Mon
Jan 30 2012 4:00pm

Lost Girl: The Sex-Filled Canadian Buffy-Style Fae Show You’re Missing

Lost Girl television show

Lost Girl is an urban fantasy television series in the mode of Blood Ties or Moonlight. Produced by Prodigy Pictures, it’s a little more than halfway through its second season on Canada’s Showcase Television, and has already been tapped for a third. SyFy started broadcasting the first season in the U.S. in the second week of January this year.

You know what else it is? Incredibly fun.

The story of how I got my hands on Lost Girl’s first season despite not living in Canada — those of us on the other side of the Atlantic have serious reasons to feel irritated at region-locking, I tell you truly — is a sordid one, involving squeeful friends, smuggled bootlegs, and the time-honoured tradition of thumbing one’s nose at The Man.1 It’s an oddly appropriate way to have come to the show, since Lost Girl’s central arc, thus far, is all about standing outside of systems that demand you conform.

That, and taking care of your friends.

At first glance, a show based around a bisexual succubus private investigator (Bo, played by Anna Silk) sounds like it could be full of so much fail from a feminist perspective.2 Astonishingly, it’s not. Instead, it’s full of female friendship and women with agency, who own their own sexual pleasures and desires.

Also, things that go BOOM in interesting and explosive narrative ways.

Lost Girl television show

(Spoilers ahead for the first episode and mild hints for the season.)

Bo’s never known what she was. All she knew was, ever since puberty, her sexual desires have come complete with a hunger that leaves her lovers dead. When she rescues a grifter who’s been roofied by a date-rapist and leaves a body in an elevator, she sets in motion a train of events that lead to the rest of the supernatural world — the Fae — finally catching up with her. Given a choice between the two sides in the supernatural community’s longrunning Cold War/reluctant truce, she picks neither, and casts her defiance into the teeth of their delicate politics.

Lost Girl television show

“I choose humans,” she says — and promptly proceeds the sidestep the hierarchy in order a) feed her hungers, b) learn what she needs to learn in order to stop killing by accident, and c) protect — or try to — her friends.

Now, to be honest, plot isn’t Lost Girl’s strongest point. The storylines of individual episodes run the gamut from decently solid (the pilot; 1.04, “Faetal Attraction,” involving Furies; 1.10, “The Mourning After,” in which Bo meets another succubus) to monster-of-the-week (1.07, “Arachnofaebia,” which is bizarre, hilarious, and terrifying all at once) to fairly bland (1.09, “Fae Day,” in which Bo attempts to reconcile two brothers before one of them dies). The season arc is somewhat marred, too, by heavy-handed Ominous Hints.

Characterisation, though?

Characterisation, Lost Girl has in spades. Despite her Troubled Past, Bo is only occasionally made of angst. Most of the time, she’s almost suspiciously well-adjusted, and while clearly meant to be a charismatic outsider3, she’s very far from being a charismatic loner. Kenzi (Ksenia Solo, Black Swan), the grifter we first meet in the pilot, becomes Bo’s best friend and housemate. Theirs is a friendship that feels emotionally real and solid: despite disagreements, they can be relied upon to have each other’s back.

Lost Girl television show

You can help people. People who have nowhere else to turn. People with shiny shiny money.

...I can handle scary monsters, but privilege creeps me out

- Kenzi

Kenzi is one of the show’s best things. But wait! There’s a second instance of female friendship in Lost Girl. Lauren (Zoie Palmer), is a human doctor who works for one side of the Fae community. She also becomes Bo’s friend, and their relationship is one explicitly based around mutual respect and attraction — yes, there’s F/F here, and no, it doesn’t cater exclusively to the male gaze.

Lost Girl television show

Lauren’s character also represents an attempt to explore, at least by implication, the dynamics of power, protection and loyalty in the Fae world. The Fae are, in the main, predators with a hierarchy: most of them don’t see humans as even potential equals. Bo stands to some degree outside the system, but the system itself has its own ruthless logic, and Lost Girl goes some way towards acknowledging that.

And Zoie Palmer has damn solid acting chops.

After the female regular cast, I’m afraid to say I find the men rather bland. Dyson (Kris Holden Ried), a police detective who’s also a werewolf, is the second and more frequent pole in Bo’s ongoing friendship-with-sex triangle. Thankfully, Lost Girl avoids playing too much to the Asshole Werewolf Boyfriend trope: both Bo and Dyson keep defining their limits and renegotiating the boundaries of their relationship in an atmosphere of — competitive, and occasionally contentious, but never absent — mutual respect.4 Dyson has a buddy-cop thing going on with his partner, another Fae called Hale, and Hale and Kenzi frequently exchange snarky banter at Dyson and Bo’s expense. It’s a nice touch, especially when the flirting and the sex skirts the borders of ridiculous.

Lost Girl television show

And then there’s Trick, your local friendly, mysterious, and possibly powerful barkeeper/owner-operator. All of the reasons behind his interest in (and not infrequent support for) Bo from the beginning aren’t exactly made explicit — but the fact that he has a (nonsexual) interest is.

I like Lost Girl a lot. From the snark and the female characters (Women! People who look like me! Everywhere! Doing things for reasons! Blowing shit up! Having sex that’s characterised as much by what they get out of it as their partners do!), to the recurring leitmotif to do with not trusting food or drink when it comes from a stranger or you don’t know what might’ve gone into it, to the fact that Bo’s frequent need for sex is treated as something that’s just another appetite, like eating or drinking, and... well, often kind of inconvenient.

In a balanced view, there’s as much here that’s problematic as there is that’s brilliant. It’s not as white as many other television shows, but it’s not brimful of good representation either, and what Bo does can be seen as a form of sexual coercion — an aspect of the life of an ethical succubus that’s never really addressed.

I’m sure I’m missing other things, because when I think about Lost Girl I go straight to the positives. It hits an astonishing number of my narrative kinks, what with the witty banter, and the women, and the blowing shit up, and the relationships of mutual respect, and the dynamics of power, and....

Lost Girl television show

Well. I like it an awful lot. Don’t expect great depth from it, but as light entertainment, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

(But don’t watch “Arachnofaebia” if you’re scared of spiders. I’m not, very, and I still made an eeek noise.)


[1] Extended justificatory digression:

What I do in order to watch shows like this is, I admit, an ethical grey area. But for me, half the point of watching genre shows is to be able to discuss them with other enthusiasts — i.e., take part in fandom without being completely spoilered. If I like them, eventually I buy the DVDs: this is how I came to have Criminal Minds and Leverage and White Collar, among others, on my shelf. Shows do things I like, I give them money, maybe they do more things I like = everybody wins. (The same is true for music and literature.) If I don’t enjoy them? A majority of these shows will never appear on Irish terrestrial television, so I’m not exactly lost revenue from the producers’ point of view.

People! I will pay to watch your shows if you let me.

[2] Which is the one I’ve got.

[3] One whose facility with knives in the pilot is lampshaded in later episodes by reference to her love for all things sharp and pointy. I will forgive much of a show whose protagonist wears stompy boots and says — at one point, in exasperation — of high heels, How do people even walk in these things?

[4] And I’ll say that S2 has so far done interesting things in their regard. Despite the weirdness in their lives, these characters act in surprisingly sane, rational, humane ways towards each other.


Liz Bourke thinks competence is pretty hot, actually.

27 comments
Cain S. Latrani
1. Cain S. Latrani
SO glad to see a write up on this excellent show on Tor.com. I've been a fan of the show since Season 1, which, like you, I came by through somehwat questionable means. I'm current to Season 2, and the United States is only JUST NOW discovering how awesome this show is. I'm sure their editing the crap out of it, too.

I really hope more folks disocver the fun of Lost Girl. Bo and Kenzi are my kinda ladies. :)
Liz Bourke
2. hawkwing-lb
I want the DVDs, I really do. Because female friendship + boom = my happy place. (My very happy place, because that's a sadly rare combination.)
Cain S. Latrani
3. Belleboom
So glad to see some positive press for this show. We've been enjoying the heck out of it here at my house. It's true that the overarching storyline could be more developed, but one thing this show has in spades is fun (I'm especially looking at you, Kenzi). Good acting, good writing, good characters, supernatural shenanigans, and women who are 1) not all male-centric, 2) not all stick figures, 3) in possession of many edged weapons, and 4) funny as hell? What's not to love?
Cain S. Latrani
4. JTFB
It sounds great, thanks for the review. Unfortunely I'm not a cable subscriber, and can't seem to find it for legal digital download here in the States. I guess I'll have to wait a year for SyFy to drop their embargo.
E M
5. herewiss13
Just discovered the show via SyFy. Wonderful stuff! Your screen shot of the napkin questionaire ("Some questions are just too ridiculous to say out loud) is a perfect illustration of the snarky but rational tone of the first few episodes. Looking forward to the ride.
Cain S. Latrani
6. StrongDreams
First, let me confess that I will probably never watch the show, because I just don't seem to have the time to invest a full hour at the same time every week to any TV show, including genre shows. (I seem to watch in 15 minute bites while doing other things. Time moves so much faster when you're 45 than 25.)

That said, I have to wonder,
Aren't there any other modes of feminist empowerment than to be a character who gets energy by having sex all the time? I mean, you could still have ass-kicking, edged weapons and well-written female friendships without constant sex (Buffy, Firefly). At least make it impossible to control her feeding, so that every time she chooses to feed someone has to die, thus creating all sorts of interesting moral problems. But really, bisexual succubus seems so expected.
Cain S. Latrani
7. skretky
Love the show, but I admit I had troubles getting into it because of the commercial that made Anna Silk "famous" up here.
Liz Bourke
8. hawkwing-lb
@Belleboom:

I forgive it much for being funny and having many women.

@StrongDreams:

Speaking purely personally? I find it refreshing to watch a show where women get to have sex that's about them. (And blow things up, and pass the Bechdel Test every damn time.) So I'll be taking the win.
Cain S. Latrani
9. ccplrose
I like the show a lot. Love the Urban Fantasy genre and how the characters fit into the real and the Fae world. It's great to see a "buddy" story with women who are loyal, tough, resourceful and *kick-ass* just like the male "buddy" stories I love. A great, balanced review of a series that is fun, smart, and watchable.
Cain S. Latrani
10. StrongDreams
@hawkwing-lb,
I realize I will be in the minority here, but allow me to suggest that for Bo, sex isn't about her, at least, not in the way you think it is. It's not about personal fulfillment, it's about sustenance. If I understand the premise correctly, if she doesn't feed, she will die. Many years ago, nymphomania was a diagnosed mental illness, it was believed that girls who had a lot of sex couldn't control themselves because they were sick. Bo can't control her need to feed. Doesn't seem much different to me. (I understand that she eventually learns some control, in that she can feed without killing her victims, but she still needs to feed.) She has to feed because she can't help herself.

Or, think of it this way. If a person is in a long term relationship which suddenly ends, that person might react by undertaking a period of sexual freedom and experimentation, but that person might also choose a period of abstinence and self-reflection, waiting for the next great relationship. Empowerment is the ability to choose either path.
Cain S. Latrani
11. Sharon Ann Rowland
G'day,

I was told by my editor to check out your blog and I'm so glad I did. Lost Girl is one of my favourite shows and I agree much of the appeal is the strong female cast (a grown up buffy - another show I adored!).

Compared to other shows like True Blood the sex scenes are tame, but tastefully executed, and the acting is engaging and at times intelligent.

Does anyone know what else Kris Holden Ried (Dyson) has been in as he looks familiar?

I've bookmarked this site and will return regularly.

Regards,
Sharon Ann Rowland
Author of 'The Crystal Channelers' Book Series
www.crystalchannelers.com
Cain S. Latrani
12. huntece
@strongdreams

Comparing her to people who have nymphomania doesnt really fit with the character. She doesnt have a disease she is a being who feeds off of other peoples energy. If I were to compare it anything I were to compare it to anything it would be vampires only instead blood you have energy. Plus when she feeds she doesnt need to have sex with them I think that its the preffered method :P
Cain S. Latrani
13. jennygadget
@StrongDreams

I understand what you are saying, but this reading is strongly undermined by how the show actually depicts her feedings. Sometimes she has sex that she clearly enjoys - a lot - and would have whether she needed to feed or not. Sometimes she is merely feeding. Sometimes it isn't really sex or even sustenance so much as sucking the life out of people who are trying to kill her.

While the premise does sound incredibly icky and full of an amazing amount of potential fail, it seems clear to me, after watching most of the first season, that the writers are tring to interrogate all these myths that surround female sexuality, not perpetuate them. I'm not saying it does a perfect job, I just think you may be assuming that it buys into bullshit that it doesn't.

* potential SPOILERS *

Even the premise - that she must feed AND and cannot control her need to feed - is very quickly turned from something biological and wrong with her into, instead, a cautionary tale about dangers of ignorance. Her learning to control herself isn't about her practicing moderation or restraint so much as the power and freedom that comes from having knowledge.

"Empowerment is the ability to choose either path."

It's made pretty clear early on that Bo's history is one where her own freely chosen journey on the path of engaging in healthy sex was cut short by the lack of information she was given about her own body. So again, I don't think the interpretation that she is forced to have sex and has no say in the matter is supported by the text. A better description would be of a young woman who used to engage in a cycle of abstinence and binging because she was taught to believe that her only moral option was abstinence.
C.D. Thomas
14. cdthomas
After watching Syfy's episodes, I'd be more able to believe the whole female empowerment yang if, you know, the lesbo scenes were balanced with male-male action, just for shits and giggles -- else, it's working the same "women are allowed to be ass-kickers as long as they fit those soft pr0n scenes in" that's the hallmark of straight to DVD land. At least Bo won't have to worry about birth control or rape -- she can always manage to survive that, as long as she feeds in self-defense. STDs? I know, I know, a fantasy in more ways than one...

Yes, I'm glad Bo can have orgasms without killing someone, but even if she's the Fae kwitsatz haderach, she's been a rapist and killer, down to the bone, and I don't see her having anything more than the selfish fear that she's going to get caught killing again, rather than true remorse at the lives she's taken. If there's anything delving more into the Fae should do, it's to show the hypocrisy, and bravery, of a supreme predator choosing to be for humans, even though they will always be cattle to her, biologically.

One amazing thing, though: During each episode, on a basic cable channel, they say "shit"more often and bare more skin than Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or any of the AMC/FX "mature" shows, and much earlier than the Safe Harbor system usually allows. Has Comcast bribed the FCC so thoroughly that the inevitable parents' group complaints won't matter? If Lost Girl can get away with TV-MA content so early, then what' s stopping the other cable networks from following suit?

For a show that's actually so bloodless, are the profanity and nudity there to disguise it's teen-beat heart? For, at its heart, is it a show about teenagers with Mad Sex Powers, making teenage decisions in a cruel adult world with rules so irrational they might as well be magical? Fine -- but I can't derive a greater feminist message from it, when we've let that bar to be set so low that we're grateful that a heroine doesn't get raped or pregnant during sweeps. When a show pays for the Bechdel Test with girl-on-girl action, it's kinda missing the point.
John Massey
15. subwoofer
Finally! Somebody American stumbles onto this show. Yeah, didn't know what a succubus was until now, thought this was another spin on the Vamp genre. Much better tho' and tons of potential for the future. I hope the American stations don't edit this show, some of the boarderline stuff they do is what makes it so much fun.

Go Canada:)

Woof™.
Sky Thibedeau
17. SkylarkThibedeau
@StrongDreams I agree. I personally like strong female characters like Zoey on Firefly and Katherine Janeway on Voyager who's identities are formed by their competence and interaction with others and not their sex appeal(obviously on Firefly Inara would be an exception).

My two best and well received role playing characters have been a celibate ex Vestal Virgin nun on the Battlestar Pacifica and an asexual romance novel writing Star Fleet Assistant Cheif Medical Officer on Outpost Babel.

But Sex sells.
Linden Wolfe
18. Lilith
I picked up season 1 of Lost Girl on DVD on a whim, here in Australia, a couple of months ago (we seem to get a lot of Canadian shows on DVD). I knew nothing about the show, and was pleasantly surprised.
From the cover notes it sounded like it was going to be more hard core sex and nudity a la True Blood (not that I don't like that, too *grin*), but it's far more restrained, both in sex and violence. The characters are fun (gotta love Kenzi), the dialog snappy, and there is plenty to discover about the supernatual world they inhabit.
I'm looking forward to season 2.
TW Grace
19. TWGrace
I just have to say that that the double bladed push knife/sword thing she is holding in the first pic is just freaking ridiculous...
Liz Bourke
20. hawkwing-lb
@cdthomas, @SkylarkThibedeau:

Like I said, it's not perfect. But I think implying that women shouldn't have sex on television is as problematic (albeit in different ways) than implying that sex is all they should be there for. And, cdthomas? Sometimes bi, gay and otherwise queer girls appreciate it when television acknowledges they exist, and, moreover, exist for themselves and not just as a wet dream. Culture in general is still more comfortable, I feel, with acknowledging gay men's sexuality and sexual agency than it is with doing the same for gay women.

Part of what I get out of Lost Girl is a respectful, healthy portrayal of sex and friendship (and sexual friendship) between the main characters.

(Shit is profanity? I guess American censorship rules are pretty strict, then.)
Cain S. Latrani
21. StrongDreams
I never suggested that women on TV should not have sex. I am only suggesting that this show is not quite the feminist-empowerment experience it wants to be.

To take it out of genre for a moment, contrast Dallas with Pretty Woman. JR Ewing was a ruthless and powerful businessman who was also a womanizer. Julia Roberts was a prostitute who sells herself for a week for $3000 plus some really nice dresses. I doubt anyone would consider Pretty Woman a feminist triumph, even though it was pleasant to watch and has a (highly unrealistic) happy ending. JR was defined as a businessman, his sexuality was an additional character trait. Julia Roberts' character was defined (and entirely motivated, until the last 5 minutes) by her sexuality. Take away JR Ewing's man parts and he is still a bad ass. Take away Julia Robert's ladyparts and the story has no reason to exist.

I argue that Lost Girl is much closer to Pretty Woman than Dallas. Take away her ladyparts and she is just another vampire private eye from Canada (does no one remember Forever Knight?). Leave her her ladyparts but take away her hunger, and she is just another tramp/slut of a kind that few viewers would call "feminist."

I get that the relationships are interesting and the stories play well to women and lesbians as well as straight men. But at the core, the show is about a woman who is defined almost exclusively by her sexuality.
Liz Bourke
22. hawkwing-lb
Bo's defining trait, by me, isn't sexuality. It's her stubbornness. (There's a lot of sex, true. But sex isn't what drives the characterisation. Either of Bo, or of the other people having sex - it's not their primary motivation, or their primary purpose. Even the other succubus we see has, in the end, other goals than simply the fulfillment of her hungers.)

But if you've seen the show and got something else out of it, that's cool. People bring different readings to a text.

ETA: Also, tramp/slut? May I ask you to tone down the shaming of people who enjoy their sexuality, just a little bit, please? (How many sexual partners makes one a tramp, may one inquire? I'd like to know who qualifies.)
Cain S. Latrani
23. jennygadget
"Julia Roberts was a prostitute who sells herself for a week for $3000 plus some really nice dresses."

Actually, Vivian* was a sex worker whose usual fee was a lot less than $3,000 a week - much less $3,000 a week plus multiple pieces of clothing that cost several times that.

More importantly, though, the problem with Pretty Woman, from a feminist perspective, is not that Julia Robert's character is defined by her sexuality, the problem is that her character is defined by (straight) men's desire.** (plus...way too much to list here)

Pretty Woman would be, at best, still problematic even if Robert's character's profession did not involve sex work. Because Vivian would still be defined by what she can do for men. Which is why I find it interesting that your other example was...a man. That seems to be rather missing the point entirely, but maybe that's just me.

Bo, however, is not defined by the fact that she is a succubus in particular. You said it yourself: even without the sex*** she is still a vampire detective. Even if you consider her being a succubus and not another kind of fae to be problematic, she is still more than that. Most importantly though, she is not defined by how useful (or not) she is to the men around her. Something you can't say of a hell of a lot of celibate female characters.

*things that bug me, in case anyone cares: the conflation of Ms. Roberts with her character. Especially considering that 1) you fail to do the same with Mr. Hagman and 2) one of the reasons Ms. Roberts got the part was because so many at-the-time famous actresses turned the role down because of it's "tone" and "sexism" while Roberts herself was merely an up-and-comer and possibly did not feel that she had the option to be as discriminating.

** things that bug me EVEN MORE:**** the conflation of (straight) men's desire for women with women's sexuality. THESE ARE NOT THE THE SAME THINGS. not even close. THAT IS IN FACT THE POINT. and while I thought you had some good arguments earlier (some of what you said sounded what fairly to close to my own fears before actually watching the show) I have to admit that this just makes me see RED until I can't process anything else. so I will go now and vent my rage elsewheres until I can.

***I'm not even going to touch the sex = ladybits part. I don't trust myself to not have to be moderated if I try to.

****yes, I pulled out the capslock. deal.
Cain S. Latrani
24. jennygadget
(going back to the show...)

One of the things that intrigues me about Lost Girl is that way that Bo is presented as almost a typical (but exceptionally pretty) girl next door in terms of sex appeal. You would think that a succubus would be played more like the Laura Pulver incarnation of Irene Adler, but Bo is actually presented as fairly ordinary compared to werewolf!Dyson* and awkward!nerd!Lauren.

I also think this is part of why it *works* - even when Bo is turning up the succubus heat, so to speak, very little changes in terms of how she is framed in the camera. The typical thing would be to show her to the audience as one assumes her targets see her. But no, instead we continue to see her as we always do. This is also in direct contrast to how she - and her love interests - are framed and presented when she is flirting or enjoying sex. Even when the plot is far from perfect, the visuals center us in how _she_ experiences things - the focus is never on what other people desire of her.

*who, omg, I just realized: is Sean Cameron's older brother. that's where I've seen him before. ha!
Cain S. Latrani
25. StrongDreams
First, I'm sorry I offended you by referring to Julia Roberts instead of "Vivian." I was just too lazy to look it up.

Second, leaving aside the completely gratuitous nudity in the pilot (which I did watch -- when Lauren examined her she could have worn a johnny without imparing the plot one iota), how would you feel about a show in which a male character has consequence-free sex with multiple partners, some of whom are unwilling or unable to give meaningful consent? Is reversing the roles (so that women can be just as creepy as men) what feminism aspires to?

I've got other concerns, based on the Wikipedia plot summaries of the upcoming episodes (assuming they are correct), but this isn't the place for a big spoilery argument. (Or an argument about modern feminism.)
Cain S. Latrani
27. jennygadget
Odd but, I don't recall ever claiming the show was a feminist masterpiece. I'm pretty sure what I said was:

"...it seems clear to me, after watching most of
the first season, that the writers are tring to interrogate all these
myths that surround female sexuality, not perpetuate them."

Quite, frankly, I don't think that asking *if* the show is feminist or not is the most productive of questions. (Assuming a baseline of "this will not annoy the shit out of me" of course.) I'm more curious about the *ways* in which it is and isn't. Or, rather, the ways in which it manages to portray women as people and rather than as accessories for men.

Which means that yeah, the questions of consent would be even squickier if Bo was a *straight* guy AND all "his" victims were *female* - because that's the status quo and the pattern of who is the victim and who is the predator adds a cultural layer to an individual failing. This does not, however, justify female Bo's actions or make the show not squicky in this regard - as was pointed out in the original review.
Cain S. Latrani
28. germane1
I find the show interesting but agree with some of the writer's that this show is not so much about feminism as it is a male's perspective of feminism. Why does Bo have to wear such revealing clothing? Every top she wears is cut to her navel practically. Also I imagine the lesbian scenes are a turn on for men more so than for most women.
sharon hearns
29. hearnzy
I am so found of this show. I live in Michigan and I have seen all season 2 up to episode 17 and waiting with baited breath for 18. I tell everyone about it that is a syfy fan. I say it is steamy and catchy and fun. They can't get enough of it either. Dyson is all that and a bag of chips. Love Trick. Kensi is a friend we all should have. Hale and Kensi would make a great pair. They are so alike.

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