After taking a look at television trends from 2013, I'm paging Dr. Freud. Television, you might want to call your therapist and book a few sessions to talk about your mommy issues. We don't need a show called How I Hate Your Mother, because the message comes through loud and clear.
Motherhood was drawn through the mud this year. It isn't a new trope to portray mothers as the symbolic vessel of all of our wrongs, and as the ultimate victim and the responsible abuser at the same time, but 2013 plotlines were particularly brutal. Take a look at these examples, and then tell me what trends you saw.
GAME OF THRONES
The infamous Red Wedding episode really had it in for the moms in this series. Avenging mother Lady Stark who first notices their family has been trapped, but she notices too late. Pregnant Talisa is stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen, the ultimate image of revenge against mothers. Even though injured, Lady Stark attempts some cutthroat negotiations for her son's freedom to no avail, and the losses get bloodier. First she watches in horror as her precious first born is murdered, with his last word being "Mother." Then she loses those cutthroat negotiations.
Olivia's missing mother has been a dominant theme in the show. We finally met Maya Lewis this year, but the mother and child reunion was bumpy and Mama was portrayed as the opposite of nurturing. Then worse, the plotline at the end of 2013 had Olivia discovering that her mother is in fact a monstrous terrorist right after Olivia finally gets the connection with her mother she craves. Scandal portrays motherhood as not compatible with career alternatives to "terrorist" as well. Most of the female characters are not mothers, the Josie Marcus subplot focused on the fact that she relinquished a child at 15 to be raised as her sister yet the story still kills her changes at political success, and the First Lady, the nation's symbolic mother, couldn't be less interested in her children. At least the show is balanced with plentiful miserable excuses for fathers, too.
Skyler White was so loathed by fans that Anna Gunn, the actress who portrayed her, wrote about the experience in an interesting New York Times essay. She managed to fail as a protective mother when instead of fleeing she opted to stay with Walter and apply her skills to the most important load of mom laundry ever. But she didn't get credit for being a badass money laundering criminal. She was also disliked for the way she was a killjoy, proving that on television it is possible to hate characters for being bad moms at the same time as they are hated for not being bad enough.
The theme of motherhood is systematically deconstructed in the ingenious Orphan Black. Absent motherhood in the extreme is portrayed via the sci-fi theme of cloning. Tatiana Maslany is brilliant as the many faces of unmothered daughters, where her central role (she plays several on the show) is as a mother who is trying to win back custody of her daughter. The show takes a rough but redemptive portrayal of motherhood all around, as it focuses on themes of generations of abandonment, alienation, nature vs. nurture, infertility and foster/adoptive parenting.
For a show that focuses many angles of women's experiences, it's interesting to look at how OITNB portrays motherhood. Most of the major characters are not mothers, which is in stark contrast to the reality that more than half of state and federal inmates have minor children. The main character who is a mother, Aleida, is a horrifically nasty one who even manages to be emotionally abusive during short visitations sessions. Pregnancy comes with high stakes for her daughter. Laverne Cox's character is shown as a parent who transitioned from father to mother, and her selfishness is called into question by her son's mother. Piper's mother is shown as unable to offer her daughter emotional support. Yikes. At least they have a protective mother figure in Red. And at least they have Taco Night.
Image: BBC America
Downton shows motherhood as punishing and symbolic of all that limited women. Following Lady Sybil's tragic experience with pre-eclampsia, what a relief all went well with Lady Mary. Right? Well, for a moment anyway. Merry Christmas, mothers of Downton!
AHS wins as the absolute worst vilification of mothers on television this year, presenting an exploration of horror tropes involving mothers as a dominant theme. Jessica Lange as Fiona Goode trips every narcissistic mother trigger in the book. Other mothers include Kathy Bates who imprisoned and tortured her daughters and the family slaves, and no less than two sexually abusive mothers of sons, one of whom (played by Patti Lupone, above) seemed to be modeled after the sick mother in the classic television miniseries Sybil. Doesn't get much worse than that, and AHS poured it on thick. Moms can be evil witches, point made.
So, in the time of zombies, parents only have two primary roles: keep your kids from being bitten and find them food. In that order. This season, Lily broke Rule #1 of Helicopter Mom Club by letting her daughter play a bit too far afield. Her child needed to be killed after she was infected, thus securing that Lily's lack of attentiveness would receive scorn from fans the likes of which Skyler White never had to endure.
Overall, mothers didn't fare too well on many of the year's best television shows. Moms were terrorists, torturous, neglectful, self-absorbed, and too-late to the rescue. They were beheaded, had their throats slit, were stricken with cancer, were left holding the bag with the feds and bore unthinkable grief. Is this catharsis for viewers with mommy issues of our own, reflective of some of the most primal of themes, or just a red flag of a messed up trend related to our conflicts over the mommy wars? How did motherhood fare in the shows you watched in 2013?
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