Mastery is interesting, in reality as in fiction. My favorite stories to watch and read feature protagonists who strive for something difficult and conflict that showcases characters’ exceptional qualities. Even if the protagonists fail, it’s exciting to watch them bring heroic ambition and ability to bear.
It’s true for the antagonists too. Bad guys are interesting who are masters of their bad guy craft.
What is far less interesting is the story about characters who can’t get out of their own way or who overcome conflict by stifling the mastery of other characters . Holden Caufield doesn’t interest me anymore. I can’t cheer for anyone on Hell’s Kitchen.
What’s bringing this on is Mr. Robot. I’m four episodes in and losing interest, because the protagonist is becoming more and more self-destructive, and, for me, there’s no creativity to be found there. I was riveted by the pilot episode, because even though your protagonist fights certain limitations, his exceptional qualities shine because he’s trying. But then the story becomes about him not trying, and who wants to watch a show about a remarkable character slowly becoming less remarkable. What’s interesting about that?
By contrast, Halt And Catch Fire is about flawed characters chasing mastery of something, alternately failing and succeeding, but frequently treating the audience to displays of genius, commitment, and talent–mastery.
Mastery never gets old.