TV Beats Film for Strong Women – by Anne Brodie
Claire Danes’ Homeland intelligence officer Carrie Mathison says who lives and who dies. She may have been nearly lethally sidelined by the ambassador’s husband, her temper tantrums are epic and she’s a relentless, danger-fixated bully, but she gets the job done. In the sensitive world of international intelligence she’s a one –off, a savant whose instincts are ten miles ahead of her colleagues, and iron will carries her through unimaginably dangerous situations. Her understanding of the minutiae of the Middle East is unmatched. Mathison is one of television’s most pro-active, gifted characters, male or female. And you know what? It’s no big deal that she’s a woman. Isn’t that grand?
Television is decades ahead of film in the race to gender equality. Female police officers, real out-the-in-the-field physical types date back to the 70’s with Angie Dickinson as the iconic Sgt. Pepper Anderson. Beautiful, yes, but capable? And how. Charlie’s Angels added their unique gifts to the mix and who was scarier than the tag team of Cagney and Lacey? Mireille Enos brought deliberate contemplation to police work in The Killing, a brilliant remake of the Scandinavian “Nordic noir” series.
The English series Broadchurch introduced North American audiences to DS Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman, a dedicated and deserving detective who was passed over for the promotion and forced to work with a man she considered too damaged to work. Leave it to the woman; she carried on tirelessly despite him, and they got their man. The American remake Gracepoint substituted Anna Gunn for Colman, and Gunn was able to bring new shades to her pivotal character.
Madame Secretary stars Tea Leoni as Elizabeth McCord, the US Secretary of State, a role clearly inspired by Hillary Clinton’s real life, kick-ass tenure as the President’s chief foreign affairs adviser. It’s one of the trickiest senior jobs in the US federal government. McCord is a wife, mother and out of the box strategist who consistently saves the day against the most corrupt world leaders and teenaged rebellion at home. Geena Davis played President Mackenzie Allen in Commander in Chief almost a decade ago.
The mighty, mighty Olivia Benson of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is the patron saint of television’s female heroes. Mariska Hargitay’s cop has worked the most brutal case in New York City – sex crimes – since 1999, with a heart, wisdom and strength. She holds the show together and is one of only two original remaining cast members, surviving incredible odds. Her hard work paid off – she was promoted last season. TV’s women have been doing it for decades and that’s one reason why no one lifts a brow that Benson, the department boss, is female.
Fargo’s Molly Solverson, the rural Minnesota detective played by Allison Tolman is the youngest, greenest member of the fierce woman club, but she’s proved to be one of its fastest learners. Her quiet, determined work, with and without management sanction, helped crack a complex murder spree with decades-old roots. Solverson’s folksy values belie her intellect and it works to her advantage, but she never forgets what’s most important. She is comfortable in her own skin, as comfortable taking on Lorne Malvo as she is pondering human nature with her ex-cop dad while fishing off the back of her pickup truck.