The Diplomat is an eight-part, 2023 Netflix drama. It stars Keri Russell as Kate Wyler, an American diplomat in London who is trying to save the world from nuclear war. Russell had previously starred as a Russian spy in The Americans. The Diplomat was created by Debora Cahn, who wrote for and produced The West Wing, Homeland, and Grey’s Anatomy. National Public Radio and the New York Times called The Diplomat “intelligent” and “thoughtful.” An online reviewer called it “the best grown-up show Netflix had released in years.” A podcast called it “civics-tainment,” that is entertainment that teaches civics. Netflix calls the show “cerebral.”
Cahn and several cast members cite journalist Paul Richter’s 2019 book The Ambassadors: America’s Diplomats on the Front Lines as inspiration. “American ambassadors,” Amazon says of this book, “are the unconventional warriors in the Muslim world – running local government, directing drone strikes, nation-building, and risking their lives on the front lines.” Another inspiration for The Diplomat was the 2019 documentary, The Human Factor, described as “The epic behind-the-scenes story of the United States’ 30-year effort to secure peace in the Middle East.”
These accolades inspired me to watch The Diplomat. I immediately realized that The Diplomat is not “cerebral.” It is popular entertainment. Overcoming disappointed expectations, I came to enjoy the show, in spite of the problems I had with it. Its Hollywood romanticizing of diplomats did not mesh with my overseas experience. More importantly, the main character, Kate Wyler, did not work for me. Crafting a feminist heroine for a Netflix show in 2023 is a challenge.
The Diplomat serves up an enormous platter of eye candy. I wanted to hit “pause” just to examine the wallpaper. In one conference room the walls are olive green with gold ornamentation; in an historic country house, the wallpaper is gold satin embossed with red velvet chinoiserie. Star David Gyasi said he had to lean on an antique desk that costs more than his entire net worth. Scenes are shot in the Court of Saint James, Winfield House, Chevening House, Chatham House, Wrotham Park, and the Louvre. Characters sip champagne under the Nike of Samothrace and plot an extra-judicial assassination near Jacques-Louis David’s “The Coronation of Napoleon.” The US embassy in London is particularly striking. It’s “a translucent crystalline cube that gives form to core democratic values of transparency, openness, and equality.” The facade consists of sail-like structures. This “outer envelope of ethylene tetrafluoroethylen” reduces heating and lighting costs, or so the embassy website says.
Fancy cars zip around lush countryside; helicopters and Air Force One fly hither and thither. The men wear exquisitely tailored suits and the women, in high heels, make clicking sounds as they scurry from one diplomatic wrestling match to another. The plot is fast-moving and the twists are gasp-worthy.
Kate Wyler (Keri Russell) is superwoman without a cape. She’s the brainiac power behind the throne. The throne is Kate’s older husband Hal (Rufus Sewell), a swashbuckling diplomat with a history of major wins and spectacular falls from grace. To prepare for his role as Hal, Sewell read about Richard Holbrooke, who signed the Dayton Peace Accords. Holbrooke was called a “celebrity diplomat and hyperactive emblem of the Pax Americana” but also “a figure from Greek tragedy” and “a jerk.”
President Rayburn (Michael McKean) is reminiscent of Joe Biden. He’s an older man afraid that others judge him as too feeble for the presidency. His female vice president will step down soon because of a scandal.
Billie Appiah is Rayburn’s Chief of Staff. She’s played expertly by the gorgeous and silky-voiced Nana Mensah. Billie hovers over Rayburn. She makes sure that Rayburn never drinks coffee or eats carbohydrates. Billie is not just a mother figure. She orchestrates policy. Billie knows that the vice president will have to resign, so Billie seeks a replacement. She asks several people, “If the Apocalypse were about to happen, whom would you call?” Advisors tell Billie to consider Kate Wyler. Kate has excellent “corridor rep,” one of many state department terms dropped into the script. Kate is too unpolished to win a campaign, but if she is tapped to be vice president, she won’t have to campaign, and she can, after Rayburn leaves office, become the first woman president.
Billie asks her friend Stuart Hayford (Ato Essandoh) to help. Stuart used to be a “kingmaker,” that is, a political operative who groomed candidates. Stuart is like George Stephanopoulos as he was depicted in the 1993 documentary The War Room and fictionalized in the 1996 novel, Primary Colors. Stuart is an idealistic guy looking for a “unicorn,” that is, a politician who doesn’t want power for power’s sake, but to do good in the world. Stuart is currently deputy chief of mission for the embassy in London. The plan is to send Kate to London as ambassador. Stuart will get her up to speed on how to be a successful politician. It will be Stuart’s job, for example, to dress Kate in fashions that will make voters want to vote for her. When Rayburn’s vice president is forced to resign, refurbished Kate will return to the US as veep.
Things get complicated when an explosion occurs on a British aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. British Prime Minister Nicol Trowbridge (Rory Kinnear) insists that he will “rain hellfire” on Iran. Even as Stuart is struggling to get Kate to brush her hair and wear designer dresses, Kate struggles to prevent Trowbridge from setting off a nuclear confrontation with Iran, and then, as suspicions migrate north, with Russia. The Russian suspects are mercenaries reminiscent of the real life Wagner Group.
In addition to geopolitical fireworks, there are domestic pyrotechnics. Kate wants to divorce Hal. Sure, as Kate herself boasts, Hal is one of the great geopolitical minds of his generation, but his showboat qualities, and his rogue tendency to break the rules and the china, have become too much for her, especially since Hal inadvertently caused some Afghans who had worked for the US to miss an escape flight.
British Foreign Secretary Austin Dennison (David Gyasi) is another complication. He’s smoldering hot, and he yearns for a private summit in Kate’s boudoir. Stuart watches in despair, knowing that a divorced Kate is less viable as a vice president. Stuart has his own issues. He’s in a secret office romance with Eidra Park (Ali Ahn) the CIA station chief. Their clashing ambitions ultimately cause heartache.
It’s painfully obvious that Netflix is virtue-signaling. Many cast members are non-white. Three of the leads, Mensah, Gyasi, and Essandoh, are children of immigrants from Ghana. One minor character, Ronnie, who mostly just stands around in the background silently looking like she’s wondering why she’s there, is played by Jess Chanliau, who claims to be “non-binary.” Ronnie wears men’s suits and neckties. One of Kate’s bodyguards looks Tibetan. “Oh good grief Netflix please stop preaching to me. Please stop displaying how Woke you are with your casts,” I wanted to scream.
Netflix’s virtue-signaling aside, The Diplomat’s cast, after the gorgeous sets and locations, is the best thing about the show. Even quiet Ronnie won me over. Everyone is so perfect in his role I easily sank into “willing suspension of disbelief.” Stuart comes across as a terribly sincere, idealistic man struggling to contribute to making the world a better place. Eidra is convincing as a pint-size CIA killing machine with a heart of ice. Rory Kinnear, the main villain, terrified me. David Gyasi and Rufus Sewell manfully acquit their beefcake duties. Sewell even appears mostly nude, front and back.
The cast even sounds great. David Gyasi and Rory Kinnear speak the King’s English as if each word were polished like an apple before leaving their mouths. Essandoh is blessed with the kind of vocal chords that can make a weather report sound like a passage from the King James Bible. Rufus Sewell’s raspy bedroom voice adds to Hal’s charisma.
Why, then, can I not give The Diplomat five stars? First, a small gripe. The F-word’s constant repetition lessens my faith in the writer. Her rat-tat-tat F-words reveal that she lacks the authorial ammo to communicate intensity. Iago, Portia, Lady Macbeth, and King Lear all managed to be intimidating without Shakespeare ever having to resort to a single F-bomb.
A more substantive gripe. Cahn never sold me on her image of embassy personnel as principled, lone-wolf, makers and breakers of peace and prosperity. I’m cynical not just because my mother was born in Czechoslovakia and the most famous diplomatic mission in my childhood home was Neville Chamberlain’s “peace” at Munich in 1938. I’ve lived and worked in several foreign countries. I met no one who impressed me as anything like the characters from The Diplomat.
The embassy and USAID Americans I met overseas struck me as cookie-cutter careerists. They had gone to Ivy League or other prestigious universities. They had a yen for international travel, but they wanted professional advancement and comfortable digs. Even those in the Central African Republic and Nepal, two of the poorest countries on earth, lived in luxury and had access to American consumer goods. In CAR, high, stone walls topped with broken glass and barbed wire surrounded their residences; armed guards protected them. They never seemed to know as much about the countries they lived in as those of us who didn’t have high, stone walls, barbed wire, or armed guards.
They were not Kate Wyler, neck veins popping, straining to keep the world safe. Their gospel, a gospel that dominated during both Republican and Democratic administrations, was relativism and, conversely, unquestioned belief that American smiles and American dollars could and should remake the world in America’s image. In line with relativism’s dogma that all cultures are equally worthy, we were discouraged from looking too hard at what keeps poor countries poor. We were also not to question that American largesse was the solution to poverty. In Africa we weren’t to let ourselves get too upset by female genital mutilation rituals or tribal conflict. In Nepal we weren’t to talk about the caste system or the gender apartheid that is part of Hindu, as well as Muslim, village life. We certainly were not to ask too many questions about US aid dollars pouring into the Hindu god-king’s corrupt pockets while we watched our students die of toothaches and diarrhea. American personnel overseas impressed me as used car salesmen. They would smile, and glad hand, and say what their bosses wanted them to say, no matter how divorced from harsh reality.
Of course American projects in CAR crumbled when tensions between Muslims and Christians blew up into an alleged genocide. In Nepal, a Maoist insurgency and civil war ended the reign of the Hindu god king. Peace Corps had to leave both countries. So much for all those glittering promises, wasted taxpayer dollars, and years of effort.
The Diplomat depicts Kate Wyler as highly caring and idealistic. She has done great deeds for poor foreigners. We are to understand this because, a few times in the series, she blurts out staccato concern for abused women in Afghanistan. Kate also did great things in Iraq. Positioning Kate as the American heroine of Iraq and Afghanistan is perhaps the influence of the book The Ambassadors.
These scenes rankle. I can’t speak for any other American citizen, but I would like back every American taxpayer dollar spent – I want to say wasted – in Iraq and Afghanistan. American adventures there were founded on the delusional relativism of Ivy League graduates who live behind high, stone walls. All the American smiles and money in the world was never going to turn Iraq or Afghanistan into America.
Amazon praises the book The Ambassadors as a depiction of American ambassadors engaging in “nation building” in Muslim lands. Anyone who assesses American “nation building” in Muslim lands as an admirable exercise is plugged into a skewed world history. One of the ambassadors saluted in the book that inspired The Diplomat is Chris Stevens. Stevens, of course, was murdered by jihadis. Stevens’ murder was an ignominious debacle, not a triumph of American diplomacy.
So, no. When Kate, in between her girl boss temper tantrums and her romantic interludes with two desirable, powerful men, both of whom are besotted with her, spends three lines of dialogue bemoaning the fate of women in Afghanistan, I do not assess that as seal of her status as a heroine. I especially do not assess her as a great foreign policy thinker because she attributes the abysmal fate of Afghan women to American betrayal and abandonment. America is not responsible for Afghanistan’s murderous gender apartheid. Afghans themselves will have to confess that particular atrocity blighting their consciences when they meet their maker.
Rather, as Kate bemoans Afghan women, I hear the kind of narcissists I met overseas. “Oh, I am so special. Oh, I feel so deeply for these suffering others. Oh, I could be pulling down six figures in a law firm right now, or vacationing in the family home on Martha’s Vineyard. Instead, I sacrificed so very much to come here to this benighted hellhole where cold Coke is difficult to find. I’m here to solve things for these little people because I am so much smarter than they are. Oh, but I really dig their culture. It’s fun to eat with my hands. And Islam is the religion of peace.” If Kate were to do anything beneficial for the women of Afghanistan, she could start by saying two words, “gender apartheid.” That’s not going to happen. Real life Kate Wylers won’t say those two words, and neither will Netflix.
Rather, The Diplomat depicts Iranian governmental personnel and even an Iranian assassin bending over backwards and risking their own lives to avoid the war being cooked up by the none-too-bright American president and the villainous British Prime Minister – both white men in a conspicuously non-white cast – pushing for “carpet bombing Tehran” and “raining hellfire” on Iran.
Stuart’s dream of a “unicorn” who wants power to be pure and unimpeachably “good” is for children. There is rarely an easy “good” when it comes to international decisions of war and peace. Look only at the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many insist that dropping those bombs was a war crime. In fact it’s estimated that those bombs saved millions of Japanese and American lives that would have been lost had the Americans had to invade Japan. The Japan America defeated was a war criminal nation that had been committing monstrous atrocities for years. Yes, dropping the bomb killed men, women and children, non-combatants. It also stopped a hideous war.
My second problem with The Diplomat was Kate Wyler. Some creators have “solved” the problem of producing female heroines by putting female flesh around a male hero. Comic book hero movies do this. Female leads, just like male leads, solve problems by kicking, punching, shooting, and other action hero moves. Female leads can be just as callous and boastful as men.
That doesn’t work for me. Men and women are equally worthy but women are different from men. Women are not as physically strong as men. While men are more geared towards “fight or flight” solutions, and hierarchical structures, women are more likely to choose “tend and befriend” strategies and to be comfortable with groups that blur hierarchical lines.
My favorite heroines include Scarlett O’Hara, who uses feminine wiles to support her family and friends through wartime devastation. Christian missionary Gladys Aylward helps end foot binding in China and saves Chinese children from invading Japanese. Jane Eyre, an abused orphan, quietly lives up to her own ideals. Jo March, a tomboy, is a teacher and writer. Agnieszka, a crusading reporter, uncovers Stalinist abuses of Polish workers. Gone with the Wind, Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Jane Eyre, Little Women, Man of Marble, are books and films I have taken to heart and I return to again and again. They present me with heroines whose heroism may be as tiny as protecting their own integrity or may be as large as helping to change world history. These female heroines did not use karate kicks to solve problems. They solve problems the way women do. Gladys Aylward was a real woman who really did help end foot-binding. Agnieszka, the crusading Polish female journalist in Man of Marble, was based on real life Agnieszka Holland, and other Polish truth-tellers under communism. Louisa May Alcott was an abolitionist, a suffragette, and a Civil War nurse. She based Jo March on herself.
Misogyny doesn’t just come from men. Women can be misogynists, too. I think exactly because women can be averse to hierarchies, too many women demand to see heroines brought low. Men are okay with a hero who can fly or rule the world or get all the girls. Hercules, James Bond, Superman, don’t have to commit pratfalls, or be humiliated, or get hit with a pie in the face, to be loved by male audiences.
Women feel, and generally are, less secure than men. Jordan Peterson has spoken at length about women’s greater feelings of threat and insecurity compared to men. But maybe nothing highlights women’s relative timidity so much as the evidence from women who try to become men. When they first take testosterone, they report, they suddenly feel braver, more confident, and much more willing to engage in physically risky and aggressive behaviors.
Women find it harder to relate to a superman-type heroine because they can’t see themselves in that heroine. Women feel vulnerable, judged, and ineffectual. If a heroine is superior, especially at tasks normally dominated by men, it becomes all the more important that that heroine reveal vulnerability to the audience. Many women in the audience will not relate to, or take to heart, the heroine while she is conquering the world. Rather, they will take her to heart when they see her falling on her face after a big speech, or crying her eyes out after abandonment by a man. It is when she is at her lowest that women will embrace her the most fervently.
One way that the heroine cannot fail is to be fat, ugly, or genuinely old. Women want to see themselves in the heroine, and women know that women’s worth is predicated on women’s attractiveness to men. Women want to fantasize about moving through the world with that kiss, that blessing, of effortless thinness, youth, and beauty. Men will happily elevate a scarred, pock-marked, aged, or “rugged” hero. Women will not.
In Kate Wyler, Debora Cahn has given the audience a heroine who caters to various preferences in the audience. Kate is, of course, beautiful, youthful-appearing, and supernaturally thin. In episode one, Kate removes her shirt. She’s wearing only a partially translucent black bra. Kate presents herself to her husband Hal for inspection. Hal is fully clothed. The real point of stripping Keri Russell is to display her for the audience’s inspection. Russell, a dancer, is so thin that her abdomen is muscled and flat, even though she’s 47 and has given birth. Her breasts are perky. In a brief sex scene, her buttocks is rounded and cellulite-free. Her BMI renders her a worthy heroine for male and female audiences alike.
In her behavior, Kate Wyler is similar to female superheros who solve problems with karate kicks and gee-whiz weaponry rather than through typical female strategies like tend and befriend. Kate marches in and out of rooms, ordering people around, insulting people, and even hitting. She takes sexual advantage, and then dismisses the man she “f—ed.” I wonder if Debora Cahn feels that by depicting her female heroine acting out behaviors normally associated with abusive and callous men, that she, Cahn, is giving her female viewers a gift. “Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be able to have sex with a man when you are horny, and to feel nothing for him the next day, but just to dismiss him?” And I wonder if many women in the audience don’t enjoy this aspect of the show. I did not.
Kate is rude to everyone. She looks down at her underlings. She tells one, who is trying to protect her, “to go f— himself in the face.” Kate rolls her eyes when aides suggest that she engage in a normal grooming behavior like brushing her hair. She criticizes a female underling to Stuart within earshot of the woman she is insulting. She says negative things about her husband to relative strangers.
Kate does not brush her hair. It gathers around her head in a wild cloud. Yes, Cahn’s audience, Cahn knows, wants a beautiful heroine. But Cahn wants to undermine her own message of the importance of female beauty by giving us a heroine who does not brush her hair. This is a hypocritical ploy that wants to have it both ways: beauty is important; beauty is too trivial for Kate to care about. For heaven’s sake skip the charade and hand Kate a hair brush.
But Kate rejects the hair brush. She’s too intelligent, too focused on important matters, like those tragic Afghan women stranded by the “infinitely ravenous Americans,” as Kate calls her fellow citizens, to worry about her hair. When underlings, just doing their job, try to encourage Kate to brush her hair, she sniffs at them and rolls her eyes and uses the “F-word.” She is, in short, a B-word.
Foreign Secretary Austin Dennison is supposed to be Kate’s ally, and he’s also supposed to be besotted with her, as is her husband, Hal. The fantasy of having two hot guys, who look like Rufus Sewell and David Gyasi, both very handsome men, panting after you is no doubt a fantasy for the women in the audience. Kate treats both Hal and Austin poorly. While Hal is standing behind her, zipping up her dress, and she can’t see his face, she says to him, “You’re so famous, Hal, that nobody wants to work with you.” Hal looks crushed. In another scene, Austin Dennison says that Kate’s unorthodox ways have lessened his ability to handle the prime minster. Kate says that Dennison had failed in his job long before she came on the scene. Women know that work is important to men. Women know that criticism from women hurts men. In two scenes, Kate says emasculating, insulting things to the men in her life about their performance at work, and in both scenes the men look devastated by her remark. In both cases, she ignores their pain.
After Kate insults Hal, the focus is on how spectacular she looks in the clingy dress he zipped her into. “Wow,” Stuart says, when he sees her. “I’m not a dress person,” Kate snaps. “No f—ing dresses!” she screams at an underling trying to help her select attire appropriate to her station. An aide informs Kate that “tea-length” hems are the dress code at an upcoming public function. Kate snarls, “The only tea-length garment I have is a burka!” Kate waves her compassion for Afghan women to belittle others and to signal her own virtue. The problem is, of course, that Kate’s aide is neither responsible for the suffering of Afghan women nor for the dress code. The aide is trying to help. A tea-length hem, unlike a burka, reveals the calves and ankles, so Kate isn’t even accurate here.
The fictional Kate, and the very real Keri Russell and Debora Cahn, know that Russell looks sexy in tight, expensive dresses, and they also know that if Russell didn’t look sexy in tight clothing she wouldn’t be the star. Russell’s, and Kate’s power comes significantly from how she looks. The pretense that Kate is above brushing her hair or wearing dresses is nonsensical. It’s insulting to average-looking audience members who struggle to look decent in their jobs, because they know that an attractive woman is treated better, and will therefore be more effective at her work, than one who isn’t attractive.
Kate’s B-word behavior and her aversion to personal grooming reveals, not just hypocrisy, but also an assumption that is not just toxic, it is also deeply misogynist. Kate is meant to be highly intelligent. Her intelligence is her superpower. Intelligence is a quality that plenty of people, throughout the ages, in every culture, have found frightening and alienating. Again, women are more insecure than men, and, at least in my experience, men are often more comfortable around an intelligent woman than other women are. How to seduce the audience into loving Kate, in spite of that potential alienating factor, her intelligence? Cahn makes Kate a buffoon, an anti-social klutz, someone who can’t help but wear her lunch, in the form of yogurt, on her pantsuit. Kate announces, right before meeting with the president, “I didn’t pee,” in reference to a stain on her crotch. She attends a memorial service for fallen soldiers with half of her blouse hanging out of her slacks. Tucking in a blouse is a skill I learned in kindergarten. Somehow Kate can’t manage it. Kate is also emotionally unstable. She is constantly exasperated, open-mouthed, and/or pissed off. At one point Hal has to tell her to close her mouth, as she stands there, staring and gaping and totally unable to function without Hal telling her what to do.
Somehow, lacking Kate’s beauty and station, I have managed never to wear yogurt on my clothes while at work, or to use the F-word with my colleagues, or to devastate them with my insults. I always carried a hair brush with me to work, and I used it. When my students or colleagues said things that struck me as hopelessly stupid, I said, “Wow, that’s a really interesting contribution. Let’s explore it.” Most importantly, I learned to make eye contact, listen, and nod. In Nepal, I and other American teachers wore saris, lungis, and chubas. We realized that if we dressed in accord with local standards, we removed one obstacle to getting serious work done.
Super-smart Kate doesn’t know how to do any of these things? Am I supposed to believe this heroine? I do not. Rather than seeing a worthy heroine, I see Cahn pandering, not just to the audience’s discomfort with intelligence, and especially intelligence in women, but also pandering to prejudices about intelligent women. Oh, she’s intelligent, sure, but she can’t even brush her hair, or keep her husband satisfied, or avoid wearing her lunch. Oh, she’s intelligent, so she’s probably immune to beauty, and would never wear a designer dress, even if she got it for free.
Kate wants to divorce her husband, but one night she is sexually needy, so she wordlessly summons him to her boudoir. She removes only her underwear, hikes up her dress, and climbs on top of her husband and pumps. She never kisses him, or makes eye contact. The next morning Hal brings Kate coffee and eyes her warily. “Is there a talk we are supposed to have?” Kate asks. “Thank you for f—ing me,” she says coldly. But, she says, she still wants him gone from her house and her life.
Hal pretends that he doesn’t care. He makes witty comments. After Kate leaves the room, though, Hal’s face falls, and he looks very sad.
Kate acts out how many women feel men act. Many women feel that men interrupt us when we attempt to speak, or simply don’t listen to us at all. Kate interrupts men. Austin Dennison says to her at one point, after she interrupts him, “I would really like to finish my thought.” Kate orders people around. She tells Dennison how to handle a crisis in his office. “Listen to me very carefully,” she begins, detailing exactly what he must do. Again, she is in his office. If anyone spoke to me like that in my office I’d eject her. Dennison, though, confesses how much he needs Kate. “I thought I could manage this, but I can’t.” The powerful man is helpless; Kate is there to save him. Kate marches up to people, says her piece, and then marches away before they have a chance to respond.
Male helplessness and female power: at one point, Billie, Eidra, and Kate confer on a balcony. They plan to forfend nuclear war. President Rayburn, meanwhile, is expressing childish glee while visiting an historic oak tree. The women smile and wave at him in an indulgent manner. At another point, Eidra and Kate go to the Ladies Room together, and Stuart looks forlorn, because he can’t follow. The power behind the British Prime Minister, the advisor who tells him what to say, is Margaret Roylin (Celia Imrie), a woman. Roylin is a villain and she is – you guessed it – visibly old.
If none of this bothers you, imagine the above-described scenes with the roles reversed. A man wants to divorce his wife because of an error she made at work. The man asks the wife he is rejecting to travel with him to England to ease him into his new job as US ambassador. The man is horny one night and wordlessly summons his besotted wife to his bed, where, without even removing his shirt, or kissing or making eye contact with his wife, he straddles his wife and pumps. The next morning he says, “Thank you for f—ing me, but I still want you gone.” Would that man be a hero?
And Kate does more. In full view of her security detail and while the US president is in her house, she drags Hal out onto the lawn and hits him in the head with her shoe. She punches him and attempts to beat him with a large branch. Again, reverse the roles. Would a man who beat his devoted wife with a shoe, in public, be a hero?
Debora Cahn is sending at least one of two messages. Smart women are emotional cripples and/or women in the audience want to watch a wife beat her husband and use him and his love without giving anything back.
There’s another possible appeal to the mess that is Kate. Women’s desire to tend and befriend is often accompanied by an urge to fix. I wonder if Cahn thinks that women audiences will crave to “fix” Kate. To see Kate, in the course of the series, learn to brush her hair and wear pretty clothes and have a loving relationship. Indeed, in the season-ending episode, Kate chooses to wear a clingy red evening gown, and to do her hair, all to impress Dennison. Shortly after impressing him, she, again, pointlessly insults and accuses him. She’s a mess.
Struggle as hard as it did to foreground heroines rather than heroes, The Diplomat’s two most likable characters, for me, were Stuart and Hal. Stuart was the most nurturing figure in the piece. He was like a mother to Kate; he was the series’ heart. Hal was simply hot and very likable. Unlike Kate, he wasn’t constantly at war with his own nature.
Finally, Netflix for your “cerebral” productions, maybe hire a fact-checker? Purple martins, contrary to The Diplomat, are an American, not an English, bird species. And “Suljic,” the Slavic name of one character, is repeatedly mispronounced.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.