First Warning: this is bs I wrote after coffee. Apologies to scholars who have really thought this through.
Second Warning: All the Spoilers, but you should already know these things anyway.
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem” Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarity fall to their deaths into the gorge of Reichenbach Falls, ostensibly during a struggle. Doyle’s intent was to put an end to his most famous character and move on to other literary endeavors, but he was forced back into writing more Holmes stories, both set before and after the fall. In doing so he only barely explained the plausibility of Holmes’ survival, thus launching the second most enduring fandom/canon panic we’ve ever seen–the first being New Testament.
Holmes and Moriarity are not the first characters to jump off a cliff together, but that appears to be an irresistable touchstone, especially for film and television artists who, as with the series finale of the divine Hannibal, are openly paying tribute to Doyle’s failed attempt at throwing his greatest creation away—literally.
Doyle’s cliff is a powerfully cinematic choice for intense, same sex relationships to be consummated, but really, any simultaneous destruction will do. You don’t have to Thelma and Louise it. You can, for example, do the cliff tease, especially if your relationship hasn’t really peaked yet, as in the scene where Butch and Sundance dive into the river. When they are ready for the ultimate union of souls, when the only thing left is for them to make out or die trying, then it’s their two guns against the Bolivian forces. That’s a kind of cliff dive in itself. Another alternative is to pretend that Doyle “meant to do that” and embrace the cludgy fake-out, allowing bonded characters to “die” so that they can live together. House is a good example in that he fakes his death–seriously, the old dental switcheroo?– so he can go riding into the sunset with Wilson, whose terminal cancer means that sunset is coming down fast. While contemporary psychology has managed to situate Freud in history, storytellers have not and are often blind to the most obvious of symbols. That blindness=the dark side of “suspended disbelief”–aka the single biggest enabler of marginalization.
In it’s ending, Hannibal wrenches the subtext free and puts subject of love right out there. I know I’m putting a lot of faith in the dramatic choices of a team of television writers whose series was abruptly canceled, but I like to think this is the last cliff dive we’re going to see for a while, and that the “unnamed fierce bond requiring mutual destruction” is a device we can shelve alongside fireworks, waves crashing, and all our other anachronisms for orgasm, transgressive or otherwise.