To Live and Die in TV


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Moments before Frank Underwood became President in House of Cards, it happened. It happened at the end of the second season of Hannibal too. Suffice to say, this brief article will spoil up to (but not including) the third season of both Hannibal and House of Cards. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll happen again in Game of Thrones, but we won’t know until the sixth season.

You’re still in the dark. The discussion here is death. Or, crucially, fake deaths. House of Cards spent an entire arc building Doug’s (Michael Kelly) relationship with ex-prostitute Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), without the knowledge of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey). In the climax, as Frank’s puzzle pieces all slip into place in Washington, we cut away to Doug and Rachel and a chase that left Doug, knocked out, in the middle of a snowy forest. We reflect and judge the series so far. Frank’s rise to Presidency hasn’t been without cost, and Doug has paid the price. With his life. Until the third season hit Netflix, whereby Doug’s miraculous recovery is key to almost every episode. In fact, the last episode played out with a similar situation whereby, again, Doug and Rachel are together in a vehicle, driving to her demise. We assume he’s killed her, finally.

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Hannibal, now in its third season also, equally toyed with fake death. Detective Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), Psychologist Dr Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), long-term victim Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl), chief of Baltimore asylum Dr. Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza) and Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) all bit the dust prior to the third series premiere. Every single character mentioned, except Abigail, returned. And Abigail even returns in multiple dream sequences in any case. Chilton was shot in the face. Crawford, left bleeding from his neck. Bloom thrown from a second floor window. Graham stabbed in the gut, and bleeding profusely. How on earth could they all survive? Frustratingly the closure, and satisfaction, of the finale was nixed. How effectively Lecter pulled the strings and managed to wipe out virtually all his enemies made this an outstanding end. If they survive, it undermines this entire point. This was a shocking end, and an irresistible talking point as the audience wondered how on earth the show would continue – and if this may lead to the inevitable introduction of Clarice Starling (I’m still praying this will be Elisabeth Moss if it’s taken up by a network).

But, in both cases, hours of conversation was all in vain. Was it producers or studios failing to believe a show could continue without these characters? Did the show runner simply have a change of heart? Or is it a purposeful finale whereby, as a cliff-hanger, this type of definitive end is merely a hook for the next season (arguably, it didn’t work very well for Hannibal). In both Hannibal and House of Cards, television with kudos and credibility, catering to such a simple hook (“look! They’re all dead!” / “No, no, just kidding”) ruins that reputation. It’s like Breaking Bad dragging out plots and characters, when they fulfilled their purpose within a couple of episodes. Well, the latter concern is one I may be on my own with.

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But it does nevertheless make us lose trust. If a character is left for dead, unless a grave is dug and a body clearly embedded deep down, we’ll be sat with bated breath for their return (unless it’s The Walking Dead whereby life after death is inevitable). It’s a fad I desperately hope will end, but with the ‘twist’ at the end of Season 5 in Game of Thrones, I worry it is only beginning…

Simon Columb

This article, To Live and Die in TV, first appeared on Flickering Myth.