To whom it may concern: Here are 2.000+ words of thoughts on the LGBTQ+ representation in The Killer’s Shopping List. ⬇️⬇️⬇️ [SPOILERS]


    Disclaimer: While I have some criticisms, this text wasn’t written in order to hate on the show. As far as I’m concerned, ‘The Killer’s Shopping List’ did a lot of things right and greatly surprised me with its wacky sense of humor, the sheer thrill of its murder mystery as well as the numerous strong, competent women it centered within its narrative.

    Another thing of note: I will refer to Fish with she/her pronouns throughout the text.

    Let’s jump right into it:

    I would lie if I said that I liked seeing Fish as a murder suspect. The main reason for this was Dae-sung’s Buffalo Bill reference (= extremely transmisogynistic stereotype: a trans woman as a violent predator to cis women) during his search of Fish᾽s apartment. It just felt so very jarring and hateful. Make no mistake: This observation is not meant to criticize the show’s writing. It was an uncomfortable moment for sure, but the way I understood it, it was clearly used to demonstrate Dae-sung᾽s rigid assumptions and limited knowledge of the world: A (what he can only assume to be) man wearing feminine clothing violates the rules of cisnormative society and seems thus by definition abnormal to him.

    Additionally, there᾽s Fish᾽s criminal record. Another big strike against her. Once a criminal, always a criminal, right? After all, it᾽s an ostensibly clear-cut enough category, and Fish with her suspicious behavior seems to fit right into it. And since she privately puts on women’s clothing while seemingly presenting as a cis man in public, well, it’s not that difficult for someone’s thoughts to jump right to a thirty-year-old, transphobic pop-culture staple. Especially if that someone, like Dae-sung, is not particularly well-versed in queer issues.

    If you think a little about it, it hasn’t been that long since transfeminine representation reached mainstream media. Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, which premiered almost ten years ago, is probably one of the more prominent Western examples that successfully featured a trans main character with Laverne Cox starring as Litchfield prison inmate Sophia Burset. However, what greatly differentiates Sophia’s portrayal from the transmisogyny found in Buffalo Bill, is the way her transness is normalized whereas, in Buffalo Bill’s case, it is pathologized instead.

    What does this mean exactly? You see, Sophia’s transness is treated as an intrinsic aspect of her humanity. She is trans but she is also a lot of other things: Kind, a lover of all things beautiful, gracious to her friends. By contrast, Buffalo Bill’s transness is shown to be the root of his evil. Both characters are criminals in the sense that they have broken the law, but only one of them has is their transness directly tied to their motivation for accomplishing vicious deeds – Buffalo Bill. And that, unfortunately, is the one Dae-sung decides to compare to Fish.


    As already stated, Dae-sung’s worldview is limited. He᾽s good with facts and patterns, less so with circumstances that require more emotional flexibility and nuance from him, such as people with all their inner complexities (i.e. him initially struggling with Meat᾽s attraction to the married Produce). This is also further lampshaded in a later exchange with his mother when he reveals his discoveries about Fish and she reacts with common sense by simply stating that, per se, there is nothing wrong with cross-dressing. (Here, let me high-five you just for that, Ms. Han!) To this, a dumbfounded Dae-sung remarks something in the vein of “Why are you so open-minded?” which, admittedly, made me crack up. It signals how Dae-sung’s mind operates and how hard it must be for him not to impulsively judge Fish for dressing up. By presenting us with Ms. Han’s easy acceptance, the show clearly demonstrates that Dae-sung’s bias is his own personal problem and something he might have to work on later.

    One thing I enjoyed a lot, was how clearly the show telegraphed Fish᾽s transness in order to reveal the error of Dae-sung’s suspicions early on: The trans pride flag in Fish᾽s bedroom and the Call Me By Your Name photo in the locker. For someone in the know about queer (pop-)culture, it was very easy to spot that Fish is a member of the queer community. To the discerning viewer, this also automatically explains the stockings and suspicious clothing items in her possession. I kind of wish, though, some of these specific insights would have been communicated to Dae-sung as well. Since he worked as a stand-in for the more unwitting parts of the audience, it could have served as a nice, small learning experience.

    The confrontation with Dae-sung and Mom at Fish’s home was really difficult for me to watch. To be perfectly honest, I don᾽t think that the meek apology from both made up for the mistreatment, disrespect, and outright discrimination Fish suffered at their hands in her home and only refuge. I really cannot overstate the importance of Fish’s home as her safe space (= the one location where she can be truly herself), especially considering the backstory with her parents (= a former “home” she had to flee for safety reasons). Maybe it’s just me, but it struck me as extremely traumatic to see Fish’s flat invaded with such nonchalance and righteousness, all in the name of some “greater good” that turned out to be nothing but a plume of biased smoke.


    What hurt even more, was Fish᾽s automatic assumption that she would be terminated for coming out – or, more appropriately, being forced out of the closet – only to be assured right away that her services would still be needed regardless. It might have been meant as honest praise for her work, but why the hell would anybody presented with Fish᾽s precious vulnerability (= her coming out and the confession of losing her only friend, after being wrongfully accused of her murder!) tell her in this very moment that her worth lies primarily in her making money and not, maybe, in the way she uniquely contributes to the supermarket staff as a human being?

    It didn᾽t help that Fish is later shown to be apathetic towards the situation and behaving in a conveniently reconciliatory manner towards Dae-sung as it seemed just a tad too unrealistic for my taste. Why should she forgive them so quickly? It was a bad thing Dae-sung and Ms. Han did. No way around that. The end doesn’t always justify the means.

    Additionally, there᾽s an entire power dynamic at play here that the show doesn’t really care to acknowledge: Fish is entirely dependent on Ms. Han’s willingness to keep her employed. With Fish᾽s prior charges, her chances of finding a new/better job are significantly reduced, even more so once she᾽s officially out as trans and/or starting her transition. This means that if Fish wants to pursue the quality of life she so obviously desires (= surgery), and for which she needs her wages, she’ll better not rock the boat too much for the risk of pissing someone off and getting herself fired. Well, isn’t that just the peachiest situation to be in, right after you got harassed and outed against your will by your superior and her son all while being a community outsider without a support network (= her only friend died and her parents are absent)?

    I᾽m not saying that this is how the situation was presented on the show (because, really, there isn᾽t even a tangible hint of a conflict here) but the power imbalance nevertheless constitutes an uncomfortable undercurrent within the narrative that I simply cannot ignore. After all, it is a sad reality that a large number of trans people suffer from financial distress and job insecurity which is probably why the whole thing struck such a chord with me. While I’m of course glad that Fish didn’t have to suffer from these types of problems, I still feel that the potential iffiness of the whole situation shouldn’t have been so completely glossed over and could have actually enriched the characters’ relationships.

    On a more positive note: I was really relieved when Ms. Han later assured Fish that she could continue to work at the supermarket even if people found her out, thus granting Fish a real perspective and stability for the future. This was exactly the kind of Momma Bear support moment I had been eagerly waiting for all along.


    This may surprise you, but I also quite liked Dae-sung᾽s apology at the store. It felt fitting for him as a character and was probably as sincere as all-encompassing as it was ever going to get. The following moment with A-hee on the roof was illuminating as well with regard to Fish᾽s backstory and the particularities of the theft charges leveled against her. My heart ached when she revealed her abusive home life and the attempts of conversion her parents put her through. While I wish there would have been more screen time dedicated to a true bonding experience, it is entirely understandable that this was simply not the story the show wanted to tell. Which is fine. After all, it᾽s a series about a grizzly murder case, not a queer-adjacent relationship drama. Still, the twist that the charges against Fish were primarily a punishment from her abusive, controlling parents was a very welcome development in my eyes because it highlighted both that blood relation does not always equal “family” *and* that not every criminal is necessarily a bad person.

    On a general note: I found it interesting how the show worked at challenging Dae-sung’s bias and ignorance on several matters. It proved to be a nice change from the tired “male genius” archetype who, on his own, possesses every little insight under the sun. To me, it felt also like something of an appeal for connection and empathy. Extending a hand to others in grace and understanding. Bridge differences, come together, and share perspectives. Not only with Fish (who helped Dae-sung reevaluate his trans bias but also poked him in the direction of Meat’s suspicious behavior towards Produce) but also later on with Products (who shone a light on an ugly truth Dae-sung wouldn’t even have considered otherwise and also gave him the drain cleaner hint). To quote, to me, a highly significant and fitting line from our sneaky Auntie: “Do you have to see to know?”

    All of them, together, helped Dae-sung and each other (and maybe, hopefully, some parts of the audience as well?) reassess some of their various preconceptions in order to try and look underneath the surface for a fuller picture. It was a community effort in the name of community protection. Stronger together in understanding.


    Let’s now come to a central scene from the show’s last episode – the confrontation between Fish and the actual culprit (not going to spoil their identity, that’s why I’m using they/them pronouns) – because, again, Fish’s transness becomes an issue.

    The killer accuses Fish of being a monster because she’s not cis. (= The actual wording suggests that the culprit doesn’t think of her as either a man or a woman and that the sole fact makes her monstrous.) This is a clearly a transphobic insult that denies Fish’s humanity on the basis of her transness. Or, in other words, exactly the kind of pathologization of trans people that I already mentioned above while talking about Buffalo Bill.

    Fortunately, the show has taught its audience and characters better than this.

    We know that the statement is wrong. Fish is not a monster for who she is. For being different. The culprit, instead, is the real monster because they hurt innocent people in the most violent of ways. This is also what Fish gets to tell them. Ha! In your face, you fiend!

    While it may not be the most subtle of messages, I thought it was a beautiful moment, almost like a power fantasy. Fish is not only allowed to acknowledge her worth as a person and rise above the worst humanity has to offer, she also gets to talk about avenging her dead friend who was probably the first supporter of her trans journey. It doesn’t matter that Fish is shown injured shortly afterward. Since the culprit managed to wound and kill several people before, a trained cop among them, it would have been a true miracle for her to come out of this scenario completely unscathed. This is why I still consider the confrontation a big moment for Fish. Ultimately, the scene focused on her loss, her pain, her virtue and showed her at her most courageous. You go, girl!


    The absolute best moment, for me, was Fish’s transformation into a beautiful woman at the end and the way Part-Timer casually called her “unnie” as if she’s done so at least another hundred times already. I’m not ashamed to say that this scene made me bawl like a baby. This, exactly this, is what I wanted to see: Other characters explicitly acknowledging Fish’s transness. Not by complimenting her make-up or by offering to go shopping together (which, don’t get me wrong, were nice little details), but by explicitly validating her self-expression. And how cute were all those customer compliments on her looks? My heart.

    In a world that remains increasingly hostile to trans lives, it is crucially important to not only present trans suffering but to also focus on trans people thriving. Here, we see Fish, happy, finally out to the public after her long-awaited surgery, and working a job she likes with people who love and respect her. She’s found her place and her community.

    I’m so glad that the drama chose to give her this kind of peace. 🥰

    To sum up: While some of the show’s emotional beats felt a little undercooked to me in favor of advancing the murder mystery, I nevertheless have to applaud its heart-warming message of community support and LGBTQ+ inclusion. From where I’m standing, it was a satisfying watch with a great cast, memorable characters, and a quick-paced, engaging storyline.

    (For those of you who haven’t watched the show yet: If you are a sensitive person who struggles with dark content, you might want to skip this one as it deals with lots of violence and several different types of trauma. Sure, the ending is sweet, cathartic even, and implies lots of off-screen healing for most of the cast. However, in my eyes, this and the show’s general humor don’t necessarily manage to lessen the impact of some of the more disturbing themes and implications. Be careful.)