Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Five Faces of Robin Hood: Parker

Remember the "crazy kid" in school? The one who sat in the back of the room and either didn't talk or didn't make sense? The one everybody said was an alien or maybe the one who told everybody that he or she was from Neptune? Remember the sexy cat burglar in the movies? The one who wore a catsuit so tight it was a miracle she could move let alone scale buildings or do backflips over laser beams in the bank vault? The one who steal anything, any time, and was rarely in any danger of being caught? That's Parker. Seem incongruous? That's the point.

Once again, I have to congratulate the creative team behind Leverage for being able to breathe so much life into a character who was a recipe for a tired and predictable cliche. On a show about a team of criminals, a thief is as necessary as a hacker--which, in some weird way, may explain why Parker and Hardison make such a great couple. The problem was: how could they give the show a credible thief--one who could believably do all the things that Parker has to do from week to week--without making her a boring repetition of all the characters like her that viewers have been watching for the last 30 or 40 years?

The answer they came up with was one as rich and deliciously complex as the charming gentleman hacker and unabashed geek I wrote about in last week's entry. We don't know very much about Parker's past. In fact, we don't even know for sure whether "Parker" is her first name or her last. The little we've seen from brief flashbacks and the handful of episodes that have touched on or dealt directly with her history indicate a lot of trauma. We know that she had a brother who died tragically as a kid and that she blames herself for it. We also know that she was in foster care at some point. We discovered recently that she learned her craft from a master thief named Archie who, even while he took her under his wing and taught her everything he knew, recognized that she was "too damaged" to have ever fit in with his biological family. Even without those hints, most viewers wouldn't have trouble figuring out that Parker's had a rough life.

Fortunately, Parker doesn't seem to think that this gives her the right to indulge in an angst-fest week after week, and although she's a thief, she sure doesn't think that anyone owes her a living. She is smart, competent, funny, usually upbeat, and although she does not trust people easily or often, when she shows her vulnerable side, she does so with strength and dignity.

Unlike most female cat burglar types who trade heavily on their sex appeal, Parker walks a deft line between innocence and experience. She keeps a fluffy bunny in the middle of her bed--which is in a warehouse surrounded by a really creepy array of tools She can crack just about any safe, no matter how technologically advanced, but she had to ask Eliot what sexting was. Eliot's response?

"I am not having this conversation with you, Parker!"

Having said that, no one can dispute that Parker is attractive. In fact, she's quite beautiful when she wants to be. She simply doesn't regard sex as a standard tool of her profession. While there may be some male viewers who find this a little disappointing, it makes me respect Parker all the more.

There is some debate about just how crazy she really is. There's no question that she's...well...not quite right. Some of the things that go through her head are just strange. Other times, we don't know what is going on in there, but her behavior or expression is enough to indicate that we probably don't want to. The question remains, how much of Parker's nuttiness is real and how much is an affectation she's developed to keep people at arm's length?

One way or another, the weirdness might make her seem like the least accessible or familiar member of the crew. I'm sure that she would be happy to have us think so. It's my contention that Parker isn't hard to relate to at all.

Who hasn't felt alone in a crowd? Who hasn't--at least once--been standing in the middle of a group of friends and felt that none of them really knew us? Who hasn't been through something that had such a profound affect on us that, for a while anyway, we just wanted to hide? Parker is just a little more concrete about it. The difference between her and the majority of people is a difference of degree--or maybe she's just more confident in herself than the rest of us. Most people keep their inner weirdo safely tucked away where nobody can find it and laugh. Parker doesn't bother.

With an ensemble cast, it's sometimes hard to go deeply into every character's history. The writers can't spend every episode dropping backstory information and bringing in people like Archie or Nate's ex-wife Maggie. Also, some of Parker's charm is in the mystery of not knowing what makes her tick. Yet the more I learn about her as the series progresses, the more fascinated I become. I have no doubt that Parker will keep me guessing no matter how much the new season reveals about her. Other fans I've spoken to feel the same way.

The weird kid in school isn't exactly someone that people want to be friends with. Otherwise, he or she wouldn't be sitting at the back of the room. So, why do Leverage fans seem to care so much about Parker? Well, maybe a few of us were that kid in school, so we understand what might make Parker feel and act the way she does. More of us probably have "Parker moments," but in either case, when we see how capable and assured that Parker is, how comfortable she is in her own skin, we smile because we recognize ourselves in her and we think if she can be okay, maybe I am too.

Previous posts in this series: Week 1: Intro | Week 2: Nate Ford| Week 3: Alec Hardison


  1. I didn't see this entry at first because I bookmarked the "leverage" tag, and this entry doesn't seem to be tagged yet. But no worries!

    I enjoyed the essay! I love how adorably weird Parker is. I do have a point of disagreement--Parker seems very self-conscious about the fact that she sometimes just has no idea what people are talking about. She lives in a concrete world where the abstract is nearly impossible to grasp. Euphemisms fly over her head because their language isn't literal ("Warm? Cold? Why are we staring?"). When she occasionally pretends to know what someone means when she's absolutely clueless, it actually hurts to watch. I keep wanting to hug her. Somebody should hug her, but unfortunately this isn't a very huggy group.

  2. I also think that, at least for me and a lot of my friends, we also admire the fact that Parker says what she thinks. She doesn't mince words. And we relate a scary amount as well to some of the thoughts passing through her head. As evidenced by an entire conversation we had on "How would you dispose of a body if you accidentally murdered someone?" Three of us already had a vague idea. I myself have a fair amount of disturbing trivia ("Did you know that cashews have to be steamed out of the shell because they're covered in that poison ivy oil?) that tends to come out whether the people around me want to hear it or not. So it's nice to have someone who says things in just as cheerfully disturbing a way.

    Parker became "My Robin Hood" during the Mile High job. Once on a plane ride to New York for a school trip I re-galled my friends with all the various ways we could die that our "safety card" was explaining contingencies for. But hey, by the time I was done no one was complaining about the cabin pressure or the peanut snacks.

  3. @ Tori. I guess we'll have to disagree here. Parker being clueless may be painful for you to watch, but it doesn't strike me as anything she's particularly concerned with. Her expressions read to me more like "Okay...? What are they talking about and why are they all so weird?" In her mind, I think everyone else is the crazy one. Not understanding things doesn't seem to make her self-conscious so much to as make her feel as if she's entered what, for her, must seem like The Twilight Zone. I don't think it's -herself- she's uncomfortable with; I think it's all the people around her that she perceives as being weird and/or crazy.

    Thanks for letting me know it wasn't tagged, though. I also forgot to post links anywhere. Had a rough weekk.

    @ LiteraryLitany--Yes, I did know about the cashews, and yes I did know that you were the weird one. :P

    Anyway, as far as Parker saying what she thinks, that is part of what I meant by saying that Parker is comfortable in her own skin. A comfortable person has no problem saying what he or she thinks.

    And I think you may possibly mean that you regaled your friends...

  4. @Rose I dunno, I don't think she'd pretend to know things she doesn't if she was totally comfortable with her own ignorance. I think she's keenly aware of it and would like to at least be on the same level as everyone else.

  5. @ Tori--My take on is that she doesn't see things from the perspective that she or what you call "her ignorance" is the problem. Obviously she knows that she is not like other people in some significant ways, and she is aware that she doesn't "get" or grasp everything that is said around her. However, I really don't think that she translates things from the outlook that everyone else is "normal" and therefore she should aspire to be more like them. It seems to me that in her mind, everyone else should be more like her, and sometimes she wishes the crew understood her better that she didn't feel alone.

    I think that Parker wants to belong as much as any human being does. She's probably learned from experience that sometimes the quickest and easiest way to be part of a group is to act like she understands what's happening. I don't think it bothers her or makes her uncomfortable with herself that she doesn't understand what's being said or what's happening. I think it makes her uncomfortable with those around her, but at the same time it's human nature to want to be part of a group.

    Then too, if I woke up one day and everyone in the world was talking like they were from the Twilight Zone, I might pretend to know what they meant too, just for the sake of survival. Parker is used to perceiving the world through a very different lens than most people. She's observant enough to realize that, and she's probably had a fair number of experiences where that fact has been the source of rejection or other trauma.

    I believe that she trusts the rest of the crew more than anyone else in her life, but what we know of that life does not seem very pleasant. There are bound to be hold overs, and I read the stuff you're talking about more like a learned behavior that there are times when you say "Oh. Right. Of course." in order to avoid rejection or difficulty.

    To me that doesn't say she wants to be like everyone else or that she cares how different she is in a self-conscious way like "Boy, am I a weirdo. I wish I wasn't." It says that she's human and probably lonely.

    Again though, we can certainly disagree. TV is subjective, and part of the beauty of fandom is the ability to exchange ideas and viewpoints.

  6. I don't think for a moment that she wants to be like everyone else, but I can't imagine she never feels insecure about the differences between herself and the others. She doesn't apologize for it, but "If we put these kids into the system, chances are they're gonna turn out like me" isn't very self-assured.

    And I agree that the exchange of ideas and viewpoints is a beautiful thing. That's why I enjoy talking with you!

  7. I read that particular line more as a commentary on the damage that the system has done to Parker emotionally and how she feels about that as than a commentary on how she feels about being different from others in terms of her perceptions and theirs.