Wednesday morning and I am slowing waking up. I slept well last night–didn’t want to get out of bed this morning (not that I ever do), but I did, and am on my second cup of coffee as the fog clears and my body starts to slowly become something slightly resembling human this morning. On my way to work this morning I have my usual Wednesday morning errands today, with an addition: I have to stop at Garden District Books to pick up my copy of the new, signed Laura Lippman (she signed there last night but I had to work), Lady in the Lake, and then resist the urge to start reading it immediately.
It’s also pay-the-bills day, an odious chore I just completed, and to be perfectly honest–I don’t feel good about it. I love being able to pay the bills, but seriously–budgeting is something I absolutely hate and despise. I do believe that no one ever thinks they ever have enough money–no matter how much they have; we are an acquisitive by nature culture, and there’s always something we just can’t afford that we long for–but I do miss the days when my income was higher and more plentiful and I never really had to plan or budget or worry about anything the way I do now–but back when I was making more money I don’t really remember feeling footloose and fancy-free, in all honesty. It’s an endless cycle, I think; one that our money-mad culture drives.
After the cut, there will some spoilers for Years and Years, so read ahead at your own peril.
We watched another episode of Years and Years last night, and the show continues to be compelling. This most recent episode was especially heartbreaking; and while I don’t want to spoil the show for anyone who might want to watch, last night’s episode–and make no mistake, the heartbreak was earned–it also made me think of a regular complaint queers have about film, books, television programs; a particular trope that is tiresome and getting older the more it happens. As a general rule, while I understand why the trope is problematic–and in some instances, it’s simply pulled out to unsuspectingly tear the heart out of the watchers; a horrific bait-and-switch that might be moving, but so many times it’s unearned….that I couldn’t help but be a little bitter through my heartache last night–particularly because earlier on in the episode, I quite happily thought to myself, you know, it’s so refreshing to see a family drama series where the most loving and stable relationship is the gay one.
That kind of should have been my tip-off–which I realized as the credits rolled and I wiped my eyes.
“Bury Your Gays” is just as much a trope in modern culture as the dead girl–you know the one: as Laura Lippman describes it, “a beautiful woman dies and some men feel bad.” I was really not expecting a “bury your gays” trope in Years and Years, primarily because I don’t ever expect it. I am not so cynical and jaded yet–though I am rapidly getting there–to expect a gay character to die the first time they show up in a series or book or film; but maybe at this point I should simply know better. I wasn’t even expecting gay characters in Years and Years, although perhaps I should have, knowing that Russell Tovey was in the cast. I love Russell Tovey; I loved him as the werewolf in the BBC series Being Human (the American version was fine, but the British one was outstanding), have loved him in everything I’ve seen him in since, and was quite pleased when he came out as an openly gay actor. His role in the show was the younger son in a family of four siblings, who are all close to the maternal grandmother and haven’t spoken much to their father since he left their mother years ago. There are two brothers and two sisters, each with their own distinct lives and issues to deal with. The Lyons family are the device through which, I am assuming, the complete collapse of civilization will be viewed through–it’s apparent from the very beginning that this is a very different kind of show than anything else airing.
Tovey’s character Daniel is originally, in the first episode, in a happy relationship with Ralph–he proposes to his lover in the first episode and they marry, only to have the relationship slowly start to disintegrate throughout the first episode. He works for the Council in Housing, and part of his job is assisting Ukrainian refugees get settled and processed in the UK. Daniel is a stand-up guy with some flaws, but his heart is in the right place. During the course of his job he encounters Viktor, a beautiful young man who fled Ukraine after his parents reported him to the police as gay. Danny and Viktor have chemistry and start falling in love–it’s really quite a lovely story, if heartbreaking for Ralph. The first episode ends with a major world tragedy that looks as though it could be the end of the world, and everyone is at Gran’s for her birthday celebration when it happens. Danny, thinking the world is ending, leaves the party and Ralph to go be with Viktor….naturally, this ends their marriage when the world, despite the economic and political chaos, does not, in fact end. Viktor has no papers and no visa, and eventually is deported back to Ukraine…and their story becomes about Danny’s desperation to get Viktor back–with the whole-hearted support of the Lyons family, who have taken Viktor in and made him a part of the family. The episode we saw last night saw Danny and Viktor safely in Spain, until a revolution overthrows the Spanish government and the new government moves to expel all foreign nationals, even those seeking asylum. The episode revolves around them smuggling themselves into France and then trying to get back to the UK, culminating in a horrifying small open boat crossing of the English channel that ends in tragedy. The technique showing the crossing is excellent–flashes of the boat in terrible weather and the desperate terrified riders interspersed with just black screen….then we cut to the beach, in daylight, with officials looking at corpses scattered everywhere. One person is putting little numbered signs next to the bodies…and the camera follows her, lingering on each corpse as she places the numbered sign down….after about five people, the next is Danny–eyes open and glassy, not moving, just staring at nothing.
My heart literally jumped into my throat.
And then the camera moves to Viktor, wrapped in a blanket, just staring at Danny’s body, and again, my heart broke.
And I realized, here we are again, with the fucking goddamned lazy trope of “show us a happy gay couple, moving heaven and earth to be together at any cost, only to kill one of them off so the audience can be heartbroken along with the rest of the characters.”
So, was this just another example of “bury your gays”, or was this earned?
I think it’s both.
I don’t think anyone else on the show is going to have a happily-ever-after, either, but so far the only character death on the show is the gay member of the family. Why did it have to be him? At the same time, though, the show brilliantly, brilliantly, showed how equal marriage has not, in fact, conferred equality on the gay community–although I did keep wondering, why don’t they get married? And it also brilliantly showcased the truth about being gay in repressive countries, and how callous bureaucrats do not care whether gays from repressive countries will survive if sent back.
The reality is, the odds were very much against Danny and Viktor making it. The same would have been true had Danny been a straight man and Viktor a woman; although a straight female Viktor wouldn’t have had to flee Ukraine in the first place. The show might not have been as honest and realistic to have them both make it back to the UK, but on the other hand, in reality the odds of Danny going to Spain and arranging for them both to be smuggled back illegally into the UK were also unlikely.
And yet…couldn’t the plight of refugees been shown through a straight couple? Was it absolutely necessary for the gay couple to be the one to suffer? What Danny and Viktor go through in this entire episode (and the set-up from the previous one) is juxtaposed against the collapse of the straight brother’s marriage and family; we see the good, decent gay brother moving heaven and earth to save his lover while the straight brother self-destructs and throws his entire life and family away over a nothing affair.
I honestly don’t know how I feel about this; I’m also not sure if my anger about the death of Danny is because I was so vested in this positive gay representation–I mean, I literally did think in the episode how lovely it was to see such a loving and committed gay couple going to such great lengths to be together, and how positively they both were being portrayed–that the betrayal of Danny’s death hit me even harder than it would have had it been Danny and Viktoria.
I’m going to keep watching because the story is riveting and compelling, but it’s not going to be quite the same for me.
And now, back to the spice mines.