A friend of mine once asked, “doesn’t all sci-fi end in tragedy?” It was a thought-provoking question and the more I thought about it, the more I thought the question was worthy of an answer. As I struggled with the question, another friend reminded me also that much of modern day sci-fi shows and film are intended to be “space operas” and like any classic opera, the story is usually founded in a tragic love story.
So looking at the foundations of science fiction and the epic love stories that arose from it, one of the greatest science fiction relationships in film, television and comics, is that of Superman and Lois Lane. Depending on the version, it typically does follow the star-crossed lovers who are doomed to be apart theory. But occasionally, writers have dipped their toe into the “happily ever after” pool and allowed Clark and Lois Lane moments of true happiness. But can we actually say if they get their happy ending? That is a story that has not yet been told as “Smallville” heads into its 10th season and with yet another “Superman” film looming on the horizon. (Perhaps the same could be said for other classic comic-turned-film super heroes, such as Spiderman and Batman. For have we truly seen either Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne get and keep the girl of their dreams. Are superheroes even allowed to have soul-mates?)
Another epic space opera was the “Star Wars” saga. While initially star-crossed, the story of Han Solo and Princess Leia was the relationship that drew the viewers in and left us breathless for more and, thankfully, it delivered the promised happy ending. I wish I could same the same for Anakin Skywalker and his bride Padme Amidala, but their relationship ended in great tragedy and foreshadowed the uprising of one of the greatest sci-fi villains of all time, Darth Vader.
The ultimate star-crossed lovers were Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor in “The Terminator” saga. It did not seem to matter how many times they reset the timeline, Sarah and Kyle were doomed never to have more than one night together. Following similar separated by time star-crossed romances were Richard Collier and Elise McKenna in “Somewhere in Time,” Alex Wyler and Kate Forster in “The Lake House,” as well as Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire in “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” While each of these films have devoted, if not fanatical fan followings, none more so than Kyle and Sarah in “Terminator,” whose love story transcended time and spawned a generation of “Terminator” devotees.
On a separate note, while not separated by time and distance like many other film couples, there was certainly a few hurdles separating Rick Deckard and Rachel in the film “Blade Runner,” namely, she was a clone that may or may not have a pre-set termination date. It asked the question: can true happiness be achieved knowing your soul-mate is a clone? Deckard and Rachel were certainly willing to give it a chance.
Other major film couples that were destined to be together, but only for a short time were Neo and Trinity in the “Matrix” saga, V and Evey in “V for Vendetta,” and Wolverine and Dr. Jean Grey in the “X-Men” series. No matter how you did the math, these couples were doomed from the get go. Neo was destined to save the world, but only at great sacrifice – the loss of his beloved Trinity. The mysterious V was never supposed to fall in love during the end times of his master plan to destroy a brutal totalitarian government. And Wolverine was never supposed to get the girl when his destiny was to travel alone. Like with Anakin and Padme of “Star Wars” and Kyle and Sarah of “Terminator,” these are the epic star-crossed lovers of science fiction film. They are introduced to engage our emotions, rip our hearts out and give us a reason to cheer in end when the bad guy bites the dust. It is a story-telling device intended to make a
cheer-worthy ending, though not necessarily a happy ending.
Next, crossing over from television to film and back again, the original “Star Trek” series and its subsequent film sequels did not provide much of a foundation for an epic love story. It was simply a grand science fiction adventure tale. However, in the spin-off series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” it took a full 15 years, but in the end William Riker and Deanna Troi got their happy ending. Alas, Kira and Odo and Jadzia Dax and Worf on “Deep Space Nine” were not as fortunate; and just as horribly star-crossed were T’Pol and Trip in “Enterprise.” Thankfully, on “Voyager” B’elanna Torres and Tom Paris got to live happily ever after.
Another mixed bag was the film-turned television series “Stargate SG-1.” While at the conclusion of “SG-1” Daniel Jackson and Vala Doron got to grow old together, there was no such blissful resolution for Sam Carter and Jack O’Neill (which may have been largely due to the fact that Richard Dean Anderson retired from the series and allowed newcomer Ben Browder to helm the show). But eternally star-crossed were Elizabeth Weir and John Sheppard on “Stargate: Atlantis” (which may have also been due to the fact that Torri Higginson left the series early as well). In the latest spin-off series “Stargate Universe,” it is simply too soon to tell which of the current couples may become as fan-favored and which will rise to the level of an epic romance.
The one space opera that dared to defy the odds to match up its principle characters was “Babylon 5.” Surely the fans were never more pleased, not only to have John Sheridan and Delenn get together, but stay together. Equally, J. Michael Straczynski made sure that Michael Garibaldi, who was ‘down on his luck’ with love, happily reunited with Lise Hampton in the end. There were two wrinkles in this clever, created sci-fi realm. One was the unrequited love that Marcus Cole had for Susan Ivanova, a woman who failed to recognize the great love offered her until it was tragically too late. The other was the unrequited love that Lennier had for Delenn, which would set him adrift from his position at the Babylon 5 station where he belonged. But all in all, the fans were well-pleased as they saw core couples getting the ending they deserved, especially after seeing the couples survive the physical and emotional chaos through which they lived.
Coming back after “Farscape” was suddenly cancelled at the end of its 4th season, it was a miraculous happy ending in many ways when “Farscape” returned for a short mini-series allowing Ben Browder and Claudia Black to reprise their characters as John Crichton and Aeryn Sun to give them their big finish; which was largely due to the devotion of the fans and tenacity of Brian Henson. Thus, it was against insurmountable odds that John and Aeryn finally got the happy ending they deserved.
Additionally, in the sweeping space drama “Battlestar Galactica” which survived reincarnation 30 years later, all the fan-favorite couples were tragically doomed from the start. No matter how much the fans wanted Kara Thrace and Lee Adama to end up together, their destinies never quite matched up. Nor were Bill Adama and Laura Roslin. Virtually the only couple allowed to live happily ever after in the “BSG” universe were Helo and Athena.
Looking further throughout the science fiction genre of television, there are numerous examples of star-crossed lovers and many were lucky enough to get their happy ending, though some did not. Tilting the scales on the tragedy side were the television series “Buffy” and “Angel,” which had the tragically star-crossed Buffy and Angel, Buffy and Spike, Angel and Cordelia, Willow and Oz, Willow and Tara, and finally, the one relationship that truly broke our hearts, Wesley and Fred. Joss Whedon is a big fan of destroying any hope of happiness for his characters. Though surprisingly in his most recent incarnation “Dollhouse,” he did try to wrap up the relationships with a bow on top with Echo and Paul Ballard creatively being together in the end and Victor and Sierra having a son together. There was also a hint in the film “Serenity” that Mal and Inara would end up together, like Kaylee and Simon, but fans will never forgive him for killing off Wash and denying Zoe that same chance at eternal happiness.
More sci-fi television couples trapped in tragedy were The Doctor and Rose in “Doctor Who” (though fans may argue that The Doctor 2.0 was The Doctor and they did end up together), Hiro and Charlie in “Heroes” and Cole and Phoebe on “Charmed.” Undoubtedly, there are many more not listed here.
And who can yet say about the infamous castaways of “Lost”? Will Penny and Desmond, Sun and Jin, Claire and Charlie, Kate and Jack or Juliet and Sawyer get their happily ever after? Or will they join the ranks of Charlotte and Daniel, Paulo and Nikki, Libby and Hurley, Shannon and Sayid, or Sayid and Nadia? We will know hopefully in a matter of weeks how these couples fared. Let us hope that they too get the ending they deserve.
Last, but not least, which couples were among the few that did get their happy endings? In a brilliant stroke of modern science fiction writing, the writers of the BBC series “Life on Mars” followed their instincts and gave the fans what they clamoring for, Sam and Annie reunited in 1973 – for, as Sam realized, what is eternity without the woman you love right by your side? Other genre shows delivering the ultimate fantasy-fulfillment were: “Eli Stone” allowing Eli to get on that plane to pursue his soul-mate Grace; “Pushing Daisies” where we last saw Chuck and Ned living in blissful, yet not touching, co-existence; “Moonlight” with Mick and Beth declaring their feelings for another one and not allowing their differences to separate them; “Roswell” were we actually got to see Max and Liz have their dream wedding; “The X-Files” which toyed with the fans for over a decade before revealing that Scully and Mulder had been involved
all along; “Dark Angel” which showed us a world where Max and Logan would be able to live out their days together; and “Alias” which finally allowed both Sydney and Michael to get out of the spy business and have a family together.
Finally, a personal favorite, which cannot be quite quantified, is the unfathomable relationship between Captain Jack and Gwen in “Torchwood.” They clearly love each other, but ended up pursuing relationships with other people. But perhaps their story is not yet over. After all, Russell T. Davies keeps promising us another season. So until then, their story is open-ended and they may one day be given their happy ending together or will forever remain star-crossed throughout time. If there is anything that traveling with The Doctor has taught us, time is malleable and not always fixed. And in science fiction, there is always the possibility of re-writing history.
So returning to the original question of: does true-love prevail in sci-fi or are all sci-fi relationships doomed to a star-crossed, lonely existence? Like anything in real life, it depends. Sometimes, soul-mates are given that rare opportunity at eternal bliss and other times, their love stories are cut-short. But what does hold true is that we were able to share in their love for a time – no matter how long or short. We are blessed to be granted that glimpse into their world and must cherish it while it lasts. Love is not more doomed in science fiction, but perhaps it feels that way because we identify so strongly with the characters and feel their pain and loss that much more when it is unfulfilled — for nothing is more poignant and painful than love lost.