'Stalker' Might Be Misogynist, But It Can Fix That By Making These Changes
Last Wednesday, CBS debuted it's latest show, the police drama Stalker. Starring Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott as Lieutenant Detective Beth Davis and Detective Jack Larsen respectively, the two work for the Threat Assessment Unit in Los Angeles in order to assess, locate, and take down stalkers before they have a chance to commit any of the lethal crimes for which the conventional LAPD would immediately arrest them. As one victim points out in the pilot, you can't arrest someone for scaring you. However, Stalker has also been accused of being pretty misogynistic and from the first episode it wasn't hard to see why. The real question becomes what is Stalker going to do to fix its misogyny?
The entire premise of Stalker wouldn't work without the incorporation of some sexist attitudes. The stalkers that the show follows and takes down by their very nature feel like they are owed something that their victims, usually female, don't want to give them. We're not supposed to agree with or sympathize with these stalkers. The pilot episode ends with one getting shot by Detective Larsen as soon as he makes a move. These are our bad guys and they embody the very spirit of misogyny.
So, to me, it was easy enough to accept that I'd be dealing with a lot of gross attitudes going into Stalker. I didn't expect my stalkers to be good people. What struck me as truly sexist about Stalker was that their attempt to be even-handed by showing that stalkers can happen to anyone or any gender ended up just making the show look even worse. There are three people who were stalked in the pilot: Kate Edwards, Lori Carter, and single male victim Eric Bates. The first few minutes of Stalker are devoted to showing how a man scares, traps, and sets fire to Kate for mysterious reasons that the episode later reveals. On two separate occasions, precious episode time is devoted to showing the attempts the stalker makes on Lori's life, including a final, cringe-worthy scene where he ties her to an exercise bike and dumps gasoline on her with the intent of setting her ablaze.
However, when it comes to Eric's stalker, we get nothing. They have a seemingly-innocuous conversation that quickly takes a turn for the creepy, but his stalker never makes any attempt on his life. His stalker never tortures him, never touches him, never treats the audience to the kind of gratuitous torture porn we had to witness in the cases of Lori and Kate. If it sounds like I'm belittling Eric's stalking nightmare, it's because the show belittles it. Set against two women who are being set on fire by their stalkers, it seems inconsequential by comparison, like something that belonged in a separate episode with lower stakes.
If Stalker wants a quick fix to their misogyny issue, then they need to make the stakes for male and female victims the same. If it's an episode featuring a stalker-turned-murder, make victims of both genders in very real threat of losing their lives. If it's an episode featuring a stalker who is the biggest creeper to ever have creeped, make victims of both genders in danger of losing their sanity. But to treat their audience to an hour of watching women being tortured, killed, and brutalized by their stalkers while the only male victim is emotionally tortured but walks away untouched is obviously going to leave a bad taste in people's mouths. And I expect a lot more from a show featuring the lead actress from Nikita.