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The De-Lesbianification of 'V'

The De-Lesbianification of 'V'

When ABC announced the remake of science fiction, alien invasion series V, the thought immediately came to mind that this would be yet another great opportunity to feature a serious, lesbian character as a lead on a sci-fi show. Fans of the original Vmini-series and follow-up shows may well remember the heavy lesbian/bisexual subtext surrounding the characters played by Jane Badler and Jenny Sullivan. Will the network show continue to de-gay like Katee Sackhoff's Starbuck and Kristanna Loken's Painkiller Jane?

When the SyFy Channel announced Starbuck would be a woman in the new version of Battlestar Galactica, it seemed the perfect opportunity to introduce a lesbian lead character in a major science fiction series. Unfortunately, although Katee Sackhoff as the new Starbuck was certainly worthy of lesbian fantasies, her character ended up disappointingly straight as an arrow. The SyFy Channel also failed to take the opportunity to have a leading woman-loving character with Kristanna Loken in Painkiller Jane, pushing the character rather firmly into the opposite-sex romance side of bisexuality.

Then, ABC announced the network would be doing a remake of the science fiction, alien invasion series V, the thought immediately came to mind that this would be yet another great opportunity to feature a serious, lesbian character as a lead on a sci-fi show. Fans of the original V mini-series and follow-up shows may well remember the heavy lesbian/bisexual subtext surrounding one of the most prominent lead characters. In the original V, alien commander Diana (Jane Badler) had more than one moment of obvious sensuality toward other female characters on the show.

In the very first episode of the original V mini-series, Diana rather openly seduces broadcast journalist Kristine Walsh (Jenny Sullivan) into becoming her spokeswoman to the people of Earth. Jane Badler, as Diana, plays the seduction to the hilt, flattering and complimenting Kristine with all the subtlety of a seasoned player out for a one-nighter in a lesbian bar. Diana pets and caresses Kristine like a lover and gazes at her with smoldering glances, leaving Kristine nervous and worked up like a school girl with her first crush on a teacher.

Until Kristine unfortunately bites it later on, the interaction between Diana and the journalist turned alien press secretary is rife with sexual tension. Although nothing obvious is ever shown to viewers about their relationship off-screen, there is certainly much implied. Diana, as a character, comes across as blatantly bisexual if you're at all looking for subtext . Later on in the original V run, Diana transitions to become more male-centric, including having a few steamy scenes with male co-stars. Throughout, however, it is women who play the primary foil to Diana's scheming and serve as the focus of her passions, both in pleasure and in hate.

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Diana toys with resistance leader Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant) like a BDSM dominatrix would play with her pets.  Diana wants to break Juliet to her will, enjoys torturing her into submission and then offering her rescue if only she will give in to her. The scenes showing Diana attempting to convert Juliet to the alien side are like a prolonged, racy sex scene complete with breathless screaming. You just can't help but get the feeling Diana needed a cold shower after the whole experience. Besides her obvious enjoyment in playing with Kristine and Juliet, Diana's constant friction with opposing alien commander Lydia (June Chadwick) feels like watching two ex-lovers battling it out for dominance. Even in the final episodes of the original V series, Diana fawns over the alien-human crossbreed Elizabeth Maxwell (Jennifer Cooke)  and not at all in a motherly kind of way.

Hearing of the V remake by ABC, I couldn't help but watch all of the original V episodes and follow-up series before taking in the new one. Watching them over again, I was even more struck by how blatant Diana's bisexuality seemed in the original. After all, the first V mini-series debuted back in 1983, when any sort of gay context on television was still extremely hard to come by. The subtext of Diana's bisexuality was about as blatant as it got back then and I was actually a bit shocked the writers took it that far and Jane Badler played it up so strongly.

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When I finally dived into the new V, however, I was immediately disappointed. ABC has made changes, certainly, but not in big ways overall. The new leader of the alien Visitors is still female and her name, Anna, is obviously derivative of the original Diana. Annoyingly, however, the character of Kristine has been converted into a male journalist, Scott Wolf as Chad Decker. Right away, the strong same-sex sensuality between the original Diana and Kristine pairing has been turned into a heterosexual relationship. So far, with a handful of episodes aired, there is no indication at all the new Anna character shares any of her predecessors' seemingly fluid sexuality. That, in these modern times, is truly a shame.

Remaking a series that was groundbreaking in putting bisexual subtext right out front for those who were looking for it and leaving it out entirely this time around is criminal. Instead, ABC should have stepped forward out of that past legacy and done something even more progressive in making Anna a truly iconic lesbian or bisexual character. LGBTs get little enough representation on television other than brief moments of titillation to drive ratings during sweeps weeks. In science fiction television, the lack is even more profound and oddly disturbing. Over the years, gay sci-fi fans have ached for a true lead character who isn't constantly shoved in the closet or just plays gay when the writers need a plot twist. Just like Battlestar Galactica, the new V could have been that proving ground to put a queer character in a sci-fi series out front and center. Sadly, just like the SyFy Channel, ABC has decided to ignore the obvious possibilities in order to better please the mainstream masses.

Thankfully, although ABC seems to have missed the boat with V, the SyFy Channel has finally heard the cries of the gay sci-fi lovers out there and thrown them at least some kind of bone. The character of Camille Wray (Ming-Na Wen) on Stargate Universe may only be a secondary lead, but a recent episode showed her doing something we've rarely ever seen on television. Yes, there was kissing and a steamy, shadowed sex scene; typical lesbian thriller fare.  There was also, however, a whole lot of love being acted in the scene between her and her longtime (LTR!) partner on screen. Lesbian love, not just lust or infatuation, portrayed on television is about as rare as it gets. So while V may not last on my TiVo wish list, Stargate Universe has earned a permanent season pass as long as it lasts.

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Laura Vess