By: Glynis Neely
The director of #WonderWoman, Patty Jenkins, has made a name for herself ever since the film’s release. It has broken box office records, transcending all the supposed odds. Heretofore Jenkins was known as the director Monster, featuring Charlize Theron’s Oscar winning role as Eileen Wournos, a troubled but opportunistically murderous woman. If one were to look at just Jenkins’ film work, a theme clearly emerges: complicated, but resolute women. Wournos was an incredibly polarizing figure as the most prolific female serial killer in American history. Wonder Woman too contains multitudes; she is a fierce, confident warrior trained for battle from a young age who also believes in the inherent beauty and good of humanity. Jenkins’ burgeoning film career is likely to take off after the success of Wonder Woman. However, for those with a penchant for female-led crime dramas, you might know Jenkins from her small but vital work on AMC’s The Killing.
Aside from directing several episodes of Entourage and Arrested Development, Jenkins introduced small screen audiences to a new and different kind of resilient female character in hard-nosed Seattle homicide detective Sarah Linden, a masterfully, expressionless performance from Mirelle Enos. The murder mystery series premiered in 2011 on #AMC and Jenkins directed the pilot, as well as the season two finale, thereby wrapping up the storyline she began. The show, based on the Danish series Forbrydelsen (The Crime), survived sudden death after it was canceled twice by AMC before being picked up and completed by #Netflix. As I have discussed before, it focuses a lot of attention on how death and loss affect these complicated women, many of them mothers who are just trying to navigate the world into which they find themselves- none more so than Sarah Linden.
At the start of the pilot, Linden is tasked with working a new case on her last day on the force, as she is moving out of town with her son Jack to live with her fiancé. After a bloody sweater is found in a Seattle park, Linden and her replacement, Detective Stephen Holder, are sent to work the scene and follow up on the leads. They connect it to the disappearance of a local girl, 17-year-old Rosie Larsen and proceed to do a sweep of the park. After hours, thanks to Linden’s observation, they discover a car submerged at the bottom of a lake, with a young girl’s body found in the trunk. It’s confirmed to be the missing girl. It’s immediately clear that Linden is affected by this discovery as she continually doges calls from her fiancée and leaves her son in the care of a friend. Instead of leaving Seattle, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Rosie.
Diana and Linden are cut from the same cloth
From the moment she appears, Linden is nothing but hard angles. A stoic woman, with a clear lack of self-care and a troubled past, Linden seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on the job, often to the neglect of her teenaged son. Linden’s mother abandoned her at a young age, so she grew up in a series of foster homes. It affected her so long ago, but she’s hardened her worldview to fit her experiences. She became a detective to give a voice to the voiceless and its gives her a reason to be.
In most ways, Diana is the opposite of Linden. She is soft and feminine and wears her heart on her sleeve, but she is also incredibly strong and endlessly confident. Thus far she has lived on an island with nothing but strong women, so she has not had a lot of hardships in her life. However, after the tragedy of losing Antiope, Diana does not let it tamper her goal to do the right thing and join Steve to help save man from war. Diana is determined to rid the world of Ares, the god of war, and she will even cross No Man’s Land in order to do it. Emboldened by love, Diana continues stopping along their journey, even in the trenches, to help people because she believes it is her purpose.
Love does not vitalize Linden like it does Diana. Linden keeps her demons very close by deflecting those around her with the hardened shell she’s developed over the years until it looks like she doesn’t care about anything. Her tunnel vision on the case only pushes everyone she loves further away; her fiancée is initially persistent but he eventually walks away; her son Jack starts acting out constantly in a desperate plea for attention; and she cannot seem to trust or even get along with Holder, at first. The discovery of Rosie’s body sets her off course and her determination to find out what happened consumes her existence. Yet as her personal life crumbles around her, Linden ultimately wants to do the right thing; she wants to give Rosie’s parents closure about what happened to her.
They may be working for a similar goal, both amid a world of men, but they approach it with different skill sets: Linden is a seasoned investigator and Diana is an accomplished warrior, though both are not exactly skilled in the ways of normal interaction. They both grew up in a community of people who shaped their worldview. Diana was raised among other powerful woman and therefore fundamentally sees herself as powerful. Linden grew up in a foster home, which hardened her but also gave her a purpose. Diana’s love of humanity and her belief in their inherent goodness wins out eventually, even despite Ares insistence that humans are weak and fundamentally evil. More than anything, their passion for justice is what unites them as two sides of the same coin.
Who Killed Rosie Larsen?
The two episodes that Jenkins directs are also somewhat different reflections of the same story. They may not work in succession as a seamless film, as a lot of information would be missing, but they share many parallels. From the pilot to the season 2 finale, the shockwave of Rosie’s death has radiated through the characters. The pilot is full of dread and apprehension, with characters unable to move forward. The finale is all about looking towards the future as they try to move on with their lives after all the events that changed them on the way.
Linden initially seems like she can’t wait to leave her job, but it becomes clear that she is stalling because it is the only thing that lights a fire under her. After the case is solved and another body is immediately found, she finally does walk away – though if you know her at all, you know she will be back. After all, her commitment to justice is just as strong as Wonder Woman’s. She and Holder do not get along at first, but Holder learns how to become a better detective and she finally starts to trust him, ultimately closing the case together. Mitch and Stan Larsen are initially destroyed by Rosie’s death and their marriage falls apart. They eventually come to terms with the death of their daughter and try to move on for the family they have left.
However, Jenkins’ focus across both episodes is the answer to the question the show posed in their marketing material: Who Killed Rosie Larsen? She does not let the audience forget that this is as much Rosie’s story as it is Linden’s. In the pilot’s cold open, Rosie is running for her life through the woods and we see what was likely her last moments of fear before her life was cut short. This is the only moment we see Rosie as the rest of the episode focuses on her family’s confusion and misery in the wake of her death.
While the pilot focused on their profound grief and inconsolable loss, the finale wants to give most of the attention to Rosie and her family finding the courage to move on without her. It opens with the last happy moments Rosie spent with her family while they pack for a camping trip, as she is distracted daydreaming about her future. Linden follows the clues and eventually connects the dots to reveal what happened to Rosie. It turns out that she was killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a cruel twist of fate. But Jenkins doesn’t let Rosie’s last moments on earth be the last we see of her. Instead, Linden drops off a tape she found that Rosie made for her family in anticipation of her trip to leave home. They watch her final goodbye and her optimistic words are the last we see of her.
Light from Dark
The optimism intrinsic to Wonder Woman is present in Jenkins’ film throughout, despite the destructive presence of war looming over everyone’s head. She gets excited about a baby – the first one she’s ever seen – and no matter how dire things become, she sees the other side and doesn’t stop fighting. Linden also doesn’t stop; she may not be a generally happy person, but she is determined. Jenkins’ finesse with nuanced, driven women is clearly on display, but so is her ability to shed light on a very depressing story. In the pilot, Jenkins incredibly showcases the happiest Linden will ever be on the series. She smiles more in that episode than she does for the majority of the series, and she seems to be genuinely happy with her fiancé and taking care of Jack until the case grabs her attention.
Both stories speak to the innocence lost and how easily someone you love can leave the world, but that it’s not the end of the story. The ones who were lost would want them to keep living and moving on. Linden does not give up on Rosie until she finds out what happened, and she does eventually move on. Wonder Woman finds the source of her power in love and commits to save the world for as long as she lives. Their tragedies shape them into the strong women they become, but their mutual quest for justice truly gives them a purpose.