Lexa’s Legacy: Viewers Decry The CW’s Penchant for Killing Lesbian Characters
The Vampire Diaries returned from midseason hiatus on April 1, and Friday's episode brought the deaths of two fairly-new secondary characters. The show's racked up a considerable body count over seven seasons — even if fan favorites do seem to find their way back to this mortal coil — and we can expect at least one more casualty as things ramp up to the season finale. But for some viewers, Nora and Mary Louise's self-sacrificing exit was just the most recent example of a CW series killing off LBGT characters and effectively treating them like an expendable plot device.
The engaged couple were the only gay characters currently featured on the series, as its previous sole lead gay character, Chris Brochu's Luke, was also killed off in Season 6. Friday's deaths were a perplexing story choice, not least because previously-evil lesbian vampire witch (just go with it) Nora had become a reasonably well developed character in recent episodes, even forging connections with beloved main characters. TVD's cast has, in my opinion, grown a bit bloated this season — but why did Nora and Mary Louise, in particular, get cut?
The scene comes on the heels of an even more unpopular death on CW series The 100, as favorite Lexa was killed shortly after consummating her relationship with Clarke, her partner in 1000 online 'ships. This perceived connection fueled accusations that The CW was yet again falling into the "Bury Your Gays" trope, and objectors expressed their Vampire Diaries frustration on Twitter.
GLAAD's 2015 Network Responsibility Index gave The CW a "Good" rating, commending them for leading the networks in LGBT diversity while noting that they "hope to see a transgender character make an appearance very soon." But as both the report and the fan-organized site lgbtfansdeservebetter.com point out, increased LGBT visibility on The CW's scripted shows often seems to comes with an eventual death warrant:
Supernatural: Charlie, a recurring lesbian hacker whose friendship with Sam and Dean was one of the few positive female relationships in their entire life, is (needlessly) murdered in Season 10
The Vampire Diaries:Luke dies in a ritual in Season 6, Rose and Mary Louise commit suicide in Season 7
The 100: Lexa is murdered
Arrow: Sara "White Canary" Lance, a bisexual superhero formerly involved with recurring character Nyssa, is murdered (but resurrected for spin-off Legends of Tomorrow by fan demand)
Jane the Virgin: Lesbian drug lord is murdered in Season 2
The Originals: Gay werewolf Aiden is murdered (his boyfriend Josh is still on the show)
Following the surprise deaths on Friday, Vampire Diaries creator and showrunner Julie Plec said she and her writers were previously unaware of the "Bury Your Gays" cliche (whether episode writer Melinda Hsu Taylor unwittingly internalized the trope is a topic for mere speculation). But Plec says she hears the complaints loud and clear.
"I did want to mention that I recently became aware of a conversation taking place in the television fan community about a story trope the writers and I were unfamiliar with, but one that has clearly touched a nerve. Part of this particular trope involves the statistically high death count of lesbian characters in television," Plec wrote on Entertainment Weekly's blog on Friday.
After realizing that literally blowing up her gays onscreen may be received as the latest "Bury Your Gays" entry, she continues, "Unfortunately on The Vampire Diaries, death is the probable outcome for nearly every character who passes through our universe. However, we realize we may have unintentionally offended as we sent this couple to meet their tragic fate. The conversation around this issue encourages me and hopefully the entire television landscape to do better on a larger scale as we all set out to tell stories that honor and are inclusive of the LGBTQ community."
Whether this acknowledgement is lip service or a stride in the right direction remains to be seen in Vampire Diaries' confirmed eighth season. And while it's certainly true that everyone is fair game on fantasy shows like TVD and The 100, for every dead straight character there are so many more straight characters who are alive and (at least intermittently) prospering, with fully-realized personal agency and depth. The network simply can't say the same for its gay and lesbian characters — and it's time to rework that story.
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