A friend of mine (who guested on The Shield episode of Tread Perilously! Download now!) made the astute observation that David Fincher’s Gone Girl was nothing more than a big budget Lifetime movie. She’s not wrong, and in fact, Fincher allegedly gave notes to Courteney Cox on the classic Talhotblond. The reason I bring it up, blatant plug for the podcast aside, is that I had a rather disturbing experience when I went to see Gone Girl in the theater. No, it wasn’t the sight of Barney Stinson’s funzone. It was when the big twist was revealed and the film was wallowing in its morning after reveal. The guy next to me, probably in his early twenties and who earnestly believed that the bill of baseball caps are exclusively to protect the back of your neck, breathed in horror, “Crazy bitch.”
Just like that I was out of it. I couldn’t view Gone Girl like it was intended: as a fun potboiler of a chess game between a psychopath and Ben Affleck. And sorry, anybody who saw that as a pitch for the next Batman movie, it has the word “fun” in it, so it’ll never happen. The point is that the movie, for a significant portion of the audience, just confirmed the myth that women lie about rape and abuse. Yes, I know, it does happen. But you know what happens a lot more? Like, a lot, lot more? Rape and abuse. And the vast majority of those go unreported. Worrying about false allegations like that is sort of like worrying about sharknados. In Wyoming.
And yeah, this is me saying that if your story hinges on a woman lying about rape or domestic violence, it’s part of the problem. Sorry. It’s a dangerous myth that harms or even kills millions of women every year (and I would not be shocked if I was lowballing that number at all). That doesn’t mean that Gone Girl isn’t well-made and entertaining. It’s just well-made and entertaining garbage.
So you’d think that the network that’s supposedly so women-friendly its cycles sync up to those of its frequent viewers would do a little better, right? Well, they dropped the ball big time this week with The Pastor’s Wife. Although, some of that might be the weird tightrope that Lifetime walks.
We want to see the network through only a single lens. This is television for women. End of story. And, you know, all women have exactly the same viewpoint, life experience, and beliefs. Wait, what? Are you telling me that 51% of the population is actually wildly different? Oh, shit. If only I realized that Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin were both women, I’d have known that. Lifetime sees itself as serving the needs of, oftentimes, homemakers who live in the flyover states. They can be a wee bit on the religious side. So when gender and religion collide, sometimes it’s gender getting scraped off the pavement. Considering this is true for most of human history and in the culture at large, it’s a shame that Lifetime fails in this regard. C’mon guys. You had one job.
This week’s movie is about Mary Winkler, the titular Pastor’s Wife, shooting her husband… whose name I forget, so fuck it, he’s Gary. She initially goes on the run with her three daughters only to be arrested and tried. Then in the trial, she alleges abuse, both physical and sexual, and ongoing issues with debt.
From the beginning, something is off about Pastor Gary. He’s preaching that kind of Christianity that’s deeply uncomfortable with the idea that women might be more than vaginas that cook and clean. A couple shots imply that he might have an inappropriate relationship with middle daughter Emily. He makes veiled threats about killing a neighbor’s rottweiler. And yes, threatening a rottie makes you, in my eyes, a monster of the highest order. So when it comes out in trial that he’s a monster behind the scenes, I wasn’t shocked.
Now here’s the thing: a lot of people will complain that she couldn’t have been in danger. She shot him in the back. No, idiots. That was the only time she had the breathing room to do it. I was all set to believe her, mostly because I have this weird thing where if a woman tells me she’s suffered, I listen. I’d rather take the small chance that I’m a total sucker than the big one that I’ve ignored someone who is hurting.
Granted, I was gaming the system a little bit. I figured Lifetime just had to be on the side of the woman. And sure, the abuse was funny because it’s Lifetime. Even the good actors are phoning it in, and I’m pretty sure the scripts are churned out by an emotionally wounded computer. So here I am, thinking, yeah, he got what was coming to him. Until the final shot. Mary’s been freed after serving something like 67 days plus time served, and has a job waiting tables. A customer asks if she’s the lady that killed her husband. She asks him if he’d like to be next and flashes him a mysterious smile (that was like 60% botox, but still).
She’s evil! Just like in Gone Girl. Killed an innocent pastor, and then dragged his name through the mud in open court. We know how everyone feels about it too, because the movie has an ill-advised mockumentary wraparound bit, with interviews from the simple townsfolk. I swear, there is nothing worse in fiction than someone reminiscing in a fake southern accent.
Maybe you can chalk Lifetime’s strange viewpoint up to casting. A 2011 Rose McGowan plays the 31-year-old Pastor’s Wife, and Michael Shanks plays the Pastor. This is funny enough, but it gets better during the flashbacks when they’re both 18, and Shanks has the crows feet of a cowboy who’s been out in the sun for four decades, and McGowan’s face is partly frozen in a surgical grimace. Both of them are decent actors, though neither one is entirely awake. McGowan briefly became an internet darling when she tweeted some horribly sexist casting notes she’d received. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but could the Lifetime network be punishing her for that? Or trading on the image of a woman who is willing to break the unspoken code of silence? Okay, yeah. I said “code of silence.” I should wrap this up before I start wearing tinfoil.
So what did we learn? We learned that she made it up. Feels gross, right? That’s how I felt about an hour into Gone Girl.