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first triple answer, Day 20

wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee I wrote a lot, also, copy-pasted some, also, swore a bit

Day Twenty: Favorite female antagonist[s]

Miranda Priestly of The Devil Wears Prada, Irene Adler of Sherlock, Milady de Winter of The Three Musketeers.

If I had to narrow this down to one answer, it would be Miranda all the way. She is fabulous, and I love her. She demands nothing less than total excellence from herself and everyone she surrounds herself with, and won't stop short of terrorizing them if it means she gets it. And it works. It is the reason that "her opinion is the only one that matters." Her command is absolute, and she uses it to pursue perfection; the fact that the pursuit is fashion is never once dismissed or treated as unworthy, is because it's not. The movie points out the high-powered business reality of the fashion industry, Miranda's position in it, and even allows Miranda to specifically address this belittling of fashion as a frivolous thing.

I have in fact read the book – long multiple flights and airport bookshops will do that to you – and applaud the movie's choice to not go the same route as simply vilifying her as an overbearing dragon lady. Of course, if I understand the situation correctly, the movie had the advantage of not being written semi-autobiographically by someone who worked for Anna Wintour and all the self-congratulatory butthurt that entails. (In case this hasn't already become obvious, I'm not much for the ingénue types at the best of times, nor their coming-of-age journeys. Grow up already! And don't bore me with the details. Wake me up when you've got over yourself and you're able to play with the adults. But with Andie I'm left wondering whether I'm actually supposed to care at all. Stay, go, sleep with cute blond shallow guy, whatever seriously.) It also has the advantage of one Meryl Streep, paired with Stanley Tucci, and all the brilliant characterisation it can wring out of such.

Miranda is that best kind of antagonist: the protagonist of her own story. There is more than enough hinted at throughout the movie that, with merely a shift of focus, could have made a (much more interesting) whole movie in itself. Who wouldn't want that? But we're left nearly entirely outside, (stuck with the doe-eyed novice with the proportionally bigger ego) and no doubt that is how this exceedingly gifted, private, driven, powerful woman prefers it.

I was considering listing Irene Adler under "character you love but everyone else hates", only I have no idea what her standing in fandom is at this point. Also I don't care. I already wrote about her back when I first watched the episode, but she is still brilliant enough to warrant mention here.

Irene Adler is a brilliant antagonist by being as gloriously, enthusiastically and masterfully fucked up as Sherlock. Forget Moriarty; fundamentally, he's just a thug with too much brains and an inescapable boredom problem. He has no imagination, no romance, no adventure in his soul. He is small. Irene, on the other hand, is the one who is not only able to touch but to counterpoint that part of Sherlock that, when he was little, wanted to be a pirate. And keep up with every other part of him, too. These two could endlessly entertain each other even if they were the last two people on earth. In some ways, they already hold that position in each other's worlds – the one, the only one, that doesn't fit, that breaks pattern, both theirs and each other's. There is never a true win to be had for either, and the loss of one permanently diminishes the other.

And lastly, Milady. Who is, unlike the other two, presented in her source material as a complete monster, a femme fatale of nearly inhuman order. She is frequently referred to as diabolical and monstrous by the protagonists, and is a siren upon whose shores nearly every male character who meets her would happily wreck themselves. And she goes to her death unrepentant, fighting every step of the way with her insidious, weaponised charm. No wonder most adaptations soften her until she becomes something else entirely.

Now, granted, the narrator makes it clear that we are following the exploits of four fratboy assholes, in all their cavalier high-adventure glory, and most of the things they do are thoughtless, callous, or outright reprehensible by some measure, even if we don't anachronistically apply modern values to them. And yet they must remain heroes, and so a truly vile villain is needed to oppose them, and here she is. Terrifying, unrelenting, irresistable and of such beauty and charm none would ever believe the malignancy that lurks below. The story is pulp, pure pulp, and not interested in moral complexities and deep characterisations; it marks her a self-serving monster to be vanquished, so she is.

And her deeds are indeed fairly monstrous. She is a sociopathically consumate seductress, manipulator, and assassin when all else fails. Her childhood is exceedingly shady, with at least one count of extreme trauma. By the time she turns up in the narrative, she is a spy, an agent of Cardinal Richelieu, by all accounts a superb one. In other words, exactly the kind of person who would make a perfect 00 agent in the hands of the right spymaster, if they could secure her loyalty. These days, her story would be a very different one. And I'd read/watch the hell out of it.

But as it is, she was, literally, marked as villain from the very beginning, and after that there was never the slightest hope held out for her. Let's let Athos, her ex(?)-husband (the other character I really like, for all his epic manpain wallowing, go figure), who needs to drink for two weeks straight to get drunk enough for this, tell the tale:

"Be it then as you desire. One of my friends--one of my friends, please to observe, not myself," said Athos, interrupting himself with a melancholy smile, "one of the counts of my province--that is to say, of Berry--noble as a Dandolo or a Montmorency, at twenty-five years of age fell in love with a girl of sixteen, beautiful as fancy can paint. Through the ingenuousness of her age beamed an ardent mind, not of the woman, but of the poet. She did not please; she intoxicated. She lived in a small town with her brother, who was a curate. Both had recently come into the country. They came nobody knew whence; but when seeing her so lovely and her brother so pious, nobody thought of asking whence they came. They were said, however, to be of good extraction. My friend, who was seigneur of the country, might have seduced her, or taken her by force, at his will--for he was master. Who would have come to the assistance of two strangers, two unknown persons? Unfortunately he was an honorable man; he married her. The fool! The ass! The idiot!"
"How so, if he love her?" asked d'Artagnan.
"Wait," said Athos. "He took her to his chateau, and made her the first lady in the province; and in justice it must be allowed that she supported her rank becomingly."
"Well?" asked d'Artagnan.
"Well, one day when she was hunting with her husband," continued Athos, in a low voice, and speaking very quickly, "she fell from her horse and fainted. The count flew to her to help, and as she appeared to be oppressed by her clothes, he ripped them open with his ponaird, and in so doing laid bare her shoulder. d'Artagnan," said Athos, with a maniacal burst of laughter, "guess what she had on her shoulder."
"How can I tell?" said d'Artagnan.
"A fleur-de-lis," said Athos. "She was branded."
Athos emptied at a single draught the glass he held in his hand.
"Horror!" cried d'Artagnan. "What do you tell me?"
"Truth, my friend. The angel was a demon; the poor young girl had stolen the sacred vessels from a church."
"And what did the count do?"
"The count was of the highest nobility. He had on his estates the rights of high and low tribunals. He tore the dress of the countess to pieces; he tied her hands behind her, and hanged her on a tree."
"Heavens, Athos, a murder?" cried d'Artagnan.
"No less," said Athos, as pale as a corpse. "But methinks I need wine!" and he seized by the neck the last bottle that was left, put it to his mouth, and emptied it at a single draught, as he would have emptied an ordinary glass.
Then he let his head sink upon his two hands, while d'Artagnan stood before him, stupefied.
"That has cured me of beautiful, poetical, and loving women," said Athos, after a considerable pause, raising his head, and forgetting to continue the fiction of the count. "God grant you as much! Let us drink."
"Then she is dead?" stammered d'Artagnan.
"Parbleu!" said Athos. "But hold out your glass. Some ham, my boy, or we can't drink."
"And her brother?" added d'Artagnan, timidly.
"Her brother?" replied Athos.
"Yes, the priest."
"Oh, I inquired after him for the purpose of hanging him likewise; but he was beforehand with me, he had quit the curacy the night before."
"Was it ever known who this miserable fellow was?"
"He was doubtless the first lover and accomplice of the fair lady. A worthy man, who had pretended to be a curate for the purpose of getting his mistress married, and securing her a position. He has been hanged and quartered, I hope."
"My God, my God!" cried d'Artagnan, quite stunned by the relation of this horrible adventure.
"Taste some of this ham, d'Artagnan; it is exquisite," said Athos, cutting a slice, which he placed on the young man's plate.
"What a pity it is there were only four like this in the cellar. I could have drunk fifty bottles more."
D'Artagnan could no longer endure this conversation, which had made him bewildered. Allowing his head to sink upon his two hands, he pretended to sleep.
"These young fellows can none of them drink," said Athos, looking at him with pity, "and yet this is one of the best!"
The Three Musketeers, Chapter 27, "The Wife of Athos"

And he did it rather badly, we can assume, since she's still walking and talking and killing her way through France a decade later. Also, I love you, Athos, and you are wonderfully messed up quite apart from your manpain, but fuck you. Fuck you very much.

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