she saved the world. a lot

This starts out being about sports, but it wanders, so here’s a spoiler warning for Penny Dreadful.

The Warriors lost their title to the Cavs. I didn’t like it while it was happening ... as I said at one point on Facebook, I didn’t want a good game, I wanted a Warrior victory, the bigger the better. And so it was a good game, even a great game, and LeBron James is the best player of his era, and his team accomplished something great. I am happy for the fans in Cleveland who have waited so long. Actually, I’m not happy, but one day I will be. It helps that 1) we got to celebrate just last year, and 2) the entire season up until these last games was such a joy.

Another thing that helps is being a fan of more than one sport. So while the Warriors lost, the Giants have won 8 in a row, and 27 of their last 35 (a record for the San Francisco team). They are for the moment comfortably in first place.

And the U.S. men’s national soccer team has made it to the semi-finals of the Copa América Centenario, where Argentina awaits them on Tuesday. That gives us 40+ hours to imagine what it might be like for the USA to beat Messi and company.

So it’s not bad being a Bay Area sports fan right now, even if the Warriors game hurts.

The NBA season is over, but it will return. And tonight, after the sadness of the basketball game, there was the Season Three finale of Penny Dreadful. Showtime claimed it was two hours long, but it was just two episodes shown back to back. While the first episode, and half of the second, featured interesting stories about the show’s many characters, along with the usual excellent acting, Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives was noticeable by her absence. And since we knew everything was headed for a showdown with Vanessa, Dracula, and our intrepid heroes, it felt like a bit of stalling ... come on, I kept thinking, get down to it. When Green finally showed up, we were reminded why Penny Dreadful has, above all, always been her series. There were all the great fictional characters thrown together: Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, and the Bride ... Dorian Gray ... Dr. Jekyll ... The Wolfman ... Dracula and Dr. Seward and Mina Harker and Van Helsing and Renfield ... I half expected Abbott and Costello to show up. But in all of this, Eva Green rose above the rest. She was the best thing about a very good show.

And yes, here come the spoilers, and yes, I was speaking in the past tense in that last sentence. For Vanessa Ives died to save the world from evil, rather like Buffy in “The Gift”. Buffy was resurrected, of course, and hey, Penny Dreadful features Dr. Frankenstein, so I suppose Vanessa could come back. But it was her death that finally ended Dracula’s reign of darkness, and it was explicitly Christian ... her last words were that she could see “our Lord”, whose battle she had fought her entire life.

Much has been made of late about how frequently television series use “surprise” deaths of important characters these days, but even in that context, Vanessa’s death snuck up on us, even as it seemed inevitable. More surprising were the words that appeared on the screen at the end of the episode, after we’d spent a few minutes trying to imagine Penny Dreadful without Eva Green. “The End”. Surprise, surprise. Showtime managed to keep that under wraps. I hadn’t even noticed that Penny Dreadful had yet to be extended for a fourth season. I just assumed it would happen, given that Showtime has a well-deserved reputation for letting their best shows run long past their sell-by date. But it turns out that Penny Dreadful is expensive, and it doesn’t get many viewers in the right demographics. I love Eva Green, but she’s 35 years old, and the other main characters included the likes of Timothy Dalton (in his 70s), and Patti LuPone and Wes Studi (both in their late-60s). It felt like Josh Hartnett was there to appeal to the younger crowd, but heck, he’s older than Eva Green. Add the fact that most of the characters came from turn-of-the-last-century literature, and I suppose it would be asking too much for young people to take a shine to it.

I mean, I went to Twitter to find fellow fans to mourn with, and everyone was talking about Game of Thrones. Truth is, I barely know anyone who watched Penny Dreadful.

So it’s gone, an A- series that flirted with an A. And the Warriors are gone, at least until next season, an A+ team that slipped to a B+ at just the wrong time. But there are still the Giants, and the U.S. national team. And Game of Thrones, and Outlander. And hey, Orange Is the New Black is back! Mourn for a day, but then see what joys await us.

Saved image from Tweetium (8)

the 100, season three finale

I posted this brief note on Facebook, but I should probably put it here, as well, for posterity's sake:

Tonight's season finale proved that the creators of The 100 know quite well how to properly send off a beloved character. If the send off we got tonight had occurred in, say, Episode 307, I'm guessing the uproar would have been reduced, or even absent. That those creators felt perfectly happy saving this send off for the finale, while participating in a trope that lost them a significant part of their viewership, is remarkably clueless at best.

I love The 100, and I loved most of the season finale. I really loved that send off. But it pisses me off the way it was mishandled. It's like a combination of when Tara died on Buffy, and when Friday Night Lights was derailed by that stupid murder subplot in Season Two. For many people, Episode 307 made The 100 beyond redemption. I'm still here, just as I stuck with Buffy until the end. But part of me wishes I'd just skipped all the episodes between 307 and the two-part finale.

I can't speak for the LGBT fans. I think it's obvious The 100 screwed up in falling into the Dead Lesbian Trope, and those fans are right to contest this.

But I don't want to exaggerate. I never wanted to quit watching. And I don't think artists should have to adjust their work to fit the desires of an audience. I also thank Jason Rothenberg for creating the character of Lexa in the first place. (I don't believe she was in the books.) Rothenberg finally seems to understand why the method of Lexa's death outraged so many. It's not about giving in to your audience, it's about understanding the place of your work in a broader social context. The 100 does not exist in a vacuum.

It's also true that I, too, am trying to tell Rothenberg how to write his show. I wanted Lexa to go out the way she did on the finale, not as Tara Part Two. The frustration I expressed on Facebook relates to that: Rothenberg had always planned to give Lexa/Clexa one last moment, and there is simply no good reason why that moment was displaced by the random gun shot. I understand that every character on The 100 is one scene away from dying (well, I doubt they'll ever kill off Clarke). I understand that Alycia Debnam-Carey was leaving for Fear the Walking Dead. I don't object to the decision to kill off Lexa. It's the way it was done that's the problem, and while I'm beyond happy that Clexa got their final moment, and that Lexa went out a badass, I would have been just as "happy" if it happened in Episode 307. Better put, the emotional damage of Lexa's death would have been tied directly to her final moments as a warrior and a lover, instead of being Just Another Dead Lesbian. Her death would have carried more dramatic weight within the context of the show.

jane the virgin: meta




 (of a creative work) referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referential.

Jane the Virgin is as self-referential as any series currently on TV.

Let’s start with the character Rogelio De La Vega ... I could start any number of places, but that’s as good as any. Rogelio is a top star in telenovelas. He is played by Jaime Camil, who is a top star in telenovelas. Telenovelas differ from soap operas because they are limited series, whereas soap operas can theoretically run forever. Jane the Virgin could run forever, but the telenovela trope is still utilized by having Rogelio star in various telenovelas of limited length. When we first meet Rogelio, it is in his role as the titular character in The Passions of Santos. Later, we learn he is the father of Jane (the virgin). He takes a role on Pasión Intergalactica, a “sci-fi telenovela”, returns to Passions of Santos, and currently stars in Tiago a Través del Tiempo, a time-travel telenovela. Meanwhile, Rogelio is a character on Jane the Virgin, which itself is a form of telenovela.

Or how about the character played by Anthony Mendez? He is known only as “The Narrator”, which is an exact description of what he does. The show’s creator, Jennie Snyder Urman, has said that “The narrator does have a connection to the narrative; the narrator is specific, and he is a person”. We have never found out his specific connection to the narrative, but he is a fan favorite, and for good reason. Whether it’s the dialogue, Mendez’ delivery, or a combination of both, The Narrator is one of the most delightful characters on television. And, on a show that defines “meta”, he is more meta than them all. His preliminary spiels make every “previously on” segment on other shows seem pedestrian, and they regularly include comments about how this or that plot development is “like a telenovela”.

One of my favorite meta-moments came in a late episode in Season Two, which just finished. Jane is getting married, and she wants to have the wedding at her home, but the house gets flooded and is thus unusable. Her father has the crew from Tiago a Través del Tiempo build a mock-up for Jane’s house, so realistic looking that it could be the actual set the program uses. Later, we see the three Villanueva women sitting on the porch, as they so often do. They hear music, and when they follow the sound, they find Charo with her guitar, testing the acoustics for the yard. (Charo, we are told, is Rogelio’s third-best friend in all the world ... Rogelio is shown as pretty goofy most of the time, but in the world of Jane the Virgin, he really is a big telenovela star, and it makes sense that he’d be friends with Charo.) The women decide to go inside for some tea, which also seems very mundane. Until one of them points out that they are on a set, and there is no running water. The set and the house are interchangeable ... until they aren’t. (And, of course, “the house” is merely “a set” for the show Jane the Virgin.)

The meta moves are endless. Here’s one more, and I promise I’ll shut up about it: Jane’s professor tells her about The Bechdel Test, and the rest of the episode makes explicit connections between the test and the series in front of us. (The Narrator makes several references to this.)

There is more going on than just inside jokes. The telenovela structure allows for plot shenanigans that would be unacceptable otherwise. Something outrageous occurs (they play around with twins a lot, for instance), we start to roll our eyes, but then The Narrator says something like, “OMG! This is just like a telenovela!”, and somehow, everything is better. The integration of Latino culture, in particular the Spanish language, is fascinating. (Kathryn VanArendonk discusses this with sharp intelligence: “Jane’s bilingual dialogue has become a familiar, overlooked element of the series. It’s so commonplace to the show’s identity and tone that it’s easy to forget how fundamental bilingualism is to the [sic] its culture, relationships, and underlying DNA.”) There is great acting all over the place, starting with Gina Rodriguez as Jane, along with Camil and Mendez. Urman embraces the telenovela genre, but she is not limited by it ... the show’s core comes from the realistic portrait of family relationships. Even the guest cameos are fun ... Charo, of course (she loses her job as entertainer at the wedding to Rogelio’s other third-best friend, Bruno Mars, but she still turns up at the wedding ... as a bridesmaid!), but even someone like Britney Spears:

I think there are reasons why Jane the Virgin doesn’t get as much acclaim as it deserves. It’s not the usual anti-hero blood fest we see so often on HBO. (It’s on the CW, which used to mean “blah” to me, until I started watching The 100.) It’s got women at its center, even if it doesn’t always pass The Bechdel Test. Still, critics in general love it, none more than Maureen Ryan, who calls it the best show on TV. (Don’t follow that link unless you are caught up ... she discusses the season finale in some detail.)


Here are some other times I wrote about Jane the Virgin:

Season One Break

Season One Finale

game of thrones and penny dreadful

Game of Thrones is the centerpiece of the current HBO lineup. HBO has long established itself as the place for “quality” television. Game of Thrones may be a genre series based on fantasy novels, but its presence on HBO lifts it above genre. (This is not a value judgment or a dismissal of genre fiction, just a way of noting that HBO makes a series more than genre ... “it’s not TV, it’s HBO”.) HBO’s stature has declined since the days of The Sopranos ... there is a lot of competition nowadays. But there is no question that Game of Thrones is treated with respect in part because of the network on which it airs. It has won 26 Emmys and counting. Even if you don’t like it, you can’t escape it.

There has been some recognition of newer outlets like the streamers Netflix and Amazon, and their shows also achieve a level of acclaim. It seems a bit harder for already-existing premium cable networks to get the same kind of attention. Starz can’t escape its original reputation as a dumping ground for Encore movies, even though Spartacus was rather like a cheesy version of HBO’s Rome, and the current series Outlander is quite good (and, like GoT, is based on a popular series of genre novels, in this case, historical romance).

The true step-brother of HBO, though, is Showtime, which has been around for a long time, and which has offered many fine series, but which lacks a certain HBO-level of respect. Some of Showtime’s original series seek a different, broader audience, like Queer as Folk and The L Word and Soul Food, and others are attempts at “quality television” that are scaled down from the beginning, like Weeds or United States of Tara. Showtime does have “prestige” shows ... Dexter, like many of their series, ran for several seasons past its sell-by date, but it got lots of attention. Shameless, which is as good as anything on HBO and features a performance by Emmy Rossum that will apparently go unrecognized by the Emmys until Rossum dies, hasn’t yet begun to stink, and it’s hard to imagine why it hasn’t made a bigger impact. (Maybe if it was on HBO?)

Besides Shameless, Showtime does have a few series that have captured some of the cultural attention, most notably Homeland, which in true Showtime fashion was great for one season and has faded ever since without getting cancelled.

But the best series currently on Showtime is Penny Dreadful, which recently began its third season. It’s hard to assign a specific genre to Penny Dreadful ... perhaps the title gives us a label. It is a project by playwright and screenwriter John Logan, who has won Tonys and been nominated for Oscars ... he also wrote the two most recent 007 movies. As far as I can tell, Penny Dreadful is his first television series.

A series like Game of Thrones thrives on its immense landscapes and countless characters. It always looks expensive. Penny Dreadful, on the other hand, just looks great, without preening over its budget.

Penny Dreadful is also original ... it is not based on novels. But its construct couldn’t exist without novels, for Logan got the idea to do a mash-up of characters (in the public domain) from 19th-century fiction and early horror films. So there are major parts for Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, and the monster’s mate ... Dorian Gray ... Dracula, Van Helsing, Renfield, and Mina Harker ... Lawrence “Wolfman” Talbot ... and now, Dr. Jekyll has turned up, as well. These famous characters surround Logan’s inventions, mainly Eva Green as Vanessa Ives and Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray. (Has there ever been a show that starred an ex-007 and an ex-Bond girl?)

You would be forgiven if you thought this would add up to a mess, glorious or not so glorious, and if you perhaps hoped Penny Dreadful was mostly camp, that would be understandable. Except for the most part, Logan is quite serious about all this stuff. The main method for demonstrating this is through the fearless performance of Eva Green, who at times appears to be channeling the great Barbara Steele. Green’s face reflects all of the craziness surrounding her, and the attempts by Vanessa to create meaning out of her chaotic existence is wonderfully portrayed by Green.

Yet for all of this, I don’t hear many people talking about Penny Dreadful, certainly not in comparison to Game of Thrones. Both series have complicated narratives with fine actors, both are full of sex and violence. But GoT, whose most prominent female characters are at best only nominally central, is taken more seriously than Penny Dreadful, where Vanessa Ives is more fascinating that Khaleesi and Cersei et al combined.

Penny Dreadful suffers, I think, from being the wrong genre. (Outlander is the real example, here ... I really should be writing about that show, but it airs on Saturdays, while Penny Dreadful airs right after Game of Thrones on Sundays, so I tend to think of those two series together.) We’re still in a time where a “guy show” gets more attention than something like historical or Gothic romance.

barbara steele

Barbara Steele

vanessa ives

Eva Green in Penny Dreadful

music friday: jeff pike's index

“Music Friday” is a misnomer here. Jeff Pike’s new book, Index: Essays, Fragments, and Liberal Arts Homework covers a lot more ground than just music. I didn’t do a statistical analysis, but I think music might have only been the third-most common topic, after movies and books. But it’s Friday, so I’m writing about it here.

I’ve been a longtime reader of Jeff’s blog, which can be addictive even when it riles me up (today he wrote about Dancer in the Dark, a movie I hate to be reminded of). The breadth of things he writes about is impressive ... the book’s subtitle is quite accurate (well, “liberal arts” is on target ... it never feels like homework). I thought the book would largely be an anthology of his blog posts, and there is some of that. But, to give one example, arguably my favorite piece in the entire book pre-dates the blog, so there is a lot of fresh-to-me material.

Index is also an accurate title, for the book is structured in A-to-Z fashion, from A.I. Artificial Intelligence to Neil Young’s Weld. I’m fudging things a bit here, because the truth is, the book literally goes from A to Z ... each letter gets its own short essay to introduce the “chapters”. Jeff had been writing these “letter” posts on his blog for awhile now, and I admit I was puzzled by them. But they make sense here, and in fact he does some of his best writing when digging deep into this or that letter.

As a longtime blogger myself, I couldn’t help comparing this book to something I might put together. What I noticed was how good the longer form pieces are (I tend to write long form only when it’s to be published elsewhere).

And I don’t know why I didn’t think of this in advance, but Index is an ideal bathroom book. The structure invites you to jump around, and the length of the essays are just about right for that environment. So Jeff, you’ll be glad to know you’re in there with Kael and Christgau and Marcus and David Thomson and, yes, Dellio.

Of course, I wanted to read about my favorite topics first. He is quite fair with Bruce Springsteen, writing about “Independence Day” and “Downbound Train”. I liked reading about The Replacements/Hüsker Dü from somewhere who was there (meaning Minneapolis ... I was “there” for Hüsker Dü in that I loved them and saw them several times in concert, but Jeff was “there-there”.) But perhaps my favorite essay had nothing to do with music, movies, books, television, or any other thing that might be called “liberal arts homework”. I’m referring to the long piece, “Strat-O-Matic Baseball, 1985-1993”, which as I noted above pre-dates the blog (although a related post, about the great Robert Coover novel The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., includes a brief mention of Strat). He captures perfectly the feel of being obsessed with that game ... rather, those kind of games ... I have played many over the years, going back to 1961, but I only had a short affair with Strat-O-Matic. I love reading about this ... for a long time, I found my attraction to the games something I should approach in a clandestine fashion, a feeling that was multiplied after reading Coover’s novel, which is frightening in its psychological accuracy. In the 1980s, the world discovered “fantasy” sports, and nowadays it is not unusual to participate in such games. (I played “rotisserie” baseball from 1987 until the present day, although it looks like 2016 will be the first year I don’t have any teams in almost 30 years.)

It’s easy for me to recommend Jeff’s blog. But I can now recommend Index with equal fervor.


On the most recent episode of the very good American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, the inflammatory audio tapes of Detective Mark Fuhrman are heard. Johnnie Cochran, played with devious excellence by Courtney B. Vance, says the tapes show “what black people have always known”. At one point, one of the white members of the “Dream Team” says he knows how Cochran feels, and Cochran explodes. There is simply no way a white person can truly understand what it means to be black in America.

Underground is a new series on WGN America. All I knew of WGN prior to this is that they were an early “superstation” that showed Major League Baseball games for the Chicago teams. Underground is one of their first original series, and without decent reviews, I doubt I would have found it. It tells a story of the Underground Railroad, with the primary setting being a Georgia plantation where some of the slaves are planning an escape. It’s a tricky show, trying to be true to the history of slavery in America while still giving the audience something they will want to see week after week. So there is a lot of melodrama. But the extensive cast (hello, Adina Porter!) does wonders with the material, and we care about the characters.

While the focus is on the escape plans (we’ve seen three episodes so far, with the fourth airing tonight), we also get a clear picture of why escape is necessary. The plantation owner and his friends are suitably inhuman, and the slaves live in constant fear that some perceived mistake will be severely punished.

There is always a chance that this will be presented in a way that encourages the audience to enjoy the misery ... giving lashes to the slaves is barbaric, but it is also a part of a show that in part has entertainment on its mind. So far, Underground avoids this. I once taught the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and one student actually wrote that the slaves in the book were happy. There are no happy slaves in Underground.

A few years ago, I posted excerpts from the will of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, who died in Virginia in 1757. If I remember correctly, I was finding my way through files ... my sister had an account. I knew my mom’s family came from Kentucky ... my grandmother was born there. I never really thought about the implications of those Kentucky roots. But then I found that will. Here, I’ll repost the excerpts:

To Thomas Cralle Lamkin, son of Mary Jones, widow and relict of Charles Jones, late of Northumberland County five negoes vixt: Little Ben, Isaac, Peggs Bess, Blacka Top and Aggy. If he should die before he arrives to age or day of marriage, his mother Mary Jones to enjoy two of the said slaves that may be left at his death, she to have her choice during her natural life, then to revert to my children the remaining part

To son William Matthews Cralle nine negroes vizt: Chnce, Cate, and their daughter Bess, Frank, Alice, Stephen, Cate, Dominy, and Edmond.

Mulatto man Will, may be free at my decease.

To son Rodham Kenner Cralle three negroes vizt: Harry, George, and Nanny and my watch.

To daugher Mary Foushee my silver tankard, and negro wench Rose Anna

Rest of my estate both real and personal to be equally divided between five children Kenner, John, Rodham, William, and Mary, except Ben and Matthews whom I give to my son Kenner, son John to have Rachel, Old Ben to make choice of his master among my children.

I think it’s the matter-of-fact tone that is most disturbing. Mary Jones will “enjoy” her slaves. Old Ben isn’t given his freedom, but he gets “to make choice of his master”.

What was really most disturbing to me was that this was in my family’s past. I had certainly never owned up to any of this, beyond a general despair over slavery, and the role of whites in the “institution”. What this will showed me was that, beyond the general despair, I had, through my family, a specific responsibility. I can’t change the past, and I don’t take the blame for what my ancestors did centuries ago. But I also understand that it is too easy for white Americans to dismiss any thoughts of this evil stain on our history ... “oh, that was then, we didn’t do that”. Well, yes we did. Just ask my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

After last week’s episode of Underground, I said to my wife, “that’s my family”. I don’t know if my great-great-great-great-great grandfather had a plantation. I don’t know how he treated his slaves. But I know he had them, in numbers ... that will specifically lists 23 slaves. That’s 23 too many.

I find myself falling into a trap I have set for myself all of my life, making everything about Me. That shouldn’t be what’s happening here. My feelings about my family’s past are not equal to the suffering of the slaves my family owned. Underground can’t only be a “good show”. It also gives context, a context that includes the past of my own family.

buffy and school

Steven Rubio's Online Life


downton abbey, series finale

I binge-watched the first season of Downton Abbey just before Season Two started, giving in to the good reviews. I liked it OK. By the end of Season Two, my grade had fallen to the “B” range. By the end of Season Four, it was more clear that by “B range” I meant “B-“ at best. I made it through six season kinda like I did with The L Word: habit. But I wasn’t getting much out of it by the end, and if my wife didn’t watch it, I might have given up long ago.

Julian Fellowes gave us a very careful finale that allowed everyone on the show to leave with a happy ending, or, in the words of the Dowager Countess, “happy enough”. Everyone who had feuded made up. Everyone had their health, except Carson, who still has Mrs. Hughes, and even Carson’s illness meant a triumphant return for the reformed Barrow. Babies were born or were expected, people with lives in flux found direction, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was in all likelihood exactly the kind of ending the show’s fans wanted.

I never figured out why I was a fan, and my central concerns, even when I liked it, never went away. Fellowes humanized the rich upstairs and the working downstairs, and he gave equal time to servants and royalty alike. The gradual progression of time meant we got a lot of talk about how we had to accept the future, which for the rich meant taking better care of their crops and starting new automotive businesses. But progress for the downstairs servants was always limited. Barrow was the most ambitious of the servants when the series began, and he was the most outright unlikeable character on the show, as if wanting to improve himself was a bad thing. In the finale, Barrow got what he had always wanted: he became the butler. He didn’t become rich, he didn’t gain any power beyond the walls of the Abbey. But that was enough to fulfill his ambitions.

More problematic was Tom, whose social position leaped far beyond Barrow’s paltry desires. As the show began, Tom was the chauffeur, involved in socialist politics. He was quite the firebrand. Eventually, though, he marries Lady Sybil, and by the finale, he has long been established as one of the family, entrusted with Lady Mary to the managing of the estate, his socialism a thing of the past. His co-option makes the Crawleys seem liberal for their class, but they make no real concessions outside of accepting this one person. The class structure remains.

I could watch any random episode with at least some pleasure ... the dialogue was often entertaining, and much of the acting was excellent. But I had to turn off my brain, because if I thought about the show for more than five minutes, I always returned to the way Fellowes took the side of the upper class.

So yes, the finale was nice and tidy, and in the future, I’ll remember the better things about the show, and hopefully forget about the endless legal problems of Bates, or the pointless cattiness of Mary against her sister Edith, or any of the other plotlines that served only as digressions designed to get us through another season. Downton Abbey is not the worst show that I stuck with for six seasons, but it is far from the best.


I don’t know if I have anything original to add here, but I’ve been thinking about it for about 24 hours now, and I’m having trouble thinking about anything else, so maybe writing about it will clear my mind. I am guaranteed to ramble.

Thursday night, after watching “Thirteen”, the latest episode of The 100, I went on Facebook and posted, “That moment when what happens in fiction is so affecting you can't feel the real world for awhile.” If a TV show can conjure up such intense emotions in its audience, it is accomplishing something. The 100 is not the best show on TV ... that might be The Americans. But for all its greatness, The Americans interests me for the quality of the writing, acting, and directing. I have an emotional attachment to the characters, but it’s a shallow attachment, based as much in suspense as anything else. And the moral quandaries that arise in The Americans are more likely to waken my brain than my heart.

Among other things, The 100 is a very smart show. But the characters inspire a kind of connection that I rarely feel for TV characters. It is akin to Buffy the Vampire Slayer or, to a lesser extent, Battlestar Galactica. I commit myself to those characters, I invest time into thinking about them, and I’m sad when things don’t go right for them. (The Walking Dead tries hard to place its characters at the center of the series, and for most people they succeed, but I’ve never felt that kind of attraction to those characters.)

The closest equivalent in my experience to what happened on The 100 last night was the episode “Seeing Red” from the sixth season of Buffy. Tara Maclay, played by Amber Benson, had joined the show in Season Four, when the gang graduated from high school and went to college. Tara was excruciatingly shy, but gradually, she made a connection with Willow, a regular from the beginning. Eventually they fell in love, and they became one of my favorite TV couples. In “Seeing Red”, Tara was killed by a stray bullet. Like many others, I was ripped apart by this event. My fandom came out in odd ways ... when Amber Benson began a real-life relationship with Adam Busch, who played the character who killed Tara, I found it incomprehensible. There was also the larger cultural context ... Willow and Tara were one of the few out lesbian couples on TV, and when Tara died, it was seen by many as an example of “Dead Lesbian Syndrome”, where no lesbians can ever be allowed to live a happy life. I felt awful when Tara died, but I did not have the experience of being marginalized the way lesbians and other minorities are, so I didn’t have that same connection.

The 100 version of Willow and Tara is Clarke and Lexa. The 100 is a darker show than Buffy was, and the “Clexa” relationship was always secondary to the events surrounding them. Mostly, their relationship was a bit of a tease ... actresses Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam-Carey had such electricity with each other that you knew eventually they would get further than the one brief kiss we’d seen earlier. The anticipation drove some fans crazy, but the potential was always there.

And finally, in “Thirteen”, Clarke and Lexa had sex.

And almost immediately after that, Lexa was killed. By a stray bullet.

There were reasons why Lexa was killed off, reasons related to the direction the story is going. But in all honesty, the main reason was that Debnam-Carey was also a regular on Fear the Walking Dead, which is far more popular than The 100 will ever be. Also, that show moved production from Vancouver to Mexico, making it impossible for Debnam-Carey to keep working both shows. Basically, she was always on loan to The 100.

Everyone knew this. We all figured Lexa would die, even if we didn’t know how or when. We hoped that Clexa would find each other before that happened. But to have Lexa die in a seemingly random manner brought out the feelings of Dead Lesbian Syndrome.

Many fans were so pissed off, they have said they will no longer watch the program. And it’s here that I want to move sideways, into what is really fascinating to me about this.

For The 100 has a very strong presence on Twitter. Fans make frequent use of the “#the100” hashtag as they discuss the show. There is fan art, lots of guessing about future episodes, and plenty of interaction with the artists behind the show. Showrunner Jason Rothenberg is always tweeting, and each new episode is accompanied by live tweeting (both East Coast and West Coast showings) with Rothenberg, the writers, and often actors. Adina Porter, who plays the warrior Indra, is almost like a mother to the fans, answering question after question with more patience than I could muster.

So you have the Twitter presence. You have fans with a strong connection to the show and to the characters. You have Lexa, a fan favorite, and Clexa, for many the most important relationship on the show. This all came to a head when Lexa died.

I’m sure this happens all the time, but I don’t usually watch the kind of shows that are so entwined in social media. So I was overwhelmed with the responses of the fans. Everyone was crushed. Some came online searching for solace. Adina Porter received many, many tweets asking her for advice, or just reaching out as a way to have some contact with the show they loved. And many were understandably upset at the renewal of the Dead Lesbian Syndrome.

As usual, Mo Ryan had a well-written commentary:

I will certainly never sit in judgment of anyone who feels that a development on a show fits into part of a larger pattern that is painful to not just them but a group they are part of. The Clarke-Lexa story line was one that engaged many gay, lesbian and bisexual viewers on a number of deep levels. For people to say last night or today, “Just get over it, they had to kill her off, the actress had another job” — please don’t rush to minimize others’ objections (as long as those objections are stated in ways that do not wish violence on other human beings, of course).

The point is, these angry and disappointed reactions are rooted in reality. The way a character leaves a show is important. If you choose not to see the larger context of how gay and lesbian characters are treated on TV — just be aware that your lack of awareness is a choice. Not all of us have the luxury of being able to ignore or wave away a larger context. This is one of those cases in which it’s helpful to listen to others extensively and not start in immediately with recommendations on how they should think and feel. That rarely helps in general, and it certainly won’t help viewers of this show now.

Lexa is gone. And as I said on Twitter, I’d feel better if I liked Fear the Walking Dead more.

I’ll give the last word to Alycia Debnam-Carey, who wrote the following:

Thank you to those who banded together to create an incredible and inspiring character. She could have never burst into fruition without such a flux of creativity, passion and collaboration that extends greater than a singular autonomy of my own. To the writers, directors, crew - hair, makeup, costumes, stunts, actors and Jason who helped me capture her essence. Thank you to all the fans for bringing her further to life, your passion is everything. It has been an honour to portray her. To envelop myself in her skin. To be given the freedom to represent a moment in our cultural and social zeitgeist - she has left a great imprint on me. I will miss her. May we meet again.

spoiling perfectly good shows

Supergirl is a perfectly good show. The cast is perfectly pleasant, a mixture of veterans and youngsters, most of whom you’ll remember from other shows ... Melissa Benoist, who plays the title character, was on Glee, Mehcad Brooks, who plays “James” Olson, was on so many shows you’re sure to say “hey, it’s that guy!” (for me, it was his role as “Eggs” on True Blood), then there’s David Harewood (Homeland) and Calista Flockhart, and Peter Facinelli (Nurse Jackie) and, in stunt casting, Helen Shaver (Supergirl in the movie of that name) and Dean Cain (Superman on Lois and Clark). It has a perfectly good overarching theme about family and belonging, and perfectly good action scenes whenever Supergirl is needed. Perhaps most importantly, I’m still watching after 13 episodes.

But Supergirl is spoiled by a couple of other shows that couldn’t be more different. Angie Tribeca is a hit-and-miss comedy that brings back the Police Squad/Naked Gun approach to television. Some of us have missed that kind of humor, and Angie Tribeca is OK ... the nice thing about a show like that is if one joke falls flat, another four jokes will follow immediately.

Is Angie Tribeca a “better” show than Supergirl? I don’t know. I prefer watching it, but it’s mostly a toss-up. But Angie Tribeca, like its spiritual father Police Squad, is so relentless is its destruction of clichés that it’s hard to watch an ordinary show after seeing an episode of Angie. Things that aren’t supposed to be funny on Supergirl remind you of something similar on Angie Tribeca that was supposed to be funny, and you end up laughing inappropriately.

Which is unfair to Supergirl, because that show isn’t trying to be funny, or to remind us of Angie Tribeca. But the latter makes it harder to sit through the former.

Coming from the other direction is The 100. This is a show that spoils you for other shows that are perfectly good, because The 100 sets a higher standard. A show like Supergirl offers interesting extensions of the usual, but with the emphasis on “usual”. The title character is marginally different from other superheroes, Jimmy Olson is a grown-up black guy named “James”, Calista Flockhart is a catty Perry White. Over time we get to care about the characters, at least the primary ones. The occasional death of one of those characters can hit us emotionally. But ultimately, Supergirl is comfort food, with just enough changes from what came before to keep our attention.

There is nothing comfortable about The 100. In almost every episode, one or more characters must make life-or-death decisions that can affect hundreds, and the writers make sure that we understand all aspects of what brings the character to the moment of decision. Maureen Ryan, who has written smart pieces on The 100 (and in fact is the one who convinced me to give the series a try), writes:

When a person on “The 100” is given an array of bad options, a viewer will understand why a character picked a certain path, even if the viewer doesn’t necessarily agree with that choice. Hand-waving away concerns about set-up and follow-through doesn’t work with this show, because half the appeal of “The 100” centers on our ability to empathize with people who often do terrible things. We need to know why they do those things, and we need to care even if they make choices that ends up working out very badly for them and for others.

Consequences ... that word pops up constantly when thinking about the actions of the characters on The 100. Thus far, at least, there are no happy endings ... we’re a few episodes into Season 3, and there has been maybe one brief scene in all that time that conveyed a sense of joy. (When one character, Indra, smiled on a recent episode, Twitter went wild ... who could have believed she had it in her?) The 100 takes place a hundred years in the future, on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where everyone must make daily choices the likes of which most of us could never imagine. Yet the characters on The 100 are recognizably human, with all the depth and complexity that suggests. There are no superheroes on The 100, just people doing their best.

After that, Supergirl comes up a bit short.