Televised Grief

If anyone has been watching Season 5 of The Good Wife, they are in the middle of dealing with grief. Grief as a TV watcher as well as seeing grief depicted on screen. I am not going to spoil the details of what happens in The Good Wife or any other show that is on at present. If the show has been off the air for five years, the death will be named. Accepting that viewers get invested in characters (and there is a whole different conversation about the relationship between a TV watcher and fictional character) lets look at storytellers convey grief in a TV series.

There is a difference between death and grief and a death is used often in storytelling on TV. It can be used as a cliffhanger, a chance to reset story lines, giving the characters a reason to do something, a way to get out a plot hole or a way to up the stakes, cough, Breaking Bad, cough. How long does a program show the remaining characters going through grief? It must be a difficult line to walk as most shows are about moving the plot forward and making sure that they entertain. So grief is usually depicted as immediate big reactions that move to more proactive emotions such as anger (which is usually linked to revenge) all within one or two episodes so a show can start to move on to its new direction. 

In the past we have had Six Feet Under, which is a show about life and death. So grief is part of the DNA of the show, however the grief in the first season was dealt with when we did not know much about the characters and were getting to know them through this emotional lens. It is only until the last season when we go through Nate's death that how Six Feet Under deals with grief is highlighted for us. We think we know how a character should react (like we assume about our friends) and we are watching to see if this is correct and how it will play out.  Here is an excellent article written in 2005, about the authenticity of grief in the show.

The original Danish series, The Killing, paints the picture of a couple's grief throughout the first two seasons or 20 episodes depending on how the show was presented to you. I have not watched the American version, but the original is very very good and the impact of the death of the murder victim of the remaining members of her family is expertly written and portrayed. Here is a great summation of the show.  The Body episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is held up as the definitive take on grief in one episode. It contains the storytelling to one episode and takes the viewer through the ringer. However, it is more about anchoring the show in the reality of being powerless in a world where people have superpowers and there are monsters to kill. 

It will be interesting to see how The Good Wife plays out this scenario. Already they are indicating that they are spending more time with the other aspects of grief such as numbness, being hit by random emotional overloads, suppression of reactions, keep up a front and being true to the character and how they will deal with something that is overwhelming. I for one will be watching.