Lunchtable TV talk: The woman’s hidden path: Transformation by need or desire

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In the same way as Crime and Punishment is ostensibly about Raskolnikov, its women are the compelling draw of that make me continue to think about the story, years after last reading it. What influence do they have, what sacrifices have they made — and why?

In many of modern television’s biggest draws, women characters embody and drive the growth, change, multidimensional development and complexity of the story, sometimes even within stories in which the men’s experience is the story. The women’s transformative journey isn’t given the same fanfare as men’s… but it’s arguably a more dramatic, if understated, journey. Not unlike everyday life.

The show that got me thinking about this transformation was Better Call Saul. We know — both from Breaking Bad and from the development of the lead, Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman — that Jimmy/Saul is going to go through professional and familial upheaval, and given what we learn about his early life, return to his “Slippin’ Jimmy” origins on a grander scale. The quieter transformation, though, happens more slowly, with Jimmy’s counterpart, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). Built incrementally over the entire series, Kim’s transformation has been hinted at, as she occasionally joins Jimmy in some of his minor pranks and cons and seems to enjoy it. But her conscientious, driven, all-business demeanor imply that Kim is always going to be on the right side of the law. Yet time after time, when most would expect Kim to be the voice of reason, she retorted with something unexpected. Despite these surprises, it was never as though Kim acted completely out of character, jarring a viewer into finding the journey unrealistic or unearned. Instead she became more multilayered and complex as a character, which is not what I anticipated when the show began. In fact when Better Call Saul premiered I dismissed Kim as a secondary, possibly temporary, on/off love interest kind of character (I should really have known better, considering the creators of the show).

With Kim, as with all things in her life, she is controlling her transformation and choices, never letting the out-of-her-control circumstances make the decisions (or so it seems). Some of television’s latest and greatest shows offer glimpses of women at crossroads and turning points, as well as points of vulnerability, projecting creative and unexpected evolution for their characters. (Some of these transformations are the best — and only engaging — parts of the programs they appeared in.) A few of my picks include the transformation of Sarah Paulson‘s character, Alice, in Mrs America; Merritt Wever‘s spontaneous grab for a life that almost-was in Run; Kathryn Hahn‘s role as Eve Fletcher, as Eve moves from single mother to empty nester trying to figure out who she is, particularly sexually, in Mrs Fletcher; Shira Haas embodying a young Hasidic woman running from everything she knew to discover an entirely different kind of life in Unorthodox; almost all of the women in The Deuce experience transformation – some quite involuntarily but others, in particular, Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s Eileen/Candy, Dominique Fishback‘s Darlene, and Emily Meade‘s Lori, look to find voice and agency in a changing city in tumultuous times. Similarly, all the of the women in the underrated show Queen Sugar (Rutina Wesley, Dawn Lyen-Gardner, Tina Lifford and Bianca Lawson), have transformed completely — many times — and continue to evolve — as the show continues. It probably goes without saying but needs to be said that the women of Pose are television’s most transformative and inspiring group of all.

This is what women are uniquely good at doing — not just transforming, but adapting to changing realities. An unfortunate example from real life is Norma McCorvey, remembered best as Jane Roe, the plaintiff in the landmark case Roe v Wade, which made abortion legal in the United States. After the precedent-setting ruling, McCorvey became an anti-abortion activist, but nearing death, she confessed that she’d never actually changed her mind — but instead had been paid for her anti-abortion activism. This is chronicled in a new documentary called AKA Jane Roe. Sometimes the journey involves inconsistency that benefits the individual — never mind the social impact or ethical position.

As in real life, television’s transformations often come about less willingly, driven by circumstance and need. In the Canadian Pure, a Mennonite pastor and his stubborn rigidity and black-and-white view of the world continue to cause trouble and harm to his family, but his wife Anna (Alex Paxton-Beesley) adapts to the situation at hand with greater skill, being able to operate in greyer territory. Skyler White (Anna Gunn) in Breaking Bad represents a slow but sly turn to “the dark side” as it becomes clear what she is being forced to do. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) in The Good Wife is forced to return to work after being humiliated by her husband’s infidelity and malfeasance. He goes to prison, and she begins to practice law. Somewhere along the line, her naivete and sense of being overwhelmed are supplanted by wily dealing and shrewd calculations about her future. Ozark‘s Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) follows a similar path, reviving her past as a political operative/adviser and applying it to altogether more nefarious enterprises. In many of these cases, it appears as though these ambitions have always lay dormant and get triggered unexpectedly.

 

Photo by Chandra Oh on Unsplash

amusing tongue of procrastination – Random gum of February 2019 soundtrack

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It’s been another city-to-city runaround for the last two months, and music has been one of the things fueling me as I overfill an endless to-do list, tend to my most basic needs and contemplate the impending doom of Brexit and Trumpdom. I know some of these are repeated of songs I’ve included in other mixes. At this point I don’t think it can be helped. I collect what keeps me going as I go… and that might be the same songs month after month…

amusing tongue of procrastination
Good Goo of Random Gum – January and February 2019

Follow along on Spotify.

01 Cameron AveryDance with Me …Sure, I’m a lonely fool and I ain’t that cool
But I’ll walk you through it…
Some Australian thing
02 PoliçaMarrow
Snowy walks in the dark
03 thanks – Your World
04 INXSKiss the Dirt (Falling Down a Mountain)
Hard to believe how long Hutchence has been gone; another Aussie representative
05 AlvvaysPlimsoll Punks
Sometimes things inexplicably and unexpectedly remind you of someone and you can’t figure out why they ever seemed so important
06 World PartyIs It Like Today?
World Party is one of those bands my best friend and I probably made fun of (no idea why) when we were adolescents. Now I listen to this during the snowy, dark morning walks and can’t separate it from the annoyances of public transportation
07 The CultFire Woman
The Cult was never my thing, and this song was something I suppose I made fun of in its heyday, but I recently sent it to my best friend when she offered to help me overcome my fear of fire in order to operate my dormant fireplace
08 LizzoJuice
Can’t get enough of this
09 U2Spanish Eyes
Another nod to adolescence and the old days when B-sides were so hard to come by
10 Phantastic FernitureBad Timing
Oh, how I love everything Julia Jacklin is involved in. “Maybe it’s not the timing/maybe we were never meant to be”
11 Lee HazlewoodPray Them Bars Away
12 Stone RosesMade of Stone
I think I include this song every time I am in a period of isolation and contemplation and walking long distances – since I first heard it in 1989, it has served this purpose
13 Bill CallahanJavelin Unlanding
14 Charlotte GainsbourgSuch a Remarkable Day
15 Townes van ZandtHigh, Low and In Between
16 Connie FrancisYou’re Gonna Miss Me
17 SantigoldCoo Coo Coo
18 Agnes ObelIt’s Happening Again
Denmark
19 Elvis Costello & The Imposters – Heart-Shaped Bruise
20 Julia JacklinHead Alone
“Come on, give me the room tonight/You know I’ve told you before that you hold me too tight”
21 Elvis CostelloThis Year’s Girl
Recently binged the second season of The Deuce – this was a perfect theme song for this season. “You want her broken with her mouth wide open cause she’s this year’s girl”
22 Clau Aniz, flávia cabral – Montanhesa
23 Dory PrevinThe Lady With the Braid
24 SwansBlind
25 Ludovic Alariewe’re a dream nobody wrote down