CAUTION: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
Last week, the loyal legion of fans of The 100 erupted in a fiery flame of pure outrage when Lexa, Commander of the twelve clans, was killed off in a thoroughly rushed, ruthless fashion. Here at AE, we have some seriously enthusiastic fans of this television show, and needless to say, they all had passionate reactions to the events of the episode “Thirteen.” Two of our writers (one female and bisexual and one male and heterosexual because we also love diversity) have offered up their take on this pivotal, tragic moment and what it means for the show and the strides it’s made in blazing a trail for representation of the LGBTQ community.
From Beth Reynolds
“Thirteen” came as a devastating blow, not only solely because of the events that occurred during this episode, but because exactly a week prior, I praised it as the show with the best representation of a bisexual character currently on television that boasts a same sex relationship between two women who are powerhouses in their own right, whose coupling adds complexity, depth, and importance to the plot of story. Imagine my shock and dismay when, in this milestone episode, the writers decide to tear down the foundation they’ve built and discard this romance altogether with one pull of a trigger.
My frustration with this turn of events is twofold, and this comes at the risk of sounding petty or whiny, but this isn’t the first time this has happened. Three or four examples came to mind instantly after watching Lexa’s death, which is frustrating enough considering the representation of same sex couples on television to begin with, but after a little research I came to discover that this isn’t even the 20th, or 30th time this has happened. In fact, this incessant trope has even been given a name: Dead Lesbian Syndrome.
This recurring theme has been traced back to its largely agreed upon origin in the Whedonverse with Tara’s death in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a shame that this moment spawned a cycle “disposable” lesbian characters, because Tara was anything but disposable, and her death was a vital benchmark in the show’s story arc and in the evolution of Willow’s character. As viscerally heartbreaking as Tara’s accidental execution was, the writing was brilliant, and I’m a fan of the direction it took the show in. But since then, a seemingly nonstop influx of television shows have found it necessary to lose themselves in shallow, meaningless regurgitations of the random, shocking death of one half an on-screen lesbian couple.
The most discouraging and troubling aspect of Dead Lesbian Syndrome is that, above all else, it translates lesbian relationships as disposable, functioning simply as an exploitative fan service. Two female characters become romantically involved to please the viewers, and they share some steamy moments on screen because, let’s face it, girl-on-girl is rarely something that’s bad for ratings, then whichever character is least important to the core concept of the show is killed off because her purpose has been served. And, alas, LGBTQs have lost part of the little representation they had to begin with. Sounds infuriating right? Indeed it is.
From almost the very beginning The 100 has set itself apart by creating a world where sexuality is fluid, and no one has been raised to recognize, nevertheless discriminate between gay, straight, bisexual, etc. Also, both Clarke and Lexa were established as strong individual forces of nature before any sparks of romance began to kindle, so these characters and the writing behind them have been inspiration for the type of representation the gay community desires and deserves to be able to watch and relate to on television.
So imagine the blow when not only does this progressive storyline swiftly and thoughtlessly took a turn into Dead Lesbian Syndrome territory, but it also does so with such poor mimicry of the trope’s source that they have all but erased the strides previously made. Herein lies the second issue with this turn of events. Not only was the decision made to kill Lexa off (yes, I know the actress is now contracted with a different show), but it was executed so distastefully that I can’t help but be left with bitterness. The knowledge that Alycia Debnam-Carey was going to be departing the series was not so abrupt that writers had to cram both the consummation of her relationship and her death into the same episode, nevertheless the same ten minutes. That’s exploitative lip service if I’ve ever seen it.
Last year The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Graeme Manson, co-creator of Orphan Black, about the character Delphine, who also fell victim to Dead Lesbian Syndrome. In the interview Graeme was asked about what led to the decision to kill off Delphine, and the response was that creators wanted to tell a story about true love but impossible love. That response, more than anything, perfectly explains the problem with this and every other instance of Dead Lesbian Syndrome. The continuous use of the trope and the constant disposal of lesbian characters have encouraged the view the this kind of love can’t last, that it’s impossible love, and this message is an infinitely discouraging one for members of the LGBTQ community to have to watch and experience over and over again.
From Diego Crespo
Where the show and showrunner Jason Rothberg have utterly failed is nailing the landing and finding a purpose to Lexa’s death. Her entire council of clan leaders had begun to oppose her. ALIE the artificial intelligence is making her way to POLIS to retrieve her second form (which turned out to be inside Lexa and every commander for almost 100 years – holy shit!). The material to make Lexa’s death matter was there. Instead we have Murphy awkwardly standing in the background, Titus betraying his commander then honoring his commander (as if his betrayal wasn’t entirely out of character already), and a revelation that shakes up the mythology of the entire show – because yes, I thought this episode was one of the best of the series up until this happened. It’s the first time the show has irrevocably and completely fucked something up.
For those of you who are deeply hurt by this, remember it’s only a TV show. I know, I just said representation matters – and it really does! – but the most important representation is that in the real world. To quote another member of The 100 fandom (and incidentally a writer PA) Here is a message of comfort from Layne Morgan: