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Identifying with Blue Space Lesbians: A Vague Case Study, Ish




These metas tend to be somewhere along the lines of “Jenna: This is Stuff I Like,” so in keeping with that: I like video games and cartoons. In particular, I played Mass Effect for the first time a few months ago and fell for it hard, buddy. You might also be aware that I’m super into Steven Universe, just like the entire rest of the internet.[1] Clumsy intro aside, I’m going to be talking about blue space aliens who are queer female-types — Liara T’Soni from the Mass Effect trilogy and Sapphire from Steven Universe — and while I was trying to come up with why, the conclusion was in my face the whole time: sometimes you just kind of want to appreciate characters who are awesome and who impact you in some way by means other than, um, writing fan fiction.




Okay, but before we really begin, I want to clarify, I don’t actually mean capital-L “I’m in lesbians with you” LESBIANS, because that would be hella problematic.

Come to think of it, doesn’t Ramona Flowers also have blue hair and queer coding? Hmm…

Bisexual and pansexual erasure is a sadly common trend, and one which I do not intend to willfully take part in, and so we should state that both of these characters are more what you would call pansexual[2]. Liara goes so far as to explicitly state that the partner (or “bondmate”[3]) gender is irrelevant to her race, the Asari, who are all female-identified; Sapphire is female-presenting and uses female pronouns, and I believe that fusion is a metaphor for sexual expression, but who knows how Crystal Gems actually identify personally, if at all, because the gems’ identity isn’t something Steven Universe has explored to deeply yet but hot dam  would that be awesome. At any rate, I use the phrase “Blue Space Lesbians” only because it was a term a friend used (with great success) to get me into Mass Effect, but neither Liara nor Sapphire identify as explicitly gay, nor is there any indication that this is an identity marker in their cultures. (Truly, sexuality as we know it may be entirely moot.) There aren’t a lot of queer folks in media, period, and a lot of the women we’ve seen up until the past few years have been, you know, lesbians on The L Word or something — which, ugh — and bisexual women are seen as tricky promiscuous minxes who can never settle down and are straight people in disguise, and pansexuality basically doesn’t exist outside headcanons or, um, Deadpool. Not only is these unfair and untrue characterizations on the whole, often propagated by biphobic people both within and outside of the LGTQIAA+ communities, it’s also blatantly untrue of these two characters. So…just want to put that out there. “Blue space bisexuals” or “blue space sapphics”** or “blue space queers” are perhaps each a better fit; using “lesbians” is an aesthetic choice only, and fits the characters on surface level only, especially as the latter is mildly abrasive.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 11.20.01 1

I’m 24 years old. In theory, I should be beyond the years of looking at fictional characters as people to admire or role model myself on, when my mantra was basically “what would Hermione Granger do?” In theory, I should be a real Adult Human(tm), self-actualized and self-sufficient. And I am — which is good, because teenage!Jenna would never have seen that coming.

eeeesh 2006 was rough.

eeeesh 2006 was rough.

And yet, ever since the Korra finale in December 2014 and my rediscovery of the ups and downs but general welcomingness of fandom community, I’ve found myself finding solace in analyzing fictional characters: their motives, their development, the ways they evolve that are, well, admirable. There’s a lot to be said for a well-written female-female couple, a lot of it already on this website, because we don’t get much of it in media. No; far more often, if the relationship existed at all, we would until very recently get shit like Jenny Schecter being completely and utterly batshit and blatantly transphobic even for 2006, or Bette and Tina having it out in the season 1 finale and becoming physically violent, emotionally abusive, and sexually assaultive with each other, only to get back together (and cheat on each other, and break up, and get together again) repeatedly over the course of six seasons and somehow be possibly THE LEAST AWFUL RELATIONSHIP ON THE SHOW.[5][6] Relationship dynamics are certainly different between female-female, female-male, male-male, nb-male, nb-female, and nb-nb[7] relationships, and so I don’t need to sing the song of representation here. What works well and looks good for the straight couples out there won’t necessarily work for me in my femme-presenting-but-nonbinary self dating a cis-female[8].

Jenny Schecter, or: how not to date non-cis folks

Jenny Schecter, or: how not to date non-cis folks

It’s not all about this, though, the need for diverse relationships; it’s also a need for neurodiversity. I have high-functioning autism, and people on the spectrum tend to comment that we feel like aliens trying to understand why and how people do the things they do, or what comments are appropriate for which situations, or which jokes to laugh at, or what social nuances you’re supposed to follow to be Polite or Acceptable, etc etc. This isn’t to say that we’re all socially hopeless, or that we’re all awkward or don’t understand humans, because that’s not true at all, and it would be pretty offensive to suggest. We just kind of learn the algorithims.[9] I, at least, piece together the context clues that I am given and pair it with similar situations I’ve gone through in order to come to a logical conclusion for what a good response to be, and while many folks do this innately, for those of us on the spectrum, it is a learned behavior — one that becomes second nature, but does require effort nevertheless. I get pretty fatigued of it by the end of the day.

Which is why sometimes it’s nice to see aliens who well-meaningly try to understand others, who are believable, perhaps, rather than someone like these guys…

Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos.

Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

While not doing that thing where people try to diagnose their favorite characters with their own diagnosis, Liara is kind of a great representation of what it can feel like to be on the spectrum. She’s deeply committed to her study to an almost painful degree — and then, when she also becomes The Shadow Broker, the holder of all knowledge of the galaxy, we have to wonder how, and when, she ever rests — and doesn’t seem to care or notice much if other people are making fun of her. She tirelessly tries to understand how interactions work, and needs to retire to her room when she becomes socially exhausted. And she’s awkward.

And Sapphire — Sapphire is how it feels when something comes up that I didn’t predict. Sapphire is the logical-to-a-fault part of arguing, annoyingly predicting what the other person is about to say, being stony until I thaw out and realize that, well, even if I think I can predict things, people aren’t inherently rational. Sometimes shit happens that doesn’t fit the logical structure. (Didn’t I mention oh, once or twice an article that I studied philosophy?) Sapphire is when anxiety kicks in and I’m not sure where to go and my feet feel frozen to the ground or, um, my back to the headboard of a figurative bed, I suppose. Sapphire isn’t necessarily neuroatypical, considering she’s a sentient space rock and all of the Crystal Gems are a little bit odd, but I’ll be damned if the characterization of Sapphire isn’t very, very familiar to how I feel when my predictions go awry. Sometimes, it just takes a lot of time to work through them and get out of your own head.

My point, darling readers, is this: we talk so much about the need for representation of different genders, sexualities, and races, with which I COMPLETELY agree, but a part of the conversation that doesn’t seem to get mentioned so much is neurodiversity, in part because it’s such a huge swath of stuff to talk about. We talk about depression, which is good. We talk about anxiety, which is good. And we talk about characters who get it wrong, as I’ve done throughout this writing. These characters, Liara and Saphire, who display parts of my particular intersection — not explicitly cisgender, are explicitly queer, and a decent metaphor for being on the spectrum — are a refreshing breath of air. And they do it without falling too far into tropes or stereotypes. They just kind of exist, as we say the best of queer or female or otherwise-non-straight-white-male characters should. So here’s an applause to these characters done right, and done subtly, because so often we focus on the bad, and dammit, I like that I can identify with blue space ladies.

Images courtesy of Electronic Arts, Cartoon Network, Universal, Nickelodeon, and Fox.

** Changed from “blue space pansexuals” because Claire pointed out that I had written that and there’s no indication of Sapphire being anything other than wlw, and suggested this term instead, which I rather liked. Thanks for catching that!

1. I’m also shameless Korrasami trash, but I am not about to post the link to my fan fiction here and also there are no blue space queers on that show, to my knowledge, unless you count Korra briefly turning blue in the season 2 finale or how that’s the only color she ever really wears…
2. Pansexuality, if you are not aware, is a sexual orientation where gender identity or presentation do not influence, or perhaps it is better to say do not negate, attraction.
3. Asari will mentally and emotionally bond with long-term partners in addition to having sex with them.
4. We also learn in “The Answer” that, contrary to what we get out of her fight with Ruby in “Keystone Motel,” her future vision isn’t always correct, that she didn’t expect for Ruby to take the fall for her, that she didn’t expect to desert everything she knew and fall in love with someone who was essentially her bodyguard.[4a]
5. Excluding maybe Alice and Dana, which was adorable but short-lived, and you know a show is doing a shitty job of keeping its audience captive when a major character dies and some of them (*cough*) don’t give a rat’s arse.
6. Also, don’t equate “least awful” with “healthy” because it is not, in any way.
7. “nb”: Non-binary
8. “cis”: Identifies with the gender assigned at birth (so, e.g., a person given a female designation who identifies as female).
9. I want to make very plain that in no way do I speak for everyone on the spectrum in this section. This is generalized based on the experiences of quite a few people I know, myself included, but of course, generalizations are the middle of the bell curve. There are outliers, and those experiences are totally valid. It would be foolish to say, for instance, that all ASD people are good at math, or are socially awkward, or can’t empathize with anyone.

Jenna's defining characteristics are green hair that was intended to be blue and a strong tendency to speak in long string of stupid puns. They are a game designer, an internet roleplayer, and, much like Discworld's Death, thinks CATS ARE NICE.



The Unattainable Beauties of BioWare





Happy week after Valentine’s Day! For those of you in a relationship, I hope you were able to spend time with your loved ones and maybe have a little romance. For those of you who are single, I hope that it wasn’t a terribly bitter or frustrating day. In honor of both these states, I’m going to be writing about Bioware characters. But not romanceable characters, oh no. Enough ink has been spilled about them. No, today, we are going to be talking about the ones who for whatever reason are non-romanceable. In fact, it’s going to be a list of who I consider to be the best non-romanceable characters in Bioware games.

A few ground rules first though. First, this list is completely and totally subjective. If you feel like I’ve missed a character, let me know in the comments. Most of these characters are either from the Mass Effect Series or the Dragon Age series. Those are the games I know the best have have played the most. Finally, I’m only going to list five male and five female characters. I could go on all day if allowed.

So, with that out of the way, let’s start with the guys. And first on that list is…

Black Whirlwind

Right off the bat we get a character who seems to contraindicate my first two points. He’s from Jade Empire and isn’t normally the type of character I’d enjoy. But let me justify his place on my list. First off, he’s just a fun character. Pretty much his entire character is dedicated to fighting things with his axes, drinking, and drinking while fighting with his axes. Second of all, given what we do see of his backstory, he’s fairly sympathetic. He was abused by his father until he was finally to defend himself and killed his father, and then was tossed out by his mother. He fought in the arena until he thought he killed his brother. And finally, his voice. Victor Brandt voices him in the game, and that man could read from the stock exchange and make it sound like he was trying to seduce you.

Nathaniel Howe

I can understand why they chose not to have any love interests in Awakening. A lot of the companions are missable and even if they aren’t, there’s better than 50-50 odds that they would die at the end of the expansion. That doesn’t excuse them from making Nathaniel Howe though. He has a compelling and sympathetic backstory, an interesting perspective on the location and events, and a sardonic sense of humor that lets him either play the straight man or the funny man in conversations. And! He got an easter egg quest in Dragon Age 2. I just wish they had followed through and included him in Dragon Age Inquisition (and gave us the chance to smooch him.)

Teagan Guerrin

Bann Teagan gets a bit of a bad rap now, particularly after Trespasser. Time (and the switch to a new engine) were not kind to him, but I remember a different Teagan. A Teagan that stood up to Loghain. A Teagan that risked his life to defend Redcliffe, and then walked straight into a demon’s clutches to buy your party sometime. From a story perspective, having a female human warden marry (or at least be involved with) an up and coming Bann would make just as much sense politically as marrying her to the new king. And from a purely personal standpoint, I would have loved for him to respond to the “Who is dis women Tegan?” quote by saying “My future wife.”

Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau

Ever since Mass Effect 1, Joker’s presence at the front of the Normandy has been very welcome. Snarky, quick with a quip and a comment about any of your companions, the only fault I have with him was that he was far too quick to abandon the Alliance and hook up with a bunch of racist, human supremacist terrorists in Mass Effect 2. But the fact that he’s loyal specifically to Shepard always melts my heart. I was hoping that in Mass Effect 3 he finally would be a romance option, but alas he was infatuated with EDI. It took a great deal of self control not to sabotage that relationship.

Ser Barris

And here we come to my favorite non-romanceable male character: Ser Derin Barris of the Templar Order. Dude has it all. Good voice and one of the few male PoCs in the series. In addition, he’s everything that a Templar is supposed to be: brave, intelligent, loyal, and willing to defend the weak and the innocent. And yet, after the quest to recruit the Templars, you only see ever see him one more time. The cutscene where he is promoted to Knight-Commander. (A promotion he deserves.) I can only hope that he reappears in Dragon Age 4 as a full romanceable companion.

That covers my five favorite non-romanceable male characters. But what about the ladies? Let’s start with…

Gianna Parasini

Gianna Parasini was one of those characters I didn’t expect to find myself liking as much as I did. When you first meet her in Mass Effect 1, she’s working (undercover) for Novaria’s Internal Affairs. She quickly shows herself not to be completely amoral. Just overworked, overstressed, and tired of being a Yes-Woman to a corrupt executive. When you see her again in Mass Effect 2, she’s much less stressed, and much more willing to joke with Shepard.  She leaves far too soon, leaving a male Shepard with a kiss and a promise to see him around. A promise, unfortunately, left unfulfilled.

Dr. Karin Chakwas

Dr. Chakwas is an interesting addition to this list. She is much older then Shepard. She seems at first to be a poor match. But much like Joker, she offers Shepard a sense of continuity aboard the Normandy. She even mentions that as one of the reasons why she stays aboard the Normandy in all its various incarnations. And, unlike some returning squadmates or even Joker himself at times, her presence aboard the ship never seems forced. Of course Dr. Chakwas will be in the medical bay. Of course she’ll be happy to see you. And of course she’ll be waiting to share a drink with you.

Dr. Lexi T’Perro

Unlike Dr. Chakwas, Dr. Lexi doesn’t really provide much in the way of continuity between different versions of the ship. Instead, she almost provides a mirror for Ryder to see himself and his actions. When she’s first brought aboard as your team’s doctor, she’s nervous. And she channels this nervous energy into annoying practically everyone else on the ship. But as she gets more comfortable with the ship and how things work, she starts to relax a little. Not much, but a little. Add to that her backstory in addition to the fact that she seems to care for the team’s mental health as much as their physical health and you get a character who would be perfect to romance. Shame she’s not an option.

Emily Wong

Emily Wong is one of the most frustrating examples on this list. In Mass Effect 1, she filled the ‘plucky reporter’ archetype so well that I missed being able to speak with her or give her an interview in Mass Effect 2. As the release date for Mass Effect 3 drew closer and rumors of a romanceable reporter on board the Normandy began to swirl, I had hope that it would be Emily.  I was bitterly disappointed. The reporter character on the Normandy was quite weak compared to the strong impression Emily gave in Mass Effect 1. And Emily Wong herself? Unceremoniously killed off in a marketing ploy before the game was released. She deserved better.


Vivienne is a ‘love her or hate her’ type of character. As you can tell by her inclusion on this list, I am in the former camp. Aside from being one of the few women of color companions in the game, Vivienne brings to the table a unique perspective: A mage who fully supports a return to the Circles. Not only that, but she has clear, eloquent arguments to back her up. In addition to that, she has a very striking character design and a wonderful voice actress. Most important of all though is that if her approval of the Inquisitor is high, she seems to genuinely care about them and their well being. I just wish that she didn’t politely shoot you down every time you flirted with her.

So there you have it. My five favorite male and female non-romanceable NPCs from Bioware games. However, there is one person that I have thus far neglected to mention. Or rather, one group of people. That’s right, I’m talking about…


In Dragon Age: Origins, it was just a bit of trivia. “Hey, did you know that you can’t romance Qunari and dwarf characters?” When Dragon Age 2 came out and we were introduced to Varric, it became a joke. But at least the dwarf fans could still console themselves by remembering that there hadn’t been any Qunari romanceable companions either. By the time of Dragon Age Inquisition and the introduction of Iron Bull and Lead Scout Lace Harding, it’s become one of my main problems with the series.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Why wouldn’t Bioware let us romance Scout Harding, or any other dwarf for that matter? Is it because the animation would look awkward? Too much work? In the end, I can only repeat the refrain so many others have, pining after characters who they couldn’t romance: “Maybe next game.”

Images courtesy of Bioware

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Kingdom Come, Representation, And Layers Of Privilege





Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a brand new Czech video game that just came out last week. And ever since its development started, there has been one big controversy connected to it: its almost complete lack of characters of colour.

It isn’t exactly helped by the fact that the chief mind behind the game, Dan Vávra, is right-leaning, and also a bit of an asshole when it comes to responding to these complaints. He doesn’t go far for an insult and refuses to listen to any kind of criticism. Not exactly the kind of person that makes one want to defend him.

So…this is where this article should end, right? A jerk makes a racist game, news at seven.

Well. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Vávra isn’t the only person working in the development. And the most important thing to know about the game in this context is that it’s not a generalized medieval setting. Instead, it takes place in a particular set of villages and towns and the surrounding forests, villages, and towns that exist until today and that aren’t and never have been big or cosmopolitan in any way. A number of events in the game are based on historical events. It isn’t just a story, it the story of Česká Skalice just before the Hussite wars.

In this context, the usual arguments of “there were plenty of people of colour in Europe in the Middle Ages” fall kind of flat. The usual argument of historicity that is pulled for this is frequently false because Western history is whitewashed and contained markedly more people of colour that we like to pretend. But it’s not always false. There actually were parts of the world where only white people lived. And not only are there no particular historical marks of black, brown or Asian people being present in the particular time and place where Kingdom Come takes place, it would also be very unlikely.

Honestly, the most likely place to find a person of colour in the time period would be Sigismund’s armies, and since those play more the role of the antagonist in the game, that’s not exactly ideal. So this is not, in fact, a case of ignoring the real historical presence of black and Middle-Eastern people.

Instead, the first question to ask here is: is it ever legitimate to create all-white media? If we’re depicting a situation where there realistically wouldn’t be any people of colour – not just history, there are still plenty of towns in the world a non-white person has never set foot in – is it all right to make it whiter than new house paint?

On the face of it, the answer should be yes. As long as we’re depicting an actual situation, we’re depicting. And yet. It may be “accurate,” but it might at the same time be unwise in the current climate, where every all-white piece of media contributes to a narrative that is far from inclusive to people of colour.

So the second question: does it even matter? That is, is historical realism such an important goal to achieve?

Most media that supposedly take place in the past play hard and fast with history to make things more convenient for the narrative, so why should the amount of diversity, of all things, be what is kept realistic? It shouldn’t, that is the answer. As long as other things are changed freely, the argument of historicity is irrelevant one way or another.

Kingdom Come, however, is a game that takes great care to be as realistic as possible. The most frequent complaint from players at the moment is the insane difficulty of lockpicking because that isn’t easy in real life either. So does this change anything? Is the argument of historicity valid in such a case? In other words, even in those media that do their best to stay historically faithful, is such an ambition a worthy goal? Is it more important to have something fit history perfectly than to provide representation?

Accusations of rewriting history would naturally follow a negative answer. First, it’s important to point out that it’s no more rewriting than the constant whitewashing, and with a much better intention. But it is true that with a game that boasts of its realism, it presents a problem. It would discredit their claims of historicity if they simply ignored these kinds of facts. You cannot painstakingly reconstruct medieval Skalice and then add random representation from all over the world without becoming a laughing stock. Not the least because this sort of rewriting of history would play down the racism of the past, and that is not an excuse we should be making for ourselves.

Unless we say that media has to abandon goals of high historical realism, then, we have to admit that in certain setting an all-white cast is appropriate. So that brings forth another question: is it legitimate to choose such settings?

And this brings us to the more complicated power dynamics at play when it comes to Kingdom Come.

As I’ve said, Kingdom Come is a Czech game, dealing with events from Czech history. My history. We, as a country, have always played the lovely game of being both oppressors (towards Slovaks, the Jewish and the Romani people, and even Germans after WWII) and oppressed (by the Austrian empire, Nazi Germany, USSR). In the global world of today, we’re far from being the ones in the most desperate situation, but we’re also hardly the top dogs. On the global scale, we’re a minority.

And both our history and our present are mostly white.

Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a good thing. I’m not saying it as a good thing. It massively contributes to the widespread xenophobia in the Czech Republic. But it is what it is. The fact remains that our by far biggest minority are the Romani people, who form about 3% of the population. So every time you tell a Czech story, it is going to be overwhelmingly white.

So should we be allowed to tell our own stories?

Kingdom Come, of course, is not made for the Czech market. It’s distributed globally, and it means it has a global effect, on people who know nothing of our particular context. As an all-white medieval game – which is all most people will take out of it – it perpetuates exactly the image of whitewashed history that we need to rid ourselves of. It becomes part of the problem.

So does this mean, then, that when we want global money, we have to change the image of our own history to avoid exacerbating the global problem of racism? That is problematic as well, especially as making the game for Czech audience only is not a real option. Our ten million people total don’t make for a big enough audience to pay for a game with this kind of budget. It’s another kind of disadvantage global minorities have. It shouldn’t be necessary to pay for it by adjusting our stories.

And even disregarding that, what if we want to show our stories and our world to the rest of the planet? What if we want to share ourselves? We should be able to do that.

Yet…what if what we want to share turns into a white fantasy in others’ hands?

It seems it shouldn’t be such a big deal. Who cares if we change the skin colour of some characters in the story? It’s still going to be a Czech story. But the problem is, it doesn’t quite work that way. After all, that is the “I don’t see colour” argument, only in reverse.

What I’m about to say will sound insanely racist to anyone from a more cosmopolitan country, but when I was little, I didn’t like watching Sesame Street because the multi-ethnic children there were making it so very foreign to me. I saw them and instantly knew it wasn’t my world. Outside of my travel abroad, I spoke to one non-white person total before adulthood. And I live in the capital, the most multicultural part of the country. Whatever it says about us, the truth is that if we populate historical Czech stories with black people, most Czechs will not regard it as their story.

But there is a reason I was specific in this last sentence. There are truly very few black people living in this country even now. You know who is living here, though? The aforementioned Romani. The presence of Romani people in the game would not make any Czech person feel like it was not our story. It would make them angry — because the racism the Romani face in the Czech Republic is something incredibly ugly — but it would not make the game feel foreign. The Romani minority has been here since the Middle Ages, and there are definitely historical records of them being here in large numbers shortly after Kingdom Come takes place. In fact, there are even complaints of there being “more and more” Romani people in our records because of course our racism would be traditional.

We don’t know, of course, if there were any Romani around Skalice, but it was a way to include people of colour that wouldn’t break with general Czech history. It wouldn’t have gone against our own understanding of who has lived here for a long time. And yet they were never mentioned in any of the diversity complaints I have seen. There are also Cumans included in the game, and no one seems to care much either. And that brings me to my last point.

Demanding diversity in Kingdom Come with a particular idea of diversity in mind, the idea that is based on the ethnic composition of the US, is not only American-centric but also offensive to the oppressed minorities of the Czech Republic.  And complaining about such lack of diversity truly does not come across in a way that would endear the author of the complaint to anyone Czech. Especially if the person complaining is white. If a person of colour is offended by so much mayo in their game and would like to feel represented, I can understand that.

But when a white privileged American talks about what sorts of representation a Czech game should contain – particularly with arguments like that Czechia is “just north of Italy” and Italy is by the sea so obviously there’d be plenty of people of colour in here, which is an actual argument someone presented – it suddenly gains whole another tone. Because whiteness is not the only privilege in the world, and while we certainly benefit from it, we do not benefit from the privilege of being American, and anyone from the US telling us how to tell our own stories without knowing anything about us is always, always going to ring a very uncomfortable bell with us.

So yes, making all-white games should be avoided when possible, because it reinforces an uncomfortable narrative. And representation is a good thing, especially representation of those who hardly ever find themselves on screen. Whenever at least a little possible, diversity should be supported. Warhorse Studios really should have included Romani people in their game, just as Czech filmmakers should try casting some in their films. But not all representation fits one muster and demanding medieval Skalice should look like medieval London only makes stories more identical to each other and less interesting. There is more than one kind of diversity.

Images courtesy of Warhorse Studios

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Barbara Kean From Housewife to Mobster




Gotham had a tall order ahead of it at its inception. It had to take some the most iconic characters from the comic page and meld them in a story that takes place before they were iconic. Any prequel adaptation has to grapple with this in one way or another. But Gotham had the unique challenge with Batman’s famous rouges. The origins of so many of his opponents are intertwined with his. Gotham would have to reinvent these characters and their origins. The series has made these characters its own by allowing their development to move away from their comic book counterparts. There is no character with which this is more prevalent in than Barbara Kean.

In the comics, she’s anything but a rival to Batman. She’s the wife of one of Bruce’s closest allies and the mother of one of his sidekicks.  Yet she herself plays but a small role in the narrative. Gotham’s Barbara Kean has made herself a part of the narrative in ways that have seem to have completely change the character we first meet. Gotham has taken a woman destined to be the mother and wife of heroes and made her one of the most prolific members of the Gotham City’s underworld.

We meet Barbara in the pilot engaged to James Gordon, the perfect place to lead to her becoming her comic book counterpart: married to James Gordon and the mother of his children. They’re in a good place in their relationship. As James finds himself confronted with the corruption of Gotham, Barbara becomes a pillar of support for him. She reaffirms his values when he doubts himself. But this can only last for so long. With James fighting against so much of the darkness in Gotham, it was only a matter of time before it got back to Barbara.

Even with the first bit of tension seeping into their relationship, Barbara’s still willing to stand by James. When she learns James’s life is at stake she goes to Carmine Falcone, the king of Gotham’s underground, to beg for his life. But after she’s terrorized by Falcone’s men, her own faith in James is shaken. She’s seen the true dangers in the mission he’s tasked himself with. She can’t share the burden he’s willing to take on.

At first, she falls back into old habits for the comfort and familiarity, drugs, and her ex-girlfriend, Renee Montoya. It doesn’t last with Montoya, and Barbara finds herself in a state of flux. During this time she meets Selina Kyle, who later becomes a close companion. She also meets Jason Skolimski. He becomes an inciting figure of change for her. A serial killer and psychopath, he takes Barbara captive and she almost doesn’t make it out alive.

Her time with him drives her to edge of sanity. Under his influence she kills her parents. She almost kills Lee Thompkins, James’s new girlfriend. The love she has for James becomes an obsession. It doesn’t end well for her with James stopping her. She’s arrested and sentenced to Arkham Asylum. But it ends up putting her in the perfect position for the next wave of her development.

Her stay in the Asylum is short lived. She’s broken out by Theo and Tabitha Galvan, the latter of whom she enters into a romantic relationship with.  It’s through them she’s truly indoctrinated to Gotham’s underground. Barbara’s sanity at this point is shaky at best. Having a girlfriend willing to kidnap her ex-boyfriend and his current girlfriend doesn’t help the situation either. Though even when the last remains of her sanity seem all but gone, the compassion she held for James still comes through. Her kidnapping attempt unravels and her escape ends with her falling out a second story window. Before that happens she helps James, giving him the information he needs to take down Theo.

After some time in a coma, she’s released back onto Gotham streets. Though her love for James still borders on unhealthy obsession her pursuits become more personally motivated. She opens a nightclub with Tabitha. It’s successful but she’s gunning for more, namely to get out from under Oswald Cobblepot’s thumb. She’s openly contentious of the Penguin when he all but runs Gotham at this point. Only a few people could have gotten away with this without fatal consequences.

She gathers some powerful allies with the intention of overthrowing Penguin. And it works. She becomes the queen of Gotham, taking over the city’s underground. Unfortunately, it’s a short-lived reign when conflict brews among the very allies who helped her take down Penguin, and she ends up dead.

In the true fashion of comic books and their adaptations, Barbara doesn’t say dead for long. After she’s brought back to life she returns ready to take on the city again. Reaching out to Selina and Tabitha, they work together running a weapons racket to rebuild their status. Death seems to have tamed Barbara, she’s more rational with her return. She’s even willing to work under Penguin. If only for a short time until a better opportunity presents itself for her, Tabitha and Selina.

At this point, I think it’s important to note Barbara could have easily fallen into the old stereotypes of the ‘crazy bisexual ex-lover’ or even the ‘villainous queer’. But similar to the way the Carmilla series defies its negative tropes, Gotham’s exploration of these narrative tropes doesn’t feel like it steers into the negative aspects. Gotham also avoids these tropes in a way few other series could. The villains make up a huge portion of series. They are the lungs that breathe life into the series. As much as this series is about Bruce and James growing into the heroes we know they’ll become, it’s also about watching the other characters grow into the villains we know they’ll become.

Barbara earns her place among the villainous elite in Gotham. She’s gone from a mild-mannered Gotham socialite to one of its most conniving criminals.

She’s still a woman capable of deeply caring for someone. But now her way of showing she cares for someone involves fewer words of empathy and more shooting their enemies in the head. She learnt to thrive in a city where so few can even survive. She adapted in ways that not even James has been able to. Her place in the story going forward is still uncertain. The possibility of her and James come back to each other is small but stranger things have happened in this city. Though at this point it seems more likely one of the many colourful adversaries Bruce will face when he truly dons the cowl.

Regardless of where she’s going, watching her get where she is has been a wild and entertaining ride.

Images courtesy of Fox 

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