Friday, May 30, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Sheriff Jody Mills (Supernatural)

Sheriff Jody Mills has survived another season of Supernatural, and I am overjoyed.

I am also incredibly saddened, however, for the simple fact that this is a statement worth celebrating. Survival is, after all, literally the lowest possible bar for female involvement in a show, and to view this as a milestone feels kind of, well, depressing as all get out. But when taken in comparison to Jo, Ellen, Meg, Anna, Pam, Rachel, Naomi, Tamara, and of course, Mary and Jess, this is good. Great even.

There are relatively few female characters on the show who have now been around as long as Jody - she made her debut in the middle of season five, with "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" - and there are even fewer who are defined primarily by who they are and what they bring to the cases, rather than their sexual agency or how hot they look in a tank top. Which is not to say that Kim Rhodes, who plays Sheriff Jody Mills, doesn't look hot in a tank top, just that this is not why we love her.

We love Jody because she was first introduced as part of a case, but even from the start, Jody was shown to be a character of deep complexity and a lot of layers. When we first meet her, all the dead loved ones in Sioux Falls have gotten up out of their graves and gone back home to their families. The boys of course suspect that this is a terrible thing, not a nice one, and they're right, but when they try to contact the local law enforcement, they get no help. Even less than usual.

Why? Because Jody, the Sheriff, is one of those whose lost loved one has returned. In this case, her young son, who died a few years ago. She and her husband are overjoyed to have their boy back, and are totally willing to not look to closely at the reasons. That is, until he turns violent and deteriorates into being a regular zombie.

Her son attacks and kills her husband, forcing Jody to act. She doesn't want to. It's the last thing in the world she wants. But she does. She kills her zombie son and saves the town.

That's the first time we meet her. It won't be the last.

The second time we meet her, a season later, Jody and Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), the boys' adoptive father, have formed a funny kind of friendship. She knows about the supernatural now, but there are only so many times she can turn a blind eye while Bobby buries dead monster bodies on his property. The locals are starting to think he's a serial killer (which, to be fair, he kind of is).

The third time, in season seven, Jody is in the hospital, recovering from an appendectomy, when she sees a Leviathan (the monster for that season) eating someone's liver. Obviously she calls Bobby to let him know. But this was the first time we saw Jody as someone not just on the sidelines, but in the middle of the case. She was aware, and awake, and ready to take action if she saw something evil going down.

Granted, this was also the first time we had to see her being a damsel in distress, but still. I'll take it. That she became a damsel for Bobby and not one of the boys was actually kind of nice. I mean, Bobby deserves a little love.

The fourth time, Jody and her cleaning skills help the gang find a way to get rid of the Leviathan once and for all: they're allergic to soap.

The fifth time, she calls Dean and Sam because some weirdo has been mummifying victims in her town. Then, when Dean gets transported back in time because of course he does, she takes care of Sam while they look for Dean. It's a weird moment, because you can't really remember the last time Sam spent time with a woman who wasn't an antagonist or a love interest. She's just...his friend? And Jody, meanwhile, seems to actually be enjoying taking care of Sam for a bit. It's nice. And you can tell she's lonely.

The sixth time, Jody goes on a date with Crowley (Mark Sheppard) unknowingly, and almost gets blood sacrificed because Crowley is pissed off at the boys. They save her, sure, but it's pretty horrible. I have a lot of mixed feelings about this episode. On the one hand, I like that the show actually takes the time to show Jody recovering and moving on with her life. Her husband died, Bobby died, but she's not given up on the idea of trying to find someone to love. Plus, if it weren't for the whole demon thing, Crowley would be a pretty great date.

On the other hand, I don't like that Jody is just a straight up damsel here. She has no control over what's happening to her and must be saved by the boys. On the other, other hand (so many hands), the very fact that the boys care so much about Jody as to sacrifice to save her means a lot. She's not a relative, not their mother figure, not a lover or a girlfriend or even a fellow hunter. Jody is just plain old their friend. And that's pretty awesome.

The seventh time, Jody brings them a case and helps them investigate it - she identifies herself as a hunter now, but she isn't leaving her little domain of Sioux Falls. Someone needs to keep these people safe. And the eighth time, she finds a runaway from a vampire clan and decides to sacrifice (a lot) in order to keep this girl safe. Heck, she even ends up bringing the girl home with her and giving her a place to stay.

In the nine seasons this show has been on the air, eight appearances don't really feel like a lot, but I really appreciate the amount of complexity and character development that the writers have managed to squeeze into these appearances.

Like, Jody Mills is the Sheriff. She's devoted to her job, and we're shown that she really is damn good at it. She loves and protects all the officers at the station, even going so far as trying to keep the supernatural stuff away from them. She doesn't think they need that in their lives, and she works hard to keep them all safe and out of harm's way. At the same time, she was a wife and mother. She loved her family, and she is devastated by their loss. Then she moves on.

She's not just some action chick with a big gun and a vendetta, either. Jody is nice. Really nice. She cares about people, but she can also kick ass. She'll open her home to a feral teenager, but she'll also try to fight a horrifying Biblical monster while doped up on meds from her surgery. In short, Jody Mills might just be the most realistic character ever shown on Supernatural. And that is worth celebrating.

The show operates in a heightened, hyper-melodramatic world where people are always dying, coming back to life, becoming demons, getting trapped in purgatory, all that. So to have a character like Jody, who is absolutely unmistakably human, whose life is as normal as a hunter's can be, coming in and out of the world makes all that other dramatic stuff all the more poignant. It also is a total credit to her character that while other people (like everyone else on the show) would be bowled over by all the tragedy in their lives, Jody just looked at it, had a cry, and moved on.

She got on with her life, because there was still stuff she needed to do.

Look, everyone on this show has a tragic backstory. Everyone. So it's not super notable that Jody's history is full of dead bodies and murdered sons. What is worth recognizing is that she didn't let it destroy her. She took that sadness and frustration and used it to become more caring and compassionate and good. Jody Mills is a good person. And I hope like hell the show keeps her that way. She's stable and strong and totally okay straddling the line between traditional feminine behavior and her socially masculine job. Jody's a rockstar in a humble, down-to-earth body.

Now, does all of this awesomeness excuse Supernatural for the absolute crap job they've done with pretty much every other female character to appear? No. Not even a little bit. The show is still sexist as hell, and that is a genuine problem that needs to be addressed.

One last thing. While I really do love that the show has never explicitly made Jody a love interest for one of the boys, I have to say that I have a soft spot in my heart for Jody/Sam. Not because there's a whole lot of basis for it, I mean, they're friends but that's pretty much it, but because I think that Sam and Jody fit really well together and would be a wonderful couple. Jody is aware of the supernatural, hunts and fights in her own way, but is emotionally stable enough not to let it overwhelm her. Sam craves normalcy, but would never be able to give up hunting completely.

I cute an ending for the two of them would it be? Sheriff Jody Mills and her young, hot, mysterious husband Sam, who lectures on mythology and religious studies at the local community college and does a lot of traveling. The couple seem very much in love, and also go on lots of weekends away, which always gets the gossips going. They take excellent care of their foster daughter, Annie, and have become a touchstone for troubled youth in the area.

I want that so bad, you guys. So bad.



  1. So she's sort of like the female characters from season 1? Because once upon a time, Supernatural could do this sort of thing - even with its damsels in distress - without it being remarkable. Sigh.

    1. I dimly recall this halcyon time. Dimly...

    2. He's right; I've stumbled on 2 in the first half of the first season, which is kind of bonkers. I wasn't expecting to find any because the last forever of SPN has been disgracefully sexist.

      Maybe it's really 1.5, because I think one of them didn't quite qualify as a 3 dimensional character--but Charlie, from Bloody Mary, is definitely one (and how much do I wish she was the teen-ager living with Jody Mills? Let's not dwell on this dream) and the other is from Asylum.

      Anyway. Jody Mills. Awesome.

    3. I miss Andrea. I mean, she was kind of a wuss, but she was a nice wuss, you know? I shipped her and Dean waaaaaay before we got that sort of canon with Lisa.

      Charlie1 is super cool. So's Charlie2 for that matter.