The Five Stages of Grief for Dead TV Lesbians

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Warning: Spoilers for the most recent episode of “Wentworth” ahead. Don’t read if you haven’t watched!

Another day, another dead queer woman, and the death toll continues. Can we get a Hunger Games cannon and sky projector for each queer woman on TV who’s felled? To be fair, the fact that we mourn our losses almost like real people is a credit to the actresses, writers, and directors who create these characters. Our favorite characters are imbued with a humanity and a realness that transcends mere figures on a screen. We believe in them, relate to them, and live vicariously through the stories they tell (see this fantastic article on the psychology of fandom for a more thorough explanation of why we empathize with characters). We have so few queer female characters that every good one is like the last gasp of air before you dive beneath the water—you take in as much as you can because you don’t know when you’ll come up for air again. 

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In so many ways, these characters and their romantic relationships are the embodiment of hope for the queer female community, and when one is taken, it feels like society is continuing to reject us and tell us that we don’t deserve happiness. In the end, Elizabeth Bennet gets her Darcy, Lucy and Desi live happily ever after, and Joey chooses Pacey.

But for half of TV lesbians, the end is an “emotionally powerful death that drives the plotline forward.” Great. Because we invest so much emotion into our favorite queer TV characters, their deaths can feel devastating. Frustrating. Unfair. The following are the five stages of grief the queer female community goes through when yet another character is lost. 

Stage 1: Denialgiphy

We try to process what we just saw onscreen, but don’t want to admit its finality. Did the death really happen? The show is probably just trying to amp up the drama and keep us guessing. What if it was a fantasy sequence, or the character was just critically wounded, rather than mortally wounded? She could still be alive! If it’s a fantasy/sci-fi show, can the character be brought back to life? This can’t be the end because we DIDN’T GET ENOUGH TIME! This was the start of a happy life, why is it crashing down?  

Stage 2: Sadness followed by anger and resentment1510960_orig

Some of us cry, and there’s no shame in that. These deaths are, as they are meant to be, powerfully emotionally evocative. They are gutting. These characters resonate with us on a very deep level, and knowing they are fictional characters played by actresses doesn’t necessarily make their deaths less painful. Even after the tears have dried, there is a sadness that our most beloved characters are now gone forever, with no hope of coming back. They could have just exited stage left, allowing us to pretend that they lived to find happiness off-screen, but through their death, we’re denied even the option to imagine a happy life. This pale glimmer of hope is ruthlessly crushed. If the character has left a partner behind, we grieve empathetically for that partner, too, who now bears the burden of that death. Sometimes it’s harder to be the one left behind than the one that goes.  

Sadness is then sooner or later swept aside by anger. Anger that yet another character has been tossed aside, often after starting a wonderful, loving same-sex relationship that fans loved (also: in some of these recent deaths, TV seems to be continuing the old movie trope of women dying immediately after having sex. Have we not moved past this puritanical retaliation for a woman’s sexual empowerment?). Anger that all our efforts to stop the killing of queer women on TV seem to be going nowhere and our characters are still the victims of a system has perversely twisted our love against us.

Because the queer female fandom hurts when our characters are killed, their deaths are as a knife sunk in and twisted to squeeze the maximum emotion out of us. It’s powerful drama, don’t you know? Anger that we can hardly get a full season of happiness before our characters are killed. Why do shows continue to treat their fanbase in this way? We’re nothing but loyal, positive, and supportive, so why are we being punished? Why continue watching, if the show has proven that it doesn’t respect its queer female fans? Why? Why? Why any of this?

Stage 3: Bargainingtumblr_mq0ldyc7lY1rso5hoo1_250

Fans begin petitions to bring the character back. If only the showrunners see how unpopular the character’s death is, they’ll bring her back. They’re creative types—they’ll find a way. If the show will just bring the character back, we’ll keep watching and pretend the death never happened. We’ll never again complain. We will trade Jenny Schecter for the characters that we really like. Deal?  

Stage 4: Rewatching clips on YouTube and reading fanfice80a9858d7bbd445e95c4662db06d8156590bdd1128f0929222723c22b007714_1

This isn’t one of the clinically recognized “five stages of grief,” but many of us end up obsessively watching old clips of our favorite character (especially if that character is in a couple) on Youtube. It’s a bittersweet moment: we mourn what might have been while admiring and enjoying what we did have. The journey might have ended in disappointment, but until we reached the end, it was a fantastic, happy trip. We remember why we were drawn to the character in the first place, and relive some of the excitement we felt watching the character develop through her storyline.

If watching clips isn’t enough, we turn to fanfic, seeking the happy ending we were denied. Our characters can live on forever, in fanfic. It can still be happily ever after if we choose to pretend the canon ending, death, never happened.

Stage 5: Acceptancetumblr_m7nyedsh4f1ryiagzo1_500

We accept that our favorite characters have suffered from TV’s desire to produce emotional angst by killing them because there’s nothing we can do about it. We accept that these characters will not be resurrected and that there will be no happy ending for them. We don’t have to like it, or forgive the show that callously wrung our feelings from us for its own ends, but there is no alternative. To quote Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat:

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,/Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit/Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,/Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

To put it another way, you can rewind an episode, but you can’t rewind the whole show and rewrite the ending.

In another article, I wrote about what percentage of people want happy endings from storylines. I always want a happy ending. I want my TV couples to be happy and live out their natural lives together in a happy relationship because it’s what I want for myself. I hate that my favorite OTP (one true pair) got ripped apart by a gun battle at their wedding and that Silvia died while trying to direct Pepa on to remove the bullet from her stomach. I hate that Xena died for some completely nonsensical, stupid reason in Japan, of all places. I hate that Lexa’s death (unintentionally) represents everything that is wrong with that character’s death: that she was killed by a white male who thought he knew best. I hate that Bea was killed after she finally found the happiness that had eluded her for so long. And I hate that I blubbered helplessly for all these deaths, huge gasping breaths with red face and sodden cheeks. 

But, I will say one thing: if we’re going to lose characters, then I want them to go the way Bea did: believing that she was protecting her friends and going to rejoin the people she loved most: her daughter and the woman who looked at her and saw her. The woman who never gave up on her; who taught her what real love could do. Bea died in peace with a smile on her face because she believed that just on the other side of life, her other seahorse was waiting for her, forever linked. And we know, based on Bea’s own conception of the afterlife, that when Allie dies, Bea will be there waiting for her.

We may hate that Wentworth took Bea and Ballie from us, but I think it did us a favor that I hadn’t seen a show do before: it told us that everything was going to be okay. Believe what you will, but I think those two seahorse clouds weren’t just Bea’s imagination; they were a message from the show about the transcendent power of their love. It was the show’s way of giving us a happily ever after.    

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