Sunday, May 1, 2016

Woman of the Month: Elise Wasserman

Elise Wasserman from The Tunnel
Though I still haven’t watched the original Swedish/Danish miniseries upon which The Tunnel is based, I've been told their female protagonist Saga Norén has an Ambiguous Disorder that's heavily hinted to be some form of autism/Asperger's. According to reports, they never specified which so as not to accidentally misrepresent either one.
But this critical aspect of the character has been passed to Clémence Poésy’s Elise, and it’s a key facet of what makes her such a memorable character. A (seeming) lack of empathy, brutal honesty, terrible social skills – none of this makes Elise hugely popular amongst her fellow co-workers on the French police force, but it’s not like it bothers her. In fact, there’s a good chance she doesn’t even notice.
Her outlook and demeanour is a great way of subverting the expectation that a female character has to be friendly and charming in order to be considered "good” (with Ice Queens relegated to the “villain” category) and there’s a rather eye-opening sequence when Elise solicits an attractive bartender for no-strings-attached sex. She’s not in search of a relationship, she just has an itch that needs scratching, and she’s neither embarrassed about it in-story nor slut-shamed by the narrative for it – even when the poor guy starts getting the wrong idea about what's going on between them.
Elise's innate seriousness and bluntness provides a few giggles (“how are your testicles?”) and the all-too-rare pairing of a strictly platonic male/female team gives us a contrast with which to better appreciate her observational skills, her commitment to her work and her complete lack of interest in her physical appearance. Just look at her picture; she’s like the epitome of Unkempt Beauty.
The Tunnel is now in its second season, and Elise has a promotion, leading to sincere but clumsy efforts to encourage and motivate those working under her. And yet despite some of her slip-ups, the audience is never invited to laugh at her. However uncertain she is when interacting with other people, she's brilliant at her job and in partnership with Karl, and it's this dichotomy that makes her (and Saga, and Sonya) such a compelling character.

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