The 100 takes LGBT characters to next level

Cate Cameron/The CW
Cate Cameron/The CW

Well-represented female characters aren’t new on The 100. The series has always shown as prominent, outspoken leaders and diverse individuals since its debut.  But in Season 2 it took overall character representation to a whole new level, and television is all the better for it.

In “Bodyguard of Lies,” Clarke (Eliza Taylor), the female protagonist, and Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a recurring female leader, share a kiss after a brief argument. And then it did something mind-blowing: it refused to confirm or deny the sexuality of these characters, opting instead to just let it sit. No larger discussion. No over-analyzing. No self-doubt, judgment or reservations. They simply kissed and that was it.

On any other show this scene would have played out much differently. We would have seen Clarke stop to explain her sexuality, and in turn Lexa would have explained hers. How it shaped and defined her over the years, and the challenges it has presented her in being a leader. Not on The 100. On this show it’s no big deal to have a bisexual leader. Not one character even batted an eyelash after this kiss, and with it, The 100 began changing the representation of LGBT+ on television. Why should we automatically assume every character we see is straight anyhow?

Sure, it would be easy to assume Clarke Griffin is heterosexual. After all, she has an ongoing tension with Bellamy (Bob Morley) and she had a relationship with Finn (Thomas McDonnell). The audience views her as a straight protagonist because there are no obvious signs pointing to her being LGBT+. Just like in real life. Clarke never tells anyone that she is bisexual—and why would she? It’s never relevant to the situation at hand, which is their survival.

The writers took audiences through this potential relationship with Lexa the same way they would with any other on the show: by building the suspense and showcasing both pairings on an equal footing. The 100 allows for the possibility of a relationship between Clarke and Bellamy, Clarke and Finn, and Clarke and Lexa—with each being an equally viable option.

Then there’s the actual character development. We know Lexa is a leader who rules with her head and not her heart. We know it even more thanks to last week’s penultimate episode. That’s the character development at play. The only time the show hinted at a personal relationship is when Lexa mentioned her past with Costia. Rather than focus on the female pronouns during that story, Clarke focused instead on the pain Lexa was in over losing someone near to her. Audiences aren’t really used to that sort of character reaction. Typically those types of stories lead to a confirmation of one’s sexuality, but The 100 completely bypassed the dissection of it. Chalk up a major step forward for LGBT+ representation.

When Clarke and Lexa finally did kiss, there were no further discussions of their respective sexuality and no explanation of why they are attracted to each other. The 100 trusts the audience will figure that out on its own. Likewise, the leaders’ respective armies don’t look at them any differently. The soldiers didn’t turn to each other and immediately dissect the ups and downs of being LGBT+ in a dystopian world. Instead, Clarke simply tells Lexa she is still getting over Finn. She hints that they are both in the middle of a giant war and they leave it at that. As far as Lexa is concerned, Clarke’s “not yet,” means that yes she is interested, but it’s not going anywhere at this point in time.

This portrayal of sexuality is huge. To see Clarke treat Lexa as an equal to Bellamy, without ever saying what sexuality she identifies with is something that we, as television viewers, are not used to. Clarke isn’t ready to be in a relationship with Lexa, just as she is not ready to be in a relationship with Bellamy. Clarke’s “not yet” is the key moment in that scene. By explaining she is taking time for herself—and to battle for her people’s survival—is enough. In this moment, Clarke is just a teenager and survivor who happens to also be bisexual.

The 100 had a chance to market all of this, of course. Two teenage girls, one bisexual and one lesbian. Salacious, right? It’s certainly an opportunity that has been utilized in the past with other shows. But that’s what makes the choices from The 100 writers’ room so impressive. It’s not about raising its ratings with sexuality and shock value, but treating these characters as actual people with complex backgrounds, thoughts and feelings.

Cate Cameron/The CW
Cate Cameron/The CW

By having these characters stay true to their personalities, The 100 is opting not to use sexuality as a story device, but as part of character development. It’s not special. It’s not controversial. It’s life.

Even though Lexa and Clarke probably do need each other for survival, it’s in the same overlying context of how everyone needs each other in this dystopian reality. Sexuality and gender don’t matter because it will not make a difference when it comes to leading people into battle or fighting for their right to be alive.

In the past, television has taught us characters should explain every story of sexuality that breaks the norm, spoon-feeding viewers explanations to back events up. And they were needed in order to bring us here.

Ellen needed to come out and get the ball rolling, just as Queer as Folk and The L Word needed to show new representation. Glee pushed it again by showcasing LGBT+ characters in actual relationships, spending weeks exploring key couples. Modern Family‘s Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) showed us a happily married, regular couple, and Grey’s Anatomy’s spent due diligence showcasing Callie’s (Sara Ramirez) journey.

But these stories are stories that have now been told. Going forward, we need to see characters simply existing, rather than explaining or justifying. In order for them to be seen as normal, they should be treated as such.

As Cosima (Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black) says, “[her] sexuality’s not the most interesting thing about [her].” The characters on The 100 explore, decide and love in a way that feels right to them in the moment. Just as others that came before, Orphan Black, Lost Girl and now The 100 needed those earlier series to lay the foundation for the next step.

It’s nothing new to see these confident and diverse female characters on The 100. Long before “Bodyguard of Lies,” the series was portraying women as intelligent leaders and as warriors. Sexuality is only a positive addition to what are already incredibly constructed female characters. The 100 is proving to be a strong force on television, taking representation of not only women, but now LGBT+, to the next level.

The 100 finale airs Wednesday, March 11 at 9 p.m. ET and on Netflix Canada.