This week’s episode of The 100 subtly introduced the show’s first queer character, addressing a major concern fans have had with the series.
For the uninitiated, The 100 may just be a tiny dystopian teen show on The CW, but as anyone who’s watched it knows, the show is extraordinary. And this is largely because The 100 has — seemingly effortlessly — constructed a world in which all modern society-imposed restrictions have been washed away.
The world of The 100 is refreshingly non-confrontational about big issues in today’s society, most notably sexism and gender roles. The series depicts a post-apocalyptic future in which humanity seems, finally, to have laid age-old conflicts to rest, having simply moved on to bigger and more important issues.
But the interesting thing about The 100 isn’t simply that shows female characters and/or persons of color in central, story-driving roles; it’s that within the narrative, it’s a complete non-issue.
I have previously hailed the series for being able to put women in power (both physically and politically) without anyone ever needing to vocalize that they are powerful in spite of their gender.
Women are simply women; characters are simply characters: some are selfish, some are smart, some are cowards, some are self-sacrificing, some are cruel, some are strong… and appearance and gender are irrelevant factors.
However, as philanthropic as The 100 writers have been in this regard, fans have continuously scratched their heads at the seemingly complete absence of LGBTQ+ characters.
The show, while not famed for its romances, has featured numerous (we count at least six in the first season) different hook-ups, and all of them have been male/female.
In an imagined future where marginalization has seemingly been eradicated, it seemed bizarre that its writers should be so heteronormative when telling the show’s love stories.
But now, finally, The 100 has introduced its first gay character (that we know of). In season 2, episode 9, the strong and compassionate Grounder leader Lexa (played by Alycia Debnam Carey) made a subtle reference to a lost love:
As they stand over the embers of Finn’s funeral pyre, Lexa shares a very private story with Clarke, revealing that she, too, has lost someone she loved.
“I lost someone special to me, too. Her name was Costia. She was captured by the Ice Nation whose queen believed she knew my secrets. Because she was mine. They tortured her, killed her, cut off her head.”
The point of this exchange, brilliantly, is not to reveal Lexa’s sexuality, as evidenced by Clarke’s complete lack of reaction to her reveal. Lexa’s backstory was given to explain how the young Grounder leader learned to shut off her emotions, and the only thing Clarke takes away from this scene is Lexa’s final words: “Love is weakness.”
Love is weakness becomes a sentiment echoed by Clarke later in the episode when she lets go of Finn, and there is absolutely no difference presented between Lexa’s love and Clarke’s. Love is love, plain and simple.
But while Lexa’s sexuality appears to be completely insignificant to the characters on the show, it matters a great deal to The 100‘s fans, many of whom have felt hurtfully underrepresented until now.
In a media landscape where gay, lesbian and bisexual characters are still often defined mainly by their sexuality, having Lexa — one of the show’s strongest, most well-liked characters — casually reveal that she’s queer and then carry on with her day sends a strong and important message to young viewers.
Lexa’s sexuality is, to borrow a tired cliché, the least interesting thing about her. And The 100 writers deserve a lot of praise for taking her story in this direction.
However, there’s a big difference between having a supporting character (however brilliant) play the pronoun game, and actually featuring a same-sex pairing on the show.
I did a little digging into CW statistics, and found to my astonishment that there is not a single queer main character on any of the network’s currently running shows. That’s 0/89, just in case you were wondering.
Several supporting/recurring gay characters are featured on Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Jane the Virgin, Arrow and The Originals (and last year both The Carrie Diaries and Star-Crossed had gay/lesbian/bisexual main characters), but queer characters still remain shockingly under-represented on The CW.
Unless there is some kind of network policy we are unaware of, it’s high time for a CW show to introduce major LGBTQ+ characters — and more importantly, actually show same-sex relationships on-air.
But speaking about The 100 specifically, it has certainly made many fans happy to see a strong female character not only take on a position of leadership (ruling her people with an iron fist, ready to torture her right-hand man to death if he disobeys her), but to off-handedly reveal that she was once in a relationship with a woman.
Whether or not it’s intentional, The 100 writers are waging a quiet revolution against casual minority marginalization, and this is one of the things that make the show spectacular.
After normalizing gender and race, sexuality seems to be the final frontier for The 100, and we hope that Lexa’s under-stated admission wasn’t a one-off occurrence.
The next step, obviously, is the visual: The 100 has made it pretty clear that gender, race and sexuality are not issues worth bringing up in conversation, which is great. But then, following this Show-Don’t-Tell approach, how about actually featuring a same-sex pairing on the air? Give her a love interest, however fleeting.
The ball’s in your court, writers.