How do you kill off someone when we have discovered the secrets to cloning, time travel, and transporter twins? In this season alone?!
Right. He's dead forever. Suuuuuuure...
Science fiction programs have always inhabited a strange niche on television. As a literary genre, sci-fi can be almost entirely thought-experiment put to narration. But as a TV show perpetually hoping for syndication, you need a bit more meat than "What would be involved in making a Ringworld?" or "I bet you could control all robot behavior with three basic laws." As such, sci-fi shows are almost always as much about the people in them as they are about what is happening to those people. They are as much space opera as sci-fi; they need to be. We care that the Cylons destroyed the Twelve Colonies, that the Borg are invading the Federation, and that the Rebel Alliance overcomes the Imperial Storm Troopers just as much because of those characters involved as because of the actual plot. Connecting to the characters brings humanity to what are often absurd situations, and at the very least truly alien ones.
And even then sometimes it's hard to care.
But in television, sometimes a character just has to go away. An actor gets pregnant or stops testing well or develops an allergy to their latex makeup or is simply asking too much money to renew their contract, so they need to be written out of the story. In TV talk the term is "McLeaned," off of McLean Stevenson's departure from M*A*S*H. A smart series sets up a context which allows this to happen easily, and which can even allow the character to return. They could be promoted, like Don S. Davis or MacGuyver in Stargate: SG-1 or Dr. Crusher on Star Trek: Next Generation. They could be visitors who go home or head off on new adventures, like Rev Bem in Andromeda or Joel in MST3K (otherwise known as Putting Them On the Bus). You can even just get a replacement actor and absolutely never mention the difference, as they did to Darrin in Bewitched or Jimmy Olsen in Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman. You could set it up so their departure is an inevitable necessity, and in doing so give insight to the nature of reality or humanity, like Edith Keeler or Gary Mitchell on Star Trek (not reoccurring characters, I know. Fuck you. Read the expanded universe).
Or, if you want to be a writer, you could milk some drama and kill them off.
Although this too can lead to spinoffs.
This gets kind of tricky in, though, in a genre where they found a machine or ancient relic to bring people back to life not two episodes ago. Between cloning, alternate timelines, parallel dimensions, holographic downloads, and time traveling by making a slingshot around the sun, it gets kind of tricky to set up reasons to make sure a character stays dead. As long as you can, though, there are still plenty of legitimate reasons to kill off a character. Suddenly killing off a reoccurring character is a great way to show the danger is genuine, that not everything is going to end well, or that the threat has been stepped up a notch. In short, like the Firefly movie or aiming Sylar towards a major character (other than Claire) in Heroes, killing a character is a great way to show that shit done got real.
Short of throwing Worf across the room.
Or it could be a moving sacrifice. Like Marcus Cole in Babylon 5, Zhaan in Farscape, or Spock at the end of Star Trek 2, if you kill off a character the right way it can be the way everyone remembers them. It could even, like Nathan Stark in Eureka, be a means of final redemption. You could even make their dying and coming back played by a different actor a central aspect to the whole series, like Dr. Who. At the very least, you can dedicate a whole episode to their passing, like Jonathan Kent in Smallville or Dr. Janet Frasier in SG-1, a way to pull back from the epic struggle between good and evil to remember the very real humanity that comes in mourning the death of a lover, a parent, a friend, or even the stark reminder that a person you see every day and to whom you give no second thought can pass away in the blink of an eye, gone from your life forever.
But sometimes, someone just really, really, really wants a character to be fucking dead. The actor slept with the writer's daughter or blackmailed the studio or something. Not only is their ending ignoble and unspectacular, sometimes even a filler episode, but it is embarrassing. They die in an utterly implausible way, the sort of thing that you know was written just so the actor would have to clench his teeth and grimace as memorized the awkward, unbelievably bad setup he'd have to deliver to receive his final paycheck. It is soap opera death, with as much dignity as that implies. It happens fast. It makes no real sense. It has no relevance to any existant plot or story arc. And then they're never mentioned again.
'Member Cyclops in X-Men 3? Yeah. Just like that.
When this happens the writers get to flex their creative muscles. They have to kill a character off so completely, so utterly, and so implausibly that bringing them back to life would be even more implausible. And over the years this has resulted in some hilariously insultnig ways to die.
Andromeda was one of those shows that was surprisingly good in parts, until you remember that it starred Kevin Sorbo of Hercules and was developed by Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, and then it becomes disappointing again. The basic premise involved a captain and his super-duper sentient starship Andromeda getting stuck in a singularity for a few centuries until long after the Galactic Commonwealth collapsed and the galaxy fallen to the spaceship equivalent of the Dark Ages; pulled out by a ragtag group of misfits, he uses his superior technology and his noble dream of better days to rebuild the Commonwealth.
There were plenty of compelling characters, including eugenically-evolved Nietzscheans and the luminescent Trance Gemini, but the most interesting of them all was probably Andromeda herself. Rommie, the ship itself, was a sentient, thinking, feeling Artificial Intelligence. Played by Lexa Doig, she appeared as holographic projection, and later had an avatar gynoid, and was also the starship around them - all at the same time. This not only made her a way cooler sentient ship than, say, Lexx or Moiya, but it made her one of the strongest, most intelligent, and most awesome females in all sci-fi.
Though, to be fair, she is competing against half a century of shouting "Oh no! A monster!"
It also led to her arguing with herself as often as not, as one third of her psychology saw different aspects to a situation than another, as well as making Kirk seem like a lame-o for just treating the Enterprise LIKE she was a woman.
"Jim, please don't stick that in my exhaust port."
But in Season 5, the whole show took a weird turn, with the crew separated and stuck on several identical desert planets. Most problematically, they didn't actually have a spaceship any more. Neither, for that matter, did they have Rommie. The actress took some time off to have a kid and to star in Jason X, neither of which seem like terribly conscientious career choices.
So the ship's genius, Shamus Zelazney Harper, who first designed the android Rommie rebuilds her as Doyle, a blonder, sluttier version of Rommie with just enough memories to provide continuity. No other explanation: she broke, we done fixed her up as best we could boss.
They eventually "rebuilt" Rommie as herserlf when Lexa Doig returned after her pregnancy; when asked how her new body felt (one that had put on a bit after nine months of conceiving and then delivering a human child) Rommie responds, "sturdy."
Ironically, Lexa Doig would go on to be the end-season replacement for Dr. Teryl Rothery when she got written out of Stargate SG-1 in Season 7 a year or so later.
Sliders had a five season run, a series about four characters "sliding" through parallel worlds in the hopes they can once again find their own. After one or two really good seasons exploring alternate history, evil doubles, and the paths not taken, each new slide that didn't get them attacked by evolved neanderthal Kromaggs started taking them to "Dinosaur World" or "Twister World" or, god help us all, "Zombie World."
Sliders: Ur doin it rong!
Sliders got an almost orgasmic thrill killing off its lead characters. Which is weird, since all they ever really needed to do to get rid of someone was find the perfect world for them that would tempt them to stay, or at the very least cause them to get delayed so they missed their slide. Wade Welles got captured by Kromaggs, Colin got unhinged from reality and slips between dimensions, and Prof. Maximillian Arturo got ignobly shot a few episodes after announcing he was already dying anyway of "a terminal illness."
Otherwise known as "Get me off this fucking dead horse"
But when it comes to truly, brutally killing off a character with no hope of return, you gotta admire what they did with their lead, Jerry O'Connell, who played Quinn Mallory, the inventor of sliding technology. At the beginning of season 5, he fuses with another Quinn from the new dimension (the only Quinn, short of his female counterpart, who looked nothing like Jerry O'Connell!). This new persona goes by Mallory, and the share some memories until the personality dichotemy gets resolved and...Y'know what? Fuck it, I don't even wanna explain any further. It's basically a more insulting version of #10. Let's just say there's a damned good reason they haven't bothered to release season 5 on DVD yet.
It's like giving main cast credits to Tuvix.
Before Worf son of Mogh was security chief of the Enterprise-D, or commander of the Defiant, or Klingon ambassador to the Federation, or First Officer on the Enterprise-E (he has more crossovers than Wolverine, Spider-Man and Deadpool combined!) he was navigator on the Enterprise, and the security chief was one Lt. Tasha Yar.
"She was yar alright. I wasn't, was I?"
Yar was a hard as brass balls officer who could hold her own but was not afraid to get down and dirty with an android when she'd had enough to drink. She grew up on an anarchic planet dodging rape gangs. She was specifically requested to work on the Enterprise, the flagship of the Federation, because she once saved a colonist by crossing a live minefield.
Then, on a visit to Vagra II, she got eaten by a tar monster.
"I bet Janeway never has to deal with this shit."
The fact was that Denise Crosby, the actress playing Tasha Yar, was promised a hard as brass balls roll and as often as not wound up with acting directions that amounted to "Jog down the corridor without a bra." But rather than deal with it through her agent or grit her teeth and remember that at least she wasn't wearing a cleavage-heavy dress like the ship's counselor, rumor has it Crosby took her ire straight to the writers. It wasn't the wisest of moves.
Her death was a huge deal in Star Trek, the first time that someone beyond some random redshirt died, and it was a major character! Unfortunately, her needless death wasn't to save the captain and the entire planet of Romulus, or to save Kirk and stop the Genesis Project, or even to show how vile Gul Dukaat could be. She just got killed by a tar monster.
Alf, a.k.a. Gordon Shumway of the planet Melmac, was a lovable muppet who crashed on earth, hid out with the Tanner family, and every so often tried to eat their cat. He made wisecracks and puns (even his name is an acronym of Alien Life Form) from behind the couch.
Shown here in all his magnificence.
Then, at the end of Season 4, the government finally caught on to the Tanner's ruse. Just like E.T., they cordoned off the Tanners home, captured Alf, and took him away.
The thing is, there was no Season 5. The show was a production nightmare, tensions running high throughout its entirety. Though there were fifth season plants for Alf to be living on a miltitary base as a captive, which later became the basis of a made-for-TV movie, the show itself never got renewed. Alf himself has gone on to make cameos on Love Boat: the Next Wave, Hollywood Squares, and even an interview with Bill O'Reilly.
Fox News: SERIOUS journalism.
But if you didn't seek out these things specifically, the last episode of Season 4 was a cliffhanger that wound up being The End. Alf is taken away, probably got dissected in a government lab, the authorities deny all knowledge, and an entire generation of impressionable youths are forever scarred.
They never SAY these characters just became Jesus. But we're all thinking it.
When it comes to writing off a character, ascending 'em into a higher plane of existence is probably the cheesiest way to go. You get to mourn the character as if they had truly died, but all the while the audience is deep down well aware that they will probably come back someday.
Pictured above: each at least as holy as the Buddha
And in each and every one of these instances pictured above, they did. Kes in Star Trek Voyager was an Ocampa who evolved into an energy being only to come back and have a mental breakdown that nearly destroyed the ship. Daniel Jackson in Stargate: SG-1 casts off his mortal form more often than he changes socks; by the second time it happens his commander actually refuses to believe he is dead, and for good reason, since he spent the last season and a half chatting with his ghostly form. Cordelia in Angel becomes one of the Powers That Be, which has the downside of opening a spot for Angel's son Connor on the cast and then an even worse story arc when she returns and shacks up with the son of the dude she was banging last season. Ascension is even responsible for getting Wil Wheaton out of the gruesome demise he so desperately, desperately deserved on STTNG when Wesley Crusher becomes a Traveler after turning emo and meeting some Indians (seriously).
Perhaps the only thing worse than killing off a character in a stupid way is NOT doing it, and instead just writing up scenario after scenario about why they're not on screen or only showing the back of their head. In the Zombie Continuation, a series continues after everything salient about it, even all the main characters, have all left the show.
Airwolf was sort of like Knight Rider but with a helicopter. The chopper wasn't cognizant but it was super powerful, able to go supersonic speeds and fire missiles and such.
Unfortunately, its super powers did not include producer backing. In Season 4 they lost all their money, they lost the entire cast, and perhaps most saliently, they lost the fucking helicopter!
Plans for season 5 involved airing static and calling it Airwolf: North Pole Adventures
For almost the entire fourth season the part of the helicopter was played by taking clips from the first three seasons and trying to create a coherent story. Which worked just about as well as when Ed Wood tried to do that with movies.One character got #10ed (plastic surgergy with a new face), another got written out entirely, and Ernest Borgnine got killed off, all in the first episode, and all without seeing the faces of the original cast of characters. The show got canned before they resorted to hanging a model helicopter on fishline, but only by about two episodes.
Don't get me wrong, the Stargate series was great, focusing on various groups using the titular devices to travel and explore different worlds. But for all the series went into wormhole theory, their grasp of medical science left a bit to be desired. Nanites age and de-age one planet, an infection devolves everyone on the base, Wraith suck the youth from a body but first inject a drug that makesyou superstrong and crazy, Go'auld genetically engineer humans with telekinesis that turns pyrotechnic when they become teenagers...I could go on. (I won't. But I could).
But the straw on this particular camel came in Season 3 of Stargate: Atlantis with the untimely and utterly surprising death of Dr. Beckett via...exploding tumor.
Not this Dr. Beckett!
Yes, friends, an exploding tumor, big enough to take out an entire floor of Atlantis. The episode is mid-season, it is a framed episode (almost always a sure sign that it is written by a hack, since it stretches 5 minutes of story into 40 by just denying the viewer a basic bit of knowledge) and came out of nowhere. Basically, SGA was already planning on a major recast come Season 4 and didn't want to completely alienate everybody by changing things all at once.
Their solution: exploding tumor.
To be replaced by one of the few people to actually survive Firefly,
hired on because she used less product in her hair.
This would be higher on the list, except despite his exceptionally stupid demise Dr. Beckett did eventually get cloned and returned for a few cameos throughout season 5, proving - as if Optimus Prime's continuing ressurrections weren't enough - that the one thing stronger than even death is Fan Demand.
Smallville is about the life and times of Clark Kent living as a smalltown farm boy in Kansas before he moved to Metropolis and became Superman. It is written with the absolute credo "no tights, no cape, no flying" by people whose entire knowledge of the Man of Steel is "I saw the Chris Reeves movies when I was a kid." It is in its tenth and final season even though it should have ended after the third (they have been progressing the story without Lex Luthor now for nearly two years). It is hard to tell when the show jumped the shark (either the Witch saga or the Vampire Episode, but either way this show itself must have been imbued with powers from Earth's yellow sun to survive as long as it has.
That or the wise programming direction from the good people who brought us Loonatics.
Perhaps the biggest thorn in everyone's side - fans and detractors alike - is Lana " Cocktease" Lang, Clark's high schools sweetheart .
Played in the movie Superman III by Annette o'Toole, who
now portrays Clark's mother. Freudian-much?
Lana, played by Kristin Kruek, serves the same basic function of Lois Lane without being as interesting. Whereas Lois learns of Clark's secret identity and spends half a season playing dumb because she realizes this is the sort of shit you keep under wraps, Lana spends two or three season threatening to break up with Clark if he doesn't open up about whatever deep dark secret he's keeping. They start out in a will-they-won't-they relationship, which evolves into a why-don't-they-already relationship, eventually becomes a I-can't-believe-they-don't-already relationship and finally crescendos into a so-they-did-now-kill-her-off relationship.
Unfortunately, killing Lana Lang is a bit of a tricky proposition. For one thing, she's boinking Superman. Super-fucking-man, who can play tag with the Flash and is so powerful that he has a concentrate not to walk through solid walls like they're fog. For another, after seven seasons of her nearly dying, she has greater longevity than Lazarus. This girl has become a vampire, has been possessed by Brainiac, and has even faked her own death on numerous occasions. Plus, she is alive in the movies, and since that's the closest thing they have to established continuity we know she has to be alive.So how to get rid of her?
Kryptonite. Oh, right, sorry. "Meteor rock."
Lana gets a supersuit (a nanite version of the supersuit Lex Luthor wore to trade punches with the Man of Steel but not nearly so bulky or, well, gay.
"How can you see this color scheme and NOT think 'super-genius'?"
Unfortunately (depending on your point of view) this suit is kryptonite-based and she can't get it off (that's what she said!). Kryptonite now permeates every part of her being down to the molecular level. To protect Clark, she has to stay as far away from him as possible, and never, ever, ever appear on the show again (until, y'know, she does). This show was Kruek's final appearance after the last time she'd left for good. Hopefully it wrote her out of the script forever, and was so bad that it actually proved the continued life of Lex Luthor (who, up until that point everyone was pretty positive was dead) without ever actually showing Michael Rosenbaum!
On the bright side, in some continuities Kryptonite is also toxic to humans
over prolongued exposure, so if we're lucky she'll die a slow, horrible death
The six remaining fans of the show by this time breathed a sigh of relief, let her go into oblivion, and sat around waiting for other Justice League second-stringers to make cameos.
M.A.N.T.I.S. should have been ground-breaking for what it was, which was the first black superhero that wasn't a total embarrassment to his race.
"You've ruined my entire Chasing Amy monologue!"
In the FOX series, Dr. Miles Hawkins is a paralysis victim who creates an exoskeletal cybersuit which not only lets him walk but gives him super powers. Rather than bring hope to the millions of similarly disadvantaged handicapable people out there, he uses it to thwart a series of rather unremarkable criminal activities.
Unfortunately, the series was directed by Sam Rami, otherwise known for turning Spider-Man into an emo boy, possessing Ash's girlfriend with Evil Dead, and for shoving shit down Alison Lohman's mouth. He also created Cleopatra 2525, worked on Young Hercules and Jack of All Trades...let's just say Quality was not the defining characteristic of this series.
Also, there was technical already a handicapable superhero of
color who was also female, so he can't even yell "First"
M.A.N.T.I.S. never achieved very much glamor during its single season, even after they started introducing real super-villains. In the end rather than retire from being M.A.N.T.I.S. or have Hawkins reveal his identity, they killed the character off.
Using an invisible dinosaur.
"Quality!" shouts Sam Raimi.
What you see there is the actual death scene of the protagonist, fighting an invisible dinosaur. Other heroes have come to far more ignoble ends, but rarely on network primetime.
"You're dead, Jim"
Captain James T. Kirk, captain of the Federation starship Enterprise. The man is a legend in geek fandom. Kirk blazed a trail of glory across the galaxy for the United Federation of Planets; anything he couldn't seduce he blasted to oblivion. The man toppled gods like Apollo, revealed omnipotent aliens like Trelaine for the whiny little child he was, fought Klingons, Romulans and Nazis, and saved the Earth on multiple occasions. He did it so well they gave him another ship after he blew up the first one. James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise not only made history with what should have been a campy three-season show - a show which only survived to three seasons thanks to production backing by Lucille Ball of all people - but spawned a franchise that took even Bermann & Braga three spinoffs to put down.
The nail in the coffin, baby!
Despite the fact that Star Trek: the Next Generation lasted way longer than the original series, producers were worried that even the awesomely awesome awesomeness of Captain Jean-Luc Picard could not stand up against the sheer mojo exuded by Kirk if they did a crossover movie. After all, Kirk got tortured every Tuesday; Picard spent six minutes as a Borg and wound up crying about it in a grape vineyard.
"On the other hand, you should see MY captain's log."
So the movie Star Trek Generations had to be clear here: we're passing the torch. We've kept Bones, McCoy, and even Scotty alive into this time, but Kirk is going to go. They killed him in the first ten minutes as he struggled to save the Enterprise-B and got sucked into the Nexus, and the film goes on.
Hopefully this time they'll get the name on the tombstone right.
Then they missed the point by bringing him back. The problem with the idea of the Nexus is that a part of Kirk will always exist in it, so theoretically he can always come out an help in an emergency. He's become like Barry Allen in the last few microseconds on the cosmic treadmill, able to skip through time for a cameo whenever it suits the writers' convenience and then go back to being dead.
So how do you counter that?
Ya drop a bridge on him.
No, really. By this point you should have figured out that I'm not making any of this shit up. They crushed Kirk with a falling bridge.
"Bridge on the captain!" -William Shatners words after filming his death scene in Star Trek Generations
This technique was so unexpected and simple and mindlessly stupid that it pissed fans off to no end. You might as well have him be hit by a bus, or fall down an open manhole. For thirty years Kirk skirted death, only to fall victim to structural fatigue. And that is the improved version, mind you; in the original script Sauron just shoots Kirk in the back. This death became so reviled for its uselessness that it actually became a TV trope: "dropping a bridge" on a character is when a character is permanently written out of a show, especially killed off, in a way that is particularly awkward, anti-climactic, mean-spirited or dictated by producer's fiat, which is sort of the whole point of this article.
If it makes you feel any better, William Shatner went on to co-write a series of Star Trek novels in which Kirk survived and goes on adventures with McCoy and Scotty, but the "Shatnerverse" is not even close to cannon even in the extended universe of Star Trek. And honestly, reading the Shaterverse will sort of make you wish they had stopped with the bridge.
Or read his web comic.