Friday, August 9, 2013

"Truth" and Gender

Primeval: New World’s mid-season gamechanger, “Truth,” airs on Syfy in the US this week.  In light of the major revelations the episode contains, one of my favorite things about the episode tends to get lost in the shuiffle:  its kick-ass women.

This is a show that was never in danger of failing the Bechdel Test* – the parent series had strong, smart women; the Executive Producers on the show are 50% female, as were the writing staff; the development executives at studio and Network, 100%.  Which is not to say that a gender breakdown of the creative team is any guarantee;  I’ve seen  amazing female characters created and developed by men, and I’m sure we could name sexist, reactionary storylines guided by women.

But beyond the minimum bar of Bechdel, one of the things I’m most proud of about the version of Primeval: New World we made is the number of times the female characters were put under threat of sexual violence: zero.  Look, I understand that violence against women is real and that ripped-from-the-headlines shows, cop shops and legal shows and medical shows, all have to address it.  But sometimes it feels like the “fate worse than death” card is being constantly played against female protagonists – and rarely against males. 

Primeval: New World is 50% women on-screen, as well.  No single character is asked to embody all of womanhood.  

In “Truth,” the women come together to save the day.  I absolutely adore the matter-of-fact way director Amanda Tapping staged the scene between Dylan, Toby and Ange in the Tank.  These are pros facing a crisis; supporting each other and kicking each other’s asses into line. They arm up, they gird their loins, they do what needs to be done, just like a thousand sequences  you’ve seen before – except  for the gender.  The closest thing to a “damsel in distress” in this episode is Mac. 

This is also the episode that walks a fine line with Ange -- her storyline here does hinge on her relationship with Evan, and it was important to us all that she not be diminished by that reality.  One of my favourite lines in the entire season is her last line in this episode: "I'm not angry.  And I'm not staying."  Because even as she's recognizing that this situation has become untenable for her, she's also acknowledging that it's no one's fault; relationships can become toxic even with the best of intentions on all sides. Two of the key songs on my playlist for writing Ange's arc were "Heaven Help My Heart" from Chess and "Fine Fine Line" from Avenue Q.  Give them a listen and you'll see why.

*For those not familiar with it, this is a litmus test for movies (and now TV) that poses the following questions: 1) Are there at least two named female characters, who 2) talk to each other, 3) about something other than men.   This isn’t a test of quality, but it does make for an interesting metric.