Political Animals: What Went Wrong with Elaine Barrish
Sigourney Weaver | Photo Credits: David Giesbrecht/USA Network
After I realized Political Animals wasn't a pet-themed reality show and was actually about an empowered female politician, I was beyond thrilled. Any miniseries — forgive me, "television event" — that could lure Oscar-nominee Sigourney Weaver to the small screen has to be great, right? Well, yes and no. Only about 20 minutes into the premiere and I began to realize how misguided I'd been. Political Animals isn't about a strong female in government. It's just another prime-time soap featuring a woman whose power is her sexuality and whose weakness is men (yawn).
Weaver stars as Secretary of State and former First Lady Elaine Barrish who was previously married to chronic philanderer Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds).
Weaver's acting is impeccable, and in the first few scenes the writing lived up to her talent. Elaine established herself as every bit the feminist bada-- Political Animals purported her to be when, after the Russian ambassador cops a feel during a speech, Elaine gracefully ignores the incident until she gets the scoundrel backstage.
Did you enjoy the a---grab, Victor? Good, because the next time you touch me, I'm going to rip off your tiny shriveled balls and serve them to you in a cold borscht soup," Elaine threatened before adding, in Russian, I might add, "I will f—- your sh-- up."
On snap! In that moment, Elaine embodied the fantasy of every person — man or woman — who had ever been harassed, but had never found the right words or courage to speak their mind. In short: she was my idol.
But this isn't the only incident of inappropriate conduct between Elaine and a male politician. In fact, it appears as though every diplomat has the hots for the sitting Secretary of State. During an impromptu negotiation at a bath house, the Turkish ambassador even goes so far as to offer Elaine a deal: one date with him in exchange for what would effectively be the lives of three innocent American journalists. When asked if he would pull the same stunt had she been a man, the ambassador cheekily responds, "No. I'm not attracted to men."
While this is a great comedic high in the series, it's also quite the moral low for Elaine, who soon accepts the deal and praises the ambassador for at least being "an honest scoundrel." But are we really supposed to believe that had the Secretary of State been a man, he wouldn't have found another way to finalize the deal without pimping out a person? No, of course not. It's apparently just that hard for television writers to fathom that a female politician would be successful based on her intelligence and character alone. If Elaine had only attacked the Turkish negotiations with the same ferocity she did the Russian ambassador, she probably could have avoided trading herself like a Pokémon card and received more than begrudging respect from her male colleague.
And while it isn't too much of a stretch to imagine the harassment a woman would receive in the boys club that is the U.S. government, it is hard to imagine that the same woman who was prepared to castrate the Putin-wannabe over an a---grab, would so easily pimp herself out to another ambassador without even the slightest fight.