Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Think of the Children! Tuesday: The Importance of Dora

As an adult who has seen more than her share of children's programming, I have a very complex relationship with Dora the Explorer. On the one hand, I think it's a brilliant show that deftly teaches basic reasoning skills, shapes, colors, and Spanish fluency, and on the other hand, it's so annoying it makes me want to jam pencils in my ears.

The reason I find it so irritating is almost entirely due to those reasons listed above, because as an adult with a working grasp of logic and spatial relations, I find it endlessly tedious to sit there waiting for a two year old to figure out where Map is on the screen. But I get why shows like this are useful and important. They're educational, and nice, and hey, isn't it pleasant when kids know at least a few words in languages other than their native tongue?

It's this understanding that helps me bite my tongue and not snark at the screen during Dora the Explorer, or the slightly less inane Diego the Explorer, or the painfully adorable Ni-hao, Kai-Lan that teaches children Mandarin Chinese, or the moral lesson minefield that is Little Bill. I appreciate all of these shows for their willingness to use entertainment to educate children, and their comfort with other languages, cultures, and moral lessons. That's all great and I support it.

But that's not the real reason I put up with these shows (all of which I find educational but super duper irritating, as only an adult forced to watch television for toddlers can). The real reason is a little more nebulous, but a whole lot more important. None of the main characters of these shows are white. And that's a feature, not a bug.

I complain a lot (a lot) about the lack of diversity in most mainstream media. The lack of diversity can lead to a decrease in the self-esteem of children of color watching it. When they don't see themselves on screen, they can come to feel like they are worth less, or like their stories aren't worth being told. Worst of all? They can come to feel like they aren't human or that the world does not see them as people. And it's not just me saying that:
This month, the academic journal Communication Research published a study by two Indiana University professors called “Racial and gender differences in the relationship between children’s television use and self esteem: a longitudinal panel study.”
This unique piece of research studied 396 black and white preteens in communities in the Midwest United States over a yearlong period. Researchers focused on how much the kids watched TV, and how that impacted their self esteem. What they found – although kind of common sense – is making headlines: Television exposure predicted a decrease in self-esteem for white and black girls and black boys, and an increase in self-esteem among white boys. [From Racebending.com]
So obviously there is a lot of value for children of color to look at the television and see these shows. Dora and Diego are identifiably Hispanic, while Kai-lan is Chinese, and Little Bill is African-American (and based on Bill Cosby). These are important characters for children of color to see and relate to, to understand that they are human, and that their stories should be told.

But I would argue that there's another benefit too, one that gets a bit less press because it's harder to quantify: watching these shows gives white children a valuable view of cultures and experiences different from their own. And that has merit not just because sharing and caring is a nice thing to do, but because exposure to the lives and cultures of people of other races can and does have long-lasting impact on the child's perception of those races.

In other words, a kid who loves Dora the Explorer is a lot less likely to grow up and hate Mexicans. A child who enjoys Ni-hao, Kai-lan is less likely to spend their adulthood raging about them Chinese coming to steal our jobs. And the adorable child who watches Little Bill and learns moral lesson after moral lesson is considerably less likely to believe that the African-American community is entirely filled with thugs and hookers and criminals. These shows have a normalizing effect on their audience, both in showing children of color that they are not alone, and in showing white children that people of color are human too.

That's very very important.

I don't really talk about politics on this blog, but if you follow my tumblr then you should know by now that I am very aware of what's happening in Ferguson, MO, and it breaks my heart. It's horrific to watch a group of people being targeted strictly because the law enforcement in that town does not see them as human. It's really sad, and I see no other explanation. And I'm not saying that all of this would be solved with a mandatory viewing of Little Bill or some episodes of Diego, but I do think that diversity of children's programming is a crucial first step in making sure that our future generations never ever think of their neighbors as less than human.

And the handy part is that diverse children's programming doesn't just make children more tolerant and willing accept others, it also has a noticeable effect on their parents. No parent wants to seem like a jerk in front of their kid, and if the kid slowly grows more tolerant, then the parent, not wanting to seem like a complete poophead, especially in public, is apt to follow suit. 

Obviously there are exceptions, because people can and are terrible sometimes, but most often, this sort of gentle pressure works. And constant, mind-numbing exposure to other cultures via children's television? It's hard to get through that and not feel some connection with the other parents and nannies sitting through it around the world.

So obviously these shows are an incredibly valuable resource. I would actually go so far as to say that they are one of our most valuable resources. I don't want to dig up the statistics, because they make me sad, but in reality only a minuscule proportion of children's media features children of color. These shows are great, but they're also, sadly in the vast minority.

Far more shows actually feature animal protagonists than protagonists of color, a fact that makes horrible sense of a lot of our current culture. We are, after all, the culture that regularly inquires about the health and happiness of the animals who died to go into our food, and rather blithely ignore the millions of people dying because they lack access to fresh drinking water, or the police brutality that regularly occurs across town. We are more used to humanizing animals than people of color, and that bothers me deeply.

Furthermore, all these animal protagonist shows only serve to reinforce the notion that white culture is "universal". While the protagonists in these shows are usually rabbits or dogs or aardvarks or whatever, culturally they can be considered white. They are usually voiced by white voice-actors. Their families celebrate Judeo-Christian holidays, and they live in nice suburbs with, well, culturally white signifiers of status. You cannot tell me the Berenstain Bears are not white. Nor can you convince me that Arthur is not the whitest white child to ever white. 

What this does is create a false illusion of diversity. Because with the relative dearth of human protagonists, shows that feature a character of color in the lead role seem almost like they represent a large proportion of the programming on channels like Nick Jr. or PBS or Disney Junior. But they don't. Arthur the Aardvark might not have a visible race, but you bet your butt that Arthur is reinforcing white social normals and cultural values. It's a strange, strange world when the talking aardvark (an animal I doubt most toddlers could identify even with help) is a more comforting protagonist, and more culturally familiar to the white audience, than the human being who happens to need less sunblock to go outside.

Okay. I've ranted a lot. What's the upshot?

The real key here is twofold. First, I really do want to praise the shows I've mentioned above for stepping out and giving us really quality programming with a diversity of culture and race. I love that the kids I nanny get to learn some Spanish, a smattering of Mandarin, and even the occasional Urdu, thanks to Burka Avenger, while they veg out. I love that they get exposed to other cultures, and I love that they're given the chance to see that they are not alone in the world.

But also I want to issue a warning and a challenge to all the white people out there. It's easy to ignore how privileged we are culturally. Fish don't notice the water they're swimming in, and we don't really tend to see the ways in which our popular culture is geared towards making us feel comfortable. With shows like Max and Ruby and Arthur and Berenstain Bears making white culture accessible even when represented by animals, we need to be really careful to make sure that we don't forget that our culture is not universal. It is not better, it is not more common, and it is not what everyone experiences.

Get out of your comfort zone. Experience the world through someone else's lens. Be uncomfortable. Notice your whiteness, and confront it. Recognize how many stories around you are about people like you, and actively seek out the ones that are not. If you have children, intentionally expose them to stories about people who live utterly different lives, and make sure above all else that they know their fellow children, no matter their race, are human

It's the only solution.

Look at all those fellow human beings. I like them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

RECAP: Outlander 1x02 - Jamie's Tragic Shirt Allergy


After the tumult of time travel, WWII, and near-rape last episode, this episode was comparatively mild. We picked up right where last week left off, with Claire and her coterie of mud-caked Scots riding in to Castle Leoch, and Claire realizing that she has no idea where the crap she is or how to get back to the standing stones. 

Claire, still in her dirty white dress, that reads to these 18th Century Scottish eyes as "underwear", slides off of Jamie's horse, and insists that Jamie get some medical attention inside before anyone bothers trying to "dress her properly". Mrs. Fitz (Annette Badland), the kind-faced keeper of the kitchens agrees to this order of events, and Claire is quickly escorted inside the castle.

She has trouble with the walk, as she keeps flashing back to last episode when she explored the ruins of this exact spot with Frank (and had some nooky on a table). But Claire shoves all of that down long enough to find a quiet spot where she can really dress Jamie's shoulder.

Of course, this is the first time we or Claire have seen Jamie's torso well-lit, and a couple of things become immediately apparent. First, that Jamie is incredibly muscular and dreamy and guh. Second, that Jamie's back is a veritable roadmap of scars. There's almost no visible skin on his back that isn't raised scar tissue. Even Claire, a decorated nurse from the bloodiest war in history (her history), recoils in horror. 

Jamie laughs it off quickly, and comments that he got those scars because he was flogged. Twice. In the same week. Claire can't even comprehend this, but asks what he did to get that punishment, and Jamie reveals that the first time he was flogged was for trying to escape. The second time was for theft, a secondary charge tacked on because they didn't like him. An understatement if ever there was one. 

A cute exchange happens when Claire asks why Jamie was trying to escape and he responds easily with, "Because I was being held prisoner!" And Claire is all, "Oh my gosh you goober, you're lucky you're pretty." I like him. He can stay.

Anyway, apparently Claire has reached the status of "level four friend" because she unlocks Jamie's tragic backstory. Heh. Back-story. I crack me up.

Jamie reveals that he was originally arrested for the innocuous crime of "obstruction". When the English came through the countryside four years ago, they raided local farms, collecting food and livestock for their own purposes. With his father away, Jamie was the man of the house, and he wasn't thrilled about the Redcoats stealing his family's food. Worse, they were trying to rape his sister, Jenny (Laura Donnelly). Worst, Captain Jack Randall was there (Claire's attempted rapist, and Frank's ancestor). Randall decided he liked Jenny's spirit, but he liked Jamie's more, and ordered Jamie flogged while Jenny watched. He also tore Jenny's dress open.

When Jamie resisted the flogging (a lighter one, but still does well to explain that plethora of scars) and didn't scream in pain like Randall obviously wanted him to, Randall decided that what the hell, he might as well rape Jenny. So he dragged her inside, and Jamie was knocked unconscious. He woke up miles away and hours later, strapped to a horse and being taken to Fort William to be imprisoned. 

Claire is suitably horrified by this tale of woe, and Jamie awkwardly tries to make the mood light again by thanking her for patching him up, and then asking Claire where her husband is. This does not make the mood lighter, as suddenly she imagines what must be happening to Frank. That's discovered she's missing, without a trace, and has to try to find an explanation. Was she kidnapped? Murdered? Or did she just decide to leave him without any explanation? Claire breaks down crying, and Jamie is stuck trying to console this weeping woman in her underwear.

He draws the obvious conclusion, that her husband is "not alive" and, well, it's true, isn't it? He husband is not alive. It's just that Jamie means he's dead, and Claire means he hasn't been born yet. Details. Jamie holds Claire close while she cries (and while most of the female audience swoons a little, because dayum he hot and so sensitive), and then tells her that while he's here she doesn't need to be afraid. But he ends with a warning. Never forget that she's English in a place where "that's not a pretty thing to be." Claire nods her agreement.

And then finally, finally, someone shows Claire to a room where she can get some incredibly necessary sleep. Unfortunately for her, she's in an agrarian society, and morning comes early. Mrs. Fitz bustles in to chastise Claire for sleeping the day away. I mean, it's almost 5 o'clock! In the morning! What's Claire doing still in bed?!

She drags the realistically bedraggled Claire out of bed, tutting at her all the while, lets her get two bites of breakfast in her mouth, then insists that the time has come to get her into some real clothes. Time to assimilate, it seems. But this turns out to be one of the funnier scenes of the show, since Claire has no idea how 18th Century Scottish clothes work, and Mrs. Fitz has no idea what to make of Claire's decidedly foreign underwear.

Staring agape at Claire's demure (and rather pretty) silk underthings, Mrs. Fitz asks what kind of corset that is, and Claire defensively tells her, "It's a brassier." At Mrs. Fitz's look of utter incomprehension, she adds, "It's from France." So, it's from France is clearly going to become Claire's explanation for everything she can't reasonably explain. Good to know.

Anyway, Mrs. Fitz takes great relish in thrusting the still-unwashed Claire (and her frizzy snarl of hair) into a chemise, and a corset, and then a weird hip padding thing, and then an overdress, and then some stockings, and then another overskirt, and then some arm-warmers, and then shoes, and then I am exhausted just watching this. Suddenly I find myself eternally grateful for the ease and pleasant comfort of a world where I can throw on some underwear, a dress, and a pair of leggings and call myself not just dressed, but dressed modestly. Also, I like showers, and I have a feeling that Claire would like them too right about now.

The point of all of this clothing becomes clear momentarily, though, as Mrs. Fitz declares Claire acceptable and sends her off to meet "The MacKenzie". As in, the Laird of Clan MacKenzie, and the ruler of this particular castle. It's not like the Laird wouldn't be interested in the strange Englishwoman his men picked up on their land. So Claire goes off to meet him. Colum MacKenzie, the ruler of Castle Leoch.

She takes the opportunity to snoop a little and figure out when precisely she is, and judging by a letter on Colum's table, the news isn't good. Claire is stuck in 1743 Scotland, just a few years before the Rising crushed Scotland's hopes of independence for two centuries. Not a good time to be English in Scotland. Also, Colum catches her snooping, and it does little to make him like her more. 

Interestingly, Colum is not what Claire imagined as the Laird. He's physically disabled with some kind of wasting bone disease, but his brain remains incredibly sharp. He proceeds on what is absolutely and unequivocally an interrogation. Why was Claire in the woods? Why was she almost naked? What's her deal, anyway?

Claire draws on Frank's stories of his work with MI-6 and interrogation tactics in order to survive. She makes up a story about being a sweet widow on her way to meet relatives in France when she was attacked first by highwaymen, and then by Captain Jack Randall. Colum is dubious, but he reserves the wealth of his skepticism for her report that Randall tried to rape her. He insists that Randall is an officer and a gentleman and wouldn't do that. Which is funny, because that was the only part of the story even a little bit true.

Then Colum really steps in it by telling Claire that he finds it hard to believe that Captain Jack Randall, a man bearing the King's Commission, happened upon a lady traveller and decided to rape her for "no good reason". Claire's death-glare grows in intensity, and she just stares at Colum while asking calmly, "Is there ever a good reason for rape?"

Shots fired. Burn. Snap. Oh yes. Go Claire go!

Colum looks a bit like he wants to wet himself after that and immediately apologizes. He then admits that he doesn't really believe her, but in a week, the tinker will be there, and she can catch a ride back to Inverness (and therefore the stones) with him. Claire thanks him and leaves.

She winds up on the castle rampart, looking down on the life of the people below. It seems different but familiar, and even a little heart-warming when she sees Dougal MacKenzie playing with a boy she figures must be his son. Cute. 

Later that day, at lunch or dinner or something (dinner, probably), Claire enters the great hall with adorable new kid on the first day of school awkwardness. But she needn't have worried. Colum invites her up to the high table and gives her Dougal's seat. He's very nice, constantly refilling her glass and asking her lots of questions. On second thought, maybe she should worry. Since Colum is clearly continuing the interrogation and getting her drunk to do it. 

Claire doesn't reveal anything too bad, until she spots the little boy from earlier and tells him how nice it was to see him playing with his "father." The table goes silent. Claire knows she stepped in it, but she doesn't know why. Apparently said kid, whose name is Hamish, is actually Colum's son, not Dougal's, and everyone is really really uptight about it. Weird. Because it's not like it would be hard to say, "No, that was his uncle, but thanks." Claire is overwhelmed with awkwards and leaves the hall immediately, determined to do better next time if she wants to stay alive for the next week.

The morning finds her once again prying herself out of bed far too late for Mrs. Fitz's taste, and then asking for a little bit of food and some bandages to take down to Jamie, who's been relegated to the stable. He's trying to break a horse to ride when she gets there, and while Claire does accidentally screw up what he was doing, Jamie's thrilled to see her and accepts lunch gratefully.

During lunch, wherein Jamie eats everything quickly and Claire watches in astonishment because damn can he pack it in, Jamie reveals a little more of his sordid history. First that he's using an assumed name, and second, that he's wanted by the English not just for escaping, but also for the murder of an English soldier who died during his escape. Jamie insists he didn't do it. Also, he admits that he's eaten grass because he was so hungry before, and Claire doesn't even know what to make of that.

Fortunately, she doesn't have to goggle for long, because Jamie's got to go back to work. She tells him, "Try not to get flogged or stabbed today," and he replies happily, "Now no promises, Sassenach!" Because Jamie is incredibly cavalier about his physical well-being. He's the hero in a romantic story. Of course he's going to get beat up a lot.

As Claire's leaving, she notices (finally) that she's being followed by Rupert, one of Dougal's men. He's there to make sure she doesn't run off, she finds, and also because they think she's a spy. She immediately confronts Dougal (who doesn't deny it or care) and tells him she is very angry. Not your best move, Claire-bear.

For the next few days, Claire tries to keep her head down. She goes out foraging food for Mrs. Fitz in the kitchens, and while out there she meets a nice (?) lady, Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek). Geillis is the kind of woman who starts off a conversation with, "I know who you are," and "Those flowers are good for getting rid of an unwanted pregnancy." Also she jokes about poisoning her husband. Geillis is a little unsettling. But then, she is the first friend Claire has made aside from Mrs. Fitz and Jamie, so Claire's not gonna be super picky.

Claire should probably consider being a little more picky. Geillis is unsettling, creepy, speaks in a sing-song, and calls herself a witch. Uh, Claire? Maybe don't befriend the nice lady. Maybe walk away slowly.

That night Claire attends "The Hall", where Colum sits and passes judgment on disputes between his subjects (people sworn to Clan MacKenzie). Claire has finally figured out what Colum's degenerative disorder is - it's Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome, or Pycnodysostosis - a wasting disease that shortens the lifespan and causes the bones to collapse under their own weight. Colum is not a young man, and Claire realizes that he must be "living on borrowed time".

Geillis and Claire stand in the back so that Geillis can thoughtfully translate the Gaelic for Claire. But the business is mostly trivial and dull until it gets to a father dragging his very pretty daughter forward. He accuses her of "loose behavior" and asks that the MacKenzie punish her. Colum agrees, but before they can get to it, Jamie steps forward. Claire is confused. Jamie volunteers to take the punishment himself, for reasons unknown, and Colum seems totally okay with this.

But something is off. The punishment, which consists of a beating (Jamie chose for fists instead of the strap) goes on a bit longer than it should. It should have ended when Jamie's nose was broken, but it doesn't. Dougal keeps nodding at the enforcer and telling him to keep going. Jamie ends up getting punched in the bullet-wound and then knocked unconscious.

Claire rushes out the back to care for her continual patient. She tries to suss out why he volunteered, but he just insists that he really is that gallant. And then she tells him that he's to stop doing stuff like this, because she's leaving tomorrow and this is goodbye. Jamie seems quite sad to hear it, and bids her farewell, before bracing himself to meet Laoghaire (Nell Hudson), the pretty young girl he saved. She wants to "thank him." Heh.

The next morning Claire is totally ready and prepared and about to hop on the tinker's cart, complete with a hug and bundle of food from Mrs. Fitz, when Dougal comes to fetch her. He takes her to Colum, and brooks no arguments. Colum escorts Claire into the bowels of the castle, to the secluded bit where she had sex with Frank (of course), and tells her that this is the castle's surgery, once belonging to Davie Beaton, who sadly has died and left the castle without a physician.

Claire's all, "Well that's nice, now may I go?" But no. She may not go. Dougal and Colum are still very suspicious of her, and they've decided against letting her leave. She'll stay at the castle and be their physician until such time as they're certain she's not a spy. She's not a prisoner, she's a guest. Unless she tries to leave. As Claire fumes and begins to cry with frustration, Colum and Dougal leave, locking the door behind them.

End of episode.

So, less action packed, but no less full of drama, eh? I appreciated getting more background on Jamie, and I quite like the choice to actually show us what happened, instead of making us sit there while Jamie narrated it. I also find it interesting, however, that they are picking and choosing which memories to show us instead of telling. We didn't see Jamie get flogged at Fort William, but we did see his encounter with Randall. Hmmm. I think they might be saving some of this stuff for later, when we get a much fuller story on it, but still. Interesting.

I also appreciate some of the changes made to the story. They moved up Claire's meeting with Geillis, which is good, and they added in that whole story with the tinker. I like it. It gives the narrative more weight, and Claire's desperation is more visceral when we see her chance of going home literally driving off without her.

But most of all I loved the blatant feminism of this episode. Claire's one line about there never being a good reason for rape is just so so so good. Amazing. Wonderful. This show makes me feel so much better about life than Game of Thrones ever did. And I'd apologize for the constant comparisons, but it really is like night and day.

Also? I liked how much of today's story required us to stare at a shirtless Jamie for a while. A+ storytelling, gentlemen. You may continue. It doesn't hurt that Sam Heughan is actually a really compelling actor either. And Caitriona Balfe knocked it out of the freaking park. Her tiny little facial changes when she's thinking? Amazing.

Ugh. I can't wait for next week. So good.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Queen Catherine (Reign)

Let's talk about mother-in-laws in genre fiction. Not a beloved demographic, is it? It's the true hallmark of any romantic story, a mother-in-law who doesn't just disapprove of her potential daughter-in-law, she hates her with the fire of a thousand suns and is constantly plotting her doom. I mean, what better way to emphasize the way in which our hero and heroine's love is overcoming all obstacles than to pit their own parents against them? If his mother hates her, then we can see just how real and true and powerful their love is. Awwww.

Needless to say, I'm not a huge fan of this trope. I find the idea of using inter-generational female conflict as a narrative device to make the men look better and more heroic kind of deeply irritating. Sure, I love Sons of Anarchy a lot, but the tension between Gemma and Tara, or between Gemma and Wendy, really irritates me. They are two strong, awesome women. I want them to get along, and I love best the seasons when they do.

So looking at this, the frustration of this trope, you would think that I really hate Reign's Queen Catherine (Megan Follows). She is, after all, the quintessential poisonous mother-in-law. She is so sure that Queen Mary (Adelaide Kane) will bring disaster on France if she marries Catherine's son Francis (Toby Regbo), that she is willing to attempt assassinations, use magic and fortunetelling, and even hire men to rape Mary. She is not a nice person.

I think she's a brilliant character, though. In fact, I think that the show, without Catherine, would be virtually unwatchable. Mary is all well and good, but the show works because of the way that Mary and Catherine are cast as opposites. Instead of the real conflict between them centering around Francis, their true disconnect is actually about their similarities, and Mary's reluctance to recognize how similar they really are.

But first a little background. Reign is a highly fictionalized, highly soap-operatic, highly entertaining show about Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary, who was in line for the English throne (somewhere) after the passing of Henry VIII as well as possessing the Scottish throne, is portrayed as a late-teen, early twenties woman, passionate, romantic, and idealistic, who must grow into being a queen in her own right. She's the center of the show, and all of the show's action or drama stems from her and her choices as she tries to govern her country in exile, as well as prepare for a political marriage to the Prince of France, Francis.

The show does a lot with politics (Scotland and France are both Catholic countries, making them natural allies against the hated English, who are always on the verge of turning protestant under Elizabeth I), but the real strength comes from the characters and their interpersonal relationships. Mary, who has been living in a convent in hiding since she was a little girl, has finally come out and is preparing to marry Francis. But Catherine, Francis' mother, has been told of a prophecy that states that if Mary weds Francis, Francis will die and the nation will fall into ruin.

So, obviously, Catherine really does not want Mary to wed her son. For pretty legitimate reasons.

The problem, of course, comes from the fact that Mary and Francis are in love, and that the alliance of their countries could be very beneficial for both of them. Catherine has to figure out how to tear them apart, while still maintaining diplomatic relations, as well as keeping herself out of trouble.

And, complicating matters further, is the simple fact that Catherine doesn't actually hate Mary. She respects her, even. Catherine sees Mary as a version of her past-self, the woman she was before the rough duty of queenship made her cold and hard. Catherine views Mary as her protege, and that scares the crap out of Mary. Because Catherine? Is not a nice woman.

That's a huge part of what makes the show so interesting. Catherine, a cultured, refined, beautiful woman, is hands down the most ruthless character on the show. She makes no apologies for her ambition, nor does she pretend to be a nicer person than she is. Her relationship with her husband, King Henry (Alan Van Sprang) is strained, but functional, because Henry and Catherine both know that Catherine is indispensable for the running of the country.

Catherine is ruthless and terrifying and a great villain, but the show refuses to pigeon-hole her in that role. She's also a devoted mother. She's a patron of the arts, one of the greatest in French history. She's honest in a world where honesty can get you killed, because she is virtually fearless. I mean, the woman goes so far as to plan the decor for her own beheading, for crying out loud. 

More shocking than all of this, though, is the fact that the show allows Catherine to be romantic sometimes too. She's all of these things, and still a woman who likes to be wooed and flattered and loved. Sure, her relationship with her husband is crap, but she isn't dead inside. The show lets Catherine be the kind of complex woman who can still have a private softness in her heart, even when she's ordering the death of hundreds of men in the hopes of preserving the nation.

A lot of props obviously have to go to Megan Follows for portraying Catherine with such sensitivity. She's an amazing actress. Seriously. She steals pretty much every scene she's in, and the ones where Catherine and Mary go head to head in queen-mode are the pinnacle of the show. But I also want to give credit to the show's creators, Laurie McCarthy and Stephanie Sengupta, for making Catherine such a wonderful, multi-dimensional character. 

It would be so easy for Reign to fall off into its soap-operatic tendencies, or to become just about the love lives of its young attractive characters. Who has time for the fate of nations when we're all trying to figure out if Mary will choose Francis or Bash (Torrance Coombs)? Catherine keeps us grounded. She reminds us every time she comes on screen that the stakes here are much higher than the characters want to admit. That their love lives, important as they are, are not the main focus here. This is about the lives of hundreds of thousands of people whose futures hang in the balance. This is about politics, and nations, and armies, and thrones.

I just, I find it so interesting and so compelling that Catherine likes Mary. It would be terribly easy to make her a bitter angry shrew of a woman, whose lust for power and control over her son renders her a simple antagonist who highlights the purity of Mary and Francis' love. But that's not the case. Catherine respects the hell out of Mary. When Mary outmaneuvers her, you can tell she's pissed off, but impressed. Catherine likes Mary, but she still tries to kill her, because Catherine is beholden to a higher cause than her personal feelings about people. She is beholden to her country.

Catherine reminds me a lot of Varys from Game of Thrones, actually. She's willing to do terrible horrible things, but she does them because she believes that as a ruler she has a duty to do what's right for her country. Yes, she is ambitious, and yes, she does still sometimes connive for personal reasons, but it strikes me as kind of awesome that Catherine's driving purpose most of the time is her duty to her subjects.

It's also worth noting, as I did at the top, that Catherine and Mary are very much written as parallels of each other. Catherine exists both as an obstacle to Mary's path and also as a vision of who Mary will become in the future if she is not careful. We are left to decide for ourselves whether it would be a good or bad future. But the fact remains clear. Catherine was once a young girl just like Mary. And Mary is growing up to be a woman like Catherine.

She's smart. She's sarcastic. She's sexy. She's driven. She's ambitious, ruthless, honest, conniving, deceitful, vicious, and loving. She's a hell of a woman, and she really doesn't care whether you like her or not. That's just...I wish we had more character like her. More middle-aged female characters who are their own people, who are utterly essential to the narrative, and who are willing to do what needs to be done, without having to sacrifice their femininity to do it. I'd very much like to sit Catherine down with Mrs. S from Orphan Black one day, and have the two of them talk, woman to woman.

Catherine is something else. I love that she's a character on the show I enjoy so much, but when it comes down to it, I don't know if I actually like her. And I think that also is pretty cool. She doesn't have to be likable to be essential. 

More than that, though, Catherine gives another idea of what women can grow up to be. I'm not saying I want to be Catherine d'Medici when I grow up, because she is terrifying and that seems like an unpleasant life, but I really appreciate the idea that she's an option. We are not limited to lives of being defined as mothers or teachers or carers or shrewish mother-in-laws who hate other women. We can be anything we want, even a ruthless, regal terror who has sacrificed her own happiness for duty. Don't we want more complicated female characters like that?

Ah good times. Plotting the deaths of everyone who annoys her.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Fairy Tales We Wish Were True (A Princess for Christmas)

I normally don't like Hallmark movies, just the same way that I normally don't like romance novels or fairy tales. In general, I find them to be saccharine and cloying and altogether unrealistic. Which is not to say that my preferred genres of science fiction and fantasy are more realistic, just that they tend have a greater emotional depth to them than your average bodice-ripper or made-for-TV romance. 

However.

After watching Outlander this weekend and being utterly and completely blown away by it, I happened to check the cast list for the film, and discovered something odd. Namely, that Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie in Outlander, was also in another little movie I'd almost forgotten I'd seen: A Princess for Christmas.

You could say I was surprised. Baffled would be more accurate, though, and I immediately rifled through my collection and threw it on so that I could see for myself. It's true. Jamie is played by the same man who appeared in this Hallmark original movie about princesses and feelings and Christmas. He plays a prince who is so stiff he has to be taught how to dance to rap, in a scene that is both cringe-inducing and the most charming thing on the planet.

But that's not what really stuck with me. Sure, I originally put the movie on so that I could stare at Sam Heughan for a while, but then I found myself actually watching it. Why? Because even though A Princess for Christmas is a piece of complete and utter schlock, the sort of drivel that is supposed to make people feel "Christmasy" and fuzzy and willing to spend lots of money on presents in a wasted attempt to forge emotional intimacy through consumerism, I really like it.

Like, a lot. Way more than I remembered liking it. No, the plot isn't complex, there are no big surprises, or even little surprises for that matter, and the character have about the emotional complexity of a spoon (collectively). All of that is true. No, the movie doesn't feel real, it doesn't seem like the sort of thing that could ever happen, and no, it doesn't work very hard to make you feel like it has. That's okay. The glory of this movie isn't that it seems like it really happened, but in how badly you wish it would.

Allow me to explain.

The movie opens on Jules Daly (Katie McGrath, of Merlin fame) tinkering with a clock. The voiceover tells us that she's a dreamer and always has been, but that life has conspired not to fulfill her dreams, and so Jules is still living in Buffalo, New York, taking care of her niece and nephew, whose parents passed away in the last year. And then, in this same scene where we get all that information, we find out that Jules is losing her job because of budget cuts, and the two kids are in big trouble.

Said trouble comes in the form of rather predictable, but still affecting, emotional outbursts as a result of grief. In other words, these kids are a little screwed up, because their parents just died, and they're acting out. Milo (Travis Turner) has just shoplifted a DVD, and frequently gets in fights, while Maddie (Leilah de Meza) has a snack food addiction and frequently manages to cause chaos. In other words, both of them are pretty normal kids who are going through a rough time. Unfortunately, Jules has neither the money nor the time to give them the attention they need, and on top of all of this, the nanny has just quit. Oh, and Jules' car died.

Into this storm of grief and frustration waltzes the improbably named Paisley Winterbottom (Miles Richardson), butler to the Duke of Castlebury. Paisley is there to invite Jules and the children to Castlebury for Christmas, because the children's grandfather, the Duke, has decided he wants to get to know them now that his son is dead.

Jules reacts rather appropriately to this, and tells Paisley to shove it. The Duke didn't approve of Jules' commoner sister marrying his son, and he disowned him on the spot. He's never met the children. She doesn't want this guy thinking he can buy his way back into their lives.

On the other hand, they do really need the money. And it would be nice to go away for Christmas.

Cut to Jules and the children driving through Castlebury (or wherever this is supposed to take place - Genovia?). Not only does the Duke live in a nice house, he lives in a virtual castle, with a staff, waxed floors, a formal ballroom, and thousands of antiques that make Jules both salivate and sweat with terror (of the children breaking something).

At the hall, their reception is a bit dimmer than expected. It seems that the Duke (Roger Moore, in fine curmudgeonly form) has changed his mind about wanting to meet the children, and is being a jerk to them all. Meanwhile Milo is already trying to abuse his power of having a manservant, and Maddie filled her suitcase halfway with bags of chips. And Jules? She is the awkwardest awkward to ever awkward. Still, even if the Duke is a crankypants, the staff like them. They "liven up the place".

And, as it turns out, the Duke's son likes them too. Ashton (Sam Heughan), the Duke's second and least favorite son, has just returned home and is positively charmed to meet Jules and the children. He tentatively joins with Jules in her fight to get the children a real Christmas tree, and then to decorate it, and even goes so far as to give Milo some grief counseling via archery lesson. Ashton is a swell guy, and very cute. He thinks the world of Jules. If only he weren't dating the positively horrible Arabella (Charlotte Salt), who is obviously only after him for his money and title.

Like I said, it's not the most original plot in the world. Jules wins over everyone with her earthiness and charm and adorable clumsiness, and Ashton realizes that Arabella is terrible, but before this can happen, Jules has to mishear Ashton and the Duke talking about an "embarrassment" and think it's her and try to selflessly run away... Yeah. It's pretty cliched. But here's the thing. I don't mind.

Everyone in this movie is thinly characterized, to the point where one character, Mrs. Birch (Oxana Morevec), actually has an emotional breakdown and spills her entire backstory in answer to the question, "Don't you remember what it was like to be a little girl?" That's the level of character development we're talking about here. Everyone is sweet and lovely and honest and good or else mean and greedy. But no one is really very complicated.

I think the reason why I like it here, where I hate this sort of writing almost everywhere else, is because, in a very real sense, A Princess for Christmas is a fairy tale. A real fairy tale. It doesn't feel real, because it's not supposed to. Of course you want Jules to marry Ashton and become a princess, because she's so good and hard-working and sweet and giving. You want her to get a happy ending because you see how hard she's worked.

And in a very real sense, I think it's this that makes the movie a palatable alternative to the usual romance novel humdrum. Jules isn't appealing because she's beautiful. I mean, she is beautiful. She's played by Katie McGrath, and it's a little hard to buy that this woman has trouble finding a date. But her beauty isn't why Ashton (and everyone else) falls in love with her. People fall in love with Jules because she's good.

That seems overly simplistic, and it is. Jules is good the way that Steve Rogers is good. In a completely unrealistic, uncompromising, generous, ridiculous way. She practically farts puppies and rainbows. And even when she cries, she's always thinking about someone else. 

When she thinks that Ashton is embarrassed of her, her first instinct is not to think that he's horrible, or that she's terrible. Instead, she realizes that she is out of her element, and maybe she better leave. But rather than this seeming like self-pity or a doormat woman, she comes off as, well, self-sacrificing. She figures that she's only there because the kids are, and that if that's the case, she should bugger off and let the family get on for a while without her.

Or how about this? When Jules loses her job, has a broken car, is faced with two completely unruly children, does she think for even a second about packing it in and going back to whatever her life was before she became a single mother? Nope. Not once.

Jules is a good person, and she's such a good person that she transforms the world around her. She makes other people good too. She insists that Christmas is magical, and so it is.


No, I don't think this is a particularly realistic representation of the world. But don't you wish it was?

I know people like Jules Daly, people who are so selfless and good and hard-working, people who strive to help others, even when they don't feel like it, and who give endlessly out of the abundance in their hearts. I wish that all of them could get the kind of beautiful happy ending that Jules gets. It's so human. We want the people we see who are genuinely good to be rewarded, don't we? And it's so rare to actually get that.

So while I would never call this movie well-written, or deep, or complex, or even surprising, I will say this: it's the story I wish were true. And I'm willing to watch it so that, for an hour and a half, I can believe it is.

Me too, girlfriend.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Crossover Appeal - Episode 89 (Guardians of the Galaxy)

On Sunday, Elizabeth, Patrick, and I talked over our reactions to Guardians of the Galaxy, and then sprawled into a larger conversation about Marvel Cinematic Universe, where we think they're going with the next slate of films, what we think is up with the infinity gems, and how the next Captain America movie had better be titled Captain America 3: We're Up All Night to Get Bucky.

Enjoy.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Get Involved! Crowdfunding for the Vampire Academy Sequel


Way back in February (so long ago, I barely remember those halcyon days), I mentioned that I'd gone to see a little movie called Vampire Academy. I wrote this whole review thing about how I really enjoyed it and it was very good and I still don't get why critics were hating on it so much.

I figured that since the movie kind of sort of flopped so hard you got sympathy pains, there was no way in hell we would get a sequel. But I was wrong!

Since the fan support for Vampire Academy has been really impressive, and the numbers eventually came out as being not-terrible (though not great either), it seems that the writer and director of the film have decided to go ahead and make a sequel. All the actors have signed back on, the script is done, and almost all of the funding is secure.

The only last part is that the producers have decided to crowdfund a small percentage of the budget, as a way of showing distributors how passionate the fans are, and how much these fans really want this movie to do well. Their goal is to raise $1.5 million, and so far they don't have that. But there's time!

I'm especially invested in this project succeeding because as far as I can tell, the first movie was scuppered simply by virtue of being a movie about teenage girls for teenage girls, a movie that most male critics (and studio executives, for that matter) could not relate to and didn't feel any particular desire to try. That's a damn shame. 

Personally, I do plan on contributing, since this is the kind of project I really support. I mean, it's fun, it's genre, it's blatantly girl power, and did I mention that it's fun? I like to put my money where my mouth is and support female-lead projects, especially ones with female writers, directors, and/or producers, and this project? It fits the bill very nicely.


RECAP: Outlander 1x01 - Come Here You Sweet Beautiful Thing You


Outlander is the story I didn't know I wanted, and now that I have it, I'm a little confused as to how I went so long without it.

Or, to put it differently, this show (and book) is pretty much exactly what I wanted Game of Thrones to be. I think of it less as the anti-Thrones (that honor still goes to Orphan Black, which, yes, I am still planning to finish recapping), but more as an alternate universe form of the same story. They're both fantastical stories full of fighting and betrayal and intrigue, set in Europe or Europe-ish locations, and they both boast of a hearty fanbase that are willing to claw through thousand page novels with dense plots and complex family trees and eagerly demand more.

But that's pretty much where the similarities end. While Game of Thrones takes place in an alternate not-quite-Europe, Outlander is rooted very firmly in historical fact. The story takes place in historical Scotland, with meticulous research and attention to detail. And even though there are definitely fantastical elements to the story, like time travel, there aren't any dragons or ice zombies or anything.

The biggest difference, though, can be found in the perspective of the story. Game of Thrones comes at you from the perspective of literally dozens of characters, shifting location and point of view like some people change socks. And even though a lot of the characters are female, it never feels like a story about women (at least the show doesn't), so much as a show in which women happen to appear sometimes.

Outlander is not like that. It has one perspective, that of a woman, and is inherently sensitive to her mentality and point of view. Heck, it even has voice over narration to get us even further inside her head!

Obviously all of this is to say that I really like Outlander, both the book by Diana Gabaldon, and the one episode of the show that currently exists, airing on Starz. The show is produced and written by Ronald D. Moore, who did Battlestar Galactica, and has Gabaldon's blessing, so I feel like we're off to a good start. And since I plan on recapping the episodes, you'll know if I change my mind.

Okay, now on to the recap.

We open on a view of the Scottish Highlands, and some deeply ominous voiceover from Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe). She sets the stage for our story: this is about a disappearance. Her disappearance the day she looked at a vase in a shop window. 

She's a former army nurse who worked on the front line in WWII, and here we are, six months after the end of the war. It's a poignant moment. Claire can only remember vaguely the day the war ended, but she can remember this day perfectly, the day that she decided not to buy a vase, because as it turns out, that day had a lot more impact on her life than the end of the war.

A couple of shots of Claire attending a patient in the war, and then discovering it was over. We see she's a competent, unflappable nurse, and that she's more than a little emotionally distant. At the news of peace, Claire doesn't scream and shout or cry, she just takes a swig from the bottle she's been handed, and gets on with it.

I like her.

Claire is in the Scottish Highlands on her second honeymoon with her husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). During the war, Frank and Claire were separated for five years, with her working as a nurse, and him working in army intelligence. They both need some time to remember who they are now, and figure out how to live with each other before Frank starts his new job as a professor at Oxford, and Claire settles into being a professor's wife.

When they get to Inverness, though, and check into their hotel, both Frank and Claire are a little disturbed to find that most of the houses are smeared with blood - some kind of pagan ritual. It's their first sign that the Highlands, while very friendly generally, are still a place that hold fast to tradition, and that they are more than a little superstitious. With good reason, as we come to find out.

Frank and Claire settle into their hotel room, realizing that they can't get away without giving their innkeeper, Mrs. Baird (Kathryn Howden), a bit of a show, what with squeaky bedsprings and all that. We get a quick character moment for Claire when she jumps up on the bed and starts bouncing on it, determined that if Mrs. Baird think they're having sex, she'll think they're having interesting, athletic sex. After a moment, the laughter and silliness of what they're doing gets to Frank and Claire, and they actually have sex for real. Cute.

I feel weird calling a sex scene (non-explicit) cute, but there you go. It was cute, darnit.

Cut to Claire and Frank driving through the moors in a lovely old car. She reveals that they're in Scotland because Frank has recently taken an interest in genealogy, and he discovered that a certain ancestor of his, Black Jack Randall, was stationed there, working for the crown. 

Randall was a notorious harasser of the Scottish population, and very much hated, a fact that Frank relays with some humor, and Claire receives with utter boredom. She does not care, but she likes that he does. If it makes him happy, she'll tramp around some castles with him. After all, that's what she did growing up, living on archeological digs with her Uncle Lamb.

He points out a few interesting historical facts to Claire. Like Cocknammon Rock, where the British can ambush the Scots from every direction, or Castle Leoch, a rundown ruin that was once the seat of Clan MacKenzie. It's overgrown and abandoned, which suits them just fine. He points out the kitchen, and various other rooms as they go through, finally ending in a room whose purpose cannot really be determined. They have sex there. It's unsanitary, but sweet.

It's also nice to see a married couple who genuinely like each other and enjoy having sex with each other. It's weird how rare that is to find on television, but there you go. Frank and Claire clearly find each other attractive and appreciate having sex with each other, and that's just kind of nice. That the sex is filmed in such a way as to be pleasant but non-exploitative? Well that's even more of a miracle.

Back in Inverness, Frank and the local reverend are digging through some records, looking for mention of Black Jack. They find that, yes, he was there, but also that he was probably on the payroll of someone higher up, possibly the Duke of Sandringham, because Black Jack never really got punished for all of the horrible things he did. It's like someone wanted him to be a jerk to the Scottish. Hmmmm.

Claire's vaguely interested in all this, but the instant that Mrs. Graham (Tracey Wilkinson), the reverend's housekeeper, invites her to the kitchen for a cup of tea, Claire's out of there. She and Mrs. Graham have a nice chat over tea, and Mrs. Graham reveals that she reads tea leaves, grabbing a hold of Claire's cup and offering to read them for her. Claire, bemused, lets her.

But something isn't right. Claire's tea leaves are confusing, and they suggest something very strange is going to happen to Claire, and soon. Mrs. Graham takes hold of Claire's hand and looks at the line on the palm - sure enough, it's a strange pattern, one she's never seen before. Mrs. Graham tells her that Claire has the signs of having two marriages at the same time, and that she's going to go on a long journey while staying in exactly the same place.

Needless to say, they're both spooked, and when the moment is interrupted by the reverend and Frank coming looking for cookies, Claire takes her leave.

This leads her to where we first saw her, standing in the street, outside a shop, staring in at a vase in the window, and realizing suddenly that she's never owned one. Should she buy one now, to adorn her home with Frank when they get to Oxford? And what the heck was all that prophecy about from Mrs. Graham?

She doesn't buy the vase.

Back in the hotel room, Claire struggles valiantly to brush her curly hair (a feeling I deeply sympathize with), unaware that she's being watched through the window. Frank, coming up the street, sees a Scottish man in full regalia standing below and looking up at Claire. But when he goes to confront the man, he disappears, like a ghost. Frank is shaken, and comes into the room like he's still not sure what's real.

After a moment, though, he recovers, and manages to ask Claire the question that's clearly been bothering him for a while: did Claire by any chance have an affair during the war? Claire is terribly offended by the question, even when Frank makes it clear that he wouldn't be angry if she had. Still, he saw that Scot looking up at her and wondered if she'd made a connection with one of her patients, and he had followed her up here, looking to reconnect. Claire insists it isn't true, and the two of them reconnect themselves, with sex. Like I said, there's a lot of sex on this show, but so far it seems to be kind of nice. After all, this is a married couple who just spent five years apart. They need to learn how to be together again.

The next morning, Frank makes them get up early, because he wants to go see the "witches". Claire's less than enthusiastic about waking up before dawn, but she is tempted. There's a circle of standing stones outside the village, and apparently some druids come up from the town and still observe the old traditions there. Mornings in Scotland. Cold, damp, and dark. Claire is not thrilled, but she's having fun with the adventure.

They hide themselves in the bushes and watch, spellbound, as a group of women in white robes, carrying candles, come up the hill and then dance in between the stones as the sun rises on Samhain. One of them is Mrs. Graham, actually, and she seems to be their leader. The ritual, such as it is, is simple, but Claire can't take her eyes off it. It's just a dance. A beautiful dance. And Claire gets the strongest feeling that she shouldn't be watching it.

But then the sun is up and the spell is broken. Claire and Frank want to muck around at the circle a bit more - Claire sees some flowers she wants to study, as she's become quite interested in botany - but one of the druid women comes back, and they scurry away so they won't be seen.

Later in the morning, Claire is still baffled by what the plant is. Frank encourages her to go get a sample, and since he's planning to go off and look at old boring papers with the reverend, she decides to leave him to it and go on her own. It's just a short drive away, after all, and the weather's nice.

She climbs up to the circle again, and quickly finds the flower, but now there's something else too. A sound. A terrifying noise like a war going on, and it's coming from the stone at the center of the circle. Claire is drawn forward and, almost without her will, she touches the stone. The sensation that follows, she describes as being like waking up during a car crash. She falls.

And then she wakes up, on the ground, alone still. But she has no idea how long she's been lying in the grass, and she dashes back to her car. It's not there. Neither is the road. 

She's startled out of her confusion by a gunshot, and looks around in astonishment to see that she's being chased by Redcoats, and that around her are some Scottish men running for cover. Claire runs for cover too, stumbling and falling as she tries to figure out what kind of a movie production or historical reenactment uses live rounds! She staggers down a hill and stumbles on...Frank?

Definitely not Frank. Definitely not. Nope, this appears to be a Redcoat who looks just like Frank, but is most certainly not a nice person. He looks her over, sees her torn white dress, and immediately demands to know who she is and where she came from. When she refuses to answer, he calls her a whore. She's not having that, and he is. He pulls up her dress, but before he can get anywhere, he's clobbered from behind by a Scot. 

Said Scot grabs her mouth and hustles Claire over to his horse. When she struggles, he clonks her on the back of the head. She's not having a good day.

She wakes up on a horse, thrown like a sack of potatoes, and riding up to a little cottage as the sun sets. Claire's shoved inside, and finds herself surrounded by big angry Scottish men. They also want to know what she's doing there, but there isn't enough time to properly interrogate her. She'll have to come with them. 

In the meantime, the Scots have bigger problems. The leader, Dougal (Graham MacTavish), goes into the back to help one of the men, who's been injured. The man, Jamie (Sam Heughan), has a dislocated shoulder, and as Claire watches them getting ready to set it, she realizes that these men are going to break Jamie's arm. She steps in, forcefully, and demands that they let her set the shoulder. Which she does. Skillfully, because that's her job.

But there's no time to bask in her success, because she's thrown back on a horse, this time with Jamie, who gallantly tries to cover her with his plaid (limited success, since he's doing it with one arm). Claire is coming to the slow, real understanding that she isn't in the twentieth century anymore. They ride for a while, much to her discomfort, until she spots a familiar landmark: Cocknammon Rock. Claire remarks to Jamie what she remembers Frank telling her, that the English hide behind that rock and ambush Scots. Jamie immediately tells Dougal, and the men hare off to fight.

Claire's thrown from the horse (on purpose), and takes one look at the battle before deciding to try to hare back to the standing stones or Inverness or something. But she doesn't get far. Jamie rides up and corners her, pointing out that either she can ride with him, or he can throw her over his shoulder (the bad one), and mess up all her hard work. She grudgingly climbs back on the horse, anticipating a long hard ride.

It doesn't last all that long, though. As they're coming through the woods, Jamie starts to fall off the horse, and Claire realizes that he's been injured. She jumps down and fixes him up, swearing up a storm all the while, and the men look at her with awe. Claire proves herself a very capable nurse, and Jamie falls just a little bit in love while she cusses him out for being such an idiot and not saying he was hurt. She has to tear up her own dress to provide bandages for the wound, and everyone is completely shocked that she's willing to do so. But Claire is more focused on doing her job right than on appearing proper. Which is rad.

Finally, they come on the end of their journey: Castle Leoch, seat of Clan MacKenzie. Claire was there just two days ago, in the future, with her husband. She realizes with a jolt how very much her life has changed in two days. How much more will it change from here?

End of episode.

Dang but I enjoy this show. On top of what I've already mentioned, about liking the premise and all that, it's just really well shot, the actors are quite well cast, and the overall quality is high enough to let you lose yourself in the story. What a story it is, too. A twentieth century woman, a veritable proto-feminist, falls into the days of chivalry and war, and manages to force the men around her to take her on her own merit, to recognize how capable she is, and to think she's wonderful because of it.

I like Claire. She's practical, determined, fierce, stubborn, and fun. She's not some joyless matron, or a breathless ingenue. She's a woman, a real honest to goodness woman. She's amazing. It doesn't hurt either that Jamie is hot as hell, or that the whole story hits on many of my favorite tropes. That's just frosting on top of a delicious feminist cake.

Not much more to say than that I look forward to the next episode, and I really hope this show can keep its quality up for the rest of the season. It's the show we need to wash the taste of Game of Thrones out of our cultural mouth, and I am absolutely determined to do so.

Also Jamie is dreamy. Even when he clearly needs a bath.