Leverage: Reading Parker as Asexual

Introductory note: “Leverage” is a television show which originally aired on the TNT network from 2008-2012. It centered on a group who acted as modern day Robin Hoods, tackling the powerful and corrupt who could not be brought to justice by the ordinary people they’d hurt. The characters were given archetypal identities such as “mastermind”, “hacker”, and in Parker’s case, “thief”. Parker was played by Beth Riesgraf.
An earlier version of this article was originally written for Asexual Awareness Week 2014.

This is a brief overview on Parker from “Leverage” and why I think she can be read as asexual. Admittedly, I didn’t think about it too much until after the show was over, being more concerned that Parker’s relationship with Hardison didn’t detract from her overall screen time or characterisation. I need not have worried on that front, and I’ll mention their romance again shortly. Afterwards though, I started to think that Parker can be easily read as being on the asexual spectrum.

I want first to address my one concern about reading her as asexual; Parker is not what most people would describe as “normal” or “ordinary”. Her thought processes and reactions to events are not what would be expected under most circumstances. For example:

-Sophie: Parker, you do know that normal people just don’t walk off a twenty-foot fall, right?
-Parker: So, all those times I pushed Hardison off a building and he was all “Ahhh!”, he wasn’t just being funny?

She has not had a stable upbringing having been raised in the foster system, she doesn’t even have another name, merely being “Parker”, she is a thief by profession, and her social skills are awkward or eccentric depending on your viewpoint. Eliot often expresses his frustration with Parker as “What’s wrong with you?!” (To be fair, she doesn’t take offence and he does care for her; there’s a familial bond between Parker, Eliot, and Hardison, in particular). The last thing asexuals need or want are characters who represent any of the stigmas or stereotypes around the orientation such as being “broken”.

However, I’m not too concerned because overall, Parker is awesome. Her team love her, she comes to love and trust them, she is clever, agile, loyal, and, ultimately takes the place of Nate as leader of the Leverage team in the finale episode. Possibly because of her own upbringing she’s sensitive to the needs of children. She’s well liked by fans, something noted by the character description of Parker at Fanlore.org:

Fan reaction to her is largely positive, often because of her nontraditional femininity and her unusual socialization. Many fans choose to read her as asexual, non-neurotypical, or a survivor of abuse to account for various aspects of her characterization on the show- Fanlore.org

Overall, Parker is portrayed as quirky and eccentric rather than damaged. Her atyptical approach to life is often played as light-hearted, with her casual attitudes to things like falling from heights being contrasted with more usual reactions:

-PARKER: (to Eliot) Really? How’d you get over [your claustrophobia]?
-ELIOT: I locked myself in a woodshed behind my house for a couple nights. After that, I was fine.
-PARKER: That is so funny. I was scared of the dark and did exactly the same thing!
(Flashback showing Parker as a kid being buried alive)
(Sophie, Eliot and Hardison stare at her)
-ELIOT: That’s not the same thing…What’s wrong with you?

All of the team, in fact, have their own baggage, and so Parker isn’t held up as a broken person needing to be saved by their friends. They are a team and they support each other.

Sex is neither a large part of the show, nor is it ignored. There’s a heterosexual on-off relationship between Nate and Sophia, Nate’s ex-wife appears in several episodes, and Eliot has a few “girlfriend of the week” episodes. Parker has neither a boyfriend or girlfriend in her past, and when Hardison has an episode in which he flirts with a woman, she experiences some jealousy, the first sign that she is experiencing romantic affection.

In “The First David Job”/”The Second David Job”, the team are trying to replace a famous statue with a fake. At one point, Parker kisses Hardison, pressing him against an alarmed door to cover up the real reason for the alarm. This improvised affection stuns Hardison, who has been giving her admiring glances for a while, but Parker shrugs it off the moment the kiss is over and the job is back on.

Hardison continues to develop feelings for Parker, but she seems not to notice – part of her social skills limitations – and it was debatable at this stage if she would or could develop romantic feelings for him in return.

As the series progresses, Parker becomes more emotionally aware and more in touch with her teammates. However it’s only when she sees Hardison potentially romantically involved with another woman (“The Double-Blind Job”) that she starts to realise her feelings for him.

I love that the episode featured Parker exploring the feeling of jealousy. Hardison flirting and working with Ashley was clearly driving Parker crazy, but she had no idea why. Further, at the end, Hardison clearly figured out that she was jealous, but warmly gave her space to come to terms with her feelings for him. – Jim Garner, TV Fanatic.com

In fact Hardison handles things so well that the Parker/Hardison relationship, regardless of Parker’s actual orientation, deserves analysis of its own, as does the sub-textual OT3* of Parker/Hardison/Eliot. At no point does Hardison ever demand or expect anything of Parker, letting her find her way in her own time, and ensuring their relationship is based on their wants and needs, not societal expectations.

-PARKER: “you realize this isn’t going to be normal, right?”
-HARDISON: “you know, my nana used to say that what’s normal is whatever works for you.”

Up until “The Double Blind Job”, Parker has shown no interest in dating, romance, or sex. Even when Parker and Hardison begin dating – which is really more hanging out as a couple instead of hanging out with the whole team – their focus is on a variety of activities they find pleasurable, rather than on sex. The season five opener, “The Very Big Bird Job” confirms their new relationship status:

-Sophie: Yeah. We’re moving to Portland. No warning. Anything else?
-Parker: Mm, Hardison and I are dating.
-Hardison: Yeah. We just got back from a ’round-the-world trip. It was different, like, it’s new, and we working it out.
(various scenes of Parker and Hardison repelling down the side of buildings)

In the episode “The First Contact Job”, Hardison plans a rather more traditionally romantic evening:

(Hardison shows Parker the wording of the warrant ‘CANDLELIGHT PICNIC UNDER THE STARS)
-Parker: Ooh. Fire. I do like fire.

When the picnic is rained off, Parker is disappointed, but Hardison has a backup plan, an indoor picnic with electronic stars. Clearly Parker appreciates the thoughtfulness.

As such, I’d read Parker as hetero-romantic and/or demi-romantic, since she didn’t develop feelings immediately. We never see her show any interest in women, though it could be argued she might be demi-romantic and bi-romantic, and the show just never got the chance to explore that angle. I’d also argue, given her lack of interest around sexuality in general, she can be read on the asexual spectrum, possibly grey-asexual or demi-sexual, or an asexual willing to have sex to please a partner.

Some fans have pointed out how Parker clearly loves the adrenaline rush she gets from her favourite hobbies, like bungee jumping. As such, orgasms could be seen as just another way to get a rush, and it’s not unlikely that she’s willing to masturbate and/or have sex in order to experience the pleasurable high. She certainly doesn’t have any hangups about sex as bad or immoral; it just doesn’t seem to interest her in the way money or planning a heist does.

We never (to my knowledge, at least) get confirmation that “dating” involves sex. It’s usually assumed that a romantic relationship will at some point become sexual, because our culture places a high value on sexual experiences. We can only guess, unless told otherwise, that sex does take place. However, given Hardison’s deep affection and respect and overall patience, he would never demand or expect a sexual component to the relationship, and any sex that did happen would be undertaken at Parker’s pace and with a great deal of attention paid to ensuring her consent.

However, once committed to a sexual relationship, I think Parker would be an enthusiastic participant. It wouldn’t beat the thrill of base jumping or breaking into a bank, but as a fun way to spend time with Hardison, who she loves deeply, she would give it her all.

*OT3; one true threesome, sometimes used in fandom to signify a preferred relationship, canonical or otherwise, that involves three people. The more usual OTP (one true pairing) is for pairings involving two people.

Jim Garner, Leverage Review: The Double Blind Job, TVFantatic.com –http://www.tvfanatic.com/2010/07/leverage-review-the-double-blind-job/
(Parker (Leverage), Fanlore.org – http://fanlore.org/wiki/Parker_%28Leverage%29
Leverage 2.06 – The Top Hat Job, Hell Yeah Leverage, Tumblr.com – http://tinyurl.com/ne6crm6
The Gimme a K Street Job – Trivia, Quotes, Notes and Allusions, TV.com –http://www.tv.com/m/shows/leverage/the-gimme-a-k-street-job-2485197/trivia/
Parker, Leverage wikia – http://leverage.wikia.com/wiki/Parker
Alec Hardison, Leverage wikia – http://leverage.wikia.com/wiki/Alec_Hardison
Episodes, Leverage wikia – http://leverage.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Episodes
5×03 The First Contact Job, When Darkness Falls (transcript) -http://leverage.whendarknessfalls.net/transcripts/5×03-the-first-contact-job.html
5×01 The Very Big Bird Job, When Darkness Falls (transcript) –http://leverage.whendarknessfalls.net/transcripts/5×01-the-very-big-bird-job.html
Kristi Turnquist, Catching up with ‘Leverage’: ‘The First Contact Job’ goes to Portland State University, oregonlive.com –http://www.oregonlive.com/movies/index.ssf/2012/08/catching_up_with_leverage_the.html
“ships i sail: parker + alec hardison, leverage”, fyparkerhardison, tumblr –http://tinyurl.com/nsu3mkg

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