Time of the Month: BART CURLISH & FARAH BLACK (DIRK GENTLY)

Since watching Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, I have decided I need a change of career. I want to be a holistic assassin, like Bart Curlish – one of the greatest characters in the Dirk Gently series. With that said, all of the characters in Dirk Gently are pretty bloody incredible. In fact, they are all so incredible that September’s Time of the Month brings you not one amazing character, but two! Bart Curlish (Fiona Dourif) and Farah Black (Jade Eshete). I agonised over which to write about before deciding that actually, this month you can have two for the price of one.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency tells the daft but charming story of Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett), a ‘holistic detective’ who is investigating a crime. He enlists the help (or rather, pre-determines the help) of Todd (Elijah Wood) to assist him with solving the case. Cue bizarre plot twists, cute animals, unpalatable murders and a whole lot of time travel. ‘Dirk Gently’ is a mad, quirky hot mess and it’s absolutely brilliant because of it. It’s tonally terrific and though it makes almost no logical sense until the very last minute – it will keep you gripped the entire series through.

 

 A STORY OF THEIR OWN

Farah Black and Bart Curlish are two characters that have their own subplots, running alongside the main narrative. Bart is a self-titled holistic assassin who displays a lot of the same intuitive tendencies as Dirk, and coincidentally also believes it is her life mission to assassinate him. Bart is (putting it nicely) pretty unsocialised and a bit of a lone wolf. She has killed countless people and seems to have a knack for it, although she always affirms she doesn’t ever kill anyone who doesn’t deserve it.

Farah is a young security officer, working for the Spring estate, desperately trying to track down Lydia Spring, a young girl who is at the centre of the case Dirk is trying to solve.  Coincidentally, Patrick (Lydia’s deceased father) hired Dirk to track down his killers, a few weeks before he was murdered. Yeah – time travel features a lot in this show.  Farah, whose only prerogative is to return Lydia safely home, is swept along in the tidal wave of puzzles and clues trying to save Lydia and solve the case. Farah is fierce, determined and also ever so slightly neurotic.

What is apparent though, is Both Bart and Farah kick gender stereotyping to the curb. Their job titles (security officer and assassin) are traditionally assigned to men, neither of them are involved in a romantic narrative and they both have confidence and conviction in their individual skills.

Even better still, Bart and Farah, though caught up in the spiritual drama concerning Dirk and Todd, both have narrative arcs of their own. Which is another way to say that they don’t exist merely to support the two male protagonists. The difficulty with an ensemble cast, especially when female characters are in primarily supporting roles, is that they usually only exist in relation to the main male characters. More often than not there is little character development, and they seem to not exist in any way unless they are onscreen with the male character(s).

In our first introduction to her character, Bart’s existence (in her own words) is for the purpose of assassinating Dirk Gently. So how can we claim she exists as an entity unto herself, and not just in relation to Dirk? Well, even though Bart’s raison-d’etre is to kill Dirk, her narrative supersedes this. Bart grows, changes and develops throughout the series. She enjoys the backstreet boys. She learns what a shower is. She actually makes a friend, despite initially claiming that she doesn’t need anyone in her life. Bart’s edges become softer, but she doesn’t compromise who she is to get there, but in the process she becomes a little happier. Bart begins as the anti-Dirk – a character created solely to destroy Dirk – a trope employed in many superhero stories. In a wonderful twist, Bart’s story takes on it’s own life and direction.

STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS

It would be easy, and a complete cop out,  to claim that both Bart and Farah are ‘strong female characters’.

‘Strong female character’ is a term which is very liberally applied to any female character who displays any hints of strength, independence or determination. The problem with strong-female-characters is that they are usually portrayed as so “strong” that they are either pseudo-men or have no infallibility whatsoever. This doesn’t make for an interesting or authentic character, and certainly leaves no room for development.

Farah, as a WOC, could easily have fallen into the strong-sassy-black-woman stereotype. Sure, as we said earlier, her job does mean that she has to be somewhat strong and very brave. As a security officer, she does display strength, and she’s got the personality to match. However, Farah demonstrably struggles with weakness too. Farah is determined and clearly skilled at her job. But she also failed to get into the FBI academy, something which clearly still haunts her. When one of the minions pretends to be an FBI agent to try and fool Farah – we expect her to see straight through his act. We have an expectation that her physical strength transfers to her emotional strength and that she is infallible because of this. However, due to Farah’s own insecurities about not being ‘good’ enough for the FBI, she is hoodwinked. Farah isn’t a ‘strong’ person, she is insecure. This insecurity makes her relatable, and it makes her human.

Farah’s breakdown is a realistic response to the situation. Though brave and headstrong, she has little faith in her abilities because of rejection in the past. When faced with what she thinks is an authoritative figure, she crumbles – like many of us would.

Likewise, Bart’s entire life trajectory has been to eliminate Dirk Gently. When she finally comes face to face with him, she discovers that she simply can’t do it. The universe, or whatever it is, will not allow her to kill him. Bart has to come to terms with the idea that the thing she has been living for, is actually not going to happen. It’s almost a rejection from the universe. Bart seems to stumble through life relying only on intuition, but this time it has failed her. A girl who has lived as little more than a killing machine, finds that she really does have a moral compass.

Additionally, the revelation that Bart actually only kills people who kind of deserve it, completely changes our perception of her. We can actually identify with her, and start to like her as a person now we know that she doesn’t just kill at random. Or, she does but somehow she knows that her victims are all terrible people. Holistic assassin, you know?

Both Bart and Farah are vulnerable, lonely women, masquerading as strong fighters who don’t need anyone in their lives. Dirk Gently not only allows us to see behind their masks, but also gives them the opportunity to learn and grow as the series goes on. Instead of giving us stunted tropes, Dirk Gently has blessed us with two wonderful female characters who (I hope) will continue to shine throughout the second season too.

Now, if the writers could just orchestrate a Farah/Bart spin-off, I’d be very, very happy….

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