“How will people know she’s the ‘red widow’?”
“Well, we could have her wear red…”
“Oh, yeah, that’s good… And, what if we had her going to her sister’s wedding, you know, you emphasizemarriage and togetherness?”
“Loving it, loving it.”
“Should they be Russian, or should there be a Russian somewhere? You know, ‘cause it’s ‘red’?”
“Excellent. Run with this. Quick, hurry!”
Symbolism’s a tricky thing. It runs in close proximity to Metaphor, which is homies with Simile. Apart, they’re easily discernable. Together, they can be excellent, or they can seem to be a big ol’ mess if crammed together purely to try and add layers to a story. Unfortunately, Red Widow seems to be the latter.
Now, you never want to judge too harshly when it comes to the pilot episode of shows with big ideas working on grand tapestries, especially when they’re on network television. AMC, HBO, and now, with The Americans, FX have the ability to take larger risks because of their niche audience they try and serve to; whereas the big networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, and, to a degree, FOX, have to try and find a suitable substitute for a larger audience. Except when you try and pander to the larger group, you have to take away nuance; which, in turn, adds an amount of fluff that inevitably turns off, seemingly, just as many people.
It’s like having a dinner party but serving peanut butter and jelly because you’re afraid someone wont like octopus. Sure, you can hardly go wrong with PB&J, but most people will leave still hungry and want to go elsewhere to fill up afterwards.
Red Widow suffers from cutting off the crusts. The grit and emotion it tries to harness is painfully missing. Radha Mitchell, whom I really enjoy and plays the title character, is forced into screaming her emotion because it would otherwise not seem like she feels anything at all. For whatever reason it seems network shows like this think sweeping cameras and multiple, guttural screams is the only way to prove emotion. Couple that with the messy attempt to marry symbolism and metaphor in a polyamorous relationship and prove all the levels the show has, and you have for yourself a delectable sandwich where the ingredients were smeared on with the host’s hands as opposed to gently applied with the aid of a knife.
The more I think about it, the more I believe in the idea that these shows try so hard to give you everything all at once. The great shows on television right now, if you remember their pilots, only gave you what you needed. What was necessary. They didn’t try and shove four storylines into one episode. Instead they hinted to possible troubles and themes the viewer should be aware of because they trusted their product was good enough to keep people coming back.
Recently I got into a discussion with a coworker about whether television or movies was in better shape. He said that television was currently the better medium because of all the good shows that are on. And while I agree with him that the upper-echelon of TV is now great (and perhaps consistently greater than what movies have to offer) my argument was that each has a level of terribleness, and that neither should consider itself markedly better than the other.
Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised argues that TV has finally figured it out because they’ve realized they can tell longer stories and draw out character arcs. They have an audience for as long as they tell a good story. Red Widow is the opposite of that. It tells all the stories, shoves all the angles, and wants its audience to be enthralled with everything all at once.
Which is why she shows up in red, helps her sister to become married while we know she soon wont have a husband, and there’s a Russian mob involved.
Dustin O’Donnell – @halfzippdhoodie