Why the recent deaths on CW shows matter

The CW is still in hot water. A month after the controversial death of a beloved character on its teen dystopic drama, three more characters across two shows were killed this week. All of them happen to identify with underrepresented populations.

Trigger warning: this post contains discussion of violence and suicide.

The rest of this post contains spoilers for the most recent episodes of The Vampire Diaries and The 100.

For the last month, fans of the CW’s The 100 have been protesting the death of fan favorite Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), badass and openly lesbian commander of the grounders. Their cry is that LGBT fans deserve better, calling out the harmful and well-documented Bury Your Gays and Dead Lesbian Syndrome tropes that plague scripted television.

To say that the CW has handled it badly would be a gross understatement. Rothenberg, after staying relatively silent for weeks, gave an interview to TV Insider to essentially say “sorry not sorry.” It was only after more pushback from fans that Rothenberg published an open letter that finally officially apologized… nearly one month after the episode, and days before a scheduled panel appearance at WonderCon, where he reportedly banned all questions about Lexa. The window for believed sincerity had definitely closed.

Given this clusterfuck, it is unbelievable that this past Thursday night even happened: The 100 violently executed a man of color and the only two LGBT characters (both queer women) on The Vampire Diaries died by suicide.

Let’s start with The 100. After all the bullshit that’s been going on for the last month, Rothenberg apparently thought it would be a good idea to execute Lincoln in one of the most gory deaths to ever happen on that show. Lincoln (Ricky Whittle) surrendered himself in order to spare his people. With his wrists and ankles chained, he was kicked to his knees, before Pike, representing the authoritarian state in this scenario, shot him in the head.

And they showed the blood and bullet holes.

I apologize for the graphic description, but the imagery was graphic, and that matters. The shot was in slow motion, with blood spatter, visible bullet holes, and a man of color bleeding on the ground. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and was quite literally screaming at my TV.

This was a particularly violent episode on what is undoubtedly a violent show. Lincoln’s death was not a surprise as Whittle has been cast on the television adaptation of American Gods. It was the manner in which he died that is so problematic, and that they showed it. His death conjured images of police brutality and the casual ways in which black men are chained and executed in this country. Fiction reflecting reality isn’t always a problem, but it is when the loaded imagery lacks commentary or political awareness.

The Vampire Diaries runs into the same problem with their suicides. I get that people die on TV shows, and that the suicides of Mary Louise (Teressa Liane) and Nora (Scarlett Byrne) were portrayed as a noble sacrifice. But jeez, did it have to be suicide? Who in the room thought it would be a good idea to kill off the only LGBT representation on that show via a manner of death that disproportionately affects the community of which those characters are a part — without any acknowledgment of the political stakes? A show that dealt sensitively with suicide within LGBT communities could do a great service, but that’s not what happened here. Instead, those in charge killed off their characters in politically loaded ways for no reason other than entertainment value.

And this is the sticking point of all of these deaths: the imagery matters. Though The 100 has been catching flack for Lexa’s death as of late, the treatment of people of color on that show is beyond abysmal. Indra (Adina Porter) is portrayed as angry and untrustworthy, Pike (Michael Beach) is the manifestation of pure evil, and Thelonious Jaha (Isaiah Washington) is quite literally a drug dealer. Monty (Christopher Larkin), who appears to be Asian, is obviously mechanically gifted. Oh I almost forgot, Wells Jaha (Eli Goree) was among the first to perish. Of course.

With all eyes on their channel right now, one would think there would have been some crafty editing and/or a reexamining of the content in their shows. Apparently that has not been the case, proving once again the need for diversity in writers’ rooms, show running positions, and television executives.

Perhaps the most angering part of this whole situation is that this is The CW, which aims to engage young audiences. This is the group who explores sexuality and bends gender like no other generation. This is the group building activist fandoms on tumblr. And even with that reality, we’re still here, lamenting the death of marginalized characters. What will it take to finally see a popular culture that simply does better?

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Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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