There is a scene which has stuck with me from childhood. I can’t remember what show it was from or how old I was when I saw it but it has played over in my head thousands of times. I suspect it was one of the Hasbro sponsored Japanese anime shows which I grew up on (dating me for anyone who cares to do a little research).
The woman has been injured or infected with something fatal (can’t remember, isn’t important). She’s lying on a hospital bed with one of her teammates by her side, the one who has been the romantic interest, at least to my keen eyes. He’s holding her hand between his as the steady beeping of the machine begins to slow. He doesn’t say anything, just stares at her with hard, wild, heartbroken eyes. His hands tighten on hers. The beeping stops and her hand goes limp.
Doctors start to flurry around the bedside (and I am sitting on my couch with my hand in front of my mouth telling myself that she can’t have really died! It wouldn’t be fair!). He puts her hand down gently on the bed, stands up and walks out of the room. One of the other teammates reaches out to comfort him but he shrugs off the gesture and keeps walking. We only saw his back but his steps were steady and purposeful.
He walks out of their headquarters out into a rainstorm, completely ignoring the rain pounding down. I remember flashes showing his boots and clothes with water pouring down them, still walking at that same deliberate pace.
Then he stops.
He looks up at the sky, his face still hard except for his eyes, which are screaming pain. For a moment, he stands there, rain streaming down his face. Then he collapses onto his knees, still staring up at the sky, and begins to bellow out his rage and pain. I can’t describe the noise but it lives in my head as the sound of ultimate torment, of a soul deprived of everything which ever gave life meaning and robbed of all hope and joy.
I haven’t gone back to try and watch it again. It probably isn’t nearly as good as my memory paints it. But the raw emotion of it struck me and I’ve carried it with me ever since. When I read the Wolverine comics where he has to kill the love of his life, Mariko, because she’s been poisoned with something incredibly painful and lingering, and they describe him as howling to the heavens, that’s the sound I imagined he made.
Other scenes have impinged themselves into my memory, some from the most surprising sources. There was a sequence in Justice League where Wonder Woman is trying to stop a rocket and it buries itself into the earth with her underneath it. Batman jumps up and begins frantically digging at the earth, knocking Superman back on his butt when the Man of Steel tries to tell him there’s no hope. It takes three of them of them to haul him back. His face sets into this stone mask and you just know he’s being ripped apart inside. Then the rocket begins to move and Wonder Woman comes out. Everyone is congratulating her except Batman. He’s still standing off to one side. She looks at him and he very deliberately hides his muddy gloves behind his cape.
Another favourite of mine was the season finale of Castle from last year when Beckett gets shot by the sniper. Castle’s face goes blank with shock and then he leaps forward to get to her before anyone else. You can tell he’s panicking and desperate, his voice cracking and wavering. He tells her he loves her, the first time he’s admitted it.
And I have a new addition, from the Fringe season finale. The team is confronting William Bell, who is using Olivia as an unwilling and unconscious energy source. To save the world, Walter shoots her in the head. The blank shock followed by sheer panic on Peter’s face struck right to my heart. Nothing else matters to him at that point. He doesn’t care about the world, he doesn’t care about catching the bad guy, nothing matters except that she’s gone. His face is crumpling and he’s crying as he alternately tries to wake her up and cradle her close to him.
I was savouring the memory of these scenes when I started to ask myself why I enjoyed them so much. After all, I’m a romance fan. I love a happy ending. So why are these death scenes my favourites?
The easy answer is because no one actually stays dead in these examples. In the first one, it turns out that the woman’s death is a trick by the villains who made her appear dead in order to kidnap her. The team figures it out, she’s rescued and the story continues. Beckett survives her shooting in Castle and Walter does some very rough brain surgery to save Olivia’s life in Fringe (along with an awesome line: Peter is crying and repeating “She’s dead” over and over and Walter shoots back “You should know that’s never stopped me before.”)
But I think that answer is too simplistic. The “happy ending” part isn’t the part I go over in my head again and again. So I think it goes a little deeper. I enjoy tough, strong, stoic warrior males for the most part. Aside from Castle, all of the men involved fit the description of a strong, get-it-done kind of guy. The flaw with such men is that they rarely show the depths of their emotion. Even Castle hides his true feelings behind jokes and pranks. It’s the breaking of character which makes it special. The shell is cracked and the true feelings come pouring out. There’s no disguising how much they love their partners. The thought of losing these women is enough to destroy them utterly.
I think every woman would like to be that important to someone. No one likes the idea of someone she cares about in pain. But we all like the idea of being capable of it. Of being so intrinsic to someone’s life that their world falls apart without us.