Originally published: 29.03.16
I mainlined Spin series 2 on Walter Presents.
*Do not read this if you haven’t watched it.*
It’s a cut and thrust, wheel and deal, dog eat dog, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, French, political drama. There are few things that I like more than that but I had to suspend all of my feminist sensibilities to be able to watch it at all. I promised myself that I wouldn’t “do feminism” on it but here I am regardless. (Feminist analyses are just like the hiccups, really: uncomfortable, concerning, infuriating, and like the divil himself to stop.)
There were several criticisms about the representation of women in Spin series
1. For starters, all of the women there were in some way dependent on their menfolk (Valentine on Pierre*, Appoline on Simon, yer woman who was the candidate on just about everyone, really) and much too capitulating. It was a valid enough criticism but I could get over it for the odd glimmer of fight and rebellion. Juliette, the daughter, was irredeemable but she was young and selfish and we were all that once.
Series 2 took the biscuit, though.
The journalist, Appoline (different actor), was still knocking about and still capitulating to her ex-husband, Simon. She had, finally, kicked him and their “every other Tuesday night visits” to the kerb but she still relied on him as her source and green light. I get that terrorist incidents are delicate and that journalists are confined by the boundaries set down by the establishment but it was always personal for Appoline. Because she’s a woman, see. For Simon, it was always business. Appoline was even told by her (male) editor that she always had to get personal. It’s probably her hormones.
The common law wife, Rose, was vain and silly, and then used and discarded. Just like she deserved, amirite?
And then there was Gabrielle, the accomplished, determined, level-headed, intelligent Secretary General. Gabrielle was sorted and make no mistake. Except she wasn’t of course, because she had emotions just like the rest of us (I know! WTH? Gods preserve us) and when she slipped (I mean, showed her emotions), she was unreliable and told all about it. The writers could have made so very much of Gabrielle but in the end they made her into a silly girl too. Her undoing, of course, was Simon (because what’s a drama if the male and female leads don’t get together?). Pierre was a rascal and never tried to hide it, but Simon was a Good Guy ™.
Simon (whom I would normally j’adore, I have to admit, because I love me some stoic brainies) turned out to be the most sexist of them all. Take the scene when Gabrielle revealed the details of her son’s adoption. It was problematic, in a tangential sort of way, but it was Simon’s reaction to it after that was most troubling. She revealed, he shouted, then he stormed off, then he sulked, and then SHE apologised and capitulated to him. Now, I might have looked away at some key points (rookie mistake when one’s French stretches as far as “Ou et la garre?” and no further) but I didn’t see the scene when Gabrielle behaved in such a way that she should apologise and grovel, yet that she did. Simon, on the other hand, behaved in such a way for certain.
In one of the closing scenes, when she asked him to come over and he declined (he needed some “me time” by the Seine), she was happily fobbed off with a quick I love you. Job’s a good ‘un. I’m sure you do, Simon, but on your terms, wha? Gabrielle, you could do better. (Or, rather, I wouldn’t bother doing at all. You’re all over it.)
And let’s not forget the First Lady who was consistently slut-shamed and only ever at the mercy of her husband and the establishment. She had no freedom (of expression or anything else) at all and by the end she had had enough. Yet she was, clearly, trapped. He needs her; she wants to run for the hills. We all know what way that landed.
Most egregious, though, was Simon’s treatment of Appoline in one of their final scenes. Upset about their daughter (still an unwatchable brat, for the record), she asked him about his relations with Gabrielle (she may have used a naughty word). He chastised her for being vulgar. He might as well have told her to watch her lady manners. She duly apologised and that was the end of it. Simon’s concerns were valid and hers were redundant. Simon sure was the very best at getting apologies from the women he’s wronged. Skillz.
It’s lazy, problematic writing that reinforces the gender order, repeatedly. Of course, it’s reliable television because everyone knows where they stand with the formula and the outcome. Mixing that up, and challenging that status quo, makes for more complex viewing that writers seem to prefer to avoid.
Spin gets that formula spot on in a way that surprised me – men are brutish, dishonest and controlling, and rewarded for it; women are weak and malleable and docile, and kept in their place. When they do assert, they quickly learn that it doesn’t work for them and that they should fall back into line, stat.
That is not what I would expect from intelligent French drama and je n’aime pas ça du tout, I can tell you.
* Haven’t a clue what he’s called in Spin, half the time (Ludovic, that’s right). He will always be Pierre.