The Importance Of Dreamer To ‘The Gifted’

I saw a post on Tumblr a while back by someone discussing The Gifted and why Dreamer matters. He identified it as something I hadn’t considered before but immediately recognized as true: Sonya was the heart of the mutant underground. You might think that’s weird at first. After all, she was the one doing whatever she had to and using her powers in ethically dubious ways. But it’s undeniably out of love. More than that – it’s out of faith.

To save the others, she gave Clarice her memory and feelings for John. She was the first non-lead character to agree to help stage a rescue and break Lorna out of custody, even though she was the only one whose powers wouldn’t help keep her safe. She reassured John that she believed in their mission and its importance when he was worrying about how they were losing ground. The second Lorna asked her to go find Marcos, she agreed. When Clarice asked her for help, she went with her immediately. Her impulse being to protect mutant children before herself meant that she let herself get caught by the Sentinel Services to buy Lauren and Andy some more time. Out of belief in the importance of mutant safety, she told them not to demonstrate their powers for Campbell. Sonya cared for individuals, but what’s more important than that is how she cared for mutantkind. She’s flawed. Not all of her decisions were good ones. But she was trying, and that leads to a character with a huge amount of potential.

Sonya was arguably more decisive than any of the other main characters. John is concerned with ethics, while Sonya cared more for the morality – a shifting,  changing idea. While John debates what he has to do unless circumstances are actively pushing him towards making a decision, Sonya just acted. And in doing so, she reminded John and Lorna both of what’s important in different ways. With John, she did it by doing what he wouldn’t. Lorna, by telling her what she shouldn’t do.

Despite not being a main character, Sonya was a core member of the underground. Everyone there trusted her. It’s more than just being present. She was the one John called to figure out how to get them to safety, despite the fact her powers were probably the least conducive to directly solving the problem at hand. Because on a subconscious level, John trusted Sonya to find an answer just that much.

Sonya believed in the mutant underground. She believed that her actions had weight, that what she did mattered. She believed that there were things more important than herself or any individual person. And when she gave Clarice her memory, she did so because she recognized the simple fact that she did have a choice – a Hobson’s one. It was do it or let the others die. A huge part of Sonya’s importance to the underground was her ability to see all those things and act on them. She didn’t hesitate. She knew who she was and what was necessary.

She did morally questionable things out of love. She felt guilt about it – when Turner told her that it was personal and he wanted to see her suffer, she was clearly horrified at the impact of her use of powers. She never wanted to hurt anyone. She’s more opposed to violence than any of the others, including Thunderbird, Blink, and Eclipse. She was upset when Lorna punched the guy in the bar, even though he’d been talking about the enjoyment he got from abusing mutants. That would have made her angry, too, but even so, she never thought of hurting him. She didn’t hurt or kill the guard that encountered them in the power station, when she could have easily done so. Instead, she made him throw his gun in the trash and let them pass.

Lorna is the drive, the rage, the sense of purpose. Her actions stem from passionate feelings about protecting mutants. In contrast to her, John and Marcos are different aspects of the logic, John through the way he perceives the world as “this is right and that is wrong and it doesn’t matter if doing this right thing will result in a future bad thing, because we can’t do the wrong thing”. Marcos through his perception that action will make things worse. Sonya, though, she’s somewhere in the middle, and that mix of ethics and necessity, passion and reason, is what makes her the heart.

Caitlin is frequently pushed as the heart of the show through her role as team mom. But it’s not the same at all. Caitlin is an outsider lecturing the underground. Sonya was one of them, and she chose to stay, unlike Caitlin being cornered into it. Sonya could have gotten out of there before the whole mess with the Struckers left them trapped, but she didn’t, because she wanted to help others.

We don’t know much about Sonya’s circumstances, but everything we do and can observe tells us that she was living a pretty comfortable life. She had enough time to volunteer, and the extent to which the things the women there had been through stuck with her suggests she’d never experienced anything remotely like that. She said she joined the mutant underground as a refugee and decided to stay, and at her funeral, Polaris said she could have disguised herself amongst humans forever, but chose to stay with them. The combination of these things suggests that she figured it would be safer to skip town and went to stay with the mutant underground on her own terms, not because she was forced to. It seems like she intended to move on, but realized that they needed help and stayed.

This is backed up by the costuming choices. Her clothes and hair were always noticeable more elaborate than anyone else’s. When episode 10 aired, I had a Twitter exchange with someone about the jacket she was wearing to go break into that facility. We  were laughing a bit, because it was a nice jacket but it was also such a statement piece and it seemed so out of place for the task at hand. The hair can be dismissed as her having a bit more time than the others because she doesn’t have an offensive power, but not the clothes. Her wardrobe being so extensive and elaborate indicates that, not only did she probably have a decent income, she didn’t leave in a hurry. She had time to pack. That means there was no one after her, that she could have gone anywhere she wanted. But she still chose to join the mutant underground to help people.

Caitlin and Sonya both came from a fairly privileged background, even if it’s more implicit with Sonya. But Sonya was a mutant,  whereas Caitlin is just a parent to mutants. And that provides a much different context for their actions. Caitlin didn’t care about mutant issues until it started to affect her – she didn’t care that her brother worked for Senator Montez, that her son referred to mutants as “muties”, she didn’t care about all the issues mutants were facing. Not until Andy manifested and they had to get out of there. Sonya’s sense of responsibility towards others was a much more genuine thing.

When she took away memories from those women in the shelter she volunteered at, that was risking outing herself as a mutant. But she decided that there were some things more important than her and her personal safety. The needs of the many, after all. You see the other side of that idea when it comes to how she argued that it made more sense to move Clarice when she lost control of her powers than to evacuate headquarters. Yeah, she cared about people and preventing strangers from coming to harm…but when she had to make a choice between one and many, she’ll choose the many. Especially because she saw the members of the mutant underground as her family. Clarice was still an outsider. Sonya might have wanted to help her…but not at the expense of everyone else there. Not at the expense of people she knew and loved. Sonya was willing to risk herself to help someone. But she didn’t want to ask that of anyone else. A little selfish? Maybe. But her heart was ultimately in the right place.

There were so many ways she could have been used. I don’t think her story was over. I don’t think her death really served any purpose. To an extent, I think that was kind of the point. She was killed for no reason at all. It was unfair and unjust, it was a white man murdering a woman because she was standing in the way of him getting what he wanted. Death isn’t fair. Not all deaths are going to be satisfying, like something has just been completed. Some will just be tragic and brutal and leave an entire life unlived. But you know where we already saw that? With characters like Pulse and Chloe, the Hounds that died just because. We don’t need more examples of that, we need deaths that matter and feel earned.

I’m going to miss Sonya so much going forward. I’m probably always going to be a little bitter about her death. I’m not going to stop watching the show because as much as I sometimes complain about it, I still think that it has more positives than negatives, and I don’t think there’s a show in the world where I’ve always liked the writing. Sonya may have been treated poorly throughout, but that’s really not the case with the other characters. Besides, if I stopped consuming a bit of media every time I didn’t like how it handled a character, I’d only have about three things that I could read or watch. And there are plenty of ways to handle the issue in the future:

  1. Bringing her back. Her death was unnecessary, and she could contribute far more to the show alive. She had a lot of unrealized potential, especially when you consider how much she acted as the link in the chain in the underground.You could make a case that John connected all the members, and that’s certainly true, but I think Sonya did so just as much. She was Lorna’s best friend and John’s girlfriend. The character that had most of the meaningful interaction with Clarice. Clearly close with Marcos, given that he spoke at her makeshift funeral.
  2. Obviously by not letting Dreamer become a Forgotten Fallen Friend, and acknowledging that something is missing, that losing her changed them all and played a role in their decisions. The team fractured after Sonya, and while that was about a lot of things, and the writers brushed her off and made the Cuckoos the takeaway of the episode featuring her death, Sonya’s absence was one of the major reasons why the last couple episodes felt so different.
    1. Using her as a sort of point of contention between Lorna and John. John could point out that Sonya wouldn’t want this. I can imagine Lorna retaliating by telling him not to tell her what Sonya would want, questioning how much he’d ever loved her if he was saying Lorna shouldn’t retaliate against the people that had killed her, pointing out that she’d been dead for a day before he’d moved on with Clarice. He could respond by pointing out that she allied herself with Esme, who was indirectly responsible for getting Sonya killed. And so on.Aside from their debate as to what Sonya would feel about the division between them, I can imagine Lorna perceiving John as disrespecting Sonya’s memory with how quickly he began a relationship with Clarice. Supposedly, the entirety of season one took place over eighteen days, part of which Lorna was in prison. Lorna knows Clarice even less than the others, even if she called her a friend in the finale. They had precisely one scene that was just the two of them.

      It would be kind of crazy if Lorna didn’t feel defensive on Dreamer’s behalf after seeing John so easily get past her death without even a discussion about it. It won’t be about Clarice, really – it would be about the history between Lorna, John, and Sonya. It would only tangentially pertain to Clarice. Lorna likes her, Lorna considers her a friend, but at the end of the day, Lorna’s only known her for a couple weeks as opposed to however long she knew Sonya. In Lorna’s eyes, looking at John and Clarice’s relationship, Clarice would be the other woman. Even if season two shows John mourning Sonya, that won’t change the fact that he and Clarice kissed pretty much as soon as Sonya was out of the picture.

      We don’t know why John originally fell for Sonya or any of the details of what happened between them. We just have the gist of their history, and can logically conclude that Sonya loved him more than he ever loved her. It makes sense to me that Lorna would bristle at that.

    2. Mentioning her when they meet the Morlocks. Yeah, it wouldn’t make sense to have her having been one of them once, but some of their members could easily be people she helped out when she was working at that shelter. It would be a nice mythology gag to bring up her connection to the Morlocks.
  3.  Placing more emphasis on the similar traits Marcos has. Not trying to replace her, of course, because that wouldn’t work, but instead having it done intentionally in universe – him recognizing her role on the team and making an effort at filling it, because he’s closer to that than anyone else. More emotional than John. More reasoning than Lorna.

Unfortunately, I doubt any of these are likely. The writers don’t seem to care as much about her as I – and many other viewers that I’ve seen comment – do. From not giving her a character arc, to inconsistency in her writing, to considering her a way to add drama to other characters’ storylines rather than as something with its own value, they’ve demonstrated that to them, she was more a tool that they don’t need anymore than a character. I think that’s a mistake.

Lorna may be the emotional core of the show, the driving force that moves the story along. The Struckers may be the supposed lead characters with the most attention given to them in terms of subplots. But Sonya guided them and provided something that helped hold them together. It’s not easy to articulate just what that something was, but it’s best described as balance. She was the team’s heart. She kept the show centred. And it won’t be the same without her.

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.

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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.

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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