Suspension of disbelief goes too far

Claire McLeod was on my mind again today when I woke up. It was the second day in a row. I've continued to think about her throughout the morning. Before I continue with who that is and why I'm writing about it, you should be warned that I'm going to disclose (in a very long post, too,) something that happens in a TV show that might surprise you if you're into McLeod's Daughters but you didn't watch the second of the back-to-back episodes aired on WE - Women's Entertainment this past Saturday night.

Then again, apparently People Knew. I just didn't know.

Since I watch TV either for movies or specific shows, I don't see a lot of previews and trailers. In its home country of Australia, where this 3rd season was aired a few years back, perhaps folks knew it was coming. Having only watched perhaps 8-10 episodes of the show, ever, (most of them in recent weeks as my "addiction" has grown,) I don't know the background, don't follow the lives of the actors, don't know much behind the scenes at all. And so Saturday night's episode shocked me.

At the end of the episode, after a major concern had been resolved, (Tess McLeod's tests came back negative for cancer and we were all relieved,) and we were happily anticipating the party they were planning and that beautiful ring Alex proudly showed his brother Nick that he was getting ready to give to Claire later that night, Claire, Tess, and baby Charlotte were in a horrific accident. Claire did not survive.

Now is where we come to the part about Suspension of Disbelief and yours truly. I know it's TV. I know it's a story written by ordinary people. I know the actress who portrays Claire did not die. That it was all in a day's work. And that people die on TV all the time for all kinds of reasons. Consciously I know all this. But as I sat there at the end of two episodes in a row on a Saturday night watching a show which I now make a point to see or record each week if possible, I absolutely felt the shock and pain of losing this woman I've grown to feel connected to in recent months. And as I sat there in the dark, stunned to see what was happening before me, I felt tears pouring out of both my eyes - not a single tear from one eye where I might occasionally feel one when I'm a little bit sappy. I quietly sobbed in disbelief. It occurred to me as I thought of it later (and still think of it now,) that this "death" has affected me more than any before it on TV or in the movies. My heart constricted and I grieved for the loss of this character!

Suspension of Disbelief, Wikipedia tells us, is "a willingness of a reader or viewer to suspend his or her critical faculties to the extent of ignoring minor inconsistencies so as to enjoy a work of fiction."

I more than suspended my critical faculties when watching this show. But I didn't realize how much until Saturday night. I related to this character more than most:

  • Maybe because Claire is a mid-to-late-thirties single woman, as am I.
  • Maybe it's because she's the older sister, same as me.
  • Perhaps I felt so connected to her knowing that she runs a ranch with the help of her sister and other strong women. (Stay with me. It's a huge stretch.) I most decidedly do not work on or run a ranch. Haven't even ridden horses in years. But growing up I had complete and utter fantasies of working on a ranch, which kept being squelched when I'd read those novella inserts in my mom's Good Housekeeping magazines in which a woman would go work on a ranch and was thwarted at every turn by the sexist, sometimes misogynistic attitudes of some of the ranch hands. Although eventually The Dude In Charge would come around and end up with the heroine, I was always left perplexed and nonplussed by the experiences these women would first have to be put through and figured working around ranch hands was not for me. So watching McLeod's Daughters, which certainly made room for cads and other conflict-bearing characters to move about, did not show me the disappointing fellows from those stories that made me afraid to even apply for a summer job at a dude ranch when I thought that might be just the adventure for me. (Yea, I know. I wasn't much into "following through" in those days. So I prolly never would have. But you never know!)
  • Claire McLeod lives on Drovers Run which is in Australia, a country to which I have never traveled but with which I had an early, ongoing fascination, about which I've recently thought a lot as my friends prepare for a 5 week trip there. It's far away, I'm itchy to travel everywhere, and it's on my personal destination list.
  • Claire is a new single mother of Charlotte. I am certainly not one of those. Watching, however, the interaction of the sisters and even the other characters on the show, and contrasting the feelings I have for this new little baby, Rami, my first ever nephew, has seemed oddly connected. On the show I'll watch someone walk into a room and pick up Charlotte when Claire is not around. Then I'll remember picking up Rami and walking out of the room with him to go take photos in a quiet room while the busy-ness in the other room continues. These interactions are not the same as I might have expected as a child or even a young woman who babysat and took care of other people's children in a day care center. The "it takes a village to raise a child" idea comes up in our conversation and I say to my sister, "I'll be in your village." And we laugh as she looks comforted and relieved, but also as if she feels it without saying, "Chickie, you're already in my village." And I see the village on McLeod's Daughters and I guess it just resonates for me.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that it took me completely by surprise to find how shocked and emotionally stunned I was when Claire died. So much so that I told Roomie that I wasn't sure if I could watch it again. I promptly came upstairs and went online to read what I could find. After a half hour of reading, I learned more about the show that I never knew, and eventually found the website for Lisa Chappell, who is the actual acress who played Claire.

Folks, Lisa left the show because she needed to do other things with her life. Like sing. She makes beautiful music and very soon we'll be able to buy her CD which you can learn about on this website. I read some of her bio as the music clips played in the background and learned that she is also 37, and that her sister recently had a baby boy. Go figure. But in this case, she's very much a real woman, not a character, and she's not dead at all. In fact, she's an enormously talented woman who grew up in creative surroundings and she's following her dream.

So I'm mourning the loss of Claire in my own odd little way (blogging about it being a piece of that "way" of processing why it is this suspension of belief went further than it usually does, but now I've discovered a new, talented musician I didn't know about before. And that's good stuff!

Meanwhile, I clicked over to the WE website earlier when I started writing, to get the link for you, and discovered a message board. People, fans of McLeod's Daughters are maaaaaaaaaaaad. Seems not only were others as shocked as I was to see what Australian viewers mourned years ago, but also that WE is apparently planning to discontinue the show. There is a seriously active outcry aimed at the network that declares it their goal to empower women. Seems others, like myself, don't really think some of the other shows on that network are particularly empowering of women. There's a show called Daddy's Spoiled Little Girl and another called Bridezillas. Fortunately I know the power of turning off the TV when something does not hold my interest. Unfortunately, I've had to be aware that these shows even exist as they're endlessly promoted during the commercial breaks while I'm watching McLeod's Daughters. I gotta' tell ya I don't find such shows empowering of anything beyond, perhaps, the bank account of the network, which is, of course, largely what it's all about. Those shows are more of the trainwreck "reality" shows that so fill television these days.

Which is why it's good to have, you know, our own full lives with other activities. Over which we have at least a tad amount of control. Helps keep things in perspective. Sure, it's good to have decent TV programming to turn to when you need a break from your reality. And I hope the folks at WE realize how much people want to see future episodes. Of a good show. Which apparently did not die out with Claire...