Friday, August 29, 2014

RECAP: Outlander 1x03 - Claire Is Too Good At Her Job

Yeah, so apparently recovering from this wedding thing, and also physically getting back home, took a lot longer than I anticipated. Hopefully we'll be back to a regular posting schedule next week, but in the meantime, I did watch the newest episode of Outlander. And yes, it continues to be just as wonderful and amazing as promised.

The title of this episode is “The Way Out”, and it’s clearly on Claire’s mind. As you hopefully remember from last week, Claire is now basically a prisoner at Castle Leoch, imprisoned both because they think she’s an English spy and because they desperately need her medical skills to help the people of the castle. Claire’s not happy being stuck here in the past, and she’s looking for a way, any way, to get out.

But first, a flashback! We see a moment of Claire’s life with Frank prior to her abrupt transition in time, and it’s a very sweet moment indeed. Also, notably, a feminist one. In this memory, Claire and Frank are saying goodbye in a train station, as Claire gets ready to head to the Front, and Frank must stay behind in London. He’s protective and worried, but Claire is the sort of girl who never runs from danger, and she reassures him that she’s doing her duty, before kissing him through the train window as she moves off into the future.

I’m just saying, think of how many times we’ve seen that scenario play out with a wildly different gender dynamic. I find it incredibly refreshing to see Claire leaning over to kiss her man goodbye before she goes off to war. Even better, Frank isn’t guilting Claire over her choice or being anything but supportive and worried. It’s rad.

We then go into the world’s best misdirect. While Mrs. Fitz dolls up Claire like she’s her own, well, doll. One gets the impression from this, and the implication that Mrs. Fitz has been dressing Claire every morning for the multiple weeks she’s been at Castle Leoch, that Mrs. Fitz really really wanted a daughter. Also she kind of likes how Claire looks all pristine and not covered in scars.

But then Claire has to go and ruin the moment by telling Mrs. Fitz that she’s actually from the future and she fell through time and she needs to find some way to get back home because her husband is amazing and she misses him so much… Mrs. Fitz doesn’t really know how to react to this news, and promptly freaks the crap out, screaming about Claire being a witch and how she’s a demon and all that good stuff. Then Claire actually wakes up.

It’s a great misdirect for a couple of reasons. First, because this is a scene not in the book, but one that feels incredibly plausible. So I was stuck watching like, “Are they really changing it like this? Huh. Weird choice.” But it handily answers the audience’s question of why Claire never tells anyone. That’s why. And it’s a good reason. Second, this is a fantastic misdirect because it allowed the show to use a clip of Claire explaining her situation to someone in all of their promo-trailers without actually having to have a scene like that. Handy.

Anyway, the real business of the episode then gets underway. Mrs. Fitz wakes Claire up and gets her ready, reminding Claire that her existence in the castle relies on her being in Dougal and Colum’s good graces. The best way to do that? Lots of doctoring!

Of course, the doctor before Claire was a mis-informed quack who was pretty bad at his job even by ye olde-y standards, so in order to get to her doctoring, Claire has to clean out the surgery and get rid of that guy’s weird medicinal remedies. Like jars full of pill bugs and powdered human skull and dead mice. Fun, helpful stuff. But in between all the grossness are some valuable medicines, so the task isn’t impossible. Just boring. Insanely boring for Rupert, who is still her Dougal-assigned keeper. He yawns a lot. It’s pretty great.

As Claire gets down the real business of healing people, Rupert even goes bored enough to leave and go drink in the kitchen. It’s an interesting commentary on her character, too, that Claire doesn’t use this as an opportunity to try to run off. It seems that she really does take her doctoring seriously, whatever else she might resent about this place. There are sick and hurt people who need her, and she might be hell bent on leaving, but she’s still a physician. She still has a duty.

I like her.

When Claire comes up to the kitchen to try wrangling her guards into actually helping her, though, the real story of this episode gets going. It seems that one of the local boys has recently died after being possessed by a demonic spirit. Claire is baffled by this news, especially as it is delivered by a completely serious Mrs. Fitz. The stricken boy was friends with her grandson or nephew or something, and she’s terribly worried he might be taken too, since he went to the same evil place as the dead boy. But there’s no time to think on that now, as Colum has summoned Claire, and that could mean literally anything.

In this case, it means that Colum wishes to use Claire’s medical skills. He wants her to massage his legs - which as you may recall are misshapen due to a genetic disorder - and relieve the pain. Also we are treated to a positively badass scene where Colum tears his tailor a new one. The tailor has made Colum a new coat, but it’s a good foot longer than the current style, and Colum rightly assumes that this is because the tailor wants to hide his legs. And Colum? Colum is not ashamed of his legs. He refuses to be ashamed, and he’s certainly not going to pay anyone to imply he should be.

Just one more moment when this show proves that it can be radical and progressive and amazing without ever really feeling incongruous or anachronistic. Colum calls out ableism, Claire calls out sexism - it always feels natural and reasonable, because it is. People have always wanted to be treated as people, that’s not a new invention. There is no reason why Colum should feel ashamed about his legs, nor is there any reason why Claire should be okay with the idea of rape. Calling these things out isn’t anachronistic, it’s human. And awesome.

Back to the story, Claire’s a bit uncomfortable when Colum basically guilts her into massaging his legs, but then she recovers quickly and informs him that she’ll really need to massage his back in order to help the pain. Once more, Claire’s twentieth century medical training proves helpful, and her massage is the best relief Colum has gotten in years. Yay! People helping people!

While she massages him, they talk a bit about the stricken boy, and Claire inadvertently reveals that she doesn’t believe in demons or devils. No matter. Colum and everyone else believes enough to cover her. And he’s very grateful for her helping the pain, so he invites her to come to the hall tonight and listen to the bard sing.

This isn’t really Claire’s scene, and she’s quite happy to stand in the corner and drink some really strong wine, ignoring Dougal and his raging insensitivity as she tries to pretend she’s okay with being there. She ends up sitting right next to Laoghaire, the pretty girl that Jamie saved from a beating last episode. Laoghaire’s clearly got a thing for Jamie (because she is a human being with eyes), and Claire is more than happy to play matchmaker. She motions Jamie over, makes him sit next to Laoghaire, and then tells him how pretty Laoghaire is. 

Tragically, Jamie only has eyes for Claire, and spends the whole evening chatting with Claire only, while occasionally noticing that Laoghaire is still there. And then handing her a dirty dish to take to the kitchens. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny. It’s also not helped by Claire and Jamie’s obvious closeness. After you’ve ridden on a horse with someone for three days, seen them shirtless, bandaged their wounds, and sobbed all over them, you bond a little.

Since Claire’s been drinking steadily throughout the night, Jamie decides to intervene before she passes out in the hall, and manufactures a reason to get her out of there. But not before he takes her wine glass and downs it, an act of casual intimacy that makes Laoghaire positively green and makes the audience coo. Or at least it made me coo. And I do not regret that.

Jamie drags Claire off to the surgery to ask her to change his bandages. He’d have done it down at the stable, but he doesn’t want Old Alec, the horsemaster and his mentor, to see his scars. Alec knows, of course, but knowing and seeing are two very different things. That might be one of the more profound points made on this show.

Also the sexual tension between these two is getting so thick I feel like I’m going to choke on it. In a good way? Just make out already! Seriously, she slowly undresses him in order to look at his bandage, and their faces are so close together and this is becoming physically painful. Ugh. Attractive people saying goodnight to each other. Ugh.

Fortunately we are saved by a scene change to the next morning, where Claire (and a reluctant Rupert) join Geilis Duncan on a hunt for medicinal herbs. By way of casual chit-chat, Geilis mentions that she came up with Father Bain, who is going to perform an exorcism on “the Baxter boy”, aka Mrs. Fitz’s grandson/nephew person. Claire is immediately alarmed, Geilis is disturbingly okay with all of this. And also super duper creepy.

She clearly knows something is off with Claire, and she’s got a solid hunch that whatever is up with Claire is not natural. Claire senses danger, and she should.

But also Claire’s innate sense of duty and need to help people in pain kicks in, and she rushes off to save Thomas Baxter from the tender mercies of Father Bain and an exorcism. This part, just for the record, isn’t actually in the book, but it should be, because it so excellently sets up later plot points. Anyway, Claire bursts in and tries to heal everything, while the priest freaks out and hates her vaguely for interfering with God’s work. And that priest is even creepier and more sinister than Geilis, which is saying something. 

Rupert drags a dejected Claire back to the castle, where she sits down to rest for a moment and accidentally interrupts a “moment” for someone else. Namely Jamie and Laoghaire, who are making out furiously in a corner of the storeroom. Awkward. But Claire responds by basically giving Jamie a thumbs up, and then pretending she saw nothing. Because Claire is a mensch.

Fortunately, being a mensch doesn’t stop Claire from razzing Jamie about his tonsil hockey at dinner. There’s some lovely wordplay over “messing with the fillies” and then there is foot-kicking under the table and I want to smash their heads together and make them kiss, okay? And apparently so does Jamie’s friend (older relative, actually) Murtaugh, who tells Claire not-so-subtly that he thinks she should marry Jamie. Because reasons and the whole castle ships it by now.

This reminds Claire that she already is married, though, and she runs outside to cry a little. She’s so homesick, and Frank-sick, and just sick of being in 1743. I can’t blame her for needing a bit of a cry, and neither can Dougal, who happens on her vulnerable moment and is surprisingly kind about it. He tells her they’ll ride down to the town tomorrow, and she can visit with Geilis. It’s not a solution, but it helps.

Down in the village, Claire sticks the hell out. She’s dressed finely, riding her own horse, and accompanied by the brother of the laird. Not inconspicuous, exactly. Still, it’s nice for Claire to get to be with Geilis and talk herbs. Also Geilis takes a moment to warn Claire away from the priest, because he hates women and is also deeply crazy. Hooray! And Geilis continues trying to weasel information out of Claire, and Claire keeps trying to resist. What friendship. What love. What incredibly obvious ulterior motives…

The moment is interrupted when an angry mob appears, led by the priest, dragging a young boy to justice. Since Geilis’ husband is the local justice, they’ve come to her house, and Geilis remarks casually that her husband isn’t feeling well, so he’ll probably order the kid’s hand chopped off. Geilis is way too casual about maiming. Blegh.

And here’s the husband in question! Geilis’ husband, Arthur, is an elderly fat man with stomach problems. One would wonder how Arthur Duncan ended up with a hot wife like Geilis, but then again, some things never change. Like how hot women really like financial security. And, fortunately for Claire’s sense of justice, Arthur is really really dim. Geilis manipulates him into giving the boy a lighter sentence, mostly because Claire seems to want it, and Arthur thinks it’s all his own idea.

It would be cute if it weren’t so very terrifying how easily Geilis can run circles around her own spouse. I mean, I know she’s kind of creepy in the book, but the show has kicked her up about twelve notches. I love it.

The boy’s sentence is lightened to just getting his ear nailed to the pillory for an hour, a lenient judgment by medieval standards, but still one that horrifies Claire. Geilis decides to keep prying at her for more information, but Claire is saved when Jamie walks in. Jamie’s there to take her back to the castle, and by way of some adorable telepathy, he declines to hear anything about Claire’s past or stay for a cup of wine and interrogation. Good man, Jamie. He even brought Claire a cloak.

As Claire and Jamie are getting ready to leave, Claire can’t help worrying over the boy nailed to the pillory in the square. The people in the town are mocking him, and she just - Claire hates to see anyone in pain. She’s a healer. And Jamie? Jamie freaking loves that about her.

So they plot and plan and walk up to the pillory to take a look at the boy. Jamie taunts the child, while Claire pretends to swoon. The villagers are swarmed around Claire, making sure she’s okay, and Jamie takes the opportunity to pull the nail out of the boy’s ear while the incredibly conspicuous English lady plays on everyone’s assumptions that she’s afraid of blood and prone to swooning.

Their plan went off well, so Claire enlists Jamie in another scheme. To go to the “haunted” church where the two boys went right before becoming “possessed.” Jamie reveals that all the local boys go to this church, to prove their manhood and how they’re not scared. But lots of boys have died after visiting the church. And Claire might have found the reason - there’s a plot of plants that a lot of the boys eat. They look like wood garlic, but they’re actually lily of the valley, and that’s poisonous.

She knows what happened. She just has to prove it.

She doesn’t have much time, either. When she gets to the Baxter house, Father Bain is performing last rites on the boy. Claire pretty much demands to be allowed to treat him, and Mrs. Fitz agrees. Then Claire performs a “miracle.” She gives him essence of belladonna to cancel out the poison, and the boy wakes up. He’s healed, and Claire is officially in Colum’s good graces and the priest’s bad graces. Really bad. 

And when talking to Jamie, Claire realizes that she might have gotten a little too far into Colum’s good graces. She’s proven to be such a good healer that he can’t let her leave. Well, crap. Though, for the record, isn’t it nice to have a female character on a show whose biggest obstacle is being too good at her job? That’s nice.

Also, Jamie doesn’t really like hearing Claire complain about how she wants to “get out of here.” Because he loves her. Poor Jamie. Loving a time-traveler is hard business.

So Claire takes a moment for a hardcore sulk and some more drinking while she listens to the bard. Jamie likes Claire too much to let her have a sad, and he drags her up front to listen to the songs. He also helpfully translates.

I say helpfully because it turns out that this song is really deeply relevant to Claire’s life. It’s about a woman who traveled through the stones to a far distant land where she lived for a time and then returned again home. In other words, what happened to Claire? It’s happened before. And that means she can get home.

End of episode. Next week? The Gathering for Clan MacKenzie and Claire’s first real chance to escape! Also, more Jamie drama, and a lot more sexual tension it looks like. Guh.

It's not cheating if your husband hasn't been born yet, Claire.

Friday, August 22, 2014

At a Wedding, Carry on Without Me!

As this is being published, I'll be out in the woods of Pennsylvania, setting up for my best friend's wedding. It's kind of awesome. I'm pretty okay with it.

But, since the wedding is pretty far from civilization, and I'm way too braindead to prepare anything for you, instead of actual content, here's the video for Sia's new song "Chandelier", because it's amazing and stunning and I love it.

I'll be back on Monday.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Les Miserables, and the Problem of Adaptation

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is one of those stories that has been spun off so many times and so many ways that it’s hard to remember now what the original point of the story was. Is it a story of redemption? A screed about class warfare? A handbook to revolution? A really long, boring historical story about some dude who kind of wandered around for a while and then died?

The answer is all of these, and also none of them. Each interpretation of the story has focused on something different. The 2012 Tom Hooper version locks its gaze on the redemptive arc of Jean Valjean. The early 2000s non-musical is more about the historical facets of the story and the relationship between Javert and Valjean. The musical is kind of all over the place, no matter how good the songs are, but it generally falls in favor of a romantic version of events, privileging love and human relationships over the movements of nations and the grim reality of war.

Which of these is the real version? Well, all of them. All of them are equally valid, though not all of them are equally good. See, the thing that most people forget when making an adaptation of an existing work like Hugo’s masterpiece is that the real key to creating something you can be proud of is making it your own. So all of these are valid versions of the story, because they don’t just tell us about the original tale, they also tell us about the soul of the person adapting the story. We see what matters to them. And there’s a lot of value in that.

The problem comes when a text, like Les Mis, becomes so popular and “revered” that one reading of the text becomes seen as more canon than another. So, in this case, the musical version and its emphasis on the romantic warm-fuzzies of the story tends to overshadow the other interpretations. Just by virtue of popularity. And that’s all well and good, I do quite like the musical, but it can also really mess things up. Why? Because when a single reading of the text becomes overwhelmingly popular like this, it’s easy for it to overshadow future interpretations.

In other words, because of the popularity of the Les Mis musical, it’s hard now for anyone to imagine interpreting this story differently. Someone says, “I want to tell the story of Les Miserables!” and everyone assumes that they mean they want to tell it in precisely the same way the musical did. Set in that precise time frame, with that amount of screentime given to each historical period the story covers, with those themes, and those English accents.

Seriously. It’s set in France. Why does literally every film version of this story insist on making the actors speak in British accents? It’s weird. Really weird. Hugh Jackman is Australian. Liam Neeson is Irish. Anne Hathaway and Uma Thurman are Americans. And all of their characters are French for crying out loud.

That’s not a super important example, but I hope it gets across what I mean. Something so simple as the accent with which actors play these characters - the original musical had actors with British accents, because the original musical was cast and first performed in London’s West End. So of course the cast had British accents. But then it came to America, and everyone seemed to assume that British accents were part of how it was supposed to be done, and now, decades later, that’s a thing. A definite thing. Can you imagine a version of Les Miserables where the actors had American accents? The horror!

It’s stuff like this, but on a global scale. And unfortunately, it’s stuff like this that blinds us to the real important aspects of the story, the ones that actually do matter in reinterpretation. For example, Tom Hooper’s 2012 version of the musical was largely praised for sticking so closely to the original. 

The main criticisms had to do with the places where Hooper had decided to do something a little different, to play around with the source material. Like where he used a slightly experimental shooting style and shot a lot of it first person, on hand-held cameras. How he had the music recorded on set and not on a soundstage. How he gave parts of the story a heightened reality, a sense of surrealism not present in the stage version.

All of those things? Are the parts I actually like about Hooper’s version. I don’t really give two craps about the rest of it. It’s mediocre sappy pablum, and I could live without it. But the haunting scene where Gavroche rides on the back of a carriage, staring into the camera and incisively diagnosing social malaise? Yeah, I like that. 

The part where the poor of Paris stare straight at the audience and demand neither their pity nor their condemnation, but rather their respect? I like that too. I like the parts where the movie makes you look. Where it grabs your chin, rubs your nose in it, and says Look at this. It is important.

But the sweeping vistas of the French countryside and the montages of a broken Jean Valjean searching for work leave me cold. Now, part of this is the timing of the film. In translating the movie from stage to screen, I feel like Hooper made a big blunder when he decided to keep the weird narrative proportions of the musical. In the show, the first act covers about twenty years of time, skipping blithely through Valjean’s life, from his time as a prisoner all the way up through to his retirement as an old man in Paris. Literally, twenty years. And act two? It covers the space of maybe a couple of days.

That’s very lopsided, obviously. And it works in the musical, because we have all that lovely, stirring revolutionary music and all that. But in this film, Valjean is clearly situated as the main character. This is Hugh Jackman’s star turn. It’s Valjean’s story that we follow, his transformation that we hope for. And his transformation is over in the first five minutes.

It doesn’t really make any sense, does it? The novel handles this by actually giving you a vast ensemble of developed and intriguing characters, and following all of their arcs as they reconcile or distance themselves from an understanding of God and redemption. Jean Valjean is the central character, yes, but he’s not the protagonist exactly. His transformation is largely a done deal in the story, and he functions more as a facilitator of others’ transformational journeys.

But in this movie, none of the other characters are developed enough to grasp the torch, save maybe Hathaway’s Fantine who barely gets any screentime, and so the story feels stilted. We’re here for Valjean, but he’s not very interesting. The better story would have been to show us Valjean as a young man, Valjean in prison, Valjean desperately seeking work, Valjean in rage and hatred and frustration, Valjean stealing from the Bishop, Valjean being broken, and Valjean repenting. Those first five minutes of the movie are the most compelling to me, and they’re glossed over in a series of cinematic montages.

It’s not just that, though. Because I feel like, in a very real sense, we all love Les Miserables too much now to actually appreciate it. We spend so much time enjoying this one very specific version that we don’t really see the larger points being made. 

Obviously I’m talking about this in the context of Les Mis because it’s a story that I care about a lot. Heck, I’m even working on my own version (which is very much removed from the original, because it is set in space and also ridiculous), and a friend of mine in high school made a short film that recast the story into the second world war, with Jean Valjean as an escaped Jew fleeing the concentration camps, and Javert as a Gestapo officer hiding his Romany background. 

What I find interesting about these versions, both my space opera version and my friend’s retelling in the second world war, is that they are no less valid understandings of the original text than the ones that stick strictly to the setting in post-Revolutionary France and insist on keeping everyone’s names the same. Our stories are different, yeah, but that doesn’t make them bad. In fact, by changing the surface details, these radically different versions can often serve to more clearly highlight the actual meaning of the text.

Take, for example, Clueless. Yeah, it’s a beloved teen classic, and very funny, but it’s also an incredibly clever retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. What I love about the film, and what I think it manages much better than the stodgily true to the book Emma that came out a few years later, is that it really captures the essence and the point of the story. The point of the story is that Emma is kind-hearted, but ultimately naive and a bit prejudiced. It’s easier to see in Clueless because we’re not distracted by the trappings of the story. We just take it as it is.

Or we could look at 10 Things I Hate About You, another teen classic (and one that really deeply influenced my idea of what it meant to be an awesome teenager). It’s based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but it actually succeeds much better than the usual productions of the play at getting to the heart of the show’s material: marriage is a compromise between two individuals, and love is about choices and work more than romance and frippery. You can get that in the play, sure, but it’s a heck of a lot easier in the movie.

Also there’s a Shakespeare Retold version that’s amazing, but that’s another matter. And also that one takes just as many liberties with the story as 10 Things does, it just happens to keep a bit of the dialogue the same. Anyway.

The point here isn’t to bash adaptations that stay too faithful to the original material. A lot of those are amazing. Kenneth Branaugh’s Much Ado About Nothing is deeply devoted to its source material (and one of the best cast movies I have ever seen), and it’s amazing. No, faithful adaptations can be good. But so can adaptations that take a bit more liberty. 

What really matters in adapting a story is how much of the message of the story comes through. And I know that it’s not particularly cool or of the moment to talk about stories having “a message”, but let’s be real, they all do. Every story tells us something about the world and who we are in it, the question is what it’s saying. And chances are, if you love a story, you love what it says. So if you adapt that story, you should be adapting the message that you love.

For me, in Les Miserables, what I love is the story of redemption, but also the pragmatic realism of the circumstances these characters find themselves in. The schoolboys fail in their revolution. Some good people die, and some bad people continue to thrive no matter what happens. A few people get happy endings. More people don’t.

It’s a story about identity, about how our circumstances define who we are, and how the world will define us if we let it. Jean Valjean’s story is one of self-understanding, his constant refrain, “Who am I?” It’s an important story. And it’s a story that, when I adapted it, I changed surface details of, in order to highlight the beauty underneath. That underneath stuff is the part that really matters. All the rest of it is frosting.

Gives me chills.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What's On My Pull List? (Storm, Elektra, Lazarus, and More!)

A page from Elektra.
Hello all! A few months ago, I gave you guys a peek at what's on my pull list, as in, what comics I pre-order at my local comic book shop. Pre-ordering is a great way to vote (monetarily) for the projects and stories that you think should stick around, and it's a handy way of helping your local geek scene become just a scooch more diverse and awesome. I have a personal policy of primarily subscribing to female-lead or female-centric projects, but there are a couple dudes who've snuck their way in.

Anyway, I thought it might be time to update this list, since in the past couple of months, I've been pleased to see a whole bunch of new awesome titles coming out, ones with ladies kicking ass and taking names, and I figure it's worth letting you know what all I've added to my list since last time. 

[For the record, in case you didn't click that link above, I've already mentioned that I have Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Lumberjanes, and the Wonder Woman and Saga trades on my list.]

1. Storm (Marvel)

I was kind of surprised to know this, but the 2014 Storm comic is the first time that Storm, inarguably the most recognizable member of the X-Men next to Wolverine, got a stand-alone comic. That's weird that it took that long, and it's kind of insulting when you think about how she is hands down one of the most popular comic book characters in the world. But whatever. She has one now, and it's pretty darn good!

Storm as a character (real name Ororo Munroe) has always fascinated me, so I'm digging the way that this new comic examines her view of herself. In her life she has been revered as a goddess, lived as a thief on the streets of Cairo, been a superhero, married a king, and now is the headmistress of a school for mutants. She's had an interesting life is what I'm saying. The comic seeks to explore that life, but also to examine who Storm really is when she's by herself. So much of her life has involved other people trying to define her, but who does she says she is?

Identity is always an important issue, but it's especially compelling to see it examined through this lens. Ororo is an African woman, a superhero, an immigrant, and a mutant - she's got a lot of identities to choose from, but she also has a lot of experience with negative labeling. So I like that this seems to be the tack of the new comic, and I'm mostly just thrilled that we get a new comic at all!

2. Elektra (Marvel)

While I do have friends who swear up and down by Elektra, she's never really been one of my favorites. Still, this current run of her story (part of the Marvel NOW series) is really interesting. Artistically it's amazing, with swirling, dream-like paintings on every page, and covers that are just breath-taking. Story-wise, I feel like I'm probably missing something because her backstory isn't one I know as well, but it's still pretty interesting.

It's weird to read a book that is a superhero title but still feels like a fever dream, all blended visuals and cryptic dialogue. Elektra is trying to atone for the sins of her past, but she's afraid she never can. Also, she is still an assassin, and while she doesn't want to kill any bad guys, that doesn't mean she's above killing killers. This makes her a very interesting and perplexing character, which I do enjoy.

Overall, though, I don't feel like I'm super into this story. I don't know. I'm definitely still reading it, but I feel like something is missing, some vital key to my falling head over face in love with this story. I do really like the villain, Bloody Lips, but it's only recently that he's taken center stage enough to pose a serious threat. And while I understand that this book as well is dealing with issues of identity - does who we were define who we will be - I don't think it's fully baked yet. Still, I am reading it.

3. Bee and Puppycat (Boom!Studios)

Okay, to be fair, this one is pretty much just pure adorable crack. Bee and Puppycat is a story you might know from the kickstarter a little while back, and right now they're doing a limited run of comics through Boom!Studios. The comics are cute if episodic, and the whole thing is pretty much on the level of nice thing that you read in order to cleanse you palate after something intense.

Not that there's no place for that in my comics list. Obviously there is. And I appreciate the idea of supporting comics that anyone can read, that are appropriate and entertaining for all ages. Bee and Puppycat are temp workers for the world's weirdest temp agency, taking jobs that sometimes require them to fix a music box hidden in a house full of music boxes, and sometimes taking them to far off lands while still in their pajamas. 

If you like Adventure Time or Bravest Warriors, then you'll probably like Bee and Puppycat. Which is by no means an insult. I really love a little adorable crack in my day. It really helps get your brain ready to read about some angsty superheroes some more.

4. Rat Queens (Image)

I love this comic because it makes me laugh. Nothing really more complex than that. Rat Queens is a bawdy, crass, hilarious comic about a team of female adventurers living in the Discworld-esque town of Pallisade, and fighting against monstrous evil, as well as the bureaucratic system that keeps trying to kick them out of town. It's a bit silly, and entirely bizarre, and it makes me happy on a deep and meaningful level.

I think part of the reason I appreciate this comic so much is because it directly relates to my experiences as a female geek. It satisfies a craving I didn't even knew I had. See, when I started playing D&D, it was in a group with only one other girl, and while I have since played in more diverse groups, D&D always stuck in my head as a "guy's game". That in order to play it and feel like I was playing it in a fun way, I had to act like the guys, play like the guys, sometimes even play a guy. I had this weird idea, because it took a long time for me to figure out otherwise, that in order to have fun playing Dungeons and Dragons, I had to remove all my femininity for a couple of hours. If I didn't, I'd be a killjoy or a boring person or whatever.

Not true. And I really enjoy reading a comic that reminds me of why I fell in love with Dungeons and Dragons in the first place, but that also recognizes the place for femininity even in a bawdy role-playing game.

5. Lazarus (Image)

If you want to be technical, I don't actually pre-order the issues of this one. Instead I have a standing pre-order of the trade paperback, because I got into a little late, and I have a weird thing about having something in partially issues and partially trade paperbacks, I know it's dumb but it booooothers me.

Anyway. Lazarus is the kind of comic that takes a while to sink in. I'm still not sure if I actually like it or not, but that doesn't really matter. I'm invested. The story takes place in an apocalyptic future of the United States (and the world, I assume, but we've mostly just seen the Western US) where people are segregated into a strict feudal system. Everyone is divided into families. The families rule huge swaths of the country, get the best of the best food and education and living situations - effectively acting as a mix between the nobility and the heads of a corporation.

Everyone else is either a serf (as in someone who can offer a valuable skill or service to the family and therefore is cared for financially and medically), or waste. If you're waste, then you have nothing.

The whole book examines the class issues innate in a system like this, as well as the complex stories of the characters who have to live in this society. Our main character is Forever Carlyle, the "Lazarus" of the Carlyle Family. She's genetically engineered and made into a bio-weapon to be the family's enforcer, as well as their human shield. Forever's an interesting character, though I'm actually more intrigued by the other characters, the ones lower on society's totem pole. Still, awesome story.

- This is only part of the list. The rest will be coming to you next week! -

I think it's worth noting here how many of the comics I pre-order are Marvel titles. That's not an accident or a quirk of fate or anything. It so happens that Marvel is the company currently publishing the kind of stories that I like. Stories about women and people of color who manage to be heroic even without billion dollar trust funds or phenomenal cosmic powers. When it comes to superpowers, I'm much more interested in the idea of identity and what it means to be a hero in our world than I am in looking at cool stories about gadgets or superpowers or apocalyptic crossover events.

I mean, there's a reason why my favorite superheroes are Wonder Woman and Captain America, two squeaky clean scouts who just want people to have compassion for each other and really think about their actions. 

And when it comes to non-superhero titles, I tend to gravitate towards stories that are a bit more unusual and surprising, which I guess happen to be mostly what Image publishes. Not sure how they got the mass market share on crazy, but I'm not going to argue.

The real lesson here is that I love diverse comics. Not just because I have all these philosophical reasons for loving them or because I only support things I can ideologically agree with (even I'm not that good), but because I think diverse comics make for better stories. We can explore the world so much more fully, and tell so many more interesting stories when we're not bound to a single white, middle-class, male view of society. Diversity is good. It makes life and comics better.

Fionna and Cake also make life and comics better.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Think of the Children! Tuesday: The Importance of Dora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's very very important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's the only solution.

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of episode.

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

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

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

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

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