11.28.12

Badass TV Women or Just Bad? ‘Homeland,’ ‘Sons of Anarchy’ & More

Across the TV dial, female characters on Revenge, The Good Wife, and other shows have gone from fabulous to dull. Maria Elena Fernandez on the lackluster season for some of TV’s favorite ladies.

“I am the biggest asshole on the planet.”

Yes, you are, Deb Morgan. I don’t really want to agree with the woman who uttered those words on the Nov. 18 episode of Dexter, but it’s the truth. Deb’s storyline had explosive potential. Now it’s just a mess.

Season 7 kicked off spectacularly, with Deb learning who her brother really is and grieving as she sorted out how she could still love a serial killer. But now Deb (played by Jennifer Carpenter) has regressed. She has asked Dexter to kill someone for her, and she’s brought up those “I’m in love with you” feelings we were all hoping were just a communal bad dream from last season. It’s all falling apart.

But if it’s any consolation to Carpenter, who has done her best work this season, Deb is just one of many badass women on television who have lost their way this fall. Keeping her company in the disappointing dramatic female role heap are: Carrie on Homeland, Gemma on Sons of Anarchy, Kalinda on The Good Wife, Emily on Revenge, Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl, and Bay and Daphne on Switched at Birth.

It’s as if all of the TV producers banded together to turn some of the small screen’s most intriguing ladies into dumber, duller versions of themselves. On Homeland, Carrie (Claire Danes) is taking her medications and supposedly is more stable, but she’s sleeping with her “asset” again (which is just fine by the CIA) and crying all the time. Gemma (Katey Sagal) demonstrated her incredible resilience and fortitude after being gang-raped in the second season of Sons of Anarchy, but now she sits around smoking weed and pitying herself, even when she’s got someone like Nero (Jimmy Smits) kissing on her. And then there’s sizzle-to-fizzle Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), who breaks my heart most of all with one of the worst back stories ever written for one of the medium’s most captivating female characters.

Even the youngest belles are a bloody letdown. Exciting ninja Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) has lost her intense focus and killer instinct on Revenge. Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) is walking around Manhattan with her engagement ring round her neck waiting for Chuck Bass to settle the score with his dad on Gossip Girl. Since when does the queen of the mean girls wait for anything? And she got dumped anyway? The mature-for-their-ages duo at the helm of Switched at Birth were almost unrecognizable by the time the show went on hiatus in October. Bay (Vanessa Marano), a thieving gangster? Daphne (Katie Leclerc), an older man’s fool?

How I miss my girls. They were never perfect. They didn’t always make the right decision. But they were never wimpy, never whiny, never boring.

How I miss my girls. They were never perfect. They didn’t always make the right decision. But they were never wimpy, never whiny, never boring. They were tough women you admired and wanted to befriend. You trusted them to find the murderer, exact vengeance, have your back, and introduce you to a cool new pair of shoes.

It got so bad that two weeks ago I turned on Jersey Shore to see if Snooki would give me a boost. But there was pregnant Snooki, unable to drink or hang out at Karma with her friends, far away from her fiancé, dragging her inflatable penguin along the boardwalk and asking it if it was drunk. For the record, Jumanji was sober. Half the time I’ve been on the couch this season, I’ve wished I wasn’t.

For several years, TV has been the sweet spot for actresses. While film has kept women in traditional, predictable roles, television lured actresses like Glenn Close, Jessica Lange, and Laura Linney with rich storytelling and memorable characters. In turn, the ladies have added prestige and dimension to a medium always dominated by men. Is this the beginning of the end? I hope it’s just one coincidental and temporary hiccup that may even be rectified before the season closes.

But on cable, especially, the clock is ticking for the ladies to bounce back and get their acts together. Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, and Homeland all wrap up next month. Come on, Deb! Three of your four boyfriends have been murdered. Your brother, the serial killer of serial killers, is right in your wheelhouse. Gemma, you were always in charge. When are you going to go back to calling the shots? Carrie, please get a grip, catch those damn terrorists already, and release Brody forever. Gossip Girl, too, is almost over. Is Blair really going to exit the TV landscape in three weeks with barely a whimper? Strap on those Louboutins and tell Chuck what’s what.

Revenge and The Good Wife are luckier. They still have half a season to recover from the fall’s doldrums. But Emily needs to stop being a supporting player in her own Revenge story and start kicking butt again in the present tense. That 2006 flashback does not count. The Good Wife writers have promised to end the horrible saga between Kalinda and her ex-husband, but I don’t even know what I want for Kalinda anymore. Maybe she and the annoying ex should leave Chicago together once and for all.

If anyone deserves to shantay and stay, though, it’s the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race, who say things like, “As a drag queen, my issue with these pantyhose is there’s no room for my penis.”

Those bitches never disappoint.