Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: SFF Television and Female Mentorship

Before I begin this week’s column, a note about column regularity going forward. I won’t be writing Sleeps With Monsters weekly for the foreseeable future: in fact, it’s likely you’ll only be hearing from me once a month for a while. It turns out that after a certain point, it’s really difficult to keep up…

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve caught up on the second season of The 100, the post-apocalyptic murder-fest television show of our time. Somewhere around halfway through, and definitely by episode 2.12, “Rubicon,” I started having a vague niggling itch: it was reminding me of Xena: Warrior Princess. “But that’s not right,” I said to myself. “They’re completely different: tonally, stylistically, structurally, in all ways. Have you been sniffing glue, self? Just because people are bringing Xena back is no reason to have it on the brain!”

And then I realised what it was I was seeing. I don’t think I’ve seen another SFF show since Xena: Warrior Princess that was as interested in the variety of ways women relate to other women: as friends, as enemies, as opponents, as allies, as mentor and mentored. The 100 is an ensemble cast, and is engaged in long-arc rather than episodic storytelling, so it has quite a few balls to keep in the air at any one time. But it continues to astound me how many of those balls relate to women, and how the women of The 100 are allowed to have both the flaws of their virtues and the virtues of their flaws.

I want to pull out some of the ways women are shown to mentor other women on The 100, because it is a damn rare thing. (And it’s pretty amazing to see, too.)

100-Abby-Clarke

Right from the very beginning, we’re shown the relationship between Clarke Griffin and her mother, doctor and politician Abby Griffin. It’s a difficult relationship—more difficult than many mother-daughter relationships, since Abby is part of the decision-making process that sends one hundred teenagers to the ground (the canaries in the coal mine) to see if the Earth is still habitable, and Clarke later learns that Abby is responsible for her father’s execution. And once they’re reunited, Abby must face the fact that Clarke has not been a child she can protect for quite some time now: that Clarke, has, in fact, grown into a leader in her own right, whose priorities sometimes clash with Abby’s, and whose grasp of the situation often exceeds her mother’s.

And yet Clarke is who she is in part because of her mother, and Abby keeps trying to support her in ways that make sense to Abby. This may not be a mentorship relationship, exactly, but in a genre rife with daddy issues, it’s a rare show that makes a mother-daughter relationship as one of its emotional centrepieces.

Abby Griffin does stand in a position of mentorship to mechanic Raven Reyes, although in the latter half of season two, the show gives much less prominence to this relationship. In the early part of the first season, Abby and Raven are united by the worry for someone on the ground, and Abby uses her position to protect Raven. For much of season one and the early part of season two, Raven and Abby’s relationship is closer to an affectionate daughter-mother relationship than Clarke and Abby’s, even as Raven and Clarke continue as friends and allies.

The latter part of The 100‘s second season also gives us another mentor-mentored pair in the Grounder warrior Indra and Octavia. Octavia is an outsider among the people of the Ark, who gravitated to the Grounders (in the form of warrior-healer Lincoln) in season one. Octavia impresses Indra—who is kind of terrifyingly badass—and Indra offers to mentor her, even essentially adopting her.

100-Octavia-Indra

And then we have Clarke and Lexa. Lexa and Clarke. That’s a really interesting relationship right there. On the one hand, a warleader who appears to be ruthless from training and habit. On the other, a woman who doesn’t want to be ruthless, but whose world is forcing her to become so. The narrative treats them as equals, but when it comes to prosecuting their war against their mutual enemy, Lexa is clearly more experienced—and trying to offer Clarke the benefit of her experience. How often do you see a SFF television show where one experienced (war)leader is discussing options with another less experienced colleague, and they’re both women?

Once in a blue moon, is about how often.

(I’m not even going to try to address the romantic tension between them. That’s a whole ‘nother article.)

I’m hoping, when I finally get around to watching The 100‘s third season, that it continues this trend. Because it’s really astounding to have a science fiction show that does this with its characters. It gives me hope.

Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads an insufficient amount of books. She has recently completed a doctoral dissertation in Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter.

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