Mild spoilers for The Power, Yellowjackets, Swarm and Class of ’07 ahead.
"Teen girls are setting shit on fire!" comes the warning from Toni Collette’s character, Seattle mayor Margot Cleary-Lopez, in The Power, a new series based on a bestselling 2016 novel of the same name (written by Naomi Alderman).
The moment comes early in the second episode, when Margot realises that her teenage daughter Jos (Auliʻi Cravalho) causing the microwave to combust wasn’t a one-off incident. We soon learn that adolescent girls across the world are tapping into a dormant organ known as a skein, which allows them to generate electricity from their own bodies.
“I’m not surprised, [with] the world they’re growing up in,” laments Margot’s aide, Helen (Edwina Findley).
That’s the underlying theme of The Power, which has been in various stages of development for several years since the book was optioned in a bidding war amidst the election of Donald Trump, the Women’s March and women generally being dog tired of hiding their anger. Joining a slew of new shows that explore girls' anger in ways we haven’t seen before, it premieres at a tipping point for young women and girls, where (particularly in the US) young people are taking to the streets to protest everything from guns to climate change and book bans.
We know that teen girls have always been full of angst, but they're taught to mask it behind pleasantry or, more often, a sullenness that doesn’t get at the true depth and breadth of what they're angry about. When they do express their anger, The Power shows how it's criminalised. We see Jos and her female classmates escorted from class, zip-tied and encased in individual pods approximating cages.
While this newfound power immediately affects girls, older women’s anger is also given credence. We see this in both Margot Cleary-Lopez and the president's wife, Tatiana Moskalev (Zrinka Cvitešić), a former Soviet gymnast and child bride whose anger is palpable under her heavy makeup and diplomatic detachedness. They are envious of young women being able to harness their anger into power in a way previous generations weren’t able to. “Now we’re too old,” one character laments, but the joke’s on them, because power can be transferred and young women can activate the skein in older women.
This age dichotomy is present too in Yellowjackets, the 2021 hit about a high school soccer team whose plane goes down in the Canadian wilderness. Currently airing its second season, the show is split into two timelines: the '90s, where we see the girls grow angrier and more desperate with their dire predicament, resorting to violence and cannibalism; and the present day, as the surviving women grapple with the unresolved trauma they suffered. This manifests in mental breaks, cults and murder — so not that different from their teenage years! Yellowjackets speaks to both angsty teens and people who used to be angsty teens. But the moments that stand out are those that amplify how sensitive girls can be — and that when we don’t protect them from harm, their wounds can calcify and turn them into bitter and enraged adults.
Trauma is also at the heart of Swarm — a series created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers that was released in March — that's ostensibly based on Beyoncé's stans. The show stars Dominique Fishback as Dre, a mentally ill former foster kid who will stop at nothing to avenge her idol (Beyoncé's stand-in, Ni’Jah), and her best friend, Marissa (Chloe Bailey), who died by suicide. Dre’s unaddressed mental illness and trauma cause her to act irrationally against anyone who speaks ill of Ni’Jah, as she goes on a killing spree across the country.
There are lots of interesting ideas about fandom, obsession, neglect and harm in Swarm, and Fishback does her best to portray Dre with empathy and care so that we can see the damage underneath her anger. But one can’t help but see Glover’s comments about Dre’s motivations being animalistic and “not that deep” as buying into the very thing that the characters in these shows are trying to combat: that women’s anger is justified.
This year, we've also seen female rage take centre stage in the local production, Class of ’07, a comedy that sees Caitlin Stasey, Emily Browning and a host of Aussie talent face the apocalypse when it strikes in the middle of their 10-year high school reunion. As if they weren’t stressful enough!
The tensions and anger are certainly there, with former mean girls and bullies easily regressing into these roles instead of addressing their issues. But Class of ’07 doesn't really hone in on the sexual abuse and grief experienced by two of the main characters, instead trivialising them through gimmicky storylines like a mock courtroom to determine whether one character should be banished from the island, and a Survivor-style tribal council to choose which of the survivors they’ll cannibalise (Yellowjackets-style). It does manage to redeem itself in the final scene, though, when a bachelor party booze cruise seeks port on what has now become an island encircling the girls’ old boarding school and they charge towards the surviving men in anger. There needs to be a season two, if only so we can see them be devoured.
While not always depicted with sensitivity, these shows portray girls’ anger in the myriad ways it can manifest, from literal explosions in The Power to the quieter, simmering long-term ramifications of not being allowed to express it in Yellowjackets. We're not saying that women mauling men, blowing things up or resorting to literal cannibalism are appropriate ways to express anger. But what is important is that we're finally seeing that girls and young women are angry, dammit — and with good reason. Just take any of the causes we see in Swarm, Class of ’07, The Power and Yellowjackets. Or, indeed, IRL.