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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When Your Favorite Characters Die: Part 2

Spoiler Alert: If you've taken my advice, and are currently watching Seasons Two through Four of Hunter, you may wish to wait until you finish Season Four before reading this post.

In Season Four of the TV show Hunter, Lieutenant Ambrose Finn is torn apart mentally and emotionally by the debilitating illness of his wife.  The stress, and the longing for what he cannot have, lead him to question everything he has always believed in.  Her decline and eventual death twist his psyche until, in the episode “Silver Bullet,” he betrays his oath and assassinates criminals sheltered by the letter of the law.  

Producer Roy Huggins brought the character of Ambrose Finn into the series in Season Two, in the episode “Blow Up,” as a way to soften the antipathy that had previously existed between Hunter, McCall, and the police department hierarchy.  I found him a sympathetic character, and looked forward to watching his participation in episodes.  He cared about his fellow cops, supported Hunter when others did not, and proved a good friend.  Perhaps it was fitting that, for whatever reason, John Shearin, the actor who played him, decided to quit the show when Roy Huggins decided to retire.  Yet, like Dorsk 81, his death struck me hard.

Of course, to make way for the new, sometimes the old must pass away.  In the case of Doctor Who, one of the most enduring characters must be Sarah Jane Smith, who accompanied the Third and Fourth Doctors on their adventures.  When actress Elisabeth Sladen and the producers agreed that the time had come for her character to leave the Tardis, she was given a choice: to go out with a bang, or with a whimper.  Actors get no greater thrill than in making their characters face the most trying emotional and physical obstacles possible.  But Elisabeth Sladen eschewed a great death scene and simply walked out of the Tardis at the end of “The Hand of Fear.”  Her gentle departure allowed Sarah Jane Smith to live on in fans' imaginations, and her character was brought back repeatedly: in novels, in reunion shows, in an attempted spin-off, in an episode of the new Doctor Who series, and finally in her own series, the Sarah Jane Adventures.

I know my favorite characters in fiction will continue to die, regardless of whether or not I approve of the writers’ (or the producers’, or the actors’) decisions.  Yet, after watching “Silver Bullet,” I found I had to go back and review “Blow Up.”  Dee Dee McCall heard a joke about Ambrose Finn before she and Hunter met him.  

Why does Lieutenant Finn wear red suspenders?  
The answer: to hold up both of his guns.  

When they meet him, Finn says that he’s read about them, and (unlike their previous superiors) he likes their style and methodology.  He gives them more resources to catch the mad bomber Otto Minski than any of their former superiors would have.  Yet we only saw Ambrose Finn sporadically after “Blow Up,” and he never got the promotion to captain he wanted.  So, in terms of storytelling and character development, it makes sense that a former street cop, who still wore two guns (even though he spent most of his time at his desk) might grow disillusioned with the effectiveness of the entire justice system when everything else in his life starts to fall apart.

Still, I wish Lieutenant Ambrose Finn, like Sarah Jane Smith, had chosen to quietly leave the police department, and embarked upon another stage of his life in my imagination.

Still Grieving, 
Dragon Dave

P.S.  For those of you who haven't heard, Elisabeth Sladen recently lost her battle with cancer.  Rest well, dear one.

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