Monday, April 4, 2016

The Devolution of Carol Peletier

**If you haven't watched the season six finale of "The Walking Dead," TURN BACK NOW!**

“The Walking Dead” has often struggled with its representation of women. For instance, we had Andrea, whose eharmony profile could have read, “I enjoy pina colodas, getting caught in the rain, and sleeping with psychopaths who are all about that premeditated murder.” Then there was Beth, who spent a lot of time being pretty and singing in the background like some sort of post-apocalyptic Disney princess. During her involuntary stay at the hospital, she finally began to show some real agency, only to die a pointless and inane death in order to give the other characters FEELINGS. And don’t even get me started on Lori, who occasionally took a break from being a neglectful mother and an awful wife to snap at other women for being useful in ways that didn’t involve housework. 

God image found here.

Things have gotten better. Michonne is a smart, capable woman warrior with a good heart. Maggie, who was always likable and intelligent, has come into her own over the seasons as a fighter and a leader. Rosita may be criminally underdeveloped, but girlfriend knows her way around a firearm. And Sasha is a strong character who gave us an intriguing depiction of PTSD. But the biggest saving grace for “The Walking Dead” when it comes to its portrayal of women was Carol Peletier. And believe me, those are words I’d never thought I’d say.

There was a time when Carol was near the top of the list of the people I didn't mind dying to feed the show’s body count. Shrinking and meek, she seemed to exist in those early seasons solely to feed Daryl’s character development as he transformed from surly redneck menace to gentle victim hiding his bruised heart behind manly posturing. 

Found here.
Then Carol became intriguingly complex. For the good of the group, she killed and burned two sick people to keep their illness from spreading. When Lizzie’s mental illness manifested, making it clear that she was a liability and there was no way to save her, Carol was the one who stepped up and told her to “look at the flowers.” Then Terminus happened, and Carol the battered housewife became freaking Rambo. No, actually, I think Carol Peletier might be the boogey man that Rambo checks his closet for before he can fall asleep at night. The effectiveness of her one-woman assault to save her friends from the cannibals was awe-inspiring. And just when you thought that she was going to openly embrace being the action hero goddess that her friends knew her to be, she went undercover in Alexandria, simpering, wearing cardigans, and baking cookies like a wily, post-apocalyptic Martha Stewart. By this time, Carol had learned all about the element of surprise, and nothing surprises people more than a pink-cheeked, doe-eyed housewife who can mow down ranks of Wolves without batting an eyelash. In this manner did she go from being a ho hum trope to being one of my absolute favorite characters. 

But of course, the good “Walking Dead” giveth, and then the good “Walking Dead” taketh away. Just as Carol was beginning to shine as a beacon, being one of the few, precious female antiheroes on TV, she suddenly began to dim.

There was no build up. No arc. No trigger. One minute, Carol’s Facebook status was, “I will totally kill Morgan for not killing people.” The next, she’s posted, “OH MY GOD, I’VE BEEN MURDERING PEOPLE ALL THIS TIME???!!? WHY DIDN’T SOMEONE TELL ME?!” (See below.)

Yes, I made this. Yes, I need a life.

I realize that a crisis of conscience is an inherently internal thing, but this is a TV show. In a novel, you could just ramble out her internal monologue so that the reader could follow her thinking. In a show, I need to see what happened to trigger the character arc so I can follow along and evaluate whether it makes sense. Otherwise, the character develops BECAUSE THE WRITERS SAY SO, THAT’S WHY, which is seldom an acceptable reason. And honestly, the only thing that’s been suggested so far as a trigger for her recent transformation is the death of Sam, the kid she threatened and bullied until he got himself killed. After all, she did leave cookies on his grave. The problem is, his death was not her fault. She also had no time to develop any sort of attachment to him. As my friend pointed out, she actually bonded more with Lizzie before she shot her in the head and still walked away without coming anywhere near the mental collapse she suffered in season six's final episode.

Ultimately, no matter why they decided to turn Carol the Badass into Carol the Whiney Crybaby, it’s not a good reason. Carol the Badass was complicated and interesting. As a rare, morally ambiguous woman who is able to use the fact that people underestimate her to her advantage, she was the TV heroine equivalent of a goddamn unicorn. As a woman whose emotions suddenly got the best of her, putting her and her friends in danger, she’s as common as a TV trope penny. “The Walking Dead” fans deserve better than tired tropes. The fans deserve Carol the Badass.