Lots of television shows these days seem to carry with them a whiff of Armageddon.
I reviewed two such shows this week: There’s Constantine, NBC’s story of a cynical exorcist who’s been warned that hell’s up to something big. Over on ABC, Sleepy Hollow features a modern-day cop teaming up with an 18th-Century Ichabod Crane to battle a horde of supernatural beasties and, ahem, rein in one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
These shows, while admittedly a little weird, are hardly unusual. CW’s Supernatural has long battled denizens from Hades to, at times, forstall the end of the world. In AMC’s The Walking Dead, the end has come in the form of the zombie apocalypse, with survivors struggling to rebuild society even as they kill each other off. This summer and fall, FX’s The Strain centered on a potentially world-ending virus, wherein the infected become vampire-like critters. In TNT’s Falling Skies (which also runs in the summer), humanity’s been overrun by aliens. We’ve seen shows about people dealing with a secular rapture (HBO’s The Leftovers), people returning from the dead (ABC’s Resurrection) and people trying to make a once-dead earth habitable again (CW’s The 100). You could argue that the characters in ABC’s Once Upon A Time are perpetually facing some sort of cataclysmic end to their own world(s). And the list goes on.
Pretty fascinating trend. And I think these shows probably says something about society’s fascination with its own mortality.
These shows ask lots of inherently spiritual questions. What happens when I die? What happens when we all do? Does it matter if I’m good or not? Does anything matter at all? What, if I must run from a pack of zombies, is really important to me?
None of these shows offer explicitly Christian answers to these questions, of course. And yet, many of these shows do find some positive elements to hold onto even with of all their serious, life-threatening troubles. Families are treasured. Friends are protected. In the midst of unimaginable disaster and cataclysm, we see people turn to each other for protection and solace and even a little bit of happiness.
This is not to say that any of these shows are worth watching. Many are deeply problematic. But in the midst of these supernatural, end-of-the-world tropes, as troubling as they can be, we still see the power of love at work. Our characters may have secret knowledge or super powers, but they don’t necessarily mean much. They may not have much left but the shirts on their backs or the weapons at their sides. But they’re still willing to sacrifice for those they care about.