Many great piece of arts, across all mediums, challenge their audiences. It might be as simple and harmless as a big budget blockbuster which mines some escapist fun from throwing you into the shoes of Peter Parker or Tony Stark and prompts you to ask, “what would I do as a superhero?”
Although let’s face it, Kick Ass and Super already answered that one for most of us.
At the other end of the scale, movies can be an emotional endurance test. This could range from a gory bit of horror which makes you wonder how much physical trauma you’d be able to endure before packing it in and letting Jason Voorhees take the win to a bleak drama which forces you to consider impossible decisions, Sophie’s Choice-style.
But even more than movies, television shows are uniquely positioned to force viewers to answer impossible questions, as their episodic structure and longer runtime ensure that the series can interrogate a decision from every angle—and linger for as long as the creators want on the effects of every call.
With that in mind, it’s time to look at ten times TV forced you to consider questions for which there’s no right answer—and see what decision the characters and audience went with.
10. The X-Files - Would You Sacrifice One Life For Another?
By the time its eighth season rolled around, the nineties conspiracy mystery megahit The X-Files was starting to struggle with attracting an audience. Yes, the central duo of David Duchovny’s zealous Bill Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s hardened cynic Scully were as magnetic as ever, but the monster of the week plots were straining credulity and the show’s overarching mythos had become nigh on impenetrable for anyone less than obsessive.
The on-going beef between mercurial Russian agent Krycek and Assistant FBI director Skinner, however, managed to reignite the show’s propulsive mystery with a vicious moral question that left viewers struggling to make the right call.
Krycek offers Skinner the antidote required to keep Mulder alive as the agent is comatose and rapidly fading after an alien abduction, but there’s a catch (isn’t there always?). Skinner’s end of the bargain is that he has to end the life of Agent Scully’s unborn child in exchange for the antidote.
Don’t worry, dear reader—the venerable director unplugs Mulder, discovering when he does that life support was actually all that kept his alien-acquired sickness alive, and the audience is able to reassure themselves that they too wouldn’t have offed Scully’s unborn offspring in favour of heart throb and all round good guy Mulder’s prolonged existence.