If we hadn’t already heard that Joss Whedon will be writing and directing The Avengers and returning to television with a Marvel series, this would be by far the most exciting pop culture news of the week: BBC America is apparently considering a spin-off show that would feature Alice Morgan:
There’s a school of thought that says crazy-quirky supporting characters aren’t as appealing when they’re thrust into the center of the action, but I’m willing to bet against conventional wisdom if BBC America greenlights a Luther spinoff centered around brilliant sociopath Alice Morgan (played to delectable perfection by Ruth Wilson). “The BBC is very interested in the project,” Luther creator and exec producer Neil Cross told Variety. “The only real question would be how many and how often we would do it — whether it would be a one-off miniseries or a returning miniseries, a co-production or not.” “Even if I didn’t sell this thing, I would still end up writing the miniseries,” Cross went on to say. “It’s something peculiar, but she’s far more clever than me, far more witty than me, far more everything than me.”
That’s a fantastic idea, and not only for those of us who are anticipating the withdrawal when Cross finishes his last miniseries installment about troubled detective John Luther (Idris Elba). Morgan, as portrayed by Ruth Wilson (who resembles an evil Emma Stone), is a powerful, original television character, a genius who killed her parents and when Luther figured her out, made him her moral lodestar, the only person she felt any emotional attachment to, and the only person who she recognized as having valid desires and needs other than her own.
As I’ve written before, in the great anti-hero shows of our era women, often wives, serve the audience-alienating role of reminding both us and the anti-heroes themselves that their anti-social behavior is less awe-inspiring and badass than it is a gross violation of community norms and often, other people’s rights. Even a female anti-hero like Patty Hewes does grotesquely awful things to other people does so in the name of a clearly-articulated greater good, and sometimes feels bad about it, as in that repeated scene of her shaking violent in the chair at her beach house in the first season. And while Aspergerian nerd Sheldon Cooper is one of the biggest characters on television, on Bones, Temperance Brennan’s confusion about social cues has been muted over the years. We like, or television thinks we like, to like our female characters uncomplicatedly, rather than transgressively.
Alice Morgan fits none of those models. It’s not that she doesn’t understand other people’s values and feelings—she just doesn’t particularly care about them. She’s ingeniously violent in service of her own interest, unlike Brennan’s use of her abilities to solve crimes and ease the pain of the bereaved, or Patty’s manipulativeness in service of her clients. And her sexual heat with Luther is unapologetically freighted, manipulative even as it stems from perhaps the only sincere affection Alice’s ever felt in her life.
TVLine suggested that a show build around Alice might follow a Dexter-like format, where Alice struggles to maintain a code that helps her pass as a decent person, while channeling the impulses she’s unable to repress. That makes sense, although I think there’s an important inverse. In that show, Dexter learned that some of the impulses and behaviors he’d been faking actually had meaning to him. A show built around Alice that intersected with a thoughtful consideration of gender could let her have some of those experiences, and also expose some of the uglier motivations behind the expectations that women be nice, and primarily oriented towards the needs of others. Anti-heroes have primarily been used to expose the flexibility of our own morality, our ability to attach to a corrupt cop or a family mobster. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be used to reveal the rot in what we cling to, as well as what we’re eager to let go.