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

Warner Bros Television Distribution

Warner Bros Television Distribution

“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.

20th Television

20th Television

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.

 

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

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

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The 100 is one of the best science fiction shows in recent memory. Ideas typically associated with the young adult drama are all present but the added presence of some outstanding direction, precise execution of complex themes, and pacing are unparalleled on television, bar none. There’s also the added bonus of anybody being able to die on the show at any given moment. By the end of season 2, it appeared the show had settled on which characters would begin to guide the narrative from behind their character shields (hint: Game of Thrones does this too – guess which five characters will absolutely survive until the final season). With the introduction of Lexa, the lesbian commander in charge of what is essentially the final bastion of human power on Earth, the show also found a hook alongside new thematic thesis. Lexa and Clarke, two young women who found strength in leadership (“We bear it so they don’t have to”) also found love in one another. For the show, this meant uniting two separate worlds of people under a single banner – maybe there is hope for the world? For fans and the LGBTQ community, the relationship became a hook. A romance between two women that didn’t end in tragedy? Looks like Carol would have some company in the progressive romance department. Like all stories the show had worked on, the writing and execution of the “will they/won’t they” was on solid ground even when the two characters were at odds.
So what the hell happened in “Thirteen?”
Events play out as such: Lexa’s most devoted follower Titus tries to frame Murphy for attempted murder on Clarke’s life. While Titus has never used a gun before, he seems efficient enough to chase Clarke with it. Clarke runs into Lexa who ends up accidentally taking the bullet for Clarke and dying a slow painful death near the place where the two succumbed to passion not 10 minutes prior.
What the fuck?
Here’s where I understand the decision to kill off Lexa. Alycia Debnam-Carey got a regular role on Fear the Walking Dead. The actress was going to leave the show with a recast, a “may we meet again” walkabout departure like Thelonius Jaha, or she was going to die. It makes sense to kill off Lexa. The world of The 100 cannot be tamed or trifled with. Good people die. Bad people die. Children die. No one is safe. That’s not the issue.
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

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.

It’s not as if Rothberg found out a few weeks ago Debnam-Carey’s contractual obligations for FTWD. He knew exactly how long they could use the actress, and it was his job as showrunner to figure out a way to make it work in short and long terms.
There’s a safe argument to “Wait and see how it plays out,” but this is a tragically common trope when it comes to fictional non-heterosexual characters. The other most popular instance was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Tara is randomly struck by a meninist bullet. That story is shocking and ugly, as was most of that season, but I believe that one, unnecessarily twisted as it was, ends up working in the long run. The season focus on the effects of entitlement, toxic masculinity, and some thematically meaty ideas heading into the finale with the arrival of the popular Dark Willow storyline. I don’t love it, and I don’t blame anyone for hating it. But it’s at least competently staged and appropriate emotionally for the context.
Try to understand. For straight people, we have enough romantic representation. It’s everywhere. We are responsible for Nicolas Sparks books and movies becoming successful. We have failed. Can you list how many LGBTQ relationships end well and are actually popular?
Rothberg heavily promoted the romance as being progressive but he ended up making the same mistakes all these shows did. There’s something to be said about a man promoting a safe haven of sorts only to reveal his story is just as insidious as the other problematic relationship endings listed above. I don’t know him, never met him, but I wonder what got into his head to play with his audience like this? It’s cruel.
If this death didn’t affect you, or if you even like they way it played out, more power to you. I forget subjectivity is a thing. But please understand and support the fans who feel rightfully betrayed by these events. Lexa mattered. Representation matters.
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

 

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:

“…Queer girls have happy endings. They get married, like my good friends. They fall in love, they go to prom, they take on the world together. They break up and they fight and they rip each other to pieces and hell, they have sex and they kiss and they screw up and they go on journeys. They live for decades and decades. They have kids and grandkids. I know that because I’ve seen it, every day. I know that they shouldn’t have to be but queer girls are strong and resilient and hopeful and amazing.”
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Television Distribution