I don’t care if I spoil it for you. It deserves to be spoiled: Lexa dies in Episode 7 of CW TV’s series The 100. I don’t care if I spoil this for you because I can no longer support this series, and I will no longer be writing these recaps. Here’s why.
I started watching The 100 in 2014 just after Season 1 went up on Netflix. A sucker for sci-fi survival scenarios, this show hit all the marks for me. Sure, the first season got off to a rocky start, but the core concepts were all there: a failing space station, uncaring powers-that-be, the fairytale setup of kids abandoned in the woods, the introduction of conflicting forces, and some pretty good characters that kept getting better. I liked the show enough to start watching week-to-week in Season 2 and was impressed with the way they kept expanding this world they had created, including even a fairly fascinating fictional language and a surprising amount of detail and backstory. Former foes have to come together to fight a common enemy, and the survival scenario continues. The burden of leadership falls squarely on Clarke, our main character, who develops an increasing rapport with Lexa, the commander of the Grounders.
For some reason, maybe due to the superb, sparkling acting of both Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam-Carey and their remarkable onscreen chemistry, I became captivated by their relationship. And then The 100 did something utterly unprecedented on a network TV series. They set up their female lead and her possible love interest as queer, and they did so cleverly and organically via a sly coming-out moment by Lexa, several subtext-heavy scenes between them, and, finally, an actual, mutual kiss. So here we have two young women, two born visionary leaders, with the weight of the world shoved onto their shoulders at a young age, both with a history of pain and loss. And they find each other in this chaotic world of conflicting political aims and try to negotiate those in the context of a budding romance. We got a classically heartbreaking “duty vs. love” betrayal at the end of Season 2, but we knew there would be more to come of this relationship because it was left so open-ended, and even the so-called betrayal scene spoke of the connection between them.
In the months to follow, I must have seen a tweet or two, maybe an article posted somewhere about fan response to the Clarke / Lexa pairing and the fact that this show represented what appeared to be a new era of queer representation on mainstream, non-cable network television, a new world in which mainstream audiences would cheer on a bisexual lead in a same-sex romantic relationship. At that point, I did what any fan (or scholar) does – found out everything I could about the series and its impact on the wider culture. I re-watched the second season, and the subtext and lead-up to the fateful kiss scene were undeniable. When the Supreme Court marriage decision came down in June, fans produced pride-themed art and gifs of Clarke and Lexa saying “love wins.” It was a heady couple of months.
In the fall, I was going through my tenure review at work, teaching a full load, and preparing for two conferences. My life had to revolve almost exclusively around my work. My personal life suffered, and I didn’t go out much because I just didn’t have the energy. When I got home at night, I wanted to be quiet and read. It was then that I remembered the phenomenon of fan fiction. I knew of it because I am a longtime Star Trek fan, and that was – as far as I know – the fandom that created contemporary fan fiction as we know it. I had read Constance Penley’s work on the topic in a Media Studies course in grad school as well, so I was familiar. I had even read some myself along the way, usually Buffy or Firefly or Star Wars themed.
So this past fall, I didn’t have much energy to read something challenging when I came home. I decided to see if there was any fan fiction of The 100. And there sure was, and a whole bunch of it was dedicated to exploring different facets of the Clarke / Lexa relationship. I should’ve known of course. I mean, there’s fan fiction of everything, right? And as in any other fandom I had seen, there are both very good and very bad writers out there, and yes some of it is smutty, but most of it is about characterization, about capturing essential qualities of beloved characters, and this was true of “Clexa” fan fiction as well. There are several longer works out there that are downright poetic and are every bit as creative as the show itself. I used this to tide me over until Season 3.
Meanwhile I joined a Facebook group or two and explored social media revolving around The 100 fandom and discovered a world of hilarious, creative people. Even though I studied Film and Media, I’m not going to lie and pretend this was “research,” although the phenomenon of fandom is one that has always fascinated me intellectually. I found a cast and crew that was exceptionally interactive with fans. They all kept dropping tantalizing hints about the Clexa relationship and how it would evolve, the fact that Alycia Debnam-Carey would return as Lexa, despite being cast on Fear the Walking Dead. The articles about the show’s progressive representation of LGBT people kept rolling in.
Now, if you are queer, and a fan of any mainstream media property, there are a few facts that practically run through your DNA: 1) You will almost never see yourself represented in your fandom, 2) If you do, it will be subtext only, and 3) On the off chance that a character is canonically gay, he or she will likely be a) evil, b) crazy, or c) killed off right after achieving happy coupledom. The latter seems to happen most often to queer female characters. So much so that it has a name “The Dead Lesbian Trope.” Essentially, the message is, gay sex is punishable by death, and queer couples can never be happy.
Sadly, all of us queer viewers are so happy to get any kind of representation, we will watch anything with queer (or even potentially queer) characters in it, even though we know we’re going to see ourselves brutally killed onscreen sooner or later, and odds of our character ever being happy are slim to none. But we watch anyway, hoping that this time it will be different. This has a name too: queerbaiting, aka luring a queer viewership to your show to make it seem progressive, and hinting at a pairing that either never happens, or one of the characters is killed.
However, The 100 was different. They had given us a queer lead character in Clarke Griffin and did not appear to shy away from the notoriety it got the show. Tiny snippets of footage from Season 3 appeared to confirm that because we saw Clarke in bed with someone female, though apparently not Lexa as far as we could tell. Jason Rothenberg, the show runner, told us to trust him. He knew about the Dead Lesbian Trope and would not screw us over this time. Everything we learned about Season 3 gave us hope. Excitement in the fandom grew to a fever pitch, the more scenes that were released.
And the first episode was no disappointment. Clarke had a brief tryst with Niylah while she was out wandering the woods trying to come to terms with what she had to do to defeat Mt. Weather at the end of Season 2. Contrary to what some folks first believed would be the reaction, we cheered her on even though it wasn’t Lexa. Here it was, our lead on a mainstream series, fully, 100% confirmed to be decidedly, unquestionably queer. This is it, we thought. Our day has come. Our day has come when we get the lead relationship treatment reserved for a hetero pairing 99.99% of the time. This is when everything changes.
And indeed, nothing indicated otherwise in the following episodes. Clarke and Lexa have an explosive reunion, but we begin to see them work their way back towards each other, both personally and politically. And then came the Fealty Scene. Nothing had ever prepared us for the pure romance that was that scene. Indeed, I think I even joked on this blog that, “I have seen the entire L-Word series, and I have never seen anything that gay happen on television.” The writers GOT IT. There was something pure in that scene, something that spoke of a complete understanding of what it’s like to be in a female same-sex couple. I personally identified with the level of devotion acted so perfectly by ADC as Lexa.
We rested easy after that. But we really shouldn’t have.
The following episodes built up our trust in Clarke and Lexa as a solid pairing. We just knew they were going to kiss again, if not in Episode 6 then probably in Episode 7. I actually felt what it feels like to be normal, to see my love reflected on a screen, to be a true equal, at least on this one show, with this one pairing. And it felt euphoric. I think if you are not queer or any other minority, you cannot know what representation feels like. Because you are used to what it feels like so it feels like nothing to you. To us it is everything. The fandom was going wild with an explosion of creativity in the form of hilarious memes, inside jokes, and speculation about the wonderful future in store for Lexa and Clarke. And ourselves as equal participants in popular culture. For once. Finally.
Sure, we knew that ADC had her other series and was only available for a certain number of episodes this season. Sure we understood that Lexa’s job as Commander – especially this season – was dangerous. We knew she could possibly be killed, and we knew that ADC’s fate for any potential future seasons was questionable. But we also had constant reassurance from the writers and showrunner that we could trust them not to screw up these characters, that they were aware of the Trope and would avoid it even if ADC had to leave the show. Maybe she would go into exile. Maybe something else would separate them, but it was clear that they would be the main couple at least for this season.
How wrong we were to trust them. We were queerbaited in the most elaborate way imaginable. They made our pairing canon. They assured us not to worry, that they wouldn’t take it in that worn-out direction, that they were progressive and cool. Every tweet, every post, every utterance in every interview was a flatout lie or, at best, misdirection. The “leaked” sex scene snippet seemed to confirm our every hope, that these two would be a couple, at least for a while.
They hyped Episode 7 like none before, and we all sat in anticipation because through the sort of fandom investigating and theorizing that every good show generates, it was deduced that the sex scene would happen in this episode, and we were so excited.
And then the love scene happened. And it was as beautiful, as tender, as perfect as anything we could have dreamed. And it was tasteful too, not in any way exploitative of the fact that they are both women, a scene not crafted exclusively for the male gaze. Living rooms across the nation, and indeed the world – because this fandom has spread to every corner of the globe, including countries where it is literally illegal to be LGBT – were cheering. It had finally happened. A new era was here.
For approximately five minutes.
When we came back from commercial, we immediately saw Lexa get shot by a stray bullet fired by an untrained hand – by her father figure Titus, no less, who had meant to shoot Clarke because he disapproved of their relationship. Lexa took the stray bullet, had no agency in her death – she wasn’t even jumping in front of it for Clarke, which would’ve made it slightly better, though not much. But Clarke has medical training, right? She’ll save Lexa. Everything will be okay.
But it wasn’t. In the most heartbreaking scene I have ever witnessed in any media at any point in my life, Lexa died. Yes she died knowing Clarke loved her, but when Clarke recited the Traveler’s Blessing, I knew it was over. I don’t know what else happened in the episode, because all that rung in my ears was:
In peace may you leave this shore.
In love may you find the next.
Safe passage on your travels,
until our final journey to the ground.
May we meet again.
And I, along with our entire fandom, was tipped into desolation. This was not just a character dying. This was not just the end of a beautifully developed same-sex relationship unlike any other we had seen onscreen. It was the death of our hope. It was the death of our hope for ever feeling like we matter, like we are equal participants in this world. Despite whatever “progress” happens, people still hate us. Despite things like the marriage decision – which, frankly, will probably get reversed sometime – this was the assurance of what we have always suspected, always known in fact: We live in a culture that hates us and believes we deserve to die because of who we love. And make no mistake, Lexa was shot precisely because she loved Clarke, whatever context you might try to place around it.
And Lexa – the young Commander of the 12 Clans, an honorable warrior, smart, fearless, and so deeply, heartachingly human – was killed in the most meaningless, trite manner possible. A stray bullet, in an almost note-for-note rip-off of the heartbreaking death of Tara Maclay on Buffy in 2002, which also happened right after she and her girlfriend Willow reconciled and were shown in bed, in post-coital bliss, the only time this occurred between them in the series.
Say what you want about the shooting schedule, or contractual obligations, or “it’s just a case of sloppy writing,” or the fact that Lexa would eventually have to be written off the show regardless. Say what you want about her being “just a character.” Say what you want about it being “just a show.”
But if you say or think that, it’s because you’ve never walked a mile in my shoes.
You’ve never been bullied or called names like “dyke” or “lezzie.” You’ve never been stared at. You’ve never gone into a shop wondering if you’d be waited on when they see who you’re with. You’ve never walked down the street and wondered if it’s safe to hold your girlfriend’s hand. No parent has said you’ll never achieve anything in life because you’re gay. You’ve never had the love of your life dishonored by being referred to as a “roommate” or “very good friend.” You haven’t been cut off from most of your relatives because you’re considered a shame to the family. You’ve never wondered if you lost your job because you’re gay and not for the stated reasons. You’ve never had a parent angrily read Bible verses to you after you came out to them. You’ve never seen your own father condemn “those homosexuals” to hell from the pulpit. You’ve never had someone condescendingly say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were that way” when they find out. You’ve never had to question whether or not to mention your spouse in casual conversation. You’ve never worried that if your loved one got hurt in a car accident, the hospital might not let you in to see her.
I’d venture to guess you’ve never considered suicide because you live in a world that hates you, or you’ve never been barred from coming home to your family at Christmas. Your parents probably didn’t boycott your wedding. And I bet you don’t know what it’s like to be so afraid to be who you are that you spent every day of your adolescence feeling doomed to a life of utter loneliness and despair. As a kid I never pictured my dream wedding or a family. I imagined myself as a grownup living alone in a cabin in the woods.
Maybe you’ve never even given these things a second thought. But everything I mention here has happened to me, and more. And I’m lucky because I came out as an early 20something, already away from home and self-supporting. There are kids kicked out of their homes every day. There are kids sent to brutal, futile “conversion therapy” programs. There are kids who engage in self-harm just to feel in control of one thing in their lives. You’ve seen it on the news. Kids commit suicide due to bullying and rejection by their families and friends.
There are reports, some still in the process of being confirmed, of young people having been hospitalized, having engaged in self-harm, and there has been at least one reported suicide triggered by this episode of The 100. I’m an adult, and I have diagnosed depression, and I have an arsenal of tools to manage it, but this stab at the heart of our community, this blatant manipulation of us for TV ratings, and the depiction of our love – once again, for the thousandth time – portrayed as punishable by death? It triggered what I hope will turn out to be a relatively short relapse, the first one I’ve had in several years. Since Thursday’s episode I’ve been bombarded relentlessly by unbidden memories of every hurt that has ever stung me for being gay, every death or loss I’ve ever felt in my life. I have been plagued by feelings of hopelessness, and yes even suicidal thoughts. I know them for what they are and it’s unlikely I’d ever act on them of course, but imagine a young, depressed, rejected, hurt queer person witnessing this broadcast as part of a family that rejects them for who they are. How could they not feel hopeless about living in this world? What other response could you possibly expect?
When your actors and crew have to start tweeting links to suicide hotlines, YOU FUCKED UP.
Shame on Jason Rothenberg and everyone else who made the decisions that led to this story and this episode. Shame on all of them for willfully manipulating a vulnerable audience into believing this time it’s different. It’s not.
I can no longer support a show that treats me, my love, my life, and my community like cheap, unworthy bullet fodder. I won’t stand for it.
So no, it was not just a show. It represented far more than that. It represented a better world, a world where we are treated equally – not in a fictional future, but today. A world where we love who we love and don’t get condemned or punished for it. But that dream got snatched away from us. Again. And I don’t know if I’ll live to see that world.
But that day is not today.
May we meet again in better times.