State of Affairs (SoA) draws fairly innovatively on recent portrayals of female characters with, or connected to, political power. It slightly redefines women’s roles, but this is contained within the wider, masculine political and social institutions. – and corporate-dominated capitalist system.
The opening episode focuses on the story of Charleston Tucker (Charlie), a CIA analyst, who prepares daily briefs of current “threats”, for the POTUS (the US president ). A key focus of Charlie’s story is introduced in the very first scenes – a flashback to Charlie’s experience of a traumatic, chaotic, CIA mis-adventure in Kabul, Afghanistan, in which her fiancé Aaron was killed.
In a slight twist on woman asa powerful political player, who is also a nurturing and protective mother, Charlie and the POTUS are linked by the death of Aaron, who is also the president’s son. He was a humanitarian aid worker. His mother has no physical or biographical resemblance to Hillary Clinton, other than that Clinton could maybe, possibly, perhaps… be the first female POTUS. (See articles in Washington Post and in the National Review on the many shows allegedly influenced by Hillary Clinton’s political life, including State of Affairs.)
SoA‘s style is a bit edgy and pacey, and creaates the feel of now-ness through characters being constantly digitally connected. The paceyness is achieved through quick edits, camera movement and changes in camera angles, as well as by people walking within and between locations, or travelling in moving vehicles. At the same time there’s back and forth switches between other locations connected via computers, CCTV surveillance, and mobile phones. (screencaps from here).
Charlie and the POTUS don’t usually wear the Hillary Clinton style trouser suits. They tend to wear fashionable skirt suits, or dresses. This is reminiscent of late 20th century girl power, in that it contains women’s sexualised power within a consumerist ethos – a selective appropriation of feminist ideals that continues to signal feminine differences as secondary and appearance-based.
We first see Charlie in a Marilyn Monroe style curve-accentuating dress.
Then we see her in a dark leather jacket, cruising for a one-night stand; her slightly reckless, femme fatale style contained within a murky dive bar,
While the issue of Aaron’s death is set up as an on-going story, this episode focuses on 2 stories the CIA is monitoring: hopes for bringing home the kidnapped US aid worker in Africa, under threat of his possible beheading by an extreme Islamic group, which would be shown on YouTube; this is inter-cut with a story-line focused on the possibility of capturing the guy considered to have been responsible for killing Aaron.
As the episode progressed, I was starting to feel that, politically, and ethically, SoA would just be one long piece of propaganda for the goodness of the US military-industrial-intelligence-politcal complex. But, then, my interest was captured as Charlie began to seem to be less black and white than the leather jacket and the thigh-revealing, power dress she was wearing. She is a risk taker, willing to go against men in authority, and break some rules, or at least break with her bosses’ expectations: much like conventional male heroes and anti-heroes in espionage and thriller genres.
Her yin-yang visual went with her to the scenes at Aaron’s funeral, which are both militaristic and personalised: with uniforms, the US and army flags, and a Coltrane lament instead of the TAPS. Following this, Charlie and the POTUS mutually vow revenge on Aaron’s killers: a vow that,mixes highly emotive vengeance with their politically powerful positions: breaching the more usual and acceptable ethical boundaries of public service. This ambiguity is visually reinforced by being staged against the backdrop of the endless graves of fallen soldiers.
In this, the POTUS moves from her more considered, rational and authoritative style. She then says, “His death will make killers out of both of us”. The two women are incited to revenge on behalf of their man/son. However, the location hints at, but ignores, a wider and more historical cycle of tit-for-tat, bloody vengeance: they stand in front of the endless field of graves of fallen soldiers.
The 2 female characters at the heart of the episode, walk that tightrope required of all powerful women: between embodying a traditional, and, in many ways unthreatening femininity; while also having access to a great amount of state and/or political power.
There is some ambiguity here. Current mainstream US TV fictions are inching towards a re-working of roles of woman with politcal power, while also not being very threatening to the current masculine power structure.
To some extent this challenges and re-works traditional gender differences, indicating more powerful career possibilities for some women. Nevertheless, it is still in keeping with conventional Hollywood formats and values; and within the contradictory values that the US military-industrial, masculine-dominated establishment promotes: a powerful, militaristic empire, partly built on myths of freedom, meritocracy, and democracy: and one in which the brutalities and violent extremes of the US and its allies are glossed over, excused, or ignored..