In the last two weeks, network TV has given us two very special lesbian episodes where gay women were part of the crimes at hand. On Fox’s Bones, out writer Lena Waithe penned the episode “The Psychic in the Soup,” which investigated the death of a lesbian psychic. On NBC’s The Blacklist’s “Vanessa Cruz,” a woman whose husband was blackmailed and murdered changes identities in order to punish those who were behind the crime, and she takes a female lover in the process.
The Bones episode, which aired two weeks ago, had Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel) seeking out the killer of a “beautiful black woman in her early ’30s” whose body was hidden in a tree. After finding out the woman was named Justine, the detectives bring in Justine’s father, who did not approve of her being a psychic. (He’s a Christian and thinks Justine was “playing with fire…quite literally.”)
Booth and Bones are let into Justine’s apartment by her landlord, a woman named Hilary wearing flannel and large tool belt. She calls Justine “incredible” and praises her psychic abilities.
The next person they meet is Alana Jackson (Gabrielle Dennis), a married mom who was giving money to Justine to help “protect her husband” while he’s serving in Afghanistan. But when she tells the agents that she “became close” with Justine and is genuinely upset to hear of her death, Booth says, “You were more than just friends, weren’t you? Look I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know how people react when they’ve heard that a loved one is dead. Did she threaten to tell your husband about your affair?”
Alana said that it wasn’t the case. She’d even offered to leave her husband for Justine, but Justine broke things off with her. “But that doesn’t mean I killed her,” Alana said, and she has an alibi: She was training for a triathlon with 14 other people. “You spoke to her father, right?” she asks. “I can’t imagine what he’d think if he heard we were having an affair.”
When it looks like Justine’s head was punctured by something that could be a cane like her Dad uses after he was injured in a car accident, they immediately think it must have been him, especially because he’s a man of God and his daughter was gay.
“Justine came out to me when she was 16-years-old. I supported her then as I do now,” Justine’s father (a pastor) tells the agent. “I am not God, Agent Aubrey. It’s not for me to judge.” His cane was a gift from his daughter, and he allows them to take it into evidence only after they produce a warrant.
When the cane comes up negative and a mallet that was used to put in flooring by Hilary is identified as the murder weapon, the landlord is called in and she says she didn’t kill Justine, but they did have a “lovers’ quarrel.” (“I loved her and I thought she loved me too. … I overheard her on the phone telling someone she loved someone more than she’d loved anyone before and I just freaked!”) Their fight ended up violent. (“I kind of accidentally threw my mallet at her head.”) But Justine survived that attack, and Hilary left. (“With her very much alive and Justine cussing at me the whole time.”)
Girlfriend number two, Alana, gets called back in, and it looks like she killed Justine with her daughter’s bike. (Her blood was in the chain.) It was all an accident: Justine wanted to “hug it out” after the break up, “to let our energies commune.” Alana pushed her away (“it was just a little push”) and Justine fell back onto her head injury from just days before, and died. Alana hid the body in a tree where she and Justine had carved their initials. The case ends with Alana crying about trying to protect her kids. Booth and Bones later say Alana strikes a deal for probation but Hilary is going to be charged with manslaughter, which Booth calls “the best of a bad situation.”
Sadly, this means there were two cases of violence against female partners in this episode. Even if it was because Hilary was “pissed” in a jealous rage, or Caroline was just giving “a little push,” the physicality ended in Justine’s death, and was a little too tritely touched on for such a serious subject. As someone who is not a regular Bones viewer, though, this could be the case for every episode. Sadly domestic violence in lesbian relationships isn’t touched upon as much as it should be in TV and film, and this felt like a missed opportunity to discuss its implications further. (Throwing a mallet at anyone: Never a good idea.)
On last week’s The Blacklist, FBI Profiler Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (Megan Boone) is led to hunt down a woman with many aliases, but whose real name is Vanessa Cruz (played by Ana de la Reguera). Vanessa’s husband was framed and made to look as if he committed suicide, so her revenge plot has her setting up shelf corporations and extorting the men of the 1 percent who took out her husband. She puts on a wig in disguise and is also a dominatrix, seducing them to their deaths. (Yeah, it’s a weird stretch.)
Vanessa has an unsuspecting girlfriend, Abby (Hani Avital) who is so enamored with her glamorous and rich lover that she will do anything for her, including help her escape when Megan finally tracks her down to bring her in for questioning. It seems Vanessa is bisexual, as she truly loved her husband and sought vengeance, but she also cared for Abby and let her live, even when she found out the full truth about her being a murderer.
Two queer murderers in two weeks and one dead lesbian. Not the ideal kind of visibility for network television, although these storylines are very much the nature of the shows in question: episodic whodunnits that attempt to bait and switch viewers so they are sucked into the mystery. It totally works, which is why both Bones and The Blacklist are hits.
On the plus side: Both shows brought in actresses of color to portray queer women. No one on The Blacklist bat an eye at the fact Vanessa had a girlfriend. I was happy to see that the Pastor father on Bones was accepting of his daughter’s sexuality (although totally weird he hated her being a psychic, but whatever!). Negatives: Bones‘s Angela was presented as bisexual in the past but hasn’t been referenced as such in years while The Blacklist has no regular LGBT characters at all. When shows like this have only one-off episodes that include queer characters, and they turn out to be killers or deceitful cheaters, it’s not a good showing. (Note: Three men wrote “Vanessa Cruz.”)
Not so long ago, these were the only kinds of portrayals we could hope to see on television, as regular lesbian/bisexual female characters weren’t yet embraced by showrunners and the powers that be. We could only hope for very special sweeps weeks kisses or episodes of Law & Order that featured a case with a lesbian twist. In 2015, we expect more from TV writers, so it’s not unfair to say that these two episodes are not necessarily worth your time to watch. Thankfully, there’s much better lesbian TV out there.