They both did it: Buffy the Vampire
Slayer and Torchwood both killed
off major characters in same-sex relationships – the former doing in the character of Tara Maclay, Willow’s girlfriend,
toward the end of the sixth season, and the latter killing Ianto Jones in the
recent Children of Earth miniseries.
But when it comes to ending the lives of major gay characters on television,
Buffy did it well. Torchwood? Not so much.
First things first.
I’m not usually a fan of a show killing off any major character. Television
is an intimate medium, one that is piped directly into your home. The
negativity and trauma of a beloved TV character’s death can linger an
unexpectedly long time.
That said, I understand that, dramatically, death is sometimes necessary,
especially on shows like Buffy and Torchwood, where “danger” is a major
element in every episode.
If no one ever dies, it’s hard to take any of these
plots seriously. Soon you’re left with the “red shirt” Star Trek phenomenon, where the only characters who die are
superfluous ensigns who no one’s ever seen before, and no one cares about.
In short, you eventually end up with a show that inspires more eye rolling
But for me, the rules are different for major gay characters on television,
which are, even now, extremely rare (especially on fantasy or science fiction
shows). Rarer still are gay characters in actual, loving relationships.
you throw in the longstanding, extremely nasty tradition of fictional gay
characters coming to untimely deaths, ending up murdered or having committed
suicide, I find myself thinking that the bar to killing a major gay character
should still be set pretty high.
It’s hard to make the argument that Torchwood
creator Russell T. Davies didn’t clear that bar. After all, he also created the
shows Queer as Folk and Bob & Rose. If anyone has earned the
right to kill a gay character, it’s he.
Russell T. Davies (left) and Joss Whedon
As for Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy,
he’s repeatedly tried to make the case in interviews that he didn’t kill Tara
because she was a lesbian – that he wasn’t treating Willow and Tara any
differently than how he treated any of his other characters, who all went
through hell on the show (sometimes literally).
There’s certainly truth to what he says – and the show’s sixth season was
definitely the darkest, dealing with issues such as depression, abusive
relationships, kleptomania, and addiction.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Whedon’s decision to kill Tara destroyed one of television’s best GLBT
relationships ever. And when it happened, it hit me like a punch in the gut.