Nov 2 2011 3:00pm

Chemistry 301: Top 10 Onscreen Breakups, with Buffy, Doctor Who, Sookie, and More!

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire SlayerThis is the third post on offbeat onscreen moments; previous posts have covered Chemistry 101: Top 10 Romantic Moments and Chemistry 201: Top Sexy Onscreen Moments, sharing favorite scenes from TV and movies. Some might say the next logical list would be about proposals.

But me, I’d rather go right to the breakups. Let’s face it—proposals are basically all the same. Sure, there are variations on the theme, but is one really any different than another (not to mention the inherent sap factor)?

Breakups, on the other hand, are emotional, painful, passionate—and they lend themselves to major creativity. Best of all breakups clear the way for new relationships and then (lucky us) the list-making can start all over again.

Buffy and AngelAngel and Buffy from Buffy The Vampire Slayer

My previous two posts began with Buffy and her on-again/off-again boyfriend Angel, so there’s no way I could start this list without them. These two had a complex relationship and their breakups were equally convoluted. The first one involved Buffy sending Angel to hell (let’s just say Gypsy curses are nothing but trouble). The one that made this list, however, happened at the end of Season three.

As Buffy is about to graduate, all she can see in her future is Angel. But Buffy’s Watcher and her mom see no future for the Slayer and the vampire. After they speak to him, Angel realizes they’re right. Although he loves Buffy, he knows he can’t give her the life she deserves. After an emotional conversation in which he breaks Buffy’s heart, he shows up unexpectedly at the prom to give her the one perfect high school moment she wished for. After graduation and a major battle against the town’s demon mayor, however, he leaves town. She sees him in the distance one last time and then he’s gone (only to return on his own show!). It’s classic tragedy—two lovers torn apart by circumstance rather than desire, in too much pain to actually say goodbye. And we’re left wondering how they’re going to ever get through this.

Buffy and Spike in Buffy the Vampire SlayerSpike and Buffy from Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Spike and Buffy also made the last two lists, and definitely can’t be left off this one. Their relationship was a mess. He loved her, she used him. Pain was basically foreplay for them both. This has to have been one of the most interesting couplings ever to grace a screen. But their breakup was sad and simple. After finally realizing just how bad their relationship is for her, Buffy pays a visit to Spike’s crypt. His place, completely destroyed after being bombed (don’t ask), is an apt reflection of the two of them together.

When Buffy tells Spike it’s over he doesn’t believe it (he’s memorized this tune). But after he gets her to admit she still wants him, Buffy also adds that she can’t love him and she’s just using him. He tries a bit of bargaining, hoping to change her mind, but she stands fast. The fact that she uses his human name—William—is somehow the most devastating moment of the breakup and it forces him to see she truly means it this time. The realization that it’s over leaves him in stunned silence. His heartbreak is obvious as she walks away (personally, I wanted to smack her).

Clementine and Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindClementine and Joel from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Have you ever been in such a crazy relationship that you wish you could just walk away and forget it ever happened? Clementine does just that, but it might not have been the best idea, after all. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel and Clementine start out seeming to be made for each other. But we find out that they’ve been together before, and that Clementine went to a clinic and had her previous relationship with him erased from her memory. When that happened, Joel was initially hurt and confused about why Clementine was suddenly acting as though she had no idea who he was. There’s definitely some unnecessary cruelty in this breakup. When Joel finally figures out that she erased him, it was even more devastating.

So he dealt by not dealing; in other words, he had the same procedure done to himself. Unfortunately he started having second thoughts when it was too late. Maybe Clementine did too, which could be how they end up finding each other again, even though neither of them remembers the other. Their reconnection can be interpreted as the futility of life or as proof that love is meant to be (I prefer the latter), but their breakup is about as thorough as you can get, effectively wiping the other person out of existence. But seeing Joel’s reaction when he realizes what she’s done makes me wonder if killing him might have been a little kinder.

Doctor Who and MarthaMartha and the Doctor from Doctor Who

Those of you familiar with Doctor Who know the Doctor is rarely without a (platonic) female companion. But just because he’s not interested (Rose being the exception) doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally fall for him. Martha Jones has a big-time crush on the dashing tenth Doctor (the very tempting David Tennant) pretty much from the moment he plants a rather intense kiss on her (he claims it’s a “genetic transfer”).

The thing is, he doesn’t know she exists, romantically speaking. He’s still getting over the loss of Rose and is definitely not looking for anything more than a travel buddy. Eventually, Martha realizes that if she doesn’t get away she’ll waste her life pining after him. He’s crestfallen but understanding when he first figures out she won’t be traveling with him any longer.

But when she turns back and explains to him the real reason why she can’t stay, it’s just sad. Sad that it hurts her so much to be with him and sad that he can’t return her feelings. Worst of all, the Doctor is all alone again, and in the vastness of space and time that’s pretty damn depressing. She’s hopeful at their parting, but you can see the weight of his loneliness settling on the Doctor once she closes the door behind her. Maybe breaking up was the right thing to do, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. At least you can take comfort in knowing that some people do manage to get out before it’s too late.

Sookie in True BloodSookie and Bill from True Blood

Onscreen relationships involving vampires are, by nature, dramatic. Throw in a telepathic part-fairy and things tend to get over the top. Sookie and Bill’s time together was nothing if not rocky (and bloody), but it was also loving and even sweet. Unfortunately it turns out that Bill was initially only interested in Sookie because the vampire Queen of Louisiana ordered him to get to know her. On top of that, he allowed her to be seriously hurt so he could feed her his blood and establish a permanent bond between them.

Even though Bill truly loves her now (or so he claims…repeatedly), Sookie is enraged at his betrayal. Her emotions are manifested as her fairy abilities go into overdrive. She revokes Bill’s invitation into her house and sends him flying out the door. He clings to the door jamb desperate for forgiveness, but Sookie pushes him out of her house (and out of her heart) entirely. She also tells Eric off while she’s at it, but we all know that doesn’t last.

Mal and Inara in FireflyInara and Mal from Firefly

I raved about Firefly in my “Chemistry 201” post and scenes like the one I’m about to describe contribute to the praise I heaped on it. Spaceship Captain Mal Reynolds and Companion (something along the lines of highly respected priestess-prostitute) Inara Serra have unspoken feelings for each other (you know, the kind that are obvious to everyone but the people involved). As the (lamentably short) season progresses, their feelings only become more obvious until even they have to finally acknowledge them.

After a traumatic battle it seems the two of them are ready to open up to each other. Inara lost a close friend in the battle—the same friend that Mal slept with. Although Inara’s been publicly claiming that she’s happy for Mal and Nandi, her true sentiments rear their ugly head in private. So when she and Mal are commiserating after the big fight and Mal declares that life is “too damn short for ifs and maybes” Inara interrupts with a heartfelt speech and it seems she’s finally going to admit that she cares about him. But then she tells Mal she’s leaving. It’s a shock, and anyone watching feels Mal’s confusion and pain. Inara is leaving out of fear, prematurely ending whatever romance they might have had and even cutting short their business relationship (she rented the ship’s shuttle from Mal). This breakup is particularly upsetting because it ends things before they even started.

Harold and MaudeMaude and Harold from Harold and Maude

Harold and Maude is my all-time favorite movie—even with no vampires, zombies, or spaceships in sight. There is, however, a darkly depressed young man and a 79-year-old joyfully eccentric woman (not to mention various lesser, twisted and hilarious characters). With their age difference, Harold and Maude’s romance is definitely unconventional, but nonetheless believable. When Harold is getting ready to propose to Maude on her 80th birthday it’s hard not to root for their HEA. The thing is. Maude has a belief that 80 is exactly the right age to die (anything before that is too early and anything after you’re only marking time).

Just after telling him how happy she is, she lets Harold know she’s taken “tablets” and will be gone before the end of the night. Harold’s reaction is amazing: from confusion to disbelief to horror, all without uttering a word (although when he finally does speak that pretty much says it all). Even though she’ll be gone, Maude urges Harold to love again, to go on and live life, but he’s not buying her joie de vivre enthusiasm this time.

Gillian, Sally, and Jimmy in Practical MagicWitches and Jimmy from Practical Magic

You think you have a hard time getting rid of your creepy ex? Trust me—you’ve never been through anything like what witch Gillian has to endure in Practical Magic. After she and her sister Sally (also a witch) accidentally kill Gillian’s abusive (and psychotic) boyfriend, Jimmy Angelov, they attempt a dangerous resurrection spell. No surprise when that goes awry and they have to kill him again.

Only Jimmy doesn’t quite go away. His malevolent spirit infects their lives and then he literally infects Gillian by possessing her. Since he’s determined to take Gillian with him to the afterlife, Sally has no choice but to recruit the help of her witch aunts as well as just about every woman she knows to form a makeshift coven and perform the necessary spell. It takes some serious magic to get rid of Jimmy but when the women finally do they triumphantly sweep his ashes out the door. If only we could do that in real life.

Jack and Tyler Durden in Fight Club“Jack” and Tyler Durden from Fight Club

I know the first rule of Fight Club is to not talk about Fight Club but I can’t help it. While there is a romance of sorts between the narrator (also known as “Jack,” in reference to medical booklets he’s always quoting with titles such as “I Am Jack’s Medulla Oblongata”) and the seriously messed up Marla, the real relationship is between Jack and his new best pal Tyler Durden. Jack is living a pretty unsatisfying life plagued by insomnia when he meets Tyler—a nihilist who initiates Jack into the world of fistfights as a way of having something real in their lives.

The only problem is the fighting leads to mayhem leads to an army of slavish followers who do anything Tyler tells them. When innocent people start getting killed, Jack realizes he has to stop Tyler. I don’t want to give away the central plot twist, but I will say the breakup involves a gun, multiple explosions, and something neither Jack nor Tyler saw coming. Breakup by violence usually isn’t a good thing but in this case, well, it’s perfect.

Bill and the Bride in Kill BillThe Bride and Bill from Kill Bill

If Kill Bill isn’t the ultimate breakup movie, I don’t know what is. The Bride (as she’s known for almost the entire movie) was shot and put into a coma—while pregnant—by her ex, Bill. When she miraculously wakes up years later, she regains her strength and assassin skills and gets herself a shiny new Samurai sword. Then she goes on a rampage. In order to get to Bill, she first has to wreak vengeance on his team of assassins (her former cohorts), all of whom helped kill the churchful of people there for her wedding rehearsal (including her groom-to-be) and nearly killing her. She also takes down a few henchmen along the way.

When she finally finds Bill she also finds something she never expected. After a friendly initial reunion, Bill and the Bride get down to the breakup. There’s fighting, drug-induced confessions, and more fighting before the Bride finally uses the “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart” technique taught to her (and only her) by her Master Pai Mei. She and Bill have a chance to say their final goodbyes before Bill gets up, takes his last five steps, and succumbs as his heart explodes.

But Bill’s death means the Bride (aka Beatrix) at last can have a chance at freedom and a normal life. Like I said, breakups pave the way for something new and better to come along.

These are some of my favorite onscreen breakups—what are some of yours?


Aspasia Bissas is the author of three blogs, including the all-vampire Blood Lines; was featured in Truly, Madly Deadly: The Unofficial True Blood Companion; and is currently working on a vampire novel of her own (it’s all about the fangs). Follow her on Twitter @bloodandpoppies.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
Loved that twist in Eternal Sunshine, and oh, was I sad when Inara announced she was leaving the ship (and thus Mal) in Firely. Joss Whedon certainly knows how to bring the angst.
2. ChelseaMueller
All good picks -- especially Buffy. Really, any breakup concocted by Joss Whedon is going to bring the pain.

I'll add in when Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano broke up in My So-Called Life. You finally get the quiet, mysterious bad boy to really "date" you, only to be utterly crushed again. I loved Catalano (oh, the way he leans), but I think he broke all our hearts.
i love your comment about wanting to slap buffy when she broke up with Spike I 100% agree.
4. K1378
What about Willow and Tara from Buffy? Tara's upset because Willow is using too much magic, Willow puts a spell on Tara to try and make her forget, the spell backfires and causes mass amnesia (and the very funny "Tabula Rasa" episode) . . . and then it all comes to an emotional boil when Tara discovers Willow's spell. Cue scenes of Tara moving out and Willow sobbing on the bathroom floor, set to Michelle Branch singing "Goodbye to You." Gut wrenching. When you add the Buffy and Spike scenes (Spike trying to talk to Buffy at the bar, Buffy turning away, Spike walking away . . . then a swooping shot across The Bronze that ends with Buffy and Spike kissing in a dark corner), you get one of my absolute favorite Buffy endings ever.
5. Aspasia
@ All the Whedon fans: I easily could have put together all three of my Top 10 lists strictly from Whedon shows. The man is a relationship genius :)

@ K1378: Willow and Tara definitely crossed my mind but it was already getting too Whedon-heavy, alas. I love Tabula Rasa, though (Randy Giles! And then of course the scene at the Bronze.)

@ Aliza: Buffy brings out that response in me pretty frequently, actually, but especially when it comes to Spike.
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