Thoughts on The 100’s Character Death and The Reaction To It

Over the past year, I’ve not hid my love for The 100. I sung its praises and encouraged others to watch, it was one of the most featured shows in my Best of 2015 series, and I was excited enough to want to try my hand at weekly reviewing for the first time. As you may have noticing, that hasn’t worked out so well. There were some other, real life factors, that went into my decision to stop but even more than those, it was because I no longer knew what to say. Unlike the first two seasons, which had the characters moving the plot forward with logical development, this season has taken the opposite approach. Pacing issues and pivotal moments happening off-screen has led to a show that moves characters around to suit the plot, with much less thought to their overall development.  It has left me with much less desire to talk about the show as a whole but given the events of last Thursday’s episode, there are a few things I’d like to say.

The way Lexa’s death was handled was a disgrace. I can understand the need to work with Alycia Debnam-Carey’s schedule on Fear the Walking Dead. I can even almost understand the need to kill Lexa at all, though I can think of ways that could have eliminated the need and kept her character off-screen in a believable way, as it did give us a significant piece of information that should have a large impact on the show moving forward. However, what I won’t accept is the way they chose to kill her.

Lexa, the Commander of the entire Grounder nation and proven warrior, deserved more than a stray bullet. Had she died protecting Clarke from Titus or at the hand of one of her people who was unhappy with her rule, I could have accepted that. That would have allowed her to go out on her own terms or at the very least, in a way that recognized the cost of her leadership position. If the show is considered entirely on its own, it was a bad decision and just another one of many missteps this season.

I was spoiled for the ending of this episode. Being the fangirl that I am and knowing what a character death does to fans, I took a look at the Clexa tag on Tumblr to see how fans were doing. I expected sadness and anger at the specifics on how the death happened. I didn’t expect the personal heartbreak. I didn’t expect the resignation and the loss of hope that I found there.

I love TV. I’ve seen a lot of it and I’m continually striving to see more. I also know the importance of representation and it’s something I feel passionately about. I’ve written an entire post about the importance of media literacy. And I failed at it. I was thinking about The 100 in a vacuum and the loss of Lexa as just another character and I was wrong. I had the luxury of overlooking the history of killing lesbian women on television, often right after happy moments. It wasn’t ignorance, I’ve seen more than one show do it and have known of more. But they weren’t the first things that popped into my head. They didn’t have to be because I’m not a lesbian. I haven’t seen characters like myself die with alarming frequency.

In a post-show interview, showrunner Jason Rothenberg cited awareness of the Dead Lesbian Trope and said it didn’t factor into his decision. That may be true, he may have seen Lexa like any other character because in the world he has created she was. He has made a world where people are not judged by their race or sexuality. However, that’s not our world. Lexa’s presence, as a strong leader who also loves other women, inspired others and gave them hope. Media representation of LGBT individuals is still lacking, particularly in leading roles. While Alycia Debnam-Carey was only billed as a guest star, it is hard to argue that Lexa didn’t have a lead role in this season’s narrative to this point. Her presence and her relationship with Clarke was built up and praised at the end of season two and in the beginning of season three. If Jason was going to talk about a relationship, odds were likely it would be Clexa.

So it is understandable then, that those fans he once encouraged would now be left feeling betrayed. They wanted to believe that this show would be different, that they’d get to see a happy ending for a woman who loves as they do onscreen. Instead, Lexa was killed immediately after consummating her relationship with Clarke. Any joy that could be had over these two and their apparent happiness at being with the other was instantly taken away. If it were an isolated incident, maybe it would have been easier to take. If the events had been separated by one or more episodes, perhaps that would have been a better choice. But that’s not the scene that played out. 

Representation matters. Seeing ourselves onscreen or in the pages of a book matters. It makes us feel proud of who we are to see an aspect of ourselves recognized and honored through fiction. It opens our eyes to possibilities of what can be. When you feel alone and isolated because of who you are, finding yourself in a work of fiction helps alleviate those feelings of loneliness. It makes you feel like you belong, like your story is worth telling. That is such a powerful thing and so many young women found that representation in Lexa. She wasn’t just a beloved character, she was a symbol of hope for a happier future.

There can be no universal opinion of this episode and this creative choice. For some, it worked perfectly and Lexa needed to die in order to move the narrative forward. For others, it was sloppily handled and fell into a troublesome trope. For others still, it fell somewhere in between. Regardless of your own opinion, in this and in all other divisive situations (on television or otherwise) I ask that you listen. That you empathize with those who have been hurt. That you look outside of yourself and try to understand where others are coming from. You may never truly understand or agree with all reactions, but it costs you nothing to validate that others have a right to feel differently than you do. 

If you’d like to read more thoughts about The 100 in particular, critics Mo Ryan, Ryan McGee and Eric Goldman had many things to say about the response to this episode and I’d recommend taking a look through their Twitter replies from the weekend for thoughts from fans. For more thoughts on representation, I would recommend Jim C. Hines’ essay “Representation and the Seeds of Possibility” for general thoughts about the power of media representation or either of the Invisible anthologies for more personal thoughts. Finally for a more concrete way to be involved, a group of fans is raising money for The Trevor Project in Lexa’s honor.

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on The 100’s Character Death and The Reaction To It

  1. This is great, Heather! Well said and very similar to how I feel from everything I’ve heard about the episode and about S3 after I stopped watching. Thanks for the links to other articles, I’m definitely going to enjoy reading those.

  2. “Representation matters. Seeing ourselves onscreen or in the pages of a book matters. It makes us feel proud of who we are to see an aspect of ourselves recognized and honored through fiction. It opens our eyes to possibilities of what can be. When you feel alone and isolated because of who you are, finding yourself in a work of fiction helps alleviate those feelings of loneliness. It makes you feel like you belong, like your story is worth telling. That is such a powerful thing and so many young women found that representation in Lexa. She wasn’t just a beloved character, she was a symbol of hope for a happier future.”

    This made me cry. I don’t even watch this show, but what happened and the impact it had on a group of people who haven’t had many chances to see women like them be happy is devastating to me. Representation matters, and both positive and negative examples impact us in ways deeper than we ever could have thought possible.

    1. It’s all so sad. I wish more thought and care had gone into the decision-making and editing process for this episode. And I wish there had been a better reaction from Jason after he saw the effects of the episode :/

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