Boob(s on Your) Tube: “Empire” Failed Its Lesbian Characters In Every Way

It’s finale week. How are you feeling? Overwhelmed in the best and most terrifying ways? Yeah, me too! With Root and Shaw’s reunion occupying my mind, I’ve barely even had time to cope with that Jane the Virgin finale. Let’s check in on Empire and Grey’s Anatomy, and then I’ll post a standalone piece about Jane.

In the meantime, Mey’s feelings are my feelings too.


Empire

Wednesdays on Fox at 9:00 p.m.

Written by Carolyn Wysinger

Empire (Season 2)

Come ON, Ilene.

I would write a whole lengthy recap for Empire because it was actually a great episode. BUT I need Heather to tell me the rules. We have a list of lesbians that have been killed this year but I think we need a new list. The list of lesbians, all black, who have ended up in jail instead of dead.

Let’s just jump ahead to the end of this week’s episode of Empire. Remember last week when Cookie’s assistant, Porsha, put that bug in her sister Carol’s ear? She told her that if she was in Carol’s shoes she would be jealous that her sister had everything and she had nothing. Clearly, this information stuck with Carol and prompted her to go out on this date with their old friend of the neighborhood who is a federal agent. Cookie confronts him and confirms that he is a fed but he claims he’s just trying to spend time with a new friend. Cookie isn’t buying it. She confronts Carol with this information and Carol, who totally fell off the wagon with her drinking problem, uses the liquid courage to tell Cookie about all the ways that Cookie has used her. She claims Cookie has never cared about her and always thought she was better than her. Cookie completely loses it and tells Carol to get out of her office and get her shit out of her house. BTW, their sister, Candice, was right: Hurricane Cookie tore up her office when she put Carol out.

Later that night at the ASA’s, Carol, who is supposed to be Cookie’s date to the show until they fall out, shows up on the red carpet completely hammered. After Cookie stops her and tells her to take her drunk ass home before she drags her by her nappy weave, she encounters Freda Gatz who offers to get her an Uber. Freda doesn’t have time to fool with her because she has press to do. Carol tells Freda the only reason she is even on Empire’s label is because Lucious feels guilty about what he did to her father. In that moment Freda pieces the whole thing together. She first met Lucious while visiting her father in prison. Lucious came down to the hood to find her and encourage her to put her rage in the music but both Jamal and her father warned her not to trust Lucious. You see the look on her face when all of this clicks for her and she takes off running down the red carpet. She grabs a gun from a security guard’s holster, clocks the guard in the head and keeps running. She stops right at the end of the carpet, takes aim and fires at Lucious, missing and hitting Jamal instead.

So you see I need to know the rules. Freda is pretty much done on Empire, but she didn’t just die. Freda makes the second black lesbian on TV this season that exits the show in handcuffs headed to prison. The first was Loretta Devine’s elder butch lesbian character C.C. on Being Mary Jane. Then of course you have Poussey on OITNB who is already in prison. Is that where we are destined to be? Invisible or in prison?

With that, there are no more queer women on Empire, since the writers seem to only use Tiana when they need to tempt Hakeem. There may not be any queer characters at all if Jamal dies, which is a possibility based on the current beef between Jussie Smollet and Fox. We will have to see what next season brings.


Grey’s Anatomy

Thursdays on ABC at 8:00 p.m.

SARA RAMIREZ

Mommy’s gotta go get character assassinated, be back later, love you.

Aja is on a short hiatus, so I’m going to finish up these last two week’s of Grey’s Anatomy for you. (This is Heather, by the way.) After everything Callie put her ex-wife and friends through, dragging them to court and forcing them to choose sides and gloating while Arizona sat on a stand and was both slut-shamed and forced to endure accusations fueled by the ceaseless cultural misogyny that tells women they can’t be good mothers and have successful careers, she has decided to call it quits with Penny. This woman was sooooo important to Callie that she acted like a strange monster we’ve never seen before to try to move across the country with her, and now they’re done. Because it’s just too hard for a mother to be away from her daughter like that. “YOU THINK?” is a thing Arizona does not yell at her but would have been justified in doing.

Arizona does finally break, through. After Callie calls it quits with Penny, she asks Arizona if she can have Sofia for the night, but Arizona has already switched around a bunch of dates with her, and she’s out of patience. She tells Callie she’s the one who made this whole mess, and yeah, it sucks for her that she just had a breakup, but also SHE CAUSED EVERYONE’S PAIN INCLUDING HER OWN.

I really hate this storyline. Callie Torres is the longest-running bisexual character on TV. She’s the only bisexual Latina character on TV and one of the only Latina queer women, full stop. She’s also the most nuanced and most known bisexual TV character in history, thanks to Shondaland’s astronomical ratings successes these many, many years. This whole custody thing is SO out of character for her, and but the wider audience is just seeing another bisexual woman act like an erratic, vindictive partner (and ex-partner). It just never ends for bisexual women on television. And I mean, no, Callie’s not acting like a jerk because she’s bisexual, but she and Bo Dennis were literally the only bi TV characters who were: a) main characters, and b) have never been portrayed as untrustworthy and manipulative. And now Bo is gone and I don’t even know if Sarah Ramirez is coming back to Grey’s. Is this really how it’s going to end for such a groundbreaking character? After Prop. 8, Callie was literally all we had!

I know, I know. Shondaland is an equal opportunity playground for complicated women, but can the bisexual Latina get a break? She’s endangered!

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 886 articles for us.

38 Comments

    • That’s what makes the whole thing even worse to me – Jamal and Freda clearly had a pretty legit friendship going on – or at least a solid musical partnership, and then Freda maybe killed her friend by going after his asshole, homophobic father. It’s an extra layer of emotional awfulness.

  1. A Grey’s theory (from someone who admittedly stopped watching five years ago): It is the Shondaland MO to ruin the lives of every character on a show – and not just by a little. Usually, she does this by KILLING EVERYONE THE CHARACTER LOVES (Meredith). She can’t kill Arizona or Callie, because she’s too savvy to be the next big Bury your Gays headline. So: custody battle.

  2. Goddamit Shonda, this is so weird from Callie!

    Also blindspot killed off another gay woc character this week which was upsettingly predictable but I’d (foolishly) thought the show was smarter than that!

    • That makes two qwoc characters in a span of three weeks for Blindspot. The Family also killed off it’s bisexual character in the finale. All in all, another terrible week to be gay on television.

  3. The only conclusion to this storyline that I would accept is that Shonda has decided to go supernatural, Penny is actually a zombie or something – it would explain the lack of personality/facial expressions – and we discover that she ate Callie’s brain – it would explain her crazy, stupid, completely out of character behaviour.

    But alas, I’ll just be very disappointed and heartbroken because one of my favourite bisexual characters has just been ruined in the worst way possible for absolutely no reason.

  4. Also I may have said this before on Twitter but Mey’s glasses have little hearts where the silver pips normally are and I just think we all need to take a moment to celebrate how rad that is.

  5. Although I’m more a fan of shows with a lot more action, I’ve always gave a chance to Shonda Rhimes shows. And I’ve always come to the same result: the exaggerated melodrama is a bit much for my taste; every freaking thing ends up in a sea of tears.

    It’s like I’m constantly watching a Douglas Sirk’s movie or a freaking telenovela. I have a bunch of prejudices with this genre thanks to Televisa and watching this kinda of over the top melodrama with my grandma when I was a little girl; sorry but I can’t help it.

    I know this is not a popular opinion here but her shows looked like a constant repetition of the same things, minus changing some little details to avoid the obvious carbon copy.

  6. Yes, agreed that this clusterfuck is the kinder, gentler alternative to killing Callie. Although I’m not 100% convinced that they won’t kill her anyway. If Ramirez is leaving the show, I guess best case is they send her to work “at a different hospital” to get some distance.

    Massive eye-roll at the breakup.

  7. While I completely agree that this custody battle is AWFUL for Callie, it makes me feel slightly better to remember that Shonda is nothing if not an equal opportunity life-destroyer. No one gets out happy on this show. And Callie is not the only character on Grey’s to suffer from ridiculous out of character nonsense plotlines – remember when Izzie slept with George? Remember when Izzie slept with her dead fiancee? So while yeah, this custody battle fucking sucks, I know what show I’m watching, and a custody battle is better than being shot, or having ghost sex.

    That being said, the fact that there’s still no confirmation about Sara Ramirez’s status for season 13 is troubling. I would be really upset if this is how she exits this show after all this time.

    Re: Empire, if Jamal dies, that fulfills the BYG trope, right? Accidentally shot by a bullet intended for someone else? I know I keep saying this, but I am SO GLAD I quit this show at the beginning of season 2.

    • I can’t say I love what Shonda is doing to Callie’s character, because I don’t. But I think Alison you are right that no one on Grey’s gets to come away completely unscathed, and actually considering that it’s the end of season 12 Callie has had a loooooooong streak of no wrongdoing. She is the one who gets cheated ON or her work projects taken away from her. The only other person I can think who has had that long of a streak with no wrongdoing would be Meredith (or Cristina- depending on how you felt about her abortion, which I felt on her side about that, but I know others maybe felt differently). She rarely is the person in the “wrong” of the equation- so it was quite possibly, her time.

      About Sara leaving- TVLINE says that as of a week ago, the ball was in Sara’s court regarding her contract. And that *if* she did leave, she would probably come back in the fall to “wrap up” Callie’s character. Which would be needed at this point, so Callie could leave on a GOOD note instead of this character assassination:

      http://tvline.com/2016/05/05/bates-motel-season-4-norma-vera-farmiga-norman-spoilers/

      Michael Ausiello is a grey’s source that I trust, for what its worth. He’s been covering that set for the entire 12 year source and is rarely wrong.

  8. Wow, there seems to have been a LOT of piling on against Shonda Rhimes this week in the comments- a lot of which seems to come from people who don’t watch greys regularly or any more at all, so I understand the need to take it with a grain of salt.

    For what its worth, I think that one of the most interesting things about Shonda Rhimes is that she VERY RARELY kills the women on her shows and has yet to kill a main characters of color (especially because of a contract dispute/ending). And I think that’s really important, especially in the era of this ongoing conversation around “bury your gays”, which in many ways is tied to conversations about female death and poc death and representation on television.

    She didn’t kill Izzie. She didn’t kill Burke. She didn’t kill Addison. She didn’t kill Teddy (Teddy got rewarded with a job promotion, even). She gave Cristina a Happy Ending (looking back, quite possibly the only happy ending given yet to a greys character). She didn’t kill the black male intern or the gay girl intern who were in Stephanie and Jo’s year (can’t remember their names right now).

    Who she has killed: George, Denny, Scott Folely (never learned his character’s name), Mark Sloan, and in the biggest move of all- DEREK SHEPHERD!

    She killed the attractive cis white male romantic lead of her show. That literally breaks all the rules of television. That is bossiest and bravest move I’ve ever seen a female show runner do.

    (Notable exceptions- She did kill Lexie Grey, which was AWFUL, but I think meant to be a Romeo & Juliet type “romantic” ending with Mark, but I didn’t necessarily buy into it. She killed both Ellis Grey and Adele Webber, but neither were series regulars and both had verrrrrry advanced Alzheimer’s, so I suppose those were more inevitable conclusions.)

    Still, the blood on her ledger leans very heavily in a certain direction.

    As a queer woman of color, I rarely worry when I turn into a Shonda show that my favorite characters- or characters who “represent” me, because those aren’t always the same thing- are going to be disrespected, sidelined as the secondary “best friend”, or meet a violent death at the end. THAT IS A UNICORN TV WATCHING EXPERIENCE for someone like me. So sometimes I get a little passionate in my defense of her. My apologies.

    • If your interested in thinking more about Shonda’s death ledger, this list is fascinating to me. If only because of the amount of white cis het men on it:

      https://www.buzzfeed.com/emilyorley/ranking-the-biggest-deaths-on-greys-anatomy-by-devastation?utm_term=.ox38RY1mr#.nud37gorY

      I didn’t do an officially tally, but it’s clearly leaning to one side. And that side isn’t women and/or people of color. Which, compared to other television shows that have been “applauded” for their diversity, is a definite rarity.

    • Hmm, I hadn’t thought about it like that before. Thank you for pointing this out. The opportunities Shonda has carved out for herself and her shows and her characters in this weird cutthroat white-male dominated tv land are amazing, and I’m heartened to realize that she is evening out the death tolls a bit.

      If you’re responding at all to my ‘theory’ comment above, just for my part, I should explain that I didn’t have an attachment to Derek Shepherd (was there ever a smarmier-haired man), I am just not cut out for shows like Grey’s, and it started as a different kind of show. I was cut out for season one, where as dramatic as it got was when Meredith popped a hole in a glove and kissed a dude in an elevator.

      But like as soon as young people or people who are parents or whatever start getting blown up or their planes crash or they are mangled beyond recognition in a car accident, it’s just too much for me. I’ll sit there for ten minutes thinking, for instance, ‘George’s mom’s life is ruined. She is never going to wake up a day in her life where she doesn’t think about George. It will never be ok for her again.” I imagine her sitting in his childhood bedroom. I imagine the courage it will take her to just meet a friend for coffee in the months following his death. And I did that with EVERY DEATH AND DISASTER until I had to stop watching. 🙂

      Long story short, I take it way too seriously. I think in real life, with what Meredith has been through, not only would she be dead (I mean she drowned for like six hours once), she might be a recluse at the very least. Getting the courage to get a cup of tea might be a good day for her. Instead, she’s a…successful professional?

      Anyway I do get that it’s the adrenalized hyperreality of television (to borrow from Heather Hogan and Mona), and I am really glad that you pointed out these details about the death tallies, it honestly does make me feel way better about the direction of the show.

      • I totally get that! My own mother, for instance, will pop her head into the greys world about once every season and a half. And then we will get to an episode- usually not even a “MAJOR DEATH AND DISASTER” episode- just a regular ole greys episode where a one episode patient dies in some above average heartbreaking fashion. And my mother will bawl tears for like a half hour. So then I tell her to quit the show again.

        That amount of death and mayhem really isn’t for everybody. And that’s totally ok! The emotional impact of greys deaths don’t weigh on me, but I can’t do the bloody violence of The Walking Dead or The 100. We all have our boundaries.

        And I wasn’t specifically responding to you, I promise! Just a general trend that felt like was happening across the messages earlier in the thread.

        But if you got something out of my response anyway, then YAY!!

      • Yes, absolutely. I agree with both of those points. But, my thing is looking at how she handed those BTS conflicts. She had massive disputes and pretty widely known anger towards both Dempsey and Heigl. But she only killed Dempsey off.

        Shonda could have written some type of epic divorce for Meredith and Derek, she had clearly layer the track for it over the course of that season. She could have destroyed Derek’s character, but still let him live.

        She didn’t. He got hit by a truck instead.

        Heigl got to live. Izzie’s character got trashed, but is still off breathing somewhere.

  9. “Freda is pretty much done on Empire, but she didn’t just die. Freda makes the second black lesbian on TV this season that exits the show in handcuffs headed to prison. The first was Loretta Devine’s elder butch lesbian character C.C. on Being Mary Jane. Then of course you have Poussey on OITNB who is already in prison. Is that where we are destined to be? Invisible or in prison?”

    YAAAAAAS CAROLYN! PEAK PERFECT WRITING!

    “Is that where we are destined to be? Invisible or in prison?”

    Just. Chills.

    I wish you could give a Comment Award to the author of the article. Because that paragraph deserves real recognition. YES. YES. YES.

    If I knew how to insert gifs or pictures into comments- I would be putting one here from Paris is Burning: 10s ACROSS THE BOARD!!!!!!

    (Is it awful that I’m at least a tiny bit glad that Freda at least went out in a blaze of glory? And she looked So Hot in that white suit. My gawd. My real problem is that she didn’t actually get to shoot Lucious. Because I hate that man and he deserves whatever the f*ck is coming to him.)

  10. I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one EXTREMELY CONFUSED, by this Arizona/Callie fight but like when Arizona said “YOU DID THIS”I was just like ?!?!? because Arizona was the one who got a freakin lawyer? and then when Callie wanted to just decide between them she said “you can talk to my lawyer”?!?!?! I feel like if Arizona hadn’t just had a talk with her like “it doesn’t make sense pull our daughter out of school for only a year to follow your girlfriend but we can work out visitation during that time” it would’ve not even escalated to this point?!?!

    also Callie dumping Penny saying a long distance relationship for a year wouldn’t work is sooooo stupid! like hello planes exist! and skype! and their relationship started with them being in the same place for a while so it doesn’t make sense for her to just drop it because she didn’t get her way?!? I’m so confused!

    also I’m still surprised y’all hate Penny so much when Edwards is actually so annoying – she didn’t deserve getting yelled at by that dude’s sister though because that’s really just…none of their damn business but hey(also I was seriously annoyed that she wouldn’t leave him alone even though he expressly said so several times?!? like if someone did that to me I’d be SO PISSED especially if I’m ill and in the hospital!)

  11. ftr, i have hated every single moment of Penny on Grey’s Anatomy. There was no reason for her to have a storyline beyond her one episode ‘i helped kill derrick’ moment.

    she didn’t have to ever come back.
    i never once believed that Callie was in love with her boring basic ass. Never. It was awful. Callie had more chemistry with her bone saw than with Penny.

    I’m still here hoping Callie and Arizona get back together. I will wait and wait. And if they don’t get back together, can they get more dynamic and foxy folks to hook up with?

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