Oh, My Pop Culture Resurrection: Who Gets to Come Back?

Hello lovely readers! Since it’s been roughly one week (and 2000 years, give or take) since one of the most famous resurrections, I thought I’d talk a little about some slightly more recent examples from pop culture. More specifically, I’m gonna talk about that awkward moment in a sci-fi/fantasy show when a character gets resurrected, and then, a season or two later, some other character does not get resurrected. Whoops. This is even a scenario that takes place in the Bible. We have stories of Jesus raising Lazarus in one of the Gospels, and the daughter of Jairus in the others, clearly establishing Jesus’s ability to raise the dead. But how many other people around him and his followers died without being resurrected?

This happens frequently in any story world where resurrection is possible. Why does this happen? Oversight? Quota filled? Price hikes? Join me on a tour of some of the more notable instances of this phenomenon in some of geekdom’s favorite shows. Character deaths are obviously major spoilers, so spoiler alerts below for Buffy the Vampire SlayerWarehouse 13, and Charmed.

Yo, Buffy,  I'm really happy for you, I'mma let you finish rising from the dead, but Jesus had one of the best resurrections of all time!

Yo, Buffy, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish rising from the dead, but Jesus had one of the best resurrections of all time!

Probably the clearest of this is, of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy’s death at the end of Season 5 was certainly shocking; it’s not every day the title character of a show kicks the bucket. It was pretty obvious that this death was not gonna stick, though, since the show wasn’t advertising a major name change, and BtVS was not a complete stranger to resurrection. In Season 3, Angel had inexplicably returned from some hell dimension where he’d been sent at the end of Season 2. Given Willow’s exponential increase in power as a witch between Seasons 3 and 5, resurrection certainly seemed like something she was capable of, albeit with a bit of strenuous effort. And succeed she did: in a ritual with fellow Scoobies Xander, Anya, and Tara, Willow performed an extremely demanding spell that raised Buffy from the dead. Yes, there were consequences—there are always Consequences—but they were primarily for Buffy, the resurrectee; while it was draining to Willow, it seemed no more draining than any number of other powerful spells she’s done in the past. This establishes both a precedent and a canonical point: successful resurrection is possible, without too much more effort than other major spells (though I suppose it was the first time we saw blood sacrifice in connection with Willow’s spells, in the form of a poor, adorable little fawn).

The Chosen One and A Slightly Less Chosen One.

The Chosen One and A Slightly Less Chosen One.

This presents us with some problems. First off, in the season just prior to this, Buffy and Dawn’s mother, Joyce, died after complications from battling brain cancer, and there was an episode spent telling/showing the viewer that true resurrection is not in fact possible: a zombie-fied reanimation was the most that could be gained through magic. They used an entire episode to clarify that Mrs. Summers was never coming back, full stop, end of story. Yet right there at the beginning of Season 6, we see Willow resurrecting a very much non-zombie Buffy. (Like I mentioned, Buffy had many issues stemming from being brought back, but being a zombie was not one of them.) Later on, near the very end of Season 6 in “Villains”, Willow calls on (a very creepy, demonized) Osiris to bring Tara back to life after an accidental shooting. He explains that he cannot (will not?) bring back Tara since she has died by human hands (he won’t “violate the laws of natural passing”), whereas Buffy could be brought back because she was “killed by mystical forces”. This is a somewhat unsatisfying answer for devoted fans of Tara (or Joyce for that matter), but at least it tries to establish some sense of rules and boundaries to create consistency for regulating resurrection. In spite of this, Joss Whedon later claimed that they would possibly have brought Tara back thanks to Buffy being granted a wish (see the end of this article), which would have thrown the rules and consistency right out the window. But I still would have supported it 100%.

Another example is from Syfy original TV series Warehouse 13. It’s been one of the most successful and popular of Syfy’s original TV show endeavors, but if you haven’t seen it yet (which you absolutely should) a brief summary is this: it follows agents who work for a mysterious organization that gathers objects termed “artifacts”—various and sundry everyday objects like pipes or pocketwatches or hairbrushes, often belonging to famous historical figures—that have acquired magical powers, though often with a downside that makes them dangerous.

Agent Steve Jinks Warehouse 13Season 3 introduced a new face in the person of Agent Steve Jinks, a former ATF agent turned Warehouse operative who also happens to be gay. An extremely good-natured man with a warm, kind soul (not to mention a charming smile), Agent Jinks quickly won over the hearts of his fellow agents and fans everywhere. It was a devastating loss when he was killed at the end of his very first season. Luckily, one of the artifacts discovered in Season 3 was a metronome that could raise the dead, and at the beginning of Season 4, fellow agent and bff Claudia uses said metronome to bring Steve back. Huzzah! There was much rejoicing. However, less than ten episodes later, Leena, the caring, gentle, aura-seeing owner of the B&B where the agents lodge, is killed by another main character. Leena’d been there since the very first episode, and she was the heart and glue that made the Warehouse team a family, yet she did not get brought back. It was bad enough that the LGBTQ+ character and the PoC character were the ones to die, but only bringing back the white (though also queer) character makes it even more problematic. Yes, the metronome has since been destroyed, and no other resurrecting artifact has been seen or mentioned, but the real kicker is: no one has even talked about bringing Leena back, not once has the possibility been mentioned even though we have seen it is possible.Leena Warehouse 13 What is that supposed to mean?! Are they worried about the dangers of resurrecting artifacts (the metronome had its fair share of troubles)? You think they could have at least mentioned that on screen. Maybe they are looking for a solution, but haven’t talked about it? Without any dialogue/discussion by the characters, the painful implicit message seems to simply be: well, they must not care about Leena as much as they care about Jinks, which is frankly unbearable.

My last example comes from Charmed. Death and resurrection was a hot mess throughout the show’s nine years. Death was so frequent, each Charmed One’s Wikipedia entry has a detailed “Death Count” section that lists all the times each has died, including episode, cause of death, and how she returned. The number of deaths per sister ranges from a modest three to a whopping twelve (see the Death Counts: Prue, three; Piper, twelve; Phoebe, nine; and Paige, nine). Clearly, resurrection is possible, and apparently not that big of a deal in the Charmed universe. Regardless, Prue’s death was the only one that stuck for good. Obviously, this was necessitated by Shannen Doherty’s departure from the show, but in-universe, the “why” behind this one enduring death was never even remotely answered. Her sisters lament this, completely confused, because they acknowledge, on-screen through dialogue, that time and time again they have brought each other back from the dead. Inconsistency, thy name is Charmed.

Just can't stay dead! Well, except for Prue. : \

Just can’t stay dead! Well, except for Prue.

In the Bible, resurrection is used as a sign to point to the power and glory of God, like in the case of Lazarus or when the prophet Elijah raised the widow’s son in the Old Testament. But when resurrection is used in pop culture media, some system of regulations should be constructed to give at least a semblance of consistency. If everyone can be resurrected at any time, death completely loses its impact. However, if resurrection abides by no rules at all, then resurrection itself loses its impact and becomes just a shallow plot device.