|Alone again--POI's Reese|
Another fall television season is drawing to a close, some shows wrapping up for the year, some until after the holiday hiatus, some, thankfully or regretfully, forever. And in the season finales of at least two shows I follow, one with a distinctly SF flavor, one having nothing overt to do with SFR, a disturbing trope has raised its ugly head, one that affects SFR more than we realize.
First, the revelation of a personal bias. Back in the Stone Age, when I first became a fan of anything I could call science fiction romance, around the fifteenth time I watched Jim Kirk suffer through the loss of a love interest on STAR TREK, I began to wonder why the writers felt it was so necessary to eliminate any possibility of a happy ending for him. That basic question led me to the fan fiction world, where others who had asked the same question had created happy endings (or ambiguous endings, or mere dalliances that didn’t end in disaster) in abundance, not only for Kirk, but also for Spock and all the other original series crew.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that Jim Kirk wasn’t the only, much less the first, serial hero to serve as the literal kiss of death for any woman to enter his orbit. Ben Cartwright and the BONANZA boys were also famous for this, as was (much later) MIAMI VICE’s Sonny Crockett and probably any other male dramatic lead you could name.
Of course this trope is bull, built on a male fantasy of the need for action heroes to be “free” of any entanglements (especially of the female, emotional kind) in order to be effective. If this were true, no male police officer, soldier, firefighter, ER doctor, outdoor rescue worker, or the like over the age of about 25 would ever suit up. Why? ’Cause most of them get married and have families like normal guys, that’s why. They fall in love and want to protect their loved ones and still go about their jobs, and, guess what? Most of the time their loved ones don’t die horribly! Their divorce rates may be a little higher, what with the risk-taking and the late nights and all, but spousal death rates are likely quite normal.
Romance novels recognize this and allow their heroines to bond with their alpha males—and survive! Which is why SFR is different from SF and why I began writing it so many years ago.
This brings me to the season finales of PERSON OF INTEREST and SONS OF ANARCHY. (See, I hadn’t forgotten!) Here are two very different television shows, written for two very different audiences. POI is a smooth, tech-y, intricate crime-show-with-a-twist from creator Jonathan Nolan and J.J.Abrams’ Bad Robot shop. Lead hunk Reese (Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ, The Count of Monte Cristo) is an emotional enigma wrapped in a mystery, a bad guy gone good thanks to the brains of this outfit, Finch (LOST alum Michael Emerson). Together this pair of misfits and their unlikely allies save the innocent and wreak havoc on the guilty with the help of an all-seeing, all-knowing, possibly-sentient computer network. It’s darker than it sounds.
SONS OF ANARCHY is writer Kurt Sutter’s violent Shakespearean saga of a California motorcycle gang, led now by second generation Son Jackson Teller (Charles Hunnam, Pacific Rim). Teller is determined to lead his fractious tribe in a new, less homicidal direction, but every step he takes requires more blood, more lies and more of his soul. Dark does not describe this one.
So what do these two wildly different shows have in common? Both ended the season by succumbing to the old “heroes can’t have relationships” trope.
Apologies if you watch these shows on some kind of delay. I can appreciate that since I don’t watch anything in real time, either. But I have to vent, so bear with me.
Technically, we haven’t seen the “end” of POI. Things are still playing out as Reese goes on the hunt for the bad guys. But the damage has been done. In Episode 9, “The Crossing”, the team’s police detective partner, Joss Carter, is killed by the corrupt cop the team has been chasing all season, just after Reese professes his love to her. Seriously? Should’ve known she was cannon fodder as soon as he kissed her. Of course, Reese will revert to his mentally unstable, pre-team days (when he was living on the streets, barely coherent), only now he’ll be murderous, too.
How is this not a cliché? And a slap in the face to every man who manages to live an emotionally full life while doing whatever kind of job he does? (I won’t even bother to argue the other side of this—that women seem to handle action and emotion without batting an eye. We’re “special”, after all.)
Carter and Reese seemed to make a great team before he declared his love; why couldn’t they continue to be a great team? Does it make him weak to show emotion? Is he vulnerable because of it? Do we suddenly lose huge possibilities for drama because these two people love each other? Or does the show degenerate into a soap opera of “girlie” stuff? Do the producers/writers not realize that women watch these shows, too?
Actually, I wasn’t even looking for Carter and Reese to hook up. It was a surprise. They gave it to us, then took it away, thus demonstrating their bias. Men of action don’t need women—they get in the way. Best to be rid of them, even if it hurts.
As for SOA, Kurt Sutter is famous for killing off his characters, particularly his “good” ones. I suppose he thinks it makes his drama “gritty” and “authentic”. Most of the time he’s right. But in letting us think Jackson Teller and his wife Tara (Maggie Siff) had reconciled, then allowing Gemma Morrow (Katey Sagal) to brutally kill Tara in the season finale, Sutter went too far. Once again, he shows us that he believes heroes, even anti-heroes, have no use for love and attachment. Women get in the way of the primary action goal, whatever that may be. Lose ’em. Besides, all that grief makes for some cool anger and mayhem.
The problem here is I think too many in the publishing world and, yes, readers, particularly of science fiction, still believe in this particular trope. They get uncomfortable when we suggest that an alpha male might ride off into the, uh, star cluster with the heroine. (Heaven forbid that you suggest she might be at the helm!)
Do I believe you should give your hero (and heroine) problems to solve, obstacles to overcome? Absolutely. Can that occasionally mean we won’t have a happy ending? Of course. Not every love story is a romance. But recognize all this ma for what it is—a men’s action hero trope, a cliché that is long overdue for a change. Talented writers can find a better way—and should.
Next week—Want some cool SF tech and Karl Urban, too? ALMOST HUMAN makes a promising start.