With it comes to television characters, parting is such sweet sorrow; however, it is a sorrow preferable to a return which yields crushingly disappointing results. Often times a returning television character is simply unable to re-capture their original appeal while also somewhat retrospectively weakening the considerable impact of their original departure. Yet, sometimes a character’s creative heights are not reached until after they return from death. So, which characters from the genres of science fiction and fantasy should have stayed away, and which benefited from a return engagement?
Spoiler Warning: Not surprisingly for an article concerning characters who came back after an apparent death, there will spoilers a plenty below.
1) Angel (David Boreanaz)
- Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Original Exit: Buffy runs him through with a sword and sends him to hell to save the world, even though he had just become good again and had no idea what was happening. Angel would later claim he told Buffy to do with it, with his eyes, but that’s a no good dirty lie. Season 2, Ep. 22 (“Becoming Pt. 2”)
- Return (Actual Return, Not Just Dreams): He literally drops from the sky into his old mansion, falling in the room and on the exact spot Buffy previously ran a sword through his chest. Season 3, Ep. 3 (“Faith, Hope, and Trick”)
Angel’s death is truly devastating, but it is a devastating moment because of its effect on Buffy. As for Angel, even after turning evil there really wasn’t that much to him. He was either worried about protecting Buffy or planning his torture of Buffy, depending on his good/evil status at the time. It was only upon his rather sudden return to the show post-death when he gradually gained a new identity as the repentant vampire attempting to make up for past sins, and even developed a slight sense of humor (e.g., fans may fondly remember his deadpan of “I’m a funny guy” from the episode “Earshot”).
Once he got onto his own self-titled spin-off show, across five seasons he morphed into a far more fully realized person who barely resembled but immensely improved upon the character we once knew. I like to retrospectively rationalize the disconnect as him always trying to look cool to impress Buffy when he was on Buffy but feeling free to be his true big ole nerd with old fogey tendencies self on Angel.
Verdict: Glad You’re Back
2) Spike (James Marsters)
- Shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel
- Original Exit: He wears a magical talisman which destroys both the bad guy and his huge army as well as Spike himself. Season 7, Ep. 22 (“Chosen”)
- Return: The magical talisman he used actually preserved his soul, meaning he survives as a ghost but is bound to the talisman’s physical location. Season 5, Ep. 1 (“Conviction”) He stops being a ghost after opening a package which contained within it a magical spell. Season 5, Ep. 8 (“Destiny”)
Spike was originally meant to have died during the second season, his first on Buffy. However, he was spared, and would suffer through the indignity of vampire impotence and fall in love with Buffy before seeking out a soul so as to earn her love. Completing his journey from villain to hero, Spike ended his time on Buffy by sacrificing himself to save the world. How do you bring a character back from that? Make him a ghost, and add him to the cast of the spin-off, Angel. While this did cheapen his self-sacrificing exit, his presence on Angel re-kindled his always fantastically entertaining frenemy relationship with Angel, and allowed Spike to ponder an existence not defined by Buffy for the first time in a long time. The show eventually went a long way toward arguing that perhaps Spike was a hero more worthy of our affection than Angel.
Plus, the show Angel desperately needed Spike to replace the now-comatose Cordelia as the one person on the show willing to speak the truth no matter what. Whereas others would kowtow to Angel’s commands, Spike would be the one to laugh derisively and observe, “Are you all insane?” Personally, I wish we had five more seasons of Angel and Spike bickering like an old married couple.
Verdict: Glad You’re Back
3) Klaus (Joseph Morgan)
- Show: Vampire Diaries
- Original Exit: A stake designed specifically for his breed of vampire ends up in his chest Season 3, Ep. 22 (“The Departed”)
- Return: Through the help of a crafty witch, he worked a partial Freaky Friday workaround in which Klaus was not home at the time his body was staked. The spell is reversed easily enough, returning him to his now healed original body. Season 4, Ep. 1 (“Growing Pains”)
As the most recent example on this list, this one is too early to tell. The argument against Klaus is that he has stalled the show’s progress, a considerable feat considering Vampire Diaries practically sets world-records for the rate at which it plows through story lines. However, with them unwilling to kill Klaus a show which used to introduce escalating villains, each one more dangerous than the predecessor, has written itself into a corner. Plus, due to the character’s popularity and the show’s rather public intentions to spin him off onto his own show with his brother and sister he can be depicted as a villain but not so villainous as to lose our sympathies, which is not necessarily always a bad thing. The one time they did kill him it lasted for mere minutes.
Verdict: Jury’s Out
4) Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare)
- Show: True Blood
- Original Exit: Placed at the bottom of a pit at the site of a future parking garage, he is immobilized as wet cement is poured on top of him. Season 3, Ep. 12 (“Evil is Going On”)
- Return: A jackhammer cuts through cement easily enough. Season 5, Ep. 2 (“Authority Always Wins”)
From the moment Russell slipped into his southern, genteel voice and beckoned, “Now time for the weather. [pause] Tiffany,” on live television there was nowhere to go but down for him. That’s because before that line he had just ripped out a newscasters spine on live television and delivered a standard evil villain speech. What followed was a rather aimless Russell defeated far too easily, although in true bemused bad-ass fashion he nonchalantly pledged to return. However, bringing him back as the secondary villain of the fifth season well after his primary conflict with Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) had passed robbed him of his immediacy and had the smack of a show searching for its past mojo. While the character enjoyed a rather enjoyable new romance during the season, nothing ever matched the moment he threw it over to Tiffany for the weather.
Verdict: Better Off Dead (Well, Better Left as a Cement Block)
5) Cole (Julian McMahon)
- Show: Charmed
- Original Exit: A half-demon versus the three Charmed sisters. He never had a chance. Season 4, Ep. 20 (“Long Live the Queen”)
- Return: He defeated his jailor in a demon wasteland and declined moving on to heaven, instead returning to help the sisters. Season 4, Ep. 22 (“Which Way Now?”)
The following is from WeMinoredInFilm writer Julianne:
I insisted Cole from WB’s other hit supernatural show (you know, the one without the critical adoration and witty, genre-skewering dialogue, the not-Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), Charmed, be included in this discussion. Half-demon Cole’s romance with demon-killing witch Phoebe was basically a rip-off of the vampire-slayer romance of Buffy and Angel. However, the two seasons in which Cole was a series regular were the most interesting, compelling seasons the series had (faint praise, I know). When he became the ultimate evil in the fourth season, the sisters were forced to slay him. It was a fantastic, perfect, tragic end to the character. He was a man destroyed by his own good intentions—an individual our heroes were unable to save. When he died, viewers were saddened by his departure. Until he was resurrected and squandered any affection anyone watching had for him by sitting around pouting and whining until he was killed in a far less climactic fashion.
Verdict: Better Off Dead
6) Rose Tyler (Billie Piper)
- Show: Doctor Who
- Original Exit: Trapped in a parallel world, and officially declared dead in her original world. Season 2, Ep. 13 (“Doomsday”)
- Return (Beyond Cameos): She builds a device which allows her to cross worlds. Season 4, Ep. 11 (“Turn Left”) In a cameo, she returns as an earlier version of herself from the time in her life just before she met The Doctor. “The End of Time, Part II.”
Rose’s original departure was appropriately soul-crushing, complimented by a go-for-break performance by Billie Piper, smeared makeup be damned, and the unfinished declaration of romantic love from the Doctor heard the world round. The build-up to her return two seasons later was as good as I ever seen, with her popping up in surprise cameos on the periphery of the action throughout the entire season. However, then she returned around the same time as every past-full and recurring cast member from the modern show and its spinoffs to that point. There’s simply not enough screen time for so many characters. There are some amazing moments, such as the conclusion of “Turn Left” when The Doctor receives Rose’s warning phrase “Bad Wolf”, but this time around something seemed a bit off.
By the end, Rose departs again from the same point she originally did – the beaches of Bad Wolf Bay. She even gets a nice parting gift, a half-human clone of the Doctor who just committed mass murder. Really second guessing how nice that gift is, actually. Perhaps it was all worth it just so David Tennant’s Doctor could no longer mutter Rose’s name before trailing off and staring into the distance as an indication of his immense sadness. However, it has somewhat tarnished the memory of Rose Tyler, even though her subsequent surprise cameo in David Tennant’s final episode was rather effective.
Verdict: Better Off Dead (I Think – I Go Back and Forth On This One)
7) Gabriel ‘Sylar’ Gray (Zachary Quinto)
- Show: Heroes
- Original Exit: Run through with a sword. Season 1, Ep. 23 (“How to Stop an Exploding Man”)
- Return: An ill-defined shadow corporation finds and heals Sylar through multiple surgeries with the intent of using him for their ill-defined purposes. He immediately kills his handler and goes rogue. Cue our lack of surprise in 4,3,2,1. Season 2, Ep. 3 (“Kindred”)
Zachary Quinto, nobody’s favorite Spock, and his eyebrows terrified the nation as the serial killer of super heroes during the premiere season of Heroes. He would absorb the powers of each hero he killed, with the explanation for how exactly he did so varying depending on when you asked the question. However, when we finally got his back story it amounted to little more than serious mommy issues, and an ambivalent view on the do or do not of destroying the world. He is ultimately defeated though not necessarily killed in the first season’s climactic battle, with Hiro and the flying Petrellis emerging as the victors.
This might be the moment at which the show, which had built its popularity partially on its unpredictability and willingness to kill anyone at any moment, lost its nerve. They kept it open for Sylar to come back, but appeared to have no idea what to do with him when he was brought back. His character trajectory from that point forward mostly played as “He’s a hero! He’s a villain!”, rinse, repeat, and as a result he lost all credibility. It’s not hard to see why they brought Sylar back, but the character had basically run its course in that first season.
Verdict: Better Off Dead, regardless of the popularity of the character at the time
8) Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby)
- Show: Star Trek: The Next Generation
- Original Exit: A fatal psychokinetic strike from an oil pit monster named Armus. Season 1, Ep. 22 (“Skin of Evil”)
- Return: In an alternate dimension where Armus never killed or even met Tasha. Season 3, Ep. 15 (“Yesterday’s Enterprise”) She would also later return as Sela, a Romulan clone of Tasha (Season 4, Ep. 26, “Redemption”), and again as the real Tasha in the time-traveling series finale (Season 7, Ep. 25, “All Good Things…”).
A classic example of a character brought back to give her a proper farewell, Tasha’s original death was abrupt and relatively pointless, with the abruptness knowingly played for dramatic effect. However, the episode was as poorly received as you can get, with any explanation that she was killed because Denise Crosby wanted off the show not enough to appease disgruntled fans. Soon thereafter, Crosby was happy to come back. So, they crafted a story in which an alternate dimension version of Tasha would choose to possibly die a hero to put the universe back in balance rather than suffer an abrupt, meaningless death. It was among the finer episodes the show ever produced, and effectively cancelled the bad taste left over from Tasha’s original death. She would return to diminished results in a later storyline involving a Romulan clone of Tasha.
Verdict: Glad You’re Back (not necessarily that business with the clone though)
9) Kes (Jennifer Lien)
- Show: Star Trek: Voyager
- Original Exit: Evolves into a status of a higher being, no longer tied to the corporeal world. Season 4, Ep. 2 (“Gift”)
- Return: Inexplicably corporeal again with her mental powers out of control, a visibly older and incredibly angry Kes forces her way onto Voyager and destroys the ship only to then get stuck in a time loop centered around preventing the destruction of the ship. Season 6, Ep. 23 (“Fury”)
Imagine if the actress who played the character Kes, Jennifer Lien, had said all the polite things at the time her character was written off of the show, but was secretly seething with anger and composing Jeri Ryan death threats. Then imagine if over two years later she forced her way onto the set one day, unprovoked and unannounced, and proceeded to turn over catering tables, pick up several cast members and throw them into walls, and take a flamethrower to the sets. That’s roughly how the exit and return of her character plays out on the show.
Her departure from the show was definitely rushed, but she gets a sit-down goodbye with both her primary love interest (Neelix) and mother figure (Captain Janeway). She even gets a surprisingly touching gracenote when she departs by giving the ship the gift of having 10 years removed from their journey back to Earth, even if the scientific explanation for how she does so has yet to be revealed. There is little to no hint of anger or ambivalence. Then she returns, with little explanation for why she’s no longer a glorified space angel, and vows a poorly conceived vengeance upon Captain Janeway. Although it reaches a peaceful resolution and kind-of happy ending for Kes, it feels wholly unnecessary and somewhat cheapens her original exit.
Verdict: Better Off As a Space Angel
10) Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver)
- Show: Supernatural
- Original Exit: Fatal gunshot wound, Season 7, Episode 10 (“Death’s Door”)
- Return: Bobby stuck around as a ghost and has been helping the main characters solve cases for weeks. Sam and Dean just took nine weeks to be able to see him. Season 7, Episode 19 (“Of Grave Importance”)
We used to joke around here, “Geeze, when is Supernatural going to kill off Bobby already?” Because that’s what characters not named Sam or Dean do on that show-they die and die for good. Bobby was pushing his luck by surviving into the seventh season. So, to the surprise of none he was killed, but to the surprise of some it was a giant misdirection. Ala Misha Collins’ Castiel from the prior season, it turns out Bobby has been watching the boys from afar (as a ghost, opposed to Castiel’s angel), and the boys eventually figure it out.
The problem was they did too good of a job of killing him before that. Bobby was granted a showcase episode in which a grim reaper showed him scenes from throughout his life while his mortal body lied dying in a hospital bed. The episode ends with his final decision on the matter of whether or not to move on or stay behind left unresolved, although not-so-subtle hints in subsequent episodes made it clear he had become a ghost. It was an incredibly moving episode, and served as good of a goodbye as you could get. So, having him back as a ghost losing touch with his humanity was all a bit anti-climactic.
Verdict: Better Off Dead
11) Tessa Noel (Alexandra Vandernoot)
- Show: Highlander: The Series
- Original Exit: After being taken hostage by a foe of Duncan, her immortal boyfriend and the titular Highlander, Tessa is saved only to then be shot and killed as part of a run-of-the-mill mugging. Season 2, Episode 4 (“The Darkness”)
- Return: As a surgically enhanced look-a-like meant to fool Duncan. Season 2, Episode 21 (“Counterfeit: Part 1”) A Tessa in an alternate reality in which Duncan was never born thus meaning Tessa was never mugged and killed that night. Season 6, Episodes 12 (“To Be”).
Tessa’s original death was effectively stunning, serving as reminder to Duncan that unlike immortals normal people can get shot and taken from you in the blink of an eye. However, she never really returns, once with the same actress playing a character made to look like Tessa and the other time as an alternate Tessa in a It’s a Wonderful Life plot in which she never had the misfortune of meeting Duncan. Both occasions allow Duncan, and the audience, to confront their unresolved feelings about Tessa without cheapening the impact of her death.
Verdict: Glad You’re Back (But Maybe Just Because You Never Really Came Back)
12) Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Katee Sackhoff)
- Show: Battlestar Galactica
- Original Exit: Flying head-on into a storm, instead of pulling up before the atmosphere destroys her ship Kara is surrounded by white light and appears serenely calm before the ship explodes. Fantasy/flashback sequences from earlier in the episode hint that she has accepted a mission to a higher calling. Season 3, Episode 17 (“Maelstrom”)
- Return: She and her ship, both completely intact, drop into the middle of a battle. Season 3, Episode 20 (“Crossroads, Pt. 2”)
Katee Sackhoff went out with an incredible episode more accurately titled “For Your Consideration” due to the quality of her performance. In the episode, her character achieves some sense of inner peace meaning when she dies she finally appears truly happy, a state of being rarely achieved by poor, beleaguered Kara Thrace. When she returns and optimistically claims to have seen Earth and knows how to get there, your jaw could be forgiven for dropping.
However, from that point forward it is a long series of debates over whether or not she is the real Kara Thrace which lead to Kara appearing slightly insane and dangerously neurotic to those around her. The result is a character who doesn’t feel quite the same anymore, perhaps intentionally. Then again, it is only after Kara’s return that the episode “Someone to Watch Over Me” occurs, which features her conversing with the ghost of her father without realizing it is the ghost of her father. It is among the finest story lines ever conceived for the character (apparently, I”m not alone in thinking that), and would not have occurred had she remained dead.
Verdict: Glad You’re Back
Faith – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel For the record, I’m glad she came back, and think her two-parter during the first season of Angel is among that show’s most important episodes. Technically, she never dies but instead falls into a coma, but if I discussed Rose Tyler I can reference Faith.
Lex – Smallville For the record, it is hard to have an opinion here since it was so inevitable that the show would eventually bring back Lex Luthor. You can’t kill Lex Luthor for good before Clark Kent has even become Superman.
What do you think? Disagree? Agree? Annoyed with all of the spoilers and now want to see me dead? Well, let’s stop short of the dead part of the equation, and then we can talk. Let me know in the comments section. Also, did you notice that 6 of the 12 discussed characters are vampires? Yeah, we did, but that not until after this thing had been written.
To check on the streaming availability of any of the discussed shows, I suggest using canistream.it, a site designed to allow you to search the online libraries of Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and Netflix, among others, at the same time.