Saturday, 24 March 2012

Musings on 'Scott and Bailey'

I so enjoyed writing about gender in Dirk Gently that I thought I'd have a go at ITV's Scott and Bailey too. This will be slightly different, since a whole series has already aired, and although I know I had a lot of thoughts about it at the time, I can't remember too many details! I've watched the last three on ITV Player to remind myself, but unfortunately missed the first three, so I missed my most growled-at storyline, in which one of the title characters accidentally gets pregnant, schedules an abortion, can't go through with it, and then conveniently miscarries so that she doesn't have the inconvenience of pregnancy/parenthood, but doesn't have to make any evil baby-killing decisions. I saw it coming, of course, but I still snarled a lot.

There's a whole lot of gender stuff going on in Scott and Bailey. The three main characters are women, almost the entire creative team are women, and the whole idea for the programme was conceived by women. This is obviously good news for us women-friendly folks - we (ok, I) like things that have a lot of women involved in them. On the other hand, it does heighten the stakes for Scott and Bailey to be "feminist". We (ok, I) want to see a woman-heavy show with 'good representations' of women; I want to see lots of women in lots of different roles, with lots of different skills/characteristics/flaws/voices etc. I don't want to see six different stereotypes of women, although that would certainly be an improvement on the two different stereotypes of women that you get in much mainstream media.

Thankfully, Scott and Bailey doesn't fall into this trap (I suspect the woman-heavy creative team may have had something to do with this). The two title characters, Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey, are very different women. Neither are perfect, which is a good start. Janet Scott is 'older', married with kids, a fixture in the MIT in which they both work. She is stolid, calm, dependable and determined. Rachel Bailey is 'younger', a new addition to the team. She is called "Sherlock" by the rest of the team, due to her intuitive style of detective work, and she is often talked up as being brilliant. She is also flighty and impatient, and given to making questionable choices about both her personal and her professional life. The third main character is DCI Gill Murray, a fast-talking, no-nonsense boss who demands the highest level of achievement from her team.

These characters form the backbone of the programme, and they are constantly interacting with each other about their professional and personal lives. Both Murray and Scott act as 'mentors' to Bailey in different ways, with Scott keeping Bailey on the "more traditional" lines of investigation whilst also giving her space to let her personal detecting style blossom, and Murray giving Bailey multiple opportunities to experience different sides of police work within the team, often talking her through new things. This is one facet of the show that I like very much. It's great to see the different levels of knowledge being treated as significant but not laughable - Bailey is not a silly kid, but she has less experience than the other two and they are keen to help her progress as a detective, encouraging her development and being patient with her inexperience. They recognise her potential and want to enhance it, even when her inexperience and impatience leads her down the wrong paths. The three women are supportive of each other both professionally and personally - there is little evidence of the jealousy, competitiveness and cattiness that is the mainstay of many TV relationships between women.

The personal storylines of the women are interesting. Janet's marriage and potential affair form the main drive of her personal plot, whilst for Rachel it is her relationship with a man who, unknown to her, has a wife and children living elsewhere. Gill Murray's storyline is less prominent, but what there is of it is centres around her life as a single mother of a teenage son. Rachel also has that unintended pregnancy to contend with. One part of me is disappointed that these plot-lines are so dependent on the womanhood of the characters. Having female protagonists be driven by their relationship- (and (potential) parenting-) concerns is not exactly ground-breaking. On the other hand, the programme is mainly about their detective work, where they are Scott and Bailey rather than Janet and Rachel after all, so I think I give this a pass. Being concerned about their relationships alongside their jobs is progressive, in comparison with so many portrayals of women on TV, who are only concerned about their relationships, or who exist as extensions of the male protagonists (who are usually concerned about their jobs). On the other hand, perhaps it is telling that so much of this programme, which is titled Scott and Bailey, is devoted to the personal lives of Janet and Rachel. The last episode of the first series, for example, is barely about solving the 'main crime' of the episode at all - their only witness gives it up in his second interview after cursory questioning by Scott. The meat of the episode is concerned with Rachel's entanglement with slimy barrister Nick Savage (about whom more in a moment).

On the other side of binary gender representation, the treatment of recurring male characters on the show is somewhat less progressive. Nick Savage is probably the biggest male role, and he is essentially a villain. After a 2-year relationship with Rachel, it is revealed in the first episode that he is married with children. When she later discovers that he had an affair with a jury member whilst defending a client in court, he threatens her with the retribution of the client that he successfully defended if she gives him away, and in the final episode is charged with Rachel's attempted murder. Nick Savage (whose name is obviously significant) starts off suave and manipulative and ends up vicious and murderous. Not exactly a fully realised character. DC Kevin Lumb (whose name also seems significant) is a bit of a buffoon - he is sexist, arrogant, lazy and seems to exist as an 'intelligence' comparison to Bailey (at one point, Murray says to Bailey "you're not Kevin" (Series 1, episode 4)). DS Andy Roper, who is in love with Scott, is really nothing but a means of character-development for Scott - after their one-night-stand prior to the shows beginning, he tries to persuade her to leave her husband, prompting her to reevaluate her relationship and her priorities. Ade is Janet's patient, loyal husband, and DCS Dave Murray, Gill Murray's ex-husband, had a string of affairs and left her when he "got a 23-year-old uniform pregnant" (Series 1, episode 5). His biggest scene so far is when he suggests to Gill that she shouldn't be "taking up with another man" right in the middle of their son's A-levels (Series 1, episode 6):

Dave: It's Sammy. It's fine, it's his A-levels. I don't want you to take this the wrong way. Don't you think - right in the middle of his exams - is the wrong time for you to be taking up with another man?
Gill: How dare you? After all the turmoil and upheaval and disruption you caused that boy? How dare you.
Dave: He's not happy.
Gill: That's rubbish. This is about you, not him. Despite the fact you walked out on me and him, despite the fact you were at it with all and sundry for God knows how long, you can't stand the idea I could possibly get into bed with someone else, can you? Hypocrite.
Dave: I knew you'd take it the wrong way.
Gill: (walking away) On your bike, mush.
Dave: I've told him if he wants to move in with me and Emma for a little while he's more than welcome. He seemed quite keen.
Gill: How've you managed that then? Promised to buy him a car? 
(he makes a face)
Gill: No - Dave - you can't do that, I told him I would buy him a car when he got his A-level results, if they were good enough, so you'd better retract that promise.
Dave: I'm not retracting a thing.
Gill: You fucking arsehole.
(he nods)
Dave: Cheerio.

Dave is clearly the bad guy here - we're not asked to sympathise with his (entirely unreasonable) behaviour, and Gill is set up as the victim. What's interesting to me about this exchange is the way the characters say the things they say. Gill's words are the ones we are to agree with, and Dave's words are not. But Gill raises her voice, she swears at him, she gets passionate. She shows emotion. Dave, on the other hand, speaks quietly and calmly, and doesn't respond to Gill's emotion. When she calls him a "fucking arsehole" he just nods slightly, says "cheerio" and leaves. This is a nice subversion of gender norms: the man is calm and collected while the woman is emotional and 'sensitive', yet we are clearly to side with the woman, despite being conditioned to approve more of the communication style of the man.

Compare that with this scene from earlier in the episode, after Bailey has told Scott that she's seeing Nick again, and Scott has been brutally honest about her concerns:

Rachel: (coming in) Hey. You know I spent ages organising the balloons, the helium, the other - well it's shit - and all anyone else had to do was go pick stuff up, and she talks to me like bollocks and everyone else is fucking wonderful!
Nick: Well - why?
Rachel: (turns tv off) D'you wanna marry me? I'm proposing to you. D'you wanna marry me.
Nick: (amazed) Well - um - I can't - I -
Rachel: After the divorce goes through. (Nick is making faces and laughing in disbelief) I didn't think so. (she walks away)
Nick: Have you - 
Rachel: What, been at the bottle? Yeah. You know, she implied - no she didn't, she didn't imply, she said it, she said that the only reason you're going out with me is because you're frightened I'll wreck your life for you, if I don't stay on the right side of you. Are you?
Nick: No.
Rachel: But you don't want to marry me.
Nick: I wish you wouldn't talk to your colleagues - 
Rachel: Am I just kidding myself?
Nick: About what?
Rachel: About this, about us.
Nick: I wish you wouldn't drink.
Rachel: Pff, you drink.
Nick: Well, to that extent, before you even get here.
Rachel: Did Caroline [his wife] not like a little drink?
Nick: Can we not talk about Caroline?
Rachel: Or Martina [the juror], what about her? (he rolls his eyes) You know I said to her, I said he's changed. But you know, she's amazing Janet, 'cos she just cuts to the chase, she goes right for the jugular. 
Nick: Rachel, I have changed, and I don't give a damn what Janet thinks or says, I just think getting married is ... it's a big step! 
Rachel: She's right though, isn't she?
Nick: (exasperated) Well I don't know because you haven't told me what she said yet - 
Rachel: You're just protecting your own paltry little carcass.
Nick: That's just rubbish!
Rachel: First thing in the morning I'm gonna go to Godzilla's office, and I'll tell her all about you and your little juror friend or I might just do it right now. (gets out her phone)
Nick: Rachel ...
Rachel: What, don't make calls when you're pissed? Or, only in emergencies - (he tries to snatch the phone from her and she fights him off. There's a pause)
Nick: Alright look, we'll get married.
Rachel: (laughs) What?
Nick: We'll get married, if this is what it takes to prove to you that I love you, we'll get married, I just wish you wouldn't GET like this! (he puts his face in his hands and she looks stricken)
Rachel: I'm sorry. 
Nick: It's alright.
Rachel: Is it?
Nick: Yeah.
Rachel: I  had a really shit day, after she had a go at me - I've never fallen out with her, not for more than 10 minutes, and then I started to think things, so I - I'm sorry. (they kiss)
Nick: Smoking.
Rachel: Yeah. Sorry. I'll go and brush my teeth. (she walks out and he shakes his head, looking worried)

This is, in some ways, quite similar to the exchange between Gill and Dave. There is some question as to the moral 'truth' of what's going on (is Nick just keeping Rachel sweet? is Dave acting out of concern for his son) and in both cases, I think the audience is intended to side with the women in their interpretation. The difference is in the attitudes of the characters. While Dave stays very calm in contrast to Gill's rising emotion, the emotional temperature of the conversation between Nick and Rachel starts off high and gets higher, with both of them speaking loudly and quickly. We think we know that Rachel is right in her suspicions (we trust the judgement of Scott, for a start, and we already know how manipulative and slippery Nick is) and that allows us to see more clearly the insidious nature of his machinations here. His continual evading of the issue (bringing up her drinking, and her talking to her colleagues) looks more suspicious than it might if we hadn't previously been persuaded that he's manipulating her. As it is, his implication that she's only accusing him of this because she's drunk looks desperate and rather pathetic. It's also very telling that she manages to brush this evasive behaviour off until the end of the conversation, after he has convinced her that she is the one in the wrong by insisting that it's her behaviour that is unreasonable rather than his. When she capitulates and they kiss, that innocuous little exchange about her smoking highlights perfectly the insidious nature of his controlling behaviour. Whereas earlier his comments about her behaviours that he finds unacceptable are brushed off, now she quickly apologises and goes to make herself more acceptable to him.

This scene, for me, is a perfect illustration of a potentially abusive relationship. Nick's focus on Rachel's unacceptable habits, his complaints about her talking to other people about him, his attempt to make her believe that things are different from how she perceives them - this is classic emotional manipulation and it's one of the things that, for me, clearly marks this show out as progressive. We know that Rachel is right (and it is proved later in the episode), we know that Nick is lying and this is therefore a chilling portrayal of a man manipulating a woman in order to control her behaviour for his own benefit. The fact that both Murray and Scott can see this where Bailey can't, and try to make her "open her eyes" is also significant. Bailey is far from perfect - she is impetuous and stubborn and has made any number of foolish decisions, both professional and personal. Her professional misjudgement often stems from her poor personal judgement, as when she uses her role as a DC to find out Nick's home address from his car registration after she discovers that he is married. She also tells Nick confidential information about her job.

Is Rachel sadly un-feminist, for being potentially brilliant professionally but a complete mess personally, and allowing her personal life to cloud her professional judgement? Well, it may not be ideal, but it has enabled some wonderful interaction between three extremely strong women characters. Scott and Murray have Bailey's back throughout, and although they chastise her for her poor judgement, they ultimately support her, whilst making it clear that her behaviour is both stupid and unacceptable. In the next series, presumably the Nick Savage storyline will be finished with, and we'll get to see Bailey in other contexts. Something else to look forward to is a new character to be introduced, described in the blurb as "the formidable DCI Julie Dobson". I am keeping my fingers crossed for another intriguing, imperfect, highly-watchable character.

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