Written by Pam Cole
We knew it was coming. We heard the first rumors last year--the spoilers that can’t be trusted but all too often turn out to be true. Dana was going to get sick and die. Impossible. Unimaginable. Inconceivable. But anyone who saw the previews after episode 9 or followed the not-so-subtle foreshadowing knew what was coming. Still, up until the last minute of Episode 10, ominously entitled “Losing the Light,” I held out hope that Dana would live.
Denial. The first stage of grief.
The next stage is Anger.
Did we forget that Dana Fairbanks is a fictional character and that no one by that name really died? Ironically, earlier in the week, a Dana by another name passed away, when Dana Reeve suddenly succumbed to lung cancer. Now, that was a kick in the gut. All of us were still wounded and reeling from that distant event when Sunday rolled around with its fictional demise. Beloved, beautiful, vibrant Dana Reeve—gone, leaving behind a 13-year-old orphaned son. “That’s just wrong!” I railed at the higher power that was responsible for this mistake. “What were you thinking!?” I angrily demanded of the God of my understanding. But Dana Fairbanks wasn’t a real person and I couldn’t blame God for her death. So, instead I blamed the god of The L Word—it’s earthly creator—Ilene Chaiken.
I had the privilege to sit and talk with Chaiken earlier this year in an interview for L-Word.com. I found her to be extremely nice and positive—I liked her very much. She seems to strive to never say anything negative about anyone. During the interview, she assured me that the coming season wasn’t as dark as season 2, that it was funnier, lighter, more like season 1. I feel betrayed now. Death is about as dark as it gets. I don’t know why Chaiken chose this storyline. (I can’t claim to understand the mind of god. God often does things I disagree with.) But I do believe that she, as the creator, cares more than anyone about the future and success of the show. I’ll get over my anger with Chaiken. But there were limitless possibilities for Dana Fairbanks as a fictional character, and I wish Chaiken would have chosen a different one.
The third stage of grief (according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) is Bargaining. Some fans have started an online petition, trying to reverse events that have already happened and restore Erin Daniels to the show. Others are claiming that it was all just a dream. Bargaining – please, we’ll do anything. Just don’t let Dana die.
Once when I was about 5, I was watching a movie on television with my mom. At 8 pm, she put me to bed as always, but I wanted to see the end of the dramatic story between two star-crossed lovers so, of course, I crept out of bed and secretly spied from the hallway. When the heroine dramatically died at the film’s end, I started to sob out loud, as devastated as a 5-year-old can be. My mom tried to explain that it wasn’t real—it was only a movie. But I was inconsolable. What did she mean it wasn’t real? Hadn’t it just happened right there in my living room? Hadn’t the actress convincingly died not 10 feet away from me? The difference between television and reality was a distinction I could not make at that age. And even now, as a child of the media generation, well-indoctrinated in the “willing suspension of disbelief,” I sometimes struggle to separate the two. How many of us actually stay “in the moment” of real life long enough to experience the dimension of reality? What is reality, but our perception of events surrounding us?
“It is a story,” Chaiken calmly said in the after-death explanation, as if that should make us feel better. I wonder if it’s just a story to her. For many of us, it has become an incredibly powerful story (even though the inconsistencies sometimes take us on an Alice in Wonderland-type adventure). “It’s just a story, it’s not real,” I keep telling myself about Dana’s television death. But it feels real, in the way that Chaiken intended it to feel real, in one of the truest episodes of the season. Like that 5-year-old, I am inconsolable, though I know this death was scripted, blocked out on a set, and filmed by 30 crew members. I know that Erin Daniels got up out of that bed and washed off her deathly mask when the director yelled “cut!”
Filmmakers are in the business of re-creating reality—their version of it. And inspiring such powerful emotions using the most effective form of media ever known, incurs terrible responsibility. I didn’t think I would survive the season one finale, but I did. I’m a long way from accepting the choice that Ilene Chaiken made to let Dana Fairbanks die, but I’ll get there. I am not the L Word god and it was not my choice to make.
The final stages of grief are Depression and then Acceptance. I am astonished by my depression. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to enjoy the show again. But I’m coming to understand that this is a loss that must be grieved, like any other loss, on whatever plane of reality it impacts me. Grief can affect us on a spiritual and molecular level, and I won’t dismiss it because “it’s just a story.”
My beloved aunt Elise died of breast cancer at age 32, the same age as Dana. That was 30 years ago, when treatments were even more barbaric and hopeless. She lingered for two years, valiantly battling the cancer that killed her, so I didn’t need to be educated about the importance of mammograms and early detection.
But maybe someone else did.
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