Before watching a new show, I try not to let myself be influenced by the reviews that I might read; and some shows, even though they get trashed nearly universally, I watch for the sake of knowing what people are talking about and making up my own mind. I’m not usually one to cease and desist watching something after only a pilot, but I already know that I can’t keep watching this. One, for my own peace of mind, and two, not in good conscience concerning the subject matter. I’ll review the Pilot and then that’s it. If you wanna know why, follow me beyond the cut.
When you know you’re dealing with a show about stalkers and otherwise disturbed unsubs and killers — like Criminal Minds does, or Hannibal — or when you know a show is going to be mostly about gendered and highly sexualised violence — like Law & Order: SVU — then you also know that that show is walking a knife’s edge between creating intriguing cases and exploiting the often highly stylised violence on-screen, exploiting the victims and survivors.
Stalker claims to be aiming to shed light. But it just crosses the line.
It delves far, far into the exploitation of violence, and in this Pilot, especially against women. Because for all the wanting to raise awareness and shedding some light, we must still be aware that we are supposed to be watching this for entertainment. Yes, entertainment can disgust us, it can repulse us, but there is nothing even remotely cathartic about this. And even if that were the case, then surely watching would still mean we’re all masochists. I can stomach a lot, but I can’t stomach this. I will not be complicit in keeping a show on the air that throws the fear and struggle of terrified women fighting for their lives, bound and gagged and preyed on by disturbed men, into my face and expects me to enjoy it enough to stick with it; not when women have pretty much exclusively died on television and film for the past half-century.
The time, money, and effort that went into this production would have been better spent creating campaigns and initiatives to help survivors of stalking and to create publicity. The only scene that was actually sort of touching was the one about the male victim who didn’t have enough prove to actually take legal action — and whose stalker is now obsessed with Beth (Maggie Q) after she went off piste and threatened him. It went to show that men can be targets, too, and that it’s ok to be afraid. But it’s telling that the female victims got the torture porn and the bloke got the psycho terror, that the women were victims of highly sexualised violence whilst the example of male stalking a male was used to show that stalking isn’t just about romantic delusions, but also about hero worship and power.
Maggie Q’s the best damn thing about this show, but even she can’t save it.
Meanwhile, Dylan McDermott‘s character is a misogynist asshole who, with the question, “Why do you wear sexy clothing if you don’t want men to notice?” has already thoroughly disqualified himself. Well, that. And the fact that he, what a surprise, is stalking his own ex-wife and child, and the implication is that he’s already done much worse than that. That’s how he fires off those Sherlock-style deduction monologues — he’s been on the other side of this situation, he is the other side of this situation. Janice wasn’t wrong when she predicted that Beth would hate him. He wants to change, sure. Then check yourself into therapy and come clean to your co-workers, jerkface. I’m not interested in seeing his redemption arc, I’m not interested in having anything to do with this character at all.
Media representation is important, we all know it changes lives. But we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that watching this drivel will make any sort of difference. There’s more important, less exploitative things to do to make the world a better place for stalking victims. Stalker is not edgy for breaking some sort of taboo, as some might suggest given that we watch shows about gruesome murders all the time, given that we seem to be almost immune to high degrees of violence on shows like Game of Thrones, for instance. But it’s different. On most shows, we only see the corpse, not the murder, and Game of Thrones is getting plenty of shit for its cavalier approach to violence vs. sex — George R.R. Martin himself has called producers and audiences out on that (see also the “rape scene” vs “sex scene” controversy in Season 4, between Cersei and Jaime). Give me documentaries that deal with survivors respectfully. Don’t give me torture porn disguised as “edgy” entertainment.