Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Five Faces of Robin Hood: Tara Cole

I have the same affinity for outsiders that I do for underdogs. I'm trying to decide whether one is an extension of the other or if I just identify with outsiders and therefore gravitate to them. Either way, I'm going to issue the warning that this post may not be the most balanced look at Tara. I like her too much.

Bringing a new or "replacement" character into an ensemble cast is rarely successful. Why should it be? Fans become invested in the interpersonal dynamics on a show as much as they do the lives of the individuals or the development of story arcs. It's impossible to introduce someone else without changing those dynamics to some degree.

So, "the new guy"--or in this case "the new girl"-- faces an uphill climb. I have a lot of fandoms. Check them out my updated list here and find out just how many there are. I also keep tabs on other shows' characters, plots, and the fan reactions to them. There are a fair number of characters who were meant to appear in a single episode but became popular enough to be brought in on a recurring basis. Most of the time, those characters aren't part of the core group. MASH replaced several principle characters during its 11 year run, and while there is some debate as to which characters are the best (Do you like Henry or Col. Potter? Frank or Charles?) the replacements generally seem to have earned their place with fans. MASH is the exception that makes the rule. If I started listing all the examples of replacements who met hostility from fans, this post would be ridiculously long, so here are a few of the most pointed examples: Jonas Quinn who was a failed attempt to replace Daniel Jackson during Stargate SG-1's sixth season; Katherine Pulaski who acted as ship's doctor during the second season of Star Trek: TNG; Ezri Dax, the reluctant replacement for Jadzia Dax during Star Trek: DS9's final season.

When Tara first came on the scene in Leverage, I was worried--but probably not for the same reasons that the majority of fans were. She didn't seem to be universally despised (Ezri), but I heard her called "the blonde," "the new girl," "that new girl," "Sophie's stand-in," and "Jeri Ryan's character," etc. One person did remember her name but referred to her as "that Tara person." I thought, "Great. Here we go. Even though we know that Sophie is coming back, nobody is going to give her a chance."

As a fan, I understood the reluctance to accept and trust Tara. Certainly, I wasn't jumping for joy at the prospect of Sophie being away and another grifter working with the crew. That said, I thought Tara did a fantastic job on her "audition" in The Lost Heir Job, and I wanted to either accept or reject her on her own merit. I was glad to find that most of the fans I know warmed up to her, much like the other characters did.

Like the crew, we realized that there had to be a grifter. Without one, the characters would have to completely change the way they worked their cons. Tara was obviously capable, and she was there at Sophie's request. Yet she was a stranger, and the crew even less inclined to accept a stranger than most fans.

Tara had reservations about Sophie's crew as well. She's skeptical of the Robin Hood crusade, and she doesn't understand its appeal. She's a professional who expects to be well paid for her work. Although she acknowledges that the others are good, she seems to think they're overconfident.

It quickly becomes apparent that her methods are very different from Sophie's. Where Sophie usually adopts a cool and aloof persona or charms a mark with subtle compliments and gestures, Tara tends to be more direct. Her flirting is more physical--or at least more obvious, as in The Maltese Falcon Job. Her aliases are usually more confrontational than Sophie's, and she doesn't automatically trust or go along with Nate's plans.

Her style is off-putting to the others at first, but ultimately it works in her favor. Once they--and by extension, viewers--realize that she has no intention of trying to "be" Sophie, they are able to adjust and accept her. For her part, Tara tries to maintain an air of professional distance, and she genuinely seems willing to live with the possibility that she will always be the outsider, but small gestures and comments indicate that she would like to be accepted.

After kicking bad guy butt in The Runway Job, for example, she says to Eliot, "Admit it, you kinda like me now." Her tone is light, but it's easy to see that she means it--especially in view of similar comments she makes throughout the season. My favorite example is in The Three Strikes Job when she remarks to Parker, "See, trusting me's not so bad."

Next to Hardison, Tara is the character that I have the most in common with. I'm the only geekand the only writer in my immediate family. The majority of my offline friends and acquaintances only share one or two specific interests with me, which usually don't run to any of my geeky books and shows. I can't remember a single instance of being part of an "in crowd" in my life. I don't aspire to belong to one; I only make the statement to illustrate a point of commonality between myself and Tara. I'm even something of an anomaly among my online (read: fandom) friends. Even though I have a ridiculously long list of fandoms, readers will notice that most of the currently hot ones are absent. I also don't like going to fan conventions or watching actor interviews, since they spoil my happy illusions and force me to stop suspending my disbelief. Granted, none of that makes my friends wonder whether they should accept me or not, but it does contribute somewhat to the kinship I feel with Tara who, while she has things in common with the rest of the crew, is still markedly different from them.

So, is that why I decided to include Tara in the Robin Hood series? Maybe a little, but I don't think I'm alone in being able to identify with her. I've never met anyone who hasn't felt like an outsider from time to time. A poised and confident outsider like Tara, who has obviously led an exciting life, allows us to have the vicarious experience of becoming part of the crew as she gains their trust.

I was very happy to see Sophie return at the end of the season, but I was still sad to see Tara go. Of course, the crew can't have two grifters, but I still think it would be nice to see Tara as a recurring character in some capacity. Hopefully, we'll see her again in the future, if only to answer the oft-asked question of what exactly she owed Sophie.

Previous posts in this series: Week 1: Intro | Week 2: Nate Ford| Week 3: Alec Hardison| Week 4: Parker|Week 5: Sophie Devereaux


  1. I love that they never tried to make us love Tara by making her an exact copy of Sophie, like so many other shows do when they replace a character. She's her own person and makes no apologies for it. *hugs Tara* I hope she comes back too!

  2. I know. I think that's part of why I liked her from the get-go.