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Down the Tubes?

LastTango_Kate
Kate…You Should Have Been Allowed to Stay

CAUTION–THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 3 OF “LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX.”

It definitely made for a great episode. But is it good for the long haul?

“Last Tango in Halifax” recently saw both a glorious beginning and an intolerable conclusion. Caroline and Kate were married in a heartfelt ceremony, only to have it all end the next day when Kate was killed by a hit and run driver. Prior to her death her baby was delivered via C-section, leaving Caroline a single mother.

To be honest I was livid when I first heard of this pending turn of events. I had loved “Last Tango in Halifax” from the start, primarily for its avoidance of cliché. But elements of soap started creeping in during Season 2 with Gillian’s confession to Caroline that she had murdered her abusive husband, and things got even sudsier this season when Alan learned he had fathered a son during an extramarital fling many years ago. But Kate’s death? This one hit the TriFecta of soap: killing off the (1) black (2) lesbian, (3) but keeping her around in spirit, thus indulging in Dead Denny Syndrome (™”Grey’s Anatomy”).

Let’s take these one at a time, shall we?

It’s an unfortunate fact that the majority of persons of color (indeed, practically all minorities) on television shows in the U.S. and the U.K. play supporting characters, not leads–sidekicks, if you will, whether love interests or not. And we all learned as far back as the cheesy movies we watched as kids that if there’s a need to show off a leading character’s depth of emotion, the sidekick gets killed off. Given what a trope this is, you wonder how Tonto ever made it to the end of “The Lone Ranger Show.”

Killing Off the Lesbian has been another trope for decades in fiction, film and television, contrary to the protestations of Sally Wainwright, “Last Tango”‘s creator and writer, though I suspect she’s about to get a swift education from the LGBT community. Kate and Caroline, played superbly by Nina Sosanya and Sarah Lancashire, respectively, were a terrific couple—interesting, funny and a joy to watch. The best thing about Kate was that she called Caroline on her bullshit. Their differences provided great chemistry—Caroline used to taking charge and making quick decisions, Kate sweet but with a will of iron. It took them two full seasons and three break-ups to finally get together, and Sally Wainwright ends it the day after the wedding?

Why is it the intriguing relationships get thrown in the trash with such disheartening regularity? Stephen Bochco, creator of “Hill Street Blues” and “L.A. Law” was infamous for this. In the former he drove a stake in the heart of the Henry Goldblum/Faye Furillo pairing. Here was the type of couple that had not been seen on network television before: a blended relationship in which both were divorced and each had at least one child. Both had been around the block and now they’re trying to make it work. It may sound like nothing special now, but keep in mind this aired only a few short years after CBS demanded that Mary Tyler Moore’s iconic Mary Richards (“Oh, Mr. Grant!) be changed from a divorcee to a single woman. So Henry and Faye, as real as they became, had to go. And as for “L.A. Law”, I need only invoke the name “Rosalind Shays” to prove my point. She was the formerly villainous attorney who had an affair with senior partner Leland MacKenzie. Finally we were treated to something groundbreaking for its time—the affair of two characters in late middle age. Does Bochco pursue this? No way. For the sake of “drama” he kills her off by having her step into an open elevator shaft. A huge mistake more accurately characterized as “jumping the shark.”

Kate may be dead but she’s not really gone—Caroline, in WWKD (What Would Kate Do?) mode, summons her spirit on a consulting basis. What to name the baby? Should I hire a nanny? I can’t do this alone. So Kate is there to give her advice and occasionally a verbal boot in the behind. On the one hand, I’d never turn down the opportunity to see Nina Sosanya on-screen. Plus we’re getting the return of opinionated Kate from Season 1. But let’s face it, what we’re really seeing is “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir MacKenzie-Dawson.” Throw in a brain tumor and you’ve got Dead Denny Syndrome.

But on the other hand…(and it kills me to write this) Sally Wainwright produced a superb episode showing the aftermath of Kate’s death.

From the beginning, with the sleight of hand presence of Kate, discussing baby names with Caroline, who we gradually and shockingly realize is dressing for Kate’s funeral, to meeting Kate’s mother (Michelle Hurst) and little Flora Grace, to seeing Caroline so bereft, it’s heartbreaking but the tone is so right. The small talk, the reminiscences, the mild jokes—Sally got it all, as well as the best scene on the show since Caroline and Kate had their talk in the garden in Season 1. Greg, Kate’s friend from Oxford and Flora’s biological father, approaches Caroline with an offer to help with the baby’s care. He acknowledges that he and Caroline got off on the wrong foot (to put it mildly), and makes it clear that had events been different, he would have stayed out of the picture. But the man is so sincere and so concerned for both Caroline and the baby’s welfare that Caroline, displaying a type of kindness we hadn’t seen before, runs interference for him with Kate’s mother, who everyone knows considers Greg an idiot. Caroline still isn’t sold on having Greg care for the baby, but I suspect pep talks from Spirit Kate will wear her down. Besides, that nanny who waltzed in at the end of the episode sounds ditzy as hell.

We’re used to superb acting from the “Last Tango in Halifax” cast, but what transpired during this episode was above and beyond. Sarah Lancashire was just tremendous, as was Nicola Walker during the uncomfortable scene when Gillian told Caroline she was marrying Robbie. Anne Reid as Celia perfectly timed that “Do you fancy her?” when Caroline hesitated over endorsing Gillian’s upcoming wedding. I hope we see more of Marcus Garvey as Greg and especially Michelle Hurst as Ginika, Kate’s mom. That ever-expanding family tree in the show’s opening credits needs replenishment.

Sally Wainwright’s stated purpose in killing off Kate was to provide a catalyst to bring Celia and Caroline back together after the fall-out over the latter’s wedding. However, I think in the end the absence of Kate, and what she brought to her relationship with Caroline as spouse/lover/friend/sparring partner will result in a poorer show.

While the aftermath was beautifully done, it shouldn’t have had to be done at all.

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