Continuing Series: Why Isn’t Major Crimes a Better Show?

For a person who has stopped watching Major Crimes, I sure do watch a lot of Major Crimes.  I woke up this morning to a message about last night’s episode. Two minutes on Tumblr made it perfectly clear that I was going to have to watch the episode as I saw gif after gif of Sharon being punched in the face by a suspect. I was, as expected, boiling with anger.

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Now, I’m not saying that a storyline can never involve a female character getting punched in the face (even by a man). I watch a steady supply of sci-fi and police procedurals. I’ve watched Olivia Benson be slapped in the face for 16 seasons. First as Samantha Carter, and then as Helen Magnus, I’ve seen Amanda Tapping’s characters punched, or otherwise physically assaulted, more times than I can count. Helen spent a full ten minutes of “Breach” being knocked down, repeatedly. (Spoiler alert: “Breach” is a better episode than anything ever produced on The Closer or Major Crimes)

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Sharon walked into that interrogation room with the intention of pushing the suspect over the edge.  This is confirmed when she tells Andrea Hobbs that assaulting a police officer will allow them to hold him for as long as necessary. Sharon pushed him, watched him grow increasingly volatile, yet when both Provenza and Sanchez tried to intervene, she stopped them. She continued to needle him, hoping to provoke such a response. All of this helps to establish Sharon Raydor, not as victim, but as expert officer willing to sacrifice her personal safety and comfort in order to catch a killer.

Where Major Crimes falters is in its recovery of said event. Immediately, Sanchez pins the suspect to the floor and handcuffs him. Andy Flynn bursts through the door moments later, pushing Sanchez out of the way so that he can threaten the suspect. While this is taking place Amy Sykes (the only other female in the department), stands behind Sharon. After they leave the room, Andy pulls Sharon away from Andrea saying “we’re getting her some ice.”  The two walk off, Andy’s hand on the small of Sharon’s back, coddling her as one would a child.  “Wow, my mom’s a bad ass,” Rusty says as the episode cuts to the next scene of Sharon whimpering in pain and touching her face.  Andy’s hands clutch both her arm and her back, as if she would fall down without his assistance. Is she a bad ass, Rusty?  Because the messages seem to be getting crossed.

Toward the end of the episode, there’s a scene between Acting Chief Howard and Sharon. Sharon holds an ice pack to her face, presumably to remind all of the viewers that she was just punched. However, the lasting effect is more thank goodness this poor, delicate flower has all these men around to protect and coddle her, rather than look at this BAMF right here.

James Duff struggles with female characters.  This is a trend that began with The Closer but has certainly grown increasingly problematic with Major Crimes. This is most evident in the concurrent storyline of Winnie Davis, Deputy Chief of Operations. Winnie, portrayed by Camryn Manheim, was introduced as “competition” for the open Chief position that Sharon should be pursuing. If there is any doubt that Davis is in fact Sharon 2.0, in their first interaction in this episode, Davis was haranguing Sharon over Provenza’s rule breaking, to which Sharon said Provenza had been strongly reprimanded. This entire conversation could have been lifted, nearly word for word, from Sharon’s introductory episode “Red Tape”. The posturing of the two, in front of Chief Howard, further completes the comparison between Brenda and Sharon’s continued tense meetings with Chief Pope. All of this has been done before.  Unfortunately, all of this is being done again.

In this week’s episode, Andy expressed concern that Sharon would be undermined by Davis, to which Sharon replied “Let her.  I’m happy where I am.” What happened to the Sharon Raydor that pushed Brenda Leigh to apply for the Chief of Police position? What happened to the woman who felt Brenda Leigh had an obligation – as a female – to advance as far up the ranks as possible?  The Sharon Raydor introduced in the fifth season of The Closer would not recognize the Sharon Raydor of Major Crimes.

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“You don’t think that I wanted to spend my career in Internal Affairs, doing a job that leaves me disliked and mistrusted by my fellow officers every day of my life? No.  I chose IA because I thought it was the quickest way to achieve rank.  And I also thought it would be good for the department to see a woman in a captain’s uniform.”

Sadly for Sharon, in Duff’s world, only the female antagonist gets to be the capable, feminist voice of reason. The protagonist is left as a prop for the male characters to protect in order to bolster their masculinity. Or, in the words of my friend, isn’t it a shame Major Crimes ended after three seasons? At this point, I wish that were the reality.

The Book of Daniel’s Greatest Sin

Recently, for one of my grad classes, we used the short-lived television show The Book of Daniel as a case-study.

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The series revolves around an Episcopal priest with a dysfunctional home-life that threatens to wreck his ministry. The show was pulled from the air after its fourth episode due to “low ratings,” per the network. The series was plagued by outcry from Conservative Christian groups who complained and boycotted (without the inconvenience of ever watching to see what they were supposedly outraged by) about the way that the show portrayed the priest, his family, and Christianity.

The show’s theme overall did not bother me.  I wish that it had been more entertaining, more thought provoking, but it wasn’t necessarily terrible.  It may have even come into its own given more time.  Now, I grew up in a religious home.  My grandfather is a Southern Baptist Preacher (about as conservative as you can get). He’s spent his entire adult life in churches.  He would despise this show, and if you asked him, he’d say that his family is nothing like the family portrayed in The Book of Daniel. But, it’s more alike than he’d like to admit.  All families have damaged people, all families struggle to accept each other, and every single person has secrets they don’t want others to know.  That’s a commonality of life.

I didn’t take issue with the series idea.  However, there is one aspect which I absolutely could not tolerate. The protagonist, Daniel Webster, has a sister Victoria Conlin. When Victoria’s husband Charlie turns up dead (after running off with the church’s new building fund), it is revealed that Victoria has been having an affair with Charlie’s former secretary, Jessie. Victoria was in love with a man, now she is in love with a woman.  When Jessie leaves, Victoria embarks on a new relationship with another man. (That’s man. Woman. Man. For those of you keeping count)

Victoria is obviously an omnisexual character.  She has exhibited romantic and sexual attraction to both men and women. And yet, over and over again, through out the episodes, she’s referred to as a lesbian.  She’s in a lesbian with a woman now, so she must be a lesbian.  Even though she was married to her husband for decades, that is all invalid because she is a lesbian. Between the show, the lecture, and additional readings for the lecture, I saw Victoria mislabeled over, and over, and over again.

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The amount of bi-erasure in this week’s lesson had me feeling like Mugatu!!

It is, of course, no wonder that if the show mislabels Victoria’s character, that professors and media critics will follow suit. That makes it no less disheartening.  It would not be so irritating if The Book of Daniel and Victoria Conlin were the exception, but there are very much the rule.

At first I got mad.  Then I decided that getting mad would not add anything constructive to the dialogue. So, instead, I decided to make a very handy flow chart for all show runners, script writers, media industry employees and scholars in these (less than) confusing instances!

Behold the MAGIC SEXUAL DECODER:

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Read it.  Learn it.  It’s not that hard.  It’s the 21st century, people!  It is high time that we stop mislabeling and invalidating people’s sexuality.