[I wanted to forego TLW spoilers, per ushe, but one particular spoiler — “who dies?” — has made it through my filter. That’s the only spoiler I’ll address in this post, but if you don’t wanna know, abandon ship immediately. ]
“I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it —”
-Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazurus”
What lasts, after all, isn’t all this hair-blowing smoky-voiceover suspense-addled Whodunit nonsense. What The L Word scribes fail to grasp, even six seasons in, is that there’s a big difference between unexpected and unlikely, between character and caricature, and when dealing with dramatic realism, one must aim for the unexpected to make an impact. What lasts is never the clichè, the devices, the gimmicks. What lasts is not the Overblown Drama. It’s the in-between times when dialogue feels true and plot feels genuine. It’s the Is-Lara-Gay stakeout, it’s the lesbian phone tree, it’s the Dana dance. And when comedy’s concerned, camp is the way to go for this show.
But we fell in love with these characters in 2004 not because they self-mutilated or had fancy jobs on movie sets or had stalker/assistants or appeared on billboards; we loved them because they reminded us of us … just hotter, and living in West Hollywood. It was like our lives but burning a little brighter, and sexier, and richer … like most teevee shows are. Sometimes they even said things we might say, though we’d say these things in less expensive hoodies. The only criticism anyone voiced back then was that the show didn’t feature enough “butches.”
Season One was quiet but authentic. And since then they’ve gone balls-to-the-wall with these narrative bombs seemingly pulled from a “Big Plot Idea of the Day” Hat. Why do they keep doing it? Every time we as an audience grapple to believe in one of these shenanigans, The L Word falls flat and leaves us lost. And I’m currently concerned that Season Six is shaping up for the show’s worst leap yet.
And … we’re all yelling at Ilene. When Dana died, we didn’t blame cancer, we blamed Ilene. Marc’s installation of hidden cameras documenting his roomates’ sex lives? Ilene. Helena’s personality softening from ball-busting power-hungry power-suited seductress panther to just another one of the girls, seemingly overnight? Come on, Ilene! There’s no, “Why is Alice building a Dana shrine?” It’s “Why is Ilene making Alice a crazy stalker?”
Some of Ilene’s target-readiness is that she’s made us all super-aware that she is the executive producer, writer and director of the Showtime’s hit series The L Word. But that’s certainly not the only reason.
Because here’s the thing about all passionate teevee fans –when a storyline works, we’re ready to yell at our favorite characters for doing things we wish they didn’t do or suffering in hurtful ways — Bette cheating, Cherie choosing the Hamptons over Shane, Tina’s miscarriage. That reaction indicates we connect to & believe in the character.
I imagine when the “Killer Season” begins, we per ushe won’t be blaming the characters, we’ll be blaming Ilene. It really just sucks that the writing staff continues to make the same bad choices over and over and over. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results? I’ll ask Jenny. BRB. Oh I think she’s gone for a swim.
“This happens. This is something that happens.”
-Stanley Spector, Magnolia
We learn from the unexpected, because it enhances our perspective on what is possible, and that’s what remains, that’s what changes people. Tina & Bette’s angry sex scene in Season One’s finale is so highly resonant because Tina’s mind has just been blown — what she conceives as possible has just expanded into terrifying realms decorated by betrayal and uncertainty. We know that feeling, that violence and despair, and we relate.
All we want, Ilene — all we’ve ever wanted — is something we can relate to somehow, or understand, or at the very least something we feel is burning brightly enough to combine reality with real-fantasy but something not so outrageously flaming that it blinds us to the rest of the world. Or we want something that’s unexpected & deep with a redemptive moral.
Ilene’s dealt so poorly w/Jenny’s instability & mental illness. Is Jenny on meds? Has she been diagnosed bipolar? Is that why she was hospitalized (the self-mutilation/cutting is the symptom, not the disease) — to fix those manic shifts she experiences over and over, those shifts from megalomania and insatiable lust to her self-defined deep pits of poetic despair? Will she go off her meds, if she was on any? I’m guessing we’ll never know, ’cause they’ve never fleshed that out. A shame for lesbians and the nuts we love, ’cause a good mental illness storyline could’ve saved the show.
The latest twist is caricature, to a tee. Offing of the emotional, erratic, probably bipolar, sexually abused and artistically confused artist? This has been DONE and DONE, and done poorly (*cough* Lost and Delirious). I hope this death’ll mean something to someone and Shane don’t count, ’cause that girl always be acting all changed and redeemed and shit when she totes is not at all.
“While I don’t think that artists owe their audiences anything more than the art itself, I do think that art must be authentic. It needs to mean something. And it certainly needs to mean something more than the hubris it takes to kill a character just because you can. I mean, what are we meant to take away from Jenny’s life and death? If you had told me from the start that this would just be a giant LOLlesbian I could have saved a lot of time these past five years.”
In Ilene’s benevolent dictatorship, where Bette is Adam and Jenny is Eve, she could take some of her offspring’s advice — Bette defends “Provocations” in Season One as being not just shock value but rather something that provokes thought, investigates our limits and questions the status quo.
In Season Three, Eve Ensler cameos as an editor who rejects Jenny’s book cause it’s not blatantly redemptive. I think Ensler’s character is wrong and doesn’t see rehabilitation’s nuances, but maybe she had the foresight to expect exactly what we’re about to get.
You know. Jenny jumping in the pool. Just like Ophelia! Like Virginia Woolf! Just like last season was just like All About Eve! And The View! And Perez Hilton! And The L Word itself! And OMG! Can’t this show just stand on its own? It’ll have to, if it wants to stand the test of time.
I had a writing teacher who, along with “no talking animals,” prohibited us from creating any protagonists who, when we were asked, “Why would your protagonist do [terrible thing here]?” our only answer would be, “”Cause she’s crazy.” It’s not interesting, it’s a storyteller’s dead end. There’s no more investigation, there’s no moral quandry — declaring insanity as a defense across the board eliminates any discussion of intent, and intent is nine-tenths of the drama.
There’s great memoirs about crazy people and when done right — it’s brilliant, nuanced, revelatory … from A Beautiful Mind to The Bell Jar. TV shows like Six Feet Under and even Degrassi: The Next Generation have dealt admirably with bipolar disorder.
Often, the most narratively compelling aspect of being close to a Crazy is how the sane are changed by their relationships to the insane. (Riese=expert on this). But Jenny’s death “ends” the season (she dies in the opening scene, then the rest is flashbacks), therefore making the impact of her absence inherently pointless.
See, another reason we blame Ilene is because she’s the only consistent character involved with the show. We don’t know how to talk to the rest of ’em ’cause everyone changes personality like socks and when a storyline ends, a character vanishes. Thank G-d this is the last season, I’d hate to see them pretend like Jenny never existed, moving on to the next thing without tying up the pieces.
The one & only storyline that has confronted its broken pieces and attempted to fit them back together again is, by popular vote, the most captivating storyline of all — Bette & Tina.
“I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes,
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed.”
-Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck,” 1973.
What lasts, after all, isn’t this. The language that’s seeped into our lexicon isn’t, unfortunately, what they hit us over the vagina with — when was the last time you used “nipple confidence” in conversation? What sticks is random and unintentional: “Really Papi?” “You have a lot of feelings.”
What lasts is Shane in a wedding dress & Chuck Taylors with Carmen whispering sweet Spanish nothings in her ear, Dana & Alice & Shane’s multiple choice “Intervention” on the pregnancy-obsessed Bette & Tina, the basketball game, the girls dancing stoned on a table to the Jackson 5.
We’re not touched by Helena stealing money and going to jail, ’cause that whole thing just seemed stupid. It was funny when her friends visited — we liked that, ’cause the situation was so stupid that only humor could save it. It’s impossible to be touched by Jenny discovering Marc’s cameras ’cause it’s not fun enough to be camp and not real enough to ring true.
Maybe all the stories that worked were stories from the writers and actors’ actual lives. When TLW premiered, almost anything they could possibly discuss was something we’d never heard discussed on teevee before. Hell, we’d never seen two girly lesbians have sex onscreen, let alone in sailor outfits on a gay cruise ship.
How many times have you watched the episode where Dana dies? I’ve watched it twice — at the time, and then to write the recap. How many times have I watched the episode where the girls take a road trip to Dinah Shore? Probs 100 times. Were there any major plot points that episode? I don’t think so.
I’ve watched the finale of Six Feet Under — where EVERYONE dies — maybe 10 times. Jen dying on Dawson’s Creek? Eh, 4-5 times — the only episode I’ve seen more than once and possibly um own on DVD. That’s a lot of times.
What I’m saying is I’m not across-the-board opposed to bad things — death, even — happening to good people. I’m opposed to stupid things happening. To anyone. I’d be pissed if Max died too, though I’d also be way more curious about who killed Max. I mean … that would be … unexpected. And because Max ISN’T one of our favorite characters, I wouldn’t be so inclined to call hubris on Ilene. I’d be interested — how would the cast react to the death of someone they’ve been ambivalent about from day one? I already know how they’ll feel about Jenny, that’s not interesting. I think we learned more about Bette & Tina and even KIT when Bette’s father died than we did when Dana died.
So as Season 6 approaches, and Jenny’s gonna die (I’m guessing this will somehow involve her feelings for Shane and/or Nikki) and Alice is going to jail … I’ll stick with it in hopes we’ll get enough of the good stuff to overwhelm the bad. It’s a shame, in a financial crisis where little new media survives, that the people who’ve already got a voice aren’t making their art the best art it could be.
I hope whomever is next enlisted to tell “our stories” is a writer as dedicated to our truths & slings & arrows as a fan is.
Til then I’ll be in my bed, like Bette reading Jenny’s ridiculous book, muttering: “”Fuck You, Ilene. This is complete and utter total fucking bullshit. I wouldn’t say that. Never. That’s not even grammatically correct, you fucking idiot. You’re dead meat. You’re just dead fucking meat, Ilene Chaiken.”
You poke and stir,
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there.
-Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazurus,” 1966