The 100 and the Fine Art of Killing Characters (or not)

 

Lexa died one month ago, and the internets are still mourning and raging and demanding better representation. Because two episodes after our beloved, earnest, take-no-shit, definition of amazing female representation, Commander Heart Eyes was killed by a stray bullet, The 100 killed off over a dozen characters in 42 minutes, three of them with names. Most of them children. One of them an adorable boy whose hair we just want to ruffle. One of them the awful father-figure who tried to kill Clarke and shot Lexa instead. And one of them a man who did as much or more than anyone else to create peace, and who endured more suffering than maybe anyone else in the entire show.

The-100-Lexa-queer-860x442So now the internets are afire again, this time because the show has killed off Lincoln, a black character. Fans are abandoning The 100 in droves because of the way it treats marginalized communities, and I have my problems with some of the things that the show has done. But I want to push us to talk about what the show’s done right, and also to admit that in this show (because, where do you think this show takes place, Mayberry?) minority characters are going to die. A lot. Just like straight white guys die. And there’s actually an egalitarianism to the way SO many characters die. The question is, how could the show kill them off differently?

Let’s run through characters who have died/been killed—the ones that I can remember with brief help from Google, and take a quick look at their demographics: Jake Griffen (white man), Atom (white man), Wells (black man), Charlotte (white girl, child), Vera Kane (white woman), Diana Sydney (white woman), Commander Shumway (man of color), Tristan (white man), Anya (woman of color), Finn (white man), Gustus (white man), Major Bryn (white woman), Fox (white woman), Dr. Tsing (WOC), (Cage (white man), Dante (white man), Maya (WOC?), Maya’s dad (white man), the guy Bellamy kills when Maya wakes him up in Mt Weather (white man), Echo (white woman), Emerson (white man), Queen Nia (white woman), Munroe (white woman), Lexa (white woman, lesbian), Lincoln (black man), Titus (white man), Adan (white boy)

I’m sure I’m missing some characters, and it can be hard to see race so I might have misrepresented something here. But this is a very diverse cast of kills. No one in this world is safe, which isn’t remotely a secret.

So it’s not enough to be mad at the show for killing Lincoln because he’s a black character. That’s tokenism, really.

And there’s a reality here that I would love for you to consider with me, and let’s brainstorm different options–because if we’re going to demand change, let’s think about what that actually means practically, materially, realistically: the actors playing Lexa and Lincoln had other commitments and had to leave the show. So let’s say that that both characters had to die in the episodes they died in. Really, go with me on this, because say you’re in the writing room and this is your reality. In the world of television, there are unfortunate scheduling issues. And be honest—would viewers have been happy with these characters disappearing in some way, never to be seen again, but being “alive?” I wouldn’t have been. It would have been weird.

Okay, so. They’ve got to die this season, in these episodes. How? That’s the major question.

SO much as been said about how Lexa’s death was queerbaiting, and perpetuated the “Bury your Gays” trope, so I don’t want to rehash things you probably already know. Queerbaiting is awful, the show’s staff did some careless and insensitive things on social media by promoting a relationship they knew was going to end. I acknowledge, and am pissed about, all that. The timing of Lexa’s death was the worst possible timing—immediately after lesbian sex. The stray bullet was awful and a big mistake. Lexa deserved to die in some kind of blaze of glory fighting for what she believed in, for peace, for her novitiates, for something that MATTERED. I’m not letting the show off the hook for these big missteps.The-100-season-3-episode-7-Lexa

But for a hot moment take a second and appreciate what the show did right regarding Lexa’s death, because it wasn’t all the worst. It wasn’t Tara dropping dead before Willow could even say goodbye. Lexa died in Clarke’s arms. They got to say goodbye. Clarke got to perform the Traveler’s Blessing for her, and all of us got to actually grieve together. Tara’s death was SO much worse in terms of representaiton. She didn’t even seem to know she was dying, and then she was dead instantly and we never got to say goodbye. Certainly one of the reasons we’re SO affected by Lexa’s death—and I mean people are honestly grieving over the death of a character here—is that we felt so connected to Lexa in the moments when she was dying. Tara disappeared, and as we watched Willow descend into rage we kind of forgot about Tara, a character we were never allowed to get too close to anyway.

But Lexa felt alive—SO alive—always. We knew her, this character of few words who bared her soul with every look she gave Clarke. So, I have to ask: knowing that Lexa has to die this season, would you have zoomed away from her? Had her character fade into the background so that we didn’t feel so close to her and her death wouldn’t tear our hearts out? I’d rather know her. And, knowing she’s going to die, would you rather she and Clarke don’t have sex? What’s the proper waiting time between lesbian sex and death to avoid participating in the “kill the gays” trope? I’m not sure—I know it’s not three minutes later. Is it an episode later? Two? More? I have to ask: If Lexa and Clarke had had sex two episodes before she died, and she had died fighting. would fans—would YOU—be any less pissed? I’m honestly not sure of the answer, because it comes down to this sad, sad fact: the actress had to leave the show, and we fucking loved her character, which offered some of the BEST female representation we’ve seen on the small screen ever. Fucking reality.

the-100-season-3-lin

Let’s move on to Lincoln. God, poor Lincoln. He was an amazing character, and one who suffered too much. But engage in the thought experiment again: he’s gotta die because the actor’s leaving. Is there any way to make this okay? Here, I think the writers did a lot better. He died sacrificing himself for his people. There was some amount of honor to his death, even though it was also pointless because Pike sucks. But he got to look to Octavia and say goodbye. And she got to say some kind of goodbye. And now we get to watch her go on a murderous rampage and rip Pike’s intestines out and I for one hope it’s gorier than Titus’s death, which was gratuitous and not at all satisfying.

Ultimately, I’m amazed that people and major news outlets are still talking about Lexa’s death and the amazing movement that The 100’s former fans are starting. They’ve launched a very important conversation. I’m glad it’s happening. And I hope we can start to be more concrete about what that “better” looks like—especially in a post-apocalyptic world where people die every episode.

 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Katja says:

    Don´t be so hard on Titus. He was just doing what he thought was right for his people too. Some of Lexa´s decisions were driven only by her love for Clarke and not to install peace. Like let the sky people get away with murdering 300 innocent Grounders while the Ice Nation is breathing down your neck for example.
    In the last episode Titus was somehow broken too. I loved seeing him fall apart more and more minute after minute. At the end he did what was the best for all of them and his people as he committed suicide to fulfill his last mission.
    And that brings me to the answer to your previous questions. The mission. I think the best time for Lexa and Clarke to have sex for the first time would have been after the fight against Roan. Then they could have had some kind of relationship for nearly 3 episodes.
    We all knew Lexa would die. Because of the trope and because she was a “guest” and we knew she is a lead in The Fear of the Walking Dead. We´re lesbians, we just knew 😉
    My biggest problem is the way she died. It was useless. Jason Rothenberg said he wanted to shock the fans and he wanted to show that even a warrior can die just like that. Well, that he did. But that´s what makes me really sad and angry. She was a warrior who risked everything, her luck, her love and especially her live for her people. And of course she would have and should have died for Clarke in some way. Or for her people in a battle, or just by entering the room where Titus shoot at Clarke, realize what´s going on and actually catching the bullet for Clarke. It would have been devastating for me too. But I guess it would have been a little bit more like Lincoln´s dead with more purpose and honor as you said.

    For me it is so hard because I love the show, I love all the powerful and strong and three-dimensional women in this show and I loved seeing this relationship grow for over a year. I think it was one of the best developments of a f/f relationship I have ever seen on TV. Lexa´s death would have sucked anyway but the way they did it were 100 mistakes too much.
    And it was time for a revolution. Her death was the last straw it needed to test the LGBTIQ power. We are not willing to take this trope as given anymore.
    I will still watch The 100, of course. They still have a bisexual lead, a gay relationship and the 2 still living nightbloods (we know of) are women. Of course I do, I´m an addict. 
    Katja

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi. I’m Andi. And I’m obsessing over The 100. In fact, Blythe and I have obsessed together about The 100, blowing up PM on Facebook. At any rate, Blythe, I think you sent me the link to that WaPo piece recently talking about Lexa’s death. The piece also noted that TEN lesbian characters in TV shows have died since January. TEN. Given that LGBT characters don’t make up a big percentage of the characters on shows, that’s quite a hit.

    Lexa was one of them, and I think this character’s death hit me hard as a creative because I have really loved the storylines in The 100 to this point. Seasons 1 and 2 were brilliant, and when Lexa entered, it was like a damn mic drop. Her character was so layered, so nuanced, and I particularly loved this line from your blog here: “this character of few words who bared her soul with every look she gave Clarke.”

    REPRESENT, Lexa. REPRESENT the lesbian love!

    REPRESENT the power of a woman in a world that doesn’t seem to have an issue with that. LOVE THAT. LOVE that women are just people in this world, and they’re as assholey and shitty as others, but nobody says, “oh, it’s cuz she’s a woman/bi/lesbian/trans/not white.” She’s an individual, and THAT, I think, is one of the best things The 100 has done.

    And you’re right. Given the context of this world–this horrifically brutal, violent, dangerous world–death is almost an afterthought. It’s a tremendously grim show, but what really got me watching it was how fucking GOOD all the characters are and how their arcs have expressed to this point, which is about halfway through season 3. The writing has been so tight, so taut, and the actors have been brilliant, making me care about them, and their stories. Making me binge-watch the hell out of it, looking at how each one deals with every new crisis and every relationship. It’s that good.

    And yet.

    Lexa’s death was…hell, it was a Buffy rehash (and let’s not even go there again), and so not fitting for a character like Lexa, who was one of the most fearsome, powerful women on the show, and whose arc just really didn’t seem to match the fate she met. She’s taken out by a stray bullet from her advisor because he has an issue with Clarke? Really? Taken out about 64 seconds after she and Clarke were able to consummate. 64 seconds.

    Really?

    So let’s talk about that whole “they were leaving the show” thing. The infamous episode 3.07 was filmed months ago. Given how strong and tight the writing was in the first 2 seasons, why was it not that in the third? I would have mourned Lexa’s death regardless, but the way it happened didn’t make sense in terms of the overall plotlines of season 3. The writers had a while to come up with something that would have worked better in season 3, given actress Alycia Debnam-Carey’s filming schedule with “Fear the Walking Dead” (and Ricky Whittle’s schedule with the forthcoming “American Gods”). It’s not like they didn’t know what the schedules were, after all.

    You and I have gone back and forth with season 3, and I think you’re in agreement with me that it feels like it’s been going off the rails for a while now, and Lexa’s death was a product of that. And if she had to die in the middle of the season to maintain her schedule, I envision it in battle. After all, Ontari’s arc was on a collision course with Lexa’s, and what an amazing collision that could’ve been. There could have been a skirmish with Ice Nation in the wake of Lexa’s killing of Nia during that great combat scene with Roan. Ontari could’ve marched against him, the son of a queen she prefers over him, since her loyalties were sort of with Nia but, more importantly, she covets the Commander position, and she will obviously do anything to get it. I see Ontari marching on him, stirring shit with Arkadia to start a war with the twelve clans (eleven, minus Ice Nation), and Lexa doing what she does–battling to the end, trying to save her people only this time, her people include Clarke. I still think Clarke and Lexa could’ve consummated earlier, and then said goodbye on the battlefield, which would’ve been a far more fitting death for Lexa, who though she knew peace was important also knew that it would be a long time coming and that she might not live to see it. She was pretty pragmatic about death. All Grounders are.

    I hate the fact that we were going to lose Lexa anyway in some way. But I really think that the way it was written wasn’t indicative of the quality of writing this show has demonstrated in the past. And the writers and PR people at the show did engage in some really crappy queerbaiting/fanbaiting for months prior to the episode, knowing full well what happened in it. It was a creative misstep all around, and I think we’re in agreement with that. It seems they tried to do too much in too short a time as Debnam-Carey’s schedule tightened. We can FB over that later. 😀

    Regarding Lincoln’s death–damn. He was one of my favorite characters. And it did feel kind of shitty, a POC getting executed soon after Lexa’s death. I was still raw after Lexa’s death, and then Lincoln. I mean, you’re right. Let’s not tokenize the Lincoln character, and in a show like this, where death is everywhere, you don’t know whose number is up next.

    However, you can’t really separate this show from the context in which it is watched. Pop culture is an expression of currents in the societies from which it springs. And right now, HOW people are represented in terms of fiction is as big a deal as being represented at all, it seems to me. That, I think, is what’s driving part of this, is the fact that The 100, for all its diversity, still fell prey to tropes. Obviously (and getting all meta here), if we were all living in The 100 — if it were an actual place — there would be no tropes. There is only survival. But we are voyeurs to this world, and we’re filtering it through our own lived experiences and a historical pattern within literature and fiction. That’s part of why I had such a hard time with her death and with Lincoln’s death. Although Lincoln was executed by another man of color, so in that regard, the trope falters in some ways.

    Stepping back from the bury your gays trope with regard to Lexa — and speaking as someone who loves writing and who picks writing apart to see what makes it work or not — her death as it was written felt rushed, felt as if it was there to try to plug some plotholes and move the plot in ways that are proving difficult. We’ve had those conversations, you and I, about what’s not working with season 3, and I think we agree on several points.

    Ultimately, this is an amazing conversation that has started, and it’s fired imaginations and activism in incredible ways. I want to see where it takes us, and what kinds of writing/shows/characters/larger cultural shifts result.

    Thanks for this.

    Liked by 1 person

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