Catching up on season two of True Detective has been a rewarding experience so far. If it hasn’t quite hit the heights of its first critically acclaimed season, then there has still been much to admire, not least in the acting, cinematography and its complex plot.
However, for me there has been one false note: the character of, played by Rachel McAdams. I want to stress that it has absolutely nothing to do with McAdams’ performance, which has been compelling and realistic. The issue is that Bezzerides seems like yet another example of a strong female character ‘with issues.’ We can probably trace this recent phenomenon to Carrie Mathison of Homeland. As talented a CIA officer as she’s supposed to be, it’s an understatement to say that Carrie has a few emotional and mental issues that she’s dealing with. Taking Carrie and Ani together, we have two strong personalities, capable at their jobs, but both with a number of personal issues.
Of course. no one is perfect, I understand that. We are all flawed. The trouble is, it seems like whenever we have a female lead character on TV at the moment, in serious drama at least, she seems burdened with personal problems. to the point where she’s barely holding it together, often with the use of pills and copious amounts of alcohol. I’m all in favour of presenting the archytype of the flawed hero. It’s just that when it comes to lead female characters, the issues seem to define the characters in a way they don’t for their male counterparts.
Bezzerides is asked by one of her colleagues, Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrel) about the fact she carries a few knives, as well as her sidearm, on duty. Her reply is telling. She points out that as she’s smaller than many of the men she will come up against, she needs to protect herself. The contrast with her (equally flawed) male colleagues is clear: they carry guns, as she does, but that is because of the job, and the authority it brings. With Bezzerides, it seems like she’s carrying these weapons because she’s scared. She’s armed herself to this extent because she’s scared.
Her backstory (a difficult relationship with her hippie father, a failed marriage, a string of bad relationships) only adds to the perception that the way she’s armed is a response to her fears. Maybe, the very fact that she’s a police officer is because of her past: it’s a way to defend herself, sort of striking back against a patriarchal society as a whole and certain men in particular.
How Claire Danes and Rachel McAdams play these roles is actually beside the point, as the issue is in the writing. With Bezzerides and Mathison, their issues seem to be front and centre of their characters, defining them. It’s not that there aren’t male characters on TV that are flawed. True Detective has given us a number of them, such as Rust Cohle and Martin Hart from season one, as well as Velcoro and Paul Woodrugh from season two. My point is that the range of characters on TV for men appears to be far more complex and varied, covering a wide variety of types. For women however, the most popular seem to be the love interest, the kooky, crazy one, or the emotionally scarred one.
It’s getting to the point where in some cases it strains credibility. It’s hard to believe that anyone with the emotional issues displayed by Carrie Mathison would be allowed anywhere near the CIA, especially not in Mathison’s position. It renders the script unbelievable, and it verges on being dramatically dishonest to suggest that that this could happen in real life. This is even more damaging for a show that tries so hard to keep up with current news events, such as the civil war in Syria and the ensuing refugee situation. Such realism is lost when you have a character who defies logic so often.
While Bezzerides doesn’t seem as unhinged as Carrie, it’s still sad to see yet another female lead role portrayed like this. It raises the question as to why the writers felt the need to create the characters like. Could Bezzerides do the job without these issues? Yes, but even if the writers wanted her to have these flaws (perhaps thinking that by doing the job despite them it shows her strengh) then is it necessary to have her respond in such an emotionally fragile way?
Olivia Wilde’s recent comments about female superheroes being portrayed like “goddesses” isn’t without foundation. However, while that is an issue, it isn’t solved by going to the other extreme, and having female lead characters who are practically buckling under the weight of personal demons. It makes me wish for a character like Kate Morgan, from 24:Live Another Day. Partly because of the writing and partly down to Yvonne Strahovski’s strong performance, Kate Morgan looked and acted like a CIA officer. It wasn’t because she was some flawless superwoman, though. Morgan made mistakes, and had challenges to deal with. However, we didn’t need to suspend our disbelief to accept her as a CIA officer, and could instead imagine that we were watching an actual real intelligence officer.
Characters that act like real people? Plots that don’t defy logic? Surely that’s not too much to ask?