Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who The Hell Picked These Classics, Anyway?

This is a topic near and dear to my heart because I feel like I never quite manage to say what I'm trying to when I explain it to people. Simply put, I dislike the idea of there being a list of "classics" in any media or genre. I don't like that there are some books you "simply must" read and that there are some movies that are "essential viewing" and that some television shows are "must see TV". Or rather, it's not that I hate these classifications, it's that I'm inherently suspicious of them.

Who decided this? Who chose these books or those movies or this television show? Who determined that The Killing Joke was required reading for anyone who wanted to get into comics and that Watchmen was the highest point a comic could aspire to, while leaving works like Persepolis or Squirrel Girl to be funny little diversions. Not classics, of course not, just interesting footnotes.

Who decided that?

I suppose part of the reason this is at the forefront of my attention is because, yet again, my proposal to write a book on the "alternate canon" of women in television has been denied. It bothers me because I keep submitting this book proposal - stupidly banging my head against the door - to an editor who sends email after email begging for book ideas about the golden age of television and all these great new shows coming out. He wants books about Breaking Bad and The Sopranos and Mad Men and the other TV shows that changed the game.

But he doesn't seem to want a book about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess and Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls and Scandal and all those shows that changed the game for me. Because those shows aren't classics. They're not the new canon of television we all agree completely revolutionized the form. They're not essential to the narrative.

It bothers me. Obviously it bothers me because it dings my pride, that's not hard to figure out, but it also bothers me because it excludes my opinion as a critic and as a fan. It takes away the voice I have. If this is some conference that was set up where all the people who love television were invited and voted on what was the best expression of storytelling in televisual form, did my invitation get lost in the mail?

I also have been thinking about this topic because my mother happened to mention the other day that she and my father couldn't get through watching Pulp Fiction. They tried, because they believe in being culturally literate and they've heard it was a classic, but they got halfway in and hated every minute, so they turned it off and have since not finished watching it. My parents are the kind of people who care a lot about being culturally savvy, and I appreciate that about them,* but I could have told them right off the bat that they weren't going to like Pulp Fiction. There is basically no universe in which that would be a film my parents enjoy.

Who picked Pulp Fiction as a movie that you have to see in order to be considered cultured? And, for the record, I'm not against the idea of people having broad cultural backgrounds, either. I am actually in favor of people being culturally literate to their best potential. I endorse the idea of wanting to see the best films from the best directors and the best actors, of reading the best books. I think that there's a lot of value in trying to pin down art that is done exceptionally well and consuming it. 

And I do think there's value in having a sort of collectively agreed upon understanding of what those best art works are. It creates a sort of cultural shorthand. For instance, if I were to tell you that something was like Jurassic Park meets Casablanca, one, you would immediately have two pictures in your head - regardless of whether or not you have seen either of those movies - and two, you would start thinking of the plot for that amazing movie that someone needs to make please.

It's shorthand and it's very helpful. Because we have these stories we all sort of agree to be aware of, we can skip past a lot of work in trying to talk about difficult concepts. It's a shared vocabulary of sorts. Saying that someone was acting like a total Ebenezer Scrooge today means something we all agree to understand. That's incredibly useful.

On the other hand, I didn't get any say in the pieces of media that have become our canon of classics, and I'm frankly not all that jazzed about them. I've mentioned before that I don't particularly care for Charles Dickens (except for the film adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby starring Charlie Hunnam and of course The Muppet Christmas Carol), but it's bigger than my beef with any one person or story.

My problem with the classics is that they send the idea that great art, the art we should all aspire to, is almost exclusively done by rich white men who are dead now. Sometimes art is done by poor white men or middle class white men, but if we look at the canon, it seems clear that art as we understand it, great art that is to be consumed and marveled at and should shape our culture, is done by a tiny fraction of humanity and no one else counts.

For example, why the hell isn't Do the Right Thing higher on everyone's lists of great American movies? It's an incredible film and personally I found it a lot more compelling than Citizen Kane. If we're talking about films that shifted the paradigm and meant something culturally, then what's the deal? 

Or how about including the incredibly popular novels of the nineteenth century in lists of great American literature? It seems to me that the only real reason they're excluded is because the most popular novels then are what we would call chick-lit today. And, again, this is still a problem. Popular fiction, which is mostly written by and for women, is considered not worth counting when we consider the great works of literature being written in this country.

Who decides what stories are the ones we choose to revere and venerate and remember? Who picks the plots that will shape how we view ourselves and our culture?

Because here's the thing: this is not an academic argument. Well, it's not just an academic argument. This has real world consequences. The overwhelming whiteness (and secondarily maleness) of the classics is a genuine problem because it sends the message to young artists of color that they will never be counted as one of the greats. That there is no representation available for them at the top. And it also sends the message that all great art up until now has been done by white men. That diversity is new and no black people or Asian-Americans or Latinx or Native peoples or anyone else ever contributed something worthwhile to our culture.

That's a very dangerous message to send. 

It breaks my heart when my students haven't heard of Phyllis Wheatley, don't know that Helen Keller was a lot more than a punchline to insensitive jokes about disability, don't realize that the first novel was written by a Japanese woman. These people aren't in the classics, aren't considered worth assigning in school or adding to our cultural canon. They're invisible. 

Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler are relegated to the "special interests" shelves and Lucille Ball is considered first as an actress and second as a half of a tumultuous marriage, but almost never as the incredibly successful studio head and producer she actually was. 

So, again I ask, who picked these classics anyway? Whose choice was it to privilege "prestige dramas" about middle aged white men having extra-martital affairs and sketchy relationships with the law over network dramas where black women triumph over adversity and hold high powered jobs and reach their own levels of emotional complexity? Who decided that James Fenimore Cooper's books were high art, while the books by Frances Hodgson Burnett (which include ones you might have actually read) were sentimental craptrap?

Who voted for this stuff? I sure didn't. My picks would be a lot different. So if anyone does get an invitation to that giant convention where they decide these things, can you bring me along? I have some things to say.

Namely, that Persepolis is a classic and should be treated as such.
*At least, they care about that now. When I was growing up that was the furthest thing from a priority. Hence why I have a gaping hole in my understanding of pop culture between 1972 and 2001, but I can identify classical music by composer and artistic movement and know more about ballet than is really essential for any one person's life.**

**Just kidding. I love ballet. It is very essential.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Think of the Children! Tuesday: 'The Midwife's Apprentice'

To be completely honest, I actually forgot that this book even existed until, last week, I was packing up a load of my childhood books to go into storage while we renovate the house. I rifled through books I remembered and books I'd cherished for years: my endless copies of Lord of the Rings*, my battered Redwall paperbacks, the complete Anne of Green Gables box set... And nestled in with those books were some others that I had loved and reread and then somehow forgotten. Like The Midwife's Apprentice. Or A Walk in Wolf Wood, which we'll get to some other time. Fire in the Hills. Surviving the Applewhites. Troubling a Star

So, like any good book nut, I scavenged these books out of the boxes and squirreled them away in my own current collection, figuring that at the very least I'll get a bit of blog mileage out of my nostalgia. Which brings us to now. I just reread The Midwife's Apprentice, and you know what? 

I cannot believe I forgot about this book.

The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman, came out in 1996, right when I was at the height of my "I must read everything that is vaguely interesting and written in English or a similar enough language" phase.** I don't remember how I picked it up or stumbled across it, all I know is that now, reading it again, I can see exactly why it appealed to little third-grade me and how it so quickly became the kind of book that shapes your identity and radically changes how you view yourself.

I'm really not kidding. Reading this book again was like getting a window into my own brain. I had never realized how much of my philosophy on life was taken from this one incredibly short little book about a scraggly girl in medieval England who falls into being a midwife. And it's funny because now I have to wonder at what other things have shaped me that I barely remember. What else is in my brain somewhere, lurking and affecting who I am? And what's in yours? I find that concept fascinating.

But enough about me. What about the book?

Well, like I said, The Midwife's Apprentice is very aptly titled. The main character of the story is a girl of about age thirteen named Brat, then Beetle, then Alyce. The girl is an orphan (probably), and has no memory of mother or father. At the start of the book she's barely alive, content to crawl into a dung heap to keep warm enough to live through the night. It's there in the heap that Jane the Midwife finds her. Jane the Midwife, or Jane Sharp as the girl comes to think of her, isn't exactly a nice person, and not even really that good, but she sees something in the girl in the dung heap, and so she takes the girl in.

Not for free, mind you. The girl, who Jane calls "Beetle" as in "Dung Beetle", has to work very hard for her pittance of a reward. She gets some scraps of bread and onion and cheese and a dry place to sleep, in exchange for which she sweeps Jane's floor, washes her linens, gathers herbs, and generally does all the sorts of things that no one wants to do for themselves.

It's while she does all of this that Beetle begins to come to some awareness of herself. Once her belly is mostly full, or at least full enough that her number one priority isn't finding some food to fend off starvation, she can think about other things. She thinks about how the boys in the village tease her. She doesn't like it. She thinks about how she hasn't got a name. She thinks - because she now has the freedom and time to do so - and she starts to wonder about her place in the world.

To be entirely honest with you, not that much happens in the book. It takes place over the course of about two years, and those years are, by most people's standards, uneventful. When Jane the Midwife breaks her ankle just before the fair, Beetle goes in her place, and it's at the fair that Beetle is given two very precious things: a comb for her hair and a compliment to go with it. For the first time, Beetle is called "a pretty young girl", but more importantly, for the first time, Beetle is acknowledged as a person and not just a walking piece of guttertrash.

It's also at the fair that Beetle is mistaken for a woman named Alyce, a woman who can read and write and who people look for in a crowd, and Beetle is so taken with the idea of being Alyce that she chooses the name for herself. In the village she demands that everyone call her Alyce, and even when they refuse and tease her, she keeps at it. She has a sense of herself now, and she refuses to back down from it.

The whole book, really, is an exploration of a young woman coming into herself as a person. At the start of it all, Brat (which is the only name she had before Jane the Midwife found her), is barely alive and barely a person. She is so focused on survival that anything past that is completely outside her understanding. But as she comes in from the cold and finds more and more of her physical needs met, she discovers that she is a person who wants to be loved and appreciated and to have a place in the world. That's really all the book is about, and it's definitely enough.

It's funny, because the book isn't very long and not a lot happens in it, but at the same time there's too much to describe here. Alyce's mutating relationships with the people in the village are one of the more interesting parts of the story. From her friendship with Will Russett the cowhand, a boy who used to torment her but who she saved from drowning, to her antagonism with the village baker, Alyce's life in the village is very fully realized. At one point Alyce rescues another miserable orphan without a name and sends him off to work at the manor, and it's a poignant moment when she realizes that she now has enough to be able to help others who are where she used to be.

Her relationship with Jane the Midwife is also appreciably complex. Jane doesn't want her apprentice stealing her customers and her work, but she also needs Alyce to learn enough of the trade to bring in more clients. Alyce, for her part, desperately wants to learn and grow and become a midwife, because then she could have a role and status and a place in the world.

This, then, forms the actual background of the story. As Alyce becomes a more accomplished apprentice, her relationship with Jane stiffens and strains. The final straw comes when Alyce, not Jane, is requested at a birth because Alyce, not Jane, was the one to deliver the mother's niece. Jane is furious at this betrayal, and Alyce is overjoyed, until she realizes that she can't do it. The baby is stuck and the mother will die and Alyce doesn't know what to do. She gives up and calls Jane, who saves the day, but Alyce is ruined. She's a failure and she can't bear having lost her one chance at a place in the world. So she runs away.

In running away, though, Alyce eventually finds more than she anticipated. She becomes a worker at the local inn and there she befriends a traveling scholar who teaches her to read. After living there for months, she even is forced one day to help a woman give birth, and when she manages it safely, Alyce realizes she wasn't a failure at all.

So, she goes back. That's the real sticking point of the book. Alyce goes back to Jane and knocks on her door and tells her flat out that she knows what she did wrong: she gave up. She won't give up now and she's ready to learn, and so Alyce becomes an apprentice again. And that's really where the book leaves it.

I guess you might be wondering why, with an ending that abrupt and a plotline that loose, this is a book I find so fundamental to my sense of self. And the answer basically comes down to...everything. I thought I'd have a pithy answer there, but the truth is that there isn't much in this book that I don't find really important.

Let's start with the basics: the plot is about a young girl who is cruelly mistreated by the world coming to find her identity and her place in the world through perseverance, tenacity, and humility. More than that, even, the book shows clearly how Alyce can't think about the higher questions of what she wants and who she is until she solves the lower necessities of eating and having a place to sleep and feeling safe. The book addresses larger existential questions, but it never lets you forget the importance of class in this - that without the economic ability to feed herself and sleep safely, Alyce would never think about this stuff or be Alyce at all. So there's that.

But there's also more complex and interesting stuff. Like I love how Alyce might need to get over some hurdles before she's ready to name herself and demand a place in the world, but she does get there. She can be very assertive and strong. She's willing to fight for what she wants.

Or how about the awesome message she sends at the end of the book when she begs Jane for her apprenticeship back. First off, Alyce is very humble about going back there, and you might not think that it's all that special for a guttergirl to be humble, but it would be easy for Alyce to cling to her pride and insist it's all she has left. Instead, Alyce just admits that she doesn't know everything but she knows she won't give up this time. That's a fantastic attitude.

And then there's how the story looks at the role of women in medieval society, or how class interacts with healthcare even in a feudal system, or the idea that kindness costs nothing and gains everything... Look, I'm just saying that you can open this book to just about any page and I could find something there that has radically shaped how I view the world. And, by and large, it's shaped it for the better.

I also want to give this book credit, though it's not something I remember noticing as a child, for having a very vague description of the main character. It's easy to miss because, well, there's so much else going on, but we really don't know much about Alyce's appearance at all. And that means that it's possible for this book to be read a lot of different ways. The only things we really know about Alyce are that her hair is black and curly, her eyes are big, and her skin is "white". But the skin thing is actually the least clear of all of them, as it's mentioned when Alyce washes with soap for the first time. So presumably it's more a comparison to the literal years of dirt that were on her before that.

What I'm saying is that this is the rare book where it's possible to read Alyce as a variety of different races. And that's not even historically inaccurate to do. We know now that there was an incredible level of diversity present in medieval Europe, including England, so it would be entirely possible for Alyce to be of African or Asian or Middle-Eastern descent. And while knowing that doesn't change the story in any substantial way, I know it does give the opportunity for anyone to identify with Alyce and find themselves in her. And that's awesome.

I, personally, always kind of pictured Alyce as Jewish. It wasn't until this most recent readthrough that I realized that, but I do. It took this reading for me to see that there's nothing in the text to support that conclusion (black curly/frizzy hair is basically the most common hair type on the planet, from what I can see), but I think it's kind of sweet that child me chose to read that into the text.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. My point is this: The Midwife's Apprentice is a really good book. And it has a really good point. Not every book has to have a clear plot structure and defined storylines and a solid presentation. Sometimes it's okay for a book to meander through some character development. That's okay too. But mostly, I wish I hadn't forgotten how much I love this book. It's fantastic and it's a huge part of why I am the person I am today.

And that is far from nothing.

*Not an exaggeration. I counted at one point that I alone owned five different editions of the books, while my family owned a ridiculous ten versions. For four people.

**Also not an exaggeration. I used to hoard German and Dutch books on the basic premise that I would probably be able to read them eventually if I just tried hard enough. As it turns out, I now speak a fair amount of German, so that wasn't a terrible plan. I mean, not great, but not terrible.

Monday, September 28, 2015

RECAP: Hannibal 3x12 and 3x13 - This Is How I Go

Quick reminder that Kyla Furey of Feedback Force did Hannibal recaps for us because she is awesome.

I’m sorry everyone. I know I’ve owed you these last two recaps for a while. To be honest, I think I’ve just been bummed out that the show ended. I went through something similar at the end of the second season, and this time it’s so much worse because there’s no season 4 to look forward to (at least, not as it currently stands).

There has never been anything else on television like this show. It’s pretty much a miracle that it lasted as long as it did, given the current state of network television. And while there is a vague hope still for a movie some day or something along those lines, the fact of the matter is that my very favorite show has ended, and the world of fictional narratives is a less interesting place for it.

If you’re reading these recaps to get a general idea of what NBC’s version of Hannibal is like, I encourage you to go back and watch from the beginning. The first two seasons are on DVD already and (I believe) Amazon Prime, and it’s worth your time to check it out. The show is haunting, beautiful, bizarre, and a reminder of what true creativity and talent look like when they come together.

In the end, I’m not going to pretend that season 3 was the show’s finest hour, that it ended at its peak - I think it was about on par with the first season, but not as good as the second. It suffered a lot from pacing issues, such as when they didn’t have the budget to do the European segment as long as they wanted, or when they tried to cram the entire Red Dragon story arc into the back half of a single season. And I think the Red Dragon arc in particular could have benefited from sticking less closely to the book. 

But even at its worst, I would still pick this show above pretty much anything else. Even at its most awkwardly-paced, its most cheesy effects, this show was still unlike any other. Even its mistakes were generally better than other people’s mistakes, and often better than other people’s best efforts. (Can you tell I’ve gotten pretty cynical about the state of modern television?)

But enough gushing. You’re here for a recap, so let’s recap. The final two episodes of NBC’s Hannibal, here we go:

We begin with Will in therapy, trying to cope with his upturned life after Hannibal set the Red Dragon on Will’s family. He discusses the events with Bedelia. His old life is tainted with death now, as Hannibal taints everything. They discuss their respective relationships with Hannibal, and the unspoken truth finally becomes spoken:

“Is Hannibal in love with me?” Will asks.

Yes, Bedelia assures him. But the true question remains: is Will in love with Hannibal? He doesn’t answer.

A plan comes into focus in this episode, albeit a terrible one - use Chilton and Freddie Lounds to bait the Red Dragon into the open. They’ll write an article badmouthing the Dragon in an attempt to get him to strike. Chilton agrees because he’s a self-obsessed idiot*, and pays the price for it.

So they write an article. Chilton holds forth in a Chilton-esque manner, and Will embellishes as only someone whose superpower is getting under the skin of others could. Freddie takes a picture of the two of them together, and Chilton’s fate is sealed. You don’t antagonize a dragon without expecting to get burned.

The plan, theoretically, was for the Dragon to go after Will, but of course he attacks Chilton instead, killing Chilton’s protection detail and kidnapping the man himself. Dolarhyde is, well, basically in the state they wanted him to be - incredibly pissed off. He intimidates the hell out of Chilton, ranting and carrying on, but they’re interrupted in the middle of said intimidation by the arrival of Reba McClane. 

The scene is interesting and incredibly tense (since Chilton is in the room with Reba but has been scared into silence, and she can’t see him because she’s blind), and it indicates to the audience that Dolarhyde has not yet completed excised that part of his life.

Unfortunately for Chilton, however, the respite is brief. Dolarhyde continues as soon as Reba leaves. He glues Chilton to a wheelchair, rants at him, forces him to record a video recanting what he said, bites off the man’s lips, and then sets him on fire.**

Yup, literally sets him on fire. And then sends off his wheelchair to crash into a fountain, so he doesn’t burn to death, exactly, but he’s in pretty atrocious shape when Jack and Will interview him in the hospital later. He doesn’t exactly have much skin left, for instance.

Dolarhyde mails Hannibal Chilton’s ripped-off lips in prison. Hannibal eats one of them immediately upon opening the package, resulting in him being restrained, but he still looks inordinately pleased with himself about it regardless, positively giddy really.***

Will watches the video that Chilton was forced to record, where the Dragon threatens Will very specifically via Chilton as a mouthpiece before performing the aforementioned lip-biting-off. Will takes it quite poorly, obviously more inside the moment of Chilton’s disfigurement than he wants to be. Once again his angst brings him to discuss his pain with Bedelia, and she forces him to admit what he already knows; that he knew what would happen to Chilton (or at least what might), that he was curious and did it anyway. That he is as at least as much Hannibal’s agent in the world as Dolarhyde is.

Chilton’s burned near-corpse is fortunately still aware enough to share information about Reba with Jack and Will, pointing them towards the Dragon’s true identity. But it’s too late - Dolarhyde has already kidnapped her. He reveals his true nature to her, and on that terrifying note episode 12 ends.

Episode 13 picks up where 12 left off, with Reba in the Dragon’s lair. She’s terrified, and he’s crazy, and at first it plays out basically like you would expect it to. He gives her a test to see if she can be trusted, she fails by trying to escape, and he sets the house on fire. Then he shoots himself in the face with a shotgun, killing himself rather than watch her burn, which is very much not the way I had expected the episode to begin.

Of course it turns out later that he actually faked the whole thing to make her think he was dead. But it was still pretty damn startling at the time. She survives the ordeal, making it out of the burning house, and the next (and last) we see of her she’s in a hospital bed, talking to Will Graham. They commiserate over what it’s like to be in relationships with psychopaths.

Overall, I’m pretty disappointed with how Reba’s story ended, to be honest. I would have liked for her to have a little more agency, a little bit more to do. She was still an interesting character, but I think woefully underused. Unfortunately there wasn’t time in the rushed pace of the Red Dragon arc to do anything more with her.

Will and Hannibal meet again to say goodbye, but it seems somewhat bittersweet. Hannibal was hoping there’d be more death involved. He knows that Will can’t really go home again, much as he’ll try, that this experience has permanently stained his relationship with his wife, and says as much. In a frankly pissy retort, Will drops a bombshell as he’s leaving - he knew that by rejecting Hannibal, Hannibal would turn himself in. It’s hard to tell what Hannibal’s exact reaction to this news is, but I imagine he must be proud of Will for his skillful manipulation.

The Dragon, of course, is not as dead as one might have hoped, and attacks Will in his hotel room that night. He doesn’t kill him though - just knocks him out and threatens him. Will, however, utilizes his great experience in speaking with psychopaths to quote Hannibal and relate himself to the Dragon. Eventually he talks Dolarhyde around into going after Hannibal. Because Will’s persuasive like that.

Once again, the FBI hatches an incredibly stupid plan. They’ll use Hannibal this time to draw out the Dragon, pretending he’s escaped. Because Dolarhyde wants Hannibal, and they want Dolarhyde, so...****

We get a final scene with Will and Bedelia. She is aware that Will wants to bring Hannibal back out, and is furious. It’s not perfectly clear what Will’s intent here is. “I don’t intend Hannibal to be caught a second time,” he says to Bedelia. His plan with the FBI is to use Hannibal to draw out Dolarhyde and capture them both. His plan with Jack and Alana is to kill first the Dragon and then Hannibal. But his real plan, his plan for himself? What exactly is Will’s endgame?

Alana comes to speak with Hannibal about this faked escape. He has always intended to kill her, and they both know it. He makes sure she knows it - threatening Margot and their son along with Alana. In the end though, Hannibal agrees to the plan, but only if Will comes to ask him in person. Will agrees, and the two of them dance around each other in the same dance they’ve always done, Will’s motives as questionable now as they’ve been since the beginning of the season. The plan is set in motion. Which one, exactly, remains to be seen.

They escort Hannibal away in a cage in the back of a police van, along with Will, and a number of police escort vehicles, but of course they don’t get very far. Dolarhyde ambushes the convoy, kills all the police, and tips the van. Hannibal and Will stumble out, alive and surprisingly alone; Dolarhyde is gone. And Hannibal is, it seems, freer than was intended.

Hannibal nonchalantly dumps some corpses out of one of the police cars and offers Will a ride. Will gets into the car, and they’re off. We cut briefly to Alana and Margot, grabbing their son and getting the hell outta dodge - the last we see of them. At least as far as this incarnation of the series goes, they made it out alive. Good for them.

Will and Hannibal end up in what is apparently one of Hannibal’s hideouts; a beautiful glass house on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the ocean. The place where he brought Miriam Lass, and Abigail. As soon as it comes into view, that bluff becomes Chekhov’s cliff. Someone, at some point, is going over the edge of it. There’s no chance of any other outcome.

The two men open a bottle of wine that evening and discuss their past, their future, and what to do about Dolarhyde, who is watching them at that very moment. Before they can even drink, Dolarhyde shoots Hannibal in the side, climbing in through the now-broken window in front of the cliff. For a moment it seems Will is just going to watch Hannibal die. But then Will goes for a gun, and Dolarhyde stabs him in the face, into his cheek. 

Thus begins an epic battle, blow after blow, Hannibal and Will versus the Red Dragon. Will is stabbed in the shoulder at one point, Hannibal and Will slice open Dolarhyde’s legs with an axe and the knife respectively, and finally it ends when Hannibal rips out Dolarhyde’s throat with his teeth while Will guts him, leaving the Dragon dead on the stone patio, bleeding out wings of crimson.*****

The scene that follows is poignant and heart-wrenching in its own way. The fight is the consummation of everything Hannibal and Will have been dancing around for three seasons. Everything Hannibal wanted Will to become, and everything Will was afraid to accept from Hannibal. Everything he was afraid Hannibal saw in him. It’s like we’ve been watching a will-they, won’t-they romance for years and finally the main couple gets together.

And so they embrace, on the edge of the cliff. “This is all I ever wanted for you, Will” Hannibal says. “For both of us.”

“It’s beautiful,” Will replies, resting his bloody face against Hannibal’s chest. And then he tumbles them both over the edge of the cliff and into the ocean.

The end. No really, that’s where the credits roll. There’s a brief post-credits scene of Bedelia sitting at the dinner table in front of the lavishly-prepared main course of her own leg and two empty chairs. Which leaves open the implication that the two men not only might have survived, but may be hunting together. It would have made for an amazing fourth season, if we were to get one.

Regardless, this is where the show left us, and where I must leave you. I’ll continue to maintain that this has been one of the best shows on TV, including HBO and other premium channels. This was a work of passion, driven by artists who clearly cared deeply about what they were making. 

I can only hope it inspires others to be as bold, as daring, and to take such creative risks. If this show could make it three seasons on network TV, then what else can we do? What other heights can we achieve, if someone is only willing to undertake the climb?

So I return you to the rest of your lives. Goodbye, my friends, and bon appetite.

* Also he’s in the throes of anger and jealousy towards Hannibal, more or less because Hannibal is just better than him. He’s trying to goad Hannibal by taking the spotlight off of him and focusing it elsewhere. Because Chilton is, as previously mentioned, a self-obsessed idiot.

** Kudos to Raul Esparza’s performance in this scene. He’s believably terrified out of his mind.

*** Possibly my favorite part of the episode. It’s so disturbing and ridiculous at the same time. Mads Mikkelsen can be really hilarious when he wants to be.

**** It’s unclear here if Will mentioned that he was attacked or not. He could easily be keeping it secret from the FBI, but I don’t think it actually makes a difference to the plot one way or another.

***** The end of this fight and the aftermath are underlaid by a custom-written pop song, which honestly felt rather out of place to me. I didn’t mind the song itself, and I get what they were going for with it, but it suddenly made the show feel much closer to what I’m used to on TV, which was somewhat disappointing. Pop music in the background is not this show’s style, and I’m a bit miffed they chose to end on that note.

Our favorite power couple gets away safe! Yay!
Kyla Furey is an independent game designer and writer. She is also one of the hosts of the game-analysis podcast, Feedback Force, and hosts a weekly Saturday night game livestream on Twitch TV. She enjoys the surreal and the moody in her media, hence her great love of NBC’s Hannibal. You can follow her on Twitter @Kyla_Go.

Masculinity Monday: 'Fringe' and the Complexities of Fatherhood

You know, for a show that really just felt like an updated version of the X Files, and for a creator as insistently deaf to any frustrations people might have with how he portrays female characters (see: JJ Abrams and anything written about Star Trek: Into Darkness), Fringe is a shockingly complex and interesting show.

It's complex on a number of levels - most of the plot serves as a dissection of normal science fiction tropes while also appreciating those same tropes and incorporating them into a larger mythos - but the aspect I find most interesting is how the show deals with gender. For starters, it has a female protagonist, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), a woman who seems like she ought to hit every button of a badly written "strong female character", but who's actually just really cool and badass.

Olivia, who is an FBI agent, becomes embroiled in an investigation of the weird science crimes that plague our world when her FBI partner/secret boyfriend is killed while they investigate a horrific act of bioterrorism. Only what turns out to be true is that said partner/boyfriend isn't exactly dead and wasn't exactly who she thought he was, and said bioterrorism attack was actually part of a series of strange science fiction events that the FBI calls "The Pattern."

So Olivia recruits the best possible people she can think of to help her solve the case: renowned mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble in what I consider his best role) and Dr. Bishop's son, Peter (Joshua Jackson). I mean, she doesn't actually want Peter to come along, but she needs him because only a relative can check Dr. Bishop out of the mental institution he's been staying in for the last seventeen years.

I wasn't kidding when I called him a mad scientist.

This is the plot of the first season or so. Olivia, Peter, and Walter fight crime with the help of Junior Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) and Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick) and mysterious executive at a science corporation Nina Sharp (Blair Brown). The crimes they fight are weird science fiction type crimes and they do it all from their hidden lab in the basement of Harvard University. Sound kind of like an episode of Scooby Doo crossed with the X Files? Good. I'm pretty sure that's what they were going for.

Still, it becomes clear pretty early on that the show has more up its sleeves than just moderately entertaining "case of the week" storytelling. And this is also where it gets more complex in its examinations of gender. I'll talk more about how Olivia is kind of my favorite person ever in another article - suffice to say that she might fit stereotypes about "strong female characters", but she's also one of the single most fully drawn characters I've ever seen on TV full stop - today we're going to talk about what this show has to say about masculinity.

See, masculinity in this show is actually really wrapped up in fatherhood. What does it mean to be a father, and even more, what does it mean to be a good father? And that question, in turn, becomes the backbone of the entire series. So, sorry to say that in order to discuss this with you, I'm kind of going to have to spoil the whole series. Whoops. 


For the majority of the first season, Peter and Walter have a very contentious relationship. Though not a lot of details are given, we know that Peter does not like his father. He doesn't even deign to call him "father". Upon being informed that his father needs to be released from a mental institution in the very first episode, Peter is unwilling to so much as sign a piece of paper having to do with his dear old dad. Olivia has to blackmail him into helping. As the season wears on, Peter begrudgingly puts up with Walter's antics, but it's clear he kind of hates his dad.

His father, after all, was a workaholic mad scientist who made his mother miserable and killed someone when he was a child. Peter grew up with a father who was cold and callous and genuinely cruel at times, a genius, sure, but not the kind of person you want around your kid. The fact that Walter is different now, that seventeen years in a mental institution has changed him irrevocably, makes little impression on Peter at first. He's abrupt and angry and rude and dismissive of Walter, and it's not hard to see why.

Eventually, though, even the hardest hearts can thaw, and so Peter becomes a bit gentler to his father. He learns to distinguish between Walter then and Walter now. That makes it all the more heartbreaking when, towards the end of the first season, we discover that there's something deeply wrong in that relationship, something Walter hasn't told his son: Peter is dead. Peter has been dead for a very long time.

Or, at least, that's what it looks like. While on a quest to stop the Pattern by repairing the hole in time and space that he himself tore twenty-five years ago, Walter and a strange "Observer" stop at a grave in Upstate New York. The grave is that of Peter Bishop, who died when he was a little boy. But that of course doesn't make sense. Peter is alive and well and in Boston. So what gives? 

The answer comes to us over the course of the next season and it is absolutely devastating. Peter did die when he was a little boy. Peter Bishop was always a very sickly child and when he was nine or so he just didn't get better. Walter dedicated himself to finding a cure, but couldn't find anything. His son died. But. 

Prior to this point, Walter had invented a window that would let him look into a parallel universe. In that universe he also found a Peter who was sick and a Walter trying to save him. But this Walter was close to succeeding, if only he hadn't been distracted at the last minute by the appearance of an Observer in his lab.* Our Walter is devastated by this realization, that the cure has been found and then immediately lost again, so he decides to do something about it. He couldn't save his Peter, but he can save this other Peter.

Which is how we come to Walter, on a frozen lake bed, tearing a whole in the fabric of two universes to save one little boy. Except everything goes wrong. The medicine is smashed in his journey through, so Walter has to take Peter with him to save him. Then the machine falls through the ice of the lake and Walter and Peter almost drown - it's only the Observer coming and fishing them out that saves them. Then Walter's wife stumbles across her husband saving an alternate version of their child, and she just can't bring herself to let him go again.

All of that is to say that in the story of Walter and Peter's relationship, Peter might be missing a few key details. Especially seeing as he's repressed the hell out of all of this.

As I'm sure you've gathered from this, the relationship between Walter and Peter is what comes to form the backbone of the series. Peter, upon discovering his true heritage and realizing that his father basically ended the world in order to save him, has some processing to do. The Pattern, after all, is nothing more than a spiral of cracks in their universe, all spreading outward through time and space from where Walter brought him through. 

And the malicious attacks they've experienced are actually war cries from people on the other universe who think they are fighting for their very existences as they try to repair what was broken when Walter came through and ended their world. Later on, Peter determines that the only way to solve this, the only way to fix what was broken on his behalf, is to sacrifice himself by stepping into a machine that can bridge between the two universes, but in so doing he finds himself written out of existence.

Seriously, I'm not making this up. The whole framework of the show is actually about Walter and Peter Bishop trying to get their crap together and figure out how they feel about each other. Sure, there's a mess of episodes about Peter and Olivia as well, but their relationship is always much more secure (even when Olivia gets trapped in an alternate universe and Peter accidentally dates her double). It's the ties between Walter and Peter that are frayed and insecure and always in danger of snapping. 

Season four sees Walter haunted by visions of a man he doesn't recognize, and since this Walter was unsuccessful in saving either version of his son, he's hesitant to believe Peter even when he does appear. By the time he finally comes to agree that Peter is his son, it's almost too late. Peter is nearly killed or lost or broken. Season five sees them together once more, but it's in the face of a greater threat. It's with the understanding that both Peter and Walter are in danger of losing themselves in a fight against overwhelming odds, and that their love for each other might not be enough.

Fathers and sons. Or, really, fathers and children. For all that the show spends four seasons examining what it means for fathers to love their sons, digging deep into Walter and Peter's relationship but also showing us glimpses of other relationships like Broyles and his son Christopher, the fifth season shows us who Peter is as a father. In season five we meet Etta (Georgina Haig), Peter and Olivia's daughter. While Peter and Olivia and Walter (and Astrid) were trapped in amber, stuck in stasis and neither aging nor dying, Etta grew up. We meet her fully formed as an adult and a Fringe Agent, but also as a little girl delighted to have her parents with her again.

It's clear from the get-go that Peter and Etta are very close. They get each other. We also find out that losing Etta - she went missing when she was four, just before all of them went into amber - drove Peter mad with grief. It tore him and Olivia apart. When she dies again, this time as an adult, it rends Peter's world apart. He has no idea how to function in a world that would give him his child only to take her away again. 

Throughout all of this, Walter himself is contemplating his feelings for Peter. Peter is his son, after all, but Walter knows better than anyone else the destructive power of grief. Walter knows that one cannot privilege the life of one child, even one's own child, over those of everyone else in the entire universe. 

The show even uses two new characters, Donald and his son Michael, to examine this parent-child bone. Or, really, the bond of the father and his child. Donald knows that his son Michael must be sacrificed in order to save the human race. He only asks that he be allowed to sacrifice himself along with him so that they can be together and so that Michael won't be scared.

I think that for all of its flaws and failures and occasional inconsistencies in the writing or tone, Fringe had a lot to say about what it means to be a father and what it ultimately means to be a son. And I respect what they did say.

First, the show made it clear that while it is good to love your children and mourn them if/when they die, it is not good to make your child an idol. Walter and Peter both have their moments of elevating their dead children above every other human who has ever lived, and that's really not okay. I mean, it's an exaggerated example, obviously, but it also gets at something very true in all of us. 

There's this idea that what it means to be a good father is to hold onto your child as the most precious thing. That no one should be able to blame a man for the things he does to protect his kids. No, this show says. That's not true. Even more, it argues that the child might not appreciate having such atrocities thrown at their feet.

Second, the series looks at what a "good father" actually is. Is Peter any less of a good father because he's openly emotional and fulfills more of a nurturing role while Olivia is the protector and the disciplinarian and the clear leader of their household? Hell no! Peter is a great dad, lapses in sanity aside. Gender roles don't matter so much as loving your child and appreciating them for who they really are. Peter is a good dad because he never demands that his daughter change to suit his needs, he just shows her that he believes she can be more than she might think.

Third, it goes into the idea that there is no single view of what fatherhood looks like. In Walter and Peter's case, it looks like a relationship that blooms very late in life. I mean, they aren't restored, not really, until Peter is well in his thirties and Walter is in his sixties. Their relationship is slow to grow, but eventually it comes together. 

Then there's Peter and Etta. They bond, but in spurts and pieces. He doesn't even see her for twenty-one years, but when they reunite they learn how to be father and child again. Or what about Donald and Michael? Donald cannot understand Michael fully, but he loves him all the same. Broyles is willing to sacrifice anything, even his self-respect, for Christopher. And so on and so on and so on. 

Finally, I think the most profound thing that Fringe ultimately has to say about fatherhood is that it changes you. Simply put, it changes you a lot. Walter in particular becomes a completely different person because he needs to be someone who his son can admire. He feels a need to win his son's respect and deserve his love, and so he comes back from the brink and becomes a man worthy of that love. If nothing else, fatherhood has the potential to make you a better man. It might not. It might also transform you into the destroyer of worlds, or a man your child fears and hates, but the potential is there to become something better and more than you were before.

I guess what I'm getting at is this: fatherhood is rarely considered as inextricably linked to masculinity as motherhood is to femininity, but that doesn't mean it's not important. It really really is. By examining the different permutations of fatherhood and how being a father affects what it means to be a man, Fringe adds new layers to our understanding of masculinity. 

The relationship between Peter and Walter, which underwrites the whole show, is one of deep feeling, hard-won emotions, and a lot of crying. And all of that is okay. Better than okay, it's great!

The tenderness. The gentleness. The way they refuse to be ashamed of the depth of their feelings for each other. At their better moments (which are, sadly, few and far between in the early seasons), Peter and Walter have a love story that rivals any romantic saga. These are two men who really really love each other and have fought to keep that love alive when their past actions and the constant threat of death tried to keep them at odds. 

Saying that Peter and Walter love each other is no knock on either of them and no detriment to their relationships with other people. In large part Olivia falls in love with Peter because of how he changes in attitude towards his father. Their love for each other enhances their other relationships, rather than detracting from them.

These are men in touch with their emotions. Yes, they live in a world very different than ours and absolutely yes their lives are strange and hard to relate to,  but the example they set, of working for love and of finding the balance of a healthy relationship with one's children, is worth paying attention to.

*The Observers are another thing altogether and are interesting enough that the fifth season deals with them pretty exclusively. Suffice to say that Obvservers are like super powerful time-traveling aliens/future humans who come back in time to witness important events in science. The reasons why they do that become clear later on in the show and aren't super relevant to our topic today.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

RECAP: Outlander 1x11 - I Only Regret That I Have But One Life

Well, as we could tell from the end of last week's episode, this particular installment of "Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser vs. the eighteenth century" was no picnic. Yet, despite all of the horribleness on display this episode, I have to say it's my favorite so far. I mean, it certainly has the most concise plot of any of them thus far, following exactly one storyline. 

And for all that it's a whole episode about Claire and Geilis being tried as witches because the local people see Claire's healing abilities not as evidence of scientific progress but as proof she has consort with demons, it's also an episode about women reclaiming the spaces they are forced into. It has some of the most powerful moments of agency in the series so far, and if nothing else it really convinces you that Claire could have done a lot worse when she married Jamie Fraser.

So, with no further ado, what happened in this episode?

As I hinted above, we start off only moments after we stopped last week. Claire and Geilis have been thrown in the thieves hold to await their trial. Claire is incensed that this has happened to her. After all, she's a servant of the Laird MacKenzie! Surely he will send for her and make all of this stop. Or maybe the townsfolk will see reason. Geilis might be a murderer - is a murderer as far as Claire can tell - but Claire's innocent. She's not a witch. They've got to see that!

To no one's surprise but Claire's, no one sees that. To their eyes she is absolutely definitely a witch. Claire takes some of her frustration out on Geilis, pointing out that if it hadn't been such common knowledge that Geilis made potions and danced naked under the full moon, they wouldn't be there right now. Which is true. But Geilis fires back with the fact that she didn't make Claire come see her that night. She did nothing of the sort. Geilis has a very realistic view of the outcome of their situation. 

Well, she has a more realistic view of it all once Claire disabuses her of the notion that Dougal MacKenzie is going to ride in and save them. Claire explains that Colum banished Dougal, taking Jamie along with him, so no one is coming to help them. If Colum closes his doors then they officially have no friends and are screwed.

Geilis figures the solution here is to spend her little time left on earth being friendly with Claire, then, because that makes sense. Claire is less enthused on this topic, and even goes so far as to shiver all night in the hold rather than go to Geilis for literal warmth. Stubborn woman.

The first day of their trial is about as to be expected, honestly. The testimonies heard range from ridiculous to painfully accurate. On the plus side, Ned Gowan, Colum's lawyer, manages to talk his way in and get himself appointed as their lawyer. On the down side, not even Ned's fancy talking can get them out of this. He does a good job talking around and twisting the story to get Claire for being blamed for the death of the changeling child - you know, the baby she found in the woods last episode and tried to save - but even Ned can't work against Laoghaire's big eyes and little sobs about how Claire bewitched Jamie and stole the love of her life.

It's funny. In most other shows I would loathe how Laoghaire has been written. I mean, here we have a character who is a teenage girl portrayed as all the worst stereotypes about teenage girls. She's mean, vindictive, and painfully immature. She's catty. She decided that Jamie was hers and does horrible things to get rid of his wife. She uses her tears and her pretty face to get people on her side. She's underhanded and just generally the worst.

In most shows I would get frustrated about this because it's bad writing. It's writing a stereotype. But it works here in Outlander because, well, Laoghaire isn't representative of anyone or thing besides Laoghaire. There is such a wealth of complex and interesting female characters that it's okay, and even realistic, to have one who is just a total bitch. I can actually really appreciate that, strange as it may seem.


The first day of the trial concludes basically with the understanding that things are better than they were in the morning, but that Claire and Geilis are both probably going to hang tomorrow. Cheerful. So Ned sends them off with a flask of whiskey for the night and they sit in the cell drinking and talking. Claire can't stay mad at her friend, not considering what's happening in their lives, so they really do talk.

Geilis confesses that she genuinely loves and cares for Dougal. He has a mind to match hers and he cares so deeply about Scottish independence. Claire is actually kind of surprised by how political it turns out that Geilis really is, but Geilis reveals that she's been politically motivated all along. That's why she murdered her poor dead husband - he was rich and she could fund the Jacobite cause through him. That's why she settled here in the first place. Geilis will play a role in the rising and no one can stop her, not even death.

The next day brings, as expected, no good news. The townspeople want a witch to burn. Even when the priest comes forward and admits that Claire was able to heal a boy when he was not and he wishes God to forgive him for doubting her, the people still bray for blood.* Ned can't save them. Nothing can.

So, in a moment of terrifying calculation, Ned pulls both his clients into a side room and tells it to them straight: one of them will burn today. There's too much "evidence", and, frankly, the people are too worked up for it to go otherwise. One of them will burn. But it only has to be one.

Ned tells Claire to claim that Geilis bewitched her. Geilis really has no reputation to speak of with these people, so there's probably no saving her. But Claire can save herself if she condemns Geilis to die. Claire's not into this idea, and obviously neither is Geilis. So when Ned gives them a moment alone to talk, Geilis has something very important to ask Claire: Why are you here?

Geilis has known that Claire was lying about her intentions and appearance in Scotland all along, and she's made that clear, but now she demands to know, once and for all, why Claire is here. Claire, sadly, has no good answer to give her. Even the truth, that it was an accident, is no help. That's not what Geilis wanted to hear. She wanted to hear that Claire is here to help the rebellion. She wanted to hear that there was a purpose or a plan. She's basically begging Claire to reassure her that her death won't be in vain, and Claire can't.

Which is how we get Geilis, furious, storming back into the courtroom and what she knows will be a guilty verdict, spitting out the words, "Looks like I'm going to a fucking barbecue."

If you're thinking that this is a strange thing for a woman in the eighteenth century to say off the top of her head, well thought. It's kind of an odd moment.

But there's a lot going on. The women go back out and find that, yeah, they're facing a guilty verdict. Ned sets the stage for Claire to get herself off by blaming Geilis, but when the time comes Claire just can't do it. She refuses to deny her friend, even while Geilis is calling her an idiot.

That's not to say that Claire is going quietly, though. As they pull her off the dock and towards the stake where she'll be burnt, Claire yells and swears so much that they decide to punish her. The men rip her dress down the back and flog her while Claire screams out and Geilis is forced to watch. It looks like everything is over until...

A familiar head of red hair shoves his way through the crowd and kicks the attackers off his wife. Jamie freaking Fraser, back from who knows where and who knows how, has his sword out to defend his wife because, you know, he swore before God that he was going to do that. And, to be fair, it's not like the court can argue with that statement. Much as they clearly want to.

Still, Jamie is in contempt. It looks like they're going to meet a messy end together when Geilis yells for everyone to stop. With a final look at Claire, Geilis does the thing it didn't seem possible to do: she both gives in to the crowd and also takes back her agency. She starts confessing. She tells everyone that she is a witch and Claire did nothing. Claire was bewitched. She raves about serving Satan and being a servant of evil. She pulls down her sleeve and shows "the devil's mark".

It's only then that Claire puts together what I think a lot of us suspected by then. See, Geilis' devil's mark is a very familiar size and shape. Because it's not a birthmark or a normal scar. It's the scar from a smallpox vaccine. 

Geilis knew Claire was from the future all along. She just didn't know why. Geilis herself was from 1968, the number she whispered to Claire when they were in the dock. She must have come back to try to change the past, to make it so that the Scottish rising succeeded after all. It's why Geilis was always so suspicious, why she felt so otherworldly and out of touch. It's why she perked up when Claire quoted Nathan Hale's words from 1776: "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." Geilis recognized that because she must have learned it in history class.

The courtroom obviously goes nuts while Claire is staggering under this revelation and Jamie is basically dragging her away. In the chaos, Jamie and Claire flee. Geilis goes so far as to tear open her dress, revealing the pregnancy, and declare that she has had consort with the devil and is bearing his child. She is pulled away by the crowd, screaming and naked, sobbing but also laughing? Because if Geilis Duncan is going to die as a witch, condemned for being a powerful woman who no one understood and much liked, she's going to die on her own damn terms.


It's not until Jamie and Claire are out in the woods that they stop long enough for Jamie to see to the welts on Claire's back. They're not bad, just shallow, but he is so sad that she had to receive them. He's also in need of answers. Mostly to the most obvious question: Is Claire actually a witch?

Well, no, she's not. And Jamie believes her when she says it, but he has to point out that if Geilis had the "devil's mark" then so does Claire. It's true - Claire has a smallpox vaccine scar. It's then that Claire decides to tell her husband the truth once and for all. All of it. She tells him she's from the future. She tells him that she can walk through a room of the dying and the dead and not get sick because of medicine so advanced it might as well be magic. She tells him she traveled to the past via the stones. She tells him actually and honestly everything. And you know what Jamie says at the end?

"I believe you."

Hell freaking yes, Jamie Fraser is a good husband and a good man. Yes, he has his moments of lunkheaded macho man posturing, but this is his response when his wife basically tells him she's a magical timetraveler from the future and that she's not a witch, no, but something even worse and more complicated. He believes her. He even makes a joke. "It would have been a good deal easier if you'd only been a witch."

With all that Claire has told him, it's clear that Jamie has much to think on. But he does take a moment to apologize to her for his actions when she ran away and he beat her for bringing such trouble on them. He gets now that she was trying to get back to the standing stones and go home, and he is distraught to think that he beat her for wanting that. It's such a good thing to want!

The truth having finally come out, Claire finds herself much happier and more content, even with the circumstances, but nothing is actually resolved. Now both of them are outcasts from their communities. They can't go back to Castle Leoch, and Jamie still has a price on his head. So, what now?

Well, Jamie thinks they should go to Lallybroch, his family home. And Claire is amenable if not thrilled. But before they get there, Jamie has a surprise. In the morning, after some very sweet and tender sex the night before, Jamie takes Claire up and over a hill and shows her...the stones. The very stones she came through and that she's been trying to reach since the first episode. They're finally within reach and he even walks her right over to them.

It just makes sense, is what he tells her, although we the audience can see how much Jamie clearly doesn't want Claire to go. She's not of this time and she has the opportunity to go back home, to her first husband and her life and world. She can be safe and happy and not constantly living in fear in an uncertain world full of danger. Claire should go.

Seriously, Jamie Fraser is really cementing himself as the posterboy for ideal love interest here. He lets Claire decide if she'll stay or go, but makes it abundantly clear that she shouldn't stay just for him. She should go where her heart feels it belongs.

Which leaves us with Claire, in shock, staring up at the stones and contemplating her two wedding rings. It's a beautiful, basically silent scene, as we think through with her the possible futures she could have. Apparently decided, Claire gets up, walks to the stone and then - 

We cut to Jamie crying gently by the fire where they camped the night before. And with Jamie we start and smile to hear Claire demand that he get up. She didn't go after all! She came back for him! There's nothing really to be said, as Claire's decision is abundantly obvious. All she says is that it's time for them to go to Lallybroch. 

So take a wild guess what next episode will be about...

Like I said above, this might be my favorite episode of the show so far. For all that it's about a horrible historical thing - witch trials - and how women suffered and were punished for stepping outside of society's very narrow prescription of who they could be, this is also an episode with a lot of important feminist moments. Geilis choosing how she will go to her death is a very powerful scene. She knows she'll die, so she decides she wants to die on her terms because of something she actually did. She's amazing.

And the scenes where Jamie is faced with a story that is ridiculous and absurd and hard to swallow, and simply turns to his wife and says, "I believe you"? They're like a balm to the soul for any woman who has been told that her story is too outrageous and too ridiculous, for anyone who has had a loved one refuse to understand. There's a power in just being listened to, and Jamie Fraser gets it the hell right.

Through it all, we have Claire, dependable and solidly pragmatic Claire. She's so strong. She refuses to sell out a friend even when it means she'll die. She tells her husband the truth even though he might call her a witch and abandon her. She chooses to go back to him even though she knows their lives will be hard and probably short. She chooses at every venture the hardest option. Because it's the right one.

A good episode all around.

*This was one of the more confusing plots of the episode. Because, he seems sincere, but then he sits down and there's this nasty look he shoots her. The people then respond to his testimony by saying that it's super obvious she bewitched him, and from the look on his face he is pleased with this result. So, I guess he was hoping to get Claire burned at the stake but he wanted to do it with a clean conscience? That's messed the hell up.