The Tough Careers of Army Wives.

*Warning, spoilers ahead from the season three premiere of Army Wives.*

by Meredith O’Brien


The third season of Army Wives -- one of the few primetime programs which dramatizes the lives of the families of soldiers at a time when the nation’s still engaged in a two-front war -- kicked off Sunday night and the premiere was filled with a whole lot of people grappling with a collective identity crisis. From the unaddressed grief following the death of a teenaged daughter and the impact of these tight economic times on already financially strapped families, to a sudden job loss, the main characters in the Lifetime TV drama about Army spouses living on a military base in Charleston, South Carolina are coping with abrupt shifts in their circumstances.


The season commenced with a crisis in the Holden family. As Brigadier General Michael Holden (Brian McNamara) was preparing to move his wife Claudia Joy (Kim Delaney) and 16-year-old daughter Emmalin (Katelyn Pippy) to Brussels so he could assume the role of NATO deputy commander, he seemed to be the only one who was jazzed about the move. Claudia Joy, who’d made close friends at the military post and had immersed herself in life at the Fort Marshall base, wasn’t at all thrilled at the prospect of uprooting her life again and leaving her close friends behind. Their 16-year-old daughter was likewise miserable and tried (unsuccessfully) to run away and marry a twentysomething soldier in an attempt to assert control over her life, especially in the wake of her older sister Amanda’s death at the end of season one. Emmalin spent the bulk of the season premiere holed up in her room, heartbroken that her boyfriend broke up with her and that her father wanted to drag her to Europe.


Claudia Joy, who decades ago left a budding legal career in order to marry Michael and follow him on his various job transfers, decided to stay behind in Charleston so that Emmalin could finish out the school year and sent Michael off to Brussels on his own. She was left trying to patch together the varied pieces of her life which was now as scattered and disorganized as her belongings. No longer the post commander’s wife who was once the hub of base life, at the beginning of season three Claudia Joy has been unhappily relegated to the margins and uncertain as to where she fits in anywhere, with her daughter not speaking to her and husband working on another continent.


This is the raison d'etre of the show: Exploring the uncertainties and unmoored lives of fictional spouses who support the members of the armed forces, at the same time that we viewers are seeing fresh reports on nightly news casts about real-life skirmishes in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the soldiers who put themselves in harm’s way get lauded as heroes, the families they leave behind live with insecurity and the unknown every day. Last season when she still had a show on the Fort Marshall radio station, Army spouse and former Boston cop Pamela Moran (Brigid Brannagh) succinctly offered a stressed out wife of a soldier her perspective about the life and career sacrifices made by spouses of soldiers: