When you walk onto Valor’s massive Atlanta, Georgia, set, your eye is immediately drawn to one thing: the humongous military-grade helicopter resting in the middle of the upcoming CW series’ concrete lot. You would normally expect the chopper to have some comically hyper-masculine name like "The Killer Egg," which is apparently a real nickname for a line of helicopters. But, no, the name inscribed on Valor’s leading helicopter is "Adele," like the emotional British soul-pop diva who has made the world over shed a tear. That Adele. This is your first signal Valor isn’t your dad’s military drama.
This year, the freshman crop of TV series is filled with stories about our armed forces. This makes sense, since America’s current presidential administration can even twist athletic league protests into political statements about the military. Two of these series rest on the broad shoulders of two traditionally handsome white men — SEAL Team’s David Boreanaz and The Brave’s Mike Vogel — to move their stories forward. Valor, however, doesn’t fall into that much-expected trope.
Instead, the CW drama, which premieres Monday night, follows Nora Madani (Christina Ochoa), the first woman pilot in her special-ops Army unit. In the premiere, Nora deals with the aftermath of a failed, mysterious international mission, which left two of her comrades captured by supposed terrorists and at least one person dead. From there, she battles the uncomfortably realistic fallout from the catastrophe, including PTSD, a burgeoning pill-popping problem, and lies (so many lies) about what really happened on the covert operation. Oh, yeah, and Nora has to prove her frail lady constitution can even withstand the pressures of the field again (eye roll). All together, it’s the character-driven feminist military drama no one even knew to look for.
Although giving a war-ish story a female protagonist in itself is feminist, there’s more at play when it comes to the newbie show’s woman-friendly outlook. During a round table interview with journalists on Valor’s outdoor set, Ochoa pointed out the series has women at the forefront of every element of the story, from the intelligence agency monitoring Nora’s Army unit, to the congresswoman mother of her boyfriend Ian Porter (Charlie Barnett).
When it comes to Ochoa’s character herself, the actress can’t help but gush about the "complex and intricate" fictional pilot. "Nora Madani['s journey] has not just her being a woman in a man’s world," the new CW star explained. "She has PTSD to contend with. She has the mission and rescuing one of her comrades. She has the pill popping. She has all these different layers happening at once that allow her to be more well-rounded then we see these tropes. So absolutely I think it’s a feminist statement. I think it’s a political statement."
While it’s amazing to hear a television lead like Ochoa, who urges viewers to get political on a local level and within their communities, celebrate her show’s progressive slant, it’s equally important to know her male co-stars are just as excited about it. "I’m not trying to toot her horn like one million times, but Christina is freakin’ amazing," your new favorite woke feminist bae Charlie Barnett said. "She has been so on the ball in making her voice very specific and very strong. Which is feminist in its own right. Luckily I just get to be there to aide her."
Meanwhile the third prong of the Valor love triangle, One Tree Hill alum Matt Barr, who plays Nora’s captain and co-pilot Leland Gallo, perfectly explained the true draw of the series. "It’s incredibly empowering to see intelligent, capable, powerful, vulnerable, and, yet, strong women do extraordinary things," the native Texan explained. "Just because she’s a woman is not what makes her extraordinary in this show. It’s not even about that … What makes her great is she’s a great pilot, she has special skills, and she has this emotional capability to do the job."
A lot of Nora’s grit can be credited to the writers room, which boasts a woman showrunner, longtime TV writer Anna Fricke, two female veterans, and a very open-minded creator in Kyle Jarrow. "Early on in the room we were having a discussion and Kyle said, ‘I don’t know, would it pass the Bechdel test?’," Air Force intelligence vet and staff writer April Fitzsimmons recalled during a phone conversation. "And I just remember looking at him like, ‘Oh my God! Is this my boss?’ This is amazing." This kind of awareness has led to the ladies of Valor getting an extra dose of attention from the deeply female writers room. "All the women are keeping the female narrative on point at all times," Fitzsimmons, who served for four years, explains. "If someone doesn’t catch [a problem], someone catches it somewhere else. "
"Keeping the narrative on point," also means letting the women of Valor have their demons. As we mentioned, Nora is tackling PTSD within the first seconds of "Pilot." Fitzsimmons’ fellow staff writer and "veteran sister" Shamar S. White — who went through combat three times over 11 years in the Army, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan — relates to Nora’s struggle, explaining, "I’ve had to deal with that throughout my military career, and there are so many different levels of it and ways of dealing with it." Nora is managing her disorder through an increasingly evident pill problem. While some might criticize Valor’s leading lady, White doesn’t see the point. "Heroes are humans too," the real-life decorated hero countered. "These are human stories that are being told."
It sounds like the feminist human stories will keep coming through Valor season 1, as the CW show will soon deal with sexual assault in the military. "We wanted to find a way to bring it up so we could thoroughly discuss it," Fitzsimmons says, revealing the looming problem will be "weaved" throughout upcoming episodes. "It was very moving to me to see we could explore this super personal issue through our characters and deal with it in a very human way."
A military drama that is seriously dealing with one of the biggest problems facing the Armed Forces today — and it's actually told from a women's perspective, written by women veterans? Sign us up.
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