Notes on a Fandom: Last Exit

Here are a few devastating character deaths that shook fandom. Writing this list was the most difficult thing I’ve done since starting Notes on a Fandom. I actually wept a few times and had to take a time out. So many feels.

Joyce Summers – Buffy The Vampire Slayer

The image of Joyce Summers, lying on the couch in The Body, is etched into many a Buffy fan’s memory. So much so for this writer, that I couldn’t bear to post it.  Parental death is a child’s worst fear. It didn’t matter that Buffy was the Chosen One, or that she had super powers. She was also someone’s child. She was Joyce’s child. And in a way, so were we all.

Buffy spent her life trying to save the world from the supernatural, from monsters and demons. In a so perfectly Whedonesque turn however, Joyce dies in a most human way. From a brain aneurysm.  Buffy, with all of her strength and will, couldn’t protect her mother from this. Real life. Joyce’s death signals the true end of Buffy’s youth, however fleeting it was.  We also see the enormous effect Joyce’s death has on the other Scoobies, and how in a way it solidifies them as a true family unit. 

Tara Maclay – Buffy The Vampire Slayer

“Your shirt.”  With those two words, Tara Maclay was taken away from us. There was no time for goodbyes as Willow cradled her dead girlfriend in her arms, Tara’s blood splattered across Willows stark, white shirt. A bright red, angry reminder of what we had all just lost. It was brutal, violent and completely unexpected.  I am still  not over it.  Viewers had just begun to rejoice in the reunion of the Willow and Tara, wherein we were treated to “extra flamey” kissing and a blissful post coital scene. Ours, and the witches’ happiness was to be short lived however.  The relationship between Willow and Tara was ground breaking, and for many fans, was the first time they had seen a reflection of themselves in such a poignant and positive way. When Willow came out to Buffy, it was treated as no big deal. It gave us the strength to come out to our friends. It showed us love could be magical. Tara’s death was the ultimate catalyst for Willow’s descent into madness and destruction. Dark Willow nearly destroyed the world. I nearly destroyed my television. 

Dana Fairbanks – The L Word

Son of a bitch. Dana Fairbanks’ senseless death will be the event that lesbians still talk about in their rocking chairs in old age homes. Fans and cast alike universally loathed it.  (Even Ilene Chaiken later admitted she regretting the decision to kill Dana.) Dana was one of the show’s most likeable characters, and certainly one of its few comedic elements.  Losing her felt like losing the spirit of the show, and WeHo never seemed to sparkle the same way after that.  When a fan base loses faith in a project, it is incredibly difficult to get that faith back.  The intrinsic difference between the deaths of say, Tara Maclay and Dana Fairbanks, is that Tara’s death pushed the plot forward in such a bold and vital way. Dana’s death did not serve the same purpose. While it did bring attention to the very important issue of breast cancer and detection, a tale of survival and hope would have also been impactful and saved one of our absolute favorite characters. Fans have very strong feelings about the untimely death of Dana Fairbanks. I asked you on Twitter if Dana’s death affected your feelings about the show in general. 

Xena – Xena Warrior Princess

Our brave warrior princess had a good run.  Like Buffy, she saved the world. A lot.  Over the course of six seasons, Xena died no less than five times, but it was her death in Japan that sealed her fate. Xena sacrificed herself so that the souls of thousands could be at peace. What a lesbian that chick was. While Xena always ran heavy on the subtext, near the end of its run, the love that she and Gabrielle shared was truly undeniable. In my last article about fan fiction, I neglected to mention the impact Xena fic had on fans and many of you were kind enough to post some terrific examples in the comments.  It truly did pave the way for the fan fics we have today. You can check out some great ones here. Of course, if you weren’t satisfied with Xena’s ending, and I mean, who really was, check out this video of Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor performing an alternative ending, written by Katherine Fugate. It’s pretty freaking fantastic.


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