Honoring the Heroine: Diana Barrigan

When I made the list for characters worthy to talk about, Diana Barrigan was pretty much on top of the list. The only reason why I didn’t discuss her earlier was timing. Back when I started the blog, White Collar was just in the middle of  its season and I first wanted it to be finished, so I had more material to talk about. Then the show ended up on USA networks virtual chopping block, so I first wanted to know its fate. By now, USA Network has announced the return of the show on Thursday, November 6 at 9/8c for one last six episodes season. I am happy and unhappy at the same time. Happy that there will be a proper ending, unhappy because I am not prepared to see the show end. Which is a rarity in itself. Every show has a tipping point, and while some manage to end exactly at the right moment, most of them overstay their welcome. With White Collar I originally expected this point to be reached around the third season, because the premise didn’t seem to lend for much more, but the show is still going strong. And I think if it were less expensive to made (the show is actually shot in New York city itself, not in Canada, which also means a lot of obnoxious (but somewhat funny) product placement in exchange for some really great outdoor shots and locations) and a USA-Network self-production, it would have gotten more episodes.

Being at its core a cop buddy show, White Collar is pretty much male oriented. It’s very much built around the friendship of Conman Neal Caffrey, who is let out of prison on some sort of work release program, and FBI-Agent Peter Burke, with quirky Genius Mozzie turning the epic bromance into an unholy triumvirate. Most episodes centre around some sort of con Neal pulls, either on behalf of the FBI or on his own volition, and while one shouldn’t think too hard about some of the logistics, it is always fun to watch.  It does life mostly from it’s colourful characters, the abilities of the actors, and the witty dialogue which assumes that the audience is educated enough to recognize references to literature, philosophy and history.

The show is also full of well-written female characters. Peter’s marriage with Elizabeth has to be the happiest and most equal relationship currently on TV. In fact it is so well written, even the die-hart slash fans tend to be unwilling to break those two up, making the White Collar fandom one of the few in which “die for our ship” is not a thing. Neal’s landlady June is classy and smart, and while most woman turn up in the show as either criminals or love interests for Neal (or both), most of them are very good in what they do and leave an impression on the audience.

But to me there was no doubt that the character which deserved to be honoured the most is the one and only Diana Barrigan. She was introduced in the pilot episode as Peter’s probationally agent. Because the actress had prior obligations, she was absent for most of season one, but came back (to the delight of the fandom) towards the end of it and has since then been a steady presence in the show.

Diana-Barrigan-Banner

Most of her backstory was revealed in season two. She is the daughter of a diplomat, who grew up in hotel rooms. Her bodyguard Charlie was some sort of father figure for her, and taught her shooting and self-defence. He was killed on duty, protecting her.

Diana loves weapons, but she has also an extensive knowledge about art. Her various contacts in diplomatic circles are sometimes proving to be helpful. And while the fact that she is a woman in a male dominated job never really gets addressed (nobody would dare to doubt her competence, aside from sexist criminals), there is a running gag in the show that she often ends up is typical “female” undercover assignments. Hooker, hairdresser, model, personal assistant, rich housewife, Diana does it all – and later takes revenge on her boss for it. The one time she goes undercover as bodyguard because of her expertise in weapons, the mark immediately questions her competence. She shuts him up pretty fast.

What I really appreciate about the show is that it writes the characters based on their abilities. Diana is a trained agent. Neal is a con man who abhors violence. And if there is danger, she protects him, not the other way around (unless his silver tongue is needed, naturally).  And whenever she ends up in danger, you can bet that she’ll deal with the situation, because she was trained to do so. The suspect who doesn’t take her serious will see the error of judgement. At the same time Neal is not a fighter and never will be. The one time he tries to attack someone (unwisely), he is immediately beaten down. It is refreshing to see that the reaction of the characters and what they are able to do and not to do is based on the character traits and abilities established, and not on their gender. Diana has the kind of knowledge your would expect from a diplomat’s daughter paired with the knowledge and abilities you would expect from an FBI Agent.

And she is lesbian. I say that in such an offhand manner because that’s exactly the way the show treats this fact. Her love life would not significant different if she were straight, he co-workers asks about her girlfriend in exactly the same manner one would ask after a boyfriend. The only time it makes a difference is when Diana’s girlfriend proposed, and she comments that it is strange to suddenly consider something she never thought would be possible. It is overall a really refreshing approach on an homosexual character. I wish it would be in general possible to just show them without prompting a comment on the fact.

I also really liked how they handled the pregnancy of the actress. The writers decided to make it part of the show in a way which doesn’t change her status as lesbian at all (she went to a clinic), and discussed everything which comes with the decision Diana made in a sensible manner. She is no less of an FBI-Agent than beforehand, but now she also has to struggle with finding child care and Peter is suddenly reluctant to send her in the field, not because he doesn’t trust her, but because he can’t stomach the thought of making her child an orphan. It is one of the best portrayal of the problem to balance child and career have seen in the last years, because it neither pretends that it is easy to do both, nor does it turn Diana in a totally different person from one day to another just because she is a mother now.

All in all, Diana Barrigan is my favourite fictional FBI-Agent by far, simply because she is a character defined by her (bad-ass) abilities and choices, and not her gender or sexual orientation. I will really miss her (and the show in general).

 
Best Episode: 2.02 Need to Know

Best Midseason/Season Finale: 2.09 Point Blank

Best Undercover Assignment: Pretending to be Rachel Turner, expert assassin.

Most Idiotic Advertising: Not so casually mentioning the weight the car I won’t name here can transport

Quote: “Put the gun down, and you’ll walk out of here. […] Draw and I’ll put a bullet through your shoulder.”

 Just watch the pilot of the show. Unlike other pilots, it is very good and would work well as a stand alone movie, too. If you are enthralled enough to overlook some of the more outrageous details in it, the show is for you. If not, then you will most likely spend more time questioning the level of realism in it than enjoying the interaction between the characters. To me it is certainly a show worth sticking around for, even though I had problems with the stand-alone episodes in season three (which had a really good arc, though), and with the arc in season four (which had really good stand alone episodes). I think the best period the show had was the end of season one and the start of season two up to the midseason finale (it is no accident that I picked two episodes from this period), as well as the arc-episodes of season five.  All in all, I never rued sticking around after a bad episode (even though I think that “Pulling Strings” should be buried in the dirties cubbyhole available to never be found again).  

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3 thoughts on “Honoring the Heroine: Diana Barrigan

    • Like I explained above, the next season (which has only six episodes) will be the final one. I am pretty broken up about it, to be honest. On the one hand I can’t wait to see them, on the other hand I can’t believe that it is over. White Collar is one of the last “blue Sky” TV Shows (meaning a special kind of show USA did for a while which tended to be very uplifting and colourful – and blue…I didn’t pick those colours by accident). It’s practical the end of an era.

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