VALOR Review: “About Face”

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Hoo boy, this week’s episode of Valor was a mess. The biggest misstep in my humble opinion was the inclusion of a sexual assault storyline. Not totally unexpected in a military drama centered around a woman on a network that skews female, but they very clearly did not take enough time to properly think it through, because it was at best sloppy and at worst offensive. This statement is pretty anecdotal and not based on any actual statistics, but it seems to me that the CW’s most vocal and dedicated fan base on a whole tends to be millennial women who are pretty up on their social justice discourse — this seems to be why shows like The 100 get massive amounts of negative attention when they do things that are patently offensive, but also specifically offensive to a group of people that makes up a core of their viewership. So you’d think they’d, like, do some reading before engaging in a storyline like this? But nah.

Let’s start there, though. Zoe Cho has been mostly a background character in the unit, the only woman other than Nora, but in each successive episode they seem more inclined to give her something to do, which is nice. Mostly what we know about her is that she’s tough, gay, and vaguely friendly with Nora. (This is a common thing in television across the board that never fails to blow my mind; put two women in an environment that’s fairly hostile to women, and for whatever reason television doesn’t think the women would pretty automatically flock together? I guess assuming all women will be friends because they’re women isn’t a much better assumption, but I just have trouble understanding why Zoe and Nora don’t have a more substantial relationship.)

Anyway, there’s a guy in the other unit, Smitty, who we don’t really encounter until this episode, who keeps being egregiously sexist to Cho. She brushes him off, and she and Nora talk about men who struggle with women in uniform, and so forth. It culminates after hours, where Gallo, Cho, and Smitty are having a drink and watching TV, and Smitty makes an offensive comment about something unrelated to Cho. Pissed, Gallo leaves. This also bothers me intensely; Gallo knows about Smitty’s behavior toward Cho. He knows this guy is openly hostile to her. And he leaves Cho alone with him.

Smitty makes some crack about Cho needing to learn her place, and she obviously snaps back — he follows her into the kitchen and attacks her physically, throwing her onto the ground and attempting to rape her. She fights him off, hitting him over the head with a glass bottle and leaves. As she’s leaving, she walks past Gallo who asks if something’s wrong, and she declines.

Later, she admits to Gallo when he presses what happened, and Gallo encourages her to report it. She agrees, with the intent that he not be able to do it to any other women. In the end, the case is found in her favor, and she seems to feel satisfied and vindicated. It’s not that I find this storyline fundamentally bad or wrong, but my first issue is that Cho isn’t a character with a significant presence on the show. I highly doubt we’re going to see much of her going forward, which is where this storyline could actually be a helpful narrative; watching her deal with this trauma in a realistic way, instead of showing assault as just a minor plot point used to — and here’s my larger issue — propel a man’s development.

After Gallo goes with Cho to report to Haskins, Haskins takes Gallo out to fly and have a man to man chat, or something. I hate this scene more than words can express. It takes sexual assault against women in the military and instead of staying with the victim and her experiences, it becomes about the ways in which it impacts the men around her. Gallo was on probation after fighting with Ian at the party, but Haskins tells him that his encouraging Cho to report showed leadership, and so he’s allowed to fly again. Cho’s assault wasn’t about Cho; it was about giving Gallo the opportunity to Do The Right Thing. It’s nauseatingly tone deaf and callous.

Back to the actual plot — Nora helps Ian track down Goundry. She goes to the diner again to meet with his sister, who tells Nora that Goundry contacted her to meet, and gives Nora the location. Obviously, though, it’s not the real location, and so when they send in the troops to intercept him, they come out empty handed. But because of her good intel, Ian asks Nora to help him figure out where Goundry disappeared to. CIA protocol, of which Goundry was previously a part, is to return to somewhere remote you know well, so they’re going to go through his file and find some clue as to where he might have gone.

Ian also asks Nora to move in with him, and she tells him she’s going to take some time to think about it. Nora also mentions the fact that she went to Goundry’s sister in the first place, because she knows what it’s like to be abandoned by family, and thought they would connect. This prompts Ian to continually point out to Nora that if she’s scared about moving in because Ian’s the closest thing to family she has, he would never abandon her. I guess this is kind and insightful, and obviously works because Nora agrees, but it’s a little weird to me because, like, it’s not like they’ve committed to each other for life or gotten engaged or are having a kid. The probability is heavily weighted toward them breaking up at some point… but it’s nice, whatever.

On the Jess and Jimmy front, the media finally catches wind that Jimmy was raised Muslim, changing the narrative from hero American POW to potential ISIS turncoat. Jess is approached by a PR person who wants to help repair Jimmy’s image. But her ask is that Jess give a press conference where she tells them that Jimmy hadn’t been a practicing Muslim for the better part of a decade. Jess sees how offensive it is that she has to say that Jimmy isn’t Muslim at all as opposed to just saying he’s a loyal American soldier, and after some hemming and hawing, just says what she wants at the press conference anyway. There doesn’t seem to be any fall out. The only point of this plot seems to be to give Jess something to do, and so that the folks who have Jimmy captured can show him news articles about him to try and help sway him to their side, but Jimmy isn’t swayed. So… this whole thing is a bit like treading water.

Ian and Nora figure out where Goundry might be and are going to make moves to recapture him. The reason they’re after him at all, by the by, is that he as a CIA operative was meant to pretend to purchase uranium, and then dispose of it, but he disappeared with it instead. Unfortunately, even if they capture Goundry, that puts Nora and Gallo on the chopping block. 

Meh, I don’t know. There are so many questionable plot and character decisions on top of a flimsy, mostly uninteresting plot, and a lot of the times the characters just seem to go in circles to fill the episode without actually accomplishing anything or teaching us anything. I’m not loving it.

TB-TV-Grade-C-Season 1, Episode 8 (S03E08)
Valor airs Mondays at 9PM on The CW

Read all of our reviews of Valor here.
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