It’s season (series?) finale time on Bitten, which seems like a good time to discuss the show’s misogynistic tendencies.
Let’s bitch it out…
Bitten is the first in Kelley Armstrong’s Women Of The Otherworld series of novels and as I said when I first began doing quick takes for the show, I don’t remember too much about the novels (my sister traditionally emails me to correct me when I critique elements that are directly adapted from the novel). What I do remember, however, is that the Elena of the novel felt like much more of an active agent in her own narrative than she has on the show. I’ve blamed lead actress Laura Vandervoort for her distant, occasionally vacant performance as Elena, but having now seen thirteen episodes, I’m also prepared to lay a great deal of blame on the writers.
What ‘Ready’ makes abundantly clear is that Bitten, the TV series, has issues with women. This is a series whose entire premise centers around the idea of a single female werewolf in the world, and yet over thirteen episodes Elena has been less of a lead character than a construct: a trophy or prize that men fight to control or possess. This would be less problematic if it were just the villains – the mutts – who treat her this way, but it happens with nearly all of the Pack members as well. Consider this: in last week’s episode ‘Caged’, Jeremy (Greg Bryd) locks Elena up for her own protection before telling her that Clay (Greyston Holt) bit her to save her life because Jeremy thought she had seen him change. The twist is obviously a great opportunity to salvage Clay as a love interest – he’s been the knight in shining armour all along, willing to take on the burden of Elena’s misplaced wrath. That sounds fine, until you realize that it’s just another example of actions being put upon Elena: she’s not so much driving the narrative or even contributing to it so much as she’s being maneuvered around by the men. Jeremy locks Elena up because he knows what’s best for her, and both Jeremy and Clay knew what was best for her when they lied to her for years. Clearly we’re meant to pass judgment on this, but that’s not how the season finale plays out.
The attack on Stonehaven is all about capturing, but not harming Elena – she’s the trophy that the mutts are so desperate to possess. We’ve been told repeatedly that Elena is the ultimate goal: Santos (Michael Luckett) wants to own her and procreate with her, Leblanc (Curtis Caravaggio) wants to harm and kill her and Marsten (Pascal Langdale) thinks she should be treated nicely because “she’s a lady.” In all of these ways, the mutts reduce Elena to a gendered figure. She’s not a person for any of these men. Unfortunately the fighting sequences reinforce Elena’s “difference”: we’ve seen Elena hold her own before (last week in fact), but when the big epic battle for Stonehaven plays out Elena is the only character we see saved by others. And not just once, but twice: first by Logan (Michael Xavier), and then by Marsten when she’s attacked by Leblanc. Sure Elena gets to finish off both Leblanc and Santos, but only when they’re pinned down by men. Perhaps I would feel differently about this if Elena was the leader, but this reads like faux-empowerment, a concession by Jeremy and Clay to give Elena the feeling of control that she’s been seeking all season.
Unfortunately when that moment comes, the writers stick a complete load of bullshit dialogue in Elena’s mouth. She tells Clay that she’s to blame for everything because she stopped patrolling with him, which I think is intended to be seen as character growth but absolutely reeks of misogyny. It’s been clear since the first episode of the series that Elena would end up with the Pack and Clay, but after last episode’s admission that both Jeremy and Clay have been lying to her since the start, it’s hard not to retroactively advocate for Elena’s decision to take off to Toronto and make her own informed decisions. What once appeared to be a selfish choice now comes off a little differently.
By having Elena instead admit that she was wrong to leave and that everything that happened since is her fault, the writers treat Elena in the same way that weepies (50s melodramas) did when they punished women for seeking agency. In doing so Elena is shamed, condemned and made to blame, but it’s okay because she’s learned her lesson and returned to her rightful (domestic) role. The kicker is the incredibly offensive follow-up scene when Elena literally puts a fucking ring on it moments before seeing the price she paid for running away: the death of Philip (Paul Greene). The message is clear: had Elena stayed with the men who have lied to her as long as she’s known them and not sought independence, Philip would be alive and none of the deaths we saw over the season would have happened. Fans of Elena and Clay may swoon that the golden couple is back together, but it’s hard to overlook how incredibly offensive this ending is.
Kudos, Bitten for that progressive message.
- Think I’m overreacting? Consider the only other female role of note, Rachel (Genelle Williams) who spends the episode being abandoned, locked in a cupboard and kidnapped. Rachel’s entire role on the series has been as the harpy/shrew and the carrier of Logan’s son. The majority of Rachel’s time has been dedicated to crying or asking stupid questions. Philip occupied the exact same role for much of the series, but he never came off like a weakling or a hysterical partner, even when he was getting his ass handed to him by Victor Olson.
- One positive about the finale is that the action gets turned up to 11. A good portion of ‘Ready’ is dedicated to the mutts vs Pack battle and it is equal parts hardcore, bloody and even a little beautiful. I particularly liked Clay’s sunlight and pillow stuffing-filled battle in the den, as well as the carefully composed point of view (from Rachel’s perspective) bedroom fight.
- Here’s what didn’t work for me in the fight scenes: who the hell were these mutts? Why didn’t we see them assembling before the attack? I can understand budget restrictions preventing larger roles for these characters, but it makes it seem very strange when a variety of unknown figures suddenly show up solely to fight and die.
- The inclusion of so many randoms also makes me question why Leblanc was given such a prominent role. Originally it seemed as though he and Marsten would have leadership roles, but when the attack began it very quickly became clear that that wasn’t the case. Marsten is significant because he betrays Santos (and will now join the Pack), but what became of spending so much time on Leblanc? It’s as though he was introduced solely to be the creepy rapist/serial killer who fixates on Elena (a role also fulfilled by Santos and Olson).
- It’s not exactly shocking when James Williams (James McGowan) is revealed to be Malcolm Danvers, Jeremy’s father. Unfortunately the reveal is completely anticlimatic since Jeremy simply lets his father walk away. This means we have no idea why Malcolm a) attacked Stonehaven (he explicitly states it was never to take possession) b) believed Santos had “such promise” or c) plans to do with Elena. It’s as though the writers thought the reveal would be shocking enough to satisfy and didn’t think they had to elaborate on anything else.
- Side Note: Were we legitimately meant to consider Santos the leader / “heir apparent” in this scheme? The character has been comically inept the entire season. I always thought that was part of the running joke, and yet Malcolm seems serious when he affectionately discusses Santos’ potential as a leader. Perhaps this is just meant to reinforce that Malcolm is delusional?
- Finally, RIP Philip. If you’re going to go out, it might as well be in a Godfather/Se7en homage.
- Malcolm (to Santos): “You thinking? That’s proven to be not such a good thing.”
- Martsen (when Santos tries to use Malcolm’s line about leather shoes on gravel): “Yours are about as Italian as Chef Boyardee”
- Malcolm (spotting Leblanc’s dead body): “Is he the serial killer or the rapist?” Santos: “A little bit of both”
Your turn: do you agree that Bitten did wrong by its female characters? Were you shocked to hear Elena suggest she’s responsible for what happened this season? Do you understand what Malcolm hoped to achieve from attacking Stonehaven or why Leblanc was given such a prominent role? Where should the series go if it secures a second season? Sound off below.
Bitten has finished airing its first season. SPACE has yet to announce a second season renewal.