Okay. This week we are going to be discussing fridging. Never heard of it? Well, it is a common trope in comics, literature, film television etc. TV Tropes has a list of places where it occurs and it is defined as when a character is killed off in a particularly gruesome manner and left to be found. Additionally, when this occurs specifically to women in order to further the plot of another character, usually male. The term was also coined because a Green Lantern comic book character was once literally stuffed into a fridge after being killed…Sounds horrible, right? Well one would think so, but the lengthy list of television shows and movies it occurs in very clearly shows how this trope or plot device is used repeatedly.
Some examples of this trope in popular movies and television are Rocky, with Adrian’s death motivating him to fight again. Rachel in The Dark Knight is also an example, and her death actually serves as fuel for TWO male characters’ storylines. The trope has been used multiple times in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but also interestingly with Tara’s death the character’s storyline it effects is Willow’s (her girlfriend). Shay was killed on Chicago Fire only to cause pain to the two characters closest to her. Supernatural literally kills all the women on its show, which thrives on the pain and suffering of its two male characters. Anyway, the list is long and disheartening. My question is why? The examples given on TV Tropes are also probably only some of the examples of this, and more times than I expected male characters showed up and reversed this trope which I found equally as interesting. However, I don’t know if I know what to do with that. What I find hardest to grapple with is understanding why writers choose to torture or kill these characters when other storylines could move their characters forward. Also, why is it predominantly women we see this happening to on television? What adds to the uneasy feeling I have when I see this trope used is that the women most times do not feel like full well rounded characters (that in itself is a problem) and are often introduced very shortly before they die. Secondly, it narratively makes more sense-if pain and drama are the end goal-to hurt or kill characters the audience is already familiar with. Doing so allows for audience engagement to be higher because they are already familiar with the characters, while still creating similar effect.
Anyway. As I was going about my normal routine last week watching my weekly shows, I was confronted with yet another use of this trope. In all honestly I predicted it, you can ask Shannon. Spoiler Alert: CW’s The 100 brutally killed a young female character, only 2 episodes after being introduced, and the purpose was only to push a male character’s story forward. Here’s some background information on The 100. The show’s premise is: Some time in the future 100 delinquent teenagers from space are sent to earth to see if earth in inhabitable after some sort of war/natural disaster/chemical warfare threatened to wipe out man kind. They arrive on earth, it is inhabitable, the space teens find people who survived and live on the ground-Grounders. They fight with the Grounders, the adults and non-delinquent space teens make plans to come down to earth they attempt to create a relationship with the Grounders in order to fight The Mountain men (people who survived only by living inside a mountain, killed lots of Grounders to survive, generally terrible people). Working with the Grounders works to an extent, but they space teens are betrayed at the end of Season 2 and as a result three of the main characters have to make a decision to kill 300 of the people who live in the mountain.
Season 3 began four weeks ago, set three months after the Season 2 finale. The space teens and their families who came down to earth later have set up a camp that is working relatively well, many of the main group have new routines and seem to be relatively happy. As the episode’s storyline begins, we are introduced to Gena as she kisses one of the main characters, Bellamy. So, over these last three months, our 20 something hero figure has found a girlfriend. In theory this fantastic. The development of a relationship means that finally these poor tired young people have settled enough on the ground to put roots down and start healthy lives. However, that is not how the show plays this relationship. In the first episode we are only shown Gena for brief moments while her boyfriend Bellamy is off working and having experiences that bond him even further with his friends. In episode three, as Bellamy leaves to try and save a friend, Gina kisses him (the Kiss of Death) and tells him “Don’t do anything stupidly heroic”. There is no way she can survive this episode. Guess what? She doesn’t. As Bellamy is off being tricked by a group of Grounders, Gena helps one of the other space teens-Raven-try and stop an attack. As they try and stop their people from being killed, a Grounder brutally stabs Gena and leaves her to die, then he plants a bomb and blows up the entire fortress killing everyone in it. Including already dead Gena.
Why would they do this, you ask? Beats me. That is a lie though. We know why she was killed. Bellamy, the male lead, needed a catalyst to push him to blindly follow a charismatic racist leader, hoping to war with the Grounders again. Gena was introduced in 3×01 and killed in 3×03. What does this say about this television show, and others that do similar things? In the case of the The 100, Gena’s death indicates the writers disregard for 1) their own characters 2) women (It is also interesting to note this show has previously killed characters for shock value in the past in similar ways. Also the writers attempt to defend the choice to kill her but it is pretty much useless, as all it really does is perpetuate the stereotypes about the Grounders and the attitudes towards them that seem eerily similar to a lot of colonialist narratives we are familiar with). A healthy young woman on this show honestly barely stands a chance of surviving because of the nature of the show, it thinks it is a teen version of Game of Thrones. However, it would make much more sense overall if Gena had been a real full character, not an insert who’s only job is to kiss the hunky male lead and then die. She deserved better. Young girls on television deserve better! Additionally, because the audience is given probably no more than four minutes in the three episodes to even form a connection with Gena, it makes her death somewhat disgusting. There is no time allowed for the audience to care for her, so her death, especially the gruesome nature of it, becomes even worse.
Fridging, as we know, is a trope that exists in many different forms of popular media. It speaks to many of the ways writers and creators value women, how they value storytelling, and how they value their viewers. Many if not all of the questions I have regarding fridging still remain, as I am not sure how to navigate it. How do we consume this media despite repeated indications that the people making it have little regard for us as audiences? I’m not sure. I think that discussion about this trope is interesting and beneficial, but also, I am sick of seeing women getting killed so regularly in ways that make me this deeply uncomfortable.
RIP Gena. May we meet again.
Next week (only one post!):
Tuesday: 1xo2 of Shadowhunters. We are going to talk about Clary.