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Emotions in Contemporary TV Series

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Emotions in Contemporary
TV Series
Edited by

Alberto N. García
University of Navarra, Spain
Introduction, selection and editorial content © Alberto N. García 2016
Individual chapters © Respective authors 2016
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List of Figures vii

Notes on the Contributors viii

Introduction 1
Alberto N. García

Part I Theoretical and General Approach

1 Emotional Culture and TV Narratives 13
Alejandro García Martínez and Ana Marta González

2 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions 26

Robin Nelson

3 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes and the Limits of Allegiance 52

Alberto N. García

4 Group Empathy? A Conceptual Proposal, Apropos of

Polseres Vermelles 71
Héctor J. Pérez

Part II Collective Identities and Emotions

5 Women, Television and Feelings: Theorising Emotional
Difference of Gender in SouthLAnd and Mad Men 87
Elke Weissmann

6 A Revolution in Urban Lifestyle: Mad Men’s Narrative

Revisited as a Social Lab 102
Lourdes Flamarique

7 Performing Englishness: Postnational Nostalgia in Lark

Rise to Candleford and Parade’s End 118
Rosalía Baena

8 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion 134

Gunhild Agger

vi Contents

Part III Genre and Emotions

9 Loss is Part of the Deal: Love, Fear and Mourning in TV
Horror 155
Stacey Abbott

10 Apocalyptic Psychotherapy: Emotion and Identity in

AMC’s The Walking Dead 172
Kyle William Bishop

11 Homeland: Fear and Distrust as Key Elements of the

Post-9/11 Political-Spy Thriller 189
Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo

12 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica: What Makes

Us Human 205
Claudia Wassmann

Notes 223

Bibliography 231

Index 249

2.1 A moment of affect: mixed emotions meet Oswald’s

astonishing discovery of Anderson’s home town 39
2.2 A moment of affect: multiple elation and confusion when
Nyborg makes ‘an extraordinary remark’ 43–5
2.3 A moment of affect (two resonances): light and dark days
in Peggy’s advertising office experience 49
8.1 A dark Copenhagen establishes the frame of Kuriren 142
8.2 Swedish and Danish national markers compete in this
introductory shot of Sarah Lund 146
8.3 The labyrinthine structure of Copenhagen includes the
Øresund Bridge in the background as a possible exit
strategy 147
8.4 The bridge in Bron|Broen is visualised as a symbol of
connection 151

Notes on the Contributors

Stacey Abbott is Reader in Film and Television Studies at the University

of Roehampton. She is the author of Celluloid Vampires (2007), Angel:
TV Milestone (2009), and co-author, with Lorna Jowett, of TV Horror:
The Dark Side of the Small Screen (2013). She is the editor of The Cult TV
Book (2010) and Reading Angel (2005) and co-editor, with David Lavery,
of TV Goes to Hell: An Unofficial Road Map to Supernatural (2011). She
is currently writing a book on the 21st -century Vampire and Zombie in
film and television.

Gunhild Agger is a professor in the Department of Culture and

Global Studies at Aalborg University. Her research areas include televi-
sion drama, history of media and genres, national and transnational
film, bestsellers and blockbusters, the relationship between history,
crime and media culture. She is Director of the collaborative, cross-
disciplinary research programme ‘Crime fiction and Crime journalism
in Scandinavia’ (2007–10) and a member of the research team in
the programme ‘What makes Danish Television Drama Series Travel?’
(2014–18). Both projects were funded by the Danish Research Coun-
cil for the Humanities. Co-editor of Northern Lights, she has published
widely and edited a number of books and journals.

Rosalía Baena is Associate Professor of English at the University of

Navarra. Her main research interests deal with life writing, multi-
cultural literature and contemporary narratives. Publications include
Transculturing Auto/Biography: Forms of Life Writing (2014), as well as
several articles in Canadian Ethnic Studies, Prose Studies, Journal of Com-
monwealth Literature, Anglistik and ILS. She has edited a special issue
on ‘Narrative Emotions and the Shapings of Identity’ for the Canadian
journal Narrative Works (2014). She has published various articles on
Englishness, and quite recently on British TV Series in National Identities

Kyle William Bishop is an Associate Professor of English and the Direc-

tor of the Honors Program at Southern Utah University, where he
teaches courses in American literature, film and screen studies, and the
monstrous. He has authored articles and book chapters on Night of the

Notes on the Contributors ix

Living Dead, Fight Club, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Birds, The Walking
Dead, World War Z, and the cultural phenomenon of the zombie. His
first book, American Zombie Gothic, appeared in 2010, and his new book,
How Zombies Conquered Popular Culture, will be published in the fall of
2015, both available through McFarland Publishers.

Pablo Castrillo obtained his M.F.A. in Screenwriting from the LMU

School of Film & Television (2013) under a Fulbright Scholarship. He
has worked in development at production companies such as Jeremy
Renner’s The Combine (Kill the Messenger) and Kurtzman & Orci (Sleepy
Hollow, Now You See Me) and has written several feature film screenplays.
He is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Navarra, where he
also lectures in American Film and History of Cinema.

Pablo Echart is the Director of the Screenwriting Masters Program at

the University of Navarra, where he is also a Lecturer in Screenwriting
and Script Analysis. He has published extensively about the classi-
cal Hollywood romantic comedy, and about filmmakers such as John
Huston, David Mamet, and Paul Auster. He also carries out screenwriting
consulting services for production companies.

Lourdes Flamarique is Professor of Contemporary Philosophy at the

University of Navarra, Spain. She has published extensively on Kant,
Heidegger as well as on Hermeneutics and Language Theory. Most
recently she has written articles on the interactions of philosophy and
the cultural changes of modern societies.

Alejandro García Martínez is Lecturer in Sociology, Social Theory,

and Theory of Organizations at the University of Navarra. He is also
a research fellow participating in the ‘Emotional Culture and Identity’
project at the Institute for Culture and Society at the same university.
He is the author of numerous articles and several books, including Fash-
ion and Social Distinction (2007), the edition of the monographic issue of
Anuario Filosófico on ‘Consumption and Identity’ (2010), or Being Human
in a Consumer Society (2015).

Alberto N. García is Associate Professor of Film and Television Studies

at the University of Navarra, Spain. He has been Visiting Scholar at the
University of Stirling and Universidad de los Andes, Chile. His work has
appeared in Post Script, Communication and Society, Zer and Analisi. He
is co-editor of Landscapes of the Self: The Cinema of Ross McElwee (2007),
x Notes on the Contributors

and author of El cine de no-ficción en Martín Patino (2008). He has also

written essays about The Wire, The Shield, Breaking Bad, Supernatural or
In Treatment. He is currently researching about emotions, narrative and
TV Series.

Ana Marta González is Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University

of Navarra. She has led several research projects in the intersection of
moral philosophy and social sciences. Among her recent publications
are: The Emotions and Cultural Analysis (2012) and Culture as Mediation:
Kant on Nature, Culture, and Morality (2011). She teaches Ethics in the
Department of Philosophy at the University of Navarra, where she serves
also as Scientific coordinator of the Institute for Culture and Society.
She is currently the leader of the CEMID Project (Emotional Culture and

Robin Nelson has recently retired as Director of Research and Professor

of Theatre and Intermedial Performance at the University of London,
Royal Central School. He remains Professor Emeritus at Manchester
Metropolitan University where he held a number of senior posts over
twenty years. He has published widely on the performing arts and media
and on ‘Practice as Research’. His books include Practice as Research in
the Arts (Palgrave Macmillan 2013); Stephen Poliakoff: On Stage and Screen
(2011); Mapping Intermediality in Performance (co-edited with Bay-Cheng,
et al., 2010); State of Play: Contemporary ‘High-end’ TV Drama (2007). He
is also a co-founding editor of Critical Studies in Television.

Héctor J. Pérez is Associate Professor of Audiovisual Narrative at the

Universitat Politècnica de València. A main line of his research is the
study of the role of corporeal narration on acting in film, TV series and
opera, and also works regularly in the cognitive aesthetics of television
series. His most recent book is Cine y mitología: de las religiones a los
argumentos universales (2013). He is the editor of SERIES, International
Journal of TV Serial Narratives and Principal Investigator of the research
project ‘Theoretical Innovation Strategies in the Analysis of Narration in
Television Series’.

Claudia Wassmann is Marie Curie Fellow at the ICS, University of

Navarra, working on emotion, medicine and media. She authored
numerous TV documentaries for German Public Television. She holds
an MD from Free University of Berlin and a PhD in history from the
University of Chicago. She was a Dewitt Stetten, Jr., Memorial Fellow
Notes on the Contributors xi

in the History of Biomedical Sciences and Technology at the NIH and

a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the History of Emotions, Max
Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. She is the author
of Die Macht der Emotionen (2002) and editor of Therapy and Emotions in
Film and Television: The Pulse of Our Times (2015).

Elke Weissmann is Reader in Television and Film at Edge Hill Univer-

sity, Ormskirk, UK. Her research interests focus on television, in parti-
cular aspects of transnational and convergent television, and feminism.
She is the author of Transnational Television Drama: Special Relations and
Mutual Influences between the US and the UK (Palgrave, 2012) and is editor
of Renewing Feminisms: Radical Narratives, Fantasies and Futures in Media
Studies (with Helen Thornham, 2013). She is the vice-chair of the tele-
vision studies section of the European Communications Research and
Education Association (ECREA) and member of the editorial team of
Critical Studies in Television.
Alberto N. García

Ever since the Parisian spectators at the Grand Café ran away terrified
at the sight of the train that approached La Ciotat station, it has been
clear that cinema is an emotion-generating machine. In fact, to narrate
is always to produce emotions. Munsterberg, one of the pioneers of film
theory, saw this as early as 1916: ‘Picturing emotions must be the central
aim of the photoplay’ (Münsterberg 48). Even that early in the history
of film, he was already conscious of how emotions affected spectators:
‘On the one hand we have those emotions in which the feelings of
the persons in the play are transmitted to our own soul. On the other
hand, we find feelings which may be entirely different, perhaps exactly
opposite to those which the figures in the play express’ (53).
Just as with other forms of art and expressions of popular culture,
TV fiction can be at once a reflection of, and a normative guide for,
social life. As Keen writes: ‘That narratives have the potential to trans-
mit not just shared positive values but also disciplinary models of social
control (including hierarchies, norms, and discriminating standards)
over the societies that share them has been a commonplace of con-
temporary theory since at least Foucault’ (‘Introduction: Narrative’ 12).
Often, social traits and predominant values – which are expressed in spe-
cific trends or lifestyles that are symptomatic of social life and become
socially binding – emerge from the study of these fictional works. Con-
temporary TV series reveal some of the most singular expressions of the
contemporary western lifestyle.
From that starting point, the book, Emotions in Contemporary TV Series,
focuses in particular on analysing the role of emotions in these narra-
tives as well as how they relate to personal and collective identity in
specific contemporary TV shows and genres. Over the past twenty years,
TV fiction has become one of the most powerful and influential trends

2 Introduction

in popular culture. Shows like Mad Men, Lost and The Wire have shaped a
vigorous televisual landscape where innovations in narrative form, aes-
thetic engagement and an exploration of ethical issues have brought TV
series to new heights.
In the following pages of this introduction I will examine how, over
the last few decades, the social sciences have returned to the study of
emotions; I will then specifically focus on the role that emotions have
played in film theory since its beginnings. Next, I will briefly explain
the causes behind the TV boom over the last 15 years in order to explain
the ever-increasing academic fervour that TV series have awakened. This
will allow me to show that, in spite of the extensive amount of exist-
ing literature, the study of emotions in TV is a largely unexplored field.
To conclude, I will outline the contents of this volume in order to offer a
guide to the reader about the structure and object of study of each essay.

1 Emotions in social sciences and the different ‘affective


Over the last few decades, there have been extraordinary developments
regarding the study of emotions, not only in the realm of psycho-
logy, medicine and neurology – areas in which the interest in emotions
is something to be expected – but more generally in the realm of
humanities and the social sciences, where emotions are not simply a
subject of research but rather are the prism through which a new epis-
temological turn is taking place. Furthermore, as Keen explains, we are
not really facing an ‘affective turn’, but rather an ‘affective return’ – a
focus on emotions which the aesthetics of the early twentieth century
instigated but left unresolved (‘Introduction: Narrative’ 18). As González
and García point out in the first chapter, with a few notable exceptions,
emotions have been mostly relegated to the background for much of the
modern age, largely because of the undisputed, decades-long dominance
of a rationalist and utilitarian paradigm, in which affective elements
were labelled as irrational. The traditional Cartesian opposition between
mind/body and reason/emotion is one example of this.
Emotions by nature include both cultural and cognitive aspects, as
well as evaluations and physiological changes which, ultimately, gene-
rate practical dispositions. Because of this inner wealth, emotions serve
as an especially appropriate anchor for the study of society, and reveal
contemporary social structures and cultural trends. Numerous discipli-
nes have focused on emotions, but the latest multidisciplinary research
attempts to integrate them into a less rigid analytical framework.
Alberto N. García 3

This is what this book expects to achieve by choosing TV series as its

object of study: to find a multidisciplinary perspective that will allow
delving into the emotional side of one of the most relevant products of
cultural consumption of recent years. However, in order to understand
what is original about TV in recent times, it is first necessary to examine
how film theory has approached the study of emotions.

2 Emotions in film theory

TV is the child of the film industry, and has inherited much of the lat-
ter’s treatment of emotions. In spite of their importance for spectators
(as previously highlighted when discussing the events that took place
during the first exhibition of the Lumière brothers’ invention), in the
history of film theory and film critique, the role of emotions has pre-
dominately been secondary or even buried, due to the assumption that
the emotions created by films are something mysterious and impossible
to grasp.
If we were to undertake a brief survey – necessarily synthetic (see
Plantinga and G. Smith; M. Smith, Engaging Characters; Grodal) – of the
history of film theory, we would discover that both formalist and realist
theories arose in an attempt to ‘legitimize the medium’ (Rushton and
Bettinson 11). To this end, a greater focus was placed on the specificity
of film with respect to other arts (Balázs; Arnheim), or on the ontological
status of the image in movement (Bazin; Kracauer), than on the nature
of emotions in movies. There was little concern for the mechanisms by
which the stories that were being told produced emotions in the spec-
tator. In the words of Zumalde, there was no interest in measuring ‘the
sentimental involvement of the subject in the artistic text’ (43).
Among classical theorists, it was Münsterberg who specifically paid
attention to emotion as an aesthetic phenomenon and an episte-
mological reality. He sought to develop an analogy between mental
mechanisms and the reception of film images, a process in which emo-
tions are essential, much like attention, memory and imagination: ‘It is
as if that outer world were woven into our mind, shaped not through its
own laws but by the acts of our attention’ (39).
The cultural revolution of the 1960s, a growing trend of cinephilia
and the arrival of film theory in the academy caused the appearance
of a series of new theories whose main concern was ‘analysing cinema
as a system of social and symbolic meaning’ (Rushton and Bettinson
11). As Elsaesser and Hagener write, ‘the dominant theories of the
1960s and 1970s privileged the act of seeing even more than earlier
4 Introduction

theories’ (109). Consequently, emotions were once again relegated to

a second level by theorists and analysts. This happened, for example,
in structuralism, which emphasized the importance of discovering the
underlying structure of the film. With the ‘apparatus theory’ of Baudry,
under the influence of Althusser and his ‘ideological state apparatuses’,
there was an attempt to define the ‘politics of cinema’, stressing how
the Hollywood style perpetuated bourgeois ideology through an emo-
tionally captive spectator. Something similar occurred in the debates in
Screen magazine, where, starting from the necessity of an emotional dis-
tancing of a Brechtian type, affect was once again subordinated to their
ideological potential.
During those decades, emotions only emerged – though never in a
central way – in psychoanalysis and feminism, masked by terms such
as ‘desire’ or ‘pleasure’. Thus, for example, Morin and his heirs used
the Lacanian notion of ‘desiring the desire of the other’ to reflect on
identification – mirroring – and establish a parallelism between the
film screen and the psychological mechanisms of the spectator. Subse-
quently, this idea of identification was further developed by Metz, who,
combining methodological tools taken from semiotics and psychoana-
lysis, established a difference between primary identification processes
(the act of watching) and secondary identification processes (identifica-
tion with characters). As for feminism, it made use of concepts such as
‘scopophilia’ (Mulvey) or ‘arresting images’ (Klinger) in order to explain
how desire and emotion are linked to a patriarchal view that has become
institutionalized by the ‘dominating’ film industry.
This trend started to change during the 1970s. One of the first theo-
rists to counteract the predominance of post-Freudian and post-Marxist
theories was Perkins. He defended the importance of the emotional
experience of the spectator as a crucial part of the process of film recep-
tion: ‘Vicarious experience can bring us a valuably extended experience
and a broadened range of sympathies, but it cannot be isolated from
our more active pleasures’ (138). Also Deleuze, from his very personal
and eclectic point of view, rescues the centrality of emotion, given ‘his
special interest in intensities, energies, connections, affective states and
sensory perception’ (Elsaesser and Hagener 157). Elssaesser and Hagener
point out that the Deleuzean notion of ‘movement-image stands for a
cinema of perceptions, affects and actions in which the sensory-motor
schema of the human body is a functioning unit’ (159). As for the
neoformalists, with Bordwell at the helm, they developed an aesthetic
approach in which they defended the active role of the spectator in
the construction of meaning, according to the successive clues that the
Alberto N. García 5

film provides. Therefore, when they study the effects generated by films,
they see emotion as an essential element, capable of being cut up and
However, above all, it was the cognitivist philosophers who – based
on Bordwell’s constructivism – approached the phenomenon of emo-
tion in films in a more systematic manner, partly as a reaction against
what they considered to be excesses in the psychoanalysis-based theories
and semiotics that had been influential for decades. Along these lines,
several authors have dedicated complete works to the study of cinemato-
graphic emotion. The cognitivist approach holds that a spectator, while
watching a film, puts into motion the same mental mechanisms that
they use in daily life, namely, ‘affect-drive mental processes’ (Nannicelli
and Taberham 345). Therefore, because they consider the spectator’s
response to be something rational and analysable, cognitivists pick apart
the emotional processes that take place while watching a film, ana-
lyse the affective strategies of distinct genres and discuss the difference
between empathy and sympathy. ‘Visual fiction is viewed in a conscious
state, and is mostly about human beings perceiving, acting, and feel-
ing in, or in relation to, a visible and audible world . . . The viewer’s
experience and the phenomena experienced often demand explanations
that imply non-conscious activities; but the emotions and cognitions
must be explained in relation to conscious mental states and processes’
(Grodal 6).
To conclude this brief account of the role of emotions in film theory, it
is necessary to make reference to two more recent contributions. On the
one hand, there is the phenomenology of Sobchack, who claims that
films have thoughts and feelings of their own and, therefore, the rela-
tionship between a film and its spectator is a back and forth process: ‘An
expression of experience by experience’ (qtd in Elsaesser and Hagener
116). Thus, Sobchack’s theory tries to find continuity between physio-
logical and emotional reactions, focusing ‘on the carnal sensuality of the
film experience and what – and how – it constitutes meaning’ (Sobchack
56). On the other hand, Laine argues that films not only express, but also
embody emotions. Laine tries to combine the Deleuzian (affect) and the
cognitivist (emotion) traditions: ‘I attempt to approach cinematic emo-
tions as unified states or processes that involve both affective appraisals
and emotional evaluations, affect being an implicit quality of the stream
of emotion’ (2).
My review of the role that emotions have played in the history of film
theory ends here. However, what about TV fiction theories, the subject
of study to which the present academic volume is devoted?
6 Introduction

3 The growth of TV series and their interest to the academy

TV studies and in particular the analysis of TV fiction is one of the

areas of research that has grown the most within the humanities during
the last decade. The popularity of TV series has increased enormously
all over the world (see Mittell, Complex TV; Lotz, Beyond Prime Time;
Sepinwall). The competition among networks and globalization has
created a virtuous circle in which TV narratives have become increas-
ingly complex and their audiences more numerous and participative;
nowadays the emotional relationship between the spectator and a
TV series can extend itself though emotional communities which are
created around blogs, wikis and other cross-media extensions by the
community of fans. That is, new TV narratives have not only devel-
oped riskier products and unprecedented channels of consumption, but
also new identities for the spectator (the multi-screen spectator, foren-
sic fandom, fan fiction, etc.) and unusual and novel ways of relating to
and interacting with other spectators, with even the creators of the TV
series being ‘consumed’ by the process (many executive producers are
on Twitter during the broadcast of their episodes).
This popular interest has also infiltrated the academic world. TV series
are the subject of university courses and academic conferences all over
the world; there are academic journals devoted exclusively to their ana-
lysis (there is even an extreme case of a journal devoted to a single TV
writer: Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association) and there is
an ever-increasing number of publishers that are turning their attention
towards the small screen. The most common format is that of a book
devoted to unravelling the key elements of a particular series; it would
be impossible to enumerate all the existing books given almost every
series with a sufficient degree of relevance has its own corresponding
academic study. For example, even before broadcasting its fourth season,
The Sopranos already had four academic volumes devoted to it. Some-
thing similar has happened with the acclaimed Mad Men; to date, more
than five academic books have been written about this programme –
this refers only to those originally published in English, as more have
been written in other languages – and the series has not even come to
an end yet.
However, in the world of TV studies, there are also more broadly
oriented works that aim to examine the key theoretical aspects of TV
fiction. For example, earlier studies have focused on narrative (Nelson,
State of Play; Mittell, ‘Narrative Complexity’; Creeber), media industries
(T. Miller; Lotz, Beyond Prime Time; Proulx and Shepatin), genres (Sanders
Alberto N. García 7

and Skoble; Jowett and Abbott), cultural studies (McCabe and Akass;
Dant), specific TV channels (Leverette, Ott and Buckley) and even philo-
sophical approaches (the ‘Popular Culture and Philosophy’ collection by
Open Court).
Nevertheless, the systematic study of emotions has been neglected
in publications devoted to contemporary TV series. It is in fact a topic
that has surfaced in other areas of TV studies, such as the link between
emotions and authenticity in reality TV, the uses and gratifications of
entertainment TV, or the tendency towards a sentimentalization of news
reporting in the so-called infotainment sector. However, in the specific
field of TV fiction, there is no book devoted to the study of emotions
as a central element in TV series. So far, it has been Vaage who has
delved the most into the specificity of emotion in TV narratives, point-
ing out that the small screen offers a type of narrative that differs from
that found in films in two ways related to temporality: its textual dura-
tion and its broadcasting rhythm. Also, from a cognitivist point of view,
Vaage has written several articles explaining how the extended narra-
tive that is characteristic of TV benefits from an emotional standpoint
and a stronger familiarity with the characters, which in turn influences
the degree of sympathy that spectators feel towards them; this can even
affect the moral judgments placed upon their actions (‘Fictional Reliefs’;
‘Blinded by Familiarity’; ‘Don, Peggy’). García discusses this topic in
his article devoted to studying the limits of allegiance in relation to
the figure of the antihero, while Nelson reflects upon the mechanisms,
specific to the television medium, through which TV narratives cons-
truct an intense emotional climax, which is in turn supported by the
spectator’s memory and the accumulation of the narrative.
Consequently, given the lack of bibliography, our focus on Emotions
in Contemporary TV Series will open up a new area of discussion that
links key notions of television narrative regarding emotions, cognition,
fiction and popular culture. What makes this volume unique is its inter-
disciplinary approach, since the series are analysed from the perspectives
of television studies, literature, sociology, philosophy and media stu-
dies. In addition, the essays contained herein serve as a demonstration
of the methodological validity of the theories mentioned earlier: Bishop
uses a psychoanalytical approach, Weissmann follows in the footsteps
of feminist studies, Pérez adopts a rigorous cognitivist perspective, Agger
relies on a cultural studies approach and Nelson – just to give one last
example – draws from the Deleuzian tradition, among others.
Several key concepts are engaged across the various chapters:
these include the relationship between moral emotion and character
8 Introduction

identification; how serial narrative builds into ‘affective moments’,

thereby producing a distinctive mode of aesthetic experience; the poli-
tics of emotion in collective identities; the intersection between gender
and emotions; and how popular genres, such as horror films, politi-
cal thrillers and science fiction manage the ‘emotional return’ that
postmodernism has made visible.

4 The structure of the book

The book is divided into three parts. Part I examines diverse theore-
tical issues concerning the relationship between emotions and the TV
narrative. García and González offer a sociological panorama, which
explains the reasons behind this recent interest in emotions and why
the TV medium offers an optimal way of exploring them. Next, Nelson’s
article takes into account technological advancements and viewing
habits in order to explore how ‘a particular kind of textual construct
under digital circumstances affords the mobilization of a distinctive
kind of experience’. Thus, in his chapter he develops the notion of
‘moments of affect’ that ‘has become a significant structuring principle
to sustain engagement in long-form serials, augmenting linear narra-
tive hooks’. García analyses the popularity of antiheroes in high quality
Anglo-American TV drama, paying close attention to the relationship –
especially privileged by TV narrative – between moral emotions and the
spectator’s engagement with the characters. As a transition, this first
section ends with an article from Pérez in which he proposes a the-
ory concerning the rhetorical, narrative and aesthetic mechanisms that
differentiate individual and group empathy (that is, feeling emotions
with a character).
Part II includes four essays that deal with the subject of TV series
and collective identities, both gender and geographically based. This
section is an example of how the interdisciplinary approach of this
book reinforces dialogue and permits a greater depth of analysis of the
emotion–identity–TV triad from complementary perspectives. The two
first essays focus on how one of the most popular and culturally influ-
ential series – Mad Men – engages the politics of gender. In contrast to
her more positive reading of SouthLAnd, Weissmann – whose approach
is rooted in the feminist studies tradition – denounces how Mad Men,
in spite of offering a feminist critique, ‘is unable to escape the tra-
ditional gendered perception of women as emotional and as bodies’.
Flamarique, in contrast, chooses a sociohistorical perspective in which
Weiner’s series serves as a laboratory of the social changes that western
Alberto N. García 9

civilization has gone through: ‘Emotions create a forum for commu-

nication and interaction: that is the place where identity and social
recognition are achieved’. The next two chapters from Part II expand
this volume’s reach by addressing how emotions – linked to collective
identity – play a central role in two highly successful TV traditions of
the last few years: the British historical melodrama and ‘Nordic noir’
(originating in Denmark and Sweden). In Chapter 7, Baena explores the
idea of Englishness and the relevance of nostalgia as a trope in con-
temporary British popular TV, following the extraordinary success of
Downton Abbey. She analyses the narrative, rhetorical and ideological
strategies by which many contemporary period dramas sustain a pow-
erful nostalgic mood in their recreation of the by-gone Victorian and
Edwardian eras. In turn, Agger (‘Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and
Emotion’) starts from emotions conceived of as ‘structures of feeling’
(Williams) and unravels how Wallander, Forbrydelsen and Bron|Broen
employ landscapes and cityscapes: ‘Combined with a focus on social
and cultural changes, dramas evoke certain types of emotion, especially
when applied metaphorically’ as these Nordic noir products do.
Part III deals with specific TV genres: horror, political thrillers and
science fiction. These three genres were not arbitrarily chosen: hor-
ror is the only genre that defines itself by the emotions it awakens in
the spectator; political thrillers have become fashionable, with trauma
serving as the plot engine, as a consequence of the unhealed wounds
left by the 9-11 terrorist attacks; finally, science fiction, owing to the
extended narrative that TV offers, has been able to create complex lay-
ers of emotion around one of its traditional themes: the limits between
humanity and an entity initially devoid of emotions (for example, the
machine/the android).
The first two chapters of this last section address horror from
stances that are complementary both thematically and methodologi-
cally. Abbott focuses on how the expanded narrative in recent TV horror
allows for an exploration, even prior to the fear of death which is
traditional in the genre, of the network of dagger-sharp emotions sur-
rounding loss, sorrow and mourning. While Abbott focuses on habitual
stereotypes such as the ghost, the vampire and the zombie, Bishop con-
centrates on the most popular product ever created based on zombies:
The Walking Dead. In Chapter 10, Bishop shows how, in a chaotic, ruined
and hopeless environment, various characters find themselves forced
to confront their ‘repressed emotional traumas’. In so doing, they are
able to get past their condition as ‘damaged people’ and develop new
identities as ‘strong, independent and self-actualized individuals’.
10 Introduction

Echart and Castrillo also deal with horror, but from a much more
realistic, dry and contemporary point of view. They offer a broad defini-
tion of the political thriller subgenre and analyse the two emotions that
makes it distinct: fear and distrust. For their analysis, they take as a ref-
erence point the popular series, Homeland. In the last article, Wassmann
explores how the science fiction genre has dealt with emotion, begin-
ning with the appearance of foundational landmarks, such as Star Trek
and extending her reach to the great work of science fiction on contem-
porary TV: Battlestar Galactica. Her reflection on the emotional wealth
of these futuristic series connects with a classic trope of the genre: is
it possible for an artificial intelligence to experience genuine emotion?
Wassmann argues that the underlying concerns behind the discussions
between Cylons, androids and humans show how TV science fiction has
become a privileged object of study for those who wish to delve into the
issue of whether or not emotion – with all its consequences – is what
makes us truly human.

5 Acknowledgements

This book has its origins in a workshop that took place in Pamplona
in October 2013, sponsored by the research project ‘Emotional Culture
and Identity’. I would like to thank the Institute for Culture and Society
(ICS, University of Navarra) for their financial support. I am also grateful
to Ana Marta González, Estefanía Berjón, Rocío Davis and Efrén Cuevas.
It is also necessary to thank all those who have participated in this book
as authors. They have endured with admirable fair play all corrections,
suggestions and ‘pressures’ in order to comply with the proposed sche-
dule. In spite of being a cliché, it is nonetheless true: all editing errors
are my responsibility as the book’s editor.
Part I
Theoretical and General
Emotional Culture and TV
Alejandro García Martínez and Ana Marta González

1 Introduction1

The fact that emotions unveil our values as well as our position in
the larger social structure makes them an important source of self-
knowledge and also knowledge about the world. By producing emo-
tional reactions, fiction may become a privileged site of self-knowledge,
both for the artist and for the public, although in different ways. While
fiction cannot be taken as a faithful representation of factual reality,
it does register emotional reactions to the facts as they are actually
conveyed. From this perspective, the kind of fiction created in a given
society constitutes relevant material for the sociology of culture.
In this chapter, we propose an overview of some of the sociocultural
developments that have resulted in what we call the ‘emotional culture’
of contemporary societies. Through the description of this set of cultural
meanings and operational codes by which people manage, deploy and
understand their emotions and actions, we will show the significant role
the media plays in shaping this particular emotional regime.
Against this background, the present chapter analyses why TV series
have become so pervasive and successful in this emotional culture.
In doing so, we will first describe the ‘dialogical and relational’ produc-
tion and reception of TV series; we will then link the characteristics of
our sociocultural regime to the specific narrative that TV series carry out.
Finally, we will conclude by stating that the complex and highly deve-
loped environment that the TV series format creates is especially fruitful
for exploring our ‘true’ self through emotions – primary embodied judg-
ments – suggesting that these types of narratives inspire emotion and

14 Emotional Culture and TV Narratives

2 An overview of ‘emotional culture’

In contrast with previous eras in which the emotional dimension of

human beings was less emphasised than today, contemporary societies
are marked by the overall presence of what can be called an emotional
culture. Emotions are actively present in all spheres of human and social
life, including almost every academic field (Ekman; Lazarus; Damasio;
The reduced presence of emotional aspects in scientific research dur-
ing most of the twentieth century can be explained in part by the
undisputed dominance that the rationalist and utilitarian paradigm
has had for decades. In these paradigms, the contrast between rationa-
lity and emotionality was matched by a lack of interest in the latter
dimension. However, we have recently witnessed an ‘emotional turn’
in most scientific disciplines, as they now consider emotional aspects
to be fundamental, or, at the very least, relevant to their research. This
recovery of emotions corresponds to a wider emotional style that per-
vades contemporary culture and can be described as ‘emotional culture’.
By ‘emotional culture’ we mean the set of cultural meanings and ope-
rational codes (or ‘techniques’) by which people manage, deploy and
understand their own emotions and actions.
The sociocultural changes that are the foundation of this emotional
turn and pervade the ‘emotional culture’ in which we live are var-
ied and complex. In terms of social structure, processes of increasing
individualization in modern societies and an intensifying trend toward
social differentiation (Elias; Sennett; Bauman) in cultural codes are
strongly influenced by romantic thought. In Romanticism, a person’s
self-knowledge and identity are made to largely depend on the very
expression of his/her individuality. This ‘expressivist’ concept of identity
coexists with an aspiration toward recognising the authentic self; Taylor
has characterised it as the ideal of authenticity that defines contemporary
Western culture.
Thus, compared to past eras in which identity – both collective and
individual – was taken for granted, the processes of modernization
and social differentiation have problematized identity and has trans-
formed the pursuit of authentic personal identity into a personal task.
In this sociocultural situation, a growing psychologization of personal
experience progressively opened up throughout the twentieth century
(Flamarique), which has consolidated as a result of cultural diffusion
generated by mass media, including film and television. All these con-
verging processes eventually resulted in a cultural ethos characterised by
Alejandro García Martínez and Ana Marta González 15

the prevalence of emotions not only in the public sphere, but also in
self-understanding and in the expression of personal identity.
Illouz has likely been the sociologist who has most directed her
efforts to explaining how, through mass media, a specific ‘emotional
style’ spreads and consolidates. This style manifests in a wide variety of
forms and cultural content that express an intense ‘concern’ for certain
emotions. This peculiar cultural style includes specific linguistic, scien-
tific, narrative and ritual techniques for understanding, managing and
coping with emotive elements (Illouz, Saving the Modern Soul). In this
regard, one of the pillars on which this new cultural style has been
built includes the permeation and translation of the emotional discourse
from psychology to a multitude of social spheres, eventually merging
into popular culture through the media.
The spread of emotional and therapeutic resources has managed to
permeate very different social contexts. Even in the economic sphere,
which is supposedly governed by rational and utilitarian criteria, we
can identify a transformation both in the performance of professional
roles and in business management and leadership procedures: in recent
years, emotional aspects identified as ‘work environment’, motivation
and job satisfaction have been management’s touchstone for reflec-
tion (Kunda). The proliferation of semi-popular books in recent decades
that propose a psychologised version of how to be a leader or have
business success is another telling sign of the centrality of emotions
and the therapeutic perspective (Booth; Furedi). In addition, an emo-
tional style is predominant in intimate relationships: sexual, friendship
and family relationships have also been redirected according to an
emotional therapeutic paradigm.
In short, an appeal to the emotions and this contemporary emo-
tional style’s set of ‘cultural resources’ constitute a privileged way by
which people define both themselves and their relationships with oth-
ers, and by which they establish strategies for achieving various personal
and social ends. Indeed, the cultural prevalence of emotions and their
management ultimately constitute what has become known as the
‘emotional style’ of our present culture. Additionally, the importance of
emotions in the present cultural context has called for epistemological
changes in almost every discipline.

3 The importance of emotions for cultural analysis

With some notable, though very minor, exceptions (Weber; Elias),

emotions have been relegated to the background of the sociological
16 Emotional Culture and TV Narratives

perspective for much of modernity; in part this is because of the

undisputed, decades-long dominance of the rationalist and utilita-
rian paradigm, in which affective aspects were labelled as irrational.
In the social sciences, the recent incorporation of emotions in socio-
cultural analysis has been accomplished on three levels (Bericat): first,
through sociological analysis of emotion, for example, in Kemper’s
work (‘Towards Sociology’; Research Agendas); second, with the growing
presence of emotions in social studies, for example, in the work deve-
loped by Hochschild (‘Emotion Work’; The Managed Heart); and finally
through the revision of the central categories of sociological theory
starting with the rediscovery of emotions (Scheff, Microsociology; Scheff,
In all other academic disciplines, the approach to the study of emo-
tions has been mixed. In fact, there is still no clear consensus on
the very concept of ‘emotion’ and, depending on the area of know-
ledge, they are treated differently. It is possible, however, to propose
a characterization that more or less converges on most interdisci-
plinary approaches: the emotions include both cultural and cognitive
aspects, such as evaluative elements and physiological changes, and,
ultimately, they generate practical dispositions (González, ‘Naturaleza
y elementos’). Precisely for this reason, they are a particularly revealing
anchor of the two instances that allow for social analysis: social struc-
ture and the system of individual motivations. The emotions establish
a connection between these two elements, which acts as a nuanced
meeting point for the various disciplines that study them. For exam-
ple, studies in clinical psychology reveal that an emotion can be based
on a situation or experience, or on a thought or image; in addition, it
can be experienced with a feeling of pleasure or displeasure (affective
valence) that also involves physiological and behavioural manifesta-
tions (Remplein). Interestingly, this medical approach converges with
the characterization offered by the sociology of emotions, which has
experienced significant development over the last three decades with
relevant works by authors such as Hochschild, Scheff and Kemper.
In addition, from a historical perspective, authors such as Stearns have
also extensively explored the relationship between social change and
At any rate, the delimitation of the emotions that these sociological
and historical analysis perspectives propose is not monolithic; rather,
they have strong points of convergence with other disciplines. For
example, Elster indicates that emotions rely on cognitive antecedents,
induce physiological changes, are accompanied by pleasure or pain, and
Alejandro García Martínez and Ana Marta González 17

are directed toward an intentional object; consequently, they involve

operative trends toward performing certain actions (299 et seq.). Mean-
while, Solomon claims that emotions are ‘similar to beliefs’ since ‘the
emotions are judgments, normative judgments and often moral judg-
ments’ (328). In the same line of thought, Martha Nussbaum concludes
that emotions are ‘evaluative judgements’. From a philosophical per-
spective, the evaluation or judgment that emotion contains, as well as
its dispositional character, has been reemphasised (Kenny; Roberts).
Given the above, it could be argued that emotions include an affective
valence or sentiment (of pleasure or displeasure), which is often accom-
panied by physiological manifestations, plus a cognitive and evaluative
dimension, which incorporate elements from social structures and our
relationships, and often contribute to the crystallization of our concrete
operative dispositions.
The last element of this characterization is especially relevant here,
as it points to the dispositional and operational counterpart (motiva-
tion toward action) that the emotions contain. In fact, a large part of
the reflection that originates in the sociology of emotions has high-
lighted the cognitive-evaluative aspects of emotions, including both
their tendency toward, and promotion of, practical action (Rodríguez
Salazar). Consequently, the concept of emotion simultaneously presents
a capacity to trigger action and, in turn is defined, at least partially, by
conditioning social structures (Ortony and Turner).
By keeping in mind that enculturation and the internalization of
social structures into our personalities is not a merely passive process
(Shore; Archer, Structure, Agency), and that cultural content has a cer-
tain margin of interpretation and personal experience (Spiro; Swindler;
Sassatelli), we find that the cognitive, cultural and evaluative compo-
nents that include emotions are interesting connectors between struc-
ture, culture, individual predisposition and agency. Precisely because
of this, they possess a heuristic capacity that is highly relevant for the
analysis of contemporary societies and cultural products, including TV
Indeed, TV series, like other cultural products, include both cogni-
tions and perceptions as more stable assessments or judgments; they
rouse emotions and are constructed from them. There are close, reci-
procal and multidirectional relationships between all these elements:
environmental conditions and sentiments related to our physical indi-
viduality shape our perception of reality; our judgments and reflective
assessments can also have an influence on our feelings or physical
affectations. The relationships and social influences in which we are
18 Emotional Culture and TV Narratives

immersed help us to evaluate things according to a particular perspec-

tive. The moral principles that we assume as true mediate our way of
perceiving reality and relating to other human beings in specific social

4 Cultural analysis through emotions in TV narratives

Behind the spontaneity of many emotional reactions, it is possible to

detect culture’s hidden and silent work. Adults react to things that leave
children unaffected simply because children lack the knowledge and
memories that adults project upon any given situation. This simple
observation justifies reflection on the cultural construction of emotions:
there are many fearful things, but some of them – such as the fear of
an economic depression – are only recognised by those familiar with
certain experiences.
While emotions unveil, in a rather spontaneous way, the features
of reality that we especially value and care about (Frankfurt), a proper
understanding of those meaningful reactions often requires committed
sociocultural analysis. Indeed, emotion hints at value, however, value
is culturally framed. Accordingly, speaking of the cultural production of
emotions amounts to speaking of the different ways in which values are
effectively conveyed to us.
The fact that emotions unveil our values, as well as our position in
the social structure, makes them important sources of self-knowledge
and knowledge about the world. For this reason, too, art represents a
particularly insightful way of understanding our changing emotional
cultures: to the extent that art manages to convey messages in emotion-
ally moving ways, an understanding of how art works – how it frames
things so that it touches our hearts – represents a privileged way to
understand the cultural production of emotions. This is especially true
of fiction; because of its ability to elicit emotional reactions, fiction is
capable of being a special site of self-knowledge, both for the artist and
for the public.
The kind of fiction produced and consumed in a given society cons-
titutes an exceptionally pertinent object for the sociology of culture,
which chooses emotions as the prism for analysing its object. Tell me
which stories most incite a reaction and I will tell you what you love
and fear most, I will tell you who you are, or long, or fear to be. In this
regard, over the last few years, TV fiction has provided us with a parti-
cularly fertile and promising ground for assessing our primary concerns;
Alejandro García Martínez and Ana Marta González 19

as is always the case, comparison with other eras helps us to recognise

the changes our culture has experienced.

4.1 From the poetic and aesthetic approach to the critical

It is possible, for the purposes of the present argument, to distinguish
two main approaches to artistic activity: the first approach is more
poetic or aesthetic and the second has a more critical focus.
The aesthetic approach seeks to stress the poetic conditions needed to
create the work of art. According to Aristotle, art imitates nature, which
is not meant to deny creativity, but rather to stress it. Indeed, art imitates
nature because it plays with a number of elements in order to create
ideal worlds that resemble the original one; these elements incorporate
a meaningful structure, even if they intend to convey an absence of
Aristotle observes that we humans are inclined to imitate and enjoy
imitations, even of things that we dislike in real life. He attributes this
fact to the pleasure we take in recognising things. To the extent that fic-
tion imitates the structure of human life, we take pleasure in fiction; part
of this cognitive pleasure is conveyed to us through the emotions that
fiction elicits. The emotions are embodied carriers of knowledge, which
result in self-knowledge, in knowledge of our bonds with the world, of
what we love and what we fear. Through this knowledge, we come to
recognise both our vulnerabilities and our strengths, which may have
a cathartic effect on us. Thus, speaking of tragedy, Aristotle notes that
through pity and fear, tragedy effects the purification of those emotions
(see Aristotle 1449 b 4–28).
Thus, in his book, Poetics, Aristotle argues that art imitates character,
emotion, and actions (1447 a28), that is, human agents (1448 a1 ss).
From this perspective, the stuff of poetics is nothing more, and nothing
less, than human life: for life is made up of actions (1450 a15 ss). In fact,
speaking of tragedy, Aristotle says that its purpose is not so much to
imitate characters, but rather to represent action since characters are
somehow defined through their actions: ‘Tragedy is representation of
action, and it is chiefly for the sake of action that it represents people in
action’ (1450 b 3–4).
Accordingly, the most important aspect of fiction is the composi-
tion of action; it defines characters, which, in turn, are different from
the opinions they convey. Depending on the way action is composed,
the artist can make characters look better or worse than they are; the
20 Emotional Culture and TV Narratives

artist can do this in different ways, either by narrating stories or by

introducing acting characters.
The fact that the artist can represent actions and characters in diffe-
rent ways is a reminder of the difference between art and nature. Indeed,
by the very fact that art imitates nature, it is clear that it is not the same
as nature. Thus, the standards we use to evaluate nature are different
from the ones we use to evaluate the representation of nature. While
good art resembles nature, they are not identical. Kant was very clear
on this point when he stressed that beautiful art shows its excellence
when things that are considered ugly in real life are judged beautiful
in their representation (Kant 312). Only things that provoke disgust
do not admit such aesthetic representation precisely because the very
immediacy of that sensation precludes the necessary distance, which is
a condition for art to retain its cognitive power.
A feature of good art is that it makes things look natural without hin-
dering a judgment about its purpose. Yet, behind that naturalness, there
is plenty of artifice. Thus, while it is true that art provides us with know-
ledge about the world, the kind of knowledge it provides is mediated
through the lens of the artist; how they feel and judge the world is cru-
cial to understanding their representation. Thus, while we can disagree
with the artist on the idea they hold about the world, the work of art
can succeed because of the way it represents that idea.
Kant thought that successful artistic representations are a product of
genius. This claim is supported by the idea that beautiful art cannot be
produced by merely following a given set of rules, as beauty cannot be
grounded on concepts alone. This means that beautiful art cannot be
a product of imitation, but should itself become a model for others, a
standard of taste. While upon first glance, this thought seems to con-
trast with Aristotle’s insistence on imitation, there is no real opposition
between the two because Aristotle speaks of the imitative nature of the
product of art and Kant speaks of the creative nature of the artist, which
he ultimately also attributes to nature. According to Kant, genius is not
so much a product of learning and imitation as it is a product of nature
‘through which nature gives the rule to art’ (308). Kant recognises that
in art there is always something that can be learned and reproduced
according to rules; however, the distinctive feature of beautiful art is
that it contains something that eludes rules because it involves an intu-
ition of the expression of a concept and, hence, a relationship between
imagination and understanding. Indeed, ‘genius really consists in the
happy relation, which no science can teach and no diligence can learn,
of finding ideas for a given concept on the one hand and on the other
Alejandro García Martínez and Ana Marta González 21

hitting upon the expression for these, through which the subjective dis-
position of the mind that is thereby produced, as an accompaniment of
a concept, can be communicated to others’ (Kant 317). Thus, while the
work of genius can become an inspiring model for others, it cannot be
copied and still retain its artistic character (see Kant 318).
The aesthetic approach can be contrasted with a more political and
critical understanding of artwork. Thus, Kant’s reflection is still relevant
for understanding the context of Walter Benjamin’s controversial thesis
in his essay, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Repro-
ducibility’ because Kant’s emphasis on the uniqueness and autonomy
of artwork resembles the ‘aura’, which, going back to traditional cult,
would, in Benjamin’s view, find its apotheosis in fascism; an aura which
would be increasingly lost in the process of technological reproduction
insofar as this process entails the disconnection of the art piece from
the authority of tradition and its original insertion in ritual. From then
on, for Benjamin, the value of art can no longer be sought after in its
uniqueness, but rather in its insertion in political praxis.
Important as it may be, the political approach to art does not cancel
out the poetic approach any less than the poetic approach cancels out
its political dimension. In a way, it makes it all the more relevant, as
well as more sophisticated. After all, Plato was well aware of the political
dimension of art when he considered the need to expel poets from his
Republic. This is true even if Plato’s concern with art was not formulated
in terms of ‘aura’, but rather had more to do with the cognitive dimen-
sion of art with its double-edged ability to tell and to deceive. Plato’s
basic concern with truth is also at work in the Aristotelian approach to
poetics; yet Aristotle is more focused on explaining the technical nature
of poetic truth, namely, the way elements need to be combined in order
to effectively realise the idea that the artist wants to convey to their audi-
ence. Seen in this light, the aestheticization of politics – which Benjamin
recognised in fascism – and the politicization of art – which he recog-
nised in communism – represent just two poles in a dialectic that simply
bypasses the intrinsically poetic dimension of art, which for Aristotle
constituted the specific rendering of art.
As a matter of fact, the possibility of effectively telling either true
or false stories still remains open in the age of mechanical reproduc-
tion. Even if Benjamin is right in noting that what followed the age of
mechanical reproduction is the idea of art as entertainment, as well as
the ‘disperse’ above the ‘recollected’ nature of the artistic experience, we
do not need entertainment to entirely suppress the cognitive dimension
that both Plato and Aristotle considered intrinsic to it. It could well be
22 Emotional Culture and TV Narratives

that the reverse is true: much of the things we tend to consider ‘just
entertainment’ are in a better position to perform this cognitive func-
tion insofar as they provide us with knowledge about the world and
about ourselves. This is what happens with much of contemporary TV
fiction: by telling stories that grab our attention, they tell us things
about ourselves as human beings who have emotional attachments and
moral reactions. From this perspective, there is no need to associate the
cognitive dimension of art with ‘aura’ in a demeaning sense.
In Benjamin’s view, the move from cult to political praxis could
be recognised in the increasing importance of exhibiting artwork, as
opposed to the ‘occultation’ that characterised the original objects asso-
ciated with cult (Benjamin 27). Along these lines, he also noted the
blurring frontiers between the artist and the public, as well as the trans-
formation of the public, which is especially clear in the case of cinema:
the technical mediation provided by cinema made the spectator simul-
taneously an expert and a critic (see Benjamin 34–5), thereby making
it almost impossible for art to retain its former analogy with cult. This
combination of fruitive and critical dimensions in the same person –
accentuated perhaps by the psychoanalytical approach to human life
that this medium made possible – is one of the culturally relevant factors
in examining cinema’s social impact. We think this aspect is also parti-
cularly relevant for understanding the recent evolution of TV narratives,
in which the involvement of the public has only increased.

4.2 Some peculiarities of TV narratives

As shown in the brief summary above, the prospects for analysis starting
from production or from an artwork’s reception, which are also present
in other cultural expressions, emphasise different aspects of artistic
recreation. Along with this, cultural analysis conducted through TV
series and the emotional resources therein must consider the intrinsic
and relational elements that this audiovisual genre brings with it.
From the point of view of production, one of this genre’s most impor-
tant features is its dialogical or relational character (Donati) compared
with other artistic products, such as novels or movies. Indeed, the for-
mat of a series, in which the plot unfolds over a long period, often over
several years, as well as its openness and the construction of a narrative
from moments of affects to engage and hook the audience, are features
that clearly distinguish it from the point of view of production. In addi-
tion, however, these elements are combined in a broader relational and
sociological context to which they also contribute. Here we will focus
on two of these features.
Alejandro García Martínez and Ana Marta González 23

First, unlike other narratives found in films or novels, TV series are

constituted as a narrative-in-progress. They are not completed narra-
tives, but rather are open and uncertain. Usually viewers are uncertain
as to whether or not there will be a second season because, due to
its open and developing condition, the relational context (economic,
social, industrial) is more relevant than for an already finished or closed
product that is presented to an audience. Thus, because of external
factors, it sometimes becomes necessary to dramatically ‘end’ one of
the main characters simply because the contract actor in the first sea-
son did not renew. In short, with these conditions in mind, including
narrative-in-development, plot twists, characters and the artistic crea-
tion appropriate to this format, TV series are particularly influenced by
the external and social conditions in which they develop over time.
Second, the TV series audience is much more important in the produc-
tion of the series and in artistic decisions: throughout the development
of a series, the audience becomes an essential element of production and
is much more powerful and active than in other formats or genres. If a
series fails to appeal to a large enough audience, or if certain time frames
or characters are not well received, the development of its production
will be affected. In addition, the feedback that the audience provides
through various channels (including new media), the expectations that
are generated or the impact on and debate about certain characters and
storylines can be decisive (Zoller Seitz; Proulx and Shepatin). For exam-
ple, if the audience expresses its preference for a secondary character,
he or she will very likely appear more often later on, experience deeper
development, and play a more prominent role. Those who create and
produce TV series are constantly measuring their audiences’ reactions
and looking for their feedback; thus, they are constantly negotiating
the narrative with the audience. This negotiation is not so apparent nor
so essential to the production of others formats (movies, for example),
where the characters, the plot and the narrative are usually a closed or
final product when they finally reach the audience.

5 Conclusions

Although for analytical purposes we still need to distinguish between

the perspectives of the artist and the spectator, between the producer
and the receptor of emotions, contemporary TV fiction also complicates
this traditional distinction because ultimately the Internet produces a
new kind of audience that is able to interact with the production pro-
cess itself. On the one hand, this accentuates the ‘critical’ dimension
24 Emotional Culture and TV Narratives

that Benjamin stressed, as contemporary viewers are not only very cri-
tical, but also ironic; we rarely confront a piece of fiction with a kind of
naivety or reverence that would cancel out any reflection upon a series’
conditions of production. Some sort of social reflexivity is embedded in
our experience as TV viewers, to the point that we often adopt a meta-
discourse about the series we are watching. Thus, when watching TV
with friends, it is not uncommon to hear ironic comments such as, ‘you
know, there was a screen players strike at that time . . . ’ or ‘I guess the
child’s contract was about to expire’. It is clear, though, that this sort
of ironic reflexivity, which moves between fiction and reality, works as
a factual inhibitor of the potentially artistic elements present in that
given piece of fiction, making it more amenable to critical readings
than to poetic ones. While the poetic reading is still possible, the ironic
comment directs our attention towards the conditions of production,
inviting us to adopt a more critical stance focused on a series’ ideological
assumptions or the purposes behind it.
On the other hand, the ironic and critical approach coexists with an
enhanced emotional attachment to fictional characters that often goes
hand in hand with the serial nature of TV fiction, and explains the audi-
ence’s passionate involvement in the development of these products;
this blurs the distinction between the artist and their public. Once more,
such involvement with fictional characters is nothing new – we just
need to recall Don Quixote or Madame Bovary. Yet, as Illouz has argued,
modern emotional selves are particularly nourished by what Adorno
called the ‘ontologization of the imagination’ (Illouz), which has much
to do with the dimensions acquired by fiction in contemporary societies.
Nevertheless, to the extent a fictional product can succeed or fail
in transmitting a story, it remains a privileged locus for self-discovery
and/or self-deception precisely through the emotions it conveys, no
matter its production processes. In a way, from the perspective of the
sociology of culture, the audience’s involvement in the production pro-
cess speaks louder about the ideals and expectations that they harbour
when choosing a particular series. Insofar as TV fiction producers under-
stand those expectations and are able to make a successful product, they
perform a crucial role, that of cultural mediators, whose products may
be taken as a reflection of their social constituencies.
In addition, this all serves to explain the popularity and growth of the
TV series genre as cultural references of our time. As mentioned earlier,
the particular format of TV series allows the audience to discover its true
self and, in so doing, TV series help, with some peculiarities when com-
pared to other genres (Mittell), with a cultural problem in contemporary
Alejandro García Martínez and Ana Marta González 25

society: an identity crisis which the need for a personal identity quest
or discovery (Taylor). Because of TV series’ format, in which characters
and narratives can be really well developed and their need for recurrent
‘moments of affect’ to engage the audience (see Nelson’s chapter in this
volume), TV series offer a good opportunity for self-exploration given
the emotions they elicit.
Thus, through our emotional reactions to complex actions or cha-
racters, agreeing with a particular course of action, being sympathetic
toward a particular character when he or she has made some move or
being angry when he or she behaves in some specific way we discover
who we really (authentically) are. Because emotions, as embodied judg-
ments, are primary responses to actions, characters and narratives, we
can discover ourselves through them.
Given what has been argued so far, these fictional products and
experiences can be justifiably viewed as sites of embodied reflexivity.
Accordingly, performing a critical analysis of these fictional products
becomes a privileged way of realising, to put it in Foucault’s terms, an
‘ontology of the present’ or an ‘ontology of ourselves’. From this pers-
pective, we are willing to say that contemporary viewers have become
privileged witnesses of our own transition from a culturally modern to
a late-modern society. We are experiencing our own collective rites of
passage, playing with pieces, de-constructing and re-constructing iden-
tities, trying to come to terms with ourselves. As in most rites of passage,
dealing with crisis and the rearrangement of social order, sexual ambiva-
lence, symbolic revolutions of gender roles and confrontations with
death are prominent and necessary. We are invited to reflect upon the
elements that compromise our culture and to reinvent the social order
in ways that cohere with our ethical convictions.
The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in
Contemporary TV Fictions
Robin Nelson

‘“Affect” is the self-feeling of being alive’ (Thompson 120)

Context and aims

This chapter follows up the opportunity for fresh applications of think-

ing afforded by the symposium at Universidad de Navarra, entitled
‘Identity and Emotions in Contemporary TV Series’.1 As Ana Marta
González remarks, ‘media culture has become a powerful agent of emo-
tional socialization, fostering a new kind of self whose relationship with
real life seems to be mediated by narratives and fictional characters to a
greater degree’ (7). The aim here is to mark a distinctive viewing expe-
rience in respect of those long-form serial TV fictions which are central
to Jason Mittell’s concept of ‘complex TV’ (2012–13), a new mode of TV
textuality. To bring out the complexity of the engagement, imbricating
thought within emotion, poses some methodological challenges.
Summarizing the work of contemporary theorists (such as Beck,
Giddens and Lasch), González notes that ‘contemporary selves are
not only highly reflexive selves, but, specifically, emotionally reflex-
ive selves who continually turn to their emotions for self-knowledge’
(5). Fully to account, then, for the experiential encounter and distinc-
tive affective experiences requires a methodological approach which
embraces a sharing of self-reflection of a kind uncommon in Film
and Television Studies (though evident in Ethnography’s participant
observer accounts). Though partially informed by the insights of audi-
ence researchers, the claims I make here about a distinctive viewing
experience are based not in empirical audience research but in reflection
on, and articulation of, some of my own viewing experiences. How-
ever, aiming to avoid subjectivism (and that poststructuralist relativism

Robin Nelson 27

which ascribes everything to ‘a matter of personal choice’), the approach

here also involves a specific understanding of the encounter between
text and viewer in context. In making the case, the chapter takes an
interdisciplinary Humanities approach building upon aspects of Cul-
tural Studies, Film Studies, Theatre Studies and Philosophy as well as
Television Studies.
In Film Studies over the past two decades, considerable investiga-
tion into the role of emotions and cognition has been undertaken
(Carroll; Grodal; Plantinga; Stockwell; Smith). Less work of this kind
has been evident in Television Studies (though there has been an exten-
sion of reception studies particularly of online fandoms).2 But some
Film Studies commentators, such as Murray Smith and Margrethe Bruun
Vaage, have begun to extend their explorations into complex TV.3
In Film Studies, however, much of the cognitive work has involved
conceptual clarification on the relation between feelings of sympathy,
empathy and morality, or focused on empirical rather than experiential
evidence.4 Self-reflection arising from empathy is frequently acknow-
ledged but, though emotion is not excluded, the approach does not
typically address affect or openly address the feeling-thinking engage-
ments of the commentators themselves. Indeed, Vaage summarizes as

Imagining the characters’ states – with emphasis on mental states –

has for example, been labelled as central imagining (Choi 2005;
Smith 1995), imagining from the inside (Smith 1997), and empa-
thetic re-enactment (Currie 1995). In a similar vein, understanding
the meaning of a narrative event for a character is understood as
empathy (Tan 1996). These accounts all point to ways in which the
spectator understands the character and the situation the character is
in. (‘Fiction Film’ 159)

Thus, the kinds of engagement with film or television admitted in the

literature seem somewhat constrained, remaining more or less cerebral.
As Vaage also notes, ‘idiosyncratic responses are often deemed inap-
propriate, unwarranted and unintended by the film’ (‘Self-Reflection
Beyond’ 159). But turning her attention to television in an arti-
cle (with Blanchet), Vaage posits that ‘long-term narratives seem to
add something to the spectator’s engagement with fictional characters
that is not fully captured by terms such as empathy and sympa-
thy’ (18). It is this lacuna that I wish to explore here in respect of
long-form television series, bearing in mind what philosophers have
28 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

termed ‘qualia’ to indicate the distinctive subjective ‘raw feel’ that cons-
titutes conscious, but elusive, experience. Where most work in Film
Studies has concentrated on unpacking new engagements with charac-
ter and linear narrative (for example, Smith’s ‘recognition, alignment,
allegiance’ model), the protracted and meandering postnarratives of
complex TV suggest additional modes of encounter with less emphasis
on teleological trajectory.
The domain of TV fictions has developed remarkably over the past
twenty years since Brandt (17) predicted its demise – at least in respect
of TV drama in the UK. Both the programmes made and the conceptual
frameworks for understanding TV fictions have shifted almost beyond
recognition. In one sense Brandt was right insofar as the authored sin-
gle play, which had been seen as the beacon of early British television
drama, has considerably diminished. Taking a high culture standpoint,
Brandt inferred that the demise of (theatre) writers’ television would
entail the loss of complex imaginative engagement with the world.
But the authored single play has been replaced by a collaboratively-
produced, medium-specific televisual mode, namely long-form TV serial
fiction. This mode has even greater potential to address the complexities
and ambiguities of contemporary life and locate them in imagina-
tive and historical contexts. Moreover, a shift from the hypodermic
model of the transmission of authorial meaning implicit in Brandt’s
position, has, as we shall see, emancipated the spectator (to echo
Rancière’s formulation) and opened up new experiential possibilities
(see Rancière).
Of course, not all television affords deep encounters. The medium
overall continues to offer its episodic and formatted range of proce-
dural cop dramas and soaps, reality TV and sports, news and current
affairs, with a noted inclination towards consumer-oriented entertain-
ment such as cookery competitions, game shows and dream-home
seeking. A working assumption of this chapter is that these different
modes of television programmes afford a range of different meanings
and pleasures, no doubt eliciting various emotions. However, at a time
which has seen a scholarly return to the aesthetic potential of televi-
sion (Jacobs and Peacock), this chapter explores the idea of a specific
‘affective’ viewing experience afforded by complex TV in the form of the
‘high-end’, niche-marketed, series-serials of TV3.5 Indeed, I go further
tentatively to propose that sequences of what I call ‘moments of affect’
constitute a significant structuring principle to sustain engagement in
long-form serials, augmenting linear narrative hooks. The correlation
between the principles of composition of long-form serial TV fictions
Robin Nelson 29

and ‘moments of affect’ might now be taken as a recursive loop between

the established success of TV fictions constructed in this way and the
making of new long-form serials.
Before analysing illustrative instances of ‘moments of affect’ in three
examples of contemporary ‘high-end’ TV fictions (respectively from the
UK, Denmark and the USA) and reflecting on my engagement with
them, the first half of this chapter establishes a conceptual frame-
work. It is necessary to say something about methodology beyond
hermeneutics and to outline a framework for the idea of ‘affect’ as a
twenty-first century experience, particularly in television where, because
of a residual sense that the medium is low-brow, it might not be
expected. If a core definition of ‘affect’ is the ‘self-feeling of being alive’
(Thompson 120), affective experience might seem a world away from
the caricature of television’s passive ‘couch potato’. This chapter takes
some initial steps to examine these issues with respect to contemporary
television programming.

Conceptual framework

In a recent collection of essays, George Toles offers a detailed, self-

reflexive, account of his engagement with protagonist Don Draper in the
pilot episode of Mad Men, which is in part ‘more visceral than reflective’
(152). In short, Toles affords an account of his active-reactive response
to the episode moment by moment. However, the essay goes beyond
the personal subject of emotion by contextualizing Toles’s specific
response in American culture more broadly, dealing with thinking-
feeling through an encounter with the text in context. To some extent,
of course, Toles brings his personal feelings about the world to this
encounter, but the aesthetic composition of the text is not taken as a
tabula rasa on which thoughts and feelings might simply be imposed.
It is seen rather as a sophisticated construct, eliciting certain kinds of
responses rather than others. As Toles remarks of Mad Men: ‘We are
supplied the right aperture for glimpsing, powerfully, the “something
more in him” [Don Draper] that may link up with the unsolved mystery
of ourselves’ (147).
This approach illustrates the significant move away from Film Stu-
dies’ textually deterministic position of spectatorial engagement of the
1970s and early 1980s to acknowledge encounters between open texts
and active engagements with them. It resonates with work on post-
narrativity which in a variety of media, as Ryan argues, ‘consists of
viewing narrativity as a cognitive frame into which readers process texts,
30 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

authors shape materials, and the human mind categorises experiential

data’ (117).
In the narratological accounts in the examples below, I aim, follow-
ing Smith, ‘to understand the ways in which texts produce or deny the
conditions conducive for various levels of engagement’ (82). I share his
view that ‘while texts can sustain extremely varied interpretations, at
a certain level texts are determinate and will thus resist certain uses
and facilitate others’ (63). That is what I mean by ‘textual disposi-
tion’, one of two key forces in the field of encounter. The other key
force in the dynamic inter-engagement I explore is ‘viewer disposition’.
As with textual disposition, there are limits to spectatorial agency since
notional contemporary emancipation is not absolute: actual respon-
dents are located in, and constrained by the cultures they inhabit. Thus,
in the examples to follow, any drift towards the purely subjective or
idiosyncratic in personal viewer disposition is offset by locating my
own engagements in a broader social position. Likewise, analysis of the
principles of composition of the examples below indicates, beyond the
invitation of a generic open textual disposition for interactive engage-
ment, the textual specificity which to an extent circumscribes the kinds
of available responses. As Smith puts it:

Traffic between world and text, then, runs in both directions: we need
our experience of the world to ‘get into’ the text, but the text may
transform the way we understand and experience the world. (54)

Affect arises, as Gregg and Seigworth note, ‘in the midst of in-between-
ness: in the capacities to act and be acted upon’ (2).
Turning to ‘affect’, my deployment of the term arises in the context of
a renewed interest since the mid-1990s in a concept mobilized to grasp
an elusive but newly-emergent kind of bodymind experience.6 Gregg
and Seigworth note that the concept has been fruitfully applied in var-
ious disciplines but, being a matter of process, ‘affect’ does not lend
itself to instrumental methodological subjugation. In their summary
view, ‘[t]here is no single, generalizable theory of affect; not yet, and
(thankfully) there never will be’ (5). However, they recognize a thread
in the essays in their edited volume in the ‘collectively singular attempt
to address what transpires in the affective bloom-space of materiality’
(9). It is one such ‘bloom-space’ that I seek to identify here. By ‘affect’
in long-form serial television viewing, I indicate an unusually inten-
sive encounter in a process of dynamic interplay between feeling and
cognition mobilized by textual complexity and a concern with being
Robin Nelson 31

in the world, in both the context of the fiction and the viewing
In an insightful essay on the lineage and modern usage of ‘affect’,
Clough distinguishes between those critics and theorists who ‘focused
on the circuit from affect to emotion, ending up with subjectively felt
states of emotion’ and those (indebted to Spinoza, Bergson and Deleuze
and Guattari) who:

conceptualize affect as pre-individual bodily forces augmenting or

diminishing a body’s capacity to act and who critically engage those
technologies that are making it possible to grasp and manipulate the
imperceptible dynamism of affect. (‘The Affective Turn’ 207)

As evident in the Toles example above, I align my own position with

the latter group in wishing to mark ‘moments of affect’ which have a
dimension of embodiment and feeling, but which also entail an aspect
of cognition. Indeed, Gregg and Seigworth remark that ‘affect and cog-
nition are never fully separable if for no other reason than thought is
itself a body, embodied’ (2–3).
It is the relatively recent reaction against the binary division between
mind and body, characteristic of the Western intellectual tradition,
which has opened the way to the construction of new ethico-affective
spaces. Noë, for example, argues that ‘perception and perceptual con-
sciousness are types of thoughtful, knowledgeable activity’ (3). The
insight is affirmed, moreover, across a range of disciplines from Philoso-
phy to Neuroscience. The psychologist Teresa Brennan recognized that
‘the transmission of affect, if only for an instant, alters the biochem-
istry and neurology of the subject’ (1). Whilst she refers primarily to
transmissions of affect between persons, she also recognizes the impact
of cultural artefacts and thus her point might well be applied to com-
plex TV. Indeed, militating against the idea of a simple audio-visual,
cognitive eye–mind relation or even passive reception of pre-recorded
media, Sobchack demonstrates, in Carnal Thoughts, that the process of
‘making sense’ of screen media requires an irreducible collaboration
between our thoughts and our senses. She emphasizes the key role
our bodies play in making sense of today’s image-saturated culture and
notes that we are sense-making, visual subjects. Building on insights
such as Sobchack’s, but embracing also with Gumbrecht a move away
from hermeneutics, I look to extend this approach beyond ‘making
sense’ to the pleasures of an affective experience implicit in engage-
ments with long-form complex TV – a sequence of momentary (though
32 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

possibly fundamental) dislocations of our bearings on being in the

A decade ago in a different context of performance I coined the term
‘experiencer’ to mark the inadequacies of ‘spectator’ and ‘audience’ cus-
tomarily used to denote people engaging with dramatic fictions (Nelson,
‘Experiencer’ 45). The context at the time was a visceral response to a
particular high-octane live event which transmitted resonant energies
within a confined space to receivers – subsequently termed ‘experi-
encers’ to mark the full sensory engagement entailed. In recent years,
research in theatre, film and television has markedly turned its atten-
tion to the relationship between arts events, as matters of process, and
experiencers, contributing to the production of them. In live theatre,
for example, there is a surge of interest in ‘audience participation’,
often claimed to involve immersion and intimacy.7 In film and tele-
vision, such impulses cannot perhaps function so readily because the
mediums are pre-recorded and there can be no direct inter-corporeal
engagement. Though I do not overemphasize the visceral in the experi-
ence of TV serial fictions, then, it is in the broad context of exploration
of an expanded sense of the ‘experiencer’ that I am prompted to explore
the idea of ‘affect’ understood as a bodymind engagement beyond an
historical separation of feelings and thought.

Developments in television and ‘moments of affect’

Where, in the past, the medium of television has been dismissed as a low
art form ‘largely aimed at emotional gratification’, as Postman (88–9)
characterized it, complex TV demands fresh thinking about its potential.
Today’s long-form serial fictions demand a high level of commitment
over many hours in serial instalments (80+ hours for The Sopranos; 120+
hours for Lost). Their multilayered, textual palimpsests also demand
close attention, requiring experiencers to be alert to the resonances
of significance, throughout. Indeed, in Television Studies, ‘the glance’
which previously characterized the dominant viewing disposition of the
TV medium has been called in question by an engagement more akin to
the cinematic ‘gaze’, but with its own specificity and without its textual
determinism.8 The protracted temporal frame has its own distinctive
rhythms and capacities for folding forwards and backwards in time and
shifting perspective, as Mittell, amongst others, has demonstrated in
some detail.
Partly because of the television commissioning process for long-
form serials, affective impact is initially more pressing than teleological
Robin Nelson 33

narrative because showrunners cannot know whether they are plan-

ning for one season or seven. Accordingly, narrative structures need
to be flexible and means found, if the production takes off, to extend
the narrative framework with twists and turns. It is for this reason
that I suggest below that traditional narrative arcs are less important
in this mode of television. Over time, however, loyal and attentive
viewers are rewarded with opportunities to pick up on inbuilt allu-
sions and cross-references which inform ‘moments of affect’. Indeed, to
sustain engagement over the extended time-span, ‘moments of affect’
are interspersed as a structuring principle in contemporary TV serial
fictions. Moreover, the process of self-recognition, associated in tradi-
tional Aristotelian drama with character, is located in this mode of
television more with the experiencer. Indeed, it is often the characters’
multiple perplexities which leave any attempt at drawing insights to the
experiencer through her/his encounter with the text, the moment often
being slowed down for reflection by a lingering camera.
Discourse around ‘the affective turn’ also notes a shift from meanings,
representations and effects to ‘affects’ (Clough and Halley). Though he
does not expressly use the term ‘affect’, Gumbrecht (following Sontag)
is against interpretation – or, rather, against the predominant concen-
tration in Humanities scholarship on hermeneutics. Gumbrecht seeks a
movement away from ‘an exclusively meaning-based relationship to the
world’ (77) to a ‘presence culture’ affording ‘the immediate touch of cul-
tural objects’ (79 et seq.). For Gumbrecht, beyond the hermeneutic, the
affective aesthetics should be recognized in the dialectics of encounter.
Particularly in the medium of television, it would be difficult entirely to
abandon narrative and interpretation and, in all my examples to follow,
the pull of narrative is evident to an extent. However, the densely ayered
textuality of the examples of TV fictions to be discussed illustrate the
potential for ‘moments of affect’ divorced from dependence upon nar-
rative drive. Indeed, affective moments located along the pathways of
contemporary serial fictions can cater for different modes of viewing
emergent under digital circumstances.
Illustrating a ‘presence culture’, younger generations weaned on the
Internet, not only watch television online in preference to the tradi-
tional domestic TV monitor, but they simultaneously converse virtually
with friends about the programme by means of other devices – or other
applications on a multi-platform device. Several windows, open and
juxtaposed on a digital device screen, demand a capacity for dealing
simultaneously with multiple sources of information. Indeed, an osci-
llating movement between screens itself suggests a complex dynamic,
34 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

mobilizing a capacity to engage with the fragmented images in a dual

mode, at once distanced and deeply involved. It may even be that
younger generations are developing a sophisticated perceptual capacity
well beyond the notion of ‘the glance’.
The work of the neuroscientist Semir Zeki affirms that image signals
are transferred to the brain and the brain processes them into mean-
ing. In that process, the brain seeks to ‘eliminate all that is unnecessary
for it in its role of identifying objects and situations according to their
essential and constant features’ (245). But Zeki recognizes that the mul-
tiple screens under digital circumstances stretch – and over time may
extend – the brain’s perceptive function. To summarize and apply Zeki,
when the choice for the brain is simple, as in a linear series episodic
narrative, a resolution of an enigma is readily achieved. When the brain
is presented with more complex situations, as in contemporary long-
form TV serials, the brain goes through a process by which every possible
outcome/answer is presented as equally correct. The brain handles mul-
tiplicity by recognizing the potential for there to be more than one way
to interpret a situation. Historically, the plot–resolution model of linear
narrative seemed to bear out the dominant thesis that the human brain
is hard-wired to make sense of things. However, Zeki’s inference that
the brain does not require a single correct answer to any problem opens
the way to a different kind of perceptual mapping more applicable to
postmodern modes of fragmented and non-linear postnarrative.
In his seminal Postdramatische Theater, Lehmann marks a number
of characteristics of a tendency since the 1960s away from ‘dramatic
theatre’ towards ‘postdramatic theatre’, including the ‘shift from work
to event’ (75, original emphasis), a privileging of visual presentation
over verbal text and nonlinear narrative without sense-making frames.
As Lehmann summarizes it:

the category appropriate to the new theatre is not action but states . . .
a scenic dynamic as opposed to the dramatic dynamic. Theatre here
deliberately negates, or at least relegates to the background, the
possibility of developing a narrative. (68)

However, Lehmann argues that in television ‘the story counts, if only

because we are not meant to watch anything twice but instead con-
sume the next product’ (75). Echoes of outmoded views of screen media
are manifest in these remarks. One-off viewing is no longer the case
with long-form serial television fictions where DVD circulation, as well
as digital technology’s capacity readily to afford repeated viewings, has
Robin Nelson 35

changed viewing habits and dispositions as noted above. By way of

accounting for the emergence of ‘moments of affect’ I suggest that,
although linear narrative has by no means been abandoned in televi-
sion fictions, it is of less primary importance in long-form TV fictions.
Rather the ‘states’ or ‘scenic dynamic’ of Lehmann’s construction of
postmodern theatre apply. Indeed, this is what is entailed in a viewing
commitment attracted and sustained by a series of ‘moments of affect’
rather than the followability of narrative drive. I have argued elsewhere
(Nelson, ‘Entwicklung’) for example, that, whilst Lost does ultimately
arrive at an (ambiguous) narrative conclusion, the 120 hours of fiction
cannot be sustained by a central linear narrative. Indeed, prompted by
the radical shifts in narration, documented evidence of fan responses
suggests a shifting, playful and interactive engagement with the ‘scenic
dynamics’ of Lost rather than hanging on to know ‘whodunit’ (Jenkins).
Having set out the parameters of a conceptual framework for articulat-
ing ‘moments of affect’, it is time to turn to examples. As noted above,
scholars have typically eschewed self-reflection on their own viewing
experience partly because such an approach is open to the charge
that the evidence produced is merely subjective and idiosyncratic. But
such reflection and self-revelation is methodologically necessary to an
approach which proposes to indicate how momentary (though possibly
fundamental) dislocations of our bearings on being in the world might
be mobilized in the experience of complex TV. Precisely because I take
affects to be transmitted through an encounter with the text in context,
my own engagements as recounted in what follows, though to some
extent personal, are not merely subjective. I aim to mark the dispositions
of both text-in-context and viewer (myself in this illustrative instance)
and the play between them in an interactive viewing encounter such as
invited by postnarrativity.

Shooting the Past

Stephen Poliakoff affords a good first illustration here since, besides pro-
ducing seven major TV long-form serial fictions as writer-director in the
decade since Shooting the Past (BBC, 1999), he has also directly addressed
key modal aspects which inform ‘moments of affect’. Also, though he is
a very significant figure in UK television, Poliakoff may not be not so
well-known in continental Europe and the USA.9
Over five hours divided into three episodes (on DVD over 29
chapters), Shooting the Past (hereafter StP) tells the story of the attempt
to save from dissolution the Fallon photographic library, located in an
36 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

eighteenth-century mansion just to the west of London. The build-

ing has been bought by American businessmen for development into
‘the American School for Business for the 21st Century’. Librarian
Marilyn Truman finds herself in conflict with businessman Christopher
Anderson because her deputy, Oswald Bates, has kept from her the
correspondence which establishes the arrival of the Americans and their
There is undoubtedly a linear narrative drive in StP producing increas-
ing tensions as, in order to save the collection as a whole, Truman seeks
to persuade Anderson of its inestimable worth. Her tactic is to illus-
trate insights afforded by connections made between images across the
collection – ultimately in respect of Anderson’s own biography. Indeed,
the most powerfully affective moment in StP comes at the end when
Truman reveals to Anderson a photograph of him as a boy on his grand-
mother’s knee outside a club in Paris. This revelation of an effaced
history changes Anderson’s entire world outlook and sense of himself
within it.
It is ultimately this powerful transformation which gives StP its over-
all resonance. No matter how many times I view it, this moment always
chokes me. Nor is it simply a sentimental response to the forces of cre-
ativity winning out over the forces of instrumental destruction – though
there is, no doubt, something of that involved. The affective power lies
precisely in the ‘self-feeling of being alive’ evinced in me as well as
in Anderson. The many aspects of loss – of family, of history, of vital
forces – touched upon in the protracted narrative of StP find their emo-
tional culmination in this moment. But the aesthetic of the black and
white photographs and the haunting soundtrack (see below) amongst
other aesthetic features have wrought in me (and others) a profound
visceral experience. In respect of text-in-context, the redemption of the
collection, the literal resolution of the narrative enigma, is subservient
to the broader ramifications of larger themes. Poliakoff sets in tension
the drive of Modernity to ‘make it new’10 – particularly in this instance
by means of a dynamic, high-tech world of mobile phones, laptops and
global communication – and the literally conservative world of Truman
and her staff. Part of my own perturbation here is that my general every-
day life commitment to modernity is turned upside down by the pull of
empathy with conservatism.
Because this climactic moment is also informed by more traditional
dramatic forces (the culmination of the linear narrative), I propose to
take another moment from the first episode to illustrate the principle
of composition which mobilizes the key ‘moments of affect’. In StP, a
Robin Nelson 37

measured pace of exposition invites experiencers to make connections

between juxtaposed fragments of visual imagery and sound.11 The spe-
cific affective moment for consideration is a precursor to a series of
revelations about history interspersed through StP in the form of puz-
zles constructed by Oswald Bates who has an extraordinary cerebral
capacity to make connections across the photographic collection. The
principles of construction of StP are such that experiencers are placed in
a position of encounter with enigmatic fragments. My chosen example
is of a small moment when, invited by Bates to ‘fire’ a challenge at him,
Anderson asks him to find a photograph of his obscure mid-American
home town. Bates says this is too easy so Anderson asks him specifically
to find Lamonia Avenue, Anderson’s home street in Emporia, Virginia.
The six-minute build-up to the ‘moment of affect’ involves a
visual sequence accompanied by a querulous piano soundtrack (Adrian
Johnston) as Anderson and his assistant Styeman wander through the
library stacks where illustrative, enigmatic photographs have been hung
by the library assistant, Spig, to catch their attention. The beige and grey
of the library and the black and white of individual photos is warmed
by a red-purple hue of light (lit and shot by Bruno de Keyser and Ernest
Vincze) resonating with Spig’s purple sweater. As the lingering camera
quite frequently moves alone through the stacks, however, the focus is
less on the characters and more, through a foregrounding of the space
which embodies them, on past stories (all those other stories which
might have been told). Time is thus also afforded for engagement with
the compelling images and their significance and for viewers’ critical
reflection. As Amy Holdsworth summarizes:

Throughout the drama as a whole, still photographs are presented in

two distinct modes: as part of the movement of the drama, often seen
from a character’s point of view, or inserted into the film, where they
take on a different quality and pace, constructed through editing, not
camera work. Poliakoff relies heavily upon the aesthetic quality of
the photographs themselves, the nuances of light and dark and the
stylised set up of lighting and shadow that characterise Hollywood
portraiture for example. (131)

Photographs are slowly set before the camera, sometimes in montage

sequences, and left a couple of seconds for viewers to ponder, the camera
on occasion moving in to the image literally and metaphorically invit-
ing viewers in. It is a risky strategy but Poliakoff adjudges that, ‘when a
film camera looks at a photo for a split second, it’s always interesting’
38 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

(BBC, Shooting the Present). To underscore the patterning and repeti-

tions of StP’s compositional principles, the haunting refrain of Adrian
Johnston’s music folds back on itself, fading in and out and intensifying
appropriately to mark specific moments of affective power. The aesthetic
mobilizes the affect.
As a culmination of this typically atmospheric sequence, the affective
moment itself takes place amidst the stacks where Bates is seen scuttling
along the aisle and grabbing at old cardboard boxes of photographs
to find Emporia Avenue. Casually allowing some boxes to fall to the
floor in his haste, he returns to Anderson in short time with four
photographs. In mid-two-shot the two men face each other over the
photographs with a cut to a medium close-up of Anderson over Bates’s
shoulder as he affirmatively acknowledges, ‘Jesus, there it is’. A shot-
reverse shot sequence in close-up between Bates and Anderson follows as
Bates successively reveals each photograph as if demonstrating an estab-
lishing sequence: long shot (the town); zoom in to mid-shot (Lamonia
Avenue); zoom to medium shot (Main Street); cut to close shot (cor-
ner of Chestnut Tree Avenue and Lamonia). Clearly touched, Anderson
seizes the photograph of his childhood home. But the affective moment
is augmented by an invitation to read Truman’s reaction, caught in
close-up three times in quick succession, after Bates ruins Anderson’s
reverie by making a barbed remark about closing the local library in
What makes this a ‘moment of affect’ is that a number of ideological
perspectives are in play with none especially privileged, the standpoints
and feelings within the given moment are amplified by their location
within the broader issues and themes of the drama (and culture) over-
all. At one extreme, Styeman sees any deviation into the collection as a
time-wasting distraction from the development of the business school
project. Anderson holds a similar view but appears less hard-boiled than
Styeman and susceptible potentially to the aesthetic lure of the images.
Bates is undoubtedly hostile to the takeover but it is not clear whether
or not his provocative behaviour in this scene is part of an indirect and
calculated strategy aimed at confounding the Americans. At the ful-
crum point of the tensions, Truman shares Bates’s desire to save the
entire collection but her faith in him, affirmed in the moment of his
finding the images of Emporia, stands to be undermined by his oddball
approach, as evident in the recent discovery of his deceit over the corres-
pondence which has landed the collection in its current predicament.
The close-ups on Truman’s face in this ‘moment of affect’ con-
vey a sense that whatever Bates is up to, might be counterproductive
Robin Nelson 39

Figure 2.1 A moment of affect: mixed emotions meet Oswald’s astonishing

discovery of Anderson’s home town

and not supportive of the aim which they share. My own response
involves a mixture of elation (at Bates’s success), astonishment (shared
with Anderson), anxiety (shared with Truman), all coupled with fear
of Styeman’s likely reaction. On a meta-level, I am aware of the con-
flict between modernity and conservatism being faced out and, though
I empathize with Bates, I am not quite sure which side I am ultimately
on. My viewing position is viscerally uncomfortable and intellectually
40 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

In StP Poliakoff consciously adopted a strategy of slow television in

the face of the fast-paced serials being distributed world-wide from
America in the 1980s (see Holdsworth; Nelson, Stephen Poliakoff ). Whilst
I do not suggest a causal relation, it is interesting to note that slow
editing rhythms and lingering cameras are a contributory feature of
‘moments of affect’ and the sense of quality in the ‘high-end’ American
television fictions of the past decade. Time is needed for experiencers
fully to encounter – feel, take in, and reflect upon – the complexity
of the sophisticated constructs which afford a version of the ‘saturated
frame’ as theorized by Butler. Indeed, Butler has recognized that HD’s
‘historical potential for the saturated frame’ (68) is achieved in Mad Men
(to be discussed below).12
In contrast to the idea of reading fast-paced images at a glance, the
density, multiple perspectives and ambiguity of ‘moments of affect’
demand close attention and invite profound engagement. Where, in
the simplest police procedural, clunky dialogue typically explains the
plot, in ‘high-end’ TV fictions, influenced no doubt by cinema, dia-
logue tends to be limited but charged, whilst visual imagery and
soundscape go beyond telling the story to carry multi-accented infer-
ences, as indicated. Furthermore, resonances with actual-world situa-
tions which many ‘high-end’ dramas evoke (Mad Men, The Wire, The
West Wing) require complex and sustained engagement, both intellec-
tual and emotional. As Butler puts it, ‘[a]ll of the many details become
available for inspection’ (67) and, in sum, a different experience is


My second example is from Episode 20 of the season two of Borgen

(DR1, 2010–13) entitled ‘An Extraordinary Remark’. The key ‘moment of
affect’ in this instance comes at the end of the episode, indeed of a series,
when Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg announces a general election in
Denmark. However, though, in many respects, this is a moment of
narrative culmination, the uncertain outcome of the proposed national
election and the known prospect of a third season of Borgen prevent
any finite sense of closure. Rather, they emphasize the ambiguities and
tensions in the two deeply situated narrative strands in play.
Illustrating another feature of ‘high-end’ TV fictions, namely the
cross-referencing of public and private experience, the primary arc of
this episode involves PM Nyborg’s momentous decision to stand down
temporarily to take best care of her troubled teenage daughter, Laura.
Robin Nelson 41

The second involves the search for a new apartment by prospective

co-habitees Kasper Juul, one of Nyborg’s close advisors, and Katrine
Fønsmark, a freelance reporter for Danish television. Each of these narra-
tives is situated in the context of contemporary social issues and the
numerous parallels between them contribute to a dense, multilayered
textuality informing the ‘moment of affect’. These aspects resonate with
being in the contemporary world.
There are intellectual-emotional conflicts in the decision of Nyborg,
and her estranged husband Phillip to place Laura for psychiatric treat-
ment in a private institution at the very moment when the PM is
attempting to ‘rethink the Danish welfare model’ and ‘strengthen the
welfare system making it independent of private insurance’. Nyborg’s
political stance on health and welfare is the antithesis of the UK Conser-
vative government’s policy to optimize the private provision of health
support and minimize the historic National Health Service with care
free to all at the point of delivery. Thus, there is a particular everyday
life resonance in the British viewing context. That Nyborg goes against
her own policy and conviction to utilize private facilities in what she
adjudges to be her daughter’s best interests serves further to emphasize
the intellectual-emotional tensions, both for characters in the fictional
world and experiencers in the actual world, involved in negotiating the
private and the public spheres.
Parallel tensions are evident in the secondary narrative arc. Niggling
disagreements between Kasper and Katrine about committing to take
on an over-large and very expensive apartment turn out to be a sur-
face manifestation of an even deeper issue. To Katrine the point of a
committed relationship is to have children where Kasper, because of an
unresolved issue that he may have been abused by his father, is firmly
against procreation.
Having visited his mother, who is confined to a home suffering
from dementia, Kasper feels, however, that he has made peace with
her and he acknowledges that he will now never discover the truth
about this father. He resolves to move on and, in a heavily loaded
gesture, discards Katrine’s contraceptive pills. The situation is under-
scored by a further heavy irony that Katrine has just been offered a
long-desired permanent contract by her studio boss with whom she
has always wrangled, but on an understanding, express on his part,
that she will not let him down by getting pregnant. Thus, though the
‘extraordinary remark’ of the episode title primarily denotes the official
announcement of an election to parliament, it has a number of other
resonances. An additional ordinary remark, ‘we’re going to phase out
42 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

the pills’, related in respect of Laura’s anti-depressants, turns out to be

an ironic keynote for another strain of the episode’s concern with social
The negotiation of private and professional lives, with a particular
reference to women’s circumstances, has been a key concern throughout
Borgen and it is foregrounded here in both main story arcs. Hesselboe,
the leader of the party in opposition to Nyborg, takes the opportunity
of a television interview, which Nyborg declines, to capitalize on her
dilemmas. He constructs them as the unsuitability of women to hold
high political office. Similarly, despite Katrine’s feisty attitudes as a news
reporter, she finds her ambitions thwarted by men in circumstances
over which she has little apparent control. All this complexity – and
it is a matter of thought as well as feeling – feeds into the ‘moment of
This moment comes when, having narrowly won the vote on the final
stage of her welfare reforms, Nyborg has unexpectedly asked leave of the
President of the Praesidium to make ‘an extraordinary remark’. Parlia-
ment is caught off balance and departing members, as well as attendant
journalists, scurry to regain their seats. Once all are settled, Nyborg, in a
speech of one minute and fifty seconds duration, initially recalls the first
four women to have gained seats in the Danish parliament in 1918. She
then proceeds to call for an election to be fought, not over the suitabi-
lity of women to hold high office, but on who will make the best leader
for Denmark.
‘Moments of affect’, as noted, involve an invitation as much to read
the reactions of various players in the fictional world as the protago-
nists. Shifting angles of Nyborg in mid-shot are intercut with reaction
shots of the men and women in the house and of others, including
Kasper and Katrine, waiting in the lobby. Hesselboe looks grim but
many of the women in his party either suppress smiles or smile openly.
Though Katrine has come to meet Kasper, she is forced with a rueful
look to return to professional mode and make a swift exit since Nyborg’s
announcement is hot news. There is a ‘money shot’ of Nyborg with
a characteristic nose-wrinkling smile, but the lingering camera surveys
the entire scene such that all the layers itemized above are allowed to
inform the moment.
My contention about experiencers in this context is that they are
not afforded any easy standpoint, whatever their personal attitudes and
beliefs, because all the perspectives in play are credible and relatively
sympathetic. The refusal of semiotic and narrative closure precludes
Robin Nelson 43

Figure 2.2 A moment of affect: multiple elation and confusion when Nyborg
makes ‘an extraordinary remark’

any easy identification with the viewpoint of a protagonist such as is

available in a more regular television mainstream series (for example,
Inspector Morse or Poirot). Thus experiencers are invited to wrestle with a
mixture of thoughts and feelings which potentially unsettle their being
in the world.
44 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

Figure 2.2 (Continued)

In my own case the affective moment resonates with confusions over

a lifetime about the balance of work and family life (including the
place of children), the role of women in modernity, the oppressions of
patriarchy to which I stand opposed but with which (as a male senior
manager) I have not avoided complicity. At a meta-level, the affective
moment involves a review of agency in structure, not just my own but
other people’s, particularly that of women.
Robin Nelson 45

Figure 2.2 (Continued)

Mad Men

Mad Men (AMC, 2007–15) overall affords a reflection on history fifty

years back with an inbuilt recognition that today’s viewers are aware of
the consequences of that history. It achieves this reflexivity not through
a narrative device but by way of aesthetic treatment. The painstakingly
46 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

recreated images of the 1960s are viewed with a steady – at times almost
documentary – gaze but are also intermingled with conscious intertex-
tual reference to mediatizations (advertisements themselves, music and
films of the period).
Moments of affective complexity are subjected, by turn, either to a
Point of View perspective (the out-of-time moment marked by camera
effects such as soft focus) or a distant clinical stare.13 The Points of View
perspectives, moreover, are frequently not those of the protagonists in
the moment of drama but a sophisticated equivalent of reaction shots.
Alternatively, the steady external camera in mid-shot cedes viewpoint to
a seemingly critical external eye, perhaps holding the position of Mad
Men’s cool, detached overall style. As Mimi White observes, ‘[t]he laconic
narrative pace and eschewal of explicit motivation puts all the emphasis
on how things look and how they happen’ (153).
Within the context of a long-form serial fiction, demanding close
attention as indicated, knowledge of characters’ thoughts and feelings
is built up such that a brief indication of their viewpoint on a situation
affords a complex reading of the effect upon them of any incident. The
overt success of those at the core of the incident (a successful advertising
pitch, for example) may be suffused with a sense of the disappointment
of another character who has been excluded, thwarted or overlooked in
career terms, or in romance. Together, these mixes of thoughts and feel-
ings as experienced constitute what I signify by ‘moments of affect’, of
which there are many in Mad Men. Indeed, the iterations of ‘moments
of affect’ sustain interest in Mad Men, which is full of small surprises
and evidently self-aware, as noted, of the complex viewing position it
‘Moments of affect’ are lent weight in Mad Men by resonances beyond
the mise-en-scène and internal world of the fiction. One key concern of
the series is the social function of mass advertising, while closely-related
issues include women’s rights and civil rights at a time of change when
many people had dreams of what might become possible through rad-
ical social transition. Though, arguably, significant progress has since
been made on these fronts, Mad Men must inevitably be viewed ret-
rospectively through the lens of disillusion that more has not been
achieved. A capitalist ethos which privileges the values of competitive
business and puts wealth, and occasions for status display, above all else,
remains dominant today. Indeed branding, and its social ramifications,
is arguably more forceful today than in the 1960s; the divide between
the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is more pronounced.
Robin Nelson 47

Reflecting on the prospective endpoint of the series and the response

to it, creator Matthew Weiner remarked that:

things in America, theoretically, go back to the way they were, with

Nixon’s election [1968] and every one of these revolutions and move-
ments for social change being tamped down by the end of 1968,
mostly through violence, people turn toward the things that they
can change . . . The themes of the show this year [2013] really seem
to capture the mood that people are in right now, which is one of
anxiety and the loss of confidence, and fear of the future and a kind
of curiosity about what we have to do to not feel this way. (qtd in

These remarks demonstrate a conscious awareness in production of

the resonances between historical and contemporary perspectives.
The textually-constructed complexity may be amplified by conflicted
responses amongst experiencers to the already multilayered textuality
they are engaging with.
The specificity of experience will vary for different individuals relative
to their standpoints but it is possible to mark some points of intersub-
jective common concern. Take, for the purposes of exemplification, the
key gender issue of body image in Mad Men. How people – and, particu-
larly, women – are led to perceive, and feel about their shape and size is
a matter of casual objectification amongst the advertising executives in
the Sterling Cooper office whilst, for the women, body image, ranging
along a continuum, may be a power tool (Joan Holloway) or an issue of
damaged self-esteem (Peggy Olson).
Leading to a small ‘moment of affect’, such a range of perspectives
is manifest when the female administrative staff members in the Ster-
ling Cooper office are unwittingly used in a market research exercise to
test the function of a lipstick colour range. That they are not advised
of their involvement in an experiment, let alone informed that they
are being observed, is itself, from today’s perspective, ethically question-
able. The women are watched through a one-way window trying the
different shades of lipstick not just by the ad-men concerned with the
‘Belle Jolie’ account but also by other executives who come especially
to ogle and comment upon the women’s looks and behaviour. Most of
the women are enthusiastic about the opportunity to try on the lipstick
and visibly excited by the profusion of colours in an expensive prod-
uct range, even though the test takes place in their lunchtime. Peggy
Olson, however, is evidently hesitant and embarrassed throughout the
48 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

exercise, subsequently making a disparaging remark (echoing Marcuse)

about excessive choice. In a characteristically Mad Men unexpected turn,
she finds herself in consequence ironically called upon to advise on the
campaign and ultimately to write copy for it (‘The Hobo Code’, 1.8).
The lure of even a temporary promotion beyond the role of secretary
begins to shift Peggy from a point of low self-esteem apparently related
in part to her body image in the context of the office where, against the
trend, she has expanded in girth. She is additionally excited by a sense
that she has stirred the affections of Pete Campbell. The work status
achieved is located, however, within the value system of the very capi-
talist world she has inadvertently disparaged. Furthermore, though she
has had sex with Pete again that very morning, he fails to show up at
her celebration party. Peggy’s ‘success’ is captured in an almost fleeting
‘moment of affect’ when, returning to her desk, she is seen in long-shot
from behind to make a small skip in her step. Whilst ostensibly mark-
ing a moment of transformation in Peggy’s fortunes and feelings about
herself, the simple skip is coloured by the complexities recounted above.
‘Moments of affect’, furthermore, are not only informed by the rich
context established prior to the moment but, in some instances, sus-
tain their resonance beyond that moment. After she has worked on the
(women-oriented) Relaxorcisor campaign, Peggy is ultimately promoted
to junior copywriter in the final episode of season one and awarded
the Clearasil account. It is in this episode that the cause of her weight
gain, perhaps previously ascribed to the manifestation of her sublimated
desires, turns out to be that she is pregnant. The father is Pete Campbell,
the very executive who, having seduced her when drunk on his stag
night and just once subsequently had sex with her in his office, dis-
parages her and her work ambitions throughout the season. One irony
amongst the many here is that newly-wed Pete is being pressed by his
in-laws to start a family but claims he cannot afford to do so without
the promotion he has been denied by his boss and rival, Don Draper.
Oblivious of the relationship between Pete and Peggy, Draper promotes
Peggy partly to spite Pete. In an attempt to assist Pete in gaining pro-
motion by demonstrating his worth to Sterling Cooper – the account
awarded to Peggy is available courtesy of Pete’s father-in-law.
The skip in Peggy’s step marking her rise thus comes before a fall in
that her maternal plight will prevent her, at least in the short term, from
fulfilling the career ambition it partly celebrated. When she resumes her
new role in Season Two, echoes of schadenfreude resonate – as when, for
example, she is drawn into a campaign based on a highly contentious
film about abortion (‘The Benefactor’, 2.3). Her reaction is caught in
Robin Nelson 49

Figure 2.3 A moment of affect (two resonances): light and dark days in Peggy’s
advertising office experience

an appropriately shadowy close-up in another small ‘moment of affect’

(second image above).14
My own responses to Peggy’s predicament are both immediate and
suffused with the shadows of history. In the moment of Peggy’s minor
50 The Emergence of ‘Affect’ in Contemporary TV Fictions

triumph, I am rooting for her having put one over on a patriarchal cul-
ture with which many of her fellow-workers are complicit. It is good to
see the outsider have a moment of glory. Equally, I am simultaneously
aware that Peggy’s victory is in part hollow, perhaps like the emancipa-
tory trajectory of feminism. I am shocked by the casual objectification
of women as it is presented and even more by an awareness that, having
grown up in the years of Mad Men’s setting, I was initially insensitive to
the sexism which obtained in everyday actuality (and of which I could
not but be a part). Subsequently having become acutely aware of second-
wave feminist issues in the late 1960s and early 1970s and committed to
emancipatory change, I am disappointed in the reversals, as I see them,
of ‘girl power’, deeply invested in consumer individualism as it appears
to be.
Perhaps even more than my other examples, Mad Men comprises a
succession of moments of affect comprising complex and contradictory
experiences, some highly visceral, others more reflective, many both at
the same time.


Mad Men affords a particularly productive territory for ‘moments of

affect’, but ‘high-end’, long-form serial TV fictions generally occupy
a prime ‘bloom-space’ in the medium of contemporary television.
Though, like other serial fictions, they can build to narrative climaxes
which carry a pay-off, new modes reduce emphasis on linear narrative
to foreground ‘scenic dynamics’. The semiotic densities of ‘moments of
affect’ create nodes in a fluid network of images and narrative strands
rather than the ‘money shot’ with a singular pay-off of more traditional
linear narrative forms. To apply more broadly White’s remarks above
on Mad Men, such shows produce ‘an astute, dense visual and narrative
palimpsest offering multiple historical and intertextual trajectories into
and out of the show[s]’ (155).
An increasingly media-literate niche amongst television viewers is
skilled in handling multilayered imagery and willing to invest the time
and concentrated attention needed to pick up on the allusiveness of
a multilayered, polysemic text. Today’s long-form serial TV fictions
offer them a sequence of distinctive, more or less profound, experi-
ences, drawing upon the attractions of serialization offered by television
more than cinema, but with something of the visual style and concen-
trated engagement of film. The new mode demands, not a disengaged
passive listening or watching, but a full feeling-thinking engagement
Robin Nelson 51

of the bodymind, though further research, particularly on experiencers’

mixture of thoughts and feelings, is inevitably required fully to bear
this out.
My aim here has been to set in train a reassessment of the potential
of some television viewing by marking the textual features and cultural
circumstances which make possible ‘moments of affect’ as a patterning
feature of contemporary serial fictions. It remains necessary to advo-
cate for the achievement and potential of the television medium where
residual prejudices remain. If, in the outmoded caricature, cinema deals
in dreams and high emotions whilst theatre deals in ideas and debate,
long-form serial television might be seen to draw on the strengths
of both.
Amy Petersen Jensen has remarked of intermedial theatre (namely,
live theatre incorporating new media technologies) that:

the mind and the body of the theatre spectator . . . [constitutes] a

hybrid subject . . . in which the form and content of two mediums,
theatre and media, compete and collaborate to form unique recep-
tive interactions with individual texts and their performances. Here,
in the hybrid space, the participatory spectator prefigures a new type
of performance that develops out of the interaction between two
mediums. (122–3)15

This chapter has aimed in parallel to indicate how a mix of media influ-
ences has contributed to a new mode of television. The ‘moments of
affect’ arising from the hybrid, though distinctive, mode of long-form
serial TV fictions may afford newly energized interactive engagements.
It such moments the identity of the experiencer may find itself pro-
foundly troubled, but it may be that, from such temporary dislocations,
a self-feeling of being alive and an enhanced capacity to act emerges.
The experience of long-form serial TV fictions is a pleasure but evidently
not a simple one and, methodologically, the articulation of an element
of bodymind self-reflection may need to be added to accounts of viewer
and textual disposition fully to bring this out.
Moral Emotions, Antiheroes and
the Limits of Allegiance
Alberto N. García

1 Introduction

According to its creator, Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008–13)

describes the moral corruption of a normal man, the conversion of
Mr Chips to Scarface. In ‘Full Measures’ (3.13), the moral and emotional
complexity of the story is encapsulated in a seemingly incidental scene.
We see Walter White in his living room, giving little Holly a bottle of
milk. A close-up shows how the baby grabs at his glasses, and in this
moment of paternal tenderness, the writers cunningly re-humanize a
character who just executed two thugs and minutes later ordered the
death of his lab partner, as if to remind us that, at heart, ‘he’s really
just a family man’ forced by circumstances to take matters into his own
hands. This important step in the metamorphosis of Walter is again
mitigated by several factors: children, the family and everyday domestic
life. Self-defence is, of course, the justification for these deaths, but the
devotion of a father towards his little baby also enter into the moral and
emotional equation that characterizes Breaking Bad.
Like AMC’s acclaimed hit, many contemporary series – especially
those on cable TV – are full of characters that we love, broadly speak-
ing, despite the many vile actions they have committed: Tony Soprano,
Nancy Botwin, Don Draper, Jackie Peyton and Al Swearengen. This surge
in the popularity of antiheroes as protagonists – one of the defining
trends of the contemporary golden age of TV fiction – is the focus of
this article, a trending topic also in television studies, as shown by recent
volumes (Martin; Lotz, Cable Guys; Donnelly; Vaage, The Antihero).
Following the tradition of cognitive media theory, the main thesis
of this chapter is that TV fiction, given its serialized nature, is better

Alberto N. García 53

equipped to develop a ‘structure of sympathy’ (Smith, Engaging Charac-

ters 5) that allows us to identify with morally defective characters who –
beyond some obvious virtues – commit crimes, abuse and deceive; the
type of person that would repel us in real life. As will be discussed,
the possibility of expanding a story over many hours allows the con-
struction of an emotional structure that ‘forces’ us to sympathize with
protagonists who are not only dramatically complex, but also morally
contradictory. Furthermore, following Eaton, our reasoning is that we
need certain contradictory, moral emotions in order to properly enjoy
these TV series (290). In other words, what we will investigate is how
this moral contradiction influences the narrative engine of many of TV’s
most influential contemporary series, while unravelling both the emo-
tional responses demanded of the viewer and the limits confronting this
‘structure of sympathy’ that must be reinforced continuously.
To answer these questions, this chapter will be structured according to
four sections: first, we will examine the rise of antiheroes over the past
decade, exploring the ideological, industrial and narrative reasons that
explain their success. Secondly, we will address how spectators engage
morally and emotionally with the moving image, paying special atten-
tion to the specific nature of TV narrative. Thirdly, we will analyse the
four main dramatic strategies that strengthen our identification with
these morally conflicted characters: moral comparatism, the soothing
power of family, acts of contrition and victimization. Lastly, we will
propose a discussion over the ‘levels of engagement’ described by Smith
and expanded by Vaage for television, in order to explore what the lim-
its of sympathetic allegiance are, and how both the spectator and the
narrative need to recover it cyclically.

2 The emergence of antiheroism in contemporary TV

There are different reasons – ideological, industrial and narrative – that

explain the current trend of antihero protagonists in contemporary tele-
vision, but first we must acknowledge that the definition of an antihero
may be overly broad. Authors such as Frye describe antiheroes as ironic
heroes, ‘inferior in power or intelligence to ourselves, so that we have
the sense of looking down on a scene of bondage, frustration or absur-
dity’ (151). However, the most common type of the antihero of more
recent times is closer to the Byronic hero or the ‘rogue hero’ referred to
by Hume (246). Instead of mediocre and listless, the predominant traits
of today’s antihero are a mixture of hero and villain characterized by
moral ambiguity; a certain Machiavellianism exists with regards to the
54 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes, Limits of Allegiance

achievement of certain ends, and a contradiction between ideals (if the

hero possesses any) and actions. Generally, as Shafer and Raney write,
antiheroes are ‘criminal but redeemable . . . Despite clearly engaging in
improper actions for (at times) corrupt reasons, antiheroes still function
as “forces of good” in many narratives’ (1030). As we will see, being
‘forces of good’ is essential to identifying with the characters; but, as we
discuss in the last section, a character can also change and be perceived
as a ‘force of evil’ as the narrative progresses.
To explain the emergence of so many antiheroes in today’s tele-
vision, we must first consider an ideological issue: postmodernism
cultivates antiheroism. ‘The problem’, writes McCaw, ‘is that coherent,
diagnosable notions of profound moral transgressions rely, perhaps self-
evidently, upon some form of consensus as to the social norms and
values that are being transgressed’ (23–4). As the fragmentation of con-
temporary, post-1968 Western societies has provoked a collapse in moral
and political consensus, there is now an intellectual substrata guided by
moral relativism that has given rise to the idea of good and evil – central
themes in classical heroism – being replaced by cynicism and contradic-
tion. The mainstream has been taken over by a pessimistic and defeatist
intellectual atmosphere and this has influenced TV fiction.
Secondly, there is the nature of the entertainment industry itself:
consider that cable TV has always sought to differentiate itself from
traditional networks; this has generated a virtuous circle whereby com-
petition has spurred artistic and aesthetic vitality. If HBO led the charge
with The Sopranos (1999–2007), Showtime followed in its footsteps,
exploring the sympathetic antihero with Weeds (2005–12) or Dexter
(2006–13). If FX showed that a corrupt and criminal police force (The
Shield, 2002–08) could earn the applause of the audience, AMC emulated
them with Drapers and Whites. Even the traditional network chan-
nels ‘retaliated’ by offering prominent examples of antiheroes, such as
Jack Bauer in 24 (Fox, 2001–), Benjamin Linus in Lost (ABC, 2004–10)
or Gregory House in House M.D (Fox, 2004–12). This elevation of the
antihero as a paradigm of high-quality television combines ideological
and entrepreneurial elements in order to generate a thematic constant
that can be effectively developed in a serial narrative.
This trend is unprecedented. While there were many excellent series
twenty years ago (though not as many as now), antiheroism was the
exception1 and not the rule in the most influential shows.2 This is
not to say that only contradictory protagonists who are part hero and
part villain generate quality drama. For example, in The X-Files (Fox,
1993–2002), the protagonists, who adhered to the traditional heroic
Alberto N. García 55

profile, experienced many internal and external conflicts, but they never
ceased to be positive characters. They were morally exemplary, coura-
geous in the face of adversity, and willing to sacrifice themselves for the
greater good of society; the villains were identified and corruption was
uncovered in the institutions, however, Mulder and Scully were above
corruption or vice. This is also evident in contemporary network tele-
vision programs: for example, while The West Wing (NBC, 1999–2006),
Lost and The Good Wife (CBS, 2009–) feature dramatically rich characters,
they lack the essential moral equivocation that defines the protagonists
of contemporary cable TV series. From Oz (HBO, 1997–2003) to Ray
Donovan (Showtime, 2013–), antiheroism has been a key dramatic ele-
ment and the internal contradictions of the protagonists serve as a seed
from which the deepest conflicts of the story develop.
The third reason that explains the current trend of TV antiheroes
is related to the notion of an expanded, protracted narrative that is a
feature of so many cable shows. Series like these (that is, ones which
have taken this quasi-novelistic approach) have redefined the notion of
quality television drama. The complex network of characters, relation-
ships, political alliances, bloodlines and all kinds of conflicts that exist
in series, such as Deadwood (HBO, 2004–06), The Wire (HBO, 2002–08)
and Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011–), would have been unfeasible a few
decades ago. These artistically ambitious series can develop over ten sto-
rylines per episode, using a boundless narrative flow that reminds us of
writers from the nineteenth century. Moreover, by using more footage
to develop the plot – without the need to waste time repeating plots
and motifs, as was the style of earlier series or current self-contained
narratives – the conflicts and dilemmas multiply, enriching the moral,
emotional and political diversity of the story. This ‘complex TV’, as
Mittell has coined it (forthcoming), has produced a remarkable effect on
our emotional engagement with dubious characters, such as the many
‘bad boys’ referred in this chapter. We will return to the importance of
the story in addressing the limits of our allegiance in the last section of
this article. It is now necessary to take a closer look at what the different
levels of engagement for the spectator are, so that we can understand
how moral emotions come into play in the consumption of television

3 Moral emotions and character engagement in TV

Like cinema, televised fiction is explicitly and implicitly emotional.

To narrate is to produce emotions. As Ed Tan explains, ‘films are
56 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes, Limits of Allegiance

designed to produce a particular effect and as an artifact, they dis-

play a functional design and develop a certain consistency. This orderly
structure and consistency are both reflected in the systematic affective
reaction of the viewer, a reaction that they themselves are not aware
of’ (3). In the same vein, Carroll emphasizes the emotional determin-
ism of commercial audiovisual fiction, which is designed to generate
a specific emotional response: ‘Fiction film events have been emotion-
ally predigested for us by filmmakers . . . The filmmakers have selected
out the details of the scene or sequence that they think are emotively
significant and thrust them, so to speak, in our faces’ (Engaging the
Moving 29). Consequently, the series discussed here are ‘emotionally
predigested for us’ so that we sympathize and identify with the cha-
racters – antiheroes – that combine admirable traits (professionalism,
intelligence, courage) with other less savoury characteristics (violence,
meanness, deceit, cruelty).
At this point, a semantic clarification is needed around the term ‘sym-
pathy’ and ‘empathy’. As Neill emphasizes, ‘with sympathetic response,
in feeling for another, one’s response need not reflect what the other
is feeling, nor indeed does it depend on whether the other is feeling
anything at all’. On the other hand, ‘in responding empathetically to
another, I come to share his feelings, to feel with him; if he is in an
emotional state, to empathize with him is to experience the emotion(s)
that he experiences’ (175–6). In any case, the relevant issue for our rea-
soning is that feeling sympathy or empathy for a character is less risky
than in real life because we, as spectators, can project a ‘safety net’ that
allows us to admit some traits in fiction that we would not in real life
(Vaage, ‘Fictional Reliefs’; Keen 220).
At first glance, identification with a character seems to be facilitated
by certain elements, whether it is the protagonist’s professional effi-
cacy (Omar Little, Francis Underwood), courage in the face of adversity
(Spartacus, Tony Soprano), ingenuity (Walter White, Gregory House), or,
as Mittel puts it, the charisma of the actor portraying the character and
the character him/herself (Don Draper/John Hamm, Tom Kane/Kelsey
Grammer): ‘A sense of charm and verve that makes the time spent
with them enjoyable, despite their moral shortcomings and unpleasant
behaviours’. However, further analysis reveals that these elements are
subordinate to what Murray Smith called ‘levels of engagement’. Smith
makes a distinction that helps us to understand the moral judgment
and attitudes of the viewer towards characters. He highlights – beyond
what he himself calls ‘recognition’ – two narrative/dramatic processes,
Alberto N. García 57

alignment and allegiance: the first being a feature of the film, while the
latter is an audience response provoked by the audiovisual work.
First, alignment (a similar concept to Genette’s ‘focalization’) ‘concerns
the way a film gives us access to the actions, thoughts, and feelings
of characters’ (Engaging Characters 6). Consequently, we align with a
character through a ‘spatio-temporal relationship’ (that is, the story
shows what the character does in his/her environment) and a ‘subjective
access’ (the story reveals how the character feels and what they desire).
Except for ensemble casts such as The Wire and Deadwood, most of the
series, which this article focuses on, present a clear protagonist, whom
we follow and, consequently, with whom we align, through both their
domestic and professional lives.
Meanwhile, allegiance ‘concerns the way a film attempts to marshal
our sympathies for or against the various characters in the world of fic-
tion’ (Engaging Characters 6). Through this process, the character gains
the viewer’s approval, a complicity that Plantinga also describes as being
‘rooted in the spectator’s evaluation of the moral traits of a character.
The spectator will be led to sympathize with a character who is held to
have morally desirable traits. Such sympathies, in turn, partly determine
the emotional responses of spectators to the narrative situations of the
film’ (‘I Followed’ 37). This is not to say that our allegiance is uncondi-
tional. Our ability to feel sympathy for these characters is not unlimited
and can be combined with contempt for immoral or violent actions,
or as we will discuss later, can result in a dramatic turnaround in our
relationship with them.
It may be interesting to mention here the distinction that Plantinga
establishes between mere ‘sympathy’ towards a character and the more
solid concept of ‘allegiance’: ‘We might consider sympathy to be more
flexible and protean than allegiance, and its causality more diffuse
and unpredictable. We might consider allegiance – our allying our-
selves with, focusing on, rooting for a character – to be a relationship
established only after appropriate narrative and character development’
(‘I Followed’ 41). Thus, ‘allegiance’ implies a long-term investment in
the character, something that serial fiction is in a privileged manner to
allow. In this environment, it is easier for us to reconcile with the cha-
racters when they commit unpleasant acts that distance them from us
In this sense, it is also important to take into account that our engage-
ment with TV characters is slightly different than our engagement
with film characters. As Blanchet and Vaage have stated, TV narrative
58 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes, Limits of Allegiance

‘activates some of the same mental mechanisms as friendship does in

real life’ (28). Consequently, ‘television series are better equipped to
allow spectators to develop a bond with fictional characters than fea-
ture films. This is because television series more effectively invoke the
impression that we share a history with their characters: first, because
of the series’ longer screen duration and, second, because our own
lives progress as the series goes on’ (28). That means that alignment
(that is, familiarity with the actions of a character) provokes allegiance
(that is, partiality in our moral consideration of this character’s actions).
An obvious example of this would be that of Dexter Morgan and his
overwhelming use of voiceover, which facilitates our allegiance a pri-
ori to a despicable character, because it allows us to become close to
him. He verbalizes his doubts, laughs at himself, and explains both
his modus operandi and the justification for, and limits of, his bloody
deeds (Harry’s code). In this way, the serial killer’s murders are placed
in a much more benign, understandable and domestic context for the
A serial killer (Dexter) and a sophisticated cannibal like Dr Lecter can
produce a ‘perverse allegiance’ within us (Smith, ‘Gangsters, Cannibals’).
As explained by Carroll, the moral judgment we form in response to
audiovisual fiction is largely influenced by emotional responses, and
therefore can be manipulated: ‘[We] tend to think of moral judgments
as being issued after a chain of reasoning. However, . . . Moral judg-
ments are generally fast, automatic, intuitive appraisals; in short, they
are emotions’ (‘Movies, the Moral Emotions’ 8). An example can serve
to illustrate this point: in the infamous gastronomic/musical sequence
of ‘Sorbet’ (1.7), the operatic rhythm provides a festive atmosphere
and accentuates Dr Lecter’s passion for the kitchen in Hannibal (NBC,
2013–). Moreover, together with the delicate surroundings and the
stylized, sterilized environment, the music ‘absolves’ the cannibalistic
Lecter by forcing the viewer to admire this gastronomic symphony, and
the pleasure with which the elegant psychiatrist so gently handles the
‘ingredients’. The melody then ends in order to invert the dynamic of
evil: instead of being pleasant and familial, the scene takes on strange,
abominable nuances, and the rhythmic sequence is revealed for what it
is: the preparation of human organs as a refined domestic task.

4 Dramatic strategies

The Hannibal example cited above demonstrates the enormous emo-

tional power of the moving image, filled with ‘emotional markers’
Alberto N. García 59

(Vaage, ‘Fiction Film’ 169). The emotional identification/moral judg-

ment that we are dealing with here is not only produced by the plot,
but also by the mise-en-scène itself: the musical background, extended
close-ups, epic slow-motion scenes, symbolic lighting, unusual camera
angles, magnetic performances and intimate voiceovers. However, these
formal, aesthetic resources are not enough to incline us in favour of the
ambiguous protagonist, nor root for him. The mise-en-scène can rein-
force, rather than create, such strong allegiances. Therefore, fictional TV
drama needs some dramatic strategies to ensure that the viewer main-
tains an overall positive emotional attitude towards the protagonist:
the perversity of the antagonists, the presence of family, acts of contri-
tion and the victimization of the character. These are the four dramatic
strategies that allow the narrative to ‘criterially pre-focus’ (Carroll, ‘Film,
Emotion’ 30) our emotional reactions, strengthening our allegiance to
a particular character and avoiding the negative moral evaluation that
would occur in real life.

4.1 Moral comparatism and the lesser evil

During the third episode of True Detective (HBO, 2014–), State Homi-
cide Detective Martin Hart enquires of his quiet and mysterious partner:
‘You ever wonder if you are a bad man?’ Rust Cohle answers coldly:
‘No, I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the
other bad men from the door’. This dialogue encapsulates the first dra-
matic strategy employed in making antiheroes likeable: there is always
someone much worse than they are. Thus, we side with Dexter Morgan,
Nick Brody or Tom Kane of Boss (Starz, 2011–12) because we, some-
times unconsciously, compare them with other characters and reach the
conclusion that our protagonists, despite their violent methods, their
immoral actions and their crimes, still are ‘the good guys’. Therein lies
the moral ambiguity that has so vitalized current TV drama: it forces you
to choose the ‘lesser evil’ and, consequently, reinforces our sympathy for
the protagonist.
Of course, we usually continue to be connected with these characters
emotionally and morally as a matter of ‘dramatic balance’; the protago-
nist needs an antagonist. The pilot episode of The Shield visually exposes
this moral Machiavellianism. Vic Mackey may be a despicable cop but
he is a tremendously effective agent who, lest we forget, is also presented
in the first episode in his role as the father of two autistic children who
require special care. One of the subplots of the pilot concerns a case of
paedophilia. Faced with the imminent death of a kidnapped girl, only
Mackey’s unorthodox methods can save the child. The closing montage
60 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes, Limits of Allegiance

of the pilot visually reinforces the ethical ambiguity that defines the
series: we need Mackey out there, doing the dirty work, to enjoy the
tranquillity of our own homes. It is no coincidence that in each sea-
son – in a dramatic balancing act well planned by the writers – the Strike
Team, despite their violent and sometimes illegal methods, need to face
villains far more savage and ruthless than they are, and they always win.
If, as Carroll argues in relation to Tony Soprano, we look at the ‘moral
structure’ of the fictional world of The Shield, we realize that Vic Mackey
‘is far from the worst character’. There is no denying that the leader of
the Strike Team is ‘morally defective, but only to suggest that among an
array of ethically challenged characters, he is one of the least deplorable’
(‘Sympathy for’ 131–2). While this does not make his misdeeds good,
it means that the viewer, driven by an emotional identification with
characters and the agonizing environment in which they are presented,
ultimately forms a positive moral evaluation of them upon experiencing
events that have been ‘emotionally predigested for us’.

4.2 The family as source of emotional and moral support

When reflecting on the relationship between dramatic identification
and emotion, one must take into account a key element that acts as
a powerful buttress: the family. Blood ties destabilize the internal and
external moral framework of the antiheroes. On the one hand, the pre-
sentation of the family serves as an alibi justifying the need for many of
their reprehensible actions; on the other, however, the home environ-
ment brings out the best in these characters, their romantic, altruistic or
selfless sides. Thus, in series which differ greatly in terms of both genre
and theme, the family serves to justify the more reprehensible deeds,
while simultaneously allowing us to view these characters in a different
light, in an environment in which moral rectitude and the sincerity of
their intentions are clear. Thus, although the characters shift their moral
compass to ensure the welfare of the family, we tend to empathize with
them and convince ourselves of their self-justifications because in the
end they do what they do to feed their children (Weeds), to maintain a
legacy (Sons of Anarchy) or ensure the survival of their dynasty (Game of
Why does family exert such a strong influence in this type of series?
Mainly because the serialized story, by its very nature, encourages the
combination of the public and private lives of the protagonists, namely
their professional lives – usually3 the most amoral – with their personal
lives, through which we emotionally reconnect with these characters
when we watch, for example, how parenting absolves other misdeeds.
Alberto N. García 61

It would be reductive, given their dramatic complexity, to think that

for many of these antiheroic protagonists their families and children
are simply an excuse to justify their criminal selves. Rather, the primacy
of the family in these TV series serves as a rich source of moral and
emotional tension, and as a genuine lifeline for at least some degree
of moral redemption. In both scenarios, the family is ‘positive’ for
the character’s image, as the presentation of the family environment
acts as a moral balm and a powerful trigger of sentimental complicity.
To employ an extreme example, it is a mechanism used in Boardwalk
Empire (HBO, 2010–14) to humanize the sadistic megalomaniac char-
acter of Al Capone: Capone’s sweetness with his deaf son ‘reduces’ the
mobster’s evil in the eyes of the beholder, preventing his transformation
into a cartoon villain. This strategy of ‘sweetening’ the character’s evil
deeds by showing their intimate domestic life is in no way unique to
television fiction (see von Moltke). However, as discussed later, the tech-
nique involves some unique features in a serialized story – not in the
self-contained stories but rather in those that develop a powerful and
extensive background plot – which favours a certain ambiguity in the
life of the characters with which we align.

4.3 Acts of contrition

Smith has written an essay where he discusses the audience’s moral
identification with Tony Soprano around a violent incident of ‘Mr. And
Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request’ (6.5). In that episode, Tony beats one if his
subordinates for no apparent reason. Afterwards, he feels bad and goes to
the bathroom to vomit: ‘Soprano’s guilt reveals him to be a moral being
even as it drives him to further deplorable acts’ (‘Just What’ 77). A sim-
ilar situation occurs in episode 2.9 (‘Martial Eagle’) of The Americans:
after being forced to murder an innocent truck driver, Philip Jennings
wanders through the rest of the episode, tormented by guilt. In both
cases, the guilt recasts these characters as ‘morally sentient’ beings in our
eyes and, consequently, allows us to acknowledge them, despite their
villainy, as ‘one of ours’ (Smith, ‘Just What’).
According to Lindsay-Hart et al., ‘the psychological situation of guilt
involves a violation of the moral order, for which we take responsibility.
The primary motivational instruction of guilt is the felt desire to “set
things right”, to restore the balance in moral order’ (289). Consequently,
in assuming their share of blame, many of the antiheroes analysed in
this chapter achieve the attenuation of their sins from the audience,
winning back their moral sympathy and restoring damaged allegiances.
Demonstrations of moral scruples make them morally and emotionally
62 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes, Limits of Allegiance

desirable once again, and even allow them to employ the last of the
strategies that feeds our allegiance to them as antiheroes: the strategy of

4.4 Character victimization

Upon apologizing and/or feeling guilt, we assume the following charac-
ters have acted wrongly: Shane Vendrell in order to save his family in
The Shield; Philip Jennings in making an outdated political commitment
in The Americans; and Nucky Thompson because of an unforgivable sin
of youth in Boardwalk Empire. We regard them as victims of circum-
stance, who suffer the consequences of bad decisions made in the past.
According to Platinga, ‘we sympathize with characters when we believe
that they are in danger and must be protected, when they are suffering
or bereaved, or when we believe that someone has been treated unfairly’
(‘I Followed’ 41). It is what iconic series such as Breaking Bad and The
Sopranos do with their protagonists, in the early stages of their stories.
The pilot of each episode makes a dramatic effort to locate their prota-
gonists as victims: in the case of Breaking Bad, Walter and Jesse are cast as
born losers, while The Sopranos portrays a man suffering under the stress
of his work and family responsibilities, with a guilt complex created by
his mother, and psychologically damaged to the point of needing medi-
cal help. As a result, from the very beginning, we are presented with
a situation that demands our allegiance, generating a ‘structure of sym-
pathy’ (Smith, Engaging Characters 5) that predisposes us emotionally,
and, as a consequence, morally towards this entire array of characters.
Despite the clear differences, we can also apply this same ‘moral gap’
to Dexter. The main character is also, at heart, a victim, as his ‘urge to
kill’ comes from a bloody and traumatic childhood episode in which his
mother was killed in front of him. Dexter is not, therefore, guilty of his
evil deeds, as they do not stem from his own conscious decisions.
In all these cases, a sense of no escape plays a role in the victimization
of the protagonist; they have to carry out these morally reprehensible
actions because they cannot do anything else given the situation in
which they find themselves. Many of these TV series convey the feeling
that violence is the inevitable last resort, thus diminishing the respon-
sibility of the protagonists, perceived as victims of their circumstances.
However, this absolution has its limits. As mentioned above, the serial-
ized format helps the viewer to identify with the protagonist, at times
even going back to square one. There are unforgivable acts that cause the
viewer to question seriously – or even lose – their sympathetic allegiance
with the protagonist.
Alberto N. García 63

5 The limits of sympathetic allegiance

The novelty introduced by American cable TV series, as compared with

films, is that they question our allegiance to the protagonists as a way
of constantly renewing our dramatic and narrative interest. It allows
the writers to advance the plot, build suspense and repeatedly renew
dramatic conflicts, as TV’s expanded narrative structure demands. The
protagonists have to cyclically revive the sympathy we feel for them,
despite the sins they commit, so that these conflicts can multiply and
the story can expand dramatically over the course of several seasons,
without being repetitive.
A dramatically rich antihero can carry out good deeds, question-
able actions and even despicable acts. The key to the alliance between
the viewer and the character is that we judge these antiheroic pro-
tagonists with a degree of goodwill. We create our own value system
with which to approach a fictional story. In short, we establish a spe-
cific ‘moral covenant’, adapting our moral judgment to the characters
we like. As previously suggested, sympathy for a character is not only
evoked because they exhibit exemplary ethical behaviour; rather, as
Smith maintains ‘moral evaluation lies at the core of allegiance’, cons-
tituting ‘a kind of centre-of-gravity that amoral factors may inflect, but
not displace’ (‘Just What’ 84). As is evident in many of the protagonists
discussed in this article, they all commit horrific acts and yet we remain
committed to them, feeling emotionally close to them. However, for
how long? Are there limits that can suspend our allegiance to a sympa-
thetic protagonist? If so, is it possible to recover that allegiance later?
If so, how?

5.1 Cyclical re-allegiance

As part of their narrative and dramatic evolution, the dark side of many
TV antiheroes comes to the fore as the story progresses. This is seen with
Rick Grimes (in his biblical confrontation with Shane in The Walking
Dead, AMC, 2010–), Nucky Thompson (who shoots his former disciple
and surrogate son) and the Jennings couple in The Americans (who mur-
der innocents while accomplishing their undercover missions), to name
but a few.
In order to reflect on the limits of this ‘structure of sympathy’ that
is generated around the television antiheroes, we can start from the
aforementioned beating of a subordinate by Tony Soprano, an exam-
ple discussed in depth by Smith. In his article, Smith developed the
term ‘partial allegiance’ as an expansion of his original structure of
64 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes, Limits of Allegiance

sympathy: ‘We ally ourselves with some of his attitudes and not oth-
ers; indeed, some of his actions and attitudes draw our antipathy rather
than sympathy’ (‘Just What’ 86). This conflicting, ambivalent alle-
giance is precisely what fuels the plot in the high-end TV series we
are analysing here. Along the same lines, Mittell refers to the complex
and often-contradictory feelings that Walter White’s actions provoke in
the spectator as ‘operational allegiance’. Both Smith and Mittell confer
with Vaage’s arguments in her recent article (2014) on the proliferation
of antiheroes: the three refer to the limits of ‘allegiance’. However, the
three authors maintain, with different nuances, that while sympathetic
allegiance may suffer occasional deterioration, overall, it remains intact.
My intention here is to question their argument and to affirm that it
is precisely the length of the serial story and the viewer’s memory that
allows us to gauge the accumulation of evil caused by a character until
causing us to lose sympathy for him. Consequently, the aforementioned
strategies will be necessary in order to achieve the viewer’s ‘re-allegiance’
with the character. That is, sympathetic allegiance must be nourished to
remain effective; the ‘structure of sympathy’ is not indestructible once
established in the early stages of the story. Therefore, what Smith calls
‘partial allegiance’ could be more accurately labelled as a ‘cyclical re-
allegiance’; that is, the story has to constantly make a dramatic effort to
relocate our sympathetic allegiance.
As Vaage explains, ‘we become partial towards the character we know
best’ (‘Blinded by’ 269), to a point where the familiarity of a story which
spans several years ‘blinds’ us when evaluating their actions: ‘As specta-
tors of fictions, we rely more strongly on moral emotions than on moral
reasoning’ (274). Vaage emphasizes the artistically pleasurable contra-
diction that the engagement with stories the viewer is emotionally
committed to brings, and the tension created when the viewer reflects
coldly on the morality of their actions. Vaage states: ‘When the narrative
explicitly reminds us of the consequence of their actions, we may drift
out of sympathy momentarily, but, once the narrative moves on, we
tend to bounce back into sympathetic allegiance’ (280). My point is that
the narrative needs to ‘move on’ with an explicit act of re-allegiance.
Therefore, without denying the validity of Vaage’s reasoning, it seems
necessary to add an additional twist: not only do the stories regularly
test our sympathy for the antihero, but the possibility exists that they
can make you lose all of that sympathy gradually. Therefore, after a
violent or immoral act, the viewer needs one of the strategies previ-
ously cited in order to ‘re-establish’ their sympathy for the character.
It occurs in the tender scene in Breaking Bad, which was described at
Alberto N. García 65

the beginning of this article, and Tony Soprano’s vomiting after leav-
ing his subordinate badly injured. It is a constant need; otherwise, the
viewer’s sympathetic allegiance may be lost, as happens in certain cases,
since the accumulation of evil and the viewer’s memory, despite the
emotional balances we have described, can erode the moral sympathy
of the viewer to such an extent that the ‘oscillating sympathy structure
in the series’ (Vaage, ‘Blinded by’ 277) can result in aversion or dislike
of a character.
In Breaking Bad, for example, our complicity with Walter falters during
the first half of the fifth season, when he terrorizes Skyler, kills Mike,
and is unfazed by the death of the boy on a bike. Furthermore: with
Gus Fring liquidated, there is no villain in the story worse than him;
there is no counterweight. Therefore, it is doubtful that our sympathies
for Walter, which at that point in the story had lasted a calendar year
for regular viewers of the show, would remain unchanged. Of course, as
spectators, we are anxious to know how Walter White’s journey will end
(mostly due to the flash forward scene in episode 5.1 which suggests that
his end will be tragic and violent), but from the standpoint of emotional
identification, part of the critical discussion about the series had to do
with tempering the tendency to ‘root for Walt’ (Zoller Seitz, ‘Seitz on
Breaking Bad’).
Precisely because our allegiance is very problematic after episode 5.8,
one of the principal dramatic objectives of the last eight episodes of
Breaking Bad is the re-humanization of Walter, the reconstruction of our
emotional identification with him and, ultimately, our ‘re-allegiance’.
It does so using the four strategies mentioned in the previous section:
first, a new group of despicable villains emerges (Todd’s familiar neo-
Nazis) in contrast to which even Walter, despite his considerable degree
of villainy at this point in the story, is presented as ‘morally prefer-
able’. Secondly, his cancer returns and because of his physical frailty,
he once again becomes a victim in our eyes, someone weak and pow-
erless (‘Granite State’, 5.15, is a key episode in achieving this effect
for the final time). Thirdly, his lack of scruples collides with a clear
moral line: the family is untouchable. The latter is seen not only by
his genuine grief after the death of Hank, but by his return of Holly
(placing the good of the girl before his selfishness). It is precisely with
Hank’s death, as with so many of the deaths Walter causes, that the last
of the strategies of ‘re-allegiance’ appears: the strong sense of guilt, but
as usual Walter fools himself once again in order to convince himself of
his innocence. Something similar happens at the end of ‘Ozymandias’
(5.14), during a phone call between Walter and Skyler, where tears are
66 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes, Limits of Allegiance

confused with reproach. The viewer empathizes with Walter’s pain for
having ruined everything. Still, as we shall see while explaining ‘post-
mortem re-allegiance’ below, Walter’s apology to Skyler in the season
finale will be the real act of contrition that will close our circle of
emotional identification.
The expanded narrative we previously explained favours emotional
redemption and, consequently, ‘re-allegiance’ with the characters once
we are shown their familial, sentimental and friendly qualities. This is
what happens also to Don Draper – in a canonical example of ‘cyclical
re-allegiance’ – after his descent into hell in the sixth season of Mad Men.
In the end, his redemption comes through Sally, his daughter, and he
ends up with his three children outside the house in which his painful
childhood was played out. We see, then, a family man, a loving father
after an act of contrition (the Hershey pitch) and, also, the scene depicts
the house where he was the victim of a poor and lonely childhood.
The nature of the series gives the viewer access to the most intimate
qualities of the character, forming a naturalistic, all-encompassing story
that aims to capture the wounds of time in the life of the characters.
By taking 60 hours instead of two to develop conflicts, the very nature
of the story allows us to modulate our anger towards the terrorist Nick
Brody in Homeland: through the warmth of home, we discover both the
magnitude of his trauma (victimization) and the love of a father who
adores his children. In short, we can recover our sympathy cyclically,
precisely because of the specific form, duration and dramatic needs of
television narrative.

5.2 Switching and late allegiance

The second half of the final season of Breaking Bad exemplifies how,
beyond the cyclical re-allegiance after each reprehensible act, the speci-
ficity of serial narrative forces a narrative and dramatic effort to restore
the ‘structure of sympathy’ necessary for the moral identification with
the protagonist, which makes us ‘understand’ their complexity and look
upon them benevolently or excuse their evil deeds. However, it may
happen that as the expanded serial story progresses, our sympathetic
allegiance switches sides. This same expanded story format can work
out in the opposite way: allowing for the 180-degree turn in our feelings
for a character that we initially despise.
It is true that allegiance is more difficult to achieve in series with an
ensemble cast, however, the following example will serve to illustrate
the idea: after 25 episodes, Jaime Lannister, who is introduced in Game
of Thrones via two repulsive acts, incest and the attempted murder of a
Alberto N. García 67

child, is humanized in the third season by humiliation, amputation and

his admission of a tormented secret to his captor (Brienne de Tarth).
Therefore, as we align with the character in a more intimate and painful
space, it results in a drastic volte-face of our sympathy towards him.
Thus, the serial narrative allows internal and external conflicts to multi-
ply, increasing the complexity of these violent antiheroes who are also
family men, victims, and, therefore, ‘morally sentient’. Therefore, it is
not only that familiarity that blinds us, as Vaage argues; in the case of
Jaime Lannister, the previously mentioned strategies are also required in
order to build that moral sympathy with the hitherto villain. A coun-
terexample to this moral investment in the appreciation of a character
might be that of Ben Sherman in SouthLAnd (NBC/TNT, 2009–13): from
being the moral compass – the impeccable hero – during the first three
seasons of the series, his actions become steadily darker and the viewer
gradually loses the initial allegiance towards his actions.
However, in addition to the ‘switching of allegiances’ embodied by
Jaime Lannister or Ben Sherman, there is yet another option: one that
might be called ‘late allegiance’. It is the riskiest option dramatically, and
the one which creates more doubt about the soundness of the ‘structure
of sympathy’ built throughout a storyline. It is an allegiance that, as
the story nears its end, moves from a main character who, until then,
had held the privilege of sympathetic allegiance to another, secondary
character. One case that best exhibits this ‘late allegiance’ is The Shield,
which, lest we forget, starts with another unforgivable act (a shooting in
the pilot episode that will haunt the characters for seven seasons) that
lies at the heart of our contradictory emotional identification with Vic
As is the case with Breaking Bad, we also end up despising Vic Mackey,
whose criminal and heroic selves we have learned to balance positively
over the course of seasons. Without oversimplifying the moral com-
plexity of the plot and the difficult emotional relationship we establish
with the protagonist, it is arduous to maintain our allegiance with Vic
Mackey in the last season of The Shield, especially in its later episodes.
His confession to Agent Murray, and her terrified face upon coming to
understand what type of ‘monster’ she has negotiated an immunity
agreement for, are meta-references for the viewer, who has identified
with Mackey throughout The Shield, and who suddenly becomes aware
of the accumulation of evil such a character has performed (‘Possible
Kill Screen’, 7.12).
Shane Vendrell’s case is an extreme example of how ‘late allegiance’
can be constructed, thanks to the possibilities of an expanded storyline.
68 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes, Limits of Allegiance

The sixth and, especially, seventh season of the series do an extraordi-

nary job of shifting our allegiance from Mackey to Shane. Once more,
the four dramatic strategies mentioned above are in operation here: the
agonizing flight of Shane, and his pregnant wife and two-year-old son
making him a victim lashed by the consequences of an evil act attributed
to Mackey, as Shane himself recalls in his last written confession. This
final letter, unfinished since he shoots himself in the head before com-
pleting it, is a supreme act of contrition; in fact, it is essential to his
own conscience about the evil he has done and the price to be paid,
unlike Mackey, who is still toying with self-justifying excuses. Above all,
it is the shelter of his family that manages to win us over to their side
and, despite the terrible acts he has committed, to gain our moral sym-
pathy for him and his death, which causes an emotional earthquake
unmatched in contemporary television.
The switching and late allegiance in The Shield highlights the chan-
ging nature of sympathetic allegiance in serial television storylines.
This process is related to what Mittell called ‘serial articulation’, which
‘depends on the practice of reiteration, where repeating and refram-
ing helps define which linkages are maintained and discarded over the
course of the series’. It is as if each story counts on a steady flow of
sympathy with which creators can feed the dramatic conflicts, so that
if one character loses flow, another must acquire it. That is, the moral
counterweight other characters make is critical and necessary for main-
taining emotional and moral interest in history, so if our allegiance to
Vic Mackey and Walter White is lost, there are other characters who take
up the baton so that the viewer roots for them (for example, Claudette
or Shane; Hank or Jesse).

5.3 Re-allegiance post-mortem

Before I conclude this reflection on the limits of allegiance, a fur-
ther possibility may be explored: the way in which re-allegiance is
fully recovered upon closure of the television storyline. To paraphrase
Kermode’s classic book (The Sense of an Ending), the ending provides full
sense to a narrative, since, as viewers, we ‘interpret’ the totality of the
story from its end. As H. Porter Abbott explains, ‘all successful narratives
of any length are chains of suspense [lack of closure] and surprise that
keep us in a fluctuating state of impatience, wonderment and partial
gratification. We are held this way until the final moment of closure’
(57). Therefore, although the very specific fragmentation of television
narrative offers us multiple stops, questions and intermediate rewards
(episodes, hiatuses and seasons), we do not understand the full meaning
Alberto N. García 69

until the initial conflict, which launches the series and structures the
narrative, is definitively resolved.
In a television landscape where the story is becoming ever more
sophisticated, one of the great advances of ‘complex TV’ regards the
‘ars moriendi’ (Harrington) of audiovisual fictions: the end of the series
increasingly aims for circularity, emotional climax, reasonable surprise
and internal narrative coherence. This means that, in series where the
antihero has fallen from public favour, the series finale is the key to
recovering the sympathetic allegiance of the viewer a posteriori, even
strictly post-mortem in certain cases. This possibility of recovering a
viewer’s allegiance post-mortem has an extra importance in television
fiction: it implies that text that has been open to fluctuations and inter-
pretations for years (‘serial articulation’ in Mittell’s terms) decides to
clearly mark its border, that is, to try to stabilize a ‘structure of sympathy’
that has until now been oscillating.
Therefore, before dying while contemplating, with a smile, the labo-
ratory where his ‘work of art’ – the blue methamphetamine – was
produced, the fugitive, Walter White, says goodbye to Skyler and their
children: ‘I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it and I was really
... I was alive’; he admits this with a mixture of pride and sadness. His
apology in ‘Felina’ (5.16) is necessary as the first step to fully restoring
our allegiance. Together with that scene, and without denying the moral
complexity of his last conversation with Skyler and the scene where he
caresses his sleeping daughter, Holly, Walter admits his selfishness and
the price to be paid for his sins while seeking forgiveness from the ones
to whom he has done the most damage; the closing of the storyline
after releasing Jesse and liquidating the Nazis provides a perverse kind
of happy ending, in accordance with the moral sympathy demanded of
the viewer. Walter pays for his sins, not only through the loss of the
family he intended to save, but with the loss of his own life. Still, there
were those who criticized the final result precisely for being complacent
and for not being difficult enough for Walter, confirming the fragility
of viewer allegiance to Walter White. That is, there were many viewers
who not only wanted Walter to die violently, as finally happens, but to
fail completely in his desire for revenge and restitution of the order his
own chaos had generated (Emily Nussbaum).
The series finale of The Shield, one of the most acclaimed final episodes
in television history, is constructed on a similar ambiguity. While Vic
Mackey wins his last battle, he loses everything that justified his actions:
his family and his badge. His defeat is highlighted with silence and a
series of frigid, closed final shots, which stand counter to the electricity
70 Moral Emotions, Antiheroes, Limits of Allegiance

of the shots normally employed throughout the series. In that cold,

mechanical and monotonous cubicle, with that cheap suit that makes
him look like a puppet, the omnipotent and spirited Vic Mackey seems
condemned to a living death, after all the pain he has caused his
loved ones.
In both series, however, the sad fate of its protagonists – pure poetic
justice – allows the recovery, a posteriori, of our allegiance to them; we
see them pay for their crimes, for the harm they have caused, and this
restores the comprehensive moral framework we established with them
throughout the series and, also, a sizeable proportion of our moral sym-
pathy towards them. We see them in a different light when we realize –
in a twisted remembrance from the classic film noir motto ‘crime doesn’t
pay’ – that in the grey, dark area where these narratives takes place,
ambivalent good triumphs over defensible evil and conflicted sinners
pay for their sometimes-justified sins.

6 Conclusion

‘When Mima talked about you, I couldn’t tell if it was love or hate’ is
one of the last sentences Nucky Thompson hears in Boardwalk Empire
(‘ElDorado’, 5.8) As spectators, we need to wait until the last parallel
editing – the final minute – of the whole series to fully realize who Nucky
was and why he has been acting like a truly contradictory antihero over
the five seasons. The characteristics discussed during this essay demons-
trate how our moral evaluation is influenced, even manipulated, by the
emotional relationship that TV series establishes for us as spectators.
‘Do we feel an allegiance with – a sympathy for – a character because of
the perverse act that they engage in or in spite of that act?’ asks Smith
(‘Gangsters, Cannibals’ 223).
The serial format allows us to constantly revisit our dilemma between
because of and the in spite of, aware that the dramatic engine of many
of these series proceeds from an irresolvable contradiction that the tele-
vision story itself brings to the fore again and again. As evidenced by
the many examples given, the sympathetic allegiance that characterizes
series starring antiheroes has its limits, to the point that it can move
radically from one character to another during the story. Therefore, as
we have tried to show, strategies of ‘cyclical re-allegiance’ are neces-
sary in order to continue feeding the emotional and moral tension of
television stories, right up to the very close of the series’ finale.
Group Empathy? A Conceptual
Proposal, Apropos of Polseres
Héctor J. Pérez

1 Introduction

Although the concept of empathy has received attention in different dis-

ciplines for more than a century, it is only over the last two decades that
its interdisciplinary development has given it a major scientific role in
fields such as neurology, psychology, social studies, ethology and philo-
sophy. Within philosophy there have been significant developments in
ethics and philosophy of mind, as well as in narrative aesthetics, an area
of particular interest for this article. One of the most obvious reasons
for the increase in the number of studies regarding empathy is the fact
that this concept allows us to focus on primordial and other complex
issues; for example, studies of empathy in psychology have contributed
to the appearance of theories explaining moral development and social
competence. Meanwhile, studies of empathy in aesthetics have had an
extraordinary impact on research into spectator engagement with cha-
racters. However, at the same time, the complexity of the questions
raised by empathy has led to controversy and debate. For example, in
the field of cognitive studies of films and television series, since the artic-
ulation of the first major sympathy-based theory of emotional engage-
ment, empathy has appeared as a term in opposition to sympathy.1 One
advantage of the significant focus on empathy in so many disciplines is
that the concept has become more precise and clearer; research under-
taken to date has provided a solid foundation for studies grounded in
interdisciplinary contributions, such as the case explored here.
This chapter will take as its point of departure two versions of the
concept of empathy, one from cognitive neurosciences and the other

72 Group Empathy? Apropos of Polseres Vermelles

from cognitive film studies. In fact, our methodology and theoretical

bases are cognitivist, and it is on this basis that we have articulated our
main research question: is empathy a relationship between a specta-
tor and a character, that is, between an individual and an individual,
or can we also speak of ‘group empathy’ between a spectator and a
group of characters? This question arose while undertaking an analysis
of Polseres Vermelles, a television series produced by the Catalan public
television station, TV3. The series premiered in 2011 and 28 episodes
have been broadcast over two seasons.2 In our analysis, it proved dif-
ficult to explain the emotional architecture implicit in the narrative of
the series using a concept of empathy based only on individual charac-
ters. Thus, this research will be founded on an analysis of the narrative
that posits a concept of group empathy.
Although the question may seem strange in the context of cognitive
film studies, where empathy has always been understood in individual
terms, for academics in the field of social psychology, empathy is actu-
ally one of the main vectors for explaining the processes of socialization.
Decety and Jackson posit an interesting three-pronged version of empa-
thy that can include: ‘(a) an affective response to another person, which
often, but not always, entails sharing that person’s emotional state;
(b) a cognitive capacity to take the perspective of the other person;
and (c) emotion regulation’ (54). Case (a) relates to the ubiquitous imi-
tations which, in our perception of another person’s emotional state,
echo within us, activating the same neuromotor mechanisms. Case (b)
refers to the mental simulation whereby a human being intentionally
adopts the subjective perspective of another, attempting to think or feel
what the other person is experiencing. Finally, case (c) points to the
heterogeneity present in the experiences of a person who empathizes in
relation to the other, rejecting an isomorphic situation between them.
The authors have reported the identification of neurocognitive mecha-
nisms that reveal a distancing of the spectator, who is conscious of
experiencing a situation of his/her own in relation to the person at
whom the empathy is directed.
This definition essentially coincides with the notion of empathy used
in the field of cognitive film studies, which has been highly receptive to
the advances of neuroscience discussions. The definition, as proposed by
Vaage, entails two modes of empathy. The first of these is embodied empa-
thy, which refers to a sharing of states expressed by the body of the other
through neuronal resonance mechanisms that have been described by
neuroscientists, especially in research into mirror neurons and simu-
lation mechanisms. The second mode is imaginative empathy, which
Héctor J. Pérez 73

involves imagining oneself in the situation of the other in a way that

entails a degree of reflexivity (Vaage, ‘Fiction Film’ 163–8). This second
condition may in effect give rise to Decety’s cognitive case (c) mentioned
Perhaps the question we have posed is not particularly significant
for studies of audiovisual fiction series, as there are few cases in which
groups play a leading role. A story featuring a group is often merely
an excuse to present the lives and vicissitudes of its individual mem-
bers. White Heat (BBC, 2012), for example, presents a reunion of a group
of people who shared a flat in their university years; they are reunited
two decades later. However, the series is not concerned with what hap-
pened in the days they spent together, or the dynamic of the group in
their years of cohabitation. Every opportunity to focus on the group
experience is diluted into a series of subplots that explore the past of
each character individually in order to reconstruct a map of emotional
relations between them that can explain the climax of their reunion so
many years later. This type of recourse to an individual’s past is a very
common structure, fed by our curiosity about events that can transform
the lives of a group, as clearly demonstrated by Generation War (Unsere
Mütter, unsere Vätter, ZDF, 2013). There are cases in which a better bal-
ance is achieved between the focus on individuals and the focus on
the group, such as in The Jury (ITV, 2002), which examines the short-
lived relationships between members of a group brought together to
reach a verdict on a highly publicized case of an alleged murderer and
rapist. One of the virtues of this series is its ability to bring the specta-
tor into the disparate lives of the jury members as a way of explaining
the dynamics of group deliberations, which also prove important for
the suspense that builds as the plot advances towards an unexpected
conclusion. However, it is extremely hard to find a story as completely
oriented towards a group as Polseres Vermelles, which reveals an even
greater intensity in the relationships between its members; the group is
shaped by a powerful historical dynamic, as in the case of Band of Bro-
thers (HBO, 2001), which tells the story of a company of soldiers in the
Second World War.
It may well be assumed that the reason for this pre-eminence of
the group in Polseres Vermelles lies in the fact that its protagonists are
teenagers. Indeed, a core element of adolescent social life is the group,
a phenomenon formed mainly by virtue of the friendships between
its members. The adolescent group, unlike the groups that characte-
rize adult life, is often the site of key life projects and experiences,
almost always defined by friendship (Bradford Brown). It is perhaps
74 Group Empathy? Apropos of Polseres Vermelles

for this reason that the group takes on its greatest intensity in series
with teenage protagonists. However, few examples exist even within
teen series fiction. Like Polseres Vermelles, the British series, Misfits (E4,
2009–13), features a group that is identified physically. While in Polseres,
the title itself expresses the physical link that identifies the group (the
‘polseres vermelles’ are the red bracelets worn by hospital patients), in
Misfits, it is the orange suits worn by youth in social rehabilitation
projects that fulfil this function. The members also share special cir-
cumstances: in Misfits each one has received a ‘superpower’, whereas in
Polseres they are all seriously ill. Both offer excellent depictions of the
teenage group, although they exist on opposite extremes of the genre
spectrum: Misfits is an acid comedy, while Polseres is an emotionally
charged drama. In another of the more internationally successful teen
series of recent years, Skins (E4, 2007–13), the cast of characters also form
a group. Although the series cannot be classified as realist, it expresses
with an added charge of intensity the universe of middle-class adoles-
cents in a western country, namely, the United Kingdom. The types of
family conflicts, life attitudes, leisure activities, relationships with tech-
nology, attitudes towards sex and drugs, ways of speaking and powerful
individualism that typify such teens form the main parameters of this
narrative ecosystem. In addition, another feature of that ecosystem is
friendship, which is a constant bond between the different members of
the group. However, a group itself does not exist merely because there
is a connection of friendship among all of its members. Rather, what
defines it most are the friendships between individuals.
What does Polseres Vermelles have that we cannot find in other sto-
ries of this type? This programme is different from most other series
about groups as it includes situations in which it is possible to speak
of a whole-group reality, in emotional terms; in addition, the narrative
is driven by an effective use of emotions that are directed and deter-
mined by the group. The first season charts the birth of the group,
its growth as its different members share life experiences, and the cri-
sis they face when various members leave the hospital; in the second
season, the group is brought back together and faces an extraordinary
climatic moment in the final episodes. It is a group of teenagers who
live in a hospital, all suffering from serious health issues, such as can-
cer, heart disease, Asperger syndrome and anorexia. It is a special series
within the hospital series subgenre, on account of its plot, which unfolds
almost exclusively inside the hospital, and its profound and emotionally
complex depiction of a group. It is this exhaustive narrative depiction
of a group and of its emotional intensity that effectively demands the
Héctor J. Pérez 75

development of a new concept of empathy as applied to narrative analy-

sis that can explain the perspectives, desires and other emotions that
exist not individually but collectively; this will be discussed in more
detail below.3

2 Scenes of group empathy

Empathy has been characterized as one of the most central and influen-
tial mechanisms of all social processes of teenage friendship (Bukowski
et al.). It is notable for extracting individuals from their egocentrism and
helping them find easier resolutions to interpersonal conflicts. Accord-
ing to scientific studies, adolescents with more empathy are better at
companionship, less conflictive and more careful in their relationships.
There are also various branches of psychology specializing in adoles-
cence that point to the existence of a relationship between empathy
and friendship, and which even link adolescent empathy and inti-
macy to friendship quality: ‘We argued that adolescents who were
higher in empathy would demonstrate greater intimacy competence,
which would lead to closer friendships’ (Chong, Ruhl and Buhrmester
192). From this perspective, one of the crucial components for friend-
ship formation is ‘intimacy competence’, that is, the ability to develop
a communication of intimate experiences or personal feelings. With
respect to relationships between group realities and empathy in ado-
lescents, the research itself points out a lack of relevant experimental
studies, in spite of the considerable theoretical interest in such ques-
tions. Nevertheless, there are certain associations that have been very
clearly established: ‘Based on the outlined theoretical background, we
hypothesized that adolescents’ social connectedness is associated with
certain social demands which, in turn, require and shape social capa-
bilities such as empathy. Hence, the individual degree of empathy is
reflected in the social structure adolescents are embedded in’ (Wölfer
et al. 1297).
All of this might lead us to believe that Polseres Vermelles is a positive
depiction of the connections and aspects of adolescent social and group
life that form the object of research in different branches of psychology.
However, our objective here is not to analyse adolescent socialization,
but rather the narrative effects of its depiction. Thus, of interest to this
study is the empathy that the story can arouse in the spectator, rather
than the empathy between the protagonists within the narrated fiction.
The hypothesis that we seek to defend is that group empathy, which
encompasses specific and distinctive narrative effects, exists.
76 Group Empathy? Apropos of Polseres Vermelles

3 Building imaginative empathy

In Polseres Vermelles (1.4), at a moment when all the members of the

group are together, Toni suggests painting their rooms with bright
colours to liven up the dull atmosphere of the hospital. The sugges-
tion is voted on and rejected, and then Roc proposes an escapade on
this stormy night. This suggestion is approved unanimously, together
with a plan to obtain the means necessary to make it happen. From this
moment, the spectator is aligned not with any one character, but with
all of the participants in the plan. We use the term alignment here in
the sense proposed by Murray Smith, who describes it as ‘the process
by which the spectators are placed in relation to characters in terms of
access to their actions, and to what they know and feel’ (Engaging Cha-
racters 83). The spectator remains aligned with the group throughout the
different stages of their plan: first they need to collect oranges and books
from other patients to exchange them for walkie-talkies; subsequently,
they draft a map of the hospital and Roc ultimately decides that they
need to go to the chemotherapy room. The spatiotemporal alignment
of the spectator with the group connects the emotions that arise as the
story develops to the objective that all the characters have proposed as
a group. A common phenomenon in a narrative in terms of empathy is
that the spectator adopts a similar position, in terms of desire or expec-
tations, to that of a character who sets a goal. This means taking on the
perspective of the character who has an objective to achieve, thereby
provoking curiosity about the steps needed to achieve it, tension when
an obstacle appears so large as to pose a threat to its achievement, and
relief when that obstacle is overcome. In the case of the scenes from
Polseres Vermelles mentioned above, the spectator adopts the perspective
of the group, namely, the group’s plan, which all the characters have
agreed upon. In this way, the spectator’s attention will be intensified
by a degree of intrigue when difficulties arise that threaten the group’s
escapade, such as the security guards who almost catch them, or when
they are seen by the young physician, Josep. Moreover, the spectator
will feel a certain satisfaction when the plan moves forward successfully,
such as when Lleo and Cristina succeed in obtaining the walkie-talkies.
In short, it could be said that the rhetorical device that supports this
process is the alignment with the group at the moment when they set
themselves a goal, and the series of actions that will be necessary to
achieve it. The spectator, through this alignment with the group, is thus
invited to imagine what it is like to take part in a collective enterprise
that gradually turns into an adventure. In this sense, group empathy
Héctor J. Pérez 77

should be understood as an extension of ordinary empathy, as a way

of feeling or thinking in line with a group instead of an individual. This
suggests that group empathy entails a process that falls into the category
of imaginative empathy in the sense that the spectator can imagine the
specific aspects of taking part in a group experience.
As noted above, all the protagonists in Polseres Vermelles suffer from
serious illnesses. Lleo and Jordi both have cancer, Ignasi suffers from
a severe aortic dysfunction (which leads to his death in the first sea-
son), Roc is in a coma, Cristina has anorexia and Toni suffers from
Asperger syndrome. Insofar as the series thematizes illness and the
struggle against it as a core element that links all the characters of
the group, it offers some fertile ground for intersubjective dynamics of
extraordinary emotional intensity.
For example, following the scenes in episode 1.4 mentioned above,
the night-time escapade where they decide to paint graffiti on the wall
of the room where Lleo will have his next chemotherapy session, evolves
into something which Toni had initially suggested. At this point, Lleo
confesses to his companions that he is unable to bear his fear of return-
ing to chemotherapy. It is late at night and they are alone in the room,
and while Lleo is talking a shot shows Jordi and Toni watching him
intensely, followed by another showing Cristina in practically the same
pose. We then return to the close-up of Lleo as he explains the effects
of chemotherapy; they are internalizing what their companion is telling
them, and there is pain and compassion in their expressions. Is it possi-
ble to identify a sign of group empathy in this scene? For this to happen,
the spectator should feel an alignment with Lleo’s friends; that is, the
spectator should feel not like one of them, but like all of them. The first
difficulty that arises in the interpretation of this scene as a moment of
group empathy is that it may not arise as a result of mimetic processes of
sensorimotor resonance, which are understood to have their source in
relationships between individuals. However, there is one circumstance
that suggests that this could in fact occur: the emotional convergence
of all of Lleo’s companions. On seeing two sad faces in the same shot,
the spectator may be able to absorb the sadness of both the characters
simultaneously, as they both express equal sadness. In this scene, the
close-ups show clearly that Toni and Jordi comprehend their friend’s
pain and fear; also, Cristina, who is always in the same individual shots,
offers the spectator a substratum for a subtle and automatic response,
at the most unconscious level of emotional contagion. We thus have
a moment that is clearly identifiable as a case of embodied empathy.
However, there are also narrative processes that require awareness and
78 Group Empathy? Apropos of Polseres Vermelles

elaboration; processes that involve imaginative empathy. The spectator

has already been given the news that Lleo has to undergo another ses-
sion of chemotherapy, through an earlier conversation between Lleo
and Cristina. Through the revelation of Lleo’s suffering, therefore, the
spectator has already had the opportunity to establish a compassion-
ate and sympathetic relationship with him. In this way, spectators have
already had access to Lleo’s inner world, and this has given them the
chance for imaginative access to the experience he describes.
In other words, when the moment of group empathy occurs, the
spectator has a personal connection to Lleo on individual terms that
includes both empathetic and sympathetic experiences. This is the rich
and elaborate preamble to the emotional climax of convergence that
is now established between the spectator and the group. Lleo talks
about the sensation of moving from feeling fine to suffering agoniz-
ing pain provoked by the side effects of the aggressive drugs used in the
chemotherapy; however, he talks predominantly about the fear that it
inspires in him. The response of his companions is to assure him that
they will be there for him and will be present during the chemotherapy
sessions; this can be deduced as an empathic response in the imagina-
tive sense, as it requires them to evoke their own experiences of illness
to internalize the suffering of the other, which leads them in turn to
offer their support to their friend. By the end of the scene, it seems clear
that Lleo simply wanted to confess his fear; it is evident that what really
frees him from his anguish is the feeling of having been intensely heard
and understood by his companions. In this situation, it is highly likely
that if spectators experience an emotional convergence with the group,
they will do so simultaneously at the level of the imagination.
This scene may thus reflect what Plantinga calls a scene of empathy,
a defining scene in the plot structure due to the narrative effects that
elicit empathy (‘The Scene of’ 239). Below, we will continue to analyse
the second season of the series, in order to define the meaning of the
group experience through the narrative.

4 Death and emotional dilemma

During the first episodes of the second season, the spectator expects the
final dissolution of the polseres, continuing the crisis that had begun
at the end of the first season. Those characters who have left the hos-
pital become increasingly alienated from the group. Jordi, who was an
inseparable friend to Lleo, does not want to go back to see them; he
obsessively avoids any object or experience that could take him back
Héctor J. Pérez 79

to his days in the hospital, and even refuses to attend the anniver-
sary commemorating Ignasi’s death. After the ending of her relationship
with Lleo, Cristina moves on, to a point that leaves little prospect
of her return; she has left to study hundreds of kilometres away and
in any case has no desire to return to see Lleo after his decision to
reject her. Lleo appears to have started a new relationship with another
woman, Rim, who has recently arrived at the hospital for treatment. All
these circumstances mark the trajectory of emotional engagement with
the spectator, who has become empathically involved with the group,
through a clear narrative strategy to reinforce further empathy in the
subsequent episodes; this sets the spectator up for a surprise when an
unexpected turn in the story finally brings the group back together.
A recurrence of their diseases will reunite them again in the same hospi-
tal. Jordi is diagnosed with another tumour, while Cristina is found to be
showing symptoms of a relapse of her anorexia. However, the prospect
of the reunification of the group takes on heightened importance, as it
takes Jordi and Cristina several episodes before they return to the group,
although they are back in the same hospital. This delay helps to build
up a greater emotional charge for the long-awaited moment when all
the protagonists finally recover the bond that had been lost. What all
this suggests is that the main plot of the second season, at least until
all the characters are finally reunited, is none other than the very fate
of the group itself. In the context of exploring the meaning of empathy
as defined by Plantinga, the value of the scene when the group finally
reunites lies in the fact that it marks a type of narrative experience which
from that moment on will effectively become the protagonist of the
story, curiously by virtue of the absence of the group.4 The plot theme
regarding the separation of a group that needs to be put back together
is essentially defined by the construction of spectator expectations in
continuity with their previous experience of group empathy. Toni and
Roc are the two characters who work ceaselessly to bring the group back
together. The spectator is able to internalize the desire these two char-
acters have to recover the emotional dynamics of the group through
individual empathizing.
Furthermore, as we will explore below, the denouement of the narra-
tive is a restoration that is structurally identical to that described above
in the first season. In the second season, the final episodes lead us on an
adventure in which the group undertakes a series of actions and fulfils
an objective similar to the scenes of the escapade on the stormy night;
a scene of group empathy unfolds that is very similar to the scene of
Lleo’s confession in the chemotherapy room. However, the fulfilment
80 Group Empathy? Apropos of Polseres Vermelles

of the longing to experience the whole group again is not merely a

repetition, as the spectator’s desire cannot be met merely by offering
the same experience as the last one.
A new element will thus be introduced into the proposition of group
empathy when the plot takes a tragic turn that leads to the emotionally
heartrending tone of the final episodes. The key is the development of
Lleo’s illness, as, following some new tests, he is informed that he only
has a 3 per cent chance of survival. Lleo then decides that he wants to
leave the hospital and spend the days he has left enjoying his life in free-
dom. Once again, in response to Lleo’s critical condition, as occurred in
the first season, the group returns to its maximum intensity. It is impor-
tant to recognize this feature of the group structure, which is shaped
by the figure of its leader; this was established at the outset as a theme
of the series with Benito’s theory of the group. The leader, Lleo, is also
the protagonist of the series and in the second season his importance in
the story increases, as does his ability to elicit empathy from the whole
group; thus, evoking group empathy in the spectator.
The plot theme of group empathy is taken up again when every-
one decides to leave the hospital to accompany Lleo as he lives out his
dream; at this point, they all take a trip to the Balearic Islands. On this
occasion, a more complex emotional context is presented than that of
the night-time escapade. Scenes depict Lleo and his friends enjoying
themselves while sailing on a boat, relaxing on the beach, swimming
in the sea, dancing in a disco and travelling around the countryside;
however, this is not merely an opportunity for spectators to relive and
empathically imagine the enjoyment of a group of travelling friends.
An empathic link is effectively established among the group members,
all of whom understand Lleo’s desire to enjoy life, as well as the conse-
quences of the trip, as leaving the hospital meant that he had turned his
back on any chance of being cured. How does the spectator engage with
this new and much more complex situation of emotional convergence
among all the members of the group? What is the rhetorical device at
work here? First of all, as mentioned above, a sympathetic and empa-
thetic relationship has already been established between Lleo and the
spectator, a decisively moral allegiance, by virtue of his extraordinary
qualities of honesty, companionship and generosity, as well as other
qualities, such as sympathy and a sense of humour.5 During the trip
itself, elements continue to appear that reinforce our sense of Lleo’s
moral fibre, such as his loyalty when he searches for Benito’s brother
in order to fulfil the old man’s dying wish, and his courage to decide to
leave the hospital to live his last days to the fullest. As many authors
Héctor J. Pérez 81

have argued with respect to the relationship between sympathy and

empathy, there may be causal connections between them (Vaage, ‘Fic-
tion Film’ 172; Tan 339–40). In this case, there can be no doubt that
the sympathetic characterization of Lleo predisposes the spectator to
adopt an empathetic attitude towards him. Secondly, the narration
offers another way for the spectator to empathize with the whole group
during the experience of the trip. Once again there is a spatiotemporal
alignment with all of the group’s members, as the moment in which
everybody makes the decision to accompany and support Lleo is offered
to the spectator as an opportunity to converge with the group. In this
case, the initial decision to accompany Lleo would very clearly involve
imaginative empathy, as the spectator internalizes the dilemma of sup-
porting a sick loved one is this situation: knowing that supporting his
trip means reducing his chances of survival and understanding that he
does not want to die in the hospital, but rather wants to spend his final
moments enjoying life and discovering things that his chronic illness
has denied him.
Imagining all this inevitably opens the door on the spectator’s own
subjectivity, in line with the emergent conception of empathy proposed
by Lipps, which includes the projection of the spectator’s own subjec-
tivity onto the empathetic experience. In effect, it would be difficult for
this emotional dilemma not to place spectators in a situation that would
elicit their emotional inclination either in favour of the decision taken
by the group, or in the opposite direction. In any event, even with sub-
jective nuances, this experience would possibly produce mixed feelings
of an irresolvable nature that James Harold has identified in this type of
narrative experience.
From the moment the trip begins, all the situations that Lleo enjoys
are moments in which the other members of the group also appear
to enjoy being there with him. His companions place special impor-
tance on Lleo’s experiences on the trip, as expressed most clearly in the
scene in which they stop to watch a horse being trained (2.28). After
several shots showing the group approaching the horse, finally we see
Lleo alone, petting the animal. This is followed by a series of shots of
his companions, all of whom are watching Lleo from a distance. They
all seem to be recognizing that this is not just any experience, but a
new experience, as Lleo has seen very few animals in his life and proba-
bly has never had the chance to touch one. These images represent the
most significant moment of group empathy in the whole season; the
scene is similar to that of Lleo’s confession in the first season, which was
also organized according to a classical POV (Point of View) structure.
82 Group Empathy? Apropos of Polseres Vermelles

Here, the leading role is given to the experience of the other, which is
the reason why Lleo’s companions accompany him – they understand
what it means for him to enjoy these new experiences. It would be fair
to say that unless spectators place themselves imaginatively in the situ-
ation of convergence with the empathy of the group and consider what
this experience could mean for someone in Lleo’s circumstances, they
will not be able to understand the meaning of the trip. Once again, it is
empathy in the most extensive dimension of imagination, leading us to
an understanding with an existential significance that can be acquired
in this group formula. With respect to the cognitive value of empathy,
film studies have also proposed lines of research that may be useful in
analysing group empathy. Murray Smith explores one line based on one
of the most prominent theories regarding the philosophy of mind: that
of the ‘extended mind’. Smith states, ‘We might regard empathy as a
mechanism of the coupling between the mind and that part of the
world through which it extends itself. [. . .] When we empathize with
another person, we extend our mind to incorporate part of their mind.
[. . .] In doing so, we exploit some part of the environment around us –
in this case, another human being – and thereby learn something about
the environment’ (‘Empathy, Expansionism’ 108). What is interesting
about this conception is that it foregrounds the cognitive value of empa-
thy, revealing it as an instrument for understanding reality through a
medium external to ourselves.
Finally, the series concludes with a culmination of the full con-
vergence of all the members of the group towards the end of the
trip. Earlier, when Lleo expressed his desire to leave the hospital, all
members of the group were afraid, given the doctors had warned that
if he left, he would only have a 3 per cent chance of survival. They all
share and comprehend Lleo’s desire to live in freedom; accompanying
and supporting him on a trip that will probably end tragically is essen-
tial to the composition of a scene of empathy given the emotional power
conferred by the character’s impending death. It also seems that as they
accompany him, an even greater contrast emerges between the whole-
ness of Lleo, who is able to concentrate on experiencing so many things
he had never imagined were possible, and the fear or sorrow of his com-
panions. These emotions become increasingly evident after Lleo suffers a
fainting fit. During the last minutes of the episode, as Lleo begins saying
goodbye to his friends, Cristina breaks down and confesses to Lleo her
distress and her inability to go on concealing her conflicting emotions.
This complex situation, in which empathy is mixed with sympathy,
affection, love and fear, is the legacy bequeathed to the spectator as
Héctor J. Pérez 83

the true group experience of the second season, as all of them, without
exception, have shared the decision to accompany Lleo and they all fear
his ultimate fate.

5 Conclusions

The exceptional emotional intensity of a small group of suffering

teenagers has allowed for the identification of a concept that is necessary
to understanding the narrative structure of group experiences. We have
defined group empathy as an experience in which, first of all, the same
elements are present as those necessary for individual empathy, which
involves a ‘feeling with’ an experience of affective mimicry, emotional
contagion, or adoption of the perspective or depiction of the mental
state of the other. However, while in individual empathy the other is
experienced as an individual, in group empathy, the other is experi-
enced as a group. For this to happen, there needs to be a convergence
among all members of the group: an emotional convergence when they
all feel the same emotion or a mental convergence when they all pursue
the same objective. Through empathizing with the group as a whole,
the spectator can thus engage emotionally and/or cognitively with the
group experience.
In this chapter, we have explained that situations of group empa-
thy are just as varied as those that can occur at an individual level.
We have explored narrative situations where a low-level (or mimetic)
empathy occurs when the same facial expression is depicted on multiple
group members in a way that forms a complete emotional convergence;
through these expressions, it could be understood that our capacity
for embodied simulation responds as a repetition of a single stimulus.
No doubt specific neuroscientific studies can aid us in distinguishing
more precisely how our mimetic capacity can be stimulated by more
than one individual in our moments of emotional resonance. Further,
we have also identified situations that suggest a certain variety among
the experiences that can be classified as imaginative empathy, characte-
rized by non-immediate access through inference to the mental states
of the characters. We have thus described a situation of convergence
between spectator and group members when they are pursuing a sin-
gle objective, with their respective emotional reactions coinciding in
keeping with the progress or setbacks regarding the achievement of
that objective. Finally, we have described a case of convergence with
a clearly refined cognitive aspect, where the stimulus for the specta-
tor is the depiction of a situation of empathy among the members of
84 Group Empathy? Apropos of Polseres Vermelles

the group. Spectators will in turn infer the significance of a unique

experience from the expressions of the members of the group as they
empathize with their companion, placing themselves in the situation
of the character experiencing something for the first – and possibly
last – time. Many spectators may not have sufficient experiences to place
themselves in the situation, however, this does not prevent them from
imagining it. Therein lies the value of this narrative element, in which
we discover a possibility that is existentially distinct from our own. It is
group empathy that has been involved in the creation of this complex
cognitive operation.
This whole repertoire of narrative resources attributable to our capa-
city to converge with others can turn into something constitutive,
defining core aesthetic properties in a narrative, as reflected by the
dominant narrative structures in the second season of Polseres Vermelles.
However, group empathy may also appear in isolated instances in any
kind of narrative. Indeed, it is probably in such cases and contexts where
it is most common and where this research may lead to new studies and
a more complete understanding of those narratives.
Part II
Collective Identities and
Women, Television and Feelings:
Theorising Emotional Difference of
Gender in SouthLAnd and Mad Men
Elke Weissmann

Contemporary American television drama – particularly of the ‘quality’

genre – has been celebrated for their female characters which appear
significantly stronger than previous iterations of women on American
television (Paul Harris). These are women who have jobs and, more
importantly, drive the narrative forward. In many ways, these dramas
seem to suggest that at least some demands of the second feminist
movement have been taken into account. Indeed, Jane Arthurs, in her
well-considered analysis of Sex and the City (HBO, 1998–2004), indicates
that this is certainly true for this particular drama, despite some obvious
shortcomings. However, as Arthurs does, we might need to temper our
celebratory language somewhat. First of all, such celebrations often seem
to be quite forgetful of earlier dramas that centred on strong women,
including Cagney & Lacey (CBS, 1981–88). Secondly, such celebrations
usually focus on the visibility of women within the narrative, rather
than consider their narrative function and other issues of representa-
tion. Finally, such celebrations often do not take into consideration
other aspects of gender connected to these dramas, including access
to powerful roles in production, the gendering of genres and dramas,
the implied gendered address of dramas, and the responses of audi-
ences that contribute to an understanding of these dramas in relation
to gender.
In the following, I aim to conduct a comparative analysis of two recent
American dramas – Mad Men (AMC, 2007–15) and SouthLAnd (NBC,
2009, TNT, 2010–13). The analysis will be informed by feminist scho-
larship that emerged from the second feminist movement, and these
dramas will be examined in the light of some key feminist demands that

88 Women, Television, Feelings: SouthLAnd and Mad Men

resulted from it. This scholarship first of all reacted to charges of the vul-
nerability of audiences (particularly women and children, see Schiller or
Bandura et al.). They indicated how television as a domestic medium
followed the rhythms of domestic life with offerings targeted at parti-
cular groups at particular times (Modleski, ‘The Rhythms of Reception’).
Further, feminist scholarship highlighted that television was an impor-
tant cultural form even if it was undervalued because it was connected
to the domestic space and hence to a sphere normally gendered femi-
nine (Spigel). Most of these writers, coming together as a ‘Woman and
Film’ group, had a particular interest in soap opera, the least valued dra-
matic form on television, even if it was one of the most popular (C.
Geraghty, ‘The BFI Women’). Moreover, they had a particular interest in
the female characters in these soaps and in the particular dramatic form
of soap opera which, according to some commentators, had the space
to subvert traditional ideologies because of the continuous and frag-
mented nature of these dramas (see Geraghty, ‘The Continuous Serial;
Feuer, ‘Melodrama, Serial Form’). Finally, these scholars had a particular
interest in women viewers (Modleski; Brunsdon; Ang; Hobson) who –
until then – had all too often only been thought of as ‘easily duped’ and
were usually considered as secondary to male and even teenage viewers
(see Weissmann).
Out of this scholarship came several key feminist demands: feminists
wanted women to have greater access to powerful roles in broadcasting
and production. As many scholars (Holland; Hyem) highlighted, there
were too few opportunities for women to progress into senior manage-
ment, or even senior creative roles. Indeed, out of this demand came –
in the UK at least – the Women in Film and Television group which con-
tinues to operate to the present day, indicating that perhaps not quite
as much has changed as is sometimes reported. Another demand related
to the variety of representation. Several content analyses, including the
ones undertaken regularly by the National Organization for Women,
drew attention to the limited representation of women in the media.
For example, they highlighted that most women in film and television
tended to be white, below the age of 50 and slender. They were also cast
primarily in the role of mothers, lovers or caregivers and are portrayed
as passive within the narrative. Women were also often believed to be
housewives, mothers or consumers when they were addressed as view-
ers by the media, and again feminists demanded greater variety. Many
believed that Channel 4 in the UK, when it was established in 1982,
might offer an opportunity to bring about such a change, but they soon
found themselves rather disappointed (Baer and Spindler-Brown). While
these demands at first seemed rather distinct and separate, in what
Elke Weissmann 89

follows I will show that they were actually interconnected: the demand
for more women in senior roles goes along with a belief that this will
eventually offer greater variety of representation which will cater to
the variety of women’s needs beyond their roles as wives, mothers and
It is in order to give further currency to the urgency of having more
women in senior roles in the television industries that I conduct a com-
parative analysis here. Both Mad Men and SouthLAnd have been praised
for the number of strong female characters who are shown to have
narrative agency. However, how they are represented and what this
narrative agency implies need to be unpacked further. The dramas are
particularly useful for such a comparative analysis as one of them has
been created and is showrun by a man (Matthew Weiner, Mad Men),
while the other has been created and is showrun by a woman (Ann
Biderman, SouthLAnd). Of course, television authorship is more com-
plex, particularly in America, where there are often teams of writers
working together. However, overall creative control is held by the head
writers and showrunners, and it is these individuals who decide on the
key framework through which narrative and character can be developed.
This means that how narrative themes and characters are conceptualized
within the universe of a drama is usually decided by them, particularly
during the early stages of the series. While the analysis will focus on Mad
Men and SouthLAnd, there is nevertheless an indication that their repre-
sentation can be understood to be paradigmatic for how ‘quality TV’
created by men and women usually represents women.1 As I will argue
below, much of the difference in representation relies on a subtly, but
importantly different conceptualization of women in relation to feel-
ings: while Mad Men develops female characters by drawing on relatively
stereotypical views of women as emotional (even if it tries to sub-
vert some of the associated assumptions to this stereotype), SouthLAnd
emphasizes the role of female instinct and affect to develop the female
characters as competent. Such a distinction requires a better understand-
ing of the conceptualizations of feelings, a matter which I will turn to
first. I will then analyse the two dramas in the context of their produc-
tion history and the representation of their female characters, drawing
on some of the methodologies, including content analysis, but also close
textual analysis, from earlier feminist work on television.

Emotions, feelings, affect

As several scholars note (for example, González, ‘Introduction’; Gorton),

emotions have become central to scholarship in a wide range of fields.
90 Women, Television, Feelings: SouthLAnd and Mad Men

González (1–2) highlights that much of this is to do with the moderniza-

tion of western cultures, which includes a shift in the responsibility of
emotional labour from institutionalized, social rituals to the individual.
As a result, she argues, we see an interconnected increase in emotional
culture and therapeutic culture: culture places greater emphasis on emo-
tions, rather than the objects and realities to which they relate, and the
management of these emotions is conducted in therapeutic experiences
by focusing on reflection and self-evaluation. Consequently, González
argues that emotions are closely connected to self-knowledge and meta-
emotions. This is also supported by Roberts, who argues against the
idea that emotions are separate and opposed to processes of understand-
ing. Rather, he writes emotions ‘are affective “cognitions” or cognitive
“affects”’ (23). Gorton closely mirrors these ideas, particularly as far as
the relationship of emotions to knowledge is concerned. Gorton high-
lights that emotions help us to define our place in the world as they
determine our experience and contact with the world (56–7).
Despite the clear similarity in argument about the role of emotions
for our (self-)knowledge, these descriptions also illustrate that there is
a terminological uncertainty involved in how emotions are theorised.
Thus, Roberts and González suggest that there is a difference between
feelings and emotions – with feelings appearing as more basic gut reac-
tions than the higher order, psychological emotions. Gorton, on the
other hand, places emotions also at the contact with the world, and
thus seems to suggest that the bodily reactions, described by Roberts,
are part of an emotional repertoire that spans a number of experi-
ences. Gorton places the main theoretical distinction in the difference
between emotion and affect. However, at closer inspection, it becomes
clear that this distinction is precisely about the same issue. Quoting
Probyn, Gorton highlights that the distinction in the literature is often
drawn between emotions as ‘cultural and social expression, whereas
affects are of a biological and physiological nature’ (56). Thus, affect
describes the bodily reactions – just as feelings appear in González
and Roberts’s works. While for Roberts, gut feelings are not always
emotions, Gorton suggests that affect and emotions are closely inter-
twined. As a result, she places ‘importance on the way in which
feeling is negotiated in the public sphere and experienced through the
body’ (56).
The focus on affect in relation to our emotional and cognitive experi-
ence of the world was influenced by Merleau-Ponty’s work which moved
phenomenological thinking towards a greater emphasis on lived experi-
ence and on the experience of the body within the world. This is picked
Elke Weissmann 91

up, amongst others, by Sara Ahmed, in order to emphasize the role of

the body to our knowledge of the world, particularly from the point of
view of an ‘other’ who experiences the world as disorienting. In rela-
tion to media, Laura Marks offers an insight into how our experiences
with primarily visual media, such as film, are deeply embodied. This is
also theorised by Sobchack who emphasizes that such affective experi-
ences – even when they are pre-conscious – are nevertheless cognitive.
As she puts it, ‘my fingers knew what I was looking at – and this before the
objective reverse shot’ (63; italics in original). Although Sobchack and
Marks’s analyses are concentrated on film, they are nevertheless able to
highlight how vision more generally can generate a range of embodied
experiences which are both emotional and cognitive.
This complex relationship between affect and emotion has been
picked up by several feminist writers (see Lury; Weissmann and Boyle;
Gorton; Kavka), in order to theorise the viewer’s embodied relationship
to television. Kavka and Gorton place a special emphasis on shame in
order to grapple with the viewer’s experiences in relation to the ‘bad
object’ television, whilst Lury and Weissmann and Boyle are particularly
interested in the haptic visuality (Marks) produced by specific texts. All
of them indicate the role of the text, be that the specific textual cons-
truction, or the display of intimacy and emotionality on the screen in
relation to the viewer’s engagement. Nevertheless, the viewing experi-
ence – the moment of being a member of the audience – is clearly at the
centre of their investigations.
The following tries to unpack how different television texts concep-
tualize emotion in relation to women. Thus, rather than emphasising
the viewing experience, the analysis is focused on the production of
meaning in the text. As I will argue, the difference is precisely depen-
dent on how the dramas conceptualize women in relation to emotion.
Whilst Mad Men imagines women as emotional who express their emo-
tions via the body, SouthLAnd sees women as experiencing their world
affectively – and, by being aware of these affects, becoming emotionally
and professionally competent.

Mad Men: women and emotion

Before delving deeper into the conceptualization of women as emo-

tional, it is useful to consider the production context. Mad Men is a
crucial series for AMC that has helped define the channel as a home of
quality American TV drama. Originally focused on showing American
movie classics (as indicated by its name), its branding was deeply
92 Women, Television, Feelings: SouthLAnd and Mad Men

entrenched in ideas of ‘classic’ Hollywood cinema (Jaramillo), which

brought it close to the original brand of HBO. As Kuhn highlights,
the classics of cinema are largely gendered male. The establishment
of a cinematic canon is connected to the embracing of cultural val-
ues which place traditional feminine genres and pleasures (such as
melodrama, soap opera and talk) at the lower end of the cultural hier-
archy. While such gendering connected to cultural values could easily
be changed with a rebranding exercise, Jaramillo argues convincingly
that the current trend towards original programming actually entails a
return to its original brand – including the return to the cinematic which
Mad Men is precisely an example of. By emphasising the cinematic and
addressing an audience of cinephiles, AMC creates associations with
a cinematic experience which, Caughie indicates, is in itself deeply
gendered masculine.
In part, Mad Men aims to undermine this, and Matthew Weiner’s own
background contributes to this. Weiner sees himself as a feminist (Cox)
and his previous work indicates his wish to subvert traditional assump-
tions about gender. Before creating Mad Men, Weiner had been part of
the writing team and eventually the team of executive producers of
The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007), a series which mixes the traditional
(hyper-)masculine gangster genre with a very feminine one (soap opera).
By showing Tony Soprano as being in need of therapy – in other words
needing to talk – the drama suggests a subtle dominance of the feminine
genre – and hence feminine values. In comparison, Mad Men appears
even more feminine: as a period drama, it foregrounds the pleasures of
costume. Indeed, Mad Men’s designer Janie Bryant became an interna-
tional star in her own right as a result of her work for the series. However,
here, the genre is masculinized by its focus on the world of work and
business and placing a greater emphasis on male perspectives (particu-
larly those of Don Draper) rather than female ones, even though they
are featured and provide a useful counterbalance. The feminine perspec-
tives – particularly those offered by Betty Draper, Joan Harris and Peggy
Olson – offer insights into feminist critiques of that period and more
generally traditional gender roles. However, the 1960s setting also allows
audiences to feel superior to that time as it offers audiences the chance
to ‘see how far we’ve come’. Inevitably, that means that, in part, the
feminist critique is undermined as it is transferred onto an imaginary
past. In other words, rather than reminding audiences of the continued
problems that women face, the period costume as well as other aspects
of the narrative emphasize that what we see is in the past and we now
know better. These other narrative aspects include a scene when we see
Elke Weissmann 93

Sally as a young girl running around with a plastic bag over her head
(1.2), or when the Drapers are getting up from a picnic and leave the
rubbish strewn on a perfectly mown lawn (2.7). As The Guardian points
out, such images are dwelt upon in order to highlight the laissez-faire
attitude of that generation towards environmental issues, suggesting
a critique from a morally superior standpoint. Nevertheless, it is this
standpoint that enables us to misunderstand the feminist critique as it
allows us to assume that in regard to the treatment of women, we have
also progressed.
Mad Men’s problematic feminism is perhaps further emphasized when
we approach the series drawing on the methodology of content analy-
sis, with a focus on the women. Of the regular ten characters that we
see throughout the series (from seasons one to seven), four are women
(if we include Don’s daughter Sally). At first, this suggests a relatively
equal distribution of roles and perspectives within the context of the
representation of a sexist time. However, all of the women are white,
middle class (or at least from an urban background) and under the age
of 40. Moreover, all of them are relatively slender, even if Joan Harris is
sometimes described as curvy. This compares relatively unfavourably to
the main male characters. Although all of them are white too, and can
now be classed as middle class, Don is from a rural, working-class back-
ground and their age range is much wider. Indeed, as Edgerton argues,
Mad Men is precisely interested in investigating the relationship between
the different generations (xxiii), though this seems largely confined to
the relationship of men to each other. When considering the recurring
cast, the image hardly becomes any better. Although the gender balance
seems slightly more equal (44.8 per cent of all other characters recurring
in at least five episodes are female and 46.1 per cent of all character in
at least two episodes are female), the representation of different races or
ages remains relatively limited. Of the 87 women who appear in at least
two episodes, only five are black, and only 21 are over the age of 45.
Of course, such a representation is in line with the sexism and the segre-
gation of races of the period in which the series is set; at the same time,
such limited representation does nothing to tackle this image. Thus,
rather than, say, providing us with representations of the everyday expe-
riences of the few black women (for example, Dawn), we have to infer
what their experiences are like by reading their faces in close-ups in
moments of obvious racism.
A close textual analysis, focused on the representation of women
in relation to emotion, highlights that although the drama uses
female perspectives in order to undermine the dominant discourses of
94 Women, Television, Feelings: SouthLAnd and Mad Men

masculinity and masculine values, it does this by creating stereotypical

images of women. In Mad Men, women are presented as emotional. This
is particularly true in comparison to the male characters, though this
changes slightly over the seasons as the 1960s bring a greater degree
of liberation from traditional gender norms. Nonetheless, throughout
the seasons, women are presented as being in touch with their emo-
tions, even when they suppress them. However, their emotionality is
portrayed as positive: it offers scathing critiques, and thereby gives audi-
ences insights into the failings of the otherwise compelling Don Draper.
Such moments are particularly evident when Don is confronted by his
rejected lovers, including Rachel Menken and Allison who both, in
their different ways, make visible Don’s moral depravity in scenes that
highlight their own emotionality. As such, the women can be seen to
represent a moral compass for the men.
This emotionality also hinders the women in their career prospects.
Because this is a world of masculine values, we are presented repeatedly
with women who have learnt to control and suppress their emotions,
but who we nevertheless know have them. For example, one of the first
scenes that gives us an insight into the formidable Faye Miller shows
her emotionally charged and upset as she breaks up with her current
boyfriend over the phone. Peggy, too, is shown to only step into mana-
gement as she learns to control her emotions. This is communicated in
a particularly telling scene: we see her walk into the bathroom in order
to get a break from the complex emotional demands that are placed on
her in the male-dominated world of the advertising agency. As she posi-
tions herself in front of a mirror, we can see her observe other women
as they cry and let their emotions flow. On a purely narrative level,
what this scene reveals is Peggy’s resolve not to be like the other women.
In this case, that means primarily not being emotional – or at least not
showing her feelings. In other words, Peggy’s strength is predicated pre-
cisely on her ability to suppress what women are shown to be in Mad
Men: emotions. Her control over her emotions propels her along a career
path. For example, when she confesses to Pete Campbell, she tells him
she could have shamed him into marrying her, she could have decided
to live out her feelings for him, but she decided to opt for a career
instead (2.13). As Jeffers-McDonald points out, the shift up to her own
office comes along with assumptions of becoming a ‘harder task mis-
tress than an executive who had not risen from secretary status . . . [and]
Peggy showed that she could be ruthless’ (132). This suggests that not
only does Peggy suppress her own feelings, but she also takes less and
less note of those of other women. Because we see this world through
Elke Weissmann 95

her eyes rather than those of the other women, women’s emotionality
becomes devalued. That, however, also means that women in their tra-
ditional gender roles appear to bring little to the table that is valuable
in terms of their career. In addition, the suppression of emotion is pre-
sented as a matter of choice, and thus cloaks this particular moment
in the language of neoliberal ideology and postfeminism. This is also
evident in the later series, when Peggy pitches the Burger Chef advert,
her most successful moment (7.7). Here we see Peggy draw on her emo-
tions, some of which are clearly authentic, while others are not, in order
to create a great sell. She manipulates her emotions and those of others,
ensuring they are controlled, in order to further her career. All of this
means that women are presented as having the potential to move up in
their careers even during this pre-feminist, sexist time, as long as they
choose to behave like men.
Another interesting aspect about the scene in which Peggy chooses
not to be like the other women (and the Burger Chef pitch scene) is
the manner in which it is presented. The scene is clearly marked as a
subjective point of view shot: the camera is consistently positioned with
Peggy. In other words, the woman’s point of view needs to be marked as
subjective – as belonging to one particular woman. Such a shot (along
with the use of similar ones across the seasons) illustrates how much of a
masculine worldview is provided by the rest of the programme. In other
words, while we receive the occasional insight into what this world is
like for women, generally we are aligned with a masculine point of view.
As a result, this particular perspective becomes normalized, common
place. Hence, despite moments of feminist critique, we are still offered a
world as perceived by men.
This is most evident in how the series imagines women, their emo-
tions and their bodies, and in an attempt to examine this further I want
now to focus on Betty Draper. In the words of Davidson, ‘Betty Draper’s
character could have been created from Betty Friedan’s [The Feminine
Mystique’s] opening passage – name and all’ (137). Davidson, of course,
refers to the ‘problem with no name’; the sense of boredom and despe-
ration experienced by many women in 1950s and early 1960s America.
Betty is typical for the suburban housewife: apparently she has it all –
the big house, the husband, the children, even a servant –, but she
is also lonely and bored. While in her old life as a model, she was
universally at the centre of attention, she has been moved into the
margins, where it is easy to forget about her. This ‘problem with no
name’ expresses itself in her hands going numb, which leads to Betty
crashing her car while the children sit in the back. Davidson indicates
96 Women, Television, Feelings: SouthLAnd and Mad Men

that ‘this is an important plot development, as it leads her to see a psy-

chiatrist’ (139). There, she ends up talking about the boring, mundane
nature of her life. Jones plays these scenes by emphasising the sense of
boredom that she herself experiences, indicating the emptiness of the
psychoanalytical process in relation to her experience. But the crash
and, more importantly, her numb hands are more than a plot deve-
lopment. Mimi White describes her disorder as ‘hysteria’, thereby also
aligning her with the general pathologization of middle-class women
in the nineteenth century. Women at that time were conceptualized
by (male) doctors as purely emotional – as lacking the rational skills
of men and hence descending into hysterical fits. That this is expressed
through Betty’s numb hands is no coincidence: it places the emotiona-
lity into women’s bodies, and emphasizes that women’s primary means
of expression is precisely through their bodies. At the same time, it
pathologizes Betty and her emotionality as her body bears the medical
signs of her unstable/unhappy mental state.
For Betty, the bodily expression of her emotions continues when she
gains weight as the result of a cancerous growth in season five. Again,
Betty seems trapped in her domestic setting, even if this is with a diffe-
rent husband, and she appears similarly unhappy and resentful, though
much of her anger still seems directed at Don. Her means of regaining
control is again through the body: she joins a Weight Watchers class
and monitors her bodily functions obsessively. However, Betty is not
the only one whose body becomes (and remains) the site of expres-
sion of her feelings: Peggy’s pregnancy internalizes her sexual feelings
for Pete Campbell; and even when she has learnt to suppress her feel-
ings, her body nevertheless is the prime site that still expresses these
emotions. Thus, in ‘The Other Woman’ (5.11), when Peggy tells Don
that she will be leaving the company to join a rival firm, he bends
down to kiss her hand, while her own hand has to wipe away a tear
that she is shedding. This ‘bodily registering’ of emotion, to paraphrase
Nunn and Biressi, is typical of the representation of women in Mad Men
and highlights how the series imagines women and their bodies: they
remain emotional and their emotions are presented as complex psycho-
logical states. At the same time, their bodies become the site on which
these psychological states manifest. Thus, although offering a feminist
critique, Mad Men is unable to escape the traditional gendered percep-
tion of women as emotional and as bodies. By remaining within these
bounds, the series also returns to a dichotomy of women, emotion and
body on the one side, and men, thoughts and mind on the other, a
dichotomy that seems to exclude any potential for cognitive affect or
affective cognition (Roberts). More importantly, bodies in Mad Men are
Elke Weissmann 97

solely conceptualized as a site of expression, rather than as the surface

and space from which we can experience life and the world. This is in
sharp contrast to SouthLAnd.

SouthLAnd: women and affective cognition

SouthLAnd was originally developed for NBC, the network with a long
tradition of quality TV drama (Lotz, ‘Must See TV’; Feuer et al., MTM
‘Quality Television’). As a main network, however, its place next to quality
cable channels such as HBO or AMC is less assured, particularly since the
latter have branded themselves in such a way that places their quality
in their difference from network television, altering the language used
to evaluate television drama. As a result, the drama’s quality brand is
less obvious than Mad Men. Nevertheless, the series’ stylistic closeness
to other quality crime drama, including Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981–87),
Homicide: Life on the Street (NBC, 1993–99), NYPD Blue (ABC, 1993–2005)
and, more recently, The Wire and The Shield (FX, 2002–08), as well as
its particular approach to the investigation of crime suggest a generic
closeness to the quality genre.
Series creator and showrunner Ann Biderman’s own background con-
tributes to the placing of the series in the quality genre. Biderman was
a writer on NYPD Blue before turning to Hollywood, where she scripted
some of the 1990s most renowned crime films, including Copycat (1995),
Primal Fear (1996) and Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1996). Such a back-
ground brings with it both the pedigree of a quality series as well
as the (still relatively) higher cultural status of cinema. Interestingly,
Biderman stayed on for only two seasons as showrunner, before turn-
ing her attentions to Ray Donovan (Showtime, 2013–). However, she has
recently stepped down as showrunner for this drama, apparently due to
the series’ consistent budgetary problems (Andreeva). Biderman’s early
departure from the two shows that she created hints at potential pro-
blems that women still face in the industry which, according to both
Biderman and Michelle Ashford (creator of Masters of Sex [Showtime,
2013–]), remains deeply discriminatory towards women (Birnbaum).
However, as a result of her departure, I want to exclusively focus on the
first two seasons of the series. These were not just overseen by Biderman,
but also largely written by her, as well as a number of other female
In terms of gender representation, SouthLAnd seems less balanced
than Mad Men: of its eight regular cast, only two are women; how-
ever, one is black and one white (though they are both younger than
45). Again, both adhere to the traditional representation of slenderness,
98 Women, Television, Feelings: SouthLAnd and Mad Men

but it is noticeable that the make-up for Officer Chickie Brown empha-
sizes, rather than underplays, her age and tiredness. Thus, although
at first sight the programme conforms to traditional representations,
SouthLAnd also undermines them. In terms of recurring cast (which
is significantly smaller in SouthLAnd than in Mad Men), 42.6 per cent
are women. In line with the main cast, they are significantly more
ethnically diverse with nearly half of them being from black or Latin
American backgrounds. We also see a wider representation of ages:
34.8 per cent of the cast are older than 45. Moreover, we see them in
a range of roles: women are mothers, carers and at the same time police
officers and other workers, while in Mad Men they tend to be either one
or the other. Of course, in part such a representation is down to the
specific genres and time periods in which the two dramas are set, high-
lighting some of the fallacies of content analyses as a whole (Gunter
The key difference between the two dramas, however, is the por-
trayal of gender in relation to emotion. In order to analyse this, the
larger textual construction needs to be considered. Crime drama has
traditionally been considered gendered male, with a focus on mas-
culine knowledge and perspectives (Munt). However, from the 1980s
onwards, this has gradually been challenged, particularly by dramas
such as Cagney & Lacey, Prime Suspect (Granada, 1991–2006) and Silent
Witness (BBC, 1996–). Thus, Deborah Jermyn highlights how particu-
larly the latter and other forensic-science focused series ‘pivot on female
investigators and forensic detail – and indeed the exchange between
the two’ (49). This is given further support by Hallam, who argues that
the investigative, detailed gaze belongs to the realm of feminine inves-
tigation, while masculine detection is based on intuition. This focus on
intuition and instinct was also recognized by Chandler (qtd in Sparks
354) who argued that masculine instinct is central to the construc-
tion of heroism in crime drama and, through it, also of masculinity.
In contrast, crime drama focused on female investigators undermining
ideas of heroism by constantly framing the female investigator with
the body of victims, and thereby, as Thornham proposes, also sub-
verting the traditional division of a masculine disembodied gaze and
a feminine embodied object. As Thornham argues in relation to Prime
Suspect and Silent Witness, these women ‘must at the same time speak
from the position of the body’ (79, italics in original) in order to offer
insights. SouthLAnd complicates this further. Rather than reminding us
constantly of the body of the investigator in relation to her object, it
suggests that the gaze itself is always embodied. It proposes this, by
Elke Weissmann 99

constantly returning us to the concept of a cop’s instinct throughout

its first two seasons.
The theme of the detective’s or police officer’s instinct is made explicit
in a scene in the first episode (‘Unknown Trouble’, 1.1) when Offi-
cer John Cooper, after having observed his new rookie partner, Ben
Sherman, kill a man, gives him a talking to that emphasizes that he
believes Ben is a real police officer. The speech focuses on what it means
to be a police officer. Cooper describes it as a ‘front row seat to the great-
est show on earth’ and concludes: ‘You’re a cop because you don’t know
how not to be one. If you feel that way, you are a cop. If you don’t, you’re
not’. Thus, being a cop is not connected to years of training – training
that Sherman had just gone through and followed to the letter. Rather,
in Cooper’s eyes, training is clearly not as important as an officer’s innate
intuition and instinct. Furthermore, in season two, Cooper tells Brown
that he believes it will be an off-duty cop, following their instinct, who
will arrest the notorious serial rapist they are chasing. Thus, Cooper, as
the traditional, male cop, is constantly articulating the recurring stereo-
type of a cop’s instinct to other officers who appear as less typical police
While this suggests an adherence to concepts of male-dominated
instinct, it is the women who are shown to be the ones who act on
them, rather than the men. The reasons for that lie in the preoccupation
of the male cops with other things, including sex, drugs and alcohol.
Thus, Cooper, who is at first presented as a key figurehead and role
model, soon turns out to be addicted to pain medication, while Brown’s
partner, Dewey Dudek, is shot as a result of alcohol-induced bravado.
In contrast, the women appear to be constantly aware of what is going
on around them. This is perhaps most apparent when, in a car full of
people, including two other police officers, Brown is the one who calls
out to stop the car as she has noticed a baby crawling on the street. Simi-
larly, Lydia Adams is constantly praised for her detective work because
she follows her instinct.
Just how these instincts manifest is already made explicit in the first
episode. Here, Adams investigates the case of a missing child. Adams is
shown to be compassionate, expressing her feelings in her tone of voice
and face. She instantly steps into the breach when her partner struggles
to hold back the mother who arrives at the scene, accusing her estranged
partner of neglect. However, Adams is also competent – her words calm
the mother down and, although compassionate, she also clearly displays
her authority. Her competence is illustrated further when she speaks to
a group of onlookers who stand on the other side of the road. Amongst
100 Women, Television, Feelings: SouthLAnd and Mad Men

them, she recognizes potential suspects, but uses the moment to sug-
gest she is looking for witness statements and asks them all to write
down their addresses. This leads to the search of the house of one of
the onlookers who turns out to be in possession of child pornography.
As they leave the house, Adams is still answering questions and giving
orders while everyone rushes off; shortly afterward, Adams briefly stops
short because she has noticed a trail of ants. Her body reacts instan-
taneously, and she stops to look more closely. She reacts with similar
embodied immediacy to a trail of ants in her own house. This scene is
shot in a few simple close-ups. The first one is from below the kitchen
counter, with the ants in the foreground while Adams stands in the
background, drinking a bottle of water. As the focal point is on the ants,
her image is blurred. The ants remain in focus, even when we see her
body react to them: although it is clear this is meaningful, she does
not yet seem to understand on a conscious level in what way. How-
ever, her body already seems to know. We are given another close-up of
the ants, then the same close-up of Adams as she finally understands.
At this point, the focus is pulled onto her face to indicate the shift from
a purely embodied to a conscious level: her bodily reactions and instinct
become affective knowledge. Thus, we see Adams experience embodied
knowledge before her mind knows (Sobchack): in her contact with the
world, her body is central to directing her gaze, which is, similar to other
female detectives (Hallam), detailed and thorough, and in which lie the
roots of her affective knowledge.


Unlike male instinct, female instinct in SouthLAnd is deeply embodied

and, as an affective experience, is also closely connected to both feeling
and knowledge. Thus, SouthLAnd conceptualizes emotion not only as
psychological emotion – though this exists too – but primarily as an
affective experience of the world which, if experienced fully aware, can
lead to deep insight. Women, then, are emotional – but this emotion is
part of their natural contact with the world. Such a depiction is close
to how contemporary phenomenology describes emotion and affect –
as a gradation that recognizes the role of affect and emotion to know-
ledge. This contrasts sharply with Mad Men, where women’s emotions
are primarily conceptualized as psychological and where these feelings
are expressed on the women’s bodies which can lead to the women’s
pathologization. As a result, women can only become competent if they
suppress, or at least control, their emotions. Thus, emotions are placed
Elke Weissmann 101

in opposition to rational thoughts. Mad Men, then, returns to traditional

dichotomies and, by doing so, also relatively traditional ideas of gender
in their depiction of emotion.
What this analysis makes visible, then, is that these two dramas
present two very different understandings of women and their emotion-
ality. In Mad Men emotions can be valuable when they make evident
what is morally right or wrong, or when they are deliberately evoked
for a particular purpose, such as career progression; however, emo-
tions are largely superfluous and hinder those who give them too free
expression. Thus, women must choose to suppress them in order to
become strong. In SouthLAnd, the suppression of emotions through
alcohol, drugs or sex has the opposite effect. This is largely because
emotions are not perceived as complex psychological states, but are
instead regarded as everyday experiences that determine the nature of
our contact with the world. This difference can be neatly summarized as
contrasting a Freudian understanding of emotion with a phenomeno-
logical understanding of emotion. The first suggests that emotionality
requires therapy and hence ‘fixing’, while the latter accepts emotions as
part of our meaning making about the world.
Such differences in conceptualization are paradigmatic for other dra-
mas written by either sex. As a result, the call for more women in
powerful and creative roles still needs to be heeded. We need a greater
diversity of representation, particularly when it seems that the only way
that women can appear strong in male-created and dominated drama is
given by the ‘choice’ to be less like other women, and hence to devalue
their own sex.
A Revolution in Urban Lifestyle:
Mad Men’s Narrative Revisited as a
Social Lab
Lourdes Flamarique

In the large modern cities of the 1950s and 1960s – where much of the
population worked in sectors associated with marketing, consumerism
and finance – we can find the clearest examples of the changes in
lifestyles, in codes of conduct and in the models of masculinity and
femininity, as well as in the emotional regimes and its failures. These
changes draw an unsurpassable horizon for the current generation.
As is well known, the TV series Mad Men (AMC, 2007–15) addresses
changes in culture and lifestyles through the adventures and vicissitudes
of the employees of an important advertising agency. The work of these
advertisers calls for the ability to develop marketing strategies that target
the emotions of consumers, for whom, in the capitalist societies of the
late decades of the twentieth century, consumer goods play a key role in
the configuration of identity. The emotions aroused by the advertising
of a product represent the main link between identity and consumerism
in the welfare state.
Mad Men is a genuine social lab to examine a new mode of socializa-
tion in modern societies. Emotional empathy has become widespread
in recent decades, to the point of developing a social code capable of
replacing the rules and morals that have hitherto characterised urban
life. The truth and authenticity of feeling are a source of meaning, and
certain areas of human activity traditionally supported by knowledge
and rationality are either seriously threatened or have been completely
supplanted by the emotional response: spontaneous or ‘represented’.
These areas are the moral life and the political-institutional sphere.
Paradoxically, while both dimensions have undergone a process of ‘pri-
vatization’, the private sector and the privacy of the self have been

Lourdes Flamarique 103

subjected to a reverse process by which everything is subject to public

scrutiny. This also means that emotional responses and their public pre-
sentation follow encoded types and therefore have a social relevance.
Emotions create a forum for communication and interaction. The rules
of emotional communication have served to promote consumption
boosted by advertising.
The uniqueness of Mad Men is based precisely on the bridges that con-
nect the intricacies of advertising and consumerism with the adventures
of the protagonists. Moreover, it has not gone unnoticed that its narra-
tive about social and cultural changes is enhanced by the fact that the
scenario of the daily dramas is an advertising agency in New York, the
city that best embodies modernity in the second half of the twentieth

1 The city and the new artists

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the way of life in cen-
tral European cities that embodied modernity – first Munich and Paris,
then Berlin and Vienna – was not only ‘modern’ but also incorporated
an awareness of change and new styles. To be ‘cool’ was to openly dis-
tance oneself from the models of the previous generation and explore
new languages and forms of expression. Thus, at that time, a ‘modern’
style implied a break with socially accepted styles and conventions,
and, consequently, its adherents – the moderns – were ascribed a certain
bohemian marginality. This was the price paid for being part of the van-
guard, innovating in terms of styles and codes of conduct. Contrariwise,
the modern New Yorkers of Mad Men do not lead their lives on the peri-
phery of the dominant tendencies; rather they are the moderns in so far
as they discover and make the values, hierarchies and ideals of this great
post-industrial city their own. They have anticipated what Ulrich Beck
has called ‘reflexive modernity’.
As such, this is not a case of achieving modernity through art or think-
ing, but rather to extend it to everyday life, at the centre of which is
the workplace. Accordingly, the corresponding models must come from
within. The ‘innovative geniuses’ are ordinary people; the new artists
work in business corporations. In this sense, the characters of Mad Men
are doubly modern: in the way they live their lives and in the way in
which, as advertisers, they are reflexively aware of the characteristics
and trends, desires and weaknesses of the men and women of this era.
As professional citizens, the ‘creative’ professionals and employees of
the agency present us with the new codes that shape both the inner
104 Mad Men’s Narrative Revisited as a Social Lab

self and the social self. They bring to the surface the undercurrents driv-
ing the progressive revolution in private, familiar and professional life,
in social recognition and identity, a revolution which, confronted with
little resistance, has conquered every aspect of social reality and of the
inner self.
In the first season, the writers presented several plots for each of the
main characters. In my opinion, the plots that provided continuity and
contributed most to the strength of the characters are perhaps the least
striking: those that through every day events reflect the effects of the
changes in lifestyle and in the codes that govern professional life. One
of the accomplishments of the series is to show the evolution of different
characters in response to these changes. Professional and social demands
dominate over other areas of life, and, thus, they strongly shape the
identity and personal trajectory of the male and female characters alike.
The series shows that those who best champion the new modernity
are those who have detached from their origins, who are fully dedicated
to success using whatever means available to them in their professional
environment. Two particular characters stand out: Don Draper, who,
having assumed the identity of a fallen army comrade, shapes it to
fit the social role he wishes to play; and Peggy Olson, who feels she
must distance herself from her family, and sacrifice their religious and
moral beliefs, as a prerequisite to secure a job that matches her ability
and ambition. Peggy has to re-invent herself in her work as a creative
writer, and, as such, she must invent the rules and social language of the
new woman. By contrast, Betty Draper and Joan Harris found, in their
attempts to live between two social and moral regimes, the old and the
new (Davidson 143). By contrast, others, like Roger Sterling, fail to fully
understand the times in which they find themselves; as they stubbornly
hold to the codes of the past, they lurch from one surprise to another –
or, rather, one failure to another.
Much has been written about the impeccable aesthetics of the series,
its refined style and stereotypic gestures, and its exact reproduction
of interior decoration and everyday ‘products’, such as tobacco, alco-
hol, clothing and public transport. However, there is more to this than
merely recreating a bygone era as accurately as possible. ‘Instead of
praising Mad Men for its authenticity, maybe we should praise it for its
extraordinarily accurate and beguiling mimesis of the world it depicts’
(Dunn 22). It is clear to the creators of Mad Men that, for perhaps the
first time in the history of western civilization, the outward appearance
of people and even the design of everyday things, as well as lifestyles
and social codes, are as significant as the ideas and values that underpin
Lourdes Flamarique 105

the shared mentality of a society. Ideas and values serve to configure

society not only because of their underlying concepts of truth or jus-
tice, but through their representation, performance and achievement in
patterns. This representation must vary continuously and adapt itself to a
given reality in order to be effective, attractive and therefore, imitable.
Patterns of behaviour and lifestyles are adopted by imitation (social
mimesis) rather than established based on convictions or rational argu-
ment. In modern societies, such as that of Mad Men, the structural,
technical and political conditions are in place to allow emotional codes
to invade areas reserved for beliefs, and also for the imitation of styles
to act as one of the main motors of social cohesion. The mimetism that
standardises the population of large cities follows its own logic and
differs to that which prevailed in small towns of earlier times. In the
past, imitation guaranteed acceptance within a social set, provided that
the individual could embody the shared worldview. Now, mimesis is
employed in the personal quest to find an identity by imitating spe-
cific models. Women and men who think they are creative, original in
their tastes, choices, and opinions of the world, are in fact ‘interpreting’
behaviours using a social language whose grammar and semantics have
been designed by the creators of commercial trends and the coordinators
of rising consumerism, among others. That explains why advertisers and
semanticists refer to the 1960s, as shown in the series, as a ‘lost paradise’;
a vain society that is strongly motivated to live their lives in public, and
eager to do so with style (Martínez de Albeniz 292).
One example of this can be seen in the scene in ‘A Night to Remem-
ber’ (2.8) in which Betty feels embarrassed when serving dinner at home
to several executives from her husband’s agency. She thinks that she has
been used when they decipher as a marketing trend what she considered
her own original idea. Offering beer as well as wine is an innovation at
the middle-class tables that Betty, who aims to be the perfect housewife,
believed to be her own idea. From the reactions and comments of the
guests, she recognises that what she considers to be her own idea is sim-
ply viewed as an example of something already predicted and driven
by creative advertising. What was Betty unaware of when she imagined
the effect that the basket of beer would have on the diners? Two things:
first, that the decisions that we believe to be free are made in a set-
ting involving many factors beyond our control, both in terms of their
influence and their meaning; and secondly, that Betty herself has been
affected by the decisive transformation towards a consumerist society.
Nevertheless, she was unaware of having embodied a trend because of
her emotional empathy, and therefore believes she was spontaneous.
106 Mad Men’s Narrative Revisited as a Social Lab

It is not principally necessity that drives us to consume, but the desire

awakened by those things offered by advertising and the market. The
desire is to have an experience, a lifestyle and the happiness that only
come with the possession of the product advertised.
Mad Men’s advertisers speculate on the effect of the ads. They have
to know the emotional dynamics and desires that drive consumption.
As the subjective and personal is also shown in what is most super-
ficial and accessory, we believe that by adopting certain ‘modes and
fashions’ we not only choose a lifestyle, but we also try to realise
our most true self, we affirm our identity. Marketing and advertising
strategies are always directed to individuals such that, in the message
or product pitch and in the product itself, the consumer believes he
is personally recognised as if he were the product’s inventor. In fact,
exposed to sophisticated marketing techniques, he seems to confirm
the behaviourist, psychological and even structuralist approaches that
challenge his condition of a free agent. The series shows how the adver-
tisers take into account these behavioural patterns and hide them by
placing the product in the broader context of a lifestyle. Unsurprisingly,
the advertising sector has incorporated and given priority to the narra-
tive of identity in their ads almost in place of actual information about
the product (for example, car ads show an extremely rich type eloquent
about the social and moral categories which identifies with the average
To that extent we can say that contemporary emotivism has been cul-
tivated primarily by the market and media culture (television), and we
already have available a wide emotional typology with its own gestural
and verbal language, its personal and collective expressions, and with
its own icons and shrines. In societies in which the market economy
prevails, advertising has to help the consumer choose the product adver-
tised from among a large range of almost identical products. As I have
already highlighted, neither necessity nor the qualities of the product
guide this selection but rather a factor that advertisers must identify; a
link between the product and a lifestyle, such that the consumer iden-
tifies with people who correspond to that style, and tries to imitate
them. In other words, the product is placed in a context that triggers
the urge to buy, revealing what it is that the product ‘means’, both
subjectively and socially (Hammer 273). Like Duchamp’s ready-mades,
the added value is what makes an everyday object a work of art. Let’s
look at one of the many examples of the advertisements featured in the
series (‘The Gold Violin’, 2.7): a coffee brand seeking to reach a younger
customer base. A catchy song, evoking sunshine, holidays and leisure,
Lourdes Flamarique 107

places the coffee in a festive setting as another symbol of the vitality and
joy of life. No details are offered as to the benefits or taste of the coffee
advertised, only the sensations associated to it. This shows a force that
shapes urban lifestyles but does not revolve around ideas about man,
society, life or strong moral convictions. First and foremost it questions
the affective dynamics that constitute the warp of our personal lives. The
great success of consumerism lies in having entered into the most inti-
mate spheres of the life of individuals, and also in having transformed
individual desires into predictable behaviour.
Here, I want to address, in some detail, three areas in which the
change wrought by the power of consumerism and advertising can
be seen: the relationship between identity and fashion; the tensions
between public life and private life; and the expressions of masculinity
and femininity.

2 The suit as a text of modern existence

Fashion has always functioned as a language and, therefore, as a condi-

tion of the possibility of assigning a social space to the individual. Long
before Mad Men, Balzac, an excellent observer of urban societies, stated
that fashion is nothing more than opinion applied to clothing. Dress,
through its symbolic nature, is the realization of something abstract and
universal: ‘Dress being the most energetic of all symbols’ (Balzac 26).
Consequently, through a shared mentality, ideals and models, ‘clothing
is how society expresses itself’ (Balzac 65). Thus, Balzac concludes, one’s
attire is the text of a man’s existence; it shows ‘man made a hieroglyph’
Modern culture attributes the same role to fashion as it does to moral
and social norms, that is, the configuration of individual identity.1 Simi-
larly, it serves as the key to deciphering the identity encrypted in appear-
ance (dress, behaviour, expressions). A characteristic phenomenon of
modern societies, especially urban societies, contributes decisively to the
‘emotional overload’ of men and women today. This is because the con-
cern about how to govern the world has become less important than the
concern about how to govern oneself.
Overcrowded urban societies are a fertile ground for imposing pat-
terns, desires and needs that seem to respond to the most intimate
core of each individual; however, these are developed using the same
strategies of market and consumption, creating a kind of universality,
built from the sum of many single individuals. In this sense, iden-
tity, and with it the assessment and judgment to which the human
108 Mad Men’s Narrative Revisited as a Social Lab

being is subjected throughout their life (or, more simply, self-esteem),

has been externalised, and is formed outside of the individual. It is
formalised by groups, and in a similar dynamic as if individuals were
‘subcontracted companies’. In large cities, following a fashion is a kind
of rite of initiation into a social group or professional arena with which
one associates. It is a new law that is so strict that requires neither
assent nor conformity. The dictatorship of fashion creates a new form
of anonymity whereby the person is recognised by the extent to which
they dress and act in accordance with the code or language accepted by
the group: pretending to be someone is almost the same as being some-
one. Paradoxically, this is the only way that the self can be visible to
The protagonists of Mad Men offer us a great example of this phe-
nomenon. The series takes great care with the styling of each character,
not only for what they represent but also because dress and manners
are indeed a representation of their social identity. The characters’ pur-
pose of existence and life goals are entrenched in urban society, and
they are mainly introduced as models to imitate through film, television
and advertising. Neither family traditions nor religion can compete with
the demands of the profession. Social recognition and self-esteem are
derived mainly from one’s position within the company, both for men
and women (although for the latter this differs depending on whether
they are secretaries or creative writers). Almost anything is acceptable in
order to establish oneself professionally; the normative is that which is
socially established (identity and recognition). This is why appearance
is the primary means of establishing oneself professionally. The upstarts
undergo a transformation, an adaptation to the standards of their class
and professional position that involves a transition towards a higher
level of sophistication.
Balzac provides a diagnosis of life in big cities and distinguishes three
forms of life: the busy life, the artist’s life and the elegant life. If the
busy life is ordinary and trivial, the elegant life is the escape from this
routine, seeking the distinction that comes with talent, power or money.
Therefore, ‘elegant living is thus essentially the art of manners’ (Balzac
15). As noted earlier, the new artists of modern life in the second half
of the twentieth century do not live at the margins of society; rather,
they influence society through their work in the heart of big cities, such
as New York. Therefore, they can be considered to unify the traits of
Balzac’s three different lives in one: they are very busy and are genuine
social innovators; thus, they need to display their social responsibility
through style, in a way that communicates their status and power.
Lourdes Flamarique 109

Attire is a priority for those who want to be part of the social game
(Proust decoded the language of dress in his novel, À la recherche du
temps perdu), and physical appearance is very important. Thus, Mad Men
can also be viewed as a pictorial history of the socialization of fash-
ion at a time when fashion influenced all strata of the big cities, not
as a marker of differences between classes but as another resource for
successful social mobility, that is, to improve or change the lives of the
city’s inhabitants. The main characters in the series are slim, elegant and
always impeccably presented (well shorn and shaved), with no conces-
sions to casualness. They wear imposing grey suits, both in the office
and (unlike today) outside of the workplace. Indeed, it could be argued
that the combination of the suit and tie, and in particular the white
shirt, represents an urbanization of the masculine military look. The
image of executives and employees in the offices of the corporations in
big cities is that of a large army: their uniform is a grey suit with well-
defined shoulders, they adopt an upright posture, they are disciplined
in their work hours, and they are ‘quartered’ in the office buildings of
Manhattan. As such, to a certain extent, they are a reincarnation of mil-
itary life. The suit allows for the interpretation of certain emotions, and
the representation of a desired masculine identity; thereby awakening
in others the following emotions: respect, admiration, envy. As Grady
remarks, military culture plays a significant role in the relationship
between the male characters (52, 55).
By contrast, the women wear tight clothing (that accentuates the
female figure), high-heeled shoes and sophisticated hairstyles. This attire
obliges them to walk upright and sinuously. The Dior style has filtered
down to retail clothing and, as often occurs, the female style is ambiva-
lent. On one hand, the clothing has become lighter (flared skirts), which
could indicate a step forward in the transformation of the dress that
allows greater freedom of movement; on the other hand, however, the
contours of the body are highlighted by sophisticated and uncomfor-
table outfits that restrict movement (contrasting with the 1920s) and
‘feminize’ walking and sitting to the extreme. The third season of the
series depicts the reaction against these women’s models, a break with
the canon of femininity and a movement towards a true liberation of
attire is implied, with wide and long skirts, pants, loose hair, and little
There is a strong contrast between the ‘masculinizing’ effect of the
suit, which signifies the power of talent and money, and the femi-
nization that, first and foremost, strengthens passive views of women
as objects. ‘To the show’s characters, masculinity is defined by their
110 Mad Men’s Narrative Revisited as a Social Lab

superiority to the women who work in the office and their sense of
self-worth is directly connected to their success in the firm’ (Grady 49).
The attire and mannerisms restricts their freedom of movement, forcing
them to maintain certain body tension and to walk in a certain way, as
if they are on stage, always exposed to the public. Without doubt, men’s
and women’s fashion is used to communicate an ideal of masculinity
and femininity. There is a kind of mirror-image relationship between
male and female types.
To a large extent, the portrayal of these phenomena in Mad Men is
from a past era. Today, the language of fashion no longer serves as such a
clear means of communication between the sexes. However, the ‘public
sphere of fashion’ has expanded, as described above. Certain objects
are identified as representative of a fashionable profession, social status,
wealth or success. The next step in this revolution is to establish brands
as status symbols. As Hammer says, the importance of social mobility,
and its possibility, drove buyers to ‘brand hysteria’, which was most visi-
ble in consumers of the lower and middle classes (274). Thus, style is
defined by the brand, not by the tailor or dressmaker as in times past.
The symbols with which the inhabitants of the big city want to be
identified are no longer part of the family inheritance. Unable to benefit
from one’s family, background, or from the prestige and status associated
with an institution or community, it is up to the individual to earn
social approval and recognition. If one cannot rely on the fame or social
value gained by others being passed down (relatives or predecessors),
it is necessary to direct one’s attention further afield, to live based on
the reactions of others, awaiting for signs of approval or disapproval.
The more changeable or malleable a society, the more frequently and
rapidly the new modern artist must adapt their criteria and points of
reference to preserve what they already have. The ‘social lab’ of Mad Men
shows both failed and successful attempts to configure identity using
codes that have only just been developed in a setting that is extremely
sensitive to any hesitation.
The paradox is obvious. It is undeniable that excessive socializa-
tion inevitably hampers the possibilities of individualizing not only
one’s tastes and interests, but, more importantly, radical decisions about
life, and non-standard pathways to achievement and social success
(González 43). Indeed, anyone who advises youth to become ‘heroes’
(bohemian artists) rather than bureaucrats would be seen almost as a
threat or a danger. Nowadays, ‘deviating from the script’ that has been
written by others does not inspire any movement or social revolution.
It is increasingly difficult to create one’s own space or pathway, and not
Lourdes Flamarique 111

just one that is original and attractive or even creative but merely one’s
own, with its twists and turns, and ups and downs. However, this is
something that has occurred since the changes chronicled in Mad Men.

3 The private sphere and the profession

If the classic distinction between the private and public life is not
merely conceptual, in urban centres in the second half of the twenti-
eth century, we can also witness a physical distinction. How does the
physical and architectural space in which the lives narrated in Mad
Men unfold? (D. Harris). Besides being physical spaces, they are intan-
gible mental and social spaces. The private space follows the tendency
to live in houses with gardens on the suburbs. In the years in which
the series is set, suburbs associated with a certain level of economic sta-
tus were built outside the big cities. Following this trend, Don Draper’s
house is that of a member of the upper middle class.2 The physical dis-
tance between the two types of spaces is accentuated because those
living on the outskirts of a city like New York take the train every
morning to enter their professional space. This distance allows diffe-
rent facets of the characters’ personalities to be developed, not only
because of the different rules and objectives that define each space but
also because the professional space represents a social context with spe-
cific interests and opportunities that require different skills and abilities
to those of the family space. Work on Madison Avenue, the bustling
centre of the city, allows one to leave behind family life, to interact
with a wide variety of people and to develop sporadic relationships.
Thus, it expands the universe of the characters and the intensity of
their relationships. The working environment forms an orbit of human
relationships and interests that never intersect with family life. The
agglomeration of streets and offices contrasts with the isolation of sub-
urban houses and their gardens, always separated by empty streets, or
the visibility of the professional world with that of the puritan privacy
of family life.
We can counterpose the two lifestyles played out in each space.
Family life consists mainly of domestic problems, watching TV, routine,
solitude, going to social clubs and maintaining relationships with neigh-
bours. The housewife’s lives are clearly separated from the dynamics of
the big city. By contrast, working life involves teamwork, discussions,
challenges and personal risk, going to bars, taking clients out to din-
ner and, ultimately, interacting with a wide variety of people. These
are two separate spaces, and two distinct ways of life. Consequently,
112 Mad Men’s Narrative Revisited as a Social Lab

many of the characters essentially lead double lives. The home space is
eminently feminine, and men are on the periphery of the goings-on in
this environment during the day. On the other hand, the social space
is masculine, although many women are employed in the offices and in
other services.3
The protagonists of Mad Men are driven by the separation of the
affairs and codes that correspond to each space. For example, they do
not want their family problems to be known or discussed in the office
(Peter Campbell and his wife´s discussion about adopting of a child in
‘The Inheritance’, 2.10; Don and his marital problems due to infidelity
revealed in ‘A Night to Remember’). While family life consists of formal
relationships enacted in accordance with inherited conventions, work
relationships are informal. As society changes, so do the rules govern-
ing social behaviour. With no strict codes, and in the absence of any
type of judgment in the workplace other than that associated with work
objectives, the characters of Mad Men act without any awareness of hav-
ing overstepped ethical or social boundaries, and therefore they feel no
remorse. In order to strengthen teamwork, the commitment between
them is mainly underpinned on emotional interactions.
The housewives in the series follow inherited patterns; they aspire
to be good wives and mothers, and excellent hosts (the best exam-
ples being Betty Draper and Trudy Campbell). They have social status
and fewer children (and therefore more leisure time) than women of
other generations. Their prevailing mood is boredom, and so they seek
activities of public importance and they practice sports that are not at
odds with their representation of femininity (for example, horse riding),
while envying the freedom of other women of their time. Personal dis-
satisfaction and isolation from authentic city life are often followed by
marital infidelity.
Lying between these two worlds are the secretaries in the agency.
On the one hand, they appear to lead lives of their own, independent
of family and traditions. However, love, marriage, family and social life
take precedence in their existence. This can be seen in the characters of
Jane Siegel and Joan Holloway, for whom marriage means withdrawal
into family life. By contrast, Megan Calvet, although about the same
age as Jane, represents the next generation of professional women who
have dreams and who will not settle for married life. In their work, there
are no rules and models to help bring professional standards into secre-
taries’ working relationships. They use emotional strategies in the office
when dealing with executives and creative agents: subordination, admi-
ration and dependence. One special case is Peggy Olson: to adequately
Lourdes Flamarique 113

fill a post hitherto occupied by men, she must reflexively assume a style
that is extremely different to that of the secretary she used to be, yet
does not hide the woman that she is.
Throughout the seasons of the series, the cultural changes that will
eventually erase the last remnants of the traditional social order cause
tensions between the reality of work and personal aspirations, between
family and professional obligations, and also between the inner self and
the social representation. ‘The cultural role of melodrama in explor-
ing and resolving the tensions generated by the loss of moral clarity,
and the sense of a need for access to some kind of absolute truth has
not waned’ (Cromb 71). The liberalization of social customs follows the
detachment from the family world. While the men and women in the
big city lack any support in establishing themselves other than their
own intelligence and abilities, they are not constrained by the social
expectations associated with the family and tradition. Each has to fulfil
their true potential. This can be clearly seen in their love lives in which
sporadic relationships without commitment predominate.

4 New archetypes of masculinity and femininity

As stated from the outset, today the modern artists are the men and
women who mainly live, work, and form their social relationships
in the public space of the big city. Professional relationships in large
corporations involve new codes that influence relationships between
men, between women, and between men and women (both inside and
outside the workplace). It is easy to see that inherited models of mas-
culinity and femininity have become outdated to the new forms of
social relationships, particularly those arising on the workplace, and
these are being replaced by new models. As already mentioned, the
secretaries retain their femininity; they have jobs that require fewer
skills, earn lower wages, and have little in the way of career opportuni-
ties. This contrasts greatly with the men who have employees working
for them, influence over business decisions, and who risk their pres-
tige and career. The male protagonists embody a masculinity that now
relies not on strength or bravery but rather on social management. This
masculinity is on the edge of being limited by the incorporation of
femininity into the workplace. The series shows the ruthless competi-
tion among males, both in dealing with women and in achieving their
objectives: success is key to reducing the insecurity that threatens them;
they are continuously comparing and measuring themselves against one
114 Mad Men’s Narrative Revisited as a Social Lab

The two models, masculinity and femininity, act as a mirror, one

reflected in the other. Inevitably, some of their characteristics corres-
pond to the types of relationships formed in the work environment
between members of the opposite sex. However, a common feature is
the growing personal insecurity of men and women. Given that recogni-
tion is fundamentally social/professional, almost all the characters (both
male and female) show lapses in their maturity and emotional strength
that are initially triggered by the actions of others. However, is social
recognition sufficient to lead a full life?
In the pilot episode (1.1), Don Draper states what happiness is really
about: ‘Happiness is the smell of a new car. Happiness is freedom from
fear. It is a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassur-
ance, whatever you are doing is okay . . . You are okay’. This promise of
ready happiness, freed from a demanding life model, contrasts with the
personal or professional dissatisfaction of all the characters in the series.
This could explain why they are restless and seek new experiences,
whether through drugs, in the new hippie culture or eastern religion, or
by their compulsive unfaithfulness in their marriages. Happiness is now
achieved through the wishes and aspirations that no one or nothing
can satisfy. Once again, Don offers a definition of happiness (‘Commis-
sion and Fees’, 5.12): ‘It’s a moment before you need more happiness.
I won’t settle for 50 percent of anything. I want a 100 percent. You’re
happy with your agency? You’re not happy with anything, you don’t
want most of it, you want all of it. And I won’t stop until you get all of
Introspection, psychological explanations and, of course, psychoana-
lysis are key elements of the show. The ‘psychologization’ of modern life
is fertile territory in which to explore emotions and desires (Flamarique).
A psychoanalyst collaborates unsuccessfully in some of the agency´s
campaigns, whereas such analysis is perhaps more informative in the
reflections of characters like Peter Campbell, when he visits the doctor
(‘The New Girl’, 2.5); or Peggy and the secretaries as they to try to create
a slogan for a face cream (you do not buy the cream to find a husband
but for yourself: because it will make you feel better; ‘The Rejected’,
4.4); or the slogan for an airline (‘For Those Who Think Young’, 2.1).
In this latter episode, Don Draper, unhappy with Peggy’s proposal, asks
her several questions to make her think of travel from an emotional
and psychological point of view. He wants her to imagine the emotions
that await the traveller and how it feels to return home from a trip. After
looking at a piece of paper on which his daughter has written, ‘I love you
daddy’, he tells Peggy: ‘You are the product. You are feeling something.
Lourdes Flamarique 115

That’s what sells. Not them [the hostesses]. Not sex’. It is a good exam-
ple that allows us to see that we recognise our desires and aspirations
through the language of emotions and psychological categories, which
we also use to articulate experience. Advertising, its language and the
models it proposes connect with privacy, desires and feelings that are
buried or simply unknown, with aspects of personality that are still in a
germinal state.
It is necessary to emphasise that the new male and female archetypes
portrayed in Mad Men are mediated by the friendships created through
teamwork in the agency. Accordingly, it is necessary to dwell briefly on
the main protagonist, Don Draper, a character who assumes the identity
of a comrade killed in combat. More interestingly, however, he recre-
ates that identity according to the ideals that he considers appropriate,
and to which he adheres to strictly: those of an executive creative direc-
tor in an advertising agency. Is it his simulated and fabricated identity
that gives him the ability to understand the dynamics of consumerism
and desire, to manage the models and styles in rich urban American
society? Detached from the bonds of his social, cultural and familiar
background, he seems to be relieved of the burden of prejudices and
traditions that accompany the existence of common man. In short,
he is not tied to his past but, rather, he pretends to be a completely
new man, unreservedly adopting the traits of the ideal man. He is an
icon of the Madison Avenue executive, who never ‘deviates from the
script’. His family and his professional relationships are his work. His
relationships with women outside of the family and work follow diffe-
rent norms, probably those of a man who is not Don Draper. Apparently
faultless, internally he is perhaps the most complex and unstable charac-
ter. Mad Men’s approach to psychoanalysis is twofold: Don is the patient
who witnesses how the different levels of his own subconscious reveal
themselves, while he suffers with his double life and his family past.
By contrast, Betty is the urban woman who goes to the psychoanalyst to
relieve her sadness and dissatisfaction. She shows no signs of suffering,
yet she cannot bear nor understand her actual situation.
The new masculinity of Don is revealed when he suffers defeat, as hap-
pens at the beginning of season four. This ‘modern’ man only reveals
his true self to Peggy, trusting his weakness in her (‘The Suitcase’, 4.7).
Likewise, only Don knows Peggy’s secret (as it is revealed in ‘The New
Girl’). The character of the secretary promoted to copywriter embodies
all the difficulties of women attempting to break their professional cei-
ling through their skills, talents and interests. As a secretary, she does
not follow the game set in the office: her dreams move her, but no to
116 Mad Men’s Narrative Revisited as a Social Lab

please the men. ‘For this reason Peggy becomes a symbol of autonomy as
she struggles to maintain belief in herself and to enact her own choices
despite contrary pressure from her peers and her male superiors’ (Rogers
159). Peggy’s professional ambition is not based on an ideological dis-
course of equal rights. She is really alone. Several conversations she has
with Joan Holloway and Bobbie Barrett are significant in this regard.
They help her to understand the need to change the way she should
behave in the company and, not least, the importance of image in
consolidating her role as a copywriter and a team leader. Thus, it is inte-
resting to observe throughout the series how the strategies Peggy adopts
in her professional and personal relationships improve, without putting
her career at risk, and this is due to her knowledge of the rules of the
advertising game and the psychology of her male colleagues. Distancing
herself from her traditional family and social background contrasts with
the greater affinity she displays towards the anti-bourgeois hippies that
populated New York in the early 1960s. For Don, she represents added
value to his advertising team, always respecting a hierarchy in which
work, image and the concept that one can achieve success through one’s
profession occupy the principal positions.
The lives of these two characters are governed, on the one hand,
by the law of social mobility, and, on the other, by the disorder in
their family relationships. They are the two great loners of the series,
and while their professional aspirations have been fulfilled to the same
degree, they have failed in their personal lives.
Trust and honesty is displayed towards other people in the work-
place. A type of friendship is formed there, to which sex is no barrier.
In the series we can already see something that has become widespread
in the latter decades of the twentieth century: work is becoming more
familiar while family life is becoming increasingly like work. Secrets, fun
and success are all mainly experienced between colleagues, whereas the
problems that arise in family life are associated with ties and cannot
be broken. A good example is provided in ‘Meditations in an Emer-
gency’ (2.13). Peter Campbell thinks that the person who truly knows
and understands him is Peggy and not his wife, who is not remotely
interested in the vagaries and problems of the agency. This character is
no longer a ‘predator’ when he considers the success of the team as his
own. The progression of his wife, Trudy, is also interesting. Initially, she
is governed by the traditional codes in her role as wife, where Peter’s
work issues are not of interest to her. However, when she notices that
this is creating distance between them, and that he may be becoming
closer with the people with whom he works, she learns to become his
Lourdes Flamarique 117

friend. However, following the birth of their daughter she returns to the
traditional role, and Peter begins searching for a lover.

5 More than just a social lab

So far, this chapter has discussed some of the changes in modern society
during the second half of the twentieth century that have significantly
altered our concept of work, family and personal identity. The adven-
tures of the protagonists of Mad Men offer us the perspective of a
social laboratory in which until now unknown elements are recognised,
solutions to new problems tested, and the deficiencies of the period
diagnosed. The progression of the lives of the characters follows the hic-
cups and oscillations in the shaping of a new moral and social language.
Advertising stands out as the new language of consumer societies, to
the extent that it shapes the deepest desires of the human being, allow-
ing them to be recognised through the emotions aroused in consumers.
Emotions create a forum for communication and interaction: that is the
place where identity and social recognition are achieved for the new
artists of modern cities.
There is no doubt that, in essence, the social revolution of big
cities has been consummated; perhaps the only revolution that has tri-
umphed in the twentieth century. However, the changes in lifestyles
and behavioural norms, and in the typification of masculinity and
femininity briefly outlined here, do not represent an end point. The
reflexivity inherent in modern life ensures continuous review and recon-
figuration of models and codes. In a way, these pages simply want to
contribute to this purpose.
Performing Englishness:
Postnational Nostalgia in Lark Rise
to Candleford and Parade’s End
Rosalía Baena1

Cultural identity in England has been a major concern since the end
of the Second World War. As the historian Linda Colley argues, ‘the
identity of Britain only began to be seriously investigated (as dis-
tinct from being taken for granted) after the Second World War, a
time when peace and imperial retreat fostered a highly introverted
view of the British past’ (311). During the twentieth century, seve-
ral issues – among them, the last vestiges of the Empire, economic
decline, and social change – seriously undermined the classic sense
of English identity (Kumar 250–1). Moreover, Britain appears to be
currently immersed in a postnational era marked by the challenges of
globalization, Europeanization and internal devolution. In this context,
an analysis of the contemporary cultural forms that evoke an acute
national sense through a highly idealized English way of life will allow
us to understand the reasons why and how nostalgia protagonizes these
Today, the struggle for the definition and nature of identity appears
to be waged in the field of popular culture. As Nünning has noted,
numerous publications on English identity by scholars such as Anthony
D. Smith, Eric Hobsbawm, Peter Burke, Raphael Samuel and Roy Porter
assume that the popular construction of national history plays an
important part in the process in which national identity is shaped, as
it provides the basic pattern for the values and characteristics that are
held to be specifically ‘English’. Imagining a common history – particu-
larly a ‘golden age’ – creates one of the major bonds between members
of national communities. The cultural memory of such communities is
central to forging and maintaining a common identity because, today,

Rosalía Baena 119

many studies presuppose that a nation and, indeed, any imagined

community, is held together in part by the stories it generates about
itself (Nünning 152).
Over the last two decades, there has been an upsurge of TV dramas
that deal with periods in recent British history: the final years of the
nineteenth century and the Edwardian era.2 As Vidal argues, there is a
growing fascination with certain historical junctions and with defin-
ing cultural breaks that provide meaningful narratives, moments in
which the present imagines itself to have been born and history for-
ever changed: ‘The search for moments of crisis and change structures
the backward projections of the heritage film within the stable narrative
frame cemented by the reconstruction of place and period’ (101).
The popularity of the Edwardian era as the context for contempo-
rary period drama is quite significant: this period of English history
embodied a dramatic turning point in the concept of Englishness, a
time when the gradual loss of the Empire, the industrial revolution and
the First World War contributed to shaping an ideal of Englishness as
a lost pastoral locus, mythologized, missed and longed-for. In cultural
and social terms, a painful clash of tradition versus modernity occurred
during this period, profoundly changing the English way of life. As Carl
Freedman notes, ‘the choice of an Edwardian setting is by no means
an accident. For that era, as the tempus classicum of liberal England –
with its refined elegance, its unbounded self-confidence, its apparently
secure global centrality, its middle-class prosperity with all the attendant
visual sumptuousness – provides precisely the raw materials needed to
construct the abstractly attractive image of Englishness’ (101).3
Though period dramas have been successfully produced since the
1960s, over the last twenty years, the number of programmes that deal
with daily life in Britain in the early twentieth century has increased.
Though the aristocracy and upper middle classes tend to be the focus in
a number of series, including Downton Abbey (ITV, 2010–), Parade’s End
(BBC, 2012) and The Forsyte Saga (BBC, 2002–03), there are also shows
based on the life of the lower classes, such as Lark Rise to Candleford (BBC,
2008–11) or The Village (BBC, 2013–). Other variants, such as the ‘shop-
ping’ period drama, also have a place in recent prime time, including
The Paradise (BBC, 2012–13) or Mr Selfridge (ITV, 2013–). The thread that
links these shows, despite their diverse themes, is the idea of Englishness
and the enactment of nostalgia for a lost time.4
In this chapter, I will focus on that link and pattern in the series:
the performance of Englishness through a predominantly nostalgic lens.5
As Berberich argues, the contemporary representation of Englishness
120 Postnational Nostalgia in Lark Rise and Parade’s End

‘often appears tinged with nostalgia, evoking images of a traditional,

tranquil, in some cases even mythical England’ (23). However, the ways
in which nostalgia operates in the series requires more critical atten-
tion. We generally take for granted that period or costume dramas are
articulated nostalgically, but the definition of ‘nostalgia’ remains loosely
defined in this context. I want to tease out the meanings of this word
and analyse its relevance to contemporary TV series, on both a textual
and extra-textual level (for the audience). Cardwell’s aesthetic approach
to literary adaptations can readily be applied to the analysis of recent
releases of period dramas, as they share common traits in content (her-
itage), style (precious) and mood (nostalgic). It is within this tradition
that I intend to further analyse the emotional work of nostalgia in
these narratives. These series invariably promote a visual celebration
of England’s national heritage, as they elicit aesthetic pleasures in their
detailed recreation of a bygone English way of life. The BBC dramas Lark
Rise and Parade’s End perform a specific form of cultural mediation in
terms of national identity, through their representation of aristocratic
and rural English life in the last years of the nineteenth century and
the Edwardian period, respectively. In both series, nostalgia figures as
a predominant mood, based on the display of a sumptuous recreation
of an English heritage both in the rural landscape as well as in coun-
try estates and urban aristocratic settings. In my analysis, I will first
focus on the concept of nostalgia, and specifically on its emotional
qualities. Secondly, I will discuss the association between nostalgia and
Englishness in British series in general. Finally, I will explore how these
concepts operate in Lark Rise and Parade’s End.

Nostalgia and its emotional work

Nostalgia clearly shapes much of contemporary cultural production.

It can be viewed as both ‘a by-product of cultural modernity (with its
alienation, its much lamented loss of tradition and community)’ (Chase
and Shaw 7) and in general cultural commentary in mass media – as in
the academy – as a key component of contemporary culture (Hutcheon
192). Nostalgia may be defined as a complex emotion that involves
recalling elements of the past that are meaningful and longed-for in the
present.6 Interestingly, nostalgia is not often discussed in current schol-
arly work on emotions, though the emotional quality of the concept is
quite clear.7 Wilson, in her ground-breaking work on nostalgia, argues
that it has shifted ‘from a pathology to an emotion of wistful longing for
the past’ (22). In its contemporary usage, the term ‘nostalgia’ tends to
be a more positive term, a powerful emotion for both private and social
Rosalía Baena 121

identities. In spite of the element of ‘loss’ associated with it, nostalgia is

not primarily a negative emotion. Even if its basic emotional component
is sadness, nostalgia differs from other predominantly negative emo-
tions in the same category, such as distress, unhappiness, sorrow, grief,
despair, frustration or disappointment. Rather, nostalgia tends to be ‘a
sadness without an object, a sadness which creates a longing’ (Stewart
23). However, nostalgia need not be hopeless (Wilson 22), and can be
described as a kind of bittersweet sadness, leading to a rather a mixed
and complex emotion (Elster 281).8 Indeed, nostalgia might be regarded
as ambiguous and contradictory, as it includes not only bitter and sweet
feelings, but absence as well as presence, the new as well as the familiar,
far and near as well as loss and gain. Nostalgia ‘realigns cognition and
emotion to produce comfort and security’ (Wilson 23). In fact, research
findings in psychology point to a rather positive function of nostal-
gia, considering it a self-relevant and social emotion, that serves key
psychological functions: ‘Nostalgic narratives reflect more positive than
negative affect, feature the self as the protagonist, and are embedded in
a social context’ (Sedikides et al. 304).
Nostalgia can thus be considered both a cultural phenomenon and a
subjective experience, operating in both the public and private domains
(Wilson 30–1). Though it is inevitably linked to memory, it is not
necessarily personal memory, making it possible to feel a nostalgic
yearning for something not actually experienced personally (Berberich
28). Specifically, collective nostalgia can promote a feeling of com-
munity that works to downplay or deflect potentially divisive social
differences (class, race, gender and so on), if only temporarily (Bennett
5). When nostalgia is produced and experienced collectively, it can pro-
mote a sense of ‘we’, thus serving the purpose of forging a national
identity (Wilson 31). Collective nostalgia recognises something (a per-
son, a time period, an event, a cultural object) as good and worthy of
emotional investment and, in that recognition, positively evaluates the
past. Indeed, nostalgia is less about the past than it is about the present.
Though nostalgia depends on the irrecoverable nature of the past for its
emotional impact and appeal, its affective power derives from its quality
to transform the idealized (and therefore always absent) past into a site
of immediacy, presence and authenticity (Hutcheon 195).

Englishness and nostalgia

Englishness is no exception to the fact that the contemporary ‘cultural

practice of ethnicity tends toward nostalgia’ (Embry 209), appearing
frequently as the defining trope in recent English literary and cultural
122 Postnational Nostalgia in Lark Rise and Parade’s End

production. Much English social criticism, both radical and conserva-

tive, has been couched in a complex discourse of nostalgia, articulated
within a dichotomy of the country versus the city, or, analogically, of
the past against the present (Baucom 175–6). It should not seem sur-
prising, therefore, that TV dramas about the English past achieved their
popularity precisely when the English sense of ethnicity is ‘mourning
for the cultural unity and centrality they once had’ (Hutcheon 202).
Moreover, we should consider that the nostalgic mood in these series
appeals directly to emotions connected to the English past. Understand-
ing national identity as an image shaped by emotions, rather than as an
objective reality, these narratives provide a particularly suitable vehicle
for both its creation and expression. As Ian Baucom explains, ‘a sense of
collective identity rarely, if ever, proceeds from stipulation. It is, instead,
an affective condition’ (12).9 Though emotional restraint is stereoty-
pically considered part of the national temperament – as opposed to
emotional and sentimental ways attributed to Americans or continen-
tal Europeans – the English are especially apt at creating narratives
that stir emotions associated with the nation’s past. Because, as Fox
argues, the English are ‘chronically nostalgic’ (210), social and cultural
phenomena such as the Raj revival, country house fetishism (Baucom
19) and ‘Victoriana’ (Kaplan 5) provide an emotional response to a
generalized need.
In fact, the question of Englishness has been much debated recently
from different perspectives, including literature, sociology, political
studies and history. However, in spite of the wealth of recent biblio-
graphical references, its portrayal in contemporary TV requires further
investigation. Recent works have conveniently highlighted the role of
television as an agent of historical narratives and as a producer of collec-
tive memory; moreover, they have examined the role of memory and
nostalgia in television (Holdsworth, Television, Memory and Nostalgia;
Neiger, Meyers and Zandberg). It is in this context that I would like to
explore how TV series have importantly contributed to the emotional
landscape of Englishness.
As Niemeyer has recently argued, media produces contents and narra-
tives not only in the nostalgic style but also as triggers of nostalgia
(129). It is in this framework of nostalgia that we may understand
how a long tradition of popular British TV series have been pivotal
in shaping English identity and projecting this identity onto the world
(Baena and Byker). Specifically, in the 1970s, the extraordinarily popular
series Upstairs, Downstairs (LWT, 1971–75) initiated or at least conso-
lidated a tradition of glamorous portrayals of the English; it created a
Rosalía Baena 123

powerful sense of historical and social reality that was perhaps unprece-
dented in original TV drama because it gratified an intense English
nostalgia and projected ‘a mythic image of an idealized Edwardian
and post-Edwardian England’ (Freedman 82). According to Freedman,
the term nostalgia is crucial to understanding the English reception
of Upstairs, Downstairs, as it constitutes a synthesis of the perspec-
tives of management and fantasy as well as manipulation and desire
(Freeman 90).
This sense of nostalgia is produced by the visual display of English
national heritage, as these TV dramas tend to project ‘a National Trust
image of England and Englishness’ (Brandt 4). In their plot and stylized
representation, they resemble literary adaptations such as the highly
successful series, Jewel in the Crown (Granada, 1984) or Brideshead Revi-
sited (Granada, 1981). In Higson’s discussion of British heritage films,
he explains that they are essentially conservative and nostalgic in
their mode of address (110). Brunsdon believes that Brideshead Revi-
sited and Jewel in the Crown are uncontroversial signifiers of quality
mainly because they incorporate already established taste codes of litera-
ture, theatre, interior decoration, interpersonal relationships and nature:
‘Formally unchallenging, . . . they produce a certain image of England
and Englishness which is untroubled by contemporary division and
guaranteed aesthetic legitimacy’ (86).
Lark Rise and Parade’s End are just two examples of a number of TV
productions that participate since the 1970s in the mythical projection
of a national past (see Leggott and Taddeo). These productions share
the basic features of heritage productions: fidelity, nostalgia, and quality
(Vidal 29). Their detailed visualization of the past embodies their pre-
cious aesthetic approach: ‘A museum look: apparently meticulous period
accuracy, but clean, beautifully lit, and clearly on display’ (qtd in Monk,
‘The British Heritage’ 178). The focus might be the lives of the English
aristocrats, their house servants or English peasants; however, the repre-
sentation invariably foregrounds a detailed and authentic period style.
The travelling sequences in carriages or horsebacks, or even walking –
modes of transport that accentuate the times gone by of the landscape –
as well as the interior scenes orchestrated around ritualized acts, such as
afternoon tea or social gatherings (Vidal 30), provide a sense of orderly
perfection and social peace aimed to elicit a nostalgic gaze upon those
objects and settings.
In fact, the popularity of these series depends to a large extent on their
ability ‘to offer a readable mise-en-scène of the past’ (Vidal 103). To do
this, the series commonly use a set of specific technical means – shot
124 Postnational Nostalgia in Lark Rise and Parade’s End

sizes, shot lengths, framings, editing pace – that construct the nostalgic
distinctive style (Cardwell 129). The camera movements are designed to
produce sumptuous, beautiful, pictorial images, which, strung together
smoothly, slowly and carefully, result in an identifiable, distinctive style:
‘The shots are also, in general, beautifully framed: the interior shots
appear well-balanced . . . the houses are central in the frames which
include them; the landscape shots are framed as landscape paintings
might be . . . restrained aesthetics of display’ (Cardwell 120). Cardwell
describes three types of long shots held for longer than normal, thus
using a characteristic slow pace: ‘Interior long shots of beautiful rooms
full of heritage objects; exterior long shots of the central house or houses
in their (usually rural) locations; and exterior long shots of untouched
rural landscapes, characterised by rolling hills, hedges, farmland, some
trees and an expanse of clear sky’ (119–20). There is a preference for long
takes and deep focus, and for long and medium shots, rather than for
close-ups and rapid cutting: ‘The camera is characteristically fluid, but
camera movement is dictated less by a desire to follow the movement
of characters than by a desire to offer the spectator a more aesthetic
angle on the setting and the objects that fill it’ (Higson 117). The gene-
rally slow pace gives the viewer ample time to enjoy the pleasures of
this style. This is accompanied by elegant, decorous or wistful orchestral
music, which again aims to awaken nostalgia.
Both Parade’s End and Lark Rise contain numerous scenes constructed
to spur the spectator’s visual memory as well as his or her emotional
involvement. One such scene is the typical long shot of a peaceful
English countryside bathed in golden sunlight shown at the beginning
of the episodes. The pastoral landscape, the soft piano music, and the
centrality of the period house faithfully replicate the established icono-
graphy of heritage production. Authentic costumes (modes of travel,
behaviour, and speech), together with hairstyles, buildings, furnishings,
and so forth, also contribute to creating a feeling of nostalgia. The effect
of this iconography hinges on the sensations attached to recognition,
and therefore nostalgia.
These period recreations are usually perceived as part of a nostalgic
vision of a lost way of life: ‘The nature of the relics, the way in which
they are filmed, and their presentation within a diegetic framework
of nostalgia, reconfigures them not as mementoes of the past but as
examples of heritage’ (Cardwell 117). Nostalgia plays a major role in
the emotional and aesthetic appeal of these TV dramas. As the prime
emotion triggered by the stories, viewer pleasure arises from a sense of
beauty, order and peace. Both the content of the heritage and the style
Rosalía Baena 125

of the genre guide the viewers’ pleasurable feelings of nostalgia. As both

Vidal and Cardwell argue, nostalgia becomes a mood that is generic
and indistinct rather than specific to its particular narrative (Vidal 30–3;
Cardwell 145). In fact, the primary emotive effect of film is to create
a mood. Because it is difficult to generate brief, intense emotions, film
structures attempt to create a predisposition toward experiencing emo-
tion (Greg M. Smith, ‘Local Emotions’ 115). A mood is a preparatory
state in which one is seeking an opportunity to express a particular emo-
tion or emotion set; moods are thus expectancies that we are about to
have a particular emotion or that we will encounter cues that will elicit
particular emotions (Greg M. Smith, ‘Local Emotions’ 113). To label a
text nostalgic is ‘to describe the mood created and maintained within
the text by its aesthetic particularities of style. This understanding of
nostalgia as a ‘mood’, rather than an emotion, feeling, or even ‘form
of consciousness’ is more useful, as a mood can be shared by text and
viewer’ (Cardwell 145–6).10
Therefore, these films are perceived as nostalgic not only because the
past evoked is necessarily embellished, but because

. . . It is presented as discursively stable and clearly separated from

the present flashbacks and the markers of period reconstruc-
tion . . . A strong sense of place, which arises from evocative lands-
capes, geographical landmarks, local customs and recognizable
(though often clichéd) character types, locates these films within
specific national imageries. These elements are cemented by narra-
tives that minimize ambiguity and seek instead to elicit an emotional
response to character-driven storytelling structured around satisfying
dynamics of conflict and resolution. (Vidal 53)

This nostalgic mood provides the escapist pleasures associated with

period dramas. The specific contents of heritage productions lead the
programmes to adopt distinct styles and settings, which provoke spe-
cific emotions and moods through a number of objects that serve as
focal points for our feelings of nostalgia. Thus, they enhance the mood
through the content and style of the productions.

Lark Rise to Candleford

Lark Rise to Candleford is a BBC costume drama adapted by Bill Gallagher

from Flora Thompson’s autobiographical novels.11 In these books,
Thompson recreates her happy childhood and youth in an Oxfordshire
126 Postnational Nostalgia in Lark Rise and Parade’s End

hamlet at the end of the nineteenth century and duly emphasizes two
key elements of English heritage: aristocracy and rural life. The open-
ing scene, a beautiful long shot of the fields and hedgerows that form
the background of life in Lark Rise and Candleford, condenses an array
of heritage tropes in a visually compelling way. The magnificent view
of Lark Rise in summer, just when the harvest is due, suggests a ‘sea
of gold’, where villagers live in good order and happiness. English life
in the farming hamlet of Lark Rise and the market town of Candleford
are untroubled. As one reviewer writes, it is ‘measured, domestic and
infinitely gentle, there are no Machiavellian footmen or illicit trysts
here, just wholesome country adventures championing those unfash-
ionable values of honesty, neighbourliness and hard work’ (Coghlan).
Another favourable review highlights that audiences value Lark Rise, as
it is ‘charming, warm, visually stunning with good performances and a
sound script’ (Stephenson).
Laura Timmins, a 16-year-old villager from Lark Rise, is the narra-
tor/voiceover in the series. The eldest child of Robert and Emma
Timmins, Laura is her father’s favourite and has inherited his yearn-
ing for knowledge, his impulsiveness, and his outspoken nature. Laura’s
mother wants her children to move on from Lark Rise in order to
expand their horizons. She arranges, therefore, for Laura to work with
her cousin, Miss Dorcas Lane, the owner of the post office in Candleford.
Many of the show’s storylines are driven by the contrast between the
rural setting of Lark Rise and the more urbane Candleford, and the
clashes that these differences produce between the residents of both,
namely Laura’s family (her parents and her four younger siblings),
Twister and Queenie Turrill and the Arless family in Lark Rise, and post-
man Thomas Brown and his wife Margaret as well as the Pratt sisters
in Candleford. Years earlier, Miss Lane, an independent woman who
runs her own post office, had turned down a marriage proposal from
the Squire who owns the lands because she did not think a marriage
across social classes would work. However, she continues to love him.
She involves herself in everybody else’s affairs, and people constantly
seek her advice. Her shrewdness as a businesswoman and the high stan-
dards she expects from her staff are balanced by her warm heartedness,
generosity, sense of humour, mischief and her kind nature. Dorcas loves
to indulge in life’s little pleasures – thus her famous line ‘it’s my one
weakness’ – which include clothes, shoes, feather pillows, baths and
good food. However, her true ‘one weakness’ is to meddle in people’s
lives, which often leads to trouble. She has made the post office the ‘soul
Rosalía Baena 127

of the community’, as she puts it, so she is well-loved and a respected

member of Candleford society.
The display of authentic period details permeate the aesthetics of each
episode. The series records women’s underwear, men’s drinking habits,
children’s games, as well as illness, casual beauty, timeless harvest homes
and the arrival of ‘furniture on instalment’. Audiences are exposed to
the details of Midwinter’s rich manor house as well as to the peasants’
poor houses. Everyday life is unveiled through the numerous meals that
are served, and repeated references to traditional English food, such as
the ‘broths, puddings and pies’ which Old Amos longs for (1.2). More-
over, episodes frequently end with the singing of traditional English
folk songs. Some of them are explicitly patriotic, such as ‘England is
my nation / and Christ my salvation’ (1.1) sung by old Twister at the
end of the first episode in the first season.
Nostalgia permeates Lark Rise to Candleford on a number of different
levels: it is both a constant feeling on the part of the narrator, as well as
a mood in the series, and, as such, a mood that can then be potentially
elicited from the spectator. The idyllic portrayal of rural England, as well
as its imminent disappearance, distils notions of a mythical time. Lark
Rise includes a rural community with strong affective ties, and where
people are a constant support to one another. Human difference and
frailty – which includes spinsters, bachelors, idiots, and the like – are
accepted and nurtured. Only disloyalty and unkindness are punished
by the hamlet’s collective conscience.
The collective celebration of traditions serves to unite the commu-
nity. In the third episode, Lark Risers are preparing to pay the traditional
annual homage to the Squire with a show: the children dress as English
icons such as King Arthur, villagers sing traditional songs and so forth.
However, this celebration also provides the background for a small
dispute. Reverend Ellison wants children to sing the Primrose League
chant, a Tory song (1.3), which Robert Timmins opposes, thus challeng-
ing the Reverend’s moral authority by forbidding his children to sing a
Tory song: ‘I have no objection to my children praising the Queen, the
Squire or the Lord, but I will not have them praising the Tories’ (1.3).
However, English tolerance finally prevails, as Robert is able to fool the
Reverend without him realizing. In this portrait of English rural life,
aristocracy and the Anglican Church remain unchallenged.
Social privilege is not problematized either. The Squire’s presence fur-
ther idealizes class relations of the time. In spite of the radical differences
between the opulence of the manor house and the extreme poverty
128 Postnational Nostalgia in Lark Rise and Parade’s End

in Lark Rise, the series showcases a harmonious relationship between

Squire and his peasants. Sir Timothy Midwinter, as owner of the land,
provides for all the workers, who live in conditions of dignified poverty.
He is also the Justice of the Peace, and he resolves their disputes fairly,
acting like a good-natured father figure to the peasants. He is married
unhappily to Lady Adelaide who is not able to adapt to life in the manor
house. On two occasions, Robert’s liberal views openly challenge the
Midwinter family’s privilege. When his daughter’s suitor comments on
Lady Adelaide’s decision to order 300 yellow roses for one dinner, Laura’s
father argues how they ‘could have fed a Lark Rise family for a month
on what they cost’ (1.7) In another scene, when Robert is pressed to
denounce who is poaching on Sir Timothy’s lands, he is ready to openly
express his views on what is right: ‘Sir, I am grateful for the work you
have given me . . . I have no problem with who you are or what you are,
sir. But a bird in a wood has been welcome food for poor families long
before there was such a thing as a squire’ (1.10). However, these views
do not really pose a significant challenge to the established social order,
as they suggest that all would be well once the villagers earn enough
wages to go on living happily ever after.
The fact that the story is told from the perspective of young Laura
imbues the narrative with an idealized vision of the times and places
described, giving the events an unrealistic and even magical tone. The
characters in Lark Rise seem to have come from a fairy tale, with Laura
as the innocent child who discovers the world as she grows up, Miss
Lane as the fairy queen, the Turrils as good magicians and Queenie, who
takes care of the bees, as a good witch who is able to foretell future.
In this context, the Midwinters resemble a good king and queen who
are willing to have a child that inherits and perpetuates their lineage.
The nostalgic mood that results from this display reinforces the vision
of a mythical past that is now forever gone.
Overall, this story recreates a pre-modern world where people walked
everywhere, where London was a very long way away (100 kilome-
tres), where the controversial eight miles that separate Lark Rise from
Candleford make them worlds apart, and where people were ‘happy on
little’ (1.2). The story timidly makes reference to the changes that will
soon permeate England due to the introduction of modernity and tech-
nological development. Each episode typically ends with Laura writing
in her diary, as the voiceover foregrounds an older Laura remembering
the past. In these recollections, Laura reminds us frequently that this
enchanted world would soon disappear: ‘They left behind a feeling that
life was not as it once appeared, that there were hitherto unsuspected
Rosalía Baena 129

depths beneath the sunny surface. And they must either wake up to face
a world that was not as they had once dreamed it or be lost forever’
(1.4). From that perspective, Laura comprehends the imminent social
and cultural changes that will lead to the ending of the old way of life.
However, as Higson notes, nostalgia works here in two ways, both as ‘a
narrative of loss, charting an imaginary historical trajectory from stabi-
lity to instability, and at the same time a narrative of recovery, projecting
the subject back into a comfortably closed past’ (124). This nostalgic
sense is strongly promoted through the exquisite visual display and the
slow filmic style that allows us to gaze at, admire and even fetishize the
heritage of the English past.

Parade’s End

Parade’s End can also be described as a narrative of loss and recovery in

terms of its representation of the progressive dissolution of an English
social world. Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s 1920s
tetralogy, Parade’s End, is arguably one of the best period dramas to have
been produced in recent years. Set in the waning years of Edwardian
England, it tells the story of Christopher Tietjens, an aristocrat from a
privileged, landowning family, who endures a difficult marriage with his
unfaithful and unstable wife, Sylvia, while denying the love he feels for
Valentine Wannop. He had married the pregnant Sylvia to save her from
social disgrace, not knowing whether or not the child she was carrying
was his. This love triangle is set against the historical background of
the Suffragette movement, the decline of Victorian morals and the First
World War.
Christopher loves his child, is sensitive to works of art and to animals,
and dutifully maintains the public pretence of a happy marriage, in spite
of his attraction for the good-hearted Valentine. He treasures his own
childhood memories dearly. Even if he is all for emotional restraint, he
cries on at least four occasions over the course of the series. In contrast,
Sylvia does not believe in duty, but in her own passions, proving herself
to be far more insensitive than Christopher. As he is emotionally and
intellectually balanced, Sylvia tries desperately to reduce him to emo-
tional anarchy. Feeling a deep sense of longing for a glorious English
past, Christopher places himself in impossible situations. He considers
that a good reason to act morally is ‘how you are perceived as a gentle-
man’. His moral standard and conduct are based on what is expected
from an English gentleman: ‘dignity, self-deception, devalued ideals,
repressed emotions and high cost of displaced loyalty’ (R. Davis 145).
130 Postnational Nostalgia in Lark Rise and Parade’s End

When Christopher agrees to take Sylvia back after she has eloped with
another man, he decides that they should move out of their grand town
house: ‘I shan’t have a house again’, he says. ‘There is a certain discredit
that attaches itself to a cuckold, quite properly. Anything beyond a flat
is impudence in a man who has not been able to retain his wife’ (1.1).
Furthermore, when asked whether he will divorce Sylvia, he answers:
‘I stand for monogamy and chastity and for not talking about it’ (1.1).
Even when divorce has become socially acceptable, he refuses to apply
for it, as his moral standards are higher than those of society. When his
father asks him whether he will divorce Sylvia, he answers that ‘only
a blackguard would submit his wife to that’ (1.1). Though he suffers
because he is in love with Valentine, he believes that he has to be cir-
cumspect: ‘I know what it is that makes a man want to get away with
a woman he likes, but that desire, which is to be allowed to finish his
conversations with her, must be resisted’ (1.2).
Indeed, Christopher is a very emotionally wounded and lost charac-
ter. He is rather stuck in a long bygone glorious past, thus representing
a distinct English mood that is, as described by David Cannadine, ‘with-
drawn, nostalgic and escapist, disenchanted with the contemporary
scene, preferring conservation to development, the country to the town,
and the past to the present’ (258–9). For Christopher, ‘the world ended
in the 18th century’ (1.1). His character is that of an ordered, bounded,
and harmonious past:

Socially, this means the England of gentry and farms before the mid-
dle classes built it into an empire. Morally, it means a code of honour
and self-respect in contrast to business honesty and puritan habits.
It means that beliefs, and classicist by education, a Tory in politics.
He is, in fact, ‘the last English Tory’. (Macauley viii)

Christopher holds firm to the principled conviction that respectable

men must adhere to a certain sense of ‘parade’, a code of conduct
essential to self-respect and social standing. Towards the end, when
the general asks him why he doesn’t just divorce Sylvia, he explains:
‘There is what used to be, among families of position, a certain . . . call
it, parade’. To which the general replies: ‘Was there? Well, there are no
more parades for that regiment. It held out to the last man. But you were
him’ (1.4).
The series foregrounds a number of prototypical emotions: pity for
the protagonist; pain and anger at the waste of the war; frustration from
unfulfilled love; disgust at Sylvia’s senseless and cruel behaviour, among
Rosalía Baena 131

others. However, nostalgia may be seen to predominate. Parade’s End

enacts the tension between a nostalgic image constructed at the level
of mise-en-scène, with its ‘reassurance of apparent continuity with the
past’, and a powerful narrative which suggests that this past is already
in decline (Higson 128). Christopher is trapped in a time he does not
understand, and to which he is unable to adapt. Miss Wallop is his
only connection with the future. The beautiful setting evoked in each
episode contrasts with the cruelty of the war and the futility of Sylvia’s
life. Sylvia’s great beauty and attractiveness become weapons that hurt
her husband, put to waste in her futile emotional war against him. The
splendour of the landscape and the urban houses do not provide the
characters in the story with any kind of happiness.
As such, nostalgia operates in a far more subtle and ambiguous way
in Parade’s End than in Lark Rise. As Hockenhull explains, Parade’s End
conforms to the heritage style, indulging the spectator with the visual
pleasures of it, but distancing itself from the conservatism associated
with the drama through exciting aesthetic strategies (Hockenhull). It can
be classified as a post-heritage adaptation as it participates in the self-
reflexive turn of recent heritage productions (Vidal 102). It does differ
from the style of other productions, such as Downton Abbey, where there
is no satire on English life, but rather a conservative view of it. The
visual display in Parade’s End is indeed characteristic of heritage produc-
tions, and plays its part in the story. The costuming is highly elaborate
and artistic, and Rebecca Hall’s beauty is framed like a painting in every
scene. The way Rebecca’s red hair stands out against the cerulean blue
of the wallpaper; the sumptuousness of a red velvet dress; the delicate
cut of a crystal Champagne flute – all these things please the eye in ways
one has come to expect from a high-end period drama.
Nevertheless, the protagonist’s unhappiness and suffering stand
prominently at the centre of the story. One of the key scenes that fore-
ground nostalgia and English patriotism takes place when Christopher
tells Valentine that he is joining the army. Valentine reacts very strongly
to the news, since she is already in love with him and very much
opposed to war: ‘What difference does it make when there is all this
pain, this torture? . . . We have to do everything we can not to lose our
men, don’t you see?’ (1.2). In this conversation, Christopher proclaims
his deep patriotic feelings for England: ‘I love every field and hedgerow.
The land is England, and once it was the foundation of order’ (1.2).
He epitomizes the nostalgic sense of a former England that is now
gone. For Christopher, Toryism is ‘Duty. Duty and service to above and
below, frugality, keeping your word, honouring the past, looking after
132 Postnational Nostalgia in Lark Rise and Parade’s End

your people and beggaring yourself if need be before letting duty go

hang . . . For agriculture against industrialism. For the eighteenth century
against twentieth century, if you like’ (1.2). He still believes in a former
world that is disappearing before his eyes. He is now determined to do
something: ‘I am not an English country gentleman who’d let the coun-
try go to hell and never stir himself except to say “I told you so”’ (1.2).
He views fighting for his country in the trenches as a patriotic gesture:
‘I have this big, hulking body to throw into the war. Nothing much to
live for. Because you know what I want I can’t have . . . What I stand for
is gone’ (1.2). Though Valentine tries to tell him that their love could
be something to live for, he leaves her soon afterward. In spite of his
intense patriotic feelings, the burden of failure in personal life weighs
too heavily.
Parade’s End reiterates the idea that the future does not hold much
promise for their present values and lifestyles, so it is natural that he
should look to a past when things appeared better. Thus, nostalgia per-
meates the protagonists’ thoughts and actions. Christopher Tietjens,
disappointed with English society, longs for a former England. He is
forever out of his time in a world where the laws have lost their real-
ity, the system has collapsed and the synthesis of knowledge and belief
has lost its validity (Macauley viii). This emotional work may signal dra-
matic social and cultural changes that have affected all characters in the
In Parade’s End, Groby Hall stands as the emotional focus of nostal-
gia as well as an easily recognizable mark of traditional Englishness. The
English country estate remains both a powerful, omnipresent mental
construct and a symbol of the English national heritage. The Tietjens
in Parade’s End, like the Crawleys in Downton Abbey or the Midwinters
in Lark Rise, have owned their estates for generations. Their sense of
the world is closely linked, therefore, to the place and property they
inherited and will pass on to their heirs. As Christopher explains to
Valentine, ‘Groby is older than Protestantism. Groby tree is a symbol
of the Tietjens. It’s a big cedar. The crown darkens our topmost windows
and the roots undermine our foundations. So one of them will have to
go. House or tree, one day’ (1.1). Even if he is painfully aware of the
need to make a decision and move on, he is deeply hurt when his wife,
Sylvia, cuts it down. This act leads him to finally decide to leave her,
marry Valentine and embrace the new social life the war has created for
him. The tree’s destruction allows him to break with the past, overcome
his paralyzing nostalgia, and make changes. Abandoning his obsession
with the parade, he can now look to the future.
Rosalía Baena 133


As we have seen, both Lark Rise and Parade’s End perform a specific
form of cultural mediation in terms of national identity. Specifically,
these period dramas show how Englishness is continually being reima-
gined and how nostalgia increasingly plays a key role in this revision
of the national character. Considering TV as a ‘privileged site of nos-
talgia’ (Holdsworth, Television, Memory and Nostalgia 97), the evocation
of this emotion accounts for these series’ success and cultural work.
Thus, nostalgia exemplifies the ways an emotion might serve as a rele-
vant parameter for cultural analysis. As Wilson posits, ‘Nostalgia may
be an attempt to find some higher meaning in our existence . . . There is
something strongly transcendent to it. What we are nostalgic for reveals
what we value, what we deem worthwhile and important’ (26). All of
this points to the fact that in our flexible modern environment, with
all its attending fragmentation, we rely increasingly on popular media
narratives to negotiate our social and cultural identities.
Nordic Noir – Location, Identity
and Emotion
Gunhild Agger

Structures of feeling and the Nordic tone

How can we define the Nordic element in ‘Nordic noir’? ‘Noir’ is an

established international term, which refers to a particular film genre
and style, coined during the 1930s, whereas the epithet ‘Nordic’ is open
to interpretation. Presumably it is bound to the Nordic region, but in
which ways – geographically, culturally or socially? Which role can be
ascribed to the apparent differences between the Nordic countries (for
example, climate, landscape or mentality)? Are these differences repre-
sented in ‘Nordic noir’ or are they absent? To which degree can the
term be considered a precise label of a recent, widespread phenomenon
in Nordic media culture? To which degree does it represent successful
commercial branding – perhaps even a branding of the involved nations
behind the phenomenon? All things considered, which implications are
embedded in the concept ‘Nordic noir’?
Understanding and discussing these questions is the purpose of this
article. Aiming to provide clarification as well as nuances, I shall focus
on the concepts of location, identity and emotion in TV series that can
be considered representative of Nordic noir. On the basis of a compa-
rative analysis of selected episodes from three series, I shall highlight
the ways in which these concepts are intertwined. My basic assump-
tion is that the representations of landscapes and cityscapes are linked
not only to emotions inherent in the characters, but also to emotions
supporting the plots in ways which cause distinctive national features to
negotiate with features possessing a transnational appeal. Emotions con-
nected to national identity are being tested constantly in relation to the
Nordic neighbouring nations and their international relations. My pre-
supposition is that certain types of landscapes and cityscapes combined

Gunhild Agger 135

with a focus on social and cultural changes evoke certain types of

emotion, especially when applied metaphorically: ‘The metaphoric cine-
matic landscape is the landscape of suggestion’ (Harper and Rayner 20).
These tests and emotional relations, which until now have not attracted
much scholarly attention in studies related to Nordic noir, will consti-
tute my main focus. Theoretically, my background is close to the British
cultural studies tradition. Accordingly, I shall take my point of depar-
ture in a certain concept formulated by Raymond Williams pertaining
to emotions.
Recent studies in culture and emotion (Sharma and Dahl; Tygstrup;
Pribram) unanimously represent a revival of Williams’ concept of emo-
tions as ‘structures of feeling’ (128). Traditional investigations of emo-
tions have typically lodged emotions within individuals, pursuing a
psychological or a biological mindset. In contrast, Williams’ concept
of emotions as structures of feeling, as collective experiences that are
different from generation to generation (131), paves the way for a cul-
tural approach: ‘We are talking about characteristic elements of impulse,
restraint, and tone; specifically affective elements of consciousness and
relationships: not feeling against thought, but thought as felt and feel-
ing as thought’ (132). A salient issue is that structures of feeling are
always in the present tense: ‘Structures of feeling can be defined as social
experiences in solution, as distinct from other social semantic formations
which have been precipitated and are more evidently and more imme-
diately available’ (133–4; emphasis in original). In spite of its obvious
abstraction, the structures of feeling seem to be critical when aiming to
catch the essence of cultural changes.
Taking the lead from Williams, in her study of emotions in the justice
genre in film and television, Deirdre Pribram focuses on what emotions
‘do’ instead of what they ‘are’; emotions circulate, nurturing relations
between individuals: ‘It is the interactivity of emotions with identity,
meaning production, and narrativity that renders a cultural approach to
emotions significant to film and television studies’ (3). In this context,
‘tone’ (cf. the quotation from Williams above) is a salient concept, for
example, identifying the dominant tone of a certain film or TV series.
As an example, Pribram refers to Crash (2005), a film that focuses on
anger. This anger, mixed with sorrow and grief, is ‘a common emotion
felt by victims of crime, or by the victim’s surrogates, their family and
friends’ who are seeking justice, just like police officials: ‘Anger, then,
often triggers action that enables the capture of the wrong-doer and the
reinstatement of an equilibrium of legal and social order’ (33). The point
is, however, that anger is not solely located within the individual, it also
136 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion

represents ‘a climate of the times. It is dispersed and shared across the

social landscape, connecting otherwise estranged individuals, helping to
form a community of sorts, “in anger”’ (34). This is an excellent example
of the way in which a film can serve as the mouthpiece of a prevalent
structure of feeling.
Pribram’s approach is echoed by Tarja Laine, who, in Feeling Cinema
(2011), points out that ‘the emotional core of the film’ is crucial, and that
emotions are not only human feelings, but also ‘strategic and opera-
tional processes within the film’ (4; emphasis in original). According
to Laine, questions of representation and signification must be supple-
mented by questions of agential practices, which means that the focus
of investigation becomes that which the film does. Consequently, it is
necessary to address the ‘affective dynamics and emotional operations
both within the film and between the film and its spectator’ (10).
Another interesting contribution to the application of Williams’ con-
cept is delivered by Tygstrup in his article ‘Affekt og rum’ (Affect and
Space). On the basis of Harvey’s distinction between absolute space,
relative space and relational positioning (282), Tygstrup coins the con-
cept ‘affective space’. Whereas absolute space is designated by a map,
an objective measurable unit, and relative space by the individual
observer and his or her subjective perception of the space and their
knowledge about its traditions, relational space can be described as a
type of residual category – ‘the space of memory, dreams, imagination’
(Tygstrup 26). This space calls for an investigation of the relationship
between material elements and symbolic forms, individual percep-
tions and fragments of historical traditions, that is, ‘affective space’.
In the following analyses, all of these elements will be taken into
I shall start by investigating the origins and implications of the con-
cept of Nordic noir, and proceed by drawing a picture of the various tra-
ditions preceding this in and amongst Nordic countries. In the following
analyses, my cases will be ‘Kuriren’ (‘The Courier’, 2.3) from the Swedish
series, Wallander (TV4, 2005–), selected episodes from the Danish series,
Forbrydelsen (The Killing, DR1, 2007–12), which reflects the Danish–
Swedish relationship, and the first episode of the Swedish–Danish
co-production, Bron|Broen (The Bridge, SVT1-DR1, 2011–). In ‘Kuriren’
and Forbrydelsen I and II, images of Denmark and Sweden are typi-
cally shot on location, conveying a mixture of real places that can be
found in absolute space and historical images of Denmark and Sweden;
this appeals to and negotiates a complexity of emotions connected to
Gunhild Agger 137

relational space. These images are assimilated and further elaborated in

In the Swedish Wallander series, produced and mainly shot in Ystad,
location is inextricably linked to the small, apparently idyllic town of
Ystad, its surrounding areas and the Baltic Sea. This setting was so com-
pelling that it was adapted by the British Wallander series (BBC One,
2008–12), which was also produced in Ystad. The combination of inter-
national crimes and a provincial setting is typical for the series, as is the
combination of emotional restraint and professional dedication on the
part of Wallander, the main investigator. I shall analyse this duplicity
in the setting and its relationship to the emotions of Wallander, who
incarnates what has been labelled ‘Swedish anxiety’ (Kirkegaard), thus
symbolizing a prevalent structure of feeling which has a powerful impact
on the tone of the series.
In relation to Forbrydelsen I shall pursue the representations of
Sweden and Denmark as conveyed by landscapes, cityscapes and cha-
racters. From the very beginning, this relationship constitutes a salient
framework as Sarah Lund, the main character, is planning to leave
Copenhagen in order to settle with Bengt, her Swedish fiancé, in
Sweden. Later, in episodes four and five in Forbrydelsen II, the plot
takes us to Sweden, further elaborating the image of this nation as a
contrast to Denmark, enhancing dark undertones interacting with the
thriller plot and exhibiting location as a metaphorical playground for
prevalent emotions of the characters as well as for the tone of the
Bron|Broen takes place in Sweden as well as in Denmark (and on
the bridge dividing and uniting the two nations). It explicitly exhibits
stereotypes – those of national identity combined with stereotypes of
gender-based emotions – as demonstrated by the contrast between the
female Swedish investigator and her male Danish counterpart. The
characters of the two police officers represent a reversal of traditional
gender stereotypes, which is typical of Nordic noir. In the following,
I shall highlight the way in which this reversal interacts with emotion,
space/location and tone.
The criteria for my selection of cases is that the series and episodes
chosen must be typical of prevalent tendencies in Nordic noir, and
clearly demonstrate a wider dialogue concerned with the handling of
relational space. In Nordic productions, identity and emotion related
to location aim to ensure an understanding at a domestic as well as a
transnational level.
138 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion

Origins of Nordic noir

Though willingly accepted domestically, the term ‘Nordic noir’ was not
primarily coined by critics or producers from Nordic nations. The term is
typical of a phenomenon which, seen from a broader perspective, unites
the viewpoint of a foreign eye with a recognizable Nordic context, easily
remembered because of its alliteration. Apparently, the term was coined
by the Scandinavian Department at the University College of London;
the department launched a Nordic noir blog and a book club in March
2010. In December 2010, the BBC exposed the term in the title of a docu-
mentary called ‘Nordic Noir: the Story of Scandinavian Crime Fiction’.
In the British press, reviewers from The Guardian in particular labelled
the series, The Killing (2011–12), ‘Nordic noir’, and Barry Forshaw pur-
sued the phenomenon further in two books, the latter of which was
simply called Nordic Noir.
In March 2013, a webpage was launched to host information about
films, TV series, exhibitions and events. This type of branding signi-
ficantly broadens the concept of Nordic Noir, which now also tends
to include the political drama series, Borgen (DR1, 2010–13) as well as
entries of new Nordic food and other Nordic brands (http://nordicnoir.
tv/). In the spring of 2014, the name of the website changed from
‘Nordic Noir’ to ‘Nordic Noir and Beyond’, legitimizing references to
German TV series such as Generation War (ZDF, 2013) or the Italian
Inspector De Luca (RAI, 2008). Clearly, this labelling method seeks to
expand the scope of the genre so as to include other European TV
productions into the framework, enabling Nordic noir to aspire to
the position of market leader within non-English crime fiction and
quality TV.
However, the web edition of the Oxford Dictionary suggests a more
limited and precise definition. Registered as a new term in August 2013,
the dictionary defines Nordic noir as ‘a type of Scandinavian crime fic-
tion and television drama that typically features dark storylines and
bleak urban settings’. The dictionary includes the following sentences as
examples: ‘The appetite for Nordic noir shows no sign of decreasing’ (original
emphasis); ‘Aberystwyth may have the country’s lowest crime rate, but
it is the perfect setting for Hinterland, a rival to Nordic noir thrillers like
The Killing’.
The very concept of ‘Nordic noir’ emphasizes the common cross-
Nordic characteristics and, in certain respects, these do indeed pre-
vail in productions that are exported. Forshaw has pointed out the
most obvious cross-Nordic feature: the dominant social orientation and
Gunhild Agger 139

indignation setting a dominant tone of reflection and melancholy.

The attitude of social criticism lurks behind the plots of crime and
investigation, always touching a sensitive issue: why is this happen-
ing in Nordic societies given the social welfare systems that are in
place? Originally introduced by Sjöwall and Wahlöö between 1965 and
1975, this question runs as a constant thread through Nordic crime fic-
tion. Consequently, an adequate label for the dominant tone could be
‘contemporary crime fiction with a social conscience in a Nordic set-
ting’ (Agger, ‘Emotion, Gender’ 111). Other shared features have been
outlined by Agger and Waade (2011).1
In Nordic noir, the internationally established noir genre forms the
basis of a specific type of innovation, enhancing the role of the local
setting and atmosphere. Genre variation may occur when new sur-
roundings and circumstances are emphasized, for instance by combin-
ing the welfare society with the atmosphere of film noir. In his book,
Film Noir, Luhr draws attention to Fincher’s Seven (1995) as an exam-
ple of the neo-noir, and he links Seven directly to the Icelandic writer
Arnaldur Indridasson’s Jar city (novel and film, Luhr 191). I have pre-
viously pointed out that, in different ways, the endings of Forbrydelsen
I and III represent a repetition of the ending of Seven (Agger, ‘Nordic
Noir’), which turns victims and investigators into perpetrators.
Seen from a broader perspective, the label ‘Nordic noir’ precisely sub-
sumes a series of essential common features. These features comprise
a feeling of community between the Nordic countries in the fictions
of social conscience, dark storylines and bleak urban as well as rural
settings, while touching on the weaknesses of the welfare state in the
respective countries. Furthermore, the combination of harsh social criti-
cism and a tone of Nordic nostalgia is widely known from great artists
of the nineteenth century – Strindberg and Ibsen – and it may be felt
to be looming in the background, just like paintings by Munch and the
Skagen painters or the films by Bergman from the twentieth century.

Specific locations and shared traditions

As regards to the location of modern Nordic noir, there is no doubt

that this is centred in Nordic countries. Furthermore, constant attention
to other countries and international affiliations often plays an accentu-
ated part in the plots. Ystad, for instance, is a ferry harbour connecting
the region of Scania to Poland and Denmark (Bornholm). In Wallander,
images of the Baltic Sea are incessantly used as a reminder of both dis-
tance and proximity. In Forbrydelsen I–III, Copenhagen is portrayed as a
140 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion

city managing its own local affairs and as the capital in which foreign
affairs begins and ends. In Forbrydelsen I, the concept of the local city
is emphasized: the city is the battleground of conflicting politics and
is divided into competing quarters, as exemplified by the local mayoral
elections. The global centres of conflict are echoed in Forbrydelsen II –
especially Afghanistan. The Copenhagen of Forbrydelsen III is a place of
transit, highlighted by the harbour. Bron|Broen revolves around the fact
that Copenhagen and Malmö are mutually connected by the Øresund
From a specific national perspective, however, there are striking diffe-
rences between the Nordic countries. These tend to be enhanced in
fictitious images. Moreover, to guide the viewer through neighbour-
ing TV drama, examples of ‘banal nationalism’ are often applied. Billig
coined the term ‘banal nationalism’, drawing attention to the many cus-
tomary ways in which the awareness of national identity is signalled in
everyday life – by flagging, coins, passports, memory sites and so forth.
When represented in Swedish and Norwegian crime fiction,
Copenhagen is often depicted negatively as a city of rashness and
irresponsibility, a city in which trade in hashish, drugs and women is
widespread and a city where alcohol is consumed in excessive quantities.
On the positive side, the attitude to life in general is usually represented
as less austere than further north. A similar notion is also found in
domestic Swedish and Norwegian films; however, they often ascribe a
criminal role to Stockholm and Oslo. In both cases, the centre–periphery
opposition clearly imposes itself.
It is telling that the stereotypical Swedish and Norwegian notions of
Copenhagen are influenced by domestic Danish literary and cinematic
traditions. In Danish literature, a strong tradition prevails of imagin-
ing Copenhagen as a city of sin and crime; this is reflected in classical
novels, such as Martin Andersen Nexø’s Pelle Erobreren (Pelle the Con-
queror, 1906–10) and Tom Kristensen’s Hærværk (Vandalism, 1930) as
well as in modern novels, for example Jonas T. Bengtsson’s Submarino
(2007). It is significant that these novels have called for cinematic coun-
terparts, resulting in adaptations by August (1987), Roos (1977) and
Vinterberg (2010). As a result, the visual traditions of conveying the
bleak cityscape of the capital are quite elaborate in Danish cinema.
Consequently, when Norwegian Staalesen explicitly combined the
dark sides of Copenhagen with the notion of noir, he was simply
enhancing the potential of a formerly established Danish tradition. His
novel, Tornerose sov i hundre år (Sleeping Beauty for a Hundred Years, 1980)
takes its point of departure in a detailed description of Vesterbro, a
Gunhild Agger 141

district of Copenhagen near the central railway station, infamous for its
concentration of prostitution, drugs and crime. Varg Veum, Staalesen’s
private eye, visits Istedgade, the main street of Vesterbro’s red-light
district, in order to find a destitute young run-away girl. Confronted
with this street, Veum reflects on the nature of the place: ‘Istedgade is
Copenhagen’s gutter’ (Staalesen 8, my translation).2
Staalesen’s description was followed up in Danish crime fiction, where
the dark notion in the image of Copenhagen was strongly accentuated
by Dan Turèll in his series of 12 detective novels beginning with Mord i
mørket (Murder in the Dark) in 1981. Most of Turèll’s novels are located in
Vesterbro. Here, the nameless freelance reporter, the main protagonist
of the series, is walking about as an integrated part of the milieu, in the
style of Raymond Chandler. Murder in the Dark was adapted as a film
in 1986, enhancing the film noir style (director: Sune Lund-Sørensen).
This trend was further aesthetically elaborated in two TV mini-series:
Edderkoppen (The Spider, DR, 2000) and Den serbiske dansker (The Serbian
Dane, DR, 2001), paving the way for Forbrydelsen.
In Danish representations of locations in Norway and Sweden, the
element of untamed nature is often accentuated. Denmark is a small
country characterized by intensive farming and a high population den-
sity. The least controllable element is the sea, which is almost always
everywhere, and the sea indeed plays a significant role as a backdrop
or symbolic setting in many types of fiction. In Norway and Sweden,
the sea may also be present, constituting a shared element. In addition,
the two nations possess vast areas of woods, lakes and mountains and all
sorts of untouched landscapes, representing the contrast to urbanization
and cultivated fields – the very core of nature. Seen from a Danish point
of view, images of the wilderness are greatly attractive as they represent
the relentless, frightening and boundless aspects of nature.
In Swedish cinema, crime films represent a much stronger tradition
in comparison to Denmark or Norway, as thoroughly demonstrated by
Brodén (2008), who examines films as well as TV series. In his combined
cultural analytical and genre-based study, Brodén uses the metaphor
of the ‘shadow image’, the red thread pointing to the ‘dark picture of
society’ dominant in Swedish crime cinema (281).
Brodén traces the development of crime genre films from the 1940s
till today, focusing on the transformations of the metaphor: the dark
shadow images have changed according to the changes in the social
structure, the development of the Swedish model, the welfare state or
‘the people’s home’ (‘Folkhemmet’). Brodén emphasizes that the crime
and thriller genres established ‘an important part of the modernization
142 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion

of Swedish film culture during World War II’ (295), paving the way
for the successes of Swedish film and television makers in these genres
during the 1990s, including the adaptations of novels by Guillou and
Summing up, the shared elements of the Nordic noir are constituted
mainly by the common social and political denominator of the Nordic
societies, which is associated to the welfare state – its development,
strengths, challenges and drawbacks. As far as nature and landscapes are
concerned, the striking differences are emphasized. Culturally, national
stereotypes, often combined with a teasing or humorous attitude, are
negotiated in the prevailing fictitious images and characters.

Wallander: ‘Kuriren’, the sea as an emotional foil

The very first sequence of the episode ‘Kuriren’ (‘The Courier’) (2.3)
shows the location of the Town Hall Square in Copenhagen. At the
top of Richshuset, one of the characteristic buildings in the square,
we catch a glimpse of a golden weather girl and the name of Jyllands-
Posten; since the infamous cartoons that were published in 2006, this
is perhaps the best-known Danish newspaper abroad (Figure 8.1). The
introductory sequence follows drugs courier, Erik Stråh, alternating his
focus between the road and his speed; his motorcycle is viewed from
the angle of an imaginary observer and then – at the Øresund Bridge –
from the perspective of the customs officials. Erik is stopped; he makes a
daring escape and succeeds in delivering his load to drugs baron, Jovan
Brankovic, who has associated himself with the Bloodhounds, an Ystad
motorcyclists group.

Figure 8.1 A dark Copenhagen establishes the frame of Kuriren

Gunhild Agger 143

This beginning is played out at night, introducing the noir style

from the outset. The style is further emphasized by the city lights con-
trasting the dark surroundings and the deepening darkness of a rural
area in Sweden. During this introductory part, the characters appear
anonymous, resembling marionettes, or shadow images. We do not
see any faces, only figures and silhouettes. The drugs are delivered in
Copenhagen, which is depicted as a city of darkness. Thus, the tra-
ditional role of crime and easy access to vice is ascribed to this city.
However, the attitude is not in any way moralistic; it is stressed that the
drug business takes place as an international affair involving Swedes as
well as Danes and Serbs.
The Øresund Bridge is visualized in its dual capacity of uniting
and dividing the two countries. Its aesthetic attractions are not par-
ticularly highlighted, but its symbolic implications are underscored,
which paves the way for its later representation in Bron|Broen. On the
one hand, the bridge represents easy mutual access, in this case to
drugs being transported by an inconspicuous biker pretending that he
is just an ordinary commuter carrying his lunchbox in his rucksack.
On the other hand, the bridge also represents a boundary: customs
authorities and an additional surveillance system prevent the free flow
of people and goods. In this case, the control system is outmanoeu-
vred by Stråh, the competent biker, but the attention stirred by his
narrow escape becomes the cause of his sudden death just one hour
The next day, in broad daylight, the camera carefully points out a sign
of banal nationalism, showing the Swedish colours (blue and yellow) on
the jacket of Karin’s son, while he rides a new moped along the beach
and in front of Wallander’s house. This indication of place is reinforced
by the image of the Swedish flag in front of the police headquarters in
Ystad. The Baltic Sea near Ystad is the location where Stråh’s body is
found, and the scene is set for his replacement by another competent
and enthusiastic biker, Danish Johannes. The obvious analogy between
the two is enhanced by identical perspectives when he is forced to take
over, duplicating the entire route: the streets of Copenhagen, the cross-
ing of the bridge and the entrance into Sweden, now with Johannes
as the protagonist. The identical perspective serves as a reminder that
organized crime transcends all borders, whether national or moral. This
is emphasized by the red and white bar at the bridge, which prevents
further passage.
The last perspective of ‘Kuriren’ – Karin’s son riding his moped at
the playground of the moped enthusiasts – shows how easy it is to
144 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion

take the first step of becoming involved in the daring masculine sport
that may eventually contribute to challenging geographical as well as
moral limits. In this way, the Øresund Bridge assumes the status of
a metaphorical place, hinting at the notions of admission and limi-
tations. This does not reflect a national conflict between Sweden and
Denmark, but serves instead to investigate the insecure and unsta-
ble boundaries between the emotions of youthful joy and enthusiasm,
and fatal obsession that may lead to risky involvement in professional
In her analysis of the location of crime scenes, Waade draws attention
to the significant role the sea and the waterfront plays in this regard:
‘The beach underlines Wallander’s emotional condition and ambiguity,
indicating longing and fear, rest and unrest’ (‘Crime Scenes’ 15). The
sea is a highly metaphorical place. In Wallander, it is basically used in
two ways, corresponding to Waade’s ideas of ‘longing and fear, rest and
unrest’. The sea serves as an emotional foil, enhancing the sensation of
the ever-present element that will remain when the criminals, investi-
gators and audiences are all dead. That is why Wallander has chosen his
home at the seaside: when all crimes have been solved, when all troubles
caused by the uneven developments of the welfare society have faded,
the sea will still be there.
At the same time, the sea represents an unruly element that is not
easily controlled. The sea washes criminals as well as dead bodies onto
the shore. In the same way as the cultural metaphor of the bridge,
the natural metaphor of the sea stresses a condition that not only
divides, but also connects and unites, often with frightening results
that signal fear and unrest. Waade highlights the location of Ystad,
exhibiting ‘the tension between idyll and violence as a dramaturgic
and visual concept’ (‘Crime Scenes’ 17). This tension is reinforced by
the dual nature of the sea, appealing not only to domestic audiences
but, as demonstrated by the successful export of Wallander, also to other
Nordic and international audiences.3 The idyllic sea landscapes are fur-
ther underscored by the British version of Wallander, which was one of
the reasons for choosing the original location, enhancing the notion
of ‘guilty landscape, a landscape with human and emotional characte-
ristics’ (Waade ‘Crime Scenes’ 18; emphasis in original). In this way,
the sea supports the notion of the ‘structures of feeling’ accompany-
ing ‘Kuriren’. The unruly and unpredictable sea conveys the emotional
core of Wallander, emphasizing the sense of melancholy and loss of
Gunhild Agger 145

Forbrydelsen and the double maze

In The Killing: Urban Topographies of a Crime, I argue that the way in

which location, place and space interact in the triple serial has played
an important part in its domestic as well as international appeal. The
abstract level of space and atmosphere meets the concrete level of place
as represented in the urban topographies of a crime. Certain locations
assume symbolic undertones interacting with the thriller plot, exhibit-
ing location as a convenient playground for the characters’ emotions.
Examples of this are the town hall (Forbrydelsen I), the parliament
(Forbrydelsen II) and the harbour area (Forbrydelsen III). While the fronts
of these locations are recognizable, their interiors (or in the case of
the harbour: the ships and their surroundings) are disturbing, render-
ing ambiguous the concept of location. This sensation is conveyed by
establishing pictures and frequent dividers depicting the city as a huge
labyrinth.4 The question is: which role do the inter-Nordic aspects play
in this context?
The introductory sequence of the very first episode of Forbrydelsen
shows Sarah Lund in a challenging setting. We meet her alone in a dark
basement that is lit up only by her torch. The music is sombre. She stum-
bles into something and the light is then turned on; subsequently, the
entire set is illuminated and the sound of roaring laughter can be heard.
What she felt in the darkness was a plastic doll with a penis, long yellow
plaits and a Viking helmet in the colours of the Swedish flag. In this case,
the signs of banal nationalism are combined with humour and coarse
joking. Obviously, this beginning serves primarily to demonstrate that
in the eyes of her (primarily male) colleagues, Sarah is a person who is
not only accepted, but also appreciated, as she is as good as any man.
This is the clear message at her reception celebrating her approaching
departure for Sweden, where she is planning to settle with Bengt, her
fiancé, in a countryside cottage. Professionally, she will work as a con-
sultant for the Swedish police. The competition between Denmark and
Sweden is humorously illustrated by the juxtaposition of the Swedish
helmet with the Danish flag and Danish aquavit (Figure 8.2).
In line with the message of this introduction, Sarah Lund’s Swedish
prospects will be challenged and will, eventually, vanish. Sweden is
depicted as a country of nature and light and contrasted with the dark
cityscape of Copenhagen and the atmosphere of tension that always
surrounds Lund. The contrast is clearly demonstrated in one of the cou-
ple’s many frustrating telephone conversations during episodes two and
146 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion

Figure 8.2 Swedish and Danish national markers compete in this introductory
shot of Sarah Lund

three. Sweden is displayed as a metaphor for love and the good life
comprised of nature, whereas Copenhagen is synonymous with endless
hard work in order to unmask riddles, lies and crimes encountered in a
labyrinth, with the only exit being the Øresund Bridge.
Finally, Sarah Lund’s disposition as a traditional male investigator
makes the choice for her, and her prospect of living a harmonious life
in Sweden is abandoned. However, on second thoughts, we can ask
the question: would she thrive under less challenging conditions? The
introductory sequence conveyed the message that her character func-
tions just as those of her many male predecessors, who value the joy of
hard work, which yields results (cfr. Agger ‘Emotion, Gender’). Just like
Wallander, Lund is a person who has no identity beyond that supplied
by her professional occupation. Her working ethos is identical with her
own identity, and consequently the admonitions of the introductory
sequence are confirmed.
The notion that Swedish nature is not simply idyllic, but in fact has
another darker side is elaborated in episodes four and five of Forbrydelsen
II, when Lisbeth Thomsen, a member of the Danish unit that returned
from Afghanistan, seeks refuge at ‘Skogö’, an imaginary remote Swedish
island.5 Subsequently, Lund and Ulrik Strange, her ambiguous colleague,
have to find her in order to warn her that she might be the next target
of the criminal who is pursuing each of the group members. En route,
the Øresund Bridge is aesthetically highlighted for the first time in the
series. Later, in an establishing shot, the bridge is depicted as part of the
Copenhagen skyline, signalling that the passage to Sweden has become
a part of the identity of the city.
Gunhild Agger 147

Figure 8.3 The labyrinthine structure of Copenhagen includes the Øresund

Bridge in the background as a possible exit strategy

The bright, idyllic landscape of Sweden represented in the first few

episodes of Forbrydelsen I is now replaced by an opposing image. The
first sight that meets the eye after crossing the bridge is that of a dark
pine forest. The sombre atmosphere of the forest mirrors the change in
Sarah’s situation; she falls into a gloomy state of mind, as she reflects:
‘Once I had a Swedish fiancé’ (Forbrydelsen II.4). The lonely island, with
its scarce population and isolated position (it is only connected to the
mainland by a ferry), turns out to be every bit as dangerous as the city.
There are no hiding places, no ways out and no mercy. To illustrate the
visual image, Lund asks: ‘What lies in this direction?’ and receives the
answer: ‘Nothing, just the woods’. – ‘And in that direction?’ – ‘Just the
same, just the woods. There are 8000 hectares of woods’ (Forbrydelsen
II.5). Labyrinthine darkness prevails, resulting eventually in the death of
Lisbeth Thomsen. The parallel to the other unit members whose death
occurred in the city is obvious.
An identical gloomy image of nature is dominant in the final episode
of the series. In this instance, Norway provides the austere setting. The
barren mountains and the fiords serve as an accompaniment to the tense
atmosphere in the police car while pursuing a continuously moving tar-
get. The feeling of being nowhere and getting nowhere is stressed by the
disillusioned ending.
In summary, the landscape of Sweden as represented in Forbrydelsen
is characterized by nature and wilderness as opposed to urban, indus-
trialized spaces in Denmark. Here we hardly ever see the countryside.
However, the Swedish landscape is twofold, representing the good life
as well as labyrinthine darkness. The latter has the upper hand. This
148 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion

reversal underlines the parallels: the maze of the city resembles the end-
less woods and the dead ends of investigation, mirroring the mood
and emotions of the principal investigator, and supporting the domi-
nant tone of the long series: neither naked nature, nor organizations
deployed by society can quite cope with the dark forces inherent in
certain species of mankind. Consequently, Lund’s facial expressions
alternate between determination (to finally find the traces leading to the
truth, to see through the lies) and melancholia (because of the intriguing
complexities of perpetrators as well as victims).

Bron|Broen: negotiating emotions and cultural stereotypes

In my analysis of the Nordic elements in ‘Kuriren’ and Forbrydelsen,

I have highlighted features which can – in retrospect – be considered
to be leading to Bron|Broen: the proximity between the Scandinavian
countries (primarily Denmark and Sweden in the cases analysed) as well
as stereotypes and real differences in their mutual perception of each
other. Bron|Broen confronts them all. The production represents what
Hjort has called a ‘natural coproduction’ driven by basic principles of
cultural ownership and authenticity because the story calls for ‘cultural
participation on the part of two nations’ (196). From a certain point of
view, this forms the very target of investigation, as claimed by Gemzøe.
His understanding is clearly supported by the title. By displaying the
Swedish and Danish words for ‘the bridge’, the title shows the simi-
larities between the languages despite their small differences. Further,
it invites a Swedish as well as a Danish audience to watch the series
simultaneously, and emphasizes its bilingual nature.
The investigation of national identity takes place with the bridge as
a vehicle. This is why the concept of the bridge is highlighted not only
in the title, but also in the opening credits. From representing a bor-
der and a connector in ‘Kuriren’ and the dead end of the labyrinth in
Forbrydelsen, the bridge in Bron|Broen moves into the very centre of the
series’ narrative and aesthetic interest.6 This fundamental advancement
may be the main reason why the series has constituted a steady invi-
tation to remakes in the context of other nations: a bridge is not only
a geographical fact, but also a metaphor loaded with significance and
emotions reminiscent of cultural clashes as well as cooperation.
In Bron|Broen, two lines of investigation are carried out simultane-
ously. One line pursues the essential crime plot, which, at first, seems
to challenge the welfare state and its shortcomings regarding the solu-
tion or at least regulation of five crucial issues: (1) children’s work; (2)
Gunhild Agger 149

people suffering from mental illness; (3) immigrants; (4) homelessness;

and (5) equality before the law. The other line investigates the two
main police officers, their private lives and the development of their
mutual professional relationship. The first line eventually mingles with
the second, as the whole set up turns out to be motivated by a wish for
personal vengeance on the part of the ingenious villain. In film noir,
the private life of the detective is as dreary as the dark lanes, and his
personal preferences often intertwine with the plot. In this case, it may
be considered a flaw in the plot as it devalues the suspense built up by
the main parts of the episodes; it does, however, support the supposi-
tion that the most interesting conflict is culturally based. By disposition
and inclination, as well as in terms of culture, the main characters were
clearly conceived as opposites in all respects.
The young female Swedish investigator, Saga Norén, is coarse, direct,
non-empathic, never inclined to bending the rules in the light of a
given context or paying tribute to conventions such as politeness or
just upholding a good atmosphere in the team. She is a dedicated loner,
rather than a team player. Heiress to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander,
marked by a scar in the face, her clear-cut perception is almost autis-
tic, but she does possess special gifts for police work in terms of finding
clues overlooked by others and understanding connections. The com-
position of her personality is demonstrated by her attitude to sexuality:
it is just an urge, an itch to be satisfied either by herself or – preferably –
by any available male in the next bar. When the sexual act has been
completed, her interest vanishes – she either falls asleep or resumes her
work. This composition of a character displaying a negative attitude to
all types of emotions represents a complete reversal of traditional gen-
der stereotypes, even surpassing the character of Sarah Lund. Norén acts
exactly like a callous male investigator; her shield is her professional
Martin Rohde, her experienced, post middle-aged, male Danish coun-
terpart, is depicted as a kind, considerate man, endowed with the gift
of empathy; he often engages in small talk with strangers as well as
colleagues. He is the kind of man who brings crusty bread rolls when
arriving at the police headquarters in Malmö early in the morning,
expecting coffee to be served. He is also the kind of man who very read-
ily engages with women other than his wife. It is telling that – to use his
own words – he has five children with three different wives. In contrast
to Saga Norén, he is able to show his emotions: not only does he laugh,
he also cries – a disposition traditionally reserved for women; his facial
expression and body language convey all states of emotions that exist
150 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion

between the two extremes. He openly discloses his personal emotions,

for example, his feelings about his sterilization as well his family.
The names of the two characters symbolically point out their diffe-
rences: Saga refers to the strong women of the Icelandic sagas, and the
surname Rohde is pronounced in the same way as the verb ‘rode’ =
making a mess. Thus, the two characters were conceived as stereotypes,
reinforcing current cultural stereotypes, such as Swedes being rigid and
dull (seen from a prejudiced Danish point of view), and Danes being
jolly, hearty, easy-go-lucky people feeding on a diet of lager and Danish
pastry (seen from a prejudiced Swedish point of view). The line follow-
ing their professional relationship balances on the edge of banality. Yet
it turns out to be more interesting than might be expected, considering
all the clichés served at the beginning of the series.
The challenge, and the hook for the audience, is that Norén and
Rohde have to cooperate. When doing so, they are forced to consider
and reconsider their prejudices about one another – and about their
imaginary notions of ‘Sweden’ and ‘Denmark’; they are bound to negoti-
ate the kind of national identity inscribed in them by way of stereotypes
found everywhere in banal nationalism. These negotiations take place
continuously, using the metaphor of the bridge as a vehicle and against
the backdrop of the cityscapes of Malmö and Copenhagen. The Øre-
sund Bridge is mainly displayed as the connector with its gleaming
stream of cars and lights. The placement of the two half-bodies, grue-
somely united into one, disconnects the lights, and the challenge now
is to re-establish the connection. Ironically, the upper part of the body
turns out to belong to a Swedish female politician, and the lower part
to a Danish prostitute, murdered one year earlier in a crime to which
the police had paid little attention. This composite body and symbolic
placement constitutes the original riddle: We – Sweden and Denmark –
are in this together, literally illuminated by the lights of the bridge, and
what is the result?
The communality between the two nations is demonstrated in the
title sequence, which displays, in turn, the dark cityscapes of Malmö
and Copenhagen in spite of all their electric lights. It focuses on icons
and locations such as the turning torso (Malmö) and the towers of
Copenhagen, the police headquarters, and, ironically (because of the
darkness), it includes traditional tourist attractions, such as the Scanic
mill and the Little Mermaid. Obviously, this artifice serves two purposes.
First, it points to the inherent similarity of the two cities: they each
have their own skylines, towers and symbols, and while there are dif-
ferences, they are shared at a higher level. Secondly, it helps the viewer
to acquire a sense of orientation by way of location. As incessant shifts
Gunhild Agger 151

Figure 8.4 The bridge in Bron|Broen is visualised as a symbol of connection

occur during the series, icons help the audience to understand the plot.
Thirdly, the bridge serves not only as a shared location and playground
for the two connected nations, but also helps to set the tone of the dark
drama. Furthermore, the bridge is a constant reminder of the similar-
ities as well as differences, the existence of cultural clashes as well as

Conclusion: Nordic noir and beyond

My analyses show an intriguing line of development in the representa-

tion of the Nordic location corresponding to the increasing awareness of
Nordic noir as a special subgenre during the years 2007–12. In ‘Kuriren’,
the Øresund Bridge was visualized in its dual capacity of uniting and
dividing. The Baltic Sea was represented as a highly metaphorical
place, displaying both sides of Wallander’s emotional condition, calm
as well as unrest, just as the Scanian landscape represented the typi-
cal provincial ‘guilty landscape’, simultaneously appealing to domestic
and international audiences. Also, Wallander’s emotional condition was
representative of the entire Swedish welfare society.
Forbrydelsen included the contrasting cityscapes of Denmark and
landscapes of Sweden. It pointed out contrasts as well as similari-
ties, in the end comparing the Swedish woods with the labyrinth of
Copenhagen in a manner that mirrored the life and the mood of the
principal investigator, who was bound, eventually, to repeat the ending
of Seven. In both cases, the dominant tone was melancholic, highlight-
ing injustice and power, continuously pressing charges against society.
While the Øresund Bridge was seen as an escape, in reality, the route led
to a dead end.
152 Nordic Noir – Location, Identity and Emotion

In Bron|Broen, the bridge was used as a vehicle and a metaphor to

conduct investigations and explore Swedish and Danish identities and
stereotypes. The division between the two nations was overcome by the
bridge, forcing a reconsideration of the cultural relationship between the
two countries. The red thread of the investigation represented the oppo-
sition between the two investigators, dependent on a clash between
the strong emotions displayed by Martin in contrast to Saga’s lack of
empathy. The gap between the two (cultures) was filled with banal
nationalist ideas and traditional gender-based relations only reversed.
This reversal called attention to the stereotypes while negotiating them.
In spite of the gruesome details of the crime plots, these negotiations
were often carried out with humour serving as the catalyst for better
mutual acceptance.
In any case, the series enhanced the local Nordic setting, emphasis-
ing the location and its special light – or its greyness and darkness,
its emotional atmosphere, its correspondence with the mood of the
investigators, and the dominant melancholic tone of the series. How-
ever, seen from the point of view of non-Nordic audiences, this setting
is not far from other internationally well-known settings with similar
seas and cities; also in addition, the cultural conflicts are well known in
other contexts. Thus, transnational elements can be said to have been
included in the series from the very beginning.
The Nordic noir series is intriguing when viewed from the perspective
of universally shared emotions and negotiated identities. Nordic noir
seems to represent a combination strategy, which installs transnational
elements in the original productions and allows the formats to be
recreated (as seen in the American remake of The Killing and the
American/Mexican and English/French remakes of The Bridge/The Tun-
nel)7 or adapted (the BBC version of Wallander). Furthermore, the
essential features of Nordic noir have been adopted in the UK, as is
undoubtedly the case in the ‘Welsh noir’ crime series, Hinterland, set
in Aberystwyth (BBC, 2013–),8 as well as Broadchurch and Fortitude (Sky
Atlantic, 2015–).
Part III
Genre and Emotions
Loss is Part of the Deal: Love, Fear
and Mourning in TV Horror
Stacey Abbott

Long believed to be incompatible bedfellows, in the twenty-first cen-

tury TV and the horror genre have increasingly and openly been thrust
together. While Lorna Jowett and I have argued that horror has been a
consistent presence on television since the 1950s, the genre has become
more visible in the current broadcast climate across a wide range of
channels, networks, pay TV and streaming services in the UK and the
US, with new series, such as In the Flesh (BBC3, 2013–14), Hannibal
(NBC, 2013–15), Hemlock Grove (Netflix, 2013–) and The Originals (CW,
2013–), continuing to emerge (see Jowett and Abbott). One argument
for the increasing visibility of horror on television is that the relaxation
of censorship across the multi-channel landscape has allowed for more
mainstream genres to adopt many of the graphic, corporeal conventions
associated with horror, particularly focusing upon the body in dis-
array. Shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS, 2000–15), House
(Fox, 2004–12), Bones (Fox, 2005–), and The Following (Fox, 2013–),
each offering their own variation on the hospital, detective drama and
police procedural, regularly include graphic depictions of body traumas,
decomposing or damaged remains, and bloody crime scenes. This has
meant that many examples of TV Horror have had to increase their quo-
tient of blood, gore and corporeal mayhem to fully exploit the genre’s
visceral characteristics and stand out as horror.
In the recent past, a glimpse of blood and gore or the ‘use of abject
bodily fluids as stand-ins for images of actual bodily dismemberment
and disintegration’, as argued by Hills and Williams about Angel (WB,
1999–2004), was sufficient to evoke a feeling of horror on television
(208). When vampires were staked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB/CW,
1997–2003) and Angel, they burst into a cloud of dust, highlighting their
uncanniness and spectrality but also, as DeVito-Ziemer argues, using the

156 Love, Fear and Mourning in TV Horror

sparkling dust to stand in for the absence of blood spatter. Now when
vampires are killed on Supernatural (CW, 2005–), they are beheaded with
a bloody sweep of an axe, while the ‘true death’ on True Blood (HBO,
2008–14) results in the vampire’s body exploding in a burst of blood,
tissue and bone rather than sparkling dust. The narrative of The Walking
Dead (AMC, 2010–) is structured around gory scenes of decomposing
bodies and flesh-eating zombies. All of these effects satisfy the horror
fan’s expectations by generating feelings of shock and disgust, which
are standard emotional responses of the genre.
The emotional affect of the horror genre on film is, of course, quite
varied. At its most basic, it is designed to scare the audience and, as
Brigid Cherry argues, ‘being scared can itself become the main pleasure
of watching horror films, and not the particular films themselves’ (37).
This emotional response is often marked by certain behaviour: ‘Scream-
ing, jumping in fright, clinging onto their friends, averting their look
at the screen, even shouting warnings at the characters or laughing’
(Cherry 38). These emotional reactions, to which I would add holding
their breath, cowering in their seat, revulsion and nausea, convey a com-
plicated range of experiences of fear, suggesting that the nature of what
frightens audiences can vary. A great deal of scholarship exists examin-
ing the different psychological, emotional, and cognitive responses to
the horror genre in film and literature. For instance, Todorov’s notion of
the fantastic suggests that feelings of unease are generated by the uncer-
tainty experienced ‘when a person who knows only the laws of nature’
is confronted by ‘an apparently supernatural event’ (15). For instance, in
The Haunting it is unclear whether the seemingly ghostly events depicted
in Hill House are the result of a ghost or the psychologically induced
imaginings of the film’s protagonists, fear and unease are, therefore,
generated by this uncertainty. Freud argued that the ‘uncanny’, a sub-
ject he related to ‘what is frightening – to what arouses dread and horror’
(339), emerges through the return of something familiar that has been
made unfamiliar, and therefore frightening through its repression. This
critical approach has been adopted by numerous film scholars in their
analysis of the horror genre (see Wood; Schneider).
In contrast, Carroll argues that fear in horror is generated by cogni-
tive and physical responses to something, generally a monster, that is
deemed both threatening and impure (28), or, more specifically, it is
threatening because it is impure or ‘categorically interstitial’, such as
the vampire or zombie, both living and dead (32). According to Carroll,
monsters are ‘un-natural relative to a culture’s conceptual scheme of
nature. They do not fit the scheme; they violate it’ (34). However, Roger
Stacey Abbott 157

Luckhurst argues that ‘the emotional reaction sought in horror generally

has a simpler, more visceral aim: to shock’ (‘Monstrous’ 36). Brophy also
prioritizes this visceral response. He argues that by the 1980s, horror
conventions, plots and monsters were too familiar and that the genre
became increasingly ‘aware of itself as a saturated genre’; it became less
preoccupied with the psychology of horror (the genre knows you have
seen it all before) and more focused on generating the visceral affect
of horror (Brophy 278–9). More significantly, he notes that part of the
method of achieving this emotional affect was a ‘play not so much on
the broad fear of Death, but more precisely on the fear of one’s own
body, of how one controls and relates to it’ (280).
This sample of different critical readings of horror all locate horror
with the generation of very different fears – the unknown, the return of
the repressed, the impure, the unexpected, or the physical destruction of
the body. Many of these fears are also mobilized in TV Horror. It may be
challenging to sustain Todorov’s hesitation across multi-episode serial
television because the more often we return to the narrative world, the
more likely we are to accept the existence of the supernatural, even in
such surreal examples as Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990–91) and Carnivàle (HBO,
2003–05). TV Horror is, however, replete with series that draw upon the
uncanny as the source of horror, such as American Horror Story: Mur-
der House (FX, 2011) and Riget (DR, 1994), in which both the house
and the hospital are built upon a legacy of violence and trauma that
repeatedly returns to haunt the current inhabitants. Every vampire and
zombie series confronts their audience, both physically and cognitively,
with a fear of the impure or hybrid as they defy physical, social and cul-
tural lines that separate the living from the dead, the ensouled from the
soulless, and good from evil. Furthermore, contemporary TV Horror has
become increasingly graphic; it is able to shock and terrify audiences
through realistic depictions of body trauma and destruction.
Jowett and I argue, however, that while horror on television does con-
form to many of the conventions of its cinematic counterpart, the genre
must rethink how it operates and what affect it is trying to achieve as it
is reconfigured from the single, contained drama into a serialized narra-
tive (31–55).1 One cannot base a serial horror drama upon a string of
shock effects and graphic displays of gore, which would, in fact, serve to
diffuse the horror through repetition. The aim of this chapter is, there-
fore, to examine how TV Horror distinguishes itself from its cinematic
brethren by interweaving these feelings into a complex web of emotions
through the seriality of contemporary television drama. I will demons-
trate that the result is not the diffusion of horror, spread across multiple
158 Love, Fear and Mourning in TV Horror

episodes and often focused upon character, rather than plot develop-
ment, but rather the exploration and incitation of a differing set of fears
and emotional responses. For the purposes of this chapter, I will focus
my discussion on the manner in which many serial horror narratives
utilize the established tropes of the genre, in particular the supernatural
figures of the ghost, zombie and vampire, to evoke not the fear of pain
and death to oneself but the fear of death to family and loved ones,
thus triggering the trauma of loss, grief and mourning.2 In so doing,
the genre challenges taboos surrounding an open discussion of death by
embracing death and the experience of grief in all of its facets.

TV Horror and grief

In his 1955 article, ‘The Pornography of Death’, Gorer argues that death
became the taboo subject of the twentieth century, replacing Victorian
prudery around sex in which ‘copulation has become more and more
“mentionable” [while] death has become more and more “unmention-
able” as a natural process’ (172). He suggests that changes in public
health, working conditions, medicine and science have meant that
‘natural death’ is less visible within contemporary Western society as
most people confront death later in life. Kamerman shares this view,
arguing that ‘we face bereavement unprepared by experience, alone, and
without the comfort of beliefs in something larger than ourselves’ (78).
As a result, death ‘has become more personally traumatic’ (78). Fur-
thermore, in the twentieth century, changes in funeral and mourning
customs shifted away from demonstrable grief and mourning to more
private and rationalized traditions. Writing in the 1950s, Gorer writes
that this banishment of ‘natural death’ has resulted in a seemingly
unhealthy preoccupation with violent death in which the traditional
emotional response to death – grief – has been replaced by a visceral
sensorial experience, exploited in a range of genres including detective
stories, thrillers, Westerns and the horror comic; Gorer places particu-
lar emphasis upon horror comics, an emerging genre (173). He argues
that ‘if we dislike the modern pornography of death, then we must give
back to death – natural death – its parade and publicity, and readmit
grief and mourning. If we make death unmentionable in polite society –
“not before the children” – we almost ensure the continuation of the
“horror comic”’ (175).
Kamerman, writing in the 1980s, argues that while personal expe-
rience of death may have been reduced and delayed until later in
life, and ritualized funeral customs have diminished, the latter half
Stacey Abbott 159

of the twentieth century has seen a resurgence of interest and pub-

lic discourse around death. Luckhurst argues that changes in science,
medicine and the introduction of life support technology in the 1960s
led to new discourses surrounding how to define death and what cons-
titutes acceptable quality of life (‘Biomedical Horror’); and the war in
Vietnam brought images of death into the home through graphic news
footage (Kamerman 4–5). Death in the mid-late twentieth century was
in many ways more visible than it had ever been; however, grief and
mourning were still relegated to the private sphere, deritualized and
In many ways this changed during the twenty-first century where
mourning has returned to the public sphere on a global scale. The events
of 9/11 not only filled our screens with horrific footage of death but also
traumatic images of loss and mourning, best represented by the image
of the memorial wall dedicated to those lost or missing in the terror-
ist attacks in New York. This image has become iconically associated
with twenty-first century mourning, featured in post-apocalyptic fic-
tion, such as Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi Channel, 2004–09) and Dollhouse
(Fox, 2009–10). The events of 9/11 were followed by a chain of wars
in the Middle East as well as a series of natural disasters, all of which
resulted in a massive number of deaths and have fuelled a media
landscape filled with images of public mourning for those lost. While
individual deaths may still be mourned privately, these global events
have made public mourning more visible.
In this context, I would like to challenge the seeming opposition
between the representation of death in what Gorer sees as sensationalist
genres such as the horror comic, and a healthy expression of grief and
mourning by transposing his arguments onto late twentieth and early
twenty-first century TV Horror – a similarly popular and serialized media
that has become increasingly preoccupied by the excesses of the genre
as well as the experience of grief. This is demonstrated in two milestone
texts within TV Horror: Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Whedon’s ‘The Body’
(5.16), an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, both of which are openly
preoccupied not just with death but with the emotional reactions of
family and friends to the loss of a loved one: high school prom queen
Laura Palmer in the former, and Buffy’s mom in the latter.
For instance, Lynch, who directed the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, uses
an aesthetic of excess traditionally associated with melodrama alongside
the surreal juxtaposition of image and sound to convey the anguish of
loss at first discovery. This pain is expressed through a series of disparate
images: the horror-stricken expressions on the faces of the sheriff and
160 Love, Fear and Mourning in TV Horror

school staff; an empty chair in the high school homeroom; the sudden
and startling image of a girl screaming as she runs across campus; a
father gripping then dropping the phone as he declares ‘my daughter’s
dead’; a slow tilt down from the base of the telephone and along the
cord to an extreme close-up of the receiver as his wife’s sobs issue forth,
followed by a cut to a close-up of her as she lets out a primal scream. All
of these images are accompanied by Angelo Badalamenti’s melodramatic
musical score, building in intensity and seemingly channelling the cha-
racters’ pain and grief. In these scenes, Lynch privileges the display of
emotion over narrative exposition – no one here is actually told that
Laura is dead.
In contrast, very few characters express emotion in ‘The Body’, not out
of a sense of restraint and control but rather shock. The lack of tears in
favour of blank stares conveys the surreal horror of death. As Stommell
argues, ‘“The Body” is about how we react to death; more importantly,
it is about what our bodies (the dead ones and the live ones) do in the
face of death’. Upon realizing that her mother is dead, Buffy becomes
deceptively calm and emotionally distant, conveying numbness rather
than hysteria. Furthermore, while Lynch uses musical accompaniment
to evoke emotional excess, Whedon chose to withhold any musical
underscore, opting only for the use of diegetic sound. This emphasis
upon diegetic sound is at times seemingly realistic; for example, when
Buffy opens the door to get some air, we hear children laughing as
they play outside. However, this sonic choice also enhances the emo-
tional charge of the scene as the sounds of innocent children playing
outside (reminding us that life goes on) contrasts with the dead body
inside the house (reminding us that life comes to an end). The episode
also features moments of absolute silence, where the absence of sound
expresses the alienating and isolating experience of loss; for example,
the series of close-ups of Buffy’s friends, Tara and Willow, in Willow’s
dorm room as well as Anya and Xander in the car. Each of the afore-
mentioned shots are photographed silently as the characters look away
from each other and stare into space. The composition of these shots
is deliberately off-centre, highlighting the space between the characters,
each trapped in their own, unspoken experience of loss. Here sonic and
visual composition emphasize the emotional remoteness of loss as each
character experiences the pain individually.
In both Twin Peaks and Buffy, expressionist aesthetics are utilized to
convey the initial shock and emotional horror of loss. Therefore, I would
suggest that TV Horror returns this global preoccupation with death
and mourning to the individual and the community, offering a space
Stacey Abbott 161

for the emotional expression and exploration of grief and bereavement

that is seemingly repressed within contemporary society. Recent serial
TV Horror makes individual death and its emotional impact visible once
more by constructing its narrative around the moment of death and its
immediate and long-term aftermath, focusing upon those left behind.
Furthermore, it is through recognized horror tropes and narratives sur-
rounding ghosts, zombies and vampires – each embodying a different
aspect of death – that TV Horror grapples with the emotional complexity
of grief.


The twenty-first century has seen a dramatic resurgence of the haunted

house story within cinematic horror, with the huge success of the Para-
normal Activity franchise, as well as many other recent films, such as The
Conjuring. These films, however, do not focus as much upon ghosts –
spirits of the deceased – as they do upon demons – evil entities that
haunt the spirit world while seeking to corrupt the living –, showing a
preoccupation with notions of evil and possession that aligns these films
with another horror trend, that of the demonic possession film (such as
The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism and The Devil Inside).
In contrast, two British television mini-series, Marchlands (ITV, 2011)
and The Secret of Crickley Hall (BBC, 2012), remind us that ghost sto-
ries are fundamentally stories of loss, as they use the haunted house
narrative to explore the stages of bereavement. These series weave their
ghost stories around the trauma surrounding the loss of a child, a tragic
event that haunts – emotionally and literally – each house through
multiple generations. Both stories begin with a child going missing,
the seeming victim of an accident in Marchlands and presumed abduc-
tion in The Secret of Crickley Hall, and, in both cases, the authorities
believe they are dead. The missing child conforms to what Kamerman
describes as a ‘quasi-death experience’, that is, an experience that resem-
bles death by involving ‘separation, termination and loss’ but without
the closure and emotional support offered by even a limited form of
funeral rituals (71). The haunted house narrative becomes the means
through which both families, the mothers in particular, move through
the various stages of grief – avoidance, denial, acceptance, mourning –
and achieve the necessary closure (Kamerman 29–30). Marchlands inter-
weaves three stories that take place in the same house at different times:
in 1967, 1987 and 2010. The first chronicles the primary loss through
the impact of the mysterious disappearance of Alice upon her parents
162 Love, Fear and Mourning in TV Horror

and grandparents. The other two periods follow the enduring legacy
of that loss as two new families move into Marchlands and experience
unexplained and ghostly events that begin to put a strain on family
dynamics, pitting husband against wife and mother against daughter.
The refusal to believe in the ghost is presented as tantamount to the
denial of the loss in the first place. As a result, the house is haunted by
unresolved grief and the echoes of the initial trauma that fractures the
family in 1967, also threatens the two families involved in 1987 and
2010. The three narratives, however, come together through a complex
web of intercutting as the truth about Alice’s death and existence as a
ghost is revealed and accepted by all parties in each time period, seem-
ingly simultaneously. Most significantly, Alice’s mother returns in 2010
to become the nanny of a young baby – also named Alice – of a cou-
ple now living in Marchlands. Through her re-entry into the house and
her encounters with Alice’s ghost, she is finally able to learn the truth
about her daughter and begin to grieve, thus bringing the ghost story
to a close. Significantly, the ghost story privileges the expression of grief
but also, through the genre’s conventional narrative structure, presents
a process of moving from the pain of loss to acceptance and healing.
The Secret of Crickley Hall follows the Caleigh family as they struggle
to come to terms with loss, in this case by moving away from their
home into Crickley Hall, a large, country manor. The move to Crickley
Hall is a deliberate attempt on the part of the father, Gabe, to avoid any
reminders of their son as they approach the first anniversary of his disap-
pearance. This avoidance fuels his wife Eve’s state of denial, particularly
once the supernatural comes into play in the house and she begins to
believe that the ghosts know the whereabouts of her son. The ghost
story that follows entwines the family loss with the house’s traumatic
past of violence and abuse. Eve’s attempts to find out what happened
to her son through spiritual means gradually enable her to uncover the
house’s history and by solving the enigma of Crickley Hall, she also
unravels her own tragic mystery, which concludes with the discovery,
through a spiritual medium, of the whereabouts of her son’s body. This
dual revelation and confirmation of death allows the characters to move
toward acceptance, to grieve for their loss and, like Marchlands, begin the
process of healing.
Comprised of a fixed number of episodes, these mini-series suggest a
form of resolution through the ghost story narrative structure in which
ghosts are put to rest, loss is accepted and the family moves on. This
resolution is something that is self-consciously undermined in American
Horror Story: Murder House, as no one seems to move on in this haunted
Stacey Abbott 163

house; rather, ghosts only beget more ghosts. The series, like the oth-
ers, begins with loss: a stillbirth and the loss of trust caused by marital
infidelity in reaction to this trauma. The move into the new house is an
attempt on the part of the Harmon family to create a new start; how-
ever, the Harmon’s pain taps into the legacy of familial pain and death
that haunts the house, propagating further suffering. Rather than enact
a narrative that facilitates a confrontation with grief, American Horror
Story suggests that there is no potential for healing. Instead, the show
offers a twisted form of the resolution found in the British series dis-
cussed above when, rather than accepting their loss and healing both
individually and as a family unit, each member of the Harmon family
dies, causing them to be reunited after death and forced to live out eter-
nity in the house as a macabre form of a nuclear family. While the pain
of the ghosts and families in Marchlands and The Secret of Crickley Hall
is put to rest, the Harmons are trapped in time and space, destined to
haunt the house for eternity. Despite their differences, these mini-series
remind us that ghosts within ghost stories are all too familiar. This is a
theme that recurs, and is all the more unsettling, within contemporary
zombie TV. In contrast to the ghost story, however, zombie TV confronts
the audience with loss, but without offering the comfort of resolution;
furthermore, in so doing, it questions the notion of closure with respect
to grief.


The zombie in cinema, videogames and television is usually presented

to evoke feelings of dread and horror, serving as a tangible reminder
not only of human mortality, but also of the corporeality and physica-
lity of death, reasserting Gorer’s argument that within Western thinking
‘the natural processes of corruption and decay have become disgust-
ing’ (172). Films from Night of the Living Dead to Shaun of the Dead
reassert that distance must be kept between the living and the dead
by constructing physical and emotional barricades. Even more aggres-
sively, videogames present the dead as a threat to be sought out and
destroyed. More recent zombie films, such as 28 Days Later and the
remake of Dawn of the Dead, convey anxieties about contagion, evoking
fears of the fragility of the body and society, both likely to collapse in
the face of global pandemic. As Tenga and Zimmerman argue, the zom-
bie ‘threaten[s] stability and security not only through their menace to
life, but through their very bodies, a stark image of disintegration and
harbinger of a crumbling civilisation’ (78–9). In all cases, the zombie
164 Love, Fear and Mourning in TV Horror

undermines attempts to project anxieties onto the ‘other’, and, in so

doing, keeping ourselves safe, for as George Romero, the grandfather of
the modern zombie film, often claims: ‘They are us’ (qtd in The American
Nightmare). They are walking reminders of our unavoidable deaths and
Zombies in television equally present the walking dead as the object of
dread, embodied in the monikers attached to them by the living; they
are rarely referred to as zombies. In The Walking Dead they are called
‘walkers’ – capturing the uncanny notion of the dead walking around –
and ‘biters’ – representing one of the last great human taboos: cannibal-
ism. The survivors from In the Flesh describe the zombies (or partially
deceased syndrome [PDS] sufferers) as ‘rotters’, equating evil and dread
with a rotting dead body. In the French series, Les revenants (Canal+,
2013–), the dead are not given a moniker by the populace, as no one
is exactly clear what they are. Their only identifying feature, captured
by the series’ title, is that they are the dead returned. While the series
is deliberately ambiguous about their origins and intentions, the term
‘revenant’ evokes traditions of folklore where the term is used to describe
multiple forms of ‘returning dead’ whether manifesting as ‘filmy ghosts
or in forms that appear to be solid and alive’ (Guiley 242). Regardless of
their individual meanings, these multiple terms are utilized within these
series as a means of denying an often unspoken truth: that zombies are
not simply us, as argued by Romero, but they are our dead: family and
friends returned from the graves we laid for them. While this is preva-
lent within The Walking Dead, it is particularly significant In the Flesh
and Les revenants, as both shows are set in small, isolated communities.
In Les revenants, they begin to appear suddenly, usually at the location
of their death rather than burial; however, most return home seeking
reunion with their loved ones.3 In the Flesh, a show set in the fictional
Lancashire community of Roarton, emphasizes the local nature of the
uprising by focusing upon the town’s graveyard that has been cordoned
off with danger warnings following the Great Rising. In flashback scenes,
we see PDS sufferer Kieran crawl out of his grave, a site he returns to
repeatedly in his waking state. The trauma explored in zombie TV is the
confrontation with the death of family members and not strangers.
Furthermore, unlike the ghost story which captures loss through phy-
sical absence and ghostly presence, the zombie narrative is defined by
the physical presence of the dead. It is the physicality of death that
makes them so horrific, and it is the fear of the physical reality of death
that these series explore. If, as Gorer and Kamerman argue, contempo-
rary society is uncomfortable with the reality of death, preferring to keep
Stacey Abbott 165

‘death out of our sight’ (Kamerman 30) and avoid the hard truths of
death and decomposition through denial, the zombie narrative forces
both the audience and the characters to face this reality through the
zombie’s corpse-like appearance, maintaining the evidence of its death
(for example, Kieran in In the Flesh still bears the scars from where he
slit his wrists). The genre deliberately confronts the characters and the
audience with death in all of its gory detail.
For instance, like Marchlands and The Secret of Crickley Hall, the second
season of The Walking Dead also focuses on a missing child, capturing
the primal fears of such a loss. However, while the body of the dead
child is never found in Marchlands nor shown in The Secret of Crickley
Hall – only the father sees it for identification purposes – the revelation
of Sophia, now a zombie, serves as a confrontation with the harsh reali-
ties of the death of a child; a pinnacle moment around which various
threads about death and loss converge. In season two, Sophia is lost in
the woods and the hunt for her becomes the narrative thread that binds
the first half of the season’s serial narrative. Intermixed with this hunt
are narrative threads surrounding differing attitudes to the zombies –
monsters or infected; the negotiation by Deputy Rick Grimes for his
family and friends to remain in the safe haven of Hershel’s farm; and the
masculine power play between Rick and his best friend/rival, Shane. The
discovery of Sophia comes when Shane challenges Rick’s authority and
Hershel’s belief that the zombies are in fact simply loved ones infected
with a disease and awaiting a cure, by opening the barn where Hershel
has imprisoned his infected family. As a result, Shane and the group are
forced to shoot all of the zombies, who now have become a threat on
account of being unleashed. Hershel and his family are overwhelmed
by the horrific sight of their loved ones being disposed of in this violent
and dispassionate fashion and are forced to confront their deaths.
In an unexpected reversal, the appearance of Sophia, the last zom-
bie to emerge from the barn, forces Shane and his group to see the
zombies from Hershel’s perspective and to confront their own loss. The
response of the group when they see Sophia is not one of revulsion but
profound sadness, as they stop shooting and turn away, unable to look
at her in her new state. Rick’s wife, Lori, holds onto their son, Carl,
both to shield him from this traumatic sight and to reassure her that he
is alive. Sophia’s mother, Carol, collapses to the ground in tears, after
Daryl stops her from running to her daughter. The sequence cross-cuts
between reaction shots of each of the group, pausing as the reality of
Sophia’s death sinks in, before Rick finally steals himself to step forward,
take charge from the now-silenced Shane, and put Sophia out of her
166 Love, Fear and Mourning in TV Horror

misery. This moment interweaves a tapestry of emotional responses to

loss, as each person is forced to alter their preconceptions regarding the
zombies, the dead and death. Re-watching the scene from the perspec-
tive of later seasons adds another layer of loss for the audience that is
particular to long-running serial television as so many of the characters
have subsequently died on the show, such as Shane, Lori, Dale, Andrea,
Finally, Sophia-as-zombie in this scene (as with so many other zom-
bies in this series) restores horror to the dead body; perhaps they have
been robbed of such horror on television through the medicalization of
the body in TV series such as CSI and Bones in which death is rendered
safe through science (see Weissmann). Here we see the horror of death
and this restoration of horror to the body conveys the trauma of death.
It also begins the process of the acceptance of death as illustrated in
In the Flesh.
In the Flesh deliberately foregrounds the ‘deadness’ of the zombies by
providing backstories to how each of the main characters has died –
Amy died of cancer, Rick was killed by an improvised explosive device
(IED) in Afghanistan and Kieran committed suicide. Kieran and Amy
were buried at the community’s graveyard. They were not victims of a
virus or infection, as in 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead. They are
dead. This fact places confrontation with death, as well as denial, at
the centre of the series’ narrative. When returned to the community,
the government provided each recovering PDS sufferer with make-up to
cover up their pale, decomposing skin, and contact lenses that restore
familiar colour to their bleached eyes. This make-up serves as part of
an institutional form of denial in which the fact of their death is hid-
den or ignored, much like the way the term ‘PDS sufferer’ attempts
to remove the stigma of their condition and normalize their undead
existence. The make-up operates like the death make-over applied by
morticians to make the dead look more like they did when they were
alive. This parallel with funeral procedures is extended to the serum
that is injected daily into the base of the PDS sufferer’s neck, much
like embalming fluid. Where embalming fluid slows the body’s natu-
ral process of decomposition, this serum serves to artificially stimulate
brain cell production necessary ‘for proper brain function’; however, in
both cases it serves to deny the physical reality of their dead condition.
Scandura draws a similar parallel between Dracula and the undertaker
who ‘literally sucks the blood from the vessels of corpses, literally cre-
ates a corpse resistant to decay, literally obscures distasteful signs of
death’ (10). In contrast, the zombie embodies the ‘distasteful signs of
Stacey Abbott 167

death’ and therefore must be artificially rendered safe by borrowing from

funeral traditions and in so doing contributes to the social denial of the
messy reality of decomposition.
When Kieran’s parents see him for the first time, his mother bursts
into tears (an emotional response reminiscent of family who see their
loved ones at a funeral for the first time), while his father comments
that they did not know what to expect upon seeing him, implying an
anxiety about what physical state his body would be in. He points out
that Kieran looks well and even seems to have caught some sun. Kieran
corrects him by explaining that it is simply cover-up mousse designed
to make him look ‘better’. This moment echoes Kamerman’s observa-
tion that ‘people visiting a funeral home sometimes comment on how
healthy and radiant the “loved one” appears’ (291). This process of
denial, however, becomes unravelled by the zombie series as humans
repeatedly come into contact with the ‘living dead’, making it increas-
ingly impossible to maintain the façade. This is best exemplified by Bill,
the leader of the Human Volunteer Force, whose hatred of rotters is
challenged when his beloved son, Rick, returns from Afghanistan as a
PDS sufferer. Bill initially refuses to acknowledge the truth about Rick,
retreating into a fiction in which his son is simply a returning soldier
and forcing Rick to pretend to be ‘normal’ by eating and drinking,
despite the fact that his body no longer digests. The abjectness of Rick’s
dead body is reinforced when he vomits up everything he has imbibed
in the form of an oily black goo. Bill is presented as monstrous and
hypocritical in his treatment of Rick. Similarly, Kieran’s generally more
sympathetic parents also display anxiety and fear of Kieran’s condition.
They are unable to refer to his death and force him to pretend to eat in
order to maintain the illusion of life.
When Rick eventually rejects the façade by removing his contacts and
make-up and confronts his father with the physical truth of his condi-
tion, his father cannot face him, choosing to kill Rick again. He would
rather deny the reality of Rick’s death and retreat in to a fantasy in which
he surrounds himself with images of his son as he once was. By con-
trast, Kieran’s continued undead presence forces his parents out of their
denial. As the narrative progresses, and Kieran’s make-up fades away,
they become increasingly at ease with his undead self and the confronta-
tion with the reality of his condition allows them to equally confront
and come to terms with their pain and anger at his death.5 His mother,
Sue, admits to a support group that she is happy he is back; however, see-
ing him reminds her of her anger at him for the impact his death had
upon the rest of the family. She reveals that her daughter, Gem, became
168 Love, Fear and Mourning in TV Horror

a ‘fireball of rage’ while her husband, Steve, simply shut down and
retreated from her emotionally. Later in the same episode, Kieran con-
fronts his dad, apologizing for all of the pain he has caused and forcing
his father to confront his own anger and horror at the fact that Kieran
had committed suicide and forced Steve to find his son’s body. This post-
zombie apocalypse narrative, therefore, provides a unique space for the
living to confront the dead, not as Gregory Waller argues to ‘depict the
survival of the fittest’ and in so doing ‘define what fitness consists of’
(5) but to face the truth about death, anger and grief, and in so doing
mourn and recover. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that season one
ends at Rick’s second funeral, as Kieran and the community attempt to
begin the healing process. However, the narrative emphasizes that this
is a process, and season two of In the Flesh focuses upon the ongoing
post-traumatic stress of the Rising and of the death of loved ones.


While the vampire in literature, film, and television is, like the zom-
bie, a physical embodiment of death, a corpse without a soul, it has
also come to represent a wide range of pleasures, anxieties and mean-
ings that evolve with the audience who embrace it. As Prawer argues
with regards to Dracula, the vampire is ‘a filter through which folk
beliefs, rural and urban myths, and historically conditioned as well as
perennial psychological experiences, have passed into the ken of succes-
sive generations’ (7). Similarly, Auerbach contends that as ‘vampires are
immortal, they are free to change incessantly’, resulting in a vampire
for every generation (5). Buffy the Vampire Slayer utilized the vampire
and other monsters as part of a ‘high school as hell’ metaphor in which
each demon encounter represents particular high school trauma, from
bullying to cyberstalking to first sexual encounters (see Wilcox). True
Blood, appearing on television a few years later and broadcast on the
more adult-oriented channel HBO, used the vampire as metaphor for
queer politics, homophobia and racial segregation (see Cherry).
The Vampire Diaries broadcast on CW (2008–), a channel with a
teen/young adult audience, appears to be yet another teen vampire
drama, much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight, set around the
lives of teenagers in an American high school/college and involving a
love triangle surrounding a young, human, female protagonist – a trope
similarly adopted in True Blood. Williams points out that the plot simi-
larities between these vampire texts have been the focus of much of
the critical response to The Vampire Diaries, explaining: ‘Common in
Stacey Abbott 169

many press and online reviews of The Vampire Diaries is a link to both
True Blood and the Twilight Saga, with Diaries typically positioned in
between. This position in the middle ground is because it is not as sexu-
ally explicit or gory as True Blood but it is more “adult” than Twilight’
(89). As Williams points out [quoting from Milly Williamson], these
texts do seem to be drawing upon a twentieth century tradition of
‘morally ambiguous sympathetic vampires who lure audiences with the
pathos of their predicament and their painful awareness of outsiderdom’
(91). Like these other vampire texts, the love triangle in The Vampire
Diaries is a significant question that drives much of the series’ plot: what
future will Elena Gilbert have with the soulful Stefan and/or the roguish
However, the series also demonstrates preoccupations unique to its
own diegesis that distinguish it from these other texts. Rather than being
focused primarily upon romance and love, criticisms often levelled at
Twilight, The Vampire Diaries is preoccupied with emotions more broadly,
and the importance of experiencing and not repressing them. This is the
heart of Damon’s challenge to his brother Stefan, who opts to repress his
vampire hungers by only feeding on the blood of animals. This, accord-
ing to Damon, makes Stefan weaker both physically (he is unable to beat
Damon in a fight) and psychologically, for when Stefan does eventually
give in and drink human blood, he is unable to contain his hunger and
goes on a murder spree.
Furthermore, in the series’ mythology, vampires – who feel emotion
much more intensely than humans – have the option to turn off their
humanity (namely, their emotions), thus making it easier to perform the
heinous acts that are a part of their nature. However, it becomes increas-
ingly apparent that most of the show’s vampires (no matter how seem-
ingly evil) choose not to ‘flip their humanity switch’ because they would
then lose that which makes the experience of being a vampire so plea-
surable: their feelings. As a result, each of the vampires must walk a fine
emotional line in which they balance their sensual pleasures in love, sex,
and blood drinking, with their darker emotional side, namely sadism,
cruelty, guilt and grief. In this manner, the series places the topic and
experience of emotion at the centre of its storylines, particularly when
the emotionally empathic Elena is turned into a vampire and struggles
with a flood of conflicting and alienating emotions (season four).6
Central to Elena’s emotional journey throughout the series, even
before she becomes a vampire, is a melancholic preoccupation with
death and grief. This is a television series that features an unusual num-
ber of funerals and funeral rituals, even for a genre that is preoccupied
170 Love, Fear and Mourning in TV Horror

with death. When the series began, Elena was recovering from the loss of
her parents, attempting to end her period of mourning by returning to
high school and leading a normal life (‘Pilot’, 1.1). Initially, her attempts
at normality are performative, designed to convince friends and teachers
that she is all right while secretly conveying her melancholic emotions
by sitting in a cemetery and writing in her diary. However, her encounter
with the new hot boy in school, Stefan Salvatore, seems at first glance to
conform to Freud’s argument that successful mourning involves replac-
ing that which is lost with a new emotional attachment in order to
move on (14. Art and Literature, 42–59). Both Elena and Stefan see this
budding relationship as a chance to embrace life. This opportunity, how-
ever, is undermined by the fact that Stefan is a vampire who embodies a
melancholic association with the past and a history of loss. Rather than
moving on from her grief, Elena’s relationship with Stefan, and later
Damon, forces her to repeatedly confront her grief and acknowledge
its presence within her. Nina Auerbach argues that vampires represent
‘not the fear of death, but fear of life: their power and their curse is
their undying vitality’ (5); in contrast, after her vampiric transforma-
tion, Stefan tells Elena: ‘You are a vampire Elena. Loss is part of the
deal. Look, I’ve been alive for 163 years. I’ve lost more lovers than I can
count and it hurts me every single time . . . you have to face your grief’
(‘The Walking Dead’, 4.22). In The Vampire Diaries, the vampire does not
represent the fear of death or life; rather, it is the embodiment of grief.
This grief, however, is not necessarily presented negatively, as something
that needs to be overcome or banished; rather, it is presented as some-
thing that needs to be embraced. Judith Butler argues that mourning
should be seen as a transformative process, whereby:

One mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one
will be changed forever. Perhaps mourning has to do with agreeing
to undergo a transformation . . . the full result of which one cannot
know in advance. There is losing, as we know, but there is also the
transformative effect of loss, and this latter cannot be charted or
planned. (21)

This initial encounter with Stefan, and her subsequent relation-

ships with both Stefan and Damon, takes Elena on a supernatural
journey in which she learns to face her grief, a journey marked by
the deaths of numerous peripheral but emotionally significant char-
acters [Elena’s adoptive parents, her Aunt Jemma, and her biological
parents; Stefan’s best friend Lexie; Mike’s sister Vicky; Bonnie’s father
Stacey Abbott 171

and grandmother; Tyler’s parents; Caroline’s father; Damon’s best friend

and Elena’s guardian Alaric]; it was also marked by the deaths and
transformations of the show’s primary cast, including Caroline, Bonnie,
Tyler, Jeremy and Elena, who each die and transform into some form
of revenant. The transformative process that Butler describes is made
manifest via the telefantasy nature of the series, as each of the charac-
ters metamorphose from death into ghosts, werewolves and vampires.
Rather than denying death or presenting mourning as a process of griev-
ing leading to recovery and closure, The Vampire Diaries explores their
transformative qualities in which we must accept death and emotional
loss as part of ourselves and our changing sense of identity. In becoming
a vampire, Elena has to accept that ‘loss’ is indeed ‘part of the deal’.
Death is often a central motif of the horror genre, regardless of the
medium. The genre channels natural human anxieties about death and
reminds us of our own mortality, tapping into a wide range of emotions
in the process. The seriality of television, however, provides a unique
opportunity for TV Horror to both confront the audience with these
fears and to slowly unpack the emotional response to death and loss,
by extending the narrative beyond death to its effects upon family,
friends and the community. Through ghosts, zombies and vampires,
we are able to explore themes of death and grief in all of its compli-
cated permutations. Rather than wallow in the purely visceral affect
and sensationalism of violent death, the examples of TV Horror that
I have discussed here use television seriality to weave together a complex
tapestry of emotions, evoking Robin Nelson’s notion of the ‘moment of
affect’ discussed in this volume, and re-infuse grief and bereavement
into the experience of death, allowing for a space where these emotions
can be confronted and experienced.


This essay is dedicated to my parents Stanley and Joan Abbott whose

passing in 2004 and 2012, respectively, taught me as much about grief
as they taught me about life. They are the inspiration for all that I do,
all that I am. As Andrea explains in The Walking Dead: ‘The pain doesn’t
go away. You just make room for it’ (‘18 Miles Out’, 2.10).
Apocalyptic Psychotherapy:
Emotion and Identity in AMC’s The
Walking Dead
Kyle William Bishop

In recent years, storytellers have increasingly used the zombie as a plat-

form to explore a variety of cultural anxieties and concerns. Two of
the most prolific themes scrutinized by zombie narratives are those of
human emotions and personal identity, particularly those that exist
within familial relationships. From the beginning of the modern-day
zombie tale, George A. Romero has deployed zombies as uncanny
Gothic figures to reveal the repressed emotions eating away at the con-
temporary family and redefining familial roles and individual identity
(see Bishop 94–128). Almost 50 years later, zombies once again facil-
itate stories of love and hate, pride and shame, resentment and guilt
in family relationships; this is especially evident in AMC’s adaptation of
The Walking Dead (AMC, 2010–).1 The series begins with a family divided
both physically and emotionally, and much of the story to date con-
cerns efforts to both preserve and redefine different family units, such
as ‘wife’, ‘mother’, and ‘brother’. Yet, rather than depicting a dystopian
wasteland, The Walking Dead proposes a surprisingly positive apocalypse
(see Boehm 130), one that uses both zombies and human survivors as
uncanny figures to explore and challenge a host of emotional relation-
ships that (re)define identity while revealing the need for awareness,
action, change, and ultimately, healing.
At its very heart, The Walking Dead is about family, specifically the
family Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes has, loses and repeatedly tries to
reclaim and preserve. Over the course of five seasons (so far), Rick strug-
gles to understand his own subjective and shifting identity as husband
and father, identities under particular assault by his feelings of inade-
quacy and guilt; furthermore, those around him mirror his experiences

Kyle William Bishop 173

and conflicts. In fact, most of the main characters in The Walking Dead
suffer through traumatizing emotions associated with their perceived
familial roles – including Rick’s adulterous wife, Lori, or the gruff father,
Hershel, and his rebellious daughter, Maggie. The zombie apocalypse
gives those who were formerly trapped in negative relationships chances
to alter their identities. According to Boehm, the zombie in The Walking
Dead ‘is not just a traumatic monster serving an apocalyptic function.
Quite the contrary, the zombie becomes a necessary evolutionary step
in the re-organization of society’ (134). I contend the most important
‘re-organization’ depicted in the series occurs at the individual level;
thanks to this kind of ‘apocalyptic psychotherapy’, individual char-
acters are afforded opportunities to change themselves for the better.
Two characters in particular – Carol, who begins the series as a bat-
tered and abused wife, and Daryl, who begins as a tormented and
subservient brother – learn to transform their identities over the course
of the zombie outbreak more dramatically than any of the others. These
transformations occur primarily at an emotional level and can be best
understood with the traditions of Lacanian and Freudian psychoanalytic
literary theory. Thanks to positive external role models and the return of
their repressed emotions, both Carol and Daryl become more healthy,
independent, and self-aware. The apocalypse proves liberating for these
once-tormented characters, providing them with constructive oppor-
tunities to work through their repressed feelings and psychological
traumas and allowing them to transcend their former identities.

Carol: the abused wife and traumatized mother

Human identity develops when one conceives of oneself as an indepen-

dent and unique subject, yet that subjectivity results not independently
but rather from one’s sensory perceptions of the world and through
comparisons made with others. The human subject develops at a psy-
chological level from a very young age when a child recognizes it
inhabits a unique and independent space in the universe. While Lacan
presents his concept of this ‘mirror stage’ to explain the development
of the human subject in infancy, particularly through the development
of language, I propose an application of this process of identification to
anyone whose self-image changes as a result of various forms of ‘mirror-
ing’. According to Lacan, a child, recognizing herself/himself in a mirror,
experiences an identification of herself/himself as self, as an ‘I’, and a
‘transformation takes place in the subject when [s]he assumes . . . [that]
image’ (4). This subjective imago not only manifests to a questing subject
174 Apocalyptic Psycotherapy: AMC’s The Walking Dead

through its mirror image (17), but it can also be revealed through
what Lacan calls the ‘imagos of the fragmented body’ (13), including
mutilation, dismemberment, evisceration, and devouring. This list has
obvious resonance to fans of zombie narratives, stories in which cha-
racters redefine themselves through a kind of ‘mirror stage’ of bodily
horror. By extension, then, the bodily, social, and emotional traumas
of a zombie infestation – or any trauma that changes the way people
see the world around them – can enact what I would call a secondary
mirror stage, one that transforms one’s adult identity and alters one’s
self-proclaimed place in social circles.
Faced with rows of dead human bodies, the dismembered remains of
friends and strangers alike, and foes that are little more than ambulatory
corpses, those few who survive the zombie apocalypse of The Walking
Dead cannot help but be aware of their fundamental identity as mor-
tal human beings. However, because of the collapse of society’s regular
social and cultural infrastructures that results from so much death and
chaos, once firmly established familial roles and relationships also begin
to break down. While the zombies themselves do not always act directly
upon one’s shifting perceptions of individual identity, the effects of their
existence certainly do. According to my reading of Lacan’s ‘Graph of
Desire’ (Ecrits 302), the conflicted, dissatisfied, or otherwise ‘split’ subject
can only achieve an idealized ego – or conception of personal identity –
through recognition of the imago through the mirroring of itself, a com-
parison to an other, a motivational desire, or a recognition of meaning
through a poignant signifier. What this theoretical structure means for
the survivors of the zombie outbreak, survivors desperately trying to
redefine themselves as individuals through the emotional and physical
trauma they now experience on a daily basis, is a host of new influ-
ences working to reshape their concept of the self, in particular, their
self within the bounds of familial relationships.
Carol provides viewers of The Walking Dead with an example of how
comparing oneself to others and confronting past abuse can affect a
positive change and the realization of a new, subjective identity. At the
beginning of The Walking Dead, Carol appears as a relatively minor cha-
racter who presents viewers with an example of an unhealthy marital
relationship, and a woman whose personal, subjective identity has been
overwhelmed by her emotionally and physically abusive husband, Ed.
Carol is presented as meek, quiet, shy, and reserved; rather than having
an identity tied to her own sense of self, who she is and how she acts
is determined by her husband: she mirrors him rather than seeing the
mirror of herself. Because of the zombie apocalypse, however, Carol is
Kyle William Bishop 175

forced into the social circle of a number of strong, independent women,

and these interactions demonstrate to her a different way of feeling, a
different way of acting and a different way of being. When she is con-
fronted by the unfamiliar behaviour of the other women and the violent
murder of Ed by marauding zombies, Carol recognizes her emotional
condition as a cowed and submissive woman. By observing the unfa-
miliar and shifting identities of others, Carol is able to transcend her
former identity and begin her journey towards becoming a more fully
realized, independent human subject (although, admittedly, at the cost
of her identity as both ‘wife’ and ‘mother’).
While a number of characters inhabiting the survivors’ camp out-
side of Atlanta are introduced to the viewing audience in the second
episode of the series, Carol is not revealed until episode three, ‘Tell
it to the Frogs’ (1.3). Before Rick’s first night around the campfire at
the Atlanta camp, Carol is mostly hidden from view, a non-speaking,
unseen entity whose existence at the camp can only be assumed in
retrospect. Ed, however, is clearly visible in the background, glowering
at the others with defensive body language; in contrast, the first time
viewers see Carol is from behind and out of focus. That night, Ed keeps
his wife and his daughter away from the other survivors at their own
campfire, and he flagrantly disregards the rules of the camp by build-
ing a raging fire. When Shane aggressively challenges Ed’s actions and
stomps the fire out, Carol is visibly uncomfortable, moving away from
the arguing men and responding to Shane’s inquiry into to her well-
being with her first line of spoken dialogue, a terse ‘Fine. We’re just
fine’. The scene reveals Ed’s pre-established and ongoing disrespect for
authority and Shane’s suspicion that Carol and her daughter, Sophia,
are victims of abuse. Carol’s behaviour belies a woman who looks to
her husband to know what to say and how to act, a kind of reflec-
tive identity that establishes her as a subservient and obedient domestic
Later the next day, however, Carol is confronted by two representa-
tions of human social behaviour that begin to affect her psychologically.
The first comes as she listens to the banter among the other women
while they wash clothes together at the nearby quarry. As Ed looms
menacingly in the background, ostensibly on guard, the four women
labour in the water, causing Jacqui to complain, ‘I’m beginning to ques-
tion the division of labour here. . . . Can someone explain to me how
the women wound up doing all the Hattie McDaniel work?’ As if in
answer to her question, the camera cuts to Ed, lazing on the tailgate of
a truck and casting a judgmental eye on the women. Carol then replies
176 Apocalyptic Psycotherapy: AMC’s The Walking Dead

sheepishly, ‘It’s just the way it is’. As the women continue to talk and
even laugh, Ed saunters over to the group to learn what is so funny.
He suggests Carol focus on her work instead of acting like she is at a
comedy club, a chiding that immediately subdues his wife. The women
stand between the couple, and Jacqui mentions that Carol often shows
up at the camp with fresh bruises. Not cowed by the accusation, Ed
openly strikes Carol, at which point Shane rushes into the fray, provid-
ing Carol with another unfamiliar example of defiant human behaviour.
While she is clearly used to seeing Ed as the perpetrator of violence, see-
ing him beaten by another man decidedly defies her experience. While
the scene does not result in any immediate change in Carol’s identity
as a subservient wife, it does provide her with a kind of social mirror, a
different way of thinking and acting in the face of domestic abuse based
on the unusual behaviour of others.
By the next evening, however, Carol is beginning to demonstrate a
change in her emotions towards Ed and in her subjective identity. Before
the campers enjoy a dinner of fresh fish in the episode ‘Vatos’ (1.4),
Carol and Sophia check in on the convalescing Ed: his face, severely
bruised from Shane’s beating, depicts a kind of Lacanian ‘fragmented
body’. She asks her husband to join the group for dinner, but the bitter
man refuses, washing his hands of Shane and the rest of ‘them people’.
When Sophia tries to leave the tent with her mother, Ed grabs her arm,
saying, ‘Hey! Why don’t you stay here? Keep your daddy company’. In a
clearly uncharacteristic move, Carol intercedes, saying, ‘Ed, she wants
to join in. Come on’. While this may be a small act, Carol effectively
stands up to her husband, insists on pursuing her own wishes, and takes
an active role in the rearing of her daughter. Further development of
Carol as an individual in contrast to the influence of her domineer-
ing husband is hastened rapidly with the arrival of a group of zombies
later that evening known by the survivors as ‘walkers’. They attack and
kill the defenceless Ed in his tent, and while Carol is clearly distraught,
her immediate actions demonstrate the emotions she experiences are far
more complicated than mere grief.
Confronting her abusive spouse as nothing more than a lifeless corpse
allows Carol to exorcize much of her anger, and to work through
some of her repressed emotional trauma. The brains of the dead must
be destroyed to prevent them from returning as walkers, and Carol
takes upon herself the responsibility to immobilize her deceased hus-
band. In contrast to Daryl’s efficient ‘single blow’ approach, Carol uses
a pickaxe with almost hysterical furore to smash Ed’s corpse in the
Kyle William Bishop 177

head repeatedly. Barone calls her behaviour ‘hate-mourning’ (qtd in

Kremmel 88), a grieving process defined by violence and destruction.
Kremmel maintains that her excessive actions – multiple swings of the
pickaxe, the substantial flinging of blood and grey matter everywhere –
and her ambiguous tears represent a kind of therapy that frees Carol
from Ed’s ‘memory and his constraint, and her destruction of his corpse
places that action into her hands. . . . the destruction of the zombie gives
her one last chance to perform the resistance to Ed of which she was
incapable of while he was alive’ (88). Carol creates the ‘imagos of the
fragmented body’ herself, shattering the mirror Ed once was and allow-
ing herself to seek other, more positive human mirrors in which to
perceive herself. Seeing how others act sets Carol on her path to inde-
pendence as does Ed’s death, the primary source of her subservient and
humble identity; however, it’s Carol’s own actions that allow her to work
through so much of her anger and frustration.
With Ed’s death, Carol is liberated, at least for a short time; unfor-
tunately, her progress towards an independent self will include even
more emotional and psychological trauma. Ed may be out of her life,
but Carol’s efforts to raise her daughter and even care for herself con-
tinue to be directed – if not outright undermined – by the other people
in her life. When Rick’s caravan is halted in the exodus from Atlanta by
an insurmountable traffic jam on the freeway (‘What Lies Ahead’, 2.1),
the survivors must exit the safety of their vehicles to look for fuel and
supplies. A new walker threat manifests in the form of a herd, a massive
flood of zombies moving with an inexplicable and single-minded pur-
pose. The humans hide under the stalled cars, and Carol is unfortunately
separated from Sophia. When a curious walker threatens the young girl,
she bolts towards the woods in her panic, with two zombies close on
her heels. Carol rushes to protect her daughter, yet Lori physically holds
her back, restraining the other mother’s natural instinct and prevent-
ing Carol from choosing how best to act. Rick pursues Sophia instead,
and while he does catch up with her, he foolishly leaves the girl alone
while he draws the zombies off in a different direction. Lori and Rick,
who had professed their dedication to Carol and Sophia just moments
earlier, act together to restrict Carol’s agency and separate her from her
While parents often place the interests of their children above
their own, Carol’s overwhelming selflessness – part of her condition-
ing thanks to the imperfect image of herself she saw in Ed’s abusive
behaviour – results in both guilt for herself and increased risk for
178 Apocalyptic Psycotherapy: AMC’s The Walking Dead

Sophia. When Rick’s team searches for Sophia in an abandoned church,

Carol takes the opportunity to speak with God. Her prayer reveals the
self-directed torment she suffers from both guilt and regret:

Father, forgive me. I don’t deserve your mercy. I prayed for safe
passage from Atlanta, and you provided. Prayed for Ed to be pun-
ished, for laying his hands on me and for looking at his own
daughter . . . . I prayed you’d put a stop to it, give me a chance to
raise her right, help her not to make my mistakes . . . . She hasn’t had
a chance. Praying for Ed’s death was a sin; please, don’t let this be my
punishment. Let her be safe. Alive and safe. Please, Lord, punish me
however you want, but show mercy on her. (‘What Lies Ahead’)

Carol’s words demonstrate her total self-abnegation – almost to the

point of deprecation – as she pleads not for herself, but for her daugh-
ter. This parental selflessness reaches the point of a fault, though, when
Carol continues to look to others to call the shots. In ‘Bloodletting’
(2.2), when Daryl suggests they stop due to the failing light at dusk,
Lori declares, ‘Let’s head back’. While the decision is a pragmatic one,
Carol turns to Lori and, rather than protest the decision, simply asks,
hopefully, ‘We’ll pick it up again tomorrow?’ She doesn’t make the deci-
sion to stop, nor does she question that decision – Carol blindly follows
the lead of others, perhaps suffering from shock but perhaps unable to
shed her long-established identity as a passive, controlled woman.
To exacerbate the situation, the conversations between Rick and
Shane about how long they should stay and look for Sophia all take
place without regard for Carol or her wishes. At the beginning of
‘Pretty Much Dead Already’ (2.7), Shane argues passionately that the
group should leave the farm without Sophia, as the multitude of walk-
ers in Hershel’s barn pose a significant threat. Rick and Daryl disagree
vehemently, and, for one of the few times, Carol voices her desire
to continue searching for Sophia. Yet the loud shouting of the argu-
ing men quickly squashes this moment of vocal independence. Carol’s
rights concerning her daughter are terminally overridden at the ending
of the episode when Shane lets the horde of walkers out of the barn
so they can be systematically executed. With Hershel and his family
looking on in shocked horror, Shane and his followers mow the walk-
ers down in a post-apocalyptic abattoir. In the silence that follows, a
final zombie stumbles from the barn into the sunlight: Sophia. Carol
runs forward, calling out her daughter’s name, but Daryl wrestles her
to the ground. Without looking back at Carol for permission or even
Kyle William Bishop 179

empathetic confirmation, Rick strides forward, finally pulling out his

gun, and shoots Sophia between the eyes.3
Through the emotional trauma of seeing her husband and her daugh-
ter murdered so violently, Carol’s identity as a human being shifts from
being weak and passive to strong and independent – but not all at once.
After Sophia’s death, Daryl leads Carol away from the barn. She sits,
staring off with a kind of cold acceptance, and while Daryl looks at her
sympathetically, they do not speak. Back at the site of the massacre,
Andrea covers Sophia’s body and tells the others they need to have a
service and a burial, because ‘Carol would want that’ (‘Nebraska’, 2.8).
Carol has been struck by the emotional trauma of Sophia’s death, but,
in many ways, Sophia’s death makes her a stronger, more pragmatic
person; she recognizes a greater meaning in her own mortal existence
through the abject mirror of her daughter as a zombie. Whereas many
of the group of survivors continue to lie to themselves about issues of life
and death, Carol sees the realities of the zombie apocalypse quite clearly.
When Lori tells her it is time for the graveside services, Carol refuses
to attend, explaining, ‘That’s not my little girl. It’s some other . . . thing’.
Carol almost smiles as she reflects, as much to herself as anyone, ‘Sophia
died a long time ago’. Carol’s chooses her own form of grieving, diffe-
rent from the one the group tries to impose upon her, and while she
will remain something of a passive character throughout the rest of the
season, she has begun taking charge of her own life.

Daryl: the abused son and traumatized brother

Carol’s subjective development demonstrates how an individual’s emo-

tional identity often rests on key developmental thoughts, experiences,
traumas, and emotions that have been essentially forgotten, a pro-
cess Freud calls ‘repression’. In The Ego and the Id, Freud defines the
fundamental premise of psychoanalysis to be the bifurcated mind, a
psyche divided into both conscious (aware) and unconscious (unaware)
portions (3). Ideas that exist in the unconscious mind but which
are opposed by certain forces and prevented from entering conscious
thought are not merely latent ideas but rather those thoughts, emotions,
and memories that are ‘repressed and . . . not, in [themselves] and with-
out much ado, capable of becoming conscious’ (5). Freud lists a variety
of emotions and impulses systematically repressed by the human mind
to enable moral and social behaviour, including the fear of death, phy-
sical aggression, inappropriate desires (often sexual), melancholia and
depression, and a sense of guilt (48–62). The survivors in The Walking
180 Apocalyptic Psycotherapy: AMC’s The Walking Dead

Dead are unable to successfully repress their fear of death, and they
also struggle to keep other amoral and asocial inclinations safely buried
in their unconscious. However, through the use of uncanny figures –
beyond that of zombies – many of these repressed desires and emotions
are forced into their conscious minds, resembling a kind of involuntary
psychotherapy that results in new emotions, new experiences, and new
Engagement with what Freud categorizes as ‘the uncanny’ facilitates
a return of the repressed, a return that affects marked changes to indi-
vidual psychological identity. In basic terms, Freud defines the uncanny
as ‘that species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well
known and had long been familiar’ (The Uncanny 124). In other words,
ideas rejected by the conscious mind are repressed not because they
are foreign and unknown but for the very fact that they are known
and familiar. Unknown fears, anxieties and emotions have no need
to be repressed because their deleterious effects on the human psy-
che are untried and untested; only those ideas that result in a proven
negative response are repressed into the unconscious mind in an effort
to protect human consciousness. The German term unheimlich trans-
lates into English as ‘uncanny’, which usually mean the ‘unfamiliar’; in
German, however, heimlich can mean ‘of the home’, something quite
familiar and even comforting. Additionally, heimlich can also mean
‘secret’, that which has been hidden. In other words, the unheimlich
figure, encounter, or vision reveals a secret – its unfamiliarity is what
calls forth that which is familiar, as Freud’s refined definition of the
uncanny indicates: ‘[T]he term “uncanny” (unheimlich) applies to every-
thing that was once intended to remain secret, hidden away, and has
come into the open’ (132). The familiar nature of the uncanny thus
recalls the once-familiar, resulting in a return of the repressed. This
push-pull of the familiar-unfamiliar is key to identifying, understand-
ing, and analysing how uncanny tropes work in both the real world and
fictional narratives.
An uncanny encounter confronts human subjects not with a view
of themselves as they appear, but rather one of who they really are;
these confrontations allow them to progress, pursuing their desires and
resulting in healthier personal identities. Daryl shows how engagement
with repressed fears and emotions from childhood can reconfigure an
unhealthy relationship into an independent adult identity. He repre-
sents a man who has always stood in the shadow of his powerful older
brother, never taking his own initiative or making his own decisions.
Like Carol, Daryl benefits from the forced psychotherapy of the zombie
apocalypse: he too suffers the scars of familial abuse, and his only
Kyle William Bishop 181

path towards self-actualization and healing comes through both the

positive examples of others and his confrontations with what he has
repressed. The walker threats foment a positive change in Daryl’s per-
sonal and familial identity, and Carol, more than anyone else in the
disparate group of survivors, provides him with an inspirational mirror
in which he begins to see the man he could become. Daryl begins the
series as little more than Merle’s unsophisticated and hot-headed little
brother; by the end of season four, however, Daryl has come to recognize
his own potential as not only a survivor but also a contributing mem-
ber of a community.4 More importantly, he recognizes the inherent and
corrosive problems regarding his relationship with his brother, and he
chooses to face his repressed fears, insecurities, guilt, and resentment,
coming out the other side a fully realized individual and a powerful
figure in the series.
Rather than being meek and submissive like Carol, Daryl’s introduc-
tion to viewers establishes him as a man of passions and unfiltered
emotions. Halfway through ‘Tell it to the Frogs’, when Daryl returns to
the Atlanta camp in pursuit of a wounded deer, he is coded differently
from the rest: more rugged, less educated, and better equipped to sur-
vive in a post-apocalyptic environment. Daryl knows how to hunt and
track, and he uses a crossbow with deadly accuracy; his first line of dia-
logue is ‘Son of a bitch!’, followed by additional colourful invectives.
He is cocky, seemingly self-assured, and unfazed by violence, blood,
or a chattering, disembodied zombie head. However, when he strides
into the main camp, he begins to yell for Merle; although Daryl has
established himself as a competent survivor, his identity is linked to
his relationship with his older brother, a person he looks to for instruc-
tion and guidance. When he learns that Merle is not in the camp on
account of being trapped on a rooftop by Rick, Daryl flies into a rage
against the lawman, threatening Rick with a knife until Shane restrains
him. Rick tries to make his case rationally and says: ‘Your brother does
not work or play well with others’. In response, Daryl yells and cries,
resolving to go to Atlanta himself to rescue his brother from death or
While Daryl’s reaction to the news of Merle’s deadly predicament
can been seen as the normal behaviour of anyone for a sibling, later
episodes reveal a relationship that is anything but healthy and func-
tional. Arriving back on the roof where Rick left Merle, all Daryl finds
is a hacksaw and an amputated hand. Following a blood trail past a
number of decimated walker bodies, he tells Rick, ‘Toughest asshole
I ever met, my brother’, a line that expresses admiration while belying
a sense of hostility and repressed resentment. In season two, viewers
182 Apocalyptic Psycotherapy: AMC’s The Walking Dead

obtain a better sense of how Daryl feels toward his brother. While
searching for Sophia in ‘Save the Last One’ (2.3), Daryl recounts being
lost in the woods alone for nine days when he was 12 years old, as
his alcoholic father had been on a bender and Merle had not been
there to look after him because he was locked up in ‘juvie’. In sea-
son three, Carol reveals that Daryl has, in fact, long been a victim of
Merle’s abuse. Speaking to Hershel’s daughter, Beth, Carol likens Daryl’s
trauma to her own: ‘Men like Merle get into your head. Make you
feel like you deserve the abuse’ (‘The Suicide King’, 3.9). With Merle’s
prolonged absence from Daryl’s life, the abused brother can finally rumi-
nate on his childhood and reflect on the true nature of his relationship
with his older sibling, a relationship that was not supportive or loving
at all.
Before Daryl can come to terms with his brother, though, his repressed
memories and emotions must be forced into his conscious mind in
the season two episode, ‘Chupacabra’ (2.5), when he has a decidedly
uncanny encounter. While searching for Sophia alone, Daryl falls into
a ravine, impales himself on a crossbow bolt, and has a vision of Merle
chastizing him for getting himself into such a precarious position. The
apparition tells Daryl to get up, pull the bolt out of his side, and climb
out of the ravine. As Daryl defends his decision to search for Sophia,
Merle chastizes him further, telling him he is being used by the wrong
kind of people, people who would not care for him if things were back
to ‘normal’. Rick and his people are not ‘kin’, and if Daryl were any kind
of brother, he would return to the farm and kill Rick. Merle offers one
parting shot – ‘Ain’t nobody ever gonna care about you but me, Little
Brother’ – before Daryl wakes to discover a walker tugging at his boot.
Inspired by the words of his vision, Daryl binds his wound, eats a raw
squirrel, and climbs out of the ravine, all while yelling at the phantom
of his imagination:

MERLE: Now come on; don’t be like that. I’m on your side.
DARYL: Yeah? Since when?
MERLE: Hell, since the day you were born, Baby Brother. Somebody
had to look after your worthless ass.
DARYL: You never took care of me. You talk a big game, but you was
never there. Hell, you ain’t here now. Some things never change.

In a literal manifestation of Freudian psychotherapy, the uncanny

apparition of Merle gives Daryl the strength to make it safely out of
Kyle William Bishop 183

the ravine, and it forces him to confront the realization that Merle has
never been supportive, he has never been the kind of loving big brother
he made himself out to be.
After surviving this near-death experience and his hallucinations,
Daryl returns to Hershel’s farm transformed, dedicating himself to the
group and becoming a better man, particularly because of the encour-
agement he receives from others. After Andrea accidentally shoots Daryl,
he must convalesce in Hershel’s house. Carol brings him something to
eat, kisses him on the forehead, and tells him: ‘You need to know some-
thing. You did more for my little girl today than her own daddy ever
did in his whole life. . . . You’re every bit as good as [Rick and Shane].
Every bit’. A few episodes later, Daryl takes his anger and frustration out
on the captured Randall, beating and torturing the man for information
about his group of marauders. When Daryl reports his findings to the
group, Carol is visibly disappointed when she sees Daryl’s bloody knuck-
les, and Dale approaches Daryl, pulling him away from the rest of the

DALE: Carol’s not the only one that’s concerned about you, your new
‘role’ in the group.
DARYL: Oh man, I don’t need my head shrunk. This group’s broken;
I’m better off fending for myself. . . .
DALE: Your opinion makes a difference.
DARYL: Man, ain’t nobody looking at me for nothing.
DALE: Carol is. And I am, right now. . . . You cared about what
happened to Sophia. Cared what it meant to the group. Tortur-
ing people? That’s not you. You’re a decent man! (‘Judge, Jury,
Executioner’, 2.11)

As Daryl continues to struggle with his repressed anger and resent-

ment towards Merle, psychological baggage that he has yet to deal
with, his personal development progresses as he sees a new version of
himself reflected through the perceptions of others. Indeed, as Carol
continues to trust, confide in, and even be attracted to him, Daryl’s
identity as part of the group of survivors becomes more developed and
However, because Merle is not dead, in season three Daryl has the
chance to confront his brother in the flesh. In ‘Made to Suffer’ (3.8),
Daryl accompanies Rick and Michonne to Woodbury to rescue Glenn
and Maggie from a megalomaniacal warlord called the Governor, and he
soon learns his brother is alive. Daryl offers to provide cover fire so Rick
184 Apocalyptic Psycotherapy: AMC’s The Walking Dead

can get everyone out safely; however, he really wants to stay behind to
find Merle. In the confusion, Daryl is captured and brought before the
people of Woodbury in the Governor’s gladiatorial fighting ring. The
Governor has branded Merle a traitor and terrorist, in league with Rick’s
group because of Daryl, and he pits the two brothers against each other
in the ring. The Dixons, however, have different plans, and they fight
their way out of Woodbury. Reunited with Rick’s group in the forest, the
brothers must reconsider their relationship, one that has changed dra-
matically because of Daryl’s transformed identity. Glenn and Michonne
are more than ready to kill Merle for his crimes against them both;
however, Merle responds by taunting and mocking them. Daryl, trans-
cending his former role as cowed younger brother, calls Merle a jackass
and tells him to shut up. Nevertheless, Daryl wants Merle to come to
the prison; although he’s a dangerous person, Merle remains Daryl’s
‘blood’. Rick refuses, and Daryl makes his choice: ‘Fine. We’ll fend for
ourselves. . . . No him, no me’. Glenn tries to talk Daryl out of leaving
the group, but Daryl says, ‘Don’t ask me to leave ’im. I already did that
once’ (‘The Suicide King’).
The Dixons set out on their own; however, Merle soon realizes their
relationship has changed from what it once had been. Daryl is openly
hostile toward his brother, challenging his decisions and disagreeing
with everything he says. When Daryl hears a baby cry, he immediately
rushes into a conflict to see how he can help a small group of human
survivors that have been trapped on a bridge by a number of walkers.
Merle follows at a leisurely pace, complaining they do not owe anyone
any help. After Daryl dispatches the zombies, Merle draws a gun on the
beleaguered survivors and demands their supplies and car. In response,
Daryl points his crossbow at Merle’s head and tells him to let the group
go; as the group leaves, Daryl storms off feeling disgust at his brother’s
ignoble behaviour. Merle chases after his brother, and the two have an
emotional confrontation:

MERLE. You know what’s funny to me? . . . I’ll bet you a penny and a
fiddle of gold, huh, that you never told [Rick] that we were planning
on robbing that camp blind.
DARYL. It didn’t happen.
MERLE. Yeah, it didn’t, ’cause I wasn’t there to help you.
DARYL. What, like we were kids? Huh? Who left who then?
MERLE. What? Huh? Is that why I lost my hand?
DARYL. You lost your hand ’cause you’re a simple-minded piece of
shit. (‘Home’, 3.10)
Kyle William Bishop 185

Merle then asks where Daryl is going, to which he replies, ‘Back where
I belong’. Given the chance to confront his brother, Daryl manifests his
new personal identity, an identity that reflects his newfound willingness
to address the anger, resentment, and fear he has been repressing since
he was a young boy. While Daryl will still have to struggle with his
brother’s death and his own identity, this moment in the series esta-
blishes Daryl’s subjective triumph; he now knows where he belongs,
and it is not at the heels of his abusive brother.

Carol and Daryl: emotionally triumphant individuals

At the beginning of the fourth season of The Walking Dead, both Carol
and Daryl appear as transformed characters. They no longer labour
under the burdens of their oppressive and abusive pasts, having moved
beyond both Ed and Merle to find their own self-actualized identi-
ties and to enjoy a measure of emotional health and stability. In ‘30
Days Without an Accident’ (4.1), Carol is introduced as an almost new
woman, someone who appears happy, casually jokes and flirts with
Daryl, and has taken upon herself the responsibility of teaching the
children in the group. Daryl presents an even more dramatic transfor-
mation; as he walks through the crowd of survivors eating breakfast at
the prison, he is regaled by friendly greetings from just about every-
body. In fact, Patrick awkwardly hails him with sycophantic praise: ‘Mr.
Dixon? I just wanted to thank you for bringing that deer back yesterday.
It was a real treat, sir, and I’d be honoured to shake your hand’. Later,
the two of them confer about the best way to keep the prison fences
safe against the walker hordes, demonstrating they have both taken on
more active leadership roles in the camp. Carol and Daryl have become
central figures at the prison – members of the ruling council, in fact – to
whom the others look for guidance and from whom they seek friendship
and attention.
Carol is through looking to others for instruction and guidance, hav-
ing fulfilled her need for a healthy Lacanian mirror in which to see her
potential in others. When a strange illness begins to sweep through the
prison in ‘Infected’ (4.2), Carol calmly and rationally euthanizes Ryan
and persuades the council to quarantine the others who show signs of
the illness. Most dramatically, Carol shows that she is the only one pre-
pared to take drastic action to neutralize the threat by pre-emptively and
secretly killing the infected Karen and David and burning their bodies.
Rick’s investigation into the murders leads him to suspect Carol, and he
confronts her:
186 Apocalyptic Psycotherapy: AMC’s The Walking Dead

RICK. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for the people here?

RICK. Carol. Did you kill Karen and David?
CAROL. Yes. (‘Isolation’, 4.3)

Carol’s answers are direct and matter-of-fact, and she clearly sees her
actions as warranted because her primary goal is to protect the sur-
vivors, especially the children. Even though Carol justifies her actions
as merciful and necessary in ‘Indifference’ (4.4), Rick decides she is both
asocial and dangerously transgressive. After they both survive a supplies
run together, Rick banishes her from the prison, even though he is no
longer one of the group’s leaders. Carol pleads with him, but she does
not recant or regret her choices: ‘I could have pretended that everything
was gonna be fine. But I didn’t. I did something: I stepped up. I had
to do something’. Rick clearly does not care about her newfound sub-
jective identity and independence, but he does leave Carol with some
words of encouragement: ‘You’re not that woman who was too scared to
be alone. Not anymore. You’re going to start over, find others. . . . You’re
going to survive out here’. Luckily for Carol’s fans, she has changed, and
she will survive on her own.
Even before leaving the prison, Carol demonstrates she has recovered
sufficiently from the loss of Sophia to re-engage with children in a nur-
turing manner; nevertheless, she refuses to take orders concerning their
education – or their safety – from anyone. She teaches them to read,
tells them stories, and imparts key survival skills to them; however, she
also teaches them how to use knives to protect themselves from walkers,
contradicting what Rick would want (‘30 Days Without and Accident’).
In ‘The Grove’ (4.14) Carol proves herself capable of making the hard
choices, even when she must transcend her conflicted sense of mother-
hood. Carol has essentially adopted Ryan’s daughters, Lizzie and Mika,
and she tries repeatedly to teach the girls how to take care of them-
selves and survive. She tells Lizzie, who is horrified by violence against
the walkers, ‘You can’t be [afraid]. . . . You fight it and fight it and don’t
give up. And then one day, you just . . . change. We all change’ (‘Indiffe-
rence’). Viewers see a Carol who has changed for the better, as she has
overcome her fear – her fear of death, being alone and making hard
choices; unfortunately, Lizzie’s uncanny encounters with the walkers
have changed her for the worse, as her method of dealing with the
fear of death has made her very dangerous. As Carol explains, ‘[S]he’s
confused about them, the walkers. She doesn’t see what they are; she
thinks they’re just . . . different’. After Lizzie emotionlessly murders her
Kyle William Bishop 187

sister to prove they should not fear the walkers, Carol makes the heart-
wrenching decision to execute the irreparably damaged girl. Once a
passive victim, Carol now understands the new world; not only does
she make the tough decisions by herself, but she also does the horrible
things necessary to keep people safe.
Daryl has also transcended his emotional baggage to achieve a health-
ier personal identity. Emotionally recovered from his dysfunctional
relationship with Merle, Daryl can finally show affection for the people
in his life, especially Carol and Beth. Throughout season three, Daryl
grows closer to Carol, as evidenced by both his mourning at her dis-
appearance and presumed death in the bowels of the prison (‘Say the
Word’, 3.5) and his joy in finding her alive (‘Hounded’, 3.6). By season
four, Daryl has become even more open with his emotions, and he can
now express love for others. The episode ‘Still’ (4.12), which takes place
right after the fall of the prison, focuses on Daryl and Beth as they strug-
gle to survive on their own. Daryl begins their journey together with his
standard gruffness and cold distance, refusing to speak to Beth, but she
soon confronts him, asking if he feels anything at all for those who have
died. He remains icy, but after the two bond over some pillaged moon-
shine, Daryl speaks with anger and frustration about his abusive father,
his rough upbringing, and his resentment of Beth’s perceived easy life.
Once again, Beth confronts him, accusing him of not caring about any-
thing or anyone ever since Sophia died. As they shout at each other,
Daryl finally admits the guilt he feels about letting the prison fall and
about not keeping people like Hershel safe. Beth holds him tight and
Daryl allows himself to cry. After they share their painful memories,
bitter regrets, and pressing insecurities, they burn an abandoned house
to the ground, symbolically and therapeutically purging themselves of
their emotional burdens.
Despite Daryl’s fierce independence, his contact with the other sur-
vivors has made him unexpectedly reliant upon social groups; however,
never again will he take orders blindly from anyone. Beth declares that
he will be the only one to survive, the ‘last man standing’ (‘Still’); how-
ever, Daryl is clearly displeased with such a thought. Whether or not he
will openly admit it, Daryl likes the person he has become in the pre-
sence of others – a provider, a protector, and even a kind of older brother
or father to Beth. In ‘Alone’ (4.13), for example, he gives her a piggyback
ride after her ankle is injured in a trap, and he watches her lovingly as
she plays the piano in a mortuary. Beth provides Daryl with an inspiring
mirror that convinces him that ‘good people’ might still be out there,
people like her and perhaps even himself. When walkers overrun the
188 Apocalyptic Psycotherapy: AMC’s The Walking Dead

mortuary, the two are separated, and Beth is apparently abducted. A dis-
traught Daryl tries to catch up with her, but fails; he ends up joining a
motley group of marauders, seeing the value in community – any com-
munity. Instead of attacking the group, Daryl demonstrates his new faith
in humanity, a hope for goodness he learned from Beth. However, Daryl
will not be pushed around by these people, who so strikingly resem-
ble Merle; he refuses to regress to their ‘survival of the fittest’ way of
life (‘Us’, 4.15). He manages to find camaraderie and safety in numbers
when needed, but when push comes to shove, he makes his own choices
and insures his own integrity.
While The Walking Dead is understandably appealing as a long-arc
exploration of the realistic after-effects of a zombie apocalypse, the series
is more than simply a monster narrative. The voracious and frightening
walkers certainly have their own tales to tell, but, as mute and mind-
less antagonists, they represent little to which human viewers can relate
and from which they can learn anything of value. Of greater interest
are the human characters, their multifarious emotions, and the inter-
personal relationships they must navigate as a result of the apocalyptic
wasteland they now inhabit. An important synonym for apocalypse is
‘revelation’, and that is exactly what all great apocalypse narratives
prove to be. The great value of The Walking Dead lies in the instruc-
tive work it does to present viewers with complex case studies of human
emotions and interactive identities. Thanks to the positive examples of
the new people in the lives of Carol and Daryl, and the repressed emo-
tional traumas they are forced to confront as they struggle to survive the
zombie apocalypse, both of these damaged people develop into strong,
independent and self-actualized individuals. Perceptive audience mem-
bers can learn much about their own emotional turmoil and potential
trauma as well, and they will hopefully perceive healthy ways to realize
appropriate personal growth and development in the face of monstrous
Homeland: Fear and Distrust as Key
Elements of the Post-9/11
Political-Spy Thriller
Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo

Homeland: an expression of trauma and terror in

American TV

Homeland (Showtime, 2011–)1 constitutes one of the American TV

fictions that reflect in a most compelling way the communal instabi-
lity resulting from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (Edgerton and Edgerton
92). As a consequence of that tragedy, the whole country found
itself immersed in a genuine cultural trauma, understood as the phe-
nomenon that takes place ‘when members of a collectivity feel they
have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks
upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever, and
changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways’
(Alexander 1).
One of the many virtues of the ‘new golden age’ of American TV fic-
tion is its ability to look directly into the psyche of a wounded country,
one that saw the myth of its invulnerability broken and consequently
felt unprotected and lost confidence in its own leaders (Faludi 24). The
‘War on Terror’ seems to have been unable to expurgate the atmos-
phere of threat, insecurity and uneasiness that sprang from the terrorist
attacks. In this context, the thriller genre has been revitalized and has
relied insistently on plots of action, espionage and political interest.
This maturity displayed by TV fiction in acting as a mirror of a
wounded society has led to its being designated with terms such as
‘trauma TV’ (Steiner) or ‘terror TV’ (Tasker). Steiner specifically deve-
lops a revelatory hypothesis about how American television drama
has confronted trauma and the issues of terror, fear and conspiracy

190 Homeland: Fear and Distrust

linked to 9/11 through three simultaneous narrative currents. The first

one would comprise a number of ideologically conservative thrillers
on counterterrorism that, appealing more to the audience’s emotions
than to their intellect, and making use of Manichean plots of revenge,
contributed to the normalization of an emergency state and a polit-
ical agenda intent on validating anti-democratic conducts (Steiner
34; Takacs 26). Subsequent to these thrillers, the ‘allegories on 9/11’
followed: TV series mostly in the sci-fi, supernatural, or mystery genres
that set their plots against the backdrop of alternate world scenarios in
order to critically reflect upon the sociopolitical changes resulting from
9/11 (Steiner 16). Lastly, the third current presents a group of TV series
dealing with traumatized individuals and a dissection of the homeland:
conspiracy narratives devoted to reassessing the causes, expenses and
consequences of American militaristic policies, while at the same time
becoming ‘the voice of all those marked by the loss of their loved ones
due to 9/11, and those haunted by the experiences they themselves have
to endure’ (Steiner 33).
If 24 (FOX, 2001–10) – executive-produced, among others, by Home-
land creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa – became the flagship
of the first of those three currents as much as Lost (ABC, 2004–10) or
Battlestar Galactica (Sci-fi, 2004–09) did of the second, this predominant
position belongs to Homeland among those of the third, where others
such as Rubicon (AMC, 2010) and Person of Interest (CBS, 2011–) could
be placed. Homeland, released at the time of the iconic tenth anniver-
sary of the 9/11 attacks – specifically, on 2 October 2011 – expresses
in its narrative and dramatic discourse many of the ingredients that
constitute the collective trauma derived from 9/11 (Smelser 266–8): the
feeling of incredible violation of the nation; the reactions of fear, anxi-
ety, terror and even mental disturbance; or the sentiments of mourning,
indelibility of the trauma and alteration of the national identity.
These manifestations of trauma are channelled, in the first place,
through the character of Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent who gives herself
fully to her work, which she also perceives as her life goal: preventing
a new 9/11 from taking place. Carrie appears to be the female, con-
flicted version of the American monomythic hero. Both as a sharp office
investigator and as an action heroine, she enacts this archetype of the
popular culture as far as she is ‘an autonomous agent whose superior
intellect, skill set and willingness to flout convention enable [her in
Homeland’s case] to rescue a helpless and naïve public’; someone ‘with
the guts to “look evil in the eye and deal with it”’ (Takacs 65). How-
ever, hand in hand with these qualities so characteristic of the daylight
Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo 191

hero, Carrie’s psychological profile shows the effects of trauma caused

by terrorism. Specifically, Carrie appears to be temperamental and vul-
nerable, psychologically unstable in a way reminiscent of the archetype
of the hysterical woman (Rouleau 20); a professional who cannot forgive
herself for not having prevented the 9/11 attacks and who has suffered,
since then, from bipolar disorder. Her psychological profile becomes a
faithful expression of Elsaesser’s intuition: ‘The goal of “modern ter-
ror” seems not to physically kill people, but to produce traumatized
survivors’ (qtd in Steiner 20).
By the hand of this character, as it were, we will see next how the 9/11
trauma has generated two strong emotions that serve to structure the
plot and dramatic relationships of Homeland: fear and distrust. The show
presents a clear vision of how the thriller genre, by its very nature, effec-
tively embodies and reflects these emotions, so peculiar to a traumatized


The reason why Homeland fits so well in the post-9/11 context lies at
the very heart of its generic codes. The thriller, by definition, aims at
eliciting in the spectator visceral, gut-level feelings – ‘suspense, fright,
mystery, exhilaration, excitement, speed, movement’ (Rubin 5) – by way
of a feeling of vulnerability or of a ‘certain loss of control’ (Rubin 6),
which is shared with the characters when placed in a situation of danger
and risk. Even at the very beginning of each episode, in the opening
credits – designed as a nightmare experienced by Carrie – the obstinate
tenacity of the character is presented in her quest to prevent a new 9/11:
‘I’m just making sure we don’t get hit again’.2 Her unrelenting attempts
will always be seen, therefore, from the perspective of defensive security
and, as a consequence, they will take a moral position that is acceptable
to the viewer.
The association of the audience with the hero’s stance is essential
for the emotional machinery of the thriller to work effectively. This is
usually achieved thanks to a psychological process commonly known
as ‘identification’ with the character, which is not a mere vicarious
experience of the viewer, but something more complex, playing on
the distinction, pointed out by Murray Smith, between ‘alignment’ and
‘allegiance’. Alignment is the mere space-time attachment provided to
the audience through the narrative’s focus on one or more characters,
while allegiance results from a moral evaluation of the character and
his or her actions (qtd in Plantinga, Moving Viewers 106–7). The thriller
192 Homeland: Fear and Distrust

genre, in which ‘excitement and suspense derive from wholeheartedly

wanting one person to succeed and fearing setbacks to their projects’
(Palmer 62), appears to be exceedingly sensitive to this association.
Homeland shares in a number of the qualities analysed by Palmer in his
anatomy of thrillers – his work focuses mainly on spy narratives – and
particularly in the empathy between spectator and hero, both in physi-
cal (that is, of focalization) and moral terms (identifying oneself with a
dramatic goal).
Also within the thriller genre is the premise of a credible threat; in this
case, that of Islamic terrorists attempting to carry out a new, massive
attack on American soil. The thriller form aims to create a pleasurable
experience of fear and hope in the spectator (Mikos 37–41);3 that is,
to keep the viewer suspended in the tension between dread for the
threat and confidence in thwarting it. This emotional state is achieved
by Homeland thanks to the effective use of the most universal quality of
the thriller genre: suspense. The distribution of story information places
the viewer in a position of superiority in relation to the protagonist.
Upon realizing the real dimension of the danger and the large difficul-
ties to overcome it, the spectator finds himself plunged into a sea of
thrills, at the same time that the desire for the hero to triumph is rein-
forced. As Carroll states, suspense consists of an ‘emotional response
that one has to situations in which an outcome that concerns one is
uncertain’, and this response is intensified when the audience shares
a ‘morally righteous’ goal whose final achievement seems unlikely or
under serious risk (‘The Paradox’ 84) when confronted with a sizeable
threat. In the words of Derry, ‘suspense relates not to the vague question
of what will happen next, but to the expectation that a certain specific
action might take place’ (31).
Thus, Homeland creates an emotional impact on the audience by keep-
ing them in a constant state of suspense as viewers slide between two
opposing poles: hope and fear. As far as the latter is concerned, there
are two internal elements of the television show that cause the feeling
of threat and danger: on the one hand, the dramatic premise itself, that
is, the central conflict of the narrative; and on the other, the villains
that, through their actions and motivations, become the source of such
As a kind of heir to the culture of paranoid fear from the Cold War
years, Homeland has managed to capture the sociocultural anxieties of
its time by way of a dramatic concept – ‘the Manchurian premise’, as
we may call it in reference to the iconic film The Manchurian Candidate
(1962) – that virtually created the genre of the political thriller: the tale
Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo 193

of a prisoner of war returning home as a hero after having undergone

a thorough process of brainwashing from the enemy, and acting as a
sleeper agent waiting for his orders to come through, ready to make use
of his condition of an acclaimed, public figure so as to approach targets
that are inaccessible to common citizens. From this starting point, the
eventuality of a terrorist attack on American soil has been foreshadowed
since the set-up of the pilot episode, in which one of Carrie’s informants
announces that ‘an American prisoner of war has been turned’. The
entire first season is articulated, therefore, around a CIA investigation
to untangle the plans of an Islamic terrorist cell to carry out a major
attack in the United States, a threat that eventually is emphasized by
iconic images of the Capitol (‘Pilot’, 1.1, and ‘Semper I’, 1.4). Although
this plan is thwarted in the final and outstanding episode (‘Marine One’,
1.12), it is not because of the efforts of the agency, but rather, due to the
moment of realization experienced by Brody, in which the awareness of
the value he places in his family dissuades him from detonating the sui-
cide vest that would have otherwise killed the vice president and many
other notable government officials.4 This narrative chart repeats itself
in the second season, as Carrie is recruited by the agency after one of
her previous informers reveals an imminent attack in the United States.
However, unlike season one, in the end the terrorists manage to carry
out their plan by detonating a bomb at the agency’s headquarters in
Langley, an attack that is presented by the show as the deadliest since
9/11 (‘The Choice’, 2.12).
The idea that the enemy is within constitutes the first and fore-
most ingredient in the construction of fear in the first two seasons
of Homeland.5 Characters and audiences are not just afraid of a new
massacre; rather, they are also affected by paranoia, that is, the ‘sense
of vulnerability to the faceless (societal) threats in our lives’ (Russin and
Downs 217) and an inability to point out friend from foe. Paranoia,
described by Hofstadter as ‘an oratorial style which relies on the notion
of a conspiracy against a nation, a culture, a way of life’ (qtd in Cobley
146) becomes the sublimation of such omnipresent, undetectable fears;
and as many authors have noted – Scott, Giglio, among others – con-
stitutes one of the main traits of the thriller genre, in line with the Red
Scare and Cold War narratives, of which The Manchurian Candidate is a
clear example.
This paranoid fear, however, does not limit itself to the screen. Home-
land takes advantage of the latent fear pervading an audience still too
close in time to 11 September 2001. However, this social fear, as we may
call it, is actually not new in the context of the Western world. In his
194 Homeland: Fear and Distrust

Culture of Fear, Furedi describes how an obsession with safety as a funda-

mental social value emerged at the end of the twentieth century. Society
appears increasingly preoccupied with both foreign and domestic dan-
ger, with worries ranging from street violence to ecological crisis and
even doubts about the survival of mankind (20). This state of perma-
nent fear reached new heights in American society as a result of the
trauma of 9/11, and this is the mood Homeland seeks to exploit.
The second element worth analysing pertaining to fear as a defining
emotion of the political-spy thriller – besides the already studied dra-
matic premises – is the villains. Throughout the history of the genre,
mainly in film, thrillers have chosen their villains from the wide array
of threatening types each era provided: central European spies in the
1930s, Nazis in the lead up to, and during, the Second World War,
communist agents throughout the Cold War years, and, in the 1970s,
amidst a climate of social unrest and loss of confidence in institutional
America, even government agencies (Derry 275). It is unsurprising,
therefore, to find an increasing amount of Middle Eastern terrorists
among the villains during the 1990s and 2000s. With a narration focal-
ized through the eyes of CIA analyst, Carrie Mathison, Homeland shares
with other current American TV fictions the depiction of an environ-
ment of insecurity and fear of which the Other is responsible; further-
more, this other must be eliminated so as to recover the stability that has
been lost. This enemy appears in Homeland as a two-person team pursu-
ing the same goal of perpetrating an attack in American soil: Abu Nazir
and Nicholas Brody. The first one, an Arab and fundamentalist Muslim,
incarnates a rather unchanged version of the foreign villain that has
been so recurrent in recent American screen fiction. Even though he
is provided with a set of personal motivations – the death of his son
and other children as a consequence of an American drone attack – that
justify to a certain extent his terrorist aspirations, his underlying goal
remains common to that of other Middle Eastern villains and also very
similar to that of Al-Qaeda’s Bin Laden, thus conveying the conven-
tional fear of an Arab world attempting to conquer the West (Cutler-
Broyles 2). This long-term goal is explicitly stated by Nazir himself in a
verbal confrontation with Carrie during ‘Broken Hearts’ (2.10):

NAZIR: Generation after generation must suffer and die. We are

prepared for that. Are you?
CARRIE: Whatever it takes.
NAZIR: Really? With your pension plans and organic foods, your
beach houses and sports clubs? Do you have the perseverance, the
Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo 195

tenacity, the faith? Because we do. You can bomb us, starve us,
occupy our holy places, but we will never lose our faith. We carry
God in our hearts, our souls. To die is to join him. It may take a
century, two centuries, three centuries, but we will exterminate you.

The second antagonist, Brody, a sergeant in the United States Marine

Corps and a Muslim convert, embodies the idea of duplicity, a habi-
tual convention in political-spy thrillers (and an essential element to
the emotion of distrust we will examine below). Unlike Nazir, the psy-
chological complexity of this character is enormous: besides displaying
a nuanced example of the traumas and difficulties experienced by war
veterans upon returning home, Brody also incarnates the voice of self-
criticism in an America split in the middle with regards to the role it
should play in the international arena. The recorded confession of the
motives of his (frustrated) terrorist attack represents a call to purify insti-
tutions (Cuadrado 35), and encapsulates an ideological counterpoint to
Carrie’s more black and white vision in attributing responsibilities and
separating sides between good and bad guys (‘Marine One’).
Brody is a character that elicits unsuspected and powerful fears. To the
already diabolical figure of a Bin Laden alter-ego, Homeland adds the
no less disturbing presence of an enemy that is no longer outside, is
no longer foreign, but rather, is domestic and indistinguishable, and
whose existence reinforces and increases a feeling of vulnerability and
fear among citizens.6 In this manner, Homeland addresses an inner threat
that has been dealt with in other recent TV series set in far-away uni-
verses – V (ABC, 2009–10), Battlestar Galactica (Sci-fi, 2004–09), set in
times not so far-away but considered to be over – The Americans (FX,
2013–) – or set in the present day – Sleeper Cell (Showtime, 2005–06).
On the other end of the spectrum, feeding the expectations of the
viewer, there is a feeling of hope in the very American idea that ultimate
evil cannot possibly materialize as the law enforcement and intelligence
agencies will always be there to protect us. In Homeland, that hope is
above all deposited in Carrie, the only one who can prevent or overcome
the threat.
Despite the murky waters she navigates, the audience places their
confidence in the tools available to her as means to accomplish her
mission. Carrie fights terrorism not with the violent means of the classi-
cal hero, but, rather, with the methods appropriate to the modern hero,
that is, research and information (Cuadrado 39–40). In this way, Home-
land acquires the narrative conventions and iconographic resources of
a spy procedural, in which a deductive process shown through hidden
196 Homeland: Fear and Distrust

microphones, stalking, interrogation scenes, ‘conspiracy boards’ filled

with photos of suspects, polygraph questioning and double agents is
given as much relevance as (or more than) the conventional, dizzying
action shenanigans. By delving into the spy modus operandi, Carrie is
seen as similar to other characters in recent American TV fiction, who
do not hesitate to graze the edges of unconstitutionality, as long as their
actions seek to serve what they consider to be the greater good. Such
perspective is, in turn, determined by the feeling of fear, which raises
the need for security to an elevated degree of priority, almost above good
and evil.
In a veiled manner, Homeland contributes to asserting the social
belief – which links back to the Second World War and has been rein-
forced after 9/11 (Smelser 279) – that technology is the key to solving
conflict; and that it can make a difference through its applications, both
offensive and preventive. Surveillance equipment, satellite tracking,
facial recognition software, among others, are consistently employed
throughout the show as the means available to the CIA.7
Thus, Carrie embodies the hope of the spectator through her means
of investigation and deduction, heavily supported by technological
devices, aimed at acquiring the information necessary to unmask the
villains and the conspiracy they are concocting. With the fearful horizon
of an impending attack that reverberates in the collective consciousness,
the protagonist’s efforts are pervaded by a sense of paranoia. The narra-
tive dynamic of the show exploits this through an unrestricted ‘range
of information’ (Bordwell and Thompson 93), that is, a distribution
of story information that leaves the audience in a position of superior
knowledge with respect to the protagonist, thus creating a constant feel-
ing of suspense. Information in Homeland is given the status of a weapon
that provides the characters with the power to threaten one another.
Springing from a fear of betrayal and from not knowing the true moti-
vations of the various players, a cat-and-mouse game takes place subject
to the rules of a constant state of distrust.


Paranoia, by its very definition, entails the inherent notion of dis-

trust. Not knowing where the danger may come from, being unable
to detect a hidden enemy, along with with the aforementioned obses-
sion with security and control, leads necessarily to a constant state of
suspicion towards ‘the Other’ and even towards ‘one of ours’. Such dis-
turbances seamlessly match a genre – the thriller – at whose core is a
Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo 197

protagonist that is ‘put in a situation where nothing is what it seems’

(Russin and Downs 213), which forces him or her to live in a constant
state of distrust, as a method of self-protection. Nevertheless, as proved
by Three Days of the Condor (1975) and other political thriller films of
the 1970s, the ultimate consequence of such a strategy is a disturbing
‘dehumanizing effect of conspiratorial behaviour upon the protagonist,
who loses all sense of trust of his fellow human beings and winds up
increasingly alone and frightened’ (Casper 317).
This destructive power of distrust has been largely studied from the
perspective of social sciences, and particularly psychology and sociology.
The overall conclusion tends to point out the necessary – and even natu-
ral – character of trustworthy relationships, no matter whether between
persons or between people and organizations/institutions. According to
Luhmann (123–4), trust enables a reduction of social complexity and a
simplification of life, qualities that are obviously inverted whenever dis-
trust reigns. Distrust, in turn, has been conceptualized by Barber as the
‘rationally based expectation that technically competent performance
and/or fiduciary obligation and responsibility will not be forthcom-
ing’ (166). In Homeland, the issue of trust in technical competence is
never questioned; rather, it is one of the most outstanding traits of the
counterterrorism professionals at work in the show. There is, however,
an alarming abundance of systematic rupture of expectations in terms
of fiduciary – that is, moral – obligations and responsibilities between
characters that share professional, romantic or familial links.
Actually, the common element to all interpersonal relationships in
Homeland is deception. Not a single bond seems honest, since all
connections appear corrupted by the lies and secrets of the characters,
who constantly betray the confidence that has been deposited upon
them, guiding their actions by a hidden agenda, so that nothing and
no one is really what they seem to be. The spectator, often aware of this
situation, is able to perceive the vulnerability of characters that trust
other characters without knowing their true intentions or identity, and
to share in the pain of those whose confidence has been betrayed.
Brody appears to be at the centre of all these webs of lies, both as
the source and the subject of the deception, even though the narra-
tive places the accent on his more active role of manipulating others.
In the domestic realm, as Brody returns to his wife, Jess, after eight long
years of absence, he betrays her by engaging in a romantic affair with
Carrie. At the same time, although on a less prominent narrative level,
we know Jess had been romantically involved with Brody’s best friend,
Mike Faber – hardly an instance of infidelity since her husband had long
198 Homeland: Fear and Distrust

been declared killed in action. On the espionage plot, Brody plays the
role of a sleeper agent – and later, a double agent – thus incarnating
the duplicity proper of the thriller’s villain: he is an undercover terrorist
who hides his activities under the public image of war hero and con-
gressman of the United States. At the same time, Brody is also subject
to lies and manipulation: when he learns that his friend and brother-
in-arms, Tom Walker, is alive, he is close to giving up on the terrorist
cause (‘Achilles Heel’, 1.8); and later, when he fails to detonate the sui-
cide vest as planned, Nazir requests proof of loyalty by ordering him to
assassinate Walker, which he does (‘Marine One’).
Eventually, Brody becomes a double agent of the CIA in Iran, where,
mirroring his previous American cover, he is considered to be a hero of
the terrorist cause, after it becomes known that he was responsible for
the bombing of Langley. This major twist in Brody’s character takes place
in the episode ‘Q&A’, through a truly cathartic experience in which he
opens up to Carrie and reveals the truth. His new role as a CIA double
agent, however, does not entail a tabula rasa, given the deeply tangled
web of secrets and lies in which he finds himself trapped.8 Thus, even
though Brody aligns himself with the good guys, the enormous pre-
ssure of sustaining a double agenda will wear him out, causing a vital
split that will prove to be unbearable: in ‘I’ll Fly Away’ (2.8), the radical
loneliness he feels after having dilapidated all meaningful relationships
overpowers him: ‘I’m more alone now than I was in the bottom of that
hole in Iraq’.
However, Brody is not the only victim of this atmosphere of deceit-
fulness. First, in the domain of marriage and family, lies and half-truths
become insufferable for both characters and audiences alike. The return
of Brody to his home after eight years of captivity in Iraq quickly
becomes stained by secrecy, concealment and falseness. Brody’s dou-
ble life prevents his return from becoming a true family reunion, and
makes it impossible for Jess and their kids to recognize him as a hus-
band and as a father. He consistently disregards the demands from his
wife and his older daughter, Dana, who ask him to reveal the whole
truth about himself. As a consequence, he becomes a stranger to them:
the marriage breaks down and his children become distant. This is par-
ticularly heightened in Dana, who is employed by the narrative as the
measuring gauge for the couple’s lies. She is a character who longs for
the truth, a necessary condition for trust to reign in interpersonal rela-
tionships, whether familial or romantic.9 Even if, at first, she forges a
connection of complicity with her father, this understanding will turn
into disappointment and horror when, ironically, Brody finally opens
Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo 199

up to her (‘The Choice’): the truth has arrived too late for her, and by
now it has become polluted by her father’s secrets and lies. As a con-
sequence, Dana is unable to recognize in Brody his renewed condition
of an American hero, or the fact that he stopped the terrorist attack
because of her (‘Marine One’). Ultimately, Dana can only see the nature
(now defeated) of the monster, and that is why she first attempts to take
her own life (‘Tin Man Is Down’, 3.1), disowns her father by changing
her name, that is, her identity, abandons the family home and, finally,
rejects Brody’s apologies right before he departs for the final mission in
which he will die (‘One Last Thing’, 3.9).
Outside the domestic domain, in the sphere of intelligence work and
espionage, the main victim of Brody’s web of lies is Carrie. Their rela-
tionship, tumultuous as it is, seems to be the only constant thread
through the different seasons. Up to the aforementioned turning point
in ‘Q&A’, it is also a relationship defined by the incompatible forces of
attraction and mutual manipulation: they are involved in a passionate,
romantic affair, while constantly suspecting and deceiving each other.
They play a game of ‘catch me if you can’ while they recognize in one
another the true possibility of an ideal partner. At the same time, they
both know they cannot risk revealing their true colours. When Carrie
finally takes steps to approach Brody honestly (‘The Weekend’, 1.7), the
outcome turns out to be destructive, and throws her in a downward
spiral of confusion. Her internal struggles intensify in ‘Marine One’,
when she loses all confidence in her instinct and ability to untangle
the conspiracy, and believes that all her findings and conclusions were
the product of her sick mind.
The beginning of season two focuses on a now retired Carrie. When
proof emerges that her intuitions were correct all along and that Brody
is a sleeper terrorist, Carrie is given the chance to confront him. At the
turning point of season two (‘Q&A’), it is the psychological pressure
she exercises on Brody that forces him to make the drastic decision of
switching sides: she appeals to his inner pain and offers him an intimate
space – by turning the cameras off, although not the microphones – to
which Brody surrenders, unable to resist the weight of deception any
longer. Brody’s catharsis becomes for Carrie sufficient proof to begin
trusting in him. At the same time, he must trust Carrie’s word about
his eventual immunity, since their ‘off-the-books’ deal cannot be put in
writing. In this manner, a new, more solid, almost healing relationship
begins, one that is nevertheless threatened by an enormous risk, given
that, by putting trust into action, ‘one is dependent on the intentions
and goodwill of others’ (Marková, Linell and Gillespie 4), which entails
200 Homeland: Fear and Distrust

accepting the risk of an eventual harm, possibly greater than the good
being sought after.
This new situation forces the two characters to put their confidence
in one another to the test, immediately after the terrorist incidents in
‘A Gettysburg Address’ (2.6) and ‘The Choice’. However, once the test is
passed, their dramatic arc grows to the extreme, highlighted by Brody’s
decision to risk his own life for the American cause (‘One Last Thing’),
which in turn leads Carrie to consider him a true American hero (‘The
Star’, 3.12). In this manner, their relationship reveals the transformative
power of trust (Spaemann 139–40), which allows individuals to redefine
themselves and therefore transcend the limits of identity self-imposed
by their past deeds. Thus, Brody redeems his terrorist activities and
becomes a national – even if anonymous – hero; and this growth rati-
fies his romantic relationship with Carrie, which is not surprising given
that love shares a nuclear quality with trust and vulnerability, essen-
tially, the ability to place oneself in a situation of weakness before the
other (Spaemann 140–1).
A similar process of betrayal and reconciliation takes place between
Carrie and her long-time mentor and friend Saul Berenson. This sea-
soned, battle-scarred agent assumes that all relationships within the
agency are mediated by lies. This assumption, however, finds an excep-
tion in his pupil, Carrie. Hence, when she betrays him by planting
illegal surveillance systems in Brody’s home, his reaction becomes rather
revealing: a nearly sacred bond has been fractured, and forgiveness will
not be easy to attain:

Everyone lies in this business, I accept that. But we all draw lines
somewhere and the two sides of that line are us and them. And what-
ever we had, you and I, whatever trust we built up over a decade of me
protecting you and teaching you everything I know, you destroyed it
when you lied to me and you treated me like them. Like every other
schmuck in this building. (‘Clean Skin’, 1.3)

Even if the CIA is generally depicted in Homeland in a good light

as the first and foremost line of defence against the fearful ‘Other’,
whether foreign or domestic, Saul is right to reveal its inner work-
ings as a dark, conflicted space. The governing elites are often branded
by the narrative as power hungry, self-centred and even egomaniac.
Vice President Walden embodies this profile, a ruthless character who
does not hesitate to lie and manipulate so as to favour his own inter-
ests and hide his own misdoings (‘Crossfire’, 1.9). David Estes, director
Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo 201

of the Counterterrorism Unit at the agency, is presented as a compe-

tent boss; however, his priorities are negatively affected by his innate
careerism, as he is willing to lie and manipulate records so as to hide
the ‘collateral damage’ inflicted by his decisions. Such criticism fits well
in the post-‘War on Terror’ America environment, which, resembling
the disenchanted mood of the infamous 1970s during Watergate and
the Vietnam War (not surprisingly dubbed by Cobley and others as the
golden age of American thrillers), taps into a social stream filled with
‘a sense of impotence, anxiety and cynicism’ (Casper 315). Paradoxi-
cally, this criticism makes room for the affirmation that distrust can
also be a necessary control mechanism for higher institutional power
‘in a democracy where political elites may be incompetent, corrupt or
untrustworthy in both respects’ (Barber 93).
In accordance with Saul’s cited speech, the inner workings of the
CIA are presented as conflicted, riddled with internal power struggles,
and an ideal sphere for the forging of conspiracy. Even a minor cha-
racter like Galvez, who is initially assigned to tail Carrie and spy on
her (‘Semper I’, 1.4), is later suspected of being a mole in the agency
because of his ethnicity – his mother Lebanese, his father Guatemalan –
and religion (since he is a Muslim). Also under a cloud of suspicion
is Peter Quinn, a character who enters halfway through the second
season (‘New Car Smell’, 2.4) amidst the distrust of characters and audi-
ence alike. Following the typical trope of ‘spies spying on spies’, the
narrative intentionally confuses the audience as we are surreptitiously
allowed into the private space of Quinn’s apartment, which reveals his
dubious lifestyle, where everything seems provisional and riveted with
nearly paranoid security measures. The distrust on the part of the audi-
ence heightens as we discover he is not a CIA analyst, but rather a
‘black ops’ expert brought in with the mission of assassinating Brody
as soon as he becomes expendable in the eyes of the agency. It is sur-
prising, however, how this sinister character progressively becomes the
moral reference of the series, particularly from the moment he chooses
not to murder Brody and dissuades Estes from any further attempts
to harm him (‘The Choice’). His ethical standards become even more
apparent during season three when he confronts Saul over his treat-
ment of Carrie (‘Uh . . . Oh . . . Ah . . . ’, 3.2) and confesses to crimes he
has not committed as a way to expiate his sense of guilt that springs
from the accidental death of a child in the course of an operation
(‘Gerontion’, 3.7).
Looking at all the main characters in Homeland and considering
their relationships, the spectator can quickly reach the conclusion that
202 Homeland: Fear and Distrust

nothing is what it seems. Or, better put, no one is who they seem to be.
This diagnosis is, in fact, rather accurate: such is the effect the narrative
aims to achieve. In Homeland we can see how the unmistakable effect of
relationships riddled with deception and duplicity causes a general feel-
ing of distrust among the characters, and how this rich, dramatic set of
interactions also achieves the superior effect of transferring such uneasi-
ness and suspicion to the audience, mainly through the management of
story information. More specifically, it is this ‘narrative of suspicion’ that
makes the viewers wary, as they question the intentions and motives of
those characters aligned with the ‘good guys’; this is demonstrated, for
example, in the case of Peter Quinn. Along the same lines, for instance,
flashbacks are shown of Brody’s past in ‘Two Hats’ (2.9) that give us
good reason to doubt his intentions, in the same way in which the
shadow of betrayal is cast over the climactic scene in which Brody must
assassinate the main leader of the Iranian military (‘Big Man in Tehran’,
3.11). Similarly, the early stages of season three manipulate the audi-
ence into believing that Carrie’s emotional breakdown may even lead
her to switching sides; furthermore, in one episode (‘Gerontion’) it is
hinted that the Iranian Fara Sherazi may potentially be a double agent
within the CIA. However, the character who attracts most of the audi-
ence’s mistrust is the mentor Saul: despite having been presented as a
model of honesty and righteousness within the agency, the narrative
also casts shadows of doubt over him. ‘The Good Soldier’ (1.6) throws a
red herring at the viewer when Saul’s polygraph reveals that he is lying.
‘The Choice’ depicts him in a dubious light as the sole survivor of the
Langley attack. In addition, in season three, the shadows increase as
he apparently betrays Carrie by locking her in a hospital room as part
of a hardly believable plan to destabilize the Iranian regime, while the
episodes ‘Gerontion’ and ‘A Red Wheelbarrow’ (3.8) suggest that he is
not fully committed to shedding light on the circumstances behind the
bombing of Langley.
This pervasive network of deception and narrative manipulation pre-
disposes the spectator to a constant state of suspicion, laying the rules
for a greater effect of suspense, an agitated emotional state that, as has
been pointed out earlier, relates to the post-traumatic atmosphere of
contemporary circumstances. It would seem that, to a certain extent,
the game of lies and deception played in the sphere of geopolitics
unavoidably infiltrates the private life of the characters, where it exer-
cises the very same destructive power that can topple governments and
traumatize entire societies.
Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo 203


Ultimately, Homeland is a paradigmatic fiction that springs from the

post-9/11 landscape in America. Marked by the ‘War on Terror’, the
series presents its audience with a set of characters entangled in various
relationships riddled with distrust. They are also suspicious of institu-
tional power and remain in a constant state of fear about potential
terrorist attacks reminiscent of the World Trade Centre tragedy. The
main argument in this chapter aims at proving how distrust and fear
constitute the defining traits of Homeland, and, in a broader sense, of the
political-spy thriller genre in the early part of the twenty-first century.
Homeland constitutes an excellent case study for verifying how these
two emotions are indeed inherent in the conflicts addressed by the
genre, and also proving how the genre itself is largely affected by its
sociocultural context. It is no coincidence that political-spy thrillers
peaked during the turbulence of the Cold War years and some of its
more paranoid traits were later developed during the 1970s, when faith
in democratic institutions and leaders in the United States wavered and
even crumbled (Casper; Cobley). Thrillers ‘often catch the fears, para-
noia, and fantasies of their era’ (Kellner 165), and therefore put forward
what we may call, to some extent, a portrait of their current audience.
This is particularly significant in terms of the viewer’s interpretation,
because when screen fictions elicit emotions, ‘memory traces and asso-
ciations’ on the side of the audience also play a significant role in
the reception of the narrative and the creation of emotions (Plantinga,
Moving Viewers 75).
The Homeland narrative necessarily conveys fear and distrust to their
audience, not only as a dramatic strategy, but also – at least partially –
because fear and distrust have permeated society in the aftermath of
9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’. The reason why thrillers are particu-
larly relevant in this context is because of their ability to address these
emotions through their dramatic content.
If sociopolitical turmoil stirred up the waters of thriller fiction in
the past, it would only seem reasonable that it continues to do so in
the present; in addition, there is a kind of parallelism between the
post-Vietnam period and the post-‘War on Terror’ period in the United
States. With regards to fear, Cobley’s thorough study of 1970s American
thrillers – written before 9/11 – already shows how ‘conspiracy fears
have been at the hub of the American political landscape and that
modernity has only served to heighten such fears’ (6). If that is the case
204 Homeland: Fear and Distrust

in times of political unrest and the loss of confidence in institutional

powers, it would be even stronger now, at a time when the United States
has lost the sense of an intact homeland, invulnerable to foreign ene-
mies, which is the ultimate unheard-of, game-changing novelty brought
about by 9/11. The permanent feeling of threat hovering over the cha-
racters – and, implicitly, the public – allows Homeland to connect with
and engage its audience effectively, with plots that employ fear as a
means to sustain interest. Further, when it comes to distrust, Homeland
clearly shows the inherent risks that spring from the voluntary decision
of trusting another person, given that the act itself is in its essence a risk,
since there is no certainty of the other fulfilling the expectations that
have been laid upon him or her (Buenrostro 72). As deception leads to
distrust, we move progressively toward a disintegration of interpersonal
relationships and the social fabric of society.
The 9/11 attacks traumatized the American public, making it parti-
cularly sensitive to negative, threatening emotions. A pervading sense
of fear that leads to paranoia, in turn a source of distrust itself, lies
at the heart of the thriller genre from its golden era in the 1960s and
1970s. A resurgence of the genre, and a considerable degree of popu-
larity, would seem, therefore, unavoidable – this time on television, a
medium in which some of the most daring storytelling feats have been
undertaken over the last decade.
Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar
Galactica: What Makes Us Human
Claudia Wassmann1

What do science fiction films and TV series reveal about human emo-
tions? Since the 1960s science fiction series, such as the original Star
Trek series (NBC, 1966–69), the movie Star Trek (2009), and Battlestar
Galactica (ABC, 1978–79; Sci-fi, 2003–09) have mirrored the human con-
dition and reflected changes in societal knowledge about emotions and
rational behaviour. Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica (hereafter BSG) use
distinctions among emotional and dispassionate behaviour as a distin-
guishing feature that differentiates human from non-human characters.
However, there is a remarkable difference in the way that the films
(movies and TV series) make use of these distinctions. Both Star Trek
and BSG were revived with successful ‘next generation’ versions at the
turn of the twenty-first century. Therefore, a comparative analysis of the
aforementioned productions shows particularly well the evolution of
our attitudes towards the expression of emotions, shifting gender roles
and an overall more positive evaluation of emotions.
Scholars have long argued that cinematographic productions serve
as a model according to which individuals in post-modern societies
form their identities (Bukatman). Star Trek: the original series, written
by Roddenberry, first aired in 1966–69. BSG started ten years later in
1978–79. Both series reflect the political and social concerns of their
times. Star Trek took up themes such as peace, authoritarian regimes,
imperialism, class conflicts, racism, human rights, feminism and tech-
nology (Lincoln Geraghty). BSG hooked onto the success of the first
episode of Star Wars (1977) directed by George Lucas in the wake of
the 1960s and 1970s space programs in the United States and the Soviet
Union. The remake of BSG (Sci-fi, 2003–09) took on the political con-
cerns of contemporary America. It specifically referred to the United
States post-9/11, and the ‘war on terrorism’ initiated by former President

206 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

Bush. While in the 1970s the series attempted to restore freedom and
justice in the galaxy, the recent serials depict dystopian worlds, vio-
lence and a struggle for survival. Star Trek searched for new frontiers,
‘where no man ever went before’, and addressed many contemporary
ethical dilemmas over the course of its evolution. However, these fic-
tional productions also reflect the respective psychological knowledge
of their times in their casting, the design of the characters and the plots.
The aim of this chapter is to review how Star Trek and BSG inform,
reinforce and enact societal knowledge about emotions. Since the 1990s,
when it became possible to study the living human brain using func-
tional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we witnessed a huge increase
in knowledge production in the neurosciences and cognitive psychol-
ogy, which have taken on the topic of emotions using fMRI scans.
This research revised our knowledge about emotions, revealing their
role in rational decision-making. As the neurologist Damasio demons-
trated, patients who suffered brain damage to specific parts of the
brain, which hindered emotional information from being fed into the
decision-making process, are unable to make simple choices like what
restaurant to choose and are incapable of making good decisions for
their lives. Damasio’s monograph, Descartes’ Error, has widely publicized
these results in the humanities and social sciences. Accordingly, our
attitudes towards emotion(s) have changed.
The shift in knowledge can be seen particularly well in the original
Star Trek series and the movie that came out in 2009. A key figure in
Star Trek is the unemotional Mr. Spock, designed to be ‘half-human’ and
‘half-Vulcan’. This popular character remains unmoved by things that
‘ordinary humans’ find threatening, and rather takes them as an excit-
ing challenge. In his dispassionate composure, he was the embodiment
of the ‘rational’ scientific character type fashionable at the time (Hall).
However, since research revealed that decision-making is defective and
sometimes impossible without emotional information, the movie Star
Trek (2009) reflects this more positive appraisal of emotions. Indeed, it
made the role of emotion in cognition and decision-making a central
element of the plot. This is particularly evident in the dialogue between
the young Spock and his father at the end of the film, when Spock father
says: ‘Do yourself a favour. Put logic aside. Do what feels right’.
Emotion as the distinguishing feature of ‘humanness’ is also raised in
BSG. Here, the ‘aliens’ are Cylons, who supposedly have no emotions, or
rather know only one, which is hatred. For that reason they are said to
be unable to act morally, and humans on board feel entitled to consider
them as inferior to humans, and in fact torture them. However, some
Claudia Wassmann 207

Cylons then argue that they do have emotions. Reminiscent of the his-
torical controversy of Valladolid in 1550–51, when Catholic theologians
debated whether or not American Indians have a soul and therefore
must be treated like any other human being by the Spanish invaders,
the question is raised whether Cylons have a soul. If Cylons have emo-
tions then they can be considered human. In a conversation between
Number Eight Cylon Sharon (A), and her human boyfriend, Lieutenant
Karl ‘Helo’ Agathon, Sharon tries to convince her beloved that she has
human qualities because she can ‘feel’. ‘I am cold’, she says, ‘I have emo-
tions’. The question is whether or not Cylons have emotions and can
therefore redeem themselves, or if they are ‘programmed’ to carry out
cruel acts of vengeance, because that is their ‘destiny’. The question of
emotions plays a crucial role in the conflict that develops among the
Cylons over the course of the series.
Scholars have interpreted BSG and Star Trek from many angles.
Gregory examined how the current versions and the 1960s versions of
Star Trek reflect changes in mass media culture. In terms of contem-
porary American politics, Buzan argues that BSG reflects the shifting
attitudes of the United States in the aftermath of 9/11 from an out-
going attitude to an inward looking gaze (2). Similarly, historians of
emotions refer to the wounded America after the atrocious attack on
the World Trade Centre in explaining the ‘emotional turn’ in histo-
riography (Plamper 237). Chaires and Chilton have analysed Star Trek
Visions of Law and Justice. Gender, race and sexuality have been studied
in both Star Trek and in BSG, in particular, in terms of post-colonialism,
the role of Asian-American immigrants and queer life (Greven; Pegues;
Pounds). Finally, Call has interpreted the remake of BSG in terms of
alternative sexuality, sadomasochist and ‘kink’ sexual behaviour. Even
though religion is openly thematized in the series, he does not address
this issue in his analysis. While BSG clearly enacts the female role of
Eve as temptation and also calls to mind the religious theme of sacri-
fice, Call interprets the performance in terms of sexual phantasies of
‘snuff play’. Other works have addressed the question of religion in
science fiction films (Cowan). Film scholar Greg M. Smith emphasizes
the role of style and narration in the process by which films appeal to
human emotions. Grodal proposes rewriting the theory of film genres
based on feelings and emotions; Browne claims that science fiction series
use cognitive theories of emotion. Star Trek and BSG take up leading
themes discussed in the neurosciences, such as empathy, embodied feel-
ings and moral decisions (Decety 257; Bastiaansen, Thioux and Keysers
2391; Greene and Haidt 517). Emotions are defined physiologically and
208 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

cognitively. While both series reflect shifting knowledge about emotion

and cognition, Star Trek also reveals what is ahistorical about emotion.
Some essential features of emotions do not seem to have changed over
time even though cultural codes have shifted. Thus, the science fic-
tion productions mirror both constancy and change with regard to the
We watch movies in order to be entertained. When we watch films
we induce feelings. We watch movies to change our mood, to shift our
thoughts and feelings away from everyday matters and to feel better.
A story well told and colours and movement are intrinsically pleasing
to the brain. ‘People take drugs because they like what it does to their
brains; drugs modify mood, perception, and emotional state’. (Leshner
1–2) People take drugs because they want to feel good, ‘and this “feel
good” effect has to do with how the drug affects the brain’ (2). Sub-
stances such as alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, nicotine and heroin all have
an effect on the brain’s limbic reward system; they cause a change in
the nucleus accumbens and release dopamine, which feels pleasurable.
While the effects of movies are not as strong as those of drugs, they can
have a similar effect on people for a short period of time. BSG caters to
this need.

Battlestar Galactica

The twenty-first century remake of BSG was very successful. The series
won three primetime Emmys and received numerous other awards and
nominations. A mini-series in 2003, which served as an extended pilot
for the entire series, laid out the plot: Cylons created by men, evolved,
rebelled and come in many copies. The last surviving humans are on
board of Galactica, a gigantic battleship and spacecraft carrier, fleeing
from the robot Cylons that pursue them, and search for their ‘true home,
Earth’. However, it turns out they must collaborate with the Cylons in
order to find habitable space. Religion is omnipresent in BSG, and the
question of God’s existence is first raised by the robots. While the Cylons
believe in a monotheistic religion, the humans have polytheistic beliefs.
Religion is key to finding ‘the way back’, searching for the ‘origins’, and
enable a new beginning.
The story of BSG tells us that the Cylons, once created by humans
and programmed to be at their service, are in possession of much more
advanced technology and have a plan to eliminate humans. At least,
this is what we assume. In the second season, the Battlestar crew fights
against the outside enemy. In the third season, the fights take place
Claudia Wassmann 209

inside the Battlestar among the crew members and hierarchy. The fourth
season preaches the return to a more natural, pre-modern agrarian civi-
lization (Buzan). The episodes become increasingly violent and dark:
sordid imagery, the picture of a destroyed civilization, as it transpires
our Earth that was destroyed by a nuclear catastrophe, brought about
by the Cylons’ ancestors, who are discovering their own dark past.
As Christine Cornea states, ‘the cyborg has become synonymous with
an understanding of contemporary life’ (4).
The visuals reflect the dystopian landscapes of post-industrial America
(Potter and Marshall). It has been frequently remarked that BSG is a
commentary on the terrorist attacks in 2001 and the ensuing ‘Global
War on Terrorism’ that the United States embarked upon. The visuals
in the opening credits reflect the view of New York in the aftermath
of 9/11 (Greene 9). A makeshift memorial wall reminding of ‘missing
loved ones’ again refers to New York City after the terrorist attack. Scho-
lars praised the intertextuality that characterizes the remake of BSG’s
careful visual design (Geraghty 199). The series intends to create an
atmosphere of constant doubt and incite viewers to question the ethi-
cal and moral responsibilities of the characters on screen as well as their
own (Hatch, Morris and Yeffeth). Emotions are displayed on the char-
acters’ faces as described in psychology textbooks by Ekman, whose
research on facial expressions experienced a large boost in funding in
the wake of 9/11 (Ekman and Friesen). The atmosphere of paranoia
and suspicion reflects the feelings expressed by many Americans after
the terrorist attack and fostered by the media. Clearly, the series takes
up reality and attempts to question this reality and our moral choices
(Takacs 196–7). We are reminded of stories, which have featured in the
news, such as torture in American prisoner camps.2 BSG shows very real-
istic looking torture scenes – as, for instance, in ‘Flesh and Bone’ (1.8;
UK 12/2004; US 02/2005). These scenes were ‘purportedly designed to
resemble tactics used at Guantanamo’ (Takacs 196). The violence of the
episode was criticized, but the series was also acclaimed as a corrective to
‘military triumphalism’ of the Bush era (197). However, the TV episode
aired before the news coverage about the prisoner abuse at Guantanamo
Bay became public. – The waterboarding methods used at Guantanamo
Bay were reported by The Nation, ABC News in 2006. – The humans
in BSG feel they have a license to torture and kill, because they are on
the right side. While the TV series questions this assumption, they also
enact it and the question is whether the images invite imitation rather
than critical distancing (for a similar argument see Freedman; Lawrence
and Jewett). Furthermore, the episode manages to keep the viewers’
210 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

affections with the crewmember, the female Lieutenant Starbuck, who

carries out the torture.

The social brain

Why do we feel with her? Research on mirror neurons, empathy and

the social brain is informative for understanding why and how moving
images can move us (Shimamura). Since the discovery of mirror neurons
in the human brain two decades ago, the proponents of simulation the-
ory have argued in favour of automatic processes of empathy (Gallese
and Goldman). In their view, the mirror neuron system enables us to
‘directly understand the meaning of the actions and emotions of oth-
ers by internally replicating (“simulating”) them without any explicit
reflective mediation’ (Gallese, Keysers and Rizzolatti 396). They hold
that the brain directly links the first person and third person perspec-
tive of the phenomena we observe, ‘“I do and I feel” with “he does and
he feels”’ (396; for a critique see Jacob and Jeannerod 21–5). The mir-
ror neuron system would arguably provide a royal road to instant and
effortless understanding of the minds of others, their feelings, thoughts,
and intentions, because we simulate the action in our brain as if we exe-
cuted it ourselves, and also the emotions. When we see, for instance,
an expression of disgust, and when we feel disgust, the same part of the
brain called insula is activated (Wicker et al. 655).
The argument of ‘mimicry’ or simulation is fashionable with film
scholars. They ask the same questions as neuroscientists but give slightly
different explanations for the phenomenon of why we feel with a cha-
racter on screen. ‘Watching the movie scene in which a tarantula crawls
on James Bond’s chest can make us literally shiver – as if the spider
crawled on our own chest. What neural mechanisms are responsible for
this “tactile empathy”’, the neuroscientists ask (Keysers et al. 335). For
the brain, seeing implies feeling what we see at least in part. Mirror neu-
ron representations are particularly precise for movements of the hands.
For instance, representations of movement of the index finger or of the
index and the second finger elicit very precise reactions in the cortex,
as if we moved one or two fingers ourselves (Kuehn et al.). This might
explain why it is more painful to see pain afflicted precisely to one body
part and with a familiar tool. Film scholars speak of ‘somatic empathy’,
which entails ‘sensation, affective and motor mimicry’. Hanich comments
on the ‘social experience’ of emotion in film viewing: ‘It is the scream
as the most clearly perceptible response that binds together the indi-
vidual bodily with the collective social experience’ (150). He speaks of a
Claudia Wassmann 211

heightened state of intersubjectivity that is aroused by the ‘cinematic

shock’ experience, because it raises awareness of our own bodies, tak-
ing up an argument that was developed earlier on a merely behavioural
level by film theorist Carroll in The Philosophy of Horror: Or, Paradoxes of
the Heart. Hanich attributes the social reaction to our conscious aware-
ness of our own body: ‘It is precisely because our bodily reaction is both
strongly felt and experienced as inevitable that cinematic shocks are able
to foster an intersubjective understanding of affective equality’ (103).
According to him, we project this experience on others, ‘Because we can
hardly avoid shock reaction, we can tacitly assume that this goes for the
rest of the audience as well’ (103). Neuroscientists interpret our reac-
tions in a more intrinsic manner: it hurts us when we see other people
hurt themselves because we create ‘embodied simulation’ (Bastiaansen,
Thioux, and Keysers 2391). A whole range of brain areas are activated,
not only the brain’s visual areas, but also premotor and supplemen-
tary motor areas, the primary somatosensory cortex and inferior parietal
cortex, and this neuronal activity means that our bodily feelings are
recruited and fed into the processing of the visual information that the
brain perceives – as if what we see was happening to us or as if we were
doing what we see, depending on who gets our attention or whom we
empathize with (Lamm, Decety, Singer 2492). People react in different
ways to violent images. Some people just cringe and turn away, but most
people do not turn away.
Why do we not feel with the tortured Cylon Leoben then? The torture
scenes in the BSG episode ‘Flesh and Bone’ are very realistic and some-
what troubling (Takacs 196–8). They can be witnessed because different
psychological strategies are used to create distance, so that the audi-
ence does not ‘feel’ for the Cylon, who is being tortured, in despite of
the realism of the torture scene. He is an alien, he is considered guilty,
and it has been established beforehand that the Cylons cannot feel pain
and cannot die – irrespective of what you do to them; the characters
stand up again in a new body, looking just as handsome as before.
However, the tortured Cylon argues that he does feel pain, and the presi-
dent of the Battlestar later apologized to him for the mistreatment but
then ordered him to be thrown ‘out the airlock’ (Takacs 196–7). The
episode discusses the question whether Cylons have a soul, like in the
controversy of Valladolid, evoking questions of how Cylons should be
treated. Nevertheless, even though Leoben argues that he does feel pain,
the scriptwriters retain the viewer’s sympathy with Lieutenant Starbuck,
even as we see her engage in acts of torture. The episode argues that the
torture was ‘justified’ in that it had been ‘successful’: the Battlestar crew
212 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

obtained the vital information and averted the danger to their ship, and
then threw the ‘enemy’ who was now innocuous, out of the ship to his
death – or not, as we were told before that Cylons cannot die. In addi-
tion, Starbuck is portrayed as ‘humane’, showing affection towards the
tortured enemy once he is no longer ‘dangerous’.
Singer’s research on empathy with pain shows that empathy involves
only the affective but not the sensory part of the brain’s pain matrix
(1157). This means that feeling empathy requires that we are affectively
attached to the other in the first place; we must have an interest in the
other. Research on the social brain shows that we do indeed ‘share’ with
others what we see but do not always feel with the other (Hein and
Singer). Furthermore, sharing does not mean that the representations
are identical (Decety and Sommerville). To the contrary, the ability to
distinguish between self and other is essential for moral cognition and
pro-social behaviour (Decety). Emotional, cognitive and motivational
aspects are interconnected in moral cognition. It is precisely the cogni-
tively controlled reappraisal of early automatic responses that accounts
for empathic and pro-social behaviour (Cowell and Decety).
Even though we are sensitive to fairness, empathy is not a unitary
automatic mechanism. At least three distinct networks are implicated
in social cognition: the mirror neuron system, the mentalizing system
(ToM) and our ability to empathize: theory of mind (ToM) refers to ‘our
ability to understand mental states such as intentions, goals and beliefs
of other people, and relies on structures of the temporal lobe and the
pre-frontal cortex’ (Singer 855). Empathy designates ‘our ability to share
the feelings (emotions and sensations) of others, and relies on sensori-
motor cortices as well as limbic and para-limbic structures’ (855). Singer
explains that the concept of empathy, as used in lay terms, ‘refers to
a multi-level construct extending from simple forms of emotion conta-
gion to complex forms of cognitive perspective taking’. Research shows
that the contextual appraisal can take place ‘early in the emotional cue
evaluation’ and affect whether or not an empathic response is gene-
rated, or it can take place after an empathic brain response is elicited
(De Vignemont and Singer 435). Scientists see two major roles of empa-
thy: to provide ‘information about future actions of other people’ and
to motivate for cooperative and prosocial behaviour and ‘help effective
social communication’ (435).
Cognition plays a major role in the generation of emotions (Scherer,
Schorr and Johnstone). How we think about things and people affects
how we feel about them. Seeing others in pain does not automatically
cause feelings of empathy. The psychological distance can be created by
Claudia Wassmann 213

means of cognitive and visual distancing. For instance, in ‘Six Degrees

of Separation’ (1.7) the scenario visually distances the viewer from the
images portrayed when Sharon (A), who is featured as an emotional
anchor and a kind person, is shot by her boyfriend Helo. The action
is filmed at a distance and the character is projected up into the air like
a virtual figure, reminiscent of virtual reality training for GIs. This also
trivializes the act.

Shifting emotional regimes

Battlestar Galactica, in contrast to Star Trek, can be characterized as adult

in the American sense of the term, showing explicit sexual content, tor-
ture scenes and violence; pretty, sexy women in their twenties and virile
men with blood scratches on their faces. The interior of the spaceship
looks like office life in the US (see Pank and Caro 199). There is a con-
trast created by mellow yellow music, adolescent taste, and fight scenes.
The series doubtlessly attracts male viewers given the sexual attractive-
ness of its female characters, as one can see from the fact that scholars
have interpreted BSG in sexual terms.
The series enacts a gendered view of emotion; women stand for emo-
tion as temptation in a double sense, religious and sexual meaning.
Emotions cause the characters to veer off track. However, emotions also
bring about a positive change in some of the Cylons. For instance, Num-
ber Six, a ‘seductive, statuesque Cylon infiltrator’, capable of ‘adapting
to human form and emotions’, and characterized by platinum-blond
hair, has an on-going affair with the BSG scientist, Gaius Baltar.3 Num-
ber Six’s individualistic traits go hand in hand with the complete set
of human emotions, suggesting that it is our emotions that make us
individually unique. Baltar is characterized as a charismatic genius and
womanizer and his actions are initially opportunistic and self-serving.
Sexual desires, and the Freudian unconscious that informs our actions,
are visualized by the figure of Cylon Number Six that pops up all of a
sudden in Baltar’s mind.
Number Eight Sharon (A) questions whether Cylons are able to
develop emotions in ‘Six Degrees of Separation’. Sharon argues: ‘If they
are able to interbreed with humans, they are able to develop complex
emotions like love’. However, her boyfriend, Helo, replies: ‘Humans
would never have killed so many people’. He no longer trusts her when
her ‘real nature’ is revealed, also because he believes that she does not
have emotions but is simply ‘programmed’. She is redeemed in his eyes
only when she reveals that she is pregnant. Ironically, Helo was wrong
214 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

in his assumption that humans would never act so immorally, because it

was a human being, very well endowed with emotions, who acted never-
theless recklessly and was responsible of so many people being killed
in the Battlestar saga. Baltar, who could not control his emotions, gave
away a secret to his mistress, which allowed her to wipe out most of
Like the fifth column during the Spanish Civil War, or Germans and
Japanese in the US during the Second World War, Cylons infiltrate the
command structure. Number Eight Boomer is a sleeper agent, who ini-
tially believes she is human and is disappointed when she learns she
is a Cylon. She is played by the same actress as her identical copy
Number Eight (A) Sharon, who falls in love with a human, while on
a mission to seduce him. However, in ‘Downloaded’ (2.18), emotions
allow Cylons to develop friendships with each other and reform their
beliefs. In particular, Number Six (Caprica) is called to assist Cylon
Number Eight (B) Boomer to ‘download’ into another body, as Num-
ber Six already completed this process successfully. The process is staged
in some kind of oversized bathtub reminding of giving birth. The two
women befriend each other, and as they have both fallen in love with
humans, they start to question the Cylon beliefs and develop compa-
ssion with the human beings, no longer wanting to kill them. While
gender roles seem rather classically distributed here, the role of women
in the crew is the most visible evidence for changing emotional regimes
since the 1970s.
The cover posters from the 1970s show a smiling crew that looks like
a happy family. The crewmembers touch each other; there is a child
in the middle, and gleaming robots on the outskirts. In 2003, we see
a picture of the corporate world, where adults stand alone at a dis-
tance from each other, showing vigilance and determination. Attractive
females have replaced robots with blinking lights.
Women seem to have taken over. They pose overtly sexy and show
naked skin. Many women play questionable characters. The change in
gender relations and shifting gender roles is also reflected in the casting.
For instance, in the character Lieutenant Starbuck gender roles changed
from womanizer to cocky female in the remake. As the actor Jamie
Bamber, who played Starbuck’s male counterpart, Captain Lee Adama
Apollo, states: Starbuck is ‘this great warrior who can just get things
done. She doesn’t question herself. She’s really authentic. She is who she
is. And Lee envies her clarity’ (Breznican). Starbuck represents the ideal
type of how we want to be, look and act. She is a ‘warrior’ not a ‘wor-
rier’, to use a distinction made in a recent article in the New York Times
Claudia Wassmann 215

Magazine classifying two types of people according to their emotional

reactions (Bronson and Merryman). Starbuck is a ‘hot-headed and cocky
fighter pilot, considered the best in the fleet, but with a tendency to
challenge authorities and get into trouble’ (Breznican). In 1978, Lieu-
tenant Starbuck was a James Bond like type, ‘a slick, well-groomed ladies’
man’, the Freudian cigar always handy (Greg M. Smith, Film Structure
87). The cigar is used as ambiguous signal of sexual proactiveness also in
the female version of Starbuck.
The Freudian cigar, the Head Baltar that pops up in the imagina-
tion of Number Six, and the Head Six that invades Gaius Baltar’s
fantasies with sexually enticing allure and insinuations are constant
allusions to Freudian psychoanalytic theory. In ‘Death, sex and the
Cylon: Battlestar Galactica’s existential kink theory’, Call read BSG in
terms of sadomasochistic sex fantasies and practices, power, sex and
death. He embraces an alternative sexuality (BDSM) that is character-
ized by bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism
and masochism. Call argues that BSG presents ‘submission to a loving
mistress as an ethically viable erotic practice’ (29). For this concept Call
refers to The Emotions of Normal People by Marston, a monograph origi-
nally published in 1928 and reissued in 1979. Marston ‘identified domi-
nance and submission as fundamental features of human behaviour.
He was careful to distinguish submission from compliance’ (29). The
defining feature of submission was ‘wanting to give the self helplessly,
without question, to the dictation of another person’ (Marston 244).
Following Call’s argument, the key element is ‘desire’, and ‘desired sub-
mission’ would greatly enhance mental health. He suggests feminist
readings and queer sexuality, ‘kinksters’ and ‘kinky cultures’ in the twen-
tieth century as superior alternatives to unrestrained male dominance,
which, as he sees it, was the ‘source of many of the world’s ills’. In order
to cure those ills, Call argues that men ‘must willingly and lovingly
submit to women’ (29).

The Cylons downloading technique enables a death fetish which not

only acknowledges but actively emphasizes the sex/death connec-
tion. BSG presents the death fetish, and the erotic play surrounding
that fetish, as part of a path which may lead to a greater understand-
ing of the basic existential condition of fictional Cylons (and real
world humans). (123)

BSG, Call concludes, recognizes sex and death as ‘the major components
of our biological and ontological condition’ (123).
216 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

Psychological theories that have reached public debate are applied

to the BSG’s character design, for instance, post-traumatic stress disor-
der, false memories, depression, problems with alcoholism and neurosis.
Baltar is said to be prone to bouts of neurosis. The Cylon, Colonel Tigh,
has false memories of his early childhood and his problem with alco-
holism stems from post-traumatic stress disorder. Colonel Tigh cannot
keep his feelings hidden and his emotional weakness repeatedly costs
him the command, whereas Starbuck is forgiven her occasional emo-
tional outbursts because of her superior talent (Larson and Thurston).
USA Today describes her as ‘the broken warrior, a young, idealistic sol-
dier who has been fighting for all the right reasons, but has lost something
along the way’ (Breznican; emphasis added).

Star Trek

The original Star Trek TV series (NBC, 1966–69) portrayed still an ‘all
male’ society. The poster featured three men. In 1966, not many women
were in power and their roles were sexually overdetermined. The series
was avant-garde in giving a role on the bridge to a woman, and also
by thematising racial issues (Johnson-Smith 83). Some of the pictures
from the original Star Trek series are still in black and white. 1966 was
the first year in which the prime time TV programmes were broadcast
entirely in colour in the United States. Many people initially saw Star
Trek in black and white, as colour TV was not readily available in every
household until the mid-1970s. We should also recall that at this time
education was about to become coeducational at the elite colleges in
the United States. Prior to this time, female and male students attended
separate colleges. In 1972, almost all Ivy League schools had become
coeducational. Allegedly this represented a problem for male students.
As a recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education put it, ‘Love was
not such an easy game to play’, and men struggled with it (Hoover).
Sex and sexuality were important topics at the time. This is reflected in
‘guidebooks’ for male or female college students from the early 1970s.
Star Trek addressed this trend in the emotional design of its characters.
The creator and executive producer of the original series, Gene
Roddenberry, was aware that the characters Mr Spock and Captain Kirk
seemed middle-aged to youthful audiences. In 1968, he instructed his
writers to offer a greater role to the young Russian engineer, Chekov, as
younger viewers could relate to him. ‘Even though verging on genius,
his youthful inexperience and tactlessness, his youthful drive to prove
himself, his need of approbation, his quite normal youthful need for
females, and all of that, keep getting in his way’ (Roddenberry, ‘Memo’).
Claudia Wassmann 217

His ‘constant interest in females and his continuing failures and frus-
tration in that area’ could be ‘an interesting continuing joke’ which a
youthful audience could relate to, because that was ‘certainly a quite
common experience for all young man at that certain time of life’
(Roddenberry, ‘Memo’). Furthermore, this could call the viewers atten-
tion to the existence of ‘pretty women and other attractive females
aboard our vessel’.
Star Trek writers needed to create ‘multi-dimensional individuals, with
mixed strengths and flaws, proud individuals with differing points
of view and perspectives’. Because, Roddenberry argues, the audience
‘wants our people to be men who have the guts to differ’ (emphasis
in the original). In designing the crew, he drew on his personal expe-
riences as a bomber pilot during the Second World War, a commercial
pilot thereafter, and a member of the Los Angeles Police Department
(Alexander). This is particularly pertinent with regard to the emotional
characteristics of male leadership that show in Roddenberry’s design of
Captain Kirk as ‘a strong leader of men’.

Too often forgotten in all our desire to emphasize comraderie of

the nice people we have aboard, is simple truth about command –
such as that a Captain simply cannot be too loquacious. He must
guard his tongue, guard even his affection for others. And although it
sounds extreme, he must even guard his approbation of others, use it
wisely. (Roddenberry, ‘Memo’)

Inside Star Trek describes Captain Kirk as ‘a hard-driving leader who

pushes himself and his crew beyond human limits’ (Lawrence 95–6).
Kirk is ‘cunning, courageous and confident’; he ignores regulations
‘when he feels the end justifies the means’ (Erdmann and Block
3). Work always comes first. The ship always trumps love, and a
man in power cannot show his insecurities and doubts. Leadership
qualities require putting one’s feelings and emotions aside, and ‘a
certain amount of command “play acting”’ (Roddenberry, ‘Memo’).
Emotions are essential to sustain beliefs and regulate the action of the
crew, but for the one in power, emotions are relegated to the private

Spock and Kirk: emotional intelligence and gut feelings

versus scientific rationality

In the original Star Trek series, the half-human and half-robot Spock
incarnated the dualism of rationality and logic on the one hand, and
218 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

emotions on the other. Humanness is associated with the emotional side

that Spock inherited from his human mother. We find the traditional
attribution: emotions are female and are inferior to logic, and women
are inferior to men. Being dispassionate and showing rational behaviour
in our choices, including our ‘consumer choices’, was a long-standing
US-American ideal. To stay cool was the hallmark of professionalism.
It was believed that the dispassionate win out in life (Watson). Detached
concern was the ideal professional attitude, which would fare far bet-
ter than human behaviour in the throng of strong emotions. However,
the series also challenged this belief. For instance, Spock loses in the
chess games with Captain Kirk, because he ‘guesses correctly what Kirk
should do but Kirk invariably makes a “wrong” move which defeats
Spock’ (Roddenberry, ‘Memo’). Kirk’s humanly illogical moves unsettle
the Vulcan (Solow and Justman). Spock cannot react, because he has
logically predicted, and thus expects, another reaction from Kirk.
The actor, Nimoy, who incarnated Spock from the very beginning and
brought the character to life, describes Spock as ‘struggling to maintain
a Vulcan attitude, a Vulcan philosophical posture and a Vulcan logic,
opposing what was fighting him internally, which was human emotion’
(Walsh). Nimoy explains that he imbued the character with his per-
sonal experiences: ‘As a Jew from Catholic Boston, I understood what
it was like to feel alienated, apart from the mainstream . . . There were a
number of values in Star Trek that I felt very comfortable with as a Jew’
(Pfefferman). In the 1960s, Spock is portrayed as ‘enormously lonely’, he
plays music, eats strange food, and ‘involves himself in strange scientific
computations’ (Roddenberry, ‘Memo’). The actor Zachary Quinto, who
played the younger incarnation of Spock in Star Trek (2009), holds that
Spock ‘is constantly exploring that notion of how to evolve in a respon-
sible way and how to evolve in a respectful way. I think those are all
things that we as a society, and certainly the world, could implement’
Spock was designed to be half human and half Vulcan so that he was
not too alien and, therefore, easier for the audience to relate to, and
more convincing for him to reflect on the human condition. He is easily
discernable by his raised eyebrows; the outside corners moved up in a
way no human being can normally do. This was a clever decision for
staging the character, as eyebrows and their movements are crucial fea-
tures, which the brain automatically scans for in a face, and that serve as
emotional signs.4 The eyebrow movements offer vital information about
the momentary emotional state of a person and their respective disposi-
tion to act. It should be noted that the Alien is a positive character, who
Claudia Wassmann 219

helps humans by his superhuman abilities, in contrast to BSG, where

the aliens are indistinguishable from humans and part of the suspense
is created by suspicions of who could be the enemy from within the
crew. Spock is paired with an emotional human, the physician of Star
Trek, Dr McCoy, who acts as Kirk’s conscience and offers a counterpoint
to Spock’s logic (Asherman). Dr McCoy questions morality and human
feelings, but is less masculine than Captain Kirk.
The movie Star Trek (2009) is a successful reinvention of the original
series and carries forth some of the beloved visual collective memories
of movie audiences from the 1960s to our contemporary world. Much
as in the 1960s, it still addresses a predominantly male audience; how-
ever, this does not mean that female viewers cannot enjoy watching the
movie and identify and empathize with the characters or emulate them.
Clearly, the film addresses a younger audience than the original series,
for which it can provide role models in the young versions of Spock and
Kirk. Who else but children, adolescents, and young college students
about to embark on their careers, would allow a ‘father’ to give them
advise on their life choices and behaviour?
Star Trek explicitly thematises the role of emotion in decision-making.
The cognition-emotion conflict becomes a central element in the plot.
Here are some examples of how the movie frames the emotions: Spock
father tells Spock son to control his feelings, ‘so that they don’t con-
trol you’. Young Spock then wants to ‘purge all emotion’. About the
young Kirk, the movie says that he has an ‘emotional need to rebel’,
and that this prompts him ‘to leap without looking’. Emotions push
him to action. The purpose of an exam that Spock designed at the space
academy, was ‘to experience fear’ and demonstrate that you can stay
calm in the face of danger. Kirk cheated on the exam and is reprimanded
for it. Incidentally we get a lecture on the norms of good conduct at
When Spock later on gets into a physical fight with Kirk, Spock feels
that he is ‘emotionally compromised by the mission at hand’ and must
therefore resign from command. Kirk says to Spock provocatively, ‘What
is it like to feel nothing?’ Remarks about his mother trigger Spock to
fight with Kirk, and he again declares himself ‘not fit for duty’ as his
emotions got the better of him. Towards the end of the film, the young
Spock says to his father, ‘I feel anger. And anger that I cannot con-
trol’. He inquires about what his mother would have said, and Spock
father replies, ‘She would say, do not try to’. Emotions are still gendered
but women described as emotionally wise. Finally, at the end of the
film, Spock father too embraces his emotions and admits to his son,
220 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

‘I married her because I loved her’. This stands in contrast to the begin-
ning of the film, when young Spock asked for the first time about his
mother, and his father answered ‘I married her because it was logical’.
As I mentioned, earlier, at the very end of the film, when Spock has to
make a decision about his future, Spock father tells him, ‘Do yourself a
favour. Put aside logic. Do what feels right’, attesting to the turn that
society has taken towards the emotions in the twenty-first century and
enacting it.
There is also a female role model, Nyota Uhura, even though the cha-
racters’ talents remain cast in traditional gender roles, science for Spock,
and music and languages for Nyota Uhura. – In 1966 she was a commu-
nications officer, in 2009 she studied linguistics. – Uhura is not only
depicted as a strong women, who is equal to men (for instance, in the
bar where she first meets Kirk she orders more alcohol than anyone can
drink), she is also smart; and she shows how to react compassionately
to the loss a loved one has suffered. Spock is the only character who has
a girlfriend, and he loves her.
In stark contrast to the good guys stand the heavily tattooed skin-
head Romulans. In particular, Nero has a hateful face. The Romulans are
said to be consumed by hatred and have sworn vengeance for an evil
they could not prevent and that they (wrongly) think someone else is
responsible for. Nero’s face is distorted by anger. The emotions are very
well enacted in the faces of the actors. The characters are created oppo-
site to the good guys. We are not supposed to empathize and identify
with them.
The characters designed to emulate are the ‘smart college kids’: Kirk,
Spock and Uhura. If taken as emotional role models, their implicit
message is, we know what we want and we get it, because we are deter-
mined and work hard. We are not afraid. We stand up for ourselves, and
say ‘no’. Our good posture shows that we are in control. We control our
emotions. We have calm and collected faces. While we might may feel
anger, we do not allow ourselves to be consumed by anger. We can face
adversity. We are smart, handsome, and strong and we serve the right
purpose. We always win, and we are proud. Victory sign: ‘Live long and
Star Trek tells its young audience, do something purposeful with your
life, like humanitarian or peacekeeping missions. Learn things. If you
acquire special knowledge, it will be noted and you will get ahead. You
must also tell others what you want. Go for it: guy or girl, Kirk, Spock or
Nyota Uhura.
Claudia Wassmann 221


‘Our achievement conscious society’, as The Ivy League Guidebook in

1969 characterised the United States in the twentieth century, is still
portrayed in Star Trek in 2009 (Tobias, Bortz and Weinberger). Now
the mission is redefined in terms of humanitarian and peace keeping
missions. Even though later versions of Star Trek in the 1990s take up
the topic of ‘wars of survival’, Star Trek retains its optimistic outlook.
The message that the movie (2009) carries forth for its young audience
is the credo of the United States: you are fully capable of designing your
own destiny. It is up to you which side you choose.
The science fiction series studied here draw a complex picture of
human emotions in which emotion and cognition are complementary.
Thinking and feeling are intertwined. Star Trek has repercussions until
to date. The initial series ran for three years and gave rise to six televi-
sion series and twelve movies between 1979 and 2013, which classifies
Star Trek as a transnational cultural reference (Barrett and Barrett 6–7).
On the web, a blog ‘What’s your Star Trek DISC type?’ (Insights) high-
lights the key features that characterise the four main male figures in Star
Trek to create psychological profiles of ordinary co-workers in a contem-
porary office. A Spock-like personality type is ‘level headed’ in crisis but
sensitive to criticism, whereas a Kirk type likes to win, and has a ‘quick
temper’ and a ‘competitive spirit’. Revealing our emotional preferences,
the blog lists the emotional strength and weaknesses of the characters
and their potential psychological downsides.
What defines us as human beings? This question has been asked many
times and received numerous answers. Aristotle singled out the endow-
ment with rationality and imagination, the Catholic church pointed
to the soul, and Descartes to cognition. The twenty-first century sci-
ence fiction films highlight the emotions. The message for society that
BSG (Sci-fi, 2003–09) sends ‘from outer space’ is that emotions make
us human and individually unique; love transforms the person and
enables compassion for the fellow ‘Other’, which leads to cooperation
rather than hatred; and this is essential for survival. Star Trek encodes the
‘core values of “modern” culture’, democracy and respect for individual
rights, ‘favouring science and reason as the basis of belief’; it endorses a
‘secular humanism’ (Barrett and Barrett 9).
The evolution of our emotional attitudes is evidenced in BSG in the
role of the female Cylons. In the twentieth century, robots were strange
looking creatures that wanted to kill humans and for that reason were
222 Emotions in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

a clear-cut enemy that humans could destroy as soon as they spotted

one. In the twenty-first century, human relations and belief systems are
far more important than technology. What drives the story are the ver-
sions of the Cylon robots that have evolved to take on human form
and are indistinguishable from humans at first sight. Some of them look
very attractive and humans want to interact with them, have sex or
befriend them. Some of the Cylons decide to collaborate with humans
and reform their beliefs. They argue that they have emotions and there-
fore must be treated like human beings. The serials reflect contemporary
discourses on acceptance of Otherness, relativism and tolerance. Cylons,
like Muslims in contemporary debates on terrorism and cooperation,
can be ‘the enemy within’, the fifth column, or become allies in a fight
against terror for a more tolerant society, which embraces diversity.
This also raises the point that it is easier to sympathize or empathize
with the good-looking creatures that ‘look like us’, and to collaborate
with them; in contrast to the strange looking robots or heavily tat-
tooed Romulans that can be emotionally rejected much more readily.
This emotional reaction to the ugly has been used for instance in Nazi
Germany to vilify the Jews. The point is important when we ask whom
do we emulate when we watch movies, and do TV series serve as emo-
tional role models for our actions? Movies reflect back our reality and
create emotional impact by bringing emotionally traumatizing events
into our present. Bruzzi comments on the power of moving images that
in comparison to a still image, the moving image grants us less space,
less distance, and is potentially more overwhelming. Re-enactment in
documentaries, she argues, enables viewers to identify with the emo-
tions and pain of events with which we were most likely not personally
involved (see Bruzzi). Science fiction series do not re-enact traumatic
events authentically as do documentaries that involve the actual perpe-
trators. However, in taking up the themes that haunt our present, they
do provide a foil for reflection and identification. For instance, for a
GI who was part of a ‘peacekeeping mission’ or ‘war on terrorism’ BSG
might provide a means to reflect upon and address the extreme expe-
riences in discussions with friends and relatives who did not share the
experiences. However, it must nonetheless be questioned, whether the
very explicit torture scenes, rape and violence that we see in various
episodes of BSG do not serve as a negative role model, rather than as a
corrective for our actions.

1 Notes to García and González

1. This chapter is included in the research project ‘Acción, emoción e identidad’
(Ref. FFI2012-38737-C03-01) funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economía
and Competitividad.

2 Notes to Nelson
1. 25–6 October, 2013.
2. See, for example, the work of Henry Jenkins and Matt Hills.
3. For an overview of developments, see Nannicelli and Taberham.
4. For a neuroscience perspective on empirical/experiential approaches, see
Kircher and Leube: ‘Questions on cognitive and neural correlates of notions
such as self-awareness, self-consciousness, introspective perspective or sub-
jective experiences have re-emerged as topics of great interest in the scientific
community. This is in part due to the lack of neuroscience grasping some-
thing like a first person perspective with its methodology and an increasing
unease with this situation among researchers’ (656).
5. See Nelson, State of Play, where I document the shifts to global marketing
in digital circumstances which facilitated the production and worldwide dis-
tribution of ‘high-end’ TV fictions. In short summary, such programming
emerged in a forcefield of circumstances: digital technologies and satellite
distribution; improved quality of sound and image through digital high reso-
lution; finance generating an ambition to attract creative talent (some with
film experience) mobilising a fundamental shift of value in the economics
of TV3 ‘from conduit to content’.
6. For an informative overview of the lineage of the term and current thinking
on ‘affect’, see Gregg and Seigworth.
7. For a full discussion of the variety and complexities of participatory engage-
ments, see Gareth White.
8. Ellis established the concept of ‘the glance’ in television view in distinction
from ‘the gaze’ in cinema established by Mulvey.
9. For an account of Poliakoff’s career and TV fictions, see Nelson, Stephen
10. A slogan for modernism attributed to Pound and subsequently used in 1935
as a title of a selection of his poems.
11. I choose also to avoid the much-discussed sequence which affords another
powerful ‘moment of affect’ from narrative fragments tangential to the
Truman–Anderson conflict. In that celebrated sequence, photographic stills
in black and white show a young Jewish girl separated from her parents,

224 Notes

clandestinely brought up by neighbours and ultimately surviving their

deaths in the concentration camps.
12. Writing of saturated frames, Butler notes that the average shot length (ASL)
in Mad Men, though slow is actually shorter in duration than 1960s cinema
where ‘[f]actors such as composition in depth, deep focus, widescreen fram-
ing among others, can mitigate against faster cutting speeds . . . because they
need more time to comprehend’ (68).
13. Mad Men cinematographer, Phil Abraham, has spoken of its ‘somewhat man-
nered, classic visual style that is influenced more by cinema than TV’ (qtd in
Edgerton, Mad Men: Dream 64).
14. I am grateful to Alberto N. García for pointing out that the final shot of ‘The
Strategy’ (7.6) bears out the thesis of ‘moments of affect’ over the protracted
time-span of a long-form serial. The scene is ostensibly very simple: Don,
Peggy and Pete sit at a dinner table. But the resonances of that image are
tremendous, and the whole bodymind memory of the ‘experiencer’ must be
fully at work.
15. For a fuller discussion, see Bay-Cheng, Kattenbelt, Lavender and Nelson.

3 Notes to García
1. Perhaps the most successful exception can be found in the character of Andy
Sipowicz in NYPD Blue (ABC, 1993–2005).
2. The persistence of this antihero trend is provoking ‘narrative fatigue’. In fact,
some fancy productions, such as Ray Donovan, The Knick (Cinemax, 2014–)
or the AMC’s police drama, Low Winter Sun (2013), did not receive cri-
tical praise because the figure of the antihero has become formulaic or
3. Nurse Jackie (Showtime, 2009–15) or Rescue Me offer variations thereon, in
both cases linked to addictions.

4 Notes to Pérez
1. Carroll is one of the main academics to have posited a series of arguments that
are sceptical of the concept of empathy; Carroll also contends that the con-
cept of sympathy is the best way of understanding the relationship between
spectators and fictional characters: ‘Sympathy is the primary glue that binds
us emotively to the protagonists and their fates in popular fictions’ (‘On Some
Affective’ 175).
2. At the time of writing this chapter, a third season has yet to be produced.
The series has also been syndicated in 13 countries, with a particularly
successful reception in Argentina; it has also been the object of remakes
in Italy and in the United States, where Spielberg has produced a ver-
sion for Fox that premiered on 17 September 2014 titled The Red Band
3. The intensity of the depiction of the group may possibly be one of the factors
influencing the success with viewers (predominantly teen viewers) enjoyed
by this series, which was initially produced for Catalonia by TV3, and then
Notes 225

exported to the rest of Spain, where it has had viewing audiences of more
than two million.
4. The relevance of Plantinga’s concept here is posited not only on the basis of
the dominant scenes depicting the faces of the characters, but also on the
content, with its evocation of sacrifice, and Lleo’s impending death: ‘To con-
textualize empathy, films often attempt to elicit an empathetic response only
after a protagonist has undergone some kind of trial or sacrifice, has neared
the end of his or her life, or in some cases, has actually died’ (‘The Scene
of’ 253).
5. We refer here to the term proposed by Smith in association with his concept
of alignment: ‘To become allied with a character, the spectator must evaluate
the character as representing a morally desirable (or at least preferable) set of
traits, in relation to other characters within the fiction. On the basis of this
evaluation, the spectator adopts an attitude of sympathy (or, in the case of
a negative evaluation, antipathy) towards the character, and responds emo-
tionally in an opposite way to situations in which this character is placed’
(‘Engaing Characters’ 188).

5 Notes to Weissmann
1. For example, what I will discuss in relation to Mad Men also largely holds true
for Homeland (Showtime, 2011–) and The Wire (HBO, 2002–08).

6 Notes to Flamarique
1. As Balzac argues, ‘FASHION is no longer determined by a person’s wealth. The
material of life, once the object of general progress, has undergone tremen-
dous developments. There is not a single one of our needs that has not
produced an encyclopaedia, and our animal life is tied to the universality of
human knowledge. In dictating the laws of elegance, fashion encompasses
all the arts (. . .) By welcoming, by indicating progress, it takes the lead in
everything: it brings about revolutions in music, literature, drawing, and
architecture. A treatise on elegant living, being the combination of inalienable
principles that must guide the expression of our thought through exterior life,
is, as it were, the metaphysics of things’ (26).
2. American literature has repeatedly described family and social life in these
cities – for example, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, Revolutionary Road by
Richard Yates, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloam Wilson and The Lay
of the Land by Richard Ford.
3. ‘Mad Men’s story arcs reveal that the era touted as one of nuclear family togeth-
erness was often one of family separation with wives ensconced in suburbs
and men in cities, often staying there over night and on holidays’ (Gillan
4. ‘The power of the narrative of Mad Men is that it has been able to collect and
represent part of our logic of masculine identification and show it to us in its
entirety, without exaggerating’ (García García 385).
226 Notes

7 Notes to Baena
1. I would like to acknowledge the Spanish Government’s financial support
of the research project: ‘Acción, emociones, identidad. Elementos para una
teoría de las sociedades tardo-modernas’ (Ref. FFI2012-38737-C03-01).
2. The popularity of these programmes has been a matter of concern among
critics. As a recent audience research study shows, heritage productions have
led to a higher audience and are attracting a younger demographic than the
producers expected: ‘In the post-2000 era of globalization and media conver-
gence, new forms of transnational Anglophilia are becoming evident online
among young global audiences which encompass both period and contem-
porary (culturally) British film/drama genres and their stars. This includes a
young, transnational following for ITV’s/PBS Masterpiece Theatre’s Downton
Abbey’ (Monk, Heritage-Film 45).
3. Important social, technological and economic changes occurred during the
Edwardian years. In general, it was a time of prosperity and wealth, as Great
Britain still held a privileged political position in the world. The wonders
of the modern world, which appeared in the 1880s and 1890s, brought
the first rewards of modern industrialization and mass-produced abundance.
Britain was at its imperial height at this time and one in three of the world’s
population were her subjects. The Edwardian period also witnessed crucial
changes in the British class system and British heritage, rescued by American
4. We cannot classify these series under just one generic definition. While
they participate in many forms of heritage production, their generic labels
vary among a wide range of terms, such as period or costume drama, lit-
erary adaptions, soap opera, or classic dramas in general. The different
labels may also respond to a tendency to syncretism in contemporary TV
drama that crosses generic boundaries in order to attract younger audiences
(Vidal 33).
5. Performance is a meaningful term on two levels: it acknowledges both the
acts of invention and construction that have been implicit in the very notion
of national identity since the classic works of Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict
Anderson, as well as the literal meaning of the act of performance by actors
on the contemporary British TV stage (Cardwell 88–9).
6. Etymologically, nostalgia refers to ‘homesickness’; with its Greek roots – nos-
tos, meaning ‘to return home’ and algos, meaning ‘pain’. It was coined in
1688 by Johannes Hoger, a 19-year-old Swiss student, in his medical disserta-
tion, to refer to a lethal kind of homesickness (referring to Swiss mercenaries
far from their mountainous home) (F. Davis 1–4). However, in our contem-
porary usage, nostalgia appears to have been fully ‘demedicalized’; it is also
undergoing a process of ‘depsychologization’ (4–5).
7. There are a few instances when nostalgia has been studied in current schol-
arly work on emotions. In the Handbook of Emotions, 3rd edition, 2008,
‘nostalgia’ is mentioned only once: Stearns notes that more and more studies
are being conducted on different human emotions, such as nostalgia (21),
but nothing else is added. Richards briefly mentions nostalgia as one among
other emotions that we are likely to feel on a daily basis, such as ‘irritation,
boredom, impatience, mild amusement, transient frustration, resignation,
Notes 227

apprehension, nostalgia, chagrin, contentment, affection, slight feelings of

envy and vague dissatisfaction’ (G. Richards 51).
8. As Elster has pointed out, not all emotions have positive or negative valence.
Some emotional experiences may be neutral, in the sense that we are
indifferent about experiencing or not experiencing them. The most obvi-
ous examples are provided by composite emotional experiences, such as
bittersweet nostalgia (281).
9. See also Anderson, who argues that nationalism today commands ‘profound
emotional legitimacy’ (4).
10. Obviously, the evocation of a nostalgic mood in the audience is dependent
upon the individual viewer, his or her knowledge of the genre and the vital
cultural context of viewing. However, we can see how using mood cues in
style that work together with the narrative may elicit a non-specific mood
that is appreciative and open to the pleasures of viewing and that is often
wistful (Cardwell 149).
11. First published as Lark Rise in 1939, Over to Candleford in 1941 and Candleford
Green in 1943, they were published in a single volume in 1945.

8 Notes to Agger
1. Summing up the observations: first, in spite of the dominant social orienta-
tion, a diversification of subgenres has appeared. Second, crime fiction tends
to merge into a more established part of the public cultural sphere. Third, a
certain blurring of the borders between facts and fiction has emerged. Fourth,
Scandinavian crime fiction novels and TV series constitute a popular brand,
and a growing production industry is linked to them, including international
adaptations and remakes. Last, other spheres, for example, tourism, are sub-
sumed under the coalition of crime and media. Mediated tourism is analysed
by Waade (2013).
2. Tornerose (2008) was the second film in a series of twelve featuring Varg
Veum (2007–12). In contrast to the novel, the film version does not elabo-
rate the visual image of Copenhagen, quickly changing the focus to the main
location – Bergen.
3. There is a feeling of recognition inherent in the setting. Danish audiences
will recognise the provincial setting from popular crime series from the
1970s (En by i provinsen [A Provincial Town] 1977–80) and the 1990s (Strisser
på Samsø [Island Cop], 1997–98]), as well as the title sequence of Unit
One (2000–04). British audiences will probably be reminded of the series
Wycliffe (ITV, 1993–98), set in Cornwall, or Broadchurch (Kudos/ITV, 2013–),
set in Dorset. The sea can be considered as a transnational element in these
4. Cf. my analyses in ‘Nordic Noir on Television’ and The Killing: Urban
Topographies of a Crime.
5. A peninsula called Skogsö near Stockholm does exist.
6. There is a direct link between Wallander and Bron|Broen. Hans Rosenfeldt,
the main scriptwriter, has formerly participated in the writing of Wallander
7. Cf. Gemzøe (2016).
228 Notes

8. Stephen Moss claims that Hinterland ‘aims to do for this bit of Wales what
Wallander did for southern Sweden and The Killing did for Copenhagen’.

9 Notes to Abbott
1. This is but one way that TV horror reshapes the horror narrative. As Jowett
and I argue, there are a multitude of structural forms available in TV horror,
including television movies, anthology series, monster of the week series and
serial drama. The serial drama is one of the most prevalent within the current
television landscape and is therefore the focus of this essay.
2. See my article ‘Rabbits’ Feet and Spleen Juice: The Comic Strategies of TV
Horror’ for a discussion of the integration of horror and comedy in the
television series, Supernatural.
3. This forms the premise of the American TV series Resurrection (ABC, 2014–)
which began the broadcast of its first season on US television in March 2014.
While the premise is very similar to the French series, Resurrection is not a
remake of Les revenants which is also due to be remade for US TV (Sundance
4. I believe that this moment may serve as an example of the ‘moment of affect’
described by Robin Nelson in this volume.
5. It is important to note that while Kieran’s family are increasingly at ease with
his condition in season one, season two shows that the process of acceptance
is lengthy as they continue to be unsettled by Kieran’s physicality, preferring
him to maintain the façade of life.
6. Stefan, Damon and Elena are each shown to have flipped their humanity
switch at certain points in the narrative, but this only serves to position the
notion of ‘emotion’ more centrally within the series’ story, as they are each
forced to eventually flip the switch back and cope with the waves of posi-
tive and negative emotions that come flooding back – most notably Elena’s
overwhelming grief at the loss of her brother.

10 Notes to Bishop
1. The AMC series is based on the ongoing comic book series of the same name
written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore (#1–6) and Charlie
Adlard (#7–).
2. Carol’s subservience is further confirmed during a flashback at the opening of
‘Chupacabra’, in which Ed yells at her for ignoring ‘operational security’ and
having the audacity to offer some of their food to a hungry Carl. Faced with
her husband’s wrath, Carol immediately apologises and then lies to Lori about
her having extra food stores.
3. As I will discuss later, Rick’s execution of Sophia on Carol’s behalf is recalled
in the episode ‘The Grove’ (4.14) when Carol demonstrates she now has
the emotional strength to ‘put down’ another young girl who has similarly
transformed into a dangerous monster.
4. Daryl and Merle do not appear in any capacity in Kirkman’s comic series,
but they – especially Daryl – have become two of the television show’s most
Notes 229

popular and interesting characters. Their unique presence in the series thus
warrants close attention.

11 Notes to Echart and Castrillo

1. This study covers the first three seasons of Homeland. Season four started airing
during the fall of 2014, at the time this chapter was being written.
2. Despite its disruptive nature, the opening credits display a great deal of seman-
tic wealth. Besides presenting the islamist enemy and the need for defending
oneself from it (also with references to an omnipresent surveillance intended
to combat the threat of terror, and the image of a little girl on the foreground),
the shot of Carrie and Brody standing in the middle of a labyrinth reinforces
one of the main conventions of the thriller genre that is central to its conflict
and to the core of this study on fear and distrust: the cat-and-mouse game; the
interchangeable roles of the hunter and the hunted; the not-knowing who is
who in a game of deception and manipulation.
3. Hence Rubin’s view of the thriller as partially sadomasochistic: ‘We find plea-
sure in intense sensations – discomfort, anxiety, fear, tension – that might
ordinarily be considered unpleasurable, as well as in the ultimate release from
such pleasurably unpleasurable sensations’ (31). Ultimately, the genre aspires
to wring the audience with ‘agonizing sensations that will transform my
ordinary world and charge it with the spirit of adventure’ (264). Plantinga
adds that, when it comes to ‘negative emotions’, the pleasurable experience
for the spectator derives from a ‘cognitive reframing of the narrative sce-
nario’ in the aftermath of the contact with pain, anguish, etc. (Moving Viewers
4. Even though the ‘great hit’ planned by Brody does not take place, his accom-
plice Tom Walker spreads terror in two occasions (‘Representative Brody’, 1.10,
and ‘Marine One’).
5. The narrative, however, is affected by a major turning point halfway through
season two (‘Q&A’, 2.5), as Brody switches sides and becomes a double agent
for the CIA. As a consequence, season three does not have as its dramatic
objective an intramural defence of the country, but the plan to bring about
a shift in international geopolitics by causing a change of regime in Iran, in
order to make the world a ‘safer place’.
6. Besides Brody, other minor characters convey this fear equally. For example,
Tom Walker and Ailleen, both members of Al-Qaeda.
7. This blind faith in technology, as it were, fits remarkably well with the nature
of a genre – the thriller – conceived as a ‘need-to-know narrative’ (Russin and
Downs 213–17): the audience’s fear is only placated when the protagonist
gains enough knowledge to uncover the truth – usually a death threat – and
the antagonist’s hidden agenda.
8. As an example of the reoccurring dead-end situations Brody’s lies create, we
see that in season two, if Brody were to betray the CIA, his family would
learn about his terrorist involvement and they would surely abandon him.
On the other hand, if his wife Jess were to learn that Carrie is leading his
undercover operation, the effect would be the exact same one: Brody would
lose his family.
230 Notes

9. The two romantic relationships Dana establishes in the series reinforce this
theme. Her romance with Finn, the son of Vice President Walden, ends
abruptly when she is pressured to not tell the truth nor express her intense
guilt about a traffic accident in which they were both involved, and which
has been silenced for political reasons. Later on, Dana starts a new relation-
ship with one of the teenagers at her medical institution, but she breaks up
with him upon learning that he lied to her regarding a sensitive matter relat-
ing to his family’s past. After her experience with Brody, Dana has learned
that no authentic relationship can be built on grounds contaminated by the
distrust imposed by lies.

12 Notes to Wassmann
1. This research was supported by a Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship
within the 7th European Community Framework Programme. PIEF-GA-2012-
2. AP reported the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib in November 2003. 60 Minutes II
made the images public in April 2004, and Frontline ‘The Torture Question’
aired in October 2005.
3. http://www.nbcuniversalstore.com/battlestar-galactica-six-poster/detail.php?
4. See Ekman; however, his research has not inspired this decision, it came out
later than the film.

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24, 54, 190 Battlestar Galactica (franchise), 10,

28 Days Later, 163, 166 159, 190, 195, 205–9, 211–16,
9/11 terrorist attacks, 159, 189–204, 219, 221–2
205, 207, 209; see also war on Bazin, André, 3
terror Benjamin, Walter, 21–2, 24
bereavement, see grief
Bergson, Henri, 31
Adorno, Theodor, 24
Biderman, Ann, 89, 97
advertising, 102–17 Laden, Bin, 194–5
affect Boardwalk Empire, 61, 62, 70
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landscape; see also location Bordwell, David, 4–5
affective turn, 2, 8, 14, 33, 207 boredom, 95–6, 112
‘moments of’, 7, 28, 32–51, 223, 227 Borgen, 40–5, 138
theory of, 29–33, 223 Boss, 56, 59
compare emotions brain, 34, 206, 208, 210–13, 218; see
Al-Qaeda, 229 also theory of mind; see also
American Horror Story: Murder House, neuroscience
157, 162–3 Breaking Bad, 52, 54, 56, 62, 64–9
American Pastoral (novel), 225 bridge (as a metaphor), 143, 148–52
Americans, The, 61, 62, 63 Bridge, The, see Bron|Broen
Angel, 155 Bridge, The (US version), 152
anger, 135–6, 167–8, 176–87, 219–20 Broadchurch, 152, 227
anguish, see distress Bron|Broen, 9, 136–7, 140, 143,
antiheroism, 52–5, 59–70; see also 148–52, 227
heroism Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 155, 159–60,
anxiety, 39, 137, 167, 171, 190, 192, 168
Aristotle, 19–21, 33, 221 Cagney & Lacey, 87, 98
Arnheim, Rudolph, 3 catharsis, 198
ars moriendi, see television narrative class, politics of, 127
closure cognitivism, 5, 7, 52, 72, 82, 206
Ashford, Michelle, 97 compassion, see spectator engagement
audience, 23–4, 30–2, 34–5, 50–1, empathy
75–6, 79–84, 193, 196, 203, 219 Conjuring, The, 161
authenticity, 121, 127 conspiracy, 189–90, 196, 199–203
consumerism, 102–7, 115, 117, 218
Copycat, 97
Bálazs, Bela, 3 costume, 107, 111, 124,
Balzac, Honoré de, 107–8, 225 cruelty, 130–1, 169
banal nationalism, 140, 143, 145, 150, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 155, 166
152; see also identity national cultural studies, 7, 135
Band of Brothers, 73 cultural identity, see identity national

250 Index

cultural memory, see identity social family, 164, 172, 198, 225, 229
custom drama, see genre period drama fashion, 107–111, 225
fear, 18, 77–8, 82–3, 156–8, 164, 185,
Dawn of the Dead (remake), 163, 166 191–6, 203–4, 219
Deadwood, 52, 55, 57 of death, 179, 186
death, 78–83, 158–9, 160–2, 165, dread, 163, 164, 192
169–71 ‘repressed’, 180–1
deception, 197–204, 229, 230 terror, 190, 229
Deleuze, Gilles, 4, 31 film theory, 3–5, 27, 29
demons, 168 Following, The, 155
depression, 179, 216 Forbrydelsen, 9, 136–41, 145–8, 151,
Descartes, René, 206, 221 228
despair, see distress Forsyte Saga, The (remake), 119
Devil Inside, The, 161 Foucault, Michel, 1, 25
Dexter, 54, 58, 59, 62 Freud, Sigmund, 101, 156, 170, 173,
disgust, 156, 184, 210 179–82, 213, 215
‘death fetish’, 215
dissatisfaction, see frustration
uncanny, 156–7, 164, 172, 180, 186
distress, 78, 121, 159; see also anxiety
psychoanalysis, 4, 7, 22,96, 114–15,
distrust, 195, 196–202, 203–4
156, 173, 179, 215
divorce, 130
Friedan, Betty, 95
Dollhouse, 159
frustration, 112, 115, 121, 177, 187
domestic violence, 180–2
Downton Abbey, 9, 119, 131, 132, 226
Game of Thrones, 55, 60, 66–67
Dracula, 166, 168
Gansa, Alex, 190
Duchamp, Marcel, 106
gaze, 32, 46, 98, 100, 123
duplicity, 195, 202
gender, politics of, 25, 87–101, 95,
137, 205, 213, 214, 219–20
edwardian era, 119, 123, 129, 226; see feminism, 4, 7, 44, 47–50, 87–101,
also englishness 102, 215–6, 220
embarrassment, see shame femininity, 109–17
emotional intelligence, 217–20 masculinity, 93–4, 98, 102, 109–17,
emotion 165, 225
emotional culture, 2, 13–18, 89–91, patriarchy, 89
107, 112–114 Generation War, 73, 138
emotional return, see affective turn genre
emotivism, 94, 106 melodrama, 159–60
moral emotions, see morality nordic noir, 134–52, 227–8
theory of, 16–18, 89–91, 207–208, period drama, 118–33, 226
211,212 political-spy thriller, 8, 145,
types of, see under individual names 189–204, 229
compare affect science fiction, 8, 205–22
En by I provinsen, 227 terror tv, 189
englishness, 118–133; see also national trauma tv, 189
identity; see also edwardian era tv horror, 155–88, 228
envy, 109 ghosts, 156, 158, 161–64, 171
Exorcism of Emily Rose, The, 161 Gilligan, Vince, 52
experiencer 32–3, 37, 40–1, 43, 47; see glance, 32, 223
also audience globalization, 118
Index 251

god see religion Jury, The, 73

Good Wife, The, 55
Gordon, Howard, 190 Kant, Immanuel, 20–1
grief, 121, 135, 158–63, 168–9, 171, Killing, The, see Forbrydelsen
176, 179 Killing, The (US Version), 152
Guantanamo Bay, 221, 242 Knick, The, 224
Guattari, Félix, 31 Kracauer, Sigfried, 3
Guillou, Jan, 154
guilt, 61–2, 65, 169, 177–9, 181, 187, labyrinth (as a metaphor), 145–8, 151,
201, 211 229
Lacan, Jacques, 4, 173–4, 176, 185
Hannibal, 58, 155 imago 173–4
happiness, 114, 126, 167, 185 mirror stage, 173–4, 185, 187
hate, 167, 172, 206, 220, 221 landscape, 124–6, 131, 134–7, 139,
heimlich, see uncanny 141–4, 147, 152, 209
cityscape, 134, 137, 145, 150
Hemlock Grove, 155
‘guilty’, 144, 151
heritage film, 119, 123, 131, 226; see
rural, 120, 124, 143
also period drama
see also location
heroism, 98, 190–3, 195, 198–200; see
Lark Rise to Candleford, 118–20, 123–9,
also antiheroism
131–133, 227
Hill Street Blues, 97
Last Exorcism, The, 161
Hinterland, 138, 152, 228
Lay of the Land, The (novel), 225
Homeland, 10, 59, 66, 189–204, 225,
lies, see deception
lifestyle, 102
Homicide: Life on the Street, 97
location, 134, 137, 144, 145; see also
hope, 192, 195, 196
House M.D., 54, 56, 155, 157
loneliness, 95, 112, 116, 149, 158,
hysteria, 86, 160, 176, 191
198, 218
Lost, 2, 32, 35, 54, 55, 190
identity love, 112, 131, 146, 199–200, 214,
collective, 14, 103, 118, 122, 134, 220–1, 230; see also marriage
146, 148–51, 189 Low Winter Sun, 224
individual, 14, 24–5, 102–3, 106–17, Lynch, David, 159–60
146, 171–87, 197, 199
national, 118–22, 133, 137, 140, Mad Men, 2, 6, 8, 29, 40, 45–50, 52,
148–51, 190, 227 54, 66, 87–98, 100–17, 224–5
social, 108, 113, 117–8, 133; see also Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The
collective identity; see also (novel), 225
national identity Manchurian Candidate, The, 192–3
In the Flesh, 155, 164–8, 228 Mankell, Henning, 154
inner self, see personal identity; see Marchlands, 161–3, 165
also intimacy marriage, 112, 114, 126, 129; see also
Inspector De Luca, 138 domestic violence
Inspector Morse, 43 Masters of Sex, 97
internet, 22, 33–4 melancholia, 139, 144, 148, 151, 169,
intimacy, 91, 102, 107, 111, 121, 159, 170, 178–9; see also nostalgia
217 mise-en-scène, 46, 59, 123, 131
isolation, see loneliness Misfits, 74
252 Index

modernity, 103–7, 119, 120, 128 private sphere, see intimacy

monster, 156–7, 199 production context, 91–2
mood, 125, 127, 130, 135, 137, 148, psychotherapy, 173–88
151–2, 194, 201, 208, 227;
see also affect; see also emotion race, politics of, 92, 98
morality, 7, 22, 27, 53, 55–70, 71, 94, rage, see anger
101, 102, 191, 197, 207, 209 Ray Donovan, 55, 97, 224
mourning, 122, 158–60, 168, 170, Red Band Society, 224
171, 177, 187, 190; see also reflexivity, 24–5, 45
grief regret, see melancholia
music, 36–8, 124, 145 relativism, 54, 222
religion, 178, 195, 201, 207–8, 211,
narrative, see television narrative 213, 221
narrative of suspicion, 202 resentment, 172, 181, 183, 185, 187
neuroscience, 206, 223 Resurrection, 228
Night of the Living Dead, 163 Revenants, Les, 164, 228
nostalgia, 35–7, 119–33, 139, 226, Revolutionary Road (novel), 225
227; see also melancholia revulsion, see disgusting
Nurse Jackie, 52, 224 Roddenberry, Gene, 205, 216–18
NYPD Blue, 97, 224 Romero, George A., 164, 172
Rubicon, 190
Originals, The, 155
Oz, 55 sadness, 82, 96, 115, 121, 131, 135,
165; see also grief
pain, 16, 77–8, 158–60, 167, 197, sea (as a metaphor), 144, 151
210–2, 222 Secret of Crickley Hall, The, 161–3, 165
panic, 177 self, see individual identity
Parade’s End, 118–20, 123–4, 129–33 Selfridge, Mr, 119
Paradise, The, 119 Seven, 139, 152
paranoia, 193, 196, 201, 203, 204, Sex and the City, 87
Paranormal Activity (franchise), sexuality, 215–6
161 shadow image (as a metaphor), 141,
patriotism, 131–2; see also national 143
identity shame, 47, 91, 94, 172
performance, 226 Shaun of the Dead, 163
Person of Interest, 190 Shield, The, 54, 59–60, 62, 67–70, 97
phenomenology, 5, 100 shock, 156, 157, 178
Plato, 21 Shooting the Past, 35–40
plot twist, 198; see also television shyness, 174
narrative Silent Witness, 98
point of view, 95 Skins, 74
Poirot, 43 Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, 97
Polseres Vermelles, 71–84 social criticism, 139
postmodernism, 20, 46–7, 66, 205, social mimesis, 105
217 social order, 113, 116, 128
post-structuralism, 26–7 social self, see collective identity
Primal Fear, 97 Sons of Anarchy, 60
Prime Suspect, 98 Sopranos, The, 6, 32, 52, 54, 56, 60–3,
privacy, see intimacy 65, 92
Index 253

sorrow, see sadness tragedy, 19

SouthLAnd, 8, 67, 87, 89, 91, 97–101 transnational, 134–52, 226
space, 111–13, 136; see also location trauma, 155–68, 173, 176–9, 182,
spectator engagement, 27–32, 40, 47, 188–9, 202, 204
51–8, 71, 80–4, 91, 124 True Blood, 156, 168–9
alignment, 57, 61, 76–7, 191, 198 True Detective, 59
allegiance, 55, 57–59, 61–70, 191 true self, see identity individual 106
empathy, 27, 39, 56, 71–84, 102, Tunnel, The, 152
105, 149, 152, 192, 207, Twilight (saga), 168–9
210–12, 217, 220, 222, 225 Twin Peaks, 157, 159–60
identification, 8, 53, 59, 60, 65, 191,
192, 222 unhappiness, see sadness
sympathy, 7, 25, 27, 53, 56–7, Unit One, 227
61–70, 71, 78, 80, 179, 224, 225 Upstairs, Downstairs, 122–3
Spinoza, Baruch, 31
Star Trek (franchise), 10, 205–208, 213, vampires, 156–8, 164, 168–72, 180,
216–21 182, 186, 228
stereotypes, see identity collective Vampire Diaries, The, 168–71, 228
Strisser på Samsø, 227 vengeance, 149, 207
structuralism, 4 Village, The, 119
structures of feeling, 135, 137, 144; see
also theory of emotion Walking Dead, The, 63, 164–5, 171–88
suffragette movement, 129 Wallander (British TV Series), 137, 152,
Supernatural, 228 228
suspense, 192, 196, 202 Wallander (Swedish TV Series), 9,
136–7, 139, 142–4, 146, 151, 227
tears, 149, 160, 167, 177, 181, 184, war on terror, 189, 201, 203, 205, 209;
187 see also 9/11 terrorist attacks
television narrative 22–3, 28–36, 53–4, Weeds, 52, 54, 60
61–2, 66, 157, 161, 162, 207 Weiner, Matthew, 8, 46, 89, 92
closure, 42, 68–70 welfare state, 139, 142, 148–9, 151
complex tv, 26, 28, 31, 55, 69 werewolves, 171
long form tv, 27, 31, 50–1, 55, 63, West Wing, The, 40, 55
66, 67 Whedon, Joss, 6, 159–60
post-narrativity, 29, 35 White Heat, 73
slow television, 40, 124, 224 Wire, The, 40, 55, 57, 97, 225
theory of mind, 212; see also brain; see Wycliffe, 227
also neuroscience
threats, 189, 195 X-Files, The, 54–5
Three Days of the Condor, 197
thriller, see genre political spy-thriller zombies, 63, 156–8, 161, 163–8,
tone, see mood 171–88, 228