It wasn’t until I saw Bridget Jones’ Baby* that it fully struck me how profoundly tragic a character Mark Darcy is. So tightly coiled around duty and honour, he can’t bring himself to living a full human life and the older he gets the less compatible he becomes with joy, all the way through to his wedding(s) and eventual fatherhood. Yet there he is, our revised Mr Darcy, the template for all romantic figures, loving you just the way you are, if never quite extending the same affection to himself.
But that’s the way things are with romantic heroes, isn’t it: they are at best flawed and at worst toxic, and sooner or later you have to realise how unhealthy the obsession with romance is and let go of a fantasy that does not belong in this century.
Then along comes One Mississippi.
Tig Notaro’s roughly autobiographical series is getting the attention it deserves for its ruthless centering in its storylines of sexual abuse and how to survive it. The not-very fictionalised version of Louis C.K. masturbating in front of one of the key characters (“There were rumours, of course… But he was always so progressive! This is so out of the blue!”) is a solid reminder that Notaro knows where the bodies are buried, and she’s handing out shovels.**
But sexual assault isn’t a single event, nor is this subplot the one thread of the series to discuss sexual predators. The main character Tig Bavaro’s abuse by an older relative has shaped her character and gives her a keen sensitivity to when other people don’t realise they have been assaulted. A visit to her mother’s grave even triggers a fantasy sequence where dead women gather for a pyjama party detailing in incongruously giggling tones the attacks they’ve suffered – and not survived.
So yes, all the recommendations to watch One Mississippi because of how ‘brave’ it is in ‘tackling the issue’ are true, and I will happily concede that that is reason enough to apply its 12 episodes liberally to your face holes.
There is another thing, though. Tig Bavaro is an extraordinary romantic hero.
Tig has a profound understanding of her own boundaries, the work she still has ahead of her to make peace with the changes to her body, her emotional needs and what she will and won’t put up with professionally. The world at large may be going to hell in a handbasket, but she is not searching for her identity, not really: she’s a woman in her forties; she’s got this. She’s also cynical and a bit petty – though not sitcom-cynical, the kind where the wisecracks pause for a moment and the misanthrope of the group gets the warm & fuzzies in the Christmas special. Her heightened awareness of irony and hypocrisy aren’t the antithesis to emotion or some kind of defence mechanism, but threads of a character – which also, in the full context of the rest of the family, make perfect sense.
The love story at the heart of the series is that between Tig and Kate – or Straight Kate, as Tig’s brother Remy calls her. One of the most striking things about their relationship is how solidly it is based on an emotional openness and the willingness to acknowledge personal boundaries. They primarily do not want the same thing from each other at the same time, and where in most other love stories that might be coded as rejection, it isn’t here. When either Tig or Kate sees the other on a date or being entertained by another person, the ensuing feelings of jealousy don’t translate to anger or a vindictive self-destruction just to show’em, but to a clearer understanding of their own feelings.
I genuinely can’t help but wonder how much healthier the whole concept of romance would be if other romantic heroes’ emotional intelligence stretched to some form of Tig’s
“I’m not asking you to be gay. I’m asking you to be with me in whatever way feels good and true.”
In One Mississippi love – even romantic love, to draw a distinction between different types – isn’t a zero sum game. I don’t know whether this generosity towards romance is due to the fact that Kate’s and Tig’s isn’t a heterosexual relationship, or because the One Mississippi writers’ room is 100% women, or because the people in that room are just better writers than most. (Truthfully, my money is on all of the above). I just want to see much, much more of it.
*let’s talk about the flaws of that film another time.
**in the interest of not stealing a joke, see the original tweet here.