Terrible Life Lessons Taught by TV Heroes

Sometimes, you watch a television show or obsess over a character’s development and you learn a very obvious and wholly intended lesson from it. Chuck's Chuck Bartowski is an exemplar of being yourself. Firefly's Malcom Reynolds is all about sticking to your principles and being the good guy in the face of overwhelming adversity. Sometimes, the writing is seamless and the message is clear and everyone goes home happy.

This isn’t an article about those times. Those times are boring. It’s why half the dialogue on Pan Am makes me want to drink bleach. This is an article about doing keg-stands in Oz and pulling down the Wizard’s curtain before he even has the chance to turn his big floating holographic head on. It’s about over-analyzing things to the point that reality is nothing but a thin cloud cover over the toxic rays of an unforgiving sun and we’re entirely okay with that.

This kind of stuff happens in television. It's inevitable and it isn't the end of the world. Here are a handful of examples, from past and present, of lessons that went off the rails when it was convenient to do so because the heroes didn't stick to the message at hand.


Maggie Ryan from Pan Am

The Lesson You’re Supposed to Learn: "You have to take advantage of every opportunity presented to you in order to get ahead in life."

The Lesson You Actually Learn: It’s okay to sell everyone you come in contact with out because you had a hard life and you deserve to have nice things. In flashbacks, we learn that Maggie is a former truck-stop waitress, the one that always has her head in a book and probably throws Shakespearian quotes to the kitchen staff. I’ve been that waitress. It blows. I’m right there with Maggie when she jumps on the chance to kick that popsicle stand. But as the series progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that Maggie is afflicted with a severe case of the gimme-gimmes. She openly flaunts her refusal to adhere to Pan Am regulations, then panics when the revelation that her fluency in Portuguese is a tall tale compromises her job for real. Solution? Tell your superiors about the affair your co-worker is having with his mistress. Because, you know, that’s honorable. The kicker is when Maggie’s fellow crew members find out how she kept her job, and aside from some token grumbling about it, get over the betrayal pretty fast. She even gets to keep her invite to the New Year’s Eve party.


The Doctor from Doctor Who

The Lesson You’re Supposed to Learn: "Trust The Doctor: genocide is bad."

The Lesson You Actually Learn: Trust The Doctor: genocide is A-OK as long as the other side starts it first. Make no mistake, the Daleks and the Cybermen are Bad Guys. They’re the Bad Guys that get paraded out for season finale cliffhangers just to remind you that their evil cannot be contained by a single episode. I’m not saying that the Cybermen aren’t terrifying and terrible creatures, I’m just debating how much higher The Doctor is on that moral ladder with his willingness to wipe them off the plane of existence. I mean, there’s no question that the Nazis were a scourge on humanity, but we didn’t erase all life from Germany at the end of World War II. In fact, the bombing of Dresden is widely considered to be an atrocity. So…are we saying that it’s okay to kill all the Cybermen because they aren’t human? Well, then it boils down to racism. Is The Doctor a racist? Sometimes I wonder.


Hercules from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

The Lesson You’re Supposed to Learn: "Hercules is a paragon of righteousness and you should strive to be as inherently heroic as he is."

The Lesson You Actually Learn: It’s okay to totally drop the ball on that goodness thing if you’re having a bad day. How many times does Herc go off on some emo-kid bender every time someone close to him kicks it? Look, there’s a big difference between having a bad day and calling off of work to recuperate in the bathtub with a bottle of UV Cake and a laptop streaming One Tree Hill reruns on Netflix and leaving ancient Greece to fend for itself because you need to go find yourself or some hippie crap. Own your responsibilities, man. If you need to crash with the Druids for awhile, it’s cool, but get Xena on back-up or something.


Lorelei Gilmore from Gilmore Girls

The Lesson You’re Supposed to Learn: "Good parents are involved in their kids’ lives."

The Lesson You Actually Learn: Helicopter parenting is perfectly healthy for parents and children alike. Those moms that hang out with their daughters’ boyfriends aren’t creepy or sad at all. Lorelei is a hip, cool mom. She and Rory are witty and rival Chuck Klosterman with their pop-culture savvy. Lorelei Gilmore is an awesome role model in a teen-mom success story kind of way but she pushes the envelope into creepy-overbearing-mom-trying-to-recapture-lost-youth too. When I was in high school and my mother insisted on chaperoning post-football gatherings at the local greasy spoon, I wanted to die. I absolutely wanted to die. When she started to get along better with my boyfriends than I did, I cried foul. But according to the Gilmore Girls, she was right all along. Creepy is the new caring.


Don Draper from Mad Men

The Lesson You’re Supposed to Learn: "Adultery will destroy your marriage."

The Lesson You Actually Learn: It’s only adultery when your wife does it. Let’s break down the breakdown of the Draper marriage, shall we? Don has slept with, well, pretty much everyone, and it’s the standard. It’s what we expect of Don. Even as a chick watching Mad Men, my annoyance at Don’s extramarital dalliances is just that, an annoyance. I get it. Don Draper is a stud. I’m not annoyed that he’s cheating on his wife as much as I’m annoyed that Mad Men constantly feels pressured to remind me of what a Manly Man Don Draper is. But when Betty starts messing around, my righteous indignation switch is stuck in the on position largely because Betty is rarely presented as a sympathetic character, even prior to her taking up with Henry Francis. Why can’t Betty get any sympathy? Every single character on Mad Men goes through cycles of being an awful human being and being an awesome human being. It’s one of the things that makes the series such a work of art. But Betty is consistently painted as a crazy, bored housewife. Her affairs are presented as some sort of revenge against Don, while Don’s are presented as, well, that’s just what Don does. A good deal of Betty’s frustration stems from the fact that she knows that Don is cheating on her throughout the first three seasons, but she can’t prove it. Does that frustration justify Betty’s actions? No, but that doesn’t make Don any less guilty either.


Aidan McCollin from Being Human

The Lesson You’re Supposed to Learn: "Tyrants are terrible and should be promptly decapitated."

The Lesson You Actually Learn: Sometimes it’s better for everyone just to live in fear and oppression. Throughout the entire first season of the North American Being Human series, we’re treated to clashes between our dashing undead hero, Aidan, and his deranged vampire daddy, Bishop. We’re meant to sympathize with Aidan and we do. Totally. Bishop is a Bad Guy. Aidan just wants to shack up with his werewolf BFF and live off of the bags of blood he pilfers from the hospital supply closet. Is that too much to ask? Bishop comes off as a sort of vampire Stalin-lite with the dogmatic adherence to his own special brand of what makes the ideal vampire until he (literally) loses his head. What should be smooth sailing for Aidan in the aftermath is revealed in the second season to be pretty much the worst thing ever with Aidan now responsible for Bishop’s “orphans” who are oh so hungry and don’t see the need to follow Bishop’s rules anymore. The man was a monster, but you didn’t see wayward vampires chomping down on coma patients during his rule did you? No. No you did not.


Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs

The Lesson You’re Supposed to Learn: "If you are intelligent and competent at your job, you will have a long and rewarding career."

The Lesson You Actually Learn: There are absolutely no long-term repercussions to mocking your boss (to his face) on a near daily basis. Perry Cox is one of the best doctors in Sacred Heart. He’s JD’s mentor. He’s like House without the drug problem. That’s all awesome, but at what point do you think Kelso would claim enough is enough in the real world? Sure, we see the occasional career set-back for Cox when his mouth runs away from him and everyone laughs at crusty old Bob, but in nine seasons, the only real threat to Dr. Cox’s job security comes from his own decision to quit medicine for a few days to drink his way through Southern California after that whole unfortunate rabies thing in “My Lunch.” He even gleans himself a nice teaching position in the final season of the series, despite the fact that if he wasn’t an entertaining character on television, he’d probably be a terrible person to work with.


Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural

The Lesson You’re Supposed to Learn: "Family is everything, especially when your family keeps getting slaughtered by demons."

The Lesson You Actually Learn: A co-dependent relationship is the only one that will make you truly happy. God, these two are almost too easy. Supernatural itself acknowledges the dysfunctional relationship between one of C-Dubs most adored sets of siblings, but at the end of the day, they just love each other, man. How can you not love love? Sera Gamble calls it “The epic love story of Sam and Dean,” and their soul mate status has been all but confirmed by Chuck Shurley himself. That’s sweet and all, but their twue wuv keeps breaking the world. And the fact that they could really care less about that fact as long as they have each other’s GQ good looks to angst at speaks for itself. Sam and Dean have both had meaningful relationships outside of each other, sure, but time and again, those relationships are dismantled, the pieces held up to the light and dismissed as something less than their epic Winchester bond. Go Google season four’s “Sex and Violence.” It’s okay. I’ll wait.

And I know there’s more out there. Tell me about your own adventures in over analysis.

Comments (39)
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I disagree with you about Doctor Who. Yes the destoryed his owm people, but he did it to save everthing else. And when it comes to killing the Doctor allways trys to find a non-violent way to solve the problum.



The doctor is a man who hates violence and killing. But he will do what it takes to save earth or the unaverce.
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No, I disagree with your words regarding Doctor Who. Considering your factual errors contained in that section, I wonder if you ever really watched it that closely? In comparison to the episodes from just the new series alone, the Dalek/Cybermen episodes comprise finale cliffhangers only SOMETIMES. Taking the entire 40+ year history of the series, it turns out to be very SELDOM. Additionally, the Doctor has only but a few times claimed any moral high ground, and although his actions probably speak otherwise in YOUR mind, I doubt those intimately familiar with the show and its history and meaning are going to call it a "terrible life lesson". At best, it's merely a story told by Britain's sci-fi storytellers.
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Your right. The man need's to get his facts strate.
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I love Supernatural & I love the bond between Sam & Dean. But YES, YES, AND YES! Sometimes my jaw is left on the floor with these two and how they bond keeps affecting the world.
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One paragraph was enough.
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I do see your point with nearly all of these, and it doesnt change how anyone enjoys them, but the Doctor Who one is just wrong. To start with, The Doctor isnt human. Time Lord. Pretty basic fact there. Doesnt negate the racism idea, just the "as long as theyre not human" part. The fact that they address the Doctor as a murderer "for the greater good" quite alot in the show, does. I'm sure you were just trying to fill space in your article but if you'd ever actually watched the episodes you'd know you were miles of base. I mean there is more than one episode based around the Doctor trying to save something evil and horrible b ecause it might be savable rather than commit the genocide everyone else wants.
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i enjoy most these shows its a guy with a blog on tv.com its not like he writes for the washington post its always the same with critics if i listened to them about anything id be stuck watching twilight movies and one tree hill .....and hanging myself because like i have my opinion they have one to only they can write an page on here and act like they nail it lmao watch on my friends and enjoy because although this is what has been said there are more to learn from all these shows not just what one man wants to parade in a blog this is as serious as facebook lol now i got to go doctor who is on :)
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oh my god I cannot believe how seriously people are taking this article. seriously if we all actually lived by the moral codes of tv characters, we probs would have died out years ago.



on the other hand, it would've been a very entertaining nosedive into extinction.
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I've always found the Doctor to be hypocritical as well especially during the Baker era where he would consistently use K-9 as an offensive weapon, undermining his alleged pacifism. I totally agree with Hercules and Scrubs. I don't totally agree about Mad Men because although Betty has become less sympathetic for many people I still see the dissolution of their marriage as a result of Don's actions and I think most of us like to see how many shades of grey there are in Don's character. He's certainly not a clean-cut hero.



I've always thought that a lot of sitcoms about single males like to think they're about how hard it is for single men to find love and companionship but then they bring out a plethora of the most dazzling female actors as their love interests, only to have the the couple torn apart by silly misunderstandings or a deus ex machina. The real message of these shows is that the world is full of single movie starlets but no one knows how to put effort into a relationship. The examples that come to mind are Frasier, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Seinfeld (probably for George more than the others). Whereas the brilliant Louie is also about a single guy looking for love but manages to be realistic, depressing and hilarious.



How about Dexter in later seasons changing the message from:

if you're a compulsive serial killer sociopath then the best morality you can hope for is killing heinous criminal only after they've avoided punishment through the criminal justice system (or you they know your secret identity); to:

Kill every bad person you meet as soon as possible. Hinder all police investigations to make killing easier. Take every death on the show personally act you have a right to dish out vengeance for mankind.



How about American Dad! - supposedly satirising conservative American through the character of Stan Smith, only to undermine that satire by having every episode end with Stan learning a 'lesson' and always saying 'My God you're so right!'.
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Guys, Guys, Guys,



Why is everyone thinking the author of this article even knows what journalism is? He calls the Doctor a racist. Any fule kno that the Doctor is not racist, he has had companions of all colours. But hold on, I hear you say, does that mean the idiot writing this article meant 'Specist'? No he didn't mean that either. To be a specist, The Doctor would consider species that are not Time Lord beneath his concern. A trait that he has amply demonstrated he does not possess.



Unfortunayely, we have all been treated to a piece of Hack journalism worthy of the now defunct News of the Screws. With any luck this guy will follow those journo's into oblivion. Unless he joins the Sun on Sunday, of course!!
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Your repeatedly getting the author's gender wrong seems almost like self-parody. As for the content of your comment, your understanding of speciesism as a form of demographic prejudice is abysmal. Demographic prejudice does not require you to be prejudiced against every demographic except your own. It is sufficient to be prejudiced against one demographic only. For example Hitler held 'Aryans' to be the highest 'race' of humans and Jewish people to be the lowest. In the middle were a range of 'races' from 'Caucasian' to 'African' yet Hitler only argued for extermination of the Jews. According to you he would have argued for the extermination of all races except Aryans. Perhaps you should educate yourself.
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Ben45tpy, it doesn't really matter because the point that is asked is still unanswered. The question is whether the article should be valued as having journalistic intent. Unfortunately, TV.com considers it so, even though it was only an opinion. It is considered "News" by TV.com and subsequently, journalism, by the readers who don't allow their thoughts to transcend the cattle stratus/strata.
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Sorry to burst your bubble, but not all TV characters are supposed to teach you things. You know, outside of after school specials.
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I believe you have misunderstood the lesson you are meant to learn from many of these shows. Some of the elements you list as actual lessons are closer to real intended main themes or at least complications to the main theme. For example, Doctor Who has shown that even as a mostly heroic character, the Doctor takes too much into his own hands at times. He lets the power (of being practically a god) go to his head making the decisions he thinks are best, and he often needs his human companion to save him (and whatever monstrous evil he faces) from himself.





I am not even sure why you think we are supposed to learn, "If you are intelligent and competent at your job, you will have a long and rewarding career," from Scrubs. Most of the intended lessons on Scrubs are much more personal and have very little to do with any competence.







I do not believe you understand the shows you are reviewing.

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what you said about being human is a common sentiment addressed at the fall of an old regime,e.g. "Mussolini made the trains run on time"
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You don't mess with my Gilmore Girls!
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The Doctor only goes after those races that threaten the Earth. There is the aspect of the Time War and the destruction of the Daleks, but that's about a war between all Time Lords and the Daleks.
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Ya I agree with the person below. You've got Lorelai all wrong. The whole show is based around the fact that Lorelai and Rory though mother and daughter, are also best friends and have a special bond. Lorelai was in no way overbearing or creepy in her parenting. Because of the fact that Lorelai had her young, it contributed to their closeness. Lorelai was a "hip" youngful mom because she herself was still quite young for a parent. One of the general ideas of the show was that this mother/daughter, best friend pair were growing up together because Lorelai was so young when she had Rory.



Lorelai in no way was a helicopter parent. Gilmore Girls is a beloved show based on the incredible relationship between these two. I don't think it would be so loved if it was the relationship that is depicted here.



Though I'm all for over analysis of shows, and this life lessons concept is interesting, this analysis of Gilmore Girls and Lorelai is just dead wrong.
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have you ever actually watched an episode of gilmore girls? the kind of mom you;re talking about, and the kind of mom it sounds like you had, the main thing is the kid doesn;t want them there. but lorelai is anything but some outdated mother wearing neon pink leg warmers and a high ponytail. the whole premise of the show is that her and her daughter are best friends, ergo rory wants her there and doesn;t think of it as hanging out with her boyfriend and her mom, but her boyfriend and her best friend. your theory falls apart in this instance because with helicopter parents generally the kid doesn;t want them there, but rory wants lorelai there and what she thinks means everything to her. if you;re going to tear apart beloved tv heroes, at least get the facts right first.
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I can't speak to the relationship between a mom and a daughter or to parenting techniques coz (a) not a girl and (b) don't have kids, but I did have a mom who was only 15 years older than me. Not my best friend, coz again, not a girl, but I certainly did hang out with her by choice sometimes. So yeah, I could totally buy their relationship when I was watching that show. Seemed perfectly natural and healthy and like a better relationship than most parents and kids have with each other.
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This is great! Helicopter parents are scary! They could be the new big baddie on some scifi show ;)



Supernatural: the episode 2x17 "heart" was a great example of Sam having a relationship away from his brother! lol I was bummed when that episode ended.
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These are not "terrible" life lessons.



Doctor Who: One thing that bothers me about The Doctor is that he is reluctant to commit genocide on races that are inherently evil. Not killing all the Daleks or all the Cybermen would be like not killing all the demons in hell if you had the chance. They aren't human. They don't have the potential for good. Get over yourself and win the war in the only way that can actually end the danger. Failure to do so is actually genocide of the human race by inaction. The fact that he agonizes over this has always bugged me. It's like choosing to not kill all the cancer cells.



Hercules: Just because you've done good deeds before means you are obligated to do good deeds in the future? Or is it that you are born into your role in this life and must accept it? These are very unamerican ideas. It's not like someone was paying the guy to be a hero (in which case he could quit). The implication you're making is that he was born into slavery to the populace of Greece and that he should just suck it up. Now, THAT would be a terrible lesson.



Being Human: There's a reason we didn't topple Saddam Hussein and the Taliban and just leave both countries after a few weeks. Because a power vacuum actually is often worse than a tyrant. There are certainly other sides to this argument, but that is obviously the prevailing view at the highest levels of government under both left and right-wing administrations.



Scrubs: They didn't go into it that I recall, but doctors, like teaching faculty, have this thing called tenure, making them virtually unfireable. I don't know if this is so much a lesson, as an accurate portrayal of a workplace that differs significantly from the one you know. It is, however, very much like the one I know.

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Hmm... I'm tempted to ask "What you talkin' bout Willis?" but I'm afraid you'll respond with some aggrandized argument about how Different Strokes is SUPPOSED to teach us that two families from different worlds can come together and make one stronger familial bond but in reality it teaches us that black people lie or that short people have no reason to live.
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This is brilliant!!
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The only thing I ever learned from Hercules is that it's perfectly OK for your 2nd-best friend to marry your mom.
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sanctimonious piece of shit



desperate for hits or what? You people are the worse writers I've ever seen. This is how some asswhipe teacher at online lessons told you to create controversy? What do you think yourselves, the guardians of cool?



stop, its embarrassing
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The Doctor always gives the villains a chance, offering to help them settle on another planet, or whatever they need, as long as it doesn't include killing other creatures. Talesin23 is right that all Daleks and Cybermen are evil, it's not like there are a few extremists in the group. There are other reasons to doubt the Doctor's "goodness." As has been pointed out in many episodes, a lot of people put themselves in danger and even die in order to help or impress the Doctor.
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But also, the ultimate message of Doctor Who is that genocide is "bad" is demonstrated by the example given in the article. The cost to the Doctor of the genocide of the Dalaks was the genocide of all of the Doctor's species as well and he's been paying the price and dealing with the guilt of it ever since. This is the example that proves the rule.
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Yes! And in Journey's End the Doctor denounced the half human-half time lord Doctor for destroying all the Daleks, calling it genocide.
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I think The Doctor having humans kill The Silence (what was their real species name?) is a bigger genocide than Cyberman and Daleks.. and I personally find the Daleks to be lame, just run around them in circles and they'll never catch you
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unfortunately this has been, by far, the most ridiculous, shallow, misinformed and meaningless piece of text I happened to read in TV.com written by an official writer.. before attempting -and yet sadly failing- to copy other writers' tone, sarcasm and sense of humor, maybe one should begin trying to write something at least coherent with a reasonable flow of thought.. what a waste of a "could be original" idea for an article..
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This made me laugh out loud: "If you need to crash with the Druids for awhile, it's cool, but get Xena on back-up or something." I just envision him calling Xena on a cellphone with that message (yes, I don't know why, I just do).
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You really shouldn't put Doctor Who in such an article if you have no clue about the show...........

Cybermen is made from humans, yes made. They use human as resources to create more of themself. And in the process removes all emotions. Daleks is very similar, in that they feel almost nothing except hatred for everything else and only wish for everything elses destruction. Both races has no individuality and one Cyberman/Dalek is exactly like the others.



So comparing them with the nazis just makes you look stupid, because the Nazis are still human unlike the Cybermen/Daleks. And while humans will surrender if you kill the leader, the Cybermen/Dalek will work to recreate their race as long as only 1 survive, so that they can continue on with the destruction of everything else.



Thus the lesson really is, that killing and genocide is bad, but sometimes its necessary when there is no other option.
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The comparison isn't to the Nazis specifically, but the treatment of Nazi Germany after the war and the attempted genocide that the Nazis committed (which the Cybermen/Daleks do).
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I disagree about Betty Draper. That moment in the first season, where she shoots BBs at birds owned by one of her neighbors, was pretty awesome. Am I wrong?
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very true. i haven't seen that episode in a long time, but when i read your comment i instantly started to smile and nod my head.

i agree with both of you; i loved that scene and i still kind of want to love betty for it, but i don't love to hate her (as with pete) and i don't see an evolution of her character (again, compared to pete and honestly, all the others) - rather i see her in a downward spiral character-wise; well i guess i'ts evolving alright, just not in the right direction.



she is still young, and should get "older and wiser", "live and learn" etc etc. but she just snaps into child-mode, now even more so than in the first seasons.

so i agree with this article, and one scene of brilliance is not enough -

i cannot defend her or try to sympathise with her any longer just because once she picked up a shotgun, shot some birds while smoking, looking simply magnificent, and good music is playing in the backround.

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And Wliey E. Coyote the lesson you are supposed to learn? Vegan is right!!

Lesson actually learned: If you are doing business on a regular basis, it's always, always, always a good idea to have more than 1 supplier. DAMN YOU ACME!!!
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If you are looking for TV to have an Aesop's fable morality to it, you are denying the fact that these shows are complex with multiple character arcs that span years. If that is summed up in a one sentence nugget of "love thy neighbor" cliche, then the writers have been doing a crap job for show that's probably pretty boring.



SPN: Meaningful relationships outside of each other but they are dismissed? More like they've all been killed. It's hard to have a relationship with a dead person, even for Sam and Dean. Also, their familial bond never really broke the world. Demons broke the world, Angels broke the world, Sammy broke the world while going his own way (ie, not with Dean) but you could argue that that was the angels and demons fault too.

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