Viewer’s Discretion: “Collateral” and “Mercury 13”


The modern detective series has become for many writers an opportunity to address something beyond the mystery it features. Murder remains the primary crime committed, but what leads to the murder, that has become a very individual concern. In the four-part series “Collateral,” the murder involves what is in the title — the detritus of war — but with a very clear eye looking at Brexit and the idea of paranoia and the fear of the other, while ignoring the commonalities between yourself and the ones you fear.

It’s the murder of a pizza delivery guy that sets things in motion. Assassination is the more appropriate term, the guy having been shot by a sniper, and it’s up to DI Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan) to figure out whodunnit. That secret is revealed pretty quickly, actually, but the show is less concerned with the mystery than the swirl of drama around it.

Grabbed up in the drama’s fury are one troubled woman serving in the military (played exceptionally by Jeany Spark); a lesbian vicar in trouble for making her lifestyle public (the always charming and neurotic Nicola Walker); and a Labor Party minister who is about to crack between political demands and personal problems (John Simm).

What “Collateral” presents is England as a tapestry of difference that refuses to acknowledge what is plainly visible. On the one hand, you have Iraqi refugees, on the other damaged military members each trying to find meaning in peacetime and showing that the abstractions of the state hold avatars for real people floundering in actual confusion, sometimes leaving only the law to intervene.


It’s not often a tale of discrimination can be described as joyous, but that’s the best word to attach to Mercury 13, the story of the women pilots originally being trained to become astronauts before their careers were unfairly cut short.

“Mercury 13″ traces the phenomenon of women pilots starting in World War II and ushers in the story of how these women seized on the moment to take to the air and then keep in the air, but also brings in the personal stories of several women doing so. It’s to the film’s great advantage that a number of the women are still alive, and these interviews reveal colorful, confident characters with the professional skill to back up their personas and the psychological weight to bolster the story the film sets out to tell.

But it’s regarding the Mercury 13 training that the movie takes a darker, prescient turn, as it portrays not great lengths enacted to stifle the women’s chances of becoming astronauts, but casual ones applauded by society. So ingrained was sexism in our society that the astronauts themselves could make jokes at press conferences proclaiming women one notch above monkeys and the rest of the room would guffaw, and the men remained unsullied.

The film links to present-day situations as women take further strides in equality, but addresses directly the ground lost. It’s not just a plea for the particular women covered in the story, but a lament for what we lost by suppressing them at all, and treating other women in other fields with the same disdain. Sexism, especially the systematic kind, punishes the whole of society by keeping qualified innovators from contributing their full talents.

And yet, the Mercury 13, themselves, defy you to get down about it. Their spirit is an inspiration. They are the kind of women who can only make you feel hopeful.

Originally published at

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