Connect with us

Analysis

Fashion Falters Following Confusing Characterization of Sansa Stark

Published

on

Spoiler alert: Game of Thrones season 1-6, some minor A Song of Ice and Fire descriptions

Jumping off from our last long look at Marg Tyrell, we now turn our attention to the little dove of the north, “Sansa Stark”. If you have not already read Kylie’s and Julia’s piece on the season 6 Winterhell plotline, I suggest you do at some point to fully understand my salt with Sansa’s character and, in turn, her fashion design.

To recap a few key definitions:

  • Watsonian analysis: looking at the way a costume functions within the universe; how it is explained in the show, and
  • Doylist analysis: looking at the reasons a costume came to be as a form of art created by real people; analyzing and critiquing real-world explanations

Keep in mind, too, that we should always ask if a costume functions how it is supposed to. A beautiful costume that fulfills its purpose survives both Watsonian and Doylist analysis better than one that completely misses the mark. Costuming adds or detracts from the credibility and integrity of the overall work, and whether it adds or detracts depends on if it is believable in the context.

So let’s jump right on in to our next section of A Song of Pins and Needles.

 

The North is Where Fashion Goes to Die

Sansa made this dress – don’t be proud of that, honey.

We start off blundering out of the gate, with “Sansa Stark’s” first few bizarre season one dresses. There isn’t anything worthy of analysis here in and of itself – there are just two points I want to note for future reference.

First, Sansa’s feast dress is episode one is ugly. I mean, what is even happening at the neckline? Someone tied knots in fabric and called it a design. Luckily for us this style quickly disappears and, as far as I can tell, never reappears in the remaining seasons. Thank the gods.

The objective ugliness of this dress makes me think Cersei is pulling a little Regina George on us when she compliments it.

Second, Sansa specifically states that she made this dress herself. She is proud of the fact that she created her own garment, and Cersei even suggests Sansa might make a beautiful dress for her – the queen – one day. It is seeded from the start that Sansa is a talented seamstress and embroiderer. This is part of her identity as a northern lady within the show’s cannon. Put this tidbit in your pocket for later.

 

The Wedding Dress I Want to Love

The first exquisite costume we get on “Sansa Stark” is her wedding dress when she is married to Tyrion Lannister. Before we get into the disappointing analysis, let’s all take a moment to appreciate the fantastic craftsmanship it took to create this gown, including the sewing and embroidery skill.

Gold brocade with a heavily embroidered band on the bodice.

#embroiderygoals (JK I mean life goals)

There is no denying this is an exquisite costume. And it doesn’t suffer from Marg-Went-to-Kleinfeld syndrome – that is, Sansa’s gown fits in the time period. I love this dress, but it would be weird for me to wear it as a bride to a modern wedding.

Overall, I think it is successful at what it’s trying to do. The gown is meant to be a very fancy dress for the wedding of some very important people. It doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, it doesn’t break the suspension of disbelief, and the quality is excellent. This is one of my favorite dresses in the series, and when I first put it on the list to analyze, I thought it’d be a rare moment for us to celebrate Clapton & Co.’s design aesthetic.

But like *almost* everything else on this show, even this beautiful design crumbles under mild scrutiny.

 

Watsonian “In-verse” analysis: What even are feudal houses anyway?

Sansa Stark’s first wedding dress falls short under Watsonian analysis because of its color and embroidery patterns. It is otherwise the right kind of gown – elegant, extravagant, and chronologically appropriate. But coloration and imagery matter in a society governed by the rule of feudal lords with house colors and sigils. We have multiple examples of people referring to each other as their house sigil, including the Lannisters’ constantly referring to themselves as “lions” and the Starks always being called “wolves”. And lest we ever forget the importance of house sigils as vessels for metaphor, season one gives us two scenes that drive the point home. The first is a book scene used to foreshadow events to come.

And the second is a show “original” copy/paste of the book’s metaphor.

Get the metaphor? Get it? It’s a stag? Get it? Eh??

The fact is that color and imagery matter in this society because both are part of the larger PR campaign of each house as the people within vie for power. They are like a team color and a team mascot – something simple everyone can rally around and emulate. More importantly, they let everyone know whose team you’re on. Which is why banners are particularly important in battle, which D&D care about profusely.

The function of color and imagery in the Westerosi wedding context is to show a woman passing from her father’s house to her husband’s house, solidifying her future children’s place as part of her husband’s house. In the context of major marriages – where large, powerful houses are marrying each other – the imagery of both houses is equally important to advertise to joining of great wealth. We see this in the show with Margaery, who wears a distinctly Tyrell wedding dress with (sort of) Tyrell colors and Tyrell imagery, with hand-rolled roses all over the gown. The next function is to show the moving of the woman from one house to another. We see this in the show with the “cloaking” ceremony, wherein the husband places his family’s cloak on the wife. This happens once to Sansa (the northern lords also forgot about the cloaking ceremony, YOLO) and once to Margeary. It is the literal covering of the woman in the husband’s colors, showing the lords, ladies, and small folk alike that she is part of a new team.

The struggle with Sansa’s first wedding dress, then, is two-fold: first, she starts off in her husband’s house colors, even though she is part of a major house; and second, there is only one cloak. Granted, that second problem is true in all the marriages we see, but it is particularly present here because of the dress itself.

Sansa Stark should be wearing the Stark house colors and imagery on her wedding day, period. It does not matter that she’s a prisoner of the Lannisters. She is a Stark, and the Lannisters, in fact, want to emphasize her Stark-ness to solidify their hold on the north through this marriage. As everyone says, Sansa is the key to the north. With her married to a Lannister, the Lannisters take over Winterfell and its accompanying wardenship. It is vital that she is known as and believed to be Sansa Stark. She, therefore, should wear her house colors for the wedding.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t a novel idea. The source material provides the exact description and reasoning for a Stark-colored outfit.

“…the gown itself was ivory samite and cloth-of-silver, and lined with silvery satin. The points of the long dagged sleeves almost touched the ground when she lowered her arms… The bodice was slashed in front almost to her belly, the deep vee covered over with a panel of ornate Myrish lace in dove-grey…”

And a bit later, the maiden’s cloak:

“…a long cloak of white velvet heavy with pearls. A fierce direwolf was embroidered upon it in silver thread. Sansa looked at it with sudden dread. ‘Your father’s colors,’ said Cersei, as they fastened it about her neck with a slender silver chain.” A Storm of Swords

The accompanying issue here is point two: there is only one cloak. The purpose of two cloaks is to drive home the visual to the audience (i.e., the smallfolk and people over whom the powerful marrying couple have power) that the wife’s power is subsumed into the husband’s house. The physical removal of her father’s cloak and replacement with her husband’s cloak symbolizes that transfer of power, which is the whole purpose of a wedding in Westeros.

In Marg’s marriage, while we don’t have two cloaks, we at least get a similar visual because of the colorization: Marg is wearing (sort of) green, and that rose-bedazzled gown is physically covered by the Lannister cloak. Sansa, by contrast, does not give us that visual. Since she already starts out wearing her husband’s colors (gold – and red, if you count her hair), and since she does not have a house Stark cloak, we don’t get the imagery of the Lannisters taking the Stark power for themselves. Without the symbolism for the masses, the entire purpose of the wedding is undercut.

Within the context of show!Westeros, it doesn’t make sense for Sansa to have a wedding dress in her husband’s colors. We know this because of Marg’s dress, which is so thoroughly Tyrell, and even Marg’s second wedding dress which tries to place her as part of the royal family already by being gold. Marg’s position as someone who has a legitimate claim to the queenship based on her marriage to Joffrey was vital to her image and her marriage to Tommen, so it makes sense for her colors to be Baratheon.

The same issues appear with the imagery embroidered onto Sansa’s dress. The embroidery here is amazing, but it is inaccurate. Sansa should be wearing the symbol of her house, just like she should be wearing Stark colors. The embroidery on her dress actually includes the house symbols for the Tullys and the Starks AND the Lannisters! Her bodice is starting to look like Noah’s Ark.

Unfortunately, while this is one of the best quality gowns in the show (that brocade though!), it fails in its basic design. It certainly passes as a wedding dress, but the inconsistency it promotes forces us to continue to the second part of our analysis where we consider the real-life motivations behind the design.

 

Doylist “real-life” analysis: The Metacademy of the Arts Doesn’t Teach Sigils

Before we continue down the path of perpetual disappointment, we need to take a moment to appreciate the glorious angel who is Michelle Carragher. Much of the fantastic embroidery done on GoT is the product of Michelle Carragher’s incredible talent. If you ever want to experience jaw-dropping beauty somehow crafted from the fingers of a flesh-and-blood human, take a peek at Michelle Carragher’s website and her embroidery achievements. She is an embroidery god among us lowly pretenders, and she does a bang-up job on everything she touches.

It’s not Michelle Carragher’s fault – nor is it Michele Clapton’s – that she must work inside the skewed world created by D&D.

“For Sansa’s wedding dress the designer Michele Clapton wanted to have an embroidered band that wrapped around which symbolistically told Sansa’s life from the Tully and Stark beginnings to the entanglement with the Lannisters,” says Michelle, “The dress colour was still very much Sansa Stark and the embroidery had pale golden tones but woven through the story are ripe red pomegranates, the red colour symbolising the growing Lannister influence over her.”  Michelle Carragher

Here, we see the same problem that appeared with Marg’s wardrobe: the meta-seamstresses of Westeros strike again! Based on a previous reader comment, I now assume these are all graduates of the Metacademy of the Arts, located in Volantis on the same campus of the Metacademy of Medicine.

Lookin’ at you, Talisa.

The concept of telling a story through embroidery is cool. There’s an exceptional amount of detail that can go into embroidery that acts like an Easter-egg once the audience realizes it’s there. If done right, this sort of detail adds a lot of depth to the story, and it shows how much the creators care about every little detail. Plot-supportive, detailed but not-so-obvious surprises bolster the credibility of the creators and strengthen the consistency of the story. Consider Nibbler’s shadow in Futurama, or the various prophecies in A Song of Ice and Fire.

But here the embroidered story doesn’t make any sense. Who made this dress?? Is there a seamstress in King’s Landing who decided to include an act of resistance in a very important wedding dress, and nobody else noticed? Certainly none of the Lannisters commissioned the piece to have symbols of Tully fish and Stark wolves being eaten by lions. The whole point of a wedding is the legal passing of power through a woman from one house to the next, not to highlight the murders of her family members (especially murders the Lannisters don’t want to take credit for – the Red Wedding was against the gods). Who embroidered this in-verse?

And this embroidery story wouldn’t even be necessary is Sansa just had the cloak of her house. If you want to show a Stark being overtaken by a Lannister, then have a Lannister remove her house cloak and put his in its place! It’s almost like the source material already has a way to deal with this specific dilemma.

This is a cool idea with no backing. Just like Marg’s wedding dress, Sansa’s was almost well-executed but for enough in-verse believability to hold it up. It is symbolism done poorly. Symbolism should not break continuity, and this certainly does. Tywin Lannister would have blown a gasket if he realized the “symbolism” on his son’s wife’s wedding gown.

What could have made all the difference was the color choice. And here, again I wonder if anyone paid any mind to the source material at all. There was no reason for the costume department to stray into gold for this dress – the book clearly puts her in Stark colors, and the wedding dress would have made sense if it was Stark colors. The only explanation I can think of is that Clapton & Co. did not read the description of Sansa’s dress and just made their own how they chose. This becomes a greater likelihood as we see repeated instances of dresses that do not remotely resemble their book counterparts, like Marg’s wedding dress. There’s really no excuse to avoid the source material. They certainly didn’t improve on the design!

And last, there’s no excuse for these mis-matched patterns at the seams.

Get your shit together.

 

Inconspicuous Me

Before we jump into the Darth Sansa Warlock Costume and drown ourselves in exasperation, let’s take a look at a beautiful and confusing little detail of Sansa’s emo transformation. You may recall Sansa’s dazzlingly beautiful dress she wore to Marg’s wedding.

Much beauty. Very grace. Such wow.

She attended the Purple Wedding wearing purple (woah!) with little firefly clasps on her dress. As a side note, apparently there’s a whole thing about how Sansa’s jewelry is always fireflies and butterflies and shit, because that’s her spirit animal or something. I couldn’t find any direct quotes from Clapton & Co. on this, so I’m going to pray it’s a fan honeypot and leave it there. For the love of the seven, I hope it’s not something she actually said or intended.

Sansa is whisked away to the Eeyrie in this dress, where she later undergoes her emo evolution. One of her black dresses is this one, which appears in the tavern scene as she travels to Winterfell:

That looks familiar.

Notice the texture of the fabric, the cut of the bodice, and the firefly pins. You guessed it – this is the exact same dress that Sansa wore to the wedding, only dyed black! I actually don’t hate the idea of Sansa dying an outfit to be able to use it again, and if this were another show with more credibility, I would say this was an good example of a not-so-obvious detail that adds depth and continuity to the story. But this is GoT season five, they’ve lost all benefit of the doubt, and this particular attempt at detail just raises bad questions.

Where did Sansa get enough black dye to re-dye this dress? How multi-functional is this gown? It’s fancy enough for a wedding where she’s sitting at the dais with the king and queen, but also versatile for long-distance travel? Will no one recognize the style of dress, including the fuck-off little dragonfly pins, just because it’s dyed black? I mean, Sansa was literally right in front of a huge crowd of people all day. Also, dying the fabric a new color doesn’t make it less of a fancy fabric – the natural daughter of Petyr Baelish shouldn’t be wearing the same thing as Lady Sansa Stark/Lannister.

In addition to this weird detail, we have Sansa’s not-so-sublte super secret spy outfit. Here she is, not sticking out in a crowd at all:

All the common ladies wear this fashion! Wearing all black is normal for people not in the Night’s Watch! Black isn’t an important color for this socety meant for one specific group of people! EVERYTHING IS FINE DON’T LOOK AT ME.

This is not a spy movie. Wearing black does not make her undercover. Wearing black does make her stand out, since black is significant to this culture because of the Night’s Watch. The super secret spy outfit is not fooling anyone. Though I must say it is impeccably tailored.

 

Sansa Went to Hot Topic

Let’s get to the point: there is an endless amount of bullshittery about the Darth Sansa costume. I don’t find it worthy of Watsonian analysis because there is literally no way to tease out anything intellectually honest about it. This is a modern dress with modern details, sewn with modern techniques (i.e., machines), that was dropped into a medieval setting with no adequate in-world explanation. Where did Sansa get the fabric? How did she have this idea for a design? Why did she think black was appropriate for her disguise? How did she make the dress in such a short time? What is happening???

On the flip side, D&D and Clapton & Co. have tried to Doyle this shit up since the moment it appeared on screen. Their motives and explanations make no sense. Studying their explanations through the Doylist lens is where all the meaty analysis is here. Let’s start with the big quote from Michele Clapton:

David and Dan came to me with the idea of a transformation for Sansa. They wanted her to be her own woman rather than this victim. […] It’s meant to be as if she is somewhat reborn while mourning for all that she has lost. We know that she has the skill because we have seen her doing needlework from season one, but I liked the idea that she doesn’t want to sew anymore. The metal piece is really a miniature of Arya’s sword, Needle, and the idea is that there’s a ring that you stitch through and then that’s her weapon. I like that she carries it when she descends the stairs, now she’s armed and it’s a link to her family.

It’s so easy to make someone look strong, but if you don’t think about the story, it’s kind of a wasted gesture. She could have probably looked even more amazing if I had put the reasoned arguments of where it could have come from aside, but ultimately, it makes it a stronger look if it’s a more believable transition. – Michele Clapton

Seven save us, there’s a lot to unpack here. Starting from the top, the first issue is that D&D seem to think costume changes signify character growth. We’ve seen that happen a few times in the show – most notably the emerging of Cheryl from the husk of Carol – and it inherently isn’t a bad idea. When people change, the way they express themselves changes, too. I could buy these costume-changes-with-character-growth claims if and only if there was actual character growth that was (1) earned and (2) followed through on. Sansa gets her badass warlock costume because she’s so badass and her badassness is badass, but it’s followed by her stupid forced marriage and contrived sexual abuse. But she’s strong in the real way now because she has a badass costume change? She’s not going to be a victim anymore, right? D&D’s use of costume changes to signify growth is just disingenuous because the script ruins everything.

It should also be noted that this is around the time the Sansa Stark Construct begins to emerge, which has a direct affect on the explanations given by the creators.

The next issue is this concept that Sansa no longer wants to sew. This idea comes out of nowhere and has no Watsonian explanation. Sansa is an extremely talented seamstress! Remember that tidbit I told you to put in your pocket for later? Well pull it out now, and recall that Sansa has been seeded as an excellent seamstress since the very first episode. Sewing is important in this society because you otherwise would not have any clothes. At all. Being able to make your own clothing is a HUGE asset to yourself and your family. As a highborn lady, Sansa needs to not only be able to sew, but also be able to sew really well to make fancy dresses, which is what she is supposed to wear. This sewing dilemma is part of the strife between Sansa and Arya, as Arya does not fit the mold of a highborn lady because she lacks sewing skills.

Since there’s no reason for Sansa to no longer want to sew, there must be some reason the creators would put that motivation in her head. To me, this seems to be part of the misogynistic and toxically masculine pattern of D&D’s storytelling, even when they don’t realize it. Sewing is a woman’s job in Westerosi society. The counterpart job for men is metalwork, like how Gendry is a smith, making armor. If Sansa is going to be Strong in the D&D way – that is, “strong” with toxically masculine traits – she needs to stop sewing and start carrying a weapon. Hence, we have the notion that she no longer participates in a female activity and instead carries a small version of her sister’s sword with her.

I feel your disappointment, Brittany.

What confuses me (besides literally everything about this) is that they missed the opportunity to actually draw a fulfilling comparison between Sansa and Arya and how they navigate the world. Arya’s sword is called “Needle” in direct defiance of Sansa. As Arya says, “Sansa has her needle, now I’ll have my own.” This sets up a perfect opportunity for parallelism in themes, where each sister deals with the same theme (identity) through different means. By dealing with the same issue of their Stark identity in different settings, the reader/audience gets to see the similarities between the characters and how their identities as Starks largely define them, even when they are worlds apart. This in turn plays into broader themes in the story about birth and the feudal system, and the critique of human nature George R.R. Martin creates.

The show, now being ahead in both Sansa’s and Arya’s stories, had the opportunity to call back to that “needle” dichotomy and hit it home for the audience. Sansa should not be abandoning her needle. She should be using it as a weapon, in the same way she uses her courtesy as armor. Sansa can use her ability to sew to dissemble into the crowd and hide herself; she could’ve used her ability to sew to announce herself at the Eyrie as Sansa Stark, coming out to the lords and ladies in a Stark-themed gown. Outfits make statements when the designer knows what she is doing and has the skill, and Sansa certainly is seeded to have the skill. There are hundreds of options for ways Sansa could use her sewing skills to tease out more agency in her situation.

Instead, we get one last weird feather dress and the concept that Sansa no longer will use one of her greatest skills to her advantage. So much for taking control.

Third, what even is this necklace. This looks like a plastic belt buckle. And what even is the explanation of this necklace:

The metal piece is really a miniature of Arya’s sword, Needle, and the idea is that there’s a ring that you stitch through and then that’s her weapon.

What? Is that a full thought? Is that really what we get? It’s her weapon because it’s a miniature of another weapon, and you stitch it through the necklace, so that’s a weapon! This is a professional adult’s explanation. WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE.

I like that she carries it when she descends the stairs, now she’s armed and it’s a link to her family.

You do realize she’s not actually armed. Like, it’s not an actual sword. She’s not even metaphorically “armed” with it. You know what she could be metaphorically “armed” with? Courtesy and a real fucking sewing needle.

The saddest part is the last bit, where Michele Clapton tries so hard to convince me everything was well thought out.

It’s so easy to make someone look strong, but if you don’t think about the story, it’s kind of a wasted gesture. She could have probably looked even more amazing if I had put the reasoned arguments of where it could have come from aside, but ultimately, it makes it a stronger look if it’s a more believable transition.

Sure, Jan.

There’s a few more upsetting quotes from Clapton trying to explain away her shame.

“We’ve always known that Sansa makes her own clothes, so it was a very deliberate decision of hers, to change and say, ‘I’m not going to be pushed around. I’m going to take charge.’”

There’s the unfortunate implication here that being sexy means a woman is “taking charge”. Sansa’s warlock costume is obviously much sexier than she’s ever appeared, and happened just on the cusp of the actor, Sophie Turner, finally being of legal age. The pattern of women using their sexuality as a form of manipulation, and thus a way to take control, on GoT is alarming, discomforting, and sexist. Michele Clapton’s understanding of this costume fits into that pattern.

Clapton drew our attention to Sansa’s necklace, which has a long spike at the end. Because Arya has her Needle, this is Sansa’s Needle. “It’s her chance to take control,” Clapton said. “When she comes down the stairs, she’s playing with it like, ‘This is me, taking control of this situation.’”

Because fondling a miniature “sword” with no power to actually hurt anyone or actually sew is SO powerful and helps her take SO much control.

There’s also the idea that Sansa used raven’s feather on the bodice and shoulders of this dress. See, ravens send messages, and with this dress, Sansa is sending a message to everyone that she a Strong Woman™! It’s really hard to care about these explanations when they’re this stupid. The feathers are ugly. They look sewn on by a machine and they’re still badly sewn on at that.

Even Myranda isn’t convincing when she compliments this dress.

Myranda: I like your dress.
Sansa: Why?
Myranda: I read the script.

 

Wedding Number Two: Always a Bride, Never a Bridesmaid (trigger warning)

Bowling ahead deeper into season 5, now in the early throws of the Sansa Stark Construct, we get another bizarre costume choice: the linebacker wedding gown. At this point in the show, the Watsonian analysis is basically impossible. I mean, Sansa is marrying into the family that literally killed her own family, for revenge! I can’t really hold the costume department to a higher standard than the fucking story writers.

But just to give it a brief moment, here are some problems with the Watsonian explanation of this dress. (1) Color – again, should be Stark colors for the same reasons as above. Note that this dress got closer – white is one of the colors – but there is no doubt in my mind that the designers put her in white to emphasize her virginity for a modern audience (since we put brides in white and associate that with virginity). We know this was the reason because Sansa’s virginity is confirmed multiple times before the wedding scene, with the entire point of making her rape all the worse and more dramatically satisfying. (2) Lack of cloak – same as above. (3) Style and cut – this dress doesn’t look like anything else we’ve seen. Sansa doesn’t live in a world where experimenting with fashion is cool. She certainly had no input on her dress for her forced marriage as a prisoner. And Winterfell doesn’t have any internships for students from the Metacademy of the Arts.

Plus it’s not like Sansa needs to be this covered. The north can’t be that cold with Myranda rockin’ her unlaced corset and fingerless gloves in the exact same scene.

Actually my favorite part of season 5.

So fuck this Watsonian nonsense – I expended all my honeypotting energy trying to figure out why blue was a Dothraki color. The real meat here, if there is any, is found through the Doylist lens.

Doylist: Everything Comes Back to the Rape

There is no question that the primary driving force behind this creation was Sansa’s impending rape by Ramsay. First and foremost, this is the biggest pattern in the season: that the plot bends head-over-heels to put Sansa in that bedroom with Ramsay. Second, every detail of the costume indicates the purpose of its design. The dress is white. It shows her waist, but is covering her whole body. It isn’t sexy. It has delicate feathers on the shoulder. Sansa’s hair is done in a tight up-do. Everything about it screams “virgin” or “virginal”, to remind the audience that Sansa is “pure” through modern color, shape, covering, and detail.

Michele Clapton said some stupid shit about the dress’s shape being a call back to Sansa’s brother’s and father’s clothes, as a way to honor them or something. It’s another statement by her I’d rather ignore. I mean, don’t all highborn ladies want to look like their fathers’ on their wedding day? And those meta-seamstresses are running out of ideas!

This is a poorly designed, poorly thought-out costume with bad implications. It feeds into the rape-as-drama narrative that ruins this season. On top of all that, it’s an ugly dress. I’ll at least give it this – somebody sewed it. Their skills, however unimportant in this horrid design, are genuinely appreciated.

 

Conclusion: The Future of the Sansa Stark Construct

I’m not including analysis of the Sansa Stark Construct’s season 6 outfits because (1) I think they will be better analyzed along with her season 7 costumes and (2) none of them are particularly remarkable. We do know that Sansa’a ugly needle necklace is coming back in season 7, and I’m sure I”ll have more to say on the matter at that point.

WHY

It should be noted that, as Sansa’s personality shifts through seasons five and six, her fashion senses change. She even decides to go back to sewing once she’s at the wall, and she sews at the speed of light! But it’s not surprising, really – I mean, she’s no longer wearing her warlock costume, so now she’s grown as a character back into her previous sewing ways? Because costume changes show character growth? Seeing as the Sansa Stark Construct goes through multiple character changes scene by scene, she is going to become increasingly difficult to dress.

Michele Clapton is back from her brief season 6 hiatus, and D&D consistently give us dramatically satisfying gold, so I expect the costumes to continue on in their predictably disappointing pattern (no pun intended).

Next on A Song of Pins and Needles will be a close look at Cersei Lannister.


Images courtesy of HBO.

Caroline is a lawyer by day, geeky media fan and critic by night, afternoon, and lunch hour. Caroline enjoys long walks on quiet beaches so she can mentally over-analyze fictional characters and settings, and candlelit dinners that don’t cause a glare on her TV screen.

Advertisement
Comments

Analysis

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is Masterfully Deconstructing its Core

Kylie

Published

on

By

Here at The Fandomentals, it’s not hard to tell when we begin to fall in love with a show. You may recall the windfall of Black Sails articles surrounding its series finale, our rather overzealous coverage of Supergirl a year ago, or the way Steven Universe creeps into every podcast we record. We dig in and frenetically try to explain exactly the reasons why you should be so enthused as well.

Then there’s shows like Crazy Ex Girlfriend, where I find myself unable to say anything at all, since it’s more or less perfect.

I know what I’m setting myself up for when I say this, because I’ve felt the let-down quite keenly many times before. That’s part of why I’ve been so hesitant to write anything at all. The other part is that I truly feel my explanations won’t do anything justice; watch it yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

Is Rebecca Bunch’s character the answer to my prayers for jewish women in media? Absolutely. Do we all need Paula Proctors in our life? You bet we do. Is this finally the bridge between musical theater, sitcoms, and dramatic TV? Without a doubt. Hell, it’s a show whose entire premise involves calling attention to the tropes and storytelling conventions we bemoan, and then digging in and flipping them on their heads. All of this I could easily write dissertation-length papers on, while feeling that none of it is adequately explaining what is so great here.

So it’s only now that Crazy Ex Girlfriend is tackling one of the most important issues in our society, and doing it with a remarkably skillful hand, that I’m forcing myself to write out my thoughts. Because honestly? It’s a shondeh if I don’t at least try to spread the love at this point.

As a warning, there will be spoilers for major plot beats through the most recent episode, 3×06 “Josh is Irrelevant.” Which sure, may be a weird way to convince people into watching something, but as I’ve articulated a few times…knowing what’s coming and what a show explores actually makes me more prone to dig into it. If you disagree, let me just leave you with this before you bow out: the “crazy” in the title of the show is exactly why I didn’t watch it for a couple of years. And boy was that a mistake, because it is so intentional, and exactly what’s being explored now in one of the most nuanced and validating ways possible.

Yup, showrunners Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna are tackling mental health navigation and stigmatization. In the most recent episode, Rebecca Bunch receives a formal diagnosis (and even sings a song about getting one), and it’s made clear that all two and a half seasons were leading to this moment—not because of the diagnosis as an end in itself, but as a means to equip our character with the tools and understanding that empower her to push for a healthier state of mind. It is a show about a mentally ill woman lacking in traditional heroic qualities (dare I say antihero?). Yet instead of reveling in her moral greyness and watching her “oh my god” dissent, we are encouraged to actively empathize with her, and root for her to find balance. Because at its core, this show takes on a more positive view of humanity. We’re all just…trying to do okay with what we have, even if our weaknesses and anxieties can manifest in ways that hurt ourselves and those around us.

If that sounds interesting to you, watch the show. But for real now, explicit spoilers from here on out.

Rebecca Bunch was always meant to be a challenging character to the viewer. She makes an impulsive decision in the pilot episode to move to West Covina and pursue an old flame. Convinced this will make her instantly a happier person, she gleefully dumps her medicine down her garbage disposal (we’re unsure specifically what she took, though we do know anti-anxieties were in the mix) while whistling a merry tune. It’s clear this isn’t the healthiest thing you can do and she’s romanticizing the situation (and hilariously, the location as well).

This shot taken 2 seconds before the budget cuts claim the marching band’s instruments

At the same time, it’s also made clear that Rebecca truly was in an unhappy state in New York City, and her methods of coping through heavy medication and excessive work only fed into that. By midway through the first season, Rebecca tries to seek out a therapist to get new drugs, only to be told that she might actually need to explore her issues.

Rebecca: Those are the meds I was on in New York.

Dr. Akopian: Oh, my God. How did your body react to all this medication? You must not have been able to feel a thing.

Rebecca: Exactly. Numb as they come. So scribble scribble on your pizzle pad.

Dr. Akopian: Rebecca, your doctor in New York is a quack. He gave you a Band-Aid, not a cure. My method would be to do some digging and figure out what’s really going on inside your mind. And then we can discuss the appropriate medications.

Rebecca: So that’s great, but I need to be better by Monday.

The driving story continues to be about Rebecca’s quest for her fairy tale romance—a narrative that lives in her mind but not reality. Each romcom trope is broken down, from “unlikely suitor she actually falls for” (he turns out to be a fucking mess and leaves to be able to deal with his own issues in a healthy manner), to “the perfect prince who was always meant to be” (they both approach the relationship merely wanting to be in a relationship, without actually having a stable grasp on what they both need/want in life), to even the “screw men, we’ll just have a fun girl group and that’s enough” (Josh has a new girlfriend they need to stalk!).

However, it is always in the forefront that Rebecca is actively spinning the happenings in her life to fit whatever story she wants, all while resisting the core of what’s at her unhappiness.

Paula: Just let both of them go.

Rebecca: I don’t know who I am without them. I know that’s pathetic. I know it’s pathetic, but it’s true. Who am I supposed to be now?

Paula: Honey, be yourself.

Rebecca: What?! Who? No! Ew. Ugh! Who wants to be that?!

This becomes the most obvious when she enters into a relationship with Josh, but is not magically happier about everything. Rebecca very nearly has a breakthrough with Dr. Akopian to this point, only to be interrupted by Josh’s wedding proposal. Then from there, we get a tale as old as time: Rebecca stops feeling magical feelings about Josh, freaks out and kisses her boss in an elevator, freaks out from that and pushes their wedding date up to two weeks from that day, and then after not sleeping and going in full bridezilla mode, gets left at the altar because Josh begins to feel that he doesn’t truly know Rebecca. We also learn that Rebecca had previously wanted to marry another man in her past (Robert, a former professor of hers), but upon being broken up with by him, burned down his apartment and then was committed to a psychiatric institution for a time.

This is where Season 3 picks up, and in truth, I was very nervous about the Robert reveal. “Oh, so she really is ‘crazy’? That’s the point?” No. the point is that Rebecca is a troubled character who hasn’t received the help she’s needed. She has characteristics we all can relate to, from her self-deprecating thoughts to her struggle to feel ‘normal,’ even if we wouldn’t have necessarily made the same choices she did.

Season 3 shows her in crisis mode. Instead of confronting her insecurities, she lashes out at her friends, and even returns home to stay with her mother for a bit, despite their history with Naomi’s selfish and often inappropriate or harmful behavior. However, when her mom sneaks her anti-anxieties (out of fear of Rebecca wanting to commit suicide), Rebecca feels as though she has no one she can count on anymore, especially since she thinks she alienated everyone else. At the end of 3×05, Rebecca tries to commit suicide on a plane by taking a bottle full of anti-anxiety meds one a time, before telling the flight attendant that she needs help.

Other media has tried to depict suicide before, but it is so often done in a way that’s meant to shock, or even (distressingly) in a way that almost romanticizes the behavior. Hell, Life is Strange actually makes a student’s suicide a playable level, where if you’re just observant enough, you can stop it (for points!). Crazy Ex Girlfriend walked the impossible line of depicting the suicide attempt in a realistic manner—it was easy to track Rebecca’s feeling of hopelessness and isolation—without any sort of glamorization. She was in a rough, unhealthy state, and the audience was encouraged to root for that to change.

Better yet, Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna made themselves available on Twitter immediately afterwards. That, in addition to a suicide helpline message which appeared on the screen following the episode, demonstrated that they were being as thoughtful as possible when approaching such a potentially triggering subject. It was difficult to watch, no question. But shying away from these topics doesn’t give equip us with the tools to handle them. We’ve praised Jessica Jones for starkly examining rape and rape apology; Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a show that should receive similar acclaim, particularly given how usual portrayals of suicide and mental health tend towards victim blaming.

Even that aspect was highlighted in the newest episode; Rebecca continually apologizes for the “hassle” she’s caused, and how bad she feels that everyone’s normal routine has been interrupted since like…her friends want to make sure she’s okay. It’s just so true-to-life. Too often our media has something *happen* to a character, and then it disappears an episode later. Rebecca’s deeply-felt self-loathing and general unworthiness isn’t gone just because her stomach was pumped, however. And that kind of consistency is important. Life doesn’t make narrative sense, so even though there’s a clear story that’s being told, it’s told in way that feels refreshingly familiar. Because it mirrors life.

Add to this the diagnosis. Rachel Bloom has talked openly about her own mental health numerous times. She also said this last week:

It’s clear this was written from a place of understanding, and with an attempt to be as validating and healing as possible. Rebecca sings a boisterous song about getting a diagnosis that will be her golden ticket to happiness (she’ll finally fit in somewhere), which amazingly captures the awareness of stigmatization alongside the often unreasonable weight people attached to their diagnoses. I just say this as a woman with OCD and general anxiety disorder, and I don’t want to speak for everyone ‘neurodivergent’, for lack of a better umbrella term. But in my opinion, the episode’s greatest strength was the way in which both of Rebecca’s doctors talked about her diagnosis. It’s not an identity, nor is it a fix; it’s a tool of understanding behavior, and one that can help guide treatment in a way that makes the most sense for her.

At the same time, Rebecca possesses the traits which define Borderline Personality Disorder. This was something I’ve said (mostly to Julia) for a long time, and something I’ve been scared for the show to tackle. I have intimate experience with this disorder, and without sugarcoating anything, some hurt as well. I have never seen proper depiction of it before this show, and I never in a million years thought it would actually be labeled, then fully described in a way that’s so accessible to an uninformed audience.

“A person with BPD is essentially a person that has difficulty regulating their emotions. Someone that lacks the protective emotional skin to feel comfortable in the world.”

It’s clear that Rebecca’s world is one that’s scary to be in. She never feels she fits, she has a terror of abandonment, and her impulsive actions that she does in order to control situations or feel accepted (be it breaking into Josh’s house to delete an embarrassing text, rushing to a wedding because she had a moment of doubt, or even sleeping with her ex’s dad because he was the only person being nice to her) have outcomes that usually result in more unhappiness. To be able to know that she’s not alone in this struggle is validating.

Also her friends work overtime to be there for her, even if in slightly flawed ways

Though of course, and again realistically, the show doesn’t make the BPD simple or straightforward. Rebecca immediately Googles BPD and hates what she reads: that treatment can be lifelong, that there’s no “cure”, and even that 10% of people with BPD do kill themselves. She pushes against this diagnosis, even telling Dr. Akopian that she was bullied by the other doctor into agreeing with him on it, until Akopian whips out the DSM and goes through the checklist to see if Rebecca matches the criteria. Every point applies, and the show brilliantly provides flashbacks as these are read off. Rebecca sinks into despair, calling herself “certifiably crazy,”

Like…yeah. This is it. This is what happens. I was watching, half wanting to cry because of how easy it is to feel for Rebecca in that moment, and half wanting to laugh because finally what I’ve seen and experienced (second-handedly)—what I’ve even questioned and doubted—is on my screen for the first time, ever. We talk a lot about why fiction and representation matters, yet it’s almost unthinkable that the diagnostic process has been rarely been shown on our screens. Certainly not in this much detail.

The episode does end on a hopeful note, with Rebecca saying that she doesn’t want to ever feel like she did on the plane again. She goes to a group therapy, and gets a book to read afterwards. It’s not the end, nor was it ever meant to be. But it’s the means of getting her to a healthy place, and in that process, we see a lot of our own realities, from the hilarious to the uncomfortable.

That’s the story that matters, and that’s the story that was always being told. We’re just finally at the place where the characters see it too.


Images courtesy of the CW

Continue Reading

Analysis

A Bride’s Story is the Women’s Story You Were Waiting For

Annedey

Published

on

By

A Bride’s Story is a manga by Kaoru Mori (also responsible for Emma). Started in 2008, the series is still running and counts 9 volumes. It takes place in 19th century central Asia and follows several characters in their daily lives. The story is mainly focused on women of the region, but there is also the point of view Henry Smith, an English researcher. Anything else notable? Oh, I just remembered: it is really good.

Talking about a really good manga series could be enough on its own. But you know what’s even better? It is focused on women and their lives. Different women, with different lives, their work, their achievements, their pains. And it is written in a total love of all women. A good manga series, written by a woman about women? What else could we be asking for?

The Story of A Bride’s Story:

I am starting to not like this choice of title very much. But anyway, the manga opens on Amir and Karluk’s wedding. Amir is twenty whereas her husband is twelve (don’t worry there is no weird sexual content between the two). It is not the only thing that separates them. Karluk comes from a mainly sedentary village. Amir’s tribe still has a pretty nomadic way of life. Both spouses are pretty different so the first chapters of the manga follow their adaptation to each other (and to her in-laws in the case of Amir). The presence of Smith also allows the point of view of an outsider into the family.

The story then expands to other members of the family, friends, and neighbors, as well as people Smith will meet during his travels. Yet the story isn’t all over the place. We follow their lives and emotional development. And when Kaoru Mori focuses on one character she takes the time to tell their story. Even if she has to leave aside other characters for some time. But this is not a problem, as it is crystal clear she loves all her characters and will do them justice in time.

Good guy Kaoru Mori by herself.

A Bride’s Story is going to focus on every aspect of the characters’ lives. There is high drama(military attack of one family on another) but also daily life (learning how to sew, finding your vocation).

In short A Bride’s Story is a really good read. But it is not the only thing that draws you in the narrative.

Art so gorgeous it sucks you in the story:

Another strings to Kaoru Mori’s bow which help you being completely absorbed in her world is that…

…her art…

…is…

…gorgeous.

Which, considering the time we spend speaking about craftsmanship, is important. Having a visual representation worthy of the script is only doing it justice. If you don’t want to travel to central Asia to discover their handicraft after reading A Bride’s Story you are a liar, and that’s all there is to it. The characters and the details are insanely comprehensive. But we are also given amazing and dynamic action scenes.

This incredible art and interesting story combine to give us a narrative uplifting women at every turn.

An Hymn to women’s lives:

A Bride’s Story focuses, as its name clearly spells out, on brides. Sometimes young brides, sometimes bride-to-be, sometimes widows, but always women facing married life. And no it is not reductive. During the 19th century, marriage was (and still is in some cultures) one of the main events of a woman’s life. It was a literal change of family, of environment, and the real beginning of her adult life. So focusing around this event is not reductive. Quite the contrary. It reminds us that, as long as she is a good person, every woman’s life is worth telling.

Kaoru Mori spends a lot of time on women’s daily activity. Sewing of course (if the manga doesn’t give you a mighty need to start sewing you are a liar), but also cooking, taking care of the herd etc. Everything is worth the author’s attention, and ours. Do you know why? Because it is important work done with care. And this ask for our interest and respect.

Another thing which is incredibly well done in A Bride’s Story is the relationship between this women. They are supportive of each other. There is a mother-in-law ready to sacrifice herself to save her daughter-in-law. When Amir learns that she should go back to her family to marry another man because all the brides they have sent are dead (killed by their husband) she is not only crying because she is terrified. She is crying because she knew both of this girls and is devastated by their death. And the person reassuring her and saying that she is « not going anywhere » is her husband’s grandmother.

There are as many positive women relationship in there as there is stars in the sky. And not always just filial relationship. But also mentorship, friendship and emh…

I am sorry but there is no heterosexual explanation to this and yes Kaoru Mori acknowledges it in the author’s notes.

And the icing on the cake is that every single one of these women is different from the others.

No wrong way of being a woman:

Truly it is refreshing to read about women helping each other. It is even better when they are allowed to be different. Because let’s be real, often in fiction women are created to oppose each other. The “good” kind of woman opposing the “wrong” kind of women. Just look at The White Queen and The White Princess, in which motherhood is glorified and “good” women are rewarded with it whereas “bad” women, women having a “man’s” ambition, became sterile and loveless.

Well, in A Bride’s Story we have traditionally feminine women who are soft gentle and love sewing. We have unconventional women who like to hunt and ride but are still good at feminine tasks (but let’s be real Amir is an amazement in universe too) and others which are not. We also have what other media often depicts as “failing” women, but are just unsure of who they are.

Let’s be real we all want to be Amir but we are Pariya who, conveniently, wants to be Amir.

In short, Kaoru Mori is standing on her mountain screaming “They are all my daughters and I love them all!”. And trust me ,it feels good to be, as a reader, welcomed into this story.

Conclusion:

To the surprise of no one, I heartily recommend reading A Bride’s Story. As a first manga, if it is your first, it might be putting the bar a bit high for future dives into the medium. But there are worse problems to have. Just to add to all I’ve said above, we also have good and interesting siblings relationships (my passion), making this manga almost without fault. It is worth a try. It really is.


All images courtesy of Yen Press.

Continue Reading

Analysis

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus Excels Because It Knows Its History

Griffin

Published

on

By

wolfenstein 2 featured

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a phenomenal game. It has an inordinate amount to say about racism, anti semitism, the cycle of abuse, ableism, eugenics, homophobia, fat shaming, PTSD, war, violence, and just about everything else under the sun. And developer MachineGames does all of that with this wonderfully strange combination of hyper-meticulous tact, high production values, and auteur confidence. Of course, none of that would have been possible if the setting surrounding the narrative didn’t work, and holy shit does it ever.

The newest iterations of the Wolfenstein franchise take place in an alternate 1960—leading into ‘61 for the second game—where the Nazis won the war. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game framed around the “how” of the world. How did the Nazis win? How do they keep their conquered states in check? How have things changed in this reality? How do we stop them from gaining more power? How do we fight back against a near global, yet also interplanetary, regime?

Throughout the game, you come across newspaper clippings and records (The Beatles sort of still exist) that fill the gaps between 1946 and 1960. The result is a fully realized world that isn’t just a horrifying coat of paint over reality; it’s how things would have happened…with a few super-science-y liberties thrown in because why wouldn’t the Nazis a moon base or fire breathing robot dogs? And, of course, the greatest twist of all: the Nazis’ inexplicable sci-fi advancement, the whole reason they won the war, was built on the backs of stolen technology from a secret society of Jewish science wizards. There’s even a sequence where the protagonist, William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, breaks into a high security compound and finds ancient schematics written in Hebrew, which he knows how to read.

We also knew, in broad strokes, what had happened to the other parts of the world. America had surrendered completely after Manhattan was obliterated by an atomic bomb, mirroring the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nazis had yet to conquer the vast majority of Africa, as organized resistance was proving far more effective than they were willing to recognize. London was kept in line by a skyscraper-sized robot called the London Monitor, which you get to blow up.

Wolfenstein: The New Order took place almost entirely in western Europe (with a brief sojourn to the moon, of course) and exploring how the one region of the world that was, at one time, actually conquered by the Nazis, ended up being just familiar enough to what it was back then to what it became in their alternate history. It’s this foundation, this deep uprooting and deconstruction of history, that allows its sequel, The New Colossus, to head straight into the United States. We were shown what was comfortably familiar to us, so it was time to show what was uncomfortably familiar.

An America subjugated and ruled by the Nazis.

Enemy Of The State Of Affairs

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a game about “why”. Why do we fight against oppression when society around us punishes those who do? Why do we push back against systemic hatred, even when it has no bearing on us? Why does a man like William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the perfect aesthetic poster boy for Aryan supremacy, reject those who would treat him like a king?

Why has America submitted to Nazi rule? The short answer is: giant airship. The long answer? Well, that one’s not so complicated.

Relatively early in the game, you meet up with a New York City resistance cell lead by a black woman named Grace, a survivor of the Manhattan bombing. In fact, all but one of her members are black with the exception of her partner Super Spesh. Their character designs explicitly invoke imagery of the Black Panthers and the overall Black Power movement.

The first game had you run around helping the Kreisau Circle, the Berlin-based Nazi resistance group that eventually cut the head off the Nazi war machine and stopping them from developing new weapons. This cell was lead by Caroline Decker, a paraplegic veteran. But, in the opening of this game, Caroline is executed by the main antagonist, Frau Engel, leaving a gaping hole in leadership that Grace fits perfectly. Who better to represent a 1960s violent uprising of the oppressed than a black woman in America?

She even goes so far as to move into Caroline’s old cabin in their captured Super U-Boat. From the start of the narrative, Wolfenstein is showing us that America is very different from a conquered Europe. For one, the English language is being banned, hearkening back to that old adage of “If the Nazis won, we’d all be speaking German”.

The largest among the differences though is that, just as Grace says above, America never stopped fighting the Nazis. The military did, yes, and the vast majority of the white population, including a South-governed KKK, but the fact that there is a dedicated anti-gravity airship, the Ausmerzer, whose sole role is to travel the country and crush resistance factions for the past decade tells us in no uncertain terms that the hold the Nazis have over America isn’t as ironclad as they believe it to be.

Even if they are able to put on one hell of a show.

We find newspaper clippings within the game describing resistance cells crushed by the Ausmerzer, and there’s even a moment during a trip to Roswell where you’re recognized (you’re the Reich’s most wanted, after all) by a local resident who, in a terrified act of defiance, whispers that he believes in what you’re doing when just seconds prior he was selling newspaper propaganda with glee.

The cap to this, however, is the final scene of the final mission of the game where you ambush Frau Engel’s live appearance on a talk show. You sneak through the bleachers and into the rafters, noting that every single person in the audience is a cardboard cutout. The show may be being broadcasted to every living room in the world, but it stands to reason that if people aren’t going to the live show…they’re not buying into the lies.

America is being crushed under the heel of the Nazis, yes, but it has yet to be crushed. Good people are still out there in the world, but they’ve forgotten how to resist. Those who were already filled with hate jumped on board, the minority, while everyone else is either putting their head in the sand or just trying to survive.

On the other side of the table, though, is how white America perceives the Nazis. I’ve already mentioned that the KKK controls the south, but it goes a whole lot deeper than that. Slavery has been legalized once more, and auctions are the talk of the town. We find out that, in true Nazi form, they rounded up the country’s degenerates—Jews, queer folk and people of color—and either purged them or sent them off to die in New Orleans…which is now a massive ghetto, Escape from New York style.

And if you “named names”, you were rewarded with what those same people left behind. Land rights, mansions, savings; everything they owned was either seized by the state or given as a gift to those who betrayed their friends and neighbors. This is not something we discover on a broad scale; it’s personal to B.J.

He visits his childhood home after nuking Area 52 (it wasn’t aliens, just ancient Jewish Techno Wizard secrets) and finds his abusive father, Rip, waiting for him, having heard he was in the area and assumed he’d come around. Rip, as we learned from flashbacks, was physically and emotionally abusive to both his son and his wife Zofia, a Jewish Polish immigrant. That, and he was a hardcore White Supremacist, having only married Zofia because he believed her father would be a business asset. He bemoans that no one knows what it is like to suffer as he does, thinking that everyone is trying to steal everything from the White Man.

In short, he represents everything that B.J. has spent his entire adult life fighting against.

When asked what happened to his mother, Rip admits that he sold her out to the Nazis and they took her away. The confrontation ends with B.J. killing his father after he presses a shotgun to his son’s forehead, but through their entire conversation he’d been on the phone with the Nazis. He’d sold out his son, too.

That’s the state of the world in Wolfenstein, and in The New Colossus you blow it the fuck up.

Terror-Billy Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass

While the game’s marketing may have been pointing towards a parallel with the American Revolution as for how the country ousts the Nazis, I posit that the historical context is far more evocative of our 1960s.

Grace’s existence and design are already evidence of this, but it’s the rest of the resistance that makes this all the more clear. The second big group you recruit, aptly enough from the New Orleans ghetto itself, is lead by a man named Horton. He organizes a group of communists, socialists and anarchists who you’d think wouldn’t fit in with Grace and her people. These are the people that dodged the draft, even if they did push the concept of equal rights earlier than most. Horton even flat out cites their attempted push for a civil rights movement in an argument with B.J.

Of course, there’s a key difference between refusing to fight on foreign soil in a war that benefits the military industrial complex and what’s happening to them now. Horton’s group draws upon sentiment from both the end of the Great War and the counterculture movements of the 1960s.

Again, many of them were draft dodging pacifists, but that goes right out the window when it comes to Nazis. It’s one thing to refuse to fight a foreign enemy on foreign lands when victory would have only spread what you’re rebelling against. It’s quite another to sit by and accept fascism in the very country that allowed, though not always encouraged, you to believe what you saw in your heart as just.

It’s at the end of the game, however, in the ending cinematic, that this entire idea solidifies. That this historical context isn’t an accident, and the frankly unbelievable amount of homework MachineGames must have done paid off in spades. Mere moments after B.J. kills Frau Engel on live television, Grace and Horton speak directly into the cameras and ignite a violent revolution. The Kreisau Circle may be organized like a guerilla military operation, but the American people aren’t. They don’t need to be.

It’s an angry, raw, improvised and imperfect call to arms, but that’s what makes it perfect. Violent uprisings don’t start with eloquence or deep debating over the justification to fight against those who oppress you. They start with whatever you’ve got on hand. The Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots and the general counterculture protests that dominated the 60s are clear influences on Wolfenstein’s depiction of “retaking America”. Seriously, if it didn’t sink in already, they blast a heavy metal cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” over the end credits coupled with imagery of violent rioting and uprisings across the nation.

Wolfenstein does not attempt to hold a mirror to our world today, even if it does so inadvertently. It tries to make us look back, so that we remember how to keep moving forward. It’s message is clear because it knows what it’s talking about, no matter how over-the-top the presentation:

Equality is not a debate; it’s a right. Those without it won’t stop until they have it, because for them it’s literally “Fight, or Die”.  So the best thing you can do, if you’ve already got it, is to pick them up with you. And if you don’t? If you keep trying to push others down? It’s gonna get bloody, just like it always does, and chances are it won’t be them who’s dying.


Images courtesy of MachineGames

Continue Reading

Trending