‘Hit & Miss’s Tender Approach to Transgender Characters

The premise of Hit & Miss, which begins airing on DirecTV tonight, is that Chloe Sevigny is playing an assassin, and not just a assassin, but a transgender assassin, and not just a transgender assassin but one who’s suddenly inherited her ex-girlfriend’s children, including the son she was never told she fathered. It’s too bad that the show has the assassination plot. As Mia, Sevigny makes the kills look dandy, and she’s shot well. But it’s an emotional distraction from the show’s exceptionally fine depiction of a woman learning how to be a parent in fraught circumstances, and to be a woman after having had the privilege and freedom from sexual violence afforded to a man.

One of the most refreshing things about Hit & Miss is how it presents Mia’s body—she’s begun, but not completed her transition—in a matter-of-fact light. Within the first five minutes of the premiere, we see her undressing for a shower after an assignment. That she has both breasts and a penis is information for what follows, but not shot as if it’s shocking or freakish. After that shower we see Mia working out in the largely empty mansion where she spends time in between missions, perfecting her body because it’s the tool of her trade, not because she feels alienation from or hatred for it. The show regularly presents Mia as if she’s attractive and stylish: she wears terrific, seventies-inflected outfits in wonderful colors, beautiful makeup, and regularly receives complements both from men who are interested in her and the children she comes to take care of.

That latter respect is hard-won, though. Hit & Miss is striking in its presentation of a transgender person confident in her body and identity, while it’s the people around her who grow by getting to know her. When Mia arrives to meet her son Ryan, and her late girlfriend’s other children, Riley, Levi, and Leonie, they work through stereotypes with a minimum of fuss. “So you were a man, but now you’re a woman,” Levi asks. “So you’re gay.” “No,” Mia explains. “Straight. But I’m a woman trapped inside a man’s body…We loved each other, your mum and me. We were happy. If I wasn’t a transsexual, I’m sure we’d still be together.” The children accept her explanation, but as they adjust to her as their caretaker, Riley and Levi use Mia’s body as a weapon against her. “I don’t know about the dick in your pants, but you definitely have a dick in your brain,” Riley spits at her. “You’re fucked in the head.” And when Mia finds Levi showing Ryan pornography, he tells her “Someone’s got to show him. It’s not like he’s got a proper dad.” In the second episode, when Mia bumps into Riley, breaking a dish, Riley asks “Does everything you touch turn to shit? Typical man,” denying Mia her gender and heaping stereotypes of men on her, a double insult. Early in their relationship, Riley even steals Mia’s hormone tablets as a small act of meanness.

But in contrast to the older children’s hostility, Ryan and Leonie immediately embrace Mia, who is able to translate some of the stranger manifestations of their grief, making them feel understood. Ryan, alone among the children, asks Mia about her life before her transition. When he finds out that Mia, too, was named Ryan, he asks “Someone named me after you?” “Maybe,” Mia tells him. “I hope so.” She teaches Ryan to throw a punch, helping him stand up to the neighborhood bully, the son of the man who owns the land and home the family lives on. It’s fascinating to watch a little boy go through the process of equating strength and defense of his family with someone who is extremely feminine, who delivers a precise, vicious beating to the man who is threatening her family while wearing prettily-tooled cowboy boots and a flowered blouse. In a touching second-episode moment, Ryan tells Mia, “I just want to be more like you.” There’s something radical about the uncomplicated nature of Ryan’s tenderness for Mia. It doesn’t matter what her body is or who she was. He’s found her now, and he loves her.