How Supernatural Television Masks My Fear of Dying

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How Supernatural Television Masks My Fear of Dying

At first glance, my taste in television seems rather lowbrow. I cheer vigorously for ambivalent monsters and uprising heroes. I’m enthralled by high risks and apocalypse-level mayhem.

I’m infatuated with supernatural drama.

Why haven’t you outgrown this stuff? others likely wonder. Fantasy, after all, is rarely considered art. The allure of supernatural stories is often dismissed purely as escapism. But lately, I’ve discovered my gravitation towards mysticism is more complicated…

You see, what I love most about supernatural television is how people rarely die.

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For a long time my aunt had terrible headaches, a permanent sort of swollen throb similar to hitting your hand with a hammer. One night she drew water for a bath, believing a soak would make her feel better.

Sitting there, naked in the tub, was one of her last living moments.

She had a brain aneurysm at 28. In her casket she was powdered white, like her skin was dipped in flour. In death she looked defiant—her eyebrows arched as if angry, her nostrils swollen and flared. My family huddled around her to say goodbye. My uncle and younger cousin were distraught, faces red and blubbery. I was crying too, but out of fear. If she could die, did that mean I could, too?

I was fascinated by magic at an early age. Twigs, mud and rainwater—anything from nature became ingredients for my potions. My grandmother’s birdbath became a cauldron, my sister’s rubber baton a powerful wand. I started reading children’s fantasy novels and wished, rather desperately, the worlds they described were real.

It wasn’t just that I was a peculiar and imaginative kid, though I certainly was. The appeal of the supernatural lay—even then—in the power over death, and the clever escape of inevitability.

On the day of my aunt’s funeral I was nine years old. I stood at the casket and willed myself to touch her, to tap into my inner magic and bring her back to life. I imagined myself holding her temples between my hands, gentle but with purpose, like my mother carrying a porcelain dish. Gold beams would shoot from my fingers and my aunt’s eyes would begin to open. Everyone would marvel at us—the woman no longer sleeping, the magically gifted girl who could bring back the dead.

But when my chance finally came, I couldn’t bring myself to touch her. My hands stopped inside the casket and fidgeted with the silk lining. Looking at her body, images of my family circled my mind like a carousel. My sister cross-legged in her room, grinning, beating me at Sega; my grandfather leaned against his walker, hanging laundry on the line; my uncle in the kitchen, playing guitar with his eyes closed. Don’t be afraid, I wanted to tell them. I won’t let you die.

My aunt was buried that day, though I didn’t witness it. I was sent home alongside the flowers and casseroles, given a new coloring book and told to run along. While everyone else grieved, I stood on the outside and envisioned a different world. One where people were strong, were carved in stone.

A world where everyone lived.

It’s been almost two decades since that day. Like everyone else in the world, my family hasn’t escaped the passing of time. I’ve stopped believing I can prevent death through mystical energy and sheer force of will—but I haven’t abandoned my inclination towards the otherworldly, either.

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Years ago, I witnessed the vampire-slaying Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) drowning in the Season One finale, “Prophecy Girl,” only to be miraculously resuscitated by CPR. A few seasons later, Buffy dies again—this time even buried—and her friends revive her through a perilous, but ultimately successful, spell. During the famed musical episode, “Once More With Feeling,” the group is discussing their upcoming battle; together they sing, “It’s do or die…” Buffy casually interjects, “Hey, I’ve died twice.”

There are more recent examples of how supernatural series avert death. In John Logan’s horror drama, Penny Dreadful, Irish immigrant and prostitute Brona Croft (Billie Piper) dies of tuberculosis, just to be reborn, and made indestructible, by Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). Alaric Saltzman (Matthew Davis) of The Vampire Diaries, the likable history teacher and vampire hunter, has been killed and resurrected too many times to count. From being saved repeatedly by a magic ring, to literally escaping the veil between our world and the Other Side, few characters stay dead in Mystic Falls for long.

But there’s a series even more famous for killing and reviving its lead characters—The CW’s Supernatural. The show began as a simple story of two brothers with supernatural knowledge hunting monsters, but after twelve seasons, it’s wildly evolved. While fighting hundreds of demons, vampires, witches and werewolves—even battling the Devil himself—the brothers combined have died and come back to life well over 100 times.

Tropes in television are often considered tired, but the presence of resurrection in the supernatural genre is one I hope perseveres.

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When I return to my hometown these days, I have more graves to visit. Old teachers, a girl I knew from high school, the sister of an old friend. All my grandparents but one. Even my 14-year-old Shih Tzu that we buried last month. We put her in a box while her body was still warm, buried her with toys and blankets as if she could take them with her.

I cry for those I’ve lost, for those I’ve yet to lose. Mirrors, sunrises and slow songs—they reflect my grief.

But there’s still undeniable relief whenever I turn on a television show and watch a character I love wake up, inexplicably, battle wounds magically erased.

In my fictional world, life seems to last forever.

At times, that’s enough.

Supernatural airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.



Rachel Hoge is a southern writer, freelancer, and lover of supernatural stories. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from the Washington Post, The Rumpus, Ravishly, and others. Lately, she’s been hard at work on her first nonfiction book. You can follow her on Twitter @hoge_rachel.

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