Overall, I’m really sick of shows in which the central narrative revolves around killing girls and women, but I can forgive this overdone, misogynistic plotline when it’s tempered with strong female detectives leading the charge to capture the criminal(s). BBC’s The Fall and AMC’s The Killing may not necessarily do anything new with the crime drama in general, but their female stars – Gillian Anderson and Mireille Enos, respectively – carry these shows and transform them into something that feels new and interesting.
What I particularly like about these two women is the intensity they display in their work. Both women are completely committed – almost to a fault – to their jobs. For some, their lack of any real sentimentality or emotion, especially in the face of the horrific crimes they are charged with solving, might make them off-putting at times, but if we expect and embrace that kind of detached focus with someone like Sherlock Holmes, for example, then it should come as no shock or disappointment to see that characteristic in female detectives as well. As far as I’m concerned, it’s that stoicism and absence of emotional chow-chow that puts their shows on par with BBC’s Sherlock and above and beyond pretty much every other mainstream crime drama on American TV.
The Killing is not my favorite show by any stretch (though I do think the third season is turning out better than I originally anticipated), but I’m in love with Sarah Linden. Not only is she a smart, hardworking detective, but, like Buffy, she is constantly struggling with accepting who she is, and, also like Buffy, who she is, is an “unconventional” woman. Throughout three seasons, the viewer has been kept at arm’s length from the introverted detective in a way that completely mirrors what she does to everyone around her within the show itself. We get little tidbits about her life – she was abandoned as a child, spent time in foster care, has a son with a man about whom we get no information, and has had an affair with a colleague – but we never get the full story behind any of these events. She remains a mystery and not for any particular gimmicky effect that will later come out in some big dramatic reveal, but because that’s how she actually is. Because of her abandonment, she has some pretty heavy intimacy issues, played out most notably in the relationship with her son. I could see how people would think her despicable for the ways that she neglects her teenage boy, often leaving him alone in hotel rooms for days on end, his only meals being vending machine junk food, while she tries to bring some killer to justice. However, her job is her way of avoiding him because she cannot be what he needs her to be. She is not a mother. And, while I never like seeing a kid abandoned in such as way as Linden does to her son, her character is symbolic of a larger point that motherhood is not necessarily inherent for women just because they possess a uterus. The expectation on many shows – and in real life – is that once women have a child, some kind of maternal instinct will kick in and they will automatically know how to put themselves on a shelf and take care of everyone else around them to their own neglect. For many people, Linden particularly, that instinct is just not there. Maybe because of her own troubled past or simply because doesn’t want to, Linden will never really be able to love someone, even her child, in any kind of deep or meaningful way. Along the same lines, another common trope is women being able to do it all – be a good professional, a good wife, and a good mother. Linden can’t do that either and doesn’t seem to have any desire to do so.
In the first episode of this current season, we see Linden leading a very different life from where we left her at the end of season 2. She has a house (no more hotels), a new job (not on the police force), and a boyfriend (a tad bit her junior). I remember thinking as I watched the couple embrace in her new Suzie Homemaker kitchen, “Eww…this is so not Linden.” I guess she agreed because she quickly exits that life and re-enters the rainy darkness of the Seattle P.D. In a later episode, while reflecting on that short-lived lifestyle change, she admits that she was trying to make herself be something that she’s not, and it just didn’t work. Linden is just not suited for domestic life. Even though it makes her look bad sometimes (a female antihero at work), I appreciate the honesty in this character. To me, this is real womanhood.
I haven’t spent as much time with Stella Gibson – Gillian Anderson’s character on The Fall – as I have with Detective Linden because The Fall just finished its first season, which is – in typical BBC fashion –only five episodes long. Gibson and Linden share much in common by way of their work ethic, deductive reasoning skills, singlehood, and general iciness. However, where they diverge is on their sexiness and sexuality, which makes Anderson’s character slightly more interesting to me. Where Linden’s sex life is virtually non-existent and her appearance plain (but still attractive, in my opinion) – always donning a tight, low ponytail and wearing no make-up, oversized sweaters, and work boots – Gibson is hot, really hot. I don’t mean streetwalker. I mean HOT, in that confident, women’s business suit kind of way. She wears tight pencil skirts and satin, button-down shirts that simultaneously move like waves when she walks but also cling to her just enough to always be able to see her nipples. She likes sex but has no desire to be in a relationship. This is best exemplified in the first episode when we see Gibson spot a handsome, young cop at a crime scene. She asks her fellow officers to pull over the car and introduce her to him. She walks right up to him, tells him where she’s staying, and gives him the number to her hotel room. That’s it. No, “Hi, how ya doin’? Wanna get a drink?” Nothing. After their tryst, she ignores all of his texts and calls. When he asks her why, she says that she thought they had an understanding about what was “up.” To her chagrin, Office Olson hadn’t gotten the memo that in tonight’s episode, he would be playing the role of beefcake. Later, when another one of her male colleagues with whom she had previously had an affair, informs her that he would have left his wife and family for her, with a mien that could freeze hell, she replies, “That would have been a mistake.” Ugh! I love this woman! Even I’d sleep with her if I didn’t fear she’d leave me by the side of the road afterward.
I’m not saying that every woman on TV has to be imbued with some kind of sexuality or sexiness, but what I like about Gibson’s character is the way that sex and sexiness is used – or not used, I should say. She’s not using her looks or her sex as a form of power or a weapon or a crutch. It’s not being used to validate her existence. It is just part of who she is. She wants to work, drink her glass of wine, and have sex when she wants it, from whomever she wants it – whether that person’s married or not. As with Linden’s character, these traits may not necessarily appeal to all viewers, and they certainly don’t make her sympathetic. But, they are real, they are honest, and they make Gibson and The Fall worth spending some time with. Just don’t get too attached.