Pathos, Tears, and Recriminations

These days, I don’t watch many new TV shows. Generally I wait till they’re on Netflix, then I watch ’em in big batches. But I keep up with Downton Abbey and The Vampire Diaries…

Worse luck for me this winter.

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You’ve been warned.

If you’re plugged in at all, you at least know that Downton Abbey ended tragically, unforgivably. Just after all our hopes and dreams came true, everything fell apart.

First Matthew and Mary got married. Yay! We waited for more than two years, hoping and wishing and finally, all our dreams came true.

Then Sybil, arguably the nicest, sweetest character on the show, died in childbirth. Horribly.

Then Matthew, noblest and most honorable character on the show, died in the last few seconds of the finale. Again, kinda horribly. And just after his son was born, right at the height of his happiness.

(Downton Abbey, FYI, is not a good show for new parents.)

And then, just as I’m beginning to recover from the woes Downton Abbey inflicted on me, The Vampire Diaries pulled the rug out from under me.

We’ve watched Elena’s younger brother, Jeremy, grow from an angry, rebellious stoner to an angry, rebellious, courageous vampire hunter. He’s made mistakes, learned from them, and tried to set them right, and just as he was coming into his manhood and his potential as a character–

Crack. (That’s the sound of one of the many broken necks on The Vampire Diaries.)

Last night’s episode, called “Stand By Me,” showed the reactions of Elena, Matt, and Caroline to Jeremy’s death, and the episode completely destroyed me.

I lost a brother as a teenager, too, and this episode made real the grief we all feel when someone dies too young. Elena weeps for a life and a girl long gone, Matt weeps for the loss of his friend, and Caroline struggles to find the right way to hold herself and her friends together.

There’s no right way, of course. The answer is only to feel the pain and let time pass.

So why do we inflict the vicarious pain of grief on ourselves through fiction? Why do we relive it again and again—voluntarily—as show kill off characters we know and love?

Maybe it feels good to weep for ourselves when we don’t have to face the consequences of reality. Maybe it eases grief we’ve bottled for years. Maybe we just love to love, and fictional characters are easier to let go of when we must.

Maybe it’s as simple as Dan Stevens declining to renew his contract, and something must be done with the character.

I cried for Jeremy, Matthew, and Sybil. I cried, and will cry more, for Elena, Mary, and Tom. I’ll keep watching, and I’ll keep opening my heart to fictional characters.

Because we don’t give up. We keep watching and hoping and dreaming. We pin our hopes on imaginary characters, and we suffer when they fail. Maybe I’m a masochist, but I’ll be watching Season 4 of Downton Abbey.

Will you?

What’s the most you’ve cried for a piece of fiction? What show has broken your heart and had you begging for more?

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