Friday, August 31, 2012

Come Along Ponds (Doctor Who's Guide to a Healthy Marriage)

Tomorrow night choirs of angels will sing as Doctor Who returns for another season. Sigh.

In honor of that blessed occasion, and because it’s a topic worth looking at, today we’re going to discuss Amy and Rory Pond and their decidedly unique marriage. As if we’d talk about anything else.

For those of you who are still (somehow) unaware of Doctor Who, the plot is basically as follows: a 1200-year-old alien flies around time and space in his bigger-on-the-inside spaceship. Along the way he solves problems, incites revolutions, and sees neat stuff. He usually takes a human companion or two along for the ride, generally grabbing them from (coincidentally, no doubt) 20th-21st century London.

Got it? Good.

Amy Pond trundled along in season five of the new series (Doctor Who has been on and off the air since 1963—its incarnation from 2005 on is referred to as New Who). She was a sweet little Scottish girl displaced in Leadworth, who happened to have a very scary crack in her wall. The Doctor turned up and tried to fix it, but had to come back. He came back twelve years later to find Amy Pond all grown up. No matter, though, because they were off to go on adventures together!

Older Amy, though, had a secret. They were running away on the night before her wedding, because she was having some pre-marital doubts about committing to Rory Williams, her childhood sweetheart.

When the Doctor found out, he grabbed Rory and dragged him along for the ride, helping Amy to realize what their relationship is, and giving Rory the experience of a lifetime.

That’s the short cute version. Here’s the long emotional one.

When we meet Amy for the third time (hard to explain), she’s not sure if she wants to settle for her little life in Leadworth. She’s always wanted adventure, and while she loves Rory, she wants a more exciting life. So she runs away. That’s not awful, and it’s at least good that she decided to deal with her fears the night before her wedding and not after.

Amy displaces some of her feelings onto the Doctor and pursues a semi-serious flirtation with him. Some fans claimed that if Rory and Amy’s roles were flipped, and Rory was the one running out on his bride the night before the wedding, everyone would point at their relationship and call it unhealthy. Which is true. Ish.

But the important things to note here are that, one, Amy is very young and doesn’t know what she wants, and two, Amy and Rory’s roles aren’t reversed. What we have is what we have. So.

Amy runs out on her wedding. She only comes back when the Doctor realizes what’s wrong and goes after her fiancé. Rory is understandably miffed that the love of his life decided to swan off instead of getting married, but he understands that Amy needs time. The adventures that they go on with the Doctor give their relationship new weight and meaning. It’s lovely to watch. Really.

It’s also interesting to watch Rory trying to deal with being the Doctor’s companion, because, unlike the rest of the companions, Rory didn’t need fixing. He was perfectly happy as he was. He’s just there because Amy is, and he’ll follow her anywhere.

That, for the record, is a large part of what makes their relationship so compelling. Rory will follow Amy anywhere. It doesn’t bother him, emasculate him, or in any way even register for him that Amy is a more dominant personality. Yes, Amy loves adventure. No, Rory doesn’t especially. But he loves Amy, and if adventure’s what she wants, then he’ll go too.

This is phenomenally different from most relationship dynamics we see in sci-fi and action movies. Generally, it’s the man who has the noble vision, and the woman who is willing to do whatever it takes and follow him wherever he leads. That’s a very common trope. So it’s lovely to see an inversion of that, where not only will Rory follow Amy, but he also genuinely doesn’t mind.

Their relationship is taken to the extreme in the end of season five, when (SPOILERS) Amy is shot and Rory (currently immortal, don’t ask) decides to stay with her. She is locked inside a magical prison, the Pandorica, where she will stay in stasis until she can be healed. Rory, realizing that this could take thousands of years, just picks up his sword and waits. And waits.

And then we jump to the future, two thousand years, and there is Rory. Waiting.

If that’s not love, I have literally no idea what is.

Now, again, we run into people who say that if Amy and Rory were reversed, and Rory was in the box, would Amy’s endless waiting be cool or sexist?

Here’s the thing: it would still be love.

The problem I have with the male-adventurer/female-tagalong prototype is not that it’s untrue or unentertaining. It’s that it’s disproportionately common. I have no objection to this character framework in general, but I resist the idea that it is the only valid one. I celebrate couples like Amy and Rory who exist outside those bounds. But if Amy and Rory were the other way round, they’d still be a loving, devoted couple. Just a more common one.

At the end of season five, they finally make it to the wedding. The world is saved, and the Doctor makes a cute crack about how they are now officially Mr. and Mrs. Pond. Rory shakes his head, but then agrees.

And, again, it doesn’t bother him. The idea of taking his wife’s last name, that their child eventually carries her last name, and the concept that for the rest of the show they are known as “The Ponds” is a non-issue for him. That’s virtually unheard of.

Amy’s a flirt. She’s incorrigible, really. But that doesn’t bother Rory, because he knows that in the end he’s the one she chose. I have to say it, if Rory was a woman whose partner flirted that much and was so confident it didn’t bother her, I’d be just as over the moon.

What the Ponds really give us is an archetype for what a healthy relationship is. I’m not saying they’re perfect, because they’re not, just that they are a really good basis for a loving marriage. They respect each other, and know each others’ strengths. They truly love each other. And they are both confident enough in their relationship that they feel no need to project their insecurities onto others.

Ultimately, it's all about equality. Not demanding that you do the same things, have the exact same amount of earning power or anything like that. It's the equality of knowing that both members of the relationship are equally invested. That you both have the exact same thing to lose, and that you are equally capable of supporting each other. It's perfectly fine for one person to be more dominant than the other. A healthy relationship is just one where you're both truly okay with that.

So, here’s to you, Ponds! May your final days in the TARDIS be just as mental as your first ones.

And in honor of the Doctor Who premiere, have an episode of "Pond Life", the adorable BBC short follow the homelife of our beloved Ponds and their pesky son-in-law. Just fabulous.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

In Defense of Dawn Summers

I know that we have a series going on (slowly) where our guest writer, Elizabeth Kobayashi, watches the whole Buffy series and reacts to it as a first-time viewer. If that sounds more your speed, you can totally check it out here.

But, today I want to jump ahead a few seasons and talk about the (probably) most controversial character from that show’s history. Dawn Summers.

A fair number of you just groaned. And I don’t blame you. For a long time, the Buffy fandom has reacted with frustration and mild hatred to a character who honestly just acted the way all of us would if placed in those situations. Especially if we’d been placed in them at the tender age of fourteen.

Let me back up. For those of you not in the know, in season five of Buffy, Joss Whedon decided to spice things up a bit and bring in a shiny new character. First appearing in the very end of the first episode of the season, Dawn Summers is Buffy Summer’s never before mentioned younger sister. Annoying, whiny, and definitely a teenager. A teenager that most Buffy fans were utterly mystified by, because up until this point in the show, Buffy had been an only child.

Of course there was a reason for Dawn showing up right when she did, and that was the season arc of season five. Dawn was a mystical macguffin, turned into a human girl and placed into the protection of the Slayer, who would do her job and make sure no one hurt her sister. It’s actually a really cool plot, and not badly done. This was the season where life started really getting hard for the gang, and adult choices had to be made. Buffy’s mother died, and she had to assume custody of her sister. Xander and Anya got engaged. Willow and Tara moved in together. Stuff happened.

And in the middle of it all was a shrieking fourteen year old who’d just found out that she wasn’t a real person and all her memories were fake and oh my gosh this and high school?!

So most fans didn’t react well to Dawn. And, to their credit, it was a bit of a buzz harsher to suddenly have a teen following all of our finally adult characters around. Threatening to tell on Buffy when she came home late. Making googly eyes at Xander. Being fourteen.

But the thing is, Dawn was a really important character for the show. Moreso than most people realize.

At the point in the story where Dawn comes in, most of Buffy’s internal demons have been sorted. Sure, her relationship with Riley is floundering, but it’s not hard to figure that she’s going to either sort it out or move on. She’s in college, doing well. Her friends are in good places with their lives now, and most of her “I’m the Slayer, aaauugh!” moments have been ironed out. In short, there’s pretty much no personal conflict left in her life.

That is boring.

Dawn provided the opportunity for Buffy to have tension in her life again. Tension revolving around familial responsibilities and relationships. Tension that gave us new insight into who Buffy is as a person, and made her decide much tougher things than she ever had before.

In the first four seasons of the show, the conflict is centered around Buffy. The bad guy wants to kill Buffy. Maybe the bad guy also wants to end the world, but Buffy gets involved because the bad guy also hates her, needs her, whatever. In season five, the bad guy didn’t need Buffy. She didn’t care about Buffy. At all.

What she wanted was Buffy’s annoying little sister. And Buffy figured that out. There’s a phenomenal scene when they realize what Dawn’s status means, and they all think about how to keep Glory (the bad guy) from getting her. Giles puts up the obvious answer. They could kill her.

It’s simple, ruthless, and would solve all of their problems very quickly.

Except Buffy says no. Dawn is an innocent, and she’s Buffy’s little sister. She may be irritating and petulant, but she’s Buffy’s little sister.

This is the point in the show where Buffy stopped just being a good hero, and became a mythic one. Where before she was fighting for goodness and saving babies and all that, she didn’t have to make immense choices like this. There were no kill or die moments in those first seasons. But now, there was. Now we had to see what Buffy would do when given the option to save everyone by ending one person.

She chose the difficult path. And that’s what matters.

There’s a profoundly moving scene in the hospital after Dawn’s found out that she’s not quite real. She looks at her blood and wonders what it really is, and Buffy holds out her own hand. “It’s Summers blood. Just like mine.” In that moment, Buffy completely identifies herself with her sister, and a romance is born. As Joss Whedon has said, season five is about love. Familial love.

Buffy chooses to sacrifice herself for Dawn, proving that their blood is their bond. It’s a beautiful (painful) scene, and one that really cements Buffy’s status as a hero. She has done the most heroic thing she can: actually give up her life to save the one she loves.

Dawn doesn’t disappear at the end of season five, and I think this might be the problem some fans have with her. After Buffy’s sacrifice, after the amazing bonding, the Key is no longer needed. Dawn doesn’t have to stay.

But she does, and it makes the show richer for it. Now she and Buffy have a different relationship, but Dawn is caught up in the throes of teenage angst and rebellion. She’s been handed a rare gift, her sister’s sacrifice, but forced to live with the reality of a miserable life. It’s touching, and adds a needed humanity to the show in its darkest season.

By season seven (which is criminally underrated, by the way), Dawn is a full-fledged part of the group. She’s mostly dealt with her problems, and is now able to focus on helping others. It’s a great turnaround and great growth for a character like hers. There’s even an episode where Dawn has to come to terms with the fact that she isn’t special, not in the way that Buffy is. Personally, I found that to be excellent writing. In a world where Dawn was invaluable two years ago, now she’s just another human. That’s brilliant.

I don’t want Dawn’s later successes, though, to act as a bandage, covering over all of the trouble she got into before. That’s not how it works, and you wouldn’t care even if it were. The important thing about Dawn is that she showed us what it was to be young and afraid again. Her existence in the storyline made other characters better, but not by making her a husk of sloppy writing. She was fully realized and integral to the plot.

That’s what good writing does. And that’s what love does too.

"The truth is, you're not special. You're extraordinary."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Single Mothers Are People Not Statistics (Gilmore Girls)

Gilmore Girls has been off the air for a couple years now, and this seems like the perfect juncture to go back and look at it. And you know what? It totally holds up.

The oft hilarious, occasionally heart-wrenching story of Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Lorelai Gilmore was a great look into an area most shows don’t dare tread even now. Single motherhood. While Lorelai was involved in several long-term relationships through the years, including one with Rory’s biological father, fundamentally, she raised her daughter on her own. And for some reason, we don’t tend to talk about how cool that is.

Let me put this in perspective. I’m not saying that single motherhood is unabashedly awesome, that Lorelai is a saint for doing this, or any of those things. What I’m saying is that given her situation and temperament, she made some really impressive decisions and then followed through on them. And that takes guts.

Here’s the sitch: when she was sixteen, Lorelai was stupid and did what stupid teenagers often do. She had unprotected sex with her then-boyfriend Chris. She got pregnant. Her parents, New England blue bloods who had her future planned out, immediately freaked and insisted she give the child up for adoption. Lorelai refused. So her parents changed their tune and decided that she should marry Chris and they would raise the child together. Lorelai refused that too.

So her parents were left with the last option. Let Lorelai raise her child, but have her do it under their roof and supervision. I have to say, this doesn’t seem like a terrible idea. The Gilmores had the money to pay for another kid, and they do care about Rory. They weren’t sure that having Lorelai, at seventeen, up and take care of a kid was a great idea. Which is fair.

But Lorelai disagreed. She didn’t want her daughter growing up in the same stifling, expectation-filled mansion that she’d known. She knew it would keep her daughter physically safe, but emotionally vulnerable. So she left. She got on the first buss she could find and ended up in a town called Stars Hollow.

Now, again, you have to remember that Lorelai was a teenager when she did all of this. No, these probably aren’t great choices. But she made them, and instead of backing down when things got hard, Lorelai thrived.

She got a job—her first—and convinced her boss to give her a home too. She worked her way up the ladder from housekeeper to manager at a gorgeous inn. She bought a house. She raised her daughter. And she did it all on her own terms.

I hesitate to say that she did it alone, because the friends that she made had a huge impact on her life and Rory’s upbringing. But Lorelai was a single mother, there’s no question of that. She raised her daughter as the primary authority, the breadwinner, and the caregiver.

That’s a lot. Especially when you start at seventeen.

But why should we care? I mean, lots of shows have single mothers on them these days. This isn’t Murphy Brown; you’ve practically got MTV shoving teen motherhood shows down your throat now.

We care because of the way the show handled Lorelai’s motherhood. You see, contrary to a lot of other shows that feature or include single mothers, Lorelai is never judged or censured by the story. Her choices were held up as her choices. Not bad, not good, just hers. And that’s pretty awesome.

Instead of being treated to a show that tells us that single motherhood is unanimously awful, or one where it’s fine and dandy and no one should ever worry, we got a show where single motherhood was hard, but doable. Sometimes it was the best choice. Sometimes it wasn’t.

And far from Murphy Brown’s idyllic world of planned pregnancy and economic freedom, we know that Lorelai and Rory lived for the first few years of Rory’s life in a potting shed. That Lorelai scrimped and saved to get her kid the best of everything, and in return created mildly unreasonably expectations in her child. She put a lot of pressure on Rory, and Rory sometimes responded and sometimes cracked under it. Lorelai’s not a saint. But she is a mother.

More than all of this, though, is the fact that the show never insisted that Lorelai had to get married. There wasn’t a covert agenda on the show where Lorelai needed a happy ending with a guy. In a way, Lorelai already had her happy ending in season four. She bought her dream inn, ran it the way she wanted to, and in season five it was going really well. Her kid was in Yale, making top marks, and she got everything she wanted in life. Anything else, like a romance, was icing.

Personally, I think that’s a great message for a show like this.

Most shows that deal with single motherhood coo over how nice it is that the mother is working to support her child, but then turn the instant an eligible male shows up and insist that their heroine marry. “The child needs a father,” is their rallying cry. It’s alarming how many of these storylines there are, even on shows as progressive as Ugly Betty, for crying out loud.

So imagine how refreshing it is to see a show where, no, nothing’s perfect, but the mother isn’t being pressured into a relationship. She doesn’t need a co-parent. If she wants one, that’s great. But the kid is mostly raised and raised well. She doesn’t have to have a knight saving her.

Single motherhood is a tricky subject in shows, because every situation is different. In Lorelai’s it’s actually hard to say definitively that she made the right choice. She made the choices that she thought were right, and her kid still went off the rails eventually. But her kid did then get back up and make it better. So who knows?

What I do know is that Gilmore Girls gave us something more important than a vision of perfect motherhood. It gave us a single mother who fully owned her choices. Who made commitments and stuck to them even when life was really hard, and who never balked from the intense task of raising a child on her own. The show gave us a real person and never told us if she was good or bad. It let us decide on our own.

And I think most of us decided she was pretty awesome.

Raise your hand if you didn't wish she was your best friend. Liar.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Moonlighting Curse (It's Just Sloppy Writing)

On Saturday, I linked to an article where Jeff Davis from Teen Wolf was interviewed about the most popular couple on his show: Derek and Stiles. It was a bit funny that they were interviewing him about this, because Derek and Stiles aren’t actually a couple. They aren’t even friends. What they are is two characters who usually can’t stand each other but have fantastic chemistry. And so, the fans want them to get it on.

Nothing in there is particularly interesting, or unusual, except for Davis’ reason why he won’t put the two characters together anytime soon. He’s afraid of the Moonlighting curse.

If you’re not aware, the Moonlighting curse refers to the late 1980s show Moonlighting, where Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd were wisecracking PIs who fell in love. Eventually, the show decided to let their characters get together, and the show was shortly thereafter cancelled because people stopped caring. They had what they came for, and now they were done.

Except, I don’t think it’s nearly as simple as that.

The Moonlighting curse is a myth, and it covers up something that’s a lot harder to easily diagnose, but just as deadly to a show. It’s really just bad writing.

There are two mistakes that go into a show that ends up “cursed”. First, they wrote a show where the principle romantic tension was the only thing keeping the storyline going. And, second, they were not able to be creative enough to find another source of tension once the romance was resolved.

Those are both stupid things to do.

In terms of writing errors, letting yourself fall to the Moonlighting curse means that you’re not thinking ahead of your character’s actions. You have not planned for the series and where it will eventually go. It’s like Prison Break. The first season of that show is amazing, and really one of the best things I’ve seen on television. But then they broke out of prison in season two, and it went downhill from there. The central tension of the show was gone, and so was any reason to keep watching it. They didn’t think ahead.

This is the type of thing that serial dramas worry about. It’s what killed Twin Peaks and threatens Revenge, and its inverse is what doomed Heroes and The Killing (just because you don’t have a secondary conflict in place doesn’t mean you should drag out the current one as long as possible).

But, like I said, it’s all just sloppy writing in the end. What’s worth looking at is the shows that have managed to have their cake and eat it too.

Here, I’m talking about shows like Leverage and Bones. Or Supernatural, if we’re looking at stories in general.

In Leverage, there are two different will-they-won’t-they storylines, and both had been resolved before we even started this most recent season. In fact, both have been pretty much resolved for a while now. How did they do that?

The first romance is Nate and Sophie, the former investigator and the con he kept chasing. They have a spark the first time you see them, but Nate is still too caught up in his own grief and the dissolution of his marriage to give it a fair shot. Eventually, though, he does, and they get together.

So what keeps it from getting boring? Well, Nate and Sophie are both complex mildly insane people. Their relationship is interesting because they are interesting. When Nate falls into a blackhole of drinking despair, Sophie doesn’t leave him, she pulls, prods and eventually shouts him out of it. When Sophie gets insecure about the layers of con artist around her that make it hard for her to see herself, Nate reminds her that she is not only amazing, but that he can see the real her and always has. They stay interesting because their relationship doesn’t negate all of the conflicts in their lives, it just means they deal with them together.

The second relationship is pretty similar. Parker and Hardison make a strange pair, if only because he’s an upstanding young hacker and she’s a mostly feral thief with only a tenuous grasp on reality. Watching Hardison pine for Parker was hard, but it made sense because at that point in the story she couldn’t even conceive of returning romantic feelings. Seeing Parker start to return Hardison’s feelings without having any way of rationalizing them to herself was equally hard. You really felt for her and her confusion at the world.

So seeing them finally get their stuff together was good. It was really good. It meant that Parker was starting to heal and that Hardison was growing up and respecting her boundaries. But being in a relationship didn’t make them boring. Not even close. Parker still doesn’t understand people, Hardison still doesn’t know how to explain them to her, and they both have a lot of growing to do.

That’s how you make it work.

Bones had it a little harder, actually, because that show actually was built a bit around the chemistry of the two leads, and the question of their eventual romance.

But here’s the thing. It stopped being a question sometime in the fourth season. It was an inevitability. And the writers could see that. So what they did (and this was brilliant) was create external forces that could create tension when the romance was consummated. So the show stayed interesting (actually got more interesting, really), and the couple was allowed to get together and even have a kid.

Finally, there’s Supernatural. Like I said, this one’s not a romance (I mean, it’s a love story about family, but there’s really very little romance in it). It makes the list because the conflict on the show was structured in such a way that the show never started feeling stale. Trust me, that is incredibly hard to pull off.

In the first season of Supernatural, the boys are hunting a demon that killed their mother and Sam’s girlfriend Jessica. At the end of season one, they find it, but it kills their dad and escapes. So in season two, they’re still hunting the same thing, but they have a lot more motivation and more information about it to go on. At the end of season two, they kill it.

And the question was, now what? If they’ve killed the thing that started the show, shouldn’t it be over now?

No. Not if you’re a good writer. And the people at Supernatural are excellent writers.

You see, to kill the demon at the end of season two, Dean had to make a deal with another demon. That deal became the overarching plot for season three. Then at the end of season three, Dean died. Show wasn’t over because he came back to life at the beginning of season four, only now with a holy mission and an angel on his shoulder. This caused Sam to go a bit nuts and accidentally start the apocalypse, which meant that season five was spent trying to kill the devil.

You see what I’m getting at?

Now, aside from the mindfuck at the end of season five, where you realize that literally everything they have ever done on the show was leading them to this point (and seriously, I needed aspirin after that one), the writing really kept everything going. Every resolution was actually just a key to bigger problems. Kill the devil? Well, now you have to deal with the restructuring of hell and all the monsters that he was keeping suppressed. Kill the mother of all monsters? Whoops, you accidentally opened a portal to monsterland and let out the Leviathan.

I think you get my point.

What I’m saying through all of this is that the only limitations you have as a writer are the ones you put on yourself and your story. If you say that your story can keep going, even if the main character dies, then congratulations, you’ve just enabled yourself to write MI-5 or Doctor Who. If you say that romance doesn’t have to kill the tension, then you’re writing Castle. There is always a way through. This isn’t the Kobayashi Maru. There’s always a way out.

And maybe if people understood this, we wouldn’t be stuck with so many shows that seem to buckle under their own weight. Gilmore Girls went into a swan dive after season five largely because everyone thought it would. The writers weren’t prepared for how Luke and Lorelai getting together would change the dynamic, so they couldn’t make the show interesting now that they had. There was still plenty of stuff to write about in those last seasons, but it was hard to watch the writers killing the couple because they didn’t know how to write it.

It’s what we thought had happened on How I Met Your Mother. Barney and Robin finally got together, but their romance only lasted a few episodes until the show killed it. Why? So that they could have a more fulfilling and sustained relationship later on. One that (SPOILERS) we know ends in marriage.

What it comes down to is planning. If you haven’t planned out a story, you shouldn’t be writing it. It really is that simple. If you don’t know what to do after two characters do the nasty, or when they break out of prison, or when they beat the bad guy, then you need to get cracking before they do. And if you’ve written a story so thin and transparent that it folds once the two leads kiss?

Let’s just say I don’t have much sympathy for you.

I like to pretend that Prison Break was tragically cancelled after its first season. You should watch that season. Tragic.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Susan Didn't Go Back to Narnia (Here's Why That's Okay.)

The Chronicles of Narnia is a lovely series of books, and one that was integral to my own childhood. If you’re not familiar, they’re about a group of children who, through various magical means, find themselves in the magical kingdom of Narnia, where animals talk and the trees can dance, and have to save the day. It’s about heroism and being true to yourself, bravery, faithfulness, and honesty. Really, they’re lovely books.

They’ve gotten a bad rap in the past few decades, though, because the books were written by a noted Christian theologian, C.S. Lewis (seriously read some of his other stuff, it’ll blow your mind AND it’s funny). Lewis’ intent in writing the books was to create children’s stories that engaged the imagination while also teaching kids how to be basically good people. This all seems fine to me.

The place a lot of people take issue, though, is with the character Aslan, who appears in all of the books at least a little. Aslan is a giant, magical, talking lion, who appears out of nowhere to give the characters good advice and help them to achieve their goals. The general problem with him is that he’s a bit of a Christ-figure. Which is true. But so is Harry Potter.

More generally, the stories seem to be disliked because the Christ-figure, combined with the general message of redemption and becoming a new person (a King or Queen of Narnia), is generally associated with Christian theology. And I’m not denying that. I’m more saying that if you’re worried your child is going to be brainwashed by a magical talking lion, you should probably restrict their access to Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, the aforementioned Harry Potter, and definitely the Redwall books too. Just saying, that’s a lot of messianic figures in children’s pop culture.

But this doesn’t mean that Chronicles of Narnia is a completely easy book to read to your kids and then forget about. Like all of the best children’s literature, it deals with hard issues. The characters take on subjects like envy, greed, loss of faith, and lust for power, in ways that are both creatively written and occasionally hard for adults to read. I for one have always had trouble with the greed section in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Makes me squirm every time.

Of the books, the hardest two are generally agreed to be the first and last: The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, respectively. The Magician’s Nephew concerns itself with the creation of Narnia and the rise of the White Witch. She is presented as an ancient evil who will always be fighting for the soul of Narnia, and for the soul of the children.

That’s a rough concept for a kid’s book. The idea that there is real evil out there, and that it’s evil that wants them dead is both very hard to hear, and yet also something that kids respond to innately. Why else are so many of our great stories about good versus evil? It’s hardwired in our brains that there is an enemy, and we are fighting it. So in this way, the first book is probably easier for kids than adults.

Yes that is a bloody unicorn. Inorite?
But the last book, it’s pretty hard for everyone.

In The Last Battle, Narnia is falling. It’s the end of the world. All of the wonderful friends that you’ve made in the past few books are dying by the dozen in a final war against evil. Eventually it comes down to a few of our heroes huddled in the back of an old barn, waiting to die.

Tough shit for a kid’s book, like I said.

And it only gets tougher. As they’re sitting there, a few of them start to feel Aslan’s breath on their faces. They turn towards it, and see that the barn actually opens onto a garden. They get up to go, and urge the others to join them, but the others can’t see and don’t believe. So, our heroes leave. They go into the garden.

The garden turns into another garden and on and on, until they reach a gate, where they know that beyond is Aslan’s kingdom, a place none of them have been. Above them appear the faces of Peter, Edmund, and Lucy, showing that they have also made it to Aslan’s kingdom and welcoming their friends home.

It’s lovely.

Except for the bit where Susan’s face, one of the original four children to go to Narnia, is missing.

Not only does the book paint a picture of death and heaven, it also makes the assertion, and holds to it, that not everyone gets to go to heaven. And Susan didn’t make the cut, just like the people who couldn’t see the light back in the barn.

Like I said, it’s a rough message to take no matter what age you are.

But there’s an important reason why the message needs to be made. Narnia is not a real place. Obviously. What is real, though, is the transformation of the people who go to Narnia. Narnia is real insofar as it changes people’s lives. When Edmund went there the first time, he was a horrible little git who nearly ended the world. When Eustace first went, he was a wet blanket whose greed nearly destroyed the voyage. You can see my point.

Being in Narnia meant that the characters could be transformed by their adventures and their interactions with Aslan, and come home as better, changed people. And that seems fine to me. Good even. Because a story about redemption means that the character has to start out somewhere bad. But you persevere and you overcome and you change. You become a King or Queen of Narnia.

So why can’t Susan come too?

Well, Susan didn’t change.

In the only two books where she appears, Susan is a kind, lovely girl who helps all her siblings. She takes care of them, watches over them, and loves the adventures they have. But after that, she grows up. She stays the same person she was, and she doesn’t let Narnia change her. Susan is Susan. She wasn’t awful to begin with, but she didn’t get any better because of what happened in Narnia. She just is.

And for that, she can’t come back.

In order for transformation to be clear, we have to see the one who hasn’t changed. Susan can’t go to Narnia, because we need to understand that growth, real growth is hard and might not last. We have to see how hard it is to know that it’s worth it. So Susan can’t come. If being good, truly good, were easy, everyone would do it. And that’s not the point Lewis is making here.

In reality, it’s hard. Insanely difficult. To remain as wide-eyed as a child and as innocent, while still living a good and rich life? That’s nearly impossible. But if we didn’t see how impossible it is, we wouldn’t realize how good it is to do that.

In the book, it says some simple things about how Susan forgot Narnia and started to only think about lipstick and dancing, and some critics have pounced on that and said that Lewis was anti-woman. I disagree. Really, what he accused Susan of was growing up.

Growing up, and forgetting how to be a child. How to be changed.

So, no. Chronicles of Narnia is not an easy series to read to your children, or to read to yourself. It’s full of characters dying, making terrible decisions, betraying each other, sacrificing for each other, and it has a messianic talking lion. But it’s good. It’s so good. And the lessons it teaches children are precisely the lessons that children should learn.

Be good. Be changed. Be the King or Queen you have inside you, and don’t let anything take that away. Remember Narnia.

How can you hate that?

"Is he safe?" "Safe?...Of course he isn't safe! But, he's good."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Revenge of the Links (Tesla's Laboratory, Thor Casting and More!)

via - Yeah. I see this happening.
It’s been a fun, if tiring, week here at KMWW central. I tramped around Hanoi and sipped mango smoothies from a balcony overlooking the lake. Sigh.

Anyway, hope your week’s been going well too! Have some links I like.

As always, if you can think of anything we missed or you want to shamelessly self-promote, hit it in the comments.

1. In physics-yay news, The Boston Globe (of the comics I cherished as a child) put up a fun little exercise on how to mentally build your own universe. It’s quirky and interesting and totally the kind of brain-puzzle it’s fine to do on a Saturday. Enjoy.

2. In harshing-the-mellow news, more stuff is still spewing out about Todd Akin and his really terrible “legitimate rape” speech. But, looking into it, The Daily Beast has an article about what this could really mean for the Republican party. Check it out here.

3. In thank-you-casting-wizards news, Kat Dennings has been confirmed as revising her role in Thor: The Dark World. I am PUMPED. Darcy Lewis was my favorite part of the first Thor movie, and I was sad she didn’t get to at least cameo in Avengers. Plus, Kat Dennings and Christopher Eccleston in the same movie. Yeah. Epic. For more, see here.

4. In not-making-me-feel-better news, Karen Yang posted an awesome comparison on her tumblr, where she shows the Dodge Charger “Man’s Last Stand” advertisement and contrasts it to a “Woman’s Last Stand” ad. It’s a neat idea, because the Charger commercial shows a bunch of men complaining about doing things that are basic, decent and normal responsibilities of any adult, while the other one is about doing things that women often have to do but really shouldn’t. Check it out here.

5. In more-science-ftw news, there is an online campaign to raise money to make Tesla’s laboratory into an official museum. Nikola Tesla was the Steve Jobs to Edison’s Bill Gates, and has gone down in history largely without all the awesome credit he deserves. Help him grab some of it back here.

6. In this-is-so-meta news, Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis has now officially commented on the fan reaction to his show and the massive shipping of his two characters Stiles and Derek. He reveals that Stiles probably is bisexual, but if they do get together, it won’t be until the end of the show. Which is disappointing, but still. Read the whole interview here.

7. And finally, in aaaaaahhhh-my-brain news, this is an explanation of Cuil Theory, which measures the level of abstraction away from the situation. It's terrifying and awesome.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be back on Monday, and tomorrow tune in for Crossover Appeal at 6pm PDT. You can catch us on Facebook, youtube and Google+. We’ll be talking about superhero costumes, so I hope to see you there!

Friday, August 24, 2012

What Does Alphas Have Against Women?

Dan Ingram of Fear the Cacti and Crossover Appeal is our Friday columnist! You can read some of his previous posts herehere, and here.

So over the past week, I sat down and watched the first season of “Alphas” on Netflix. I do have to admit that I quickly fell in love with this show. Most of which has to do with the fact that all of the male characters on the show are awesome, charming, funny, and have some really kick ass powers.

But if you notice a key part of that last sentence, I only mentioned the male characters. What the hell is going on with their female characters?


Let me start off by listing, categorically who everyone on this team actually is: 

Dr. Lee Rosen is the leader of the team. He is actually not an Alpha, but instead he is a normal human that has been researching the Alpha phenomenon for decades. He is the main contact between his team and the Department of Defense. His interest in Alphas began when his daughter (Danielle, we’ll get to her later) turned out to have abilities that he could not explain scientifically. He’s a really smart guy, loves rock and roll and an avid swimmer. Looks great in a Speedo.

Male power fantasy.
Cameron Hicks is not only a spitting image of Josh Holloway, but he’s also developed the ability to have hyper accuracy. It let him pitch two consecutive perfect games in minor league baseball, but it also led him to be manipulated by “The Ghost” (the villain of the pilot episode) and Cameron killed a federal witness by shooting him in the head…from across the street…through an air duct…on something like the 16th floor. He joined the team to avoid prosecution.

Bill Harkin is a former FBI agent, put on disciplinary leave after he broke a co-workers clavicle in a scuffle. He has the ability to control his fight or flight response and can cause his adrenaline to surge, giving him super strength and super speed. He breaks stuff and effectively Hulks out. In my mind he learned how to harness his abilities while training for a bobsled team from Jamaica.

Gary Bell is known as a “transducer” and can perceive electromagnetic wavelengths, allowing him to tap into cellular signals, security camera footage and track the signal. He is also autistic, a 32 on the CARs scale, according to Gary. He’s by far my favorite character mostly because his power is the most original to me and the guy is one of the funnier (relief) characters on the show.

Bras. Invest in one.
Which leads me to the women on the team. There are two. Rachel and Nina. Rachel has the ability to hone her senses to a molecular level, she can see DNA, not kidding. She also can detect smells, trace elements of explosives, but most notably heartbeats, allowing her to tell how many people are in a given area.

Nina has the ability to “push” people, or influence them to do her bidding. She is regarded as the most troubled of the team.

The way that Nina and Rachel are portrayed on the show goes as follows: “I’m a spoiled brat and she’s a germaphobe.” This makes them simultaneously the most manipulative and insecure characters (respectively) on the entire team.

Not to mention in season 2, I haven’t seen this I’ve only heard about it, apparently Nina goes off the reservation and “pushes” Rachel to have a lesbian make out scene with her.


The men of the Alphas team have powers that fit their personas. Masculinity, hyperaccuracy from being a soldier, the ability to tap into technology on a whim; so what are the creators saying about women when they make them manipulative and so self conscious that they can’t even stand up to their parents. In this case the parents thing is taken a step further because Rachel is of Indian descent. 

Insert stereotypical father figure trying to marry off his daughter…again, not kidding.

What I find so interesting about this show is that they let the powers reflect so closely the personalities and the stereotypes of the characters that they’ve inserted into this team. But it also bothers me, because I don’t get what message they’re trying to say about these people or gender roles in society.

Nina is a decent enough person, we hear a lot about her troubled past, maybe helping someone to commit suicide with her power, but overall she’s not a bitch, but her power to me says, “women are manipulative”.

Rachel isn’t much better. She’s always second guessing herself, is submissive to basically everyone on the team and is a clean freak.

I get that characters need to arc, they need to grow, and in all likelihood these two women will grow out of these terrible archetypes and become something much better.

But really showrunners? That’s where you started? You’re supposed to avoid stuff like this, not embrace it willingly and then just expect me to wait around for you to prove to me you’ve got something to say about females and how they contribute in this world.

And you really didn’t help yourselves out when you made two of the season 1 villains female. One who basically runs a terrorist organization and the other who assassinates people for money.

Then Rosen’s daughter (I said we’d get to her) shows up, turns out to be a drug addict, and is now shown to be working for the terrorist organization as a double agent.


There are plenty of villains on the show that are men. In fact percentage wise I still think guys hold the advantage on this end. But you’re sending a message “Alphas”, and so far I can’t say that it’s a good one. Luckily for you I’m basically enthralled with your “X-Men-but-not-X-Men” style, so you’ve hooked me, but you need to hold yourself to a higher standard, because this shit is getting ridiculous.

Summer Glau guest starring and being generally beautiful/awesome, however, is NOT ridiculous.

Dan Ingram works in television (but not the fun part) and has his Master's in Screenwriting from New York Film Academy. If he had a superpower, it would be the ability to always know where Ryan Reynolds is. True story.