In working on a recent project I found myself struggling to find an aspect of romantic relationship that I could really tap into, so I thought, okay, what are the romances that I really like? What couples were able to tear down the sentimentality barrier in my brain and worm their way into my heart?
And I noticed a pattern. Often couples aren’t couples for the entirety of a project. We get the meeting and the will they/won’t they, followed by the eventual outcome. Which I understand. That creates drama, tension, and can be a source of endless conflict. You could argue that this type of relationship is easier from the standpoint of the writer. Mulder and Scully will not be a couple when the series returns in 2016, because the show, at it’s core, is based on these two characters being at odds with each other. And sometimes there are aliens.
But you know what relationship I often found myself being drawn to? The happily, head-over-heels, insane-level of devotion, what’s-the-point-of-going-on-without-you, married couple. But not just that. I noticed on 3 different occasions that the relationship that was like that, starting from the outset and remaining that way until the ending, was the strongest in the program. And all 3 cases were in a serialized format.
Marriage often marks the end of a show: it’s the happily ever after. What more is there to say? Or if there’s a marriage before the end of the show, it’s not the prime relationship (as is the case with 2 of the 3 couples I’m gonna focus on.
But if you look at, for example, Friends, the main relationship, let’s be honest, is Ross and Rachel, while the much healthier, more functional relationship, the concrete and long-lasting marriage between Monica and Chandler, is somehow presented as the lesser, back-up couple. And I’m not saying that’s the wrong way to do things. The “main” relationship is the one that creates drama. It’s a serialized show, I get it, you want to keep people coming back. But when Ross and Rachel (soberly) make the decision that they’ll stay together, it marks the end of Friends (oh, unintentional double-meaning. Bonus points to me).
That’s just one example of a formula that’s been done a million times. But the road less traveled, the happy married couple storyline, is often fraught with heartbreak (the Gift of the Magi) or is somewhere in the background (Arthur and Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter series).
As problematic as Steven Moffat’s female characters can be, look at Mary Morstan/Watson. She’s a potentially problematic character too, but her relationship with John specifically is quite lovely (and Amanda Abbington and Martin Freeman’s real life chemistry didn’t hurt anything). Being married had a major effect on John, but acted as a transition in the story.
Look at Amy and Rory in season 6 (only. Okay, with moments in season 7) of Doctor Who. They get married. And then they go adventuring. Marriage doesn’t mark the end. Again, it’s a transition. Amy has become more mature and Rory’s become a proper badass.
But on my little list here, I’m looking at characters that were married (or at least engaged) when we were first introduced to them and carried on that way to the bitter end.
3. Zoe and Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Firefly)
Zoë: [to Mal] Sir, I’d like you to take the helm, please. I need this man to tear all my clothes off.
Wash: [being dragged away by Zoe] Work, work, work.
If you ignore the ending of the movie Serenity, then the logic would go that Zoe and Wash are still together somewhere.
The universe of Firefly is a prickly one. It’s surrounded by harsh conditions and heartbreak. The characters are the only thing that keep the other characters going, but for the most part, the crew of Serenity is all so terrified of letting anyone know how they feel (especially romance-wise) that nothing ever happens. If the show had run for more than a season that may very well have changed (Mal and Inara), but it didn’t, so that was that. And hey, that’s not entirely unrealistic.
There were only two people who had made it past all that: Zoe and Wash. They were introduced to the viewers as married, though we found out later, they met through working on Serenity.
The great thing about these two is they seem like such a mismatch. Wash is the somewhat geeky pilot of the Firefly spacecraft Serenity, who plays with plastic dinosaurs and avoids fights whenever possible vs. Zoe, the ferocious, gun-toting first mate, who’s necessary in any fight the Serenity crew find themselves in. And yet, together they provide a divine balance.
They constantly jab each other, but it’s always playful. They get into fights, but they work out disagreements in the moment, rather than bottling up their feelings and exploding later. They’re strong characters independent of each other and a force to be reckoned with when they’re together. And when Zoe says that she isn’t so afraid of losing something that she’s not gonna try and have it, she isn’t just talking about a hypothetical child.
Which is part of the reason why the ending of Serenity hurts so damn much….
2. Lily Aldrin and Marshall Eriksen (How I Met Your Mother)
Marshall: If I could nail any celebrity, it would be Lily, because she’s the star of my heart.
Lily: Aw! Mine would be Hugh Jackman.
As god-awful as the ending to this show was (what with it erasing 9 seasons of Barney’s character development and negating every time Ted made a breakthrough by moving away from and “getting over” Robin), the ever-epic Lily and Marshall were always the best part anyway. Like with Zoe and Wash, this was the secondary romance, but it was the strong one.
They’re candy-coated sugar-sweet, and I usually hate that, but it’s so genuine and earnest in their relationship that it’s…well, heart-warming. They still have conflict and want to go in different directions, but rather than seeing that as a reason to tear apart the relationship, they work out a compromise and it often results in one of them having to give something up. They just decided that the one thing they wouldn’t give up was each other.
They pause arguments, because they know they have to finish them, but sometimes something more important gets in the way. It’s their way of dealing with each emotion as it comes up. It also means they have their priorities straight.
And yes, at one point Lily bolts, but when she comes back, they’re relationship is actually strengthened.
1. Frank and Sadie Doyle (The Thrilling Adventure Hour, “Beyond Belief”)
Sadie: It was lovely going to hell and back with you, darling.
Frank: No one I’d rather go with, love.
I don’t know what idiot thought it was a good idea teaming up Paul F. Tompkins with Paget Brewster, but they’re a genius.
And yes, the parenthetical in the title was a joke for the TAH fans.
One of the reasons this is a unique pair on the list is it’s the only one where this is THE MAIN RELATIONSHIP. That’s right, the two main characters are in a happy marriage with each other from the first episode of Beyond Belief to the last. Oh, it’s also unique in that it’s a podcast.
Frank Doyle, under normal circumstances, would be the best character in just about anything. That being said, Sadie Doyle is quite possibly the best character ever created, and steals the show every damn time she’s on. But on the rare occasion that one or the other of the two actors were unavailable, the episode, while still funny, was missing something. It’s the dynamic of the two of them together that makes it work.
They’re just the perfect amount of twisted for each other (just compare Marshall and Lily’s pet names “Marshmallow” and “Lilypad” with Frank and Sadie’s “Frankenstein” and “Sadistic”).
Even their fears balance each other perfectly. Frank is afraid of clowns, while Sadie thinks they’re funny, to the point where Sadie’s taunting made an evil clown, that tormented Frank, shape-shift into a tiny spider, which frightened Sadie, but which Frank didn’t mind smashing with a shoe. There are only 3 other things of which the Doyles are afraid: bees, sobriety, and losing each other. The third probably tops them all.
And maybe a part of the reason I wanted to write this post was that I wanted to write about these two (I’ve been starved for Thrilling Adventure Hour discussion since the podcast ended in August and at this point, am supplying my own). But Frank gives this epic speech to Nightmares the clown, after Nightmares separates Frank and Sadie in the final Beyond Belief episode and it perfectly sums up the Frank and Sadie relationship:
Frank: Sadie met me on my last day as the boogie-man to boogie-men. I saw her and put in my papers. So if you think taking Sadie away from me and then throwing a bunch of monsters my way will scare me, I’ll let you in on this. It is a thing I cherish and appreciate, that I will get to show these monsters and animals how little I care for them when Sadie’s not around. Relive the good old days until Sadie and I reunite. Am I scared? No! I am excited to see if I still got it. And guess what? I still got it. I’ll take the skeleton first and use his bones to take the rest of you. That’s my plan, but I’ll play it by ear. They all have bones, as the skeleton pointed out. So we’ll see whose I use.
Sadie: Oh, Frank, be gentle.
Frank: Only when by your side once more, my darling. And Nightmares, monsters, if you care to meet the only person I’ve ever met who leaves me in the dust in terms of merciless cruelty and toughness, you’ve already met her. You’ve put in danger the thing she loves above all else.
Frank: Me! On the one hand, I would like to see what she does to you. But on the other, I may have too faint a stomach for it.
Sadie: Yes, do try your luck with Sadie.
Frank: Oh, do not fall for that.
Sadie: Our love is the best. Do you care to see our worst?
After all, who cares what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Unless evil’s carrying the martini tray, darling.