- Don’t look behind you, Katherine.
Watching Monday night’s news coverage out of Ferguson, Missouri, it became increasingly annoying to hear newscasters refer to the “emotional” reaction protesters had to a grand jury’s refusal to indict officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. Sure, anger qualifies as an emotion. And, yeah, some of the demonstrators’ more destructive activities couldn’t exactly be considered intellectual in their planning or execution. But so often the term “emotional” delegitimizes whatever it’s describing by putting that thing in direct opposition to “logical” or “rational.” People’s anger wasn’t necessarily justified, not even if they’d given the situation in Ferguson much careful consideration—they were just emotional.
Women come up against this a lot.
Rick Santorum doesn’t trust women in the military—professionally trained soldiers who happen to have vaginas—to participate in front-line combat because they’re too emotional; they “may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.” And god forbid a woman ever becomes president, what with all of the tears and beads of hot-flash sweat moistening the Oval Office’s carpet and making the beautiful wallpaper peel. (Oh, but if you’re Hillary Clinton, then work on being more emotional, please.)
Watching NBC’s new hour-long political drama State of Affairs should be an empowering experience. It takes place in an alternate reality where the glass ceiling has been shattered, or at least damaged badly enough to let a couple of women slither through. Constance Payton, played by the wonderful Alfre Woodard, is president of the United States. And one of her right-hand people is CIA analyst Charleston Tucker, aka Charlie, played by Katherine Heigl.
It might’ve been empowering—but, man, are these characters emotional.
See, Charlie and POTUS are bound by more than their work relationship. Charlie was engaged to be married to President Payton’s son Aaron, up until a year ago when all three were part of a convoy in Afghanistan that was attacked by terrorists, presumably led by big baddie Omar Fatah, and Aaron was killed. Both women are racked with guilt. POTUS feels responsible for Aaron’s death because, presumably, he wouldn’t have been in Kabul if he hadn’t accompanied her. And Charlie is haunted by the fact that she was responsible for secretly bringing Fatah into the fold as a CIA operative. She thought only one other person, a fellow CIA agent, knew her secret, but mildly flirtatious text messages that look like they were sent from the 1980s indicate that someone else is on to her. The situation has Charlie trapped in a downward spiral of self-loathing behaviors. She drinks too many shots and has promiscuous sex with strange men in hallways, even though it’s not clear how she makes time for pleasure. “Good doesn’t come out of [drinking and partying],” her shrink says. “Good doesn’t have to come,” she replies, “I do.” Eesh.
The two women are also hellbent on avenging Aaron’s death in ways that find them at odds, but each in a way that compromises her ability to make the most prudent decisions. In the premiere episode, one military special force or another informs the CIA that they’re closing in on Fatah and might be able to capture him sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, not far from their location, an American doctor has been taken hostage by another terrorist cell and would certainly be killed if anything happened to Fatah.
Oh, and it’s important to mention that the writers decided the hostage should look exactly like Aaron.
Charlie is very concerned about this doctor, and the implication is that it’s at least a little bit because of the resemblance. And she neglects to tell POTUS about Fatah’s potential capture because she’s worried the president would act impulsively to avenge Aaron’s death, thereby compromising the life of the handsome doctor.
I am confident this is not how women in power make decisions.
The hostage situation ends cleanly enough by episode’s end, and by episode two Charlie is having her tender heartstrings tugged by a kind old CIA operative who’s trapped in a Russian submarine at the bottom of the Bering Sea. Incidentally, I wasn’t able to see the end of the program because it was interrupted by the “emotional” scene in Ferguson.