Death in US TV dramas

Cuddy has some strange moments of recollection in a particular season seven episode of House.

If you want to avoid spoilers for House season seven and Buffy the Vampire Slayer season five, then go read something else. Also, if you don’t want to feel a little sad remembering “The Body” from season five of Buffy, I suggest that you stop reading this blog post now. But really, death, even in TV drama, is rarely a happy subject, but often it’s conveyed a bit different to the stuff of regular episodes in a long running series.

Last night I watched the House season seven episode “Bombshells” where Cuddy discovers that she might have cancer. Now while she ends up in the clear by the end of the episode, it’s enlightening (from a writing perspective) how the prospect of a main character’s death is handled.

From the bizarre dreams and nightmares that House and Cuddy experience, comes a particularly snazzy dance number whilst Cuddy is under anesthesia in order to have a biopsy done. Singing “Get Happy” a twisted and bizarre dance number spirals through Cuddy’s uneasy mind, as her subconscious struggles with the idea that she may be dying. But there’s a reversal, because Cuddy isn’t dying, but the new, drug-free House is – or at least his character is.

To me, the writer for “Bombshells” actually made the episode about the death of new House, rather than Cuddy. And this portrayal was done in a manner most different from a regular episode.

Okay, so no one died there.

The Body.

In the season five episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer “The Body”, Buffy’s mum dies. And this episode was so far removed from everything the series usually does, that it really stood out.

As in House, characters in Buffy, died all the time. But because Joyce was such a central character, her death warranted something different.

And I suppose what I’m trying to write here is that when someone’s putting together a script for a TV drama and the episode is going to see a main character either with their life in peril or dying – it’s powerful when something different happens. Be that conveying the real life like silence that falls over the grieving characters (okay so you’ve gotta acknowledge grief, but the characters in Buffy were saying even less than people normally do when grieving) or making a song and dance about it (as in House) – writing in something that jars with the status quo helps to reflect the game changing nature of death.

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