Karen Erases Her Own Bisexuality, Comes Out as Straight in Will and Grace’s Reverse Puppy Episode

Remember how I said Samira Wiley arrived on Will & Grace for a three-episode arc to turn Karen’s bisexuality from a running joke into a swoon-worthy storyline? Boi, was I wrong. In last night’s season finale, “Jack’s Big Gay Wedding,” the writers not only forgot bisexuality exists; they did so by making a reverse “Puppy Episode.” You know, Ellen’s iconic coming out episode from 1997. Arguably the most important moment in lesbian TV history and categorically one of the most important moments in LGBTQ pop culture history.

See for yourself.

The gang just happened to be in an airport because they were trying to fly out to Spain for Jack’s wedding, but their flight was cancelled and while Karen was hanging out at the bar waiting to either fly to Europe or see her best friend get married in Terminal 4, she told the bartender, “I’m a lesbian now. It’s just that after my marriage ended, I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. And then, Nikki came along and told me. And now I am exactly who I’m supposed to be. I think. I don’t know.”

“Did you ever think that maybe you’re not gay? You’re just lost?” the bartender asks her like your Southern Baptist grandpa at Thanksgiving.

And that’s when the Reverse Puppy Episode kicks into high gear. Nikki has joined the gang in the airport thinking she’s going to fly with her girlfriend to Spain; alas, Samira Wiley got Samira Wiley-ed again.

I’m not sure I can describe how bummed out this episode made me! When it started happening on-screen, like three words into it, I sat up straight and leaned forward and said “sweet Jesus” because I thought they were going to have Karen come out as bisexual for real, in a tribute to Ellen. But no. In the world where Will & Grace has always and continues to exist — rich, cis, white, gay make New York City — the battle for equality was won when gay marriage became legal and now what’s funny is the idea that people have to come out as straight. It’d be antiquated enough to laugh at (not with) if LGBTQ people living at the intersections of various marginalized identities weren’t having to fight as hard as ever for equality.

I don’t do this job because I like to play around in call-out culture’s sandbox. I love stories. I love TV. Ellen’s coming out was so formative to queer women of my generation that when I interviewed Russian Doll‘s Lizzy Henderson a few months ago, we talked about it at length. I singled out this storyline because it felt like Will & Grace had woken up and was rewriting its history of ignoring queer women and erasing bisexuality. Turns out it’s as stuck in the past as ever.

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 805 articles for us.

44 Comments

  1. Ok, the whole riff on the Puppy Episode is enough of a slap in the face. But it sounds like not only did they erase her bisexuality, they did it by invoking the “confused/just a phase” trope, AND made Samira’s character into a predatory lesbian stereotype who manipulated her into thinking she was gay???? This is not just disappointing, it’s horribly offensive.

      • It just seemed like committing to Samira Wiley for the story meant more. It could’ve been a one-off with some unknown actress instead of a “final 3 of the season” arc with a friggin’ lesbian icon (who instead they used as bait, here). So infuriating. And then recreating a moment they knew we’d ALL recognize was just… well, it was gross.

    • Ugh, yes, exactly. Bisexual means something, people! I love seeing Samira Wiley on TV and they gave her character the short end of the stick. I felt really bad for Nikki and completely pissed at Karen. It’s Samira Wiley, for frak’s sake! She deserves so much better than being kicked to the curb.

  2. I’m not really a fandom person – they often scare me! Often I don’t get too upset about things happening in a tv show (although when I do, Samira Wiley is almost always involved, lol).

    But! This!

    I haven’t watched the Will and Grace reboot because even thinking about the show takes me back to this painful millennial place (the time, not the generation) when being gay was for rich white cis dudes and GBFs, and searching for representation of anything beyond that often meant settling for Karen Walker’s jokes or some no-homo girl on girl kiss during sweeps week.

    I wish whomever is writing for the reboot now could experience what it felt like, how my heart swelled, when I learned that they were actually going to go beyond jokes with Karen. I wish they could feel the motherfuckijg transcendence of learning it was gonna be with Samira Wiley.

    And also feel the sad sour late-nineties feeling of that all coming crashing back to earth as they not only said “never mind,” but ALSO DECIDED TO MOVE THEMSELVES EVEN FURTHER BACKWARDS by making Karen a confused heterosexual????

    I’m so angry. I’m so angry!

  3. Aargh!! I anticipated this after watching the previous episode where she cranks up the lesbian stereotypes (in an annoying and shitty way imo) and makes zero references to being bi, but I am still so vastly, incredibly disappointed.

    I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch this finale and now I know the answer. Thanks Autostraddle. You’ve surely saved me a little anger and sadness, but overall I’m still feeling it. Why they gotta do us like this? We deserve better. 😡

    • When that episode started I was hoping that it would be about her figuring out what her bi style actually was/how your queer style is what your style is etc. (And everyone else addressing that she was being more offensive than usual). But then she was so out there about being a lesbian- not bi. I was hoping she would realize that balance but obviously that isn’t what happened. :/

  4. Ugh! How disappointing, and kind of offensive? to how fraught coming out actually is.
    Anyway thank you Heather for weathering this arc so that I don’t have to get back into W&G just for Samira/Karen action

  5. Not watched this show but how many people had to approve this on the way to it being shown? How did they think that this was ok in 2019?

    Please someone make a show with Samira Wiley getting a lesbian happily ever after.

  6. I’ve been refreshing since I saw the episode because I was so mad at it, and I knew people here would feel my anger. I’ve always loved the show but they continue to have a huge bisexual blindspot. Even before her infuriating I’m straight moment, the way she was like. I’m in a relationship with a woman so I’m a lesbian now was also very frustrating. I want to shake Karen (or the writers I guess) and be like. If one percent of you likes girls (or guys 🤷🏼‍♀️), then you’re not straight. If you legitimately enjoyed your dates and the sex with Samira’s character- you’re not straight. In a show that once was progressive for its time (though proper bisexual/trans issues were not especially well handled)… they like to make the its 2018/19 they should know better joke on the show- but *they* should know better. So much seething right now. They had such a good chance to do something with this. Why even drag it out past 1 episode only to use the insulting phase trope?! (Even non bisexuals who aren’t straight cringe at that!) *Ugh*.

  7. I had been wanting to start watching the revival again after I saw Samira Wiley was on, but just… why? Who was this meant for? Who thought it was a good idea? I just have so many questions and I literally do not understand why this would happen

    I used to watch W&G when I was a closeted teenager and it actually really helped me. One of the best scenes to me, to this day, was when Jack was comforting Will’s boyfriend’s sister, who I think was coming out to her parents and was nervous that they wouldn’t accept her like they did her brother. And Jack said “no, your parents shouldn’t be upset, they did everything right” which was pretty typical and then goes “they raised both their kids gay!” and it was really funny, but I also think that was the first time I felt like being gay could be something seen as a positive, rather than a negative?

    And yes, the show’s track record with queer women is a bit spotty, to put it nicely, but for a show that had such an important part in “normalizing” queer identities 20+ years ago, it just feels… I guess disappointing to see them making fun of the people who need this kind of show the most.

    • It’s like they forgot all those things existed. I go back and forth between being angered and disappointed. Before I even fully figured out I was bi, those scenes always made me happy in ways I didn’t understand. To erase that feels like a stab in the back.

  8. Well, I don’t need to waste my time watching this show ever again now.

    This is so disappointing. I loved Will & Grace (especially Karen) when it first came on, back when I was newly out to myself and just seeing any gay people on TV was exciting. Thankfully now we have much better shows, with better, more inclusive, representation, to give our time and hearts to.

  9. I started watching the reboot but gave up after the #MeToo burn – Will is put off by a woman’s unpleasantness at work and tells her it wasn’t his penis that made her angry. Not only was that insensitive (the show’s trademark), it was snarky and condescending, implying that gay men shouldn’t have their male privilege called out or stripped away since they couldn’t possibly harass women and that was the only way to keep women down. It struck me as very defensive. Zero solidarity, too; the whole thing apparently isn’t their problem.

    Now I’m feling very pleased I didn’t have to suffer this episode, oh yes.

  10. This was spitting in the faces of bi/pan people. I was hoping Karen would finally just say she’s bi, but no. They’re acting like bi/pan people don’t exist, just like they did the first time around.

  11. This is beyond disappointing I used to be a big fan of the original run but I hadn’t gotten around to watching the reboot. Hearing about this makes me grateful I dodged that bullet. Who was this storyline created to appeal to????
    There are so many awful parts of this but the Ellen thing really pisses me off. Whatever you think of Ellen now she took a huge risk when her character came out and at the time she paid for it professionally. The puppy episode paved the way for Will and Grace and this seems like the absolute worst way to acknowledge that.
    The show always had its issues and blind spots, but having gay characters who got to be funny without being the butt of the joke made up for a lot of its flaws to me as a closeted teenager. Things are so different now though. The tv landscape has changed so much. There are more complicated, diverse and interesting depictions of queer life than ever.

    • Right? Originally having gay characters that weren’t secondary or third(?) level characters on a show was so impressive/groundbreaking that a lot of stuff could be forgiven (because even that shred of representation could help us feel seen) – but now- with more representation out there (and on the same network even!) the bar is much higher.

  12. This is just fucking mean. I was so excited to hear about Karen getting a girlfriend that I was going to catch up with the reboot, but now I won’t bother. I can’t even come up with an analogy for how much this sucks and how hard they worked to be as shitty as possible to us. Like, on multiple levels. I started out with “like giving us a nasty cut and then shitting in it” but that leaves out the way they used a famous queer woman to get us to watch and then used our own history just to mock it and rub it in our faces. And right at a time when our rights are literally being taken away again, if we had them to begin with. This was so goddamn cruel in every way.

  13. If any of you need a palate cleanser to boost your spirits after this atrociousness, I highly recommend you watch the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend concert special. I promise Pete Gardner belting out “I’m Gettin’ Bi” on a stage lit with the bi pride colors will make you smile.

  14. I didn’t get to watch this episode until last night and I’m so furious. I don’t expect them to respond to any criticism, but I’m probably done with this show for good.

  15. Oh wow that’s really shitty! I wasn’t even following the show so I didn’t have an experience of antipation and letdown but to think they can use that joke when they have never been about queer women.
    It also sort of makes me think about when I was a baby gay and I felt like all the girls that loved gay people really just wanted to seem cool with a gay man best friend. It made baby gay me very sad back then.

  16. Being in my twenties and not from the US, I wasn’t aware of Will & Grace until my gay media awakening a few years ago. Everyone (most people) kept saying it was groundbreaking gay tv so I decided to give it a go when it started again last year. OH BOY was I mad when I saw how lesbophobic and biphobic it was. “Groundbreaking gay tv”? for white gays sure why not. But for every other person in the LGBT acronym, not so much.
    Also seeing its wide and common acclaim I wonder who’s more lesbo/biphobic, the writers of the show and the show, or the people watching and praising it?

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