Friday, October 12, 2012

The Friday Discussion: Race on Warehouse 13

 Warehouse 13 is definitely one of my favourite shows at the moment and it just had a very dramatic and powerful mid-season conclusion (whatever that means) which promises to do even more in the future. It’s been running for 3 and a half seasons and it goes from strength to strength

But these strengths are not reflected in its inclusion - especially its racial inclusion which has only been thrown into stark relief with the events in the last 2 episodes before his hiatus.

First and foremost, there are 5 main characters on this programme - Pete and Myka (the main characters) with Artie, Claudia and Jenks following up (in roughly that order of importance) and they’re all White. New characters have been added to the series over the 3 seasons - but it has not increased the POC on the cast. In terms of regular POC there are only 3 repeat characters: Leena, Mrs. Frederick and the Regent Mr. Kosan. All three get considerably less screen time than the other characters and are much less involved in the plot.

The worst by far is Leena, who is pretty close to being this show’s T-Dog. Leena was there in the very first episode of season 1. Since that time we have learned nothing about her history, nothing about her family, nothing about her as a person. Every other character has revealed more of their past, their opinions, their belief and their family - we know something about them. We don’t even know Leena’s last name.

And her role in the Warehouse? She can read auras. Again, because we don’t spend any time exploring her, we don’t know how or why she can do this (is she an Alpha since the Eureka/Alphas/Warehouse 13 world is linked?) but she can - this allows her to shelve Artefacts extremely well since she knows which ones will react badly with others. She also has an idea what other people are thinking and feeling - and this could have been developed into her being the group therapist, helping them deal with the stressful lives they deal. But that would have involved her having far more screen time - so she ends up relegated to shelving. In some ways this would set her up as a perfect fit for the trope of the Magical Black person... but one rather thinks that these magical assistants to White protagonists get more screen time than poor Leena.

But when she’s not playing her part time role as Magical Black person with absolutely no back story? She runs Leena’s guesthouse. Sounds nice, she has her own business after all. Except the guest house isn’t really a hotel (we haven’t seen 1 paying guest in 4 seasons and, really, it’s not exactly a location likely to attract visitors) - it’s where the agents sleep. She runs the house where Pete, Myka, Artie, Claudia and Jenks sleep. That sounds a lot less like running a guesthouse and a lot more like being the Warehouse’s housekeeper - with perhaps cook and maid thrown in there.

Her character could have been so much more with her abilities - and especially since even in season 4 she was a blank slate. Instead she was bogged as group assistant and mother hen who, if she was lucky, would get 3 speaking lines in an episode, if she got any screen time at all. But even this pales next to her ending - in the grand mid-season finale, Leena is killed. Now, death has been reversible in this series before, but this looks like it’s going to stick.

And the purpose for her death? To make the cast sad and show just how far gone Artie, possessed by the Astrolabe evil, had gone. It said nothing about her character - how could it, she doesn’t have a character - but was used entirely to develop Artie’s storyline. The term there would be
“fridging”, I think. There was a lot of powerful grief from the group - including Mrs. Frederick whose shaken, stoic demeanour carried far more emotion than Claudia’s tears in some ways - but it didn’t last. They were sad but even that morphed into “poor Artie, how do we save him” and even “poor Artie, how will he deal with having killed Leena?”

Her ghost hanging around, helping Pete may give some future role for Leena - but the silent spectre who serves even after death is not going to sit well in a series that already has such a poor amount of inclusion.

Mrs. Frederick and Mr. Kosan are both still alive, at least. But even though they are both excellent characters (Mrs. Frederick especially) they both suffer from the trope of being Promoted to Obscurity. One of the craftier ways to have inclusion without much screen time is to make the POC high ranking officials in the world. Of course, high ranking people don’t get to leave their desks much and certainly don’t go on field missions - so the show probably won’t follow them. They’re in the background, they make occasional appearances and, occasionally, there will be episodes in which they feature heavily. But day in day out we will not see them. Mr. Kosan, head of the Regents, has only made a brief appearance on rare occasions and Mrs. Frederick is usually a background character. She appears during moments of high drama - and steals every scene she is in (because she’s that awesome) - but episodes pass without her being present and when she is, she is rarely forefront of the story. She is the menacing figure in the background, the woman who chews people out, the formidable boss who keeps everyone in line - not part of the team (alas).

It’s telling that, even when the Regents are deeply involved in the plot, Mr. Kosan is not front and centre. We’ve had 2 times when the Regents have featured heavily - one with Benedict Valda, a White man and another with Jane Lattimer, a White woman (who also ended up with the Shackles that protect the Warehouse). I love both those characters and I really like both actors as well, but again, when there was a chance for a Regent to actually have some screen-time Mr. Kosan took a big step backwards and 2 White Regents stepped up.

There are 2 more POC characters that had a fair amount of screen time that are worth mentioning. Dr. Hernandez, the local vet and a Latina woman. And Deb Staley, another Latina woman and an investigator for a drugs company. Both are highly competent, extremely capable and could have added more to the team or to the story. Instead, both of them were shunted off - Dr. Hernandez faded into the background once Pete was afraid of Artefacts hurting her and Deb Staley went... well, we assume to become another hidden Regent after Pete revealed the Warehouse to her. What potential they had boiled down to being Pete’s love interest with no other development or potential explored or expanded.

Even when Warehouse 13 introduces possible side characters or even long term antagonists (though, it has to be said, reserving your POC for the enemies is not a good tactic) they tend to be White - H.G. Wells, Macpherson, Brother Adrian, Sykes, Dr. Vanessa Calder, Joshua Donovan, Jane Lattimer, Hugo Miller, Amanda Lattimer most of the regents by far : White white white and more white.

Warehouse 13 has now been running for 4 seasons and I hope it will keep going. But that is a very long time for a show to continue with only these token attempts at inclusion and the longer a show runs, the more blatant its tokens become because each new episode is another failure to try and address the issue. They have had scope to develop the POC already on the show, they have had the opportunity to introduce new POC and after 48 episodes there is really no excuse not to take fix this issue. I can hope that when Warehouse 13 returns in 2013 we will see