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Analysis

The Case of Missing Jewish Women in Media

Kylie

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Something happened on February 15th that shook me to my core. It created a disturbance in the force. In one panel of the first Batwoman Rebirth issue, Kate Kane got punched in the face and said, “vey’z mir.”

I’m sorry, I should have warned you to sit for that. Because as small as it sounds, this was literally the first time I ever saw a Jewish character dropping some casual Yiddish as an involuntary response, rather than a joke. A female Jewish character.

Now Kate Kane is a ridiculously amazing example in this department because Marguerite Bennett is ridiculously good at doing her goddamn homework. But it made me realize something I hadn’t before: female Jewish representation is just terrible.

Okay, this is hardly shocking. Jewish representation as a whole is a bit lacking. When Griffin and I were trying to think of other Jewish characters (not counting those from Seinfeld, Broad City, or Curb Your Enthusiasm), we only managed to list the Broflovskis in South Park, Boris and Minka in Rugrats, and Ross and Monica from Friends off the top of our heads. Once I began thinking more deeply and compiled a list, I realized that even in cases where there is an explicitly Jewish character, more often than not it’s an informed attribute, and/or they’re trotted out for a holiday special like Sam in Danny Phantom or Arnold in The Magic School Bus (though his anxiety actually plays fairly well here).

Quit that kvetching of yours

But what I’ve noticed is that of the few Jewish characters we do get, there’s a concerning pattern where only the men are allowed to feel Jewish.

Look, before I get further into this, it needs to be said that Jewishness is not exactly simplistic. I think to a lot of non-Jews, there’s an assumption that being Jewish is all about practicing a religion and following a given set of rules. If a character keeps kosher and mentions that, then it’s great representation! And yeah, it’s not like there aren’t religious Jews who refrain from getting tattoos and eating shellfish, because of course there are. But, especially for a lot of American Jews, it’s not so clean-cut. Reform Jews rarely keep Kosher or get overly-fussed if they drink water on Yom Kippur (or even sometimes…eat). There’s also these people called “secular Jews”, whose Jewishness is felt on a cultural level, but not on a religious one.

You know, maybe these are the kinds of people who didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah when their cousins did, because maybe their mom didn’t elect to have one of her own because maybe her brother had come home from Hebrew school crying every day, so when she raised kids she skipped that gantseh megillah with them, but it made them feel a little insecure at their uncle’s seder table when they mispronounced the prayers, almost as if they were faking being there somehow. Not that I’d know anything about this…

Being recent survivors of genocide (within the last century, at any rate), it’s not exactly shocking there’s a collective Jewish identity that matters even outside of those who practice Judaism as a religion, especially when so much of that identity is steeped in heavy oral tradition and collective memory. Actually here, let me just let Kate explain it:

Not just blood; you can opt-in, of course, so long as you adopt Jewish Guilt™.

That identity, ya know, matters and affects things. So characters that are made Jewish without any respect to that…stick out.

At the same time, we’re not a monolith. Not every Jew mixes Yiddish words into everyday speech (Griffin had trouble understanding me when we first met), we don’t all answer questions with another question, and I think only 96.3% of us are neurotic. So, whether a character feels Jewish is a bit ineffable and definitely subjective.

For example, both Elaine and George on Seinfeld read to me as incredibly Jewish. This is hardly surprising given that they were created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander, and George was more or less supposed to be Larry. Yet both of them are canonically not. Why do they feel Jewish? Well, the answer to that is probably going to sound horrible and full of stereotypes. Elaine is sarcastic, often angry, and pedantic about exclamation point placement! George is cheap, self-deprecating, and has a nagging mother! Yeah, I know how this seems, believe me. And I’m not saying that the very cynical, New Yorker vibe is the only way a character can feel Jewish, nor that everyone with it is automatically a Jew. I am saying, however, there is a certain coding that can be instantly recognizable as Jewish, even without it being stated.

Yet there is a clear pattern regarding that coding: only male characters tend to evince it.

Sandy and Seth Cohen from the OC are unabashedly Jewish. Seth is almost the embodiment of the “nice Jewish boy” stereotype, while his lawyer father throws bagel and schmear parties. I can’t make this up.

Marissa actually brought the bagels as admittance into their house.

Kristen, Seth’s mom, is Christian. This is actually played as a culture clash in a pretty significant way, and you can tell that Sandy feels pre-judged by the Newport WASPs he has to interact with daily. Seth, in a response to his parents’ mixed backgrounds, created the all-important holiday of ‘Chrismukkah’, even though calendar dates rarely line up in a way where this makes sense. Just sayin’.

This Jewish dad/gentile mother combo is also the case with the Botwin family in Weeds. And Harley Quinn’s parents. And Ross and Monica Geller’s parents.  

Listen, I fully understand and appreciate the shiksa-appeal as a trope, but isn’t it just a tad suspicious that Jewish characters are far more likely to have Jewish dads? Especially given the importance placed on matrilineality for Jews?

I’m not even sure I can think of a counter example where a character has a Jewish mom and gentile father aside from Rugrats. To that, while I’ve sung the praises of Didi’s parents, Boris and Minka with their heavy Yiddish accents and glue-like borscht, Didi herself doesn’t feel Jewish in any respect. Like, when driving to her parents’ seder, her husband keeps going on about how terrible and boring this holiday is, and her response is mild annoyance. I also don’t think I can recall her uttering a single Yiddish word despite her parents likely being fluent. Oh and her brother got married in a church.

All of this could happen (just like a Jew could have a Christmas tree; I actually know a good number of families who didn’t want their kids to feel ‘left out’). But the fact is, if Boris and Minka had been made Stu’s parents, it’d make just as much sense. For Didi, it’s completely an informed attribute.

Even in the case of two Jewish parents, the mom is usually toned down, with the dad being the more devout one (though Batwoman subverts this, because of course it does). Willow from Buffy is maybe the best example here. Her mom was distant and kind of hard to get a handle on anyway, while her dad was the dude who was so Jewish that he banned her from watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. Which is just crazy; that soundtrack is amazing.

That’s really the crux of it: even outside of motherhood, Jewish women in media are dialed back more than male counterparts.

Heck, Willow fits into this to a degree. They tried with her, and to Whedon’s credit, she asserted her Jewishness every time something would come up like Christmas (no she doesn’t celebrate it!) or crosses (better hide them from Dad!). There was consistency over seven seasons, and honestly? That’s not nothing.

Also, this is not to discredit Alyson Hannigan’s performance, who does happen to be Jewish. She doesn’t write the scripts.

But the thing is, we don’t, like, turn off from being Jews if it’s not relevant to the conversation. We especially can’t in today’s climate. And I’m sorry, but it’s palpable in more ways than correcting someone during the holidays.

Willow comes out during the show’s run. She practices witchcraft. Both these things, which are so crucial to her identity, would absolutely intersect with her Jewishness, especially since there’s a sort of innate…survivability this all connects to. It’s hard to explain and it’s not like there’s a perfect way to go about showing it, but there’s a reason we’re all about intersectional feminism here. Because intersecting identities matter to personhood, and therefore to characters.

Keeping Jewishness relegated to a last name ending in “stein” or “it’s a holiday party!” is a touch limited. Looking at you, Felicity Smoak.

Friends is far and away the worst example. I don’t even mind that Ross and Monica have a non-Jewish mother, especially when Elliott Gould’s Jack Geller is just 100% perfect. What drives me bonkers is that while both Ross and Monica have a fair bit of “Jewish in name only” going on with the writing, Ross is the only one of the two allowed to actually assert his Jewishness. Half of this is because he’s played by David Schwimmer, and his character is a perpetual whiner who is terrified of germs and went through the sensitive musician stage in college.

This is painfully accurate.

And yeah, maybe someone other than Courtney Cox could have brought a more authentic representation to the table, but the other half is most definitely the writing. We see Ross explicitly mention buying Hanukkah gifts and teaching his son, Ben, about the Jewish faith. Yes, it’s relegated to Hanukkah. (There are other holidays that matter to us a lot more, you know. Hanukkah is kind of not all that important.) But still, it’s something. For Monica? Apparently her immaculately decorated Christmas tree is a standing tradition, and the role Judaism would play in her children’s lives with Chandler Bing wasn’t even worthy of a conversation. We just…knew she was Jewish because we were told. And she was the sister of Ross, who seemed pretty Jewish.

Adding insult to injury, there was a character that is the epitome of a JAP (Jewish American Princess): last name Green, super spoiled and materialistic, got a nose job for her 16th birthday, had a father who worked as a doctor and habitually stiffed servers on tips at restaurants, called her grandmother “Bubbe”, was from Long Island… Do I really need to keep going?

But yet Rachel was just, not Jewish. And yeah, I am the person who just said that Jewishness is more than asserting things around the holidays, and when there’s good coding Jews can still pick up on it without the character mentioning anything. But if you’re giving us a character who explicitly celebrates Christmas despite living up to every stereotype, an explanation might be in order? Even if it’s like “oh hey Rachel just likes Christmas shit because she’s a spoiled JAP”? Literally anything other than just the writers telling us she’s Jewish (and apparently ‘more of a Jew’ than Ross and Monica…what?) later?

1) YOU SHOULD REALLY KNOW THAT, AND 2) NOTHING WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HAD TOLD US THIS IN THE SHOW, YOU KNOW

God, at least Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald being ambiguous was supposed to be somewhat of the point. And don’t give me the “it was the 90s” excuse, or act like this wouldn’t have come up in her relationship with Ross (a nice, Jewish boy!). Mary Tyler Moore broke that ground with Rhoda in the 70s.

However, I think my favorite example of an Informed-Jewish woman has to be from Mr. & Mrs. Smith, where at the very end of the movie, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are confessing secrets they’ve kept from one another during their five years of marriage, and Jolie just goes, “I’m Jewish.” Of course you are. I could totally tell. And of course it never came up in your marriage. Why would it? It’s just some trivia.

Compare this to Jewish men, not that there’s a wealth, who are allowed to simply be super Jewish. Think Schmidt from New Girl.

Look, there are good examples of Jewish women in media out there (I’m told Grace Adler is well-done?). But there is a disconcerting pattern where it seems as though it’s more acceptable for Jewish men to, well, act Jewish. And I’m sorry, but I shouldn’t have to have a Bachelorparody show be the best representation on TV:

Her name is ‘Rebecca’ and she uses the phrase “Oy-M-G”

Give me Jewish women. Give me a passing mention of a holiday that isn’t Hanukkah. Give me a character who has to call their mom back within five minutes before she’s assumed to be dead.

Or, ya know, just give me more Kate Kane.


Images courtesy of DC Comics, Fox Entertainment Group, and NBC

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.

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rara
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rara

The Amazing Ms.Maisel created by Amy Sherman Palladino could possibly be some good Jewish Woman rep. There are a few misses I noticed in the depiction but overall it was really interesting. Although as a non.religious person I would not be the best person to know.

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

And then there are the Jewish women who possess Jewish cultural traits, only to happily sing Christmas carols, attend Christmas parties, etc. because it’s ‘normal.’ My parents had to go to the school board to protest me being made to sing religious Christmas carols in third grade and Glee’s Rachel Berry is 100% okay with it because Christmas somehow how a secular holiday now instead of a Christian one? So many Jewish characters on TV are only Jewish when it’s funny, not when it matters.

Simon
Member

*THE MORE YOU KNOW* Honestly, I’m embarrassed at how little cultural osmosis Judaism gets where I live. All the depictions I knew of (An American Tail, The Simpsons) always emphazied father-son bonds so you naturally buy into the patriarchical narrative that permeates all the other abrahamic religions. It’s kinda sad, yet crucial that we have to resort to fantasy world equivalents to get this kind of psychological representation. What you described about matrilenial roles, controlling mothers and self-deprecation just rang BEIFONG all throughout to me. And there’s so much to take away from the Stark sisters in how their religious/cultural… Read more »

Morty
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Morty

That was interesting. The Jewish representation articles on here make me consider things I’ve never noticed.

Also, mark “shiksa” down as another word I had no idea was Jewish in origin. I’ve heard it used in Polish as a general derogatory term for a young woman.

STGJR
Member
STGJR

*reads article*

*thinks*

Note to self: when putting together character ideas for future stories, consider Jewish female in primary character position. Make sure to do research.

STGJR
Member
STGJR

P.S. Bug Kylie as research if need be.

STGJR
Member
STGJR

P.P.S.
On second thought, don’t bug Kylie, for she is a mod and to mods, normal commentators/posters are crunchy and good with ketchup. Besides, I might delay whatever new Avatarverse fic she is working on, and that would be a Bad Thing.

Fyodor
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Fyodor

Oy gevalt! Excellent analysis and very true, but I kept waiting for you to drop Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and…still…bupkis mit kaduchas. OK, I get that the total audience for the show is apparently only, like, 14 people but it’s one of the best shows created in the past decade. Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch is a work of genius in a genre-bending, trope-busting machine of a show. Neurotic over-achieving Manhattan lawyer from Scarsdale with domineering guilt-tripping Jewish mother (played by Tovah “Yentl” Feldschuh, FFS!) and Goy father ditches NY for West Covina, CA, in the pursuit of True Love™ only to fuck… Read more »

Mims Dahn
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Mims Dahn

Are men usually more visible in the Jewish communities in the US? In my country the most visible are women as spokespersons or in their identities. Your article made me realize (embarrassingly for) that they get absolutely no contemporary representation in Norwegian popular culture (like movies, tv-series) though, no matter the genders . And most I know of outside of American and Israeli movies center are in some ways Holocaust-films (some of them really, really bad) or centered around religious fundamentalism (like Félix et Meira). That is a very limited representation. But there are some movies that depicts the relationship… Read more »

Mytly
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Mytly

The best example of a Jewish female character in a TV show that I have seen – where the Jewishness was a vital aspect of the character, and not just a source of comedy – was Being Erica (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Being_Erica ), a Canadian dramedy about a thirty-something woman (Erica), who gets sent back in time by a supernatural therapist so that she can fix her past mistakes. Yes, it sounds extremely silly – and it occasionally was silly – but it was quite a lot of fun to watch. Erica’s Jewishness informs her character and her Jewish family play important roles… Read more »

Maidens and Mules
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Maidens and Mules

Fiddler on the Roof deserves a mention when talking about Jewish, particularly Jewish female, representation. Tevye might be the lead, but the story is much more about his three eldest daughters. Fiddler is definitely the exception that proves the rule though. I can’t think of any other musical that features so many Jewish women so prominently.

TGGP
Guest

I would guess that a higher percentage of female tv characters are Jewish than Americans as a whole, but I agree that it’s more often male characters whose Jewishness is highlighted. The Constanzas of Seinfeld are an interesting case. Jerry Stiller has asserted that the only possible explanation for them officially being Italian Catholics is that they’re in witness protection. I’ve compared it to Archie Bunker of All in the Family (even though I’ve only seen the episode where him & Mike are locked in the cellar), where officially he’s supposed to be a WASP but everyone watching is going… Read more »

Analysis

Game of Thrones 2×04 Rewatch: Garden of Groans

Kylie

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Good fortune and tidings as we return to The Wars to Come! We can’t wait to dive into yet another chapter of our Game of Thrones rewatch series, seeking to explore the path that took the show from engaging and competent to…wormholing ravens and confusing trials. This week we’re in for a special treat: the only woman to ever grace this show’s writers’ room, Vanessa Taylor, is credited as penning “Garden of Bones.”

While Kylie, Julia, Danzie, and Griffin can’t wait to discuss what’s clearly going to be a jump in quality, we first need to go over the events for anyone who missed.

Episode Recap

Things are grim and grotesque in the riverlands! Robb earns himself a victory on the field against the Lannister forces, yet after the battle we see many injured. He helps a field-nurse from Volantis name Talisa amputate a man’s foot, and she points out to him that the smallfolk are the ones paying the price for his war.

Meanwhile, Arya, Gendry, Hot Pie, and their fellow travelers arrive at Harrenhal as prisoners, only to discover that the guards have been selecting one a day to die. They witness the torture of an unlucky man, who has a barrel containing a hungry rat strapped to his chest. He is asked questions about “the brotherhood,” but cannot answer any. The Lannister guards hold a torch to one end of the barrel, giving the rat only one place to go… Gendry is selected the next day for this grisly fate, but is saved just in the nick of time by Tywin Lannister’s arrival. He immediately chastises his guards for wasting good men, and once recognizing Arya as a girl, selects her to be his next cupbearer.

Down in King’s Landing, Joffrey is not behaving a whole lot better. First, he reacts to Robb’s military victory by ordering Sansa to be beaten by his kingsguard. Tyrion intervenes and put a stop to it, even giving Sansa a chance to ask out of her situation. However, she tells him she is loyal to her “love.” Bronn and Tyrion discuss Joffrey’s disgusting behavior, and Bronn suggests getting him some sex workers to work frustration out on. Tyrion does that, but Joffrey instead commands one of the sex workers—Ros—to brutalize the other as a message to Tyrion.

Tyrion receives another message from Lancel, who asks him to release Pycelle on Cersei’s behalf. However, Tyrion quickly turns the tables when he corners Lancel about being in a sexual relationship with Cersei. He promises not to tell anyone so long as Lancel reports to him on the queen’s comings and goings.

Other royalty is busy over in the Reach. Littlefinger arrives in Renly’s camp, but the self-fashioned king holds no love for him. Yet if the time should come when Renly reaches King’s Landing, Littlefinger makes it clear he’s willing to flip sides. He then meets Margaery Tyrell, who he attempts to grill on the details of her marriage to Renly. This queen doesn’t reveal much. Littlefinger finally gets to speak with Cat, who is furious with him. He does manage to present her with Ned’s bones, and slips in a lie about the Lannisters holding both Sansa and Arya.

Renly and Stannis treat with each other, and despite Cat trying to encourage them to get along as brothers, neither will step aside to acknowledge the other as king. Stannis tells Renly that he has one night to reconsider. Later, Stannis asks Davos to smuggle Melisandre for him. Turns out it’s so she can give birth to a shadow in the caves below Renly’s camp.

Finally in Essos, one of Dany’s bloodriders returns with a gift from the Elders of Qarth, called “The Thirteen.” Her party turns to head there, understanding that outside the walls are referred to as the “garden of bones” thanks to all the skeletons from those who had been turned away. She meets the Thirteen, and when she refuses to show them her dragons, nearly gets refused from the city herself. However one of the Thirteen, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, invokes “soumai,” vouching for her and taking legal responsibility for her party. The uncertain group head into the city.

What will greet them in Qarth? What is the shadow that Melisandre gave birth to? And is there gold hidden in the village? We’ll find out next week, but first…a discussion of what we saw.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: I had to triple check that this was written by Vanessa Taylor and not D&D. And yes, I know that it’s a writers’ room, and individual credit only goes so far, though I’d argue that with GoT, we can usually tell notable differences and the process comes across as more siloed than it does for other shows.

Still. The first half hour of this was easily as bad as Season 5, with a small exception that the words spoken in between the gay/fart jokes, the torture, the abuse of sex workers, and the gore were mostly shaped by George R.R. Martin’s prose. The best I can say is that the second half of the episode became moderately passable, albeit still lacking in the tension as discussed last week.

Julia: Yeah, this episode felt like it had all the worst aspects of GoT all shoved together, especially in the first half hour, and I came away with the feeling that I was just watching trash. A few ‘fros and bell bottoms and it could have been a 70s exploitation movie.

Even this rewatch write-up is so painful because I feel like I had nothing to say beyond, “god that sucked.” And explaining in detail why things are bad is kinda my thing!

Danzie: Lordy, what a pile of crap that was. I had blocked everything but the Stormland’s scenes from my memory. You really get the full GoT dumpster fire potpourri here, though. Juvenile humour, sexual violence, torture porn, disappearing and reappearing medieval patriarchy, hammy acting… the list goes on. It’s a handy little episode to use as evidence to back up the claim “Yes, this show really is that bad. No, I’m not overreacting, Shannon!”

I am going to use this gem to win so many arguments.

Griffin: All of this. It was gratuitous. Gratuitous and bad. I kept waiting for it all to end. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say, or what was supposed to be appealing about this show after this.

Highlights/lowlights

Julia: Oh boy, oh boy. A highlight. The first thing that springs to mind is a little weird because it’s not usually me, but… I think I really liked Renly this episode? I’m a sucker for any time someone tells Littlefinger what a slimeball he is, and that ham line was genuinely clever and even a little funny. It’s painfully obvious how much more the writers like him compared to Stannis, but hey, maybe he’s not so bad?

As for a lowlight, um, everything else?

Griffin: I’d honestly have to go with the one singular moment that had me cracking up: cutting straight to the throne room with Joffrey aiming a crossbow down at Sansa. The framing of it was just so ridiculous and weird that it honestly looked like self-parody. The more they took it seriously in the scene, the funnier it got. What the hell was he going to do? Just start shooting people with a very slow to reload weapon and not expect to get gutted by, like, the third Kingsguard he cuts down?

As for lowlights, again, the crossbow. Really should have cut away from that “let’s mutilate some sex workers aren’t we trendy???” scene when he started screaming “harder”…and before he got the garden weasel looking thing out.

Kylie: My highlight was the burrito dress. I screamed and clapped. I wish I had a non-ironic highlight, but this is truly what warmed the cockles of my heart the most.

It’s so hard not to pick the Joffrey & sex workers scene as a lowlight, especially knowing what that “sets up” in Season 3. But there’s plenty to go around. The general levels of gore were really distressing for me, since I’m already not great with that. The Talisa cutting off a leg scene was one that I didn’t look at, but thank the gods her feminist candor was spoken clearly.

I don’t know—the protracted torture scene at Harrenhal? So glad we had a full five minutes of the guy we never met before getting eaten by a weasel. Do we think these Lannister folks are bad news, or something?

Julia: It was a rat, Kylie. God. Clearly all your criticisms are invalid now.

Danzie: One of my favorite chapters in the entire book series was (lucky for me) the only truly decent scene of the episode. Renly is at his best in the entire run of the show here. I’ve always said that I could watch Renly troll Stannis for hours and not get bored. It’s his social intelligence that I love about him. He understands exactly what it is that the masses love about him and hate about Stannis. I’d like to have seen the inclusion of the peach, and for him to have been unarmed, but other than that, yeah, this is peak Book!Renly.

However, my other Baratheon darling didn’t shine here like he does in the books, and that’s a shame. Loads of good personality things they lost out on here, like Stannis showing up to the parlay exactly on time and having to wait around for his self-centered little brother to finally feel like showing up. Also missing is Stannis promising Catelyn to try and reunite her with her daughters as soon as he is able. But most importantly what’s missing is Stannis’ guilt over killing his brother, an act that near mentally destroys him in the books. It’s minor stuff now, sure, but it’s things like this that go on to utterly destroy any chance at Stannis’ likability.

Lowlight: The shadow baby. Okay, I know there was loads of stuff that was worse in this episode, but I really feel like I need to point this out.


Davos rowing Mel ashore makes no goddamn sense under these circumstances.

The reason he does it in the books is because she is trying to kill Cortnay Penrose. However, because he’s inside Storm’s End (which has magical wards within its walls), Davos has to bring her in underneath the castle via his old smuggling run. It’s then that he puts two and two together about Renly’s death and she admits that Renly was much easier to kill because he was totally unprotected (from magic anyway) at his camp.

So why does she have to do this from shore? Why do we need to be in this tunnel? Where is this random tunnel? In fact, where even are we right now? The Reach? The Stormlands? Renly certainly isn’t in Storm’s End.

Julia: My random quibble: who were those 4 women following Sansa around and why do we never see them again?

Quality of writing

Kylie: I’m sorry, Vanessa, but the extended gay joke with a fart punchline is about as bad as it gets. Maybe I shouldn’t hyperfocus on it, but there was something about this episode that was so unrefined, that it comes across as utterly amateur.

Julia: Like I said in my initial reaction: it was just trashy this week. The “humor” was on par with the worst of seasons 5-7 and it revels in all the abuse and torture that’s going on.

Griffin: It kind of felt like an entirely different show to me. I mean, with the exception of that one episode Martin wrote, and to a lesser extent 2×01 (which was helped considerably by the fact that very little needed to be established, and they could just go) this show has never been written that well from my point of view. But still, this was a new level.

Danzie: There’s just not much that is salvagable here, and (all jokes aside) I’m someone that really tries to liberally give snaps to the stuff I like. In so many ways I think this was the first major warning sign of what was to come. I still prefer this to seasons 5-7, because at least at this point they still sort of care about telling a story, but damn. This is the first episode of this rewatch where I actually felt ashamed for liking this show once. It’s made me question my entire relationship with this show.

(This picture belongs in a museum, though.)

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: Pass. Unless you count “everything sucks and aren’t we edgy.”

Griffin: How about, “Everything sucks and aren’t we edgy and also surprise feudal feminism!!!!”

Kylie: I love how those concepts seem like they shouldn’t go together at all, but they sort of represent the building blocks of this show.

Okay, I’m going to make an earnest attempt: everything comes with a cost. Talisa kind of delivers it to Robb in a neatly packaged thesis statement. Granted, this theme doesn’t really mean anything. The cost of Robb’s war was Sansa being brutalized, the cost of Tyrion sending sex workers to Joffrey were the sex workers being brutalized, the cost of the war in the riverlands were the brutalization of the prisoners…

Um. Typing that out, the theme was maybe just brutalization. And also the titular “garden of bones” didn’t really tie into this, because Dany didn’t get any sort of negative repercussions for violently threatening The Thirteen of ”Kwarth.” I guess the more central point of this episode is that…violence is a necessary part of this world? Which is more a feature, but damnit, Vanessa Taylor isn’t giving me much to work with.

Then we have the inserted ~feminism~ of Talisa, and I’m starting to suspect Ms. Taylor is not the world’s best sensitivity reader.

Julia: I think maybe the theme is “Damnit, Vanessa Taylor!”

Danzie: I want to somehow tie Renly’s line of “a man without friends is a man without power” to something. Robb makes a new friend in Talisa. Dany has trouble getting in to Qwarth (sic) because she doesn’t have a friend to vouch for her. Stannis’ power comes from his gal pal, Mel. Tyrion thinks Joffrey having some “adult friends” will help him chill out. LF wants to be friends with the cool kids, but they all tell him to fuck off.

The Garden of Bones is also a metaphor for friendship.

…okay, not really, but this episode broke me in a way I wasn’t expecting and quite honestly I’m just tired of trying.

Kylie: We are all bones in the garden now. The title fits!

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Julia: The cracks are just the plaster coming off the wall in sheets in this episode. The scene with Joff and the two sex workers is as bad as anything in season 5, and that rat torture scene is as bad as Theon in season 3 so… congrats, you’ve reached peak GoT.

Kylie: Then there’s also the worldbuilding. We discussed the magically disappearing patriarchy (in so many terms) with the sexually liberated Margaery last week as a crack. Well, Talisa is the fucking Kool-Aid man busting through. Julia and I have joked so many times about the “unchaperoned field nurse sass-talking a king” that the phrase almost means nothing to me, but…yeah, it’s a fucking high-born (I think?) woman walking around alone on a battlefield, sass-talking a king. The patriarchy is truly destroyed here.

Of course, it will magically reappear when there needs to be a justification for violence against women, or random bullshit like making Lyanna Mormont’s stand against socks seem very Progressive™. In my mind, this hole in the wall is everything that becomes wrong with Game of Thrones, because it certainly connects to the brutalization Julia just mentioned too.

Julia: Just, like… let’s think about this character for half a second.

She’s from Volantis. (Show-only peeps have no idea what that is, but it’s a giant city in Essos that has slavery and thinks highly of itself.) For reasons of being so sassy and feminist and ahead of her time, she decides that slavery is bad and that healing people is good. Okay. So then she thinks her best plan is to go to this fairly barbaric and benighted part of the world and be a field nurse. Like, was she already a traveling healer type around the riverlands and just thought this war was an excellent opportunity for more service? Did she hear about the war and come running from Essos? Her mastery of the Common Tongue suggests she’s been chilling there a while. Where did she get her supplies of opium and silk bandages? Is that family money she’s using to buy them, or does she have a local benefactor? Where did she gain this medical expertise?

Why do I suspect this is more thought put into this character than the writers had?


Danzie: I like to think that it was all a mailing error. Talisa was supposed to be the sassy new resident doctor on a medical drama but the character pitches got mixed up and now Grey’s Anatomy has a mild-mannered girl from the westerlands.

Kylie: Another crack in the plaster is the torture porn, which only gets more and more drawn out as the series goes on. Edginess is a distant horizon they’re constantly chasing, I guess.

Remember adaptation?

Griffin: I remember Davos being a much, much more sympathetic and likeable character. Now he’s…just sort of there? I dunno, but he seems pretty one-note and flat to me so far. I’m pretty sure that Melisandre was supposed to be that in the books, so it works here (I guess?) but…that birthing scene. With the shadow.

I’ve seen some stupid things in my time, but I’ll admit that there was just no good way to shoot that. Seriously, I feel like that’s something that just was never going to translate well to the screen no matter what they did, since you can’t cut away from it or it doesn’t work. Maybe if they’d done the sequence more like a monster movie? That might work.

Kylie: The best I’ve ever seen a shadow of death translated was in the Charlton Heston movie The Ten Commandments. I think it was watching the literal squeezing out of the shadow that made it so odd. And it kinda gets a face next week…

Alright, I have to bring up Tough but Fair Grandpappy Tywin. Because he’s apparently so awesomely awesome and Fair that he will reward a random peasant girl for disguising herself as a boy. Yes, Tywin of the books wouldn’t have wasted working bodies on senseless torture. But the idea that he’d give a shit about any one of them, let alone enough to call Arya “smart” and select her as a personal cupbearer, is ridiculous.

Julia: I mean, it was really dumb of them to kill blacksmiths. Tough but Fair Grandpappy needs to be frugal; I would say why, but that would spoil the cleverest twist D&D ever pulled off.

It’s almost weird saying this, but so far they’ve done alright with Renly. And Stannis is still perfectly salvageable. Obviously the gay punchline stuff was horrible and out of place, but PLOT wise, it’s all pretty here? Like, Stannis has the best claim, legally speaking, but no one likes him. Renly’s claim is bull, but he’s popular. That’s minimally sufficient at least, which is more than we get in later seasons.

What do we think of the direction they’re going with Qwarth so far? It’s a change from the parade they threw her in the books.

Danzie: I dunno, but I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of whoever played the Spice King. He seemed to be the only actor who knew the ridiculousness of the show he was in. He was just having so much fun!

Julia: It’s a sense of awareness we won’t see on the screen until Ian McShane’s Ray in season 6.

Kylie: If I can seriously try to answer Julia’s question (though agreed about the Spice King), I think it’s part of D&D’s general misunderstanding that struggle is necessary in every facet of a journey to make any end triumph meaningful. Maybe this is thinking it through too much, but I’m just remembering the way the summarized Jon’s arc in Season 6 as, “well he began the season dead and now he’s king, so he’s doing well!” Keeping in mind they bend over backwards to aid Ramsay at every turn. It turns into “no one is nice to anyone anywhere,” and I honestly do think these are the beginning signs of it.

Or maybe they just didn’t want to spend money on a parade.

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: Poor Cersei/Carol, she was only mentioned this week. Sending Lancel to Tyrion could have been a move by either of them. So, I say we skip this section for this week.

Julia: Joffery’s actions do suggest Cersei’s parenting, though.

Kylie: Sure, even if the more Carol comes out, the less that much tracks.

Danzie: Another question is was it Carol or Cersei who commanded the Lancel sexytime? I wanna say Cersei, because Carol, as we know, wouldn’t dare sleep around on Larry.

Julia: Yeah, but Larry’s in jail and she’s SAD.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Kylie: Jorah got to explain Qwarth and the Garden of Bones! He must have been so happy!

Griffin: Yeah, that was like, literally all he did in the episode. I remember saying something along the lines that his description of the Garden of Bones isn’t really different from any other city with walls and gates. If they only had graveyards surrounding a massive city, with no suburbs, okay, that would be pretty freaky and one hell of an image, but…nope. Just a desert. Why not make it a point to mention sandstorms? Maybe they kick out prisoners or beggars or something into the sandstorm when it goes so they can die in the desert.

I think the rest of it was mostly fine; nothing really stands out to me as particularly egregious, though everything with Littlefinger was kinda “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M DOING THINGS!!!!”. I don’t know if that’s just who he is in the show, or silly. Is it both?

Kylie: He overstates the case a ton on the show, and is also the official expositor, so it’s kind of hard to tell where the character ends and contrived writing begins. I think it read fairly organically considering some of his other scenes, and it helped that both Renly and Cat were not about to give him the time of day.

Julia: Speaking of overstating the case, Dany. God she likes to yell about all the people she’s going to kill. I wouldn’t blame anyone who wrote off this character as an annoying, entitled asshole.

Danzie: Yeah, she really does just yell and stomp her feet… which I guess Xaro found charming? Because it’s only after this that he decides to let her in.

Julia: Ah, arbitrary laws and oaths based on cutting your hand with a sword. I was wondering when the blatant Orientalism would show up.

How was the pacing?

Julia: I think it’s pretty safe to say there were a few scenes that dragged on too long.

Griffin: Yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup.

Kylie: Griffin is understating his reaction to this, I might want to point out. He was next to me yelling, “Why is this still going on?” in at least three different spots.

To say something vaguely nice (?) the second half of the episode moved a lot better. Or at least, I wasn’t viscerally uncomfortable and mentally begging the scenes to end in my mind.

Danzie: The actual script on paper was way shorter than other episodes. A big chunk of what made up the screen time was just people being beaten or tortured.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: The sexworker scene was so horrible that I feel as if we’re not even willing to talk about it. Yes, Bronn suggesting Joffrey needs sex workers was in the books. Actually making us watch a scene of him ordering Ros to beat up her coworker while he sits and grins for as long as we did was just plain gross. We get it. We would have gotten it had the scene ended three minutes beforehand, too. We don’t need this insight for Joffrey, and it pushed into gratuitous somewhere around the belt smacking.

Danzie: The scene just flat out wasn’t needed. Joffrey is a monster, and as you said, we get it. We have tons of examples of it already. We don’t need a scene of Cruella de Vil drowning a cat to know she’s evil when literally all she does is try to kill puppies all movie long.

The only thing I can think of is that now we are supposed to feel even more terrified for Sansa? “Be worried that Joffrey will brutally rape Sansa, audience!” Good thing she eventually gets out of King’s Landing so she is safe from that sort of thing.

Oh wait.

Kylie: Thank you, I’m mad all over again. Great analogy though.

The other sex was the off-screen Lancel and Cersei sex that Tyrion calls out. Lancel is like, clearly being coerced, right?

Griffin: Yeah, that sexworker scene, as I mentioned above—what even was that garden weasel thing? Half of a candle stick? Very disturbing and way, way, way too long

I’m pretty sure Lancel is supposed to be…are we supposed to sympathize with him for being coerced? I’m not totally sure that we are since Tyrion makes a point to explicate that Lancel clearly didn’t hate shtupping his sister. Doesn’t make it better, but it’s kind of hard to see the merit of that sequence aside from Tyrion being by far the most entertaining character on the show. Maybe it was just a showcase…?

Julia: I’m mean, it’s not rape if you enjoy it. Especially if you’re a teenager and she’s a hot 30-something.

What is there to say? I think the last time we saw sex between two people who liked each other and both wanted to be there was Ned and Cat cuddling in episode 1. Renly and Loras too, I suppose.

Kylie: Hey now, the ship captain’s daughter seemed to be fine fucking Theon. And his view on it was clearly free of issues…

In memoriam: 2 homophobic Lannister guards, 5 Lannister Men for Every 1 of Ours, random prisoner, and Stafford Lannister

Julia: Does Stafford Lannister count? He died off screen and we never even met him. I’m still not done mourning for those 2 homophobic guards, though. What a loss to the art of comedy.

Kylie: The site that has this list put him down, so he counts! But in terms of who we saw die, I guess the tortured prisoner eaten by a weasel was the most…effective? Which again, we did not need to see all of. We knew they were dying from the first scene with that old lady.

Talisa has sassy words to say about 5 Lannister Men for Every 1 of Ours. Death is bad! The smallfolk are the ones paying! I mean, she’s not wrong, but I’m kind of remembering when Weiss tried to get all deep after Shireen’s death, saying audiences were hypocritical for caring so much about that moment, but being okay with Stannis killing people in “Blackwater.” There’s a dang narrative, Talisa!

Honestly though, most of my annoyance there is that they’ll float the plight of the smallfolk as an edgy, messed up feature of the world, but then not bother to give their point of view any consideration.

Danzie: Silly Kylie. Sex workers and smallfolk are only there to get tortured and killed. Getting their perspective wouldn’t be dramatically satisfying.

Julia: That random old lady earned her SAG scale, though.

Wow, this is shorter than usual. We really hated this episode.

Kylie: No argument from me. But what about everyone in the comments? Was it really, truly this horrible? And what the hell, Vanessa Taylor? Let us know your thoughts, and next week we’ll get the good ol’ boys back as the writers, continuing The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

Tragedy in Lady Knight

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Image courtesy of Random House

The dedication to Lady Knight reads “To the people of New York City, I always knew the great sacrifice and kindness my neighbors are capable of, but now the rest of the country knows, too.” It’s a somber beginning to a book about the tragedy of war. Obviously, it talks about the events of 9/11, and the book was published in 2002, barely a year afterwards. It’s the grimmest of Pierce’s books so far, but like the dedication, it also shows the most kindness.

Spoilers for Pierces previous work. Warnings for mentions of abuse and the murder of children.

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Analysis

Friendship in a Time of Blood and Ice Cream

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Edgar Wright’s Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, also known as the Cornetto trilogy, is a trio of movies that stand in a league of their own. Each movie is its own story and any of the three could stand on its own without the others. Yet they’re all linked by their craftsmanship, themes and, of course, Cornetto. They’re all top class comedies, while also being well-executed character-driven action movies. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End each focus on the friendship between their protagonist and deuteragonist (each time portrayed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost respectively). They delve into the deeps of friendship and the aspects, both negative and positive, that can exists in relationships.

It’s not you, it’s the Zombies

Before the zombie apocalypse, Shaun was living aimlessly, while Ed, his best friend, loafed around on his couch playing video games all day. Shaun had a serviceable job, a stable relationship with a girl he loves, good friends, and pub to go at the end of the day. He was hardly living a full life, but he was living. Sure, he had plans for the future—get a better job, commit more to his relationship, and get Ed off his couch—but he never acted on them. He made promises to his girlfriend that he’d do better, but had no follow through. When anyone pointed out that Ed was a hindrance to him, Shaun would always defend his friend.

Ed’s antipathy to development is even worse than Shaun’s. He doesn’t have many expectations for himself. Instead, he’s content to let Shaun defend him while he plays games and does a whole lot of nothing. Ed only helped keep Shaun stagnate.

It’s almost like a visual metaphor for something standing in-between their relationship.

Everything changed when they found zombies in their backyard. It takes the z-word to get Shaun to act on his plans. With the undead knocking at the doors, he firmly decides what’s important to him and sets out to protect it. He finds not only is he good with the follow through, he naturally assumes the leadership role, adjusting quickly on the fly to keep his friends and family safe when their lives are on the line. When disaster strikes, he makes decisions no one should ever have to make, zombie apocalypse or not.

And Ed, well, actually, Ed doesn’t change all that much. He’s more interested in getting to drive the cool car than he is about the zombies in the street. In the few minutes, Shaun takes to get his mom and stepdad he manages to crash the car. When they’re surrounded by a horde he nonchalantly takes a call (from a guy he occasionally sells drugs too).

Shaun’s willing to forgive and ignore Ed’s apathy until this moment. It takes the world ending and their lives at stake to Shaun to finally confront his friend. The apocalypse becomes the catalyst that pushes Shaun to making decisions. One of those decisions is letting go of a friendship that had been holding him back.

But it’s not all sad; Shaun gets the girl and still finds time to play games with Ed occasionally.

Nevermind Ed’s a zombie.

They’re not Bad Boys

Nicolas Angel is kind of cop who’s good at his job. Every part of his job, including the paperwork, but everything else in his life suffers. He breaks up with his girlfriend. The other officers are all too happy to get rid of him because he makes them look bad by comparison. The only constant in his life before moving to Sandford is his Japanese Peace Lily.

They even make the paperwork cool.

Danny, on the other hand, is the kind of cop who never had to be good at his job. He lived his whole life in a small village where the most work the cops had to do was deal with ‘accidents.’ His father is the inspector. Everything he learnt about his job was from action cop movies.

Friendship in Hot Fuzz goes in a different direction. Nicolas and Danny aren’t the lifelong friends Shaun and Ed were. In fact, a drunk Danny almost runs overs Nicolas when they first meet. Danny actually learns what it means to be a cop from Nicolas. Nicolas learns there’s more to life than the service and there’s more to service than enforcing every law. For Nicolas, Danny becomes the person he cares about more than the job.

By learning more about Sandford from Danny, Nicolas becomes more willing to let smaller infractions go when working to keep the greater peace. By the climax, he even enlists the help of some vandals he’d been suspicious of on his first night in the village. Danny, on the other hand, learns that being a cop isn’t about the big action shootouts, and even when the big action shootout happens, he and Nicolas fight their way out while only using non-lethal takedowns. In this view of friendship, each one makes each other a better cop and a better person.

The Crowning Glory of the End of the World

Gary King is the king in his mind and every king needs a court. For Gary, his court is made up of his friends or, to be more accurate, his enablers. Like so many, Gary found his adulthood paling in comparison to the glory of his youth and has been trying to regain that feeling. The height of his youth had been trying to conquer the Golden Mile, a twelve pub crawl with four of his best friends. They never finished the Mile, but that night still left a mark on Gary. For him, it never got better and that’s where the problems start.

He keeps searching for that same high in the substance he linked with the first: alcohol. Never finding it, he makes one last ditch attempt to regain his crown by reclaiming the Golden Mile and finishing what they’d started all those years ago. He rounds up his old friends, who have all grown up and progressed in their own ways. Among them is Andy Knightley, who used to be Gary’s right hand but has been sober since the very night Gary is trying to reclaim.

Amidst the discovery that their hometown has become a hub of alien activity, Andy learns just how deep Gary’s addiction goes. Of the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, Gary King is the most tragic protagonist. His addiction sends him on a dark spiral. Even as he tries to regain his youth with his friends, he keeps them at distance emotionally. He thinks he needs drinking buddies more than he needs true friends who will help him.

Gary’s inability to say no to a drink inevitably leads to the World’s End, both the name of a bar and the actual end of the world. But when he hits rock bottom and realizes Andy was willing to follow him there for his sake, that’s when he finds the strength to stop living in the past.

It’s another visual metaphor.

Be it the heartbreak of losing good friends, the surprise of finding friendship in the unlikeliest of persons or wanting to help a friend who’s not ready to help themselves, the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy portrays the complexities of platonic relationships. Best of all, it shows how they evolve as we grow and change.


Images courtesy of Universal Pictures. 

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