Keri Russell’s Character In ‘The Diplomat’ Kicks All The Ass

Thor Benander
Thor Benander is the Editor-in-Chief of The Antagonist and a father of four. He’s a lover of ancient history, Greek food, and sports. He loves to travel and thinks that if libraries were the center of American society, many things would improve overnight. You can hit him up at hilordcastleton@gmail.com.

I could play a thousand videos of men being held to lower standards than women, both in the private and public space. Perhaps nothing boils the blood more than this example, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Brett Kavanaugh at their respective Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Frankly, it’s sickening. It’s sickening that a man like that is on the Supreme Court, but it’s far more insidious how society forces women to always walk a more difficult road than men. In every single facet of life, the rules are different for women.

That’s why it’s been so much fun to watch The Diplomat on Netflix. If, like me, you were late to the party on this show, don’t continue to let it slip down the ranks of your watchlist, because the avatar they build for a professional woman who doesn’t take shit is inspiring.

Keri Russell plays Kate Wyler, a career diplomat with extensive experience as a DCM or Deputy Chief of Mission. When the show opens, Wyler is prepping to travel to Kabul to continue decades of work in Asia as the new Ambassador to Afghanistan when she’s summoned to the White House and asked to pivot to a different post.

Wyler is, at first, taken aback by the position, which is customarily filled by a wealthy donor rather than a career foreign service officer, but composes herself quickly enough to accept the post. Now, this is television, and so we graciously look past pesky things like State Department nomination protocols and senate confirmation hearings and we just go along for the ride.

Once in her new position, Wyler is hemmed in on all sides by outright nonsense. Unused to playing a figurehead role, her propensity to roll up her sleeves and do things herself ruffles the feathers of not just her staff, but much of the intelligence apparatus at her new embassy. She’s also trailed by her career diplomat husband, Hal Wyler, played with indefatigable charisma by Rufus Sewell, who is as brilliant as he is chaotic. Add to that an international crisis with Wyler’s embassy at the center and a secret White House calamity being orchestrated on the DL by Chief of Staff Billie Appiah, played flawlessly by Nana Mensah, and you’d imagine that Kate Wyler might fold.

Instead, it’s where she shines. Thanks to a remarkable season of writing that felt shockingly authentic, Wyler shows up and kicks ass, over and over again. I remain amazed by the level of nuance woven into the script, from a fundamental understanding of the ingrained misogyny in seemingly every vocational sector to a complex exploration of an intelligent woman in an adult relationship with an intelligent man. These characters are not dumbed down for the masses. They’re boldly complex and unabashedly true to that. Sometimes you get a taste of this, but you certainly don’t see it spread through multiple characters while still holding up a plot that’s rife with twists. The most we can typically hope for is that the all-male writers room closely approximates a woman’s perspective. Gee, I wonder why this particular writing staff, with a woman showrunner and women directors was able to so sublimely capture a woman’s perspective?

Oh! A writers room with only one man in it? ZUT ALORS! SOMEBODY FLAG A BOBBY!

All the credit in the world goes to show creator Debora Cahn, a veteran of both The West Wing and Homeland, who not only crafted contemporary women characters that feel honest, dialogue that feels authentic, (Kate saying “terlet” for toilet nearly made me spit up my drink), as well as several mature, adult relationships between complex equals. It’s so layered and intentional I could weep with thanks.

Extra shouts out to David Gyasi for murdering it as UK Foreign Secretary Austin Dennison and T’Nia Miller for killing it as his inspired sister, Cecilia.

That’s not to say that the rest of the cast wasn’t great. Miguel Sandoval as the Secretary of State? Michael McKean as the U.S. President (yes please, let’s actually do this), Ato Essandoh as the long-suffering DCM in exile, and Ali Ahn as the headstrong CIA chief of station were all fantastic. Rory Kinnear was note perfect as the Brit PM with an edge and Celia Imrie shaded his performance perfectly as Margaret Roylin, the ultimate puppetmaster.

The Diplomat has been picked up for a second season, which should air sometime later this year on Netflix.

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