This is the final paper that we presented at the 2014 Film and History Conference. It’s by Lisa, aka mangababe on twitter. Thanks, Lisa!
[Author’s Note: this article was written for presentation to a mostly academic media studies audience, addressing Lost Girl’s historical place and value within the idea of a “golden age” of LGBT film/television content and representation.]
Right on the Target
Television at its best is entertaining AND educational. It often reflects our better selves as well as illuminating the worst; exposing that which needs to be seen and understood.
This can also be said about a show that dares to give us characters that appear so different on the surface, yet face the same struggles and fears that we all face: the desire to love and be loved, to belong to a family and community, to matter to someone.
Science Fiction and Fantasy have always been at the forefront of societal change – it is the place where strange and different is accepted and even desirable. This can be most notably traced back to the mid-1960’s and Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek television series.
“Lost Girl is set in a fantasy world, but the relationships we portray are very real.”
This is a quote from Executive Producer Jay Firestone, whose company – Prodigy Pictures –
helped bring together all of the necessary pieces to produce the Canadian supernatural drama created by Michelle Lovretta.
The world of Lost Girl is pure fantasy, and as such can be viewed as an idealized vision of how our world could be. The show is set in the world we know with the addition of a parallel hidden world inhabited by creatures known as the Fae. This hidden world co-exists nearly invisibly with that of our Human one, a scenario very similar to other recent science fiction/fantasy shows such as Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood and Syfy’s Sanctuary and Warehouse 13.
However, what distinguishes this ground-breaking show from all others before it, is that the very heart of the show revolves around a strong bisexual female lead whose sexual orientation, healthy appetite for sex, and developing relationship with another woman are simply a given. Rarely have we had a prime time network drama where these things are integral to the main character and premise of the show – a first not only for genre television but for scripted drama overall.
Few other shows have dared go where Lost Girl currently exists on the cusp of its fifth season. LGBT, and bisexual characters in particular, have appeared as either minor ensemble characters like LA Law’s CJ Lamb in 1991, or as episodic plot points as in Star Trek The Next Generation’s 1995 episode “Rejoined”. It wasn’t until the 1999/2000 television season (3 seasons A.E. – After Ellen DeGeneres came out) when two network dramas – the supernatural Buffy the Vampire Slayer and medical drama ER – prominently featured existing main characters come out as lesbian. Both shows eventually included core relationships between two women within the worlds of each show, but these relationships were plot-driven; both Willow and Dr. Weaver’s coming out stories were scripted as part of on-going character development and as such their stories appeared in only a small fraction of the show’s episodes as a major story arc.
First broadcast on the Canadian television network Showcase, Lost Girl debuted in Canada in the fall of 2010 with a 13 episode first season. It gained enough viewers and ratings to be renewed for a second season in 2011. The series was picked up by American cable network Syfy during its second season, and finally debuted in the United States in January of 2012, with seasons one and two broadcast back-to-back.
In the supernatural world of Lost Girl, the show’s central character Bo Dennis (played by Anna Silk) is a woman who in the beginning has no idea that she isn’t Human. In the course of the show’s premiere episode, the audience is enlightened along with Bo when she stumbles into the world of the Fae and is told of her biology.
Bo is the “lost girl” of the title and it is her struggle to understand who and what she is as a Human-raised Fae Succubus – a supernatural creature that feeds off of the sexual energy of others – that provides the show its dramatic center.
The fact that she’s also bisexual is never overtly mentioned. It’s simply accepted and acted upon as a given. In the course of the first two seasons, Bo has various dalliances with both men and women, Human and Fae, occasionally at the same time. As a viewer who came of age when television had few positive reflections of lesbian or gay men, let alone truly bisexual characters, I expected to see the stereotype of the randy and indecisive bisexual.
However, Lost Girl broke with tradition when Bo’s behavior was not accompanied by the usual slut-shaming that our society so often throws at women who enjoy sex (more so if they have multiple partners) and was simply accepted as normal for the supernatural creature that she is.
This non-issue of Bo’s sexual orientation as the central character cemented Lost Girl’s place in LGBT television history, but it was (and continues to be) the natural chemistry between the actors and the authenticity with which they infuse their characters that captivated the viewership and ignited a world-wide fandom.
Over the course of the last four seasons, Bo’s two main love interests have been the Fae male shapeshifter Dyson (played by Kris Holden-Reid) and Human female doctor Lauren (played by Zoie Palmer). The show continued to break new ground by giving parity to the emotional importance and physical expression of Bo’s relationships with both partners in the first two seasons.
I believe that it is precisely because the show is a Canadian production, that it had the freedom to push the envelope with its authentic portrayal of two women in love and is especially notable for breaking from the stereotypical “male gaze” in scenes showing the two women enjoying themselves in bed.
As a show centered on a supernatural creature whose very nature requires feeding off of the sexual energy of others, Lost Girl gave new meaning to the traditional dramatic relationship struggle.
Raised as Human and completely unaware of her special nature until puberty, Bo naturally craves the traditional nuclear family structure of monogamy; and it is Lauren, in her role as Doctor to the Light Fae, who provides Bo with the knowledge and support that allows her to accept the biological demand that she regularly “feed” off more than just one partner to be healthy.
Things begin to change in season three. At the end of the first episode Bo makes a conscious choice to be with Lauren. “It’s time.” Bo’s desire to commit to one relationship provided an interesting and unique take on the usual relationship drama.
Lost Girl really hit the mark with season three’s fourth episode, “Fae-de to Black”, in terms of actually showing the couple doing the work that needs to be done to grow and support a responsibly non-monogamous relationship.
This is what helps to make Lost Girl one of the most cutting-edge television shows in terms of authentic representation of alternate sexual and relationship orientations.
Wide of the Mark
For years, we, the LGBT viewing audience, have stressed the importance of visibility and authentic representation of ourselves in our popular media. Lost Girl is a shining example of diversity and inclusiveness, yet it isn’t without its own issues and stereotypes.
This show, its producers and cast, have given us such wealth in its authentic characters and relationships that I almost feel guilty bringing up the ways in which I think Lost Girl could have done better, the ways in which it is “wide of the mark” even while being truly ground-breaking.
I care about the quality of these representations because I believe that Lost Girl has the potential to become one of the classic genre shows, continuing to capture new fans years beyond the end of its five-season broadcast run.
No show is ever going to be perfect — even those created by and for the LGBT audience have to straddle the line between engaging the audience with genuine stories and characters and balancing the need to expand its viewership and its ratings for the network.
Lost Girl gives us a strong bisexual female lead who isn’t shamed for needing, wanting, and enjoying sex. It is the depth of the relationship between Bo and Lauren, along with Bo’s friendships and interconnectedness to everyone in the show’s main ensemble that resonated so deeply with the audience.
Yet after the pivotal fourth episode of season three, the essential communication needed for these things to flourish vanishes. From episode 305 on and continuing throughout season four, Bo and Lauren fail to connect. It is as if they are two ships passing in the night.
The major story arc of season three (Bo’s development and evolution as a Fae) might be reasonable explanation for Bo’s increasing disconnection from her lovers, friends, and family, but strangely this continues as a theme throughout the entirety of the fourth season. No one in Bo’s life seems to talk to each other and the time given to conversations and motivations that build stronger relationships seems to have vanished along with Bo at the end of season three.
Instead of the continued growth of the relationships in Bo’s circle of “faemily” and friends, season four unfolds with a revolving door of character pairings with the focus on fleeting attractions and physical sex. This is especially damaging to the depiction of the mature, loving, and possibly open relationship developing between Bo and Lauren and only feeds the negative stereotypes of the insatiable and indecisive bisexual.
By the middle of season four, our self-rescuing princess has lost most of her ability to make decisions for herself. The strong heroine of the first and second seasons has been diminished by her constant need to be rescued by Dyson, or subject to the whims of an ancient patriarchal Fae prophecy which may, or may not, be connected to the machinations of her as-yet-unseen father. Bo no longer lives the life she chooses.
Her once strong connections to the humans in her life, especially her best friend Kenzi (Ksenia Solo) seem to stretch and fray, almost to the point of breaking. Without these important relationships to ground her, Bo loses some of her humanity and becomes more like the amoral Dark Fae she has fought against.
Her actions as well as those of other characters in several season four episodes come dangerously close to the edge of irresponsibility and non-consent. For a show which prides itself on its authenticity in representation of sexual minorities, I found this both surprising and disconcerting.
At the end of season four, the main characters seemed to come together, their connections reformed or repaired as they prepared to face the greater threat that looms over their world in the finale. Bo seems to have grown and matured, and we see glimpses of the heroine we know and love.
What bothers me the most about season four’s subtle shift away from the values that reinforce Bo’s humanity (communication, trust, commitment) is that this may unintentionally reinforce the existing negative stereotypes about bisexuality.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to continue asking for authentic representation, even of a show like Lost Girl that has consistently surpassed all historical representations of LGBT characters and relationships. The bar has been permanently raised.
Lost Girl can, and hopefully, will do better in the final season.
As we await the beginning of the fifth season, it cannot be denied that Lost Girl is a very unique and ground-breaking show that will hold a very special place in the history of LGBT representation on network television.