Monday, September 15, 2014

RECAP: Outlander 1x05 - Claire of the Wild

First, I should probably address my lingering absence from this blog. It's nothing to worry about, not really, it's just that last week I moved into a new apartment, and the internet won't be hooked up until Thursday because Comcast has decided to abuse their power by raising prices and lowering our expectations about customer service. Still, it's quite nice to live in a cute little apartment with two of my favorite people in the world (even if we do bicker a lot like good friends are apt to do). None of this is particularly important or anything, I just thought I probably ought to explain where the hell I've been. I miss you all and also the internet like burning.

The second thing to address is, of course, last week's episode of Outlander. In a surprising turn of events, this is the first episode of the show that I didn't really like. While that sucks, I should point out how rad it is that all of the episodes up until now have been awesome enough to avoid this. Yay!

The reason I didn't like this episode is a bit harder to nail down, but I think it comes from a combination of a couple of things. On the one hand, I am anxious for us to reach a certain plot point that I know is coming and that I know I'm going to enjoy the everloving crap out of. On the other hand, I also found that in this episode the changes they made to the book narrative actually worked against the story and not for it. More on that in a bit.

So the episode opens on a pensive Claire staring out over the loch and reciting poetry. A little bit pretentious, sure, but a girl needs to have a hobby. And when she's stranded in a group of wild Scottish fighting men who are at that moment actively fighting, well, it's not hard to see how Claire might fall back on some prim and properness. On the plus side, she's not the only one who likes the intellectual pursuits. As you hopefully recall from last week, Claire has been dragged along on Dougal's trip across the countryside, collecting rents for the MacKenzie clan. 

Claire and Jamie have come along, for reasons unknown so far to both of them, but so has Ned MacGowan, a lawyer from Edinburgh who works for the MacKenzie. Claire and Ned become good friends by virtue of being the only educated people they know. Also because Claire is a bit of a miracle-worker and manages to find a treatment for Ned's asthma quickly and easily, which would make anyone appreciate her.

The trip across the countryside is a long one, and while Claire enjoys discussing the ins and outs of collecting rents with Ned, there's not much else for her to do. She still can't go anywhere unsupervised, she still doesn't speak Gaelic, and she's still a Sassenach, so no one really ever talks to her. She's isolated and miserable and stuck camping in Scotland in the late fall. Claire needs a hug. Or at least to not have to eat roasted squirrel for a few days and sleep in a real bed.

Unfortunately, while the show makes it clear how unhappy Claire is, it also somehow makes her seem a bit spoiled and ungrateful and whiny, which isn't on. It's not like Claire asked to be dragged around, and then given nothing to do for weeks on end. The show gives her this sort of air of acting like she's better than them, but that seems out of character and also a bit silly. She doesn't think she's better than them, she just thinks she doesn't belong and she's sick of trying to convince everyone that she really really does. Also she is very understandably done with listening to the men making sexist jokes about women. 

Oh well.

In town, we get to see a little of how the MacKenzies collect their rents, and it is unmitigatingly dull both for the audience and for Claire. Incidentally, this is a bit they changed from the book, I think, where instead of just sitting around watching, Claire actually did a service by seeing to any of the villagers who needed healing in all the towns they passed. It's a valid reference point, because having her sit idly here just compounds the weirdness of her presence there, where in the book it actually made quite a bit of sense.

This does lead, however, to the most interesting bit of the episode, where Claire finally finally gets to spend some time with other women, and the setting is very unusual but very interesting. Wandering around the village, Claire happens upon a group of women chanting and working the wool, which means setting the dye in a plaid by working it back and forth on a table. Also they set the dye by soaking the wool in pee, which is gross, but very clever. Claire joins in, and it's clear that even though she has no idea what they're singing, she's glad to be part of something for once.

After the wool's been worked, the women take a break inside and drink some moonshine (that the men aren't to know they have) and have a bit of a gossip about their lives. Claire finds herself incredibly sympathetic to these women, especially when she learns that one child is going hungry because his family had to use the goat to pay their taxes to the MacKenzies, and as a result they have no more milk. The child will likely die.  Claire's heartbroken, and also still drinking, when they ask her to pee in a bucket to contribute to the wool-working fund. As she obliges, Angus barges in, grabs her, and drags her back out.

It seems that Claire has disappeared, freaked everyone out, and earned herself a righteous bitching out from Angus. Also she's clearly a little drunk (like usual, let's be real), and her normally low emotional barriers are completely nonexistent. She tries to take the goat back to the women to save the baby, Dougal catches her, and Claire is in trouble. Dang it. Why is she even here? Basically she gets told off for interfering in business she does not understand, but there's a moment of hesitance when all of a sudden she hears a very English voice.

There's a redcoat in the village, Foster, and he wants to know if Claire is all right. Her argument with Dougal is super loud, after all, and an English lady in the Scottish highlands is a rather odd thing to see. Foster, who seems quite nice, actually, is just trying to make sure she's okay. Dougal assures him that she is, and that's that.

Later that night, though, it seems the matter's not over. Dougal and his men take over the local tavern. And while Claire hasn't got a lick of Gaelic, she knows that what they're doing now isn't collecting MacKenzie rents. It's something else. Something more inflammatory. Something that involves ripping Jamie's shirt off his back and displaying all of his scars to the audience. And then Dougal collects another round of coin from the locals.

Something deeply hinky is going on, and Claire does not like it one bit.

Neither, it should be pointed out, does Jamie, but that's because he was not told his back was a display here, and he did not consent to that. It's only when Claire angrily bitches out Dougal and then prepares to mend his shirt that Jamie speaks up, taking the shirt, and stalking off. So now Claire has even more things to hate Dougal for. Hooray!

The next morning Claire basically tells Ned off for participating in what she thinks is common theft/conning. Ned does nothing to correct her, but happily accepts the charge. He seems weirdly okay with it, too, which bothers Claire the most. No crisis of conscience here! Besides, it's not like they're doing it just the once. From here it's a long slog through town after town, where the pattern keeps repeating.

At one town, they ride up and find a house burning as a group of Scots stand perimeter around it. This is the Watch, a group of Scots who patrol the lands, and they're burning the house of a Redcoat sympathizer. Dougal does nothing but ride down and pick up a few pheasants from the Watch, a payment from this family, because the MacKenzie must be paid, no matter what.

Obviously this sits very badly with Claire, and she nearly causes and incident when she refuses to eat the plundered birds at lunch. Jamie and Murtaugh intervene on her behalf, but it's clear that Angus, Rupert, and the other men are just about ready to string Claire up in a tree and leave her there. Not even a quick chat from Jamie, her favorite person on this freaking trip, can cheer Claire up.

And the train continues to depressing-ville! The next town they visit has been hit hard by the English, just a few days ago. They have nothing with which to pay their taxes. They're apt to starve. But Dougal isn't going to let that happen. In what is probably the nicest thing he does all episode, Dougal hands out some of the profits from his previous taxes to the town, and helps them stave off starvation. Yay?

That night they do the usual song and dance with the coins and the speech and Jamie's back in the tavern, but this time Claire picks up something she'd been missing. They're not stealing the money. They're raising money. For a rebellion against the English.

Well crap.

When she thinks about it, Claire remembers that Frank was blathering on and on about the topic. She's in 1743 - in 1745 there will be the Second Jacobite Rising, and the devastation from the war (which the Scots lose badly), will lead to the end of the clans. Forever. Done. Gone. Suddenly she realizes that the men she's with aren't thieves, they're revolutionaries. But they're also going to fail. And most of them are going to die.

Later, unable to sleep while thinking about the future, Claire hears Dougal and Jamie arguing at the edge of camp. She sneaks up to investigate, and hears that they're talking about Jamie's status as a prop and Dougal's liberties with his body. Blegh. But it's honestly kind of nice (in a depressing way) have these issues addressed and mixed into the narrative as regarding a male person and his bodily autonomy. It doesn't feel out of nature or anything, but it is definitely an important moment about individual rights and all that jazz.

After Dougal leaves, Claire comes down to chat with Jamie, who's punching the trees and generally acting his age (the dude's only 23, after all). Claire asks why he's letting Dougal use him like that, and Jamie doesn't really answer, he just makes it clear that he doesn't like it, but he is choosing his battles. Not much else happens in the scene, but the sexual tension is positively stifling.

Knowing their real purposes on this trip does a lot to make Claire more sympathetic to the men around her. Sure, she knows they're doomed, but she does support their choices. They want to be free. Who doesn't? And when the company rides up to find a pair of Scottish "traitors" hung out on crosses by the English, she mourns with the rest of them. Dougal has them cut down and buried. Claire is silent.

The campaign continues as planned, but there is a distinct downside to being the only English person traveling with a company of men riling people up against the English. While Dougal did a great job at stirring things up downstairs at the inn, Claire's not all that safe sleeping in her room upstairs. She hears a noise in the hall and, grabbing a candlestick to defend herself, rushes out into the hall to confront it.

She steps on Jamie, winding him, and they both have a moment of utter confusion. It turns out that Jamie had the same fear Claire did, and decided to sleep in the hall outside her door to keep her safe. Claire is touched, but thinks he's being weird. Why not just sleep on the floor in her room where it's warm? This suggestion adorably flusters Jamie, who is absolutely horrified by the thought that he could damager her reputation like that. Claire doesn't give two craps, but she knows he does. So, with the sexual tension still blistering, she hands him a blanket, thanks him, and goes back to bed.

In the morning, they all take breakfast in the inn, but something weird is going on. While Claire asks Ned why he let her believe they were thieves rather than the truth, some men in the corner start to shout Gaelic insults. A few more rounds of this, and suddenly there's a full on brawl on her hands. Ah, the Scots.

Claire wastes no time in patching everyone up when it's over, nor does she skimp on the recriminations and chastisements. She basically berates all of them for being idiots who fight. But then Murtaugh calmly points out that she is the reason they were all fighting in the first place. Those other men called her a whore. And while the MacKenzie men may not always like Claire, she's theirs. They're the only ones who get to insult her.

It's touching. In a weird and kind of insulting way.

So Claire decides to reach out to them a little. As they're saddling the horses, and the men are making jokes and ribald comments, Claire, with her battlefield honed sense of humor, fires an insult back at Rupert. The men stand there, stunned, as Claire smirks and Jamie just beams at her. And then they all bust a gut laughing as Rupert proclaims that he's "never heard a woman tell a joke before!" Which is really more an indictment of Rupert than of female humor.

The mood is quickly broken, though, when Claire realizes where they are. They are standing at Culloden field, the spot of the Battle of Culloden, where the clans were finally defeated. It's the spot that ended the hope for Scottish independence for two hundred years. She's not so chipper now. She's grown to care for these men, and they for her, and they're going to die. 

Down at the stream, where Claire is trying to get a wash, Dougal walks down to confront her yet again about her origins and purposes. After all, she's been asking Ned some very suspicious questions. Claire comes back by trying to warn him about the uprising, but Dougal has the faith of the revolutionary, and can't hear her points.

Just as she's about to just give up and start yelling the future at him, a band of Redcoats emerges from the trees, surrounding them. It's Foster, again, and this time he has reinforcements. He asks her, once more, if she's all right.

And that's where the episode ends.

I found this to be my least-favorite episode so far, but on rewatching it, it's not so much bad as it is not as good as the others. This one is straight politics and very very slow character development. I wish there had been more scenes like the women working the wool, but no, it was mostly about Claire's internal political views, and that's a bit dull for a show to cover. Important, true, but dull.

I will, however, point out that this episode is very timely. The referendum on Scottish independence is coming up very soon, and while I have my own particular opinions on that subject, it certainly seems appropriate to take this moment to ruminate on the past.

Just saying.

A very picturesque cliffhanger...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Inescapable Goodness of Teen Wolf's Scott McCall

If you’re not currently watching Teen Wolf, then I’d like to take a minute and suggest that you start. Not because it’s an amazing show and you’re missing out on world-class storytelling, or even because the shirtless dudes are really that amazing. I mean, they’re nice, but they’re not quite enough to compensate for the plot-holes, marginalized characters, and frequent tonal shifts that plague the series. The reason I think everyone and their mother should watch Teen Wolf has very little to do with the show itself, and everything to do with a single character: Scott McCall.

Now, this might seem super obvious to state, since Scott (played by Tyler Posey) is the nominal protagonist of Teen Wolf. I mean, he is the “teen wolf” that the show’s title is referring to. It’s Scott’s life that’s transformed when he’s bitten by a crazed werewolf, it’s Scott who has to man up and learn how to be a supernatural creature in a banal world, and it’s Scott who has to do all of this while trying not to fail all of his classes or lose sight of what makes him human.

It’s all about Scott.

But the real reason why Scott makes the show work isn’t because he’s the main character. At this point that role is largely in name only - Scott has been the central character but not the “main” one for a few seasons now. No, the reason everyone should watch Teen Wolf and marvel at Scott McCall is actually a lot simpler than that. Simply put, Scott McCall is a really, really good person. Like a really, really, really, really good person. 

Scott is the kind of person that Sunday school teachers coo over and little old ladies know by name. He’s a Disney prince of a guy, and he’s so incorruptibly wonderful that the entire arc of this most recent season dealt with the fact that you literally cannot make him a bad guy.

He is also, and I feel like this is where the show gets really interesting, a biracial teenager from a “broken home” living with his Hispanic mother in a house where the power gets shut off because they can’t pay their bills and where he has to take extra hours at his after-school job so they can buy groceries. This kid is basically the werewolf messiah, and he’s not an upper-middle class white boy. He’s from the exact demographic that we would consider “at risk youth”. Scott’s a lot closer in socioeconomic status and cultural image to Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin than he is to the original Scott McCall of the Teen Wolf movie. And that? Makes the show worth watching.

Now, I really shouldn’t give Jeff Davis, the showcreator, too much credit here. Or really any credit. From what I’ve been able to tell, Davis has been ambiguous at best and downright irritated at worst regarding Scott’s racial and economic background. The majority of this development has actually come because of the actors. Tyler Posey is biracial, and very open about the fact. After finally being confronted one too many times about having cast a non-white actor in the lead role, Davis decided to make it an intentional choice, but Scott’s race actually remained a non-topic for the first few seasons of the show.

Additionally, one gets the impression that Scott was not always intended to be the best boy ever. In the first season, it seems like the show is going to make Scott heroic, but complicated, like the usual television heroes. It wasn’t until the second season (the agreed upon worst season) that the show started to build Scott up as a great person, and it was in the third season that everyone just sat down and agreed that Scott is basically the best person to ever live. So it’s been a long process.

And don’t get me wrong. When I say that Scott is, on this show, pretty much the best person to ever live, I don’t think I’m exaggerating. 

So far he has somehow managed to become the Alpha of a werewolf pack simply by being a really good leader and inspirational and pure of heart (something so rare that there is literally a plot where another werewolf pack tries to steal him), as well as being the kind of guy who doesn’t just stay friends with his ex-girlfriend, he stays best friends with his ex-girlfriend.

There are scenes where Scott tells his friends how much they mean to him and how much he loves them. There are scenes where Scott tells his enemies how much they mean to him and how much he loves them. There is literally a scene where Scott breaks through a magic spell with the power of love. Actually there are a bunch of scenes where he does that. Because Scott McCall is magic.

And it’s not just that he’s sappy and cute and magically gifted. Scott McCall would be an angel if he didn’t have any supernatural powers, and from what I can tell, that’s the point. He’s like Steve Rogers that way. What happens if you give superpowers to a person who has a weak constitution (interesting because both Steve and Scott have debilitating asthma for most their lives), but an infinite ability to care for others? Well, it appears that you get Captain America and True Alpha Scott McCall. Becoming a werewolf didn’t make Scott a good person, it just gave him the power to be the best good person he could be.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I love Scott. In the first season he’s a little annoying, sure, but honestly I blame the writers for that. They didn’t yet know how to write him, and they were portraying his defining feature (his ineffable goodness) as a liability and frustrating weakness. Once they realized that Scott’s actual flaw is that he’s pretty much incorruptible, the show really picked up and got more interesting. They doubled down on Scott’s niceness, and the result is awesome.

Which is why it’s all the more important to note that Scott? Not your average white teenager. Not a white teenager at all. While the circumstances of Scott’s life are actually probably the result of the writers trying to create a scenario where it’s plausible for a sixteen year old boy to spend most of his nights running around the woods fighting monsters, the facts remain the same. 

Scott’s parents are divorced, and at the start of the show at least, his father is completely out of the picture. It is implied several times that his father was an alcoholic, and borderline abusive. Scott’s mother, on the other hand, is a genuinely amazing and wonderful woman, but she’s busy providing for her teenage son (and the occasional love-starved foster kid that her son literally brings home to live with them because that is an honest to goodness plot point). Melissa (played by Melissa Ponzio) is a fantastic mother, but she’s not around a lot, because she’s always working. She’s a nurse, and while it’s a profession that pays pretty well, it’s clear that it doesn’t pay well enough.

And, I mean, I just can’t get over how interesting Scott’s background is from this perspective. Because his father, who we later discover is an FBI agent, is a codedly upper-middle class white man, but Scott chooses to live with his working class Hispanic mother. Nursing, though an important (very) and difficult job, is generally considered a lower-class profession. It’s something working class people do. Higher income people with the same interests become doctors. 

It’s hard to think of a more positive representation of a Hispanic teen in pop culture. It’s hard to think of a more positive representation of any teenager in pop culture. Scott’s one of a kind. Because while he is a rather static character (he is good and he stays good), Scott isn’t by any means boring, nor is he a bad character. Like I mentioned earlier, he’s a lot like Captain America. Just because he’s good doesn’t mean everyone else is, and a great deal of really interesting conflict can come from Scott and his idealism butting up against the world.

This one quirk, too, pretty much saves the show. Without Scott and his magical werewolf amazingness, the show would quickly disintegrate into a series of teen trauma tropes. I mean, the other characters are great and all (Allison was amazing, Malia is hilarious, Lydia is a gem, Derek is my squishie), but Scott is the reason why the show is worth watching.

So even if you don’t like Teen Wolf, and think it’s cheesy or bad or kind of offensive sometimes (all of those being perfectly reasonable things to think), remember Scott McCall. Remember that one time that he asked, in perfect earnestness because Scott is never not earnest, why his mother hadn’t kept her maiden (Hispanic) last name. He wanted to know so he could understand, and made it clear that he would support her no matter what. Remember the time that Scott took time away from hunting the supernatural creature of the week to help his best friend who was going through a rough time.

Remember the time that Scott risked his life to save his high school bully from being hurt. Repeatedly. Even when it became clear that said high school bully was a real and honest threat. Remember that time that Scott allowed himself to be tortured in order to save someone who wasn’t even technically in his pack.

Remember all of the times that Scott has proved he has a pure heart, and then remember the way that the media usually shows us Hispanic (non-white in general) teenagers. Teen Wolf does a lot of things wrong. A lot. But this is one thing that they do consistently right.

Remember Scott McCall.

He's made of puppies and sunshine and rainbows and love.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What's On My Pull List? (Hawkeye, Chew, Bodies, and More!)

Also Gwen as Spiderman is coming up in Edge of the Spiderverse!
This is now the third installment in the ongoing series of articles where I tell you what comics I pre-order at my local comic book shop. I really hesitate to call this the last article in the series because, let's be real, comics are a fluid and changing medium. Some of these comics will be cancelled before the year is out. Other comics have been announced, but will later come out and I will love them and put them on my list. Still other comics have yet to be announced, or even thought of, and invariably I will love some of those and put them on my list too!

What I'm saying is that a pull list is a changing thing. Some comics you love, and then you get over, whether because they switched writers or because you're just kind of done with them. Some comics you find you can't quit no matter how hard you try. And some comics end before their time. But there are always new comics coming, and to my great and visible delight, a lot of these new comics are much more visibly diverse than their predecessors. In fact, I would say that on a whole, comics are becoming increasingly inclusive and representative as an art form.

And that's rad.

So, with all of that in mind, as well as the understanding that this list is probably incomplete because, as with everything I do, I consume a lot of comics*, here's the some more of my pull list!

1. The Wicked and the Divine (Image)

I have absolutely no idea what to make of this comic, and I'm kind of okay with that. I know that's an odd start, but it's very true. For all that there are now three issues of this comic available, I still don't feel like I fully grok it. But I'll try to explain it anyways.

Wicked and Divine takes place in an alternate universe of sorts where the gods are real, and they are reincarnated every ninety years into the bodies of a group people in their late teens/early twenties. The group is completely random each time, but suddenly, they are gods, and they are worshipped and revered for two years. Then they die.

No one really understands why the cycle exists, or how to get out of it, and for the gods trapped inside it's a terrifying existence. They know they're going to die, they just don't know what happens next. But it seems that they have bigger problems: one of the gods (presumably) is killing people and framing gods for it. Why? They don't know. But it's definitely a problem.

I like this because it's just so stinking weird and confusing and weird, but also because it's a truly compelling mystery, and because the writing is pretty good. It doesn't hurt that the art style is nice, and the writers have chosen very intentionally to make their characters multi-racial and multi-lingual, so as to avoid cultural centrism. I like that. But mostly I'm keeping reading until I figure out what the heck is going on, you know?

2. Bodies (Vertigo)

And, speaking of stories that I don't really understand but am intrigued by, Bodies is another weird one. It's brand new, but I can tell it's going to be amazing. It had better be amazing, because I'm hooked, and I hate being hooked on things that turn out to be terrible. Anyway, the story is actually four stories, told each issue and illustrated by a different artist. The stories each revolve around a cop in London discovering a mysterious body. The stories take place in four very distinct time periods, and the one link between them is that the body they all find is exactly the same.

Cool, right?

The four time periods also make an effort to discuss real and important issues of self, identity, and what it means to protect the people even when they hate you. There's one story set in Victorian London, with a gay male detective trying to investigate crimes and not be outed and then executed, and another story about a German Jewish cop trying make a new life for himself in London during WWII. There's a female Muslim detective inspector in present-day London, facing off against race riots and nationalist backlash, and there's a really weird story set in the future where everyone has been hit by an amnesia pulse, including the cop. That one's kind of confusing. But fun.

I like the story because it very explicitly deals with questions of identity and duty and sacrifice, but also because these characters all feel very real to me (except amnesia cop lady). They're real people, in real situations, and those real situations are pretty messed up. And I would like to know what's up with the bodies.

3. Sensation Comics (DC)

This is also a brand new comic (surprise!), but kind of a really old one too. Basically, way back when, Wonder Woman had two titles coming out every month. There was the Wonder Woman comic, which we all know and love, and then there was also Sensation Comics, an anthology series featuring Wonder Woman, that got to tell all the weird different stories about her.

It's just been revived and started printing again, and I for one am thrilled. Not just because I like reading Wonder Woman one-shots (though this month, when she basically fixed Gotham forever was pretty rad), but because it gives the writers a lot more leeway to explore her character and find compelling angles to her characterization.

Plus, Wonder Woman is one of the most recognizable superheroes on Earth. She deserves a second title so she can strut her stuff. Who knows? Maybe some of the material from this book will be compelling enough to finally be made into that movie that we know must happen someday please oh please come on.

4. Hawkeye (Marvel) - Trade Paperbacks

Like it says above, I came late to the Hawkeye train, and so I've opted to collect the trade paperbacks instead of the floppies. If this were a female-lead comic I'd probably buy the floppies just because, but it's not, and it doesn't need my help. Hawkeye is a pretty popular comic in its own right, and I think it's doing just fine without me.

Also it's hilarious and wonderful and I love it. For reference, this is sometimes called Matt Fraction's Hawkeye, and it's not hard to see why. Just like Kelly Sue Deconnick has largely defined Captain Marvel in recent years, and Gail Simone is who everyone thinks of in terms of Wonder Woman, Matt Fraction has developed the definitive take on Hawkeye. And I am okay with that because his take is amazing.

Basically, remember all the sass and snark we got from Jeremy Renner in Avengers? Well that's the comic. Clint Barton is a human disaster who thinks the best way to infiltrate a party is by wearing a suit and repeating the word "casual" under his breath. He has a one-eyed dog fondly named "PizzaDog", and his young mentee, Kate Bishop, is a more functional adult than him any day. Which is funny, because she's like eighteen.

Technically the comic is about both Clint and Kate, but it's pretty clear that Clint is where the real story lies. And it's a good story. It's about what Hawkeye does when he's not being an Avenger. He doesn't have a swanky life or some big mission. Mostly he hangs out and gets into trouble with the Russian mob or accidentally pisses off some supervillain when he goes out for more pizza. He's smart (really smart), but also kind of dumb when it comes to common sense. And score one for representation, this Hawkeye is deaf and wears hearing aids, a piece of continuity I wish they would bring into the movies.

Basically Hawkeye is the best like pizza is the best. It may not be the best thing in the world for you, but damn if you're not going to eat it anyway.

5. Chew (Image) - Trade Paperbacks

I have listed my deep and abiding love for Chew elsewhere on this site, but suffice to say that I really like this comic. It's weird and fun and cool and has deep and interesting characters and also a lot of science fiction insanity. It's about a world where chicken has been outlawed because of a bird flu epidemic. Our hero, Tony Chu, works for the FDA, investigating chicken-related crimes. He's a perfect candidate for the job because he's cibopathic: he has a superpower where whenever he eats something, he knows everything about how it was made and who made it. So he solves crimes. Occasionally by eating dead people.

But that's really only the very basic gist of the show. For starters, there are a ton of food related superpowers revealed, including but not limited to: a woman who can write about food so vividly you can actually taste it, a woman who can see the future of anyone she bites, a man who gets smarter when he's eating, a man who can sculpt chocolate into realistic and usable weapons (including guns), and so on. It's deeply bizarre, and very fun.

Right now the plot has expanded across the universe, something about how the thing with the chickens and this strange alien writing in the sky is actually about the end of the world? Also there's a minor character who is a cyborg rooster that happens to be the FDA's most decorated and efficient agent. POYO! It's a good book. You should read it.

6. Pretty Deadly (Image) - Trade Paperbacks

Finally, another book by Kelly Sue Deconnick (she also writers Captain Marvel), this one is, you guessed it, super duper weird. It's like a Spaghetti Western kind of a book? The first trade paperback, which is the only one available so far, follows the journey of "the girl in the vulture cloak" as she and her mentor try to escape Death and his henchmen, eventually seeking the aid of Death-Faced Ginny, who is Death's daughter and kind of a reaper and also warring against Death...

It's complicated. But good. That's what I'm saying. I can't really explain it to you in more detail, unfortunately, because I'm not convinced I understand it in more detail than that, but it's very entertaining, and honestly? The art is some of the most beautiful I've seen in a comic. Hands down. Emma Rios, the artist, is amazing and needs more work. Also she needs to keep drawing this comic too, because she's so good at it.

I'm not really sure where the story's going to go from here, though. That's the one downside. I mean, I love the first volume, but it ends on a pretty resolved note, so I'm not sure what else there is to say. Still, I'm curious. And if you like surrealist takes on the Old West and also death mythology, then you should like it too.

7. BONUS: Coming Soon! ThorBucky Barnes: The Winter SoldierSpiderwoman, and Secret Avengers (Marvel) and Batgirl (DC)

I don't have much to say about these yet, because they haven't come out, and therefore I cannot vouch for them, but I am eagerly anticipating each and every one of these stories. (Okay, technically, Secret Avengers is already out, but I'm waiting for the trade paperbacks, and it could be another few months for that.) So yeah. Very excited. And, once again, feel free to note how much of this list is made up of Marvel and independent titles, and how little is DC. Interesting, eh?

Favorite character in Bodies. Hands down.
*Stories are wonderful and I will take them in whatever medium I can get them.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Veronica Mars And The Movie That Should Have Been

When you make a sequel, or a revival, or a new anything, there’s always a careful line to walk. On the one hand, you want to make fans of the original happy. These are your most dedicated fanbase, and therefore the people you really don’t want to piss off. But you also, as a bigshot movie producer or director or writer, want to appeal to new fans as well. You want to bring in people who probably would like the original, but just haven’t heard of it.

This is your biggest hurdle, the tension between these two goals. Because, let’s be real, if you only manage to appeal to one side of the fanbase, your movie (or book or television show or broadway revival or whatever) won’t be a hit. Sadly, that’s just the way it works. The only real way to make sure that your project appeals to fans both new and old is to figure out why it’s popular in the first place, and then work from there. Not the superficial things that are fun, but not necessary, no, I mean that core of the project. What is it about? Why does it matter? Why do people love it?

I mention this for a few reasons. First, news has recently hit that there will be some kind of Pushing Daisies revival. That’s awesome, because Pushing Daisies was a freaking brilliant show full of incredibly talented people. But I also mention it because a few weeks ago I was stuck on a plane, bored out of my mind as I usually am on planes, and ended up rewatching the Veronica Mars movie. That movie? Didn’t know why people loved it.

I covered this a while back, but I do have to admit that at the time, my brain was kind of fogged by the intense powers of nostalgia and joy wafting up from the project. I love Veronica Mars, in the kind of uncomplicated way that one loves a female-centric, original, clever show that happened to be airing during one’s high school/college years. In other words, a lot. I was waiting for this movie with baited breath and more than a little anxious hyperventilating. So obviously when it came out, I failed to be objective.

Not that I really think objectivity is humanly possible. I tend to believe that there is no such thing as an objective report. But that’s a larger, more philosophical point that we’re not going to get into now. Anyway.

Upon a repeated viewing, months later, I have to admit the truth. It’s not a very good movie. Sure, it serves its purpose pretty well, as long as you believe that its purpose is to remind everyone of how much they liked the show, and appease the Veronica/Logan shippers. If that’s all you wanted, then bravo! That’s pretty much all you got.

But the movie lacked something crucial that the show had, and without it the movie suffered. It wasn’t very good. It could have been better. The thing it was missing was simple, but vital: class tension.

Now, this might seem like kind of a weird point to make, since class tension was never explicitly the point of Veronica Mars. The show’s premise - teenage girl private eye solves murders in a film noir California town - was weird, but pretty straight-forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if the class (and race) commentary in the show was largely accidental. Just a sort of thing that happened as the show was going along. However it happened, though, it did, and it was great.

While the arc-plot of the first season dealt with the death of a rich, beautiful, privileged teenager and the luxurious lives of her potential murderers, the real subtext dealt with a meatier topic: race and privilege in a community with an extremely wide income gap. Veronica and her father, having once been considered part of the upper crust but now fallen to the lowest of the lows, were perfect exemplars of this, and Veronica even went so far as to openly address her former privilege. In the voice over she talks about how she never noticed the poverty around her until her family was the one struggling to make rent.

But it’s not just about Veronica versus her former friends. The show also opens up a variety of conversations on race and class issues. There’s her friend Wallace, a lower middle-class African-American teenage nerd who has a job at the school and thinks about money issues and loves his family but worries about them sometimes. There’s also the local gang leader, Eli Navarro (Weevil), a Latino high schooler who frequently refers to the racial discrimination he experiences at the hand of the police, and points out that there really isn’t a whole lot for him to do in Neptune that isn’t crime.

Or we could talk about Mac, Veronica’s very intelligent friend whose low-brow, low-income family feels like a foreign planet to her. She finds out at one point that she was actually switched at birth, and should have grown up in a cultured, rich family. Mac understandably struggles with this, but eventually comes to realize that while her family is codedly lower-class, they’re also good, and she loves them.

Heck, there’s even an entire episode in the first season about class passing. That same episode? Has Weevil accused of stealing, a bunch of white rich boys banding together to implicate him, and several frank discussions of race.

What I’m saying is that while class tension wasn’t technically the point of the show, it became clear early on that it was the focus. No matter what story Veronica Mars was telling, class and race became vital aspects. Which is good. Class and race inform huge amounts of our lives, and this combined with the show’s unflinching portrayal of rape narratives is a huge part of why we love it.

And a huge part of why the movie didn’t work.

See, when the writers adapted the Veronica Mars show into the Veronica Mars movie, they got confused about why we love it. Instead of giving us a hard-hitting narrative about police corruption and racial tension and class warfare, we got a scandalous story about yet another dead rich girl and her super rich boyfriend and some rich people doing rich stuff. Worse still, Veronica was no longer our working class heroine of the poor, but a rich lawyer lady who can actually afford to push her plane tickets back indefinitely, clearly isn’t hurting for a job because she’s willing to turn down a good offer, and just generally seems to have no memory of how the other half lives.

That’s a problem. It feels like the writers figured that all we are looking for in a Veronica Mars story is a load of quips, Veronica deflecting sexist remarks (which is great, don’t get me wrong), and some juicy juicy murder. But that’s not what we (what I) want at all. What I want is Veronica Mars, avenging angel of the downtrodden. Veronica Mars, who understands rich people but can never be one of them. Veronica Mars, who sees the corruption in the police force and burns it out like the fires of justice. While being cute and quippy.

This Veronica Mars, the one we got in the movie, was less of an avenging angel, and more of a marshmallow. She was very witty, of course, but her wit lacked the necessary punch of justice. Veronica was kind of cranky, but not righteously pissed off about something, and I would argue (am arguing) that Veronica is at her best when she’s really really angry. She just is.

Imagine with me for a second the movie this could have been. Instead of getting a phone call from Logan Echolls asking for help, what if Veronica received a call from Eli Navarro, her former-gangbanger friend, asking for her investigating help to clear him when he’s accused of trying to mug Celeste Kane, in what is clearly a police frame-job. As a sidenote, this is actually a subplot in the movie, it is way more compelling than the main story.

Weevil’s been shot by Celeste Kane, simply for going up to her car window and asking if he can help her with her car. Weevil’s turned his life around since high school - he’s married now and has an adorable daughter. He hasn’t been on a motorcycle in years. By all accounts, Eli Navarro is a success story, the tale of a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who managed to put his life of crime behind him and live straight. But all of that gets changed by a white lady with a gun and a police department happy to plant evidence and “clean up the streets”.

This movie could have been amazing. Veronica’s left her seedy life behind her, but as she’s interviewing for a major position at a major firm (where they coyly ask about her gangland associations in the interview), she gets a call from an old friend in trouble. And Veronica never was one to turn down a person in need.

So she flies all the way across the country, bailing on her boyfriend and her job prospects in order to help a lower-class Hispanic man with a juvenile record. That? Is a much stronger story. And as she uncovers pieces of the crime, she finds that Neptune’s sheriff’s department is at the center of a web of racial discrimination in law enforcement. That the department is taking bribes from white developers who want to “reclaim” the waterfront, and so are targeting the Hispanic community and trying to drive them out of town. What if Veronica had a cause, and pursuing it forced her to go straight up against the sheriff’s department?

That would be an amazing movie. She gets shot at, she gets framed for crimes, she tries to go public, they retaliate against her father and her friends, Veronica has to sacrifice heavily, etc. Weevil, in the face of a criminal trial and the loss of his legitimate job, has to go back into a life of crime. His relationship with his wife is strained. He's afraid of what will happen to his daughter. It’s a story with much more gravitas than what we got, and frankly it’s just more interesting. Veronica’s interactions with Weevil were always more compelling than her with Logan, for all that she and Logan had sexual tension coming out of their ears. Weevil’s interesting. This story is interesting. And timely.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing here is how easily it could have been this. Because there were little moments in the movie that hinted at a bigger story. When Veronica first comes to town, she and her father are driving at night when they stop at a police checkpoint. Ahead of them, the cops are searching a car with several Latino teenagers in it. They find a can of spraypaint, and decide to taze and cuff the guys right there. When one of them protests, they hit him.

But Veronica’s father is on this. He gets out of his car, holds up his phone, and announces loudly that he’s filming. He then uploads the video to the cloud (so it won’t be destroyed if his phone is “accidentally” broken) and calmly gets back in the car as the officers let the boys go.

It’s this little moment that hints at a much more important plot. How casually Keith deals with the situation. How unnerved Veronica is by it. How fearlessly brutal the cops are prior to realizing that they have a white audience. It’s powerful and one of the best moments in the film. 

Look, I’m not saying that the Veronica Mars movie isn’t entertaining. It is, definitely. If you love the show, you’ll enjoy the movie. But I am saying that it’s not the same. It’s not as good as the show, because it fails to recognize what the show was about. 

It may have seemed like Veronica Mars was always about scandals and soap operatic plots and Veronica outsmarting everyone, but it was really about identity, and class, and race, and all that messy junk that comes out when people are put under pressure. It was about a teenage girl forced to reckon with her place in the world, and her determination to make this world a more just one for everyone.

That’s the Veronica Mars I love. Accept no substitutes.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Giver: For a Movie About Feelings, It Left Me Cold

Let's start out with the all-important confession: No, I have not read The Giver. In all honesty, I probably would have, had I ever even known what it was about, but I didn't. I find it a bit baffling, too, because this book seems to be right up my alley. Dystopian fiction about the overthrow of a totalitarian society focusing on the plight of the youth? Kind of my jam.

But no, I never read it, and when I heard the movie was coming out, I actually made a conscious choice not to grab a copy of the book. Why? Because it's a rare experience for me to be on the other side of the book versus movie debate, and it's even rarer that I have to take the movie on its own merits. Since I haven't ever read the book, I have nothing that I can compare the movie to, and therefore I only know what the movie tells me.

So, based on that understanding alone, I will say that the movie is pretty successful. I didn't really lose track of any of it, nor did I feel bogged down in the exposition. It was a fun and relatively interesting movie, and I was fairly emotionally invested in how it was all going to turn out. So, you know, good job. Right on. Pat yourselves on the back, you made a movie that is officially accessible to non-book fans. Hurrah!

The problem I have with this movie, though, is kind of really nitpicky, but it matters to me. Simply put, this movie is nice. It's fine. It's okay. But it's not spectacular in any real way. It doesn't make you gasp and shiver and scream. Ordinarily, I think that might be fine, but given the point of the story here, that feels like a very real problem.

Let me back up, for those of you who have neither read the book nor seen the movie. The Giver is set in a dystopian world very similar to our own, but dystopian and stuff. Basically, in a plot eerily similar but less cyberpunk than Equilibrium, this world has seriously limited human emotion. In an effort to get rid of strife and sadness, the community has found a way to rid humans of feelings and choice and all that stuff that makes life actually worth living. 

You're assigned a family. You're assigned a job. You're assigned a time to die. Everything is set and regulated. Heck, they don't even make babies the old-fashioned way. They use artificial insemination. (Sort of like Brave New World, as it happens.) Even the colors of the world are gone - in a very literal sense. The whole world is in shades of gray, because everyone is colorblind. Race and religion and dreams are gone, and everyone is equal because everyone is equally bereft.

In this world of conformity and control there's one kid who doesn't fit in. Shockingly, he's a white, middle-class guy, who just feels like there must be something more, man. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is a sweet kid who feels unprepared for his future. All his friends - Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) - are completely confident in the community elders and their ability to choose a good future for everyone. But Jonas isn't sure. He doesn't doubt, exactly, he just is sort of uncertain about where he could possibly fit.

Turns out that this uncertainty is right on the money. During the graduation ceremony, Fiona is named to work as a "nurturer" and Asher as a drone pilot, but Jonas isn't told to do anything until the very end. And his job? It's a bit more unusual. He's been selected to be the "receiver of memories." And no one really knows what that means. They just know that the previous Receiver (Jeff Bridges) is kind of weird and crazy, and that this is a very big deal.

Jonas finds out quickly what it all means, though. See, the receiver of memories literally means the person who has to carry the entire collective consciousness of humanity up until this point. Because memories are dangerous and could give people ideas (perish the thought), only one person is designated as safe enough to hold them all, and this person is exiled from the community and carefully watched. They're only allowed to speak up about this when the council of elders needs help with a decision and can use the wisdom of the past.

Sounds like a fun job, huh?

The actual process involves the old receiver psychically transferring memories over to the new receiver, piece by piece. And the results are startling, at least for Jonas. He starts to see colors again. More feelings. He stops taking his daily injections. He gets memories of riding a sled and dancing and war and fear and human courage. It's a lot. He tries to share it. That's a bad idea.

There's other stuff that happens in the story, from Jonas' budding yet somehow stunted relationship with Fiona to the mystery of what happened to the previous receiver (Taylor Swift) to a whole thing with a baby, and all of this stuff is great. But the bulk of the story really deals, thematically at least, with the question of whether or not we are human if we don't feel anything.

And that's a good question. A question I think is worth asking. Are our emotions what make us human? And if not, then what does? Even more pointed perhaps is the question, "What cost is too high a price to pay for peace?" At what point have we taken too much away, and life is no longer worth living?

Those are really valid questions to ask, and I'm glad the movie addresses them. This is, however, where my criticism from the top comes in. The Giver is an entire movie about how necessary emotions are to life and life to the full. In that sense, then, shouldn't the movie have been more emotionally affecting? If the whole point is that deep and powerful emotions are the core of our humanity, then shouldn't the movie give us these feelings?

Instead of deep emotions, what I really got from it was some nice entertainment. It's interesting, it asks valid questions, and it's not terrible to sit through. But the movie isn't great. It's really not. It's just fine. Okay. And that's not something a movie that ostensibly dealing with the vast spectrum of human experience ought to be.

There were moments that stood out. The moment when Jonas entertains the baby Gabriel with funny faces was actually really excellent and made me bust out laughing in the theater. And the part where the giver bolsters Jonas with memories of human resistance and protests and courage and sacrifice - well that got me pumped up like that kind of thing always does. But those moments were few and far between.

For the most part, the movie worked and functioned, but it never soared. It never really got past just kind of working and started being good. You know?

Also, I had a handful of plothole problems with it that vastly dampened my appreciation of the film. Yes, they are all nitpicky, so I won't list them here, but suffice it to say that the logic of the film was pretty terrible, and I honestly feel like a lot could have been done to tighten it up. Also, for a movie that mentioned in the narration how race was no longer a thing, that was a heck of a white cast. Get Morgan Freeman to play the giver, get Shay Mitchell to play Fiona, get Sinqua Walls for Jonas, just do something or other to make this movie less hella white.

Overall, like I said, I think this movie is fine. But fine doesn't cut it. In a very real sense, the most damning criticism you can make of a film is that it's "okay". Because that means that the film has failed its most crucial task: it has not transformed you, either for the better or for the worse. 

Film is a transformative medium. I believe that strongly. The point of film is to tell a story that will change the viewer. You tell a story because you have something to say. So say it well. We tell the stories that matter to us, and I'm totally down with The Giver being an important story that matters. That's great. I agree with so much of this movie ideologically. Where it fails, though, is in the execution.

If your film does not impact the audience, if they do not remember it, it has failed. The Giver is about the importance of memory and of feelings and of human passion. It should absolutely not be a throwaway summer tentpole like this. It shouldn't be lowest common denominator. It could have been more. That's all, really, that I have to say. It could have been more, and it should have been more.

Is there a more damning criticism than to call a movie "fine"?

Monday, September 1, 2014

RECAP: Outlander 1x04 - Geilis Duncan Knows Too Much

There is a distinct and meaningful satisfaction that comes from seeing your predictions about a television show coming true. I mention this because, so far at least, my interpretation of how the first Outlander novel would be translated to the screen has been spot on. Sure, I missed the finer details of how the show is making the source material more feminist and that is rad as hell, but the larger points about where they're breaking the story? Yeah. I got that. Because I'm awesome.

Fine, enough gloating, let's get down to brass tacks. What happened this week?

This week, like last week, starts with a misdirect. As we open, the camera pans to show us the sentries as Castle Leoch, nervously scanning the woods. They spot something. They aim their muskets. We see Claire running through the woods. Frantic. Oh no!

Actually, it's fine. The guards were startled, but it's just Claire playing a game of chase with the local kids. The kids, for the record, absolutely adore her. Her watchers, Rupert and the other one, are less thrilled with her antics, and beg Claire to let up and go back to the castle with them so they can enjoy the Gathering. After all, it only happens once every twenty years!

Reluctantly, Claire agrees to go. Because the misdirect was half-true, it seems. She was playing tag, that's true, but she was also finding the weak spots in the sentries' field of view, and plotting her escape. If the Gathering is tonight, then all the clan's fighting men will be drunk in the hall until morning, and Claire can escape. She can make her way back to the standing stones, and hopefully back to Frank.

Guess this episode is going to be the one where she tries to escape, guys! Better hold onto your petticoats.

For those of you just joining us, last week Claire heard a folk song sung by some pretty dude with a harp and realized that this meant she might be able to get back home. It also raised some rather significant questions about why she isn't telling anyone about her journey, since it seems to be a common enough trope in their literature that no one really thinks anything of it. Oh, some lady accidentally time-traveled two hundred years through the standing stones? Right on.

Anyway, this week is the Gathering, a time when all the members of Clan MacKenzie come up to the castle to pay their respects to the laird. Since this means all the men of the clan will be in one particular place at the same time, Claire figures this is the best possible time for her to hare off in search of the future. She also figures that she shouldn't tell anyone why she needs to escape, because she doesn't want to be burned as a witch. And I guess that's a fair point.

The biggest problem standing in her way is that she has now gone from having one guard (Rupert), to having two guards (Rupert and his friend). She disposes of one of them by setting him up with a local lusty wench - for reasons that mildly escape me the woman was interested in him - but she still has to deal with the other. Fortunately for all of her escape plans, Colum has ordered Claire to come along on the hunt tomorrow, in case someone gets gored by a boar, so she can do a lot of very suspicious things and blame them on the hunt.

Like, for example, going to the stables and picking out a horse. Old Alec is there, but for once Jamie isn't, and Claire is a little confused. Hasn't Jamie been pretty much living in the stables for weeks now? That's weird. But Alec tells her in no uncertain terms to leave it alone and piss off. So clearly something is going on. And Claire is going to ignore the crap out of that something going on so that she doesn't get distracted from her escape plan. Right on.

She keeps on making preparations, but when she gets back to her surgery, there's an unexpected guest. It's Geilis! You remember Geilis, the single most creepy person on this show. The lady in question is hovering by Claire's fire and has absolutely been rummaging through Claire's stuff while she was gone. She found Claire's giant bag of food, and isn't that suspicious? 

Geilis makes insinuations. Claire dodges them. Geilis makes vaguely stalkish remarks. Claire reminds herself why they're friends again...

Also Geilis makes a lot more references to her husband's stomach problems than seems overly polite. Like, I get it, your husband gets really bad gas. You don't have to tell me that literally every time I see you.

Geilis manages to hit on Claire's one real weak spot: talking about her husband. Claire doesn't like saying that her husband is dead, since it's not exactly true, but Geilis isn't the sort of character who will settle for being told he's "not alive." So Claire is forced to say it, and it's a testimony to Caitriona Balfe's acting skills that when she says it, it really sounds like a betrayal. She seems wounded to pronounce her husband dead, even if she's been letting everyone think that for weeks.

Possibly months. I'm not great at gauging how much time has passed on this show.

At least this works and convinces Geilis that Claire is deeply in mourning and really unhappy. Which is good? She implies heavily, as is her way, that Claire is barren, and isn't that a nice cherry on the sadness sundae!

Geilis continues rummaging and prying, but she does finally tell us something about herself. When she came to the town she was on her own, had nothing, just her wits and her looks and some knowledge of plants. She married Arthur not because she loved him (obviously), but because he was safe and secure and reasonably nice. Geilis is content with the choices she's made in life, and she wonders if Claire will be too.

And then she spoils this touching moment by making it absolutely clear that she knows Claire is going to run away. So there's that.

Claire ventures out of the surgery one last time to gather her last supply: a knife from the kitchens so that she can protect herself. But she runs into Mrs. Fitz on the way, and it's not like Mrs. Fitz is going to let go of an opportunity to dress her living doll for the biggest event in twenty years! She bustles Claire off and then shoves her into a fancy shmancy dress for the Gathering.

As a side note, where does Mrs. Fitz keep finding these dresses? I mean, Claire's everyday clothes seem pretty reasonable, since she's a fairly average size for those times (a little skinny and tall, maybe), and she only really has the two dresses, but she has way more formal clothes than the average lady of the day. Is Mrs. Fitz just stealing stuff out of the laundry so she can put them on Claire? Are there women of the castle who keep being mystified because their clothes disappear, and then they see them on Claire, but are afraid to say something because Mrs. Fitz is in charge of everything? Food for thought.

Okay, I will say that watching Mrs. Fitz dole out backhanded compliments to ladies she doesn't like in the hall, and then shoving people around so Claire gets a front seat is hilarious. Claire and Murtagh are her two pets, and she's very happy to treat them as such.

The Oathtaking begins with Colum's dramatic entrance - notable here because he chooses to walk the full length of the hall instead of slipping in close to his seat. Colum continues to make it clear that he does not see his bone-disease as making him less fit for duty, or see it as anything to be ashamed of. He's still the laird, and they will treat him as such. He then welcomes the men to Leoch, and starts the Oathtaking. Dougal is the first to come up, since he's Colum's brother and it's symbolic and all that. Dougal swears his sword and blood to Colum, and all that's well and good. They drink the ceremonial wine, everyone cheers, and Claire gets bored.

She decides now is the time to escape. But she does still have one minder to get rid of. That's where the port she got from Geilis and all the drugs she has access to in her surgery come in. She gives the dude drugged wine, and then watches as he absolutely chugs it. That's that problem taken care of!

Now she just has to get out of the castle, get down to the stable, steal a horse, dodge the sentries, and make her way thirty miles or so across unfamiliar country swarming with patrols and English soldiers. No big deal.

And of course she doesn't even make it out of the castle before disaster hits. First it comes in the form of Laoghaire asking Claire to make her a love potion to cast on Jamie. Claire sort of stutters for a minute, then grabs some random stuff and makes up a spell (that adorably references The Wizard of Oz) to get Laoghaire to go away. Cute. Besides, since Claire has no intention of sticking around, why shouldn't Laoghaire and Jamie end up together? She's all right with the concept, even if she has made it abundantly clear that she wants to climb Jamie like a tree.

Next, Claire can't even get out of the castle because she's accosted by drunken clansmen who want to rape her. Of course they do. But Dougal, who has made his feelings on rape very clear already on this show (he's not a huge fan, but it's more of a timing thing than a moral objection), shows up and fights them off. Unfortunately Dougal is also drunk. He kisses Claire against her will, which is interesting since we didn't even know he liked her, but he draws the line at actually raping her. What a gentleman. Yuck.

Still, our Claire can take care of herself. She brains Dougal with a chair and keeps going. Right on, girlfriend. She manages to make it all the way to the stables, and she's really close, so close, when WHAM. Claire trips over something hard in the dark. And then the thing tries to stab her.

Oh hey! It's Jamie, hiding in the stable!

Jamie is the only one to immediately suss out what Claire is doing and call her on it. He's a bit disappointed that she's running away, but he's more concerned that she hasn't thought this through. Claire is incensed by the implication that she didn't plan enough, but Jamie quickly reveals that she really hasn't. Sure, all the fighting men of Clan MacKenzie are up at the hall. So obviously Colum hired extra guards. And when they discover she's missing, which they will, they'll have the whole clan after her. It won't end well for Claire.

Unshockingly, Claire is devastated by this, and rails against Jamie. It's perhaps the first time that Jamie really understands that Claire isn't just complaining. She really and truly wants to leave. Desperately. She's not being dramatic. Well, she is being dramatic, but there's clearly something pretty intense going on. And Claire has no intention of telling him what that is.

Still, Jamie is very happy to escort Claire back up to the castle and make sure she doesn't run off. Because he looooooooves her, let's be real.

The only problem with this plan is that in escorting Claire up to the castle, Jamie himself walks up to the castle, something we are coming to see was very much not in the plan for tonight. He was sleeping in the stables for a reason: to avoid this. But he's found and set on by men of the clan immediately, and those men aren't about to let Colum MacKenzie's nephew skip the Oathtaking, are they?

We're treated to another little glimpse of shirtless Jamie as he changes into his full MacKenzie attire and Claire fumes in the background. While it's sad to realize that Jamie's being forced into this, it's super cute to see the two of them working as a team on this. Claire dismisses the men and controls access to Jamie while he steals himself for whatever is about to happen. Because the thing that's definitely not going to happen is Jamie swearing himself to Clan MacKenzie - he has his own clan. And he reminds Claire of this when he tells her his clan's motto: Je suis prest.*

Back in the hall, Claire runs into Murtagh and admits that she's the reason Jamie is here. Murtagh, Jamie's constant companion and probable relative, is devastated to see Jamie in the hall, and explains to Claire why this is such a bad thing. Basically, because Jamie is the laird's nephew, he's up there in the succession when Colum dies. Obviously neither Colum nor Dougal want this, but since Colum's living on borrowed time, it might become an issue soon. And Jamie is tragically very popular and a great leader. He would be a big draw, and Dougal might not be able to secure the succession for himself and Hamish.

This also explains the hostility between Dougal and Jamie, as well as the deep and meaningful tension about Hamish's (Colum's son) parentage. The succession is a big deal, and no one wants it messed with. The thing is, now that Jamie is in the hall, it's not like he can avoid swearing loyalty. If he swears to the MacKenzies, then he's a MacKenzie and could be laird someday. If he doesn't, then the MacKenzies will kill him for clan honor.


Murtagh and Claire basically fret in a corner for a while, but when it comes time for Jamie to take his oath, it seems their fretting was for nothing. He's a slick customer, and Jamie manages to both pledge to Clan MacKenzie and yet also keep himself out of the line of succession. Smooth move, kiddo. I give you a lot of props for this. He makes it clear that he is loyal to his own clan, but he pledges his sword to Colum under the bounds of kinship. And that works. People accept that. Yay!

The next morning everything seems different. Now that she's not run away, Claire actually does have to go to the hunt, and she's irritated by the whole thing. Still, it seems that boar hunting is more dangerous than she'd originally assumed. Claire has to save one boy whose leg has been gored, and then quickly runs off to find that another man has been savaged. The boy will live, albeit with a limp, but the man isn't going to recover. Instead, Claire and Dougal, who knows the man well, hold him while he bleeds out in the forest.

It's a disgusting scene, but also really interesting, for the main reason that for the first time Dougal sees that Claire has a lot of value to the clan. He's just been going along with Colum's assessment, but now he sees that she can do combat medicine. He can use that. Of course, on the other hand, why does this schoolteacher's wife know how to do combat medicine?

I think it's also quite interesting to note that Claire doesn't take this opportunity to run off. I mean, she could, actually. The hunt is a better option than the day before, because with all the commotion in the woods, and the fog, and the blood everywhere, it would be surprisingly hard to track her. 

She could run off in the name of getting lost in the woods for a good long while before she got in trouble. But as we noted last week, Claire can't ignore a person in pain. She would never consider running off when there was someone who needed healing. It's impossible for her. And so she doesn't.

Dougal and Claire make their somber way up to the castle and happen upon a game of field hockey. Jamie and Murtagh are playing, and Dougal apparently decides that the best solution for his angst at watching a friend die is to grab a stick and start smacking the hell out of Jamie in the name of "winning the game". It starts off friendly, and becomes increasingly less so as the game goes on. 

There's this fine line between healthy competition, and an uncle and nephew trying to beat the crap out of each other with sticks. Everyone there knows it. Jamie might have diffused the tension last night, but he's not out of the woods. Colum and Dougal still know he's a threat, and he's being reminded of that.

Claire goes back to the surgery, and is getting comfortable with the idea that she might be stuck there forever when Dougal comes in and point blank says what he's thinking: "You've seen men die before, and by violence."

She responds equally simply. "Yes. Many of them."

And now all our cards are on the table. Claire is sick of pretending to be just a simple schoolteacher's wife, but she's not willing to explain precisely what she is. For whatever reason, Dougal respects her forthrightness more than her protestations about dignity and being a lady. So he puts his cards on the table too. He's leaving the castle tomorrow to collect rents throughout the clan lands, and Claire is coming with him. She might yet get to escape.

End of episode.

*Incidentally, this is my clan's motto, because half my family is Scottish, and this is our clan. Just a sidenote, but reading these books makes me kind of happy because it's pretty much reading about my family's history. I mean, really literally. Same clan, same path from Scotland to France to America, same historical events. It's kinda rad.