So, I just finished watching “E=MC…?”, a mid-season-2 episode of Eureka, in which particle physicist and bad boy Zane Donovan comes to town to join Global Dynamics. Since he is a convicted felon (lots of hacking and stealing millions of dollars) Jack has to keep an eye on him until he feels he can be trusted. Zane is locked up in the jail cell, which is in the middle of the sheriff’s office.
This being Eureka, weird stuff starts going down, they really need a particle physicist, Zane saves the day, blah blah blah, hurray. What I really want to talk about is the subplot.
You see, Zane isn’t a nice guy. He hacks into the internet using the TV remote (it’s a special Eurekan TV remote) and uses Jack’s credit card to have all sorts of things delivered to the jail cell, where, aparently, none of the FedEx guys noticed that he was in jail, and not Jack. But Zane also sexually harasses Jo, like, a lot.
When he’s redecorating his cell, he orders twenty-seven boxes worth of lingerie, and leers, “I had to guess at the size. You should probably try them all on. I’ll make popcorn.” (The delivery guy is also a sexist ass about the situation, but he is quelled by Jo’s unamused glare.) Later, we get a sexy close-up of Jo’s ass, and a pan up her back, which is curved since she’s leaning in to use her computer (it’s a completely gratuitous shot– a normal person would sit in the chair, not stand next to it and lean at a 90-degree angle.) While the camera is doing its luxurious pan, Zane leers and asks, “You’re wearing one of my gifts right now, aren’t you? It’s okay, you can tell me.”
Now, Jo is a very self-assured, strong woman. She’s heavily armed and can probably kill people with her bare hands. She does not like Zane. The first thing he says to her is some kind of stupid come on about people who are obsessed with guns being sexually unsatisfied, and she promptly aims the gun she was cleaning right at him. Jack says no shooting the prisoners, not even winging him a bit, and Jo drops it.
But Zane doesn’t learn the lesson. Jo is angry with him when the lingerie arrives, and she uses their special Eurekan tracking bracelet to shock him quite painfully when he makes his lewd comment about wearing his gift.
Now, the harassment is pretty much harmless, since, as explained above, Jo is in a pretty solid position of authority over him. But it’s still harassment, and it still made me feel very uncomfortable, because the show was acting like it was the same as Zane generically insulting Jack. But I figured that stealing Jack’s credit card information (and essentially ruining his credit rating) is a pretty equal invasion compared to sexual harassment– both passive-aggressive ways of taking power from authority figures. So I decided, whatever, Zane’s an asshole, and specifically a sexist asshole. People like that exist.
But then, then!, during the cheerful we-saved-the-world ending scene, Jack sees Zane eyeing Jo, and he says, “Take her to the ballet.” He encourages Zane to ask her out, as opposed to condemning him for sexual harassment, which is, by the way, a crime!
I want to make this clear: Zane was not flirting with Jo. Their subplot was not a romantic subplot! Zane harassed Jo, and Jo couldn’t get him to stop so she put up with it. It was a problem. It was not romantic. And framing it was somehow romantic, or fighting-because-they-like-each-other, or anything but sexual harassment, does a real disservice to women in Jo’s situation everywhere who are told to take a compliment, don’t overreact, it just means he admires you.
Sexual harassment is not a compliment. It is about forcing a woman to realize that you have power over her. In this case, I’d say that Zane was reminding Jo that even though she was supposedly in power, he was in control of their situation, and he could say anything he liked about her body and she couldn’t make him respect her privacy.
I was actually thinking when the subplot first started that someone was going to punch him for all the inappropriate advances. I thought I’d be writing about a concept Girls Read Comics wrote about a while back– it’s like a corollary to Chekhov’s Gun: if you show a hero putting up with a sexist jerk in the first act, she must kick his ass in the third act. Usually in superhero comics, it seems, the problem is that the superhero’s boyfriend or father or a random guest hero do all the ass-kicking, which is unfair to the hero in question. I thought that Jack, or maybe Fargo (who has a sweet possibly-reciprocated crush on Jo) would be punching Zane after he crossed some kind of line.
I did not expect everyone to act like Zane was a normal boyfriend-prospect who’d merely been complimenting a girl he liked. Eew.