Thursday, October 31, 2013

POP! Justice Blog Carnival (Monstrous Metaphors)


Welcome to the first installment of the POP! Justice blog carnival. Our guest bloggers have all come together to talk about "Monstrous Metaphors" in honor of Halloween. You can click a link and head over to their sites, where each article is about the use of monsters as metaphors for social or internal problems.

And then, if you feel inspired, shoot us an email at kissmywonderwoman@gmail.com to get in on the action for next month!

First up, we have an oldie but a goodie. From Fangs for the Fantasy, here's Appropriation in Urban Fantasy Should Not Be a Plot Point. It's a great look at how a lot speculative fiction, urban fantasy espeically, has a tendency to appropriate historical events or the experiences of marginalized people to give the story more gravitas. But that seriously disrespects the people whose story is used.

Then we have On the Overuse of Zombies from gamEstrogen. Because seriously, haven't we seen enough zombie movies lately? What's up with that? GamEstrogen takes a long and hard look at precisely why we've been seeing so much zombie stuff, and why it's an idea that endures.

Horrordork and Horrordork Part 2 by Jorja Tabu are more on the personal side, looking at why she loves horror movies, even ones she knows are a little exploitative. But more than that, Tabu looks at why horror movies like Deadgirl are actually incredibly feminist, in a blood-soaked, rape-metaphor kind of way. Which is the best kind of way, of course.

Next, hop on over to TimeWantsASkeleton for Stereotypes and Monstrous Metaphors. Here you can look at all the different sorts of monsters we tend to fear, and ask yourself, why these ones? What's so scary about this? And, most importantly, why is this the thing that society wants me to fear?

Which are pretty good questions, you have to admit.

And finally, from us here at Kiss My Wonder Woman, check out It's Us. We're the Monsters. (Torchwood: Children of Earth). A look at a story where humans are the ultimate monsters, and what that says about us and the way we view ourselves. (Hint: It's not particularly comforting.)

That's it for this month in POP! Justice, but we'll be back in a month with more articles from different blogs all talking about social justice and pop culture, because those are two things well worth talking about. Plus, it's fun!

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Sweet dreams!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pilot Season: Tomorrow People (Mental Health + Superpowers = ?)

Okay. Awkward confession time. Back in college, I went through a bit of a troublesome patch and eventually ended up at the campus health center talking to a therapist. She listened to my story and my explanations for the past few months, then quickly referred me to a shrink, who took all of fifteen minutes to confirm the diagnosis. Namely, that I am bipolar and have been pretty much forever.

After that it was a whole round of different medications with different side effects, sometimes anti-depressants (made me hyper and crazy), sometimes sedatives (made me sleep eighteen hours a day - no joke), and sometimes just weird stuff (side effects included "loopyness" whatever that is). My point is, I spent quite a lot of college in and out of various therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist offices, had to have my blood drawn every three weeks for tests, and was constantly downing horse pills in the hopes that this one might maybe, just maybe make me normal.

So to say that I have feelings about the portrayal of mental health in popular culture is a bit of an understatement.

We could go into more of the details of my struggles with my disorder, but that would be kind of boring and self-indulgent. Instead, let's talk about The Tomorrow People, the CW's new remake of a British classic, that somehow manages to make the whole superhero narrative into one about mental health issues. And I have mixed feelings about that.

The show follows Stephen Jameson (Robbie Amell), a nice teenager (who happens to be really obviously in his twenties, good job casting folks), who struggles with severe mental issues. Among them, sleep-walking, hearing voices, and just some general paranoia and delusions of grandeur. One day, though, Stephen is shocked to find that the voice in his head is giving him really precise instructions, directions actually, and when he follows them he winds up in an underground bunker with a whole bunch of ragtag rebels. Who have superpowers. Just like him.

They're called the Tomorrow People (and are very clear that they didn't invent the name), and they think that Stephen could be the key to their survival. Stephen is much less convinced of this.

The Tomorrow People, led by Cara (Peyton List), who was the voice in Stephen's head, and John (Luke Mitchell) are hiding out from a scary organization called Ultra. Ultra knows about the Tomorrow People, but instead of the usual human reactions to the strange and new (fear, confusion, denial, and then bland acceptance, let's be real here), has decided that blatant eradication is the key. They're trying to kill everyone, is what I'm saying.

Stephen, though, is special. Even special-er than the other Tomorrow People. Because he isn't just any kid with superpowers, no, Stephen is the son of the man that the rebels call their leader. Stephen just thinks his dad is a deadbeat whose schizophrenia got too bad and disappeared, but it turns out he was a great leader who left to try to find them a new place to live, where they wouldn't be persecuted. Like, say, Genosha or something.

The TP want Stephen to find his dad so that they can find a new place to live. Stephen just wants to not be crazy, though, so he leaves. And immediately gets kidnapped by Ultra, because of course he does.

In Ultra headquarters, Stephen meets Dr. Jedikiah Price (Mark Pellegrino, who the CW must just keep in a closet until they need him again), the scientist looking to not just eradicate the TP, but to cure them. He tries to force a cure on Stephen too, only for Stephen to be saved by a rescue attempt by Cara, John, and Russell (Aaron Yoo). They manage to escape Ultra's clutches, but not before we find out that John may or may not be Dr. Price's son, and that Stephen really is the special-est snowflake.

Stephen makes peace with the idea of his dad's memory, the TP get ready for the battle it most certainly will be for them to find somewhere safe, and everyone marvels at their ability to now fight against Ultra. Yay!

And then almost immediately boo, when Stephen comes home and finds his mother (Sarah Clarke) talking to his long lost uncle...Dr. Price. Yes, Dr. Price is now going to blackmail Stephen into spying on the Tomorrow People, in exchange for the safety of his family and the people he loves. Clearly this will end badly. But wait, he's not actually doing it after all. Or, well, he is, but only so that he can find out what happened to his father. He's not really turning against the Tomorrow People, even though they certainly think he is. It's complicated.

So, there are a couple of things going on here. First of all, I think you may have noticed that the show draws probably more from the modern X-Men franchise than anything else, especially with the whole "let's find a safe place where we can be free to be you and me", which is a lot like the Genosha arc with Magneto and all that stuff. I'm not saying it's a complete departure from the original material, but this certainly feels more X-Men-ish to me.

Also? The CW isn't usually known as the most diverse of employers, so it's not all that surprising to see that there are only two characters of color and three women in the whole show, but honestly, I'll admit to being happy to be able to find even that many. Still, of those two characters of color and three women, only one is actually a main character, so we're still not doing super hot.

That the only main female character is the subject of a love triangle only makes the matter more confusing. Cara is interesting, I guess, but she's a woman whose entire identity (at least in the first episode) is defined by her love for and hope in Stephen. She's shown only in his context. Hanging out in his head, defending him to John, going to his rescue, etc. I'm sure she has potential to be a really interesting character, but so far, she's pretty one note. And that note is Stephen.

But all of this is ancillary to my larger critique, about the use of superpowers to talk about mental health issues. And honestly? I don't love what they've done here.

Look, I get that this is an escapist fantasy about teenagers (who look suspiciously like adults) with superpowers fighting against "The Man", but that doesn't give the show any right to be such a jerk about actual mental health problems. At first I was actually pretty cool with how they were showing them, for the record. With Stephen's mother constantly feeling like she's failing him, that she's frustrated with him and his actions, but can't really blame him because he's sick, and his ostracism at school, all of that was really well done.

Later in the episode, though, when Stephen discovers that he is not, in fact, crazy, I felt kind of annoyed by how quickly he started to take offense to people pointing out that he might still have mental health issues. Like all of the good humor and acceptance and even frustration he had with his life was completely washed away by the simple "you're not crazy" and now anyone who even suggested he might have mental health problems was a jerk.

Would I love to find out that my bipolar disorder gives me superpowers? Hell yes! That would be awesome. But it wouldn't erase the hundreds of hours I've spent with therapists and taking pills and worrying that one of these days I just won't catch it in time and I'll go off the deep end. I like that they made his mental health problems a symptom of his superpowers. I don't like that when he discovered those superpowers his mental health problems were magically erased from the narrative.

Why can't we get a hero who is both superpowered and also crazy? What's wrong with that? For starters, it would be very interesting, and also kind of intriguing. As if the genuine mental abnormalities associated with mental illness were a sign of great power, but they were still a problem in day to day life.

I guess what I'm saying is that I would like this show better if Stephen stayed crazy.

And maybe that's just me. I'm being very up front about how much of a vested interest I have in this, but I really do think it would be better writing. Not only that, but it would be better in general. How many kids, awkward about their mental health situations and uncomfortable discussing them would feel better if they saw a show on TV about kids with superpowers that also have to deal with hallucinations or mood swings or uncontrollable tics?

But the narrative doesn't do that here. Instead, it erases Stephen's illness, his weakness, and hand-waves it away. And that seriously, genuinely sucks.

I'll probably keep watching, though.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pilot Season: Dracula (I'm Watching It for Lucy and Lady Jane)

Well, I guess it’s time. Time for what, you ask? Time to talk about a show that by all rights I should have lots of opinions on, only I don’t. Not yet at least. So, let’s talk about Dracula, and maybe by talking to all of you, dear internets, I’ll be able to figure out what the poop I think of it.

So, first things first, Dracula is the new NBC drama that stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the titular vampire, Katie McGrath as Lucy Westenra, Jessica De Gouw as Mina Murray, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Jonathan Harker.

Loosely (and I really do mean loosely) based on the original Dracula novel by Bram Stoker, the show follows the famous Count as he wakes up from his undead slumber and travels to London, where, for reasons presumably plot related, he pretends to be an American industrialist named Alexander Grayson and decides to introduce Tesla’s idea of the magnetosphere and free power to modern London, thereby disrupting an oil monopoly held by some shady corporate figures that may or may not have murdered his wife several centuries ago. A wife, mind, that he thinks has been reincarnated as Mina Murray, lovely and sweet medical student.

Whew. That’s kind of a lot.

And herein lies one of the more thorny problems in Dracula. It’s not that anything involved in the story is actually bad, per se, more that there’s just so freaking much of it that the story is kind of hard to follow. Grayson starts his campaign by hosting a big party for all of the London elite. Mina, Jonathan and Lucy are at the party, and they see when “Grayson” unveils his new power source. But Grayson needs a set of patents for a new coolant to make the power source really work, and so he leverages a board member’s gambling debts against him to become a controlling interest in the company that owns the patents.

He also kills the man, because the guy was rude, and I guess Dracula and Hannibal Lecter have the same principles when it comes to murder: we only eat the rude.

Dracula’s not just targeting these men financially, though. He’s after something deeper. All of the men (and woman) he’s targeted belong to the board of directors at this oil company, and all of them are, he suspects, members of the Order of the Dragon. We’re then led to believe that this Order is devoted to hunting down and killing vampires, and with the death of one of their own, they’re now on the watch for a vampire in London.

As for Ms. Murray, Dracula doesn’t seem to have any specific plan for what to do. He wasn’t expecting to run into his dead wife’s doppleganger in London, nor was he expecting her to be in love with a penniless journalist and rather strong-minded for the time. We’re not clear yet on where he’s going to take his obsession with Mina, but I’m going to venture a guess and say probably nowhere good.

But I think you get what I mean here: the whole show is so overstuffed with potentially interesting things that you sort of lose track of them and end up feeling a little blah and confused when it’s over. The emotional core of the plot is lost in a sea of neat settings and trade details, sort of like, forgive the comparison, The Phantom Menace. In that movie, the real problem had to do with how over-full it was. Any of the individual segments could have been its own movie, but because we kept moving around, we never really got to understand any of it, and the movie sucked. So too here.

Now, I would be remiss in reviewing this show if I didn’t point out the actual thing that is most definitely going in its favor, and that is the minor characters. I get that this is weird, especially when we’ve got Jonathan Rhys Meyers at the helm, but the minor characters are really what hold this show together.

Katie McGrath’s Lucy Westenra, for one, is no more the simpering idiot of the book, but now a headstrong, shallow, keen-eyed, and incredibly bitchy girlfriend of Mina’s. Lucy isn’t deep by any means, but that doesn’t mean she’s stupid, and McGrath makes it clear that there is a very big difference between vapid and dumb. Just because Lucy is unrepentantly materialistic and obsessed with society doesn’t make her any less of a firm adversary or a good friend for that matter. And honestly, the changes to the Lucy/Dracula dynamic that come from this character shift are all really interesting to me. I look forward to more of that, definitely.

Another cool improvement? Renfield, played by Nonso Anozie, is much more than the bug-eating crazy person of the book and several of the movies. As far as we know, he doesn’t actually eat bugs here, which is probably a good thing because that is super gross. No, here Renfield is Dracula’s trusted manservant and assistant. He’s got a wit about him, and enough will to occasionally object to his master’s plans. He doesn’t ever stop them, mind, but he does point out the areas of stupid, and serves as a really good foil to the ever suave Dracula. Also, it’s always nice to see a man of color show up in a period piece. Just saying.

And then we’ve got Lady Jane (Victoria Smurfit), one of the more nuanced femme fatales we’ve gotten on TV in the past few years. Lady Jane is a couple of things all at the same time. She’s a businesswoman in an era where women never invade the boardroom, an unmarried woman with her own wealth and comfort in her station, a member of the Order of the Dragon, and Dracula’s hookup buddy.

She’s a complicated lady.

Which is great. Lady Jane isn’t a good guy, not really, but she’s also not cartoonishly evil. And while she does certainly play up the whole, “I’m an independent woman which means that heck yes I have sex and lots of it!” card, you kind of can’t blame her for it. In flaunting society’s rules as appearing as an unmarried woman of industry, you can kind of figure that she’d just end up breaking all the rules she could think of.

Plus, having one of Dracula’s enemies be both a love interest and also pretty sympathetic? It’s a good idea. Because here’s the thing about the whole plot so far: it is incredibly hard to figure out who to root for. I mean, Dracula’s got a point, that if the Order of the Dragon did just go around murdering nice vampire ladies like his wife, then they probably aren’t very nice to be around and maybe should go away. But then again, we are taking the word of an immortal serial killer on this “they’re the bad guys” thing, and it seems to make sense that keeping the vampires out of London is probably a good idea. So, in short, I have no idea who to root for, and that’s kind of good and bad.

On the good side, the show has a complex enough plot and moral system that it’s hard to make snap judgments. On the bad side, the show is so complicated that we’re one episode in and I want a flow chart.

Which brings us back to the pilot episode and the pilot episode’s incredibly perplexing plot. I’m not saying the plot was bad, exactly. Not really. Just – I don’t get it. Like, any of it. Why is Dracula pretending to be American? Does that matter? Because so far all it means for the story is that we’re being subjected to Rhys Meyers’ American accent, and that is on par with Charlie Hunnam’s accent in the first season of Sons of Anarchy. Which is to say, bad.

For that matter, why is Dracula concerning himself with electricity at all? Surely there are easier ways of financially ruining a bunch of old white men. He could do it. If he’s capable of coming up with a scheme that involves old Tesla inventions, I’m sure he could figure out how to do it without the weird electricity and coolant and other vague scientific things that we don’t care about.

And then there are the little questions: Why is Van Hellsing helping Dracula and also why is he teaching anatomy at a local university? It’s kind of random. Why are Mina and Jonathan taking so long in getting married? It’s super obvious that they love each other, after all. And why the everloving crap does every show feel the need to throw in Jack the Ripper? Like, is it a law that any show set in Victorian London must mention the Ripper or face public shunning?

But overall, I think I like it. I mean, I’m still not sure about the whole thing, and I find that the main plot is really my least favorite component, but I still think I like it. I find the story potentially amusing, and I really love the side characters, so we’ll see what happens.

Mostly? I’m really happy that this show exists, if only for the way the female characters appear. Because not a one, not a single one, is one-dimensional. They all have lives and feelings and outside functions. They are not bound to the plot, but exist outside of it, only stepping in when their paths collide. And I like that. I like that Mina is a medical student, and that she faces deep hostility in academia, but is overcoming it. I like that Lady Jane is a businesswoman and also a vampire hunter. And I love that Lucy is a shallow bitch who knows she is and doesn’t care. I like all of them, and I think they’re all worth tuning in for.

Well, writing that out did seem to help. I would say then that my official diagnosis is as follows: the show is weird, confusing, and a bit overstuffed. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Watch it if only for the female characters (and Renfield), and let’s see if it improves. If it doesn’t at least we will have gotten some juicy Lucy quotes out of the deal.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Pilot Season: Reign (Romantic Historical Soap Opera? Sure!)

We’re so close to the end of pilot season, you guys, I can almost taste it. It’s not that I don’t like Pilot Season or anything, it’s just that after about two months of it, the constant roulette game of whether or not this is a show I’ll enjoy gets kind of old. And by that I mean it gets really old and I’m ready to settle down with some old favorites and a few new promising shows and have a quiet.

But not until we’ve finished picking over the new shows! No rest for the wicked and all that. Blarg.

So, let’s talk about Reign, the new CW show that is both considerably more historical than I was anticipating and also wildly anachronistic because why not? It follows Mary, Queen of Scots, as she goes to meet her fiancé, the future King of France, and prepares to someday wed him and join their two countries in a marriage alliance. It’s a medieval soap opera, with lots of gowns and a cool soundtrack and some dishy romances and backstabbings and evil plots.

I kind of love it already. Or, at the very least, I am already super emotionally invested in it, so that’s always a good sign. This doesn’t mean I don’t have reservations, however, and we’ll get to those in a second.

In the pilot episode, Mary (Adelaide Kane, who you may recognize as Cora from Teen Wolf) has been living at a convent in France for the past nine years. Her solitude is an effort to keep her safe, but when a fellow nun dies as a result of an assassination attempt on Mary, her keepers decide that it’s time to formally present her at the French court and get her ready to marry Francis (Tony Regbo).

Mary, who has not seen Francis since they were children, is both anxious and excited to see her future husband again. But, because this is royalty we’re talking about, it’s not all smooth sailing. For one thing, Francis has his own ideas about whether or not Mary is a good match. And, interestingly, they are pretty good ideas, mostly focusing on the fact that while they might like each other, their countries may not be a good match.

Also muddying the waters is Francis’ mother, Catherine de’Medici (Megan Follows). Catherine is a terrifying blend of motherly concern and ruthless political maneuvering, so, you know, a great villain. Her soothsayer, who happens to be Nostradamus himself (Rossif Sutherland), tells her that Mary will cause Francis’ death. So naturally Catherine is going to do everything in her power to prevent that.

Among those things? Trying to give Mary a sleeping potion so that she sleeps through a rape attempt and wakes up with her virtue spoiled and unable to marry a future king. Unfortunately for this incredibly dark plot, Mary doesn’t drink the wine, wakes up during the assault, and screams for help.

The assailant, a lover of one of her handmaids who has been blackmailed by Catherine, ends up dead, and Mary learns a valuable lesson: watch yourself. She also learns that someone is watching out for her, probably a woman, but we don’t know who, and neither does Mary.

There are a couple other plotlines that factor in so far. Mary’s friends and ladies in waiting all have the potential for their own stories, but so far the standouts are Lola (Anna Popplewell), whose lover tried to assault Mary, and Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) who has sex with the king. Both of those things could and probably will turn out horribly, which is kind of the point of this show.

The other major knife in the works comes in the form of Francis’ bastard brother, Sebastian (Torrance Coombs), who seems to have more than a bit of an eye for Mary. His mother, on the other hand, thinks Mary spells trouble, and makes alarming allusions to something very dark happening in the woods. My bet? Creepy pagan sacrifices. Just a hunch, but they did mention blood.

Pretty much the gist for the pilot is that Mary, who hasn’t lived at court since she was a child, has no political sense whatsoever, and therefore keeps bungling things up. By the end of the episode, though, she’s finally realized that surviving until her wedding day is going to be a bit of a trial, but if she wants what’s best for her people, she should probably try to be better at it.

Spoiler alert, if you read the Wikipedia page, you get the impression this isn’t going to be a show with a happy ending.

Anyway, I’ll start with the good stuff. For one thing, I’m already invested in it. While the show was going, I found myself actually rooting for different characters, getting excited about plot developments, and wanting to scream when something bad happened. So that’s good.

It’s also a show, and this is much to its credit, about the world of women. Oh, sure, it’s the super privileged world of a pretty, pretty princess and her beautiful friends living in a castle and talking about marrying princes, but it’s all about the women. A woman is the hero, and a woman is the villain. The supporting characters are mostly women, the conflicts are about the place and role of women, and the men are mostly non-players.

The flip side of this is that while the men factor very little in the actual plot and machinations of the show so far, they are the subject of nearly every conversation and confrontation. While this makes perfect sense in a show about royalty and succession and marriage, it’s still a little annoying that literally every single scene was somehow about a man.

Also frustrating? The fact that even in the first episode, Francis is more complex, interesting, and developed than Mary is - by a lot. We know so much more about him as a person than we do about her, and the story suffers for it. Mostly all we know about Mary so far is that she's impulsive and passionate. Time will tell if she has other important qualities, but so far, no idea. For the other female characters as well, we don't know a whole lot. I mean, tidbits, but we'll have to wait and see how they all play out. And I'm really not thrilled that in a show about and for women, the women are the ones getting the shaft.

Yet another side to the argument, though, points out that the very nature of the show, it’s discussion of sex and the royal preoccupation with virginity, the sexual double standards, and the way that Mary and her uterus are traded around like a chess piece, is actually a criticism of these sexist practices. Because while Mary understands why she’s been traded in marriage, she still wants to be happy and fall in love and live a good life.

It’s naïve, but that doesn’t make it bad.

And honestly, I would say that sums up the whole show pretty well. Naïve, but not necessarily in a bad way. It seems to suppose that a romantic view of history, of seeing all these power hungry nobles as characters in a soap opera, will make the bloody truth more palatable, or at least more interesting. And it suggests that Mary’s romanticism is her saving grace. I’m not sure that’s true, but I don’t hate trying to find out.

I also don't really mind that as a queen getting ready for her own marriage, Mary talks about men all the time. Honestly? It's probably on her mind a lot. And whatever we might say about it now, in that time a woman in Mary's position was actually defined entirely by the men around her. That doesn't make it good, but it does show that Mary has an awareness of her situation. And it doesn't mean this show, this story, can't still be feminist.

So, yes, the dresses look more like modern prom dresses than period attire, and the soundtrack is suspiciously free of classical tunes, and sure, it’s a soap opera based on some incredibly bloody history, but so what? It’s got two queens pitting themselves against each other for the fate of an alliance and the rule of two countries, a religious element, constant underlying sexual tension between a few too many people, and some seriously great locations.

But more than that, it’s got a story that pulls you in, into a world populated by women who want power, have power, or are running away from power. It shows you how oppressive a world where women only gain power through men is, and it asks you to root for its heroine anyway. I kind of love it. At least enough to keep watching, which is good enough for me.


Friday, October 25, 2013

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Jane Espenson




And here's the second interview, this time with Jane Espenson, writer of pretty much everything we love (Buffy, Dollhouse, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time, Caprica, Gilmore Girls, need I go on?), talking about linguistics and how language influences perception, translation, and writing in general.

So, hard core awesome nerd stuff.

Again, thanks to HEARTgamingg for filming these, and a big thanks to Ms. Espenson for being such a good sport about it.

Side note: I know this is going up on our usually sacrosanct Strong Female Character Friday, but wait around for the end of the interview. It ties in perfectly.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Kelly Sue DeConnick




I don't feel like this needs much ado at all, really. But, for those of you confused, I interviewed prolific comics writer Kelly Sue DeConnick at GeekGirlCon, and got her take on the split between Marvel and DC female characters, the comics she's most proud of, and other cool stuff like that.

Much thanks to HEARTgamingg for partnering with us to film this! Super cool.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It's Us. We're the Monsters. (Torchwood: Children of Earth)

For once I’m going to be completely up front here: if there is even the slightest chance that you plan on watching Torchwood: Children of Earth and you wish to remain unspoiled, then you should stop reading right about HERE. Because we’re going to spoil the crap out of it in the rest of this article.

And I should point out that if you don’t want to watch Torchwood: Children of Earth, you’re wrong and you need to go sit in the corner and think about what you did.

Everybody good? Awesome.

So, today we’re going to talk about Torchwood: Children of Earth, in case you didn’t catch that. While nominally Children of Earth is the third season of Torchwood, a spinoff of the ever popular Doctor Who, it really stands alone both as a season and as a show in and of itself. Sure, the characters appear again later, and the continuity does fit within both shows, but it’s a completely different animal. For starters, it’s a miniseries. There are only five episodes, each of which follows a single day during the invasion of Earth by a hostile alien species. We meet new characters, deal with different problems, and overall see a very surprising side of the Doctor Who/Torchwood universe.

We also see some of the hands down best writing ever to grace the television screen. I’m really not kidding about that. I genuinely think this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. In my life. And I am picky as hell.

Why do I love it so much? We’ll get into the actual plot in a bit, but I think the answer is pretty simple. I love Children of Earth because it presents us with an utterly unflinching view of humanity, good and bad, in the face of crisis. Because the monsters, far from representing just one singular social problem, represent all of them. The monsters are us, our greed, our self-righteousness, our inflexible wills, and our casual disregard for each other. The aliens might be the villains, but we’re the bad guys. All of us.

Did I mention that it’s incredibly dark? Because it is.

Children of Earth picks up a couple of months after Torchwood season two ends. (SPOILERS, in case you missed it the first time). Tosh (Naoko Mori) and Owen (Burn Gorman) are both dead, and Jack (John Barrowman), Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) and Gwen (Eve Myles) are left reeling from the loss. It’s pretty much business as usual for the team, even going so far as to show them trying to find new members to possible recruit, when a terrifying event streaks across the globe. All at once, every child on Earth stops – dead still – for a minute. Then, in unison, they all say the same thing. In English. “We are coming.”

Naturally, this sparks off a terror all across the world. What is happening? Who is coming? How the hell did they hack into our children? For all that it was big and scary, the kids seem to be fine afterwards. What is going on?

But someone knows. Specifically, Jack knows, and so does the British government. At the Home Office, John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) seems to be unfortunately aware of who is coming, and as the show progresses we find that he’s not the only one. Because “we” have been here before, and as a result, a few select people know what’s coming next.

It’s not good.

Jack, who is as you might remember immortal, recalls the last time this entity made contact with the British government: back in the 1960s. They call them the 456, because that’s the frequency on which the creatures contact Earth. Back in the sixties, the 456 made a trade with the British government. The 456 would send a cure for the Indonesian Flu, which would otherwise kill millions of people, and in return, the government would give them children. Twelve, I believe.

Jack is the only one of the soldiers left alive, and since the government would very much like this information not to get out, they try to kill him. That doesn’t go that well, and now Torchwood is on the case, struggling to figure out what the 456 is doing, what they want, and how to stop the government from rolling over like they did last time.

Also, Gwen and Rhys (Kai Owen) have just found out that they’re going to have a baby, and Ianto is frustrated by his relationship with Jack, while he also frets about his sister and her children. Jack’s got his own worries, when he realizes that his grandson is precisely within the target age group.

Lots more plot things happen, of course, but the basic gist is that the 456 demand more this time. A lot more. They want ten percent of all the children on Earth. If they don’t get them, they’ll destroy the human race.

And the worst of it is, the governments of the world agree.

Like I said, there’s a lot more going on here, and some even more horrifying stuff that we’ll cover in a second, but I think you’ve got the basics now. When push comes to shove, the people of the world back down. And the worst of it is, are they exactly wrong?

I mean, if you think about it, they are bargaining for the safety of everyone. Yes, they’re sending millions of children off to who knows where, but they’re also saving literally everyone else on the planet. Is that so wrong?

Yes. It is.

As the show progresses through the thorny issues that arise, it gives us a simple, but ultimately true answer. If we do not fight, we are not truly alive. If we don’t fight obvious evil like this, then what right have we to our children anyway?

When they decide to give the children over, the people of the council all agree that it can’t be, well, their children, right? So they make a plan. A plan to take the children no one will miss. The low-performing kids. The ones no one likes. The losers. Kids like Ianto’s niece and nephew. Which is, sad to say, all too plausible.

I mean, it’s kind of easy, right? It makes sense. It’s not super surprising to think of. Of course, if they were going to give in, then these wouldn’t be the people to take the hard cuts themselves. Of course they would use it as a chance to clean up the country. Of course they go after the lower income families, the immigrants, the undesirables. Of course.

It’s human nature writ large and frightening across the sky.

The 456 in this story are monsters. There’s really no question about that. Later in the story, it’s revealed that they kept the children from the 1960s, perfectly preserved. Why? Because the 456 needed them, wanted them. They use the children as drugs. They use them to get high. I’m not sure there’s anything more immediately horrifying than that.

But for all of the obvious evil in the 456, they aren’t the villains of this story. How could they be? To them, we’re ants. Ants with hallucinogenic properties, apparently, but still. They don’t care what happens to us, we’re a means to an end. And in a strange way, that makes them less villainous. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they totally deserve their awful end, but I don’t feel like they’re the ultimate bad guys in this. We are.

We’re the ones who let it happen. Who don’t fight. Who sit placidly and allow the most vulnerable among us to be taken, and who calmly agree when our government tells us to roll over and pretend we can’t see. It’s the sad fact of human nature. When given an opportunity to do good, but at great personal cost, or to do nothing, at potential gain, nearly no one will do good.

There is a flip side. There’s also Torchwood. Torchwood knows the stakes. They manage to infiltrate the building where the 456 are being held and try to negotiate. Actually, they more try to threaten and intimidate them, but that ends terribly and the 456 kill everyone in the building. Including Ianto and Jack. Jack wakes up. Ianto doesn’t.

So Jack already knows the risk. He’s already lost someone he loves dearly. And when the idea comes of how to defeat the 456 (use the same frequency they used to hijack the children and basically make their heads explode) he is the first to realize that it has a cost. It has a high cost: his grandson, Steven.

They need a conduit to send the message back to the 456. It’s the only way to save Earth. And it involves sacrifice. The same sacrifice, ultimately, that they rejected when it was all the children. For the sake of many, one. Steven dies. And Jack knows it’s his fault. Because it is.

I love this story because there’s no right answer here. There’s nothing that makes it all okay. Nothing’s okay. It’s all horrifying and terrible. But that’s kind of the point. You want to talk about monsters who represent something in the culture, well, sometimes it’s important to talk about the culture and how it can be a monster too. For all that the 456 clearly represent corruption and human degradation, they also aren’t the real evil here. We are. We’re the bad guys. And that’s important.

Sometimes there really isn’t a right answer. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still wrong answers. Just because we can’t see the good does not allow us to give in to the bad. The real monster in Children of Earth is Earth itself. Which is, in its own way, good. Because if we can truly see this, just this once, then maybe we can change.

I hope.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Returning Shows: Once Upon A Time (Still Nuts, Still Fun)

I know you’re all dying to hear more about GeekGirlCon and the fabulous amazingness that happened there, but that’s going to have to wait a little bit, because the interviews aren’t quite done being baked (should be done by Thursday) and I’ve still not quite figured out how to explain all the cool panels I went to without going hardcore nerd and probably getting a little boring.

Which is too bad.

But dry your eyes! Because now, instead, we get to look at another returning show and judge its worthiness to stay in our Hulu favorites. Let’s talk about Once Upon a Time.

Now, we’ve actually been following this show for a couple of years now, and while it remains as deliciously bizarre and cracktastic as ever, I think something else has happened. Something strange. I think OUAT has finally actually found its footing. And since this is the third season, it’s about freaking time.

For those of you who don’t know the basic gist of the show, just check out our OUAT tag and read up there. Because I don’t have time to explain all that massive backstory to you! We’re on a deadline!

(We are not, in fact, on a deadline, unless you count trying to write this article before the timer dings on the chicken I’m baking, in which case we totally are. For the record.)

Anyway, the third season brings us back in right where the second left off. Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) has been kidnapped and taken to Neverland, presumably on the orders of Peter Pan, who is a terrifying bad person. In retaliation, his whole extended family has come after him, including Emma (Jennifer Morrison), his birth mother/maternal step-great grandmother, Regina (Lana Parrilla), his adoptive mother, Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin), his maternal grandmother, Charming (Josh Dallas), his maternal grandfather, and Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), his paternal grandfather.

Also, Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) – no relation. Yet.

The whole gang is on board the Jolly Rodger as they try desperately to reach Neverland before Henry can be taken by Pan. Tragically, they are too late, and their bickering leads them to almost die in a storm called up by the mermaids. Since Neverland is a land based entirely around belief, they have to work together in order to save Henry, which is what they all want.

As we go along, several character tensions are revealed, which no doubt will become more noticeable as the season progresses. Namely, Regina is willing to go to any ends to get Henry back, which causes tension with Charming and Snow. Charming and Snow, meanwhile, desperately want to parent their already-grown daughter, Emma, who resents getting life advice from people her own age. And Rumplestiltskin thinks they’re all idiots and wanders off at the beginning of the episode to get Henry back on his own.

Of course, this is only part of the whole story. We also see Henry as he runs away from the Lost Boys and, with the help of another outcast and some pixie dust, is able to fly away. Later in the episode, though, the other boy is revealed to actually be Peter Pan himself, and the whole thing was a ruse to see if Henry really is the “true believer” they’ve been waiting for. He is, and that’s probably not a good thing.

In another realm entirely, Baelfire/Neal (Michael Raymond-James) has been returned to the Enchanted Forest where he grew up. He’s less than thrilled to be there, especially when he realizes that Emma and Henry are stuck in Neverland. He’s been there, and he knows exactly how not good that is. So we have another quest by another character trying to get from one realm to another. He’s joined in his effort by Mulan (Jamie Chung), who seems to have elected herself “helper of weird randos who get tossed into our realm and wish to leave”. That’s nice. Everyone needs a hobby.

So far, we have seen nothing of Storybrooke itself. Actually, we saw more of Storybrooke in the premiere of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland than we did in this opener, which could say interesting things about the season. Then again, it might not mean anything at all.

The problem with a show like OUAT is that there’s really no use in predicting it. While that does mean the show is a lot more fun to watch than your average hour-drama, it also means that the show varies wildly between hilarious and unexpected and downright insane. What I’m hoping for, and what I think we might get with this new season is a chance for the show to stabilize. It’s got the key elements it needs and now there’s a chance, just a chance, that it can calm the crap down and just tell a story.

We’ll see how that goes.

Honestly, though, even if the show doesn’t settle down, and it keeps up this ridiculous habit of tossing characters in and out of realms, uniting and tearing apart star-crossed lovers and making everyone and their brother related in some way to the main characters, I’ll still watch it. You know why?

Because OUAT exists in a really unique space in pop culture. It’s a show that manages to affirm our best and most wonderful hopes about the world while also pointing out that sometimes life sucks and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. It gives us traditional fairy tales, then turns them on their heads. It gives us female characters who cry and long for true love and then pick up a chainsaw and cut down an apple tree or dive into a magic hat or freak the crap out.

I love it because it isn’t easy, and it isn’t safe. It’s a show that is weighted effortlessly in the direction of female characters and female stories, but that doesn’t deny the importance of men in those stories.

And, the number one reason I love it, it never makes excuses for bad behavior, but it does show you that inside every villain is a scared, unhappy person trying to get out.

Moreso, it makes a point of showing that there are two sides to every story. Emma is furious that her parents are trying to give her life advice and control her actions, which is understandable, as she is in her late twenties, and her parents are actual literal fairy-tale royalty. I'd rebel against that too. But then Snow and Charming have a point too - they might be screwing it up, but they were devastated to lose her and they want any chance they can get to be a part of her life. No one's really the bad guy here, even if no one is precisely agreeing either.

I like that. I like that a lot.

For all that we adore shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones for revealing things about human nature and giving us a raw, unfiltered view of ourselves as people and the world at large, I’m pretty sure that this is actually the most accurate representation of humanity I’ve seen on TV. It’s no real surprise either, since this comes from the same people who made Buffy, who made Battlestar Galactica, and who made Gilmore Girls.

People are both good and bad. Even the people who are bright and beautiful and noble are still also flawed and dark and willing to do terrible things in the name of justice. No one is straightforward. We’re all just stumbling through, trying to figure ourselves out. To figure out what kind of story we want to be, and whether we’re the villains, or whether there’s still hope for us to be the heroes.

This is a show that I would say is more concerned with the emotional reality of our lives than with the empirical reality, and honestly, that’s just fine with me. I get that. I get these characters. Every time Rumplestiltskin fails and chooses power over love, I get that. Every time Emma hesitates before she trusts someone because she’s been burned so very many times, I get that. And every time Snow lashes out in rage only to shudder at her own anger, I get that too. Those are all human things, and they are all completely real.

So, yes, OUAT is a very silly show where people are constantly being pushed through portals and finding out that so-and-so is their long-lost whatever, but that’s okay. It’s a show about people trying to find the happy ending. Some of them won’t. Some of them will. And the fun of it is seeing which one is which.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Back from GeekGirlCon - Let's See Some Cosplay!

Robin, Batman, and The Riddler
GeekGirlCon was fantastic and I am exhausted, neither of which is particularly surprising, I think. I went to panels, bought awesome nerd merch, hung out with fabulous geeks, and even got to interview Kelly Sue DeConnick and Jane Espenson! Those interviews were actually filmed (courtesy of Heart Gamingg) and should be up by Thursday. Which is just plain super cool.

In addition to all of the panels and networking, though, I also got to check out some of the more interesting indie works available right now, and I shall be reporting on those as I manage to work through investigating the massive stack of business cards currently threatening to topple my desk. But expect more on that front. Also a little bit more on some cool volunteer opportunities, like with Reel Grrls here in Seattle, and other cool stuff like that.

But I know what you're really here for. You want some cosplay. Well, have at it! (All photos are by the consent of the party being photographed, because we're classy like that.)

Captain America

Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)

Bilbo and Dwalin

Drs. Hermann Gottlieb and Newton Geizsler

No Face

Rosie the Riveter!

Actually, I'll be totally honest, I forget what she was dressed as. I'll take a hint for 400, Alex?

The Fifth Doctor, times two

Daleks

Darth Vader. I think.

Rose, Tenth Doctor, Eleventh Doctor, and River Song

Something from Team Fortress 2, I believe.

Riza Hawkeye

Link

Ice Queen, Peppermint Butler, and Fionna and Cake

Katara and Azula (and also their very nice friend)

Daenerys Targaryen

Sabertooth, Cyclops, Rogue, Gambit, Jean Grey and Wolverine

Captain Marvel

Spiderwoman and Hawkeye II

Loki and Gambit

Suki/Kyoshi Warrior

Chell and Harley Quinn (I think. Maybe?)

So, yeah, kind of a lot of talented people at this con. And we have more to come in reporting on it, because interesting things were said and heard, very cool people continue to exist and need to be mentioned, and those fabled interviews will be available soon, oh so very soon.