Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fifteen Fabulous Fictional Females

I assure you, it is quite unlike me to have such a man-heavy top ten list. I didn't even know it was happening until a day after I published, and I had been working on that list for two weeks! Insert your generic "That just proves you're a servant to the male chauvinist hegemony" comment here.

So here is my penance: a list of my top fifteen female-only characters from fiction. I am so lame. To accelerate the healing, I am going to post the list in early stages, long before I even have time to do proper write-ups. Feel free to comment.

Karla Sofen, A.K.A. Moonstone/Meteorite (Marvel Comics' Thunderbolts): Cosmically-powered psychologist villain turned cosmically-powered psychologist... well, anti-hero is probably the best she ever managed. Karla is pretty much a full-on baddie again in Warren Ellis' reboot of the Thunderbolts concept, somehow managing to be the moderating voice to director Norman Osborn. She's a master manipulator willing to use sex, violence, mind games, or power to achieve her strange ends, but somehow in the company of her near-lover Clint Barton she is justthisclose to being a hero. For just a moment.

Melissa Gold, A.K.A. Songbird (Marvel Comics' Thunderbolts): My favorite Thunderbolt. How she missed the first list is a mystery. Beginning her career as the small-time supervillain Screaming Mimi, Melissa has grown from the meekest, most needy of little things into a full-blown leader and hero, perhaps the one unquestionable good guy on the team right now. Adding interest is the fact that, in the time-traveling miniseries Avengers Forever, we've seen that at some point in the future she's an Avenger.

Evaine MacRorie Thuryn (Katherine Kurtz's Legends of Camber of Culdi and Heirs of Saint Camber): Every bit the scholar her father was, Evaine is cursed to see her husband die and her people oppressed, scattered to the winds in the wake of a reactionary racial purge. Still, she fights, even making the supreme sacrifice for just the chance for her father to live on in some way.

Ellen Ripley (Alien, Aliens): Let's pretend the third and fourth films just don't exist, shall we? And frankly, I can even do without the first one, James Cameron's Aliens is so magnificent. The motherhood allegory becomes stronger every time I watch this film, right down to the climactic battle of Ripley and alien queen. "Get away from her, you BITCH!"

Sarah Connor (Terminator films and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles): I agree with my friend Linda and blogger Diana: the Sarah of the television series is an even more rounded character than Linda Hamilton's excellent performance. A woman constantly on the edge, another Cameron motherhood allegory, but this time with a dash of Kassandra thrown in for good measure, bursting with passion of the knowledge of the future that no one will believe.

President Laura Roslin (Battlestar Galactica): From Secretary of Education to President of (what's left of) the Twelve Colonies in just a few hours, Laura Roslin is gloriously portrayed by Mary McDonnell, whom I love so much from Grand Canyon and Dances With Wolves. She's gentle but strong, extremely feminine but capable of pragmatic violence almost approaching cruelty. As much as I love Eddie Olmos' portrayal of Bill Adama, it is Roslin's savage protection of the dwindling human race that moves me most in this show.

Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls): Here's the thing I love about Lorelai: she is intolerably cruel to her parents. For all the crap they put her through, for all the mind games and guilt trips, I constantly expect Lauren Graham's character to show just a speck of mercy once in a while, and she just never does. In a way, Lorelai has never grown up beyond the age she was when she had daughter Rory, and her manifest and frequent mistakes and gaffes are what keep the sub-rural fantasy of Gilmore Girls grounded. She's completely competent in half of her life and wildly out of control in others, and cleverness can only extricate her from so much. In a show that never asks the question, "How can these girls eat so much and remain so tiny?" Lorelai makes real-person mistakes. I haven't seen season seven yet, so don't spoil anything for me, please.

Sarah Jane Smith (Doctor Who): The greatest of all companions, Sarah Jane saw the end of the third Doctor and the beginning of the fourth. Despite a tendency to shriek annoyingly when endangered (which happened frequently), Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah is actually a female character years ahead of her time; smart-ass and spunky with a journalist's eye for detail and nose for trouble. At times, her empathy for the plight of the various peoples endangered throughout time and space rivals the Doctor's, and her courage may even exceed his. Whether romancing a giant robot or facing down the creator of the Daleks, Sarah Jane is the companion all others are measured by. Speaking of which, have you seen the end of last week's "Partners in Crime" yet?!!!

Mathilda (Leon [The Professional]): Natalie Portman, age 12, in what I still consider to be her seminal role. Mathilda is an abused pre-teen whose parents are brutally killed in Luc Besson's ultra-violent opus. By all means, get yourself the extended European version, Leon, much longer and a much deeper film. Leon himself, played by Jean Reno, should probably have made the male character list, but this is Mathilda's story. She's fragile and small (did Portman ever get any taller than this?) but capable of steel and murder as she trains to become a hit man under the tutelage of the milk-drinking, plant-loving Leon, who she, of course, falls completely in love with. Mathilda turns this from a story of violence to a story of escape from abuse, of fatherhood and first love and liberty.

Amelie (Amelie): Amelie is just the best.

I love Amelie.

It is impossible to not love Amelie.

Dana Whittaker (SportsNight): I do love characters who balance extreme competence with equal incompetence, and no one writes them better than Aaron Sorkin. While I love the whole cast of characters of SportsNight, my favorite TV show that isn't Firefly ever, Felicity Huffman's Dana just always captures my attention. She has so much passion and absolutely no idea in the world what's supposed to be done with it. There would be no CJ Cregg without Dana, who juggles TV executives, highlight clips, and anchor egos with tremendous grace, always bringing the show in for a perfect landing. I want to work for Dana.

Leeloo (The Fifth Element): "Leeloo Dallas multipass!" The pure embodiment of love with kickass kung-fu moves, Milla Jovovich's "perfect being" may be the most vulnerable character I've ever seen on screen. When she's not on the verge of killing, she's on the verge of tears, overwhelmed with love for all living things and in desperate need to be loved herself. No kidding here, Jovovich's performance in this film is one of my favorite in history; Luc Besson is good at many things, but creating female characters may be the best. Yes, she's an alien superbeing on a quest to find four stones of power to fend off a nameless planet-sized evil that wants to devour all living things, but I also believe she's a sad, frail girl. Actually, Jovovich's performance is the only thing that makes Besson's The Messenger even a tiny bit watchable.

Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye (Firefly, Serenity): Most of my friends are into Inara; I'm a Kaylee man. A simple farm girl with an instinct for mechanics, she's innocent and homespun yet boy-crazy and horny as all hell. I love watching her fling herself at the clueless Simon Tam almost as much as I love her wearing the dress that makes her look like a layer cake in "Shindig." Actor Jewel Staite put on some pounds for the TV series, bless her, and I actually prefer the more womanly Kaylee to the model-slim (Staite is actually a model) film version. Kaylee is probably the fictional character I would most want to be my girlfriend. Shiny.

River Tam (Firefly, Serenity): I just love Summer Glau so very much. Watching her make the transition from scared, naked, helpless girl-in-a-box to crazy perplexing madwoman to mindreading emotional wreck was interesting enough, but when she goes all ninja killing-machine in the bar in Serenity it's over the top. Yes, I'm sad when Book dies, and crushed when Wash is impaled in mid-sentence. But it's two words in Serenity that make me weep every time: "My turn."

Seven of Nine (Star Trek: Voyager): Okay, yes. I'll get it out of the way: the costume and her body are pure science fiction. But it's Jeri Ryan's performance, so arrogant and strong yet subtly conflicted even in her greatest positions of power, that make her character great, and that frankly redeems Voyager in the end. I had stopped watching after season two, bored of the same nonsense and really annoyed with Jennifer Lien's Kes. But I'm a big Next Gen fan, and when they brought a Borg on as crew, I was fascinated. The result was the most interesting Trek character since Spock, a detached Borg with suppressed memories of her humanity who doesn't particularly want to be human. The mother-daughter relationship that developed between Captain Janeway and Seven was the show's anchor through its floundering conclusion. I'll say this: seasons four and five of Voyager are of Next Gen quality, primarily because of the through-line of Ryan's performance. The rest of the series? Not so much.

There you go. That's fifteen. Pictures and all.

Penance complete?


  • At 4/13/2008 9:29 AM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Well, again, not familiar with all these...but chicks who kick butt? All for it!

    Ripley and Sarah those babes. Love the fact that they might rip my throat out for calling them "babes"!

  • At 4/13/2008 6:44 PM , Anonymous Diana said...

    Agreed on Lena Headey makes a better Sarah Connor. Her performance makes you totally 'get' the concept of a mother tiger looking out for her young.

    From your post, I'm guessing someone else (Linda?) agreed as well.


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