Friday, June 21, 2024

Dutch Meets Her (Clone’s) Mother

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Content warning for discussion of abuse.

This week on Killjoys: Dutch meets her mother, and the Lady works around Aneela’s solidification of the Green. We also return to the norm of coded discussions about abuse, instead of last week’s very literal argument. 


We pick up after D’av and Jaq have already left Lucy. Johnny is furious with D’av for leaving. Dutch, vulnerable after her argument with D’av and guilty about her actions, won’t go after them. But she won’t tell Johnny about what she almost did last episode, either. Instead, she wants to set course for the pulsar they discovered, which Johnny does.

They arrive at the pulsar and find… nothing. Well, they find something—a gravitational pull very much like a black hole. They’re unable to escape, so Johnny sends an “I love you” message to D’avin. They hit the event horizon—

And land on a planet, hidden inside a truly massive gravitational illusion designed to make it look like the star didn’t even exist.

Dutch exits Lucy, and goes exploring, and we see several flashbacks to how Aneela’s mother found out about Khlyen and Aneela’s transformation (and how their House was struck from the record on Qresh). Dutch and Johnny are both ambushed by the same order of assassins as the one from last episode—Dutch while exploring, Johnny while working on Lucy. After introducing herself as “Khlyen’s daughter”, Dutch is taken to an old temple. In it, there’s a cryopod, which opens to reveal Aneela’s mother, Yalena. There’s a long conversation, which we unfortunately only get snippets of, explaining why Yalena is there.

The temple, it turns out, houses the Lady’s source plasma; it’s the place where the Lady entered the Green. Khlyen and Yalena arrived two hundred and fifty years prior, intending to kill the Lady.

Khlyen tried to help free Aneela from the Lady’s influence for some time, but was ultimately unable to. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that the only way to stop what was happening to Aneela was to kill the Lady. The only way to do that was to poison the Lady’s source plasma with a specially-designed prion particle. This would kill Aneela, and everyone else connected to the Green.

Yalena stopped him at the time, refusing to give up on her daughter. Khlyen, moved by the memory of his feelings for her, agreed, and placed her in a cryopod with the weapon. Now, finding out that Khlyen is dead, Yalena believes it’s time to finish the job.

Dutch only barely stops her from opening the weapon and emptying it into the (still-frozen) Green. Like Yalena two centuries before, Dutch asks for more time to try to save Aneela. Yalena relents, and hands over the weapon, but makes Dutch promise to kill Aneela if it becomes clear that she’s beyond saving.

Back on Lucy, Johnny and Dutch escape the gravitational disguise cloaking the pulsar. Once free, Lucy informs them that D’av did not receive their good-bye message—Black Root ships did, near D’av and Johnny’s home planet. Dutch and Johnny realize that this means the Black Root followed D’av and Jaq from Utopia, and take off after them.

On the occupied RAC, Pree rescues Gared, and finds that he’s missing his memories of his time on the RAC so far (several days’ worth). Despite this, they’re able to re-enable the RAC’s video surveillance and route it to the Armada. Things go a little awry, but with the help of a deprogrammed Hullen from the Armada, they’re able to escape the RAC.

Finally, Zeph and Pip arrive at the Armada, and from the video feed, Zeph realizes that the Lady’s Hullen are draining cerebro-spinal fluid from Hullen drones to create a pool of liquid Green.

A Couple Predictions for the Finale

This episode introduced a weapon that will likely figure prominently in the season 4 finale: A prion particle that can destroy the Lady’s source pool, and all linked plasma. Since this will kill all the Hullen, including the hosts, this raises the stakes immensely. At first, this doesn’t seem very threatening, since all the Green is still frozen—until the revelation that the Hullen on the RAC are creating their own pool. Now that we have a liquid pool, we have a delivery method. The Lady is also able to reach out to the kidnapped children through the Green again.

This puts the pieces in place for the final three episodes of the season. Kendry is looking for a way back to Aneela (and probably a way to become Hullen again). Gared is displaying signs of memory modification, possibly a la Johnny’s, or Pip’s. D’av and Jaq attracted the attention of the Black Root, setting Jaq up to be captured.

Even if that doesn’t happen, Jaq isn’t entirely unique. Just like Jaq, Dutch’s origin is in the Green. So, there are two avenues the Lady could use to escape the Green. Which, given that we have one more season, is what I’d bet on happening.

This episode also reintroduced the possibility of killing Aneela, which has an entirely different valence for Dutch now that her and Aneela have reconciled. Instead of her own life, which she’s been able to put aside her concern for, this is the life of someone she now considers family. After Khlyen’s death, after preparing to die herself, watching her literally bleed with Aneela’s wounds as she tries to rescue her—this feels like an appropriately heavy promise. She wants to save Aneela. Anything less would mean the loss of another member of her family, and a connection to her own history. 

Another (Coded) Discussion of Abuse

This episode is much more true to the show’s form: Everyone gets to be right, at times, and everyone gets to be wrong. There’s no giant flashing markers when it happens, either. In light of last week’s development, though, it’s unclear what Dutch takes away from her encounter with Yalena, and how this adds to her arc.

Here’s the thing: Yalena loves Khlyen. Not Khlyen the seemingly-immortal bogeyman from Season 1; she doesn’t know that Khlyen. Instead, she remembers a strategist, a scientist, and someone who loved her dearly.

So when Dutch tells Yalena about her abuse at Khlyen’s hands, Yalena doesn’t invalidate her completely. But she still emphasizes yet again how Dutch “knew another Khlyen” that she didn’t. 

Especially after last episode, I am getting more and more uncomfortable with this.

Subtext has benefits and drawbacks

I’m a firm believer that not everything in a story needs stated out loud. Dutch’s journey is not an unfamiliar one, for a survivor of abuse, but until last week, the references have remained largely metaphorical. Most people abused by a family member aren’t trained from childhood to torture and kill.

Nonetheless, Dutch started the series out terrified of Khlyen, deeply traumatized by her experiences as a child. Over the course of the series, though, Dutch comes to see the “rationale” behind Khlyen’s actions, and meet people who love him. This sets her up to have a painful but recognizable crisis over whether or not Khlyen’s abuse “really was abuse”.

For better or worse, this is a reality for many people who survive abuse. “Is this really what I experienced?” There’s no expiration date on the question, either. And if that sense of deep and enduring self-doubt is what they want to convey, I’m all for it. Hannah John-Kamen slides so easily into owning the screen and every moment of Dutch’s story that there’s no doubt cast on Dutch’s status as a fully-realized character.

My issue is that apart from moments like last episode, Khlyen’s intentions are represented more or less neutral-to-positively. This is especially true since his death. There’s a sense of, even though he’s dead, he’s still looking out for Dutch.

While that’s not impossible for someone who is abusive, if they’re going to outright state that he was abusive, they need to complicate their portrayal of him more. And by “complicate”, I don’t mean “portray an abuser as a complex human being with a multitude of selves and feelings”, because that’s what they’re already doing. I don’t have an inherent opposition to that—unfortunately, abusers are human beings. That’s part of what makes their actions so damaging. But the show already chose to make it explicit. They’ve unraveled part of that core assumption. Going back on it now that we know how Dutch views her experiences leaves a gap in the story. 

Bridging the gaps

There’s two readings that fit this week’s episode into the narrative more smoothly. One is that D’av’s statement, like Dutch’s line about D’av leaving “because she’s damaged”, is primarily about D’av himself, and D’av’s own fears about replicating his father’s abuse. Which, given that Dutch is a survivor of abuse, makes his actions seem even worse.

It also muddies the narrative, because Dutch is a survivor of abuse. But in this episode, Yalena portrays Khlyen through some rather rose-colored glasses. Are we just going to skate past last week’s revelation and go back to “normal”?

If they’re going to explicitly address “continuing the cycle”—why aren’t the implications of Dutch’s actions addressed more explicitly? Like I stated in last week’s review, Dutch very nearly became Jaq’s Khlyen. And while she didn’t, that moment is still incredibly significant for her character. It shows just how greatly her view of Khlyen has changed since the show started, and that deserves to be unpacked on-screen. Y’know, just like D’av’s issues got to be made explicit and needled for an entire episode when Johnny was Hullen.

Given that we’re past the seventh episode in a ten-episode season, this doesn’t rule out the possibility of further exploration. It’s just that Dutch’s deep fear and anger towards Khlyen has been such an integral part of her character from the beginning. As a result, Yalena’s encouragement to “let go of her anger” feels rather breezy. 

Another potential reading

It’s easy to say that this episode puts Khlyen in a positive light. Yalena certainly thought of him that way.

But this is one truth of what it means to have an abusive family member: To have someone you love, need the support of, or want the approval of, and to wonder why you’re the only one who feels hurt or scared around them. To have someone else, who you also love, question or flatly deny your perception. That it’s “not possible” that someone they know as loving could be abusive. To feel singled out from your family, to feel like maybe you’re the one who’s “wrong”, because of your anger. To receive conflicting but adamant messages from everyone around you: That you should forgive, or hate, or not.

Taken together, that’s devastating.

Khlyen’s family all love him and don’t comprehend how he could have hurt Dutch the way he did. Johnny and D’av, bless their hearts, see Khlyen’s family as more-or-less evil. They don’t always get why Dutch feels kin to them. Everyone has an opinion, and it all puts Dutch in a very lonely position. Any issues I have with narrative choices aside, this reads like a master class in just how confusing trying to piece your experiences together can be.

Realistically, the deeper ramifications of Dutch’s actions haven’t been explored (yet) because they have an extremely limited amount of time, and quite a bit of story left to tell. Which is frustrating, because this has the potential to be an absolutely incredible story, and John-Kamen has done amazing things with what she’s been given.

Fleshing it out may be a job for fanfiction, though. Time will tell.

Next week on Killjoys: D’av and Jaq try to escape from the Lady’s Hullen, and Dutch is… hurling herself against the sun’s gravity? 


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