Thursday, December 19, 2013

Resurrecting Dead Characters

This week on the mid-season “finale” of a TV show I watch, one of my favorite characters died. I won’t reveal the title or character, in case you follow the series and haven’t seen the episode yet. I’m hoping he’ll return somehow. After all, Buffy’s vampire lovers Angel and Spike didn’t stay dead. On SUPERNATURAL, both Dean and Sam have been to Hell and back. THE VAMPIRE DIARIES restored Bonnie from ghost to living girl. Revival of “dead” characters has become almost commonplace on fantasy programs. Given the tremendous magical powers demonstrated by one of the characters in this series that just started its winter hiatus, bringing someone back from the dead doesn’t seem farfetched. Whether doing so would cheapen his sacrifice, of course, is a separate question.

Simply working a spell to resurrect him seems too simple, in my opinion. I’ve been speculating on whether time travel might be used to return him to life, the way Darla was brought back on ANGEL. Could magic pluck him out of the time stream at the instant of death and bring him forward into a future moment weeks or months later? The extraction would have to occur at the very microsecond before he dies, or else the deed he died to perform wouldn’t get completed, plus witnesses would see him vanish rather than assume they saw his death (in an explosion of black smoke, which is why it’s barely possible to remove him from the present without having anyone realize it).

Robert Heinlein, in one of his later novels, rescues Lazarus Long’s mother from death in somewhat this way. History records that she was killed in a traffic accident. Lazarus's companions leap in from the distant future to whisk her away while a trace of life remains in her body. They pull it off without apparently changing the past, by instantaneously substituting a cloned replica of her to serve as the corpse. (It’s a mindless body that has never really “lived,” so they aren’t committing murder.) A somewhat similar premise allows the time traveling historians in Connie Willis’s series (DOOMSDAY BOOK, TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, BLACKOUT, and ALL CLEAR) to rescue doomed artifacts or living creatures in rare circumstances without changing the known past. An object recorded as destroyed in the bombing of a cathedral in the Blitz is snatched away just before the bombs fall, so that it’s preserved while witnesses in the past assume it was blown up. A cat thrown into a river to drown is taken into the future; since the cat was already removed from the timeline by its intended death, transporting it alive into the mid-twenty-first century doesn’t change the past.

Authors treat the problem of changing the past in many different ways. One of my favorite time travel novels, LIGHTNING by Dean Koontz, features a traveler from the past (Nazi Germany) to our present. From his viewpoint, he’s trying to change the future. He labors under the limitation that he can’t be in two places at the same time, so he can’t leap into a moment when he already exists. This restriction makes the story’s climax, when he’s trying to save the heroine while barred from any segment of time he has already visited, highly suspenseful.

So, anyway – what about restoring a deceased major character? Does bringing such a character back to life, whether by magical resurrection, tricks with time, or some other method, retroactively negate the emotional impact of his or her death? I’ve sometimes felt that’s a risk writers take on a series such as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER or SUPERNATURAL, where the revival (in one form or another) of deceased characters becomes almost routine, so that any death of a major character loses importance. “Don’t worry, he’ll be back,” the viewer starts to think. Or, in the case of a person who’s worn out his welcome with the audience, “I hope we won’t see him again.” The series that concluded its half-season this week hasn’t reached that point; we haven’t yet seen a definitely dead person restored in this fictional universe.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


  1. I beliebe I know the show and I really want this character to come back. I love the character and I'd like for him to get a chance to be happy.

    I'm willing to bet that many people are holding off on outcries because we expect him to come back.

    I think magic would be the way, tied into the instrument of his death. Although we've seen an unsuccessful resurrection...we've also seen characters get second chances and be remade.

    So I am hoping the writers have something up their sleeves and we will see this character again besides in backstory.

  2. Beth, I agree with you; he is one of the favorites of a lot of viewers, and I think he'll be back, probably through magic. And it's always possible that his disappearance in a cloud of smoke doesn't necessarily mean he's "really most sincerely dead."