A Time for Grieving: Remembering Fallen Sci-Fi Heroes (2009)

Old iron crossEvery year the summer months begin to feel like a drought as the regular primetime TV shows vanish and the summer TV shows sparsely cover the television landscape.

So it is during these lean times that I feel reflective and I find myself remembering the moments of joy and heartbreak from the prior TV season – and most keenly I feel the loss of beloved TV characters.  So summer is akin to the “season of grieving” for me.  Accordingly, I invite you to share in my memorial tribute to our fallen friends and heroes of the 2008-2009 television season.

(1) First and foremost, I miss Jimmy Olsen on “Smallville.”  For months the spoilers hinted at a major character death and yet I never saw it coming.  The moment Davis (aka: Doomsday) mortally impaled Jimmy, I was shocked.  I thought surely there must be some last minute reprieve for they cannot kill off Jimmy Olsen!  After all, Jimmy is an integral part of the Superman mythology.  He is supposed to be untouchable.  Yet with all his precious blood spilling onto the floor, our hearts struggled to catch up with what our brains were processing.  They were actually killing off Jimmy Olsen – and I cried along with Chloe for her heart-wrenching loss.  It was truly Jimmy and Chloe’s year:  they got engaged; they got married; and they endlessly fought over and against the demon that inhabited Davis.  Much of the moments of fear, anguish and tears during this past season were for Jimmy and Chloe, and to have my worst fears realized was heart-breaking. Our darling boy who so heroically stood up for what he believed was right and worked so hard to protect and cherish those he loved, was cut down in his prime.  This was not his destiny.  Yet it was fitting that he passed the torch so lovingly along to his younger brother, the younger Jimmy Olsen.  So Jimmy Olsen, you are sorely missed.

(2) Next, I also was shocked and horrified at the sacrifice that Juliet made in the name of love on “Lost.”  From the moment we first saw that hydrogen bomb, we knew someone was going to die.  Again the television spoilers hinted at a major character’s death and it felt like each of the actors had drawn straws and it was Elizabeth Mitchell’s bad luck to get the short stick.  For surely anyone could have been the one who fell “down the rabbit hole” and had to push that blasted button to save the universe (and timeline) as we know it.  I find myself pained at the loss of Juliet because she was such an excellent counter-balance to the Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle and she was a ruthless and precision killer in a pinch.  Those astounding qualities raised the danger quotient on “Lost” and her seemingly ambivalent loyalties were mesmerizing to watch.  For a character I loathed initially, I was won over and now grieve for the lost possibilities. (No pun intended.)  Juliet was a diamond in the rough and we all began to see why Sawyer fell in love her.  But she too was cruelly cast aside.  Though it was a testament of her undying love of Sawyer that she used her last ounce of strength to blow up that blasted island and tried to repair the broken timeline.  Her strength and courage was inspiring.

(3) Also from “Lost” were the deaths of the star-crossed lovers: Daniel Faraday and Charlotte Lewis.  The minute they showed up on the Island bearing the false tidings of a rescue to camouflage their duplicitous double-motives, we saw the foreshadowing of their futures.  For one thing, no one lives long on a show where newcomers are expendable; especially if they can be used as “kleenex cliff-hangers” to distract the audience from the larger and more painful character-death looming on the horizon.  I was particularly pained at their untimely demises due to how callously and thoughtlessly they were killed.  Like Ben’s daughter, Alex, from the season before, their deaths were only to provide an emotional resonance, not truly to propel the story in a new direction.  To kill characters remorselessly is a cruel writing trick of television.  So I mourn them for both the loss of their characters who I found intriguing and the lost opportunity to learn more about what drew them together. (Again, no pun intended.)

(4) Then crossing the pond, I want to give special remembrance to the exquisitely portrayed deaths of Toshiko Sato and Owen Harper of “Torchwood.”  In a cast of five, to lose two principal characters simultaneously is devastating.  The entire show still reels from the loss of such high profile and integral characters.  It will be a test of the third season to see if the show can sustain itself without the endearing peskiness of Owen and poignant solitude of Tosh.  They were the yin and yan of the show – drawn together, yet never quite connecting.  It was only facing death that they both revealed their carefully protected inner hearts and desires.  As the strings of music rose to crescendo and their lives slipped away, tears streamed down my face and came to rest upon my broken heart.  I love the show dearly and applaud its breathtaking good-bye to such precious characters.  It was risky and bold, and will be forever engraved on my soul.

(5) Also from across the pond, death came calling for Nick Cutter and Stephen Hart on “Primeval.”  In a show that unabashedly showcases the astounding imagery of modern day dinosaurs, it was perhaps not unexpected that the human characters would rate second place.  Yet, for me, I was drawn to the familial element and structure of the show.  I saw a patriarchal-story helmed by the clever and heart-warming Nick Cutter.  It was Nick who drew in the characters and gave them a place and purpose in the world.  He anointed Stephen as his right-hand and tracker extraordinaire; he welcomed the lonely and haphazard genius, Connor; he recruited Abby, the keenly intelligent zoologist; and coolly charmed the aloof government agent, Claudia Brown.  In the end, I think even the “I’m not a part of this group of hoodlums” Sir James Lester had fallen under his spell.  It was truly Nick’s crew and family.  So I was shocked and appalled by not only the death of Stephen who sacrificed himself to save Nick, but then to find Nick was killed off not three episodes later.  It belittled Stephen’s sacrifice and mocked the audience who had devoted themselves to a little known British sci-fi show about dinosaurs.  I am still nearly apoplectic thinking of it. It was sheer conceit and ignorance to kill off not just a principal character, but the main character – the reason the fans tuned it, the reason the show worked.  Nick Cutter was the secret ingredient.  I find it a fitting legacy that the show faltered significantly in the ratings after his death and the announcement of the show’s cancellation closely followed.  Nick and Stephen’s deaths were the death knell of a fine sci-fi show that could have gone on for years.  But as the show’s creators and writers found out, some characters are irreplaceable.

(6) Returning stateside, the death that rocked the sci-fi realm was the death of Anastasia Dualla on “Battlestar Galactica.”  The moment Dee stared in the mirror, smiled and pulled the trigger, we all just gaped with horror.  There was no foreshadowing.  There was no sane reason for it.  One moment, Dee was having the time of her life reconciling with her estranged husband, Lee Adama; and the next, she took her own life.  While it is true that “Battlestar Galactica” was never a predictable show and it never shied away from the controversial storylines, Dee’s suicide was beyond everything the show had portrayed before.  Boomer’s near suicide early in the series was expected as she suspected she was a Cylon.  But Dee was a constant in the show.  She was the voice of calm reason and hope in the midst of increasing tragedy and calamity.  To not see the pain she was carrying, and unable to endure any longer, was perhaps the greater tragedy.  It is the deaths that we never see coming that haunt us.  Our cries of “why?” and “if only” are like a tree falling in a wilderness with no one to hear.  It does not matter if anyone hears or not, it is done and it cannot be undone.  We knew the end was coming with only a handful of episodes left, but we clung to the belief that those who deserved to live would make it.  And if anyone deserved to see that glorious blue earth beckoning with the promised-land, it was Dee.

(7) Then, for the little show that kept trying to live up to the legacy of its sci-fi iconic-roots, we should also acknowledge the deaths of Derek Reese and Riley Dawson on “Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles.”  Though it is uncertain whether either Derek or Riley can truly be considered dead with all the tinkering that the writers did with the timeline, and since it was clear in the final seconds of the series finale that Derek was alive and well in the future and one could speculate that perhaps Riley was too.  But for the duration of the 2-part series finale, we along with John Connor believed Derek to have died.  Derek’s death felt needless and confusing.  It was simply a plot-point to create more of an emotional punch for those final few moments.  I still feel a bit betrayed at such an obvious attempt to manipulate my emotions.  Riley, on the other hand, was a doomed, tragic figure from the start.  She was out-of-time and her mission was not certain to succeed, nor was it clear whether it was truly necessary.  It was Jesse’s belief alone that Cameron was going to lead John down the path to mankind’s destruction that gave purpose to Riley.  Yet in the end, even Riley understood that she should not just be a pawn in a game that was not fixed or certain.  Every action they took changed the future and Cameron’s self-awareness and capacity to learn were wrinkles that no one could have foreseen.  Like “Primeval” and “Torchwood,” “TSCC” only succeeded when it remembered that people were the reason it existed.  Human beings are essential and they alone can be the heart-of-a-show.  So it is dicey to start cutting off pieces of a complete “heart” when each may perform an essential function.  Derek was the father-figure and Riley was the tragic ingénue.  Without those elements in his life, would John Connor truly become the man that would ultimately save mankind?

(8) In an unexpected twist to a whimsical show, “Eureka” took a turn on the dark side by killing off Nathan Stark.  For a character that was never intended to be so well-liked, the character was portrayed with such deft grace and humor that he became a vital part of the “Eureka” family.  So, when he too sacrificed himself for the greater good, leaving behind a pregnant wife and a company ripe for exploitation, it felt like a vital piece of the puzzle had been lost.  For what is Sheriff Jack Carter without his arch-rival for the affections of the lovely Allison Blake, or his frenemy whose caustic comments provided a delightful foil for Carter to bounce off of?  Despite repairing a hole in the fragmented timeline, Nathan’s death left a gaping hole in “Eureka.”

(9) And last, but not least, while many would dispute that “Saving Grace” is a sci-fi show, I take umbrage to such broad discrimination.  For the essence of “Saving Grace” is about a last-chance angel sent to provide redemption to a jaded police detective.  Whereas typical sci-fi shows which are set in space, in the future or in alternate realms of fantasy are welcomed easily and without challenge, for a show to have an angel espousing the need for character rehabilitation, typical sci-fi buffs bristle at the thought of it being considered a part of the sci-fi realm.  But positing that belief that “Saving Grace” is a sci-fi show, I want to share in memoriam one last fallen hero – or in this case, the death of a vicious criminal.  It is the story of Leon Cooley, an initially innocent man turned vicious killer who was sentenced to death that gave foundation to the show and helped propel Detective Grace Hanadarko on her journey.  I found that, despite the countdown to Leon’s death by lethal injection, I had naively hoped for a last-minute reprieve.  But in a bold move for a television show, it followed through and let us watch (in excruciating detail) the death of a condemned man.  Whatever his misdeeds, Leon was a good man and his death was acutely felt — and the absence of his presence is felt as Grace tries to navigate the thorny path towards her last chance for salvation.

These are characters which I mourn and seek to honor with a memorial here.  Their deaths, whether momentous or monstrous, were pivotal for those of us following these shows this past year.  So take a moment, remember and grieve.  Let not their sacrifice be for naught.  They will be remembered and cherished.

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