In the fourth episode of the second season of Hannibal, nope. Not at all. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Hannibal.
Trigger Warning: For a long bit about racism/representation.
So, if you were following along with these posts and watching Hannibal for the first time, you’ve now reached the one spoiler I knew going into season two: At some point, Beverly Katz would die. (And before folks cry foul, let’s admit that there is a 0% chance that Beverly made it out of that basement, since the show is titled after the only person who could have survived that altercation. Additionally, I know that Bryan Fuller confirmed her death after the episode aired, so this is not a case of wondering whether or not she survived. No one thought she did.) I’ve ignored writing about it because until the final few minutes of this episode, it never seemed to be relevant. Beverly may have had a bit more to say in “Sakizuke” than normal, but she’s still remained a background character. Even with her journey in this episode, it wasn’t until the camera cut to her looking in Hannibal’s fridge that I realized that this was going to be it. It didn’t make this easier to watch, and it didn’t make her death more palatable to me. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I hate this, and I’ll take it a step further: I think it’s a terrible story choice.
And I’m saying this while also admitting that until that final scene, this was a brilliantly written episode, one that explores the difficult lines between life, death, and dignity. It’s so good, and then with one scene, I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth. I worry about the fact that I’m arriving nearly two months after this happened, given that I remember my Tumblr dash the night “Takiawase” aired. Tumblr Savior blocked all the posts, but I recall showing my dash to my boyfriend and cackling, because something clearly must have happened. Nearly one out of every three posts were about the show, and I didn’t even follow that many people who watched the show. But then a ton of articles started popping up over the next couple weeks, as well as a lot of arguments online about women characters being killed off en masse in the same week, and while I never saw the full text of them, it was through process of elimination at the end of season one that I realized that all these scathing pieces about representation could only have been about one person: Beverly Katz.
I haven’t read most of them because I was terrified of being spoiled, particularly since it was about a month ago that I began scheming to watch Hannibal secretly for y’all. So I am aware of the fact that what I’m about to say? It’s probably not original. It’s not unique. And while I’m a person of color, there are far more qualified folks (READ: ACTUAL WOMEN OF COLOR) better equipped to address this. But the furor over her death reminded me of the experience I went through on the day that my review for that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer went up. (frrvat erq) It reminded me of the endless conversations I trudged through, having to repeat myself over and over again, typing the same thought in different variations:
Killing characters is not representation.
Let’s start with a few undeniable points.
1) There is a dearth of Asian characters on television. East Asian, South Asian, all of it.
2) There is a distinct lack of Asian women on television.
3) A good number of Asian characters on television are little better than outdated stereotypes.
4) Beverly Katz was always a background character.
One of the most common defenses I hear of fridging women or characters of color is that if all characters are meant to be equal, then they must be treated as equal within the narrative. It is something I heard more times than I could ever care to count in the comments of that specific Buffy review. This idea is based solely on one concept: Equality is a zero-sum game. If all characters are equal, then to hold one character to a higher standard because of whatever marginalized position they might inhabit is unfair. If white men can die on the show, then why can’t Asian women? Is this equality???
This is, frankly speaking, an absolutely bullshit argument, because it willingly ignores the fact that there is and has been a massive, heartbreaking disparity in the portrayal of characters of color, made even worse once you get more specific. Actually, a more physical description of this experience might make some more sense, so bear with me.
Imagine that you enter a massive waiting room, and in this room, people are constantly passing through that room into the next one, and if you peek around someone at just the right time, you can see that there’s a party going on in each room. They’re all different, but they all look wonderful. There’s a sign above each door, a digital display that names a number. You look down on your shirt, and you’ve got a number printed there. 9. You look back at the displays above the doors, and every single one in your field of vision is a 1. You run from one side to another, spotting a 5 every so often, maybe a 2.
You finally find a door with the number 9 above the frame, and you proudly prepare to enter the next room when the door slams shut in front of you. “We’re sorry,” a voice mechanically announces. “This door is now out of operation. A 1 door was taken out of operation, and we must remove a 9 door in order to make this fair.”
You glimpse to your right to watch more doors shut dramatically â€“ all of them numbers that aren’t 1 â€“ and you realize that you don’t have any more doors left. So you look down to your number 9 and you grab it. You twist it, ripping off a portion of it, and you reform it into a grotesque 1. The people around you frown as they pass through their 1 doors, and you take a risk. You know it’s not genuine, but you reason that because you can ignore part of what makes a 9, you can become a 1. It works, though the people right behind the door grimace as you enter. The party is raging, but people keep looking at you, and you know the reason: you don’t actually belong there.
Representation is not a matter of simply fulfilling a puzzle, and to suggest that this is the case implies more on the part of the person making the argument than on marginalized people. We are not puzzle pieces. We are not quotas to be met, and we are not statistics. In fact, people of color aren’t fighting to be a number. We are fighting for humanity, which is generally the default for people who are represented more frequently in the world of fiction on a Western basis. What’s so infuriating about the concept I laid out is that it operates on the assumption that by merely having a group represented onscreen, even for a moment, means that they’re instantly equal to the majority. At the very least, this merely feels like creators of media are just throwing us a bone and expecting this to satiate us. Specifically in Beverly Katz’s case, “Takiawase” is the first time that Beverly has had more than five minutes on the screen. This is the first chance we see her working INDEPENDENT OF OTHER CHARACTERS. This is the first glimpse that we ever get of a story that belongs to her. And just as this beginning of a spark flashes across our screens, she’s killed off.
You cannot tell me that this is a zero-sum equation. What’s Beverly’s middle name? Where was she born? Where did she go to school? Did she ever date? Where does she live? What does her apartment look like? What are her interests and hobbies outside of the office? Can we speak to anything of her character aside from all of her interactions with the men in her professional life? This is not a criticism of Hettienne Park’s acting, nor is it meant to imply that Beverly wasn’t a significant character. We’ve seen how she’s played it straight to Will Graham numerous times. We know that her clearcut view of processing evidence is an asset to the team, and we know it’s meaningful.
This is meant to demonstrate that in terms of how she’s written, she was always a reflection of the world around her. She wasn’t ever made to shine completely on her own because she was always a supporting character. And now her narrative, which showed so much promise, is over. (This actually reminds me of the same bullshit regarding that previously named episode of Buffy, which is when Joss Whedon finally chose to put that person in the opening credits after YEARS of work on the show, only to kill them off. What a fucking cruel waste.) It’s over, despite that the show has spared plenty of other people. INCLUDING SOMEONE WHO WAS DISEMBOWELED WHILE STILL ALIVE. So why do this? What does it serve?
And really, what this boils down to is this: when you kill off a character like this, you are also eliminating the representation. You cannot claim that a character fulfills that sort of representation when they’re not around anymore. And it irks me that the show just lost its sole Asian character amidst continuing to use Japanese for all its titles, too.
Let me reiterate my earlier thought because I fear that there’s going to be a willing distortion of how I think because that’s generally how these discussions always go down. I thought “Takiawase” was brilliant until the end, and this show is masterfully moving towardsâ€¦ something. Well, the Jack/Hannibal fight, yes, but if “Hassun” was a slow, thoughtful experiment, this is the polar opposite. There is a lot worthy of discussion here aside from Beverly Katz’s death, and I actually urge y’all to discuss it. In fact, if you choose not to address anything I’ve said, that is perfectly wonderful. I’m not going to feel offended or slighted! As I’ve said to others recently, there is a wisdom in knowing when not to say nothing at all. Please recognize any existing power imbalances if you choose to engage with this uncomfortable discussion, and please take heed if someone has told you you’ve overstepped their boundaries or that your conversation is actively hurting them. I know that I’m partially responsible for re-opening this conversation, but I didn’t feel like I could ignore it. The only reason my review is singular-minded this one time is because this is an important issue for me. I rarely ever do something like this, so by all means, let’s discuss the rest of the episode. Like how this show has now ruined honey for me. FUCK YOU. It’s bad enough that I’m now starting to look at all food as people, and now I have to start thinking about all honey as coming from THE INSIDE OF SOMEONE’S FUCKING HEAD.
This show is too much for one person to deal with.
The video for “Takiawase” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– If you would like to support this website and keep Mark Does Stuff running, I’ve put up a detailed post explaining how you can!
– Please check out the MarkDoesStuff.com. All Mark Watches videos for past shows/season are now archived there!
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often.Â My next Double Features will be: Band of Brothers, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and then Farscape.
– I will be at quite a few conventions and will be hosting events throughout the US, Canada, and Europe in 2014, so check my Tour Dates / Appearances page often to see if I’m coming to your city!
– Inspired by last year’s impromptu event in London, I am taking Mark in the Park on the road! You can see all currently planned dates and pitch your own city here.