A History Of Breakups
By Poonam Mantha
You never forget your first break-up. Mine was in September 2010 and I had just gotten on a plane by myself for the very first time and moved to London for ten months. It was cloudy and damp, and I was all alone. My anxiety — which had, until then, been present but entirely manageable — hit me with such a spectacular force that I could barely recognize myself. And, to top it all off, Agent Olivia Dunham had just been kidnapped in an alternate universe and replaced with a doppelgänger, right after she finally kissed Peter Bishop after two full seasons of mutual longing.
The series Fringe, which aired on Fox for five seasons before ending in 2013, was the perfect combination of science fiction, episodic mystery, will-they-won’t-they romance, and deep, complex mythology. It was brought to life by the agonizing and affecting John Noble as the mad scientist Walter Bishop in one of the best performances of the last decade, and also featured the television return of Joshua Jackson, who had previously captured my heart in Dawson’s Creek as the underrated (but ultimately victorious) Pacey Witter. I was truly, deeply in love.
But that season two cliffhanger left me utterly devastated. I agonized all summer long while I waited for the season three premiere. I dreamt about it. I couldn’t stop talking about it. As I sat in my London dorm room, contemplating Olivia and Peter’s romantic fate, it became clear that I was a little too invested. It was my best friend, Chloe, who gently suggested the break-up. I wouldn’t be able to handle it if things didn’t go my way. I was too fragile. She would watch it for me and let me know how things were going.
So Fringe and I parted ways. The break up was an act of self-care in the face of an imbalance of affection. I attempted to catch up, years later, but the magic was gone.
I ended things with Jane The Virgin for similar reasons. To be clear, I can't quite say enough good things about the CW comedy, currently beginning its fourth season, which has received near unanimous acclaim for its ability to deftly handle difficult topics like abortion, depression, and immigration. I vividly remember sitting with my sister and watching a scene early in the series in which Jane Villanueva, played by the exquisite Gina Rodriguez, breaks down about her fear of growing attached to the baby that she will ultimately have to give away. My sister paused the episode just to turn to me and ask: Who the fuck is that? There’s definitely something exhilarating about witnessing a performance from a young actor that’s so honestly and genuinely good.
But that’s part of the reason why we had to break up. Despite its telenovela trappings and moments of true comedy, the show often left me feeling raw rather than rejuvenated. The cast, rounded out powerfully by Andrea Navedo and Ivonne Coll as Jane’s mother and grandmother respectively, became too real to me. They failed to provide the escapism I needed. Will Jane’s grandmother get deported? Will Jane’s baby have a genetic disorder? More importantly, #TeamRafael or #TeamMichael?!
I found myself tuning in every week with more anxiety than excitement. I didn’t have the emotional stamina to continue, and, like Jane, I had to make a difficult choice. (In case you were wondering, I was #TeamRafael, all the way. That body! My god.) So I've replaced Jane with the CW’s equally feminist and subversive critical darling, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. By far my favorite show on TV right now, it features enough hilarious, vaudevillian cheekiness to provide relief from its often heart-wrenching story lines.
While you get ready to call me crazy, I should say that I’ve always been this intense about my TV consumption. When I was growing up, I used to sneak in episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the desperation of an addict, keeping a meticulous schedule and setting my alarm clock so I wouldn’t miss a single rerun. I visited message boards and forums, read fan fiction and fan theories, and was introduced to the feminism that would end up guiding me through my education and career.
Now, with the rise of prestige television, my obsession has become almost acceptable. Watching TV has become routinized and socialized, and is considered an intellectually stimulating pursuit often compared to reading a book. But the sheer volume of great shows have made my break-ups more frequent, for reasons that range from emotional to logistical.
I learned a hard lesson from the show that abused my loyalty, the one I should have dumped before things got too painful. How I Met Your Mother, I’m talking, exclusively, to you. There was a rough patch in season two of Friday Night Lights, which was more than made up for in the following years, culminating in what is widely considered to be one of the greatest shows in television history. My relationships with Mad Men and Parks and Recreation were flawless from start to finish. I unceremoniously dumped Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal after years, because, frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that bullshit. I savagely ghosted on The Newsroom when I figured out it was puerile garbage. I politely parted ways with Westworld because we just had no chemistry. I reluctantly walked out on Game Of Thrones because, like the patriarchy, it was giving me nightmares.
There’s something innately intimate about revisiting the same characters and story lines with regularity, and allowing them into my home, couch, bed. Each narrative arc either draws me in or alienates me entirely, but how do I know when it’s time to give up? Honestly, it’s hard to say. Sometimes there’s no reason at all. Sometimes I’ve just grown up, grown weary, become jaded, or run out of free time. But despite all these ups and downs, I’ve always believed that a truly great television show has incomparable power and longevity. A great risk in a story can have a huge payoff, and even just one perfect scene can create an impact that will frame how you view all future writing. I will always remember the long night that Don Draper and Peggy Olson spent alone in their office, the way Tammy and Eric Taylor held each other on the East Dillon football field, and the power I felt when Leslie Knope voted for herself or the first time.
Relationships may come and go, but, a good story – damn, that will last forever.