For Gabrielle Scharnitzky, playing Petra means a lot. It isn’t just because she knew the source material before taking the role on Treadstone, or even because Hollywood’s ageism issue makes it so that roles like Petra are few and far between. It’s a combination of those things, and of course, the fact that Petra allowed her to reconnect with her family roots.
Scharnitzky, who is German, can trace her ancestry back to Russia, but before taking on the role of Petra, she never spoke the language. It wasn’t till, during the auditioning process, she was asked to audition in Russian, that she had to learn how to say some words – phonetically, first, because we can all agree learning Russian is hard.
Now, I’m not exactly an expert, but if you ask me, Gabrielle absolutely sells the role of Petra, a “no-nonsense Russian patriot who has committed her life to her country, but has deep-seated knowledge of Russian tactics that come into play when she is betrayed” perfectly.
There’s a lot that goes into that, a lot that goes into the journey of the season, for Petra, which Gabrielle tells us is all about “questioning herself.” After all, what do you do when everything you believed in is proved to be a lie?
How do you react when it felts like the whole journey of your life has been based on a wrong assumption?
It all goes back, like Gabrielle was quick to point out, to the question of: “Did you forget me?” that Petra asked in last week’s episode. It might have been a specific question, asked about a specific thing, but the repercussions of it are far larger. “Petra’s biggest virtue is loyalty,” Gabrielle shared, adding that “she has devoted her life” because “she believes she’s doing something that is good.”
But was she? And is “good” in the eye of the beholder?
Most importantly, was she, indeed, forgotten by the people – the country – she’d pledged loyalty to, or is there another, larger plan afoot.
With Treadstone, we can’t rule either of those. The show is, after all, a prequel of sorts to the well-known Jason Bourne saga, revolving about Project Treadstone, a top-secret black ops program of the CIA that, in the Bourne series of novels and movies, recruited service members to turn them into nearly superhuman assassins.
The program used behavior-modification programs to break down the assassins’ morality and make them effectively living weapons.
Now, knowing all this, we can go back to the beginning and say it was always difficult to imagine Gabrielle in this role, imagine the show understanding that women can and should be allowed to be as badass as men. But Treadstone isn’t the kind of show you think it is. It’s a spy/mystery/thriller yes, but a modern, diverse one.
One that understands that, as Gabrielle shared, “the image of women is changing,” and what others think of what women can do is rapidly evolving to encompass, well, everything.
We’re ““unraveling ourselves from a patriarchal society,” little by little, and though it might not seem like, in the grand scheme of things, this is a huge fight, entertainment plays such a large role in how we view the world, how we understand it.
Seeing ourselves on it is a big deal. It’s a much bigger deal than anyone who’s grown up seeing themselves in entertainment can ever hope to understand.
Gabrielle, though, gets it, just as she gets what a big thing it is to be playing Petra, to be sending this message. “Having a part like this is such a blessing, I’m so grateful,” she shared, just as she talked of the fact that the journey isn’t exactly over because she got this part.
It never is.
“Women must not anymore define themselves through the eyes of man,” Gabrielle sentenced, as we went on and on about the subject of women in the industry, and the long road ahead. This was coupled with her assertion that “we aren’t” anymore, or at least, “we’re trying to break away.”
Before, I would have thought that things like these, a TV show, especially one that isn’t exactly there to show us the day to day realities of being a woman, wouldn’t have anything to say about this topic, but I would have been wrong. It is even more important to see women in roles like Petra in shows where we wouldn’t expect women.
It normalizes the female experience, and sends the clear message that the female experience is, and can be …well, anything.
Just in case you needed another reason to give Treadstone a try.
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Treadstone airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on USA Network.