Suicide Squad and the Art of Trivializing Death

We’ll be discussing Suicide Squad, in this post, so consider this the formal warning for spoilers.

Suicide Squad had a great deal of problems, so forgive me for picking one and harping on it, but I feel that it was a borderline egregious example of lazy writing. I am, of course, speaking about the death of the character Slipknot, early on in the film. If you don’t remember that, I could hardly blame you. Unlike Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, or anyone else, Slipknot didn’t get any particular character introduction. We didn’t see his family, there wasn’t any onscreen text, and he didn’t do anything noteworthy when he was dropped off as a part of the Squad. He was mentioned almost in passing before being put on the team and sent on a mission. Just about everything we got consisted of Rick Flag saying something to the effect of “This is Slipknot, he uses a grappling hook or something,” and that was it.

Then, while on the mission, he walks and talks with Captain Boomerang, and Boomerang suggests the possibility that Amanda Waller is lying – that there is no explosive device in their head – so both of them agree to make a run for it. Captain Boomerang is stopped, but Slipknot makes it to a rooftop before his head explodes.

If my character had three minutes of screen time, I’d make the same face.

The obvious intended effect of Slipknot’s death was to prove that Waller was not bluffing, and to show the danger of the mission. This was the major character death that was intended to raise the stakes of the mission. However, the issue is that although the characters care, the audience doesn’t.

It’s said in storytelling that showing is better than telling, and the filmmakers clearly didn’t properly indicate the raised stakes and the potential death of any of the main characters. Slipknot’s death just overtly told us the stakes were high, rather than do anything to actually show it.

If you’ll forgive me for going to extremes just to make a point, the intent here was to have a similar indication for the rest of Suicide Squad as Ned Stark’s death had in the first season of Game of Thrones; it not only shows the characters, but also the viewers, just how dangerous the fictional world is and how whoever you’re most rooting for can be taken out in an instant. This is what Slipknot’s death could have been if we had gotten enough background on Slipknot’s character. Imagine how shocking and powerful it would be to see what Slipknot was fighting for, see him prepare for battle, and then see him suddenly taken out.

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But, by not giving him any kind of story or any kind of character, they turn him into what the Star Trek fandom calls a “Redshirt” – someone whose whole contribution to the plot is to die in such a fashion as to indicate the danger of a mission to the main characters.

The DC/Warner Bros. team-up has enough problems as it as, and apathetic writing shouldn’t be one of them. Now, Slipknot’s death wasn’t a huge misstep, but it certainly did the movie no favors. What could have come as a hug shock just made me groan and say “Ugh, saw that coming!”

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