Piper Chapman, Mako Mori

I’ve been mentioning a bit on Twitter how I dislike the lead character, Piper Chapman, of NetFlix’s orginal series Orange is the New Black. I do. Dislike her. I find her intensely irritating as a human being.

But that does not mean she is a bad character to watch. Oh, no. On the contrary, I love watching this show. And Piper Chapman is a great deal of the reason why.

I fear, sometimes, that we as fans sometimes confuse “I really like this character” with “I think well of and respect this character and her choices.” I love a number of characters who are, frankly, vile people. Or who are just dangerously self-absorbed poor decision-makers and I never want to meet them. My favorite X-Man is Rachel Grey, and goodness knows I think she is dangerously crazy and prone to deciding that the universe needs to end. NOT someone I want to have coffee with.

The qualities that make a character interesting to watch are … are, really in some ways opposed or orthogonal to what would make a person a good friend. I don’t want steadiness in a fictional character, I want drama. I want my fictional characters to make smart decisions based on the information they have at hand, but I want them to make mistakes. Huge mistakes bring complicated consequences, and watching a beloved character get untangled from those consequence is a major reason I read or watch fiction. (“Vorkosigan,” she coughed into her fist.)

I was thinking further about this as I have been reading some responses to Pacific Rim. The movie appears to be polarizing in fannish circles, certainly. But one criticism I have read and do not share is that Mako Mori isn’t a good enough female character.

What I loved and appreciated about Mako is that, even though she is the only major female character in the film, she is allowed to be complicatedly imperfect. She is given interesting flaws — she is angry, hellbent on revenge. She is critical and perfectionistic. She is hot-headed and prone to fights. She is, in short, a complicated human being full of imperfection and promise.

That’s what I want from Strong Female Characters. Imperfection. Strength. Individuality. Anger. Autonomy. Joy.

I can’t say everyone will like either Pacific Rim or Orange is the New Black, but I did. I do. They make the world wider by existing in it.


One Response

  1. I haven’t seen anybody saying Mako is a bad character, though I’m not surprised that it’s happening. I was kind of irritated by the way that she was framed compared to the other characters (why on EARTH would she be the only person who would have an emotional reaction to the monsters/ why is her emotional situation problematic and not Raleigh’s situation of having his brother murdered in front of him?) But I did like that the movie was all about her working through that emotional arc.

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