Beth Deserves Better Than Failing Upwards on NBC's 'Good Girls'
A few weeks ago, I suggested that the now-canceled Whiskey Cavalier and still-on-the-bubble Abby’s were the most mediocre shows on network television. I probably should have included NBC’s Good Girls on that list, because while the cast — Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman, Retta (and occasionally Alison Tolman) — is terrific, the writing is something akin to a watered-down, network television version of Breaking Bad. It’s fine. It’s very good passive television, the cast is good enough to keep viewers invested, and there’s an occasional twist that keeps things interesting.
That said, I was a little dismayed by this quote from co-showrunner Bill Krebs, when asked whether there are plans for the series, should it be renewed beyond the third season (for which it has been picked up):
We look at it as character journeys really, for all of them and where they should get, you know for themselves. And you know, can we copy that out to multiple seasons or if we just have to just do it in one.
The showrunners say that they have an endpoint in mind for each of the characters, but that quote seems to suggest that they’re going to “copy out” their journeys each season until they finally arrive at their endpoint, which is a funny a way of saying, “We’re just going to repeat ourselves until we get to the series finale.”
I’m not saying that’s exactly what the show has done in its first two seasons, but it’s not that far off. The characters get in hot water, they bury themselves deeper, and they finally dig themselves out in the season finale, but a loose end necessitates that they repeat the process the next season.
Last season, that “loose end” was Boomer (David Hornsby), a rapist and persistent thorn in their side who threatened to blow up their counterfeiting racket. They thought that problem was taken care of early on in the season when Mary Pat ran over and killed Boomer and pinned the blame for the murder on Beth. That problem essentially went away when it was revealed deus ex machina style that Boomer didn’t actually die. When his grandmother forced Boomer to turn himself into the cops, that let Beth off the hook with the Feds. You can’t go away for murder when nobody is dead.
However, Rio — the sexy, dangerous counterfeiting kingpin played by Manny Montana — still controlled Beth’s operation and pulled all the strings, at least until the season finale. Rio, realizing that FBI Agent Turner would continue to hound Beth even after the murder charge went away, decided to abduct Agent Turner and compel Beth to shoot and kill him (because the FBI never investigates the cases a murdered FBI agent is working on?). Beth decides, “You know what? I’m not going to kill the FBI Agent. I’m going to kill Rio, instead,” and so she shoots Rio three times and lets Agent Turner go. Turner tells Beth to get the hell out, and then Agent Turner says to a dying Rio basically, “If I call an ambulance to save your ass, you’re gonna owe me.”
Beth, however, goes home thinking that Rio is dead and that Turner owes her for saving him, so she decides — after wiping the f**king slate with the FBI — to get back into the counterfeiting business, but this time, she can be her own boss.
In other words, these characters never learn. And I guess that’s the major difference between Breaking Bad and Good Girls: Walter White meticulously rose to the top of the drug world by devising a series of schemes to get him there. He never quit because he never lost, and his ego and hubris continued to grow. In Good Girls, Beth doesn’t “win” through meticulous planning or devious schemes. She gets lucky, and she “wins” by virtue of incompetence — those pursuing her are slightly more incompetent than she is. Boomer’s “death” is the perfect example. Walter White would’ve killed Boomer and gotten away with it. Beth got away with it because she couldn’t murder Boomer and she escaped an arrest by virtue of there being no crime. And yet, her ego and hubris continue to grow because she mistakes luck for competence.
Obviously, Good Girls — a network show — should not be held to the same standard as one of the greatest cable shows of all time. At the same time, it’s frustrating to see every plan these characters put into motion fall apart, and yet Beth continues to gain an unearned rise in status because others fail harder. The only good decision Beth has made was to shoot Rio, but even in that regard, she couldn’t kill him, which means that Beth, Annie, and Ruby will spend yet another season trying to cover up their mistakes instead of outsmarting their enemies.
That kind of writing actually ends up doing a terrific disservice to the characters. I was listening to a podcast this weekend with Gillian Flynn, where she was talking about how important it is for female characters to be as evil and Machiavellian as male characters. And that I’d like to see. But in Good Girls, the show continues to hedge its bets with Beth. Instead of letting sex, greed and power dictate her actions, most of her decisions are made under the guise of “friendship” or “family.” If Good Girls wants to improve in season three, it should not “copy out” another season. It should let Beth fully break bad and “win” on her own steam, instead of continuing to fail upwards. And if anyone can pull that off, it’s Christina goddamn Hendricks, six-time Emmy nominee for playing Joan goddamn Holloway.
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