“Last Tango in Halifax” writer Sally Wainwright “explains” Kate’s death

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If there is one thing writing for AfterEllen has taught me, it’s that queer women have a nearly infinite store of goodwill, faith, and optimism when it comes to our stories. When we catch even the barest suggestion that a character on a television show might be like us, we press that show to our collective chest like a child with a teddy bear. We nurture it, forgive its flaws, rally behind its creators, rescue it from cancellation. 

But if there are two things writing for AfterEllen has taught me, it’s that writers, producers, and showrunners have no qualms at all about taking our faith and our love and our loyalty and shoving it right back in our faces. Sure, they love us when we offer nothing but praise. They collect the GLAAD awards like Greek gods courting temple sacrifices. They eagerly repeat the stories of how their characters gave real life people the courage to come out. They pat themselves on the back so hard and so often it’s a wonder they’re not all in a constant state of cramp. But when we dare to object, when we express fatigue or frustration with being force-fed the same tired cliches again and again, then the same queer women who formed a vital part of their fan base become a nuisance. When we complain, they call us shrill. And when we try to sneak the characters under our T-shirts and spirit them away to the worlds of Tumblr or fan fiction, places we know we can at least keep them safe, they call us crazy. (The language of denigrating fandom sounds a lot like the language of denigrating all women with an opinion, you might notice. The idea that the fans of a show might be the best people to offer intelligent, critical insights into it never seems to be considered by anyone.) I’ve seen it so often, I should really be used to it. 

But I never expected it from Sally Wainwright.

Following last night’s reveal that Last Tango in Halifax‘s Kate really is dead, Wainwright gave an interview in which she hit upon so many of these problematic issues it was like she was going for the high score in Lesbian Trope Pinball. It’s hard to know where to start, but I recommend you read the whole interview if you would like to acquire the sudden and terrifying ability to Breathe Literal Fire.

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Here are a few of Wainwright’s more rage-provoking thoughts on last night’s death.

Why Kate and not John?”

“I’ll tell you why. The narrative was that Caroline and Celia had fallen out so badly with Celia not going to the wedding. They weren’t going to speak to each other ever again. Narratively, nothing can ever bring this mother and daughter back together again. And then of course when there’s this huge, massive catastrophe in the family, people do rally round. People do get back together. So it was a narrative decision. It was more about the relationship between Celia and Caroline, and what that gave us.”

So here you’ve just copped to Kate being a lesbian in a refrigerator, killed for no other reason than the effect it has on other people’s feelings. But here’s the thing: Celia and Caroline had only been arguing for one episode. So an equally valid narrative decision might have been to keep them apart until Celia did something that actually made her worthy of Caroline’s forgiveness. Why is the crux of this story their relationship in the first place? Does Wainwright actually believe that people are more invested in the mother-daughter dynamic than the passionate love affair between two women?

It always seems to be the lesbian characters that get killed off. Why is that? 

I think that’s a myth! People get killed off all the time. I got an email from Russell T Davies the day after saying, “I once killed off a gay character and everyone was really upset.” I got an email from another friend saying, “Oh Sally, what have you done? There are few enough lesbians as it is!” 

First of all, I would like to thank Sally Wainwright’s friend, who I’m guessing reads this site. And secondly, you’re going to quote RUSSELL T. DAVIES, the man who has publicly lashed out at his own fans and once said (I’m slightly paraphrasing) that the only people devastated by Ianto Jones’s death on Torchwood were three crazy ladies on the internet. That’s who you’re aligning yourself with as you try to talk to your hurt and outraged fans. And thirdly, if you’re going to add yourself to the canon of queer characters on television, you have some responsibility (a word I don’t use lightly) to have some idea of what that canon contains. Otherwise you just run headlong into the same cliches everyone else has written. It’s clear that Wainwright did not take this responsibility seriously, or she would have know that no, it is not a fucking myth.

 

Is Caroline going to meet another woman?

No. And she’s not going to meet another man either. 

 

Oh great! I’m sure this will make her reconciliation with her mother go so much smoother! It’s a lot easier to accept someone’s sexuality when they have been rendered totally sexless, I find. 

“I am sad, and I’m really aware that I’ve upset a lot of people. I’m terrified I’ve made the wrong decision!”

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LISTEN TO THAT GUT FEELING, WAINWRIGHT. THAT IS YOUR CONSCIENCE TRYING TO KICK YOU IN THE SPLEEN.

And the icing on the turd:

 “I actually wrote two versions of episode fourone where she didn’t die.”

That’s funny, because I actually wrote two versions of this pieceone where I didn’t have steam escaping from my ears. But you can see how that worked out.

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