Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Evolution of Claire Underwood

A prominent female character in television who has power and authority over her peers that I neglected to mention in my original post on the Female Antihero is Claire Underwood from House of Cards.  I started watching season two last night (I'm almost a whole week behind, I'm sorry) and her actions and made me realize how much she had transformed from being a powerful woman to a villainous bitch throughout the course of season one.  Spoilers abound.

A few days ago I wrote briefly about her clothing style (which, by the way, remains stellar) and how it serves to convey her authority, equality with her husband, and position of power.  In the beginning of the show we see Claire as not your typical politician's wife: she is a woman with a high powered career that is both important and meaningful on a macro scale.  Her husband appears to respect her opinions and thoughts, and she seems to have a stable home life.  When a young reporter comes knocking at her door to speak to her husband, she isn't threatened and even joke's about the reporter's attempt to be sexy with her husband.  Her confidence extends to her job where she hires people worthy of the job, not those that are non-threatening to her, her office, and her position as face of the company.

But then she fires everyone.  This is our first glimpse of cold-hearted Claire, and it's a tough one to face.  This woman who supposedly cares deeply enough about humanity to be working towards getting people clean water shows zero sympathy about firing her employees, and even less than zero sympathy when she subsequently fires the woman who she tasked with doing her termination dirty work.  Her own feelings towards poor people are called into question when she hangs photographs of them in her office, making us wonder whether she genuinely cares about bettering the lives of the poor or simply about her own appearance and how her philanthropy enhances it.

Her husband is certainly the focus of this series, and for his own ability to manipulate people into doing what he wants, even when it is cold, we admire him.  He literally murders people and we are able to forgive him, because now he's bad-ass on top of endearing and dripping with Southern Charm.

Claire, however, is clearly transitioning into the villain.  The severe hairstyle and clothes that made her appear powerful in the beginning now make her appear cold.  That Yves Saint Laurent Muse bag that made you lust at one point now disgusts you juxtaposed against the idea of her firing everyone because the Initiative doesn't have the money to keep them on.  Even the way both of their extra-marital affairs are portrayed seems engineered to make us despise Claire - she is the one committing the true sin against marriage, she has feelings for her lover and isn't simply using him the way she uses everyone else for some personal gain.

On top of assuring we no longer have empathy for Claire, the writers also insist we no longer trust her.  She breaks down and visits her husband's lover, belittling her for her dirty clothes and dirty apartment in the way only a person who feels severely insecure can, belying her tough exterior and removing from her character the last thing she still had that we respected her for: her confidence.  Everything about her has been a lie.

Catching back up with her in season two, the Claire we now see in front of us shows almost no similarity to the Claire we were first introduced to.  She is getting caught up in petty disputes, informing the wife of her former employee's lover about the affair, giving us a disgusting scene where said wife confronts the former employee about her pregnancy and affair with her husband, as though she is the sole perpetrator of the hurt this woman is feeling.  She uses this same woman's reproductive medical history against her in trying to get out of a wrongful termination lawsuit.  She seems to realize that her husband is a murderer but shows no emotion about it, even cuddling up to him in bed moments after we see her apparently come to her realization.

The main adjective we can use to describe Claire now is "cold".  She has this in common with most other female characters in positions of power on television, and this is not an accident or a coincidence.  This is the way we portray women with power because it is something we still fear, something we still cannot accept without there being some underlying negative reason for that woman achieving her position of power (be it by sleeping with married bosses, throwing others under the bus, etc).  For some reason, we cannot forgive a woman these transgressions the way we can her male counterparts - perhaps because it goes against a woman's perceived nurturing, maternal nature, whereas we expect as much from men, dismissing everything with a "boys will be boys".

I was excited when we first met Claire.  Here was a character to be admired, a role model, someone with a multitude of good qualities.  Certainly I didn't expect her to have no flaws, after all everyone does, but I also didn't expect every single one of her good qualities to be diminished, overshadowed by bad, or proven to be a misperception* entirely.  Let's hope Daenarys Targaryen stays fair, intelligent, and able-minded.

* is "misperception" not a word or am I totally spelling it wrong?  It's got that stupid little red squiggly line under it showing a mistake but I can't figure it out.  See?  We all have flaws.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis. I enjoyed reading!