Did THE 100 Just Step on a Fresh Landmine?
By Pauline Perenack
Jason Rothenberg just can’t seem to help himself – he’s a magnet for sexist tropes.
By killing off The 100 fan favorite, Lexa, Rothenberg recently found himself in the middle of a firestorm surrounding Lexa’s victimization at the hands of the ‘Dead Lesbian Syndrome.’
Following weeks of backlash from fans and critics, Rothenberg apologized, explaining he did not realize how powerful Lexa’s death would be for fans.
I initially (up to a point) believed his explanation that the ‘Dead Lesbian Syndrome’ wasn’t intentional, because, as Maureen Ryan points out in her fantastic article “Why the Controversial Death on The 100 Matters,” the shortened timelines of this season have definitely created issues, and ultimately helped contribute to the inclusion of Lexa in this cliche literary device. There was too short a time between Clarke and Lexa sleeping together, and Lexa’s subsequent death, instantly giving truth to Sex=Death.
However, after the most recent episode of The 100, “Stealing Fire,” the impact of The 100’s beleaguered EP apologies falls short, chiefly because Rothenberg managed to include Lexa in yet another sexist trope – ‘Women in Refrigerators.’
For those unfamiliar with ‘Women in Refrigerators,’ the term was coined by writer Gail Simone, and is used to describe the use of the death or injury of a female character as a plot device. Cases of it deal with a gruesome injury or murder of a female character at the hands of a supervillain, usually as a motivating personal tragedy for a male superhero, to whom the victim is connected. The death or injury of the female character then helps cement the hatred between the hero and the villain responsible.
While the ‘Women in Refrigerators’ device was once primarily based within the comic book world, it can be readily applied here to the character of Lexa. Though her plot-line doesn’t follow the trope description letter by letter (we have a female hero, instead of a male hero), it’s frighteningly close, which is disturbing. Having watched “Stealing Fire,” we see that Lexa’s death seems to have been carefully planned out from the beginning, fully establishing both it, and Lexa, within the trope, and further proving that Rothenberg simply isn’t aware of who is audience is – young women – and the effect he has on them.
To scratch the surface of the issue, fans took issue with the fact that Lexa’s death was used as a plot device. She was a victim of senseless and unnecessary violence, and wasn’t given the warrior’s death she deserved. Her death came at the hand of the supervillain (the Grounder’s mantra of, “Blood must have Blood” or, constant war), and is being used as a motivating personal tragedy of our hero, Clarke. Her murder was used to cement Clarke’s hatred of the notion of war and the victims it takes, and to strengthen her resolve to end the war.
Following the storm of protest in the weeks that followed the incident, we all know that Alycia Debnam-Carey had to leave the show because of her commitment as a series regular on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead. However, the real truth is that Lexa was wearing a red shirt from the moment she first appeared on our screens. While it wasn’t obvious initially, we can see now that Lexa’s death was necessary to illustrate the concept of technology rebirth (the burgeoning plot-line of ALLIE), and push forward the mythology Rothenberg has created. There is no other way they could have shown this concept to us. The writers had to have known about this storyline for a while, given that we have been seen glimpses of the character of Luna since season one, and we now know that Luna was the missing member of Lexa’s ascension.
Keeping all that in mind, let’s dive deeper into how exactly the ‘Women in Refrigerators’ trope applies to Lexa. In a cast ensemble like The 100, arguments are often made as to which character(s) are seen as ‘core.’ One thing we can all agree on is that Clarke is the main heroine.
Throughout the first season and a half, Clarke had a specific storyline, which was derailed once she met Lexa. The romance between the two had been building, but was interrupted by Lexa’s betrayal at the end of season two. However, season three provided fans of these two characters another chance to watch their relationship grow to the point where Lexa and Clarke truly trusted one another.
They were the perfect match – Clarke provided Lexa with the sense of love, and the belief that anything was possible, and Lexa provided Clarke with a sense of belonging. However, faced with meeting her soulmate, and given the choice to settle into the flow of Polis, the difficult choices Clarke had to face were coming to a natural end. She no longer had to fight for anything.
Sure, she was aware of the burgeoning uprising of Pike within her people, and the destruction it was causing on the other clans, but she had successfully convinced Lexa to have Skaikru contained within their own camp, and knew deep down her mother and Kane would be able to overtake Pike. Once Pike was overthrown, she could successfully return to Polis to be with Lexa.
But because The 100 needs to have its main hero be pushed forward in her storyline, Clarke’s girlfriend/lover was murdered before her own eyes by a stray bullet. With Lexa’s death, Clarke was made aware of the AI technology that technically is intended for Ontari, the ruthless and lone surviving Nightblood, who would guarantee a continuation of war, and the ultimate destruction of Skaikru. Clarke now has personal motivation to move her story further along, and a need to prevent the rise of Ontari and the continuation of “Blood must have Blood.” To do this, Clarke took the AI and became the new Flame Keeper in hopes of giving the AI to the new commander and continuing what Lexa was working towards – peace. With Lexa’s death and the new threat of Ontari, Clarke has a renewed and powerful reason to search for peace, and her hate of war, which was initially just embers, is now fully ablaze.
With this kind of motivation, we can expect Clarke to do everything she can to defeat the ‘supervillain’ of war, protect her people, and push for peace on all sides. In order to do so, it would not surprise me if Clarke takes on the AI herself, and uses the strength of Lexa and all the Commanders before her to help in her quest. It looks as though her first challenge will be ALLIE herself, and after that obstacle, Clarke will somehow need to convince Luna to join her in defeating Ontari to bring peace throughout the clans. With this new mission, the murder of Lexa has pretty much solidly established the presence of the ‘Women in Refrigerators’ trope.
I understand that in a dystopian show like The 100, deaths of characters should be expected, and sometimes even necessary, however, Jason Rothenberg needs to reevaluate his storyline for season four so he can move past these sexist story-telling devices, and into something much more rewarding for fans of the show. It’s important to not be so focused on the vision that you lose sight of the details, and I think that is where the show has stumbled this season. Unfortunately season three has already been written and filmed, meaning nothing can be changed for this season, but with the recent renewal news from the CW concerning a fourth season, there is hope for something better.
If he’s smart, Rothenberg will actually take to heart the voices of his fans, and stay away from writing a character into yet another lazy and offensive cul de sac. While Lexa’s death was unfortunate, we as fans can at least feel better knowing she made a difference, not just on our screens, but in our hearts, and that is why she will always be remembered.