Love Triangles and Killing the Hypotenuse

I love The Gifted. I do. I have my issues with it, and I don’t always love the writing, but I think that overall it’s a very enjoyable show that often handles the issues marginalized communities face well. However, as much as I love most aspects of the show, I’m not a fan of some of the relationship drama.  Lorna and Marcos tend to be handled well – even when there’s some amount of tension between them, they resolve it quickly enough. But the love triangle between John, Clarice, and Sonya bothered me immensely. It was shoddily introduced, and the resolution was even worse.

dreamer and thunderbird the gifted.png

The love triangle didn’t emerge as a result of Clarice and John getting to know each other and her realizing she had feelings for him while he was still involved with Sonya. It  came about because Sonya gave Clarice her memory of kissing him, and Clarice’s own feelings ended up blending with Sonya’s.

Sonya giving Clarice her memory to help Clarice focus her powers made perfect sense. Sonya had to come up with a solution fast, and this is what she does. She doesn’t have an offensive power, not like any of the others. She couldn’t save the others directly, but she could get Clarice to a point where she could. The less reasonable thing was what happened afterwards. Sonya had every reason to remove the memory from Clarice’s head. Sonya loved John. That much has been made very clear. He may not feel the same way about her – or at least, not as strongly – but she loved him. The memory she gave Clarice was one of her own. It was personal to her. She wouldn’t want Clarice to have that. We were never given an actual reason why she didn’t, leaving it as just drama presented for the sake of it.

Sonya’s death was predictable. Likely, in fact. She was a significant enough character that it would have an emotional impact while not being billed as a main; she had important relationships with multiple leads; and, most of all, she was the other woman in a love triangle. Killing the other love interest happens painfully frequently, especially when the other love interest has been established as a sympathetic character and the writers are trying to up the stakes. So the second Sonya went with Clarice on the mission to the power station, I was on edge, and the instant she started talking about how she used to volunteer at a shelter, I knew she was gone.

dreamer death the gifted.png

This is a show filled with original characters and minor comics characters. John and Esme were both killed off quickly in the source material, but got expanded roles in the show. Not so with Sonya. In the comics, Beautiful Dreamer is a very minor character, to the point where The Gifted writers got to name her. That left the writers free to do pretty much anything with her. So what did they do? They used her as part of a love triangle, then killed her. Sonya’s death was wasteful.

A lot of people have tried to justify the decision to kill her. Some have argued that it was necessary for Lorna to make the decision to kill Campbell, others that it was great because it meant she stopped standing in the way of Clarice and John’s potential relationship. I firmly disagree on both counts.

I deeply, fundamentally disagree with the idea that the only way to raise the stakes and to make a villain appear dangerous is to kill a character. It can be effective, but oftentimes, like in this case, it comes across as more lazy than anything else. Death as a motivator can be a powerful tool, but Lorna already had plenty of motivation. Protecting her baby. Fear of the Hound program. Doing the necessary thing so that the others in her family didn’t have to. Everything that happened in the finale could have happened with Sonya alive.

Think about the Nightmare Fuel that is the entire concept of Hounds. How much more of an impact would they make if we actually knew any of them? A name, a personality, a backstory. Gus may have been an attempt at that, but we know very little about him, other than that he was once a member of the Underground and John’s best friend. Had Sonya become a Hound, that whole idea would become even more horrifying, Campbell would have become an even scarier villain, and Lorna would have increased personal investment in ending the program. Or something like having her powers eliminated – that could have worked as well.

Had her death really been to motivate Lorna, we’d have gotten more than a passing mention of it in the finale from John in a different conversation. Sonya was Lorna’s best friend, and not only did she not bring her up when trying to explain why she had to kill Campbell, John didn’t do it either. He didn’t tell Lorna that he understood, because he’d lost Sonya, too, but they couldn’t just accept killing innocents as collateral damage. He mentioned her death in passing, then kissed Clarice. And the only conclusion that I can draw from that is that the primary reasons for killing Sonya were shock value and resolving the love triangle.

Her character was so often reduced to her relationship with John, but in addition to serving as the link between him and Clarice, she served as the link between Clarice and Lorna. Clarice started off helping the mutant underground because she felt like she owed Lorna, but we didn’t get any scenes between them between the first episode and the finale. Lorna said they were friends, but we never saw that develop. Sonya, on the other hand? She was Lorna’s best friend, and we saw them working together – when they went after Marcos, when they went into the bar. She was the first – and only – person Lorna thought to ask for help. Sonya and Clarice were in prison together and shared the connection of Sonya’s memory.

That friendship – Lorna, Sonya, and Clarice – had a huge amount of potential, especially when you consider the contrast that could have been made between Sonya and Esme’s influence. As this post points out, if Sonya ultimately went with Lorna, she could have been the one with the less hardline, more moderating stance in contrast to the Cuckoos’ extremism, with Lorna torn between them. If she didn’t, she could have been another voice trying to draw Lorna back from the dark side with a different perspective than Marcos. But by killing Sonya to get her out of the way of John and Clarice’s relationship, and to give Lauren and Andy approximately five minutes of angst, all that potential was thrown away.

It was an enormous waste of a good, potentially great, character. I’ve said before that if you feel the need to change a character’s characterization to resolve a relationship, it’s not a well written relationship. The same principle applies to killing a character. The Death of the Hypotenuse page contains a list of characters that were part of a love triangle, then killed off. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to like this trope. Especially not when it’s a female character being killed, as if they have nothing to contribute on their own merits, as if all that matters is their status as a love interest.

I don’t always agree with character deaths that occur for reasons other than removing the obstacle from a romantic relationship. I’ve thought a lot of characters that the writers killed off would be more valuable alive than dead. But that’s a matter of different perspectives on what makes a good story. I can respect people with their own strong vision as to what they should do. In general, tropes are tools, not fundamentally good or bad. But tropes like the Death of the Hypotenuse? For me, they often demonstrate a lack of effort. I have more respect for writers that kill off characters for shock value than I do for those that do it because it makes writing the story easier.

Part One
Part Three

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2 thoughts on “Love Triangles and Killing the Hypotenuse

  1. Pingback: Romantic Subplots, Love Triangles, And The Strange Need to Vilify the Hypotenuse – Nerd With Words

  2. Pingback: Let The Love Triangle Be Resolved Through Friendship – Nerd With Words

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