Do I hate love? Am I cold, dark hearted person?
Or is it that the “love interest” is a boring character in fiction? Specifically, the “Satellite Love Interest” trope is a character who exists solely in reference to another character as a cherished love object. In fact, the “Satellite Love Interest” could often be replaced with a bag of flavor blasted goldfish and the plot wouldn’t be affected much. This is similar to the sexy lamp test.
A satellite character is one whose sole purpose revolves around another more interesting, more significant character.
Does this mean that I am saying romance shouldn’t be a part of fiction? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that a character is more interesting if they are well developed and complex in their own right, and don’t depend on another character for their relevance.
EXAMPLES OF SATELLITE LOVE INTERESTS:
[Spoilers Included. If I list something you haven’t watched/read yet, feel free to skip past to avoid spoilers.]
[Disclaimer: The critique of the characters in the live action shows and movies mentioned is not a critique of the actors who play these characters. I’m sure these actors are all fine people.]
The Prince from Snow White:
This dude shows up at the beginning of the film to be all pretty and charming. That’s about it. Then he disappears for most of the film and returns at the opportune moment to wake Snow White up from her poison apple induced food coma. Rumor has it that Prince Charming had a larger role originally, but the animators were struggling with animating a human male.
Bella Swan from Twilight:
Bella Swan is a unusual example of the Satellite Love Interest being the main character of her own story. We don’t learn much about what her life was like before she moved away from sunny Arizona to rainy, emo Washington state: a place full of foggy montages and sparkly forests that echo with the sounds of early 2000s indie rock. That’s because all that matters is Edward, the most handsome vampire who ever handsomely handsomed into existence.
Bella easily makes friends at the beginning of the novel (because everyone loves her for inexplicable reasons), but then she dumps them all to be with the only person in the universe who matters—Eddie Pants. Her entire life soon revolves around Edward, to the point where she goes catatonic when he leaves her. She jumps between being Edward or Jacob’s satellite love interest throughout the series. Edward and Jacob could easily have been fighting over a bag of flavor blasted goldfish, because Bella had that special blood that made her a delicious snack.
Luke Bankole from The Handmaid’s Tale TV Show
Luke Bankole is the husband of the main character, Offred. He escapes Gilead and makes it to Canada. There he pretty much exists to pine for Offred, to be in her flashbacks, and to flail around (like one of those car dealership blowing floppy guys) in multiple attempts to be helpful that don’t end up panning out.
When Shows Try to Keep An Unnecessary Love Interest Character…
Laurel Lance/Black Canary from the show, Arrow:
In Arrow, we see Oliver Queen pining for Laurel while he’s stuck on the island (he’s stuck so long on that island). However, in season 3, the show writers make a sudden, and unexpected shift to the “Olicity” track, where they ship Oliver away from Laurel to the quirky, perky, blonde and nerdy Felicity Smoak. Many people believe that this was fan service, as fans found Felicity more interesting than Laurel.
After shipping Felicity with Oliver, it seemed the show writers didn’t have much they could do with the character of Laurel/Black Canary, since her original purpose was to be a love interest. So they kept finding contrived reasons to keep her relevant, including having Laurel die but then come back as an evil version of herself from another universe (I’m not even making this up).
However, I will say, some fans grew to like Black Canary in later seasons as the writers attempted to develop her into a more complex character. I stopped watching by season 6 because the show writers kept turning everyone Oliver met into a superhero. That boy had a superhero STI that affected everyone he touched, but that’s a story for another post.
Iris West Allen from the show, The Flash:
If you look on Reddit and Quora, there’s a lot of people who were not a fan of Iris West Allen, the love interest of Barry Allen/The Flash. In a show full of super heroes and super geniuses, Iris West Allen doesn’t really seem like she has a reason to be there. What makes her special? She writes an online blog?
Some people might say a character can still be interesting even without super powers and super intellect. And that is true for her father, Joe West. He’s likeable in the sense that he has life wisdom, street smarts and a sense of humor that dissolves tension. But unfortunately for Iris West Allen, she’s not even likeable.
Her catchphrase, “We are the Flash,” is cringey and reeks of entitlement. She routinely insists that she’s always right (when she happens to be in a room full of geniuses with super powers and multiple PHDs). Many people believe the writers put her into the position of authority over Team Flash simply because they had nothing else to do with her.
EXAMPLES OF INTERESTING LOVE INTERESTS:
I don’t want to be only negative, so I’ll try to point out some interesting love interests as well. I think the reason why the following love interests below work is because they are an integral part of the story, and couldn’t easily be replaced with a bag of flavor blasted goldfish.
MJ (played by Zendaya) in MCU’s Spiderman
MJ overall received positive reviews as a a strong, supporting character. She’s smart, snarky and interesting whenever she’s on the screen. She also helps Peter, Ned and Doctor Strange capture multiple super villains. She’s intelligent enough to feel like an organic part of the team (she is a soon to be student at MIT after all) and she has personality quirks that make her unique and yet sympathetic. She struggles with disappointment, and often avoids getting excited or happy about things so she won’t end up disappointed. I think many people can relate to that (myself included). And importantly, she is likeable!
All of the Love Interests in the show, Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel has received overwhelmingly positive reviews so far. It is a light-hearted, fun show about a teenage, Muslim, Pakistani super hero. She actually has multiple love interests in the show (which seems normal for a teenage girl).
First, there’s her loyal, nerdy sidekick Bruno. While Bruno obviously has feelings for Kamala Khan, she is oblivious to his attractions. This is a tale as old as time. Bruno is stuck knee deep into the friendzone. But he still tries to help her when he can with his technological innovations and moral support.
Then enters the tall, dark and handsome Kamran as the new kid at school. Kamala immediately becomes interested in him (why wouldn’t she?). He’s even willing to offer her driving lessons, which is a plus. But soon it becomes clear that he’s giving her attention because he wants her to help his mom, who happens to be a jinn. I think more than being handsome, he has an interesting background story and ends up being likeable. He takes a moral stand against his jinn mother, who is trying to make a portal that could destroy life on Earth.
The next potential love interest we meet is Kareem, a masked fighter who is a legacy crime fighter associated with The Red Dagger. So far he seems mysterious, and I definitely want to learn more about Kareem as the show progresses.
Mike in Stranger Things
Mike is Eleven’s love interest in Stranger Things. Yet more than being a guy she pines for, he is “the heart” of the team as Will states in a platonic (but not so platonic) speech about Mike in Season 4.
Mike is likeable as a loyal friend and a loyal boyfriend. He experiences some doubts about himself from time to time, but ultimately pulls through at the end of the day to help his friends.
Sexy Lamp Test
Satellite Love Interest (TV Tropes)