This is the fourth post of my Queer as Folk collection and I will be focusing on some of the hardships and struggles that the characters faced over the series. I have touched on a couple of these in my last post but this time instead of being bigger issues for the whole community, I am focusing on individual problems. All the problems I will be focusing on were in Series 4, not by design but because in Series 4, the characters have more struggles than the previous series. The writers really put the characters through it and I will be analysing what happened.
Once again, the post will be going over adult issues and more explicit content to fit along with the show so don’t read if you’re under 18 or do not want to read about mature content.
Despite the success of the election at the end of Series 3, the characters do not bask in the glow of the win for long. Brian is hit hard this series which was interesting to see as he has so far been a character with few worries or personal problems. Seeing such a dominating, powerful, unemotional character go through what he did humanised Brian and made him a little more vulnerable than he has been in past series. There are also a lot of relationship issues this series both romantic and familial. Melanie and Lindsay who have been solid since Melanie’s affair in the first series face big relationship issues along with Michael and Ben who up to this point had been steady since Series 2.
The first episode is framed by a performance from Shanda Leer, a local drag queen. It was an interesting narrative technique that led up to an attack on Darren after his performance as Shanda. This was the second homophobic attack of the show and this time on a character we have not seen previously. The attack triggers a response from Justin who was also attacked at the end of the first series. He wants to make things right and when he finds the Pink Posse, Justin thinks he has found a way to respond to Darren’s attack. Justin and Cody patrol Liberty Avenue looking for potential homophobes to apprehend. What starts as a vigilante group quickly descends into solving violence with violence. Cody becomes too hateful and starts attacking people for the slightest comment or even before they say anything. After a confrontation with Chris Hobbs, Justin’s attacker; Justin realises that injuring or killing someone won’t take away pain or hatred he feels towards them. It was a very emotional scene but Justin gained closure and understanding that love is better than hate.
Brian’s money troubles are present from the beginning of the series as a consequence from his actions at the end of Series 3. He was fired from Vanguard for trying to take down Stockwell and now has 100,000 dollars in debt to pay. Brian refuses to accept help initially as a matter of principle and pride. Since leaving home and becoming financially independent, Brian has never asked for money from anyone. He sees being in control as a way of proving himself to the world that he was not affected by his emotionally abusive childhood. When Brian loses his financial security, he tries to hide the struggle from his friends but they soon realise that Brian needs help. After raising money to help Brian with his debts, Brian accepts help for the first time in the show and it seems his life. This is a turning point for him and it shows the personal growth that Brian finally starts to exhibit. His pride takes a hit but he finally learns that people all need help sometimes.
One of the most heart-breaking moments of the series was when Debbie and Vic had an argument but before they could make up, Vic passed away. The two siblings were always very close and Debbie nursed Vic back to health when he was on the edge of death a few years before. Vic’s death was very sudden as he seemed to be getting better and had just moved in with his partner, Rodney. His death served to show that unexpected things happen all the time and just because someone may look physically fine, they still have HIV which can be deadly. Debbie does not take Vic’s death well as she would not be expected to but there is an added layer of self-blame and anger for how their last conversation ended. Gradually with help from Michael and a letter from Vic, Debbie manages to realise that Vic loved her and his last words were not his true feelings at all.
Vic’s death as a whole not only affected Debbie but also Brian and Hunter. Brian finds out upsetting health news just before Vic’s funeral and as he is wont to do, takes out his own emotions, especially anger on those closest to him, in this case Debbie. Brian struggles with dreams of joining Vic in heaven or hell but eventually comes to terms with his illness. Vic’s death served to remind Brian that even an apparently healthy man can be taken by an illness. Hunter was affected by Vic’s death because it is the first HIV-related death that he has been exposed to directly. Luckily, Ben realises this and helps Hunter realise that HIV does not automatically mean death and that he can live with the disease if he looks after himself. It was important to show that HIV was still very much a killer for gay men as up to this point in the show, HIV was not a death sentence and the characters with the illness appeared to be managing it well.
Series 4 brings one of the biggest hardships for any of the characters but especially Brian when he goes through being diagnosed with and then receiving treatment for testicular cancer. The cancer showed Brian that he wasn’t invincible but also brought him shame and caused him to pull away from his friends, especially Justin. Brian’s initial diagnosis by a doctor he met in the backroom of Babylon was humorous but also a plus for his lifestyle as he was obviously not checking for lumps himself. Brian is portrayed as untouchable, almost god-like especially in the sex department so to have testicular cancer which affected his ability to have sex was an extra twist of the knife. This storyline also served as a reminder for men to check for testicular cancer as even young and healthy men can be diagnosed. Lucky for Brian, his cancer had a high survival rate, especially after surgery and his sexual performance was not affected for very long. It was interesting to see how far Brian went to conceal his illness from Justin and his other friends, including telling them all that he was going to Ibiza when he was really going to hospital for surgery and recovery. He could not keep up the charade for long and eventually told Ted and Debbie. Justin found out from a voicemail and told Michael and the two became extremely worried which only aggravated Brian more. Michael explained it well to Justin that Brian sees himself as his sex appeal and was afraid that if he was not beautiful, untouchable Brian Kinney that Justin would leave him. Justin quickly put those fears to bed and made Brian accept help with his recovery. Brian receives the all clear in Series 5 and gets back to his usual sleeping around not too long after his treatment.
Ted has one of the hardest journey’s of the main characters in this series as he recovers from his crystal meth addiction. He is helped through rehab by Blake, Ted’s ex-boyfriend from Series 1. Ted took Blake to rehab for drug addiction at the end of Series 1 but Blake took off and Ted had not heard of him until they were reunited in rehab. Only this time, Ted is the patient and Blake is the sober one. Ted leans on Blake who is now a counsellor to get him through his dark time and when he leaves the programme, the two pick up where they left off. Ted becomes dependent on Blake during his recovery and the lines blur between counsellor and boyfriend. Blake makes the decision that it is best for both of them to part ways until Ted is in a better place with his recovery. Ted takes this hard but ultimately understands and he wants them to be together without drugs getting in the way. This was a mature decision for the couple and one that is not always taken by the characters but it appears that even when recovering from the worst place of his life, Ted still knows how to act emotionally mature.
Lindsay and Melanie have their relationship status challenged in Series 4 and 5 after Lindsay has an emotional and physical affair with a man. Lindsay and Melanie have been stable since Melanie’s one night affair in Series 1 and it was a surprise to see their relationship fall apart. Lindsay meets an artist, Sam who has a show in her gallery and he flirts with her even though he knows she is married and a lesbian. Lindsay initially is not interested but she starts to fall for Sam as he makes her excited about her own artwork and inspires her to draw again for the first time since college. Out of both Lindsay and Melanie, Lindsay is the one with more attraction towards men. In the past, she mentioned fancying Brian and even having relations with him when figuring out her sexuality. Lindsay even said she thought she would marry him. Lindsay is drawn towards Sam because he makes her feel talented and special and not like the married mother of one and another on the way with responsibilities and a mortgage. Lindsay sleeps with Sam and after confessing to Melanie, their marital problems begin that leads to a separation and custody battle for the baby.
Melanie and Lindsay decide to separate after being unable to get over their differences. Due to Melanie being pregnant, Lindsay stays in the house with her but they are not in a relationship anymore. Lindsay then moves to another apartment with Gus after Jenny Rebecca or JR is born. Her mother finds out and convinces her to move in with her parents but after being set up with a man, Lindsay leaves and lives with Melanie again but on a different floor of the house. They decide it is better for the children and makes it easier with the three way custody of JR. Melanie and Lindsay’s separation causes problems between Michael and Melanie and Brian and Lindsay as both donated their sperm and became JR and Gus’ fathers with the notion that they would be raised by a committed couple. Michael takes it especially hard as JR is only a baby and needs more attention.
Melanie is committed to bed rest in the final stages of her pregnancy which she struggles with, having always been very active in her work and social lives. She does try to follow the doctors advice but without Lindsay’s love and support she breaks the rules a couple of times. Once was to wave off the participants of the Liberty Ride and in full view of everyone. She insists she is fine and then has the baby a few days later, after the riders return. Luckily, JR is a healthy baby but it showed how stubborn Melanie can be and how she struggles to not work.
Ben and Michael who are the other stable couple in the show have problems after Ben is approached by a student looking to sleep with him. Ben is initially flattered by the attention and believes the student to simply be seeking knowledge on being a writer. Their conversation turns to the subject of Ben’s book, living with HIV and the student asks Ben to sleep with him and give him HIV. He is part of a group that see HIV as inevitable so seek to be infected as soon as they can. Ben is horrified by the man’s wishes and confesses them to Michael. Ben was tempted to sleep with the student as he hung out with him alone and accepted an invitation to a talk but he realises that he belongs with Michael and Hunter and he stays away after the student’s confession.
One hardship faced from Series 5 is the bullying that Hunter receives at school when his classmates find out his HIV status. When he had a girlfriend, he tells her that he is positive and her parents also find out. In Series 5, Hunter is in the swim team and when competing he hits his head on the side of the pool and starts bleeding in the water. His former girlfriend’s father then yells out that he has Aids which leads to everyone panicking. Afterwards, everyone at Hunter’s school avoids him or bullies him which leads to Hunter being ostracised and skipping school. Hunter then leaves Pittsburgh as he does not feel like he fits in anymore and cannot have a normal life. The reaction from Hunter’s classmates to HIV show how uneducated high schoolers were at the time to the causes and how HIV was transmitted. In the gay culture of Queer as Folk, the disease is something everyone understands and is aware of at all times but for children without any gay relatives/friends/people in their lives, they had little to no awareness of the disease.
One of the most visceral and heart-felt struggles was Brian trying to finish the Liberty Ride. He was told not to do it by his friends but as he does not like being told what to do, he trains in secret and insists on doing the race. He manages quite well until he shows off cycling with no hands to Michael and crashes into the road bank. He has broken collar bone and is advised to go to hospital but undeterred Brian carries on and manages to cycle one handed. This proves difficult and the effects of cancer on his body catch up with him. Michael hangs back with Brian at the end of the race and the two of them are the last to cross the line hours after everyone else. Ben, Hunter, Debbie and Justin wait for the pair into the night and after it has snowed. They eventually show up and Brian is obviously struggling, going very slowly and stopping frequently. Michael is by his side as he understands Brian’s need to show everyone that he is undefeatable and still the same Brian Kinney he was before he had cancer. Justin wants to go to Brian as soon as he sees him but Debbie tells him not to. Having practically raised Brian through his teenage years and into adulthood she understands how he has to complete the race himself and prove to himself also that his childhood did not affect him and he can be a strong, tough, gay man and not weak.
Analysis of Events
At the beginning of the Series, Brian is in serious credit card debt – $100,000 and has no job. He starts getting rid of his possessions to pay off some of the money but does not want to accept help from Justin or his other friends. After Justin tells everyone that Brian paid for the advert himself to defeat Stockwell, they throw a fundraiser for the ‘Concerned Citizens for the Truth’ and convince Brian to accept a cheque for around $80,000 on their behalf. While Brian keeps up the pretence of not being the one to defeat Stockwell, he accepts help. This is the first time we see Brian accept any form of help and he does so after almost selling the loft. This also helps bring Brian and Justin closer together as Brian is able to show Justin a vulnerable side that is not always all knowing and all powerful. Brian has been the richer of the two with a great job up until this point and when he becomes less powerful than Justin, he is able to see that they are more equal than he wanted to believe. They refer to themselves as partners and Brian tells Justin that he only wants him which is a big step for Brian in their relationship. Justin also refers to the first time they had sex as making love and Brian does not disagree or argue which shows another level of acceptance from Brian.
Earlier in the post I mentioned how Debbie, Brian and Hunter were affected by Vic’s death. They all had very different initial reactions which shows how grief can affect people in different ways. Debbie initially was in shock over his death and could not grieve properly. She went back to work at the diner to save up money to get Vic a massive angel statue as his headstone. After finding a letter from Vic that he had written a few years previously when he was on his death bed, Debbie decides to throw another Christmas. Her guilt over her argument with Vic and her interpretation of his letter lead to a big Christmas party in February. All the characters play along with Debbie as they understand that this is her way of coping. Debbie eventually breaks when the angel from the top of the tree falls off and smashes. With help from Rodney, Carl and the others Debbie makes peace with her guilt and begins to grieve in a healthier way.
Brian reacts with anger at Vic’s funeral and lashes out at Debbie saying that at least Vic had four more years. Brian does not usually let his emotions overcome him but his recent cancer diagnosis clouds his emotions and he unloads on Vic, fearing that he will be next. His outburst causes a rift between himself and Debbie but she forgives him after he tells her why he reacted with such anger. Ben and Hunter reacted with anxiety over Vic’s death. Hunter was affected more because as Ben put it to Michael, it is the first HIV related death he has seen. Hunter worries that his own life can be cut short but Ben reassures him that if he remains healthy then he will be fine for a while. Ben gets the chance to act as an authority figure to Hunter and we see why Hunter is in the right place with Ben and Michael. He has someone who has been though the same emotions and fears as he has and is still alive. Emmett reacted less with sadness and more annoyance over the loss of Vic in their party planning business. This is meant to alleviate the heavy grief from the others but it does present a real problem for Emmett and after finding a replacement in Shanda Leer/Darren, he does move on to other things.
Brian’s cancer affects Michael, Justin and Debbie in different ways. They are all used to seeing him as the immortal Brian Kinney with power and money. After Brian’s set back at the beginning of the Series with the loss of his job and debts, he appeared to have come out on top with the start of his own ad agency, Kinnetic. Michael reacts with emotion and worry for Brian’s life as he cannot imagine his life without Brian in it. After Justin tells Michael in confidence, Michael goes to Brian and after smoking pot together, Michael tearfully confesses that he knows. Justin accidentally hears a voicemail message from the hospital and calls them to find out more. He does not want to tell Brian that he knows and he understands how Brian is very private when it comes to his vulnerabilities. He questions Brian about Ibiza but does not push him. He then tries to help Brian by making him soup and being generally kind and loving. Brian initially does not want to accept help but after his discomfort gets worse, he lets Justin look after him. He thinks that Justin will leave him if his is not the perfect man he showed himself to be when they first met. Michael later explains this to Justin who makes sure Brian knows he’s loved not just for being a perfect sex god. Brian hates being ill or weak in any form and sees it as a failure. This comes from his own parents who never valued him. When letting Justin know that he knows, Brian refers to Justin as his boyfriend to his face for the first time ever which shows that Brian let down his walls enough to let his true feelings show. Debbie reacts as any mother would with sadness but also love. Brian’s own mother blames Brian’s sexuality for his cancer and reacts horribly so Brian seeks affection from Debbie who he thinks of as his surrogate mother.
The Liberty Ride was an interesting way to end the Series and it brought out different emotions and reactions in each of the characters. Ben decided that as he and Michael were in Canada, that they should get legally married. The two have an impromptu ceremony and even Brian who claims to hate marriage, finds them a cake. The wedding symbolises the commitment that Ben and Michael have to each other and sets up the plot for Series 5 where they start settling down along with Justin, Debbie and Carl and Emmett. Ted worries about how he will cope on the Liberty Ride without his NA meetings. Emmett promises to help him through it and they set off to find a meeting on the way back. The two end up lost for the night and Emmett creates a meeting for Ted in a field. This shows that Emmett has forgiven Ted for how their relationship ended and it brings Emmett more understanding of addiction and Ted’s struggle. Emmett was hurt terribly by Ted’s treatment of him and this is the first time we see the two get back to their old friendship.