assess moral right and wrong, realizing that there is a lot of gray area and complexity, without at the same time giving up the moral categories. There is still a right and wrong (which is why we sometimes feel a decision is good or a decision is bad). We recognize that good and evil is not always simple or black and white, and yet they still exist. Thus, we build our moral compass by recognizing the truth of things: that right and wrong are complex and that yet we must ever continue to hone our discernment and judgment, yet ever with grace and humility, which is really just another way of saying charity, that is, love.
Excellent narratives, excellent scripts (and other writing) helps us cultivate humility and morality. We neither become politically-correct relativists who think that all decisions are good decisions (no, we see in BSG, in WD, and in life that people do make mistakes and wrong decisions, and it does nobody a service when we refuse to call wrong things wrong, or evil things evil), nor do we become proud, haughty, judgmental moralists/legalists. Rather, we become more aware of the complexities of life, more aware of the deep questions, more aware of our own limitations, and yet wiser and more knowledgeable of the Truth of reality.
This, I contend, is worthy entertainment (and actually entertaining). Why not have moral formation and address the important questions of life (and death) while being “entertained”?