While everyone else has been busy trying to remake The Great Gatsby, Amazon has decided to place their focus on author F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda. But, with the pilot for Z: The Beginning of Everything , which is available for you to review and rate as part of Amazon's latest pilot season, the creators are treating Ms. Zelda Sayre as someone who is much more than the female counterpart of a famous husband. She's a complicated character all on her own. This version of Zelda, based on Therese Anne Fowler's 2013 novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald , looks at the "Southern belle turned flapper" as she figures out who she wants to be at a time when female prospects were limited.
She's a teenager looking to rebel from her Montgomery, Al. society duties, as the men go off to war and she gets left behind, concerned she'll always be a supporting player in this life that's been chosen for her. A rebel with a desire to help our boys as they fight the good fight, her dad (played by David Strathairn) thinks she should be a society girl, not a party girl. Now, this could all just come off as historical teenage angst, but with Christina Ricci as Zelda — yes, at 35 years old, she can somehow still play a teenager with ease — there's a sense of maturity to the character. There's the sense that there is something much more interesting underneath the surface ready to bubble over.
The pilot, directed by actor Tim Blake Nelson, isn't perfect; there's a lot of focus on how modern Zelda is and how stuck in their ways everyone else is. Throughout, it feels as if the episode is trying to prove Zelda Sayer Fitzgerald deserves a show of her own — and, perhaps, that's because the pilot has to convince people of just that to get a full season. But, there are bright moments that should pique viewer interest.
Set in 1918, right before Zelda met her future husband, it definitely takes a page from a Jane Austen novel, casting the young, yet-to-be-published F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gavin Stenhouse) as a brooding Mr. Darcy type whose importance is felt the minute he locks eyes with Zelda a country club dance. Some may be turned off by how quickly he enters her story, concerned this will make it nothing more than a period romance, but so much of her life was with this man. Even the title of the show is taken from a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote about her: "I love her, and that's the beginning and end of everything." Strong words could only be used to refer to a strong woman.
The TV series will look at the Golden Age's most famous couple, whose relationship was "made in heaven, lived out in hell," but it will be through the eyes of Zelda's, not F. Scott's. He gets to be the supporting player to a female icon whose story seems indicative of the ongoing struggle for women to have it all. She was often misunderstood, cast as a drunken mess caught up in the Jazz Age in films like Moonlight in Paris. History has shown she was dealing with serious mental illness that forced her to be hospitalized multiple times. Zelda Fitzgerald was a woman who was ahead of her time, and, unfortunately, before the advent of modern medicine, struggling with what we would now call manic-depression in the early '20s — something the show will inevitably delve into.
What is more interesting though is that the series will be able to look at what it would have been like to be the wife of a famous novelist when you wanted so badly to be an artist yourself, but knew that even a changing society was not yet ready for that. It's a part of Zelda's story that's been largely ignored and never actually been tackled onscreen. Even more interesting, it tackles the question of whether the Jazz Age's most famous couple would have been better off without one another. That's why we shouldn't judge Z just by what it is right now in its one episode. We need to think about what it could be. The promise it could hold for a long list of forgotten women in history who deserve to be remembered in their own distinct way.
Images: Amazon Studios