Captain America recently died in an issue of Captain America published by Marvel Comics. Shot by a sniper and betrayed by a friend, Cap went down fairly easily after over 60 years of surviving foes such as the Red Skull, Doctor Doom and even Galactus. Setting aside completely the debate about whether he'll be back in six months or whether he should have been killed in the first place, I want to look at some main character deaths and examine whether or not the character truly went out in a manner worthy of who that character is.
Everyone dies. And almost everyone dies in a non-heroic fashion. Be it old age, disease, car accident, or any other number of common ways, we probably aren't going to go out while saving the planet or a school bus full of kids. That's what our fictional heroes are supposed to be doing. And if they die, that's what they should die doing. Maybe that's not "real," but well, it's not real. We also see these characters escape death over and over again, that when death finally catches up with them, we want it to be something more than anything they've encountered before. And we want them to win while dying, going out in a blaze of glory.
Superman was killed, temporarily, while battling Doomsday in the comics. While not a particularly great story, the writers adequately set up the creature as unstoppable. This wasn't something Superman had faced before and he was giving his all by the end of the story. As far as comic deaths go, the Flash (Barry Allen) was one of the better ones. Told in Crisis #8, Flash did what he did best and ran to stop a weapon that would destroy the world. And he did it with practically no witnesses. No glory. Just the right thing to do. His ultimate fate was told in Secret Origins Annual #2 where we see that he ran so fast that he went back in time and actually became the lightning that struck himself granting him the powers of super speed.
Joss Whedon killed off several of his characters in Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. Quite possibly the best was Cordelia's death during Angel season 5. Having already been written out by saying she was in a coma, she awakes for one episode to help Angel solve his biggest problem at the time. The end is left somewhat vague, but we find out that she wasn't awake after all. She had passed away.
At the top of my personal list, I'd have to place Spock's death in Star Trek II. The story was masterfully crafted and set up from the opening scene of the movie. The villain is as good as dead, but so is the entire crew...an entire crew made up of old friends and cadets. They are not going to escape certain death unless something drastic is done. So, Spock heads into the engine room that's filled with lethal radiation and restarts the engine. In the process, he dies and is able to get one final exchange out with his friend. Of course, the death is undone in the next movie, but this was still a gutsy move at the time and was well played.
Despite a great death scene for Spock in Star Trek II, the biggest offender in poor main character deaths is the Star Trek universe. The death of Lt. Yar in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation set the precedent by seeing her get killed by an intelligent pool of tar. Her last act was trying to cross the tar creature to get to a crashed shuttlecraft containing Troi and an extra. In the end, her death was no more heroic than a "red shirt's" death. Perhaps that was the point.
Jadzia Dax was offed in the sixth season finale of Deep Space Nine. Her death was foreshadowed as early as the first episode. There was a sense that Jadzia was to be a temporary character. Problem was, after six years we grew to love that character. We saw her hanging out with Klingons. She got through several scrapes using her fighting prowess or by outthinking her opponents. Then, Gul Dukat magically appears, shoots her with special energy powers and he's gone. And so is she. Some very disappointing writing there.
Data's death in Star Trek: Nemesis was poorly set up and tried to evoke the Spock death scene. Despite being a huge NextGen fan and Data fan, the scene only made me angry. Not because Data was killed, but because of how poorly it was done. Of course, poorly done doesn't even begin to describe the awful, awful death of Captain Kirk in Star Trek Generations. Even the writers admit to it being bad on their excellent commentary track on the DVD.
Another major offender in poor main character deaths is 24. The worst was the way they killed off Tony in season 5, but even beginning with Teri Bauer in the first season, with one notable exception the deaths have been random, pointless, and gain the heroes nothing. Only George Mason's death in season 2 stands out as a hero's death. Sadly, he had been nothing like a hero up until that point.
Some deaths I'm torn on. Supporting characters can often be killed to advance the plot for the main characters. We saw this handled greatly with the death of Alex Whitman in Roswell. He didn't go out in a blaze of glory, but his death advanced the plot and spurred the main characters to action. And the episode where he died was masterfully written by Ronald D. Moore and was so well-thought out and perfectly executed.
Same goes for the death of Joyce Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her death took Buffy to a new direction and was handled respectfully and artistically. One of Joss Whedon's most powerful episodes.
Of course, Joss Whedon used character deaths to heighten suspense in Serenity. Book's death gave the characters motivation to take the offensive and Wash's death told audiences all bets are off, anyone can die because anyone just did. Wash's death followed what was probably his greatest moment of piloting prowess. He did was he was born to do, did it well, and unfortunately, that was it for him. This death could arguably go up in the list of great and heroic deaths. Although, killing Wash at this point makes his dramatic escape from death just a little while earlier in the episode "War Stories" almost seem pointless. Why, as a viewer, do I want to go through all of that if he's just going to wind up dead anyway? Much like how Ripley risks it all and more to save Newt in Aliens only to find that she's died before Alien 3 even begins.
Maybe it’s too much to ask for a main character to have a noble, worthy death. But if they’re not going to, then why kill them at all?
Labels: Buffy, by Carlin Trammel, comic books, DC Comics, endings, Firefly, Marvel Comics, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Superman35 36 37 38