I’m watching a television series right now.
And it is frustrating.
It showed so much promise. The premise is phenomenal. The characters are interesting and varied. The stakes are just about as high as they can go. But it’s on a downhill slope. I plan to write a full, in-depth review of this series when I finish it, but chief on my complaint list at the moment is the female lead.
I was so excited about this character. Strong, but not unbelievably so. Still feminine, but able to kick butt along with the boys. I love a strong female lead. And for many episodes, she continued to deliver in this department.
And then the creators decided that they needed a damsel in distress.
I saw the beginnings of this long before it actually happened. She starts as one of the strongest characters in the game they happen to be trapped in. She fights on the very front lines, trying to clear the game. She’s the co-leader of the game’s strongest guild. She doesn’t take any guff.
Then she falls in love with the male protagonist. Now this, in and of itself, is not bad. The male protagonist actually becomes much more interesting with the addition of her character. They act as foils for one another, and they are actually a delight to watch interacting on the screen. Their voice actors even seem to share some chemistry, and I like this couple. But this coupling is also where I started to see warning signs.
Sometimes, for no reason at all, said girl character would stand in a corner and let the male lead take care of business. Sometimes she would be prone to strange fits of girlie weakness. I tried to cut the creators some slack. Maybe they were trying to show a more feminine side. Maybe they were trying to balance her character, although personally I didn’t think it needed much balancing. Scenes where she kicked butt and took names began to be so scarce that it was a rare treat to see her in action.
I know where this is going. I have yet to watch the second half of the series, but already, in reviews, I hear that her role is reduced to a damsel in distress. Why does this happen? Why did anyone think this would make a better story? The best parts of the first half were when the two leads worked together, not when one was saving the other.
I’m trying to look at this as an important lesson in character building, but all I can find is bitterness for the character that never was.
But honestly, folks, when you create a character, you are making a promise with the reader, the viewer, the audience. Characters will change, obviously, but in a gradual fashion. A character, who, at her core, is strong-willed and talented, is not going to flip a switch to become weak and helpless as soon as she has a boyfriend. Characters don’t work like that. People don’t work like that.
I guess I should be grateful that more and more stories are including strong female leads. This was not a ‘thing’ earlier in my life. You had to comb bookshelves and shows consistently to find maybe one book out of hundreds where the main female character was tough. But this phenomenon of the flipped female character is so prevalent that TV Tropes even has a (humorous) article on ‘Chickification’.
To me, this flipping shows even less respect for the concept of a strong female lead. It’s almost as if the writers bit off more than they could chew, making a girl character that happened to be just as strong as the boys. Almost as if they found themselves saying, “So we have a strong girl and a strong guy. Now who do we save?”
In the end, this all boils down to character consistency. Somewhere I read that characters (and people) are all like onions: the outside is the easiest and first layer of us to change. To get at our core, at the very heart of who we, or our characters are, it takes time. It takes traumatic and important internal or external events. Characters do change, but not just because they become the male protagonist’s love interest.
This is just one of many betrayals this show has thrown my way. I want to love it. I even find myself enjoying it sometimes. But I don’t trust it, and this is the worst situation a team of writers can put the audience in. You want your readers (or audience) to trust you. Don’t make the mistake this show has.
And with that, I’m going to suffer through the second half and try not to argue about the legitimacy of another fictional relationship with a friend (I am such a nerd). Writer out.