Carmen Redefines Family on “The L Word”

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Carmen’s family roots have been evident from the start. Even if relatives aren’t trotted out on camera until next season, they have already been introduced into the storyline in Carmen’s first episode. Soon after she mentions her father, we learn that Carmen presumably lives with her mom: Shane tracks Carmen down on the set of a music video and says she hopes it’s OK that Carmen’s mother said where to find her. When they’re making plans to see each other later that evening, Carmen suddenly remembers she is supposed to visit her grandmother–a commitment that supersedes certain sex with Shane.

If a woman on the show turns down a chance to hop in bed with Shane it’s worth noting her reason. Clearly we’re meant to see that family is very important to Carmen–perhaps to bolster her character’s Latina identity.

The only other women of color among the show’s lead characters, half-sisters Bette and Kit, are also the only other characters to have blood relatives play a part in their daily lives. Dana’s country club parents are only summoned to the set once their daughter is about to get married and is seeking their blessing, and we only see Alice’s mother briefly in the first season. The rest of the gang could be lifelong orphans for all the audience knows, so Carmen’s family-mindedness is particularly noticeable.

Carmen serves to redefine the group’s sense of family, both original and chosen, while posing a new challenge within the tight-knit family the characters comprise. She complicates the relationship between new best buddies and roommates Shane and Jenny, who grapple with their respective relationships to her and reveal new complexities within themselves along the way.

On Carmen’s first “date” with Shane the latter is making out with someone else and telling Carmen, “Look, I just want to enjoy myself tonight.” Jenny’s mouth is pleasantly inactive on her first date with Carmen, courtesy of Guinevere Turner’s brilliance in writing a “silence assignment” from Jenny’s writing instructor into the script. But differences between Jenny and Shane abound, making Carmen’s taste in women seem rather eclectic.

While Carmen seems to share only Brigitte Bardot fandom with Jenny, she and Shane have more than just cruel haircuts in common. With Shane Carmen enjoys passion that’s marked, literally, by a pulsating woofer as they get into it within the first hour of laying eyes on each other. It’s hard to imagine Carmen playing Too Hot–the sexy game she invents on the fly with Shane–with someone who responds to her “superluva costume” (the snug tank and undies she’s wearing when she first meets Jenny) with “I like it. It’s nice.”

Carmen and Shane also share a penchant for using Jenny to disguise or displace their feelings for each other. Carmen’s initial interest in Jenny is so suspect that it seems to be entirely a product of Shane keeping Carmen at a distance despite obvious mutual interest. And Shane’s nonchalance toward Carmen is more calculated than her characteristic casualness toward the women she sleeps with. She puts so much effort into talking Jenny and Carmen up to each other that at one point Carmen tells Shane, “Don’t try to hook me up.”

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