Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Curious Persistence of the Hypno-Babe

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Last week, when reviewing the first season of Agents of SHIELD, I mentioned how one particular episode, “Yes Men” was so atrociously bad that it deserved its own meta. And it was, and it does. But as I was selflessly rewatching the episode, because I love my readers, I noticed something. I’d seen this before. Like, hot chick from outer space can control all the menz because… she’s hot, so the womenz have to band together to take her down. Empowerment ensues. Writers presumably pat themselves on the back for being so feminist.

But she’s not a feminist, she is a Hypno-Babe. And she will not go away.


This is more or less exactly the plot of “Hathor” from Stargate SG1’s first season, and it’s not unlike “Bound” from Star Trek: Enterprise’s fourth season.

Let’s begin with “Yes Men,” Agents of SHIELD’s “tie-in” to Thor: The Dark World.

So, Lorelei, this Asgardian criminal, shows up in the middle of nowhere, Nevada and starts bending men to her will, with the power of her voice. Her plan, of course, is to take over the world.

But you needn’t worry, Team Bus is on the case. They have “readings” that tell them that an Asgardian has arrived on Earth. So they get some SUVs and chase the science, but- oh no, who should appear in the middle of the road but Sif.

You remember her, she added so much to the two Thor movies.

They take her to the bus and she exposits that this Lorelei person used her powers 600 years ago to cause all sorts of shit all over the nine realms. What are they powers? Well, she can bend men to her will. Only men? Yup. Because, and I quote, “Men have an inherent weakness we do not share.”

Whatever can Sif mean?

Oh… she means sex. Because men are just helpless in the face of a Hypno-Babe. Presumably this includes: gay men, asexual men, and men whose type isn’t pouty redheads, I guess. But it also doesn’t work on gay women because… um, they’re closer to earth. Yes, that’s it.

Does it work on trans men? That would be the first question I would ask. But these people just kind of accept this.

Sif then further explains that the only way to stop her is to put a scold’s bridle on her… I love the implications of this so much…. Coulson reasons that they should look for reports of robberies and stuff because a woman like this is going to be “hard to please”. Because those demanding, naggy women, amirite?

You know what… If I stopped to detail every sexist thing in this episodes we would be here all week, so let’s get a little more high level.

Lorelei is holed up in a biker bar while the bikers deliver her cash and jewellery and she has them murder their wives. Because the noise bothers her. Meanwhile, Coulson tries to mansplain computer interfaces to Sif. They figure out where Lorelei is and head there and have a fight, whose only interesting feature is that Coulson calls Sif “Your Ladyship.”

Lorelei and Sif face off, and we get the first hint that they might have some history. No, not the fun kind of history… the kind where Lorelei once stole Sif’s boyfriend and she likes to throw it in her face.

Also in this fight, Ward, because he’s suddenly a moron in this episode, gets himself hypno-babed and rides off on a motorcyle towards Vegas. (Like seriously, where else would they go?) And then they have sex. Because they’re in Vegas. And also because it’s Ward’s “reward” for giving her an army.

Elsewhere, May and Sif bond. Sif explains that Lorelai is a capable warrior but she still co-ops men because she likes stealing them from their girlfriends so much. They then break down the door to the Lorelei’s Vegas sex-room, where they finally have the wherewithal to make the initial SWAT team be all female, unlike at the bar earlier, because then how could they have contrived Ward going off with her?

Don’t you love it when characters hold the Idiot Ball?

Speaking of the Idiot Ball… Coulson, May, and Sif return to the bus, where Fitz-Simmons and Skye had been left behind. They manage to keep us in “suspense” about the fact that Ward and Lorelei have hijacked the thing for about thirty seconds.

They lock up Skye and Simmons, and suck Sif out of the plane. I wonder if she’s dead.

Coulson suddenly drops the Idiot Ball, because the plot requires it, and pretends to be hypno-babed while working with the ladies to take back the bus.

There are fights, there is technobabble, there is Lorelei being catty. And also Sif survives. And she beats Lorelei in a fight and manages to bridle her.

I’m sure you were on the edge of your seat.

Of course, as soon as her voice is incapacitated, the control she has over the dudes instantly disappears because… that makes sense. And then it’s followed by the most badly written denouements I’ve ever seen.

Stargate’s offering, “Hathor” hits all these same points.

After improbably finding an Egyptian sarcophagus in a Mayan pyramid, two hapless archaeologists release the Goa’uld Hathor from her imprisonment.

(Yeah, so… the concept of this show is that the bad guys are this species of parasitic worm things from space called the Goa’uld who take over the bodies of humans. These worms are all megalomaniac sociopaths who take on the personas of human gods (except for Yahweh, of course) because they’re super into humans worshiping them.)  

She immediately decides that she’s going to take over the world. So she makes her way to Colorado to our heroes’ secret base. She doesn’t have a magic voice, but she does have this glowy purple breath that has “pheromones” in it.

She latches onto one of the male leads, and he becomes her devoted little puppy for the rest of the episode. The men of the base start acting oddly and making odd suggestions. The women become suspicious.

I suppose this is a good time to mention that she’s also a redhead, just like Lorelei. And that she has an Ancient Egyptian manicure.

All this is justified by explaining that Hathor is like a Goa’uld queen bee. And she wants to make babies, with our puppy male lead, of course.

The ladies all decide that they’re going to take advantage of the fact that they’re Air Force personnel and “neutralize” her. But the dudes make a human shield around the gestating parasites and all the women end up in holding. Where they bond over the struggle of being a female character in a late 90s military sci-fi show.

But the doctor figures out that if this pheremone is making the dudes horney, it may be making them, like, horney in general. So maybe if they turns on the sexy, that will get them somewhere.

It’s as cringe-worthy as it sounds.

So there are a few action sequences and the good guys win. Hathor escapes to annoy me in two more later episodes, and the magic powers disappear when she does.

Enterprise’s “Bound” does offer some variation on this formula. To start with, there are three Hypno-Babes, and not one of them is a redhead. In fact, they are green.


Our heroic captain is invited to dinner on the ship of a guy from the Orion Syndicate. They’re notorious slavers. In fact, they tried to enslave some member of this crew in the previous season. It was fun times.

During the dinner party, their host breaks out these three mostly naked slave girls. The two male leads present are instantly hypnotized. Especially Reid, who’s had a rather severe case of the Not!Gays for the past four seasons.

Anyway, somehow our captain, (the poor man is no Picard in the smarts department, I’m afraid) got talked into making some trade deal with Green Dude that included accepting the “gift” of the three mostly naked slave girls. The mostly naked slave girls go around the ship really not respecting people’s personal bubbles and begging to be mansplained at.

The men all get hypno-babed, and the women all get incapacitating headaches. With in a few minutes the head Hypno-Babe is schtupping the captain. He turns into a hyper-aggressive twit. (Okay, this is Jonathan Archer, so… more of a hyper-aggressive twit.) Then the doctor reveals that it’s also due to a pheromone. Yay.

But there’s a twist (for lack of a better word…) There are two love birds on-board, and for some reason they’re not affected. Because one of them is a Vulcan and they have psychic bond.

But there’s another twist! The Orion guy from the beginning of the episode shows up and reveals that this was all some kind of convoluted plan to capture Archer, who has a price on his head. Oh, and also, it’s the Orion women that run things. “We men are the slaves.”

Sure. That makes everything better.

So the love birds use their Power of Vulcan Love, or whatever it is, to incapacitate the three Hypno-Babes and then we’re blithly informed that… they were returned to their ship like nothing happened.

But, to be honest, that’s pretty normal for Enterprise.

We are then treated to another truly terrible denouement where four characters literally stand around laughing as the female lovebird literally tells us what we learned. That the fact that the women are in charge, “[…]proves that even the most disagreeable spices have some positive attributes.”

It’s not at all hard to see what these three pieces of media all have in common. And none of it makes anyone involved in these productions look good.

Firstly, there’s this very charming assumption that men are complete slaves to their libidos. That when faced with an attractive member of the opposite sex (keep reading before you yell at me…) men are often not in control of their actions. They can’t help it, she’s hot. This is, of course, a weakness that women do not share.

As well as being just generally insulting to all men, this assumption often results in the narrative implicitly place responsibility for men’s actions in a sexaul encounter on the woman. If he behaved in a certain way, even perhaps in an abusive way, it must be her fault. He wasn’t in control of himself.

The fact that women “don’t share this weakness” means that when they do “use” or express their sexuality in any way, it can’t be because they simply want to, or because horniness compromises their judgement, that’s just men, remember? So it must be because they want something from it.

This is called “weaponized sexuality,” the idea that the only way for women to gain control over men is to manipulate them sexually. This paradigm always presents female sexual power as inherently dangerous to men, and also implies that female sexual pleasure is not existent. It only exists as it relates to men, be it negatively, or positively.

And it’s always seemed rather strange to me that these pieces invariably try to push something that at least looks like a story that empowers female characters. Or, at least, it empowers the “good” female characters, at the expense of the “bad” ones. The bad ones who are always guest stars who we’ll never see again. This is called the Madonna-Whore complex, and no way can our regulars be the Whores.

These “bad” women take control of men! That’s badass and empowering, right? “Even the most disagreeable spices have some positive attributes,” remember?

No. Something built on as sexist an assumption as that can never be empowering. Especially considering the fact that it inherently pit women against each other. All three of these pieces featured at least one instance of the Hypno-Babe assuring her mark that the reasonable objections that the female lead was making were just because “she’s jealous.”

That kind of negative interaction frames all interactions women have as “about men”. Men are something that women always have to be in competition for because because exclusive male attention is the ultimate goal of all women. Since, again, that is the only way they can gain power. They need men to “do the dirty work,” as much as women need men to satisfy those pesky baser instincts.

And there’s another assumption this narrative makes. One that probably most of us were screaming at the television as we were watching these.

Did they just forget that gay people exist?

I suppose I could go off on a long rant about how offensive this kind of erasure is. But what’s the point? Because more than being offensive, it’s just stupid. And that Agents of SHIELD episode was written in 2014, what the hell could their excuse possibly be?

Sure, I can assume malice and that they mean to imply the all men are, deep down, totally into chicks, whether they know it or not. But trust me, sometimes it just is very, very shitty writing. And no imagination.

So why is this story still around? Why does it turn up on show after show?

Well, showrunners know that they have to at least look pro-woman, right? And I guess having all their regular characters have to “rescue” all their regular male characters looks that way on the surface. But the Magically Disappearing Gays proves more than anything else how little thought is put into these scripts.

It’s not empowering, it’s just pandering. They should do better.

Images courtesy of ABC, Marvel, MGM Television, and CBS Television

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