The 2010 Femslash Award for excellence in Sapphic Subtextual Storytelling goes to Legend of the Seeker episode 2.16 Desecrated. For their advancement in the art of having their cake while eating it.
I’m a little speechless after having watched Desecrated. The reason for the speechlessness is rooted in gratuitous exploitation (is there any other kind of exploitation?) of homoeroticism. Because instead of using a plot that could have further established the two female leads as friends, given them a solid ground to stand on in their newfound friendship, we are treated to straight up graphic subtext.
As I watched the promos for the episode I thought that the writers would finally sit these two down and have them deal with their problems and thereby defuse some of the extreme tension that’s been building between them, while possibly handing us a few cute and subtexty scenes. That was not the case. Instead we were treated to a series of short scenes that all continued to fuel the sexual tension between them, and continued to build on the existing pain is pleasure and fighting is sex principle. But I’m jumping the gun, lets go back to the start and have a look at it step by step.
It all began with a celebration of Richard’s birthday. We are handed some cutesy scenes between Richard and Kahlan where they smooch and dance and play out the happy couple role rather adorably. Meanwhile Cara intently watches from the sidelines and refuses to take part of the festivities.
As a local Conjurer performs his tricks our four main characters all take a front row seat and look on with various levels of excitement. Take a close look at their body language, Kahlan is turned towards and has her attention on Richard, but at the same time her arm is glued to Cara’s side (“any time you see two women standing very close to each other you immediately assume…lesbian” – Leslie Knope & her entourage are <3. But I’m digressing.). And the “it’s crowded” excuse just won’t work when you see how much room there is between Zedd and Cara. Sure you can call it cinematic prophecy, or foreshadowing of what to come plotwise, but you can also call it subconscious affection or Sapphic subtext.
Cara is then picked by the Conjurer to take part of his trick. Her immediate response is a look of dissent followed by a short and precise, “I don’t think so”. But after a pointed look and a few choice words from Kahlan, Cara agrees and makes her way onto the stage (it's called pussy-whipped and it exists even in magical worlds of fantasy.).
And what a trick it is. Kahlan and Cara are transferred to the Tomb of All-Consuming Sexual Frustration where they learn that they have 24 hours of air left and unless Richard finds a way to save them, they will be drawing their final breathes inside those four walls.
While Richard gets to fight corruption and a mummy, the Tensionable Twosome gets to spend some quality time together. But instead of opening up to each other or having a conversation dealing with their problematic past (Cara killing Dennee for example) we are treated to scene upon scene of upped sexual tension.
To begin with Kahlan realizes the torches lining the upper walls of the tomb are eating away their oxygen. So the two tries to extinguish the flames. Naturally Kahlan takes off her jacket, stands on Cara’s shoulders and waves the cloth around till she is glistening with sweat and has Cara grunting from the strain. Kahlan’s flayling about finally has her falling to the ground.
Cara has her back to the wall, watching Kahlan trying to get her breath back, with a look on her face that can best be described as the lovechild of fear and flushed. In an almost staccato rhythm she then goes about telling Kahlan that the flames are using less air than they are when trying to snuff them out.
My jaw literally dropped the first time I watch this scene, I mean are we allowed to be this exploitative on television? Kahlan on the ground, sweating, showing off a fair section of thigh and breathing heavily as Cara looms over her with desperate self-restraint etched into both her face and tone. Remember that thing I said about subporn, well so does TPTB, as a matter of fact they appear to be working towards the perfectioning of it. Anyhow the scene cuts off as Kahlan does some more heavy breathing while staring intently into Cara’s eyes (!).
Next time we return to the tomb the two are standing side by side looking up, commenting on how the air is growing thinner. Kahlan then turns to Cara and tells her to kill her. The Confessor continues arguing her point, telling Cara that she can bring her back with the Breath of Life (second time she’s asked for the Breath of Life from the Mord’Sith) once Richard finds them. Cara will have none of that and turns the tables offering her life for Kahlan’s. Once again the scene is cut short and we’re not allowed to see Kahlan’s reaction to Cara’s comment, “Better one of us than both of us”.
As we then are allowed to return they are now sitting down, seemingly relaxing. Tentatively Cara then begins to tell Kahlan how much she means to her. And even though she’s been trained to hate all Confessors, but for some reason she doesn't hate Kahlan.
CARA: I don’t want to die without you knowing….that I consider you to be…my friend.
KAHLAN: I think of you as a friend too.
And this exchange reminded me so much of the ending of the Xena: Warrior Princess episode Deja Vu All Over Again. Somehow I've got a feeling that was exactly what I was supposed to be reminded of as well.
Kahlan then wraps Cara up in an awkward hug. At first Cara is limp in Kahlan’s arms, but slowly pulls the brunette closer and closes her eyes (and allows herself to dream?) for a moment. It should also be noted that there is probably good reason behind Cara's awkwardness when it comes to hugging. It is quite possible this is one of the few hugs she's ever been involved with during her adult years. The Mord'Siths were not famous for the huggability or their touchy-feelyness. It really wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that the number of hugs (born out of affection) Cara has received could be counted on one hand. Something that even further adds to the importance of this scene and what's to come.
As they pull apart Cara tells Kahlan she will make sure Richard has enough time to find them and dives for Kahlan’s dagger in an attempt to take her own life. Kahlan desperately pounces on the blonde intent on not letting her kill herself. What ensues is…well fight!sex really. We are treated to a fight sequence that has the two in a strangely carnal dance and it rather quickly feels like both of them forget the reason they are fighting. It is an extremely difficult scene to describe, because violence is not affection, there are far too many people who suffer because they make that mistake, yet when you watch this scene…these two don’t hate each other, they’re friends. They clearly care for one another; they care to the extent where they both are willing to risk their lives for the well-being of the other. And even though they are physically hurting each other during this fight scene all you can feel is passion. It’s a quickly mounting passion that makes your breathing irregular and quicker, makes your nose tingle and your blood hotter.
Between all the grunting, open handed slapping and grappling you suddenly become sexually frustrated on the behalf of these two characters. Because in a world and verse where these two could never have each other, fight!sex becomes the closest substitute for more conventional forms of intimacy. And as the two then collapse, once again breathing heavily due to the strenuous activities and lack of oxygen, you can’t help feeling like a hardcore voyeur. But as they hold hands while preparing for death you cannot look away no matter how much of a perv it makes you feel like, because this- this is so damn complex, tragic and beautiful it has you completely under its spell and you can’t tear your eyes away for a moment. Instead you rewind and watch it all over again, eyes riveted on what is, but can never be.
As always the hero saves the day and this time also saves the two temporary damsels in distress. And the final scene of the episode has a small exchange between Kahlan and Cara where the Confessor tells the blonde that her life is extremely important. Which is followed by the following exchange;
CARA: About what I said back in the tomb.
KAHLAN: Yeah, it really meant a lot to me.
CARA: Forget I said it. I was delirious from the lack of air.
So here we are, back at square one, only the tension having managed to grow tenfold and suddenly you find yourself wondering what else could have been said in that tomb. What really happened between the few and way too short scenes we got to witness? And what exactly did Cara refer to in her final words?
And now I'm gonna go find a cold shower and hope this vicarious and fictional frustration can be washed away.