A Definitive Ranking of Bryan Fuller’s Greatest Female Characters

The Fullerverse is the fantastic array of televisual delights curated, written, and showrun by one Bryan Fuller. As a writer who has talked about his love of Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, and the Bionic Woman, Fuller has made a point of creating three-dimensional, complex female characters on each of his shows—not just cardboard “strong female characters” or bland ass-kickers, but women with different strengths and weaknesses, beliefs, and, most of all, believable inner lives.

This week saw the premiere of American Gods’ fourth episode, “Git Gone,” which gives Laura Moon a backstory she never had in Neil Gaiman’s novel. It also honors Fuller’s tradition of women who live their lives (and die their deaths) on their own terms. The more I thought about Laura, the more I wanted to look back at more of Fuller’s female characters. They’re all great, but who’s the best?

 

1. Marianne Marie Beetle, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Mockingbird Lane

Muffin Buffalo roams forever.

 

1. Bilquis, American Gods

In her few short scenes, Bilquis is already even cooler that she is in Neil Gaiman’s book. In the book we’re introduced to her as an exhausted sex worker who only regains some sparkle after her first client of the day. In the show she seems to be more of a serial internet dater. Even better, the nature of the exchange is made clearer-sure, she’s absorbing her dates, but they don’t have any regrets. And best of all we’re given a scene of her in a museum, visiting one of the ancient statues made in her honor. Looking on her ceremonial vestments she radiates pride and strength of will.

 

1. Alana Bloom, Hannibal

A gender-swap of Dr. Alan Bloom, Alana is Will Graham’s earliest confidant, and later runs the psychiatric center that holds Hannibal. She is one of the few people who stands up to Jack Crawford, and while her role at first seems to be more about supporting Will, she also has a fling with Hannibal and a mentor relationship with Abigail Hobbs. But again, just when you think the character is being used as the Duped and Discarded Girlfriend, she falls in love with Margo Verger, and the two embark on a partnership and parenthood together. Her own life unfolds quite apart from the machinations of Will, Hannibal, and Mason Verger.

 

1. Audrey Burton, American Gods

In Neil Gaiman’s novel, Audrey is a bit one-note—the betrayed wife who finds out that her best friend and husband were cheating with each other. She lashes out at Shadow Moon during the funeral, and given that we’re experiencing all this through Shadow’s eyes it’s pretty easy to hate her. In Fuller, Green, and Actor Betty Gilpin’s reworking of the character, Audrey pinballs back and forth between grief for her husband and friend, rage at both of them, and occasional flashes of honest desire for Shadow. She wants to feel wanted, she wants revenge, she hates Laura and Robbie, she loves Laura and Robbie. And unlike in the book, she gets to work some of her feelings out when Laura turns back up the next day as a revenant. The scenes between them are perfect, precisely because you get a sense that these two women were friends, and love each other, but also that Audrey isn’t going to take any of Laura’s shit….or formaldehyde.

 

1. Charlotte “Chuck” Charles, Pushing Daisies

Manic Pixie Dead Girl! Except once again, she’s got way more depth than you’d expect. For all that this show occasionally ODs on its own quirkiness, Chuck is infused with a wistful regret for the life that was snuffed out, and her matter-of-fact fascination with murder serves as a counterbalance to the sweetness she showers on everyone. Rather than simply being the object of The Piemaker’s childhood fantasy, she’s her own person with her own (returned) life. She helps out at the Piehole, but she also gets back into beekeeping, throws herself into solving murders, and tries to form new friendships.

 

1. Lily & Vivian Charles, Pushing Daisies

Lily is brusque and prickly on the outside, but she’s just as sensitive and phobic as her sister. She tempers her temper with gallons of liquor, and attacks the world with snark rather than quirk. The more outwardly sensitive of the Charles sisters, Vivian was born with a hole in her heart, but didn’t let that stop her from a long synchronized swimming career. What did stop her was the murder of her niece Chuck…at least for a while. As Pushing Daisies progressed, Vivian became ever more willing to move on with her life and stand up to Lily. Both sisters continue the Fuller Character Inordinate Love of Cheese and Taxidermy.

 

1. Bella Crawford, Hannibal

Rather than using Bella and her cancer diagnosis as way to talk about Jack Crawford’s pain, Fuller and his writers keep Bella’s illness about her. She manages her pain, keeps her dignity, and opts to end her life on her own terms. Except…Hannibal steps in and stops her. And far from the gleeful, icky fun of watching him plot murders and mess with Will Graham’s mind, this is the act that feels truly villainous. Bella is left to linger in a hospital room, and Hannibal seems genuinely chastened when she wakes up furious with him. Many months later, it’s Jack who administers a fatal dose of morphine to Bella, and she’s too far gone too have much say in the matter. The show does devote airtime to her funeral, but that’s more about Jack’s grief than Bella’s life.

 

1. Bedelia Du Maurier, Hannibal

One of the only original creations, rather than an adaptation from Thomas Harris’ novels. She’s elegant, flinty, in control until she isn’t. She, of all of the characters, is able to hold her own with Hannibal—and while this could have turned the character into a Mary Sue, the show instead explores why she’s attracted to Hannibal, and how she’s using him to unleash her own dark side. Plus since she’s played by Gillian Anderson, Bedelia modulates constantly between confidence, sardonic humor, and sheer terror, playing along with Hannibal’s games just enough that he wants to delay eating her, while plotting her escape.

 

1. Easter, American Gods

We haven’t met her yet, but given her publicity shots, her resentment toward Jesus for taking over her holiday, and her BFF-ship with Media, I’m expecting great things.

 

1. Dolores Herbig, Dead Like Me

Every cliche in a certain kind of book—a middle-aged, single, perpetually perky, craft-loving cat lady—rounded out into one of the kindest, funniest, most empathetic characters on TV. Dolores would’ve been a punchline to so many other writers, but she’s George’s lifeline and her own person, with a colorful past and an internet presence, even.

 

1. Abigail Hobbs, Hannibal

Abigail could have been the archetypal victim. The young innocent girl, inspiration for her father’s murders, surrounded by death. Except! She might be a budding murderer herself. She either agrees with Hannibal that she has these urges, or is willing to play along for a while. Either way, she transcends her original role to become her own person, separate from the symbol she becomes for Will, and Hannibal. It’s telling that while it’s Will who saves her life, it’s the two other women on the show, Alana Bloom and Freddie Lounds, who do the most to try to give her a second chance at autonomy and adulthood.

 

1. Beverly Katz, Hannibal

The sassiest member of #TeamSassyScience! Beverly is a fantastic forensic investigator, but here again expectations are subverted. We meet Beverly when she interrupts Will Graham’s reimagining of a murder, so we’re immediately primed to dislike her. Then she teases him, and even flirts with him despite his obvious discomfort. But as the first season goes on, it becomes clear that Beverly simply likes Will, and is trying to become his friend. Finally, when he is falsely accused of murder, she’s the only one who stands by him. She believes him, visits him in prison, and begins investigating Hannibal on her own to try to prove his innocence.

 

1. Georgia “George” Lass, Dead Like Me

 

A sarcastic, emotionally disconnected, unambitious young woman with a weird relationship to death—in a Bryan Fuller show? YOU DON’T SAY. George dies at Dead Like Me‘s outset—she’s hit by a toilet seat that falls from a space station, because death is as absurd and individual as it is inescapable—but becomes a grim reaper. No hood and scythes here (except in the show’s delightful credits): the reapers meet at a diner to get their assignments on post-its from Mandy Patinkin. (George’s colleagues also include the aggressively wonderful Jasmine Guy.) Being a grim reaper sucks, at least at first. Like life, it involves responsibilities, and doing things you don’t want to do, and not being able to stop bad things from happening. It’s a struggle for George—and it doesn’t pay, so her reaper self also has to get a job. Stubborn, grieving her old life, forced to make sense of all kinds of new things, George is a prickly wonder.

 

1. Joy Lass, Dead Like Me

You can see where George gets her prickliness: her ironically named, control-freak mother, whose primary means of relaxation is a very large glass of wine in a very long bath. Joy could’ve been a caricature of a high-strung mom who gets caught up in how she wants things to be and can’t see how they are—but she’s not. She’s an example of how one person can be a shit parent and a great parent at the same time, and watching her process life after George balances Dead Like Me, keeping it from toppling into quirk. The whole premise is built on grief, and Joy (along with her other daughter, troubled, wonderful Reggie) depicts grieving like it is: a process, a mess, a thing you can’t help but do even while you have to keep living.

1. Freddie Lounds, Hannibal

Freddie Lounds is loud, brash, exploitative, and absolutely unrepentant even when her tabloid journalism screws up murder cases and lives. A gender-swapped version of Thomas Harris’ Fred Lounds, she starts out just as annoying as the previous incarnations of the character. But here again, as the show goes on we see more layers. She genuinely cares about Abigail, she genuinely cares about journalism, and she remains a committed vegetarian even in the face of Hannibal’s sumptuous multi-course dinners. By the end, I was rooting for her to be one of the people who survived the show.

 

1. Georgia Madchen, Hannibal

I’ve written before about my love of Georgia Madchen. When you love a show like Hannibal, you know there’s going to be a lot of death, and plenty of gruesome plot twists, but that’s what you’ve signed on for. If you can’t find the dark humor go watch a different show. Georgia Madchen, though…she got to me. To start with suffering from Cotard’s Syndrome sounds like the worst kind of waking nightmare. So when she also ran afoul of Hannibal, I needed to take a break from the show for a few days before I could go back to laughing at my favorite cannibal’s wit.

 

1. Media, American Gods

OK, you’re not really supposed to root for Media? But she makes solid points and she’s played to perfection by Gillian Anderson. If you can think of anyone more worthy of worship, I’m all ears.

 

1. Reba McClane, Hannibal

A role that could have just been a screaming victim instead became the heart and soul of Hannibal’s third season. Reba is an independent blind woman who has built a life and career in a society that wants to dismiss her. She accepts Francis Dolarhyde as he is, and tries to make room for him in her life, but as with Abigail Hobbs, we see a woman idolized by the unstable men around her, who all along is working to assert herself, and her life, rather than their ideas of what she should be.

 

1. Mahandra McGinty, Wonderfalls

 

Mahandra could have just been Jaye’s BFF, but even in Wonderfalls’ one, all-too-brief season, the character was already beginning to transcend the “sassy best friend” stereotype. She’s willing to accept the weirdness around her, just as she accepts Jaye, without necessarily agreeing with her. She and Jaye grew up together, so when Jaye’s older brother Aaron proposes a romantic entanglement she shuts him down, but she’s open-minded enough to dive into said entanglement when she decides she likes the idea. Best of all though is the way that unlike everyone else who freaks out at the idea that inanimate objects are talking, she’s happy to believe that everything has a soul and leave it at that.

 

1. Laura Moon, American Gods

Oh, Laura. The lonely, cheating wife we learn about at the opening of Neil Gaiman’s book is deepened and complicated after she comes back from the dead, but Fuller’s reimagining goes back in time to give us an entire episode, from her point of view, as she meets Shadow, builds a life with him, and begins to test the limits of her life. Many people will probably call her difficult, or even worse, mistake her depression for apathy, but those people are wrong. Laura’s a real, three-dimensional, troubled, desperate person, who is capable of both love and distance, who wants more than she can have, who is living her own life, however fucked up, when Shadow stumbles across her path. Plus she leaves her TV on all day so her cat won’t be lonely.

 

1. Zorya Polunochnaya, American Gods

She could have just been ethereal and delicate, a giggling girl kissing Shadow. Instead she’s mysterious, as tough-minded as her elder sisters, and when she gives Shadow the moon you get the sense that she’s reaching out to be nice to a hapless mortal, rather than just being a one-note whimsy machine.

 

1. Olive Snook, Pushing Daisies

Olive could have been a one-note character, the vengeful, unrequited lover who pines away for a man smitten by someone else. Instead, Olive becomes Chuck’s friend and ally because the two women actually talk to each other and bond, not just to make the Piemaker’s life easier, and as the show goes along we see more and more of Olive’s own non-Piemaker-related inner life. Episodes delve into her past as a jockey, her sidequest at a nunnery, and her own super fandom of the Darling Mermaid Darlings, rather than confining her to a role as the jealous supporting character.

 

1. Jaye Tyler, Wonderfalls

Jaye Tyler may be my favorite character in television history. She’s snarky, she’s apathetic, she’s smart but she refuses to be pushed into an empty career simply for the sake of appearances. She opens herself up to the wonder that has fallen upon her, but she’s still going to sass the Universe when it expects her to do ridiculous things. Presented with a supernatural event of nigh-Touched By An Angel proportions, she never allows any maudlin crap.

 

1. Karen Tyler, Wonderfalls

More than just Jaye’s mom, she’s a tightly-wound, overachieving alpha monster who can also be genuinely loving and supportive. I love Jaye, a lot, but I can see that being her mother cannot be as easy as Karen makes it look.

 

1. Sharon Tyler, Wonderfalls

What’s this? A gay character who is neither a tragic figure nor a saint? Sharon isn’t out yet because she’s worried her family will be upset, and the show didn’t stay on the air long enough for Fuller to develop her plotline. Her initial meet-cute with her on-again-off-again girlfriend Beth is such a striking contrast to the buttoned-up persona she shows her parents, just as the Evil-Smoking demeanor shows another facet of her character when she has to bail Jaye and Aaron out of trouble halfway through the season. I’m sorry we didn’t get more of her.

 

1. Zorya Utrennyaya, American Gods

The Jan Brady of the Zoryas. Being the middle sister is always difficult, but being immortal, and stuck between two other immortals, must be especially tough. She doesn’t have the brittle humor of eldest Zorya, or the moonlight delicacy of Youngest Zorya, but my suspicion is that she’s actually the best tea-leaf-reader of the three.

 

1. Zorya Vechernyaya, American Gods

OK, I know I said I was willing to worship Gillian Anderson’s Media a few entries ago, but the more I think about it? Cloris Leachman’s no-nonsense,vodka-swilling, Wednesday-seducing Zorya Vechernyaya is who I most want to be when I grow up. Among all the Old Gods we’ve met so far, she’s the one who most embodies the weight and wistfulness that come with history…but she’s still happy to dance in the rain.

 

1. Margot Verger

Margot suffers through living with her horrific brother Mason Verger only because without him, she’d be destitute. As she gets older, he makes increasingly creepy references to “Verger babies.” Margo sleep with Will Graham in order to get pregnant, which leads to Mason lashing out at her and paying a group of doctors off to sterilize her. It’s as awful as it sounds. Never fear, though, Margot meets Alana Bloom, sparks fly, and the Murder Wives are born…as is a Verger Baby, to Alana.

 

So how did I do with this exhaustive list of spectacular women? I’m sure I missed a few, so let me know your #1(s) in the comments! Personally, I think they’re all the greatest.

Leah Schnelbach would rob all the casinos for Laura Moon! But only after she goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel for Jaye Tyler. Come talk to her on Twitter!

10 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!