The Evolution of Diane Lockhart

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The New York Times livestreamed an absolutely fantastic roundtable conversation between the writers and stars of The Good Wife. The conversation touched not only on the show, but on the role of women in the media, on liberal tendencies to blind themselves to certain realities across the aisle, on censorship on network television, and most importantly, Josh Charles' erotic lunging.

I'm unable to embed the video, but you can (and should) watch it here: http://new.livestream.com/channels/387/videos/76513

What really surprised me was how little attention was paid to the romances and intricate plotting of the show, and how much was paid to the construction of particular characters. Unexpectedly, much of the conversation centered on Diane Lockhart, who has become one of the most revolutionary characters on television, but almost wasn't.

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According to the rules of Desperate HousewivesGrey's Anatomy, and whatever excuses for television they air on Fox, a woman over 40 is characterized by loud desperation. They leap to men like moths to a flame, despite the fact that the biological tick-tock has long ago stopped (for the most part).

And yet, Diane gets a sexy dalliance of her own. It's not even remarkable that she's an outspoken feminist Democrat, and he's a gun-toting tea party member. It's remarkable how normal their relationship is. It's sexy, it's exciting, and it's constrained, the way all relationships suffer from circumstance (Alicia would agree, I'm sure).

This is because time hasn't fundamentally transformed Diane Lockhart. Most women aren't transformed purely by time, there are usually other factors in the mix (again, ask Alicia). Diane is happy with her lot in life, and when she lashes out, it's against existential threats, not against the ravages of time or against "men".

Speaking of existential threats...

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As Robert King points out, Diane was originally conceived as "the mentor who tries to sabotage the mentee," an idea that comes off as arch and a bit troubling in the the pilot. Luckily, the first episode is the last we see of that.

By the time real tension flares up between Diane and Alicia, Alicia and Will's liaisons are actually threatening Diane's entire livelihood, not some fictional idea of what it means to be a woman in a man's world.

One of the things I'm most looking forward to in the second half of the season is the development of the idea that Diane is an alternate universe version of Alicia. Until now, Diane has been a peripheral character in Alicia's world, and it makes sense that Alicia had to reach a certain point in her own journey for Diane to really enter her life in a more meaningful way than mentor-mentee or boss-subordinate.

Alicia almost had to put her private life to bed before she could enter the electron-proton dance with Diane. They're opposite sides of the same woman, and it's fascinating to watch these opposites fight against each other for primacy. I can't wait to see what happens, but if I continue this silly metaphor, I bet it'll be nuclear.

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I think one of the best decisions the Kings made was to shift Diane from being an antagonist to Alicia to being a more general force of her own within the firm. She's never just protecting herself, she's protecting all those who work with her, even Will and Eli, who pretend they don't need a moral center.

She isn't bitter, she isn't regretful, this is her life, and she loves it. It's a character that stands apart from any other on television, where middle aged women are continually played as personifications of loss and/or longing (loss/longing of looks, loss/longing of years, loss/longing of choice, and so on).

Which is why the McVeigh storyline works so well: she experiences emotion as a normal human being, not as some cliché subset of gender and age.

She's an inspiration to all of us because, unlike so many other female characters on television, she's real. She gives us a roadmap for how to live our lives, how to balance our ideals with pragmatism. She doesn't live in a cloud, nor is she consumed by her own neuroses.

Diane Lockhart love letter...out.

 

(primary image credited to liveitout.tumblr.com)

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2 Responses to “ The Evolution of Diane Lockhart ”

  1. Great points, but just a tad bit unfair to Grey's. The main female character that's over forty is Chandra Wilson's Dr. Bailey and I wouldn't call her loud and desperate.


    Watching back the premiere it is interesting to note how Diane and Alicia are sort of being set up as potential enemies (and how, for example, Kalinda is set up to be much younger than Alicia.)

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  2. theoncominghope7 January 2012 06:53

    That's very true about Bailey. But even she becomes that way by about season 4 (in fairness, the whole show becomes unwatchable by then).

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