Alex: Wings’ biggest miss

Wings gave us some great women characters. Helen, who won’t take crap from anybody; Fay, a rare older woman who’s so cheerful you’d never suspect she can be totally evil; the mother of Joe and Brian, who abandoned them and never should have been a parent; and a number of women who passed through the characters’ lives and behaved in ways we weren’t used to seeing TV women behave (I have got to write about Helen and Gayle, the ex- and current girlfriends of Joe, who become best buddies with each other).

It also gave us Alex Lambert (Farrah Forke), the ex-Army feminist parody. Oy.

She’s got the female beauty signals (long, lovely hair, big boobs, long legs), but she flew a chopper in Desert Storm. Like most TV women who do “men’s work”, she has a man’s name. And like most TV women, she exists primarily to reveal something about male characters: namely, brothers Brian and Joe, who have a lifelong habit of fight over women like they once fought over toys. The problem is that Alex’ characterization is sacrificed in the process, and because she’s introduced as one o’ dem feminists (in her very first episode, she lectures the guys on not calling women “gals” and so on), she plays into the 90s perception of feminists are humorless snots who are mean to men.

She comes off as a deliberate tease because she frequently tells off Joe and Brian, then lets it slip where she’s going so they can follow her around like drooling dogs. I’m paraphrasing, but the sense I come away with is: “Stop calling me ‘gal’! I’m a woman and I can do everything you can do better! Now, Helen, I’m going to go put on clingy spandex and sweat at the gym.”

Like everyone else on this show, she’s a hypocrite. But because she couches all her hypocrisy in feminist rhetoric, it indicts feminists instead of just this single character. For example, there’s a scene where Joe and Brian are checking out her body while she walks past, and not trying to hide their activity from her. She turns and lectures them on how they’re wrong to think she should find it flattering, or indeed care what they think (bravo to that). Then they walk away and she checks them out and smiles broadly. There are positive ways to read the scene: that checking someone out is something you should keep from them unless you’re ready to face them and express your interest directly. But that’s really subtle and takes some digging. The most obvious way to read it is: “Those feminists sure do apply a reverse double standard.”

She later admits to enjoying the attention from them. And she messes with them to keep it going. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it definitely paints her feminism as a brittle facade that doesn’t work. And then she dates Brian. To her credit, she also has the sense the dump him when he breaks a promise more than once.

And then there’s the time she tells Helen she did a nude photo spread in Playboy back in college and this is entirely treated as something to be ashamed of by every character who isn’t too busy drooling about it. Instead of teaching us more about Alex, however, this is used to reveal that Helen is jealous of the life Alex has led. We’re left to consult our personal biases about whether the nude spread totally belies Alex’ feminism, is compatible with her feminism, or has nothing to do with it because perhaps she was young and hadn’t yet become a feminist.

I wrote a lot of similar complaints about Maggie O’Connell years ago, which Ragtime correctly pointed out as being a shallow read on that show, prompting me to write about how both takes are worth discussing because some viewers won’t go beyond a shallow reading. But unlike Maggie, Alex is never explored outside how she relates to Joe and Brian (and Helen, that one time). It takes some fanwanking to come up with a deeper read on Alex than, “Sure, she says she’s this big strong feminist, but what she really wants is attention and approval from men.”

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