Thursday, January 31, 2013

TV Obituaries, Vol. 1: January 2013

Pardon me if this sounds grim, but probably the best innovation of the contemporary television drama is that you're allowed to kill off major characters.

It's easy to take for granted in this post-Buffy, post-24 TV era of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire and the like (hell, the new Fox show The Following was damn near marketed with the premise "Expect shocking deaths!" to victorious ratings), but this was a big, big innovation that really gave serialized drama the freedom to be bold and surprising and have real stakes in a way they just plain weren't allowed to for the first, oh, four decades of the medium's lifespan. Today a character death is simply one of the thousand tricks in the dramatic TV toolbox, not only accepted but a popular enough trope that fans can get restless and complain if a life-or-death-stakes serialized drama goes too long without one.

Thus my latest monthly feature, TV Obituaries. It's exactly what it sounds like: At the end of each month, I'll highlight prominent TV characters to kick the bucket since the last column. Obviously, even a TV nerd as pathetic as me doesn't watch everything, so I'm sure to miss major deaths here and there, but I'll aim for completion at least within the realm of shows I watch (and if people wish to let me know in comments who I've missed, I'll strongly consider adding them). Now let's get started with January 2013.

Spoilers follow for FringeJustified and Last Resort.

List is ranked according to what percentage of the show's total episode count the deceased character appeared in at the time of their death, starting low and counting down to high.

R.I.P. Billy St. Cyr (Justified)

Died: Season 4 Episode 3 - "Truth and Consequences"

Episode Count: 3 / 42

Cause of Death: Venomous snakebite

Obituary: Evangelist preacher Billy St. Cyr was building his own little fundamentalist Christian cult in Harlan County, which eventually pulled in Ellen May, one of Boyd Crowder's prostitutes. So Boyd handed Billy a snake and told him that if God truly protected him, the snake would not bite. It did, and he died. Justified fans shed few tears that day.

R.I.P. Windmark (Fringe)

Died: Season 5 Episode 13 - "An Enemy of Fate" (Series Finale)

Episode Count: 11 / 100

Cause of Death: Smashed with telekinetically-thrown truck by Olivia Dunham

Obituary: Captain Windmark, a leader of the psychic time-travelers called Observers who came from the 27th century to rule our world, made a great, threatening villain for Fringe's final season. The show worked hard to make sure we hated him, having him kill off two major heroes within the space of a few episodes, and when his death arrived it was satisfying indeed.

R.I.P. September aka Donald (Fringe)

Died: Season 5 Episode 13 - "An Enemy of Fate" (Series Finale)

Episode Count: 40 / 100

Cause of Death: Gunshot

Obituary: Like Windmark, September (or Donald, as he went by in season 5) is of the Observers, but unlike the rest he overcame his programming to develop a fondness and sympathy for 21st-century humans, secretly working to save them from his own people. Appearing in all five seasons and just shy of half of Fringe's episodes, a little more of his identity and agenda being revealed with each major appearance, fondness for September snuck up on the viewer gradually.

R.I.P. Marcus Chaplin (Last Resort)

Died: Season 1 Episode 13 - "Controlled Flight Into Terrain" (Series Finale)

Episode Count: 13 / 13

Cause of Death: Blown up along with his submarine by missile

Obituary: I had been wondering prior to Last Resort's hastily-planned series finale whether they were gonna go out with a conclusive bang, and I gotta give it to 'em, they chose the latter. Killing your main character is a pretty good way to announce "Aaaaand we're done." Andre Braugher did a good enough job lending personality and presence to his rebellious submarine captain that his climactic sacrifice felt stirring and potent.

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