‘Killing Eve’ and the damaging trope that still haunts queer TV

On the surface, it was not a completely inappropriate conclusion for a bloody British spy thriller known for his fierce pleasures. But for viewers who are too familiar with the pain of watching a queer character encounter a tragic ending – a trope referred to as “Burying / Bury Your Gays” – it felt like a shot in the back.

Another queer character, dead and gone. Another queer romance that was extinguished the moment it began properly.

Not all gay deaths are an example of this trope. But given the recent advances in entertainment and inclusion in entertainment and growing existential threats to LGBTQ + people in real life, it feels particularly old-fashioned. It feels especially dangerous.

It feels like we deserve better.

“how” and “who”

Jodie Comer, who played the charming psychopath Villanelle, defended the ending of “Killing Eve” by calling it “inevitable.” Sandra Oh, who played Eve, said it was “true to the show.” (Although it is especially not true to the book series that inspired the series where the couple ends up together, alive).
While few expected a perfect ending, many saw Villanelle’s death as yet another miserable feature in the “Bury Your Gays” troupe, because like other TV and movie moments counted among the perpetrators, an LGBTQ + character was killed in dubious narrative fashion, and in a way that was uncomfortably centered around her sexuality.
Misha Collins as Castiel and Jensen Ackles as Dean in "Supernatural."

There is a difference between a typical death and a death that follows harmful “Bury Your Gays” stories. Although there are no strict rules, but the themes are easy to choose from.

In the most infamous examples, the fateful characters tend to be fan favorites. They tend to have a fan base, in part because of the relativity of their queerity or queer coding (an expression when a character is not overtly queer, but is presented in a way that sends signals to the queer seere). They tend to be part of a couple, a “ship”, in phantom terms (short for “relationship”) that people emotionally invest in and mess with. And just like in “Killing Eve,” it’s not uncommon for their death to happen shortly after a big, queer romantic revelation.

In 2016, viewers were so angry after a queer protagonist was killed by CW’s “The 100” – she was shot and killed moments after completing her love affair with another woman – the show’s creator and other TV writers publicly promised to create more adequate stories for LGBTQ + grades as a form of damage control.
In 2020, a long-simmering bromance boiled over last season of the massive CW hit “Supernatural,” when an angel named Castiel finally confessed his love for Dean, one of the heterosexual brothers at the center of the story, and then it became immediately. sucked into “Super Hell,” as some viewers eloquently put it.

The feelings of betrayal would be easy for creators to ignore with a simple, “You can not please everyone,” if not for the parable buried in the subtitle: Love – queer love – should be punished immediately with suffering.

“What’s detrimental about this is not necessarily the isolated incidents, but rather how many there are,” Raina Deerwater, head of entertainment research and analysis at GLAAD, told CNN. “Whether consciously or not, recent moments are reminiscent of a deeply homophobic story and pass on the idea that queerness is punishable.”

These deadly patterns were once the legal norm in the field of entertainment.

Disney has always had a complicated history with the LGTBQ + community.  It has hit a boiling point
In the 1930s, efforts by the Supreme Court, local governments, and conservative censorship groups led the film industry leaders to establish the Motion Picture Production Code or Hays Code. The Hays Code actually prohibited depictions of homosexuality, which was considered a form of sexual deviation.

There were some exceptions. The code dictated that “the sympathy of the spectators must never be thrown on the side of crime, injustice, evil or sin.” So characters could be gay, but only if they were portrayed negatively and given some form of punishment.

For two decades, bound by these rules, gay characters on screen were evil, swindling, and ultimately doomed. Even when the code was relaxed in the 1950s, queer characters were still largely tragic characters who often succumbed to suicide or mental illness. (The American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality to be a mental illness until 1973, and homosexual acts were not decriminalized at the federal level until 2003.)
Colored characters have historically been doomed to similar tragic fates; disproportionately bound into narratives that revolve around suffering or submission.

In fiction, then, being queer and otherwise marginalized is suffering on several fronts.

Queer characters are already rare in popular media. Queer characters who are also colored people or another underrepresented identity – fat, disabled, neurodivergent, trans – are few and far between.

When such a representation is a treasured rarity, it is unpleasant to see them suffer. It can be demoralizing to see them suffer unnecessarily, as a result of the very identity that connects them to people.

The solution, Deerwater argues, is not to collect queer characters in bubble wrap or limit their stories to rainbows and sunshine. Complex stories that end up somewhere on the vast spectrum between perfect happiness and tragedy are also part of reality.

“This is not to say that queer people cannot die or that there can be no nuanced queer tragedies,” she says. “But many queer people want less tragic stories. We want happy queer stories. We want the same complexity as our straight counterparts.”

To write the future

Jasmin Savoy Brown as Taissa, Keeya King as Akilah, Sophie Nélisse as Shauna, Courtney Eaton as Lottie, Liv Hewson as Van and and Alexa Barajas as Mari in "Yellowjackets."

A number of recent shows, many aimed at a young adult audience, show a fresher side of queer storytelling. The CW’s “Batwoman”, Showtime’s “Yellowjackets”, Netflix’s “She-Ra: Princesses of Power” and HBO Max’s “Our Flag Means Death” all portray queer romances in ways that feel satisfying and unconstructed. The characters torment, they fight, they meet, they fall apart. In the long run, their queerness may be one of the most imperceptible things about them.

“Queer people, especially queer women, are a very vocal fan community. They really want a representation that feels authentic and deserved,” Deerwater says.

GLAAD’s media survey from 2022 reveals that around 12% of ordinary characters in screenwriting TV series are LGBTQ – a record high level. From that climax, it’s easier to see the next summits rise ahead: more trans-representation, for example, or more queer-colored. More handicap representation, more shows with a series of queer characters instead of one or two isolated tokens.
The rise towards better representation is not easy. At a time when record numbers of anti-LGTBQ + bills are threatening to pull back hard-won social progress across the United States, harmful old media tropes are an unnecessary weight.

Fiction can shape the future, and every time a popular queer character is eliminated in a way that feels inexorably tied to their queerness (even though they are a murderous psychopath), it reflects the dangerous promises of systemic prejudice and oppression.

If the people who create our fiction can not imagine a world beyond that, what chance does reality have then?

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