When we talk about the slasher that defined the 90s and early 2000s and its final girl, the conversation revolves around Scream’s Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). Scream marked the resurgence of meta-horror. It receives great praise for understanding horror tropes and how to subvert them in a comedic way that has had long-lasting effects on the horror genre. Horror fans extoll the virtues of Scream by analyzing Sidney Prescott as the final girl. She has sex, she confronts a killer she has an emotional connection to, and she doesn’t allow the killer to escape with wounds; instead, she utilizes the double-tap and makes sure Billy doesn’t come back in the sequel. I am going to go a different direction and tell you about how good Scream is from the perspective of its other final girl, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox).
While Sidney’s narrative design does subvert some tropes, she is the quintessential final girl until the climax of the film. In the beginning, she is mild-mannered, dealing with emotional trauma, and exists in the palm of her boyfriend Billy’s hand. Losing her virginity stands as a moment where she breaks the trope, but the film nevertheless stresses that losing her virginity is very important.
Now, Sidney isn’t the only final girl in Scream. In fact, the film breaks the mold by turning “final girl” to “final girls” and truly stretches what kind of woman we root for by adding Gale Weathers.
Embodying strength in a yellow suit, Gale Weathers is anything but the typical final girl. The term coined by Carol J. Clover in her 1992 book, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, has come to define the sole survivor of horror films. Based on slashers from the 1970s and 80s, Clover distilled the characteristics of the last girl left alive in films from that time into an identifiable trope. By Clover’s definition, a final girl is a female character who is the sole survivor of the group of people who are chased by a villain, and who gets a final confrontation with the villain where she utilizes his weapon to exact justice by killing him – or being rescued by police, who we assume will enact just (possibly the largest suspension of disbelief in horror). Her survival is a “privilege” provided her by the narrative because of her moral superiority that comes from rejecting drugs, sex, and any other manner of “bad behavior.”
In the classic slasher films, the final girls are virginal, timid, and only come into strength at the end of the film when they finally find their power. This is a perfect description of Scream’s Sidney, but Gale presents a radically different version of a final girl.
Brash, career-driven, aggressive, and Sidney’s foil, Gale is the person we’re supposed to hate for putting our final girl into a position of reliving her trauma. For the bulk of the film, Gale lacks empathy. She puts the people around her second and the story first. She’s a reporter and in that role we see her directly confront how both women and men perceive her as she exists on her own terms. Gale is not one to be talked into anything. She fights from the beginning and when the killer pursues her directly, she shows resourcefulness and ultimately emerges as one of the few survivors.
One of the things that makes Gale different than the other virginal waifs we want to protect is that she survives by finding empathy to balance her strength. Even more importantly, her age stands as a character trait that restructures who a final girl can be. Gale is an adult rather than a teenager and because of this, sex isn’t a sin for her. While she doesn’t have sex in the film, her flirtation with Officer Dewey – even in his idiocy – is on full display and anything but wholesome. In addition, she’s a professional looking for her big break. Her ambitious nature, while initially demonized by the teens she’s following, reveals itself to be her saving grace. She is an adult and this allows her to be more than what a teen can be.
Traditionally, across genres, women who thrive in their careers and don’t visibly show empathy to other characters must be seen as villains. For the majority of the film, and the franchise as a whole, Gale is shown as selfish. Her single-minded pursuit of a story is what makes her run in direct opposition to Sidney and ultimately makes her a red herring for a part of Scream. What the film presents as selfishness is an all too familiar way most women in the workplace have to act and are often vilified for. Gale is tough because she has to be. While she is unable to see how her constant search of a story is impacting Sidney’s life, she grows through the film and learns to listen as much as talk.
Ultimately, the fact that Gale doesn’t have to have her strength awakened but instead softened positions her as the ultimate subversion of women who survive in horror. She should, in all cases of the tropes, be killed off in the second act. Instead, she comes face to face with the killer and survives. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, the film’s creative duo, use Gale to hone in on the simple fact of horror and most other genre films: a woman who is not the mom or the virgin is bad. The woman who does not conform is up on the literal chopping block. With Gale, strength alone can survive.
While most horror fans remember Sidney “I’m a fighter” Prescott, they tend to forget Gale simply because she isn’t the ideal woman. But here is the key: Sidney warrants our protection as viewers. She’s a teen, she’s been through trauma, and all others are just making her life harder. But for me, the empowerment I see on the screen is a woman owning her perceived flaws, refusing to fail, and just pushing past the obstacles in her way – even if it’s finding her cameraman dead in her news van. Sure, the gun may not have worked, but she picked it up. While other final girls – including Sidney – have to work up to the ability to kill their attackers, Gale goes for the gun and doesn’t hesitate.
And what happens when the killers are dead? Gale reaches for the mic, reports on the event, and continues to thrive.
Now, her storyline throughout the film franchise waxes and wanes like all of the characters in a four-episode long series, but she is without a doubt deserving of a spot in the final girl hall of fame. While her success and her callousness in the face of fear may put off some she seems to me to be a creative and subversive play on the final girl, unrestrained by the trope. Bravo to Scream for Gale Weathers, the best final girl.