Why A Show About Women Con Artists Is So Weirdly Empowering

Maddie (Inbar Lavi), the central figure of Bravo's Imposters, is ruthless — although you’d never guess it, looking at her. That precise disconnect between appearance and reality is how Maddie has kept her career as a professional con woman (and professional heartbreaker) going for so long. In season 1 of Imposters, which is streaming on Netflix, we’re introduced to the template of Maddie’s con. Each time, Maddie assumes a new appearance and identity, calculatedly makes a moneyed man or woman fall in love for her, then marries them after a courtship period your mother would almost certainly deem “too short.” Once Maddie has access to her new partner’s funds, she cleans out their bank account, and disappears.
Maddie’s con (literally) catches up to her when three of her former spouses — Ezra Bloom (Rob Heaps), Richard Evans (Parker Young), and Jules (Marianne Rendon) — track her down in Seattle, where she’s moved onto her next target. Their journey to Seattle isn't simple. Since neither Ezra nor Richard nor Jules have any money, they, too, have to turn to simple cons to fund their cross-country trip. Over the course of the journey, Ezra, Richard, and Jules unlock a nimbleness on par with Maddie’s.
Clearly, Imposters, the second season of which premiered on April 5, is a show that celebrates the con artistry of very, very attractive criminals. But it’s also strangely empowering. Call me the hipster grifter, but there is an undeniable thrill in watching people pull off elaborate, complicated hoaxes. Let me rephrase: There’s an undeniable thrill in watching a woman pull off these hoaxes, and using her intelligence and skill to get what she wants.
Maybe that thrill is why I’ve been talking about Imposters to everyone, including strangers in the grocery line. For one, the show is breezy, fun, and goes down like a glass of lemonade during a June twilight. Aside from being a delight, Imposters is low-key empowering. A modern, self-aware femme fatale, Maddie uses the expectations of femininity to lure people in — and she's unapologetic about it. What are trappings to the rest of us are tools for Maddie.
That said, even though Imposters features a strong woman lead outsmarting loads of susceptible men, I question whether it's actually a feminist show. The show espouses the notion that if a woman looks and acts a certain way, she'll be irresistible, and that manipulating people using societally enforced expectations of femininity is ultimately permissible. So far, Maddie has evaded punishment, and her exes have, more or less, forgiven her for callously using them.
My opinion might be different if Maddie were pulling off these epic, man-trapping cons because she really, really wanted to, but that isn't the case. In the first season, we learn that Maddie works for a dangerous man who employs a network of con artists. She's entirely trapped into assuming this femme fatale personality, until she breaks free at the season's end. Once she's liberated, Maddie must confront the repercussions a lifetime of con-artistry has had on her ability to form actual human connections. Short story: She can't anymore.
What I relish in Imposters isn’t the manner in which Maddie cons people, which is borderline questionable. It’s that Maddie, and soon her ex-spouses, so wholeheartedly believe in their abilities. In Imposters, I watch people experience the feelings I occasionally have — "Am I good enough? Is someone going to uncover me?" – and then deal with those feelings in an exaggerated, impossible, yet totally satisfying way. Essentially, Maddie and her gang of ex-spouses sidestep imposter syndrome by becoming full-fledged imposters. How convenient!
The characters in Imposters — especially Maddie — are dangerously good at manipulation and convincing people of various lies. I stress that they are liars, cheaters, and terrible role models. But, in a way, they've become a chorus of well-intentioned devils on my shoulder, inspiring me to believe in my abilities as much as they believe in theirs. If I can convince others, maybe I can convince myself, and vanquish imposter syndrome forever.
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