For those who are behind in their viewing, this essay has potential spoilers for Legion For those way behind, it also has possible spoilers for Star Trek: The Next Generation. During season 2 of Legion, the Catalyst (a psychic “infection” that turns victims into teeth-chattering catatonics) seems to be spreading in the wake of the Shadow King. Initially, there seems to be no cure—at least until the main character, David, learns that his friends are infected. While never attempting to help the warehoused victims, he is immediately able to cure his friends. Fortunately, the rest of the victims are soon freed from the Catalyst, but no thanks to David or the other “heroes.”
This scenario is analogous in many ways to the difference between the main characters’ response to the Borg’s assimilation of Captain Piccard and their response to the assimilation of countless other Star Fleet personnel and Federation civilians. After Piccard was assimilated, the officers of the Enterprise engaged in epic efforts to rescue and restore him. In contrast, other assimilated Star Fleet personnel were not rescued. In fact, Piccard himself killed some Enterprise crew members who were assimilated in Star Trek: First Contact.
There are many other examples of this phenomena in movies and television. The general pattern, as should be evident from the above, is that the heroes are often indifferent to the deaths and suffering of allied/friendly minor characters/extras, while taking considerable effort to save their fellow major characters. This is most striking in cases like the Catalyst example: David did not even try to help the other victims, but immediately tried to help his friends—and succeeded easily.
It should be noted that the difference in treatment is not analogous to the infamous red shirt deaths on Star Trek: The Original Series. In that series, the minor characters and extras were killed to add drama, show how the monster/effect worked and so on. These characters suffer and die because of the dangerous plot elements, not because of the apparent indifference of the heroes of the show.
From the standpoint of the show being a show, it does make sense that the focus would be on the major characters. The minor characters and extras are just that: minor and extra. Since the audience is presumably not invested in these characters, the main characters do not waste time on them—doing so would be a waste of the audience’s attention. As such, the writers script in this indifference to keep the show focused on those who matter.
It also makes sense in terms of the fictional emotional attachments: in the real world, people devote energy and effort to help those who are important to them, while generally ignoring everyone else. As such, the major characters’ cruel indifference to the minor characters and extras is consistent with how people generally behave in the real world. As such, their indifference can be justified, as Aristotle argued, because it is true to fact.
While both reasons are reasonable, there is one major point of concern: these shows are about heroes—characters who are supposed to be better than most real people and devoted to saving the world. That is, such indifference and inaction is not consistent with the heroic roles of the main characters.
While heroes can, of course, have people they care more about (after all, even heroes cannot save everyone) the casual indifference to the minor characters and extras is rather jarring when one focuses on it. Going back to the example of the Catalyst, David allows all those strangers to stay locked in their chattering catatonia without even taking a minute to try to help them. He had plenty of time to try, so that was not a factor. Likewise, while the officers of the Enterprise rescue and restore Piccard, they leave the presumably hundreds or even thousands of other Star Fleet personnel and Federation citizens assimilated. In this case, the Star Fleet personnel do have a better justification: capturing a drone alive would be a very risky process. However, the risk is only taken for Piccard. While this is a heroic action, it is stained by the fact that the rescue is rather selfish—the officers are saving their friend but leave the others to their fate. Which is rather less heroic.
At this point a third reason can be offered: the writers intentionally include this behavior as a flaw (rather than it just being a matter of oversight) to show that even heroes are thoroughly imperfect. In the case of Legion, the heroes are often unheroic terribly flawed (Syd seems especially selfish, erratic, unprincipled and cruel). As such, the discrepancy between the main characters being cast as heroes and their behavior towards those outside of their special circle could be a subtle criticism of the idea of the hero. That is, they are not heroic in the broad sense but are “tribal” heroes: they are driven by their strong feelings within their circle, but often indifferent to those outside of it. Except, of course, when the writers decide, for whatever reason, that they need to affirm a broader heroism that often contradicts their indifference in other cases. Of course, this could also be a subtle statement about the inconsistency of heroes.