Not too long ago, it was hard to find a female crime fighter on TV who wasn’t a gum-chewing tough broad who wore stilettos while chasing down bad guys. Now, women who work in law enforcement wear more sensible shoes, but there’s a new explanation for why they’re just as emotionally withdrawn as their male partners: blame psychological issues. On Homeland, C.I.A. agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) has bipolar disorder, an illness that apparently causes her to have no-strings-attached hook-ups with strangers in bars. On Bones, forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel) displays many of the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, including an obsession with data and an inability to read other people in social situations. (“I don’t know what that means” is her catchphrase.) Guys aren’t immune to the trend either: in the very first episode of Hannibal, someone asks FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) where he falls “on the spectrum,” and his character does have some traits that could read as autistic, including a lack of eye contact and an ability to sympathize with animals. But when female characters have these conditions, the implications are slightly different. These roles sometimes suggest that only a woman who has trouble forming relationships could possibly be so laser-focused on her career.
Maybe that’s why the character of Detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) bothers me so much on The Bridge, an otherwise compulsively watchable drama about the border wars between the U.S. and Mexico. Though it’s never mentioned in the first episode—and I’m basing this review only on the first episode, which just aired tonight, in order to avoid spoilers—Sonya has Asperger’s, a fact that’s supposed to explain her lack of empathy, as well as her penchant for stripping down to her sports bra in the middle of the police department, in full view of her much older boss (he’s played by the great Ted Levine of it-places-the-lotion-in-the-basket fame). Granted, Sonya is supposed to be a rugged vet from El Paso, Texas, and the fact that she’s played by a German ex-model doesn’t help. With her mannequin beauty, rigid movements, and slight accent, Kruger seems less like a woman on the spectrum trying to pass as a border cop than a Euro-cyborg trying to pass as human. (Watch her eyes shifting in this clip, from 0:23 to 0:25, and tell me she’s not a fembot.) But it’s not Kruger’s fault that Sonya sometimes talks like her brain has been programmed by Siri. “I’m sorry if I didn’t exercise empathy,” she tells a murder victim’s husband, right after bluntly informing him that his wife is dead. Although she’s undeniably awkward, the more Sonya ignores people’s feelings, the closer she gets to solving crimes. When a man gets locked inside a car that’s been rigged with a bomb, she calls him on his cell phone and grills him for details while the last seconds of his life tick down to zero. She seems to support that same old boys’ club cliche: the less emotion you betray, the better you’ll be at your job.
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