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Why Helen From Waterworld Looks So Familiar

Waterworld tells the epic story of the Mariner (Kevin Costner), a gilled himbo, and his quest to find Dryland. In a world where all land has been submerged under what used to be the polar ice caps, humans float in loosely affiliated sea societies (sea-cieties). The Mariner winds up having to protect a child named Enola (Tina Marjorino) from the villainous Smokers, led by Deacon (Dennis Hopper). Joining them is Enola's guardian, Helen. As played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Helen has sworn to protect Enola at any cost. 

You may notice that everyone except Helen has a super cool name, befitting a post-apocalyptic setting. In fact, the hosts of Podcast: the Ride coined "The Helen Test" after Waterworld. Like the Bechdel Test, the Helen Test is a metric of creator investment in female characters: if all the men in an IP have cool names like Mariner and Deacon, and the lone woman is something boring like Helen, you've got a problem.

Thankfully, Tripplehorn's filmography goes way beyond a notorious nineties flop. Well before seeking Dryland, Tripplehorn made her mark in thrillers. After that, she found success on television, appearing in everything from procedural shows to popular sitcoms. Throughout her career, in fact, she has frequently shown herself to be a comic talent, even lending her voice to a certain cult hit animated series. Here's a deeper look at why Tripplehorn may look familiar.

Jeanne Tripplehorn got her big break in Basic Instinct

Jeanne Tripplehorn was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and got her start performing on local TV. One of her first gigs was on Creature Feature, a late night sci-fi movie show not unlike Mystery Science Theater 3000. Tripplehorn eventually went from local TV to the stage, working off Broadway until landing her big break in the famous 1992 thriller Basic Instinct. 

In the film, Tripplehorn played Dr. Beth Garner, a police psychologist who is having an affair with one of her clients. Dr. Garner gets roped into the sensual game of cat and mouse between Detective Nick Curran and bisexual crime writer Catherine Tramell. Spoiler: it doesn't go well for Beth! 

The film stars Michael Douglas as the cocaine-snorting, psychologist-fraternizing detective, and Sharon Stone as the sexy potential serial killer. Basic Instinct was a huge box office success, but was criticized for its negative portrayals of members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Jeanne Tripplehorn was wife #1 on Big Love

Despite Waterworld's big belly flop into the ocean, Tripplehorn kept working, and found prestige TV success on HBO. First, she was nominated for an Emmy for her turn as Jackie O in the HBO movie Grey Gardens. Then, Tripplehorn played Barbara "Barb" Henrickson on Big Love, one of the shows which ushered in the new Golden Age of Television. 

Big Love followed polygamist Mormon fundamentalist Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three wives: Barb (Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloë Sevigny), and Margie (Once Upon a Time's Ginnifer Goodwin). The show was a critical and ratings success for the network, with Sevigny winning a Golden Globe for her performance.

As the first Henrickson wife, Barb is something of a mother hen to her sister wives. She is also the only woman legally married to Bill. Barb also has the most ambivalence about polygamy, as she was married to Bill when they fully intended to reject the plural marriage tradition of Bill's family. When Barb almost died of uterine cancer, Bill brought Nicki into the family. Barb struggles with being rejected by her mother for entering a plural marriage, as well as a desire to become a Mormon priest.

Jeanne Tripplehorn did her time on Criminal Minds

For two seasons, Tripplehorn played Dr. Alex Blake on Criminal Minds. The CBS mainstay was notorious for its continual cast changes. The show's initial lead, Mandy Patinkin, left after two seasons and went on to disparage his time on the show as "very destructive to my soul and my personality." Thomas Gibson was fired after allegedly kicking a producer, according to Variety. And Tripplehorn joined the show in order to replace Paget Brewster, after Brewster and costar A.J. Cook were fired, with the network citing creative differences. Brewster alleged that the network just wanted "new women," and felt incredibly hurt by the impression that female cast members were seen as disposable.

Tripplehorn's character, Alex Blake, is a professor of forensic linguistics at Georgetown University. Blake had worked for the FBI in her twenties, but left for a teaching position after taking the fall for a bad collar. She initially bumps heads with the rest of the BAU, but eventually wins everyone over. Blake leaves at the end of season 9, returning to teaching because the work the BAU does affects her mental health.

Jeanne Tripplehorn: Comedy cameo queen

Throughout Tripplehorn's career, she has popped up in TV comedies. Despite working mostly in drama, Tripplehorn has natural comedic timing that shows have used well. In the early nineties, Tripplehorn made frequent cameos on The Ben Stiller Show, and also got the role of "Rock Throwing Girl" in the Jeepers Creepers musical sketch on Mr. Show: In an extended parody of Jesus Christ Superstar, Tripplehorn plays the Mary Magdalene surrogate, who throws a stone at slacker messiah Jeepers Creepers.

In 2012, she played the ex-wife of Durmot Mulroney's New Girl character, Russell. Jess (Zooey Deschanel) is dating Russell when the two run into Ouli, played by Tripplehorn. Jess notices the belligerent sexual tension between the two ex-spouses, and is jealous of the fire they share. When Russell declares that he never wants to be in such a tempestuous relationship again, the two break up.

Jeanne Tripplehorn also voiced a fictionalized version of herself in the season 6 episode of BoJack Horseman, "A Horse Walks into Rehab." The fictional character is depicted as being in rehab, pretending to be a completely different woman named Joan Tripplehorn. Through all these roles, Tripplehorn shows the comedic chops that served her well all the way back on Tulsa basic cable.