Readers, I had an ephipany on the line at Starbucks. You see, I was going to open this week’s SHADE with a snide little comment about how someone (or everyone) on the Agents of SHIELD writing staff skipped character day in their creative writing class. And while that may be true, I realized, while ordering my drink, that this isn’t an Agents of SHIELD specific problem. It’s a problem with the live-action comic media, particularly on television.
What is that problem, specifically? Well, in shows like Agents of SHIELD, it seems like only a select few get to have a meaty, consistent character. Everyone else gets to be jerked around for the plot, and left victim to circumstance.
It’s been happening weekly on Arrow. And you know what? Agents of SHIELD is no better.
I could talk to you about Melinda May, arguably one of the most important characters on TV. I could talk to you about how the episode “Melinda” was great for showing a more vulnerable side of her character. But when we consider that, we also have to think about the fact that the show, for almost the entirety of season two, has treated her like Coulson’s yes-man.
In The 100 fandom, there’s a dialogue going on about how treating Clarke like a queen and Bellamy like her knight brings to mind a very serious talk about racism. How the half-asian counterpart gets reduced from the position of co-leader to the servant and protector of the white female.
And if that can be discussed, completely legitimately, in The 100, then why does no one seem to realize that the same thing is happening in Agents of SHIELD? I have a very simple, and kind of nasty answer for you: because writers don’t expect the watchers of comic TV shows to consume the work intelligently. They assume they can make Melinda May do a couple of kick flips and everyone will just ignore how Coulson has stonewalled or flat-out denied her from having an opinion this season.
And with the way most critics talk about Agents of SHIELD, you get the sinking feeling that these writers might actually be right. And we can’t let that be the case.
Melinda May is important. But the strides made by her character in season one are being seriously held back by the choices writers have made in season two. What is a little girl watching the show supposed to think of Melinda May? Or Skye, or Simmons, for that matter? That the only to be good is to be physically strong? That you need to listen, without questioning, to the older white man in your life? Because remember, at the end of the day, you’re just a woman that punches things, and he’s the DIRECTOR.
You were better than this, Agents of SHIELD. I know you were. And you know damn well there’s a difference between subverting a trope and just being a lazy writer. Don’t look away from me. You know I’m right.
And this is the problem with all comic book TV, right now. Either you punch things, or you don’t matter. Look at how absolutely and unforgivably shitty the Arrow fans were to pre-Black Canary Laurel, or how shitty The Flash fans are being to Iris.
And the writers don’t bother to do a damn thing about it. Instead of showing the importance of emotion, or of independent thought, they say “just fucking Strong Female Character it.”
If you follow this website, you know we sell Strong Female Character tee shirts. And do you know why we do that? Because that term, in and of itself, is a goddamn joke. There’s a reason Joss Whedon is falling out of style like I don’t know, insert the fashion reference of your choosing. Because we, as viewers, recognize that the Strong Female Character trope is just that: a trope. An excuse to write female characters that at the end of the day, are still one dimensional.
For the most part, my precious baby princess Skye has been allowed to grow and change while still keeping her compassion. But Simmons? She’s just gotten traumas piled on her because, as a friend of mine once said, it’s in the Whedon tradition to see women break. I’m just sorry Jemma has to fall victim to this when she, too, is one of the most crucial characters on television. But like with Melinda May, the writers really couldn’t care less about the nuances of her character. Who needs a woman in the STEM field when she can be traumatized constantly, or used for whatever the plot needs? It’s a no-brainer!
And so I’m going to ask those of you, entertainment critics who don’t bother actually caring about female characters, fans who think being a Strong Female Character is feminist, all of you, to meet me at camera 3.
I’m not going to waste your time, though Lord knows you’ve wasted plenty of mine. I’m just going to kindly, kindly ask that you be better about consuming your media. Because it’s hard enough to be a woman of any kind in real life without only seeing one kind portrayed as ‘good’ on the TV. And it’s frustrating when I know we all know this is just lazy writing, but some of us just don’t care enough to say anything about it.
Well, I care. And I want you to, too.
Let’s be better about our female characters. Let’s stop, as fans, pretending there’s only power in physical strength.
I’m tired of saying this. Be. Better.