Dr. Sofia Lamb: The Vixen, The Soldier, and The Mother
I have a hearty admiration for well-written female villains. Hearty, I say, because it is a severe, bountiful, and vigorous admiration, but also because they still seem to be few and far between. While female protagonists are progressively growing in rank, it’s sad to see the nurses from Silent Hill on more “Top Tens” than characters with actual dialogue. It’s not that we totally lack woman antagonists, but we do lack a variety that have believable backstories, relevant motives, and some good TLC from the good ol’ writers. There is a place for leotards and sultry walk cycles, but they still need to fit into some sort of justified environment and have at least a smidgen of narrative integrity.
Dr. Sofia Lamb, the altruistic clinical psychiatrist from Irrational Games’ Bioshock franchise, is my favorite example of a lady villain done right. She’s diplomatic, maternal, and successes the role of Rapture’s leader post the fall of Andrew Ryan — arguably per her own orchestration. She uses her femininity in a way that enhances her character without forcing masculinity or becoming overtly sexualized (besides the unnervingly good voice work done by Fenella Woolgar). I’ve broken Lamb down to three primary characteristics, the vixen, the soldier, and the mother, to best describe how this is portrayed and to keep my thoughts from turning into a novella.
At face value, Lamb is unsuspecting: bold cat eye shaped glasses, a powdered blue dress, cardigan, modest heels, and neat blonde hair tucked into an updo. The little portrait that pops up every time you play one of her audio diaries could easily be of my own great grandmother. However, that photo vignette makes up the primary bulk of her screen time. We seldom see her actual model, and are mainly companioned (I use the word “companion” in a hostile sense, of course) by the sound of her voice throughout most of the game. Lamb is the vixen because there is an understated beauty to her omniscient, constant presence. Like her followers, we are more acclimated to her dialogue, and in the absence of physical company, we quickly become hyperaware of her sly allure and sheer power to control based simply on speech and intimidation when she can’t otherwise use brute force.
Before the events of the first Bioshock game, Sofia Lamb was a missionary working as medical relief in Hiroshima during World War II. She survived the bombings, but lost friends and colleagues to the blasts. The role of the soldier was traditionally exclusive to men, especially since the series is set in the early twentieth century in relation to a very real war, but Lamb’s emotional strength led me to dub her with the title. Besides the argument of whether or not women can occupy a position at the same caliber of men in terms of physicality, something that Lamb’s character does not seek to challenge, she is the survivor of a war in which she was an implicit participant. Lamb not only has experience on the front lines, but also when Andrew Ryan invited her to join him in Rapture. Ryan actively challenged her morale by hosting public debates that were meant to scrutinize her philosophy when he felt threatened by her growing popularity.
Finally, Sofia Lamb as the mother persona: Lamb is maternal, quite literally because of her daughter Eleanor despite spoilerific details, but also as the figurative mother to “The Rapture Family” (the adopted name of her followers). This is a woman that melded a religion simply by communicating her ideologies to the people, despite the fact that she eventually uses it as a recruitment tool when she becomes more or less corrupt.
When she initially arrived in Rapture, Lamb was still distraught by the events in Hiroshima. In an attempt to enforce unity, she focused her attention to giving free psychiatry care to the poor, purposefully losing poker games to distribute some of her wealth to the poor, and opening her personal residence to the public as an artistic sanctuary, again, to the poor. Before she took on her role as the primary antagonist in Bioshock 2, Lamb had nursed an entire group of oppressed workers in Rapture and turned herself into a greater mother figure to counter their disillusion. She was able to manipulate the vast majority of the isolated city, and have them adhere to her bidding.