Collateral

Jane and Kimberly notice something unusual in the ordinary genre of a TV crime show. In BBC mini-series Collateral, each woman, not just the main character, is three-dimensional with a complex inner life driving the story. 

Collateral, 2018 (Netflix)
Writer: David Hare
Director:S.J. Clarkson
Actors: Carey Mulligan, Jeany Spark, Nicola WalkerAhd, Billie Piper, Kae Alexander, Hayley Squires, July Namir, Kim Medcalf  

JAS: With no particular sense of purpose for our blog, I watched the BBC series, Collateral.  And it’s an interesting, good series with important points to be made about the highly relevant topic of immigration, but what I took away was something very relevant to our blog.  I was completely struck by how many well-developed female figures there were in the story and how many conversations there were between women.  The immigrant women are three-dimensional, meaningful in their own right.  Not just plot devices.  The conversations are soulful, eye-to-eye and heart to heart.  Who is the writer?  Oh, David Hare!  Major British playwright and he wrote the screenplay for The Hours, major Oscar winning movie about the inner lives of women.  Okay, time to pay attention.  Would you watch it, take note of each of the women characters and also keep the title in mind.  I’m sure Hare is giving us the title, Collateral, as an open invitation to think about its numerous meanings.

KN:  I watched Collateral and totally see what you see and it is for sure unusual.  Ordinarily, it’s just the main character and a sidekick who get developed.  Every woman in this gets Hare’s attention.  You know, one of these days, we have to loop back to The Hours.  We’ve wanted to talk about that for years!  Let’s first do a little plot summary and talk about the women characters. 

JAS:  The story starts with a murder of a pizza deliveryman that has a professional feel to it but is likely to be dismissed as a random act of violence by the authorities. There’s a witness but she’s strung out on drugs and gives false identification to police.  Kip, the head detective on the case is a woman, seasoned and slightly pregnant.  Her instincts tell her the hit is not random.  She tracks down the victim’s sisters, living illegally in a garage.  The woman who received the pizza from the murdered deliveryman is the ex-wife of a major politician who has a new girlfriend, a TV newswoman.  Set over the course of four days, Kip begins to uncover dark truths beneath the murder that point toward a killer who happens to be female but more importantly, carries a gun for society.  She’s Army.  The witness is revealed to be the girlfriend of a woman Vicar.  In short, the murder of an immigrant carries fall-out for the personal, social and professional lives of numerous women –  Kip, the head detective; Felicia and Mona, sisters of the victim, Laurie, the pizza server who makes a fateful decision; Karen, druggie ex-girlfriend of David, the politician; Linh, mysterious witness; Jane, lesbian Vicar and Lihn’s girlfriend; Sadrine, Army killer and Barna, an undercover agent. For me, David Hare’s title, Collateral, which easily refers to collateral of the Iraqi war, leaves open a big question – who is actually lined up so close to the victim that the murder of an immigrant reverberates, shaking ordinary lives as well?  So, two places to go: the women and the question. 

KN:  Okay, let’s get started. We have Kip Gilespie, the pregnant detective. I found her reserve, steeliness and nonchalance about her own pregnancy very interesting. Her belly becomes the only real knowledge we have that birth is simmering inside of her.  Her role isn’t about being a mother; she isn’t handled with kid gloves. She is a very capable, logical seeker of solutions to problems. Her maternal condition is secondary. I found this just as interesting as her role in her career in regards to her male partner, who we see is often frustrated by being left out of her vigorous exploration of the case. This is a woman who proves a female CAN have it all, yet she doesn’t emphasize this with words, she just is. That’s refreshing.

JAS: Yes, Kip is a head detective and takes being pregnant as just another fact of being female, not relevant to the work at hand.  We don’t get the personal story but the fact of her pregnancy is relevant; one of the immigrants is pregnant also and social parallels are being drawn. Strikes me that many young women identified with their job might react similarly.  When she smiles in the car going to investigate the murder, she tells us she’s happy to be on the job. Her focus is on not letting a significant crime get lost in the system.  Pregnancy does not distract her.  I actually think she exhibits many qualities of caring on the job that speak well for her being a mother when the baby comes.  She’s a sensitive woman, taking for granted her authority and expertise but relying on guesses that come from emotional instinct.     

KN: You just gave me an “aha” moment—pregnancy as metaphor for emotional instinct! I feel like we are shown a lot of emotional instinct that comes with being female in this series. Look at Jane, our lesbian vicar who is sheltering and protecting Linh, the strung out witness, while also gaining feelings for her—a totally risky thing to do but one she does regardless relying on the directive of her emotions alone.  I’ve definitely felt the pull of attraction toward someone who raises red flags in multiple areas yet relied on my gut instincts to guide me forward.

JAS:  It’s that pull you felt that is so special. Jane IS a really interesting character who goes through a crisis between love and work when she discovers her girlfriend, Linh, is the witness.  Revealing Lihn as an immigrant puts her in danger of being deported and puts their relationship on the line.  She’s ok with being a lesbian Vicar but not a Vicar who harbors an illegal.  This is the tip of a moral iceberg being revealed by immigration issues in society by Collateral.

KN: If immigrants become the collateral damage of war, I see love becoming the collateral damage of addiction with Linh. She has this amazing woman who loves her and wants to help her but because of the survival defense she’s built up as an immigrant and her own reliance on drugs to help her cope, she is drawn toward resisting this offered normality in lieu of continually self-individuating herself away from the relationship.

JAS: I enjoyed Linh’s character.  She really had to go through heavy challenges on many levels and eventually had to face facts.  It has been essential for her to stay hidden.  Her fear of deportation rules her to such an extent that she cannot chance love.  Nothing about being a Lesbian.  All about living undetected by authorities.  Functioning as a witness to murder in society ends her ability to live invisible and the church offering her cover as an illegal Vietnamese immigrant.  She is clearly collateral of the hit that’s taken place.

KN: And what about, Laurie behind the pizza counter who sends the immigrant driver on the job where he gets killed. All she’s trying to do is provide a source of income for her ailing mother.

JAS: Laurie is a morally well-meaning young woman.  She’s a throwaway girl who the law fails to protect when she gets implicated in the murder of the immigrant driver.   Another collateral?       

KN: Yes, I am quickly becoming to understand that Hare lays up one strong female character after another who still falls prey to becoming collateral in an overall end game except for Kip. Even Barna Yalez, the undercover agent. She was so complex, I wasn’t sure if she was bad or good till the end but I loved her ability to move strongly amongst the men.

JAS: Barna is a fascinating woman who functions as a major player on all sides.  It is very clever the way she weaves the fabric of both sides of the Iraqi war and ties it all together for us.  In a way, she is the symbol of it all.  She’s as much of a chess player as Kip.  Refugee turned spy whose safety requires exile in the end. 

KN: One of our biggest pieces of collateral is the insanely intense character of Captain Sadrine Shaw. She is a human weapon, controlled by the Army, seemingly stuck in a runaround of father issues. We see her pathetic mother as a piece of exposition on the very kind of woman Sadrine resists becoming by turning her own objectifications in life into a powerful anger. She’s a time bomb with a short fuse, working for the very same authority figures that have caused her the most life pain, and she never receives validation for this. In fact, when she confronts her boss’ wife and tells her how she was raped by him, it becomes one of this year’s most strong #timesup monologues—a final outpouring before her own suicide.

JAS:  Captain Sadrine Shaw.  Wow.  The craziness of this scenario takes some doing to unravel.  She’s a killer in plain sight.  Why?  And we have such sympathy for her.  Her desperation leads her to be a pawn in a machination of male madness that is hard to wrap your head around.  But…or and…the portrayal of her as a female soldier is an education all by itself regardless of gender.  She’d grown up wanting to be what was idealized and beloved in her family – a soldier.  She would go to any length to fulfill her birthright.  Her father and brother have both served as Army officers and been killed in the line of duty.  Denying being female and putting aside any feelings, emotions, sensitivities, personal needs or desires was her goal.  She was a killing machine and proud of it.  Until her best friend was blown to bits right next to her in Iraq.  Her breakdown sidelines her and intensifies her rage at the Iraqi enemy. We know she’s the killer long before she’s apprehended because her personal story, not that she’s a murderer, is what we want to know.  How did she come to this?  How is she a symbol for the larger darkness that is war?  The stripping of her humanity for the sake of saving the world from destruction reminds me of Jack Nicholson’s role in A Few Good Men.  This takes us off point or to a larger one, for sure.   

KN: Then we have Felicia and Mona, the two immigrant sisters of the man who was murdered. They are navigating a foreign country, a pregnancy and a death in the family, not wanting to be seen but needing to use the system regardless for medical reasons, etc.  

JAS: They are the heart of Hare’s story; immigrant women seeking safe delivery of one sister’s unborn child in Britain, a country unlike Iraq, where death is not more likely to come before birth.  To see these women emerge from beneath layers of rags and faux illiteracy to become standard sturdy loving human beings carrying a respect that radiates around them is quite a gift of this series and to us.  Again, with that special pull of empathy you talked about earlier. Felicia carries dignity like it belongs to her.  And when they reveal greater safety in identifying as Syrian than Iraqi refugees, Hare’s point of collateral damage occurring on and off the battlefield of war is unavoidable.  Until my notions of what Hare meant by collateral opened up, I thought they were going to be it. 

KN: We also see the collateral damage of addiction in society and how it is used to assuage ennui, pain, fear, instability and heartache. Karen, politician David’s ex and mother of his child is a druggie and an unfit mother. We wonder how this seemingly kindhearted politician who says the right things on camera despite the backlash he receives could end up with this floozy who can’t help but steal money from her own nanny to feed her addiction. This all rings of “men will be men” even though they leave trails of broken women and babies in their wake.

JAS: Karen.  Well, she’s a picture of what lies side by side with the illusion of government sanity, right?  She’s covering up what is the least of her worries!  She joins the ranks of desperate women hiding from authorities for drinking and drugging when it’s her dependency on powerful men that keeps her from realizing her own capabilities.  She uses motherhood as a blackmail ticket for doing nothing with her life and stands in stark contrast to the immigrant women who are reaching for the freedom she takes for granted.

KN: Then there is Suki, the newswoman who David ends up choosing as his girlfriend.

JAS: Could she be the light at the end of the tunnel? A newswoman who loves a man/society’s politician with all his and its faults?  He’s choosing love over job and reputation.  Perhaps, truth and love are being proposed as a balance for the system’s destructive forces?  But, for us, Suki is a side character that is another capable, interesting, three-dimensional woman with a life of her own.

KN:  Now, for your second question. What do we think David Hare really means by his title, Collateral. 

JAS:  Before we go there, I’d like to comment on how framing his story with meaningful female lives enhances Hare’s storytelling about the complications of immigration.  When we step back from Collateral, we see a patchwork quilt of women, each with their own identity and each a part of the whole.  Active, involved and relevant, they compel empathy.  That means that Hare’s story about the inevitability of citizens at home becoming collateral damage of war comes across viscerally and visually as well as linearly.    

KN:  I was glad I was thinking about the meaning of the title while I was watching the show.  In the end, Collateral to me means the women. We’re given all these very strong complex female characters and then at the end the original human trafficker guy gets away. All the women, not just Captain Sadrine Shaw, are the collateral left in his wake. 

JAS:  Women as collateral for war.  That’s an odd take to think about just as more and more women are taking an active role in society.  It’s kind of a warning, isn’t it?  Not to get caught up in the hubris of attaining status but to be focused on what aspects of society women truly want to strengthen.  We want to be lending our capabilities to a healthy direction for humanity, not get seduced unwittingly into Sandrine’s path of idealizing war as an answer to our conflicts with others. Or fall victim to systems that don’t have our best interests at heart.  Kip represents an alternative with her strategic insights and emotional intelligence.  She finds a way to overcome the odds and open up a path for the two women immigrants to become part of society, to have a place to belong.  And, then, even with a loose end still flapping from the crime, she goes home herself, but, answering her husband’s question, “Were you successful?”, she gives a soulful answer, “Close, I got close.” 

KN: I will take “close.”

JAS: Yes, it’s clear to us, a little like Clarice in Silence of the Lambs, she’s going to continue her job of balancing dark forces with her feminine instincts and smarts.   

KN: Maybe her unborn baby is our key takeaway of hope in that “close.” Maybe in her or his lifetime we will do better than “close.”

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