Female CIA agents don't feature prominently in much storytelling. Sure, James Bond has bedded a couple, but I'm talking about leading ladies. Jessica Chastain's Maya (Zero Dark Thirty) and Claire Danes's Carrie (Homeland) are the two most recent, and the two most talked-about. They're also very similar: both follow their convictions, even when everybody tells them they're wrong. They end up being right almost always. But when we stack them up side by side, in every way, Chastain/Maya comes out as the winner.
Let's start with professional competency. Maya keeps her job through the whole story arc in ZDT. Carrie does not. Maya manages to gather intelligence without sleeping around to get it. Carrie... well, 'nuff said. Maya keeps her cool when she witnesses torture, but Carrie freaks when Brody gets his hand stabbed. And Maya ends up catching Osama Bin Laden. Carrie catches his lieutenant, Abu Nazir. Professional accomplishments: Advantage, Maya. Also, Maya doesn't get her heart broken by a terrorist, or get kidnapped by one. Jeez, Carrie, get it together.
Let's talk about Danes vs. Chastain, from an acting standpoint. Yes, Claire got herself a nice Emmy for Season 1. Unfortunately, Season 2 saw her devolve into relying almost entirely on the Claire Danes Cry Face and the occasional seduction. Chastain plays it cool throughout, using her emotions sparingly and to great effect. And hearing her delivery on "I'm the motherfucker who found Bin Laden" was enough to make me a feminist. Thespian Skillz: Advantage, Chastain.
Does Carrie Danes win anything? Well, I give her credit for the challenge. I can only imagine the thoughts running through her mind when she first reads each new Homeland script. "I have to do what?" And she pulls it off convincingly.
Despite the fact that Danes pulls off an A-grade performance on an AP assignment, Chastain notches an A+. It doesn't matter that it was for a sophomore English paper. Still a higher GPA. Also, if Maya walks into any interview, I'm hiring her immediately. I'm hiding under my desk if Carrie's nearby.