Thirteen is a BBC miniseries, now airing in the U.S., about a 26-year-old woman who was kidnapped when she was 13 and held captive for, yes, 13 years. It begins as a tale of triumph—The Lovely Bones, with a happy ending—but the joyousness of the rescued captive quickly takes a turn: Is Ivy Moxam telling the truth about the horrors she claims to have experienced? Is Ivy actually the girl who was kidnapped 13 years ago? How, exactly, did she escape captivity?
One reason Ivy’s case inspires doubt among both inspectors within the show and viewers watching it is that her situation—a girl is taken, then escapes—is unprecedented, at least in the lightly fictionalized version of the U.K. Thirteen presents. As an inspector informs his colleagues, explaining why there’s no set protocol for the handling of Moxam’s case: Usually all they find is bones.
But in another sense, Ivy isn’t fully unique. Her situation is akin to those experienced by several other recent characters in pop culture. Room, the captivity drama that won Brie Larson an Academy Award, tells the story of a young woman held hostage in a one-room shed. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt offers a more comedic spin on that same story. Game of Thrones offers a more epic one. Even The Shallows, the recent Blake Lively “survival thriller”—which is about a woman trapped by a Great White shark that’s preying on her—can be seen as part of the genre. Popular culture has long been interested in the plight of the captive woman, whether she be Sleeping Beauty or Christina Ricci or the victims of Hannibal Lecter; recently though, the focus has been less on passivity and more on empowerment. Which prompts the question: Is liberating women by first forcing them into victimhood actually a sign of progress?