Monday, February 15, 2016

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Severed Head

The severed head is a ghoulish, common trope in cult-television history.  

I imagine that few of us can think of a worse way to die. Decapitation is not only inevitably fatal, it permits for the human  brain to continue functioning for a few seconds before death.  

In other words, a person with a severed head is fully aware what is happening to him or her during those excruciating last seconds of existence on this mortal coil.

Disturbing, right?

The severed head has appeared quite often on numerous TV shows (especially of the modern age) for visceral impact.

For example, the two-part cliffhanger episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), “Time’s Arrow,” commences with the discovery of Lt. Commander Data’s (Brent Spiner) severed head, buried in San Francisco for five hundred years. Data’s cranium becomes the beginning point for a mystery involving time travel, and soul-sucking aliens.

The X-Files (1993 – 2002) episode “Leonard Betts” concerns a genetic mutant who can regenerate his entire body.  After being decapitated in a car accident, he returns to life, casting aside the severed head. In a truly ghoulish and terrifying sequence, Dr. Scully (Gillian Anderson) attempts to perform an autopsy on the severed head, only to see it evidence….expressive responses.

One of the most disturbing severed heads on TV in the last few years belongs to Hershel Green (Scott Wilson) on The Walking Dead (2010 - ). This kindly, sweet country doctor (and father to Maggie and Beth) is ruthlessly decapitated by The Governor (David Morrissey) during a conflict with the survivors at the prison in the 4th season. After Hershel’s death, his head revives as a zombie, and must be put down…gorily.

The first season of Game of Thrones (2011 - ), similarly, features a shock decapitation. Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) -- the ostensible central figure and protagonist of the series -- is decapitated by his enemies, and his head is placed on a pike for all to see.

Since all this talk of decapitation and severed heads is so gruesome, I’ll end with a funny example o the trope from cult-tv history.  

Jan the Pan (Mary Jo Pehl) is literally just a severed head in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1989 – 1999) episode featuring The Beast That Wouldn’t Die (1962). Fortunately, she has made her peace with her nature, and can even take a joke or two.

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