Station 19’s Pride Episode Played With Our Fear

This essay includes spoilers for of Station 19 Episode 703 “True Colors.” 

Even before it aired, I knew that Station 19’s Pride episode going to polarize. When the first full trailer for the seventh and final season of the firehouse drama came with footage of Fire Captain Andy Herrera (Jamie Lee Ortiz) getting into a yelling match during the Seattle Pride parade with a group of protestors before something like gunshots go off in the background and the crowd runs in fear. Immediately, I felt sick. When the episode titles were released publicly, and I correctly clocked that the third episode, named “True Colors” — after Cyndi Lauper’s queer-claimed classic, for sure — would be the site of the Parade and ensuing sparring match, my stomach dropped.

It’s not that an episode of television about “violence at fun gay events” can’t be well done. Though few people watched it (perhaps not ironically, I think because the violence turned them off), last summer’s reboot of the iconic Queer as Folk centered around a shooting at a gay club, and once it aired I wished that more TV shows would take similar big swings. It’s that somehow, even though I can only think of a small handful of shows that have done it, somehow it still feels like a trope that’s been overdone? There’s an eyeroll of “oh, not this again.”

That is what I keep returning to. If I cannot think of some exhaustive list of episodes that have played into “violence at Pride,” then why does it feel like I’ve been here so many times before? And watching the twist in last night’s episode, it hit me. I feel exhausted like I’ve seen this so many times before because I have, just not on my TV shows.

There is no one reading this who needs me to point to news reports or statistics to say that anti-queer and anti-trans violence, in public gathering spaces designed to be our safety, is very real. I don’t mean to say that I needed a fictional TV show that I watch for the bisexual ex-fire captain and her extremely hot wife to tell me what I already knew. But when it turned out that the “mass shooting” — something intentionally teased throughout the Station 19 Seventh Season PR rollout — was actually just a car backfiring, I felt immediate relief.

Then I felt sick for an entirely new reason.

I think that for many of us who watch Station 19 and have built some trauma scars over the years of Shondaland, where shooters really do shoot up hospitals and people get run over by a bus or thrown out of a plane, immediately when we saw Andy fighting with those protestors, we knew. And marketing team behind Station 19 was betting on us jumping to the worst possible conclusion. I was quite simply dreading this episode of television. And while I would never want Maya (or Carina and the baby, who were gratefully safe at home), Travis, Ben’s sister Roz or baby Prue to ever face real danger, I can’t help but think the alternative is just as malicious.

There’s a new twisting in my gut, a feeling of audience manipulation. A sense that as queer people sitting at home, television executives feel that our emotions are fodder to be toyed with for dramatic plays. Because there was no way, none at all, that a network soap and writers’ room that has built its core audience largely on the backs of of a notoriously popular gay fandom  did not know what conclusion people would jump to.

I realize that this recap or missive might sound whiny, after all I’m watching a soap opera about firefighters on a night of television most famous for making me people cry through their tissue boxes — what did I expect? And it’s clear that even within the episode, the crowd at the Pride parade felt the same fear that I felt at home. Once its clear that the supposed “gun shots” were just the backfiring of a car, the ensuing stampede of Pride goers still caused quite a bit of physical harm. That was used for important third act reminders to “not let the fascist” win that I was appreciative of, if for no other reason than I always think it’s worth it to say “fascist” on television. I was happy to see Season 13 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race as a guest star, she was as excellent as I remember from the competition and really made the most out of her role. As previously mentioned, Carina was not at the parade, but the final shot of her and Maya kissing in Liam’s nursery was sweet. Travis confronting his internalized homophobia was surprisingly nuanced (though it feels a little out of left field to me for his character, though perhaps I’m wrong about that). When Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” rang out over the fire station in the episode’s final minutes, I danced and felt free, which I’m sure was the goal. And even as I started typing all the various gay plots out just now… I’m struck at how long this paragraph has gotten. Clearly there was a lot to say, and a lot to get done.

But I haven’t been able to shake the nagging feeling that it just didn’t have to be done like this. I’m sure there was some meta commentary to be had about how fear has begun to run our lives, how every car backfiring comes with a quickened heart race and glance over our shoulders. About how we need stronger gun control and effective anti-hate crime legislation that actual protects those most marginalized. All of that is important, and true. It’s also true that queer fans should not have to be the backbone of those lessons learned. And I wish that Station 19, a show that I generally laude for its nuance, had realized it going in.

I wish that they hadn’t bet on our fear.

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Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 700 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. I always read Travis more as a gay man who had zero interest in queer culture but what they did with him in this episode doesn’t feel out line with previous characterization.

  2. You have described the feeling of ‘no, not that again’ very well. I recognize it. It made me think of the feeling when series started including covid storylines. Every time I see that, I’m like ‘ughhh’. But I also notice that I’ve gotten used to it more. It brings up bad memories when covid is mentioned, but I’ve learned better how to deal with them.

    I also think the writers could have been more careful with this storyline. It doesn’t come across as very ‘wise’, almost as if it wasn’t written by queer people who have the experience themselves.
    I also hoped that a series like Station 19 would more carefully deliver a story about pride and fear, and they have done that in the past with queer stories and I hope again in the future. This time it is not the case and that also reflects that it is very difficult to really tell the story of minority groups in society well. I will continue to watch Station 19 (and Grey’s Anatomy), but I will also keep my eyes open for future series that do tell stories well. And then support them.

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