Okay, so I have really got a thing for what Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy call Athena’s Daughters: the just woman warrior as portrayed in our popular culture. Buffy, Xena, Agent May. But as I pointed out when I talked about Tennyson’s Ulysses, one of the things I find most intriguing about these women is the relationships they are in with other women and sometimes with men. Generally, this is less about romance and more about Getting the Job Done, but I find I would love a working relationship (or the other kind) with the kinds of friends these women are portrayed to have. I especially like the chemistry between Agent May and Agent Phil Coulson. Some examples of their dialogue:
Phil Coulson: This is fun, right? Isn’t this fun? Look –
[Holds up his sleeves]
Phil Coulson: Cufflinks!
Melinda May: I will pay you $500 right now for a pair of flats.
Skye: [Hears a noise over the comms] Wait. What was that?
Phil Coulson: Yeah. That’s May.
Skye: Is-is she okay? Is everything okay?
Phil Coulson: Yes. She’s laughing. I think the worst of it’s over now.
Melinda May: [Walks up to Coulson] My face hurts.
Melinda May: Coulson, it’s a solid plan you’ve mapped out, but it hinges on a gamble – a big one.
Phil Coulson: And back up isn’t coming. It’ll be just the four of us. We’ll be outmanned and outgunned. But Fury always said… a man can accomplish anything when he realizes he’s a part of something bigger. A team of people who share that conviction can change the world. So, what do you say? You ready to change the world?
Melinda May: No. I’m ready to kick some ass.
Phil Coulson: That works, too.
Phil Coulson: Go ahead, say it.
Melinda May: I don’t do petty.
Phil Coulson: But you called it. I trusted my gut even though you said she was a risk.
Melinda May: When someone breaks into my house, I usually don’t invite them to stay. But that’s me.
Phil Coulson: That’s me too. Then that alien staff went through my heart.
Melinda May: Sure it didn’t go through the brain?
Phil Coulson: You really don’t do comforting either do you?
a sestina for Agents May and Coulson
If we judge people by the company they keep,
Then what are we to say of you, trusting and calm
Through all of life’s calamities, explosions and
Betrayals? You have beside you someone to call
The shots or take the shot when she must, an agent
Willing to stand between you and whatever may
Come. Such partnerships are rare, not like May-
December, but more August-August. To keep
It going, you must respect each other’s agency,
Take advantage any time there is a brief calm
Before the next storm to rest and roll the dice. Call
Me an optimist, but I think your odds are good and
Solid, your chance to make it through alive and
Well, if not unworn. Who knows? You may
Even save the world for a little while. Your call
In this life, to shield the innocent and keep
The powerful honest, requires above all a calm
Head and a steady hand, like those of Agent
May. She is a rock in a spinning world, an agent’s
Agent, a superhero not in spandex, but in leather and
Aviator sunglasses. We only ever see her in black, calm
As midnight, or silver, hot as the heart of a star. May
Punches, kicks and flips her enemies, but keeps
An enigmatic stare for her friends. You could call
Her Chuang Tzu’s “uncarved block” or call
Her the Cavalry, but you know when you did Agent
May would bring the unvarnished truth to keep
You from getting yourself killed (again), and
Sometimes the truth is discretion…valor. May
Will retreat in good order to come back, calmly
Swinging, the next time. No wonder you’re calm.
With someone by your side you know you can call
Upon, day or night, from September to May
(But not during the summer hiatus when agents
Slumber and actors travel, smile for cameras and
Take long naps). You both know the drill. Keep
Hydrated, calm and poised under pressure: agents
on call, ready when the innocent need Agent Coulson and
Agent May, good friends and badasses playing for keeps.
Susan Spilecki © 2015
Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy, ed. Athena‘s Daughters: Television‘s New Women Warriors. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2003.