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Under the Bridge Taps Into the Female Rage That's Spreading Across TV

Women had a lot to be angry about in 1997. They still do.
  • Chloe Guidry, Vritika Gupta, and Aiyana Goodfellow in Under the Bridge (Photo: Darko Sikman/Hulu)
    Chloe Guidry, Vritika Gupta, and Aiyana Goodfellow in Under the Bridge (Photo: Darko Sikman/Hulu)

    Nearly 30 years ago, a group of teenagers killed 14-year-old Reena Virk in British Columbia and sparked a nation-wide conversation about teen bullying and violence. When author Rebecca Godfrey published a book about those events eight years later, she dug deeper to humanize the young women at the center of the crime, exploring female rage and what happens when it is no longer internalized. 

    “Female rage is usually turned inward. I didn’t want to romanticize the violence of these girls, but at the same time, it seemed interesting to explore how and why these girls were a threat,” she said in a 2019 interview. 

    Under the Bridge, Hulu’s take on Godfrey’s book of the same name, tackles similar questions. What happens when girls no longer point their anger inward with self-harm, self-loathing, and eating disorders, and it boils over into society? It’s often dismissed or explained away as something else — hysteria, bitchiness, needing to “get laid.” Girls and women aren’t allowed to be angry in a patriarchal society, and that’s especially true for women of color. Expressing such emotions often leads to labels like “difficult” or “dangerous.”

    In Episode 5, "When the Heat Comes Down," Under the Bridge addresses that double standard with several characters. Grieving mother Suman Virk (Archie Panjabi) must suppress her anger over her daughter’s death and the woman, Rebecca (Riley Keough), who is playing both sides of the case. Police officer Cam (Lily Gladstone) is asked to put up a united front with the rest of the force even though she suspects this crime is about race. And Dusty (Aiyana Goodfellow) must remain calm when she is escorted from her family home and later faces the horrific truth that Kelly (Izzy G.) killed Reena (Vritika Gupta) in cold blood. 

    In the flashbacks, we also see the fallout of Reena framing her father for abuse, a rash decision she made under the influence of her new friends. Reena was angry over not fitting in with the others and her parents’ overprotectiveness, and her rage was directed at the man in her life. Later, she turned that rage toward her friend, Josephine (Chloe Guidry), for exiling her, by calling the girl’s contacts and spreading rumors.

    Similarly, Josephine was motivated by the anger she felt toward her own parents for abandoning and abusing her. That anger is what fueled her into manipulating and later “initiating” Reena, the girl whose parents actually cared.

    Women have a lot to be angry about today, which adds weight to a series like Under the Bridge. But there was a lot for a young girl to be angry about in 1997 and, arguably, fewer outlets for support. Despite the Girl Power movement and Riot Grrls of the time, women were still deeply sexualized and objectified. Janet Reno wasn’t known for her established political career, but for the constant jokes about her appearance. Monica Lewinsky was about to be crucified for her affair with Bill Clinton. And Princess Diana tragically lost her life due to the overwhelming interest in her divorce and subsequent personal affairs. 

    Is it any wonder that when Buffy the Vampire Slayer — a show about a teenaged girl who was allowed to take her anger out on big bad vampires — debuted that year it became a hit?

    In Under the Bridge, the girls at the center of the story strive to be gangsters in an all-female group. Their desire to find a chosen family and take back their lives comes, in part, from society ignoring them and stripping them of their meaning. “Bic girls,” they’re called, after the lighters, because these young women are disposable. 

    Their anger isn’t what makes them killers; none of them went out that night with the intention of murder. However, the culmination of their anger and Reena’s retaliatory phone calls is what brought them to the night in question. It’s what led them to swarm Reena, setting the stage for her eventual murder. Interestingly, it’s Kelly — the calmest of the bunch and the one with the most means and support — who takes things too far in the end. 

    The exploration of rage in Under the Bridge is one of many recent examples of TV shows allowing women to experience a full range of emotions, society be damned. The ’90s-set Yellowjackets tackles the raw rage of high school girls whose lives are interrupted by an unimaginable plane crash. The anger that arises from their circumstances and the need to survive intersect in gruesome yet telling ways. 

    In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and the other handmaids suppress their anger over their own circumstances, unleashing it only when it serves society with a group execution. Rage is central to the females in The Power, who develop the ability to create electricity from their bodies; it’s tied closely to the trauma experienced by Dre (Dominique Fishback) in Swarm; and it’s a direct result of the pressure put on road rager Amy Lau (Ali Wong) in Beef.

    “I’m not a wreck, I’m angry,” Becka (Eve Hewson) screams in Bad Sisters. “And that doesn’t make me drunk or crazy or hysterical. That just makes me angry.”

    Women are done holding onto their pain and ready to unleash it on a path of healing. Or at least they are on-screen, and that can be a cathartic and recognizable experience for those at home who continue to watch it unfold. These characters have an impact on how we see ourselves, and although many of the representations are heightened or fantastical reactions to real-life situations, they validate the multifaceted experience of being a woman in a sexist society.

    Amber Dowling is a Toronto-based freelancer, CCA member and former TCA president. Her work has appeared in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Metacritic, The Globe and Mail, Playback and more. Follow her on Instagram: @amber__dowling.

    TOPICS: Under the Bridge