Last month, the YouTube series Carmilla ended and neither member of the main lesbian couple died (permanently). In fact, Carmilla lived and I have some theological feelings about that.
Carmilla is loosely based on the 1872 novella of the same name. It follows Laura Hollis, a student at potently supernatural school called Silas University, as she investigates the sudden disappearance of her roommate. What begins as a beefed-up journalism project turns into a mission to save the student body from an evil dean (who turns out to be an ancient god) and blossoms into a better love story than Twilight. By season 3, the gates of hell are all but unleashed and it could’ve been so easy for this story to end in darkness and tragedy. I was fairly confident that it wouldn’t, largely because the cast and crew of Carmilla are so cozy with the fandom. Even before season 1 ended, people flocked to Carmilla, especially queer people. Since then, the Carmilla team has been quite responsive to the fandom, adopting the term “creampuff” in its advertising and social media presence much like the Orphan Black team adopted “clone club.”
So, given Carmilla‘s awareness of its audience and more importantly, everything this audience is tired of, I wasn’t all that worried about a sad ending. Still, I prepared myself for it and thankfully got a cheesy, nicely-wrapped-in-a-bowtie ending, complete with heroic self-sacrifice saving the day and transcending death.
Carmilla actually reverses the “bury your gays” trope for its main couple and says, “resurrect your gays.” Carmilla, being a vampire, is dead from the start and Laura dies in the antechamber of the seventh gate.Yet Carmilla is given a beating heart (despite her protests) and Laura regains her life. Both were dead and then alive, and as an amateur hipster theologian, I’m totally cool with that.
So many stories in Western pop culture about queer women portray toxic relationships or one of the two partners in a couple dies tragically and often violently. Carmilla does not tell either of these stories. Laura and Carmilla aren’t perfect, but their relationship is complex without the drama of cheating and without the drama of violent death.
In light of all the ridiculous supernatural occurrences in Carmilla, queerness is just a matter of fact, neither dramatized nor relegated to subtext. It’s also not sexualized and it’s basically impossible to come away with the impression or suspicion that Carmilla is really made for straight men.
In short Carmilla does a lot of things right in terms of representation. It’s become a fictional sanctuary of sorts for many of its fans looking for a queer story that doesn’t make them cringe.
Being an independent YouTube show, I’m not sure how much Carmilla will influence mainstream pop culture. Still, between its refreshing queer representation and how it’s shot as a video blog (therefore leaving many of the exciting events to the viewer’s imagination), Carmilla is worth watching and worth talking about.