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My Favorite Martians And Their Healing Arc



Buried beneath the page long Tumblr rants and angry tweets over the current ship war, one will find a small but devoted group of fans gushing over the recent Martian arc on Supergirl. I am one of those fans, if you can’t tell from my and Elizabeth’s reviews. I could talk about my Martian babies for hours, and since I happen to write for a living, I can share my love with you. So excuse me while I happily word vomit a bit about J’onn J’onzz and M’gann M’orzz, because they’re everything and this subplot is one of the most compelling stories to grace my screen in a long while.

The Martian Story

Before I dive in, let’s talk backstories and Martian history. According to show canon, Mars was home to two sentient races, the war-like, aggressive White Martians and the peaceful Green Martians. Both races are shape-shifters with remarkable psychic powers including mind reading and the ability to telepathically link to each other. Several centuries prior to the start of the show, the subterranean White Martians surfaced and set about systematically wiping out the entire Green Martian race for no reason other than bigoted hatred and a belief in White Martian superiority. They rounded up the Greens in internment camps, brutalized them, and killed them. Many were burned in ovens. If it sounds like the Holocaust, it should. I’ll come back to this later when I talk about J’onn, but the Semitic coding underscores much of this arc, so it’s worth pointing out now.

J’onn, therefore, is the sole survivor of a genocide perpetrated by the White Martians that wiped out every other member of his race. M’gann, on the other hand, is a member of the very race that killed J’onn’s. Both fled for the lives and found refuge on Earth, but on opposite sides of the conflict. He fled being a victim of the massacre; she broke ranks by refusing a kill order. And this is the context within which these two characters exist. Perfect recipe for a revenge arc, right?

Wrong. It’s not even really a redemption arc. This, my friends, is a healing arc that stubbornly defies the temptation to oversimplify or justify any of its aspects.

This is just the beginning of the feels.

Genocide and Culpability

Supergirl never shies away from describing what the White Martians did to the Greens, nor the implications for M’gann. The few flashbacks we get are enough for the audience to fill in details of just how awful the White were to the Greens. It’s genocide, pure and simple. It’s never justified or explained away, nor is it whitewashed into something less starkly horrid. Other shows might prefer to sweep similar events under the rug, but Supergirl never does. We’re never allowed to forget exactly what the Whites did and how awful it was.

Nor does M’gann escape from the personal ramifications of being a White Martian. We know little about her past prior to the day she broke ranks, but this was unlikely the first kill order she’d been given. She professes to have been placed at the worst of the internment camps.

“Prisoners penned up like animals. Barely enough space to move. Sometimes the guards would just kill someone at random. To set off a panic. And then watch as green bodies trampled over each other.”— M’gann M’orzz, 2.04 “Survivors”

Chances are, she’d been faced with other opportunities to act violently against the Greens and hadn’t balked. Her race is not known to show mercy, after all. Yet even if she herself never did anything directly against the Greens, she benefited from their brutalization. She participated in the system, even if it were as a nonviolent guard.

Survival and Shame

However tempted we, the audience, might be to exonerate her of any association with the Whites because she’s a protagonist, such a move is unwarranted by the narrative. Her centuries-old guilt tells us as much. She’s not entirely responsible, of course. She is but one member and not solely to blame for what all of her race does. But she does bear some shared responsibility, and spends centuries attempting to absolve herself. She lives as a Green to carry on their name and legacy. She fights to survive and also to remember. As long as she lives, she will not let what her race did be forgotten, even if she is the only one to feel shame and regret.

J’onn, on the other hand, struggles more intensely with his memory. He cannot forget his loss and refuses to forget his family. Until he meets Jeremiah Danvers, he lived in constant fear for his life, a refugee on the run with a target on his back and a clock in his head ticking down the time until the Whites found him. Jeremiah gives him his personhood back with his act of kindness and protection. Jeremiah’s presumed death gave J’onn an added weight of survivor’s guilt, but also a purpose. He could carry on his family’s legacy by protecting the Danvers and by trying to make National City a better place and a safer one for refugees like himself.

Yet, even after all these years J’onn still carries a burden of survivor’s guilt.

“I swore no matter what, I would protect my family. We would survive… I escaped. I survived, to my great shame. I will hear my family’s screams until the day I die.”—J’onn J’onzz, 1.11, “Strange Visitor From Another Planet”

He blames himself for not being able to save his family, and his shame is so profound he borders on suicidal during parts of S1. He’ll do anything to make his survival meaningful, even if he dies in the process. Thankfully, Supergirl is there to talk him out of it, which he then uses to reach out to M’gann.

When J’onn and M’gann first meet in 2.04 “Survivors”, they’re in a tense situation that only M’gann fully appreciates at the time. She, a White who had been living as a Green, is once again charged with killing a Green, but this time for entertainment. (And we know M’gann had chosen never to kill in the arena.) J’onn’s pointed reminder “Our choices are all we have” had to have been triggering for her, as her choices are what led her to her current life. Specifically, her choice not to kill a Green. “And now you’ll be a killer” only throws more salt in her wounds, which he rubs in by directly addressing her shame.

“You don’t fight for money. You do it because you think you deserve it. For surviving. But you don’t have to punish yourself anymore, M’gann. You’re forgiven. We both are.”—J’onn J’onzz, 2.04 “Survivors”

It’s almost a verbatim repetition of what Kara had said to him in 1.11. There is no shame in surviving. Only M’gann’s shame doesn’t mean what he thinks it does. She’s ashamed of surviving, but because she believed all the Greens dead. She punishes herself for participating in the massacre. Nevertheless, their shared sense of shame and survival, even though it stems from different sources, becomes the foundation of a tentative friendship as season 2 progresses.

Hatred and Healing

Prior to the discovery of M’gann’s true heritage, the locus of J’onn’s hatred for the Whites had been subsumed into his profound sense of guilt. As much as he hated the ones who had destroyed his family, the distance from Mars and the very real memory of his family’s death had haunted him far more. All that changes when M’gann reluctantly saves his life, and he begins to transform into a White.

Let me say first that M’gann had every reason to hesitate helping J’onn. She knows her blood will turn him into a White Martian, thereby revealing her own heritage. She also knows how much he will hate the transformation, and her for inflicting it on him. Yet, without the blood transfusion, he will die. Her choices are to condemn the last Green to death or condemn the last Green to become a White. Death or transformation. And once again, she chooses to save a life even if it means risking her own. Even if it means J’onn may not survive as the same person, she’d rather save him than kill him.

“When I needed her, when you needed her, she opened up a vein for you. She had to know that there was a chance saving you would reveal her as a White Martian. She did it anyway. She said she tried to help your kind.”—Alex Danvers, 2.10 “We Can Be Heroes”

All of J’onn’s bottled up hatred for the Whites now has an outlet. He believes she was sent there to kill him or rat him out, and refuses to believe her confession that she was the guard who released the Greens from the Galle Crater internment camp. Only her heritage matters: she’s a White, his enemy. Finally, he can avenge his family by killing her, or at the very least locking her up indefinitely. Doing the latter allows J’onn to both assuage his sense of guilt and have an escape valve for his hate without stooping to the Whites’ level by murdering M’gann.

Oh my heart. At this point in the arc, we see two hurting people carrying both their scars and still-festering wounds after centuries believing themselves alone. Neither can, as yet, see how similar they are and how they are both in need of healing. M’gann rejected her culture’s hatred of the Greens and replaced it with a healthy dose of self-hatred and shame. J’onn still carries his for the Whites and lashes out at a convenient, and docile, target. Her acceptance of death at his hands is not so different from his guilt induced self-destructive tendencies in S1.

This is where Supergirl veers hard left when other media would (and do) go right. Revenge and shame will not help the Martians, only healing. And that means facing themselves and each other.

Forgiveness and Friendship

Something more is at work in J’onn than hate. He claims to be tied to M’gann because of their shared origin on Mars, but he did not sense M’gann earlier in the season. He had no idea another Martian had been living in National City for who knows how long. This may be a honeypot to explain inconsistencies in the writing, but I think the blood transfusion bonded them and is the source of his strong awareness of and connection to her. More than that, he displays real concern for her safety when she comes under psychic attack. Just look at his face, that’s more than a desire for punishment. Even before he forgives her, he’s already started to change his opinion of her.

He resists, which is one of the most honest expressions of his situation the show could have chosen. I’ve been in a similar situation before, when I was working through my experience of abuse. I didn’t want to see my abuser as a person, much less forgive them. Forgiveness felt cheap, a way for them to excuse themselves and get off without repercussions. Hating the person who hurt me had become part of my identity, and I did not know myself without it. That’s why I felt J’onn’s reticence to see the good in her because it might lead to him forgiving her as such a visceral, truthful reaction. I saw myself in him.

It’s also why Alex’s reminder that forgiveness was something given to self, not the one who hurt you kicked me in the gut. Because it’s exactly what J’onn needed. Forgiveness wouldn’t absolve M’gann, but it would heal J’onn. You can see the truth of that afterward; J’onn’s energy is lighter, more open. Even the gesture of complimenting Winn for his work with the Guardian reveals how much his choice to forgive M’gann has settled him. He’s not ‘fixed’ but he’s taken an important step on the road of healing.

And, like M’gann on his behalf, he was willing to face painful things in order to save her. He knew the Bond would bring up traumatic memories, ones he hadn’t fully faced in a long time. Yet he willingly put himself back into the worst time of his life to help her. By doing so, his predictions come true: he sees M’gann for who she is, both her traumas and her courage. He sees the goodness in her, the personal strength required to make the choice she did to break the cycle of violence. And he sees her heart. He comes face to face with her deepest desire.

M’gann: “I wanted…”

J’onn: “Tell me.”

M’gann: “To be your friend. I couldn’t bring your people back to life, but I could make you feel less alone.”

And it breaks down the rest of his walls. Her vulnerability allows him to see her not as Other, but as Same. She is no longer his enemy.

“I’m here with you. I see you. You are my friend, M’gann M’orzz. You are forgiven.”—J’onn J’onzz

Full confession, I’m crying while writing this part because I identify with M’gann as much as I identify with J’onn. I didn’t participate in genocide, but the rest of her story feels like mine. I, too, broke the cycle of violence and abuse and lived with shame for decades. Like M’gann, I wanted to be seen, loved, and befriended. I felt so alone and was desperate to reach out to others, but didn’t always know how.

The Martian story showcases power of being seen and acknowledged as Same. Telling her she is forgiven is but the beginning of what J’onn offers her; he’s confessing that he no longer hates her, which is itself a significant gift to one who never expected it. But J’onn also gives M’gann the gift of found family and friendship, of belonging. Hate had kept them both isolated from each other, these two lonely and hurting people, and now, through forgiveness and healing, they are finding a new place with each other.

Loving Your Enemies

If this were the end, I would have been completely satisfied. But Supergirl saw fit to tug on my heartstrings even more with the most recent episode, “The Martian Chronicles”. And it isn’t just how protective of M’gann J’onn suddenly becomes, though I appreciate that too. Being willing to protect your former enemy from those that seek to hurt her is no small thing. He’s backing up his profession of friendship and forgiveness with a tangible change in behavior. He extends to her the same trust Jeremiah once gave him, which brings her into not just his circle, but the Team Super family. He’s giving her a new family she can rely on to stand by her when her old family quite literally is hunting her down to kill her.

But it’s more even than that. He can’t stop telling her how much he admires her and thinks well of her. It’s kind of Mr. Darcy-like (Pride & Prejudice) and cute to see him gushing about her. J’onn all but admits that he loves M’gann.

“You’ve become dear to me in a way no one has been since…I’ve just had this huge hole in my heart for so long I never thought, dreamed anybody would be able to fill it. When I realized that you were a White Martian, I never thought that that person would be…you. But I was wrong. Your spirit is so beautiful and brave, not that I’m able to see that, I can’t imagine my life without you.”—J’onn J’onzz, 2.11 “The Martian Chronicles”

Look at that last line. He uses almost the very same words about M’gann as Maggie does for Alex: “I can’t imagine my life without you”. Just think about that and what it means for him to say that. He has taken Kara’s words from 2.07 to heart and accepted that he has room in his life for both the memory of his family and someone new: “Having M’Gann in your life doesn’t mean losing your family. It means feeling whole again.” And for a man like J’onn, who held onto every scrap of memory of his family like a shield, this marks a huge step forward. And to say that to a White Martian no less.

No less of a step forward is M’gann’s reciprocation of his feelings. She grew up in a culture that did not prioritize tender emotions or know how to express them well. Her bond with Armek was arranged rather than stemming from love. Nevertheless, despite her fear and lack of experience with expressing her emotions, she opens her heart to him as well.

“I feel it too. I have for a while I just didn’t…know what it was. I just had one of the hardest nights of my life and I’m heading into something I probably won’t survive, but standing here with you, I feel like everything’s going to be okay. You have changed me forever.”—M’gann M’orzz, 2.11 “The Martian Chronicles”

She’s come far enough in her own journey of self acceptance and healing that not only can she accept his love and admiration of her, she can reach out in love to him in return. It’s an experience she never expected to have, much less from someone with every right to hate her and wish her dead.

Inspiration and Courage

Once again, Supergirl isn’t done with the Martians. They’ve come full circle from misunderstood commonality to hatred to friendship to love. J’onn inspired M’gann to take pride in her choice to break the cycle rather than fixate on her culture’s history of violence and her shame in being a part of it. He emboldens her to live and love, to accept herself for who she is now rather than live in fear and the past. She’s on the brink of a happy life with a man who sees her and knows her. She has a place, a family, a home. And, like any hero, she cannot rest until the rest of her kind is given the same choice.

As sad as it makes me to see her leave the show (at least for now), the scope of her journey ought not to be overshadowed by that loss. M’gann makes the difficult, and potentially deadly, choice to return to Mars and inspire others the way J’onn inspired her. When we first met her, she was living in fear, fighting to survive and allowing herself to get beaten to assuage her guilt over her past. She had broken ranks, but not fully healed.

At the end of “The Martian Chronicles” she stands tall in her choices, not fixed, but ready to extend the same offer and help to others that she was given. She chooses compassion and empathy for those who tried to kill her. She chooses to try to find the good in the rest of her race the way J’onn chose to see the good in her. J’onn’s courage in reaching out to her becomes the basis for her courage to reach out to the rest of the White Martians. This is how a cycle of healing and reconciliation begins, with one person deciding to end the violence and choose the light instead.

A Sci-Fi Story of Hope, Healing, and Love

If you can’t guess, this is my favorite subplot of the season. Scratch that, it’s my favorite plot, period. Aliens from different races overcome hatred, bigotry, and trauma to find love and a new purpose? What’s not to love? It’s a compelling science fiction drama that reaches out of the screen and punches me over and over again in my feels. It’s just so good.

These two have zero reason to change when we first meet them. Nor does their change stem from romantic attraction or a desire to gain the other’s attention (unlike some other plots on the show). No, they change because they choose to, for themselves. There is an element of helping others to their choices, no doubt. J’onn wishes to help M’gann and she wishes to help her people. That does not negate that they also want healing for its own sake.

There’s such power in their story of seeing and accepting the Other as Same. J’onn willingly helps and forgives a member of the race that massacred his own. He even loves her. I would go so far as to say he would now acknowledge her Green form as her ‘true’ form rather than her White one, though that doesn’t happen in canon. M’gann purposefully aligns herself with the Greens after rejecting the Whites’ violence. Moreover, she willingly dons the Green Martian form in front of other White Martians, including her former mate. She fights alongside J’onn as a Green, even when the White form might give her more physical power and put her on even footing with Armek. When Armek insults her and the Greens, she calls the Green skin, her skin, beautiful.

This is so important.

Which brings me to another thing I love about this: all the layers of coding that make their story even more powerful. Both of them are black-coded characters (and played by black actors, accordingly). M’gann’s expression of self-love for her skin has an added element of acknowledging the beauty of non-white skin. This rarely happens on television, especially not from the mouth of the female character herself. As both black-coded and refugees, they understand marginalization and prejudice on multiple levels. J’onn’s experience of racial holocaust is coded with Jewish overtones, and his experience as a superhero has queer coding. M’gann is also coded as an escaped survivor of domestic abuse. Both experience trauma and PTSD as well.

These layers of coding mean that multiple different groups of people can see themselves reflected in their story. It’s a hugely complex intersectionality of representation and none of the coded narratives feel shoe-horned in. This isn’t an attempt to win representation points or fill a diversity quota. Such layered representation requires planning, consulting with various groups of people, and intentionality. In other words, it doesn’t happen by accident. You have to try to tell a story this good, and it shows.

The Martians deserve much more recognition than I’ve seen them getting on social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Geeky media sites seemed to have picked up on the power of this story, but not certain subsets of the fandom. It’s a travesty, because this narrative is so powerful, raw, and honest. It doesn’t shy away from the lived experience of their situation. It asks tough questions without flinching and without avoiding or oversimplifying the process of healing and forgiveness. The show never glosses over or over or justifies the White Martians’ crimes in order to ‘redeem’ M’gann. It lets the story, and the audience, sit with the godawful truth of what she and her race did. And then proves she is different by her behavior and choices.

Every beat in the arc feels earned. Even when I want more, it isn’t because the story is lacking. Just the opposite. I want more because of how well done it is. It never relies on cheap tricks or melodramatic moments to create tension. Rather, it’s true to life. The raw emotion, Alex’s advice to J’onn, and the therapeutic beats to J’onn reliving M’gann’s memory clearly draw on someone’s lived experience. I know it felt real to mine.

It also avoids the other pitfall of becoming preachy and prescriptive, implying that theirs is the only ‘true’ way to ‘properly’ react to this situation. Supergirl never dictates how survivors ought to respond, but it does give us compelling glimpses of the beauty and power of what it looks like for people to respond with compassion, empathy, hope and healing.

This moment. They’re entering into the Bond with each other, both freely, both intentionally, for no other reason than that they love each other. Just…don’t even touch me. *crying*

And that’s why I love the Martians. You can pry my babies from my cold, dead hands, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I’ll probably come back from the dead and snatch them right back.

Images Courtesy of The CW

Bi, she/her. Gretchen is a Managing Editor for the Fandomentals. An unabashed nerdy fangirl and aspiring sci/fi and fantasy author, she has opinions about things like media, representation, and ethics in storytelling.

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Sith Inquisitor’s Journey to Freedom




Minor spoilers for the Sith Inquisitor class quest chain; minor spoilers for the Knights of the Fallen Empire/Eternal Throne DLCs

It is a great part of RPG experience, and even a greater part of RPG enjoyment, to like your character.  And by “RPG” I mean any RPG whatsoever, from LARP to tabletop to video game. Which is only natural, as you can’t really relate to the character you don’t like. And what is RPG if not relating to a character so that you can share its fictional experience?

Which, mind you, doesn’t mean that person should be likable. More like, they should be interesting. An interesting piece of shit, after all, has a much bigger chance to win over your emotions than a bland, shallow Stainless Hero. Like, when you watch The Thief and The Cobbler (the recobbled cut, of course, not that abomination), you sympathize with the first much more than the latter. What a perfect role model he is! But I digress.

When I first set out to play Star Wars: The Old Republic, I was highly unsure if I really wanted to do so. I’ve always had problems with video games in the sense that they don’t actually let you create your character. You get a not-so-wide variety of characters and must choose one to try to empathize with. This makes every game a hit-or-miss case for me: either it’s love at the first sight, or it’s “who are those people and why should I have anything to do with them.”

Sith Academy; a gloomy place, isn’t it?

Meeting the Sith Inquisitor

I confess, I made my initial character choice based on my desire to shoot lightning. I thought it would compensate for the lack of emotional involvement I expected. Luckily, I was mistaken!

The story was captivating right from the start because it had questions to ask. And those questions were directed to me, a player. It was me who had to answer them for myself. It was me who had to choose for myself. Because my course of action depended not on what were my plot goals and neither on my gameplay preferences. It depended on my opinion on certain problems.

Basically, you start in a very unprivileged position, that of a slave. An alien slave, if you really want to experience this story in its full power. You finish in a rather privileged position, that of a Dark Council member. On the surface this seems like a typical rags-to-riches story. However, the action/adventure story is only a minor part of the experience. The main part is the inner path—looking back to your past to create your own future and, more importantly, your future self.

In a nutshell, it is a story exploring how you deal with the trauma from past abuse: do you internalize the point of view of the abuser or the abused? As a survivor myself, I can only praise the way this narrative was given and framed in-game.

Dealing with the Trauma

So, you are a slave. You spend half your Prologue experiencing constant verbal and physical abuse from your sort-of teacher. He wants to get rid of you so that a free, Sith Pureblood candidate will win the golden ticket. But justice is served, and the ticket is finally yours. You are no more a slave, but a Sith—a person in the position of power above all non-Sith. What do you do now? And more importantly, how do you do it?

The game has a Light/Dark Side system in it. Before it was totally remade (broken, I’d rather say) it worked like Paragon/Renegade system in Mass Effect games: you choose one of two alternatives, you get certain amount of Side points, you become more attuned with a certain side of the Force. Or sometimes there is a neutral way, that’s neither. It doesn’t give you any points, but still is important in this storyline.

Your first encounter with Dark vs. Light presents a very typical kill the baby/save the baby dilemma: you can torture a witness to extract the criminal’s name, or you can talk to him and exchange help for information. A very easy choice, is it not? The next encounter is the one that gets under your skin.

It is with the evil mentor who wanted to kill you, who humiliated you, who was your abuser. You can scorn him now that you are free and a Sith in service of a Lord far above your former teacher’s station. You have every reason to hate this man, you have to wish to humiliate him in return. The first option is to threaten him, and while taking it would be extremely understandable, it is not a neutral option–it’s Dark Side. It is still playing along the rules of the system: might is right; you now have both, he has neither.

The Light Side option is to thank him, to break those unholy rules. You may not forget it, and you may be quite bitter later on about your early experience. You may never actually forgive him. Yet you refuse petty revenge, you refuse the power play. Because evil can’t mend or undo another evil.

I swear, something in my heart trembled when that rat of a man smiled to my character in return and thanked him. Because at last I saw the real Dark vs Light narrative, where Light begets more light–and Dark begets more dark.

Thus I understood that I really want to experience that story up to the end.

How can it be Dark Side? It’s fairly innocent… or is it?

Your Choices

While both versions of the Sith Inquisitor’s class story present him dealing with his trauma, I could never get myself to try the Dark one. It was really, really dark; the story of a person broken and driven to the edges of sanity, who would never let anyone have anything that person was once denied. I really couldn’t help pity the creature that person would eventually become. It’s not that this story is exactly bad, but I think it is somewhat toxic and too much in line with “being tortured makes you evil” narrative. Not exactly the trope that is in any way helpful for abuse survivors.

The Neutral path—what you tread if you don’t follow any consistent course of action—was less devastating on the personal level. It is more of a quest for identit-y than anything else. Your character does eventually give in to the darker side of their nature, but also eventually does something truly and genuinely good and selfless. In the end they receive the name Occulus, for being a mystery to everyone , including themselves. Because they really don’t know themselves. After all, the Sith Inquisitor is presumed to be very young; somewhere in their early twenties.

Sith Inquisitor

My own perfect cinnamon roll of an Inquisitor

I really loved the third option, the Light Side. It is a path of empathy, a path of true freedom. It is also the path most difficult both for your character and for you as a player, for it consciously sets you against certain old tropes and easy decisions.

Good Is Not Easy

Many games try to “convince” you to do right thing by making good choices less hard than bad ones. In general, this game is no exception; if you were to take the Dark route as a Jedi Knight, it would require more time and work from you than the opposite. But on this route it’s the other way around. Being a good person here is not—just as in real life—easy. It is hard.

I can’t describe Light!Sith Inquisitor as anything but a Suffering Empath. Having experienced much trauma in the past, this Sith Inquisitor struggles their best to shield others from the same trauma, even when it doesn’t benefit themselves. Even when it means direct harm to themselves.

For example, their power is based on that of the restless spirits they’ve bound to their soul. Letting those spirits go means the Sith Inquisitor goes back to the start, where they are fairly ordinary a Sith and no match for the truly mighty ones. It means a real threat to their life or, at the very least, their well-being. But because it is right, they fulfill their promise and let the spirits go and find peace.

In another instance, they encounter a racist, foul-mouthed, self-infatuated prick, and they don’t kill him. They choose this because that abominable creature is someone else’s loved person. and your own (both player’s and character’s) desire to punish him cannot be given a higher priority than someone else’s love and anxiety.

This route is hard, because it requires additional quests and lines of dialogue. It is hard, because sometimes you really want to teach someone the hard way, to vent your own (player’s) disgust and rage, to punish the bad guys. But as long as you remember the “two wrongs don’t make right” rule, you can really enjoy that story.

Well, “enjoy” is not exactly the right word, but you get it.

When they spoke of finally knowing true freedom (in being released to the Afterlife) I really cried from happyness

True Freedom

This story is about real freedom; that is, spiritual freedom.

One of the easiest paths to achieve your goals in Star Wars universe is by using Mind Trick. You simply make the other person do and think what you wish them to. It is often used as, well, an easy and harmless workaround. It is often marked as a Light Side option in the Jedi class stories (the Dark option being to fight).

But on this route it is never a offer as a good option—usually neutral, but sometimes even bad. Because, y’know, it’s about freedom. What is more abusive, after all, than to deny a person that person’s free will?

I cannot fathom an action more free of will, of an agency more openly expressed, than denying a whole system of oppression while being raised as a part of it. But the Sith Inquisitor does just that.

Every time they eschew their own in favor of someone else’s, they deny that system. Every time they refuse to acquire more power because it would others more dearly, they deny that system. Every time they choose to respect the free will of the others, even if it means problems for themselves, they deny that system.


What I really wanted to do, right from the beginning, was to thank the author.

Rebecca Harwick created a fascinating story that works perfectly for a genre that requires deep emotional connection with your character. RPG is about living other lives, those we can never experience IRL but those still having an impact on us and our life. We all know that stories matter, and I think we need more stories like that.

And it is a highly satisfying story. You really feel it by the end, that peace and glory that come with being righteous.

Personally, it helped me deal with my own trauma and helped me sort out things and realize that some options are not really an option—that giving in to the abuser’s point of view would really keep me stuck in that trauma forever.

That, while trying to be a good person is often hard, it’s worth it.

P.S.: And Then They Ruined It…

When you experience something that great, you want more of it, do you? Well, I wanted. So I went on to playing DLCs that are supposed to cover the later life of the same hero.

Sadly, the story-line there was clearly written as a continuation of the Jedi Knight’s class story, and any difference in dialogue was purely cosmetic. This actually came out bad for many classes, but the Sith Inquisitor suffers not only plot-and-logic-wise, but also thematically and, I daresay, problematically.
You see, it is generally okay if a privileged golden boy of a Jedi, who was always treated as someone special and a Chosen One, gets a lecture from those still above him about him not being special and his real role being a mere gear in a much greater machine. It serves him right and it even has some thematic significance. I am, of course, referring to the Jedi Knight—the supposed Anakin-done-right hero, the most obviously coded as male and most irritatingly problematic in and of himself.

This kind of lecture is certainly not okay when delivered by two uber-privileged guys (a Jedi Grandmaster and a Head of the Dark Council) to a former slave. They tell this slave to be nothing more than a cogwheel, that freedom is overrated and that they need to subjugate themselves to someone or something greater. They directly say, “you are weak because you fight for your freedom, become a willing slave (to the Force, but still) and you’ll be strong.”

It is problematic, isn’t it?

It really ruined the thing for me. The narrative that was centered around freedom, around acquiring it, understanding it and using it right…it was thrown away in favor of a rather lazy “we all are slaves of the Fate” plot device. And that’s only when we talk themes and not slavery per se, and the narrative completely forgetting about it.

My only solace is, it was written by another person.

Images courtesy EA Entertainment

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Will Has a Women Problem




Love him or hate him, you have to admit William Shakespeare wrote some of literature’s most iconic women. Queens such as Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, and Titania; tragic heroines like Cordelia, Juliet, and Ophelia; the outspoken self-advocates Beatrice, Katherina and Paulina. While only some of Shakespeare’s women wield legitimate, authoritative power, all of them are powerful figures on stage: women of devastating conviction, integrity, and passion At a time in history where women had few legal rights—and couldn’t legally appear on a stage—Shakespeare’s women stood as monuments to women’s potential and women’s reality.

It’s unfortunate, then, that Will, TNT’s ten-episode period drama, does its women a disservice. This is not to say that Will’s women are bad characters. On the contrary, Alice Burbage, Anne Hathaway/Shakespeare, Emilia Bassano and Apelina are powerful, bringing some of the most poignant emotional experiences to the show. Unfortunately, those performances don’t happen for the sake of their own characters’ individual growth. Frustratingly, Will’s women instead end up as tried-and-true tools shaping men’s destinies.

As Will’s love interest, Alice Burbage is the woman most affected by Will’s underlying misogyny (although she’s not the most insidious example). From her first appearance in “The Play’s the Thing,” when she leans out of her window, breasts just short of dropping out of her bodice, Alice is set up as a sexual object for Will’s attention. But it is her brilliance and dedication to the theater that draw Will to her as a lover and intellectual soulmate.

Alice is an “educated woman,” her learning much more advanced than the supposed average early modern daughter or housewife (who actually had to have a decent bit of learning in order to maintain the household, but suspension of disbelief and all that). She can read and write well enough to provide clean copies of scripts for the actors of her father’s theater, and has enough business savvy to help her family with the theater business.

Alice’s intelligence doesn’t exist for herself, though. Rather, it exists for Will. A blossoming-playwright with no experience, Will is a really terrible addition to the Theatre. He has talent with words but little else; he barely understands how theaters and theater-going works. For Will, there is only “the art,” which finally bites him in episode 3, “The Two Gentlemen.” No one will buy Will’s newest play, a complicated piece of poetry with nothing to appeal to an audience. Once he admits Alice is right and he needs her help, though, Alice gives Will access to all the plays in her father’s repertoire and then helps him hit upon the then-not-so-novel idea of stealing the overarching idea.

Once that’s in hand—with Alice guiding him in the selection and the theft—Alice helps him write.

“To him she must be like day, like night, like light. Like light.”

“Like light?”

Even when Alice is asleep, her presence is the thing that spurs Will to continue to write, his eyes fixated on her as he writes passionate speeches for Sylvia. When James discovers them in the morning, it’s Alice’s fury and insistent on its quality—quality she oversaw—that gets it performed.

Alice does the same for Henry VI pt 2. After encouraging Will to write the histories out of order, she gives Will the title for the play:

“Henry VI: The Rise of the Dauphin Menace. When I was reading the histories, I discovered the Dauphin, Charles II, joined forces with Joan of Arc.” (Episode 6)

The pair of them function like this for most of the season: Will comes to Alice with the seeds of a play, the words that are his signature, and Alice provides the necessary structure to see the play succeed and Will’s star rise. She coins the term“prequel” for Henry VI pt 2, decides on the overall plot of that same play, and, perhaps most importantly, suggests Will humanize Richard in Richard III, making his actions more horrific by highlighting the humanity still lurking in the monster. Without that crucial character change, the endgame against Topcliffe would have failed.

Alice, however, never receives recognition for her significant, life-altering contributions. Will, of course, praises her genius and recognizes that without her, his writing stagnates. But he makes no effort to inform her father, mother, brother or any of the company about her crucial contributions to the plays that have made them and him, so popular. Instead, he sits proud and preening over the work she improved, enjoying her labors and her love until he is forced to end their relationship.

This is perhaps why Alice switches intellectual loyalties—Father Southwell gives her credit. The more entwined Alice becomes in his Catholic plot, the more Southwell praises her devotion and willingness to endanger herself. Southwell, however, is no better than Will, using Alice’s brilliance, grief, and determination to further his cause. As his newest convert, Alice is best suited for smuggling messages since she is thus far unknown to any of Topcliffe’s informants; moreover, her connections to the theater, frequented by one of the Queen’s advisers, give Southwell noble connections he needs to deliver his manifesto to the Queen. Alice, then, is Southwell’s newest and best instrument in his Catholic war. She’s also the one he loses most quickly.

In the end, everyone loses Alice; her destiny finally to leave the world she loved and desired in the hands of a man she can’t stop loving. Her suffering at Topcliffe’s hands encourages the company to perform Richard III (thus altering the torturer’s destiny) and cements Will’s undying love for her—none of which she can share. Instead, Alice must go, freeing herself and Shakespeare from a love she now knows could never be and no longer wants. It is only through that pain, apparently, that Will can go on to right the greatest love story: Romeo and Juliet, where his “bright angel” will shine again.

Alice is just one woman robbed of a life or dream for men’s sake. Another, set up against Alice, is Anne Hathaway. Never one to get a fair treatment in adaptations, Anne is everything Alice isn’t: an obstacle to his art and an intellectual inferior. From her opening line, Anne is portrayed as shrewish and incapable of seeing Will’s greatness: “Who will want a play by William Shakespeare?” (“The Play’s the Thing”). Anne is incapable of seeing Will’s art, and clouds his genius with mundane concerns like the survival of his family.

Is the sarcasm evident?

Anne’s demotion to a tool of Will’s destiny is briefer than Alice’s but just as unfair because she deserves better, from both Will and Will. However, her dire situation is never taken seriously. When Anne brings Will’s children to London to visit him, and  learns about his affair with Alice, her hurt is shown as unjustified. Alice understands Will in a way Anne simply can’t; how dare Anne reject Will for something as simple as a connection with an intellectual equal?

Moreover, when Anne finally admits to Will her situation in Stratford, he cannot fully recognize or accept her pain or the fear that fuels her inability to believe in him. Living as a servant to his parents, with the threat of homelessness and beggardom, Anne physically can’t believe in his dream because a dream can’t help them now. It can’t provide them food or shelter. It can’t give them a livelihood and future. The money Will makes as a writer isn’t enough to ensure her and her children’s safety if they are forced out by his family and his father’s poor business practices. But Will sees her insistence that he take responsibility for them, that he look after them as he promised to, as manipulative and cruel.

All of this is heartbreaking because Anne loves, or at least loved, Will, and at some point, Will loved her. At the tavern, after she’s accepted by the company even after her fumbles, Anne and Will dance, smile and laugh. As they walk home and speak of the early days of their relationship, there is genuine warmth and affection in the shared memories. But domesticity chafes Will. It suffocates him in a way Anne is able to—and has to—endure, and he can no longer return the love she still extends to him. At his distress over Topcliffe’s threats against his family and Southwell’s inability to understand his situation, Anne reaches out to him,

“Yet you do not talk of your struggles with me. I am here to listen and to ease your burdens, as a wife should. If you would share with me.”

For her pains—for her labor, emotional and physical—all she gets in return is Will insistence he can’t, and won’t, share with her.

“I cannot speak of what’s inside of me. That is why I write.”

But Anne can’t read. Will’s writing—his plays, his dreams—is an impassable barrier between them, one which Will doesn’t bother to pull down and which Anne eventually accepts.

That’s Anne’s destiny: acceptance of being not even second best. “It’s not about the girl,” Anne tells him in episode 6, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” as she piles their children in a carriage bound for Stratford. Anne is Alice’s inferior, but more than that, Anne is not theater. She is not the escape, the support and the adoration Will craves and now enjoys in the London theater. Anne is just the mother of his children, a burden to his art. Although it clearly pains her to realize it, she has to step aside; her only purpose left in his life is, as she says, “to leave you free to be who you wish to be” and fade quietly into a lonely life, awaiting money and the occasional letter.

Anne’s grieved blessing and disappearance are required. No longer a figure in Will’s life or thoughts—she’s referenced not even a handful of times after her departure and is never seen again—Anne no longer obstructs his art or his destiny. With this freedom, Will is able to put his pen and his talent to bringing the Theatre up and tearing Topcliffe down with one of his most powerful plays. He can take the first steps into the fame that will follow him for centuries.

Alice and Anne’s roles as destiny-tools are specific: they shape Will, and to a lesser extent Topcliffe and Southwell, into who they are meant to be. Emilia Bassano and Apelina don’t operate in quite the same way. Although they also, indirectly, affect Will’s destiny, their characters exist as more generalized comments on the role of women in Will’s narrative world.

At her first appearance in “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Emilia Bassano seems to be a noble woman. Alice, however, breaks that illusion. She reveals that Emilia is Lord Hunsdon’s newest mistress—replacing the one from episode one—and although she was once nobility, she’s fallen on hard times. The daughter of a Venetian musician and “impoverished Moroccan royalty,” Emilia has taken up residence with Lord Hunsdon as a companion skilled in conversation and poetry.

She has absolutely no illusions about her purpose and position. “Thou art sorely misguided,” she tells Will in episode seven, “What Dreams May Come,” “None of this is mine. It belongs to Lord Hunsdon, just as I do.” Emilia is property, dressed up in the finest the Queen’s advisor and cousin can offer but with the knowledge that she is no longer her own. Emilia is a thing now, a thing as pretty as her dresses and jewelry, but expected to perform certain duties and services or suffer unspoken consequences.

Her status as high-class property affords Emilia some freedom, but nearly all of it is used to serve others, most often as facilitator. She puts Will in touch with Lord Fortuscue, whose commission for A Midsummer Night’s Dream saves the Theatre from closing. She overhears Lord Hunsdon’s conversations and then shares important details about Topcliffe’s promotion and Alice’s increasing role in Southwell’s plot with Will. But Emilia also provides what she can, especially when Will rescues Alice from Topcliffe’s clutches. She opens Lord Hunsdon’s house to them and gives them access to her own personal physician, even knowing the danger it puts her in.

As Emilia said, nothing she owns is hers. If Lord Hunsdon, cousin of the Queen cousin and–until the last episode–Topcliffe supporter, learns of her aiding and harboring Catholics plotting against him, her life could be in danger. But no one ever addresses or acknowledges this. Emilia is not important enough for fear. Convenient when she is needed, shelved when she is not, the precariousness of her situation—a situation Will brings her into with a well-written sonnet—is never given serious consideration by anyone.

Nor is Apelina’s, although she is confronted with the danger of her choices almost daily. Her situation, in many ways, mimics Emilia’s: they’re both owned, although by different classes of people. Emilia is a nobleman’s mistress, Apelina a peasant sex worker. Apelina has a nearby brother to consider while Emilia is separated from apparently all she’s ever known (but never seems bothered by that fact). However, the most important difference between these two women is that Apelina is given no identity within the narrative.

From her first appearance in “The Play’s the Thing” to her death in “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Apelina has no personal identity or discernible history apart from “motherless whore,” “dirt-some punk,” and Presto’s sister. Her name is never even mentioned in the show; it only ever appears in the ending credits, a brief half-second flash near the end of the cast list. Without an identity, Apelina occupies the lowest space for women in Will: a complete and total object, to be used, cast aside, and then briefly mourned, if she’s lucky.

She is somewhat “lucky,” in that regard. Her brother Presto is clearly devoted to her, or at least to the idea of her being free. He takes up thieving to pay for her freedom and tortures himself with every day she suffers under Doll’s thumb. Apelina shares that love, and fully verbalizes it when Doll tries to sell Presto to Topcliffe. She helps him escape and undergoes torture to keep him safe. When Presto is caught and agrees to prostitution, she tries to make it as easy as she can for him, giving him alcohol to ease the pain and offering him a compartmentalization technique that has always helped her.

None of this, though, is for her.

Everything Apelina does is as Presto’s sister; everything she does, and says, and is, is for Presto’s growth. Presto needs to suffer, needs to steal from the Theatre and then feel the intense grief and pain to move him into position for Will’s final endgame. But unlike Alice’s case, it is a private grief. No one apart from Presto and Will ever know about Apelina and her role, and even they speak of it only in passing.

In a way, it makes sense that the women in this period drama are so suppressed. Will focuses on the downside of pursuing dreams: the things lost when dreams become obsessions and are followed without any sort of consideration for the lives affected. Yet, Will never took the opportunity to explore the women’s dreams. Alice could have been shown learning that she would never inherit the Theatre and then working to change that reality. Anne could have turned her attention to a different destiny than the happy, stable marriage she once desired. Emilia could have looked for ways to restore her status, or to bring unmentioned family to her side. We could have seen Apelina dreaming of a life of freedom, a home for herself and her brother.

But Will doesn’t care about women’s dreams and women’s destinies; there are dozens of women in Will, named and unnamed alike, and none of them exceed Alice’s crucial instrumentality or Apelina’s limited use. Even Queen Elizabeth I is only referenced, never seen. Will’s world is a man’s world, and male destinies, desires, and hopes are the only ones that matter. Women—their needs, their livelihood, their lives, their bodies—are considered only so far as they work to further or hinder men’s destinies. They are tools, sharpened for use and discarded when no longer needed.

Instead of characters, they are caricatures.

Images courtesy of TNT Productions

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The Source deals with Feminism and Intersectionality





A common criticism of feminism is that, as it exists today, it tends to forget the most vulnerable of women, i.e., those that are not wealthy, white, cisgendered, able-bodied, neurotypical, or straight. The response to this has been to draw increasing attention to the principle of intersectionality, that is how one oppression interacts with and complicates others (if you are non-white, neurodivergent, and also LGBTQ+, for example). Similarly, intersectionality seeks to investigate how privilege might interact with oppression (if you are a woman but also white, or if you are a POC but also rich, etc).

Despite the fact that intersectionality has become a common tools of analysis in the social sciences, cultural productions haven’t kept up. Sure, we talk more and more about oppressed demographics, but typically one at the time. We don’t want to strain a muscle, I guess.

And it’s true that even if lately we’ve saw an increase in feminist productions, they tend to primarily cater to one, maybe two demographics (when they actually manage to be feminist at all and not just an exercise in faux-feminism, but that’s another problem). And those demographics aren’t always intersectional.

That maybe why The Source, a feminist movie focused on poor Arab women in a country who suffered colonization, strikes me as special in today’s cultural landscape.

The Source or The Women’s Source

The Source is a 2011 French movie (original title La Source des Femmes literally The Women’s Source) that presented at the Cannes Film Festival the same year. Radu Mihaileanu wrote and directed it, taking inspiration from the classical play Lysistrata and from an actual women’s revolt in Turkey.

The story follows a community of women in a tiny village, nowadays in an unnamed muslim country that used to be a colony. In this village, it is the tradition that women bring the water to their family. The source is, and has always been, at the top of a mountain.

Not exactly an easy way of doing things.

One day, one woman falls while coming down and miscarries. For Leila, who has herself miscarried under such conditions, it is too much. She organizes a strike to persuade the men to do something to bring the water directly to the village. This strike is of a special kind, though; it is a love strike. With time the strike unleashes a debate way larger than the access to water, namely, on the condition of women vis-a-vis traditions.

The movie is supposed to be a dramatic-comedy, and you will laugh yes, but way less than you might have anticipated. And, if you plan a light evening of good fun, I recommend you postpone watching this movie.

So before we move on to the themes, it’s worth summarizing the main characters:

  • Leila– clearly the main protagonist, she didn’t grow in the village but came to live there when she married. She is not completely accepted there.
  • Vieux Fusils– (literally Old Riffle), among the elders of the village, she supports Leila in her idea immediately. Married when she was a child to a violent man, now that she is a widow recognized for her wisdom.
  • Loubna/Esmeralda– teenage sister-in-law of Leila. Madly in love with a boy from another village and has decided to marry only for love. Fan of a telenovelas and therefore nicknamed Esmeralda by the other women.
  • Rachida– Leila’s mother-in-law. Hostile to Leila and her strike.
  • Sami– Leila’s husband and teacher at the local school. In favor of the strike, but maybe more in favor of a peaceful village.

There are of course a lot of other characters, in favor of or against the strike, but these are the most important to the story.

A Feminine Feminist Revolution

The way Leila and the other women decide to lead their ‘revolution’ might at first appear artificial and even a tad insulting. Is a woman’s only influence on the world through her sexuality? But the fact is that this women don’t have the choice. To have water in the village the government must pay for important construction works, and for this to happen you have to face the AdministrationTM. And the administration has a directive to do nothing if not absolutely necessary, which typically means having time, connections, money, and education.

No woman in this village has all of that. Not even the entire group of women can gather all of those things. To tell the truth, the men don’t have them either. Their lot is better than that of women, but in front of a disinterested government they are as powerless as the women are. To gain what they want, the entire village must work together.

The women don’t want to penalize the village. The want the men to realize that they are suffering for nothing, and that if they love and value them they should help them do something about the condition of the water supply.

“Your hearts are dry and thorny like this well.”

They do not reject femininity for the sake of it. But they reject thousand-year-old traditions that are outdated or were wrong to begin with. For example, going up the mountain to carry back water when running water could be installed. But as I previously said, the debate about water brings other questions, like that of the relation between men and women. The husbands think it is their right to sleep with their wife, so due to the strike, eventually practices such as marital rape and child marriage are also denounced.

There is something that grabbed my attention about The Source. In Lysistrata, one of the inspirations behind the movie, the title character (whose name literally means ‘Army Disbander’) wants to stop a war by not sleeping with men and making the other women do the same.

Yes you want to be her.

And there is this conversation in The Source:

Hussein (Leila’s father-in-law): Don’t belittle men. My grand-father and my father waged war on the colons and on our neighbors. In order to defend our tribe, our village, our family, and to defend our source of water. During those times women and children stayed at home, sheltered. A lot of us died. Men hunted (…). You realized it was never easy

Leila: They were all warriors.

Hussein: Valiant warriors of great courage (…). We never asked you to do our work in our place. It is for your protection and it is the tradition. The cycle of life. (…) But with the drought there is no more work.

Leila: And no more war.

The Source talks about changes in the society. How the men fell out of employment and how, if they could, they would follow the traditional role they were assigned but they can’t. And the answer given is that maybe it is for the best. Maybe we are best without the violence that exist in the traditional roles of men.

When men have it bad women have it worse

Now on to other subjects tackled by the movie that fit into the idea of intersectionality. Women suffer in this village because they are women, but also because the majority of the village suffers too. If girls barely go to school, boys don’t have a possibility to achieve their dreams either. Women don’t have it bad, per se, they have it worse.

The village is isolated. The climate has changed and agriculture has became impossible. The people in the village as a whole are stuck in there, without a chance to access a better life. The women in the village are stuck in homes they didn’t choose without a chance to access a better life. Worse, the little they have—food, respect, a roof above their head, their children—can be taken from them at any moment if they step out of line

And they are people who don’t want things to change. Some men abuse their wives at their will and use the bad situation to do virtually nothing with their lives. The government doesn’t want change either. It is shown as corrupt and not in any hurry to do anything to better the lives of its citizens. That’s why it doesn’t want to help this village. Because if it does listen to the demand of the women, the most fragile demographic of their country, they might have to listen to other oppressed voices.

A parenthesis on western ‘humanitarian’ tourists

The Source is nearly free of western, white characters. The only ones in it are humanitarian tourists, and oh boy is it glorious! If you are not aware there is currently a backlash against a certain type of humanitarian work. The one that is way more performative than effective and reeks of neo-colonialism. When rich young people pay to have ‘humanitarian’ trips and do to work they are untrained for (but I guess are naturally experts at through the sheer power of whiteness), in order to discover the Real Meaning of LifeTM and add a line to their CV. Just a new rebranding of the good old White Savior.

Well our westerners are those humanitarians. Well I guess they are not that bad because they bring money and don’t receive or offer life lessons. But seeing clueless Europeans watching a show made for them (to show gratitude) while the tensions of the village unfold in front of them is so nice. They can’t understand it, since they don’t speak Arabic, but long story short, The Source makes a point explaining that you can’t be the hero of people you don’t understand.

Of Hope and Love

Gloriously, the movie never becomes nihilistic. Sure, there is despair in our world. There is apathy, oppression, violence, and people who will stand for it. But it doesn’t mean that all hope in mankind must be forsaken. There is love in this world, and love conquers all.

That’s what Loubna’s story represents. Everything is possible when you believe in love, even when the object of your love is proven to be disappointing. Because as long as you believe in the idea of love you can muster the courage to move forward, and maybe find someone more worthy of your love. Like Leila did.

To truly love and be loved you must be worthy of this love, and eventually both Sami and Leila are.


It is also important to love your neighbor, as Vieux Fussil does. She might not have children of her own but she takes care of every young women in the village because they need love and support. Because to turn into the best version of yourself, you need love. Love is like water, it brings life.

And that’s what the women ultimately bring to the village: Love and Life.


The Source isn’t a perfect movie; it has its flaws. It is probably a bit too theatrical, but it is inspired by a play after all. It’s a bit Manichean too, though while not stigmatizing Islam. (The fact that the imam refuses to move against the women because he has been convinced by them is touching.) But it is important to remember that the movie is a fable. It was never intended to be a realistic social movie.

It’s a tale about women and their emancipation. It’s a tale about change and its benefits, and it’s a tale about love. It’s different, and in the end, it’s enjoyable to watch. So I would say that The Source did its job fairly well.

Images Courtesy of EuropaCorp

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