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TV's new crop of strong female characters

By Kayla Upadhyaya, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 20, 2011

A witch, a vampire, a queen, a federal agent and a scheming socialite — at first glance, these characters don’t seem to have much in common. But together they make up an A-team of television’s best new female characters. All five are dynamic, strong female characters for varying reasons. For every Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope, there are at least a dozen one-dimensional and sexist representations of women on television (look no further than most of FOX’s new programming), which makes these five outstanding female characters all the more valuable.

Let’s start with Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) of Showtime’s new fast-paced political drama “Homeland.” Early in the show, we find out Carrie suffers from a personality disorder. Though we have yet to see the form her condition takes when she’s not on medication, Carrie is a fireball who always seems on the brink of exploding. Though high up in the CIA ranks, she’s marginalized by her coworkers for her radical theories. Sometimes the sexism is subtle and sometimes it’s a bit more obvious, like when one male coworker jokes that Carrie might owe him sex after he helps with one of her cases. But Carrie remains strong and determined in her work and life, even taking on a gang of neo-Nazis in a bar. Granted, she was drunk, but it was still awesome.

Teen witch Faye Chamberlain (Phoebe Tonkin) of “The Secret Circle” is unstable and unpredictable like Carrie. She is brutally honest and more perceptive than the other characters, able to see what is happening before anyone else. Faye could have easily been written as the beautiful, bitchy popular girl, but instead she is lonely. She’s a bad girl with self-esteem problems who tends to say rude things to her friends but always has their best interests in mind. She is also the most realistic of the witches on the show in that she just wants to have fun with her powers. Hey, if I found out I was a witch, I’d be casting spells left and right, too.

This television season has also been great for new female villains, like Rebekah (Claire Holt) of “The Vampire Diaries.” Rebekah is super-villain Klaus’s (Joseph Morgan) sister, which makes her one of the Original Vampires. She is vicious and powerful, having little regard for human life. But in usual “Vampire Diaries” fashion, Rebekah isn’t wholly evil. Family is the most important motivator for her, and she loves passionately. And though Rebekah thinks humans are weak and inferior, she enrolls in high school, joins the cheerleading squad and worries about choosing a homecoming dress. She is a thousand-year-old vampire and all she really wants is to be a normal girl.

And then there is Regina Mills (Lana Parrilla), better known as the Evil Queen, of “Once Upon A Time.” The Evil Queen was the one to place a curse on fairy-tale world, sending all of the familiar characters to a place where they would no longer have happy endings: our world. As both The Queen and Regina, she is cold and calculating. But as with Rebekah, there’s depth to her. She runs this town (literally, she is the mayor of Storybrooke) and though she doesn’t have the best way of showing it, I’m convinced she cares about her son.

I saved Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) of “Revenge” for last because she doesn’t really fit in the hero or villain category and is all-around hard to figure out. What I do know is that Emily is fascinating and complex. I find it refreshing that her elaborate plan is all so she can avenge her father, and not a lost lover. I feel like the latter scenario is a bit played out in soapy dramas like “Revenge.” Like Rebekah, Emily places family first. She is Robin Hood in heels, taking out wealthy Hampton socialites one-by-one for the role they played in her father’s imprisonment.

What I love most about these five women is that none of them is hardened. A strong female character doesn’t need to be invincible. We’ve seen each of these characters cry, care and rely on others when necessary. This doesn’t make them weak — it makes them believable, complex and human.

When director and writer Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) was once asked why he writes so many strong female characters, he replied, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” These five characters and others prove that well-written, dynamic female characters are present on primetime television this year. But there are still Whitneys and New Girls reminding us that feminism on television is still a work in progress.


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