The Case of the Vanishing Character

Do you find it unsettling when people vanish from your life?

“Depends on the person,” you say.

Fair enough.

But in general, when people who formerly played some semi-notable or even regular role in your life leave it, you usually have a sense of why.

I find it interesting that media does not always abide by these rules.

Characters disappear from stories, often without a trace, as if the audience will never notice.

Books seem to do this less, because they work as more of a cohesive whole, and the entire plot can be affected if a significant minor character falls through the cracks. Movie series can get a bit dicey. And TV series… well…

We’ve all heard the complaint about a favorite character getting killed off in a show. But getting killed off at least accounts for the disappearance. Classic examples: Matthew’s death in Downton Abbey, Lord Melbourne’s death in Victoria, Elizabeth’s death in Poldark, and so on. If you’re familiar with any of these, then you’ll know what I mean when I ask the following:

What on earth happened to Charles Blake from Downton Abbey?

Julian Fellowes generally provides a clean break for any exiting characters, but this one could have used some more follow-up. The last we see of Charles, he is going on a six-month trip after helping Mary ditch Tony Gillingham.

What happened to Wilhelmina Coke in Victoria?

Although the final episode of season 2 ends with her getting engaged to Alfred, she never makes a single appearance or receives a single reference throughout the entirety of season 3! Meanwhile, Alfred carries on years later at the palace, chipper and single as ever.

And then there’s the dog in Poldark.

Not that he vanishes, but the fact that he’s still there by the time Geoffrey Charles grows up. That dog has to be at least eighteen years old, considering he entered the show with Demelza in the first episode. Now I’m all for dogs lasting a long time, but you’d think he’d show some age at least by now. My dog certainly does! But, on the other hand, considering his owners haven’t aged in eighteen years, why should he?

Don’t know these shows?

Don’t worry!

The trend of characters inexplicably vanishing goes way back! I have to admit, I didn’t recognize most of these shows, but here’s an interesting article that tallies the invisible corpses from various shows.

The fact that there are a number of such articles identifying lost characters suggests it’s not just the OCD audience members out there who find this unsettling. I think it bothers us because we crave a sense of continuity and a certain degree of predictability, both in media and in real life—which is understandable.

Why, then, do the writers do this? Why do these characters slip through the cracks without an explanation?

At least in the case of film series, each character’s reprisal requires the renewal of a contract, so it can’t be because the writers simply “forgot” to write him/her in. So why don’t they make up an excuse for their absence and weave that into the story somehow?

I don’t really have an answer to this, other than they must not consider the lost character important enough to require an explanation. Or perhaps this leaves the door open for the character to return?

One thing’s for sure, though: it’s a sign of sloppy writing. If a character is given enough screen time to develop a memorable impression on the audience, then that character deserves a coherent exit. Otherwise someone out there is going to notice it– and it’s bound to end up in an article someday! 😉

2 Comments on “The Case of the Vanishing Character

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