The Frantic Female Protagonist

Lately, I’ve noticed a trend in television (not so much in fiction), that might justify itself as a new trope: the scattered, barely-holding-it-together, frantic female detective protagonist. If you’ve seen Showtime’s Homeland, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

recognize it now?

There is a slew of these tv shows, mostly crime shows, that feature a female lead, and that female lead’s life is so rife with drama and chaos that she is barely holding it together, 99% of the time.

Maybe it began before Carrie Mathison in Homeland, but that’s the first one I remember. She’s bipolar, and frequently off her meds, which sends her into cuckoo-land at the drop of a hat. Also, she has a penchant for sleeping with the wrong man (quite a standard story trope among female leads), which causes all sorts of problems for her plot lines.

Lead characters with serious personal problems are nothing new in storytelling. Some of our best heroes in fiction and on television/movies have been protagonists who have wrestled with internal demons as powerful as the external demons they face in the course of the story.

But this trend I’m suggesting seems more than that.

Aside from Homeland, let me suggest a few other examples:

  • Netflix’s Marcela: lead character (a female detective) has a marriage that is falling apart (another common theme among female leads). She has blackouts and does questionable things during these blackouts, leading to great personal trauma.
  • Netflix’s Paranoid: lead character (female detective) has a relationship that falls apart, leading her to a personal crisis because she is 38 years old and childless.
  • Netflix’s Happy Valley: lead character (female cop) is over the hill and struggles with personal family drama, leaving her in constant self-doubt and turmoil.
  • Showtime’s Homeland: Carrie Mathison, the original Frantic Female Protagonist (see above)
  • FX’s The Killing: lead character (a female detective) is always on the edge of losing her mind, for reasons that aren’t ever fully explained. Something to do with being a bad mom and having her son taken away? Not sure. That one never made sense to me.

I’m sure there are many, many more, but that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. So, let me know what you think: is this a sexist trend that touches that old cliche of the hysterical woman, or is it brave new television, putting women at the front and center?

If you find this post informative, drop a comment below and let me know, and hit the share button! Let’s keep this discussion going.




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