By Liz Fisher
This is the first of a series of regular columns which will examine relationship moments between women in popular media.
The pressure has been building on Saving Hope, a paranormal hospital drama centering on Dr. Alex Reid and her comatose fiance Charlie Harris. Alex and Charlie were in a car crash in the first moments of the series that left Charlie in a coma. The audience knows that Charlie’s spirit now wanders the halls of Hope Zion Hospital but Alex and the rest of his friends, family, and coworkers who haven’t seen any progress since Charlie’s hand moved once two months ago are left to wonder how much of Charlie still exists and what lengths they should go to in order to keep him alive in his comatose state.
I have been a fan of this show since the pilot and enjoy the execution of a creative concept but the show is lacking when it comes to ongoing relationships and interactions between its female characters. There have been a few promising moments here and there in Alex’s interactions with co-workers Maggie and Melanda and boss Dana but development of these relationships has for the most part been neglected in favor of highlighting the romances of the show. While the Alex and Charlie storyline is clearly the show’s draw and it’s strongest plot, the show could only improve by deepening and exploring Alex’s relationships with some of her coworkers.
There’s no problem with a romance driving a show, especially one with a unique spin like Alex and Charlie’s, but a show suffers when it leans too much on one central pairing no matter how compelling that pairing might be. Friendships and coworker relationships and well-rounded characters both minor and main have the potential to catapult a good show into something great. On Saving Hope, the minor characters and their relationships with each other and Alex have for the most part failed to move me because they’ve not been given the development they deserve. That does an otherwise entertaining show a disservice.
One interesting relationship that could use further exploration is Alex’s relationship with Dawn, a fellow doctor and Charlie’s ex-wife. This past week things came to a head when Alex and Dawn had a consent capacity hearing to determine who would make decisions regarding Charlie’s care. Dawn has reason to believe Charlie would not want to be kept on life support and has petitioned to have the machines keeping him alive turned off. Alex is convinced they’ve not tried everything possible and need to give Charlie more time which she believes he would want based on the way he treated patients in the past.
When I decided to write this column about female relationships on television, I promised myself I’d write only about interactions that passed the Bechdel test. For those who don’t know, the Bechdel test, named after Alison Bechdel, looks for two women in a work that talk to each other about something other than a man. I am breaking my own rule on my very first column because the interactions between these two were so fascinating and nuanced and held promise for something the show has so far missed the mark on. Alex and Dawn’s scenes brought to this show something I feel it’s been lacking which is interactions that give us an idea who Alex is outside her relationship with Charlie. For that reason, though this episode wasn’t exactly a Bechdel pass, the relationship between Dawn and Alex shows a great deal of promise.
It would have been easy to sensationalize this conflict and make it about a love triangle between Alex, Charlie, and Dawn. That’s what I, as an audience member, expected because it’s a common television trope. And, to some extent, the show has done that. When Dawn first arrived a few episodes ago, it was clear there was no love lost between her and Alex. In this most recent episode the two did continue to trade some barbs about who knows and loves Charlie better.
But, in addition to the fight over control of Charlie’s care, the episode focused on the Hope Zion team performing a heart transplant. As expected, things were tense at first when Alex and Dawn ended up in the operating room together but when a crisis occurred they worked well together and showed trust in each other’s judgement and skill in the operating room.
After the surgery the two had a direct and honest conversation about what they each believe. Starting with this conversation, I believe Saving Hope struck just the right note in acknowledging that the situation was filled with shades of grey and that neither woman was right or wrong or acting out of malice. As star Erica Durance said in a behind the scenes video, “You have two people that desperately love this person. They are coming from different angles what’s the most loving thing to do.”
Alex and Dawn found themselves in an impossible position and had differing opinions on how to care for someone they loved who could not take care of himself. Yes this was a disagreement over a man in their lives but, at the heart, it was a disagreement about medicine and spirituality and about what if anything lives on in a person when they are in a vegetative state.
At the end of the episode, when Dawn apologized to Alex as Dawn took Charlie off his life support, there was genuine regret in her eyes. “Alex, it’s time. I’m sorry,” Dawn said. “I know,” Alex replied, acknowledging that she realized Dawn was acting from a place of belief different than hers but was doing what she believed to be right. The episode ended with the two standing in Charlie’s room, separate from each other and both experiencing their own grief, as the alerts from the machines in the room began to indicate Charlie was dying.
It would have been easy to have these two women hate each other and give the audience a clear path to root for the show’s heroine, Alex. But what we saw developing by the end of this episode was a respect and, at times even tenderness, these two women showed each other despite the situation they found themselves in. I don’t know how the storyline will resolve when the show returns this coming week but I do hope that it continues to explore the relationship between Alex and Dawn. In addition to a compelling storyline, the characters and the actresses behind them have amazing chemistry together on screen. Their interactions have become a highlight of the show for me and further exploration could help Saving Hope grow from watchable TV into must-watch TV.
Saving Hope airs Thursday nights on NBC in the USA and on CTV in Canada.