With the success of Gentleman Jack, it’s been all about the Ann/es lately. And why not? It’s rare that we get any mainstream media where the lesbians live to see the end, aren’t forced to be with a man, and have a happy ending. While we bask in the glow of Gentleman Jack’s tenderness, let’s not forget about the characters often left in the shadow of the main protagonist. We’re here to shine the light on four of TV’s underrated lesbian characters.
Clare Devlin (Derry Girls)
Portrayed by Nicola Coughlan, Clare does her best to navigate her teenage years during the Troubles in Derry, Northern Ireland. Overshadowed by the shenanigans of her friends and plagued by anxiety, Clare is the voice of reason in her group. She’s often found urging everyone to reconsider whatever harebrained scheme they’re up to that day. Despite this, her courageous nature and her ability to stand up for herself at such a young age are admirable.
The last episode of the first season marked Clare’s official coming out. After her best friend, Erin, unknowingly published her anonymous essay about being a teenage lesbian in a Catholic school, she came forward as the writer. When told to “go back in,” Clare takes a stand: “I don’t want to go back in.” Coughlan’s delivery of lines during this scene makes her character that much more endearing. She’s able to maintain the show’s humorous tone without making her lesbianism the butt of the joke. Clare is a breath of fresh air in a market saturated with over-sexualized teen shows. In fact, those of us who were out but didn’t date in high school saw ourselves in this wee lesbian.
Derry Girls is available to stream on Netflix.
Max (Black Sails)
Portrayed by Jessica Parker Kennedy, Max started at the bottom and eventually became Nassau’s queen. As the only recurring lesbian character on the show, it was stressful watching her navigate the male-dominated world of piracy. Knowing just how difficult it would have been for a lesbian in 1715 was hard enough. But a black lesbian? My blood pressure spikes were lethal. Thanks to her tenacity and strength, Max made it to a fairly happy end. She knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to go after it. Whether it was plotting to steal Spanish gold, or doing whatever it took to be with the woman she loves.
Max’s story was frequently eclipsed by that of Captain James “Pirates Said Gay Rights” Flint. But it was easy to like her despite her faults thanks to Kennedy’s performance. She was intensely tender when needed, while making even the subtlest gestures memorable. At times, all it took was one look to get me to fall in love with her. One of Max’s defining moments was denying Mrs. Guthrie’s offer to give her everything she wants on the condition that she marries a man. Both women understand it would just be for show. But Max turns it down, anyway. When asked why by Anne, the woman who held her affections, she plainly states that she absolutely cannot marry a man or do anything that might jeopardize being with her.
Black Sails is available to stream on Hulu.
Anna Volovodov (The Expanse)
Portrayed by Elizabeth Mitchell, Anna has her work cut out for her in space as she’s caught in the middle of a system-wide conspiracy that could easily break out into all-out war. Oh, and there’s a mysterious alien tech that threatens to destroy all of humanity, but who’s panicking about that? Not Anna. While the protagonists of the show are running around shooting up alien zombie creatures, Anna was doing her best to calm the anxious and heal the injured. The former nurse turned minister is happily married with a daughter. How often do we get to see that? While we do see very little of her family, what we see is so full of love. A bit of lesbian domesticity goes such a long way.
When she wasn’t lending an ear to her fellow shipmates, she was using her training as a nurse to help in the med-bay. But that’s not all she can do. Anna had the chance to show another side of herself when she saved the show’s protagonist from the woman that killed her friend. Mitchell’s performance gave Anna’s presence a calm, but strong aura. Her compassion and ability stay levelheaded even during a gun fight makes her someone anyone would want on their team. Anna may not be an action hero, but most of us aren’t. Sometimes the most we can do is lend an ear.
The Expanse is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Karolina Dean (Runaways)
Portrayed by Virginia Gardner, Karolina is the only superhero on the list. And you thought we’d never get an out-lesbian Marvel character on screen! It’s not an MCU blockbuster, but we’ll take it. She’s the daughter of two high profile actors. Did I mention they’re also the heads of a mega-church? Not the best place to be for a young lesbian, but our girl managed. As soon as she and her friends find out their parents were part of an evil cult, they run away. Hence the name of the show, of course.
As she came to terms with her sexuality, she also became much more comfortable with her powers… And the fact that she’s half alien. It was truly a glow-up. Literally. In her natural form, Karolina’s body becomes a luminous rainbow light. On top of that, she can fly and shoot light beams from her hands. Watching Gardner portray an actual rainbow warrior is a treat. She’s able to make this half-alien superhero relatable. Her scenes with girlfriend, Nico were just the perfect amount of cute for this type of show. Her empathy and need to help others makes her a perfect role model for younger lesbians.
Runaways is available to stream on Hulu.
They may not always be in the spotlight, but these ladies brighten up our screens. There’s something so comforting about watching lesbian characters with such different personalities navigate vastly different circumstances. It serves as a reminder that we’re everywhere, dealing with many problems.
For the first time in a long time, we’re portrayed honestly and as diversely as we are in real life. Are you anxious like Clare? Passionate like Anna? Empathetic like Karolina? Tenacious as Max? Or some mix of all the above? Tell us about some of your favorite underrated lesbian characters in the comments.