May is typically a time of bloodletting on television – not only are shows canceled but there are more than a few character deaths. While character deaths litter the rest of the season as well, they are most prevalent at the end of the season. Just what is the attraction; what is the purpose? Well, there are many reasons, some good and some not. Here’s a few:
1. Killing a character to move the show, or its titular character, in a new direction.
Arrow in Season 1 did just that. Tommy Merlyn (R.I.P. Tommy!) was killed off in the season finale, and the entire second season paid homage to that. It was part of the opening monologue each and every week (Side note here: I dislike ongoing monologues. At times they can be used effectively, such as Person of Interest which has a tendency to alter little bits throughout the season, and because of that and their absolute attention to detail and creativity when they do alter it, I ‘suffer’ through it each and every week.) But, more importantly, Oliver himself spent almost the entire Season 2 changing his outlook and his execution of his nightly ‘duties’ trying to honor his friend. That, at times, led to even more deaths, bringing me to the next reason for a character’s death.
2. Death as a result of…
Take Grimm’s killing off of Kelly Burkhardt – thankfully off screen, but savage to listen to and the final visual evidence we were given told the tale completely – Kelly’s death is a direct result of everything that has happened in the world of Grimm to this point, and hopefully will take the show in a giant leap into darker territory. The show opened with Nick orphaned as a child, raised by his aunt. His aunt warned him to jettison everyone and everything he loved from his life, for being a Grimm didn’t allow for things like friends and a home. Nick went against the grain though and held onto his job, his friends, his girlfriend, and over the seasons built a new family of friends and occasional, and oftentimes wary, allies. However, as events unfolded in the penultimate episode of Season 4, everything he built has crumbled as his girlfriend and erstwhile fiancée set up his mother to be killed, and this after attempting to force Nick to kill his good friend Monroe. All these events can be traced back to Nick not heeding Aunt Marie’s advice, and now his fiancée is dead – and certainly to this viewer’s mindset, thankfully so.
Kelly’s death is tragic, but also has the ability to catapult this mostly frothy little Grimm’s fairytale/procedural into darker, more dangerous, and certainly more vicious territory in Season 5. (Another aside here, I’ve been a bit on the fence about this show, but as long as it keeps the ‘buddy atmosphere’ of Nick and Hank and Monroe, I’ll likely stick with it going darker. Time will tell.)
3. The character’s arc is concluded. (Possibly the best of all possible reasons to kill off a character – that is if the show isn’t accepting of simply sending them off to a happy place.)
When Carter died, not only did John Reese go through a period of soul searching, some of which continues today as shown in the brilliant “Terra Incognita,” but also Lionel Fusco stepped firmly into his own as now redeemed from his formerly corrupt cop ways. Fusco honored his fallen partner’s memory by bringing her killer to justice. It also allowed, in the immediate, some insight into the psyche of Elias, the shadowy crime boss, as he also sought to honor Carter’s memory…by killing her killer, well, at least watching while his friend killed Carter’s killer. It was a fabulous moment when Elias was revealed in Simmons’ hospital room, the two men verbally joisted, and then Anthony stepped from the shadows and garroted Simmons – yeah, that scene is worth multiple rewinds.
Carter’s death affected multiple characters, revealing deeper layers of loyalty, honor, and friendship, but also, and perhaps even more importantly for the craft of television, her death came when the character’s arc was well and truly complete. She was the one character always rooted in the real world, even as she, at the end, became savvy of the deeper conspiracies going on around her. Carter was honorable; she fought within the law, mostly, and before allowing decay and corruption to overrun her, she was killed as she brought down the corruption that pervaded the New York City Police Department. It was a beautiful arc for the character, and she was taken out while we still wanted to see more of her. That’s the best way to go. As her hallucination said to Reese in Terra Incognita, after he admitted that he missed her: That’s good. That means you meant something to people.
Having explored some of the better reasons to kill off a character, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why it’s just not a good idea, and tends to lead to fandom backlash.
4. Killing a character because the plot demands it.
The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural are really experienced at this type. I find the deaths on The Vampire Diaries especially egregious because most of them end up with the character coming back to life. Not sure how many times Jeremy died and yet he’s still alive – and still as boring and useless a character as ever. Thankfully, I hope, the actor himself wanted to move on and thus, instead of killing him, they simply sent him off to be a hunter somewhere. Death on The Vampire Diaries rarely means anything, but when they do stick, it is just another reminder of how dark and dismal these characters’ lives often are. No wonder they drink so much alcohol.
Supernatural’s deaths over the years have reached a point where I’m mostly unaffected by them. Such was the case of Charlie Bradbury’s death – completely unnecessary, but the plot demanded it, mostly because the decision had already been made and, despite alternatives, the decision stood. The sad thing about this type of death is that it comes from lazy minds. Dean went full-on nuclear to avenge Charlie’s death – when putting her in a coma certainly would have sufficed and allowed this character to return to aid the Brothers Winchester again in the future, something that would benefit the brothers to no end. Her death was especially egregious because of several things, first off, the ridiculous notion that the brothers would chain up an enemy inside their super-secret bunker by only one arm, I mean…no! Secondly, Charlie herself was a character long written as smart and strategic and would never put herself in harm’s way just because she needed some peace and quiet. After all, if Cas could chain Rowena up in a boiler room, just off the very room they had been working in, why couldn’t that be good enough for Charlie to have some peace and quiet? But no, Charlie was needed for chum in the water so the Stynes could kill her sending Dean off on a rampage, Sam off on a guilt-ridden trip that shouldn’t be as Charlie agreed to help with very little in the way of arm twisting. When you agree to do something, all while knowing the consequences – which she would know having grappled with the Stynes previsouly – you take on the burden of responsibility for yourself. But, Supernatural has a ‘type’ to its seasons, and part of that type is giving us a shocking death during the May sweeps period (which is the main reason these deaths are scheduled for this time of the season: Get eyeballs to the television screen for ratings.)
Also, never mind that all Sam and Dean had to do was pick up their other phone and call Cas and tell him to wing his way over to Charlie – although perhaps with black, cindery-type wings he can’t fly – and save her…not sure of exactly what his powers are or are not – and apparently neither is Misha if I understand a comment he made at Asylum Con this past weekend. (In effect he said, he doesn’t understand what Cas’s powers are right now, sometimes they’re there and sometimes not.) This goes back to laziness. If you’re going to write a character with powers, you need to define those powers and draw the line. Similarly, if you’re going to affect a character with some kind of a curse, you need to define that curse. The MoC hasn’t been well-defined, and that type of ambiguity leads to messy deaths like Charlie’s as the plot, now so late in the season, demands that Dean go over the edge and on a tear, and the only way to do that with only two episodes left in the season and a lot of ground to cover in a short time regarding Dean’s mental state is to kill a beloved friend. Charlie died only because the plot demanded it, and that’s a poor reason to kill a character.
Sadly, this show has not learned its lesson from the death of Meg Masters in Season 1. At that time, it was Kim Manners who begged Kripke not to kill off Meg – and thus lose the amazing talents of Nicki Aycox, which were never successfully replicated by Meg 2.0. Now, with Kim Manners gone, and Eric Kripke not passing along that piece of wisdom, we have lost Charlie Bradbury, a character who brought out the best in both Dean and Sam Winchester – most recently Sam by allowing him a sounding board, something and someone he desperately needs, and the adage of death isn’t always permanent on Supernatural is an insult in light of this waste of a great character.
While “The Prisoner” stands as an episode I enjoyed, and seeing and/or hearing about Dean killing the Stynes allows for the progression needed for the character arc, I still think the purpose would have been equally served with Charlie badly injured and in need of some healing grace by Cas…and then ship her off somewhere safe until she’s needed again come Season 11. Oh, well, too late now.
Then there’s the unforgivable (in my eyes) death of Bobby Singer. It’s been four seasons now and I’m still not over it, nor ever will be. Thankfully, Mr. Carver has found a way for this character to return once per season since that time, but still, I miss him greatly. Bobby Singer’s death, for me, falls into the category of the worst reason to kill off a character:
5. The shocking death! — A/K/A Death done for ratings.
Bobby Singer’s death was the shocking death done for the purpose of shocking the viewers. “Death’s Door” was a brilliantly written script, and the acting was excellent, but I’ve never watched it again – and I won’t. This was a death without purpose in the long run, even as the tagline was to take everything away from the brothers so that they were at a point of desperation at the end of Season 7. Again, it could have been done a different way. Bobby’s vast resources were already destroyed, although apparently he had storage rooms of duplicate materials, again, a coma for Bobby, or kidnapped and held by the Leviathans only to be rescued in the end, there were just other ways to go.
Supernatural isn’t alone in these types of shocking deaths, and at least it can say that the death it did serve up well and truly shocked. NCIS and NCIS:LA have done their share of ‘shocking deaths.’ NCIS most recently citing that the death in the penultimate episode of this season would be truly affecting; it wasn’t. This was a ratings ploy pure and simple. I saw it coming the moment they announced the casting for the episode and wasn’t shocked or affected by the loss of Agent Dornegat. He was a decent character but didn’t truly affect the running of the team or their ongoing interactions. Oh, they’ll be saddened, Gibbs will be haunted by all the deaths on his watch, deaths and/or departures from the team, but Dornegat was a minor character and nothing more. NCIS:LA has killed plenty as well but none of them mean anything. When they killed two or three characters at the end of Season 3, they were all characters that had minor roles and really didn’t mean much to the team as a whole. It was an attempt to give Callen a nemesis, and it fell flat due to pacing and structure to the season, as well as follow-through.
I’ve learned – and am perhaps more than slightly cynical over television these days, that when I hear about an impending death sure to shock, dismay, horrify, and/or change the landscape of the series forever, that it is best to sit back and watch and wait. More than likely, it’s just a ploy. There are very few good shows, like Person of Interest, that do these deaths correctly. There’s a whole lot more of the NCIS-type deaths that are all media, and little substance. Maybe that’s a good thing; at least it lowers the chances of a whole lot of wasteful deaths like Charlie Bradbury’s.
Then there’s this reason, as exemplified by Grimm in Season 4: (You decide if it’s a good or a bad reason to kill off a character.)
6. Killing off a major character after savaging them and making them beyond redemption so that many of us are screaming for her death:
Enter Juliette Silverton. I always enjoyed this character; she was the human anchor for Nick. In Season 1, having her so unaware of what was going on right around her was annoying, but I understood that this is just what shows do, so I went along with it. Season 2 dragged out the amnesia storyline way too long (and even on a binge viewing thanks to TNT syndication it was too long) but once Juliette was in the know to all things Grimm, she became the partner to Nick I had always hoped she would be. Season 4 started off promisingly enough, but then the whole Nick slept with Adalind, because she transformed due to a spell to look like Juliette, and lost his powers so now he has to sleep with Juliette who looks like Adalind, because of the reversal of the spell, and that somehow causes Juliette to become a hexenbiest – when Adalind certainly didn’t become human after casting the spell (oh, my head hurts) happened. Now, for the record, initially I was excited about Juliette becoming a Hexenbiest. Adalind certainly seemed to live her life just fine as one; certainly Juliette, if given time, could also learn to cope. It could be pretty handy to have a powerful Hexenbiest on team Grimm. But that, apparently, was not in the plan. The plan quickly devolved into destroying Juliette. Now, as things play out in the subsequent seasons, I may readily look back at this and say, hey, this was all good. The trailer is gone – while a gorgeous set, always seemed pretty silly to me with all those glass bottles and whatnot rattling about in the back of a wobbly trailer – and it was clear that securing Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio for recurring episodes was difficult (what a talent she has and brought to her all-too-few episodes) and with Baby Diana now in the hands of the Resistance and Nick devastated and likely to renew his path down the lonely road of a Grimm, well, it has tragic hero written all over it and will likely be good storytelling. Plus, I do like Adalind since she became a mother, and she has been very helpful in trying to assist Juliette and certainly went to great lengths to help, even so far as to willingly take the potion herself and suppress her inner Hexenbiest. However, the mess of getting Juliette to where she was as a member of team Grimm was so quickly undone by another equally, if not worse, mess and it all just makes me glad she’s gone. Shame too, I used to like her. We’ll just have to see if come Season 5 of Grimm, Juliette’s death actually sticks…or was it just a ploy.
Deaths will always be a television reality. Sometimes they do shock me, Will Gardner on The Good Wife – a show I tune in to now and again and just happen to have caught the episode when he was killed. I had no idea it was coming, and it was magnificently handled. Other times the deaths just annoy and sadden. They’re always going to keep coming, though.
As always, thanks for reading, Elle2