Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Think of the Children! Tuesday: Peter Pan Is a Cancer on Society

If there's one story in Western culture that we've seen more adaptations of than The Three Musketeers, it's Peter Pan. Okay, to be fair, that's an exaggeration. There are lots of stories that we keep recycling over and over, and Peter Pan is just one of them. But it's an important one, because somewhere in there, this little story by J.M. Barrie, written in the late 1800s, became enshrined alongside the fairy tales our culture has been lugging along for half a millennium now.

What I mean is that it's funny to think about the relative newness of Peter Pan in relation to its cultural saturation. Sure, there are fourteen kajillion versions of Cinderella kicking around (and I should know, since my mother's hobby was to collect and watch/read all of them), but Cinderella has been in our culture for a very long time. Peter Pan? Not so much. So it's interesting that this is a story so incredibly pervasive in our collective unconscious.

I say it's interesting. What I actually mean is that it's creepy as hell, and probably deeply unhealthy.

Peter Pan seems to be one of those stories that everyone loves but no one really gets. Or rather, no one really bothers to think about. Because if you really think about it, Peter Pan is not a nice fairy story about a boy who wouldn't grow up, it's about the monstrous ways that a perpetual childhood can destroy the psyche. I mean, it's told in a loving and sweet way, but it's still a cautionary tale. And I think most of us kind of miss that part.

Not like that's a new literary tradition, the missing of the point. People to this day insist that Machiavelli was being totally straight when he wrote The Prince and that he was a sick son of a bitch. Not so, in fact, because even a cursory examination of his life history would reveal that he effing hated the prince he wrote that for, and he intentionally filled the book with bad advice on governance in the hope that the guy would become so hated the people would kill him. I did not make that up.

Or how about Thomas More's Utopia? Yes, it's the book most cited by Danielle in the lovely Ever After, and it's what we attribute her feminist leanings and general egalitarian attitude towards, but the book itself was meant to be a joke. Erasmus even commented on how funny it was, and More himself was a little baffled when people started to take it seriously. They didn't get the joke. And so too, have we completely missed the point of Peter Pan.

Look, when we come down to the brass tacks of the Peter Pan story, what do we know? What does every version stick with?

Peter Pan is a child who ran away from his life when he heard his parents talking about what he would be when he grew up. He decided that growing up sounded terrible and resolved to never do it. Therefore, he went off to Never Never Land, a magical island full of fun stuff where he doesn't have to get older.

Eventually he collects a herd of young boys to follow him around and think he's god, and they fight against pirates and racist Native American stereotypes, and everything is fine until one day Peter gets separated from his shadow and meets Wendy Darling and her brothers and then he takes them to Neverland and all hell breaks loose. Sort of.

That's the gist, though, right? Peter Pan is the boy who wouldn't grow up, and he lives an enchanted life among fairies and living in the woods and he has no responsibilities, but he gets to fight pirates all the time and never has to pay bills or go to school or think about his impact on other people at all. Sounds amazing.

Except for the part where that actually sounds like a hellish dystopia, and where Peter Pan is a sociopath in boy's clothing and a probable murderer to boot.

I'm seriously not making this up, you can check the book: Peter Pan actually kills the Lost Boys when they get too old. Really. As it makes clear in the book, being in Neverland doesn't actually stop you from aging, it just slows the process down a lot. So when the Lost Boys get too old, Peter "thins them out." Quote from the book, included right after it talks about how many people he's killed. So...yeah. 

Also, I should point out, Peter Pan does himself age, he just ages much more slowly than everyone else. And notably, he only ages physically. Mentally and emotionally he doesn't grow up. But physically?

Think about it. In most portrayals of Peter Pan, the kid looks to be about ten or twelve, right? Well, by Peter's own account, he ran away from his parents when he was a day old. Now, this is a makebelieve story, so we can let that slide, but even if we assume that he ran away at an age where that was physically possible, like three, that still means that he has been aging this whole time. Not quickly, but definitely aging.

Which paints a much more complex and kind of frightening picture of our hero, doesn't it? Effectively what we can learn here is that Peter isn't a hero, he's a narcissistic sociopath building a cult around himself and murdering his followers. So, the most accurate version of Peter Pan put to screen is probably the one from Once Upon a Time where he's a villain. 

More than that, though, the book seems to be trying to explain why Peter's life, cut off from civilization and from all notion of responsibility, is actually horrifically unhealthy. Peter has no emotional attachments to his Lost Boys. He can barely remember who they are. He can barely remember who anyone is unless they're in front of him all the time. Heck, he keeps on forgetting Wendy, and she's one of the only three women he knows in the entire world.

He can't tell reality from fiction, even going so far as to play pretend with the Lost Boys without knowing that he's playing pretend. He really can't tell. He'll make them pretend to eat dinner, and then punch them if they try to complain about wanting real food. Because, for him, this is real. Why wouldn't it be real? Eat your invisible steak!

There's other stuff too. Like, what actual motivation did Peter have to cut off Hook's hand? None is ever given. From what we can tell, Hook is hunting Peter because of the hand thing, but it's never explained why Peter did that in the first place. Based on his general character, I would have to say that he did it for no reason at all. Because Peter is a deeply damaged child with no sense of the outside world or of consequences in general.

Which brings me to the larger point. Peter Pan is a cautionary tale. He's not supposed to be our patron saint of lost childhoods, he's actually supposed to be grim picture of what it's like when we try to put off adult responsibilities and hold onto our youth. Peter is a picture of the horrific thing we would turn into if we disregarded all that painful boring ugly stuff called growing up. He has no empathy, he has no responsibility, he's basically evil. Peter Pan is a two year old id in a nearly grown body, and he is a monster.

So how did we get this so wrong?

If you look at the general movie interpretations of Peter Pan, they seem to be saying the same thing. Peter is a hero, and the grownups who insist that the Darling children come home and become adults are the bad guys. Yes, eventually Wendy and company do come home, but Peter never changes, and we should be glad of that! Yay for Peter Pan and his perpetual youth. May he never change.

The animated Disney version is a sweet, watered down vision of unfettered childhood, while Hook gives us a world in which growing up was the worst possible thing Peter could do. Heck, the IMDB summary for next year's live-action Pan says it's,
The story of an orphan who is spirited away to the magical Neverland. There, he finds both fun and dangers, and ultimately discovers his destiny -- to become the hero who will be forever known as Peter Pan. [x]
Lest we forget, Finding Neverland might have purported to be a biopic of J.M. Barrie, but it missed the boat most of all, concocting this fanciful man who loved being a kid and wished he could have never grown up, instead of the actual man who was trying to make a political statement.

Even my favorite version, the 2003 live-action Peter Pan, completely misses the point. Sure, it's closer than all the rest, portraying Peter as a screwed up snot of a kid who has no idea what he's doing and talks out of his butt most of the time, but he's still the good guy. I like this version best because Wendy is the main character and it's really a coming of age tale, but even so, they didn't get it. The tragedy is that Peter Pan will never grow up. That's not a constant or a comforting thought, it's stinking awful.

Why am I insisting on ruining your childhood right now? Well, first off because it's fun. But second, and much more importantly, because I feel like in missing the point of Peter Pan, we are in grave danger as a culture of becoming like him. It's fine if you like the story or want to dress up in a cute Peter Pan costume for Halloween. Whatever floats your boat. But I am not okay with the idea that Peter Pan, the boy who became a monster because he never grew up, is our cultural hero. And he is.

If you look at most sitcoms on TV right now, who are the main characters? Immature man-children who refuse to grow up and accept responsibility. That's our thing. Our cultural self-perception is of a guy in his late twenties wearing a hoodie and some Converse, complaining about how his girlfriend dumped him for not having a "real job". Whatever, man! He's not some sellout like the rest of them. Yeah, he lives with his parents and he spends all of his time working on his one-man show about My Little Ponies, but that doesn't make him a loser. That makes him deep. 

Or you can look at the dozens of independent romantic comedies that litter Netflix. The sensitive man-child, who is quirky and sweet and refuses to accept the meaningful impact of his actions. Sure, he'll learn a little lesson about being nice to the pretty girl before the movie is over, but his overall actions, where he never actually goes out and gets a real job or attempts to do something with his life, will be lauded. They make him more authentic. More real. More admirable, because he won't grow up.

His refusal to grow up is supposed to be charming. Because there's nothing our culture hates more than an adult who knows they are an adult and that they have stinking responsibilities to deal with tomorrow. It's like we're all whining children screaming because we have to go to school, and even though we understand that if we stayed home we would be bored, we still don't want to go to school. Because it's haaaaaaaaard.

I honestly think that all this "never grow up" crap is part of why I so steadfastly insist on being a killjoy about everything. I've always loved rebelling, but in our culture, rebelling is kind of hard to do. I can't rebel by being an "artist". I can't rebel by ditching my job and following a band around for a year. Our parents did that. It's passe. So I rebel by working two jobs and doing this blog on the side. I rebel by working really hard and paying bills.

That's not really to make me sound good, either. It's to point out how messed the hell up our culture is. My character type is lambasted in the media for being boring and stodgy. I am the butt of a thousand sitcom jokes. The ideal woman is a girl-child who can't pay her bills or drive or remember her last name, but gosh is she pretty! Peter Pan has infested our culture, and we have got to root him out or he is going to devour us whole.

I'm not blaming Peter Pan for all of our problems, mind you. I'm a Millennial, and I firmly believe that we got the short end of a lot of sticks when it comes to the economic situation we were spat out into and the horrible lack of jobs and prevalence of debt. I think that sucks, and I think that it's hard. That's not the issue here. The problem is that our culture seems intent on claiming that there is no problem. That we're all just Peter Pans who won't grow up and don't want to and that's fine.

It's not true and it's not fine. I want to grow up, but the culture has created a lie that says that I don't, and then chosen to believe that lie over my screaming mouth. I want to grow up, but all I ever see are images on television and in the movies telling me that I shouldn't. It's like they're trying to cover up their complicity in my extended childhood by making me want to be a kid forever.

The ending of the story is always the part people ignore, but it's the part that matters the most in the telling of it. After Wendy and John and Michael have had their adventures in Neverland, after they have defeated Hook and saved Tiger Lily, after everything is set right again, they go home. Neverland is nice, but you can't live there. Childhood is nice, but it's only nice because it ends. If it didn't, it would become a hellscape of self-obsessed monsters and immature understandings of the world.

It's not fun growing up. It's never fun. But not growing up is much worse. And while I really did enjoy being a child, I'm not a child anymore. It was fun not to have responsibilities, but I do now. I know who I am in the world, and I know that a part of the world depends on me. I know that my actions affect other people, and that I want to affect them positively.

I know that even though it's hard, growing up is good. It's natural. And it's what we have to do if we want to survive.

Grow up, kids. It's the only way to save yourselves.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lucy - The Trailer Lied To You. It Sucks.

I was so excited for Lucy, you guys. You have no idea. I saw that trailer and I could barely hold in the squee. I mean, here it was, the answer to my deepest movie-related desires: an independent, original female-lead superhero movie starring Scarlett Johansson, opening wide as a summer tentpole feature. It was just so...magical. Plus, the trailer looked rad as hell.

Sure, there was that problematic part of the trailer where it looked like Lucy (Johansson) was shooting a Taiwanese cabby for not speaking English, even though they were in Taiwan. That didn't look super promising. But the rest of it? Looked stinking awesome. Morgan Freeman was going to be in it, and it looked like at most there was going to be one white guy in this whole movie, a movie about a lady superhero kicking ass.

Plus, the plot, from what the trailer told us, was going to be a really compelling revenge thriller. Lucy, a naive party girl, gets kidnapped in Taiwan and has a bag of drugs slipped into her stomach. Against her will, she is made a drug mule, but then something goes terribly wrong, and the bag leaks, giving Lucy superpowers. She enlists some scientist dude (Morgan Freeman) to help her figure out what is happening while she tracks down the men responsible and murders them. Yay!

This is what we were promised, isn't it? Well, trust me when I say that it is not what we got.

I mean, if you want to be technical, yes, that is the plot of the movie. Sort of. Everything I wrote in that paragraph above does happen, it just happens very differently. Instead of being this cool thriller about a woman getting revenge on the men who infringed on her bodily autonomy, what we got was...something. I'm not entirely sure what. But definitely not what I was expecting. And I mean that in a bad way.

It's actually kind of hard to talk about the movie we did get because it was so so so different from what I was expecting. Like, different enough that I'm beginning to suspect that the marketing people lied on purpose in order to sell tickets. Because I cannot think of a single person I know who would have bought a ticket for this if it were accurately advertised.

Here's the gist, as far as I can express it in words:

Lucy (Johansson) is an American university student living abroad in Taiwan. She parties a lot, and one day her boyfriend takes her to a hotel and asks her to carry a briefcase upstairs for him. She refuses, and so he grabs her arm and handcuffs the briefcase to her. She is displeased. Inside, she goes in and asks for the man she's supposed to give the briefcase to, and the clerk calls him. 

Cut to a shot of a cheetah stalking a gazelle on the Serengeti. Cut back to the hotel lobby. Some men come downstairs. Cut back to the gazelle. Cut to Lucy. Cut to the cheetah. And so on. Like a lot. A weird amount.

Lucy gets dragged upstairs, where she meets up with Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik), the recipient of the briefcase. A terrified Lucy is forced to open the case while everyone else hides in case it's a bomb. It's not. Lucy hyperventilates, and Mr. Jang discovers that the briefcase is full of bags of some blue crystalized drug. He makes someone snort it. They get high. 

Blah blah blah, Lucy gets knocked out and wakes up with a bag of the drugs inside her and a plane ticket to Paris. When her handlers take her to a cell to wait for her flight, they try to assault her. She fights back, and then they kick the crap out of her, breaking the bag. She then goes on a very trippy very literal flight up the ceiling as the drug pours into her bloodstream and BAM! Lucy has superpowers.

We cut to (probably, I only saw this movie once, so the details might be wrong and I'M NOT WATCHING IT AGAIN) Morgan Freeman lecturing to a packed hall about how we only use 10% of our brains, and what would happen if we could use more of it. Superpowers, apparently. We would get superpowers. The more of our brain we controlled, the more of the outside world we could control, because that absolutely is totally reasonable logic and not at all made of crack.

I don't feel like running down everything else that happens in the movie, so here's a rather brief synopsis. Please bear in mind that all of these plot-like things are intercut with audio of Morgan Freeman talking about evolution and video straight from a National Geographic documentary. At one point we had to watch frogs having sex. It was...different?

Lucy goes to a hospital and gets the drug removed from her stomach. It's apparently a synthesized chemical that pregnant women make that allows us to use our brains. She's got half a kilo floating around her body, so clearly crap is about to get weird. Also she's almost definitely going to die. But before that, she needs to figure out what is happening to her.

So, she beats up Mr. Jang, uses her superpowers to get a disguise, and calls Interpol to alert them of the other drug traffickers. The Interpol agent who answers, Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked), becomes obsessed with the case. Then Lucy flies herself to Paris to meet up with Del Rio, grab the drugs, and then meet Morgan Freeman and figure out what's happening to her.

The bad guys, apparently a Korean drug smuggling thing, follow her. There is shooting. She passes out at one point. Later she kidnaps Del Rio, and drives through Paris in a really terrifying car chase that is ultimately pointless, only to get more of the drug and go off to meet Morgan Freeman. Del Rio thinks she's pretty. She kisses him. Then she and Morgan Freeman get down to figuring out what is happening to her brain before the drug cartel murders them. 

Del Rio gets in a shootout with the cartel. Lucy shows off her superpowers and gives some incredibly profound sounding bullshit answers to a bunch of philosophical questions. Then she has Morgan Freeman inject her with the remaining 3 kilos of the drug because of reasons. I think. 

Lucy absorbs the drug, the shootout continues, and then Lucy timetravels around a bit before slowly exuding a black goo that eventually absorbs her and becomes her and then becomes a flash drive full of the knowledge of the universe and made of stars. Literally made of stars. Del Rio runs in and is all, "Where's Lucy?" and she texts him, "I am everywhere."

End of movie.

And I guess there's a little part in there where she calls her mom and is sad that she might die, and a really funny exchange with her deliciously self-involved roommate (Analeigh Tipton), but most of the movie is just Scarlett Johansson doing her damndest to make you care about a walking plot device, and Morgan Freeman reciting incredibly inaccurate "facts" about evolution while the screen keeps showing you bizarre nature videos and scenes of vicious violence.

We all walked out of the movie theater completely baffled, not just by the emotionless ending or by the weirdness of the fact that our heroine literally turns into a flash drive made of the stars, but because none of it really meant anything.

See, the problem with this movie isn't that it's completely batshit, though it is, or even that it's kind of ponderously long and the characters aren't particularly compelling. Those are problems, but not the real reason why this movie made me so angry. And believe me, it made me very angry. It made me angry because I can accept loose characterizations and bad plotting and even really terrible science if it matters. If at the end of the movie I can look back and think, "Well, the rest of it was crap, but at least it was saying something interesting.

I cannot say that here, because as far as I can tell, the movie isn't saying anything at all. It's just weird.

Best side-eye ever.
Arguably, the point of the movie is the idea that the point of human life is to pass on knowledge. While that's a super lame and boring point, I'd be okay with it if it actually seemed to be supported by the story. But it's not. Throughout the movie, Lucy, who is supposed to be our first superwoman who can know the secrets of the universe, actually tells people almost nothing. She's cryptic or terse or otherwise unhelpful. If the meaning of life is to pass on knowledge, then Lucy isn't doing a very good job of it.

Even at the end, when she literally transforms herself into a repository of human understanding, it still doesn't make sense, because Lucy's dead/everything. She can't explain any of it to them. She just dumped a bunch of knowledge in their laps and then bamfed out of existence.

It's also problematic because Lucy appears to have, at first, a very strong sense of self-preservation, but later on she decides that she needs to sacrifice herself. For what? So we can know more stuff? Why?

It bothers me because that's fundamentally different from how I view the purpose of human existence. But it also bothers me because that's a terrible motivation for a character to have. Even worse, it turns a potentially epic female superhero into a blank slate that exists to further the ambitions of a man. Make no mistake, I don't think Luc Besson or Scarlett Johansson were trying to make that the point of the movie, but that is what happens. Lucy loses her self, and instead becomes pure information. The female protagonist is subsumed and deleted, her emotional fulfillment considered unnecessary and distracting. All that we are left with is questions, and a flash drive.

This movie had so much potential. So stinking much. And in the very beginning, it really looked like it was going to take advantage of that potential. You see, Lucy is a character whose bodily autonomy is violated in several different ways throughout the film. First, her boyfriend handcuffs the case to her. Then she is forced to do a series of actions. Then she is cut open and has something inserted into her abdomen. Later, a man sticks his hand down her shirt, and when she pushes him away, he retaliates by savagely beating her.

It made sense to assume that a movie where this happens, and then where the heroine gets superpowers, would be a rape revenge flick. You know, those movies where the heroine uses her powers to get back at the people who hurt and violated her. It felt like we were about to get a timely piece on the overwhelming anger that most women feel about the state of our bodily autonomy in the world. We live in a culture where the rape of a teenage girl was filmed and became a viral video. Hell yes I wanted to see Scarlett Johansson viciously attacking her violators. That's the kind of vicarious thrill that I, as a pacifist, really want in a movie.

But what I got was a bunch of really terribly researched and horribly outdated brain science, a wishy-washy plot, and an ending that makes no sense and leaves you cold. I am not okay with this.

I suppose you could compare Lucy to 2001: A Space Odyssey, because they are both intensely odd science-fiction auteur pieces about deep philosophical subjects with inscrutable endings, but I think that comparison really just highlights how cheap Lucy is, philosophically speaking. 2001: A Space Odyssey might be completely baffling and weird and slow and hard to love, but it says something deep and meaningful. I mean, you may not like it, but you definitely respect it.

By contrast, Lucy tries too hard for too little reward. At one point Lucy travels backwards in time by waving her arms as she sits in an office chair, and she manages to send herself to the exact time and space to meet Lucy, the first hominid fossil. But, you know, back when Lucy was alive.

They touch fingers like a Michelangelo painting that felt a bit too obvious for the moment, and I think we're supposed to be moved or something, but I just felt a bit irritated at the presumption. Besides, it's not like Lucy was about to go propagate her new species. That would have made sense. Nope, she immediately came back and then sort of died.

I guess what I'm saying is that I was expecting to love this movie, to find a few problematic race elements, to address them, and then to go back to loving this movie. It has all the things I should love. A kickass female protagonist, a weird but potentially cool concept, great actors, a predominantly non-white cast and international locations, and a director who's done very well by me in the past.

But I didn't count on this weird metaphysical crap, and I don't like it. Not because I dislike science or don't believe in evolution, either. I love science, and I believe that God created the evolutionary process because that's just super rad. I don't like all this weird crap because it's inaccurate and also metaphorically void. It means nothing. Blech.

So, very long story short: don't go see this movie. It's not fun enough to be bad fun, and it's not deep enough to be engaging it's just terrible. It's truly depressing to watch so many talented people try so hard and make such an awful movie.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Love Won't Pay the Rent - Sex and BBC's The Musketeers

Last week I talked (at length) about BBC's The Musketeers and their surprisingly progressive portrayal of race in this new adaptation. I like it. They've done a very good job at not just casting non-white actors in lead roles, but in actually trying to address the idea of what it means to be a person of color in early-Enlightenment France. 

This week, though, I'd like to tackle a related and also uncomfortable topic: how the BBC's The Musketeers handles sex and romance, and whether or not this is even remotely period-accurate.

To begin with, though, we have to admit that judging the historical accuracy of a portrayal of sex and romance is actually a lot harder than judging the historical accuracy of portrayals of race. This is simply because most historical records of "romance" are incredibly biased. Either they come from popular literature, which would be like ascribing historical legitimacy to the Meg Ryan rom-coms of the 1990s, or they come from personal diaries and therefore anecdotal experience. 

Furthermore, all attempts to study sex and romance in prior historical time periods tend to butt up against the simple reality that most of history is written by men. Because men were the ones who were educated enough to be able to write. So any idea we have of sex is going to be extremely male in point of view, simply by virtue of who wrote down what was going on. In the rare cases where we do have a female perspective on sex and romance, it's usually an educated, upper-class woman, the only kind of woman likely to get an education (except nuns) writing. And she definitely has a different experience than your average peasant lady.

Suffice it to say that any discussion of historical romance or sex is really complicated because when it comes down to it, we just plain don't know. But we can guess. And guess we will. (By guess, I mean that we will make logical inferences based on historical evidence, because that's how we roll.)

The Musketeers is based on Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers, as you have hopefully already surmised, and as a result it's pretty bawdy. The characters in Dumas' classic were always sleeping their way into and out of trouble, and the characters of the BBC show are no different. Every male lead (excepting Captain Treville, which is interesting) has at least one female love interest, and most of them have a couple. 

There are love triangles, love quadrangles, and some configurations too complex to really suss out, which is all fun and games and really and truly enjoyable. Interestingly, though, the show has taken a rather different route with their portrayal of the women behind these romances. Instead of it all being bedroom eyes and come-hither glances from female characters who are, we are assured, as pure as the driven snow, The Musketeers wants you to know without a doubt that, yes, these women have had sex. Some of them have had a lot of sex.

And most of them, brace yourself, have had non-consensual or at the very least dubiously-consensual sex. 

In any other show, this fact would bother me. A lot. But I was already charmed by the show's handling of race, so I figured I'd see how this all played out. I'm still not entirely sure where I land on it, but I think I'm more favorable towards it than not. Here's why.

As I ranted so eloquently regarding Game of Thrones this season, I'm not okay with the use of rape as a filler or background noise or as a tool for the character development of men, and I definitely hate it when it's done gratuitously to shock viewers. I'm really not okay with the dumbing down of non-consensual sex and the idea that "she really wanted it in the end". The Musketeers doesn't do any of these things. Instead, the rape scenes are never shown, only referenced, and, interestingly, cover a range of situations and consequences.

The two main female characters of the show, Milady (Maimie McCoy) and Constance (Tamla Kari), both have storylines that deal with sexual assault/harassment. But they're dealt with very differently. In Milady's case, she accuses her brother-in-law of raping her, and then claims that she killed him in self-defense. If you don't know the larger story, Milady was once a poor thief who married a rich nobleman, Athos (Tom Burke). According Athos, when his brother discovered Milady's past, she killed him to keep it secret. According to Milady, his brother raped her, and she killed him by accident, trying to get away.

What's really compelling here is that, while Milady has proven herself very untrustworthy over the course of the show, and murdered a lot of people, we don't actually know if she's lying here. She could be, sure, but she very well might not be. And what I find most notable is that the show doesn't tell us one way or another, but it does give her story equal validity to Athos' version. Later on, Athos even cops to the idea that he might not know all the facts. He takes responsibility for the fact that his rash actions (sentencing her to death) might have been wrong.

This is notable because of the atmosphere we live in now. Women are frequently accused of inflating rape statistics and making false rape claims, and society considers the burden of proof to be on the woman to prove that she was raped, rather than on the man to prove that he did not rape her. That Milady's accusations are given story weight, a weight that does not redeem her character, mind, or excuse the awful things she's done, is kind of awesome.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, we have Constance Bonacieux. Constance deals with a more insidious, and probably more historical, form of sexual assault. We learn early on that she is married to a cloth merchant, only ever identified by his last name, Bonacieux (Bohdan Poraj). He is older than her, and the show makes it clear that this was an arranged marriage, not a love match. 

The show goes even further to tell us that Constance is deeply unhappy in her marriage. She has no physical interest in her husband but does make it clear that she has sex with him, because, well, she's married to him. She doesn't have a choice in the matter. As the show progresses, and Constance falls in love with their renter, D'Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), she is torn between her duty as a wife and her romantic feelings. We get the impression that this is the first time Constance has been in love, and we know for a fact she's never been in love with husband.

No, Constance's marriage, as we learn in episode seven or so, was a pure transaction. Her family sold her to Bonacieux in exchange for a small sum of money. She was an extra mouth to feed, and they didn't want her to end up an old maid, so she was married off as a teenager to a man she'd never met. We discover this when Constance tries to stop all of this from happening to her young cousin, Fleur (Alice Sanders). She is insistent that Fleur get the chance to live a happy life full of love, and get to be educated, and not have to marry some man she doesn't know.

So while the story never explicitly tells us that Constance has been raped, we are implicitly told this from the moment she comes on screen. And that, to me, is the more interesting storytelling choice. Because while Constance's situation is dubbed by the show to be "normal", it's also shown to be wrong. 

In fact, at the very end of the first season (SPOILER), when Constance has finally decided to leave her husband and run away with D'Artagnan, she comes home to find that he's attempted suicide. He then guilts her into staying with him, saying that if she ever leaves, he will kill himself and it will be her fault. Far from being just a crappy thing to do, this is actually textbook abusive behavior, and gives an alarming view into what Constance's married life must be. Presumably this will come up more next season. It better.

In fact, if there were one hobby horse the show hit on just as often as it hit on race, it would be the horrible results of a culture based around transactional marriage. It's a storyline that comes up time and again, not just in Milady and Constance's storylines, but in the storylines of every single other female character on the show. Seriously.

We've got the story surrounding Queen Anne (Alexandra Dowling), a lovely and kind woman married to an overgrown child of a king. Anne is deeply unhappy in her marriage, which we are shown was definitely for strategic purposes and not even a little bit for love. Her husband, King Louis (Ryan Gage) isn't super pleased with her either. She's so serious and boring and hasn't had a son yet. Her lack of a male heir (or any heir) leads to rumors that she isn't fit to be queen, and puts a strain on her already strained marriage.

To complicate matters, Anne falls a little bit in love with Aramis (Santiago Cabrera), the Musketeer who keeps saving her life. We get the impression that in another world, Aramis and Anne might have been very happy together. Maybe. Or maybe not. But certainly not in this one, where Anne had no say in her romantic or sexual future.

Aramis pops up again in another storyline alongside this where we meet the woman he nearly married, Isabelle (Alice Patten). Isabelle was his childhood sweetheart, and when they were teenagers, she fell pregnant and they planned to marry. Sadly, she lost the child, and shortly thereafter her father spirited her away. Aramis was never able to find her again until, out of the blue, he discovers her at a convent, a nun, now called Sister Helene.

He's a little surprised, but even more so when she reveals that she wasn't put there against her will. She chose to join the convent because when she lost the child, she realized that the two of them had no future. 

Aramis tries to protest, but Isabelle is insistent. They would have made each other miserable. Her without an education, stuck raising children in the countryside, and him deprived of excitement and adventure, stuck farming and feeding hungry mouths in some little cabin in the woods. While Aramis insists that he would have been happy, it's most telling when Isabelle rebuffs him, and makes it clear that she wouldn't have.

Heck, even the minor romantic interest characters touch on this topic. Athos has squishy-warm feelings for the lovely Ninon de Larroque (Annabelle Wallis), a noblewoman determined to change the state of female education in France. Her ambition nearly gets her burned at the stake as a witch, but the more interesting part of her storyline is her stance on marriage. While she completely believes in romance, Ninon makes it clear that any marriage she could enter would be transactional simply by virtue of her fortune. If she married, her husband would become the sole executor of her estate, and she would have no control.

Athos, I should point out, agrees with her that it's a stupid system, and the two of them have a heady moment of "Will we fall in love?" until circumstances force them apart. But it's not the circumstances entirely that are doing the forcing here. Neither Athos nor Ninon is comfortable with marriage and both of their reasons for discomfort are shown to be completely valid. Marriage in 1700s France is a pretty awful thing.

The one character who really falls outside this framework, I should point out, is Porthos' love interest (or one of them, dude gets around), Flea (Fiona Glascott). Flea isn't a noblewoman, or a middle-class shopkeeper's wife, or even a peasant. She's a thief and a lowlife, living in the Court of Miracles - Paris' underworld. Heck, Flea doesn't just live in the Court of Miracles, she runs it, and she makes it clear how much she loves it.

Flea is notable not just because she's a new perspective on this whole issue, but because out of all the female characters on the show, she's the one least hindered by ideas of propriety or marriage. As the character with the least connection to societal norms, Flea doesn't care if she gets married or not. Even when she is in a relationship, she doesn't let her boyfriend boss her around, and is totally comfortable kicking his butt. Even more notable? 

When given the offer to leave her life of squalor and become an upstanding Musketeer's wife (an offer made on screen and mentioned as having been made in the past), Flea declines. She likes being free, and she has no intention of being anybody's wife. Being respectable never did anyone any good that she can see.

The thing is, she's kind of right.

Don't get me wrong. I, personally, am a fan of marriage. At least in the hypothetical. I would very much like to be married one day, and I'm not suggesting that we all take a tip from Flea's handbook and toss all societal norms out the window. But I do think there's something to be said for examining what we mean when we talk about marriage. Because as the show points out, there are a lot of different types of marriages, and not all of them, in fact, few of them, are actually about love.

Historically this rings true, at least as true as it can, given the caveat stated above about lack of proof and unreliable historical narrators. It's telling that the only love marriage on the show (Athos and Milady) ends in utter tragedy and disaster. That's probably a gross exaggeration on the actual historical situation, but I think it would be dangerous to dismiss the whole topic as taken out of proportion or historically inaccurate. I don't think it's historically inaccurate at all.

I mean, think about it. In pre-Enlightenment France, what value do women have outside of their roles as wife and mother? This is a time in history when women are codified as sexually inferior, and their position is as vessels for the continuation of families, not as people. Women exist, as far as historical record shows, pretty much for sex and babies and maybe some housework. That's about it.

In the upper classes, it's well documented that most marriages were based around strategic or financial negotiations, rather than love. But even on a middle-class level, as we see with Constance, marriages were determined by the need for everyone to be fed and clothed, and basic needs for food and shelter took precedence over romance. This is factored alongside the social stigma towards unmarried women. In other words, if you weren't married, what was the point of you? You're just a drain on resources, and you're a shame on your family.

Real marriage is supposed to be about two people becoming one spiritual entity. It's meant, if we're talking about "Christian marriage", to provide a way for two people to become more like Christ in their ability to love another person and, by growing closer to each other, to learn more how to be in relationship with God. Trust me, I know this, I've been to a bunch of weddings this year.

But let's be real. Most marriages aren't about that. Most marriages are about financial transactions or legal responsibility or getting to have sex a lot with the same person. All of which are potentially valid things. It's just important to consider that love marriages as we think of them, well, they're kind of a luxury, aren't they? And while I don't think that everything about The Musketeers' portrayal of sex and marriage is totally accurate (for starters why are all of the love interests white?), I do think it's a step in the right direction.

While there is a clear connection drawn between transactional marriage and prostitution, since both consist of the exchange of goods and money for sex, the show steers away from blaming the female characters for "duping" their poor husbands. Really, in this situation, everyone knows the score. Bonacieux might be a manipulative jerkface, or even some sadsack who doesn't know any better, but he's fully aware that his wife doesn't love him. He knew that going in. So instead of blaming female characters, the show rightly takes aim at society, the real villain here. It posits that in a patriarchal system where women's only value comes from their reproductive function, no one, not men or women, can find uncomplicated love.

The show makes it clear that a society where marriage is primarily about a financial or social transaction is a broken society. It's not just that the show gives us examples of unhappy marriages or that it points out how most marriages in that society cannot be equal because of how the law is established. It's that the show tells us these things, and then makes us unhappy about it. It says, "This is wrong!" and then tells the story in such a way that you feel angry about how wrong society is. Constance shouldn't be married off to some random guy for financial reasons! She should get to be educated and marry for love.

Isabelle shouldn't have to choose between a shotgun wedding and holy orders, with those as her only two options. Anne should get a say in who she marries, and not just get passed around as a treaty with a woman attached. Milady should have the social freedom to be an equal in her marriage, and the right to be listened to when making a serious allegation of sexual assault. Ninon shouldn't be afraid her husband will rob her blind. Flea shouldn't have to think that the only way to stay free is to stay an outlaw.

None of that is okay. And we need to be reminded of that.

I really hope she's coming back. Love her.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Self-Sacrifice, Courage, and My Favorite Movies

I always wonder how personal to get with this blog. Because while this is, you know, my personal blog, it's really more of an academic examination of popular culture thing. So I wonder. But today, I feel like it's important for me to be totally honest with you guys, and that means being really vulnerable and personal and feelings-y, so if that skeeves you out, you should probably leave now.

Okay? Good.

Two weeks ago I went on a "Jesus retreat." I had some time off of work, so I drove out through the Olympic Peninsula, and went hiking in La Push, in the rainforest and down to the Pacific Ocean. I saw sunlight glinting off of Crescent Lake in the National Forest, I ate diner food and slept in a super cheap motel, and I stared across the water at a looming Mt. Rainier, reminding myself again that I live in the shadow of a giant volcano and how cool is that? It was a good trip. But it was also a really hard one.

It was a hard trip because God asked me to do something I don't want to do, and he phrased it in such a way that I understood fully and exactly what he was asking. I understood, and I know I can't refuse. Because when God asked me, he was talking about my favorite stories.

My favorite stories, as some of you have no doubt discovered in your deep and obsessive reading of my blog (I like that, keep it up), tend to be very disparate in tone, but very similar in content. What I mean is that while my favorite films include a period piece sports film (Chariots of Fire), an experimental Bollywood film (Rang de Basanti), a big-budget blockbuster about robots punching aliens (Pacific Rim), and a superhero movie about governmental conspiracies and the philosophical point of fear (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Oh, and I happen to love an animated musical based on a Bible story (Prince of Egypt). So, yeah, it's a rather diverse group.

It's diverse, that is, until you get to the themes of the stories. Because while each of these movies is totally different from the others in basic story, they all share the same heart. In each of these films, the characters are forced to confront the truth about the world, and then make a choice. They can either live a simple, unextraordinary life, or they can step into their true identity, who they really are, and change the world.

Most of the time, though, that changing the world thing looks a lot like giving up. Which is as it should be.

The idea for this came to me when I was writing my paper for the upcoming Divergent and Philosophy (you might be able to pre-order it on Amazon already, but probably not). I wrote about the connection between courage and selflessness, and how I think those two ideas are essentially just different facets of the same one. You can't be truly brave without being selfless, and you can't be truly selfless without being brave.

But there is another facet to all of that courage and self-sacrifice. Namely, that self-sacrifice tends to look a lot like giving up. When you do put the greater good before yourself, or prioritize your ideals over your existence, the world tends to look at you like you're nuts. Which you kind of are. But that's okay.

Here's what I mean: in Chariots of Fire, the main plot revolves around two men, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) competing for the gold medal in the 100m at the 1924 Olympics. Literally the whole movie leads up to that, following Liddell and Abrahams through their various training programs, the setbacks and personal issues that threaten their ability to compete, and even their relationship with each other. The point of the movie is that one race. Or so it seems.

What actually happens (what actually did happen in history, because this is a true story*) is that before the Olympics even really start, Eric Liddell finds out that the qualifying heat for the 100m is on a Sunday. Eric, being a deeply religious man in a very real way, quietly informs the Olympic committee that he cannot run on the Sabbath, and therefore he is dropping out of the race.

This is, for the record, complete and total crazy talk from any normal perspective. Eric has been training for this race for years. He is the favorite to win. And not just the favorite to win, the favorite to set a new world record. He literally has not lost a race in years. He's a hometown hero, and the whole country is waiting for him to win. So this guy goes up to the committee and tells them very politely that he won't race.

They don't take it well.

They actually do everything up to and including siccing the Prince of Wales on him, but Eric doesn't budge. Instead, he drops the race, picks up another race in a different distance (one that he has never run before on this competitive level), and then proceeds to actually preach in a church on that Sunday morning during the qualifying heats.

Harold Abrahams wins the 100m (spoilers for a race that happened almost a century ago!), and Eric goes on to race in the 400m. He not only wins, he sets a new world record. In a race he's never actually trained for. At the Olympics.

The thing that gets me about this story, though, isn't that Eric is totally the best person ever (even though he was definitely my childhood crush, for reals), but that it's not a stand-alone incident. Eric Liddell stood up to the Olympic committee, and then showed them down. Yay, right? But in the larger scheme of things, it's not all that important. It's just sports, for crying out loud.

What is important is what happened later in his life. You see, the reason I love this story is because it's just one of many incidents like this in Eric Liddell's life. Moments when he chose to give up what seemed like the thing he should want, in favor of something that seemed crazy or scary or completely unknown. He did it because he knew it was the right thing to do, and he did it because God asked him to. He didn't always prosper in it, either, at least not by our standards. But he did it anyway.

Eric Liddell died in an internment camp in Japan-occupied China during World War II. He had enough advance warning of the invasion to send his wife and children to safety, but he chose to stay behind, because, as a missionary, he felt this was the place he could best minister. He used his Olympic running skills to run through battlefields gathering the wounded in a wheelbarrow and taking them to the hospital. When he was interned at the camp, he was offered the chance to go free, and refused, asking that they take some of the others instead. He is still remembered as a kind, generous man by all who were interned alongside him, and was known as "Uncle Eric." When he died, all of Scotland mourned.

Courage. Self-sacrifice. Giving up. It looks from our perspectives like Eric Liddell kind of died a failure. I mean, he chose to bail out on an incredibly successful athletic career to be a missionary in China. Then he died there. Blech, right? But that's a narrow perspective. Eric Liddell changed the world, and he did it because he was not afraid to look like a failure. He wasn't afraid to give of himself, because he knew he could not be diminished. He wasn't afraid to look like he was giving up.

Or how about Rang de Basanti? An amazing movie (that more people should see, seriously), the film follows six Indian college students as they make a documentary film about the revolutionary heroes of Indian independence and become, in turn, revolutionaries themselves. It's a brilliant movie. But it's also a hard one to love, because the ending involves, well, the characters all giving up. The movie follows them as they become aware of the real, intractable issues in their country, and examines the possible reactions to those issues. Do we run away to America? Complain about what our country is? Wait for something to come along and change it while we go about our lives?

Do we give up who we are and the future we might have in order to ensure that our brothers and sisters have a better life?

What moves me here is partially the sacrifice, yes, but more how as they become more aware of the suffering around them, they also become more themselves. They become more fully alive. These young people are able to make sacrifices like this only because they have learned who they really are. You have to look at yourself, and then step into your real identity. Who you are supposed to be. That is what changes the world.

Pacific Rim is about robots punching aliens, yes, but it's also about how necessary other people are in our fight. How we should be willing and ready to give ourselves to protect others, and how ultimately, none of us is in it alone. We are all in this together, and it matters whether or not you show up and bring the fullness of your identity and what you can offer. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier? The only way to really save someone, the only way to show how much you love them, is sometimes to just give up. Yeah, there's all that other stuff going on about HYDRA and SHIELD and the philosophical meaning of fear, but let's be real. All the Captain America movies are just one big love story between Steve (Chris Evans) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan). And when Steve learns that Bucky has no idea who he is, that he is just a target to Bucky, and that Bucky wants him dead, Steve's best act of love is to give up. By giving up, by sacrificing himself, he saves Bucky.

And, incidentally, he saves himself.

Heck, even Prince of Egypt is about these same themes, and it puts them in very blatant terms. When Moses (Val Kilmer) discovers who he really is, namely a slave child adopted into the royal family of Egypt, he has a choice. He can either pretend he doesn't know, and go on living his cushy, nice life, ignoring the plight of his people, or he can give up everything he has, admit who he is, and live a life of slavery. It seems like a really obvious decision. So clearly he makes the "wrong" choice. 

Moses can't live with the idea that he is free and the rest of his people are not. He freaks out. He admits the truth. He even (semi-accidentally) kills a man who was threatening a Hebrew slave. He's banished from Egypt and loses everything. Except his purpose. That he gets and gets in full when a weird bush (in which God is appearing, to be fair) tells him to go back to Egypt (which is suicide) and tell Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go (which is a terrible strategy).

But if you remember the story even a little bit, then you'll remember the key factor here. Not only is it a terrible strategy and a genuinely stupid idea by human standards, it works. The Hebrews go free. And yet everything Moses did could totally qualify as giving up. Or at the very least, making the exact wrong choice at the exact wrong moment every single time.

Funny how that works.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying what I thought of when God told me, on that camping trip, to think of my favorite stories. Because every single one of my favorite stories is about self-sacrifice, courage, loss, and doing the stupid thing because it's the right thing in the end.

While I was praying on that trip, God told me something rather scary. He asked me to think about my favorite stories, and then He asked me if He tells good stories. Obviously He does, so it was easy to reply. And then God got kind of intense. Well, intense even for God.

"Are good stories nice?"

No, no they aren't. Especially not the ones that I love. The stories that I love are full of pain and death and misery and a full and meaningful awareness of human suffering. They're hard stories to love, but they're so vitally important. Good stories aren't nice, good stories are true.

"Do you want me to tell a good story in your life?"

In each of those stories I cited above, there comes a moment where the main character has to decide whether they want their life to be a nice story or a good one. Because these are films, and because they're my favorite films, all those people chose the good story over the nice one. Well, last week it was my turn to choose. It's a terrifying thing, to suddenly be faced with that choice. On the one hand, I, like most people, really and truly hate pain. I'm not going to lie about that. I haaaaate being hurt, physically and emotionally. I don't like doing things that are hard. It sucks.

But on the other hand, I really do believe in the importance of self-sacrifice. I believe it is our duty not just to notice suffering, but to act on that knowledge. After all, "Any man who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it commits a sin."** So the answer, after a lot of deliberation and freaking out was, yes. I want my life to be a good story. I want my life to matter.

It's hard. I'm scared. And I kind of wish I knew what I was in for. All I know is that at some point in the future, I will be asked to "give up my life", and I don't know what that means, or when it will happen. Which I think is the point. Not knowing. Because now I have to live with the understanding of what really does matter. Not success, not living until you're old and grey and surrounded by fat grandbabies, not even falling in love.

What matters is how you answer that question: Will you turn away from the suffering in the world? Or will you step into who you really are, into who you are supposed to be, and face it head on? Even if it makes you look like a failure?

Will you do the stupid thing?

*Plus or minus a few details.

**James 4:17

Friday, July 18, 2014

GUEST: You Shouldn't Always Get What You Want (Californication)

Today's guest post is written by Dan Ingram.

Dearest Californication,

Before I start, I’d like to congratulate you on seven seasons of television. That is no small feat, especially considering how much stuff is literally on TV, but you did it. To the entire cast, crew and anyone else involved with the process, know that I understand the challenges you likely faced and overcame and I have a heartfelt appreciation for your tribulations. Seriously.

Having said that….I have to admit that I am really unhappy with the way the show ended. You could have done more, said more, with your premise. But you didn't.

And as far as premises go, you had a good thing going. Hank Moody (David Duchovny) is a a man-child who sleeps his way around the greater LA area and perpetually yearns for the woman he considers “the one”. This woman is his ex-wife Karen (Natascha McElhone), who has left him because of his many personal flaws, and is the reason Hank cites for his behavior as well as the purported cure to all his problems. Maybe Hank wasn’t the most sympathetic or likable guy at times (he objectified women on a regular, tangible basis), but I always felt like Hank’s heart was in the right place, even if his brain wouldn’t let him convey that properly.

So you get that I loved this show. I loved it, and I also did not watch the last three seasons. I watched the finale as a standalone episode, just to see how it ended because for me, the show was over after season four. I watched the first four seasons, accepted the ending of the fourth season as “my true ending” as a fan, and decided to move on with life.

I have to reiterate, I appreciate that you, the writers and actors of Californication, kept the show going for three more seasons. But from everything I've heard, both on the Internet and from friends that were still watching the show, I wasn’t missing much.

I really adored Hank Moody in concept from the very beginning. I know Debbi will hate that I’m saying that, but it’s true. This show came around while I was still in college and really going through my first foray into “hook-up culture”. There was a lot of wish fulfillment for me in my younger, less politically inclined days, and I thought at the end of the day the message of Californication was one of hope against all odds that you can find happiness no matter how messed up you may be.

That may have been the message for the first few seasons, but from what I can tell, that wasn't the message of the last ones.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I finally got around to watching the final episode of the series. Granted I didn’t know who a few characters were (namely Hank’s son with Faith), and there were a few situations that I found totally bizarre, like the sex contract (or whatever it was) between Marcy and that other guy who was not important enough to the plot to be memorable. Anyway, the finale was fine, I guess.

But at the end of the episode I was expecting…something. Something that I didn’t get. I love Hank (and maybe more importantly David Duchovny’s portrayal of Hank) and the ways he processes his pain. I love that he is so flawed but he tries so hard. And, yes, getting Hank together with Karen at the end was a great way to reconcile the lingering emotional issue that set Hank off in the first place. So I was expecting Hank to try to get back with Karen. I'm not sure if I was expecting him to succeed. But maybe that’s what bothered me so much.

You gave the guy a happy ending. You gave him what he wanted.

Hank Moody shouldn't be anyone's ideal of a person, but here we are. After seven years of what should have been growth and change, Hank Moody got what he wanted in the first place, in spite of all the absolutely terrible things he’d done. That's not okay.

I blame the writers. I love Hank Moody because despite all his flaws, I truly believed that this was a man who had his heart in the right place. Even though he had placed Karen on a pedestal, he still had a chance to take her off that shrine and tear it down. He had chances to tear that pedestal down, but he didn't.

I love Hank Moody but I feel sorry for him. He became a victim of circumstance, except circumstance in this situation is code for "writers that ran out of anything interesting to say". They kept on rehashing the same story. Hank's journey toward healing and patching up his broken heart was turned into a story where he pissed into a Jack Daniels bottle then drank it, because why the hell not? That's funny right?

That's how I fell out of love with the show. The guy I identified with, who I could see myself in, was stripped of all the characteristics that made him feel real. He became a joke.

I have previously written (at length) about Hank Moody and the misguided concept of “the one”.  I feel like this series constantly tried to undermine its own ideas by providing multiple female characters that would have been far better matches with Hank than Karen (later seasons excluded, mainly the crazy ex that burned his apartment and tried to kill Hank). The show gave us viable alternatives, but it shut all of them down because it was bound and determined that Hank Moody end up exactly where he started.

This finale needed to be the show finally saying something. Making a statement that justifies seven seasons of sex and titillation.  Saying something very big about relationships and how men and women reconcile and come together time and time again but maybe, just maybe they shouldn’t.

I didn't want Hank to end up with Karen. Not because I hate her, but because that's not what the show needed to be. That's not what Hank needed to be. Californication seemed like a show destined to see the lead character alone and happy, finally resolute in the fact that the woman he placed upon a pedestal deserved to stand on her own without his pandering and begging. Hank needed to figure out that he could and should be happy on his own, and Karen needed the narrative right to stand on her own two feet.

That's not what happened. Why? I really want to know. Was this a situation where the end of season four was really the end everyone creatively wanted and then “Oops, we got three more seasons! Just go for gross out humor and the most outrageous situations possible. It'll be fine." It felt so stale and stagnant that, like I said, I didn’t even watch the last three seasons.

I bring that up again because when I watched the final episode of the series, nothing had changed for Hank. I didn't need to watch the last three seasons to know where Hank was at emotionally because he hadn't moved. He was the exact same person I saw in the pilot, he just managed to keep it in his pants for an entire episode. Whoo. Character development.

This show set up from the first scene that, “you don’t always get what you want”. Then, in the last scene, it gave Hank exactly what he wanted. What were you trying to say Californication? What should I take away from seven seasons of your show? Because I got nothing.

If I were the only one that felt this way, I’d just figure I'm yet another bitter, disillusioned writer who is boohooing over not getting the ending he wanted. But I’m not.

Hank didn’t get what he needed at the end of this show, he got what he wanted. He got what he didn’t deserve. He didn’t grow or become a fully functioning human being. And what’s probably saddest about all of this is that Hank had every chance to fulfill that role.

The end of season two is hands down my favorite scene in the entire show (Hank’s ghost conversation with Lew). He had a chance to grow there. Season three put multiple women in front of Hank that would have made him at least expand his horizons and become more competent in some regard. He could have changed and developed. And like I've already said, the end of season four was Hank leaving on his own accord, resigning himself to the fate he’d been presented and apparently moving on with his life.

Season seven ends with Hank stagnant. His daughter is getting married against his will, he’s on a plane with Karen to an uncertain future, and he’s pretty much abandoning (again) the child he didn’t even know he had. What was the take away from that? What was the point? What were the last seven years even about if nothing ever changed?

I want to take a moment and speak directly to Mr. Tom Kapinos, creator and primary writer of the show.

Mr. Kapinos, I am a fan, and even though you probably hate me and will never want to work with me given the things that I’ve written in this letter, I remain a fan of Hank Moody. I own a copy of God Hates Us All, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and if a ghost written version of Fucking and Punching is ever released, you can rest assured that I will buy that as well.

But I left the final episode of your show wondering what it all meant. I know you’ve got something to say, but I didn’t know what it was. I think that the heart of your show rests in the fact that while we all try and try and try to get the things that we want, sometimes, instead, you get what you need. And I think that you were trying to say that getting what you need might suck, but it's better in the end. I just...I'm not sure if that's what you actually said.

Was Hank’s final love letter to Karen moving? Of course it was. Hank’s words and works were (obviously) yours and you had some absolutely amazing words to share with the world. I just wish that you would have looked back on what made the show great in the beginning and made it more real, at least emotionally (because the whole Marcy fuck doll thing was seriously crazy stuff, funny, but creepy and crazy).

I’ll miss that beautiful bald son of a bitch, Runkle. I’ll miss his coked out wife, Marcy. I’ll miss all the times I got to see Becca push and direct her father to try and be a better person. I’ll even miss Faith, though I barely knew her. But most of all I’ll miss Hank. I really will. I’ll miss your Hank, Mr. Kapinos. And I’ll miss Mr. Duchovny’s Hank. But the Hank you two made together, well that was one fun man-child to watch, even in the darkest of times.

Hank had a chance (lots of them, actually) to be something better, but he never did, and that’s fine, I guess. What I can’t reconcile is a Hank who stays the same for seven seasons, and in the end, he gets exactly what he’d been searching for all along. No change, no growth, no payoff. It's cheap.

“It’s always been about her,” is all well and good in theory as long as you realize what makes it "all about her." To me, Hank never did, and Karen never realized what made it all about her either. They ended up in the same vicious cycle that they started with, without any indication that this was better or worse for them. If you were going for a “real life” ending then maybe you nailed it right on the head. Life isn’t neat, it’s messy, and it doesn’t come with those nice little bows. Life is not in the business of handing out moral lessons and clear directives. It doesn't give us any answers.

But I wanted one for Hank.

Dan Ingram is a contributor to Crossover Appeal and a semi-irregular contributor to Kiss My Wonder Woman. He has his Master's in Screenwriting from New York Film Academy, and works in television development. He owns more romantic comedies than I do.