Bisexual characters in the media are often negatively stereotyped as promiscuous and hypersexual.  The issue of characters with many sexual partners is complicated because even though a person’s degree of sexuality and number of partners should, hypothetically be morally neutral for everyone, the number of partners someone has is interpreted differently based on their identity.  In straight, white men, having many sexual partners is often seen as an accomplishment, or a sign of success or masculinity.  In women, especially queer women, promiscuity is seen as a character defect and is often punished, or associated with villainy.  The character Helena “HG” Wells in Warehouse 13 is a notable exception to this rule.

Helena’s bisexuality and large number of sexual partners is brought up in three scenes in three different episodes.  The first, in the episode “Buried” is also when she is first revealed to be bisexual.  In response to a question about Pete’s romantic problems she states that

HG WELLS: “I know a thing or two about the opposite sex – many of my lovers were men.”(With a reflective sort of smile.) 

(In response Pete stares, Myka smiles suggestively, and Claudia just turns and looks, with no particular expression on her face.)

PETE: “We’re gonna follow up on that at a later date but for now can we bring the focus back round to moi?” 

Helena’s active sex life is discussed further in “3-2-1” during a flashback to a case taking place in Victorian London, in a discussion with her partner at the time, Agent Wolcott.

HG WELLS: Sir James Eddington to be exact.  He and I were engaged in a, project, of sorts.  Brilliant man.  Sadly his wife never appreciated him.

WOLCOTT: Really HG, is there not a man in London whom you haven’t… charmed”.  (He looks embarrassed.)

HG WELLS: Oscar Wilde, and not for lack of trying.  (She makes a suggestive face and Wolcott and smiles.)

The third scene takes place in “Instinct” when Myka and Helena must gain illicit access to security camera footage in a police station where Wells has been working as a forensic scientist.

OFFICER CURTIS: Ladies?  Is she (he points to Myka) supposed to be back here?  This area’s off limits to visitors.

HG WELLS: Officer Curtis… I’m sure over the years you’ve impressed a lady or two by giving her a tour of the station?  (she grins suggestively)

OFFICER CURTIS: Been known to happen.

HG WELLS: Well, um.

(Myka smiles and looks embarrassed.)

OFFICE CURTIS: Oh, right.  Alright, rock on ladies.

These three scenes make up the bulk of the references to Helena’s sexual orientation and habits, and are remarkable for several reasons.  The first is that Helena’s bisexuality is never treated as especially shocking.  The largest reaction comes from Pete, in the first scene, and he views it largely as a distraction from his own personal issues.  Its’ also worth noting that Pete is consistently flippant, so the quip he makes should not necessarily be interpreted as having any real weight.  More remarkably, even though it is established in an earlier scene that Agent Wolcott, a Victorian gentleman, has worked extensively with Helena so, it can be assumed, knows that she also “charms” women, and Officer Curtis, a small town police officer, sees Helena attempting what he assumes to be a romantic tryst with another woman, neither of them mention it, despite the fact that neither are from demographics which are well known for open-mindedness.

The second is that while all three scenes are humorous, Helena is never the target of that humor.  In the first scene, Pete’s reaction is the main source of humour, specifically, his somewhat exaggerated gaping in response to Helena’s coming out is made to look silly when contrasted against Claudia and Myka’s much more measured reactions.  In the second, even though Agent Wolcott is rebuking Helena for her active sex life, the audience is fairly obviously meant to be laughing with Helena, at Wolcott.  Their discussion follows on from an earlier scene where Wolcott struggles to talk to Helena while she changes entirely hidden behind an opaque screen, so his discomfort comes across as old-fashioned prudishness rather than a legitimate complaint.  In the third scene, the humour comes from the fact that Officer Curtis is being deceived, not that Helena appears to be seducing someone in the middle of a busy police station, or that she is with another woman.

In fact, Helena’s sexual accomplishments are treated with a level of respect which is usually reserved only for straight, male characters.  In the first scene, brings up her sexual experience to demonstrate that she would make a good source of romantic advice.  The overall implication of the second scene is that Helena is attractive enough that only a gay man, Oscar Wilde, would be able to resist being seduced by her.  Here, the number of partners she has is treated as an accomplishment, the way it usually would be or a man, rather than a character defect which would be more typical for a portrayal of a bisexual woman.  Officer Curtis continues this trend by supporting her romantic intentions.  During his discussion with Helena and Myka he exchanges a series of suggestive looks with Helena which would be typically of two male friends in a male dominated environment.  Helena is, in this situation treated as a straight man, not a queer woman.  By contrast, Pete, who actually is a straight man is typically made fun of for having casual sex and Myka on various occasions refers to him as a “slut” and a “man-whore” for having sex with people connected to the cases they are investigating.  Although it is worth noting that her tone in both these instances suggests she is teasing him rather than offering serious criticism.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, Helena’s sexual orientation and number of partners is treated entirely separately from her behaviour as a character.  Helena is a very morally complicated character who shifts between antagonist and protagonist several times over the course of the series, and often has unclear motives.  While it is reasonably common for male characters to commit morally dubious acts and then redeem themselves, it is rarer for female or minority characters.  During Helena’s various moral switches she is judged entirely by her actions and there is no reference ever to the number or gender of her partners.  When she tries to bring about an ice age at the end of season two she is captured and punished for it, but when, the very next episode, she gives Myka advice, Myka considers it carefully and ultimately takes it.

In fact, even though Helena is, arguably, portrayed as mentally ill that is also not counted against her, but is actually seen as an ameliorating factor.  Pete refers to her rather unpleasantly as a ‘nut-job’, ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’ when working against her in the season two finale while she is clearly acting as an antagonist and threatening his girlfriend but ultimately, her rage and depression at losing her daughter and time traveling (via the cryogenic mechanism of bronzing) in the present day from the early nineteen hundreds is seen as understandable.  When she later returns as a protagonist everyone, eventually, accepts her back and she returns to being a valued ally.

Characters who are morally complex or sexually adventurous are common and frequently very popular.  Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Harry Potter’s Severus Snape, Daniel Craig’s James Bond, Supernatural’s Dean Winchester and Sanctuary’s Nikola Tesla are characters who are well-liked within their respective fanbases and who are in some combination, morally complex, periodically or even predominately antagonistic  and sexually adventurous.  All of these characters however are straight[1], white, men.  The number of characters who fulfill the same complicated character archetype but who are not male, not straight, or not white are very limited.  Fictional minority characters are, unfortunately, not typically allowed the same range of behaviour and, more importantly, the same degree of redemption.


[1] Although most of them have relatively popular subtextual queer readings

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