On March of 2016, The 100 aired the episode “Thirteen.” By the next day, fan outrage began appearing all over Twitter, Tumblr, and other communities over the show’s polarizing plot twist. A few days later, I began binge-watching The 100, in a desperate attempt to plow through all (at the time) 36 episodes before I got spoiled by whatever had happened.
I failed. When you write about fandom, SFF, and Internet culture for a living, your Twitter timeline (carefully calibrated to pick up on the latest breaking news in the aforementioned spheres) is a spoiler minefield. When you also happen to follow the TV writer who penned that episode, it’s impossible to miss his responses as he begins defending himself to heartbroken fans. And in modern pop culture, when an under-the-radar beloved television series kills off an LGBT character, it becomes trending news.
Spoilers for The 100 and other TV series (Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under) below.
I had always meant to watch The 100… someday. You know, after I actually watched Daredevil season 1 and binged season 2; probably after starting The Americans, since that show has been on the air longer; and if I were going to watch a hit CW show, shouldn’t it be Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Anyway, like many others, I mistakenly thought that The 100 was just another tired teenage dystopian franchise, except this time in serialized format instead of a bloated four-movie franchise. It could wait.
Then came praise from a range of outlets (including our own) for the show’s reveal that protagonist Clarke is canonically bisexual. Suddenly this wasn’t a cookie-cutter teen drama; more and more articles appeared about how this series held up non-heterosexual relationships and female mentorship in ways you don’t usually see on TV. Forward-thinking post-apocalyptic fare that wasn’t a Hunger Games knockoff—this could be a sci-fi series with actual legs. The final push for me was the news that Javier Grillo-Marxuach (whose podcast Children of Tendu is a master class in TV writing) would be joining the show for season 3 as co-executive producer. Regardless of whether the show were good or not before he joined, Javi would make it great! I was totally going to watch… once I belatedly made my way through my backlog of The Magicians. What? There’s so much TV on the air now—I hate saying that, because it feels somehow spoiled to complain about all of the quality programming, but it’s the truth—and more variety brings the paralysis of choice.
I thought I was safe, that I could choose to dip my toes into the pool of this particular fandom whenever I had time. Instead, I got spoiled for the show’s biggest death thanks to first some intuitive guessing based first on vague fan tweets and then headlines from mainstream outlets (thanks, guys) that spelled it all out. Considering that this is a show that regularly offs main characters in shocking ways, it’s saying something that Lexa’s death was the detail that permeated the membrane of the fandom and wound up on much bigger radars.
This piece isn’t intended to discuss Lexa’s death and the frustrating and cruel tradition in television of killing off LGBT characters. That deserves a separate piece. It has, in fact, inspired multiple thinkpieces that I’ve avoided reading because I still want some shred of surprise. What I’m asking now is, is it worth it to come in on a fandom this late in the game? Can I still enjoy the journey despite knowing a major detour? If I become a fan of The 100 now, after this controversy, am I somehow choosing the wrong side?
It may not surprise you to learn that I’ve been in this situation before. I’m one of those people who put off watching Breaking Bad for years because I felt that I didn’t have the proper time and attention to invest in it. (Really, who actually watches TV anymore without also cooking, or cleaning, or tweeting, or playing Candy Crush at the same time?) I knew in my gut that this was going to be an eyes-glued-to-the-TV kind of story, yet I was still wary of giving over my hard-earned and too-rare time.
Well, once the series finale aired and the first spoilery whispers began reaching my social media newsfeeds, I binged as much as I could. Even so, I got half-spoiled before I made it to the end; of all things, it was a Saturday Night Live skit that made light of the fact that Walter White dies at the end. Still, I was close enough to push through, and was I really surprised to learn this? No. As it turned out, knowing about Walt’s death doesn’t make the finale any less poignant since the how of it was still a mystery. And in fact, the part that gutted me the most came several episodes prior, in “Ozymandias.” So, it was completely still worth it.
Ditto for the series finale of Six Feet Under. When the show originally aired on HBO, I was in that awkward age where I was too young to watch it, so it sort of floated above my head. But I read Entertainment Weekly religiously, and Six Feet Under found its way into every single article across the internet about great series finales. So, despite having never watched this critically acclaimed series, I now knew that the last seven minutes oh-so-cleverly showed all of the main characters at the moments of their deaths. It took close to ten years for me to finally watch Six Feet Under, and lo and behold, I was sobbing in bed at 3 a.m. watching Nate’s death during his vision on the beach, well before I had even reached the (still stunning) finale.
Watching fandom transform from a secretive community that you could find only if you looked for it to the subject of mainstream news and commentary has come with many adjustments. I miss the knowledge that there were other fandom spheres vibrating near mine but at different frequencies, and the unspoken agreement that I could find my way to them in my own time, without any spoilers getting in the way of my catching up to fellow fans. I miss being able to savor early episodes and shocking twists before they made the headlines on Facebook Trending. The most confounding feeling, however, has been what I like to call “fandom FOMO”: fear of missing out on the emotional rollercoasters other fans experience in public, on social media. When Nick and Jess finally kissed on New Girl in 2013, I envied all of the fans who had been waiting two years for that payoff. I’d watched the pilot in 2011 and dismissed the show, but nothing I had watched since stirred the same emotion as this kiss. Had I hitched my wagon to the wrong star?
How can you possibly watch all the television, browse tumblr, read your Twitter timeline, answer emails, and have a life outside of fandom? And in your life outside of fandom, how can you eat all the food, learn all the things, see all the people? It’s hard enough to work, eat enough to keep you nourished, take care of a house, and sleep a regular amount. Christ, some days I find it difficult just to shower, and I’m supposed to do all the rest of that stuff to? AND THEN FIND TIME TO WATCH ALL THE NEW TV SHOWS AND GO TO THE MOVIES? HOW?
It’s not that you can’t be a fan of more than one thing—it’s more that you can’t casually drop into fandom. When you want to be able to share the visual recaps with hilarious inside jokes and sift through the fanfiction and retweet the memes, you have to be choosy about which fandoms you join. I wish I’d joined the 100 fandom under better circumstances. I don’t even mind being spoiled regarding Clarke’s bisexuality; reading about it in an article was the same kind of pleasant surprise as seeing her and Lexa’s first kiss. In fact, by the time that particular scene rolled around, I was hopping up and down in my seat in delight.
Watching The 100 has been the most emotional experience I’ve had with a TV show in a while. I watched the first three episodes on a plane to California, which turned out to be a bad idea when I cried over Wells’ unexpected death and then had to wait until we landed to watch the next episode. I mocked, yelled at, and cursed Bellamy, until suddenly I started to sympathize with him. I totally predicted that Clarke would have to kill Finn so blood could have blood, but was still impressed when the show actually went through with it. I lost my shit at both brutal season finales. In addition, The 100 gets a lot right: characters like biracial Bellamy getting nuanced character arcs; sex positivity for characters like Raven; multiple female characters in positions of power and authority.
As I was talking through this article with my coworker—who caught up more quickly than me—and how disappointed I was to get spoiled by Lexa’s death, she said, “Enjoying everything on the way is OK.” That’s what I needed to hear. I’m not a bad fan for getting into the show late; and even though I’m building up to some truly upsetting television, I’m allowed to appreciate what comes before in an almost-vacuum.
The thing is, my specific issues related to getting spoiled for this show don’t matter in the larger scheme of things. It’s incredibly important that the death of a queer female television character made mainstream news, especially because she follows a long line of LGBT characters who deserved to be the center of their own stories for longer, rather than a plot device for someone else’s character development. I’d rather have Entertainment Weekly and IGN and Vox and even E! Online discussing Lexa’s death openly, as opposed to it being a controversy that never makes it out of the confines of the fandom.
The fact that Lexa’s death became mainstream news means that showrunner Jason Rothenberg was forced to write a public apology to fans, which both fans and professionals (as in this excellent piece by Blastr) have agreed was not enough. Grillo-Marxuach, who wrote “Thirteen,” has actively engaged with fans on his Tumblr and Twitter to apologize and to learn from his mistakes. LGBT nonprofit The Trevor Project has raised over $100,000 in the name of Lexa and her “Leskru” of fans. As the Blastr article says, it’s cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless.
As of writing this piece, I am seven episodes away from catching up on The 100, and five episodes away from watching Lexa get hit by a stray bullet. I don’t know if I’ll cry; maybe if I’d known only that she died, and not the inglorious way it would happen. I’ve been told by my coworker that there are other parts of the episode that haven’t been spoiled for me, so I’m cautiously optimistic about continuing on with The 100. The show has already been picked up for season 4; I’m not sure if its heyday is already behind it and it’s already locked into a crash-landing. But hey, the whole series is built around a crash landing, and that worked out pretty well for the original 100. Hopefully the showrunners will learn from their missteps; I’m looking forward to being part of a fandom that hopefully changes some of the narrative landscape of television.