This is a guest post by Natalia Lauren Fiore.
Part 1 in a two-part series about “Lionhearted Heroines”
Bullet is the tough yet faithful boarding school dropout turned scrappy Seattle street-kid who unexpectedly resurrected the third season of AMC’s The Killing. She shows her “faith” wrist tattoo to lead homicide detective Sarah Linden, whom she calls “the north star” for fighting the crime brutally visited upon the wayward youths that inhabit her “block.” As a lesbian tomboy on her own in a big city, Bullet learns to rely on her inner strength to survive even when her overriding empathy and selflessness make her vulnerable to the horrific dangers that her desire to protect others prevents her from foreseeing. When her best friend, Kallie, a teenage prostitute neglected and discarded by her mother, disappears, Bullet tirelessly searches the streets and, without flinching, confronts a rough pimp named Goldie, who threatens her with a firearm. Later that evening, Goldie apprehends Bullet in his apartment and, at knife point, rapes her in retaliation for the confrontation.
What is so remarkable about Bullet in the aftermath of this attack is that she bravely continues her quest to recover Kallie, never once giving into fear or despair, nor losing the “faith” she wears on her wrist and professes to Sarah Linden. Instead, her scars make her all the more willing and determined to connect with others–chiefly Detective Linden and her streetwise partner, Detective Stephen Holder–in a deep and profound way. Her great humanity in the face of overwhelming evil and her sacrificial actions towards those she cares about, including a prostitute named Lyric who coldly spurns her, transcends perceptions about her sexuality and render her a universal character that people from all walks of life, backgrounds, faiths, religions, ethnicities, etc. can strongly relate to and identify with.
Bex Taylor-Klaus, the 19-year-old actress who won the role, was herself so moved by her character that she was inspired to reflect in writing about Bullet’s strength and beauty which carries a universal truth for us all:
Yes, I am a straight girl who plays a gay character on TV. No, I am not ashamed. The point of Bullet is not that she is gay. There is so much to her and I look up to the strength and determination this girl has. I get the beautiful opportunity to play a character I can admire and learn from on a daily basis. Bullet knows who she is and can accept herself for it all, even if others can’t or won’t….Not everybody is that strong. My biggest worry is that people will look at her and just see a gay kid, when that’s truly only a tiny piece of Bullet’s puzzle. Look at the big picture. People are a medley of different things and that is what makes us so interesting. Don’t lose sight of the beauty just because you see one thing you may find ugly.
To adapt Bex’s opening line: yes, I am a straight girl who has been besotted with Bullet (and the brilliant girl who plays her) from the moment she pulls her best friend, Kallie, from the ledge of a Seattle Bridge following the opening credits of the first episode.
Like Bex herself, I am not ashamed to adore Bullet. As Detective Stephen Holder (played by the endearing Joel Kinnaman) remarks when he first meets her, she’s “pretty unforgettable”–a description that captures her lasting impact on him and on all those she seeks to protect. Indeed, Holder and Bullet get past their initial mistrust of each other–aided by Bullet’s mistrust of men in general–to form one of the most beautiful friendships, fraught with angst and tenderness, ever portrayed onscreen. The two are, in many ways, twin souls who struggle to appear tough even when they are broken. Together, they embody Aristotle’s quote about true friendship: “A friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” Their unlikely affection and mutual admiration, although tested many times, is steadfast and powerful, so much so that when Holder loses Bullet, he is more devastated than we have ever seen him–as if he has lost part of himself. In his moment of intense grief over her death, Holder becomes the conduit for the audience’s overwhelming sadness as we share in his mourning of her.
In the end, with identical stubbornness, the two betray each other–Bullet, desperate, telling a lie that inadvertently compromises the investigation and Holder, enraged, turning an icy cold shoulder to the girl he once sought to help–obstinately refusing to answer the phone when she urgently calls him later that night. This, of course, turns out to be a fatal mistake, which ensures Holder’s imminent down spiral once he discovers Bullet’s body butchered in the trunk of the killer’s car.
But Bullet would not have been as “unforgettable” had it not been for the incomparable Bex Taylor-Klaus, who blazes in each scene–truthfully portraying Bullet’s fierce yet compassionate courage and faith. We’ll be hard-pressed to find another TV performance by a young breakout actress that quite matches what Bex accomplishes as Bullet. Bex so completely embodies Bullet that when she is found dead, it is as though a real-life person–a best friend, a sister, a daughter–has been lost. Through her performance, Bex makes the audience, even those who initially find her bravado somewhat off-putting, come to care deeply and passionately about a lesbian street girl (she suffers a heartbreaking unrequited love for a young prostitute named Lyric) whose apparent impenetrable toughness hides a selfless, vulnerable spirit.
In a recently published ARTS-ATL article entitled “30 Under 30: Bex Taylor-Klaus bites the bullet and lands dream role on AMC’s ‘The Killing,’” Bex articulates her profound understanding of Bullet: “As an actor, you’re given a character as a kind of shell and it’s your job to breathe life into it. Bullet’s the one who breathed life into me…I knew everything she wanted to do when she grew up. I knew who she was, who she wanted to be, and then I watched it all get taken away.”
One of the greatest demonstrations of Bex’s astounding ability to translate her understanding of Bullet for the audience occurs in Episode 3 during a beautifully shot two-scene sequence that captures the aftermath of Bullet’s rape. In a heart-wrenching moment, Bullet’s full inner beauty emerges even as she is at her lowest point, when she stares at her reflection in a bathroom mirror, examining the fresh, bloody wounds the rape has inflicted. Bex brilliantly captures Bullet’s fractured self in that moment, revealing fear, devastation, disgust, humiliation, and rage through her eyes and facial expressions. These emotions that she has never before felt so acutely ignite her burning resolve to save her best friend, so when Holder chases after her on the bridge later that day, she buries her fear and mistrust and tells him about that “nobody, nothing pimp” named Goldie. Later on in the episode, when Holder fails to apprehend Goldie, Bullet bravely and forcefully tells him off, and when he confronts her about whether Goldie has “done something to” her, she answers only with an instruction to “do your job” and “find her (Kallie).” Once again, Bex is superb–naturally conveying Bullet’s selfless devotion to her friend, even in the midst of the biggest crisis she has ever experienced.
Bullet never does get the chance to tell Holder, or anyone else, about what Goldie did to her–nor does she get the chance to tell Holder what she found out from the girl at the train station about the identity of the killer. Her life is ended so suddenly and cruelly that she leaves behind her a bitter trail of unanswered questions that could never be resolved satisfactorily in the wake of her death. It is these answered questions, combined with the magnitude of Bullet’s–and by extension Bex’s–potential epitomized by her intelligence, her kindness and compassion, her acceptance, her longing, and her grace–that we mourn mightily as the case stalls toward a resolution. For a fleeting period, it seems these virtues which she demonstrates so freely even towards those who don’t deserve them, are blissfully rewarded when Lyric, the previously unattainable object of her affection, appears to “see” Bullet’s heart for the first time and reciprocates its longing with a tender kiss.
For a day, Bullet experiences what it is like to be loved in return and we are afforded a rare and precious glimpse into the blissful life she should have been granted. But the next day, Lyric is reunited with Twitch, the hustler she thought had abandoned her, and in a heartbeat, she turns her back on Bullet, cruelly claiming, “I don’t belong to you…I’m not gay, you know” (Season 2, Episode 8 “Try”). Already reeling from the mercilessly unjust suffering she endures during her brief life of which Lyric’s cutting rejection is the tipping point, the viewers’ reaction to Bullet’s death, and the absence of Bex in the role, was swift, heartfelt, and defined by a large volume of online fan art that was created to pay tribute to the murdered “Lionhearted Heroine,” as they began calling her.
Even though I do not possess the artistic talent or ability to paint a portrait, as many other talented fans did to remember and honor Bullet, I shed more tears for Bullet than I have since my father’s death when I was 8 years old. She became like a sister to me, as Bex did in the role. I loved her. I miss her. Like Holder, I will never forget her. And, by her own eloquent admission, neither will Bex, who encapsulates our collective sorrow, but pays tribute to Bullet’s faith:
“I saw a woman with a similar haircut—an older woman with the haircut and similar style and it made me smile at first like ‘Oh look – Bullet when she grows up.’ And then all of a sudden I was standing in the street and it hit me…the realization that that’s not ever going to be what Bullet gets to do. Some people are saying how much she’s meant to them, they’re sad she’s gone and I’m saying she’s not. If she really meant that much to you, keep her alive inside of you. She’ll always be there. Keep her in your heart, whatever poeticness you’d like to put on it, whatever poetic words you want to put to it—keep her alive inside of you. She’s always be there. She always has. She’s a really strong character and strong, strong person. Even though she’s dead on the show or in the ‘real world,’ she doesn’t have to be dead inside. If she did really have an effect on you, she will always be with you.”
Still…In Season 4, Episode 5 of PBS’s beloved series Downton Abbey, a male valet says to his wife, a maid who is attacked in the same way that Bullet is attacked by Goldie in Episode 3 of The Killing: ”You are not spoiled. You are made higher to me and holier because of the suffering you have been put through.” If she had to die, brave Bullet deserved a death worthy of the “higher, holier” human being she was–a girl who did not dwell in her suffering nor let it define her, but rose above it and used her pain to compassionately protect her street-family from suffering what she did. Ideally, though, with all she silently suffered through, she deserved to live and to fulfill, as Bex articulated, “all she wanted to be.” By extension, Bex, who, to use a phrase from Miley Cyrus’s song, “came in like a wrecking ball” and all but stole the entire season with her nuanced and engaging portrayal, deserved the opportunity to develop her performance of Bullet’s character beyond Season 3, as affirmed by AMC’s recent decision to cancel the series for a second time which many attribute to the irrevocable loss of Bex’s Lionhearted Heroine.
Natalia Lauren Fiore received a B.A. in Honors English and Creative Writing from Bryn Mawr College and an M.F.A in Creative and Professional Writing from Western Connecticut State University, where she wrote a feature-length screenplay entitled Sonata under the direction of novelist and screenwriter, Don J. Snyder, and playwright, Jack Dennis. Currently, she holds a full-time tenure track teaching post at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida, where she teaches English and Writing. Her writing interests include film criticism, screenwriting, literary journalism, fiction, the novel, and memoir. Her literature interests include the English novel, American Literature, and Drama – particularly Shakespeare. She blogs at Outside Windows and tweets
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