Women fight back: Lisbeth Salander, part III

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Lisbeth visits Mikael in (a pretty low security) jail.

Despite Lisbeth’s nearly total indifference to what others think of her, she is not impervious. When she falls in love with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) she is so afraid of being ridiculed for her feelings, especially after she realizes that he only sees her as a friend and occasional sex partner, that she takes off on a year-long trip. Even after he has saved her life and helped secure her freedom, she refuses to see or speak to him until her “foolish” feelings of romantic love are gone. Then can she be friends with him again. Which suggests that the ridicule Lisbeth fears comes from a harsh inner critic and is more about how she appears to herself than to Blomkvist; but this doesn’t seem to occur to her.

The last we see of Lisbeth, she is either shutting the door on Blomkvist but saying she will “see him later” (in the film), or allowing him to invite himself in for coffee (in the book). In both cases Blomkvist is relieved to have her friendship again, and Lisbeth is relieved that she only wants him as a friend.

Off the top of my head I can think of two righteous avengers who find something better on the other side of revenge – Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Simon Baker as Patrick Jane in TV’s The Mentalist. Once the scales are back in balance (the eye for an eye) and justice restored, the character (and the society they are part of) can begin to heal.

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Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) and Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), working together.

Eastwood’s Josey Wales finds love and community in an idyllic Western landscape of mountains, forests, and rivers, living in harmony with the indigenous people and the land. Baker’s Patrick Jane finally hooks up with former boss Teresa Lisbon and plans to rebuild a house so ramshackle it has no keys – like a child’s treehouse – in another idyllic setting, while family and co-workers dance ecstatically at their wedding. In both stories there is a sense of innocence regained or discovered, even if only momentarily — innocence achieved.

In the Millenium trilogy the society is saved, a hidden canker revealed and cut out – but what Lisbeth Salander might do with her life is unclear. She has been saved from death and prison, her rights have been restored, and she has piles of money. So what now?

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Intermission rant: Saturday Night Live 25th anniversary

Since my thoughts on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the other two films in the trilogy are not yet worked out enough to post (Lisbeth Salander opened a can of worms and I’m still fishing), here’s a little intermission. Should be light-hearted, but I’m annoyed.

Last night watched the 25 year anniversary show of Saturday Night Live. Disappointing. I watched SNL religiously during its first years, but never afterwards, so I’m biased. But even accounting for tastes, and granting that humor is a subjective thing, why didn’t the women get equal time?

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Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna

Most of the skits had men in them, but many of the skits had no women; the longest skits were men only; as emcees the men got to do at least a little stand-up comedy, while the women were used as announcers. Billy Crystal did a long, involved, unusually unfunny routine where he pointed out (some of) the celebrities in the star-studded audience; Tom Hanks did something similar, I’m not sure why; but when Lili Tomlin finally took the stage, she only got to co-announce the next act with Candice Bergen, and then do one little joke with Bergen that fell flat. Waste! Waste!

Maybe part of the problem was the script. And maybe it was an off night — a lot of the jokes just didn’t work. Even the musicians — Elvis Costello, the Beastie Boys, and Al Green — had a hard time working the audience, which never seemed to warm up, despite good intentions. Maybe because the celebrity audience couldn’t get past being part of the show — the lights were always ‘up’ and the camera panning to this one or that one, doing the ‘look who’s here!’ Only the Eurythmics managed the musical part, with Annie Lennox singing a medley of their hits, backed up by some amazing women vocalists and a tight band. The Eurythmics didn’t ask the audience to do anything but listen, and Lennox raised the temperature in the room (at last).

But overall women were not much in evidence, and neither were people of color; interestingly, three black men noted that SNL was mostly for white guys as part of the ‘joke’ script. There was one very funny (and very short) skit of Danitra Vance reading nursery rhymes. As for white women: Gilda Radner did get profiled in some skits of her own, as well as some extra blips (because she’s so funny she makes you cry? Or because she’s dead? As is Danitra Vance.). But as a Radner junkie I wanted MORE; meanwhile Jane Curtain and Laraine Newman were barely visible. Newman was the most self-effacing or overlooked of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players from the original SNL, but what about that skit where she’s a 200 pound TV cook, eating all the batter before she can put her ‘kuchen’ in the oven, or her role as the teenage Conehead daughter…and what about Jane Curtain’s deadpan news anchor persona ripping her shirt open, or her Midwestern Mom offering Bill Murray “a nice egg salad sandwich”? The show left me wondering: Why is it only men who get to be funny?

P.S. Completely off topic, but since I’m complaining — why was there only one leetle teensy blip of Father Guido Sarducci???? (He wears a skirt; does that make it okay to include him in the not-enough-women rant? No?) And why oh why did they leave out the scene of him chasing Richard Nixon across the street, followed by his cameraman (this as the SNL credits are rolling for the end of the show), waving a microphone at the ex-president and yelling, “Iffa you were any kind of an animal, what woulda you be?”

Thanks to Licia Sky for pointing out that people of color were also underrepresented on SNL.

 

Watching the detective: Veronica Mars

91l7YBEyqUL._SY500_Long story short (is this even possible?) I had been on hiatus from TV (only using it as a monitor for movies on VCR or DVD, never seeing an ad) for over a decade when I broke my ankle and my friend Emily brought me Season 1 of Veronica Mars. To ease the boredom of sitting around with my foot elevated I was ready to try it, hoping it would be even half as good as The Rockford Files (especially the episodes Juanita Bartlett wrote).

Veronica Mars blew me away. Kristen Bell’s Ms. Mars was intense, funny, and riveting from the first frame. That deadpan voiceover, more Sam Spade than Nancy Drew, and Rob Thomas et al.’s writing (for et al., especially see Diane Ruggiero‘s episodes) — Veronica saying, for instance: “You want to know how I lost my virginity? So do I.” (She was raped after someone — who? — put Rohypnol in her drink at a party.) What a line! What a teenage girl detective! What an ensemble cast! The other characters, major and minor, whether good guys/girls or raving assholes, made sense and worked as people (maybe in part because Rob Thomas was a high school teacher for awhile and knew whereof he wrote). The structure of the show was similar to Prime Suspect in that it had an overarching mystery — who really killed Veronica’s best friend Lilly Kane? — that Veronica and her detective father Keith Mars tried to solve throughout the whole season; this added a ground note to the smaller puzzles Veronica solved each week. Much like DCI Tennison in Prime Suspect, Veronica Mars solved her crimes through intelligence, courage, tenacity, and deviousness, and kept going despite being up against the most powerful people in town.

Also like DCI Tennison, Veronica was a lonely heroine, without much support from the people around her. In Prime Suspect 1 Tennison had to deal with outright as well as passive insubordination from the misogynists on her team who didn’t want to take orders from a woman; Veronica lost her friends and her status at Neptune high school (and went from in-crowd to outcast) because of her belief in her father, her grief, and her need to find justice for her murdered friend Lilly.

Watching the detective: DCI Jane Tennison

41888639DELI’m not much of a TV watcher. I haven’t watched actual TV at home since the early nineties, when the writing of Lynda La Plante‘s Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren, was taken over by someone else. In La Plante’s stories of good versus evil (Prime Suspect 1-3) good triumphed despite (nearly) insurmountable odds, mostly because of DCI Jane Tennison’s intelligence, tenacity, courage, and deviousness. She was definitely flawed — driven and insensitive and unforgiving — but she was a flawed hera, who was not afraid to confront power and privilege to catch the bad guys, or to look evil in the face and stare it down.

But La Plante’s world (and the characters she created) was handed off to some other writer (or writers; I never looked them up), and her dark vision of good against evil with the protagonist as a lonely force for good gave way to an even darker vision, where good and evil were ambiguous and the detective could no longer tell the difference between them (although I could; which made me distrust Tennison’s brains and intuition for the first time). Ambiguity can make for a strong, staring-into-the-dark-all-night drama (if you want insomnia, see Gone Baby Gone), but not when you sense the author manipulating every scene, so that story and characters become just so much grist for the mill, grinding out a statement about the brutality and pointlessness of life.

 

Imagining hope…watching the detective

In one of her Peter Wimsey novels Dorothy Sayers has someone remark that detective stories are extremely moral despite the murder and mayhem, because good triumphs over evil when the case is solved and the murderer brought to justice. In this way detective stories are also hopeful, because they imagine a world in which good does triumph, and the wicked get punished, or at least halted in their forward momentum and kept from doing more harm.

91OrGjavOYL._SL1500_Sayers was writing from the 1920s into the 1940s, and detective stories have changed a lot (and even then Dashiell Hammett was writing fiction based on his own experiences as a Pinkerton’s detective, for one thing; Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley happened, for another), but the theory still holds. Even the recent (2014) season 1 of True Detective, which is about as noir as you can get, has that ground note of hopefulness, without which the story would be unbearable.* As Nic Pizzolatto, the writer/creator of the show, said in the DVD interview, he wanted that hope; he wanted to show that “optimism is no more of an illusion than pessimism.”

*A real life illustration of how a hopeful story can make something bearable: a librarian friend told me about a patron who took out DVDs of Law and Order: The Special Victims Unit because of her work — in a special victims unit. The crimes she investigated were so much worse than those on the TV show, and often unresolved even when the criminals were known, that watching the show was a way to restore her hope, and keep on keeping on.

Watching the detective/scene from The Mentalist

81U-69SPGLL._SL1500_Or: what good writing can do. In The Mentalist Season Six, episode 5, right when things are heating up in the hunt for the serial killer Red John, there’s this little scene between agents Cho and Rigsby, that, for my money, is the best thing in the episode. They’re taking a break to sit down and eat big bowls of fruit that Rigsby has bought for them from a street vendor.

Rigsby: [I’m] starving. Guess you burn a lot of calories, being a newlywed.

Cho: We’re not having this conversation.

R: It’s amazing. You’d think that marriage would cool things off, but for us, it’s just the opposite.

C: Please stop talking.

R: You know, I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Every morning when I wake up next to her, and every night when we go to bed together, I just think, ‘Wow.’ I’m the luckiest man in the world, you know?

C: I just lost my appetite.

R: So I want to say thank you, cause you were the one who made me take the risk.

C: I’m starting to regret it.

R: No, you’re a good friend, and I owe you. I’m going to find you somebody to love.

C: No, you’re not.

R: Yes I am. Trust me, there is no point in going through life alone….Are you really not going to eat that?

Cho passes Rigsby his bowl of fruit. Rigsby begins to eat.