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Looking For Complex Female Characters? HBO’s Got You

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Netflix and I broke up. 

It’s been a long-time coming and, I won’t lie, it’s been a messy split. Sometimes I just can’t resist crawling back when I need my fix (of New Girl). 

But, a new streaming platform has come into my life. We’ve actually been friends for a while now and it’s getting kind of serious. Her name is HBO, and I think she’s so much better than Netflix. 

For the last several months, HBO and I have had a standing date every Sunday night. My roommates know we need the (living) room. It’s a dinner date. And by that, I mean, it’s me, my pasta and whatever new big show HBO has just released. 

Real “please silence your cellphones now” type of vibes. 

What I like about HBO, so much so that I’m forcing you all (my parents) to read about it, is the way its screenwriters write their female characters. As the title says, the women of HBO are refreshingly complex and nuanced. They’re women who have been shaped by real life, not one-dimensional filler characters with no backstory prior to the first episode. 

Here are three of my favorite’s. 

(Mom, feel free to click off at this point. You’ve heard it all before. Dad, this is to convince you to get HBO. And Wifi.) 

Siobhan Roy – Succession

Succession is my favorite show ever. On the surface, it’s going to sound crazy boring, but trust me on this. Siobhan Roy, played by Sarah Snook, is one of four children competing for their father’s top CEO spot of a multi-media conglomerate that’s seen better days. It’s full of corporate backstabbing and betrayal. What I like about Succession, is how truly awful all the characters are. They are flat-out not good people. But Siobhan is especially interesting because she starts as an outsider. She’s a woman dead-set on defining herself as “not a Roy,” someone who’s a moral and political polar opposite from her family. As the show goes on, we see how her sense of self and ethics change as she’s allowed more power within the patriarchal structure of her family and their business. We see her begin to conform to misogynistic patterns in business and her personal relationships. 

She also has a killer wardrobe, and who doesn’t love that?

siobhan roy from succession (hbo)
Daphne sullivan – The White Lotus

We all watched this island gateway dramedy, right? Kind of crazy if you haven’t. My roommates and I are such fans that we went and watched its writer, Mike White’s, season of Survivor (which is also worth the watch). The White Lotus has a star-studded cast, but I think Meghann Fahy’s character, Daphne, stole the show. When we first meet her, it’s hard not to think of her as a stereotypical trophy wife with great hair and a gorgeous husband (Theo James). But, we soon learn that her husband is frustratingly unfaithful, something Daphne is acutely aware of. Yet, she refuses to let this diminish her power within the relationship. By ignoring her husband’s philandering, refusing to let him embarrass her and possibly finding her own romantic agency outside of her marriage, Daphne defies expectations. She’s not the annoying trope of a scorned wife, heartbroken and angry, out to get revenge on her husband. Daphne has well-defined power within her marriage and she knows where she stands. She’s a stark contrast to her foil, Harper, played by Aubrey Plaza, who is unclear of her position in her marriage.

daphne from the white lotus (hbo)
Kathleen Coghlan – The Last of US

HBO’s current Sunday night show, The Last of Us, is an apocalyptic zombie drama more focused on the interpersonal relationships of the characters than the actual zombies. Kathleen, played by Melanie Lynskey, is a short-lived but memorable leader of a resistance group that protagonists Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) must face on their way to Wyoming. Kathleen is not the typical leader one might expect in an apocalyptic show. She’s a woman, for one, and she doesn’t try to lead “like a man would.” She’s emotional — a stereotypically female trait — and leads with this emotion. Kathleen sees the world in black and white and it makes her arguably cruel, which is new for female character’s in survivor dramas. Usually, us women function as characters to remind the men that we have to hold onto our humanity. But with Kathleen, humanity doesn’t cut it. She wants revenge. 

Lynskey recently defended her character against America’s Next Top Model winner Adrianne Curry who tweeted, “Her body says life of luxury…not post-apocalyptic landlord.” Lynskey responded to the scrutiny of her body, tweeting, “I’m playing a person who meticulously planned & executed an overthrow of FEDRA. I am supposed to be SMART, ma’am. I don’t need to be muscly. That’s what henchmen are for.” 

I couldn’t agree more. #MoreLadiesLeadingInTheApocalypse

The women of HBO dominate the screen in both pantsuits and swimsuits. They’re excellent examples of the types of compelling characters screenwriters can create if they allow women to exist beyond one dimension. They draw you in and force you to reserve your shared TV every Sunday night, much to your six roommates’ exasperation. 

Guinivere is a Political Science and Gender Studies double major at UCLA. In her free time, she loves watching bad (uh, AMAZING) reality TV, overspending on coffee, and discussing the latest Taylor Swift conspiracy theories with her friends.