Monday, August 8, 2022

Pride Spotlight: Isaac From ‘Tom Swift’

TELEVISIONPride Spotlight: Isaac From 'Tom Swift'

Welcome to the final installment of our 2022 Pride Month Series! Each weekday in the month of June, we highlighted a different member of the LGBTQIA+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We focused on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQIA+ community and in mainstream media. Today’s spotlight focuses on Isaac, one of many incredible LGBTQIA+ characters on The CW’s Tom Swift.

Note: This article contains some spoilers for season 1 of Tom Swift.

Before Tom Swift even premiered, it was predicted to set a new standard for queer representation on broadcast television. The series follows Tom Swift, the heir to his father Barton’s business and inventing empire, who is forced to battle a shadowy organization to save his father. Tom himself is the first Black gay male lead on network TV. While we get to see Tom living his best playboy billionaire inventor life flirting with every guy who so much as glances in his direction (and having barely-safe-for-The-CW sex while he’s off on his various missions), we also get non-binary intern Quinn, Tom’s current romantic prospect Justin, and mysterious frenemy Rowan.

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But the most intriguing queer character thus far is Isaac, Tom’s longtime bodyguard. Played to perfection by Marquise Vilsón, Isaac is a man with a quiet and tough exterior who proves that still waters truly run deep. When we first meet Isaac, he appears to be a calm and collected man who takes his job of protecting the Swift family seriously. He also appears to have a simmering crush on Tom, though he thinks Tom is unaware. As the season has unfolded, we’ve gotten glimpses into his funnier side courtesy of his dry sarcasm, and he’s a mature counterbalance to Tom’s more chaotic impulses.

But it’s Isaac’s heart that really makes him remarkable. As we see in “…And The Chocolate Cowboys,” Isaac is hiding a deeply traumatic event from his past career in the Special Forces. His girlfriend at the time, Melissa, was killed on a mission before he could save her. He hid this from Tom and his best friend Zenzi, letting them believe that the two broke up instead due to his feelings of guilt. As a result, Isaac has a single-minded devotion to protecting the people he cares about and believes that if they are in danger, he has failed them.

The CW

This comes to a head when Zenzi flirts with Congressman Eskol to extract information, despite Isaac’s fear that Eskol and his men are onto their plan. She interprets his overprotective actions as being overbearing, snooping in Eskol’s belongings while Tom calls Isaac about the disappearance of his adopted brother Lino. All of a sudden, the three people who matter most to Isaac are in danger and beyond his ability to help. This triggers a panic attack as he flashes back to Melissa’s death, and we see the truth of what happened. Once everyone is safe due to Isaac’s quick thinking despite his panic, he opens up about his PTSD with Zenzi in a gorgeous monologue. One episode later, we see Isaac tear up at supportive words from Tom’s mother, Lorraine, about loving her son no matter what. These small peeks into Isaac’s past have left viewers craving more, which will almost certainly come later this season as he deals with the ramifications of being fired from his job as the Swift family bodyguard after helping Lino locate his biological mother.

Isaac’s character is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the way Tom Swift addresses how his sexuality and his gender identity intersect. Last year, GLAAD noted that 31% of all trans characters on television do not have a stated sexuality. This leads to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and is a missed opportunity to delve into how gender, romantic attraction, and sexuality are often intertwined. However, on Tom Swift, we learn in the second episode that Isaac is pansexual when Zenzi expresses surprise at the existence of Isaac’s ex-girlfriend given his clear interest in Tom. While this is a casual reveal and not one that the story chooses to linger over for long, the fact that it was stated explicitly and not just implied is a huge win for pansexual and bi+ representation overall.

Eliza Morse/The CW
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Isaac’s storyline is also not solely about the simmering love triangle between he, Tom, and Zenzi. The writing team’s commitment to creating a complex and deeply sympathetic character give Isaac depth beyond his sexuality and gender — which would not necessarily be the case on a show with a less inclusive writing staff. The writer’s room is one of the most diverse on TV, ensuring that the representation on Tom Swift is carefully handled. The team is unapologetically queer, and this bleeds through to the way they interact with the fandom and their writing on the show itself. Having multiple trans writers of color in the room immediately lends authenticity to Isaac’s story (not to mention the other queer characters on the show). This is not the kind of series with one token queer character or one type of queer story told.

In addition, Vilsón is himself a queer icon whose accomplishments could fill a spotlight on their own, like his support of the vital Safe Horizons Streetwork Project and his groundbreaking role on Law and Order: SVU. Like Isaac, he was also in the military before becoming an actor, which adds a necessary perspective to the show. His stamp of approval on Tom Swift should carry an enormous amount of weight for anyone thinking of watching the series, particularly queer viewers. The beautiful layers of Vilsón’s portrayal are indicative of not only his talent but also his passion for this part in particular, and his performance is mesmerizing despite being understated in relation to Tian Richards’ more charismatic Tom.

In the push for more nuanced LGBTQIA+ representation on screen, a show like Tom Swift is a shining example of what great representation looks like with the right support behind it. It highlights the importance of not just hiring diverse actors but also diverse off-screen talent like writers, directors, and producers. The passion that everyone involved in this project clearly has for telling Tom’s story comes through in every aspect of the series. Isaac is a dynamic and engaging character who takes trans representation to new heights and deserves to be highlighted alongside the other queer characters on Tom Swift.

Tom Swift airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW. You can find the rest of our coverage of the series here!

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