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Why Game of Thrones is a Bad Show 101

Kylie

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That’s right. HBO’s flagship program, the Emmy-winning universally hailed drama that has taken the television industry by storm for the past few years is just…bad.

No, this isn’t clickbait. No, this isn’t a piece that gives ironic reasons for our dislike of it, such as “we have to wait so long in between seasons!” When we say that Game of Thrones, by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, is bad, we mean it in the strictest sense. It is lousy, substandard entertainment by just about every single metric other than the fact that it looks really, really nice and the actors are incredibly talented.

If you’ve been around The Fandomentals before, this isn’t going to surprise you. After all, we (Julia and Kylie) have not been remotely shy in voicing our distaste for the program, nor miserly in providing reasons why we feel this way. In fact, we just spent months going back through and watching/analyzing every single plotline of the most recent season, one at a time, to unveil just how odious it is. And yes, before you (dear reader) suggest that we could just turn off our TVs if we think it’s so terrible, the thought has occurred to us. We happen to find value in deconstructing the flaws, plus we wouldn’t even bother if it wasn’t such a critical darling.

However, as we are coming up on our third season now of being quite vocal detractors, we do recognize that a lot of what we write about GoT is not quickly accessible. For instance, we make jokes about “Larry and Carol Larroling all over the place,” and it makes perfect sense to us as biting commentary. But for everyone else… yeah; it’s meaningless. Moreso, when we’re at parties and happen to let it drop that we don’t like GoT, if we’re not allowed to hide in a corner with our mumbled “we just like the books hee hee”, we’re asked to bring out reasons. Sometimes those reasons aren’t very easy to articulate, especially to casual viewers. Mostly because there’s so many at this point. Where do we even begin?

We do want to say right now: we don’t blame anyone who likes GoT and we don’t think lesser of anyone who likes GoT. We recognize that most people spend their ten hours a year looking at it and finding it pretty cool. Heck, it’s fine even for people who rewatch it—ask Kylie who her favorite James Bond is. It’s not like we can’t enjoy pieces of media that aren’t Citizen Kane.

It’s just that with GoT, people treat it like it’s…worthy. Worthy of consideration, of praise, of awards. Yet what we’ve found to be the one constant of this show is that it falls apart under the most minute amount of scrutiny. It’s true, it is the easiest show in the world to “turn off your brain and enjoy.” At the same time, there are enough “deeper” concepts introduced that it feels intellectually engaging. So, we promise we’re not here to judge, especially since it can be quite enjoyable to try and think deeply about it and fill in the (many) blanks. We’re just here to disabuse anyone of the notion that this show, as a narrative in and of itself, is quality literature.

We also need to get something else out of the way: we like A Song of Ice and Fire. A lot. We’re not even going to talk about the books here, though. We’ve argued before that they have nothing to do with each other at this point, and even though we could easily whip out fifteen thousand words on how GoT is the perfect thematic opposite of the books it’s pretending to adapt, this isn’t the place. The show falls apart on its own merits without dragging its atrocious adaptational decisions into this.

Therefore, without further ado (we know), we present you with the 9 major reasons why GoT is an objectively bad television show.

1. The Setting is So Inconsistent it’s Rendered Worthless

One of the major appeals of GoT is its rich, deep world with so much texture and backstory. The map in the credit sequence is evidence of how much Westeros serves as a draw. And even though we just said we weren’t going to talk about the books, we do have to say that the the writers used the scaffold of George R.R. Martin’s world to establish the universe for the show. However, as time has gone on, that scaffold has begun to fall apart, and it’s a hazard for any contractors to set foot on now.

What’s nice is that the details of Martin’s setting are widely accessible to GoT fans, for those who want more engagement. Want to read about the Night’s Watch in greater detail? Well, Martin’s done that work, and you’re sure to find it on the exceedingly thorough Game of Thrones Wiki. Even HBO releases promotional material that provides deeper contexts for everything, like their “History and Lore” video about Dorne, where they mentioned absolute primogeniture as a notable feature of the land… only for us to never find out about it within the show-proper.

We’re not saying every aspect of Martin’s world should make it onto the screen. Not even close. We’re just saying that there is a convenient fallback to make up for otherwise shoddy worldbuilding. Worse still, this shoddiness is two-fold.

Firstly, the actual physical settings of Westeros and Essos on the show are inconsistent because there’s no attention to detail. This is easy enough to ignore if you choose not to think about it, but we have to guess even the most casual viewer thought it was a wee bit odd when Arya warped from Braavos to the riverlands in the final few episodes of Season 6, especially since most of the other characters had barely moved in that two-episode span. Or, even better, Varys warped from Meereen to Dorne and back onto Daenerys’s ships leaving Meereen, the last magical teleportation taking place in the span of ten minutes of screentime.

The more you know about the setting and the source material, the worse this becomes, but it’s not as though it’s imperceptible to everyone else.

Similarly, the timeline makes no sense. Since there are many characters that rarely interact, their timelines are pretty independent. But, once they get together, it’s always a mess.

For instance: Jaime traveling to the riverlands and taking care of the situation at Riverrun works fine in its own time bubble. However, when you have to place it against the events that take place in King’s Landing, what we’re left with is Jaime and an entire army traversing hundreds of miles when only a few weeks (at MOST) passed for his sister. Even if we say “oh this scene happened a month before the following scene,” there’s no real excuse to have that kind of chronological hodgepodge in one episode. Also…we knew before Jaime left King’s Landing that Cersei’s trial was right around the corner. They didn’t have to have Cersei say, “In a few days, he’ll have a trial for me” back in Episode 4 and create this confusion in the first place. The word “soon” was always an option, which we feel we shouldn’t have to point out to Emmy-winning writers.

Just take one glance over those scripts, eh?

This is one plotline, in one season. Remember when the Sand Snakes waved goodbye to the ship that carried Myrcella and Jaime and Trystane, and then Season 6 opened with two of them having warped onto it? Which after hours and hours of debate, we still can’t decide where the ship even was when this happened?

We’ve been told these are nitpicks before, and like we said, they are small enough that you can usually ignore them. Not that it’s a great excuse for the writers to be blatantly sloppy and/or lazy. But we also suppose it doesn’t ruin the immersion of viewers who happen to be less familiar with the military advantages of Moat Cailin than we are.

But that brings us to the second major flaw in how this setting is written: Westeros as a society does not make any sense. This is a show that has hidden behind the excuse of “historical realism” before. And yes, we know most people understand that this isn’t historical. However, there is a “reality of the world” that is often trotted out whenever there’s upsetting material.

“That said, when we decided we were going to do that we were faced with the question: If [Sansa’s] marrying Ramsay, what would happen on her wedding night? And we made the decision to not shy away from what would realistically would happen on that wedding night with these two characters, and the reality of the situation, and the reality of this particular world.” —Bryan Cogman

We will tackle the violence against women later, but the main point is, if Cogman is using this as a defense, and in doing so suggesting that what happens isn’t by definition gratuitous since it inherently offers commentary on the setting (and therefore the story as a whole), then the writing team better be prepared to follow-through on this and create a setting that could have meaningful takeaways.

They do not. We have come to call this the “magically disappearing patriarchy.” You see, from what we can tell, the setting adapts to the needs of a given scene, especially the tonal needs of the scene.

When a scene is dramatic, and dark, and shocking, the setting adapts so that these dark and shocking moments can come to pass, be it a woman being abused, someone being murdered, etc. When a scene is funny, the inconvenient aspects of this misogynistic, fundamentally violent society somehow fade away.

Our favorite example of this came last year when Sam visited Horn Hill. His father had previously been established as a terrifying, abusive figure, and there was nothing in the episode to change that impression either. Well, with one exception: the way the women of Horn Hill behaved. Sam’s mother and sister were sassy, rather assertive, and perfectly willing to stand up to Randyll Tarly at his table to vouch for a wildling woman, who they previously thought was a sex worker. There’s so many reasons this would never happen in the books, or even in an abusive household today, but what it did was sacrifice any sense of realism or patriarchy, if we may, for women standing up for themselves.

Which yeah, we know we sound crazy saying we don’t want women standing up for themselves and defending other women, except for the fact that the shit everyone else goes through on the show only works if women are consistently disempowered in this kind of situation. The world where Sansa gets raped because that’s “what would happen” on a wedding night with Ramsay conflicts with a world where the abusive, martial Randyll Tarly is dressed down by his wife at his own table. And there’s no indication that this is abnormal behavior on her part, by the way. She walks off and Randyll comments on what a “fine woman” she is. Just a few scenes after this, Walder Frey pulls a terrified child bride onto his lap. Why is the “reality of her world” night and day compared to the empowerment at Horn Hill?

We mean… Yahhs queen, but actually how?

The big trouble with this is, of course, that there’s a space for apology for any woman who suffers. If Sam’s mother is free to stand up to a completely terrifying guy, then why couldn’t Sansa have asserted herself more to prevent that stupid marriage-for-revenge plot? How can any woman’s challenge of the patriarchy truly mean anything when the writers don’t seem to understand what the patriarchy is and how it actually affects human beings?

Don’t even get us started on the Dothraki. 

#2. Characterizations are Inconsistent

Once again, we aren’t talking about as adaptations. It’s true, these characters are so wildly different from their source material counterparts that we have an entire system of nicknames devoted to separating them in our minds, but that’s for another day.

Rather, we mean that characterizations are inconsistent against each other. Sometimes it’s just a matter of season-to-season resets. However, for some poor characters, we actually have no clue how they’re going to behave in a given scene because it’s based entirely on the needs of the plot.

Cersei is our favorite example, because she amuses us the most. For the large bulk of the show, she was portrayed as a rather reasonable woman. She had her moments of horribleness, like in “Blackwater”, and we were often times told how awful she was by everyone else around her (especially Tyrion). But from at least Season 4 onwards it’s really hard to view her actions as particularly bad. Sure, she pushed for Tyrion’s execution more than the audience would have preferred, but at the same time, there was no indication that she wasn’t sincere in her belief that he poisoned Joffrey. Additionally, Cersei’s entire plotline seemed to revolve around getting unbelievably negative feedback just for being a [somewhat] politically ambitious woman, while her son was being actively abused by Margaery, the Tyrells were twirling their mustaches at her, and she received a threatening snake-in-the-box message from Dorne that demonstrated her daughter’s life was in danger.

Really, from Season 5 on, we’ve found the marketing surrounding Cersei utterly mystifying. We keep on being told that she’s evil, and would do anything for power, and yet up until the very last episode of Season 6, that’s simply not the story on our screens. We go into this in quite some detail here, but she really just gets screwed over by every single person she tries to talk to, all while very reasonably working to protect her children from real and active threats to their persons. Despite never being taken seriously and everyone being mean to her. Cersei, ironically, was one of the most consistent characters, at least for two or three years.

Then she blew everyone up.

She blew everyone up, she wine-boarded a nun, and she smirked and drank in her Outfit of Supreme Evil™. While this was certainly seeded by the promotional materials, as well as a few clunky lines, like Tommen saying Cersei would totally have murdered Prince Trystane (what?), this wasn’t in-line with the character we had seen on our screens. At all. We understand that “Evil Queen” is an easy trope to fall back on, but there actually needs to be evil stuff happening to justify that. What, she was slightly rude to Margaery once and therefore her violent bender was the only natural conclusion?

Still, for those convinced by the marketing, or who would just view it as Cersei finally reaching her breaking point, there’s the case of Sansa. At the end of Season 4, Sansa lied to the Vale Lords and donned an Outfit of Supreme Empowerment™ (very different) because she was now a shrewd player, using her intuition and manipulative abilities to get what she wanted. In Season 5, she kept the outfit for a bit, but was suddenly a complete idiot, incapable of asking very basic questions about Littlefinger’s plan for her to marry Ramsay Bolton to…get revenge on the Boltons. Then she was stripped of all narrative agency until Theon rescued her.

Well, cue Season 6, where there was literally no way to tell how Sansa would behave in a scene. Would she be awesomely assertive? Would she be ineffectually assertive? Would she just sit in the corner fuming for no reason when we had already seen her be awesomely assertive in the exact same situation? Would she stand there and forget all the forms of courtesy? Would she be grinning in delight at violence?

Before you give us any “multi-faceted character” shit, no. Just no. If we can’t even predict what Sansa might bring to a scene, that is a failure of a character. Tell us one reason why she was able to use her voice and mention military movement in “The Door”, but in “Battle of the Bastards” was rendered mute? Give us one reason why she vacillated from telling Jon he should take the Lord’s chambers in Winterfell, to in the very next scene looking miffed that he was made king. Did she not consider that she was the Lady? Was this a problem for her? Why was she muted for a second time?

Use your words, Sansa!

And again, these are just the couple we’re focusing on. Why does Arya suddenly begin rolling her eyes around Braavos and snarking at the end of Season 6? Why does Theon spend an entire season reconnecting with the Starks and doing right by them only to fuck off for no reason? Why does Davos forget to ask a single question about Shireen after clearly spending multiple seasons loving and protecting her? Why does Jaime and Cersei’s relationship reset at the beginning of each season? Why does the High Sparrow spend two years as a shrewd political manipulator only to suddenly become a complete idiot and ignore Cersei attacking his own men just in time for her to bomb the whole sept?

Also, if anyone can come up with an adjective to describe Meera, we’d be appreciative. And no “brunette” is not enough.

#3. The Few Consistent Characters are Stagnant or Caricatures

There are a few notable exceptions to the “who are these people and how will they behave?” rule.

Tyrion, for instance, is a character that’s exceedingly consistent. He is perfect. Everyone who’s good agrees that he’s perfect. Everyone who is bad, doesn’t like him, or tells off-screen dwarf jokes. There was half a second this past season that we thought Tyrion was being challenged because the slavers still attacked Meereen, but no. They were going to anyway, and only Tyrion had the answer for how to beat them in the end.

We think it’s great that Tyrion is such an unproblematic fave, but to us, he’s the most boring and literal Mary Sue that’s ever graced our screens. The show is, in many ways, a series of bad things that happens to him, and how he overcomes them just by being awesome, or by random people being randomly wonderful to him.

Who is this man and why is he freeing slaves in this fighting pit?

It’s true; he drinks and he knows things. And that’s all one needs know about his character, because there’s sure as hell not any more depth to it.

Speaking of Sue tropes, there was a Villain Sue that was something of Benioff and Weiss’s favorite for the past couple of seasons. We speak of Ramsay Bolton, whose only defining trait was how badass he was in his evilness. We’d get scene after scene reminding us of this. Oh, thought that old lady might help Sansa? Fooled you! He flayed her. Thought Sansa had the upper hand in a dinner conversation? Fooled you! He knew just when to bring out Theon. Thought Osha might be able to stab him? Fooled you! Also, let’s spend three full minutes of screentime for him slaughtering Fat Walda and her baby.

“Ramsay is actually kind of a badass. Like Ramsay fights…yeah.” —Benioff & Weiss

There was a hint at *something* beneath the surface with his relationship to Roose. This raises the question of why they’d even try to flesh out someone who’s clearly just a rapist asshole. But it’s hard to call this attempt a success. Ramsay was awesome in his evilness, and Roose was reasonably impressed, until the scene required that he wasn’t impressed. He went from praising Ramsay fighting off Stannis to yelling at Ramsay for his mistreatment of Sansa, as if the whole marriage had been Ramsay’s idea.

Really, there was just nothing interesting about Ramsay. He was evil. We get it. He also took over our screens for an incredibly long time, and in the end, he wasn’t even hoisted by his own petard. He was screwed over by a randomly materializing army. (Unless we want to pretend that the only motivation Sansa had in fighting for her home was being raped, which is bag of worms for another day.)

Who else is consistent? Well, there’s that one plucky swordfighter who always tells bawdy jokes. Bronn! Wait no, Daario! Wait no, Sandor! In fact, Sandor has been so badly Flanderized at this point, that he’s a walking chicken joke meme. Sure, he’s consistent, but is this really a character worth sinking any effort into? There’s nothing to unpack here.

The Waif was also a consistent character. She was a violent asshole who hated Arya. For…reasons.

Sorry, forgive us for not falling in love with these guys.

4. Character Arcs are Messes at Best, but Usually Nonexistent

Our previous two points did touch on this, but one of the biggest problems is that even despite these characters’ personality flaws (that give us adequate pause), they don’t even change or evolve naturally. They can’t when their personality has either completely stagnated, or is based on plot-demands. However, it might surprise you to also learn how completely meaningless their adventures have been.

For example: remember when Jon was dead? He was dead. Died. Gone. We’d think this might have an impact on his character, but aside from moodily eating soup for a scene, it was completely impalpable. It gave him an excuse to quit the Night’s Watch (kind of), but otherwise, he just…led an army. Maybe he was supposed to be angrier or broodier than normal, though he seemed just as brooding in Season 1 to us. He swung his sword at Hardhome as well as he did at Winterfell.

He was made king too, so you’d think he did something to earn that, or grew into some kind of leadership position, but no. He just ignored all good advice and marched an incredibly smaller force face-first into an obvious trap set by Ramsay, getting everyone killed in the process (until Sansa showed up and saved his stupid ass). He didn’t earn that rescue any more than his kingship, but hey. Cue that emotionally significant music in the final scene all the same.

Aw, we remember that cello melody from back when things made sense, too!

Guys, this is the protagonist of the damn show. What was his arc? What was his arc the year before? “These xenophobes sure don’t like wildlings and aren’t very genre savvy?” We’re thrilled that he finds new ways to swing his sword every year, and that we were given an on-screen reason for Kit Harington’s haircut, but that’s not actual growth.

Arya is the other example we’d like to highlight, because never before have we experienced a training montage where nothing results from it. Imagine if at the end of Season 4, Arya had gone to the Twins and killed Walder Frey, baking his sons into pies and slitting his throat. Can you see it? Yes, because it’s as plausible for her character to have done it then, as when she did it in Season 6. We suppose her two-season vacation to Braavos allowed her to learn how to apply faces (a skill learned off-screen, of course), but she didn’t actually learn anything about herself there. Only that she didn’t want to join a stupid guild whose members’ only activity was smacking her with a stick. We didn’t need two seasons to tell us why she wouldn’t have been into that.

We have already gone through and thought deeply about each character to this extent (hint: Sam has also not had any development since Season 3!), and we encourage you to do the same, but we don’t want to belabor the point. The only character we can even think of that grew in the past two years was Olly. This isn’t a joke. He shed his idealization of Jon, and that’s more than we can say about a single other person on this roster.

#5 The Plotlines Don’t Make Any Sense

Hoo boy. This is the section that we’ve been the most apprehensive to write, because how on earth to you tell someone that the entirety of the show they’re watching is devoid of logic? And again, we don’t want to put blame on the viewers. The greatest success of GoT is giving off the appearance of a smart show. With regard to the plotlines, the writers have a way of masking contrivances and a lack of reasoning as complexity.

The best examples of these—as we fondly call them—Idiot Plots are probably in King’s Landing, especially for the past two seasons. This one in particular is where you can wave your hands and go “ohhhh, complex political machinations,” without actually thinking about how little any of it makes sense and how it all depends on characters not behaving rationally, or acting on information there was no way they could possess.

For example, early in in Season 5 Cersei summons Littlefinger “most urgently” from the North because she has to consult with him right after she first meets with the High Sparrow. These summons are of such great importance that he has to ditch Sansa with the Boltons to high-tail it down there. Before he gets there, Cersei randomly arms the Faith and suggests that they arrest Loras. Then, Littlefinger arrives and they have nothing to say to each other that relates to any of this. They talk about how sucky Lysa Arryn was, Cersei asks if her alliance with her ally who came running at her word is still intact, and Littlefinger proposes becoming Warden of the North. None of this has anything to do with the Tyrells or the Faith. He points out arming them wasn’t wise, but that’s the extent of it.

Later, Cersei gets Margaery to walk into a perjury trap set by the High Sparrow, who was a lawyer for some reason, because she knew that Margaery would lie about her brother’s sexual relations with his squire. Because apparently Littlefinger had convinced said squire (slash sex worker) to confess to having sex with Loras. We think. He at least mentioned to Olenna that he gave Cersei a “handsome young man”, and had no reason to be lying in that moment.

But here’s the thing: Cersei couldn’t have known about Olyvar or that Littlefinger had any control over him before Littlefinger arrived (and before she armed the Faith), unless she somehow already had been told about Olyvar and that she would therefore need Littlefinger to persuade him, but decided to have Loras arrested on spec anyway, because… ? How did she know that arming the Faith would lead to a perjury trap that would then save her son from his active abuse at the hands of Margaery? There’s shrewd and there’s “I read the script and knew what would happen.” Plus, this was the best plan she came up with? One that required burning the entire legal system to the ground, when she had otherwise proven herself very capable at governance (like sending Mace off to treat with the Iron Bank, which ended very well for them)?

Forgive us for the nicknames and “Handsome Young Man” shorthand. We have fun here.

Season 6 didn’t make a hell of a lot more sense. We wrote an entire essay on how fundamental the illogic was in Cersei’s actions, the High Sparrow’s actions, Margaery’s actions, Olenna’s actions, and especially Jaime’s actions—our hero who planned to revolt against the religious leader of the city without first securing the goddamned king or even checking where the rest of the kingsguard was.

In fact, we can’t even pretend that Cersei had this season-long big boom planned, because Olenna goadingly says, “You’re surrounded by enemies, thousands of them. You’re going to kill them all by yourself?” in Episode 7! Don’t make us go into the idiocy of Cersei murdering a member of the Faith when summoned to meet with the High Sparrow, only for him to summon her to meet in the final episode and be shocked when she doesn’t show up. And then he orders his key witness to go get her. Great plan.

We think it’s great that critics have at least been able to point out how the Dornish plotline makes no sense. Killing your own family to get revenge on the people who killed your own family? Brilliant! But what we’re saying is that it was completely par for the course. It’s just that Dorne didn’t have really fancy sets or Lena Headey to hide behind.

You know what else made no sense? Sansa being raped. Like, okay, Ramsay is evil and would probably rape anyone on his wedding night. But let’s talk about what we fondly call the “Sansa Marriage Strike.” Because, you see, the whole reason that Sansa was shoved into that stupid plotline was because she was trying to get revenge on the Boltons. Let’s ignore the fact that Stannis was marching towards Winterfell and expected to win, so she and Littlefinger could have just waited in the Vale to make sure that was the case, where it was safe and she was well-liked by the Vale Lords.

Sort of seemed like she wanted to anyway…

Please tell us how marrying your enemy and thereby legitimizing their claim to what should be your lands and castle is in any way an act of revenge. We’re waiting.

Littlefinger tossed out the lame “make him yours” aspect, but…what? Sansa is giving the Boltons her claim. Even if Ramsay was the nicest husband in the world to her, how does this help the Starks at all? How does this help her on a personal level? She’ll have babies with a man she “made hers” and that’s somewhat nice? A man who is from the family that KILLED HERS?

We will never get sick of talking about how illogical everything is on this show, so to spare you, we’ll direct you once again to our retrospective tag. Find out why Davos and Thorne were playing football over Jon’s corpse! Oh wait…we still don’t know!

#6 The Devil’s in the Details

As a quick point, while the macro-beats of the story make no sense, never fear: the micro-beats don’t either. There’s that consistency we’ve been craving!

We get that some of what we’re about to say are nitpicks, but the writing of GoT betrays, if nothing else, a complete lack of care. Some things have been picked up by astute fans along the way: how many Lannister necklaces are there? How does Arya know to cross off people on her list before news of their deaths could have reasonably reached her? Why did we never hear Theon’s dwarf jokes? Why did Bran choose to go back to the tower flashback after narrowly escaping the Army of the Dead and becoming the Three-Eyed Crow?

However, there’s a lot of smaller things we can point to as well, and this is across every plotline.

Let’s just stay in King’s Landing, because it never gets old for us. Why did Lancel go chase a little boy when he was tasked with bringing Cersei to the sept for her trial? Why did Qyburn tell Pycelle “sometimes before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest” when Cersei seemed to have wanted to keep Tommen alive, and therefore on the throne? (Also she’s been queen for 20 years—she’s the outside candidate?) Why did Qyburn stop Pycelle from going to the sept where he’d have blown up in the first place just to give him a special death, especially since “you do not deserve to die alone in such a cold, dark place”? Jeeze, he could have died in a warm explosion with his buddies!

Why does the king have absolutely no one guarding him? Why was the High Sparrow rushing to start Loras’s trial before the King of Westeros was there? Why was the High Sparrow holding the audience to this trial captive when they wanted to leave? How did Cersei extract Septa Unella, who had been tailing Margaery for half the season, without a single person noticing? Why was Cersei not being tailed by a septa? Why did nobody care that there was a zombified Gregor Clegane marching around with Cersei? 

Let them out! Let them out!

And this is just for one musical sequence in one episode!

Granted, we have a lot of fun with some of the sloppiness in the same way we have fun watching Mary Kate & Ashley movies, but this isn’t exactly a sign of quality media.

#7 “Shocking moments” are Really Just Unearned 180°s

“It’s easy to do things that are shocking or unexpected, but they have to grow out of characters. They have to grow out of situations. Otherwise, it’s just being shocking for being shocking.” —George R.R. Martin

Oh Game of Thrones. You twist-master! However, much like M. Night Shyamalan, the shocks that started working out fairly well have become…something else.

In the first few seasons, coincidentally when the show mostly aligned with the book series, the surprising moments made a lot of sense and felt like true twists, without any contrived-nature to them. Ned’s death is probably the finest example, because conventional storytelling would dictate that he lives. Similarly, you expect the wife and son to avenge him, making the Red Wedding doubly shocking, even if all the writing was on the wall when you go back and think about it.

Compare this to Arya poofing across the globe and murdering two men off-screen, taking over a kitchen (somewhere) and baking them into pies, and then feeding them to Walder Frey, who was randomly sitting alone in his giant feast hall during a giant party. This was certainly surprising to us. It’s impossible for it not to be surprising, because…what? How was this moment earned? We can be very fair and say it was foreshadowed because of her list, but if this means that she’s just going to apparate behind her targets and stab them, then that doesn’t exactly make it meaningful.

However, the writers seem so enamoured of shocks, or perhaps so pressured to live up to their reputation as the guys who write shocking television, that they’ll go out of their way to set up a certain situation, just so that they can pull the rug out from viewers in a 180° spin.

Our favorite example of this is with Myrcella’s death. In Episode 9 of Season 5, Ellaria Sand seemed to be very regretful and humbled in her conversation with Prince Doran after a botched attempt to kidnap (or murder?) Myrcella. Then she went on to have a really nice conversation with Jaime about “love is love”, where there is absolutely no hint of duplicity. So in the next episode, where she’s saying goodbye to Myrcella with affection and wishing her well, there’s absolutely no reason why any viewer who’s paying attention to what’s on the screen would think this isn’t sincere.

Except FOOLED YOU! Myrcella dies, and right after having a really nice, touching scene with Jaime, just to twist that knife more. Did this surprise us? Of course it did, because it was sitting in contention with what we saw on the screen. If there had been any hint of something, then okay, but unless we’re supposed to just have intuited that Ellaria is a world-class actor worthy of Indira Varma, there was no way anyone could predict this.

We kind of suspect Varma didn’t predict this either.

Shireen’s death bore some uncomfortable similarities in a tonal 180° as well. What a fun parallel between these dead girls!

Cersei’s sept explosion certainly was shocking. But to that we direct you back to point #3, because yes, it was shocking to see a reasonable and put-upon character suddenly become a mass-murderer who cared more about torturing a nun than checking on the well-being of her child who probably would have been emotionally affected by said mass-murder.

Other shocks include: Sansa being raped after her scene of assertiveness in the bathtub, Sam coming back for Gilly after reasonably saying goodbye at Horn Hill, Ellaria up and murdering Doran, Daenerys burning down a building and smirking as the flames enveloped her, Lord Umber randomly delivering Osha and Rickon to Ramsay because he liked his kinslaying, Jon being declared King in the North for his incompetence, a crossfade from the baby to Jon’s face that had no consequences in the story at all or to the character discovering it, everyone the Hound had been hanging out with dying, Drogon randomly appearing around a cliff after being too sleepy to help out his mother…

We’re getting bored from all these surprises.

8. It’s All Meaningless

Here’s the thing: there are plenty of pieces of media we love that don’t mean anything; it’s a little hard to think too deeply on the biting commentary provided by The Man with the Golden Gun (never trust a sidekick with a shapely butt?). But that doesn’t mean the entertainment value is any less real, even if it’s a tad ironic in nature at times.

However, in the case of GoT, there is a tendency by viewers and critics to think of it as meaningful. There are entire academic books about the condition of women and what the takeaway is (it’s nothing…see point #2), or how Euron is the most effective critique on Trump that we’ve seen to date. There’s also plenty of discussions of the epic *themes* surrounding the show. We even remember reading a critic gushing about Tyrion spotting that dragon in Season 5, and how meaningful it was in the context of his arc, because he had been at rock bottom. But…why is it meaningful? It was hopeful for him? It was cool to see? We know Peter Dinklage played the scene as if it affected *something*, but it takes more than swelling music for the audience to actually gain something from this.

Take the final sequence where Cersei blows up the sept. The beginning was filmed in such a way that you could tell it was meant to be deep. We got slow close-ups of everyone getting ready. Look, the stays on Margaery’s dress are being tightened…meaningful! We only see the back of Tommen’s head at first…meaningful! But like we described in #6, the entire set-up was out of nowhere and relied on one mind-numbing contrivance after the next. So how was this meaningful?

Looks nice though

We’re not saying that there isn’t a central message to GoT, because the pattern of the storytelling makes it clear that there is. It’s just one, and it’s incredibly simple: everything is bad and you should feel bad. GoT relies on a nihilism that was considered incredibly deep eighteen years ago when Fight Club came out. But at this point, and especially in this political climate where there’s nothing particularly constructive about embracing a doom-and-gloom futility, it’s hard to say it adds much to our cultural conversation.

Yes, things suck in Westeros in the books. And this is a hard setting for anyone to be having a bonny ol’ time, especially if you’re in any way marginalized. But the problem is that the narrative of GoT doesn’t provide commentary on that, or hold up a lens to the inherently hypocritical and unsustainable nature of such a world. Rather, it points to “look how dark things are” and leaves it at that, while at the same time seeming to take a perverse pleasure in punishing any viewer that cares about a person or place.

There’s multiple examples of this, enough to the point where Fandomental editor Gretchen needed to update her original piece on GoT and acedia, and we certainly don’t want to rehash everything. Rickon almost making it to Jon is a very good example of “haha you moron, did you have hope for three seconds?” But the one we find the most blatant has to be Sandor (the Hound) spending time with happy church-builders in the episode “The Broken Man”.

So innocent. So happy. We hope nothing awful happens to them.

There, Sandor met Septon Ray, who spends the entire episode telling him why he should reject violence and live a peaceful life, as well as why there’s always a second chance for those who wish to reform and push towards healing. Except no! That septon was an idealistic idiot. And he died. Along with all the unnamed Shire-folk who had done nothing but skip gaily around the maypole all episode. Sandor was proven right in his nihilistic worldview, and then went on to be such a hoot of a character, chopping people’s groins with his axe for comedic effect. We can’t make this up; there was an entire joke based around him stealing boots from a still-twitching hanged man.

This goes back to our point about 180°s, of course. The audience needs to have the rug continually tugged from under them, and it needs to be PAINFUL so we can all bask in the grand maturity of this show.

But…what does this do? Because all we’re left with is a story where it’s perfectly legitimate to root for the White Walkers. At least they don’t burn their children alive—they’ve got a great adoption program, from what we can tell.

This is furthered by the fact that there’s really no distinguishing between the actions of the good guys and the bad guys in most cases, apart from HBO’s marketing. For instance, Daenerys burns down a religious institution/entire culture’s social structure to gain followers, and she’s such a badass that we cheer for her. Cersei does the exact same thing, facing far worse odds than Daenerys had of survival we might point out, and she’s a villain. Because…she has black shoulder pads?

And while we’re at it, how is Olenna any better than Cersei, to the point where she’s able to call her “truly vile”? Remember when she murdered Joffrey, and how she’s now wanting revenge on all her enemies? Sounds kind of familiar. If this hypocrisy was called out, then we’d give credit, but it’s not!

Everything is the same on this damn show. The world sucks, and people act in violent ways to have badass moments. If not for the music and costume changes, we’d have no way of knowing how to feel about anything. Worse still, moments of empathetic connection go horribly punished (looking at you, Lady Crane), and for the most part, everyone is instantly mean to each other, especially women (looking at you, people of Braavos who ignored a bleeding girl in the middle of the streets). We get it, our protagonists—whoever we’re told they are—are up against really shitty circumstances. But this is the opposite of depth.

A wise man once said, “The battle between Good and Evil is a theme of much of fantasy. But I think the battle between Good and Evil is fought largely within the individual human heart, by the decisions that we make.” That wise man was George R.R. Martin, and the point he was making is that the important part of a narrative is not that bad things happen, but it’s that the characters have meaningful reactions to what they experience.

Really, from a Doylist perspective, there’s no point in writing a story where shitty things happen if you’re not going to do anything with that. It’s just offering up dark, grim violence for the audience to voyeuristically consume. That’s not deep; it’s pornographic.

And we’re sorry, but soaking in all this darkness…that’s a privilege. For a lot of us, we don’t need these reminders. Because:

#9 The Social Implications are Horrendous

Yup, here it is. We know that this is where we’re going to lose a lot of people. In fact, we know that there are many who would say we should keep those “social justice” arguments out of a critique. After all, the show falls apart on its own merits as an artform, and even as a coherent narrative.

We think that’s asinine. Especially for a show with such a large audience, as well as pull within the TV industry. Other writers look to GoT as the biggest success, and seek to copy its formula. Not to mention, media isn’t created or consumed in a cultural vacuum. Shows and movies create the forums in which cultural conversations happen, and to ignore the very real-world implications of those pieces of media is irresponsible.

That said, this section could be a piece in itself. In fact, Kylie wrote a series of 3 essays tackling the sexism in Season 6 alone, Zach did his best to take on ableism and homophobia with just two characters of the show as examples, we needed an entire two sections in our Meereen Season 6 retrospective to thoroughly explain the racism in both Tyrion and Daenerys’s plotlines, and we still fell short of being able to comprehensively look at the ageism, the ableism (though we tried with Hodor-gate), and utterly pervasive anti-religion aspects of the show.

We realistically can’t lay this all out here, or else no one is ever getting through this piece. If you want to take a deep dive, please click the links in the paragraph above. No, we don’t think GoT is sexist because there’s violence against women. This is something we should all be talking about more, and we praise shows that handle the topic with the sincerity and severity it deserves. GoT does not do anything close to that. Not to mention, men who happen to be victimized in this narrative are completely ignored, or treated as jokes. 

We don’t think this show is racist because people of color are marginalized in Westeros. We think it’s racist because it accidentally endorses colonialism and takes in-verse stereotypes at face-value. Ableism? PTSD is treated as an inconvenience, mental disabilities are treated as giant mysteries that need solving, and physical differences are treated as punchlines (remember when Jaime stopped a sword with his golden hand?). Homophobia is all about the straight people while Loras silently suffers, or Yara is made into a big gay stereotype (and an accidental rapist). And the brown, hypersexualized bisexual Ellaria Sand who is so violence happy that she murders an innocent straight white girl with a kiss really isn’t doing the show any favors either.

There’s always room for us to keep going. Even Season 6, which was meant to solve their “woman problem”, was full of misogynistic assumptions and molds for “empowerment.”

It’s a major problem. It’s actually about fifty problems rolled up into one, but we’re trying to be efficient here. Your entertainment doesn’t have to come with a side of racist misogyny, we promise.

And we’re not saying that anyone who doesn’t notice this pattern is a horrible person either. We’re just saying to please not silence the voices of those who have noticed it, and who don’t find it acceptable. Because really, why should it be?

So…Now What?

We know that throughout this piece, we made a lot of sweeping statements, such as “nothing makes sense.” But the thing is, we arrived at each of these points after careful and thorough contemplation. Do you know that we once loved this show? And we really, really wanted to keep liking it? With GoT, however, once the wool is pulled from your eyes, there’s no putting it back. Not only is any benefit of the doubt or suspension of disbelief gone for us, but we find it almost unthinkable that it still exists for others.

We recognize that for that reason, we’re coming from a different viewpoint. To reiterate: we don’t blame anyone for liking the show, nor do we want to necessarily discourage that. What we do want to discourage, however, is anyone acting like this show is the greatest thing since The Sopranos. Call it a ‘guilty pleasure’, fine, but we fundamentally don’t understand treating it as anything else.

We’re also confused as to why many of the critics that rave about GoT are the same critics who were counting gallons per minute on Breaking Bad, or giving the rather popular Iron Fist the tearing apart it deserves. And sure, there are critical pieces on Sansa’s rape, plus almost no one has been able to muster any enthusiasm for Dorne. We don’t want to pretend that the show is completely beyond criticism. It’s just not getting the level scrutiny it deserves by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s why we’re here, and that’s why we’ll continue to be here. We hope you join us as we continue to have our fun, while taking this show to task. Because it’s not just about Sansa’s wedding night or Ellaria stabbing Doran. It’s about the foundation of utter illogic, incoherence, inconsistency, and nihilism told on the backs of marginalized individuals.

You can find enjoyment in shows like this. Heck, even we find enjoyment in commenting on Game of Thrones. We’d just never think for a second to call it “good.”


Images courtesy of HBO

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

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Analysis

The Expanse Season Two Still Fares Well As An Adaptation

Barbara

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The Expanse has had the seventh book in the series released this month, while its third season (meant to adapt the second half of the second book) is scheduled to come out some time next year. In other words, both the authors of the source material and of the adaptation are keeping busy, making it a very current show. So allow me to continue in my attempt to assess how it fared as an adaptation.

The second season works with the second half of Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the series, and the first half of Caliban’s War, the second installment. It continued its similarity to Game of Thrones as an adaptation by diverging from the source material significantly more than in the first year it was on air. The good news, however, is that the changes are not so dramatically for the worse as is usual, and in some cases are even for the better.

Warning: the following contains spoilers for both the show and the books.

Some problems remain from season one. Chiefly, two of them. One is the scope of the world as it is depicted on the show.  The other are the universally dark and gritty visuals. Ganymede is supposed to have corridors carved in ice. Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see that? But now, just more indistinguishable black and grey.

The most significant difference between the books and the show in season two is, without a doubt, all the added drama. It’s everywhere. Every little thing that is routine in the books becomes exceedingly tense on the show. Starting with the Somnambulist, which is not taken by force – or near enough to force – in book!verse, but is simply a ship at OPA’s disposal that Holden is given by Fred. Continuing through Bobbie’s escape from her rooms in the UN compound; she simply walks away in the book and that’s it. And ending with the escape from Gynemedes, which, int he books, is not so much of an escape as simply, you know, leaving. I could keep listing other instances, but this serves as a good example of the sort of tension added for television.

Related to this is also the complete secrecy that surrounds everything on the show. The books work much better with the reality of modern technology where things are streamed immediately. Billions of people watch Eros crash into Venus live, for example, and the data available from what happens there is available to everyone. Or there is the whole thing with the zombie terminator attacking on Ganymede. On the show, it’s a huge secret Chrisjen has to exert extreme energy to ferret out. In the books, everyone knows and there is footage of the attack available. One of my favourite little moments is when Holden tries to hide his identity behind a scruffy beard as he comes to Ganymede, and you end his chapter feeling that he succeeded. Only to open Chrisjen’s chapter and find out that he really, really did not.

Secrecy adds drama, so it is understandable why the show decided to go this way. The need to keep viewers hooked is evident, too. And ending the season in a middle of a book, they needed a suitably dramatic bang to end with. So while all of these things make me roll my eyes, I do not truly blame the show for them. I feel the missed character beats much more keenly.

Captain James Holden

Holden is one character whose arc from the first half of Caliban’s War was adapted truly well. There was the inevitable added drama, as everywhere, but his essential story arc remained.

With regards to the end of Leviathan Wakes, however, the issues from season one continue, and Holden is treated as more of a boy scout by the show than he is by the book. One fantastic moment (though one that could hardly be adapted) was seeing inside Holden’s head when the Head Human Experimenter tried to convince him to join forces before Miller shot him. The reader can see, with intimate certainty, that Holden is this close to giving in when Miller pulls the trigger. We know for certain that it was done at just the right time. Yet Holden condemns Miller for it without the slightest trace of self-awareness, confident he would have resisted. It’s no doubt intentional, and it’s perfection. It should have been replaced by a similar scene suitable for the visual medium that would have conveyed the same. It wasn’t, and Holden’s character suffered for it.

On the other hand, I very much appreciate the change made to Holden’s dynamics with Naomi. In the books, when they start their romantic relationship, it turns out that not only has Naomi been in love with him for ages, so had pretty much every female on the Canterburry, because he is obviously God’s gift to womankind. It’s something to be thankful for that we don’t have to deal with that on our screens, even though I admit that the way book!Naomi handles Holden after that is exquisite.

I’m also very much in favour of the open communication that happens between them before they have sex in the books, as opposed to the “thick erotic tension” kind of deal the show went with. It would be easier to teach people about affirmative consent if there were actual examples of it in the media. There was a scene like that in the book, and guess what? It didn’t get adapted. Let’s all pretend at astonishment.

Dr. Praxidike Meng

I must admit that I was surprised when I saw he was one of the point of view characters. I neither knew nor expected it, and that in itself sums up the biggest problem with his show adaptation. He was very much pushed into the background. I understand why, I suppose – it might have been felt that there were too many new characters – but he lost a lot of his appeal when his role was cut. He is there to represent a valuable civilian point of view among all the trained soldiers and expert politicians. And his expertise adds a crucial dimension to the catastrophe of Gynamede.

Though if someone had to be cut short, I’m glad it was Dr. Meng. I understand they could hardly reduce Hodlen’s role, as much as I’d appreciate it, and both of the ladies are more interesting than Dr. Meng.

Still, I remember lamenting the sharp division between the first and second half of season 2 and pointing out that had Dr. Meng been included in some of the earlier episodes, it would have helped to make the transition more seamless. Now that I know he is one of the point of view characters, I feel this even more strongly.

Assistant Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala

I cannot quite decide whether Chrisjen is an adaptational success or failure. Because she is perfection on the show…but she is also quite different from the books. If I should compare book!Chrisjen to someone, it would probably be Miranda from Devil Wears Prada, or characters of that sort. She is not likable in any straightforward way, but at the same time, she has a charm to her that is oddly irresistible as much as you want to punch her in the fact at the same time.

Show!Chrisjen, on the other hand, is much softer on the surface, not showing her hard lines so obviously. Even when she swears, she does it with a kind of disarming smile that takes the edge off it. Book!Chrisjen is nothing but edges.

I don’t want to complain, because show!Chrisjen is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and there is nothing intrinsically better or worse about either of their characterisations. But I cannot help but wonder how far gender stereotyping played a part in making Chrisjen less obviously hard. And it becomes especially problematic when paired with her stupidity in season 2, which takes the form of that oh-so-very-feminine failing of trusting too much in her friends, or ex-friends.

I wrote out my thoughts about that elsewhere in detail.To summarise, it was a subplot that prioritized a male character over a female one, and made Chrisjen look naive. But it was also an excellently done one. So while it troubles me, I cannot with a clear conscience say I wish it didn’t happen. I just hope it won’t again.

Additionally, one change I definitely appreciated was Chrisjen not being Errinwright’s subordinate on the show. It changed the dynamic significantly, and very much for the better. It also made this whole added subplot in season two possible.

Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper

Bobbie has a similar problem as Chrisjen: she, too, is made to look markedly more stupid on the show. Only as Chrisjen is effectively a genius, she ends up being just a little incompetent. Bobbie sometimes ends up looking downright stupid.

To be fair, her character is exceedingly hard to adapt. She has that in common with Dr. Meng. While Jim and Chrisjen constantly talk to people around them and even the things that are part of their inner monologue are easy to change to a personal conversation with someone close, Bobbie doesn’t have that option. She doesn’t have anyone close to her left. For a long time, the only person she talks to at all is the chaplain, whom she just dismisses in many different ways when he tries to ‘help’. There is no way to naturally have her talk about what she thinks and feels, because being alone is an important part of her character arc. But not everything can be shown with images.

But that is not the biggest problem with her character. No, that is reserved for the mysterious decision to make Bobbie into a fanatical war-monger at the beginning. I have been complaining about lack of proper representation for Mars in the first season, and so was very happy to see Bobby in nr. 2. And it’s not like seeing her slowly change her approach when confronted with new facts was worthless. But it also made her into a very flat and irritating character for the first two thirds of the season.

It’s not like book!Bobbie goes through no character development after she sees Earth with her own eyes. It’s not like she’s not patriotic or proud to be a marine. But she can be all this and still retain some nuance, and some brain cells. The showrunners seem to have forgotten that. Bobbie on the show frequently comes off as a brat, something her book self never does.

There are other characters worth a mention, naturally. Fred Johnson is probably the most significant. His role was changed significantly as well, and much more tension withing the OPA was included. It adds to the problematic depiction of OPA as uncultured and wild space terrorists, but on the other hand it’s masterfully done. One can understand the sources of tension and where the different branches and wings are coming from. Much like with Errinwright, here again one is willing to forgive the problematic nature of the added material for a large part, because it forms such excellent additions.

In the end, the only thing I truly blame the second season for is the assassination of Bobbie’s character. While changes to Chrisjen upset me, they were compensated for by the excellent quality of Errinwright’s subplot. Yes, it is telling that the two female protagonists were undercut by the adaptation, making them look less smart than they are in the source material. But Chrisjen still comes out of it pretty impressive. The changes to Bobbie, on the other hand, are much more destructive, and they held no compensation, no hidden bonus. She is simply depicted as unlikable, to such an extent that even when we finally get legitimate reasons for sympathy, it’s long in coming.

Season 3 should fix that, and fast. Hopefully, Bobbie is here to stay. She shouldn’t have to carry the weird season 2 baggage with her throughout the show.


Images courtesy of SyFy

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Analysis

The Legend Of Korra Is A Perfect Deconstruction Of Superman

Griffin

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Superman is arguably the single most recognized fictional character in human history. He’s right up there with Batman and Mickey Mouse. His ‘S’ is, at times, even more widely known. “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We know that these phrases are attributed to Superman, even if we don’t know the specific origin or, in most cases, how in the world we even learned them in the first place.

For 80 years, Superman has served as a beacon of hope and change for anyone and everyone. His origin, that of the immigrant whose home and culture were lost the day of his birth (an identity he can never fully regain), is a tragic yet resonant one that has, and will continue to, stand the test of time. Even if it has been re-appropriated into that of a pseudo-messianic myth, the immovable Jewish foundation of Superman’s internal struggle between assimilation (Clark Kent) and refusing to do so (Kal-El) isn’t something anyone has any intention of erasing.

Superman is the bedrock on which all modern heroes are based. Every divergence and every variation, no matter how big or how small, starts with Superman. He is the source, so, naturally, that means he’s the most prone to deconstruction and revisionism.

There have been so many attempts to deconstruct Superman as a concept, as well as his character, that it’s become almost a cliche to even consider it. Nearly every run at it ends in failure, most often due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what Superman even is. What he means, why he is who he is, etc. Off the top of my head, I can name two stories that actually succeed in deconstruction, as they have something worth saying: Superman: American Alien and Superman: Red Son. Wait, no, three examples.

The Legend of Korra. And it does it in a way that is embarrassingly similar to what Zack Snyder’s vision of Superman failed to be.

Xenophobia, A Modern Take

The narrative of Superman is one that is eternally relevant. Immigration as part of the American Dream, let alone an aspect of the nation’s entire identity (“Give us your poor, your wounded, your huddled masses…), has always been a hot button issue. In the new millennium, however, with the onset of the age of instant communication and social media, as well as the events of 9/11, it has ballooned into a political issue based almost entirely on fear. Fear of the “other”, to put it simply. And who is more “other” than Superman himself? He looks like us, and talks like us, but if you’re you and Superman just showed up one day in the real world…you’d have no idea where he came from and what his intentions are.

The only thing you, and everyone else, would know is that he’s different, and possesses abilities that effectively make him a living God. And that is terrifying. Even if the first thing he does is save a plane from falling out of the sky, he’s still going to be looked at with suspicion and fear. At any moment, he could decide to burn the world to the ground. And that’s exactly how Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice treats Superman.

Something to fear, because he isn’t like us. Because he’s too powerful. Because nobody asked for his help, no matter how altruistic his intentions may appear to be on the surface.

It’s a fantastic opening premise for a deconstruction of Superman, as it makes it necessary for him to prove he’s on our side. To do so much good in a world that resents him out of instinctual fear drilled into their heads by the era that they’re eventually forced to give him the benefit of the doubt. That, as far as the public is concerned, it isn’t any more complicated than a man who is just trying to do the right thing. Except that never happened in those movies.

We never saw Superman be Superman. We saw him save people, yes. We saw him do the thankless job. We saw the world resent him. But we never saw him inspire. We never saw him do anything to make us want to trust him at all. To challenge our preconceived notions of who Superman is.

Until General Zod and company arrived, he only operated in secret, using his powers when it was convenient for him. And even when he was forced to face Zod, he brought untold destruction and and collateral damage to his adopted world…completely invalidating the point of the post 9/11 narrative in the first place. How can the world trust a man who destroys the very city he is trying to protect? They don’t need or want Superman, especially since the only reason Zod attacked at all was because he had been “hiding” on Earth.

When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice rolled around, Superman is stuck in an inconsistent guilt spiral from the destruction of Metropolis. Except he doesn’t actually do anything to address that, and the movie doesn’t really either. The first thing Superman does is intervene in a fictional African nation to take down a warlord for the sole purpose of saving Lois Lane. Which, if the film wanted take the very-often-overlooked implications of Superman being an American icon, thus leading to him acting as a sort of unintentional symbol for American interventionism, would have been extremely interesting. Except it doesn’t do that either. Superman is there because he wants to save Lois, and that’s it.

Batman acts as a sort of audience surrogate for the fear that Superman inflicted on the world during his battle with Zod, which might have worked had that gone anywhere aside from Batman trying to kill Superman. He never tries to talk to him or understand him; not even after the infamous Martha scene. If he’s supposed to represent our combined terror of what Superman could be capable of, we should probably be able to agree with his rationale (or even understand it) for not stabbing the man who he saw as a monster two seconds ago in the face.

And then Superman dies, only to return in Justice League to a world that, for reasons that aren’t in evidence and also directly contradict everything that came before it, loves and adores him. A world that was on the verge of eating itself because of his death, despite no one wanting or needing him in every other instance.

None of it is earned. None of it really makes any sense, and the whole production, over multiple films, is only half of what is necessary to convey the narrative Zack Snyder clearly tried to tell.

Avatar Korra, Sequence Breaker

As Kylie so eloquently laid out last week, The Legend of Korra is one hell of a transgressive narrative due mostly in part to its titular protagonist. Korra is brash, overeager, and immeasurably powerful. Her series arc is one of self discovery and self acceptance in a world that actively rejects her existence every chance it gets. She wants to be, essentially, Superman, in a world that has no need nor desire for one. The similarities don’t stop there.

She holds ultimate, untold power and uses it with reckless abandon at the start of the series. In her first few hours in Republic City, she undertakes vigilante justice and violently destroys several storefronts. Because that’s the kind of person she is.

People don’t trust her the moment she announces herself, they wonder why they need her, even though previous incarnations of her have almost always been treated like spiritual leaders and authorities. No matter how many times she saves the world, people still hate her. They are suspicious and cynical of the stranger, since she is inherently an outsider due to her birthright and connection to a world (the Spirit World) few can even comprehend or understand.

This set-up is supposed to make us question and consider what being the Avatar actually means when the assumed role is no longer relevant or necessary. What can Korra reasonably do when the geopolitical climate isn’t as simple as “stop evil”? When every action she takes is looked at with intense scrutiny from a far more connected public. That is to say, the show asked us to consider Korra in relation to her previous incarnations to explicate the disparity just as Snyder’s Superman did by contrasting him the with the multitude of other versions of Superman across every form of media imaginable.

Zack Snyder’s Superman begins his journey in much the same place Korra did. He has powers he doesn’t know how to control, and hides them until the world is ready, just as the White Lotus hid Korra. Of course, this is where the deconstruction of Superman falls apart: it doesn’t actually go anywhere. He starts where Korra starts, and doesn’t progress at all. He does the thankless job, sure, but he doesn’t learn from any of his choices or mistakes. He intervenes without thinking about it, and chooses to brood instead of facing his issues and trauma.

At the end of Man of Steel, Clark faces off against General Zod and causes devastating damage to Metropolis. Zod has the same abilities as Superman, as they are both Kryptonian, meaning that he’s basically supposed to serve as an evil mirror. This is far from dissimilar to the finale of Book 2, where Korra fights Unalaq after he becomes the Dark Avatar and starts destroying Republic City. She even kills him in the end, as there was no other way to save the world.

Even Superman’s death at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — as well as his subsequent resurrection in Justice League — is paralleled and unintentionally blown out of the water. Korra did something very similar with the end of Book 3, sacrificing herself at the hands of the Red Lotus to save the Airbenders. Though she is not killed, she vanishes from the public eye as she heals…just as the world enters a state of actually, truly needing her intervention with the chaos spreading throughout the Earth Kingdom like wildfire.

Superman and Korra are both on isolating journeys of self discovery. Korra’s takes place before and during the final season where she learns to cope with her PTSD, and how to better approach her role even though it is so undefined and volatile. She can be the kind of person she wants to be without constantly fighting for relevance, and even if the world resists her she can pick and choose her battles.

Korra learns how to be happy as Korra, rather than her title and all of the baggage she had stripped from her in the finale of Book 2. Previous Avatar cycles (much like previous incarnations of Superman) operated in a traditional way, but that’s not how the world works anymore and that’s okay! She can still find happiness and purpose in whatever she chooses to do, even if it’s not what her childhood self believed it would become due to the White Lotus jamming that into her head. Not unlike Jor-El did to Superman in Man of Steel.

Superman’s journey takes a confusing amount of years throughout Man of Steel, given that he wanders the world as a bum with a depression beard. The entire sequence doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, since he discovers who he is from the Fortress of Solitude. He doesn’t learn anything about himself as an outsider living in a foreign land, nor does he have a wound that requires isolation and introspection to heal or understand. This is the kind of thing that would have made more sense to happen after killing Zod.

But since it doesn’t, we’re left with an angry, brooding Superman with no redeeming qualities or justification to treat him as Superman. He’s just a superhuman guy in a cape who does things that are kinda nice sometimes.

Korra, meanwhile, justifies her own existence and acts as the hero people grew to mostly tolerate, and occasionally love. She gave them every reason to trust her, and a good amount of people do by the end of the series. Unlike Snyder’s Superman, it was something she earned by deconstructing her own legacy.


Images courtesy of DC Comics and Nickelodeon

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Analysis

Why You Need To Be More Excited About Bisexual Rosa Diaz

Dan

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Television has been a mixed bag for bisexuals. Even as gay and lesbian representation become more and more common (though not as fast as it should), characters within other parts of the acronym are few and far between. For bisexuals, who often suffer from confusion not just without but within the LGBT community, proper, outright representation means quite a lot. Not hints, not little flirts after a female character breaks up with her boyfriend. And especially not characters that just hook up with the same gender as fanservice. We want characters who can say “I’m bisexual.” We’ve been lucky to have characters like Sarah Lance or Daryl Whitefeather in recent years, but as a whole, television seems reluctant to acknowledge bisexuality.

But we finally have another name for that criminally short list: Detective Rosa Diaz of Fox’s Brooklyn 99. And not only is she bisexual, but she’s also a bisexual Latina woman played by a bisexual Latina woman. Let me say that one more time to help it sink in. We have, on a major network, a Latina woman coming out as bisexual who is played by a Latina bisexual woman.

Brooklyn 99 has been a success since day one thanks to its character, heart, and style of comedy that refuses to punch down. It has also become well known for its handling of social issues, best represented by the character of Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher); a black, gay man whose sexuality is merely a part of his character, not his entire identity. The handling of Holt, who stands out in a sea of shallow stereotypes and tokenism, has led the show’s fans to hope another character to come out as a member of the LGBT community. When it turned out that it was Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) would be coming out as bi in the show’s ninety-ninth episode, appropriately titled “99,” the people rejoiced.

The episode itself did a good job of keeping her coming out low key. She only comes out to her friend, Detective Boyle, and only after he’d spent the episode bugging her about her new paramour. Interestingly, the show played with ideas of heteronormativity as Boyle pesters her about who “he” is, about her “boyfriend.” Rosa’s frustration seems not to be with Boyle’s prodding into her well guarded personal life (though that is part of it), but instead with his assumption that she was only dating a man. This episode restrains the result of this coming out to Boyle and Rosa bonding, letting the coming out stand alone. It is in this week’s follow up episode, “Game Night,” where the show’s dedication to Rosa and her coming out becomes more obvious.

The conflict in this episode, for Rosa, is in coming out to her parents and co-workers. Rather than let it just be played off as something she can sweat like so many other things, it instead very realistically captures the fears an LGBT+ child, particularly an adult one, might face when coming out.

Rosa’s first act is to come out to her co-workers during a meeting. She uses the term “bisexual,” and allows “one minute and zero questions” of seconds. We learn that she, like many other lovers of the same sex, discovered her sexuality while taking in media, in Rosa’s case Saved By The Bell. The show makes a conscious decision here not to make it some “phase” or something she’s just now discovering. Rosa Diaz has been bi since she was in 7th grade. She has been bi for all five seasons of the show.

Coming out to her parents has an entirely different set of emotions. Rosa fears that her coming out will change something with them, that somehow they won’t love her or they won’t want to be around her (Of course, in Rosa’s usual fashion, their bonding time consists of silent dinners). With Jake’s help (who gives an impassioned and curiously personal coming out speech to Rosa to help prepare her for her parents), she makes an attempt over dinner. Here, Rosa’s fear rapidly turns to anger when she learns that her parents were worried she was going to come out at dinner and were relieved that she was, thanks to a misunderstanding with Jake, just a mistress. The show pulls no punches here, capturing not just how angry she is at her parents’ ignorance but also heartbreak at being burned due to her vulnerability. In true sitcom fashion, this conflict wraps up cleanly by the end of the half hour. But the power and authenticity of it remain.

Stephanie Beatriz, herself a bisexual woman, has not been quiet in her desire for Rosa to reflect her own sexuality and has been effusive in her support of the storyline. She’s worked hard to make sure that the story reflects the bisexual experience, and has personally validated many fans in their own journeys. She does all this while still portraying Rosa as the stone-cold bad ass she’s always been. The emotions we see in Rosa as she comes out are real, they are powerful, and they are beautiful. But they are all 100% still Rosa’s.

As a final and personal note, this is a huge moment for me as a bisexual man being able to see the representation of some of my experiences on the screen. But I can only capture a small part of why this matters. I can’t even fathom how much this matters to bisexual women, let alone our POC brothers and sisters who are even less represented. Rosa Diaz’s coming out is their story as much as it is anyone’s, and I hope that I was able to capture a small measure of the joy this news has caused. 


Images courtesy of FOX

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