When women go bad, men go right after them – Mae West
With only one day left before the Season 3 Premiere of The Killing, I felt it appropriate to pay homage to the very complicated, redheaded anti-hero that most assuredly will be the very reason why Stephen Holder gets any credit whatsoever for tracking down a serial killer this season. Now, please do not misunderstand me, I enjoy his cheeseburgers with no meat, wisecracks, and Labrador loyalty as much as the next woman, but I think it will be nearly impossible to even dare suppose he would have pieced together who killed Rosie Larsen without Detective Sarah Linden. Remember, he was completely convinced the teacher did it, Stan Larsen’s mob connections did it, creepy Jasper did it? Hell, AMC wanted us to believe he might have even had something to do with her murder at one point. So, while I plan to thoroughly enjoy seeing him monetarily in a suit and tie (before the hoodie returns), I think it is about time we all took a moment and recognized that the feather in his cap from solving the Rosie Larsen murder….well, that was ALL Sarah Linden.
In many ways, I understand why fans are drawn to Stephen Holder. He is charming, funny, attractive, and even occasionally insightful. In the same way, I understand why fans are more reluctant about Sarah Linden. She is sullen, moody, secretive, and temperamental. Still, the more I thought about it, I wondered if we are just not getting to a point in our television history where we begin to be more accepting of the flawed female as the antihero. An antihero is a central character that has some personality flaws and fortune traditionally assigned in the story to the villain, but nonetheless, he or she possesses enough heroic qualities or intentions to gain the sympathy of the audience. Linden’s backstory certainly sounds reminiscent of some sort of comic book villain: Abandoned by her mother at the age of five and left in a dark apartment for several days before Child Protective Services came to rescue her, bouncing from foster home to foster home because she is a “runner,” a history of failed relationships, one resulting in a child she adores but seems incapable of properly parenting, and an obsession for justice, perhaps even revenge, for those who treat children the way she was treated. With just that history, does she sound like a heroine or a villain?
Literature, film, and television are positively cluttered with male antiheroes: Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Eric Northman, Hannibal Lecter, Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, Michael Corleone. I could continue for pages, but those are literally the names that came to my mind in the past ten seconds. So, have American viewers been a little reluctant recently about the female anti-hero, and if so, why?! History demonstrates that we literally salivate over female antiheroes. See Scarlet O’Hara….or should I say Katie Scarlet O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler? She is vain, selfish, tough, motivated, and she manages to combine pigheadedness with nobleness. She is petulant, using beauty and charm as her weapons, marrying again and again for jealousy, for money, for land-for literally every reason but love. She exhausts husbands, backstabs sisters and friends that love her unconditionally (oh, Melanie Hamilton!), and breaks the hearts of many good men. Yet, we love her for it, because we fundamentally understand she does everything to survive. While the rest of the polite, genteel South crumbles around her during the Civil War, she endures and promises to restore her home to its former glory, to win back the man she has finally decided she loves, and oh, to never go hungry again. And, frankly, my dear, we believe her.
For the past several weeks while I have been contemplating the Sarah Linden character, I have literally peppered all of the men in my life about the type of women that absolutely win their hearts forever. When I started my unofficial social experiment, I expected the answers to be something along the lines of “one that keeps her mouth shut and owns a liquor store.” (Yes, I know that isn’t the joke, but I’m only trying to be moderately offensive). Instead, the most frequent attractive adjectives in a woman: strong, smart, daring, witty, and feminine. The most frequent least attractive adjectives in woman: meek, quiet, overly compliant, needy, and timid. I asked every interviewee if he minded if his lady was a little flawed or damaged if she was still strong, smart, and all those other admirable qualities. The answer from every man: No.
Recent television heroines already suggest that men and women seem to savor the relentless if a little broken Sarah Linden types. I just had the distinct pleasure of finishing “The Fall” (mentioned by Connor Briggs in his previous blog entry) and staring the ridiculously talented Gillian Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson. The show is currently airing on BBC2, but you can see the entire series on Netflix in the U.S. now. It is only five episodes long and has already been renewed for Season 2, so you are without excuse. Stella is strong, stylish, and “not a square” like Dana Scully, as Gillian Anderson so affectionately put it. She profiles the serial killer so completely, you almost feel sorry for him because you know she is eventually going to bring him down in dramatic fashion. She is daring, giving the serial killer her personal mobile phone number when he refuses to speak with her on a line monitored by the police. When the one-night stand she picks up is gunned down outside the house he shared with his wife and children, Stella is somewhat saddened but more outraged that she would be questioned as a woman when her sexual habits mirror every male officer’s on the force.
While we are on the subject of flawed female heroines, how could I possibly neglect to mention the ladies of Game of Thrones? It would be easy to talk about Queen Regent Cersei, a personal favorite of mine, but I think it wise to ponder for a moment the character of Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons. Although her story is yet to be completed and even though I know many will sit on the throne before she does, I firmly believe that she and Jon Snow will eventually rule all the Kingdoms. I do not believe anybody wins without the Dragons. Yes, I said it. For those of you all attached to Jon Snow’s current ginger, well, read the books, and besides, blondes have way more fun. Oh, and Emilia Clarke is a significant upgrade, and you know it. Daenerys is initially meek and timid, living a life of exile with her cruel brother and guardian, Viserys. When she is forcibly wed to Khal Drogo, she thrives as a Dothraki Khaleesi, wooing her powerful husband with her feminine and very public wiles (read the books) and becoming a strong, confident, courageous woman. She never forgets what it is like to be the victim, showing random acts of compassion and putting an end to slavery during her reign. Still, cross her or separate her from her dragons, she would not hesitate to lock you in a safe to starve or just have one of her dragons barbeque you.
Certainly, there are many more examples of a viewing audience ready to celebrate the flawed but powerful female. Nancy Botwin of “Weeds,” the charming yet a
little awkward housewife left to provide for her children when her husband drops
dead of a heart attack while jogging with his son, evolves from small time weed
dealer to make ends meet to altogether drug king (or should I say “queen”?)
pin. Without Nancy Botwin and “Weeds,” the show that many networks passed on as far too scandalous for their audiences, would the AMC audience have been as accepting of Walter White and his evolution from mild-manner chemistry teacher to murdering drug lord? What about Olivia Benson from “Law &
Order: SVU?” Although I am admittedly resistant to these types of procedurals, her performance as the lady cop conceived as a result of her mother’s rape and the survivor of her own sexual assault equips her with unbelievable compassion and determination to find even the most heinous offenders?
And what about Alicia Florrick of “The Good Wife?” She stands by her man, goes back to the work place, has a little affair of her own, and then stands by him yet again. Deb Morgan? She’s the clueless but lovable cop adopted sister of serial killer, Dexter Morgan, who falls in love with him, then pieces it all together, covers for him, and then ultimately kills for him. She may be angry at him in the preview for the finale season, but my little heart says that she will emerge the new Dexter. How could I forget Carrie Mathison of “Homeland?” She is the bipolar CIA officer who believes a prisoner of war has been turned. Then she falls in love with him. Then she loses her mind. Then she gets it back. Then he kills the Vice President. Then they renew their love. Then she helps him escape only to return home to assuredly help find the terrorists that attacked the U.S. in the Season Finale.
The shift is upon us: We like our TV heroines with plenty of flawed history, questionable motives, but ultimately honorable intentions. Sarah Linden fits that profile, and if history serves us right, Detective Stephen Holder is undoubtedly better with her at his side. I cannot predict whether she will get her badge back. I have no idea if she will get her son back. I am completely clueless as to when she will realize that Stephen Holder has been loyal to her through her most flawed moments in life and hang on to him for good. What I can predict is this: When they solve this case, it will be because of Sarah Linden.