Burn Notice: Fiona

Burn Notice is a fun show about spies. It features two women: Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and Madeline (Sharon Gless). As per usual, they exist only to orbit our usual White Male Lead as his love interest and mommy, respectively.

Now, both of them are potentially interesting characters. Fiona likes to blow things up, which sounds promising at first (TV being so devoid of violent women). Madeline is middle-aged and looks it and she’s already had sex here in the first half of the first season. Kudos on all that. And since Madeline has been well-drawn so far – no cut and paste stereotype haracterizations – kudos on her, full stop.

Fiona, I have some problems with.

First: her body is always overtly on display for viewers. Not only does she dress in tight and/or revealing clothes, she poses and struts like a peacock all the freakin’ time. She can’t just sit: she has to lean back sexily on her hands, let her feet swing sexily and sexily tip her sultry head back to let the sun sexily tan her sexy neck. Give it a rest, people – seriously.

Second: unfortunately, her violent tendencies are safely contained within the usual Feisty Female package. To ameliorate audience fears that she might simply be violent despite having a vagina, she’s Irish and used to work for the IRA. Oh, good, an excuse! Fiona comes from one o’ them deviant barbarian cultures, you see, which once allowed their females to fight in war, so it’s understandable why she’s an anomaly. She doesn’t threaten anyone’s assumption that women are, by nature, non-violent because she has reasons (and they’re ethnic stereotypes, no less) why she likes bombs.

Third: she stalks Michael to talk about why he left her. It’s the whole, “I don’t want to talk about this”, “Well, I do”, “Well, not right now”, “Well, when can we?”, “Oh, no, it’s time for The Big Talk” Standard TV Relationship Package #4, in which the man doesn’t want to discuss it and the woman does. Because women are all about the relationships and the talkin’.

My biggest problem with Fiona, really, is that I don’t know her. She’s not a person to me. She’s very good at what she does as a spy, she relishes blowing things up the same way I would; but I don’t know who she is or what her life has been like, or even why she’s interested in resuming her relationship with this guy. She’s a sexual, feisty, competent satellite as opposed to the dim-witted, passive, virginal satellites of years past, but she is still ultimately just a satellite of our White Male Lead.

Comments

  1. sbg says

    Yes! I enjoy the show for the most part – the ONE aspect I want them to change is the Fiona/Michael thing. It does have potential (though, honestly, I don’t see chemistry between them) to be not too nauseating, but it really rankles that she’s supposed to be this tough woman…only I can’t help but feel much of that is negated by the fact she’s there to be the clingy girlfriend, too. I find it vaguely creepy that she keeps pressuring him – reverse the roles and I’d definitely use the word stalking.

    Also, she needs to eat more and put on some clothes.

  2. says

    You managed to articulate some of the things that have been bothering me a bit about Fiona. I like Michael, I really like the show… but I only kind of like Fiona. She seems like she could be a great character, but she revolves so completely around Michael that she doesn’t have a life of her own. In the last episode, I was actually suprised for a second when there were scenes that took place in her apartment. I had to remind myself “Why, yes, Fiona would continue to exist when Michael is not around and so would need a place to sleep when she’s not in his bed.”

  3. S. A. Bonasi says

    I actually love Fiona. And I definitely have a different take on her.

    She’s sexy, but I’ve always felt like she owns it — she dresses/acts the way she does because it amuses her. (What does bother me, though, is the tits-&-asses shots the show often uses.)

    I also saw her IRA past as just being an explanation for where she learned all the shit she knows, since it’s not typical civilian fair. (Similarly, Sam’s a semi-retired spy, which is the explanation for how he knows people.) Although, I wonder if this might be a regional/age thing. I’m in the South Eastern part of the United States, and I haven’t really seen a persistant presentation here of Irish people/culture being barbaric/deviant.

    I am a little ambient about her and Michael’s relationship. It’s a flip on things. She’s pursueing him, rather than the other way around. It’s stalking, which isn’t right, but it’s very common to see male characters in U.S. media stalk their female love interests and have it presented as “romantic”. Of course, since it is stalking, it makes it rather weird as the central love triangle, even if the show does have some understanding that Fiona and Michael are both very f-ed up people. For the time being, I’m going to wait and see how the season resolves it.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    (What does bother me, though, is the tits-&-asses shots the show often uses.)

    That’s precisely the meta that keeps me from feeling like she owns it. I do get your take, if I stick strictly to what happens in the episodes. But the meta tells a story all its own.

    I wonder if this might be a regional/age thing. I’m in the South Eastern part of the United States, and I haven’t really seen a persistant presentation here of Irish people/culture being barbaric/deviant.

    I think it’s more prevalent as you go further north on the East Coast. The stereotype is that people of Irish/Scottish descent are hot-headed, unlike their socially superior cool-headed cousins of English descent.

    Of course, since it’s a stereotype about white people (ironic, given how many non-white Americans have Irish/Scottish heritage, too, but that’s a whole other rant), it’s sometimes viewed as sort of cute and complimentary – like stereotyping white men as insensitive dolts. It doesn’t do the sort of damage to our lives that stereotypes against people perceived as non-white do. But having what you do dismissed as “just what a [insert ethnic group here] would do” is never a positive experience.

  5. MaggieCat says

    Also, she needs to eat more and put on some clothes.

    Anwar has had that body type since she was young (I’m remembering a movie from 1991 that I love, when she would have been 20) and the show takes place in subtropical Miami. Neither of those things are very fair indictments against the character.

    I think it’s more prevalent as you go further north on the East Coast. The stereotype is that people of Irish/Scottish descent are hot-headed, unlike their socially superior cool-headed cousins of English descent.

    This troubles me more. Maybe it’s being a redhead named Maggie (with a Mc last name to boot) so this is one I’ve personally run into before. I was rather disappointed when her IRA history was revealed, since it seemed like such an obvious choice, which makes it harder to build a three dimensional character.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    I purposely did not mention what the actress’ body looks like because it’s so hard to do that without coming across like we’re also judging her for how she looks (like the producers and networks who tend to focus on a woman’s body first, talent and skill second).

    Anwar has a very fat-free body. All wiry muscle. At least she has the muscle you’d associate with a real life soldier of sorts. I actually don’t think she is emaciated like a lot of actresses – maybe you can achieve that look by starving yourself, but she looks to me like a naturally petite-framed person who works out like crazy and eats very low fat… which is, at least, a healthy lifestyle.

    If I’m wrong and she is starving herself, then of course I would like that to change because no career is worth a person’s health and Hollywood really must get over this double standard which allows men to meet healthy beauty standards but requires women to harm themselves to reach insane goals that often aren’t even attractive. And there is also the point that regardless of why she’s that slim, a better-padded woman would never have been hired for the role because Hollywood is shit like that.

    I just wish her body wasn’t being pushed at us as an object to ogle.

  7. sbg says

    Anwar has had that body type since she was young (I’m remembering a movie from 1991 that I love, when she would have been 20) and the show takes place in subtropical Miami. Neither of those things are very fair indictments against the character.

    I’ll give you the first bit, as that tends to be one of my knee-jerks I can’t always keep in. But the subtropical Miami thing? Not so much. Maybe if Fiona wasn’t the only one trotting around in next to nothing. The guys always have pants on, and usually shirts. And goodness knows Sharon Gless’ character seems to combat the heat and still manages to keep clothed. ;)

  8. S. A. Bonasi says

    sbg,

    Chiming in real quick as a Floridian, I’m utterly baffled by all the men in suits on the show. Seriously, Sam’s the only male character who generally dresses in such a way as to not immediately overheat.

    And to be honest, I didn’t find Fiona’s clothing to mark her as sexy so much as her strutting/posing. I mean, she dresses appropriately for the weather, but not in so little as to standout in my mind.

    (I’ll respond to the other comments later. Unpacking at the moment!)

  9. MaggieCat says

    Maybe if Fiona wasn’t the only one trotting around in next to nothing. The guys always have pants on, and usually shirts. And goodness knows Sharon Gless’ character seems to combat the heat and still manages to keep clothed.

    Sam frequently wears shorts or linen pants, and is usually wearing some sort of loud tropical-print shirt from what I can recall: both are reasonable for the climate. And I know seeing him walk around in his underwear was more than I needed on my television, regardless of how realistic it was. As far as I can recall (admittedly I usually watch the show while doing something else) we’ve never seen Madeline outside of her presumably air-conditioned house for very long.

    Michael’s constant suit wearing is probably intended as a character trait: he’s an extremely controlled and hyper-aware person who would feel most comfortable being able to project a legitimate and respectable front since he is so often doing illegal things. It’s an interesting bit of psychology that someone with his background would know; people tend to automatically trust someone wearing a suit. It’s why you’ll almost never see a defendant in court wearing anything else if they or their lawyer have the option.

    Most of the other men we’ve seen more than once are FBI and required to present a certain image. This makes them the anomaly, not Fiona. I agree with BetaCandy and Bonasi that the problem is more with her body language and presentation than her wardrobe.

    (And I hope my first comment didn’t sound overly critical. Hearing people say things like “just eat a sandwich” or the inevitable opposite “just go on a diet” tend to trigger my knee-jerk response. :-) )

  10. sbg says

    I guess I just see the lack of clothes as highly correlated with the body language issue – would her posing be nearly as noticeable if she wasn’t doing it baring as much flesh as she does? For me it would still be annoying, but the lack of attire really accentuates it for me. THAT’S what I’ve been trying and failing to say.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    SBG, you may also be picking up that there’s a reason they set the show in Miami instead of Alaska, and that’s the good excuse it gives them to show off the female lead’s body for the audience.

    Even though how she dresses does make sense given the locale, and I really wouldn’t object to that alone, the meta here is “…and Michael just happened to get dumped in a place where his girlfriend could show off her T&A for the target audience. Enjoy the show”.

    Also, do we see a lot of other women dressing like she does? The female crime boss in that one ep (where Michael pretended to be crazier than her gang) didn’t. Sam’s girlfriend doesn’t. I’ll have to watch the background women, but I just haven’t noticed anyone else’s near-nekkid body… because I’m not supposed to. The camera guides me to feast my eyes on Fiona.

    And that’s what I resent. Because I’m being invited to ogle her body without the risky distraction of getting to know her personality and finding out I don’t like it.

    I think I really could like her – I do enjoy her frequently. I just wish they’d flesh her out in the other way. ;)

  12. says

    you wrote:
    To ameliorate audience fears that she might simply be violent despite having a vagina, she’s Irish and used to work for the NRA.

    It’s I.R.A. not N.R.A.

    but good points in the rests of the post. Bid you and yours peace love and understanding.
    all the best,
    ceann rua

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    *smacks forehead*

    I remember thinking “That’s not right” as I typed it, then figuring “No, I always think it’s wrong because it’s the same initials as the National Rifle Association.”

    Yeeah. Could maybe use a vacation. ;)

    Thanks for the correction – I edited the post.

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