I’ve been watching season 2 of Eureka with my family (despite not having seen season 1) and so far it’s been full of all the absurd improbable scientific disasters that my sci-fi geek heart adores, and it’s been pleasantly lacking in the frustrating sexist stereotypes that my feminist heart cannot stand.
Today, however, that opinion has been challenged.
Okay, some context: Jack is the sheriff in Eureka. Abby is his ex-wife, who lives in L.A. Zoe, their daughter, has been living with Jack for the last year. Abby shows up for Zoe’s 16th birthday, and it turns out that Jack and Abby had agreed that after a year in Eureka, Zoe would go home with Abby to L.A. because she and Jack were supposed to share custody. Then, everybody gets angry and stops talking to anybody else.
Zoe is angry because nobody even told her what was going on with where she’d live, let alone asked her. (I see where she’s coming from– it’s a little weird that they didn’t consult her when they came up with the custody plan in the first place, let alone keeping it secret for a year.) She sulks in her room.
Abby is angry because Jack is trying to keep her child from her, and Jack is angry because Abby is trying to take his child from him. Emotionally, I see where Jack’s coming from– he loves his daughter, and he’d miss her if she left. But I couldn’t help thinking Abby was in the right: without any input about Zoe’s preferences (since the girl has actually gone to stay with a friend), it is most fair to follow the initial agreement. Jack may not want to let Zoe live away from him for a year, but hey!, Abby didn’t want that either, but she did it anyway, with the understanding that she’d get her own turn, too. It’s just selfish of Jack to go back on his agreement, especially after Abby’s already done her year without Zoe.
So, this is frustrating already, since we’re supposed to identify with protagonist Jack and he’s being a jerk, but then they spend two episodes of subplot waffling and refusing to talk. Well, they converse, but it’s always, “We should just talk about this.” “You’re right.” followed by nothing substantive. Nobody asks what Zoe wants, or what’s better for Zoe, or what’s most fair to the parents. They just exchange a few sentences of platitudes– “I really missed you and Zoe.” “We missed you too.”– and then they’d get distracted by the shiny plot again.
Finally, after a complicated plot in which Jack is hospitalized and trapped in his own consciousness (long story), Abby “comes to a realization”: based on the fact that a huge crowd has gathered out of concern for Jack, she decides that clearly Zoe belongs in Eureka. I didn’t really understand this leap of logic– there’s a huge crowd in the waiting room, and she asks why they’re there, and someone says, “We’re here for Jack and Zoe. He’s out sheriff, and she’s our girl” (as if she was some kind of mascot for the town), and Abby is just…convinced.”
Jack suddenly stops acting like a selfish jerk and offers to move back to L.A. because he couldn’t bear to be without Zoe but he also didn’t want to keep her from her mother– but Abby just says, “I can’t keep you away from this town, and I can’t keep Zoe away from her father.” Uh…what?
During Jacks building-up-to-the-offer-to-move speech, he says he can’t bear to go a year without seeing Zoe; he can’t even bear to go a day without seeing her. “So you’re going to have to!” I filled in for him (making my family laugh) and indeed, I was right.
The thing is, I don’t actually object to Zoe staying. She does have close friends, she seems happier there than she was anywhere else, and it’s certainly a great educational environment. What I object to is the fact that this decision, the decision of where and with whom Zoe and Abby would live, was not determined by Zoe or Abby, but by Jack. Oh, the ultimate decision came out of Abby’s mouth, but it was about Jack. It’s just assumed that his desires were most important (remember, neither of them had bothered to ask Zoe what she wanted, yet) and I can’t help feeling that it’s because he’s the man. It reminded me very much of this essay on “emotional wifework”, which talks about all the ways in which women are expected to invisibly prioritize men’s desires in a relationship.
It would have been a lot less problematic, I think, if they had allowed Zoe to take control of her own life, by simply asking her what she wants to do. She drops a hint to Jack– “If you loved me you’d fight for me”– and seems pleased when he declares that she’s staying, but for a subplot that was supposedly about a major change in her life, it sure was all about him.