this post was originally published on riese’s l word blog, the road best straddled, and has been republished here in all its vintage glory for the new autostraddle 1.0.
“Bad news,” I say when Emma picks up. “I’m making Kat watch Season One of The L Word, and she loves Jenny. Like earnestly.” Kat was one of those straight-girl things, those things so many of us have done even though we know they’re destined to end badly and with spectacularly rotten feelings all around (and usually with the straight girl’s boyfriend flipping out and/or wanting to join in).
Emma sighs. “Like with no self consciousness at all?”
I return her sigh and add: “As in; I like pepperoni! I like the color red, Jenny’s my favorite.”
“She loves Jenny,” Emma’s disgust is practically palpable, it’s like my phone just spat at me. “Oh God. You’re in trouble, Riese.”
When a girl you’re hooking up with relates to Jenny (and has a boyfriend), you better be prepared for what Jenny herself describes as “fucking labyrinth-like drama.”
This was back in the day when you had a choice one way or the other on Jenny —something I honestly believe Ilene Chaiken did very well — and your choice meant something. It had implications. But this season they’ve upped the (apparently untreated mental illness and) devil-wears-Jenny antè — now Jenny’s hurting universally loved characters sociopathically, she’s barely human, there’s no choice anymore, we must all hate her now, let the murder and pillaging begin!
But I don’t hate Jenny.
I hate this.
I hate Season Six’s “Ding dong Jenny is dead!” ethos.
Furthermore, I blame its flawed execution for my Season-Six-Makes-Me-Want-to-Stick-Sporks-in-my-Eyes Feeling. You know, the attitude that has inspired Anonymous-es to share opinions in my comments including but not limited to, “stop recapping if you hate it.” Y’know, so next time someone chains them to their chair and wires them up Clockwork Orange style to my recaps there will be no recaps to read.
I think killing Jenny is lazy, and the show’s hurting because it’s making “Kill Jenny” its epicenter. Everyone else’s storyline is consciously contrived to give Jenny an opportunity to piss them off (Except Kit’s. And Max’s, ’cause Jenny’s anger-inducing words are just words, she doesn’t change anything and besides —OF COURSE the one storyline we need explained away by Jenny cannot be. Sticks and stones and stolen negatives/ideas and relationship-dismantling can break a girls’ bones but words’ll never hurt Him).
Ironically enough, one of Seasons 1 & 2’s best attributes — the united and intertwined storylines of the core cast and lack of gratuitous short-lived guest characters (Season Four was inexorably weighed down by this cast sprawl nonsense) — has finally returned to the show! So, that’s a good thing … and they’re wasting it on THIS? Why not all come together and put on a production of Our Town or go on vacation together or have a g-dforsaken HOLIDAY SPECIAL LIKE I HAVE WANTED FOR SIX YEARS. I want a tree, I want good will for all mankind, I want Kit in a Santa outfit, I want Jenny to buy Shane a new car and someone to buy Max his top surgery. I want everyone to sing together to an inspiring Carol, hug each other, and Bette can get James to carve the turkey. Then my eyes will water and melt Scrooge away.
The pit poisons the whole, you know? Like the Peach Pit, the inspiration for The Planet After Dark.
When Emma and I spoke that day, we blatantly ignored that in 2004 when Emma and I had watched Season One together, I also liked Jenny. I’m bisexual, and in ’04 I’d never had a girlfriend and I was dating a burly ex-model aspiring-police-officer who supported my quaint artistic inclinations vaguely and disliked hearing me talk about liking girls. I’m also a mediocre writer who is currently right this minute writing about my friends under different names. So … we had a lot in common, me and Jenny. The bad parts. But I related often — earnestly, at the time — to her struggle, and I continued to through Season Three. I wasn’t inherently annoyed by her.
Anyhow, my boyfriend and I split before Season Two’s premiere, and my life has changed a lot since. Now, when I’ve re-watched Season One from this lesbionic vantage point, Jenny’s S1 actions feel painfully predictable, selfish, and infuriating. The confused bisexual clichè. Rawr! I want to hit her with a saucepan. At the same time, I understand. I don’t judge her, I get it. I don’t condone her behavior, but I’d be hypocritical to condemn it.
Emma and our co-Season-Two-watcher Astrid, who are both in LTRs with men, have hated Jenny from the get-go for reasons totally unrelated to sexuality but equally close-to-home. As artists, they hate her for being a bad writer, stuck up, pretentious and skin-crawlingly precious. They also prefer Pacey over Dawson, hands down (I was always torn), and CJ Craig and Jeb Bartlett over any real human beings.
Many lesbians I know started hating Jenny for some combination of her wishy-washy sexual behavior and naval-lint-mining self-importance. Jenny’s path, at first, was unnervingly familiar to many lesbians and bisexuals. That’s a good thing and a very bad thing. My opinions on Jenny changed as I changed, and that’s interesting.
Most weathered queers have known some Jennies. Jennies clumsily and melodramatically juggle their boyfriends with their Completely! Unexpected! lesbian affair. They make last-ditch efforts to prove straight-hood by doing something crazy like eloping. Jennies torture anyone in proximity with detailed, aggressive conversations about their inner turmoil and hypo-manic state of creativity. Jennies then briefly go bisexual until a gentleman caller calls them out for being gay.
Here our Jenny emerges specifically into the kind of girl who pledges allegiance to the lesbian nation with unwavering feminist extremism and man-hating venom. She gradually transforms psychologically from meek future-housewife to a self-obsessed but also legitimately traumatized and self-destructive survivor of sever sexual abuse to an exposure-hungry professional navel-gazer. We react genuinely. We react to a multi-dimensional character, and we react from our guts, and for real reasons, not superficial ones.
Here we arrive at heightened television reality … but it works. Jenny’s self-centrism entices her to shamelessly peddle her life as a short story, memoir and eventually a feature film. She violates her friends’ privacy and often seems to make choices based on what would be best to write about. This prompts mixed feelings about writers and artists right to “exploit” truth for art or commercial success — another very compelling and debatable topic.
Jenny stayed controversial ’cause her behavior didn’t demand universal like or dislike, and the dislike it prompted was real. Bette & Tina’s relationship does that too — there’s been interesting cases on both sides throughout the show’s run, often influenced by how much you personally relate and your feelings on monogamy, CORE values, etc.. Like Jenny, we consider Bette & Tina with nuance and personal subjectivity.
Even when her character became completely fucking ridiculous — late Season four, most of Season Five — some people liked the campy hilarious psychosis, some hated that kind of humor. Jenny wasn’t EVIL yet, just misguided. The Jenny debate was lively and compelling. We didn’t just dislike her clothing or haircut, we disagreed in ways real enough to divide fans nearly 50-50.
In fact, many sympathize with Jenny and have a special spot for her because they relate to Jenny’s behavior shamefully — the manic highs & lows, the insecurity emoted aggressively, the slow sexual self-awareness, the self-entitled monologues. I am one of those people. I get it. I get Jenny. She says things I want to say, and she’s hilarious.
Furthermore, Jenny is a survivor. She’s survived sexual assault, abuse, and an emotionally terrifying home environment. She’s been through so much, and we should get to see her work through those things, instead of demonizing her for them.
Audience complaints/debates on most other characters aren’t really that complicated/nuanced. Shane’s hair — bad or good? Alice — annoying or charming? Dana — everyone loves Dana, period, anyhow she’s dead now. That means she’s never gonna wake up, Junior.
Besides, we often disregard our favorite characters’ failures ’cause they were sooo off-the-wall. No one holds outing the basketball player on OurChart against Alice ’cause we just don’t really believe in it, it doesn’t make sense. I’m genuinely fascinated by how easily we’ve forgotten Tina’s Henry. But we’ve mostly bought Jenny. The L Word likes ending characters with a bang, telling you precisely how to remember them via instant transformation – Nikki leaves vapid & stupid, Jodi leaves petty & immature, Ivan ends dishonest and hypocritical. I think that’s a cop-out, I prefer open-ended exits like Molly’s or Grace’s (and by that I mean — come back!!). Now Jenny’s gonna leave batshit crazy. And one place Ilene has fucked up royally is handling Jenny’s obvious mental illness and sexual abuse. But I could bitch about that forevs and piss everyone off. So.
So, I was happy that Five ended with Jenny becoming human again. And now … what the hell is going on? The Jenny I love [I’ve now been scolded for speaking in the “we,” so I’m just speaking for myself here] is the only girl in the world Shane felt comfortable being herself around. They’re both damaged and lovely and complicated. The Jenny we see now isn’t that Jenny. And, by default, Shane isn’t that Shane.
In Season Six, she’s a clear-cut villain. TFS has even started doing Mia’s makeup oddly, like they’re trying to tone down her smokin’ hotness.
Our earliest Jenny-inspired responses place Jenny in a select group within a larger pool of controversial TV characters. Jenny, like Samantha Jones, Brenda Chenowith , Toby Ziegler, Brian Kinney, Kerry Weaver (any other suggestions for the list?) … and almost everyone on Star Trek The Next Generation; provoked conversations/reactions relating to larger social, national, cultural, political and emotional issues as well as deeply subjective personal responses. That’s great television.
Now Jenny’s gone the other way, into cardboard territory, sans nuance. Taking that nuance away and making the whole ensemble part of the nuance-removal process is sucking hard. Jenny was never boring or predictable. But suddenly … she is. Because now she’s been squeezed into an archetype, and we know her story already, it’s been told 100 times before. Oooo! A murder mystery! What crap. I wanna hear OUR stories.
Longtime Jenny-haters had real reasons. Now your reasons for hating her are as obvious and as irrelevant as disliking Max ’cause you don’t like Daniella Sea’s voice. I am literally BAFFLED as to why this has become the Season’s axis. It’s kinda fucking up a lot of shit.
As I said, when the writing is good, we yell at the characters, not the writers. With Jenny, moreso than with other bad things done by more popular characters, we yelled at the character. That’s a good thing. That’s the controversy television ought to ignite, the kind Ilene is right to want, but is wrong this season in how she’s chosen to encourage it.
Even at her funniest or most vulnerable, there’s nothing left for Kat to like.
If Season Six had been Season One, and I’d made that same phone call to Emma, her advice would’ve been far more straightforward: “Don’t ever tell her what you’re writing, don’t include her in any private scenarios relating to your own relationships, hide your valuables, close your shades, and don’t ever dump her as a friend or a lover.” Sigh sigh sigh.
“Or you know what?” She’d continue. And then although Emma couldn’t even bear to kill the mouse in our Sparlem apartment and doesn’t ever throw things when she’s angry — according to the way that we live, Emma’d then suggest, and apparently under the circumstances I’d consent “Why don’t you just kill her.”
In an early interview, IFC said both Bette and Jenny were based on her own past. Jenny was young Ilene, and Bette was older Ilene, and maybe that’s why those two characters have been so well-designed — their family history is pages deeper than any other character’s. Ilene’s just a lot better at writing what she knows. Her imagination isn’t that flexible, and so when she has to make something up, she resorts to clichè and banality.
And so it’s odd that she’s chosen to end it this way. I STRESS THIS IS JUST A THEORY but if you don’t even want to know my who-killed-jenny theory, stop reading now. It’s an effective television trick — the slight alterations in the pre-credits sequence indicating a crucial twist, like S3’s un-ended chart connection suggesting Dana’s death.
There’s one person left to say they’re gonna kill Jenny — Bette. One chance left to employ a pre-credits trick that’ll give everything away to people paying attention. There’s still Shane, I guess, but that’s a serious stretch — her being wet and wrapped up when the Detective enters the rom suggests she tried to save or retrieve Jenny, not that she tried to kill her.
Bette’s the only one who stands to lose everything because of what Jenny’s done, and she’s got a temper. Of course the Bette-we-know-and-love would never actually kill someone. [I mean that’s my point.]
So, if I’m right, that means for some reason … Ilene has chosen to transform her complicated younger self and confident older self into a murderess and a corpse. She’s choosing to condense and execute her past, suicide-style, quickly shifting controversial characters into unfamiliar costumes — one becomes capable of killing and the other gets herself killed.
So I guess when all is said and done … at least someone’s getting closure.
You nailed it.
I agree with everything you said except the bit about you being a mediocre writer.You are fantastical!
oh man, I totally forgot about Bette/Jenny being loosely based on Ilene herself. hmm.
Very nice – I feel a whole new AutoStraddle coming on…
You forgot to mention those who like Jenny strictly for aesthetic purposes.
But seriously – great analysis of her character and it’s decline.
As for the theory: it might make TOO much sense and historically, things don’t make sense on this show.
I mean, Dana? C’mon.
just.. just… perfect. Thank you. Oh and omfg I hate IFC
OMFG you are so right! i was just discussing this very theory (Bette topped Jenny) this afternoon. Its analagous to one of Ilene’s personalities killing the other one. Sort of Sybill-like. I predict Bette won’t actually kill her though – maybe she just doesn’t save her, given the opportunity. She has the most to lose and is the dominant personality, so must win in the end.
I’m happy you wrote this.
The whole Jenny caricature deal, especially in this season, annoys me to no end. While the kitschiness is the primary reason people like her, I’ve always found a soft spot for her brand of “extremist feminism”, as you put it. I don’t think Jenny is a man hater, though; Rather, Ilene is. (I know, then if IC is Jenny, then isn’t it all in the same?) I only say this because there hasn’t been a single male in the show who wasn’t antagonistic or patronized to the point of no return.
What I mean is that I like her irony. How she’s “Katherine Hepburn in Audrey Hepburn clothing”, as one blogger once put it. Hyper-feminine, yet incredibly strong just the same. If you have a sec, check out this guy’s blog. He does a pretty kickass analysis of Jenny from a feminist perspective:
I’ve always loved Schecter…so I’m just going to pretend that this season never actually happened, and the final scene will be Jenny ripping a sheet of paper from a typewriter or something.
All of this insanity is making my brain want to explode.
can you write my thesis paper?
Wow, you articulated perfectly exactly how I feel about this show. Jenny has always been my favourite character, but this season it’s really hard to like her.
What annoys me the most about this show is that they have/had some really talented actresses (Mia, Leisha, Jennifer, Erin) and didn’t utilize them to the extent that they could have, especially this season.
Similar much? Hehe
Riese, you have awesome recaps btw and Shabbat Shalom to you my fellow Jew :)
Cut and paste THAT into the showtime character wiki!
Excellent, as always.
Oddly enough, I’ve always liked Jenny. She’s exactly the type of self-assured but broken girl I always end up falling for, but even more than that, I always thought her character arc was incredibly easy to relate to (although Dana’s struggle to come out to her parents was, I think, the most realistic storyline on the show). I just hated when the show delved into her childhood rape because it was done in such poor taste; if only it had been explored further as opposed to acting as a throwaway “explanation” for Jenny’s outlandish behavior, I would have been less appalled by it.
Anyway, the way I always saw it was, a lot of lesbians didn’t like Jenny because they had encountered someone like her during their lives. They could have been a Marina (supposedly suave seductress (yay alliteration!) who nonetheless falls victim to her own game) or a Robin (the sweet but desperate romantic who thinks an open relationship will actually work) getting involved with someone who, like Jenny, was just coming out to herself, and just like Marina and Robin, they got burned by that volatile transformation from straight to bi to gay. It can breed a hefty amount of resentment, not at the shifting sexuality but at the overall idea of a person like Jenny sucking other people into her moment of chaos. Never mind that Marina and Robin (like the lesbians who relate to them) willingly attached themselves to Jenny at that point in her life.
However, the odd thing is that so many queer women go through similar self-coming-outs. So your theory about Bette (older Ilene) killing Jenny (younger Ilene) is a really interesting one. It’s almost like the murder of one’s confusing, inescapable, and regrettable past, just to cover up any trace of a life once lived in the dark.
(P.S. I have been reading your blogs for years but just never comment. Anyway, hi. Thank you for writing, I do enjoy a lot of it.)
A really great analysis, Riese. Loved it.
(I’m new here, so… hi!)
I’ve always liked Jenny, mostly because I understand her. We can see when her behavior is wrong and not agree with that kind of behavior (lies, self-pity, and so on), but it was something I could always understand and even relate to. As you said, it just became unbearable for me in this season, because the writers made it impossible not to hate her. It’s like: “let’s make Schecter the most cruel, selfish, demanding person in this show, so the audience will not get mad when we kill her. you know, that’s what she deserves”.
NO. Just… NO. It’s absolutely crazy and wrong for me.
Now, about your theory on who killed her, yeah, I could buy if Bette was the murdered. But one thing that I don’t know if it’s out of question: is it too hard to believe that she could actually kill herself? I mean, this is something Jenny could do – and not because she’s selfish or want to hurt people, but because it seems it’s a way to scape a world that she never really fit in.
i think jenny killed herself.
Your pieces about all the problems with Dead Jenny as the center of this final season are some of my favorites, thanks Riese.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Ilene has Proxy 1 (Bette) kill Proxy 2 (Jenny) … you’re not alone in that theory. If we believe any of these characters are actually capable of murder, Bette has the most compelling motive, and the quick temper. But this only works on a symbolic level … not for the characters we’ve known for the last 5 years. That’s part of the problem.
i always loved jenny but now i feel liking jenny the way she is portrayed in season six is impossible. that is NOT jenny schecter
I’ve been following your recaps for a few seasons. I’ve always found your writing ridiculously entertaining, and thought you were a fantastic blogger, but to be honest i never really considered you as a professional writer as ive always considered blogging a passive, kind of bubblegum entertainment media, not to be taken too seriously. That said, coming from me a compliment probs wont mean too much, but this article is an insightful, really well written piece id expect to see in some reputable publication i could pick up at my local newsagent. Like i said i’ve been following your blogs, and in the spirit of end-of-series retrospection i just thought id drop you a line to mention how much entertainment you’ve provided over the years, and that (again, not going to mean to much probs!) i think you’ve really grown as a writer, and that I’ll miss your weekly dose of cynical hilarity.
I don’t often comment, but I love your recaps (often more than the show itself) and think you are a fabulously entertaining writer. On this post though, I’ve got to say that I think you’re just a fabulous writer period.
This wasn’t written as some academic dissection by someone multiple times removed from the experience of the L-word – but by someone who, (by virtue of identification and history and community) truly cares about the characters and how they are represented at the close of the finale. You’re invested in this show, and in the characters (just as we all are) and that’s why this was so fucking brilliant. I don’t mean that you care in the pathetic way of someone with too much time on her hands who spends too much time thinking about fake people in a make believe world (not saying that’s bad, of course, really ) but because what Ilene et al do with this show matters to all of us. It matters for reasons so much broader and deeper than television fanaticism – we care and identify because (as flawed and off-course as it sometimes was) this was our representation of our world, our struggles, the complexities of our experience and our community (minus the LA glitz and glamour – but whatevs).
Like many, I did identify so strongly with Jenny and the parallels of her season one experience with my own life (right down to the names of people involved, it was eerie and weird). The entire show was incredibly important to me during my coming out period, to see the life I was stepping into, the part of myself I was finally accepting (with all the pain and trauma that involved) represented somewhere before I was even able to speak about it to anyone else – I can’t even articulate what that meant to me. And after all that, to watch it all go down this way…I feel sad and disheartened, and honestly, I feel disrespected.
I’m still watching though, although I know several diehard fans who have given up entirely, because I feel committed to following through, I do feel invested, I do care. I saw an interview with Rose Rollins where she actually said that she was glad it was over because of the choices they made this season, and I’d imagine her feelings are probably representative of the entire cast. You know, I don’t know if I really believe Ilene and company had a responsibility to the fans and the larger community they represent in this show. I mean, it’s TV, it’s a creation, they can do with it as they want – but I really do wish they had chosen differently.
And now that I’ve written a novel (sheesh – if only I put that much time into my own blogs, perhaps they wouldn’t be so outdated)
always a fan
just another reader who never comments, but for this post I would like to make an exception. I’m not good at English so I’ll keep it short:
1. Thank you for all your recaps. I read them since season 4 and they are a thing I will absolutely miss when the show’s over. Thank you for making me connect even stronger to The L Word, even though season 6 is a disappointment. You’re brilliant.
2. Thank you for this post about Jenny. As many people here, I can relate to Jenny, and I care about her. It really warms my heart that I’m not the only one who cares.
3. That said, thank you for making able all these reactions on your post. It’s one thing to see that you and I care, but it’s even more heartwarming to see that so many people actually still care about Jenny.
You’re the best!
I twentieth the motion – your analysis was very insightful. I’m a lazy thinker so thank you very much for laying out so well the thoughts I too have about Jenny…she’s already been so demonised on the show why turn us against her even further now, when if this were reality, she’d prolly be at her peak, not her nadir? Surely there was some other way to make the show go out with a bang than for us to turn on one of our own?
Ilene gave us Shenny. She spent five seasons and two episodes nurturing it, and then she completely ruined it. And that is one of the many reasons why I wish season six would be erased from history. Because I loved Shenny from the very beginning. And if this is how it was going to end, with Shane hating/abandoning Jenny (with good reason, unfortunately), then… what was the fucking point?
Yeah, this is a smart theory about the murder…but, me too, I am reluctant to think that Bette can kill anybody (and I was relieved to see that this was not necessarily the case).
I guess that we all will probably feel better if we just think that it was a suicide…
What about killing Jenny is killing the creators of this show? I’m having this strange idea of us, lesbian viewers, being the girls of the show wanting to kill… yes, Ilene, represented by Jenny. Because, you know, maybe she feels misunderstood, like Jenny, who loves everyone, wanted to be as good as can be, and doesn’t know why everyone is so mad at her :)
Just an idea
Oh, and Riese, it’s simply amazing what you’re doing here with your lovely team!
This is the way we (all should) live
Didn’t understand a thing you mix too much things together, focus and learn to have an order!
i’ve never read anything by you or this site before, but i loved you as soon as you mentioned jenny in the taylor swift article. (no, like really, i yelled out loud “jenny shecter ohmygod!”) and then, of course, i had to follow the link and read this article and now i love you even more. maybe it’s just me being nostalgic for when i watched lword all the time and happy and excited for finding an article about it. but all your analyses were on point; you nailed jenny, and everyone’s reactions to her. season 1 she’s ok; she’s hot, not totally crazy or obnoxious or a huge bitch yet. after that, things start going downhill and everything she does or says or wears, you’re just like what? god jenny is so weird.
you also reminded me how much i love lword, which i still haven’t seen all of the last season of. i need to get on that. again, great article. you’re for sure a way better and less crazy writer than jenny.
jenny could have been the best constructed character, but somewhere along she bcame what you said she did.
I think the writing sure got lost near the end, there was no need for this murder suspect, because if there ever is a film, I’m sure the solution given is that Jenny just drowned or killed herself, none of the characters killed her, none of them had that kind of profile, and we dont want the to.
I agree so badly with your article. Jenny Schecter was my favorite character and her character death was really painful, the way the writers felt that had to turn her into a one-dimensional ruthless villain. She was so complex, so painfully real, the parts of ourselves that we don’t always want to see.
Not to mention smokin’ hot ;p
I felt like what Chaiken did was a disrespect to the character that she had created, and completely unnecessary. I never watch past season 3 anymore because imo it all went downhill after Dana’s death and I just like to pretend Jenny is still awesome the way she is.
I read this article called “defending Jenny Schecter” on http://ims0awesome.tumblr.com/ it pretty much sums up how i feel about jenny
5 minutes into The L Word S1E1 I identified with Jenny. For that reason, I could never hate her…or so I thought. Since I did identify with her character and impulsive behavior so much (until mid-season 3) I can’t. Seeing the character fall down a rabbit hole of narcissistic insanity and self-sabotaging was difficult. I abhor the writing choices post mid S3, but I still can’t hate Jennifer Schecter since I could’ve gone down a similar road as a bisexual intellectual grasping to get my sh*t together. P.S. I think your writing’s brilliant and enjoy reading it. I doubt anyone will read my comment since it’s regarding an antiquated post…but anyway, I read Autostraddle late in the game (so to speak).
I have spent 5+ seasons wondering why shane hasn’t been murdered instead of jenny. Why do people love shane? Why was shane left alive?
Shane who couldn’t walk into a room with out some one running away crying? Who ran out on her fiancé? Who broke the hearts of entire families? Who slept around with any one and every one? It would have been more interesting if shane were murdered and it turned out to jenny who did it….
Once I stopped taking Jenny seriously, which was basically when she wore the same ripped tights for ages while traveling with hippies, I loved her so much. She was hilarious! In fact, the whole show basically became a comedy for me after awhile because the whole thing was so absurd. At least, near the end, Jenny stomped around wildly destroying the world with amused glee instead of morose silence like Shane. The only person I truly could not stand was Max because I found her storyline stupid as hell (big disappointment), and Daniela Sea couldn’t act her way out of a mime’s imaginary box.
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