Recently, I’ve run across several articles dealing with television fandom and loss. Grieving over the death of fictional characters and the end of a beloved television series is definitely more than just “a thing.” According to a 2014 study by American University, “superfans can feel a strong sense of loss in the aftermath of a character death.” I would also add into it the loss we feel when one or more of our favorite television shows get canceled.
When we get caught up in a television show, when we enter the world of fictional characters we grow to love, the ending of that series is an emotional blow. According to Robert Rowney, in conversation with the Huffington Post (“Why we Grieve Fictional Characters,” Lindsay Holmes, Huffington Post, 4/29/15), there is a genuine psychological reason we get so involved with fictional characters and their worlds.
That such involvement takes us out of ourselves and the daily stresses of our “real lives” is a given. Rowney, a staff psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic, said, “These characters are an escape from some of the stresses of life,” he said. “Watching these shows allows you to decompress and not have to think about things for a little while. You’re exposed to different aspects of the characters’ lives — their losses, their loves and their own griefs, everything that goes into the human condition — and you eventually begin to empathize with them and form an attachment. We see some of ourselves in them.”
In short, the emotional bonds we form with the characters and the worlds they inhabit are real. The 2015-2016 television season was overall quite wonderful, resolving multiple character death arcs in a satisfying manner (Once Upon a Time, Game of Thrones). However, at least one series hit a sour note, playing on viewers already strained emotions with a character death fake-out (looking at you, Walking Dead). For me personally, I was heartbroken over the loss of five favorite shows.
In ascending order, they were:
The Bastard Executioner (FX)
Okay, so most of us who tuned into this show were diehard Sutterphiles, still bleeding over the ending of Sons of Anarchy. Kurt Sutter went in a brave new direction with this show set in medieval Wales, about a man caught up in deadly political machinations, who finds himself reluctantly thrust into the role of executioner or face the wrong end of an axe himself. Armed with a cache of talented actors that included newcomer Lee Jones, Stephen Moyer (True Blood), Ross O’Hennessy (Game of Thrones), Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy) and Kurt Sutter himself the show appealed to the diehard history buff and folklorist in me. Yes, the accents sometimes made the political game of cat and mouse hard to follow, and it definitely was competing with Game of Thrones for over the top gruesomeness. But the set dressings, the historical accuracy and best of all the love story at the heart of it all really sucked me in. Kurt Sutter is indeed a masterful storyteller. But unfortunately I and the cache of other diehard followers weren’t enough to keep the expensive show alive, and Sutter himself decided not to pursue a season two.
Houdini and Doyle (Fox)
Okay, okay it’s already evident I can add history (and literary) nerd to my long list of geek cred. And I confess I’ve had a crush on Harry Houdini ever since I saw the 1953 film Houdini with Tony Curtis, and honestly, who isn’t an Arthur Conan Doyle/Sherlock fan? This show was also well researched, based on the real life unlikely friendship of Houdini and Doyle. Stephen Mangan was wonderful as Doyle, pained by childhood trauma, the severe illness of his wife, and a public who would not let his notorious fictional creation die. As for Michael Weston, he nailed Houdini and all of his quirks. If I’m going to be completely honest, his blue eyes did me in, and when he wore that one particular blue suit that set off said blue eyes…well, let’s just say I had to really keep a grip on myself while live tweeting. I love the show’s social and political commentary, I loved how each story did not end in a predictable manner and I thought Adelaide (the lovely Rebecca Liddiard) a strong female foil to both Houdini and Doyle. I really had hoped for a season two, but alas, it was not meant to be.
Agent Carter (ABC)
I’m not alone in mourning this one. We all loved Hayley Atwell as the beautiful, strong, self-confident, smart and totally kick-ass Peggy Carter. She was one of the best female role models on network TV (one of the highlights of my 2016 was getting to thank Hayley Atwell in person for portraying her thus). Of course we loved the comic book, over the top drama. We loved Peggy’s undying love for Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), but we also adored the blooming relationship between Peggy and Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj). We loved Jarvis and his wife Anna. We loved watching the evolution of the SSR, and were just waiting to see how Peggy established S.H.I.E.L.D. Of course us Hayley Atwell loyalists will tune in to Conviction when it debuts this fall, but Peggy Carter will always have a place in my heart.
This was a hard one. Nathan Fillion was just brilliant as the self-absorbed but totally adorkable (not to mention ruggedly handsome) mystery writer Richard Castle. Stana Katic was courageous and bold as the cop who won over his heart and led that particular Peter Pan out of Neverland. While I was not a big “Caskett” shipper, I was big on the wonderful family dynamics of the show. Fillion was great as one of the best TV dads ever; watching him and his relationship with his daughter (who happened to be the same age as my daughter) was positively inspiring. I thought it was great to see a character who had a great relationship with his mother (played wonderfully by Susan Sullivan). I loved the way the officers of the precinct were like a family; I loved Ryan and Esposito. Admittedly season 8 was clunky – separating Kate and Castle yet again was getting old (of course later we found out there was behind the scenes drama contributing to that) and the Lockset storyline was convoluted to the point of almost nonsensical. There were some great things going on though; seeing Molly Quinn as a beautiful, confident young woman running Castle’s detective agency was just awesome, and Toks Olagundoye as Hayley was a wonderful addition. The firing of Stana Katic was shocking, and Caskett shippers took up arms, pretty much nailing the coffin shut on one of my favorite shows, one that got me through many a rough time. As a widow myself, I was anomaly in thinking that Fillion could pull it off as a widowed Castle, that it would have been a given he would have found a new muse, and the show could have explored new and different directions with Alexis and Hayley and the detective agency as well as giving Jon Huertas and Seamus Deaver expanded roles. In my opinion that 30 second tack on of the finale was just pandering to the shippers, and Kate and Rick with three kids running around was just something I personally didn’t buy. Clearly, I was a minority though. Castle will be dearly missed.
Penny Dreadful (Showtime)
This one truly killed me. The show was brilliant in so very many ways. Especially the exceptionally talented ensemble cast, led by the incredible Eva Green as the powerful, tormented, spectacular Vanessa Ives. Where to begin to compliment them all! Josh Hartnett, Reeve Carney, Harry Treadwell, Billie Piper, the incomparable Timothy Dalton, Danny Sapani as Sembene, Wes Studi, Patty LuPone, and scene stealing, show-stopping Rory Kinnear as the Creature, who had my gut twisted and my tears flowing in almost every sequence he was in. Bringing to life literary horror anti-heroes of the Victorian era, watching them come together and interact – the brilliance of the dialog, the magnificence of the sets – I don’t think there was any part of this that didn’t put its roots right down into my soul. Yes, it was gory – but oh, so well done. Yes, it was both sexual and sensual – but the most electrifying desire was in the looks exchanged between Vanessa and Ethan (Hartnett). I still say when I grow up, I want to write like John Logan. Season 2’s third episode, Nightcomers, is embedded in my very soul, and Season 3’s Blade of Grass was Oscar worthy (forget the darn Emmys, of which this show was robbed). I was beyond devastated at the ending, and that it ended at all. It’s going to be a very, very long time before I recover from this one.
Of course, as one of my friends put it, this is exactly what fan fiction is for! And once again, I reiterate – these are just my personal opinions.
How about you? What shows and or characters did you mourn for this past TV season?