“Disenchantment” Is Queer Through and Through
In recent years, series like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, DuckTales, Steven Universe, and Adventure Time have praised for their LGBTQ representation, making strides and laying the groundwork for animation going forward. However, one series is often not recognized in this same respect: Disenchantment, Matt Groening’s adult animated comedy series.
On January 15, 2021, the first half of Season 2, and the third part of Disenchantment was released on Netflix. The show centers around three characters: Princess Bean of Dreamland, voiced by Abbi Jacobson, a demon Luci, voiced by Eric Andre, and an elf named Elfo, voiced by Nat Faxon.
Warning! There are all sorts of spoilers ahead!
The queerness of Disenchantment did not begin with the latest season, but it is integrated into the show itself, beginning in Season One. For instance, in one episode, “Love’s Tender Rampage,” a married woman casually admits she slept with her chambermaid because she is “attracted to people who are good at their job,” admitting openly that she is a lesbian. No one bats an eye or criticizes her for that. In another episode, “The Limits of Immortality,” a griffin helps the show’s protagonists. They have a masculine appearance, saying they are a lady and that gender “is a spectrum.” Again, everyone accepts this and moves on, with no other comment. At the end of one episode, “Stairway to Hell,” the nameless, faceless god says he invented “they” before “he” or “she” but that no one mentions this.
Throughout Disenchantment, two supporting male characters are shown to be in a romantic relationship, which becomes an important subplot. Odval (voiced by Maurice LaMarche), the Prime Minister of Dreamland, scheming to expand his power in Dreamland, and Sorcerio (voiced by Billy West), a royal adviser and wizard, are a gay couple. This is first shown in the episode “The Limits of Immortality.” They often call each other lovers and are part of a mysterious secret society known as the Seekers, which engages in sex orgies. One reviewer for IndieWire noted that Sorcerio and Odval had been “a couple for a long time.” They even wink at each other as a sort of secret code in one episode. Apart from Odval and Sorcerio, it is implied that an exorcist named Big Jo (voiced by Maurice LaMarche), and his assistant, Porky, are in a relationship, with Elfo saying, in one episode, that Jo and Porky are in a “toxic relationship.”
Queer themes continued in part 1 of Season 2. In the episode “Steamland Confidential,” Bean travels to the steampunk city aptly named Steamland, which originally appeared in the Season 1 episode “The Electric Princess.” On one hand, this world is driven by logic, modernized, and acts as a foil (and alternative) to Dreamland. On the other, it is egalitarian and is more “progressive in terms of gender equality than Dreamland,” as noted by IGN, giving Bean a new perspective.
In the episode “Freak Out!,” after running away from Alva Gunderson (voiced by Richard Ayoade), who wants to begin an alliance between Steamland and Dreamland, between magic and science, Bean is helped by a female explorer named Lady Bowmore (voiced by Tress MacNeille). When a man will not let Bean go into the League of Gallivanting Scrutinators, Bowmore calls Bean “hot trash” and brings her inside, with indications that she likes Bean and Bean likes her.
The episode “Last Splash” literally blew representation in Disenchantment out of the water. The whole episode is a love story between Bean and Mora (voiced by Meredith Hagner), a mermaid and entertainer who failed to become a star, trapped in a carnival with other so-called “freaks,” all of whom Bean freed from their cages.
Bean, Mora, and Elfo travel on a steamboat named the Miss Adventure to her homeland. Bean opens up to Mora about her feelings and they bond. After Mora sings a little ditty to Bean, they kiss and have sex. The following morning, Bean wakes up and does not find the necklace Mora made for her around her neck, deeply distressing her. At the end of the episode, the necklace washes up to the shore and then washes out to sea again, confirming that what happened wasn’t a dream.
David Opie of Digital Spy praised the episode for the tender episode between Bean and Mora, exploring Bean’s identity with “a kind, gentle respect,” and said that based on her past encounters with men, it means that Bean is either bisexual or pansexual, but this is never defined directly. He praised this as groundbreaking to see the lead of an animated show express “queer feelings like this,” arguing that lead characters in TV are still “rarely allowed to deviate from heteronormativity.”
Opie’s analysis is confirmed by the fact that at the end of the episode “Love’s Tender Rampage,” a drunken Bean kisses Elfo, and in the episode “The Very Thing,” it is implied that Bean likes mermaids. In other episodes, she is shown trying to have sex with various male callers, who run away after realizing she is a princess. Furthermore, the fact that Jacobson is bisexual may give some hints on her character’s queerness.
However, Opie’s argument that the whole storyline with Mora is “dropped entirely” because the show is more “concerned with advancing the wider plot ready for season four” and that “Last Splash” is a one-off episode, is only half-true. While it is correct that Mora does not appear in any other episodes of the season and that the show does the plot in order to prepare for the second half of Season Two, in the episode “Bad Moon Rising,” Bean tries to process her experience with Mora. She is distraught because she falsely thinks it was all a hallucination. Sitting in her room, which just happens to have a painting of a naked mermaid on the wall, she tells her stepmother, Oona, about it. She calls the experience with Mora “so hot I didn’t even care about the sand.”
Oona tells her she hopes that someday, “the right man, woman, or creature will mate with you,” showing that she is ok with anyone having a relationship with her stepdaughter. This is a progressive attitude in the regressive Dreamland society. In the same episode, Bean bursts into a council meeting, declaring that “gender is a construct” when they tell her that women aren’t allowed in the meeting. Begrudgingly, they listen to her plan to protect Dreamland.
Disenchantment is a step forward for Matt Groening in terms of inclusive storytelling. Opie points this out, noting that Futurama never had any authentic LGBTQ representation, apart from an alien named Yivo who appeared in the made-for-TV film based on the series, The Beast with a Billion Backs. Yivo (voiced by David Cross), as Opie explains, might have been the first non-binary character, as they have no defined gender. This is because they date, and later marry, all those in the universe. While Yivo later breaks up with all of them by the end of the film, sklee remains in a relationship with Colleen O’Hallahan (Brittany Murphy) who once had five boyfriends. However, the series proper included a trans character named Hermaphrobot (voiced by John DiMaggio) who has been criticized for her “intersex slur-referencing name,” and her character playing into stereotypes.
Groening’s other major animation, The Simpsons, also explored queerness to a varying degree. Patty Bouvier was outed as a lesbian in season 16, and Waylon Smithers, who was always gay-coded, did not come out as gay until Season 27! As Opie rightly points out, The Simpsons still lacks “strong queer representation when it comes to its central characters.”
Even though Bean is a strong queer protagonist, who often gets drunk and in trouble, many reviewers in mainstream pop culture publications are overly critical of Disenchantment, almost dismissing it entirely. Take, for example, a 2018 commentary by Melanie McFarland of Salon. When reviewing the show’s first season, it states that people should not buy into the feminist framing of the show, because of the gender composition of the writers, noting that a room full of White male writers deemed the racial stereotype of Apu in The Simpsons, highlighted by Hari Kondabolu’s documentary, as acceptable.
This is still a valid point when looking at the writers listed on the Wikipedia page for the show. After all, in a recent BBC News interview, Groening said he didn’t have a problem with the way Apu was portrayed, voiced by a White actor Hank Azaria, adding that they are not going out of their way “to comfort bigots” while calling racism and bigotry a big problem.
Even so, the show does make a strong statement about female empowerment even in the non-racial patriarchy of Dreamland, as McFarland calls it. For example, in the episode “In Her Own Write,” Bean goes to a coffee shop and meets a woman there who convinces her to start writing, leading her to write a play. However, due to ingrained sexism, her play is rejected because she is a woman. After Merkimer (voiced by Matt Berry), one of the suitors chosen by her father, King Zøg (voiced by John DiMaggio), who she accidentally turned into a pig, takes the play from her and turns it into a terrible production, she does a stand-up act at the coffee shop. Her father, disgusted by the play, supports her wholeheartedly.
Many fans have been excited about the Morabeanie ship, including the person running the official Twitter account for Disenchantment, who has posted about it over and over since the series premiere, even RTing fans excited about the pairing.
Hopefully, in the second half of Season 2, Bean’s identity as a queer woman, whether she is pansexual or bisexual, is explored more through the re-appearance of Mora, since both deserve happiness.
Author: Burkely Hermann
Burkely is an indexer of declassified documents by day and a fan fic writer by night. He recently earned a MLIS with a concentration in Digital Curation from the University of Maryland. He currently voraciously watches animated series and reads too many webcomics to count on Webtoon. He loves swimming, hiking, and searching his family roots in his spare time.
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