The Dark Heroine and the Fair Heroine
It is very easy to let archetypes become stereotypes in storytelling. Sometimes storytellers become so anxious about the possibility of their characters becoming sterotypes (that is, a mere two dimensional, cardboard “type”) that they avoid anything that resembles a standard archetype. Archetypes deal more richly and honestly with the qualities that belong to them — that’s why they are not “stereotypes.”
I went through all that in order to say that although USA Network’s Fairly Legal series began close to the edge of the stereotypes of the Fair and Dark Heroines, the show’s storytellers have managed to avoid the worst elements of the Stereotype Trap.
The principal characters of this series are Kate Reed, a passionate young woman who gave up being an practicing attorney to become a mediator. Her counterpart is her step-mother, Lauren, a competent woman who became a professional partner to Kate’s (now dead) father. It should be noted that whatever Lauren’s age (it has not been made clear), it is evident it is closer to Kate’s than that of the departed Eddie Reed. Where the Fair and Dark aspects play into this lies in the fact that Kate is a tempestuous, passionate brunette and Lauren a cool, collected blonde.
In The Scribbler’s Guide to the Land of Myth, I discuss at length the qualities exemplified by these two character modes. So I won’t go into all the details here (you can find them in the book!). But the key elements we need for this discussion are that the Dark Heroine is usually passionate and chaotic while the Fair Heroine is calm, cool and ordered. Other dichotomies that would go along with this could be night versus day, outside versus inside.
As I said, Fairly Legal plays with these archetypes.
Dark Heroine in Motion and Disorder
Kate is frequently seen on the move. She doesn’t stay put in one spot very often. She perpetually runs late to meetings. She leaves chaos in her wake.
Kate easily becomes passionate about the things she takes an interest in, whether it is a client involved in a mediation or tickets to a performance by a Brazilian singer.
Fair Heroine Holds to Order
Lauren, on the other hand, works hard to keep everything in order. As managing partner of Reed & Reed, she tracks as much of the work in the firm as she can, keeping on top of business. But she’s also subdued her emotions, placing them second to her dedication to keeping her husband’s firm afloat. She definitely comes across as the Ice Queen of the firm.
For much of the first season the clash between Kate and Lauren was tinged with the clash of a Passionate Wild Child fighting an Evil Ice Queen. In the pilot (which was laden with Wizard of Oz references), Kate had assigned a ringtone to Lauren of the Wicked Witch of the West theme from The Wizard of Oz). That kind of opposition can work very effectively in a one shot. But for an ongoing series, unless they were going to commit to open warfare between the women, this clash needed to be adjusted.
With Season 2, the storytellers have yoked Kate and Lauren together as partners in the firm, obliging them to find ways to work together. It is enough conflict in Kate’s tempestuous manner bouncing off Lauren’s sleek exterior. Additionally, Lauren’s prefrence to stick “by the book” to the rules of law and society gets bent by the heat of Kate’s passions. They make excellent foils for each other.
It should be noted that Kate is the main character in the series, so it is her goals which end up driving the main story lines in episodes.
More Elements of Kate As Dark Heroine
There are, however, additional things to demonstrate the Dark Heroine elements in Kate’s character. There are the men in her life.
Kate’s assistant Leo provides a small amount of balance to Kate’s trajectory. But, notably, he does not attempt to change her too much.
Kate’s ex-husband, Justin, however, is a different matter.
Kate cannot quite let go of her relationship with Justin. He, as an Assistant District Attorney, represents order and stability – much the way Lauren does. But Justin cannot escape the fascination that the mercurical Kate creates for him. She stretches his boundaries, drags him beyond the limits he considers safe. But she leaves a lot of turmoil behind her, making him work harder at keeping his own life orderly.
With Season 2, a new man has entered the picture. Ben Grogan rescued the firm by buying into it as a full partner. He may be a practicing lawyer but his methods verge on Kate-level of chaos. Kate is now obliged to deal with someone who does not give her a clear, ordered surface to bounce off.
How does a chaos element (the Dark Heroine) deal with another chaos element? The boundaries are down. Order is not on the agenda. Emotion is definitely in play, for Ben has not made a secret of his attraction to Kate. He has even openly challenged her on her inability to really choose between Justin and himself. Chaos gives chaos plenty of problems.
Playing With the Archetypes
The point of all this is that Fairly Legal lets the archetypes play more fully, exploring all aspects of their natures. Just how controlled is Lauren? And just how much attraction does order and stability have for Kate? What happens when Lauren’s emotions get overturned or Kate has to play by the rules or lose everything?
These are the types of conflicts a storyteller can generate when he lets the archetypes really run true to their forms, rather than limit them to the obvious and thus end up as brightly colored cardboard. If you are going to use such motifs, pull out all the stops. You could end up with a character that’s as engagingly vivid as Fairly Legal‘s Kate Reed.