Boob(s On Your) Tube: “Claws” and “Dark Matter” Didn’t Quite Live Up to Their Queer Potential This Summer

May I interest you in a fall TV preview written by me and Riese? How about a recap of The Bold Type from Kayla and a recap of Wynonna Earp from Valerie Anne? Heather Davidson ranked the UK’s reality dating shows by queerness, and had a few feelings about the all-new Sue- and Mel- and Mary-less Great British Bake Off. Here’s what else happened on teevee! (I owe you an update of The Fosters; I’ll give you double the love next week.)


Dark Matter

Written by Valerie Anne

I want to start this by saying that I enjoy Dark Matter. Quite a lot. I even love it sometimes. Two is a fierce woman of color who runs the show and everyone knows it. Five is a teenage girl who is universally acknowledged to be smarter than all the grown-ups. The Android is more than just a robot and happens to be played by lesbian icon Zoie Palmer. And despite all their sterile-sounding names, the show deals a lot with the complexity of emotion and what makes a person who they are.

Until this year, they didn’t have much by way of LGBTQ+ characters. If they had any in the first two seasons, it was a one-off in a side story, nothing regular. There was always the question; sexuality always seems more fluid in space adventures and I always interpreted Two and Nyx’s interactions as flirting. But nothing concrete. The closest thing I can think of, besides Zoie Palmer just existing, is when Ruby Rose played an Australian sexbot.

So in this third season they decided to attempt to represent us. I say attempt because I think they missed the mark a little. They shot twice and the first one missed the target altogether. The second one was at least on the target, though on the outer ring. I have hope that next season will be a bullseye, but only time will tell.

The first shot was in the first episode of the third season. Nyx had been murdered at the end of the previous season, and Two found herself trapped in a cockpit, losing oxygen fast. She hallucinates Nyx and laments never properly saying goodbye, and before Two is saved and Nyx disappears, the two women share a kiss.

And then Nyx disappears. And frankly I find it annoying that the first time they imply their lead character might be bisexual is by using a ghost and an imagined kiss. I was willing to file it as a win though, until in interviews, creators and actors alike implied that it might just be a kiss between friends. (http://bit.ly/2wTfYon)

If one more person gal pals an obviously queer situation I’m going to start setting things on fire.

Anyway, most of the season goes on – the show’s third season, I remind you – without ever mentioning or alluding to Two’s potential queerness again for quite some time. They do get a new woman on board who is a fierce fighter and is definitely queer (she tells Three about the “first girl” she ever loved) but she’s not around for very long.

It just didn’t make sense to me. The show was getting so much right, and has an actual badass queer woman in their main cast, and yet kept dropping the ball on having a decent queer storyline. Eventually they stepped it up and revealed that before Two was just a number, and before she was the wanted criminal Portia Lin, she was a woman named Rebecca. And Rebecca was in love with a doctor named Dr. Irena Shaw. Who looks an awful lot like the Android.

Irina was dying so Rebecca put her in stasis and made Android in her image, but when they wake Irina up, Rebecca is long gone and Two doesn’t remember loving her. I was kind of hoping there would be a kiss to try to jog her memory but alas. That arm-wrap was all we got.

However, all hope’s not lost for the future of queer representation on the show. Dr. Irina Shaw is out of stasis now, so arguably still dying, but they’ve been uploading consciousnesses into bodies lately, so it’s possible she won’t die fully. And it was revealed (if kind-of-evil emperors who are about to die are to be believed) that Rebecca and Irina may have used future science to mix their DNA and made a baby. Technically Two may or may not be possessed by aliens right now, but that’ll surely turn out fine. Right?

Anyway, I’ll give this season of Dark Matter an A for effort re: queer representation, but probably about a C+ in execution. It wasn’t BAD rep, it was just lackluster, especially sandwiched between its sister Syfy Friday shows, Killjoys and Wynonna Earp. Better luck next year, Dark Matter. I’m rooting for you, truly.

Claws

Written by Natalie

Early in the penultimate episode of Claws‘ first season, Quiet Ann and her girlfriend are rolling around in bed when they’re interrupted by a text from Virginia. It reminds Ann that she’s due at work, but all Arlene wants to do is stay in bed and play. They compromise and opt for shower sex, instead — Arlene jumps up to get the water going, while Ann finds the perfect toy for the occasion in her girlfriend’s overflowing drawer.

Two women of color making out on my screen, one of whom is a butch Latina? I should be thrilled…this is my catnip…but, instead, I’m underwhelmed, perplexed and a little frustrated.

Am I supposed to ‘ship these characters? When Ann stumbles upon Arlene’s work files under her bed — files which, seemingly, implicate Desna in the Coombses’ murder — am I supposed to sympathize with Ann’s inevitable choice between Desna and Arlene? We’re eight episodes into Claws and I feel like I barely know Ann — I care about her character in large part because Desna does — much less this detective who Ann professes to be in love with. I feel bad for Arlene’s lost sobriety, as she drives her car into the median, into a DUI and, likely out of a job, but not for the potential lost romance.

There’s substance to Quiet Ann — the brief glimpses we get into her past are intriguing — but each and every time there’s a possibility to make this show’s butch Latina into something other than a plot device, the writers go the other way. And, ultimately, that’s the story of Claws‘ first season — a show overflowing with potential that squanders it with embarrassing regularity.

But let’s back up a little and recap where the Nail Artisan gang ends the first season…

Last we saw Desna, she was trying to strike a gentleman’s agreement with Roller — if he doesn’t tell Uncle Daddy about her role in his “death,” she won’t tell Uncle Daddy about the money he’s been embezzling from the Dixie Mafia for himself and the Russians. Predictably, Roller turns out not to be much of a gentleman and, instead, forces Desna into her car at gunpoint, as he goes to collect the money to pay off his debt to the Russians. After her gets the money, he promises to put a bullet in her and convince Uncle Daddy that everything that went wrong was her fault.

As they drive from bank to bank, emptying out the nail salon’s accounts, we’re treated to flashbacks of how Desna and Roller got together in the first place. Roller’s smitten almost immediately when he walks into Nail Artisan but Desna doesn’t have time for it, she’s too busy trying to find a way to make ends meet. Claws paints a picture of a man who genuinely does care for Desna, but never enough to sacrifice his own comfort, to take care of her. He could easily help her with rent, with fixing her car or with the protection cost she’s paying to keep Polly safe while in prison, but he doesn’t. Instead, he invites her into his world and pays her for her work.

Desna’s able to send out some distress signals while in Roller’s custody — first, to a clueless Virginia, then, to a hapless bank teller and finally to a police officer who ignores her cry because of his allegiance to Uncle Daddy. Roller allows Desna one final call to Dean which he spends talking to Des about his plans to marry Virginia. She repeatedly urges Roller to tell Uncle Daddy, but he refuses, even after the Russians change the meet-up spot to an abandoned theme park and Desna tells him about her conversation with Riva.

Sure enough, when Roller arrives, a gunfight breaks out and Roller manages to kill one Russian and injure the other, before escaping into the theme park. He pushes Desna to her knees and points the gun at her head, while she pleads for her life. When she sees the remaining Russian approaching, she warns Roller and uses the distraction to escape.

Meanwhile, Uncle Daddy and Bryce have a meeting with Ted (Michael Emerson), the tie-dye wearing, candle making leader of the Dixie Mafia, to talk about war with the Russians. Ted doesn’t let the Hussers make much of an argument before he rejects the idea, worried about the police attention a war might bring. When Bryce protests the decision, without the talking stick in hand, Ted beats him with it, before reaffirming his position. Angry, and high as a kite, Bryce shoves Ted as he’s leaving and inadvertently kills the head of the Dixie Mafia.

When Dean arrives at Nail Artisan, he tells Polly he’s going to propose and that Desna approves of his impending union. Polly, who’s been worried about Desna all day, knows something’s wrong now. She asks Virginia to relay her earlier conversation with Desna and Polly recognizes “euphoria salad” as “ambrosia salad,” the code word Desna gave Polly to use in case she ran into trouble in prison. The girls and Dean pile into the Mystery Machine and rush to the amusement park where Desna’s phone is pinging.

They arrive and find the dead Russian and Desna’s phone, but no Desna. The Nail Artisans gang climbs back in the Mystery Machine and circles the park looking for their leader. Desna spots the van and runs to catch up, with Roller hot on her heels. Dean pulls his sister into the van, just out of Roller’s grasp, and they speed out of the park. Desna tells Ann to head towards Jen’s house, as the Russians might go after the Jen’s children next.

To his credit, Roller does the same thing — calling Uncle Daddy and warning him about the impending Russian attack. Uncle Daddy calls his wife, Juanda, who’s watching the girls, and tells her to get over to the strip club. Positively giddy about the prospect of war, she packs up her things, including her revolver, and puts the girls in the car. When she rushes back inside to get her ring — WHY?! — she discovers a Russian in her living room. She pulls her gun out, only to discover she forgot to pack the bullets, and, instead, she fights off her Russian attacker. She bashes his skull in with a statue before another Russian shoots her through the window.

When Juanda doesn’t arrive at She She’s, Bryce and Uncle Daddy rush to the house to see what’s gone wrong. Juanda dies in Uncle Daddy’s arms and Bryce discovers only one of his children. The Russians got Brienne — Jen’s black daughter — and left his other daughter with a message scrawled on her forehead: “BRING US ROLLER.”

Where’s Jen been all this time? Doing a different kind of hoedown with Hank. In her post-coital bliss, she ignores her texts and phone calls and doesn’t find out about Brienne until Desna comes banging on Hank’s door. Of course, as she collects all her clothes, Jen puts all the blame for the kidnapping on Desna.

Everyone meets back at She She’s and Roller finally reveals what started all this: Olga, Riva’s underage niece, who he slept with and got pregnant. Since then, the Russians have been blackmailing him for $30,000 a month. An already livid Uncle Daddy realizes that he’s been betrayed and Bryce realizes that his brother’s responsible for Brienne’s kidnapping, so, this happens:

These stupid white dudes fighting (with Whitney Houston playing in the background!!) while this black woman waits for them to tire themselves out so she can fix their problems. As ridiculous as it is, it’s my absolute favorite scene of the entire first season…and a fitting metaphor for the moment our country is in.

Since Roller’s in a sharing mood, he reveals one last secret: Virginia and Desna were really responsible for his near death. This time, Desna defends herself by claiming that Roller was out of control and needed to be put down, but she needn’t make excuses. Uncle Daddy can’t kill Desna because she’s their only hope of getting Brienne back.

“I’m sick of dealing with men,” Riva said. “Send me the manicurist.”

Desna goes to Riva and, after seeing that Jen’s daughter is okay, she shares the Hussers’ offer: $250,000 for Brienne’s safe return. Riva rejects the offer, she wants Roller for Brienne, but Desna knows that Uncle Daddy won’t give his nephew up. Desna counters with a percentage of Uncle Daddy’s businesses, a proposal that interests Riva. Desna suggests 25%, Riva counters with 75% and, ultimately, they agree to an equal split.

Desna takes Riva’s offer back to She She’s and Uncle Daddy, unwilling to trade on his nephew or his granddaughter’s lives, reluctantly agrees. He goes to meet Riva to formalize the deal but the terms have changed: she wants everything. Uncle Daddy tries to fight back — holding her a gunpoint, Bryce and Dr. Ken getting the drop on her thugs — but she counters him every time, ultimately having the entire club of old people, pointing guns at their heads. They’re all Russians now.

With everything settled, Desna returns to her dream salon, as the girls prepare for opening. Desna hands the keys to Jen, apologizes for everything that she’s done and says that she has to return to Nail Artisans to launder money for Riva — it was part of the deal to get Brienne back. Jen rejects her Desna’s offer and passes the keys to Polly, who rejects it and hands them to Quiet Ann who passes them off to Virginia, who rejects the offer as well. There’s no breaking this crew up so it’s back to Palmetto Plaza we go.

[That sound you hear is me sighing, lamenting that on a show that’s made so rich by it’s diversity, the black female lead is forced to give up her dream, again, for the whims of white folks.]

Meanwhile, Uncle Daddy’s not taking Riva’s moves lying down and he goes to his former competition for help. And who’s running things for the Haitians? Desna’s new lover, Dr. Gregory Duval, who I knew was too good to be true.

There’s so much squandered potential on this show and yet, even if I wasn’t recapping this show, I’d probably still be watching…because there’s so much potential.

Niecy Nash is, as always, impossibly charming and alluring and she’s capable of so much more than what they’ve allowed her to do here. I thought Karrueche Tran’s hiring on Claws was stunt casting — TNT’s effort to transform Tran’s infamy into promotion for the show — but she feels like a revelation; she is perfectly cast as Virginia. Carrie Preston is…well…Carrie Preston, proving that those Emmy nominations for The Good Wife weren’t flukes. Preston does a great job of keeping Polly’s excesses at bay so the audience can love the character. There’s so much potential and that’s why, despite my many misgivings, I keep watching.

“Don’t be sorry! Do better!” Dean yells at Desna during the season finale. “Stop making stupid life choices!”

Claws‘ writers would do well to follow Dean’s advice. Do better, Claws‘ writers. Trust the supremely talented actors you have and write a script as talented as they are. Stop making stupid life writing choices.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 889 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. I tried watching Dark Matter but had a hard time getting into it. So what you’re telling me is that it was retro-actively revealed that Two’s entire motivation that lead her to where she is today, is that she is a queer woman who tried to save her female lover, but the writers spent three seasons NOT showing her to be queer in any meaningful way? But they did find time to assault our eyes by having her sleep with the guy on the crew who is like a rip-off of Jayne from Firefly and one of the biggest assholes in the show? That’s what you’re telling me?

    • Yeah, I enjoy Dark Matter, but it really has some problems. That said, Three (the Jayne ripoff) actually has what is probably the best character arc in the show, if you can get past him being a pointless white guy jerk in the first season. Season three, for all its faults, is where this show really hit its stride.

      Also. Just watch Killjoys. It’s pretty great, and this season it has turned into “queers in space do one liners!” Which may be my favorite tv genre ever.

    • I like Dark Matter and can understand why others are like “meh”. In its defense, none of the crew of the Raza have memories of their past. Two doesn’t learn about her about her relationship with Irina and their child until this season. When Four related some of her memories to her, she was not trying to “save the woman she loves,” but make enough money to go away with their child. To be honest, it is a little unclear because she does not have memories and we get a small sliver of her story from Four and an android.

      As I type this, I realized that the plot is prob confusing to someone who has not watched the series on a regular basis. Sigh…maybe forgot I wrote anything.

    • My theory is the Two/Android connection came to the writers around mid to late season 2. As somebody who has seen every episode even I didn’t see it coming that it was that Irina was a former lover.

      In Three’s defense, the writers did fully flesh out his character in a way Joss Whedon never did with Jayne. He’s really not that characterization anymore. And Two and Three only slept together the once way back in Season 1. She told him back then she wasn’t interested in anything more beyond that then the writers brought back Sarah for him. I do think Two/Three might be endgame though.

      • Me too. I was kind of surprised that the cliffhanger was so big, but I guess the season 2 finale was similar (I can’t remember the season 1 finale lol). I just read that Killjoys has been renewed for 2 final seasons, so at least they will get to finish what they have started. I don’t watch Killjoys (thought I usually see the final 15 or so minutes), but I’m happy for them after the Dark Matter news.

  2. I’ve seen every episode of Dark Matter and I love it but yeah I was hoping a bit more in terms of how they handled Two’s sexuality and the Two/Android reveal. But I’m biased because Two is my favorite character. I really hope the show gets renewed and they will cover it more.

    Two gave Irina her nanites to slow down her disease so she would live longer. Because the character is played by Zoie Palmer, I don’t think the writers have any real intention of killing that character. Just like they haven’t killed any of the other actors AU characters on the show. They really seem to like having these Doubles to allow the actors to play different characters. Besides, they should have been killed Four after his heel-turn but they haven’t.

  3. So, as I mentioned in Riese and Heather’s fall preview, I’ll be taking up residence in the BOYT comments’ section to talk about developments on soaps. If you’ve ever been a soap fan–it’s an acquired taste, I know–it’s a good time to revisit your old faves…as daytime is getting a whole lot gayer this fall.

    Maya wasn’t a big part of Bold this week, but spoilers suggest she’s got some good stuff coming so I’ll report back next week. Don’t worry though, The Young and the Restless and General Hospital gave us plenty to talk about…

    This week on Y&R, Mariah pushes past Tessa’s initial resistance and convinces Tessa to share what’s bothering her. Tessa admits that, after her run-in at the motel, she’s more worried about her sister than ever. Mariah tells Tessa that she has to go to the cops, but Tessa’s reluctant–the thug at the motel threatened to hurt her sister, if Tessa told anyone–but Mariah reminds her that Crystal’s already being hurt and going to the police is the best way to stop it.

    The girls arrive at the GCPD and share the new information with Sharon and the police chief (hey, Paul!). Tessa’s revelations are, much to Tessa’s surprise, received without judgment by Sharon–her boyfriend’s mother commits to being Tessa’s family and helping her find her sister. Once alone, Mariah reassures Tessa that coming to the police was the right thing to do and Tessa thanks Mariah for giving her the courage to do it. They do the handholding thing and Tessa pulls Mariah into a tight hug–which is code for “these people are going to make out soon” in soaps–before Tessa interrupts to say that she now has to tell her boyfriend the truth. Noah handles the revelations well, aside from being miffed that Tessa told Mariah before she told him.

    Meanwhile, Sharon does exactly what Paul told her not to do and keeps investigating the sex trafficking ring on her own. She runs into Alice, the woman who adopted Sharon’s baby years ago, and notices that Alice is driving the same car as the thug who bailed out the prostitutes. Sharon’s boyfriend, Scott, tracks down Alice’s address and–surprise!–contrary to her claims, Alice has been living in Genoa City this entire time.

    Over at GC Buzz, Mariah and her nemesis/boss/co-host, Hilary, have yet another spat about Devon. Turns out, Devon flaked on their date because he was spending time catching up with his newly single ex-wife. Mariah again questions Devon’s commitment to their relationship and Devon again assures her of his fidelity.

    Outgoing Y&R head writer Sally Sussman promised that Mariah and Tessa’s love story would be a slow burn and she definitely wasn’t kidding…things are moving at a glacial pace. And while I see why that might be frustrating–particularly since we haven’t seen much ambivalence from Tessa over Noah–I like the build up and the character development. That said, it feels like the sex trafficking story is sprawling out-of-control. By my count, 14 (!) named characters and many unnamed day players, are implicated in this storyline…it’s just too much. Also? I’m tired of seeing Mariah have the same fight with Devon over and over again.

    Things are supposed to heat up for the couple next week, so now’s a good time to catch up with what Tessa and Mariah are up to on Youtube.

  4. Meanwhile, over on General Hospital

    Kristina cons her new BFF, Valerie, into hitting up Lesbian Night at the local watering hole. It’s Kristina’s first outing into Port Charles gay scene–who knew Port Charles even had a gay scene!–and she was too afraid to come alone. Valerie handles the revelation well and settles into a night of cocktails, no creepy guys hitting on her and being the best wingwoman Kristina could ask for.

    Valerie scopes out some options for Kristina when she spots a beautiful blonde across the room…surprise…it’s Parker. The newly minted PCU professor comes over to say hello to Kristina and gets a brief introduction to Val, before Parker’s pool playing partner pulls her away. Kristina gives Valerie the quick rundown on her history with Parker and, like any good friend should, Valerie automatically hates Parker for having dumped her friend. Then, Valerie goes above and beyond the call of wingwoman duty and kisses Kristina to make Parker regret dumping her.

    So, let me go on record as saying I wasn’t a big fan of this scene…it felt juvenile when the dialogue’s been stressing how much Kristina’s matured in the last year. Plus, Parker Forsyth hanging out at Lesbian Night at the Floating Rib? And then Parker’s overt reaction to Valerie and Kristina’s kiss? It all felt very out of character. The chemistry between Ashley Jones and Lexi Ainsworth saves the bad writing on GH most of the time, but this just felt bad all-around.

    That said, the scene did have some utility:

    1. Kristina’s reaction to the kiss answered a lingering question: she’s not Parker-sexual, Kristina likes kissing girls.

    2. I don’t know if the writers intend for Valerie and Kristina to be a thing…if they’re chemistry testing for a future pairing or if they’re just meant to be good friends…but either way, I’m kind of intrigued.

    Also? Shout out to Brytni Sarpy, who plays Valerie…as “straight girl kisses queer BFF to make ex jealous” kisses go, that was pretty damn impressive.

    Next week, we’ll see the fallout from Lesbian Night, when Kristina, Parker, and Valerie cross paths. To see more of the kiss, or to catch up with Parker and Kristina’s entire backstory, check out this comprehensive playlist.

    • That was one helluva kiss supposed “straight girl” Valerie gave Kristina. She went above and beyond the Call of Duty. It’s been a while(if ever!) that we’ve had any sort of same-sex kiss delivered with that much gusto on a soap opera. It’s usually a peck and a cutaway.

      I assume they are chem testing Val with Kristina, which I don’t hate. I wonder if they are aiming for a love triangle. I remember they did one with their three male gay characters a few years back. Are any of these actresses even on contract? That’s the one thing that worries me.

  5. I was so excited by the prospect of Claws that I bought the entire season on Amazon before it aired and now I can’t even bring myself to finish it…

    It’s a testament to the RIDICULOUS writing that anything with Niecy Nash and Carrie Preston could make me lose interest. It seemed like they billed it as a dark comedy, but it really feels like a drama where batshit stuff happens for no reason. If there’s a season 2, I hope all those useless white men get their proper comeuppance.

  6. Listen, I would like to respectfully disagree re: Claws! Not perfect, sure, but it’s the first season and there’s a lot to love. Quiet Ann’s character didn’t get as much screen time as she should have, but she was acted so so well, and I don’t recall ever seeing a show with a butch character who isn’t just a caricature of their sexuality. Quiet Ann is legitimately sexy and I think for a lot of viewers this might be the first time people actually see the appeal of masculine of center women. She says barely anything and has a pretty amazing presence. Also, the show centers entirely around women in their 40s! When is the last time that happened! I’m v into the mommi thing, so this is important to me. Yes, the women are constantly dealing with the consequences of the incompetent, arrogant, and annoying men, but is that not how life goes? Frustrating to watch, but I feel like that’s kind of the point. The women who are so much smarter, so much more deserving, and so much better in every way are the ones who have to answer for and fix the men’s mistakes. One hope that I have for this show down the line is that there will be a reversal of this dynamic, and it’ll be all the more gratifying because we had to watch Desna & Co claw (see what I did there?) their way to the top.

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