There’s Something About Jenny[s] – Why Killing Jenny is Killing All of Us

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.”

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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.

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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.

Riese is the 38-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2838 articles for us.

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