Monday Musings: When a Fictional Character Breaks Your Heart, Part 1

It’s happened to many of us: your favorite character in a book, television show, or movie is written out, or dies. For some, it’s easy to move past it, and go on. But for others, it’s almost as if a real person just walked out of your life. I’m in the latter group. Today, I’m going to talk specifically about my latest heartbreak. Next week, I’m going to discuss some general thoughts on why these things can hit me so hard.

The latest wrench to my not-so-real-life happened last Wednesday with the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode, The Undiscovered Country. (Note: If you haven’t watched it yet, you may want to skip the rest of this post. It will be spoiler-y.)

The story involves a right-to-die case of an infant born with a rare disorder that leaves him unable to breathe on his own and with no detectable brain activity. The parents are at odds over terminating the life support, and the mother has petitioned for a court order. The father kidnaps the baby, but the police, with Benson’s help talking to the father, bring the baby back to the hospital. In the end, ADA Barba is the one to turn off the ventilator after an emotionally wrenching scene with the mother. He’s charged with second degree murder, and Peter Stone, who had been in NY from Chicago for his father’s (ADA Ben Stone from the original Law and Order series) funeral is appointed special counsel to try the case. Barba enlists recurring defense attorney Randy Dworkin as his counsel. The jury acquits Barba, but he resigns from the DA’s office, despite Jack McCoy’s effort to dissuade him.

This episode broke my heart, and I mean that quite literally. There was pain, as well as tears. It’s almost a week later, and I’m not over Barba’s leaving still. It was Raùl Esparza’s decision to leave the show, and his reasons are sound and I understand. But. As the BaldMan will tell you, I was smitten with Rafael Barba. I’ve watched all the Law & Order shows, from the original to SVU, which is the only one still on the air. Of all the characters I’ve loved, none was ever able to replace Jack McCoy at the top of my list until Barba. Watching him walk away from the courthouse building in his last scene was devastating. And more so because the series managed to keep it secret. Esparza told the production team he was leaving a long time ago, and there has been very little in the way of leaking of that news. We knew Philip Whittaker was coming on the show in his role of Peter Stone from another Dick Wolf procedural, the now cancelled Chicago Justice. But there was no hint that Barba was leaving. I won’t say replaced, because that is impossible. No one could replace that sass, that snark, the sometimes not very nice attitude, and oh, the suits! At least they didn’t kill him, and the door is open (and there are hints) for Barba to come back on occasion. I hope it’s soon, and often!

But if the much-loved Barba had to leave, what a swan song the writers gave him. This was one of the best episodes they  have ever done. It pulled you in from the devastating decisions the parents were facing, to the exploring of the whole right-to-life issue. It showed the fight between the letter of the law and the sometimes morally ambiguous nature of said laws. We got a little more of Barba’s past and why this case hit him so hard. It was raw, and emotional on many levels, and sad. The acting was incredible from everyone, and Raúl was pitch perfect throughout.

Good-bye, Rafael. I hope you find a place you love as much as you did the DA’s office. I, among many others, will miss you always. Come back to the squad soon, and often.

And to Raúl Esparza- thank you for bringing Rafael to such vivid life. You and Warren grew the character so much from the cocky, oh-so-self-assured fellow he was at the beginning. You kept the attitude, but gave him so much more depth and humanity. Best of luck in whatever you do, and bring Barba back once in a while, okay? My heart needs mending!

Neext week, some thoughts on why these fictional people become so real, at least to me.

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