Television Review: Janet King, Season 2

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Image courtesy of The ABC.

I’d never heard of Marta Dusseldorp until I saw A Place to Call Home. Now I see her everywhere, and I couln’t be more pleased, because she’s fantastic. The character of Janet King first appeared in the ABC drama Crownies (which I didn’t watch), and someone decided that Janet should have her own show. I would like to thank that person, because Janet King is one of the best Australian dramas I’ve seen this year. My relationship with Janet King is a bit of a strange one. I only saw the final two episodes of the first season because I have choir on Thursday nights (it’s just been moved forward from 8pm to 7pm, which means I have some TV time on Thursdays), and I loved it. I meant to watch the first season on iview, and then Netflix or Stan, but I never got around to it. Janet was facing some sort of internal investigation at work, but it seemed to have cleared up. What I admired most about Janet King however, is that the eponymous character is gay and that’s just one part of her life.

Janet King isn’t just a gay woman, she’s a damn good lawyer, and a mother, and the show always makes an effort to portray her as a complex individual, which is refreshing. Over the past few months there has been a lot of discussion online about the Dead Lesbian Syndrome, known on TV Tropes as “Bury Your Gays.” It’s recent prominence is due to two high profile shows, The 100 and The Walking Dead killing of prominent lesbian characters in their current or most recent seasons. It informs part of what happened in the second season of Janet King as Janet’s partner Ash was murdered between seasons, and it informs part of her motivation this season. Ash isn’t just a dead lesbian, but she’s also a dead spouse, which is part of “The Lost Lenore” trope. A good comparison is every protagonist in Christopher Nolan’s films.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t know enough about queer representation in film and television to properly unpack the relationship between Bury Your Gays and Janet King. What I do know is that Ash was murdered in cold blood, and that enough work had been done by everyone on the show to establish what Ash meant to Janet. It didn’t happen during the course of the series, but the audience saw the events in flashbacks. The most important thing is that Janet wasn’t sexless. There are signs that she probably didn’t have a lot of sex between Ash’s death and the beginning of the season, as she had two children to raise by herself. Instead the writers gave Janet two potential love interests, and Janet is finally moving forward at the end of the season.

This season of Janet King was a tale of corruption. After a Muslim man is shot dead on Australia Day, the Attorney General approaches Janet, offering her a Royal Commission into gun violence. He sets out the scope, then asks if she’d like to expand it to include Ash’s murder. Janet’s smart enough to say no, but during the course of the Commission, Ash’s murder is linked to another crime, so it becomes part of the investigation. Janet wants to do her job well, but she’s not willing to play politics, and the intersection between the investigation and politics is the show’s best material. A Royal Commission is an inquiry into a particular issue set up by the government (it can be State or Federal). Royal Commissions that are currently underway in Australia are investigating the Home Insulation Scheme, Trade Unions and Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Some of these current Commissions have been described as politically motivated and witch hunts. This blog is apolitical, but these examples provide some insight as to why the NSW government wants results from Janet’s Commission before she’s willing to give them. It’s an expensive exercise, and even if the intentions behind a Commission are for the greater good, there is usually political motivation behind the scenes, and Janet King conveyed that beautifully.

Janet King is a show I can’t help but love. It has a complex character at its centre, and the ensemble is fantastic. What differentiates plot from story is the depth of characters, and this show uses its characters well. On a plot level, it’s well constructed with an arc, and the episodes are well constructed. The cast is fantastic, and I really hope this show comes back. If it follows the ABC’s model of bringing back the show when they have more story (Marta Dusseldorp is a busy woman), that’s fine, and if they decide they’ve done enough with the show, that’s okay as well.

Other thoughts:

  • If you google “Dead Lesbian Trope,” there’s a lot there.
  • Marta Dusseldorp also played Jack Irish’s partner in the show of the same name. I didn’t get to see the last episode of the most recent series because I had choir, so I have no idea if they got back together.
  • If you’re wondering why Marta Dusseldorp’s voice sounds familiar, she is the voice of the Red Rock Deli ads that are currently on television. She has a fantastic voice.
  • Richard is my favourite.
  • Just give Marta all the awards.
  • You may recognise the actor who wants to open a recreation centre as Alison Bell’s husband in The Letdown.
  • The only problem I had with the season was a side-plot involving Ash’s frozen embryos, which her sister wanted to use because she and her husband had had no luck conceiving themselves, and it went to Court. It felt extraneous at times, but it did inform just how deeply Janet was grieving for Ash. In light of feedback (see next point), my biggest issue with the storyline is that it seemed to be resolved and then there was an appeal, and it felt longer than it needed to be. Then again…
  • UPDATE: Dr Shirl Knight contacted me on Twitter to let me know that this storyline is important because people in same-sex couples are often challenged for their deceased partners’ estates. In my mind Ash and Janet were married but they weren’t, and de facto status can still be challenged in court. Thanks again to Shirl for contacting me. I like to be told these things, and internet interactions can be respectful like this.
  • On that note, as I’ve written about Bury Your Gays, I’d like to add that Janet King is taking apart the trope (intentional or otherwise), given that this is a situation people can see themselves in.
  • My favourite of the new faces this season is Heather, who may not be in it in the future due to things that happened in the final episode. If she is, it’d take a lot for Janet to regain her trust.
  • “Is that the woman who was in your bed -” “on” “-on your bed when the SCC raided the motel?” “I haven’t asked her to move in.”
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