So, bisexual Liv (twitter tag: #BiLiv
, which makes no sense whatsoever if you see it without the capitalization and aren't deeply submerged in this fandom) is a thing among an apparently considerable minority of iZombie fans. It has been since pretty much the first episode, when her roommate Peyton declares Liv is her "freakin' heart," in a way not nearly as platonic as it was probably meant to be. Episode 1.02 has her eating the brains of a monogamy-challenged artiste and being attracted to and aggressively flirting with both Perpetual Purported True Love and Angst Object (need an acronym for this) Major Lilywhite and the dead artiste's rather quite attractive female lover. And a random Dudebro. And some other people. This was a busy brain.
The show's writers and actors seem to be aware of the whole #BiLiv thing: this hilarious Vine-style send-up of one of the most famous scenes from Thelma and Louise (tweeted by Peyton's actress) was part of the Season 2 viral marketing push.
... .... ...
Sorry. I watched it again and laughed until my sides hurt. Again. I'm back now.
(Note to The Flash
writers: first, The Flash
are my two favorite series on air now, or in, like, the last 6 years; I love you guys. Second, this little clip is an example of how you playfully acknowledge and have fun with the fans who are sailing a crackship/not-likely-to-ever-be-canon ship in your fandom. The crackshippers and pirate shippers know they’re not getting canon, so it’s not too much fun to have it dangled in front of you in a semi-serious way and then taken away. iZombie is very, "yes, we know you're here, and this is never going to be canon probably, but we love you, you crazy lunatics. Fandom on." Compare with The Flash's bait-and-switch approach to Snowbarry
(Barry Allen/Caitlin Snow). I know it's not The Flash
writers' intention, but sometimes it can come off not so much "having fun with you, not at you" as the opposite thing. In particular I'm thinking of that time everyone got hyped up for Caitlin and Barry kissing on screen and it turned out to be a serial thief/killer/possible-sex-offender shapeshifter wearing Barry's face and grabbing Caitlin to conduct an impromptu "How to Commit Sexual Harassment/Assault in the Most Horrifying Way Possible" seminar.)
Moving on, because I have accepted I’m not getting Snowbarry and I’m okay with that. Really.
I think we can make the following suppositions about what the iZombie showrunners are actually trying to do.
- Liv and Major are, at present, endgame. They hit us over the head with it once every episode on average, with varying degrees of (lack of) subtlety. Lowell's relationship with her was incredibly genuine and satisfying, but his actor had to leave the show, so we'll never know what was going to happen there. It could change later, but as of right now, endgame Livjor is where we are.
- Peyton's "freakin' heart" line was almost certainly meant to imply a depthless platonic friendship, befitting people who have been best friends since at least 18—almost ten years. See also the similar vibes (and even phrasing) one gets from "freakin' friends" Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane. (Full disclosure: fans ship the tar out of them, and I’m one of them. They’re like the Xena and Gabrielle of animation.) I feel like iZombie is going for this vibe but never quite gets there, in part because Peyton's screen time is so limited. (Something I really hope changes in Season 2.)
- Liv's mental changes when she eats a brain (which I can't help but think of as a zombie version of Mega Man's Variable Weapon System, because I am a huge dork), follow a predictable pattern. She gets, generally, altered in 3 ways.
- a. Triggered flashback "visions" of the victim's memories related to certain stimuli encountered during the investigation, used to help solve the case via actual detective work with Clive (Cagney and Pasty!).
- b. One or two (usually one) large, noticeable-to-others personality alteration, that lasts as long as she is eating that particular brain. In one episode, she picked up a combat veteran's PTSD; in another, a confidential informant's rampant everyone-is-trying-to-kill-me paranoia; in another a new mother's (hilarious when coming from Liv and getting directed at everyone around her) parenting instincts; and so on.
- c. A tangible skill: speaking the murder victim's native language; kung fu; l33t gamer skillz; special ops sniper training (though, tragically, not the mental conditioning that goes with it); etc. These skills, regrettably, tend to fade by the next episode. Liv doesn't get a "Become a Polyglot Free" card, or put another way, can't eat her way to being Jarod from Pretender.
- c.(1). At least, so far. She managed to outfight a zombiefied professional hitman that had cracked Peyton over the head and was gonna eat her, while Liv wasn't on any sort of combat brain at all, so it's possible that she did retain some combat skill. Or it could have come down to her being a zombie longer (are she and Blaine Master Zombies?), or perhaps she was supercharged by The Power of Friendship, Heroic Resolve, and a mystical gift from Stabzor, Goddess of Knives. Or it's Liv/Peyton forshadowing, just like that Vine (I seriously doubt it, but that would be crazy awesome). I'm really not sure exactly what happened there, save to say Liv is badass when she's pushed to the wall, and beating up Peyton is bad for your health.
- Every canonical indication is that Liv is supposed to be straight. Except for when it's blamed on brains, she does not appear intended to be attracted to women at all. See 1.
- In episode 1.02, Liv eats the brain of a Philandering Artist who has been murdered, with the intent of solving his murder (and not starving and becoming a Romero zombie, because she is like an adorable, badass, NC-17-rated Snickers commercial with legs). Philandering Artist is known to have had sex with a lot of women. Seriously, Dwayne, a lot of women. But it is never suggested he also sleeps around with guys. He is deeply committed to cheating on women, with women. Liv gets his memories, all the skills and temperament of an artist (including the ability to paint beautiful things and an inability to describe colors in a way that can be expressed with anything less than the largest possible Crayola set) ... and the sudden need to flirt hard with several quite attractive fellows and one of the victim's female lovers, with whom she practically has hilarious, hand-holding eye-sex at one point while Clive apparently mentally questions the life-decisions that have brought him to this incredibly awkward moment.
- (It must be pointed out just how crucial Clive's often-befuddled but unwavering acceptance of his pseudo-psychic partner's personality shifts and quirks, without ever being given any real explanation (because Liv sucks at secret identity’ing), is to Liv's continued mental health. She's likely actually clinically depressed at this point and the scripts occasionally hint at the barest suicidal ideation. But she always makes it through by sheer force of will, and I believe she couldn't do that without Clive's support. He is her island of normality and stability. Go, Clive.)
- In episode 1.02, Liv's attraction to women is implicitly blamed on her ingestion of Philandering Artist. In 1.07, her awesome and lovable (I shipped them and am totally not still ragey that he's gone and she’s back to pining for Major) boyfriend Lowell goes completely cold on her romantically, but is still platonically way into her. This is attributed to him eating a "gay brain" and being temporarily gay, so for an episode he's her Gay Best Friend and they continue to be adorable and perfect together, but with less kissing and more goofy dancing, for some reason. This continues until Lowell eats his next brain and begins "feeling more heterosexual already." Everything is played very effectively for laughs, and the episode ends with situation normal restored: Lowell is straight and wants Liv terribly and we never speak of this again.
The implication we're supposed to get off (6) above is that Baseline Lowell is supposed to be straight and it was totally the brains that made him attracted to men (in particular, Idris Elba, because Idris Elba).
Liv has eaten many presumably straight men's brains, but has never become a lesbian.
That's what happened and what I think the writers mean for us to take away from it, but that is not, however, where I think we actually are. Assuming the rules of zombie-ism must be internally consistent, I think the writers actually ended up setting up Liv as a closeted, unaware bisexual. Lowell, too, but that was even more of an accident because the whole point of that episode was playing the situation for laughs; they already knew Lowell was leaving the show and probably weren't thinking too hard about the long term implications.
That's okay. Overthinking the long-term implications of fiction that you're not supposed to think that hard about is kind of my jam. I'm all over that.
Here's my hangup: Philandering Artist was never suggested to be bisexual. He was Don Juan with a paintbrush, but unless you were young and nubile and a woman, you weren't on his philander-dar. The personality trait Liv is explicitly said (by Liv) to have uploaded from munching him is obeying her passions without worrying about the consequences. To get a bit Freudian and a bit nautical, her Id gets the chance to sedate her Ego and Superego and seizes the helm.
Crucially, while Philandering Artist is never shown pursuing men, Liv goes after men and women as convenient in 1.02.
Thoughtless obedience to passion is a flowery way of saying certain inhibitions are turned off. Sexual orientation is not under any circumstance a result of an active inhibition. Increased passion does not change who you are attracted to. It just makes it more likely you'll try to do something about it without caring about the consequences. By contrast, inhibitions—including those based on fear and self-loathing and the need to conform lest we be ostracized from our loved ones—can and do lead many people to denying their non-heteronormative sexual orientations.
Liv's fear of and misery from being ostracized from her loved ones is a running, depressing theme in the series.
So we come to the conclusions:
- Liv has eaten many brains attracted solely to women and has never become a temporary lesbian. She never stops pining after Major.
- Liv, who makes no secret of being attracted to men, also made no secret of being attracted to women when her inhibitions were drastically suppressed, which is explicitly stated to be what the Philandering Artist brain is actually doing. During this time, her attraction to men did not appear to diminish, but arguably got stronger and more overt—more passionate, which, again, is the trait she explicitly identifies as coming from her brain food. It would have been very easy to confirm her heterosexuality by making her attracted to only men. All you would lose is the scene where she flirts with Philandering Artist's female lover, and I am confident the excellent writers could have substituted something equally hilarious.
- Liv is never shown developing Single Target Sexuality for the lovers of anyone else she eats. It is an extreme stretch to say that is what is happening with Philandering Artist's lover.
- So, final conclusion: given the facts and established rules of the iZombie universe, Liv is actually bisexual and in denial/unaware, at least partially because she's fully committed to pining after Major. She has probably convinced herself passion!brain made her attracted to women, even though no brain changed her sexual orientation before or since. In short: denial. She is very good at denial when she doesn't want to deal with a problem, and "the brains made me do it" is a plausible scapegoat.
The big counter argument: Lowell's "gay brain."
Super short response: I don’t think that was actually a “gay brain” at all. But this is also the part where I have a lot less solid evidence of what was actually going on, so I have to rely more on persausion than fact.
First, I do think the “gay brain” thing was possibly a bit of a subtle saving throw
from the writing team, assuming they had the same kind of thought process I did above that led me to my conclusion that Liv is bi. It follows that, having realized this, they came up the “gay brain” plot to muddle the issue and get everybody back on the Liv/Major love train (or, at least, the het!Liv train). The problem is, we know from Liv’s internal monologue that the Philandering Artist brain did not make her bi. Once again, it decreased her inhibitions and inflamed her passions. In other words, it altered what was already there. Up until Lowell’s “gay brain,” we had no indication at all that eating a brain could change your sexual orientation in any way.
And really, if it were possible, we should have. Liv has eaten a lot of brains. Philandering Artist aside, they never appear to change her sexuality in any meaningful way. And again, Philandering Artist didn’t change her sexuality, according to the script.
So, let’s assume for a moment that Lowell did eat a “gay brain” that actually made him gay. It doesn’t work under scrutiny. A straight zombie eating the brains of straight humans stays straight, but becomes gay if they eat a gay brain? That does not explain Liv’s attraction to women in 1.02. It also raises the question if alteration of sexual orientation is the personality trait a zombie picks up, or if it’s in addition to some other core trait (e.g.: PTSD, paranoia, etc.). Liv is only ever shown picking up one trait, not two, and it’s always been something more overt than sexual orientation. Does a non-heterosexual zombie become heterosexual if they eat a straight brain? Does a gay person become straight? Does eating the brain of a person of the same orientation as you never have any effect, even if you are a woman and eat a straight male brain attracted to women?
This really complicates the otherwise very simple rules of how zombies react to ingesting brains, as written in Supposition 3 above. I feel like I need a flow chart to properly map out all the possible permutations of this, and I don’t really understand the rules if Lowell is right about what happened. Given that good writers (and the iZombie team are great writers) avoid overcomplicating the rules of the setting if at all possible, I just can’t believe this was intended.
Secondly, it is incredibly hard to make any conclusions about zombieism or even what is actually happening when Lowell ingests brains because he is not a deep POV character like Liv is. We understand Liv because we get to see her at all phases of her reaction to her latest meal, have Ravi on hand to analyze her, and most importantly we have her internal monologue, showing what she feels is actually happening to her. That monologue is crucial in episode 1.02 in establishing the inherited trait was increased passion/decreased inhibition in all areas of her life, and not an explicit sexual orientation change. All we have from Lowell is his spoken interpretation of what the brains are doing to him, and not only could he be unintentionally wrong, he himself admits to avoiding situations and stimuli that would cause him to have flashbacks and otherwise really get to understand the personality and quirks of the brain he ate. (This is one of the reasons, I think, his personality is so stable compared to Liv’s. Liv needs to understand the brain she ate and subject herself to flashbacks to solve murders, and does so, heavily.) So, he’s suddenly aware of a sexual attraction to men, and a severely diminished sexual attraction to women, and assumes he’s gay, and doesn’t really probe deeper into it.
Now, let’s briefly mention an important fact about human sexuality. It is not a gear shift with 3 slots (straight, gay, bi), but rather a spectrum. One can be fully attracted to the same sex, fully attracted to the opposite sex, equally attracted to everyone, or anything in between. (And yes, I realize I’m vastly oversimplifying the sexuality spectrum, but this is iZombie meta, not an article on human sexuality, and I freely admit I’m not an expert and the theory has changed substantially since I actually had any class instruction on human sexuality.)
There are a great many people who are bisexual who, while they are attracted to both men and women, are considerably more attracted to either one or the other.
It is entirely possible that Lowell has always been bisexual, but his attraction to women so overpowers his attraction to men that he’s barely even aware of the latter, until he eats a brain that, for whatever reason, impacts him in some way that shifts the balance. I don’t understand enough about how bisexual persons are attracted to other people to make any more definite suppositions than that. The same logic also explains Liv’s sudden attraction to women in 1.02: lowering her inhibitions made Liv less likely to deny attraction to women, and increasing her passions made her quite happy to express her attraction to the Philandering Artist’s lover (and Dudebro, and some other guys).
I really like explanations that explain both of their behavior without creating ambiguities or needing an overcomplicated set of rules.
I do think it’s awfully convenient that Lowell and Liv would both be bisexual. That leads me to believe Lowell was even less meant to be anything but straight than Liv is, from the writers’ POV. But as a viewer I have to work with what I’m given, and this is the conclusion I get to that obeys the rules we know, fits with Liv’s experiences in 1.02 and Lowell’s in 1.07, and creates the least amount of internal inconsistency without overcomplicating things. I think the writers weren’t really worried about he long-term implications of the whole “gay brain” thing with Lowell because they already knew he wasn’t sticking around and so it wasn’t going to be a problem for writing him: he leaves the show in 1.09. Even at the time it felt sloppy and inconsistent (but at the time I didn’t fully understand why it bothered me), but everybody laughed at their goofy dancing and we moved on. Liv is also endgame with Major, so the writers don’t have to ever really deal with her non-heteronormative sexuality again: the target of her affections is the manliest of action men, so any latent attraction to other men or women doesn’t have to come up in a serious way.
(I love Major, but you can probably tell I don’t love him with Liv. I’m trying very hard to stay neutral on that subject in this essay. Apologies if I slip up a little.)
And finally, nothing about Lowell’s “gay brain” incident changes anything about Liv’s experiences on Philandering Artist brain in 1.02. Whatever happened to Lowell, Liv’s internal dialogue explanation of what was going on in her mind is still canon and unchallenged. And that explanation in no way implies the brain made her bi. But yet she was openly bi and more aggressively flirtatious (with everyone but Ravi and Clive) while on the brain, because her inhibitions were lowered and her passions were increased. Notice all her internal concern is about how she’s dealing with her increased passions and lack of care for the consequences. Not once does she stop and go “I’m attracted to women now, wait what? This is new.”
She just sort of rolls with it and is signficantly not surprised.
And that’s all I’ve got. I do not actually think the show will revist this subject, and I have no problem with that. One of the things I love about this theory as it exists in my head is that, even if Liv ends up endgame with Major and is never shown as attracted to women again, everything I’ve said is still just as convincing (or not, depending on how much you agree with me) as it is right now. It can add another layer to the character that you can enjoy internally as a viewer, but in a nice subtle way that doesn’t require stopping the rest of the plot to acknowledge, and won’t ever contradict any romantic things Liv actually does in canon. Or you can just ignore everything I just said and nothing really changes about how much you’ll enjoy the show.
And if you can just ignore all this, why did I spend so much time talking about it? Two reasons: one, I think it is the truth of what is happening, even if it was not intended; and two, as someone who has been reading and writing fanfic for 20 years and is not a fan of the canon shipping in iZombie (at least for Liv), I’m quite pleased that I can make a strong argument for Liv being bi so I can read/write fics where she is paired with whoever I think I can justify and be able to point to canon and say, “no, she’s not just into ladies for the sake of this fanfic, there is significant canonical support for this. Now, shoo: Liv/Sailor Mercury is happening on my screen and it is adorable.*)
And that is all. Thanks for reading.
*Liv/Sailor Mercury would fill me with great d’aww. I am willing to assist with crowdfunding. I am also still plotting out my Barry Allen/Liv Moore massive AU of love and criminal punching, and not just because SpeedBrains is the similtaneously best and dumbest ship name I’ve ever come up with. Without question, "The Quick and the Dead" is the best fic title I've ever come up with.