Slutsky: So I just saw the fabulous Janelle Monae and Hong Chau in 'Homecoming' Season 2. Monae as Alex played a ruthless "crisis manager" and was fantastic as was Hong Chau's Audrey Temple -- the vulnerable but ambitious Geist executive
Bitchin': Aren't you worried about a queer female couple being cast as essentially the villains in a TV series?
Slutsky: Well, it isn't like Little Mermaid's witch for instance, who was modeled on drag queens and was just evil with no reason for being so. Or, other female villains we've had in the past who were evil without any backstory. But in 'Homecoming', there is a trajectory, a narrative to why these two ladies behave the way they do. Granted Alex is terrible, even using a fake story to get a woman employee to back down from a sexual harassment case -- 0 points for feminism there. But she is also trying to work the system rather than allowing the system to work her. Women employees are usually disregarded in meetings, and often end up in assistant roles cleaning up after men -- exactly like Audrey Temple. And it is Alex who inspires her to go after the top position using deceptive means.
Bitchin': I still don't know how this is a good thing. I thought 'Homecoming' had the most terrible women characters this season. Even Wendy stole Audrey's ideas not to mention Francine Bunda who wants the military to use the Geist memory-erasing drug.
Slutsky: Well, to put it in context, we've had very successful, very popular TV narratives about anti-heroes -- from Tony Soprano to Walter White -- all bad guys but with well-developed character arcs that make audiences feel for them. And their story arcs did not in any way connect to their sex appeal or looks.
On the other hand, we have had very few anti-heroines with proper character development. You have villainous females who are evil because they want a man -- case in point 'Disclosure', 'Fatal Attraction' or noir films with their femme fatales, where there is an excessive focus on the woman's looks or "ugly" evil women where ugliness is equated with villainy.
Even 'Gone Girl' despite being a chilling masterpiece on female villainy, was still about a woman scheming to stay married or at the very least punishing her man for straying. But 'Homecoming' is female villainy focussed on achieving stability and security in a man's world. It is a different sort of "breaking bad", you know?
Bitchin': Women are usually cast as victims of men or as temptresses -- I agree. We don't seem to have female villains who pass the Bechdel test.
Slutsky: Even in comedy! 'Fleabag' was also about the lead character sleeping around and that was the messy, bad part about her. And I really want to see powerful female villains or messy, dangerous or bad women whose storyline doesn't circle around their looks or their sex lives. That is where 'Homecoming' is a breakthrough and I hope we see a lot more of dangerous dames on our screens like Alex and Audrey.
Slutsky & Bitchin’ is a column that examines the highs and lows of pop culture and media from a feminist POV.