Friday, February 28, 2014

Villainy and Motherhood: Jamie Moriarty vs. Regina MIlls

In television women often get the short end of the stick. They wind up playing the housewife, the ditsy blonde girl, or the spinster with two dozen cats. It is too rare that a woman is portrayed on television as strong and successful. It's even more rare to see a woman who can be strong and successful at her career and be a good mother at the same time. In the shows Once Upon a Time and Elementary the villains are both not only female, but also mothers. However, the shows give us very different portrayals of the "working evil mom". Once Upon a Time's Regina Mills who is rarely capable of a rational action fails at balancing both her job and being a good mother at the same time; therefore, Elementary succeeds in portraying a stronger female character in Jamie Moriarty because she embodies the idea that women are capable of being both successful mothers and business women, while keeping a level head through it all.

Being able to portray your female characters as strong women is paramount for any television show, but still too often shows fall into the habit of letting stereotypes rear their ugly heads. The character of Regina Mills while breaking many stereotypes by being a female villain and being capable of greatly intimidating the characters of the show and wielding large amounts of power, still manages to slide into the stereotype of; a woman can't be a mother and a business woman at once. Through the entire series Regina has been seen as a bad mother (may I mention I have still to figure out why exactly this is). Her son Henry would rather live with the mother who put him up for adoption and who begrudgingly returned to his life than with the woman who nurtured and cared for him his entire life. This hatred of her by her son only adds to the idea that she is a bad mother. In numerous episodes Regina battles with keeping her magic or being a good mother to Henry, but it is never suggested that she can do both. "To be portrayed with no more choice than wife, mother, or sex object is a serious confirmation of what some women have been for some time now. Not only are women obviously restricted to a limited range of roles, but within these roles they are not permitted such traits as intelligence, creativity, self reliance," (Bruce 8). In this article Elaine Bruce expresses the sad truth of women on television. They are limited to only specific roles. They are only allowed to be wives or mothers. Those are always the roles which are the most important for a woman to hold. Regina cannot be successful in her endeavors to rule as the evil queen. She has to be a mother, but even then she falls short. She is either a magic wielding queen or Henry's mother, but the show states over and over through its story lines that she cannot do both, and it frequently states she can't do either.

On top of being incapable of balancing her work life (yes, magic is considered Regina's work. It's her job to be the magical evil queen) and motherhood Regina cannot even think straight when it comes to her son. In the episode "The New Neverland" the character of Regina's son, Henry, is acting odd and off kilter, but when other characters try to point this out to Regina she just brushes it off. As Amy Scales said in her blog, "Panry pushed all the right buttons with Regina. I mean she knew that Henry knew about her vault…".  Regina would rather overlook the obvious details than accept that her son still believes her to be a bad mother. In a normal circumstance Henry prefers his biological mother, Emma, to Regina who is his adopted mother. However, in this episode he prefers Regina, but she has no suspicions and does not even wonder about the sudden change in her son. She is so blinded by this deep need to be a good mother that she throws all rationale to the wind and lets her emotions guide her straight into a rut called Peter Pan. In this clip we see Pan getting the better of Regina by using her weakness of motherhood to overpower her. Here is another problem with the portrayal of Regina's character. Not only can she not juggle being a mother and a career woman, but her being a mother is seen as a weakness. Her love for her son is what causes him to take advantage of her. (Start at 1:02. End at 1:44) After the fact Regina realizes what she did. She even states for the audience that she couldn't think rationally and that her love for her son was her weakness. "I wanted to believe so badly I missed all the signs. I just wanted to believe he still needed me to be his mother." All of these instances and ideas piled on top of each other ends with the portrayal of a weak woman who can't even think rationally in a serious situation. It is suggesting to its audience that women cannot handle a complex life with more than one responsibility ie. motherhood or a career but doing both is too much. On top of that the show is reiterating the stereotype that women are over emotional and only guided by their feelings. This image of what should be a strong and powerful woman becomes a negative and bad portrayal of women for its audience.

In contrast the show Elementary presents it's viewers with a very different female portrayal, and one that I argue is how more female characters ought to be portrayed. As stated previously Moriarty is a villain with a child just like Regina; however, the way the writers of the show present her as a mother is quite different. In fact in the episode "The Diabolical Kind" the audience doesn't even become aware that Moriarty is a mother until at least halfway through the episode. This plays into the character of Moriarty. Her daughter is kidnapped in the episode by her former left hand man, but no one is aware it is her daughter. She keeps this hidden in order to be able to participate in the investigation and be active in rescuing her daughter. She trades hefty information to the FBI in order to be able to participate in the investigation of the kidnapping, but she does not specify why. Sherlock believes it is because she is trying to negotiate an escape. He is partially correct. She participates in order to escape, but the true reason is she's escaping to protect her daughter. She goes to the extreme lengths of putting her own life at risk to rescue her daughter; however, unlike Regina's risks Moriarty's are all carefully calculated. She kills no one who is not involved in her daughter's kidnapping and once she has made sure her daughter is safe she allows the cops to take her back to prison. She never does anything on accident and never leaks excess emotion. Even in the dire circumstance of her daughter being in danger Moriarty is able to keep her head.

Moriarty is able to keep focused even when her child is in danger. This is something Regina is unable to do. Moriarty is able to employ her career skills in order to save her daughter. She manipulates the world and people around her in order to achieve the safety of her daughter. An interesting aspect of this episode comes along with the fact that Moriarty gave her daughter up for adoption. She is capable of making the rational decision of what is best for her daughter. Even after her daughter is put in danger Moriarty does not fall victim to her emotions and make the rash decision of taking her daughter back. No, she continues to be governed by rational thought and understands the life that she leads would not be an environment for a child to be raised in. This does not mean that Moriarty does not love or care for her daughter because this episode demonstrates that she does. It means she is capable of understanding what is best for her. This episode portrays Moriarty as a woman who is powerful. Throughout the episode she is constantly seen as a threat. Sherlock gets very upset when she is allowed to assist in the investigation because he knows how dangers she can be. She is intelligent and rational, and her motherhood is not portrayed as a weakness. It is merely a part of who she is. When her old assistant attempts to use her daughter against her it does not leave Moriarty weak and incapable, instead the drive she has to go out and protect her daughter only further proves to the audience how capable and dangerous she can be. Audiences use television to look to when they want to know how to behave; it helps to influence people's actions. "In sum, these results offer support for the assertions that people actively construct meaning from their message environments, and that they are uniquely qualified for and capable of providing useful insight into such experiences," (Atwood 100). In this research study it was found that people did pull meaning from what they watched. Leaving out Moriarty's proclivity for murder she is a good woman to look to as an example of what kind of person to be. In this episode she is portrayed as a strong and powerful woman who shouldn't be reckoned with, and it doesn't matter that she is a mother.

Elementary succeeds where Once Upon a Time fails at portraying a female character who is strong, intelligent, and not forced to be governed by her emotions. In both episodes the villains are portrayed as mothers who are attempting to protect their children. Unfortunately with Regina her status as a mother is depicted as a weakness. She loves her son so much that it causes her to lose all ability to think rationally, which ends up putting the son she is attempting to protect in danger. On the other hand Moriarty also endeavoring to protect her daughter is able to think rationally and logically in order to save her daughter. Overall these two women are characterized very differently.  Regina constantly battles with whether she should fill the role of powerful, magical queen or be a mother, while Moriarty is able to play both the intelligent and intimidating villain while also looking after the well being of her daughter. She doesn't have to pick between them like Regina does. Moriarty can fulfill every aspect of her character without having to pick and choose and being a mother is nothing more than one of the roles she fills as a multifaceted human being. Once Upon a Time fails in its depiction of Regina because instead of being a strong, intimidating villain the show sets her up as weak because she is a mother. Motherhood is not a weakness and should not be portrayed as one. Elementary in the end has the better character because she does not have to pick between her "female role" as a mother and her role as a villain, and her role of being a mother is not something to be seen as a weakness; it empowers her.

Brown Zahn, Susan, Rita Atwood, and Gail Webber. "Perceptions of the Traits of Women on Television." EBSCOhost. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 1 Jan. 1986. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

Bruce, Elaine. "To See Ourselves as Others See Us: Television and Its Portrayal of the Female." ERIC. Sir George William's University, Apr. 1976. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

Doherty, Robert, and Craig Sweeny. "The Diabolical Kind." Elementary. CBS. 2 Jan. 2014. Television.

Kitsis, Edward, and Adam Horowitz. "The New Neverland." Once Upon a Time. ABC Family. 8 Dec. 2013. Television.

Scales, Amy. "Once Upon a Time – 3.10 “The New Neverland” Review."Entertainment Outlook. N.p., 9 Dec. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a nitpicking article that . . . you know what? I'm so disgusted with it that I cannot even express myself. Jesus Christ!


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