Laying ‘Killing Eve’ to rest: TV’s obsession with the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope

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*This article contains spoilers*

With the word ‘killing’ mentioned explicitly in the title, it may not come as a surprise to some viewers that the hit BBC series Killing Eve concluded its final season with a healthy amount of onscreen death. Routine assassinations are nothing new, with the glamorous Russian hit woman Villanelle — played by the tour de force actress Jodie Comer – closing the final episode with an awe-inspiring, carnage inducing blood fest. This is all routine, expected, the chaos audiences have come to love and come back for season after season.

The only death that stood out in the final episode of the show was that of Villanelle herself. The seemingly immortal woman who had survived being stabbed, shot by an arrow, and strangled, saw her final demise at the end of a loaded gun. It was curt, unglamorous, utilitarian — a shot through the back. While there were many reasons the audience was up in arms about such a tasteless end to a show that stood out for its bold plot lines, its dark humour and its commitment to the authenticity of its characters, the show’s finale illuminates a continuously pervasive issue within film and TV’s representation of queer characters onscreen: the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope.

Defined by the website TV Tropes as “the presentation of deaths of LGBT characters where these characters are nominally able to be viewed as more expendable than their heterosexual counterparts”, the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope has been a mainstay in TV and film representations of queerness, even where these industries are increasing their depiction of the LGBTQ+ community. Seen as expendable, queer characters are often given shorter storylines primarily centred on pain, struggle, and death. Examples of this exist as far back as queerness has been represented onscreen, from the death of Susan Ross in Seinfeld in the 90s to — more recently — Lexa in The 100 and Denise in The Walking Dead. 

The ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope removes all agency and individual autonomy from characters

There are, understandably, many issues with such a convention existing at the forefront of queer representation onscreen, but importantly, this trope acts to minimize and overlook the importance and influence of LBGTQ+ characters within their respective narratives. Their representation in modern media, though objectively a leap forward since Hollywood’s implementation of the Hays code in the 1930s — a rule implemented in television and cinema that effectively banned all representations of anything other than cisgendered heterosexuality onscreen — the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope removes all agency and individual autonomy from characters, reducing their entire identity to nothing more than their gender or sexuality. 

Luke Jennings, author of Codename Villanelle — the trilogy Killing Eve is inspired by — himself admitted in a recent op-ed in The Guardian that “the season four ending was a bowing to convention”. Throughout the award-winning show, fans eagerly watched the relationship between assassin Villanelle and MI6 agent Eve Polastri grow from professional interest to complete obsession, culminating in a glimpse of what life could be like for the couple in the fourth season. This image of a happy ending for the pair is fleeting, leaving Jennings, and the audience asking, ‘How much more darkly satisfying, and true to Killing Eve’s original spirit, for the couple to walk off into the sunset together?’

While film and television are moving towards representations of the LGBTQ+ community that capture a more earnest and authentic depiction of queerness — think 2019’s Booksmart or the recent Netflix series Heartstopper — as long as the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope continues to predominate queer stories, we will not be able to fully escape the damaging stereotypes and depictions of the lives of non-cis, non-straight people perpetuated by the media at large. 

Image: Ming De Dong Huang via Unsplash

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