Monday, May 9, 2016

Alicia Florrick's Powerful Tragedy

The series finale of The Good Wife, which aired Sunday night, is pure, unadulterated tragedy. Michelle King, one of the show’s writers, explains the jarring slap in the last scene with the statement about Alicia:

“The victim becomes the victimizer.”

The show supposedly comes full circle from the premiere episode in which she slaps her husband for publicly humiliating her. Now she’s being slapped for similar practices, by Diane, the woman we’ve secretly hoped for years would become a feminist mentor to her.

The idea that Alicia could be a powerful victimizer of others while her life has slowly gone to shit, 22-episode-season after season, is what makes the ending to the show so revolutionary.

As an audience watching a heroine for seven years, we held Alicia up to high moral and emotional standards, and we hoped she would make at least one “correct” decision to cut through her dozens of balls constantly up in the air. We hoped she would stop worrying about her familial obligations and give in to her feelings for Will. When it seemed things with Will weren’t going to work out, we rooted for her other love story to come through – her love story with the law. Somehow, we hoped, she would open her own firm, or become a successful politician and be able to utilize her “St. Alicia” image to gain power and influence. When she faltered in court, we yearned for her family to give her meaning and purpose. Instead, her connection with Will spiraled into intense hatred, he was tragically shot to death before they calmed their vitriolic relationship, she lost a political campaign and was kicked out of her own law firm, and she never quite liked the decisions her children made for themselves despite the sacrifices she made for them.

Considering things started out poorly for Alicia – she was that woman who stood by her governor husband in front of the whole world when he cheated on her with several prostitutes – we expected they would get the slightest bit better. But in one scene this season between Alicia and her friend and partner, Lucca, it was clear just how much worse things had gotten for our heroine since the show’s premiere:

“Sometimes I swear I just want to go into my bedroom, pull the covers over my head, and never do anything ever again,” she says. She says she doesn’t get the point of life. She doesn’t even know if she likes her own kids. “I hurt,” she says, “and I want it over, I just want it to end.”

Those are strong words - bordering on suicidal - for a television heroine, and they are never resolved. At the end of the show, Alicia is still grasping for a “point of it all,” alone - no magical prince in Will, no cowboy romance in Jason, no complacency in Peter, no feminist mentor in Diane.

Yet according to King, she is a victimizer, not a victim. The writers were still able to take her full circle. Because a woman’s power shouldn’t have to exist in a resolved world where her life has been tied up in little ribbons, or packaged to a certain brand of American happy endings, or edgy feminist independence. Beyonce successfully commoditized smashing windows in response to her husband’s alleged infidelity. But most women aren’t Beyonces. Most women are Alicias. We’re trying to make the best out of several bad situations, dreaming up ghosts of our ex-boyfriends so they can tell us what to do, and the ex-boyfriends almost never pass along the right advice.

Women deserve to know they are powerful regardless of how stupid their decisions have been that have led them to their pain. Because bad things happen to good women who make horrible decisions, just like they happen to good men who make horrible decisions. In the show’s last scene, Alicia is depressed and alone, and as powerful as ever. Kinda sounds like almost every male protagonist in a romantic comedy, doesn’t it?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Moving out

This week I packed up all my stuff for my parents to move out of my childhood house. When I did a final sit in my echo-y room, I felt so worried that my life would be forgotten, most of all by me. This is an irrational fear that because I can’t remember all the days of my life at once, they all become the heels of the brain's bread loaves, uneaten, unacknowledged and left to the garbage rats. When you’ve lived for 28 years, there are a lot of years, and a lot of moments within those years, that felt like they changed your life. But you can't recall them most of the time, so how would they have changed your life?

I feel very lucky I had such a good time in my house, and that the next people to live in the house will appreciate it (they’re getting married in the backyard) and that it didn’t burn down and I didn’t have all my things ruined or anything. But with my good fortune and good memories comes weight. I feel a tremendous weight, a responsibility to remember everything for young Sarah. I feel like I have to take care of her and comfort her and tell her that everything turns out ok. I feel like she yearns to know that 2016 Sarah is alive. That being 28 is possible. And she aches to be acknowledged by me.

It feels overwhelming to do all the little Sarahs justice in my mind.

There’s the Sarah whose most stressful part of her day was someone else making her take a bath. She rode her bike around the block and was scared of the bees in the trees. The people who lived at the end of the block seemed like they lived in another country. There were always skeletons under her bed and robbers waiting to kill her and vampires itching to suck her blood under the thin blanket with which she covered her neck when she was falling asleep.

There’s the Sarah who sat with her Bearded Collie in the front window and told her about her day, most of the time through stares and emotions. When she was supposed to be practicing the piano she instead looked at herself in the reflection of the angled front windows because when she danced, it looked like she was a chorus of dancers doing the cha-cha perfectly in sync. There’s the Sarah who made her dad carry her to the car when a hubcap fell off because she was terrified of bare tires because they were so ugly behind a missing fa├žade.

There’s the Sarah who when 9/11 happened, every helicopter or plane in the sky was her demise. She and her family were bombed in many of her nightmares. She played “store” in the computer room and pretended to scan shiny shirts into an imaginary cash register because women who checked her out at stores were fully adults. She watched syndicated FRIENDS episodes on TBS on the old television in the basement until her mom yelled that it was too late and she was being irresponsible.

Fifteen-year-old Sarah had approximately 30 minutes after the bus dropped her off from high school to sing Fiona Apple or Barbra Streisand in the kitchen and family room before her mom got home from work. She sprinted on the treadmill for an hour while watching the Catwoman transformation scene in Batman Returns on repeat. Sometimes she worked out to the funky 70s score to Barbra Streisand’s most feminist film, Up the Sandbox. She was overwhelmed, overworked and cried a lot in her pink and green room.

A few days ago, as I was procrastinating from packing anything, I randomly looked at my profile’s reflection in a framed picture on my wall.

I thought to myself, "you're the woman you wanted to become."

I am healthy, I am sure of myself and my ability to handle my life alone. I'm the cool Sarah I wrote to in my diaries all the time. The one with freedom and wisdom and the legal ability to be an adult. It’s so strange, but I’m really fucking proud of all the Sarahs for getting me to this point. They should know that every one of their micromoments brought me to me, and each one was a gift, even if most of them do rest forever in the walls of that house.