Pop Culture

The Bisexual Polyamory Story in Why Women Kill is Gross

Taylor, Eli, and Jade prepare to rescue a dog named teacup.
Taylor, Eli, and Jade prepare to rescue a dog named teacup. Screengrab from Why Women Kill
Why Women Kill on CBS Access is about halfway through its first season and is a very interesting show. Made by Desperate Housewives-creator Marc Cherry, it focuses on a house in California where three different women end up embroiled in a murder plot across different eras. Ginnifer Goodwin is a frustrated housewife with a cheating husband in the ‘60s, Lucy Liu is a glamorous socialite in the ‘80s who finds her beloved third husband is actually gay, and in present day is Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Taylor.

Taylor is our thoroughly modern woman. She’s black, a lawyer, the family breadwinner, a hardcore feminist, bisexual, and in an open marriage with her husband Eli (Reid Scott). When Jordan Peterson looks under his bed in fear at night, Taylor is probably what he sees.

I hate her, but for different reasons than the Cultural Marxism panic crowds probably does.

It’s still fairly rare to see bisexual people on television, and when they are there they tend to check a host of problematic boxes that contribute to biphobia. Unfortunately, Taylor does that a lot. There’s the myth that bisexual people are sexually greedy and promiscuous. Think Maureen in Rent, who was probably the first bisexual person that a lot of people saw on screen and who is defined heavily by the fact that she sleeps with a lot of people.

Despite the open marriage, it’s implied that Eli doesn’t do a lot of dating. We never hear him mention anyone else, and only once says that “he has his fun too.” Instead he is totally devoted to Taylor, especially since as a screenwriter who hasn’t sold a script in two years he is utterly dependent on her.

Taylor gets around, though, and the series opens with her rushing to the aid of her current girlfriend, Jade (Alexandra Daddario). Jade is leaving her abusive boyfriend… who she was cheating on with Taylor, not in an open relationship with. It’s also revealed that Taylor has been lying to Eli, having not mentioned Jade despite them dating for six months and honesty being one of their rules. Taylor breaks another rule by bringing Jade home to stay at the house, something she does without asking Eli until Jade is at the door with all her stuff.

All this builds a horrible character for Taylor. She’s entitled, duplicitous, selfish and as a threesome scene shows later, not really interested in emotionally-including her husband during a delicate change in their relationship. This is a nauseatingly stereotypical portrayal of bisexuality, especially with women. It’s made even worse by Jade, who is Taylor plus a lot of party girl tropes that make her a sex kitten caricature. Later we learn she’s also violent and mentally ill because bitches be crazy.

I know this is a Marc Cherry joint and therefore none of the characters are strictly good people, but with so few bisexual roles do we have to make them bland cut-outs from bad erotica fiction? I notice Eli is apparently straight, as if CBS just didn’t have the stones to have two men in bed with a woman rather than a whole “every man’s dream” storyline.

There’s another biphobic myth that haunts a lot of married bisexual people, and that’s that they have “chosen” a side. If they’re with someone of the same sex, then all their previous heterosexual relationships are treated as a confused state toward gay freedom. If they are in a heterosexual marriage, it’s likely they won’t even be seen as LGBT anymore since they “pass.” It’s as if to prove bisexuality you have to be touching a full spectrum of genitals at all times or it’s no longer real. I know a lot of bisexual people who get hurt and frustrated with implications that they stop being bisexual the moment they commit to one partner. That’s another frustrating thing about Taylor. She seems to only be able to be fully happy as a bisexual woman with both a man and a woman in her bed. That is not true of the vast majority of bisexual people.

Which brings us to the polyamory. Is it really too much to ask that in 2019 we could have a healthy polyamorous relationship? Despite Taylor (and Jade’s) lies, it almost seemed like Why Women Kill would go there. Eli adapts to having Jade around fairly quickly and with forgiveness. Not only that, she immediately begins filling a domestic hole in the couple’s lives. Between Taylor’s job and Eli’s frustrated creativity neither is much of a chef or homemaker, but Jade is a natural caretaker who hops into the empty space. It starts as this awesome sharing of souls and skills that feels organic and wonderful.

Of course, it all falls apart almost immediately because of lies and jealousy. And again I know, this is Marc Cherry and lies and jealousy are his jam and jelly. That said, going all the way back to Desperate Housewives he seemed to have a deep seething hatred for the idea of swinging or open relationships (the sad, gross sex club from that series comes to mind). The last polyamorous relationship I saw on TV was Big Love, and this could have been revolutionary in comparison. Instead of a cult-like patriarchy it was three grown people choosing to exist as a committed group.

But we don’t get that because Taylor is emotionally gluttonous and Jade is nuts and Eli is just a sad man who can’t seem to write anymore and needs more love. Should these traits be out of bounds for polyamorous or bisexual people in stories? No, of course not, but bisexual and poly characters are so rare in fiction that heaping all this tropey nonsense on them feels less like a commitment to exciting television and more like lazy sensationalism. It’s like Marc Cherry took the worst things popularly believed and just added them in. It’s making an otherwise fantastic show very annoying to watch.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner