ER’s Lesbian Relationship Dies a Long, Slow Death in Season 9


It all seemed so promising last summer, when we were waiting for the ninth season of ER to start. Coming off the eighth season, in which ER had featured a sexy, interesting, morally complicated storyline about Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) falling in love with Sandy Lopez (Lisa Vidal) and dealing with the consequences, we couldn’t help but be optimistic about the ninth season.

Surely the writers, who had done such interesting things with Kerry and Sandy’s relationship in the eighth season, would find even more creative ways to explore their relationship in the next season.

Then, somehow, somewhere, it all went wrong.

Not that we even saw much of their relationship in the first place. Sandy only appeared in three episodes over the entire season, and then only for a few minutes each time (while other less-central characters like Abby’s brother Carter’s grandmother, and Pratt’s brother all appeared in more episodes and for significantly more screen time).

In Episode 7 (“Tell Me Where It Hurts”), Lopez appears briefly at the end of Kerry’s shift to walk her home, and the two women, beaming, tell Dr. Susan Lewis that Kerry is pregnant. This is was the first sign of the long, slow death their relationship was to suffer this season.

Then in Episode 11 (“A little Help From My Friends”), we see a few minutes of Kerry and Sandy setting up the nursery, foreshadowing the trauma that is to come when Kerry has a miscarriage later that day. Finally, in Episode 15 (“A Boy Falling Out of the Sky”), Kerry and Sandy are talking about whether it’s time to try to get pregnant again when Kerry suddenly raises the issue of whether Sandy should carry the child instead. An argument ensues, in which Kerry pleads with Sandy to think about it despite Sandy’s firm assertion that she neither wants to carry a child nor could it withstand the demands of her job.

That is the last we saw of Sandy and Kerry’s relationship this season, which finally came to a close last week.

Although their screen time was minimal to say the least, the real death blow to the storyline around Kerry and Sandy’s relationship in Season Nine was reducing it to The Lesbian-Motherhood Storyline, a common plot device for series unsure of what to do with lesbian characters after they’ve exhausted the coming-out narrative. This cliched storyline has withstood the test of time despite being boring, predictable, and sexist, as lesbian couples on television shows as diverse as Friends (1994), Mad About You (1996), NYPD Blue (1996), Queer as Folk (2000) and many others have fallen victim to it.

Sandy’s refusal in Episode 15 to carry a child because she has no interest in being pregnant, and because it would interfere with her job as a firefighter (which she loves), at least counters the all-women-really-just-want-to-be-pregnant myth, but it doesn’t begin to make up for their relationship’s overall descent into Lesbian-Motherhood hell.

It wouldn’t have mattered if ER had devoted the whole season to Kerry and Sandy’s relationship if they were just going to spend it talking about the trials of trying to get pregnant ad nauseam. I’m not saying this storyline doesn’t have its place, but reducing their relationship to only discussions revolving around pregnancy significantly diminishes it and reinforces outdated stereotypes about women and motherhood.

Meanwhile, the heterosexual relationships on the show–Pratt and Chen, Carter and Abby, Susan and Chuck, Luka and various women–burned up hours of screen time this season, none of which revolved around pregnancy. This is an ensemble show, so it’s not like we’re expecting Kerry and Sandy to occupy a disproportionate amount of screen time, but it’s disappointing that the ER writers can find plenty of grist for the mill for their heterosexual relationships, but come up empty when it’s a relationship between two women.

On the other hand, Dr. Weaver had some interesting storylines in her professional life this season, particularly the multi-episode arc in which she deliberately failed to report the positive results of a politician’s syphilis test and had to face the consequences. Perhaps this was ER’s way of trying to make up for its poor showing on the relationship front, or perhaps they thought it would distract fans from noticing that Sandy wasn’t around much.

Laura Innes and Lisa Vidal both did an excellent job eking the most out of their respective characters this season, but even their best efforts couldn’t overcome the triteness of their storyline.

It is not yet known whether Sandy will be back next season, although the show has implied that the two women will still be together since they’re in a committed relationship (although we all know how long those last on television). But because TV writers don’t seem to know what to do with lesbians besides the coming-out story and sticking them with The Lesbian-Motherhood Storyline, and because they left the Kerry-Sandy relationship hanging after their big argument in Episode 15, it seems likely that we’ll just see another incarnation of this cliche next season.

Kerry will get pregnant and Sandy will just pop up once in a while to reaffirm that Kerry is indeed still gay, and the only time we’ll see or hear about their relationship is when they reveal the news about the pregnancy, and later, when they have the ubiquitous birth scene (probably in the middle of a hurricane which shuts down all the power in the hospital while a crazed patient hopped up on too much caffeine holds everyone hostage).

The worst part? Kerry and Sandy are currently slated to be the only lesbian couple on primetime network television next season. Which makes the loss of Kerry and Sandy’s relationship to the Lesbian Cliche graveyard more than just a setback for ER fans, but for all lesbian and bisexual viewers.

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