He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My (Half) Brother: Ill-Considered Family Members in SFF

“So… you have a twin sister!” These words should come as a shock, but in science fiction and fantasy, they’re about as common as “Let’s get out of here,” or “Here they come!” It seems as though your favorite characters are always unearthing siblings or other family members they never knew they had. Sometimes the revelation leads the way down interesting unexplored character territory, but other times it comes off a bit silly. Here are some of my favorite surprise relatives…

 

Adam Milligan (Supernatural)

Seeing as Supernatural is heading toward it’s ninth season, it’s no wonder that the showrunners have flung the series down practically every episodic road you can think of—and that includes family shenanigans. Bad enough that brothers Sam and Dean were raised by their father to hunt demons and supernatural creatures for a living, but years later, they find out that they have a younger brother they never knew. Adam Milligan was the son that John Winchester treated to a normal childhood, taking him to baseball games and keeping that darker life on the road far away from the kid. But Supernatural has a high angst quotient, so it was only a matter of time before the demons (literally) caught up with poor Adam; he was eaten by a ghoul, then resurrected so he could serve as a vessel for the angel Michael. Then he got dragged into hell, and has been stuck there ever since. It’s not that it seemed unlikely for Papa Winchester to pursue something of a double life, but the way that Adam has been used in the plot makes him seem like a personified knife twist for Sam and Dean. Yikes.

 

Sybok (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier)

Okay, the comedic dialogue in Star Trek V is its saving grace, and as a result, it can be a hell of a lot of fun to rewatch. But no matter how amusing Kirk and Spock’s conversation over Spock’s unreal brother may be, it doesn’t change the fact that Sybok suddenly showing up out of the blue is crazy. Just… crazy. The fact that Spock never mentioned him to his best friends, the fact that Sybok was a radical and no one had ever heard of him, the fact that Sarek for some reason was having a fling with a Vulcan princess before he met Amanda (especially when he’s so hard on Spock for not being a perfect Vulcan—double standard much?) The original idea was, of course, to have Sean Connery playing Sybok, and maybe that would have softened the blow. You would have been so distracted by Connery in a Trek film that you would have believed it all. But without that presence, Sybok’s character is really hard to buy into.

 

Will Scarlet (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)

The Kevin Kostner Sherwood romp is pretty easy to laugh at—though some will cite Alan Rickman’s disturbing turn as a Sheriff of Nottingham as a reason to sit through all two-and-a-half hours, the film is several levels of ridiculous. One story change that stood out was the choice to make Will Scarlet, one of Robin’s usual merry band, his half-brother. Apparently Robin’s father took up with another woman when his wife died. Which is all well and good, but Robin’s choice to leave the woman be after his father’s passing meant that Will grew up with no older masculine figures around and a big chip on his shoulder. They make up in the end, but one can’t help but wonder exactly what they thought the extra plotline would contribute to story besides a surprise factor.

 

The Master (Doctor Who)

There was an episode in Classic Who where the Master, right before the Doctor sort-of-caused his death, uttered a line to the nature of “You would do this to one of your own!” Now, one would assume that “your own” was in reference to their species, but lots of fans have wondered for years if the Master wasn’t trying to suggest that he and the Doctor were closely related. Seeing as that seemed to be a possibility on the production end, there is a contingent of Who fans who have never let the idea go. Indeed, they seem to bring it up often at conventions, questioning former actors and producers about it. Frankly, the Doctor and the Master being related would take something away from their relationship—if they were warring brothers, it would be the easiest shorthand explanation as to why animosity between them occurred in the first place, and their dynamic is more interesting when no convenient explanations are at hand. So I’m just as glad that this theory has never born out.

 

Colin Mallory (Sliders)

This might be the worst offender of them all… in the 4th season of Sliders, we find out that the main character, Quinn (Jerry O’Connell), was never from our planet Earth. He was from a different parallel dimension, left there by his parents to save him from a hostile invading force called the Kromaggs. Quinn finds out that his brother was hidden on another world. This world is slightly Amish for some reason, and Quinn’s brother, Colin Mallory, was played by Jerry O’Connell’s actual brother Charlie O’Connell. Maybe because the Sci Fi Channel liked the fact that they looked alike? But it gets better! Though Colin has lived his whole life on a primitive world, he is a self-taught engineer and scientist! But he’s still so primitive and can’t understand modern culture, or modern sensbilities. Poor lamb. And then in the fifth season, because they couldn’t get Jerry back and didn’t want one brother without the other, Colin immediately gets lost in the vortex on their first slide. Wow.

 

Aberforth Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

It absolutely makes sense for Albus Dumbledore to have a complicated backstory. That whole pining for Grindelwald and getting his sister killed in the process is tragic and heart-breaking stuff. But, also, Albus had a brother? He has a magical passage into Hogwarts? If Aberforth had visibly been the barman all those years at Hog’s Head it would be easier to buy, but that’s the first that we see of him. We missed out on books’ worth of him razzing Harry, Ron and Hermione for their madcap adventuring! Having the weird, grumpy yet familiar barman turn out to be the Headmaster’s brother is exactly the sort of turn Rowling was known for in the Potter books, but it’s clear that Aberforth’s position in the plot was decided fairly late in the planning process, introducing us to Albus’ brother too late in the game.

 

Dawn Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Let’s be real here—love her or not, Dawn Summers was on TV Guide’s Most Loathed TV Characters list. And the reason for that is likely simple; when a character shows up out of nowhere as the main character’s insta-sister, it’s going to be hard not to react with a little eye-rolling. Of course, we eventually find out that Dawn’s not technically even a real person, that she was planted in everyone’s memories to get Buffy to protect her because she’s a magical key. Yet again, it’s hard not to react with a little eye-rolling. The concept is certainly a better idea than having someone roll up as the slayer’s long-lost whoever, simply by virtue of being more creative, but it also meant that among Buffy fans Dawn really had to earn her place. And she didn’t for some.

 

Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars)

What? What’s Leia doing here? For clarification purposes, we all love Leia. And the fact that she’s Luke’s sister is, in the long run, sort of neat. But from a storytelling perspective in Return of the Jedi, this choice is a little wonky. We are given that hint from Yoda in Empire, stating that someone else could take up Luke’s mantle and defeat Vader and the Emperor. So when Luke finds out about his sister in Jedi, it seems that it should only be for one of two purposes—either Luke is going to need her by his side to help defeat Vader, or he is going to fail and she will have to become the last Jedi in the galaxy to right things. But none of that happens, so why tell us? Oh right, she kissed her brother. There was that whole confusion over who she might pick romantically, so her being Luke’s sister clears that right up for us. That’s right, we only find out about Luke and Leia’s twin status because it’s a quick and easy way to erase that awkward love triangle. Of course she loves him, Han! He’s her brother.


Emily Asher-Perrin is still amazed that she continued to watch Sliders after Colin was introduced. Oh, youth. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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