paige arkin

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anon: Why do you hate Serinda Swan?

Mike’s Call-outs and Backstories in the Worst Intervention EverTM

I enjoyed the Worst Intervention EverTM - I liked the glimpse into the vaults of caution and resentment civilised Mike gathers, assesses, and locks away that junkie-comedown-Mike is all too willing to toss out of the pram. His “you don’t get to talk to me” at Paige, especially after the incredulous-eyebrows at “and that we love you,” was a particularly satisfying testament to what Aaron said about Mike “putting aside some of the things he may actually feel about it” in early episodes in order to halt her self-destruction. I also liked the revelation of his darker feelings about Briggs, both the cover-ups and the saviour complex, especially in the light of how he does still seek his approval and feel guilt over his role in the FBI’s discovery of these secrets. His pause at the warning look Charlie gives him during the murder-rant, before the unusual invocation of the baby, could suggest that his original impulse was to bring up Juan Badillo. I like that while, presumably checked by Charlie, he doesn’t go there, he does skate on the cusp of exposing Paige’s betrayal - and it’s Briggs, who’d once intended to do that, who stops him. Well, he did promise.

But the outburst that really intrigued me was his seemingly left-field call-out of Jake’s previous alcoholism and family problems. Right before this episode, I’d actually been writing a bit of meta on how I wish Graceland would draw on their presumably-canonical (details have generally corroborated so far, hence) backstories to lend a subtle context to the characters’ sometimes baffling inclinations, and 3.07 delivers both directly with Charlie’s anecdote, and a frustratingly tantalising ‘could it be - please be’ with Mike’s attack on Jakes.

Discussion of Mike’s DJ call-out, his bond with Charlie, and his saviour complex complex vis-à-vis Briggs and Paige in view of his backstory under the cut:

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Recognizing an abusive relationship: when the Strong Female Character™ is an abuser and her victim is male

[mentions of abuse, child abuse, addiction, human trafficking, and death][spoilers for Graceland S2 and S3]

Here’s a gif that is fairly clearly, even to people who don’t know the context, an instance of abuse:

Before being pushed, his hands are out in a sign of surrender, and he’s just standing there non-threateningly. You can also see right before he’s pushed that he’s wearing a hospital band, and he’s obviously in a lot of pain in the second half of the gif: the woman is shoving an injured man to the ground, and he’s the one that apologizes.

This gif is from the show Graceland, and the female in the gif is named Paige Arkin. She’s a DEA agent, and a classic Strong Female Character. She’s in control of herself, sexual and proud, and an incredible, capable agent. None of those things are bad; in fact, they help make Paige a more complex character, and it’s wonderful that a show about undercover agents has a character like Paige (as well as another wonderful dynamic female character, Charlie Demarco). However: in the second season, Paige is in a relationship with the male in the gif, Mike Warren.

Their sexual relationship begins in the end of episode 2x02. In episode 2x05, Paige needs a cover team for an operation they’re both working on, but can’t get it. She then tells Mike to sleep with a woman who is the boss of both of them, saying that he needs to “convince her” and “do whatever he needs to do” to get Paige her cover team. When Mike tries to do this but can’t make himself, Paige reacts by going behind his back and the back of their boss and does what she wants anyway.

The case they’re both working on continues. It involves human trafficking, and Paige becomes very invested in the wellbeing of the girls—which is definitely not a bad thing. If anything, Paige’s desire to help these girls and how protective she is of them is one of the best things about the entire show. However, Paige makes a plan to rescue the girls and files a request. She gives the form to Mike and says, in complete seriousness, “File it within the hour, or I’m going to hurt you.” At this point they are no longer in a relationship. The case continues, and while Mike is undercover with the human traffickers, one of the girls is killed. Mike is shown looking at his phone about to call Paige, but stops. He instead covers up the murder and frames it so that it looks like the girl ran away, and he writes a letter to her family about how she is happy and thriving (using a letter she’d written before to mimic the handwriting). He does not tell Paige about the girl’s death because he is afraid of what she’ll do to him if she finds out. The case continues. Paige finds out about the letter (but not that Mike was the one that sent it). She continues her search for the girl she believes escaped, but suspects Mike of lying to her about it.

In the Season 2 finale, Mike is shot and, while bleeding out, confesses to Paige about the girl and the letter, saying that he believes it’s better for the family if “they believe she’s happy.” Paige responds by going to the person that shot Mike and telling that person where Mike is, using the phrase “wipe out that trash.” This person goes to Mike, who is in the hospital (in addition to being shot, his lungs collapsed during the surgery to remove the bullet, and the bullet gave him lead poisoning), and this person murders Mike by cutting off his oxygen supply. Mike is awake and fully aware of what is happening as he is killed, and the person killing him tells him that Paige was the one that gave him up and that he plans on killing all of the other agents as well.

Season 3 opens. We find out that doctors were able to resuscitate Mike. While recovering in the hospital, Mike finds out that Paige is going into a situation where she might be killed. He checks himself out of the hospital and rushes to her. When he gets there, Paige shoves him to the ground and yells at him, “Goddamnit Mike, you have to stop trying to save me!” Mike is shown on the ground in pain, and then says that he is sorry and that he forgives her. (This scene is what the gif up above is from.)

If that scene were flipped—if a male character shoved a female to the ground and yelled at her (right after being responsible for her almost-death)—people would have reacted to it a lot differently. Instead, there are generally two reactions to the Mike/Paige dynamic. One: people ship them. They think that their relationship is romantic and progressive, since Paige is the more aggressive/in-your-face/forceful one. Two: they think that Mike deserved what happened to him. They think that because he is a man and Paige is a woman, what happened with them is excusable, or even that Mike lying to her made him deserve to die. There is a fandom-wide selective ignorance, and a collective refusal to recognize that Mike saying that he forgives her is literally an abuse victim forgiving his abuser. Paige threatens him, pressures him to have sex with someone for her gain, is responsible for his death, physically abuses him, and even more later on in Season 3. We know that Mike is afraid of her; Mike is killed because of how afraid he was of what she’d do to him when she found out he’d made a mistake. He forgives her, and minimizes what she did (like saying “we all make mistakes” and protecting Paige when another agent suggests that Mike should turn Paige in for what she did)(this is a textbook example of something abuse victims do when talking about their abusers).

We find out in Graceland: Undercover, a behind the scenes/more in depth look at the characters, that Mike is a victim of child abuse. There is a concept in victimology known as revictimization, or repeat victimization [x], which is when someone who is an abuse survivor is much more likely to be a victim again later in life. This has to do with abusers being able to pick up on subtle reactions and the “victim vulnerability” that exists in victims of past abuse. (This could perhaps be associated with Mike’s overly forgiving nature, and how he is much less of an “alpha male” type than the other male characters on the show. This, and how his characterization facilitates the power imbalance between Paige and Mike, is of course something subconscious and not in any way Mike’s fault.) I’m not saying that Paige actively sought Mike out with the intention of abusing him, because that’s rarely how abusive relationships work. It’s about power, and Paige sees herself as more powerful than Mike. She purposefully and repeatedly manipulates him throughout Season 2 to get what she wants for the case, even though they’re on the same side and working toward the same goal. When he doesn’t do exactly what she wants, she lashes out at him. (And all of this isn’t even mentioning the fact that Mike is canonically neurodivergent [ADHD], and that people with mental illnesses/disorders are four times more likely to be abuse victims than people without them [x]).

We also find out a bit of backstory in Graceland: Undercover, that Paige Arkin’s brother was a substance abuser. In the rest of Season 3, Mike struggles with an addiction to painkillers as he recovers. And yet, with his addiction, Paige remains insensitive. Mike believes that while he was dead, he saw something. Paige makes fun of him for this on several occasions (example: one morning, Mike tells the other agents something that has to do with what he believes he saw. Paige says, “Okay. It’s a little too early for… all of this.” and gestures at Mike.). Even after everything she’s done, she still doesn’t treat Mike with respect: the fact that he saw anything while dead is a direct result of her actions, when she had him assassinated. At one point, Mike says that he feels so bad about what happened that he has nightmares about the girl that died during their case. Paige then flips what he said on him, saying that he’s lucky because when he wakes up he doesn’t have to see the girl, but Paige sees the girl everywhere and can’t even look at Mike without being reminded of her. She guilts him and makes sure that he knows that his presence reminds her of how she failed to help that one girl.

Paige Arkin is written to be a very complex person with very strong morals, and her black and white morals define her. To Paige, you are either completely innocent or completely evil, and if you do something that removes you from the innocent side, the side she sees herself on, you are worthy of death. Most of the time, this makes Paige a great agent. However, there are times, such as most of her interactions with Mike, where this trait is not so great.

In the beginning of Season 3, she sees herself on the side of evil. She feels (briefly) guilty about what she did to Mike, and that’s why she puts herself in a situation where she could’ve been killed. But, as Mike slips further into his addiction, she forgets. Mike forgives her (and apologizes for what they both believe he did wrong; she believes this because of her black and white morals, and he believes this because, as previously stated, he is forgiving his abuser), and she forgives herself and goes right back to being her normal self again.

The existence of a character like Paige is not a negative thing: real life women are complex and not all good. Awful women exist. Female abusers exist. The line is drawn, though, when viewers do not recognize that this character is not a completely good person and instead idolize her or think what she’s doing to Mike is feminist—because hurray for a woman hurting a man, that’ll show him—or romantic—because whatever it is Pike shippers believe.

Basically what I’m trying to say is: Paige Arkin is a great character. Mike Warren is a great character. The two of them together, not great. Paige is a complex, realistic character and a blessing to television in that capacity, but she is not by any means a perfect person or a role model, and that is okay.