Military Moms and Spouses in Popular Media

women in media featured image

My husband and I recently finished watching the Netflix series “Bodyguard.” Military moms and spouses: consider this your spoiler alert and also a trigger warning.  The plot of “Bodyguard” crucially hinges on the main character’s PTSD and combat stress. Another spoiler: I’m going to reveal many parts of this series.

the bodyguard image from netflix
©️ Netflix

I’m not going to cover the complex subject of PTSD. Better writers than I have spilled a great deal of digital ink on the portrayal of veteran PTSD in the movies and on TV. However, one rarely comes across articles examining the way writers and directors represent military moms and spouses in movies about war, veterans, or the military.

Two-Dimensional Military Moms and Spouses

I was reminded of the lack of think pieces on the tropes and stereotypes surrounding military family members watching “Bodyguard.” The show is undeniably gripping: the acting is top-notch, and the plot has enough (admittedly implausible) twists and turns to keep you guessing throughout.

However, one aspect of “Bodyguard” irked me for most of the series.

The protagonist and titular bodyguard, David Budd, is an Afghanistan veteran who serves as the personal security detail to the British Home Secretary. David is estranged from his wife, Vicky, and it’s clear that his service-related issues are at the heart of their problems.

Vicky is portrayed primarily as David’s exasperated domestic foil. Most of her dialogue in the show remains unheard on the other end of a phone receiver while David pleads with her for understanding in between action set pieces. When she does speak, it’s usually some version of a harried, “We’ll talk later, yeah? I’ve got to go to work.” Of course, we rarely see them talk later.

I kept thinking that if I were the actress, I’d be pretty frustrated with the part.

Military moms and spouses frequently appear on television and in movies as saints, waiting patiently and stoically supporting their men. David Budd’s wife on “Bodyguard” is no exception for most of the series. It’s understandable that she’s fed up that her husband refuses to get help. He’s exhausted all of her goodwill; she doesn’t have time for his feeble attempts at reconciliation. 

Until (even more spoiler territory ahead)…

Servicemembers and Their Families Are Multidimensional

For very complicated reasons, the series climaxes when David wakes up to find some bad guys strapped a suicide vest to him. The convoluted plot has unraveled in just such a way that no one believes him when he tells them this. None of the law surrounding law enforcement wants to lend his story – that he has the evidence that will prove his innocence and the identity of the real culprit – any credence.

Then Vicky steps in and stands by her husband. Literally.

By placing herself in proximity to danger, she buys David some time and the attention of the authorities. They don’t want anything to happen to her, so now they have to listen to David’s story. Events culminate in the police setting up a rolling cordon to follow David as he leads them – walking slowly, Vicky at his side – to the evidence.

“Standing By” Someone Isn’t Standing Still

Military Moms and Spouses Don't Sit StillThis powerful image illustrates something that I wish “Bodyguard” and other TV shows and movies would demonstrate this more: that “standing by” someone is a dynamic act.

Vicky takes a profound leap of faith when she decides to believe David’s version of events and stand next to him as he wears a suicide vest rigged to go off suddenly (not an everyday occurrence for us traditional military spouses but still heroic). When she walks beside him across London, surrounded by law enforcement and under the glare of the media, she is still standing by him while simultaneously moving forward.

Is there any better metaphor for life as a military spouse and parent?

David and Vicky have two children. He initially protests Vicky’s choice to run out to him, reminding her they need their mom. I’ll admit that was my first thought, too.

But how often do we as military moms and spouses, like Vicky, subordinate the needs of our family to a higher good? In Vicky’s case, it was the truth. In our case, it’s the defense of the American way of life and freedom.

I still wish “Bodyguard” had done a better job fleshing out Vicky’s personality so that her act of bravery felt more organic. But I’m glad the writers did it; I’d argue Vicky is the most courageous character in the show. The title “Bodyguard” could refer just as much to her as to her husband’s day job.

The writers wanted to show that David’s family has a powerful impact on the character’s choices. It would be helpful if the audience understood more about these people who are so important to the protagonist. The popular appetite for home front dramas may never be as immense as the one for movies about war.

military spouse shoes and active duty boots

But war movies would be much better for portraying military moms and spouses as more than two-dimensional martyrs. 

We are so much more than wives and mothers, clutching our pearls in anticipation of good or bad news. We are modern, independent, and strong women. It’s time to modernize the image of military spouses in the media.