Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Are The Blacklist Writers Sexist?

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

I’ve been watching The Blacklist because I’m a James Spader fan from way back. The show has a variety of plot-hole problems, which I mostly ignore because it's fast and engaging. But recently an episode irritated me so much, it made really dislike the character. But it’s not her fault, of course.

I’m talking about the episode in which the FBI’s secret location is attacked by a group of machine-gun wielding thugs who want to capture or kill Reddington. In one scene Agent Keen encounters an evildoer who has just murdered several agents—and she has seen the bodies. She demands that he drop his weapon, then punches him in the face. He conveniently falls down and she walks away. Without cuffing him or taking his weapon or anything. WTF?

First, it wasn’t rational human behavior. The bastard would have killed her in a heartbeat, so the only move to ensure survival is to shoot him dead. No conversation necessary. It also went against law enforcement training. They train for shooter/siege scenarios, and once they’ve determined the person in front of them isn’t an innocent bystander, which takes only a second, they shoot. Their job is to protect human beings—citizens or other law enforcement personnel—from imminent danger, and they are trained to shoot to kill in those circumstances. I've volunteered to practice with law enforcement groups in those scenarios, so I've seen the training. They even handcuff dead suspects.

I know Keen killed one of the invaders earlier, but she also waited and gave him too many chances, including standing way too damn close. Law enforcement training also teaches cops and agents to keep twenty feet back from an armed suspect until their weapon is on the ground and kicked away. (Which doesn't make for good video, I know.) Not only was the whole scene stupid and unreal, Agent Keen has been reprimanded for that kind of bullshit before.

 But she’s just a character, an actress doing her job. I blame the writers. More important, I think it’s sexist. Would they write that kind of crap for a male agent? I don’t think so. Male protagonists are allowed to shoot the bad guys. Sometimes, we see a male lead knock people out, take their weapons, and secure them somehow. But that’s usually in a milder one-on-one scenario. In the case of an assault on an FBI building with multiple shooters, with several agents already murdered, I don’t believe writers would have forced a male agent to act so weak and stupid.

I’m not going to give up on the show—because  I still love James Spader—but I am going to write the producers and let them know what I think. For the record, the female FBI agents in my stories would have shot the man dead, as would have I. What do you think? Was it sexist and stupid? Or just lazy and stupid?


  1. Definitely sexist and stupid! You make an excellent point here, LJ! I haven't watched the show but sounds like I should, these points aside. And maybe I can write the producers, too... LOL

  2. My take on it is that they are afraid to show Agent Keen "shooting first and asking questions later" because (they think) it will harden her in the viewers' eyes. Yes, it's standard agent training and yes, she should do that. But we are supposed to believe that 1) she is a strong-willed yet inexperienced agent with MOSTLY good instincts and 2) she is someone that Red will protect at all costs, which points to her vulnerability.

    I also think, for that episode, once we started down the If It Moves, Shoot It path, there would be no hope they'd capture Lizzie alive and bring her before Red as additional incentive to get the door open.

    It was not my favorite episode, but I'm still all in. This week's episode was a good one.

    1. I know you're right about the writers not wanting to harden Keen, because they want her vulnerable, but that's sexist too. :)

    2. I'm trying to imagine Agent Keen as a young man who was being protected by Red. How would that play out?

    3. So we give the audience (readers) what they want... right?

    4. Yes. But just because people don't want to see a quivering man doesn't mean they want female agents to be incompetent because of their emotions. :)

  3. Nope, not sexist. I think the underlying plot in every episode is that LIzzie Keen almost dies each week. She's quite unlucky...until she barely makes it out alive, that is. :-)

  4. That sounds like any conversation my husband and I have while watching Person of Interest (or insert the name of your favorite unrealistic shoot-em-up show).

    Me: That would never happen that way.

    Hubby: If you don't like it, don't watch it.

    Me: *sigh* (And I keep watching.)

    In POI, the one trigger-happy female is that way because she's lacking all emotion, while the men are free to point and shoot and still have feelings. Really?

    1. I hear you! I like Shaw, but resent that the only she can be tough is to be sociopathic.

    2. But I think she knows it's a burden, she knows she's not like other people. I'm actually drawn to her personality. And I'm not certain that Reese is all that touchy-feely.

    3. Reese, not emotional? You saw the episode where he and Joss did the unscripted kiss, right? And the behind-the-scenes people were shocked, but they didn't cut that part because it was so true to the character.

      But now you've got me thinking about all the shows and their female characters and whether they're portrayed as having feminine traits (which are what, exactly, nowadays?) or are just characters who happen to have certain body parts--and why it matters to me that men/women should be portrayed a certain way.

      I do think that any character working as an agent with a gun should follow training and protocol regardless of gender; and then perhaps explore his/her feelings afterward in a way that suits that character.

  5. I haven't seen the show, but I can already tell it's likely to erk me as much as a lot of other shows do. Few if any television shows seem to care about the facts, and a lot of times trying to make a story fit the facts ends up making a better story then just making stuff up. I am way behind on my television watching. The only show I'm currently keeping up with is The Walking Dead. Don't get me started on the continuity errors with it...

  6. So many people saying the same thing: Agent Keen is inept. To be fair, the entire FBI agency is inept, but Agent Keen is exceptionally stupid.

    However, It's felt like I have been the only one saying it's because Hollywood screenwriters are sexist, and reserve special stereotypes for female characters.

    In the majority of action movies I've seen, women are reserved for two kinds of roles: helpless damsel or the nagging foil (who somehow still ends up as the damsel in distress).

    The writers started off the show pretending that Agent Keen had some special intellect, above average. But as we see more episodes, we see that Red is supposed to be her protector ( as she is the damsel in distress). If left to make her own decisions, she CONTINUALLY makes the wrong choice, and Red must bail her out.

    I find it strange that aside from your blog, I don't see much commentary around the internet about this. Maybe, I'm looking in the wrong places.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.