Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sometimes, they come back...

by Chris F. Holm

I'm kind of a scripted TV addict - the weirder and cultier the show the better - which means I'm no stranger to mourning characters who've fallen victim to creative burnout or cancellation. And sure, I could rend fabric and shout to the heavens about the untimely televisual departures of poor Sydney Bristow, Ted Crisp, Joel Robinson, or Isaac Jaffe, but I won't. Because I know there are worse fates than being cut down in one's prime.

See, some folks come back wrong. Folks like Twin Peaks' Dale Cooper, and Firefly's Hoban Washburne.

Be warned: spoilers for long-dead entertainments abound below. If you're not familiar with Twin Peaks or Firefly, I beseech you to turn back, and watch them both immediately instead. Beyond here be dragons.

When Dale Cooper came breezing into the town of Twin Peaks back in '89 to investigate the murder of a high school student by the name of Laura Palmer, he didn't seem to have a care in the world, except perhaps to find a room both clean and reasonably priced:
Little did he know that just months later, he'd be trapped in a strange realm known only as the Black Lodge, imprisoned by his own evil doppelganger (yeah, the show gets weird quick), who escapes the Black Lodge to unleash... well, I don't know what. See, before the bad Dale's nefarious plan reached fruition, Twin Peaks went off the air, leaving fans forever wondering what became of our two Dales in the wake of so shocking a cliffhanger.

Or so we thought, until the movie was announced.

I can't tell you how giddy I was at the thought of all the mysteries of Twin Peaks finally being answered, Dale's fate chief among them. Only that's not how the movie went. Not at all. No, in true Lynchian fashion, questions were dodged, new ones were thrown on the pile, and continuity went out the window, all in favor of an ending more thematically resonant than actually sensical, one in which Dale and Laura meet in the Black Lodge, or perhaps simply the Red Room, or maybe a Red Robin (yummm), shortly after Laura's death, and several months before Dale's even scheduled to arrive in town. Point is, I have no effing idea what happened. And suddenly, a riveting cliffhanger of an exit for a beloved character was erased in favor of a resounding, "Huh?"

The transition from small to silver screen was no kinder to Hoban "Wash" Washburne. Pilot of the titular craft in Joss Whedon's short-lived space-western Firefly, Wash was the crew's conscience and comic relief both.
Firefly, too, was cancelled before its time, and like Twin Peaks, fan fervor resulted in a movie deal. Unlike Twin Peaks, whose movie served as an inessential companion piece to the series - one only the most obsessive of fans could love - Serenity proved every Firefly fan's dream. It was thrilling. It was good. It brought closure to the series in a satisfying way.

But it also introduced the saddest phrase in the entire Browncoat (yes, Firefly fans have their own nerdy label) lexicon: "I am a leaf on the wind."

I'll not include a clip of the moment that line was uttered. Some spoilers are simply too unfair to share. Suffice to say, it's the most controversial moment in the movie, and one that made me wish, if only for a moment, that Firefly had been allowed to rest in peace.

Many of the entertainment losses we mourn are sad but bearable. Though the shows, books, or movies end, the characters live on in our minds (and, in the darker recesses of the internet, the occasional creepy work of slash-fic, but that's a post for another time.) Perhaps it's a kindness to allow them to continue to.

Because sometimes, the alternative is even worse.


Gerald So said...

Like you, I didn't want Wash to die, but I appreciated the power of the moment. It was unexpected, sudden, and it made me fear for all the other characters' lives. I had naively thought, after Book's slow death, everyone else would come through unscathed.

Another character death that moves me to this day is that of NCIS's Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander). At the time, the team was hunting Ari Haswari (Rudolf Martin) who had terrorized the team over two seasons. Kate had taken a bullet to the vest, saving Gibbs, when Ari shot her in the head. In reality, Sasha Alexander had asked out of her contract, so Don Bellisario used the opportunity to give her a momentous exit.

NCIS has gone on, and has improved in some ways, without Kate, but I have great memories her episodes, among the series' best, in my opinion.

As attached as we become to characters, I do prefer stories that place them in meaningful jeopardy. I haven't feared for anyone's life on NCIS for a season and a half.

Chris said...

Oh, it no doubt set the tone for the climax of the movie, and it was certainly well-handled, but it's one of those rare cases where I would have preferred it if the writer had chickened out and let him live. But then, Joss is never one to let 'em live...

Reece said...

Season 1 of Twin Peaks was some kind of miracle and, like most miracles, it could not be repeated. Lynch temporarily tamped down his innate weirdness a bit and told a story that was just conventional enough, and America embraced its innate weirdness and made the show a left-field hit. Has there ever been a more bizarre show that managed to have mass appeal? I don't think so. Nice post, Chris.

Chris said...

Thanks, Reece! And I agree: season one was magical. Season two still had its charms, but they were of a wilder, woolier sort, and even the gamest of the first season's fans seemed unwilling to make the leap. Still, I admire its ambition.