Editor’s Note: Everyone welcome Jaime Vazquez to Head Over Feels! Jaime is a stay-at-home dad, a long-time comic book nerd, and a huge fan of reading too much into TV shows. (Follow him on Twitter, or check out his interview with Community creator Dan Harmon here.)
The problem with being a TV ‘shipper in general is this: if a show’s writers are any good, they’ll come up with clever ways to show you that your favorite two characters are perfect together, and immediately follow that up with compelling reasons to keep them apart. Good writers make us root for amazing couples while simultaneously reminding us they can never be together. Even when they tell us the smart money is on the poison, they get us to bet on Romeo and Juliet.
In the world of TV superheroes, it’s no different: both Marvel’s and DC’s shows are filled with heart-meltingly good, yet doomed, romances. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage open up to each other, then have surprisingly hot superhero sex, but can never be together after he learns the truth of what she did while under Kilgrave’s spell. (Although if they did stay together, the show would have to move from Netflix to Cinemax pretty quickly.) Marvel’s Agent Carter has pitch-perfect flirty banter with Wilkes, who quickly becomes a ghost with no physical form. Even though we see how happy The Flash is with Patty Spivot, he cares too much to put her at risk, and has to break up with her. Perfect, but ill-fated loves: those are the rules of TV romance, and it’s the belief in those rules that allows us to forgive the writers each week, even if Barry really belongs with Patty. Because he does. (I won’t even go into that last kiss of theirs.)
It’s a funny thing, though, because Marvel and DC play by these rules in very different ways, ultimately making it a lot easier to be a ‘shipper on the DC side. In the DC TV universe, couples are granted brief happiness before our hearts are torn in two by their splitting up. In the Marvel TV universe, there’s no such thing as relationships that work, and we’re left with star-crossed lovers who are as miserable about their love lives as we are. (As others have noted, this is especially true on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Don’t get me wrong: both DC and Marvel TV give us plenty of opportunities to yell at our screens over romances that should happen but don’t. I’ll never forget the moment when Simmons was gobbled up into another dimension moments after agreeing to go to dinner with Fitz, or the Season 2 finale of Arrow revealing that Olly confessing his love to Felicity was a ruse (my wife stood up at that very moment, declaring as she left the room, “That’s it. This show is dead to me now.”).
But here’s where the writers of DC shows give us more compelling romances to watch: even when we know a relationship is headed for doom, they give the characters–and us watching–moments of happiness before things go haywire. Those brief respites of love make it easy for us to see why they care for each other, and give us ‘shippers moments to melt. On the Marvel side, it’s all build-up to a tragedy; on the DC side, there’s always an intermission of happiness before the inevitable end.
An interesting example is how both The Flash and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had their romantic date scenes turn out this season. On The Flash: although his first date with Patty Spivot went comically bad, Barry’s temporary blindness somehow endeared him to her. Her figuring out that he was trying to hide his blindness made for a clever meet-cute, and by the end of the episode, I was more than ready for her to be the woman in his life (and honestly, Iris’s selfishness had really been bugging me by that point).
Compare that date scene with the date that Fitz set up for Simmons this year on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: their evening is marred by Simmons’ PTSD, and is awkward and sad from start to finish. Neither Fitz nor Simmons can acknowledge the elephants in the room: they care for each other, but it’s never going to work. The night ends in tears.
Like I said, I get the rules: neither couple can be together. The Flash and Patty eventually had their relationship end tragically, and Fitz and Simmons had to contend with her ex from another planet. But the quick few episodes we got of Barry and Patty together, as a couple, were so freaking cute that it was easier to get invested. She loved his wit, and he loved her gumption. (In contrast, it’s been two and a half years, and I’m still not certain what Fitz and Simmons like about each other. Even after this week’s declaration that they’re “starting over” in their relationship, if history tells us anything, it’s that it’s going to be a while before we see them kiss again.)
Some other stray examples worth pondering:
- Roy and Thea on Arrow weren’t together long, but didn’t we all love how they rescued each other?
- It was pretty obvious that Ronnie and Caitlin on The Flash weren’t going to be able to stay together for long after they resurrected him, but we got to see them reunited, and reconnecting.
- An odd DC outlier: Supergirl has been friend-zoned by Jimmy Olsen. Nonetheless, my fingers are crossed.
- Diggle and Lila are cute new parents. I know something bad is bound to happen to them soon, and even though I know that, I’m still going to curse at my TV when it does.
- Hunter and Mockingbird from S.H.I.E.L.D. are getting their own show next year. I’m rooting for them as a couple (and they are married, after all), but their chemistry seems to rely on violence. We’re likely to get more Mr. and Mrs. Smith from their show than When Harry Met Sally. I’m not holding out out a lot of hope for getting any feels from them.
- May and her ex-husband might have shown a spark to rekindle their romance…except for that whole him-being-a-serial-killing-monster thing.
- An odd Marvel outlier: Wilson Fisk and Vanessa (from Daredevil) weaved a romantic origin story for the Kingpin. Their relationship, while dark and violent, feels authentic–she accepts him for who he is, and he is vulnerable to her only. As a show, Daredevil did an exceptional job letting their relationship bloom, getting the audience invested in them as they got invested in each other.
In the end, I’ll keep watching both universes, and I’ll be a relentless ‘shipper on both sides regardless of how tragically their relationships end. I’ll keep watching and ‘shipping, partly because I’m a geek, but mostly because it’s somehow comforting to think that even though we don’t get to live in a world where people have superpowers, we do get to live in a world where love can last (and doesn’t have to end tragically). I like to think we got the better end of the deal.