When a person and a lady on TV share an umbrella, and the person asks the girl if she’s joyful in her relationship, the romantic implications are normally clear. When that occurs on ABC’s Abbott Elementary, the academics Janine and Gregory have apparent chemistry. By way of small gestures, lingering glances, and hints at Janine’s dissatisfaction along with her present boyfriend, the present has established the beginnings of a basic will-they-won’t-they situation. Audiences know what’s taking place as a result of the story beats are so acquainted.
However for same-sex pairings, it’s not so easy. Scenes that could possibly be interpreted as romantic are continuously revealed to be merely pleasant or platonic in nature. And since the proliferation of out, loving queer relationships on TV is a reasonably latest growth, most viewers are likely to assume that characters are straight till they’re proved, on-screen, in any other case. Even when rigidity exists between a presumably homosexual couple over a number of episodes, queer viewers specifically can nonetheless fear: Am I simply imagining this?
Watching Our Flag Means Loss of life, the wildly common HBO Max comedy that simply completed its first season, I at first felt that acquainted concern. The collection follows a fictionalized model of the real-life 18th-century pirate Stede Bonnet (performed by Rhys Darby), who leaves his prosperous life, his spouse, and his kids to hunt journey on the excessive seas. The primary three episodes doc his bumbling failures till, within the fourth episode, he meets Edward Train, a.okay.a. the well-known Blackbeard (the great Taika Waititi), and so they go from enemies to allies to one thing extra. To my shock, Our Flag Means Loss of life turned out to be an ideal instance of the best way to inform a slow-burn queer-romance story on TV.
The present isn’t refined concerning the sparks between its two leads, however many queer viewers who had been watching in actual time had been rightfully cautious of anticipating innuendo to result in onscreen intimacy. Will-they-won’t-they arcs depend upon drawn-out ambiguity, and the jig is up when the pair acknowledge their emotions. In Our Flag Means Loss of life, when Stede tells Blackbeard, “You put on superb issues effectively” and Blackbeard takes a hesitant step ahead within the moonlight, the scene is straight from a romantic comedy—however simply sufficient goes unsaid that you just’re left questioning.
On a narrative degree, that’s good; you’re not purported to get the massive kiss too early. However for a lot of followers, the suspense of ready to see if a queer attraction will likely be acknowledged on-screen is anxiety-inducing. In actual fact, Our Flag Means Loss of life’s creator, David Jenkins, informed IndieWire that his viewers was “very afraid” that the central relationship wouldn’t materialize, even after they watched that pivotal moonlit scene. “I didn’t understand how deep that [fear] ran,” he stated, shortly after the finale was launched. “Individuals are selecting up on it, however they don’t really imagine that we’re going there.”
Queerbaiting—taking part in up queer romance, however at all times below a veneer of believable deniability, and with no intention of payoff—is nothing new on TV. Homosexual tradition and aesthetics have lengthy been extraordinarily interesting to the mainstream. However homophobic legal guidelines and sentiments nonetheless have broad help in America, and tv typically appears afraid to decide to LGBTQ tales. When Netflix’s Regency romance Bridgerton lately returned for a second season, it dropped any facade of Benedict Bridgerton probably being homosexual or bisexual, even though he flirts with a homosexual artist in Season 1. The transfer felt egregious to many viewers, particularly those that remembered an early trailer that falsely implied homosexual romance could be extra distinguished on the sex-heavy present.
Our Flag Means Loss of life handles tv’s legacy of letting LGBTQ viewers down by making the present undeniably queer, even when Stede and Ed initially don’t look like. It introduces a number of characters whose LGBTQ identities and relationships are handled as unremarkable of their milieu. When the ferocious first mate Izzy Fingers catches the crew members Black Pete and Lucius hooking up, he’s indignant not as a result of he’s homophobic, however as a result of they’re slacking off. When one other crew member, Jim, begins utilizing they/them pronouns, their comrades shortly and simply settle for them as nonbinary—and Jim will get a shifting romance with their finest buddy, Oluwande. As for Stede and Ed, their pals and enemies alike comment on their chemistry earlier than they themselves are even conscious of it. In a single scene, Lucius watches Stede decide meals out of Ed’s beard and whispers, “Oh my God, that is taking place.” And the present provides viewers an onscreen kiss within the penultimate episode—earlier than leaving their future in query by the finale’s finish.
Different slow-burn homosexual romances have managed to keep away from queerbaiting. Over the three seasons that FX’s fantastical What We Do within the Shadows has adopted the misadventures of a ineffective group of Staten Island vampires, a deeper connection has blossomed between Nandor (Kayvan Novak), a clumsy bloodsucker, and his devoted human acquainted, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén). That pairing is a real unresolved will-they-won’t-they, creating over time via throwaway strains and comedic beats. However What We Do within the Shadows has been overt about its foremost characters’ queerness, even when they don’t use labels. Viewers at the least know that no matter is retaining Guillermo and Nandor aside, it’s not the present’s reluctance to say homosexual.
Our Flag Means Loss of life is the alternative of queerbait: It’s a love story informed over a season the place the narrative always affirms that the romance being teased is actual. However think about what tv might pull off in a future the place LGBTQ lives and tales are much less stigmatized. Think about the narrative potentialities for tales about queer romance if viewers can belief that they’re getting significant seems from the beginning, and never simply settling in for seasons of limitless craving.