music friday: the 1930s
what i watched last week


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.