Let The Love Triangle Be Resolved Through Friendship

I don’t like love triangles, but if one exists, friendship will always be my favourite way of resolving it.

It happens frequently in comics/related media with my favourite hero: Nightwing, AKA Dick Grayson. He joked in the tie in comics for the Young Justice cartoon that his superpower is remaining friends with all his exes, and that’s something that has been consistently true throughout DC. He  remained friends with both Starfire and Batgirl after their relationships ended.

What’s unique about comics is that it is very rare for any character to only exist for one purpose. Comics are written by multiple people, so while there might be some characters that only appear in passing in one title, almost inevitably, they’ll be elaborated on by a different writer. There are very few characters without at least someone that likes them getting a chance to write something they’re in. That’s great for readers, because it means that even if a character is poorly written and has their entire personality/story arc revolving around a love interest 99 percent of the time, the remaining 1 percent of the time, they won’t be. That’s very much the case for Kory and Babs.

Koriand’r and Barbara have been Dick’s primary love interests for decades, but they don’t compete with each other for his affection. They’re fully fleshed out characters outside of their relationships with him. They’ve both had their own titles, however shortlived. They’ve had their own stories. I don’t know if they themselves are friends – I don’t think I’ve read anything featuring the both of them together – but they certainly aren’t rivals.

That Young Justice tie in comic I mentioned, Rocket and Zatanna were both interested in him, but they were absolutely friends with no jealousy over him. In the Doctor Who reboot, we had Rose and Martha both in love with the Doctor. When they met, though, after a slightly shaky start, they were friendly and complimentary to each other. This is a startlingly rare occurence. Oftentimes what happens is the odd one out gets a  different love interest, and the friendship occurs after. In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Annabeth and Rachel didn’t become friends – or even friendly – until Rachel agreed to become the Oracle, thus elimating the possibility of her dating anyone. In Scrubs, while the rivalry was mostly played for laughs, J.D. and Sean, as well as Elliot and Kim, didn’t become friends until Sean and Kim started dating in a classic case of Pair the Spares. The two competitors becoming friends before one or both of them is removed from the competition? Much rarer.

When it comes down to it, I don’t like love triangles, so my favourite method of resolution is bound to be the one where said triangle is unobtrusive, where it can be mistaken for consecutive rather than concurrent love interests, where you can argue that it’s not even a triangle so much as just a character having multiple love interests or multiple characters being interested in the same one.

Part One
Part Two

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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

Romantic Subplots, Love Triangles, And The Strange Need to Vilify the Hypotenuse

The other day I was thinking about love triangles and the different ways in which they’re resolved: death sometimes, friendship rarely, and one of the vertices being portrayed as a villain often. I don’t like love triangles, or any kind of polygon, primarily because of this. So often, they involve pitting characters – especially women – against each other when a much better story would involve them being friends. When I started writing about that, I realized that I had much more to say than I thought I did, so this will be the first of three posts about the resolution of love triangles. This one will focus on the vilification of a character in said triangle.

Oddly enough, one of the best examples of this is a series that I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I’ve read – the Vampire Academy books. They’re not my type of book at all. But a friend of mine got me to read them several years ago when the last book had just been released – I was about twelve, I think – and I’ve never gotten over the poor treatment of Tasha Ozera.

Tasha started off as arguably the best character in the series. She was my favourite by far. She appealed to me in large part because I have very little patience for romantic drama. I’m twenty, and perhaps my teenage experience wasn’t quite standard – I went to a small magnet high school that took kids from around the county, there wasn’t really all that much drama, and we were all pretty supportive of each other – but  it always seemed to me like most of these high school novels that are supposed to appeal to teenage girls are written by people that don’t remember what high school was like at all. Tasha? Up until the end, she was tangential to the romantic drama, not an active part of it.

While everyone else was obsessing over their love life, or being really creepy about a girl in high school, she was being politically active. She was smart. She was proactive. She was out to protect children that her own people wanted to shove onto the battlefield and use as human shields. She wasn’t distracted by how much she loved someone else, or how she was fighting with her best friend, or by anything. She was on top of political developments, and was focused on accomplishing what she had to.

Even years before the events of the series, Tasha – young Tasha, barely out of school, without any training or help – fought off both her brother and sister in law to protect her nephew. And she did. She was outnumbered and scared and facing people much, much stronger than her, people that she loved and was not prepared to fight, but she still managed to hold them off, even after one of them ripped out half her face. That’s just badass. Her story was tragic, and in just about any other genre, she’d be the mentor, if not the hero herself.

Meade expected the audience to believe that this woman – the woman that’s always supported Rose; always been kind and compassionate, even as she was cunning and politically aware; always fought for what’s right, that taught her nephew how to use his magic to fight back instead of expecting other people to protect him; always been brave, smart, and strong – would frame someone else for murder for no other reason than jealousy over some guy.

She was the first character to ever bring up how the Moroi weren’t contributing and were instead just relying on the dhampirs, who didn’t even have voting rights, to keep them safe. She and Christian were the first characters to use their magic offensively. Tasha taught Christian, which resulted in Christian lighting a Strigoi on fire, not only saving Rose, but becoming the only Moroi to kill a Strigoi within the series.

Tasha stood by her convictions. She wasn’t ever speaking theoretically, or because she was looking to score points somewhere – what points could she possibly score from alienating the people with power to support the marginalized? She sincerely believed their society needed change, that they had to fight for equality. She and her family were already ostracized, but she loved Dimitri enough that she was ready for even more societal scorn from having dhampir children. But she was turned into the villain because she was a competing love interest.

The killing the queen part of it? I took absolutely no issue with that, because that was a logical extension of the character’s actions. It made sense. That alone would have been a fantastic direction to take the character – how far would this smart, goal oriented woman go to achieve what she felt she needed to? But framing the protagonist because of…what, jealousy? And not any legitimate reason for wanting her out of the way? That took a good character – one that, had she gotten a little more development, could have even been excellent – and turned her from the only mature adult around to just another petulant child that the author wanted to “get out of the way”.

Several of the most interesting points in the series never got a real resolution – the way the dhampirs never got to make their own choices, the way they were ostracized for not going into a life of personal protection of the rich, the deep classism of the society, the political system. Rose and Dimitri ended up together, the lead characters were alive in the end, but the status quo that the books began with didn’t change. I guess maybe that’s the point of a teen romance, but all the same, it never felt like anything was accomplished. A lot was made of Lissa being a revolutionary, ultra liberal leader, but what did she do to support dhampirs and their right to have their own lives? The primary thing she did was not change the age requirement. For me, it came across as incredibly shallow – like today’s white liberals, focused on putting out fires as they arise and celebrating minor achievements instead of working for real, meaningful, lasting change. The real revolutionary was vilified. The one pushing for real reforms was depicted as just a scorned lover. Perhaps it would have been a totally different story if it focused a little less on romantic drama and a little more on individual characters and the politics of it all, and I know that I can’t judge a work based on what it’s not, but I think what it was could have been much better.

On TV Tropes, this method of resolving love triangles fits into the category of Derailing Love Interests. This category is broader than making one of the characters into a villain – it extends to giving said character any kind of random character flaws to divert sympathy away from them and justify them not becoming the final love interest. It’s lazy. It’s one thing to turn a character into an antagonist. It’s one thing to have development and consistent characterization that explains just why they shouldn’t end up in a relationship with character X. It’s even okay to say, “hey, maybe they would work, but not here”. It’s another to decide that the supposed obstacle needs to get out of the way.

The way I see it, if you need to completely change a character’s characterization to completely resolve a romantic relationship, it’s not a well written relationship. Either that, or you’re not confident in your writing to believe that you’ve crafted a good enough romance to be compelling even with other love interests. Romantic drama can exist without love triangles, and can certainly be resolved without the derailment of another character. If a love triangle has to exist for whatever reason, though…I’d hate it much less if a writer managed it without any character derailment.

Part Two
Part Three