Friday, April 4, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Melissa McCall (Teen Wolf)

Oh wow. This is the 500th article that I've written for this site. And since my articles tend to average out at about a thousand words (conservative estimate that accounts for all those gif posts), this is the moment marks an auspicious time: I have now written more than half a million words of pop cultural criticism on this site. That's not counting what I've written for other sites, school newspapers, publications, or just personal rants. In retrospect, yikes.

Still, I feel like it's the moment to celebrate this occasion by talking about a show that I have already mentioned three times this week. Teen Wolf! Yay!

In my defense, this is actually coming by popular request. When casually chatting with a good friend, we started to talk about our deep love for the parents on Teen Wolf, how, contrary to most other urban fantasy shows, the parents here are by and large involved and interesting characters who actually add weight to the story. Personally, the parents are my favorite part. I would rather watch a whole show about them (and Derek) doing grown up things and trying to parent their kids while the kids manage to screw stuff up and release evil monsters and flail around a lot. I would love that show so much.

Even within that amazing crop of parents, though, there is one that stands out: Melissa McCall (Melissa Ponzio), who blazes through the show as a beacon of common sense, good parenting, realistic representations of adults, and just plain awesomeness and compassion. Words cannot express how much I love Mama McCall, but I'm going to try to tell you anyway.

Honestly, though, it's hard to know where to start. I figure that the best bet is just to tell you what she has done throughout the show, and allow her actions to speak for her. Because this is what she did: she has raised Scott McCall (Tyler Posey), the True Alpha, the little ball of sunshine, the kid who saw a classmate in need and opened his house. 

She has half-raised Stiles Stilinski (Dylan O'Brien), a kid who might not technically be hers, but has spent so many hours at her house, eaten so many of her dinners, been such a brother to her son, that she feels comfortable being his surrogate mother.

Plus there was that time that her son took in an orphaned high school friend, Isaac Lahey (Daniel Sharman), who was kind of a werewolf that might be slightly dangerous, and Melissa McCall just made up the guest bed and told Isaac he could stay as long as he liked.

Remember the time she saved Danny (Keahu Kahuanui) when he was in the hospital? The time she saved Isaac? The time she saved her own ex-husband's life after he was nearly stabbed to death? Remember the time that Melissa McCall was the only functional medical professional in all of Beacon Hills?

Let's see... She also kicked her husband out of the house after he mistakenly injured their son, and then continued on to be a single working mother, refusing any assistance and still making ends meet, taking in other needy kids, never complaining, and somehow managing to raise the best freaking children on the face of the earth. And when she did get lonely but her son sabotaged the only date she'd had in years (because she was dating a psychopathic werewolf), she was upset, sure, but she didn't go off the handle on him. She told him she was disappointed, and honestly, that was enough.

I'm not saying that Melissa is perfect. When she found out her son was a werewolf it took her like a full two whole episodes to deal with it and come to accept him fully for who he is. But, you know, it only took her two episodes. Two. And then she carried on kicking ass and being amazing and giving the best life advice ever. "Be your own anchor." Hells yeah.

It's hard to think about Melissa McCall objectively, because I feel like she might be the most idealized character on the show. She's not super realistic, honestly, but I don't really mind. I mean, no, real women probably can't live up to the example set by Actual Pack Mom Melissa McCall, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

And sometimes it's the little stuff too. Like how even though her actress, Melissa Ponzio is not Hispanic (that I know of), her character is. Melissa McCall, nee Delgado, chose to keep her last name after her marriage dissolved not out of loyalty to her ex-husband, but because she wanted to share a name with her son. That's kind of the sweetest thing ever. And then she managed to raise a son who asked her why she kept her married name, and would have been totally okay with her changing it. Dang girl. You did good.

For the record, we don't have official confirmation that Melissa is Hispanic, just that the actor playing her son, Tyler Posey, is biracial, well, Melissa Delgado seems a slightly more Hispanic name than Agent McCall. (I am aware that he probably has a first name, but who cares.)

She's an unrealistic character, a person so good that they can't really exist, and that's fine. Great, even. Because usually when we talk about mother figures in pop culture to whom we cannot actually relate, we're usually talking about perfectly coiffed, upper-middle class, fancy job having elite moms. The kind of moms who really do "have it all." 

We are very rarely talking about working class Hispanic single mothers whose cars break down because they can't afford to fix them and whose families keep growing because they have too much love to give.

So when I say that Melissa is an idealized maternal figure, I don't mean that she's constantly walking around in an apron, carrying cookies, I mean that Melissa McCall is the mother that everyone ever wants to have. She's perfect in exactly the way a mother should be perfect. She's loving. She's kind. She's endlessly giving. And she's capable of giving discipline. In short, she's a good parent. A damn good one.

Frankly, I could do with more perfect characters like Melissa McCall. Women with messy lives and frizzy hair, who haven't had a date in years but somehow manage to make time to sit with their next door neighbor's son when he's in the hospital. Women who are perfectly capable of grabbing a baseball bat and defending themselves, but are also not threatened by the idea of letting other people do the fighting.

I want more characters who are idealized because of their endless compassion. Who aren't doormats or wallflowers, but strong women who happen to care and are ready and able to act on that care. 

And I want a show that actually deserves Melissa McCall. I want that a lot.

This is the 500th post on this blog, and this where I cross over into half a million words, and if I've said anything at all in this whole time, I hope you heard this. We need more Melissas. We need more WOC represented as wonderful, aspirational figures, and we need more women who redefine what it means to be strong. That's it. That's the message.

I ship it.

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