MindHunter’s Wendy Adds Depth To The Cool-Lesbian Stereotype

MINDHUNTER

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

If you are a true crime junkie, you’ve probably seen Netflix’s MindHunter. The show is based on the book of the same name and describes the process of psycho-analyzing the “first” serial killers. Dr. Wendy Carr, played by Australian actress Anna Torv, is a psychologist on a grant to help the detectives hunt minds, or profile the emergent category of serial killers, and she is also a cool, aloof, badass lesbian. We should also mention, the series was conceived by David Fincher, the director of Gone Girl, and the ultimate cool girl!

Wait, what’s a “cool girl?” It was actually Gone Girl that coined this stereotype in the media, making this Wendy the ultimate example. A cool girl is just one of the guys. She will have “masculine” traits such as a love for sports or video games, that locks her in with an all-guys friend group. Often, these traits are attractive to the men in her friendgroup, who will refer to her as “cool.” Think Megan Fox in Transformers or Cobie Smulders in How I Met Your Mother.  Wendy, however, adds another element to the cool girl stereotype, because she’s actually a lesbian, similar to Shane in The L Word. 

In the first season of the show, Wendy takes a backseat to the male detectives. Wendy is there to help, and her character does not get much development. However, it is established early on that Wendy is a lesbian, which is almost shocking to the audience. Why? Wendy has a very aloof demeanor and does not reveal much about herself. Ever. It is rumored that Wendy’s character is based on Anne Wolbert Burgess, who is the featured psychologist in the book; but the show takes Wendy’s character in an extremely different direction, as Anne was not anything like Wendy.

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As the show progresses, it is made clear that Wendy is in the process of breaking up with her longtime girlfriend. This is the first major indication that Wendy is gay. After a while, the audience also puts together that Wendy is attracted to a bartender named Kay. The two continuously hit it off and eventually do hook up. Up until that hookup, fans were not entirely sure if we’d get an actual lesbian with a storyline, or just a bit of nominal, two-dimensional representation. It’s clear that Wendy’s male counter-parts are interested in her, but she never has any kind of emotional reaction, which makes her character hard to gauge — would she engage? When the second season rolls around, we finally see that Wendy is capable of empathy, and love to boot. Wendy and Kay begin to build a relationship, and at first, everything seems to blossom.

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However, Wendy’s aloofness suddenly becomes less endearing to Kay, and Kay’s child finds their way into the mix. The entire premise of the show is Wendy and the detectives constantly analyzing the mental state of others, but when it is time to look in the mirror, Wendy can not do it. Wendy has an extremely difficult time processing her own emotions, and it is ultimately the downfall of her relationship with Kay. It is evident that Wendy holds a lot of herself in, making her career almost her entire personality. This is shown through small details, like how Wendy does not decorate her apartment — she just signs a lease on one that looks like a hotel lobby — because she does not have a personal style.  And then there’s the fact that she never reveals anything about herself to her co-workers unless she absolutely has to.

At first, this cool-lesbian aesthetic is insatiable, it is what draws Kay to Wendy. Wendy is cold and blunt, yet stoic and soft. This attitude makes Wendy seem like a badass; a strong woman who attracts everyone to her and owns the room. Quickly, however, Wendy’s standoffish nature begins to highlight the irony of the show. Wendy’s life’s work is analyzing the behavior of others, but she literally can not analyze her own behavior. When Wendy’s lack of emotional awareness begins to hurt the people in her life, it becomes clear that she has no self-awareness, and this takes her character into an entirely new direction.

Wendy loses Kay over her behavior, and she can not totally comprehend why. Her cool-girl-lesbian stereotype gets broken down, as she breaks down. We finally see Wendy have an emotional reaction and start to realize why this has happened to her. Often the cool-lesbian stereotype will have epiphanies like this (an example coming to mind is Shane from the L-Word, of course.) As an audience, we expect the cool-lesbian trope to get all the girls, moving quickly from one to the other, not caring who they hurt. This in turn parallels what most people consider a “male” trait, a fuckboi, if you will. That is what makes Wendy all the more interesting.

Mindhunter : La saison 3 de la série de David Fincher n ...

Wendy fits in well with her male counterparts because she almost acts just like them. Wendy exists in a male-dominated profession, and it begs the question, did Wendy’s career create an environment where in order for her to succeed, she had to start acting like a man? Did Wendy teach herself to hold in her emotions, and become the aloof cool lesbian? It’s also important to note that MindHunter takes place in the 70s… not exactly a time to be an out and proud lesbian, although homosexuality had just been removed from the deviant category of the DSM, as Wendy points out. Wendy could simply be a product of her environment, suppressing what makes her, her. Food for thought, anyway.

Wendy and Kay in Mindhunter

One of the most telling moments of Wendy being a product of her environment is when she finally does come out. In an interview with a serial killer, Wendy comes out as gay in an effort to help him relate to her. Wendy’s cohort rationalizes this as something she just did in the interview room, belittling Wendy and acting like there’s no way she could be a lesbian. Thus, giving way to the male gaze of the cool girl trope. Wendy decides not to officially come out to her male co-workers after this in order to keep her job. This directly contrasts Kay, who felt liberated coming out, even though it sacrificed her career. Kay came out to everyone except her kid. Oof. Wendy deciding not to come out secures her place inside the male gaze of her co-workers, keeping her job intact, and she plays into the cool-girl-lesbian stereotype to help keep her distance. By distancing herself and her personal life from her coworkers, she maintains a balance and is able to grow in her career. Wendy is sacrificing living an authentic life in order to make it, making herself cool and aloof in defense, which many of us can relate to, for sure.

Wendy is always playing it cool, as opposed to playing it straight. The psychologist, always analyzing the behavior of others, locking down what it means to be a serial killer. However, Wendy fails to recognize the toxic patterns of her own behavior, thus giving way to the irony of her character. In contrast, Wendy’s character could just be exhibiting behaviors that had to happen for her to advance in a male-dominated, anti-lesbian environment. That is what makes Wendy multi-faceted, and adds depth to her storyline in the show. Wendy breaks down the cool-lesbian stereotype simply by existing within her own right, and that is pretty cool.

You can stream MindHunter now on Netflix. Season three is on “indefinite hold” according to Netflix, but hasn’t been canceled. It’s likely delayed not only by Coronavirus but also by director David Fincher’s other projects.  Here’s hoping we get a chance to see Wendy develop, and maybe more of her relationship with Kay, too, with a speedy return to the small screen.