Get Over ‘Twilight’ And Watch ‘Carmilla’ Instead: Why I Am Loving This Queer Vampire Romance
Imagine vampires, enthusiastic proto-journalists, eldritch abominations and an Addams Family-esque setting, coupled with a healthy sprinkling of non heteronormative relationships, a strong female cast and did I mention there were vampires? So stop imagining because ‘Carmilla’ has got you covered. Not the novel by Joseph Sheriden Le Fanu (worth a read if you want 18th century vampire teenage girl hijinks plus layered to the gills homoeroticism) but an adaptation by Vervegirl TV.
The series is set in modern day Silas University where cheerful and spunky Laura”s roommate suddenly and mysteriously disappears and is replaced by Carmilla. Both are immediately at odds with each other, but there are stranger things afoot in Silas University and Laura and her friends must get to the bottom of it!
The first season focuses mainly on Laura and Carmilla’s burgeoning relationship. Quite apart from the fact that Carmilla is, y’know, a vampire, their relationship proceeds on perfectly normal grounds like any other. There is angst and heartbreak in their relationship, but it derives from problems that any couple might face. It’s refreshing break from the tendency to showcase only a particular side of non-heteronomative relationships (Brokeback Mountain anyone?), which just sucks. It’s also bad representation. Reel is real and all that. Carmilla and Laura fight and squabble and bicker and eventually come together like any other straight romance out there. And that’s beautiful.
However the series isn’t just about Laura and Carmilla’s relationship; it’s about the decidedly non heteronormative nature of the show and by extension, the world. Leading this charge are characters such as Laura’s friend Susan LaFontaine who identifies as non binary and prefers to be simply known as ‘LaFontaine’ (as they will thereafter be referred to as in this review). In the world of show itself, they snap back even at their best friend, Perry (another of Laura’s friends) if she ever calls them ‘Susan’. Quite a lot of LaFontaine’s background is explored subtly especially though their relationship with Perry with regards to their gender identity.
Again, as with Carmilla and Laura’s relationship, LaFontaine isn’t simply a ‘token non-binary character’. They have a story and interests of their own as well as romantic relationship only hinted at in the show. In other words, they have a full personality including their gender identity and that’s how we write characters, folks.
‘Carmilla’ also explores several controversial topics, such as the ‘friendzone’ which is basically the idea that if a woman rejects a man’s advances even after he’s nice to her, she’s effectively putting him in the ‘friendzone’. It’s a pretty demeaning and patriarchal notion itself which seems to state that the only reason a man might want to get close to a woman is to have sex with her and that friendship has no meaning. It also puts on women some sort of obligation to the men who are nice to them, an obligation beyond being nice back. The series utterly destroys this notion in a scene where it raises the question as to a) why must sex be seen as the ‘final’ step in some sort of relationship ladder and b) that friendship between a man and woman is not something which is demeaning, instead it is something rewarding. ‘Carmilla’ may have been done so in a slightly ham-handed way but boy, does it get the message across.
The show itself is lauded for its near all female cast but it has to be noted that with the exception of four characters (counting season 2) there are hardly any non white actors. Out of these four characters, only one of them is in a major role. With the introduction of a non white character in a major role in Season 2, it looks like the show is making good on the promise for more inclusivity. Lets hope this trend continues!
As a web series, ‘Carmilla’ has a unique position with regards to the TV shows of today. The genre of web series and other such independent media was popularized by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice by the VlogBrothers. By airing directly on the internet, media such as this doesn’t have to cater to the sometimes draconian demands and censorship of TV networks, but can depict their choices freely which explains why ‘Carmilla’ was able to do what it did. Moreover, it was a success and an example of how non heteronormative relationships do sell. (Take that, Steven Moffat!). Shows like ‘Carmilla’ might be forerunners for a new kind of viewing experience which is less dependent on the network on which it is aired and more on its viewers. By doing so, it can cater to an infinitely wider audience and thus show more inclusivity in its writing and representation. All of this bodes well for the future.