Notes & Queeries: Change Comes to “The L Word”


Notes & Queeries is a monthly column that focuses on the personal side of pop culture for lesbians and bisexual women.

Over the course of six seasons, the women of The L Word have certainly gone through their share of drama: baby kidnapping, mushroom tripping, salon burning, bride-at-the-altar leaving, nefarious-sex-video blackmailing.

I could go on.

But while I was watching the first half of this final season of Showtime’s lesbian drama, I kept returning to the fact that despite all these crises, the main characters are remarkably unchanged.

Bette, ever the alpha dyke, still struggles to stay faithful to Tina. Tina still battles to have her voice heard, whether it be by Bette or her boss.

Shane still entangles herself with women who become obsessed with her, and she still fears commitment.

Kit still can’t find her true love.

Alice is still quirky.

And Jenny is still crazy.

That’s not to say that they are exactly the same as they were in Season 1. When we first met them, they were only skeletons. Now, their neuroses have been fully fleshed out. Their personalities have solidified.

Take Bette, for instance. In Season 1, she had an affair with Candace, a sexy carpenter, while her seven-year relationship with Tina was on the rocks. When this story line first aired, it was the first time we saw Bette in this kind of situation, but as the seasons progressed, it became clear that Bette has always found it difficult to stay faithful to her partners.

In the first season, she cheated on Tina with Candace. In Season 5, when Bette was with Jodi, she cheated on Jodi with Tina. When Bette’s previous relationships are mentioned by other characters, it is Bette’s wandering eye that gets remembered — she even cheated on Alice, apparently, during their short-lived relationship.

During the first half of this sixth season, Bette’s flirtation temptation has been front-and-center as she reconnects with a beautiful former roommate; nearly every episode so far has involved Bette and Tina rehashing Bette’s tendency to stray.

Bette has almost become an archetype: She is the magnetic, powerful woman who struggles with temptation, her signature weakness.

A critical viewer of The L Word might well question whether Bette’s repeated trips down the same path constitute quality writing, but Jennifer Beals, as an actor, manages to bring newness to these similar experiences.

She somehow makes each iteration feel like yet another layer being added to the character of Bette.

I think that Bette’s cyclical story lines are partly a reflection of the genre that The L Word fits into: soap opera. You may have noticed that even if you haven’t watched Days of Our Lives for years, you can turn it on and almost instantly know what’s going on. The soap serial relies on lengthy continuing story arcs focused on character development, often over the course of years. Any given character might make the same mistake multiple times before she learns from it — if she learns from it.

I also believe that Bette’s repeated struggles are perfectly understandable. We’ve all heard that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, but it’s also very human.

Even if you are aware of the error of your ways — and Bette is clearly aware — change is hard. It’s hard enough when it happens to you. Forcing yourself to change a behavior that has become a habit can feel like attempting to move a mountain with only the power of your own small shoulder.

Usually, it’s just easier to take a path you’ve been down before.

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