I’ve complained a lot on this site about female assistants and second-in-commands who fall for their bosses, lack leadership skills, screw up but get patted on the head for it… in short, act as live demonstrations for the myth that women just can’t hack it in a man’s world.
Meet an exception: Helen, the assistant to Dominic Da Vinci on Da Vinci’s Inquest.
Helen is just like a lot of assistants I’ve met in real life. She’s overqualified, because this is just her day job (she’s writing a novel). So she’s smart, she anticipates what her employers need done, and needs minimal instruction on how to get things done. She often knows the case files better than Dominic – which is typical of good assistants, because they have more time to review files than the people actually doing the tasks described in the files.
Dominic is not an easy guy to work for. If you’re screwing up, you know it from his yelling at you. If you’re doing good work, there’s no yelling, and if you’re lucky maybe an occasional thank you. He respects and appreciates Helen because she’s competent; she respects and tolerates him because he’s a basically good guy doing a good job.
Never, ever at any point in the series do we have any idea about Helen’s love life. There’s no hint of sexual tension between her and anyone on the show – particularly anyone in the office. The most we find out about her is when she’s helping Dominic sort out whether a teenage girl killed herself or was murdered – the evidence points equally in both directions. Dominic asks Helen whether she was popular in high school, or a geek. “Everyone feels like a geek sometimes,” she says, “but I was popular with myself.”
Helen’s role is small, but it jumps out at me as the single realistic portrayal I’ve seen in years of a woman who works in an office full of men. She doesn’t have a truly personal relationship with these men. And yet, they all give each other sympathy and support when it’s called for. Helen bases a novel character on Da Vinci and wants him to read it before she sends it to publishers. So there’s nothing impersonal about the relationships either. It’s just like real co-workers: a sort of second family.