Warning: This post will contain spoilers for True Blood up to the end of season 4, the most recent episode of Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica and Caprica. The spoilers do not pertain to anything crucial to the content of the shows, but some people are incredibly spoiler-averse. Also, most of the links in this piece will lead to TV Tropes, so here’s a courtesy warning that if you click any links, you might lose an afternoon.
Sometimes, I shout at the TV. Scratch that. When I am watching TV, I am usually shouting at it at some point. Often it’s at characters waving around an idiot ball or a plot hole I could drive a bus through (and I’m terrible at driving) or a particularly egregious lack of research which leads to ridiculously bad made up science and nothing making a tiny ounce of goddamn sense.
I do not suffer fools gladly. Despite this, a lot of my shouting tends to be loudly offering solutions to a problem.
This week, I watched two TV shows which made me think. The first was Doctor Who, which featured two copies of Amy, one who, due to some magic timey-wimey that I tend to forgive Doctor Who for, happened to be forty years older. At one point, it looked like older Amy would be travelling with our regular characters, and Amy’s husband Rory was struggling to come to terms with having two wives. The choice was rendered moot by said timey-wimey magic. The second was the season 4 finale of True Blood, which saw the love triangle between Sookie, Eric and Bill come to a head. Throughout the season, there had been an exploration of the idea that Sookie was in love with both Eric and Bill, and both Eric and Bill were in love with Sookie. There was even a dream sequence in which the three worked out ways to make this relationship work. Unfortunately, this plot was not resolved in this way. Instead, Sookie decided, rather boringly, to choose neither of the buff, hunky vampires.
Both of these plotlines had something in common: polyamory was explored as a genuine solution to the issues at hand. In Doctor Who, Rory took the idea that he would have two copies of the same wife in his stride, and seemed fairly comfortable with the situation. It was only temporal paradoxes that forced him to make the choice. In True Blood, Sookie’s dream sequence displayed how happy she would be with the idea, and in a later scene in the finale, both Eric and Bill seemed fairly comfortable with feeding from Sookie at the same time.
Of course, mainstream TV is never going to actually propose that polyamory can be a good solution for these plotlines, despite the fact that it is. Being poly is, sadly, still a marginalised way of being, so it is still largely invisible in the mass media.
I can think of one TV programme I have watched in which poly characters are represented. In Caprica, Sister Clarice lives in a group marriage with several husbands and wives, in a house full of children from various combinations of the family. She sleeps in a large bed with some of her spouses. It seems idyllic, until it turns out they’re all crazy religious terrorists.
What we have is TV representing largely heteronormative relationships, and almost exclusively monogamous relationships. Tropes abound from this: characters having to “choose” which potential suitor they want, characters breaking up and making up to allow various permutations of the cast to hook up, cheating lover drama, and the nightmarish love triangle scenario. Drama springs from allowing shows to remain monotonously uniform in their portrayal of the default option of monogamy.
And here’s the thing: I’d rather do without all that drama. I do without that drama in my day to day life, and frankly, I’m sick of seeing all this “you must choose between him or me” bollocks on TV, when it’s perfectly easily resolved by applying poly principles and working out some easy way for everyone to be happy and loved up. I don’t want to see Buffy moping over whether she should choose the sensible, good bloke or the rakish bad boy. I want to see her killing monsters. I don’t want to see some sort of horrible quadrangle sexual musical chairs eclipsing all the cool blowing up robots in space.
For an example of how much better things would be if polyamory was actually visible on TV, I will rewrite part of the third season of Battlestar Galactica, in which two married couples, Lee and Dee, and Starbuck and Sam spent much of the season taking up vital screen time with their affairs.
SCENE: Officer’s quarters
LEE: Dee, I love you very much, but right now I am suffering from some serious unresolved sexual tension with Starbuck. You know that we’ve sort of been flirting for a while, but we never got down to it because she was engaged to my dead brother.
DEE: I feel a little bit upset by this, because I love you very much.
LEE: And I love you very much, Dee. Love doesn’t divide, it multiplies.
STARBUCK: Damn right. I’m madly in love with my husband Sam, but I am also subject to this attraction with Lee. I think I’ve noticed Sam checking you out, Dee, because you’re very beautiful. By the way, even though I’m passionate about Lee, I have to say it’s nice how happy he is with you.
DEE: Thank you. Sam, is this true?
SAM: Yes. I am dull and uncharismatic, but I am also hot. I think your attraction to me is probably physical.
STARBUCK: I love you, honey.
SAM: Blah blah meh, I am so dull and uncharismatic, but I love you.
LEE: Let’s not forget that I’m a really annoying character.
DEE: Oh no! DRADIS says we have incoming Cylon raiders in half an hour!
STARBUCK: Are you psychically connected to DRADIS or something?
DEE: Yes. That doesn’t matter. In about half an hour, we’re going to have a huge epic space-battle.
LEE & STARBUCK: AWESOME!
SAM: Half an hour, you say? Time for a quick orgy!
END SCENE, CHARACTERS NAKED AND RUTTING
And that would have completely improved season three if all of the characters had just been honest rather than having an interminable few months of whinging about their marriages.
Of course, I do not expect to see any positive portrayals of poly relationships on my television in the near future. Consider how long it took for anything close to positive portrayals of queer people and relationships to appear: this 50-minute video showcases just some of the homophobic jokes that popped up in Friends over its run. For the time being, any poly relationship is doomed to fail: the mainstream media lags behind society, and society is only just beginning to learn of the possibility of loving and fucking more than one person.
For now, we’re stuck with monogamous TV, and all the rubbish tropes it brings with it.