SPOILERS BELOW THE CUT!
Spoilers for: The Walking Dead, The 100, Arrow, Sleepy Hollow
You’ve been warned!
It’s been one rough month of television for female characters.
I first learned of the concept of “fridging” a character, usually female, when Arrow killed off Sara Lance at the beginning of season three. To be specific:
That I learned of it this recently probably gives away the fact that I’m not particularly qualified to speak on this topic; I am also not a television critic, although I occasionally pretend to be one on Twitter.
Still, I have some reflections on the last month of television and the dead women who’ve crossed my screen, and I thought I’d share them with you.
Final warning: You will be spoiled for major character deaths on recent shows if you continue.
I’m going to go in chronological order. (I’m sure there have been other significant deaths in this cycle of scripted drama, but I don’t actually watch everything.)
1. Lexa, The 100
I watched this show, as I watch several shows, with half an eye only–for the first season or so. In the second season, they introduced this intriguing female warrior-queen, Lexa. And then, mind-blowingly for the CW, they turned her into the love interest for the main (female) lead, who had formerly only hooked up with pretty-boy types. I was instantly hooked by the new actress, and by the chemistry the pair had. The power dynamic in the relationship was crazy. Lexa made the show a hundred times more interesting.
I’m a seasoned television viewer, but I missed the cues that they were telegraphing Lexa’s death for a long time. So did hordes of gay fans, especially after the showrunners lured them in with promises of a groundbreaking gay relationship. But some other, sharper-eyed gay fans, having been scarred before, were worried that Lexa would get the same treatment as Tara from Buffy. The show-runners assured the young gay fans she would not.
End result: Lexa got the same treatment as Tara from Buffy. Meaning she died an utterly pointless ‘accidental’ death by bullet. It was ridiculous. She deserved to go out at the head of an army. And those young fans (who had been baited extensively) were devastated.
Show runner Jason Rothenberg spent weeks launching ever-more embarrassing ‘apologies’, until he was finally put out of his misery, and out of the spotlight this week, by an even dumber show death. But we’ll get to that. I highly recommend Mo Ryan’s coverage of how the whole thing played out.
I quit watching the show.
2. Denise, The Walking Dead
It would be disingenuous of me to pretend I know this character’s last name, because I don’t. However, I have been a fan of actress Merritt Wever ever since she first appeared on my screen in Nurse Jackie many, many years ago. If you follow me on twitter, and my statistics indicate you probably don’t, you know I don’t take The Walking Dead very seriously. Definitely not as seriously as the rest of America. It’s not just that I’m a vampire girl rather than a zombie girl; it’s the way they play out the same plot over and over and over. I also lack the attention span for fifteen-minute battle sequences. But I watch it at about a 25% attention level, skipping through the big action set pieces and using Wikipedia to find out who died afterwards, and mostly checking out what Carol’s up to. And what stupid things Camp Dinner Bell will do this week.
All this said, I was stoked to see Merritt Wever join the cast of such a massively successful show, even though I knew everyone on that show, save a few characters, had a built-in expiration date. And I was pleased to see she’d lived into this recent half-season. I never skipped through her scenes. That meant that when she started having a moment of self-revelation on a recent episode, I immediately knew her clock had run out. And so it had. I know TWD is an ‘anyone can die’ show, but seeing another lesbian character killed off so quickly after Lexa–in yet another stupid, accidental death–was a bummer.
3. Laurel Lance, Arrow
This one caught me way off-guard; so off-guard I’m still not sure how I feel.
My history with Laurel Lance is fraught with casual dismissal. Because of my nerd-girl roots, I instantly loved Felicity and shipped her with Oliver long before the pairing was even a twinkling in the show’s eye. But that’s not why I disliked Laurel (I’m not that shallow); she just seemed to always go around grouching at everyone, and she was so mean when Sara came back. I realize that this is not profoundly deep analysis on my part, but the fact that I liked Sara, even though she was sleeping with Oliver, does demonstrate that my dislike of Laurel did not have ‘shipper’ roots. Mostly she was like an annoying fly buzzing around, and I was always relieved when someone shot her full of tranquilizer so she’d stop bitching for a while.
Then when the show killed off Sara and poised Laurel as a replacement ‘hero’, I was as cranky as many other fans were. Sara’s death–the death that schooled me on the concept of fridging–was stupid and infuriating, and seemed engineered only to prop up the original intended female lead. Laurel became a badass way too fast, constantly did dumb shit (zombie Sara, anyone?), and continued to be an annoying element pulling screen time from (in my view) the main characters.
By the time they decided to kill Laurel, I’d gotten used to her. Once she was done dragging Sara into and out of the zombie hot-tub, and Sara was on her way to the terrible, terrible show known as Legends of Tomorrow, I was basically okay with Laurel. She did her own thing, kicked some ass now and then, and was only occasionally in overwrought scenes with Daddy Lance. It was fine. She was more or less part of the team, and I was okay with it. Probably because I was distracted that the show was really going there with the baby-daddy Olicity plot, but whatever. I was okay with Laurel.
And then they killed her.
Now I feel guilty; guilty for being snarky about the character online, guilty for screaming “Shut up Laurel!” at my television, and guilty for being part of the culture that trashes female characters who aren’t cheerful and perky–characters who aren’t Felicity.
4. Abbie Mills, Sleepy Hollow
Jesus, I don’t even know where to start with this.
Long before The 100 had its own insane social media scandal, long before The Flash couldn’t quite figure out what do with its POC female lead, a little show called Sleepy Hollow was playing some disgusting, racist games and almost getting away with it.
Back in fall of 2013, FOX had a surprise hit on its hands with this dumb show that should never have worked–Ichabod Crane is transported to modern-day America and teams up with a tough-as-nails female cop. Who is also black. The leads’ chemistry was off the charts, and made me mostly not care that the plots made very little sense. Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie were everything. FOX had what’s known as ‘lightning in a bottle’ with these two.
Enter show-runner Mark Goffman. This guy will go down in the annals of TV-nerd history for squandering a ridiculous amount of show potential, ratings, chemistry, and fan goodwill. Not happy with his black female lead, he brought Ichabod’s dead wife, the extremely white Katia Winter, to the forefront, and pushed Abbie to the side. It was the classic love triangle, except Goffman tried not to even let it be a triangle–rumor has it he originally intended to have Nicole Beharie’s character be offscreen in ‘purgatory’ for most of season 2, and did his best to undermine her role when he couldn’t pull that off. Fans left in droves. (And some racist fans cheered, quite loudly.)
After fan outrage, Goffman was replaced. The new bosses promised changes, a return to the season 1 we’d all fallen in love with, and no more forced separation of the leads.
A few months later, they announced a slew of new white actresses, including Nikki Reed as a ‘sexy Betsy Ross’. They also fired Orlando Jones, who had been a little too truthy on Twitter. I rolled my eyes and mostly stopped paying attention to the show, but occasionally checked in to see if Abbie and Crane would ever get to declare their obvious love for each other.
They didn’t. This past Friday, the show killed off Abbie Mills, its black female lead, after a season of attempting to pair Ichabod up with other white actresses. I don’t even know how Abbie died, because I didn’t bother watching the episode, but I know the gist was that her sacrifice was needed so the white male lead could continue his quest.
Word is that Nicole Beharie wanted out of her contract, and at this point I don’t think most fans blame her. I certainly don’t.
So in summary, it’s been a pretty depressing cycle of television. It’s an extra sad time if you’re also a resident of North Carolina.
But hey, we have another uplifting season of Game of Thrones to look forward to.