In the 3B season finale of Teen Wolf last month, we were treated to one more unpleasant turn of events in a season full of unpleasant events: Danny broke up with Ethan. The moment left me with so many questions—was this just because Charlie Carver already has a new show lined up? Would they have stayed together if C. Carv didn’t get a new job, or was this just where the characters were headed anyway? Was it prejudiced for Danny to not want to date a werewolf? Why do I cry so much about fictional characters? But then I started to think about a more pivotal question: why did they start dating in the first place? It led me to a theory I call Magical Obligatory Queer Dating. Let’s take a closer look.
Lady Geek Girl talked here about it being seemingly impossible to have friendships in pop culture media that don’t evolve into something romantic. I think it tends to have extra layers of problematic for characters on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Why does this happen? Media, especially those geared to a young adult audience, don’t tend to present singledom as much of an option, particularly not long-term. And as far as dating goes, TV shows love it when characters fall into relationships that work out nice and neatly, though a fair bit of tension is also expected. Yes, perfectly happy couples are the ideal, but a little sturm und drang is typically part of the equation; we don’t want things to come together too easily. Much as in real life, there is often an awkward stumbling stage prior to a relationship, and sometimes a romantic relationship doesn’t necessarily pan out between characters exploring that “something more” territory. This is where things diverge greatly: straight characters tend to have a lot more chances/options to get things wrong. Queer characters may literally only have one other LGBTQ+ character of note in the show.
Danny was the only major queer character on Teen Wolf (and I use the word “major” loosely—he was a pretty important part of the characters’ school life, but not really in any of the adventures of the show) until Ethan showed up in Season 3A. In fact, for as open and accepting as Beacon Hills seems to be, the only other queer characters with any screentime at all—and I’m talking like cameo-level appearances—are Caitlin, the bisexual girl whose girlfriend was killed by the Darach in 3A and who kissed Stiles in 3B, and Danny’s boyfriend turned ex turned makeout buddy turned who-knows-what now, who doesn’t even get a name. So when Ethan arrived on the scene, appearing in multiple episodes, with actual lines to say and story arcs to be involved with, it was kind of a big deal. In fact, he eventually becomes a more central character than Danny. Two important gay characters? Destiny is calling! Must be dating. Must be love.
In the way of most Magical Obligatory Queer Dating, things between Danny and Ethan fell together better than a winning game of Tetris. There was just a hint of awkward pre-dating, making eyes at each other in the background of a scene once or twice, then a cute scene of them sitting next to each other on a long bus ride. But starting with their steamy hotel room makeout session the episode after said bus ride, the two were solidified as a prominent couple on the show. With the exception of a minor time of separation at the beginning of Season 3B, the relationship coasted along, seemingly without any of the headaches and heartaches we saw between Scott and Allison, Jackson and Lydia, or Stiles and Lydia (an unrequited love that has so far never progressed to actual dating, but there have nevertheless been moments of possible romantic tension there). During that brief separation I mentioned was when Danny was apparently makeout buddies with his ex, Nameless Other Gay (NOG for short)—but as soon as Ethan showed back up, NOG was out of the picture. Literally. We haven’t seen him since.
Danny and Ethan picked up where they left off, all cute and hawt at the same time, in their more or less perfect relationship. But none of the interim was ever discussed: why had they taken the break in the first place? Were Danny and NOG making out in the boiler room just because they were the only two gay people at Beacon Hills at the moment, or were they possibly considering resuming an actual relationship? Because if things didn’t work out with Ethan, NOG was obviously the only other option for Danny.
Certainly part of the problem in Teen Wolf is having short, 12-episode seasons and roughly 520 characters to deal with. The storylines of the non-main characters will inevitably be pushed to the side in an overcrowded show. Without enough time to devote to minor queer characters, their relationships can take on a magical quality: any tension or conflict tends to be brushed over due to time constraints, and what we’re left with is a picturesquely perfect couple.
Where’s an example that’s done better? I turn to Dawson’s Creek, that seminal 1990s WB hit show, teen drama in its purest form. Jack McPhee is arguably one of the most important examples of gay representation in primetime American television of all time. His attempts at dating were hardly ever easy, and were more likely to be marked with frustration than perfectly coming together into some supercouple. Not all relationships just fall into place from the moment you meet someone. What a novel concept! In the Season 2 episode “Psychic Friends”, not long after he came out, a friend tries to set him up with a new acquaintance. Jack actually responds, “You know, just because there happens to be a second homosexual in Capeside, it doesn’t mean that I’m obligated to go out with him!” Oh Jack, if only more writers felt that way.
What saved Jack from Magical Obligatory Queer Dating? First off, Dawson’s Creek seasons were routinely twice as long as Teen Wolf seasons, allowing for more time for development. Secondly, Jack was irrefutably a main character of the show, and his storylines were always of prime importance along with those of the rest of the main cast. I think that treating queer relationships with more time and nuance is of utmost importance in young adult pop culture media. Magical Obligatory Queer Dating can lead to unhealthy expectations for young queer viewers, particularly in areas with a low LGBTQ+ population. Oh I’m gay, I met the one other gay kid in my school; thus, we must be lovers!
This is not a healthy mindset, and a lot of time and energy can be wasted by this way of thinking if in fact the persons involved would not actually be a good fit for a romantic relationship. (I just might be speaking from experience here….) Maybe Teen Wolf was doomed by time constraints in regards to this issue, like I mentioned, but hopefully they can change their ways. According to this notice, a new gay freshman character, Mason, has already been cast for Season 4; will he and Danny fall victim to Magical Obligatory Queer Dating? We will have to wait and see. I, for one, hope that first we can get at least a little more closure with NOG and his storyline; who knows, maybe even get him a name.
Looking for other examples, I started to come up with a list: Willow/Tara, and then Willow/Kennedy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kurt/Blaine and Santana/Brittany from Glee, Griffin/Peter from Secret Life of the American Teenager, and Sharon/Beth from Wonderfalls. What other couples do you think could fall into the category of Magical Obligatory Queer Dating, or what couples have you seen in shows that have avoided this tropiness? Let me know in the comments below!