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Analysis

It’s Time to Get Deep in the Land of Ooo

Szofi

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Let’s just jump straight into it and put it out there that Season 4 is one of the best seasons, if not the best. It has those truly deep implications that Adventure Time became famous for, fantastic character moments and impressive world-building. It’s definitely more serious in many ways than the previous seasons, turning the volume up to eleven and not wasting much time with skippable episodes. It’s also not as complicated as later seasons, which the show was criticized for later on, so it’s like the almost perfect balance. I wouldn’t say it’s AT at its very best because surrounding seasons are just as enjoyable, but Season 4 is definitely a strong one. Nothing will be the same ever again in Ooo after this one.

It begins with the second part of a two-parter, after Season 3′s cliffhanger. “Hot to the Touch” is the first proper story with Finn and Flame Princess and it is the perfect kickstart to their complicated relationship. As Finn keeps chasing after his newest crush, FP is confused and hurt. In retrospect, they honestly couldn’t have had a more fitting introduction, although it did focus a lot more heavily on Finn than it did on Flame Princess, but we’ll have different episodes later on. It was especially interesting to watch Finn struggle with being a hero and also liking this girl, who is a pure force of destruction. It’s obviously a bit wacky that they have this “love at first sight”, but the relationship is far from being an easy ride without complications. The conclusion that they are elemental opposites is not one that’s going to be the major focus of their romance, but at least something to go on.

“Five Short Graybles” is taking it easy in comparison, as the first graybles episode. It established these anthology episodes as short stories centering around different characters with a common theme, and also the breaking of the fourth wall. Cuber appears for the first time, and as innocent as it all is, this is also an impactful episode. “Web Weirdos”, however, the episode that follows might be the least important out of all the Season 4 episodes. While it does have a pretty cool message, it’s one of the more disturbing ones, and definitely not for arachnophobes. I’m tempted to follow this with a GIF, to show why I’m saying that, but I’m not that cruel. “Dream of Love” is the return of Tree Trunks and Mr. Pig, who turns into a more important character than he originally seemed like. Because it is Tree Trunks the story turns unexplainably weird and ends with an elephant and a pig being desperately in love, but hey, what else were you expecting.

“Return to the Nightosphere” and “Daddy’s Little Monster” form another two-parter about Finn and Jake’s journey to the Nightosphere and their quest to find Hunson Abadeer, Marceline’s dad, so that he could tell them how they got there. It’s a good old in medias res where we learn more about the details along with our heroes, while also exploring AT’s own version of literal hell. Hunson’s return, as the leader of the Nightosphere, was a more than pleasant surprise, because a) he’s interesting as a character and b) he helps us learn more about Marcy. Their dynamic is one that still needs to be explored further in the show, as to this day this is Abadeer’s last appearance. What he does in it is prove that he does care about his daughter, he’s just really horrible at showing it and is expecting her to follow in his footsteps, without considering what she wants.

In the end, he is a jerk, but not as much of a jerk as could have been, which sets up a familial dynamic that just begs to be dealt with more. There’s more to these guys than just unfairly eaten fries and these episodes prove it, I just wish that we had more than this. It’s also the reason why I don’t really get why people always write Hunson as the ultimate worst dad ever in fanfiction. Sure, he could be better, he is AT’s own version of Satan after all, but especially taking that fact into consideration he’s not all that bad. What we can see in both “It Came From the Nightosphere” and “Daddy’s Little Monster” is that he’s trying, in his own way. And apart from this relationship, the two-parter also deals with the friendship between Marceline and the boys. They go to great lengths to help her, even Jake, who was more than unsure about her for a long while. The very end with both of them protecting her and Finn turning into Satan to help his friends is especially sweet. I love people caring about Marcy.

“In Your Footsteps” is exactly how you take a standalone and make it crucial to the overall plot. It’s an episode about a bear who wants to be like Finn, but then wants to be Finn, basically replacing him, which obviously leaves our hero upset. In the end he still feels sorry for the bear and gives him the Enchiridion, so that he could be a hero on his own. A sweet tale, but what a twist at the end, with the bear giving the Enchiridion to Snail!Lich. What a way to include a plot point that will be the catalyst of the finale. “Hug Wolf” on the other hand is not the most exciting in terms of plot, but one that starts Season 4′s trend of “how to imply heavy stuff and hide them under not so subtle allegories”. This time around it’s all about so called hug wolves and Finn being one of the victims, but all of it is eerily similar to the rape allegory that we usually see with vampires. As TVTropes puts it, “ “Hug Wolf” is an entire episode of rape metaphors”. Kids’ show, am I right.

Following is “Princess Monster Wife”, which is less subtle with everything that it does, including the last minute implied suicide of the titular character. Before that is an entire episode of Ice King being creepy and stealing his favourite body parts of princesses to create his own perfect wife. The result is what one would expect, a monster whose sight makes our heroes faint immediately. What’s tragic about the story is that this creation seems to have her own mind and feelings, which are of course hurt whenever someone points out how she looks like a monster. Even worse is that despite that Ice King genuinely seems to think that she’s beautiful, and for perhaps the first time in the show he seems to love someone without being creepy about it. That’s why the de facto suicide in the end is so bittersweet, even though Ice King does revert back to a jerk when he finds out about it.

“Goliad” doesn’t let you have nice and fluffy experience either, it’s the first episode that really lets us see the consequences that the Lich had on PB. After she almost died, was possessed, and almost died again she feels like she needs to address the fact that she’s not actually immortal. Seeing how the Lemongrab attempt to appoint a successor went, she creates Goliad. She is supposed to be immortal, all-knowing and the perfect leader for the Candy Kingdom, the only problem is that she proves to be too smart for Finn and Jake’s leadership lessons. How Goliad becomes a terrifying tyrant in minutes is especially thought-provoking keeping Bubblegum’s Season 6 arc in mind. This is when the show started addressing that the ultimate Princess is really not as nice as everyone would assume, and that shows through the idea that Goliad is basically PB’s essence, just like Stormo is Finn’s, which is why he’s so heroic and selfless. Excellent way to show that PB is not over her trauma and to kickstart a whole big arc for her.

“Beyond this Earthly Realm” is what happens when Adventure Time has a reason for going weird, “wizard eyes” being the reason in this case. Visually impressive and another layer to Ice King’s character, but also somewhat of a breather after “Goliad”. “Gotcha!” is some LSP silliness with great moments from the Princess of Lumpy Space herself, and a great message about inner beauty. After these two comes “Princess Cookie”, which is again a heavier one with the show’s most obvious allegory. Through the titular character, AT introduces a bold trans allegory, and although I don’t think I could be the judge of that, I think it did handle the subject matter well. It turns even heavier towards the end with another implied suicide (attempt) and the Candy Kingdom equivalent of a mental hospital, but it also gives some never before seen depth to Jake. I feel the show has this tendency to sometimes ignore him for the sake of giving Finn more development and using Jake as a mere comic relief, but here it’s the opposite.

“Card Wars” is the introduction to the game Jake is obsessed with, which leads to some impressive visuals, but above all it’s the story of true friendship. “Sons of Mars” is the first in the Mars saga, which is something that I never really could understand, to be honest, but maybe now. It’s making Magic Man a much more pivotal character while also introducing space travel, Glob Grod Gob Grob, and space Abe Lincoln. On the other hand, “Burning Low” is an episode I can totally get behind. As one of the best non-Marcy episodes, it destroys the idea of a love triangle between Finn, Flame Princess and Bubblegum before it could even begin and shows us how PB doesn’t have time for this bullgunk. The scenes between FP and Finn are all sweet, contrasted with how the boys behave towards Princess Bubblegum throughout the episode. Thinking that she’s jealous, they disregard everything she says, but they should have known better than to underestimate Bonnibel Bubblegum.

Even if she was jealous (which is hard to imagine in the first place, considering how she rejected Finn), she would still have better things to do than to try and break Finn and FP up. Instead, she has genuine reasons for being against the relationship, one of them being science and the other the safety of the whole world. We also see towards the end the lengths she would go to to keep Ooo safe from this explosive romance, a glance into how PB’s rationality can turn into cold cruelty. But that just shows how the episode is definitely not about some petty love triangle, despite what you might have thought upon seeing the title card. What I love about “Burning Low” is that it finally subverts the whole romance subplot and establishes PB’s stance on it, while also developing the relationship between Flame Princess and Finn without additional drama.

She would know

Even though one of the graybles was about BMO and their mirror friend Football, “BMO Noire” is the first real BMO-centric episode, and considering just how many episodes they’ll have later on, it was about time. In Season 1 BMO was just a background character, and then they gradually became more and more prominent. Season 4 is still not the time to truly explore them and their origins, but at least we have this episode, which combines noir and AT humour. “King Worm” is kind of similar to “Beyond this Earthly Realm”, just turned up to eleven with the visuals and the weirdness. It is a dream episode, and most shows let those pass even if they don’t make any sense. With a show like AT, when not making sense and being weird are cornerstones, a dream episode results in a total mind blow. “King Worm” does have a plot, it brings back the giant worm of “Evicted!” and has him keep Finn in a dream while draining his life energy. After a few classical “a dream within a dream” scenes, Finn realizes that he has to escape by turning it into a nightmare, which guarantees some thought-provoking moments. What “King Worm” also has the liberty to do as a dream episode is throw all the references it can in 10 minutes. Shout outs to previous episodes and foreshadowing to upcoming ones are everywhere, including a vision of Farmworld!Finn and Shoko. It gets incredibly bizarre.

Fortunately, the next episode is more down to Earth. “Lady & Peebles” has Lady Rainicorn and Princess Bubblegum as the main characters as they look for the disappeared Finn and Jake. Seeing their relationship is delightful on its own, but we also get to see the badassness of both, and by the end this episode is what ultimately makes PB a Damsel out of Distress. Sure, we’ve seen her tougher side before and not long ago I was praising her appearance in “Burning Low”. But “Lady & Peebles” leaves us with absolutely no doubt whatsoever that PB has no time for anyone trying to objectify her. This is mainly thanks to the fact that she beats the returning Ricardio into a pulp while giving him a The Reason You Suck speech. This comes directly after a very creepy and suggestive scene that once again makes you question how the show gets past the radar. Also special shout out to Lady for her bizarre Korean sentences (seriously guys, watch translation videos) and for putting up with everything despite being pregnant.

You tell him Peebles

“You Made Me” sees the return of the Earl of Lemongrab and the previously hilariously awkward character takes a dark turn. Ask any Adventure Time fan and they’ll tell you that the Lemongrab stories are Tree Trunks level weird, but more on the disturbing end of the scale, and with every single episode that feeling only increases. This time Lemongrab complains that he doesn’t have any citizens of his own, and so to make him stop watching her own ones, PB bribes three hooligans to move in with him. Many rounds of electroshock therapy in the reconditioning chamber later Bubblegum decides to make another Lemongrab instead, finally understanding that her creation is just simply not capable of caring for other candy people. Yes, that’s right, electroshock and reconditioning chamber, I know. It’s all kinds of messed up and only the very beginning of the Lemongrab saga.

“Who Would Win” pins Finn and Jake against each other in a rather violent sequence of events, but as always, broness prevails in the end. “Ignition Point” is the 100th episode of the series, and it celebrates with the bros going on a mission to the Fire Kingdom, a mission to get Flame Princess her candles. More importantly, it features conspiracy against the Flame King and Finn desperately wanting to believe that just because evil is in FP’s nature that doesn’t mean that a really nice hero guy, someone like him, couldn’t change her. It’s more of a setup than anything, but fun enough as the 100th episode celebration. “The Hard Easy” is definitely a breather after quite a few heavier episodes and before the final few of the season, so much so that there’s not much to say about it. “Reign of Gunters” is a day in the limelight for everyone’s favourite penguin. It’s perhaps unfortunate then that the most intriguing parts of the episode are not really about Gunter, but rather Ice King’s trip to Wizard City and PB’s solution to the problem.

So overall there were heavy standalones, great continuity and lighter episodes, but that all changes with the last two. Both turn Ooo upside down in their own way and it’s mainly thanks to them that there’s no going back to the show’s earlier tone after Season 4. The first of these episodes is of course “I Remember You”, which has the second highest IMDb score (only topped by its sequel episode). Fans of the show don’t need any sort of introduction to “I Remember You”, everyone is painfully familiar with the plot. So because everyone knows already that it’s about the big revelation that Ice King, aka Simon Petrikov and Marceline used to know each other, let’s talk about the details of the episode. The true beauty of “I Remember You” is not necessarily the fact that it did make this connection between two main characters who have never met onscreen before, but how it made that connection.

Realizing what it is about is a slow process, despite the many signs throughout the episode. Even when watching it for the first and without knowing anything about the history between Simon and Marcy, the viewer could guess where it all is going in the first few minutes. The moment Marceline says “I told you not to come around me” you could guess it all. But “I Remember You” is not about the big plot twist that the Simon Petrikov we only found out about a little more than a season ago took care of a young Marceline, so you don’t want to guess it and just get it over with. It’s ten long minutes of your heart gradually breaking with every frustrated sigh Marceline makes, every clueless look from Ice King and every clue that hints at the whole truth. By the time you see Simon give a young Marcy Hambo at the end, you don’t care that this is another confirmation of the Mushroom War, at first you might not even care about the revelation of Hambo’s origins. All that matters is that Ice King and Marceline are singing together a beautifully heart wrenching song (courtesy of Rebecca Sugar, as always) and that “oh Glob, he doesn’t remember, how can he not remember”.

We were all Marcy in this moment

The more you rewatch “I Remember You” the more perfect it is, and not many shows can say that they have an episode like that. The timeline makes more sense each time, Marcy’s whole attitude makes more sense, from her desperate little “no” in the beginning to her disgusted face during “Oh, Bubblegum”. She’s the one person in Ooo who’s actually glad to see Ice King, but she’s so conflicted about it because he’s not the person she knew and she’s definitely not a person he knows, and you can get this all through the animation and Olivia Olson’s voice acting. In many ways, this is such a solemn episode, when where you don’t care about the weirdness and the other wacky characters, all that matters is this personal tragedy between two very old and very tired souls. It’s without a doubt, objectively one of the best episodes of not just Adventure Time, but of Western animation.

You’d think it would be hard to top that with the final episode of the season. Somehow the finale does manage to do so, not emotionally but in many other ways, and it turns out to be a more than admirable end to Season 4. It is one that rewards you for keeping up with the show as it leads Adventure Time into a whole new territory. This episode is the reason why you actually have to be a regular viewer in later seasons to properly keep up with the plot, and although many people didn’t like that, we’ll have time to discuss that when talking about Season 6. For now let’s just say that “The Lich” literally opens up a whole new world. Well, the Lich does. Well, the Enchiridion does.

The antagonist wearing the protagonist’s dead idol as skin. Again, sleep tight

It all starts with Finn’s dream about the cosmic owl, the bear, Billy and Snail!Lich, and then it escalates into a quest for the crown jewels of Ooo. The best scene of all is, of course, that with PB, when she’s just casually mutilating her newest subjects (as you do) and Finn’s determination to get her jewel gets out of hand. You see just then how desperate he is to impress Billy, who is not Billy at all, but the Lich himself. Before he can fully realize he just helped the Lich in his quest to end all life in not just Ooo, but all of existence, him and Jake go after him. The season ends on a giant cliffhanger, where we’re left in the Farmworld with a lot more questions than answers. “The Lich” is one hell of a ride, the fitting end to one hell of a season.

Season 4 truly turned up the volume to eleven. It opened up the space for many different interpretations with various episodes while also building and building the show’s mythology. I would argue that in many ways this season is the defining one for the show. It’s before seasons got longer and more complicated, but after the “weird for weird’s sake” era, bang in the middle of character development and thought-provoking episodes. Season 4 is one you can enjoy whether you’re a regular fan or just someone who likes to see one or two episodes. This is the Adventure Time that everyone praises and this is the reason why all fans swear that it’s more than a silly little kids’ show.


Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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Analysis

Netflix’s The Meyerowitz Stories Looks Deep Into Dysfunctional Artist Families

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Review and Theme Analysis for The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected

“We all have this gap between who we are and who we think we are, between who we are and the dream of who we might be, who we want to be,” said Noah Baumbach concerning his new Netflix original film: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). In it, Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, While We’re Young) explores the dysfunctions of an aging family unit as they try desperately to work through their grievances with the past, and with one another.

The setting, the story, even the title itself, which sounds like something off of a Sufjan Stevens record, is both swallowed up by and pays homage to its postmodern, “Art House” culture. The movie is as advertised: selected snippets of the Meyerowitz family and their dysfunctional relationships. It certainly doesn’t abide by any sort of Hero’s Journey formula, but make no mistake, these selected stories are not chosen at random with an attempt to pretentiously or absurdly confuse their audience. These stories, centered around the children of Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), are all part of a single, congruent narrative that beautifully weaves together powerful themes of regret, bitterness, longing, and neglect.

Danny Meyerowitz Was Trying to Park

Newly separated from his wife, Danny Meyerowitz (played by Adam Sandler) is driving he and his daughter Eliza (Grace van Patten) to his father Harold’s house in Manhattan. (I’d call it an apartment personally, but then I’ve never owned a place in Manhattan, so…) They are having dinner as a family before Eliza heads off to Bard College as a freshman, where her grandfather taught art for more than thirty years.

The relationship between Danny and Eliza is some of the sweetest, most authentic father-daughter on-screen chemistry I’ve seen in a long time. Between their pithy banter while Sandler searches for parking, screaming at other New York drivers that dare get in his way, to their lovely harmonies when they sing together on the family piano, we are given a plethora of special moments between these two characters. The “conversations between generations” is something (I’m told) Baumbach excels at in his films, and though I’m not too familiar with his body of work, The Meyerowitz Stories is more than enough proof of his prowess.

The Meyerowitz family is very artistic. This tradition is carried on down the family. Harold had a successful career as a visual artist, but is hung up on the fact that his friend LJ (Judd Hirsch) has achieved far more fame and admiration that he ever could. Danny, on top of dealing with a fresh separation, turns out to have been an unemployed musician for quite some time. Apparently he never did anything with his talents except write a few charming songs to be played on the family piano. Eliza is now continuing the hereditary niche by way of directing and starring in overtly ridiculous, pornographic Art House films.

“Have you thought about getting a job?…I think you’d feel better about yourself. Have you thought about playing music again?”

Resentment and neglect start to rear their heads when they go to LJ’s showing, and Harold gets his face pressed up against the glass to the life he should have had. He’s snubbed by all the high-society folk as though he were a commoner! But seriously, being ignored amongst your peers is a very hurtful thing. Resentment from Danny for years and years of neglect also bubble to the surface and the night goes awry.

Danny: I’d like to come if that’s alright. It would be a real treat for me.

Harold: I think they’re filled up…L J’s getting me a special spot.

Though it’s like pulling emotionally distant teeth, Danny is eventually allowed to attend the fancy gala with his father. Even on such a celebratory occasion though—complete with a wonderful cameo of one of my favorite actresses—the Meyerowitz boys can’t seem to let their resentment toward life go, and the evening is ruined.

“What a life that LJ leads!” Dad, we were literally just at the same party he was.

Matt’s Story: Go Forth and Multiply…

Harold is currently remarried to his fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) who is a chronic drinker. And although she seems to share in a loving relationship with Harold, she feels understandably distant from the rest of the extended family, who we are then introduced to.

Enter Harold’s other son Matt (Ben Stiller) from his first marriage. Matt is a successful architect visiting from LA for some meetings, including a delightful luncheon segment with his stubbornly pretentious father to talk about selling his estate. As they wander around a New York City Neighborhood in search of a restaurant that’s ‘up to Harold’s standards,’ we start to see why Matt chose to live across the country.

“I’ll have the steak and the Market salad. We don’t have a ton of time so if you could bring everything at once…”

It’s hinted that Matt’s mother was the love of Harold’s life, and Matt, who is a symbol of that love, was showered with a lot of unwanted attention and pressure growing up. Apparently, even being the favorite child of a successful artist puts a lot on a kid. Nothing comes without cost.

“I got your focus and that fucked me up in a whole other way… It doesn’t matter that I make money, because you don’t respect what I do.”

Scenes between characters, whether it’s parents, siblings, half-siblings, step-parents, or a combination, all feel very scattered and emotionally vacant, but it’s by design. They only have distant memories and vague connections to one another as they must suddenly navigate their way through understanding that their father may not have long to live.

Artists and The Berkshires

Early in the film we are given some exposition. A: Harold is being asked to present art at Bard for a faculty alumni showing. B: Harold suffered a blow to the head on a trail in the Berkshires. Wouldn’t you know it, these two plots intersect when Harold is forced to miss his art showing after suffering severe head trauma from the injury. The aging patriarch is rushed to a hospital in Pittsfield (the very hospital I was born in, actually). It was admittedly challenging to be even slightly objective during this segment as the estranged half-siblings and step-mothers and granddaughters all frantically rush to their summer home in order to be with Harold. They all feared the worst.

I’ve resisted the urge for the most part in this review, but I’d like to delve into why this film struck such a chord with me. Half of it takes place in my home of the Berkshires, where artists have the potential to learn, grow, and thrive with their craft. It’s not filmed on location here or anything, which is actually fine for us Shirefolk because we don’t like our peace disturbed. But see, this film bothered to actually take the time to acknowledge the Berkshire’s contribution to the arts by bringing the characters there in a script all about the art world.

Now, speaking of the film’s theme of resentment, there happens to be an undercurrent of cultural unrest and resentment in the Berkshires. When wealthy New Yorkers buy up summer homes in prime locations up here, it throws the housing market out of whack (i.e., the Meyerowitz family). What used to be a thriving agricultural area and industrial center has now, in many places, either fallen into decline or become a seasonal getaway for exorbitantly wealthy New Yorkers. Putting it simply, it’s hard to have a house in the Berkshires if you work in the Berkshires. Cultural gentrification, if you will.

But on the other hand, many of these wealthy people are generous donors to the arts, which I am heavily involved in. They stimulate local businesses, keep theaters alive with their patronage, and have a general love and appreciation for conserving the culture and natural beauty of the region. To me, (and others, I’d imagine) seeing aspects of your home depicted on film is very special when done well.

Normally I cringe when films try to namedrop my region in order to gain generic culture points, but Meyerowitz Stories does more than that. On a humanistic and personal level, it spoke volumes that it understood “City folk” aren’t just here to clog up our hiking trails. They come here to enjoy the pleasures of art, escape the grind, and sometimes, sadly, to say goodbye to their loved ones. The regional issues are of course more complex than I’m letting on and shouldn’t be simply dismissed because of an Art House film, but it was hard to ignore the sentiment of van Patten’s performance as she wept at her grandfather’s bedside.

Also, they name-dropped my favorite pizza place. Why am I such a sucker?

Jean’s Story

Yes, there is also a third child. Jean is technically present throughout the entirety of the film, but she is purposefully sidelined for almost all of the dramatic moments, which parallels her struggle as the most neglected child. Soft-spoken and reserved, her story in the film comes towards the end of the second act.

When Harold’s friend Paul comes to visit him in the hospital, Jean bolts into the woods. She recalls a summer vacation when she was in an outdoor shower and this Paul character was watching her and masturbating. She told her father, but he was complacent. She describes the incident in the same monotone, nostalgic way that she remembers watching Three’s Company, taking a ferry to the house from the other side of the island (because nobody would pick her up), and swimming in the ocean. It’s quite tragic.

Her father’s neglect has probably thrown her into countless traumatic experiences, as well as given Jean the most reason to resent him, and resent the rest of the Meyerowitz clan for that matter. But she has chosen to be resilient and forgive rather than focus on all her painful memories.

“Because I’m a decent person. Even though he never took care of us, it’s what you do. Besides, I like hanging out with you guys.”

Her brothers, feeling very protective of their sister, consider the best course of action to take against an 80-year-old man who once exposed himself to their sister. The revenge, though farcical and fun to watch, is definitely considered an instance of “misplaced do-goodery.” Jean is not happy. Jean did not ask them to take vengeance on an old man with dementia who has come to say goodbye to an old friend.

“I’m glad you guys feel better, unfortunately I’m still fucked up.”

The emotional abandonment of the siblings is paralleled in the hospital when every time they feel comfortable and trusting of a medical professional, that professional disappears. Pam the nurse was around when Harold seemed to be doing fine, then when his situation worsens, and a new male nurse takes over. He bares the brunt of their confusion and frustration as they’re handed pamphlets about grief. Likewise, when Dr. Soni carefully outlines the plan to induce Harold into a coma, which offers some measure of relief to the three children, Soni immediately tells them that she’s going to be in China for three weeks. Any chance of having stability during their time at the hospital will be slim to none, because, well, that’s how hospitals work.

Matthew: It doesn’t feel fair, Dr. Soni. That you can just live your life normally while our dad is lying here.

Dr. Soni: Maybe it isn’t.

I Love you, I Forgive You, Forgive Me, Thank You, Goodbye…

The film plays with this interesting cutting technique where various scenes reach a character’s moment of emotional explosion, and then they hard cut it to the next scene. It’s a subtle touch to let the audience know how typical it is for these characters to throw their inhibitions to the wind and scream out in frustration. After an explosive argument between Matt and Danny ends in violence (again the cut is made right as the scene reaches fisticuffs), Matt stands before the art patrons at his father’s showing with a bloody nose, ready to give a speech about his father’s accomplishments. But it turns into an emotionally charged farce as he starts to work out all of his childhood issues into the microphone. What he would give for a chance to make things right…

The last theme with Harold’s children, a theme that has been fomenting under the surface and is brought to the forefront by Jean, is forgiveness. It’s the thing that all three of them have been working towards their whole life. The thing they most struggle with. Baumbach has created a cast of raw, troubled, yet deeply sympathetic characters. The subtlety of the emotion behind dialogue combined with myriad amounts of little character quirks that each actor brings to each role is worth the watch on its own merit.

Overall, this is a brilliantly layered, touching family film. And not “family film” in the sense that you can put your kids in front of it and space out for a couple hours. But rather, that in that we all deal with our own versions of “fucked up family drama,” and it’s refreshing when artists hit that nail right on the head. I’m not as familiar with Baumbach’s other films, but I can safely say that he’s just found an unabashed fan in me. I look forward to diving deeper into his body of work.


Images courtesy of Netflix

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Analysis

Let’s Talk About Supergirl

Megan

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Kara Danvers in episode 3x01.
Spoilers for Supergirl Season 3, including future episodes

After a widely criticized Season 2, Supergirl is back and—here’s hoping—better than before.

But, well, it is still Supergirl, and it is still on The CW. So let’s talk about it: the good, the bad, and the potential.

Sanvers

Sanvers is the elephant in the room: after it was announced at the end of last season that Floriana Lima would be leaving the show to pursue other opportunities, the future of the much-lauded couple was uncertain at best.

And now we know: they are breaking up, separating because Alex wants children and Maggie does not. This was something that had been in the rumor-mill for some time.

In a world that already pressures women to want children, and in a world that still very much considers the heteronormative nuclear family the norm, it is more than a little off-putting to insert that dynamic into what has otherwise been a very supportive, healthy relationship between two women. When Alex sees Ruby again in episode 3.02, she is obviously taken by the idea of having a child of her own; why, though, was this never discussed earlier?

Maggie and Alex’s relationship moved quickly, yes, but also successfully. Transitioning so abruptly from a place of deep mutual understanding to butting heads on such a fundamental part of a relationship feels unrealistic at best, and damaging to the wonderful relationship they had spent an entire season building at worst.

The U-Haul stereotype already exists; making it seem like moving quickly means not actually knowing your partner is an unnecessary step. And that is something worth recognizing, especially given how much praise and attention the writers give Sanvers. Just because they did well for a while does not mean they can never be criticized. In fact, they have set the bar high, and we should continue to push for healthy, good representation.

Kara

While Alex is struggling with her relationship, Kara is mourning her lack of one.

Only again, it’s not necessary. Season 3 takes place six months after Season 2, and Kara dated Mon-El for all of a couple of months. And for someone who has lost so much—an entire family, an entire planet—her insistence on letting go of Kara Danvers because of Mon-El just does not read as emotionally authentic.

That said, I am glad they are exploring her pain. I am glad she is allowed to cry, and yell, and break. Kara is so happy and upbeat, partially because it is the only way for her to survive. Once the darkness creeps in, it takes over. If Mon-El is the vehicle used to explore this side of her, then at least it is being explored, and at least she is being allowed to process and grow from her grief.

The first issue, of course, is that Mon-El is not gone forever. He will be returning, married. This show loves drama more than anything, and his eventual, dramatic return is rife with dramatic potential.

So why use him as a source of development if, in a matter of weeks, he will return to once again be a source of regression? It feels as though the answer is simply that the writers, showrunners, and network want Mon-El to remain a fundamental part of the show, despite his overwhelmingly negative critical reception.

In all, I want Kara to grow. I want her to confront her fears as she did in 3.02; I want her to cry. But she can do that without the constant weight of Mon-El hanging over her. Not on her own, necessarily: let her rely on Alex, as she has been. Let her confide in Lena, who obviously wants to be a part of Kara’s life. Let her move on.

Mon-El

Ah, Mon-El. To paraphrase some Terminator movie, “He’ll be back.” And so will Saturn Girl, who is rumored to be his wife.

When he got sent off in his pod of destiny, we all knew—tragically—that he would return. But to have him return married is a move only The CW would make. We know little of how that storyline will play out: some think that his marriage to Saturn Girl is doomed, and he and Kara will end up together once more. Some think this is a gradual way of writing him off the show by drumming up excitement for a future Legion show.

Whatever the case may be, it is a symptom of a larger problem.

Every series regular is either in a relationship, has had relationship drama, or is currently being touted as one half of a new, potential relationship. And for what?

The Relationship Problem

There is nothing wrong with having strong friendships. There is nothing wrong with creating drama through inter-character tension outside of the confines of a traditional romantic relationship.

And if your first thought in response to that is “there’s nothing wrong with relationships either,” then I want you to think about why.

Because yes: on a surface level, you are more than correct. But Supergirl is no longer about Supergirl. Relationships should built up the characters in them. Instead, the relationships in Supergirl fill in for the lack of actual, well-crafted storylines.

There is a tendency in television to write relationships that have no justification. While friendships are built upon something, whether it be family or common interest, relationships, it seems, are built out of narrative closeness—that is, they are in a lot of scenes together, so maybe they should be together.

At the end of the day, relationships do not excuse otherwise bad writing. In fact, they often amplify it.

With Floriana leaving, it is more evident than ever that the Supergirl writers do not know how to handle healthy couples. With Mon-El returning and Kara remaining broken-hearted, it is clear that all drama must come back to romance eventually. And with every character being romantically involved or potentially romantically involved, they narrow their focus from a show about Kara Danvers, a woman who lost her world and still managed to stand tall and strong as an inspirational hero, to a show about a group of friends that cannot manage functional relationships.

That is not a good message to send, and it is not the show we signed up for.

The Solution

All this is disappointing. When Supergirl moved to The CW, it fell quickly into the CW model of show: pair everyone up, split them up, re-pair, repeat.

But it is not the end of Supergirl, nor will it be the end of my connection with it. The past two episodes have already dived deeper into Kara and her connections with her friends than most of Season 2 did. With Sam and Ruby on the show and Lena involved with CatCo, the plot seems likely to be as female-centric as some of the best moments of Season 1.

Kara and Alex hug.

(Source: Tumblr)

And I have no doubt that the changes are in part due to the collective of voices speaking out against Season 2. I have no doubt that the opinions of critics and fans have prompted development, and I have no doubt that they can continue to do so.

In all, let’s talk about Supergirl, and let’s keep talking about it. Let’s make it clear that we love Kara, and Alex, and James. Let’s make it clear why we are here: for a superhero, and for her friends. Because that is the only way things can change.


Images courtesy of The CW.

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Analysis

Love Conquers All in Valerian

Angelina

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I was hesitant to talk about Valerian, really. I was hesitant because it is always hard to talk about things we love that others despise. Especially when those others are critics. But none the less I feel compelled to speak, because, well, I feel it is needed to discuss things I saw there.

Many people talk about how Valerian is high on visuals but low on everything else. My idea is, maybe this film, just as another good film generally despised by critics (The Last Action Hero), is misunderstood. It is judged not by those rules its creator followed. Like, when I read about how the film is unjust to its protagonist, or when it is judged as a part of a franchise.

Valerian, that Han Solo-esque James Bond-like comics hero with his sexy action girl sidekick, is just an excuse to talk about the real main character. The one we see from the very beginning.

Alpha — Humanity — is the Movie’s Protagonist

The movie starts with a documentary footage that almost seamlessly transforms into a surrealistic futurism fantasy. Fantasy, centered around the main theme of the film: love. It may sound tired and worn out, but it is not; we are accustomed to “love” meaning something that is between sexes, generally between different sexes. Luc Besson takes great labor to show us “love” is something between people — or peoples.

When we see Alpha’s creation, we see it created from tolerance, from desire to understand each other, from acceptance and good faith. In other words, Alpha is a love child — because what are those, if not facets of love? And we see humanity as the main creator of Alpha. Something like a heart of this space station. Because certainly the humanity expressed its best qualities during its creation.

But then… then something happens. Alpha’s heart is infected, we hear, but we don’t yet understand that it is just what happened. The heart, the humanity, was infected. It was poisoned. Which really needed investigation and needed a cure. Humanity needed to find its best again.

And Who Is Our Antagonist?

Well, if the humanity is the protagonist, then who is the antagonist? My answer may seem strange: humanity is, as well. It is not a conflict between species or a battle between nations.  What the movie depicts is an inner conflict, where our hero has to fight itself to find out its true nature.

All those people — Lauraline, General Octo-bar, Commander Filitt, even Jolly the Pimp — represent different sides of humanity. In between them stands Valerian, that modern not very deep-thinking, not very far-seeing every man; a man chosen by chance rather than his glorious exploits.

He has to face a person he could have once become: Commander Filitt. This man is evil, yes, but he is a special kind of evil. He became such not as a result of his troubled past, nor out of some inborn sadistic predisposition. No. He became evil out of neglect and lack of will.

I frequently see that he is criticized as bland and not interesting antagonist, but I can’t really see why. He seems like a pretty new and interesting type of character to me. When did we ever see a person who committed a full-scale genocide as a side-effect of completely different war effort? Filitt doesn’t like to think much. He has a chance for success, which he takes it without any second thought. After all, dead aliens tell no tales, so why bother?

And then he has to face consequences of his actions. He has to face the fact that people he murdered were, well, just that: the people, who could think and could speak. The fact no one would overlook, and the fact that will cost humanity its honorable place between nations.

Actually, he has lots of ways to react. He could’ve stepped forward and taken full responsibility for his actions to absolve his nation of the accusation for the military crime it didn’t even know about in the first place. But that guy lacks will, and he just continues on his once chosen course: eliminate.

Why Do We Need Valerian?

And here our title hero enters the scene — our second title hero (the first being Alpha). One who has to grow up, to choose, and to learn separating good from evil. One who has to become something that is not another Filitt.

Valerian is prone to the same course of mind; he doesn’t like second thoughts, he doesn’t like responsibility, and he doesn’t like even making amends. He is a total dick towards his best friend/girlfriend and doesn’t even see and understand what he does wrong. Because he follows rules, doesn’t he?

He always follows those unwritten but well-known rules of conduct modern young men follow. He is entitled, because that’s fine in this list; he is not openly vile, because it’s not appropriate in this list. He acts instead of thinking. That’s why I believe him when he talks about his military decorations; he is a good soldier, a well-honed instrument, and nothing more.

I can’t pretend I was not wounded by the whole Bubble segment, mind you. Using female (and female-coded) characters to further male character arcs is intolerable, really. But still I can appreciate the moral and the meaning of that sequence. Our every man hero has to learn what it is to feel for someone.

I loved the Aesop of the Red Light District episode. That was a short parable about what is not love. Lewdness is not, and using other people is not. Forcing others to do anything is not. Valerian sees himself as a heroic liberator, but he, just like Filitt not long ago (though on a lesser scale) has to face consequences of his illusions.

Irreparable consequences. Like the death of a innocent person who has already suffered far too much.

Here, facing his utter defeat, he starts his way back to real manhood. Because he chooses to feel remorse and place the blame where it belongs: on himself.

alpha

Those who can love

Pearls

The Pearls represent the ideal the humanity may aspire to, the ideal it once lost. Alpha was built on that ideal: learn from each race, join forces, create, and give something back for what you took. They are not (thankfully) any new rendition of the old noble savage trope. They may look like Na’vi, but they are totally different from them. Because the Na’vi are perfect as they are. They don’t need to change; all they need is to eliminate those close-minded humans from their natural paradise.

Pearls, on the other hand, were just a people, and not very advanced at that. They had their simple life on their home planet, and they had to learn for decades to become our ideal. The thing is, you need not to be perfect noble idyllic savage to deserve life. All you have to be is simply alive. That’s all. Genocide is a grave crime not because of special-ness of the victim; it is a great crime because that is in its nature. Murdering a person is a crime, regardless of that person’s morality, after all.

Pearls represent the ideal in other very important aspect: they can love. They can feel for others. They can forgive, even while they are not able to forget. And they can be grateful, even to those who represent the doom which once fell on them.

And To Conclude

In the end, mind you, we are left hanging. Yes, we are given a small Easter egg, sending us to the Fifth Element, but the humanity would still be banished from Alpha for Filitt’s crimes. And this is important, too. Because consequences, and because responsibility. And because the humanity has to learn much before it reaches again the heights of its morality — the love that gave life to Alpha.

I loved this movie, yet I cried in the end,because now we live in a world, where such a scenario (a genocide committed as a side-effect, and no one even noticing that side-effect) is no longer unbelievably fictitious. In a world where taking responsibility is out of fashion and feeling remorse is considered a bit odd.

“Love conquers all” may be outdated saying, but now that we float towards more and more grimdark, I think, it is worth remembering. As George Martin said when he visited St Petersburg, maybe the cyberpunk was more correct in predicting the future, but theirs is not a future one wants to visit or dream of.

Me, I don’t want to visit a future full of shit, too. But I can’t ignore the bad sides of our life. What Valerian gave me was both the hope those bad sides will be overcome as well as the acknowledgement they exist. A perfect mix, for me.


Images courtesy of Fundamental Films

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