Okay, so I know I’ve said in the past that season 3 was my favorite. And I can absolutely see why I remembered it that way, because this was the season where I jumped into the fandom headfirst. This was the season where Brittana shared their first kiss. It was also the season that gave us the Troubletones. No matter how absurdly problematic her storyline was, I will always have a soft spot in the corner of my blackened, cynical little grinch heart for punk!Quinn and the personal journey she goes through this season.
For me, a lesbian desperately looking for validation via a reflection of herself in the media, Glee season 3 was a goldmine of content that I had been so sorely deprived of in mainstream culture. It’s not that Glee is the first piece of validating media I’d ever seen in my life, not by far. If it was even a tiny bit gay, you bet your bottom I had watched it. But Glee was one of the first mainstream shows to be overtly gay, and on top of that it wasn’t just The Gays that watched it. Everyone watched Glee. Probably a fourth of my classmates watched Glee. My middle aged boss watched Glee. My freaking parents watched Glee (and I’ll come back to that detail later.) It’s really difficult to impart how big of a cultural phenomenon it was if you didn’t live through it or participate in it.
But a few key things had begun to change for the weird little show choir show that could. The first was that with larger audiences and the success of the iTunes tie-in sales, the show was under a lot of pressure to fit round-pegged songs into square-pegged story holes. While I can say that it worked reasonably well about 75% of the time, occasionally you would get some weirdness like Blaine and his brother singing a breakup song to each other.
I know that context matters, Glee, but that doesn’t make it any less weird that you went there.
With the increased pressure to churn out iTunes singles also came an increase in the number of songs per episode, which meant that the writing had to bend over backwards to tell a story in the spaces between the Top 40 hits. The show already strained a little in season 2 to mold its plot around the musical numbers, but in season 3 things got even rougher around the edges. There is still a (mostly) coherent plot here, and one that is filled to the brim with exactly the kind of ridiculous drama that we’d come to expect from Glee. But season 3 is the first time when the narrative starts to get really wobbly. It didn’t help one bit that the narrative took nosedives into problematic territory for the sake of drama.
If I broke down every single problematic story decision made this season, we’d be here all day. I don’t have the time to go through this television show episode by episode. Let me live. But I can give you a short list. There’s Quinn Fabray’s early season descent into madness that involved attempting to get Beth (her biological daughter) taken away from her adoptive mother Shelby and Shelby and Puck’s amazingly gross, inappropriate, and unnecessary affair. Then you have everything that has to do with Will Shuester’s weirdly codependent relationship with the Glee kids. Not to mention whatever they were going for with Rory the Irish Exchange Student’s plot, doubling down on the Asian stereotypes with Tina and Mike at every turn, the aftermath of Santana’s outing, and anything that had to do with Unique.
Yes, that is the short list.
So why was it my favorite season? Well, a lot of it begins and ends with the canonization of Brittana and the story arc of my favorite lesbian, Santana Lopez. Like the rest of the season, her arc was defined by some impossibly high highs and some embarrassingly low lows. But there was a reason I loved it, despite how deeply flawed it is, and I believe that deserves to be unpacked in detail.
Let’s start with her outing. It’s no secret that fans were angry about how Santana’s outing was handled. Hell, we’re still angry about it five years later. The short version is that in retaliation for yet another one of Santana’s legendary drag sessions, Finn comes back at her by literally shouting, “Hey Santana! Why don’t you just come out of the closet?” in the middle of a crowded hallway during a passing period.
Finn continues to come after her about this, even as she is walking away, saying that the reason she’s so mean to everyone is because she’s constantly tearing herself down. He says she’s afraid to admit that she’s in love with Brittany and that Brittany might not love her back. He tops it off by calling Santana a coward. If you’re making a ‘yikes’ face at your screen right now, me too buddy. Even just writing about it makes me cringe. Sidenote, the fact that he outed Brittany too is not ever really addressed. Swing and a miss there, Glee. Though it’s one of many, so it often gets lost in the crowd.
Back to Santana. There are dozens of students walking around in the background and lingering nearby who hear the entire conversation. One of these students passes this information onto a political candidate running against Sue Sylvester in a local election. The end result is that this political candidate puts Santana in a smear ad for Sue, explicitly naming Santana as a lesbian. The ad implies that this is due to Sue’s influence and/or responsibility, effectively outing Santana to the entire voting district (even more yikes).
Will and Sue notify Santana, and Sue explicitly apologizes, citing her scorched earth political techniques as the root cause of the awful turn of events. While this is objectively true in one aspect, the real reason it happened was because Finn Hudson didn’t stop to think for a second that maybe, possibly, there was a reason that Santana was afraid to come out. He made the choice for her because his feelings were hurt and he knew this was the only way to get back at her. If you are viewing this turn of events from a perspective other than one that mirrors Santana’s, it’s possible to have a little sympathy for Finn lashing out in hurt and anger. But I don’t have that perspective, so you’ll only get spitfire and brimstone from me.
Devastated, Santana runs crying out of the office. She hasn’t even had the chance to talk to her parents yet but now the whole county knows. But of course this is Glee, and the show must always go on, no matter what else is happening in your life. And the show that happens is arguably the best song in the entire series’ run:
After the musical number, Finn is whispering to a classmate, and Santana has an understandably inflammatory reaction to it when she assumes he’s whispering about her. She then slaps him across the face so hard it’s hard to say if that was a stage slap or not. I gotta be honest, that impact felt real. Or maybe I just wanted it to be.
Santana is then pulled into the principal’s office for slapping him. Because apparently McKinley has a zero tolerance policy for physical violence that only counts when it’s a lesbian rightfully smacking the shit out of the boy who outed her to the greater Lima area code. Finn falls on the sword for her, and then…. I’m really going to need to pull back from giving a play-by-play at this point, because my vision starts to get a little blurry from rage when I think too much about what happens next. All you need to know is that the episode where her outing is ‘resolved’ by the Glee club is called “I Kissed A Girl”. It’s every bit the disaster you’re thinking it is based on the title.
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m defending this show. The answer is… well, partly because it’s a product of its time. As I’ve said in the previous two retrospectives, this was how the show humanized queer stories to a straight audience. I also mentioned that my parents watched Glee, and I was there when they watched this episode. Up until this point, the fact that I was a lesbian was deeply controversial in my family, but in a ‘below the surface’ kind of way. We never talked about it unless it was literally in my parents’ faces, and I was fully aware of how uncomfortable it made them. They didn’t understand what I had gone through. After this episode aired, my mother asked me, “Is that what happened to you?”
This was the first time she had made an effort to know this part of my life. To this day, it’s something I seldom talk about. Because while it didn’t happen exactly like it happened to Santana, it was in that ballpark. The important thing is that Glee was the thing that opened up that dialogue, no matter how hard it was (and still is) to talk about. My mother would never admit it, but watching Brittany and Santana was how she familiarized herself with my life experience. I don’t believe that would have happened without Glee. These were topics that she was unable to approach me with personally, for various reasons of her own, but she was able to learn another way. To me, this is the show’s legacy.
The slow pace at which the rest of Brittany and Santana’s relationship plays out across the season was kind of painful for queer women to watch though. We desperately wanted positive payoff. Every week we were there, waiting for The Kiss. When it finally did happen, it was like the entire internet exploded in celebration because it meant that all of the bad stuff wasn’t there for nothing. Yes, it’s awful that we as queer people had to be subjected to our struggles being repackaged to a straight audience as dramatic tension. But at least it’s possible to say that the ends justified the means.
This is what I mean when I say that queer media cannot be divorced from its historical context. Viewed on its own, without keeping in mind the culture at the time, all of this is just relentlessly awful. But when you consider the impact Brittana had, and the impact it continued to have going forward, this is why we can’t necessarily lock Glee in the Problematic Queer Media Vault and throw away the key. We need to remember not only that it happened, but why it needed to happen. In order to have this:
We needed to have everything that came before it.
Now, that being said, certain growing pains are significantly harder to defend. Up until season 3, Glee mostly dealt with just the first three letters in the LGBTQIA acronym. Season 3 is the first time the show started dipping its toes into the T part of the acronym. And boy did it stumble out of the gate.
I will be the first to admit that transphobia has been, and still is in many ways, a humongous blindspot on my LGBTQIA radar. The obvious reason for this is that I am not trans. It’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve become aware of these issues, and that they’ve become salient enough that I consistently notice them without someone else directing my attention to them. I fully acknowledge this blindspot. I do my best to correct it whenever I can, because intersectionality within the LGBTQIA community is incredibly important. What happens to some of us will have an effect on all of us, whether the effects are immediately apparent or not.
Going into my rewatch of season 3, I had my memories of Brittana and Faberry and precious little else. I knew I was going into this season with rose-colored glasses. Both because of everything that happened in 2016 and because of how I watched the season back when it first aired. I was so involved with Brittana and Faberry, I was more than happy to flat out ignore a lot of the larger problems with the season. I was fully expecting to encounter things I had either glossed over or didn’t remember at all. Especially when it came to the legendarily transphobic jokes that peppered the end of the season. What I wasn’t expecting was the sheer volume of them.
When the first few jokes floated by, my instinct was to fall back on the excuse that Glee is the epitome of the phrase “a product of its time.” But they just kept coming. And coming. To the point that I can’t really recommend certain episodes at all to certain viewers. The things they say are just so awful that even in the context of its time, and the improvements the show made later on (seasons 4-6), it’s just…not good, you guys. And a big part of that rationale comes not just from the jokes themselves, but the fact that it is painfully obvious that the show didn’t think what it was saying was all that wrong.
I’ll be the first to admit that how a joke is framed is just as important as the joke itself, especially when we’re talking about media created by members of the community. While many of the worst jokes come from Sue Sylvester’s mouth, they aren’t being framed as problematic per se. The show clearly wants you to laugh at them. These jokes were still acceptable in 2012. And that date is a lot closer to today than a lot of us are comfortable thinking about.
It makes me uncomfortable, because it’s yet another harsh reminder of how recent much of the intersectionality discourse is, even within LGBTQIA media. But it’s the good kind of uncomfortable; the kind that means something is shining a bright, piercing spotlight on your privilege. If it makes you squirm now and it didn’t then, good. That means you’ve learned something.
This brings up a specific issue that the LGBTQIA community has with most, if not all, of its historical media: if a show did some things very right, but other things horrifically wrong, is it still worth watching? At what point do we draw the line between “problematic yet educational product of its time,” and “outright harmful content that is best left summarized by others but not to be consumed yourself?”
The answer is, unfortunately, painfully subjective. With Glee, it varies drastically from season to season. I can say with a reasonably straight face that season 1 and 2 are worth watching from start to finish, problematic elements and all. I personally feel that the places where the show misses are few and far enough between that it doesn’t significantly diminish the larger cultural and historical importance of the content as a piece of queer media. With season 3, the answer gets a lot muddier, because there’s a much sharper contrast between the good and the bad.
When it came to portraying a mlm and a wlw relationship on television, Glee more-or-less hit the ground running on the right side of history. It wasn’t perfect, but the show clearly had a message it wanted to send, and that message was “being gay is okay.” For all its wobbles and missteps, its heart was always in the right place. How they handled Unique in season 3, well, it’s flat out awful. It doesn’t reflect well on those who wrote it, even less so when you consider how much times have changed in just five years.
I still personally find value in rewatching season 3 of Glee, despite the hefty amount of problematic and hurtful content. Mostly because of how the season can be viewed in the context of the entire series, and not just in isolation. There is no better case study for queer cultural shifts in the 2010’s, especially because it’s a show made by our own community. But we also need things like season 3 of Glee to remind us that even we are not above believing and perpetuating harmful and bigoted ideas despite being part of a marginalized group ourselves.
I can’t omit harsh critique of this content from my reflections on Glee as a series, because that’s the same as trying to pretend these prejudices never existed. They did, and they still do. That’s not a happy statement, but it’s a fact. And while it’s not my place to speak about how the transphobic content makes me feel personally, because I am not trans, I want to make an explicit point of discussing it’s existence on Glee. If you are going to watch season 3, go into it with the awareness that this content is there.
But also go into it with the awareness that this is not an indication of how the show treats this content going forward. The show does learn and evolve. Maybe not to the degree it could or should have, but it does improve. Much like the discourse within our own community, art reflects life, and life reflects art.
So what else is there to say about season 3? Well, I can tell you that there is no greater rush than watching the Glee club splinter apart at the seams, come back together, and then proceed to win it all at Nationals. In spite of all its missteps, and all of the ridiculous things the show did in the name of drama leading up to the finale, there is nothing quite like the feeling of watching the underdogs win. Doubly so because they deserved it. The Nationals performance in season 3 is hands down the best of the series, and it genuinely felt like this plucky little show choir from some tiny little town in the middle of Nowhere, Ohio deserved to walk away with that trophy.
Then, we get to see this ragtag group of misfits we’ve grown to love be treated like rockstars upon their return to McKinley High. I swear it almost feels like you were part of the winning team. Their triumph is the audience’s triumph too. Is it unrealistic and silly? Of course it is, but this is Glee. If you weren’t on board with that to begin with, this probably isn’t the show for you. Glee sells its audience a variety of fantasies, and one of those fantasies is that your dreams can sometimes come true.
And Nationals wasn’t the only fantasy the show sells. Our darling Rachel Berry chokes on her NYADA audition, but gets a second chance when the auditioner comes to see her perform at Nationals. This is 100%, pure, television fantasy, but you know what? I don’t care. Because sometimes we just want to believe that a small town girl with big Broadway dreams and an even bigger Broadway voice can get what she’s worked so hard to accomplish. And let me tell you, it was such a humongous relief to have her acceptance to NYADA end her high school engagement to Finn Hudson so she can follow her dreams in New York.
Okay, I know I probably should have mentioned that earlier, but I had more important things to talk about. And really, I’m skipping over a lot of good content for the sake of keeping this article shorter than a dissertation. Mostly because I still believe you should sit down and watch it yourself if you can. I want you to see for yourself how well they do West Side Story, and how well the backstage drama of it mirrors the drama playing out onstage. The Troubletones arc needs to be seen to be believed, because it is just that awesome.
Plus, words don’t really accurately describe the force of nature that is Sugar Motta. And while the content is problematic, Quinn’s journey through season 3 is incredibly emotional and actually dramatically satisfying. Even though the writers seemed hell-bent on putting the poor girl through more than any human being should be able to handle.
And there is plenty of Faberry in here, but as promised, I will be discussing that in its own article. It deserves to have proper attention paid, after all.
So, bottom line, is it worth watching yourself? I can’t really make that call for you this time. The reason I spent so much time talking about the problematic content is that for season 3, I really believe that you should make an informed decision for yourself. Historical importance does not trump your personal comfort, and I hope that outlining the bigger problems with the season will help making that choice easier for you. This will be a recurring theme for the remaining three articles in this series, as things get a lot more controversial from here on out.
Coming up, the moment I’ve been dreading; the return to season 4. It’s sure to be a doozy. See you next time!
Images Courtesy of FOX
Sansa’s Shithole Siblings Part 1: Family Disunion
Welcome, welcome, welcome, to the penultimate Unabashed Book Snobbery retrospective series. As is fitting of anything penultimate, it will be shocking and titillating.
That’s right, Julie (the combined brain of Julia and Kylie) has returned after a long rest, and is thrilled to be diving back into Game of Thrones season 7, courtesy of genius showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D).
As she’s done for two seasons before, Julie has begun to rewatch the Emmy-caliber masterpiece plotline by plotline, so she can truly appreciate the dramatic satisfaction and thematic significance. Just like Rogue One! Season 7 had many great contenders, from Cheryl stalking around a giant map to Sam slopping soup. However, Julie is going to start things off with what was sure to be everyone’s most empowering plotline: Winterhell 3.0, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Conspiracy.
Julie is still committed to preventing the conflation of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, even though she’s unsure who would be mixing these two up anymore. To ensure that there’s no confusion, she will be using her exceedingly clever nicknames, as she’s done in the past.
This season also vaguely starred:
Full explanations of these nicknames can be found in the world famous Book Snob Glossary. But for now, Julie will take you through exactly what happened in a humorous…
Part 2 of this retrospective will be the more serious analysis, for exceedingly generous definitions of serious.
Patience, Enjoy It, Revenge Can’t Be Taken In Haste
So. Just thinking over the beginning of this plotline has thrown us into an existential crisis.
Hey guys. Remember the ending of last season? You know, when Arya Todd got her revenge by empoweringly slitting Walder Filch’s throat, after baking his sons into pies and feeding them to him? We mean…with the price of meat what it is, when you get it.
Well, turns out a fortnight has passed since then, or at least we think so, since the dialogue is a bit unclear. We know this is the second feast at The Twins within a fortnight, so it’s possible it’s also the day after. But we doubt it. However, regardless of if one or fourteen days have passed, Arya Todd has been posing as Walder Filch the entire time. You see, all his sons are there, and his child-bride, and everyone’s acting like it’s business as usual.
Arya Filch (?) requests that some nice red Arbor Gold be served to the hall full of Frey sons (but not daughters, because she won’t waste wine on women), and launches into one of the weirdest toasts to date under that roof. You see, she’s like, dropping hints that she’s a Stark.
“You’re my family, the men who helped me slaughter the Starks at the Red Wedding. Yes, yes. Cheer. Brave men, all of you. Butchered a woman pregnant with her babe. Cut the throat of a mother of five. Slaughtered your guests after inviting them into your home. But you didn’t slaughter every one of the Starks.”
And as she drops these clues, the Freys begin dropping to the ground. Because that Arbor
Gold Red was poisoned. POISONED!
The Filch child-bride looks reasonably freaked out that everyone she knows is dead now, and even more reasonably freaked out when Arya Todd rips off her Halloween mask to reveal the face of an eighteen-year-old woman. Give or take. “Tell them winter came for House Frey,” she says. Okay. Should she also mention how Arya was posing as Filch and probably shared her bed for two weeks also?
Arya Todd leaves with a Smirk of Empowerment, not a single person there to stop her. For some reason.
Meanwhile, Branbot 1000 seems to be fritzing due to some bad crapware. He’s flashing to the army of the dead (and zombie giants!), while poor, gloveless Meera pulls him all the way to The Wall.
Lord Commander Edd greets them personally, because there’s nothing else he should be doing right now, and Meera tells him who they are. When Edd asks for proof, Branbot finishes his updates and informs Edd that he (Edd) was at the Fist of the First Men and Hardhome. That’s… as legitimate as having a driver’s license. Edd shrugs and says that they should be brought inside. Onion soup all around!
This brings us to Winterhell proper, where Johnny Cardboard is demonstrating why he deserves that crown he randomly got last year. He’s apparently discovered delegation, and instructs everyone to get dragonglass. Wait, has two weeks passed here too? Is it the same day? Brittany’s wig sure looks different.
He also says that they need to bone up on Winterhell’s defenses, since an army of the dead is coming. First order of business: the Wildlings will man The Wall. Beardy loves this idea, and the historical irony inherent in it, and to be honest… we kind of do too.
However, things get contentious when Jonny says everyone is going to be trained to fight—including GIRLS. Lord Glover doesn’t want to put a spear in his granddaughter’s hands (“Hey, how does she feel?” said no one ever), but it’s settled when Lyanna Mormont disparages typically female wartime roles, like provisioning the army. “Who in seven hells needs socks?” she asks, tossing a sassy look to Lord Glover. “Ima fight naked because I’m a feminist!” Everyone is convinced, because Lyanna is the ultimate bellwether lord.
Finally, it’s time to deal with the castles of the KARSTARKS and UMBERS. Lord Royce and his giant breastplate are miffed, so he wants to tear them down brick-by-brick. However Brittany finally speaks up, and points out that demolishing defensive strongholds that stand in between Winterhell and The Wall is really fucking stupid. “Of course they’re going to be manned by our allies,” she says. Reasonable. Giving land and castles as a reward for loyalty is a thing kings tend to do, especially when some lords marched a great distance to bail out an army from a sticky situation. The Northern Lords cheer in agreement.
However, Jonny had a different idea in mind, and completely didn’t run it past Sansa. He wanted to give the castles to the younger generations of KARSTARK and UMBER, because he knows how much their feelings would be hurt if he displaces their families from their ancestral homes. Brittany disagrees, but Jonny doubles down. The Northern Lords cheer in agreement. Brittany rolls her eyes and looks annoyed.
To be clear, they both have points, but neither the narrative nor the characters can seem to decide what they are, and Jonny only ends up being “right” because he spoke last. It’s a theme.
Speaking of thematic consistency, we almost forgot to point out one of the season’s strongest motifs: Wall Spot. It’s Batfinger’s new, designated space. He either is very fond of it, or he lost his teleporter and is permanently stuck there.
Afterwards, Jonny gets mad at Brittany for challenging his decision in front of the Northern Lords. Hey Jonny, it’s almost as if you should have talked to her before the meeting. Specifically so these kinds of things wouldn’t happen.
Brittany points out that good leaders allow themselves to be challenged, and it’s people like Joffrey who don’t.
Jonny: Do you think I’m Joffrey?
Looks like his hurt feelings need to take priority! Brittany soothes his ego, but then says that he has to be smarter than Ned and Robb, who both died for making stupid (but principled) mistakes. Jonny asks if that means he has to listen to her. Oh the horrors!
Brittany then explains that Cheryl is still a huge fucking threat, and they can’t just have Army of the Dead blinders on, or they’ll get creamed.
Jonny: You almost sound as if you admire her.
Does she, Jonny? Is that how you admire people? Does this mean he admires Shogun, cause he never shuts up about that threat.
Meanwhile, Brienne the Brute trains Pod ineffectively, while Tormund continues to creep on her. Haha.
Brittany watches from the gallery above, when Batfinger schmoozes on up. Brittany has NO patience for him today, and asks what he wants in an exasperated tone. When he says his usual Batfinger idiocy, she shuts him down, even outright saying:
“No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish. I’ll assume it was something clever.”
Jeeze. Why is this guy even alive? No really.
Brienne asks Brittany the same thing, but Brittany waves it off, saying that they need his men. It’d be a whole thing to tell the Vale Lords about Lysa’s death. Who has time for that?
An indeterminate temporal relationship to the previous scene later, Arya Todd comes across a group of Lannister soldiers in the woods on horseback and potentially still wearing Walder Filch’s clothes. One of these chaps is singing “Hands of Gold” because he just read A Clash of Kings, and looks an awful lot like a teenage heartthrob. The patriarchy is also on a questionable temporal plane of existence here, since the soldiers don’t question Arya being alone or offer to protect her, but do want to know if she’s old enough to drink wine. William Tecumseh Sherman made it in a toilet; it’s blackberry. Kylie gets unpleasant Manischewitz flashbacks.
“How’s the war?” “War is hell. Have some rabbit and sit down next to Ed Sheeran.”
Maisie Williams Arya Todd seems thrilled and friendly and not at all like some kind of feral animal who has been the victim of brain trauma. Then she “jokes” about how she’s headed to Cheryl’s Landing to kill Cheryl. Everyone laughs and the scene ends. Too bad we never got Ros’s woodtime adventures on her way down to Carol’s Landing.
You should want a détente
Back in Winterhell, Tyrion has sent a raven of great importance to Jonny, asking him to come visit Deadpan because they’re super, super nice, and also they have dragons and an army. Brittany and Jonny discuss this, while observing the co-ed archery classes. Which is probably something that happened anyway. Hawking is a thing, except for poor Tiffany Tarly.
Brittany tells Jonny that this is really stupid and dangerous, and even if Tyrion was a SUPER NICE not-rapist, this is still probably a trap. Davos pipes in with his folksy wisdom to note that fire kills wights, so dragons might be cool, but Tyrion didn’t really have much chill mentioning that army. (Oh yeah! Davos is a thing!)
Speaking of no chill, Arya Todd has arrived at the Inn at the Crossroads, everyone’s favorite hangout for coincidental meetings. She eavesdrops on the world’s most boring conversation about how it’s a good idea to go to Cheryl’s Landing now before war breaks out again, when Hot Pie spots her! She steals a pot pie from his tray, and seems to have forgotten how to use utensils. Hot Pie sit down to talk to his old friend, and she can’t be bothered to make eye contact, because she’s too busy eating like some weird feral creature.
After sharing baking tips, they finally get into politics. Cheryl blew up the sept! Arya already knew this from being Walder Filch, we suppose. Also, this being common knowledge has no social ramifications or implications, right? However NOT common knowledge is that Jonny won the in-verse named “Battle of the Bastards” and is ruling the North as king. There’s no reason anyone would tell Walder Filch that.
Arya is shaken by this news. She tries to pay Hot Pie, still being far colder to him than she was to Ed Sheeran, but he refuses because he’s a mensch. Or thinks she’s pretty. (Or both.) We then get a shot of her debating which way to go: Cheryl’s Landing for more murders, or Winterhell to threaten the murder of her family? Oops. Spoiler.
She turns North.
Speaking of brand new information, Jonny gets a raven from Sam saying that there’s DRAGONGLASS on DRAGONSTONE.
Oh yeah, Stannis told us that already!
Jon is shaken, so he calls another meeting in the Great Hall without bothering to talk things over with his sister. We’re sure there’s no important political decisions being made this time.
You see, Jonny is so desperate to get this DRAGONGLASS that he makes the unilateral decision to go to DRAGONSTONE himself. Literally everyone in the room thinks this is a terrible idea. Even Batfinger is smirking from Wall Spot about how stupid he is.
- Brittany points out this is obviously a trap, and one rather evocative of their own family’s history (riding south for Targaryen rulers doesn’t always end well, yo)
- The Northern Lords say he’s abandoning them
- They point out Robb lost his kingdom by riding south
- Winter is here and they kind of elected Jon on this point
- Jonny’s impassioned speech to counter these points is really beyond Kit Harington as an actor
The gist of what he says is: tough titties—only a king can request dragonglass from a queen. “Send an emissary,” Brittany points out.
No, no, it’s fine, because the North will be in good hands.
Boy this didn’t need to be talked about ahead of time. Everyone in the room kind of nods and accepts this. Brienne looks proud for some reason.
Batfinger is so moved by this decision that he leaves Wall Spot to find Jonny in the crypts, who’s busy saying goodbye to Sean Bean’s statue. Batfinger says (and we’re paraphrasing), “Give Tyrion my best. Your dad and I both loved Cat. Cat underestimated you. You’re the best hope for the North. I’m not your enemy. I love Brittany.”
Jonny gets full of protective paternalism and shoves Batfinger up against a wall. We kind of suspect Batfinger is into it. “Touch my sister, and I’ll kill you myself.” Cool, she’ll love that. She didn’t just ask you to stop protecting her or anything, and we’re sure sexual agency isn’t important to her at all!
Jonny then leaves with the smallest fucking retinue possible for a king, and he and Brittany exchange an awkward wave.
What isn’t something is Arya’s next scene. Wolves surround her and her horsey in the woods. One of them is Nymeria. “Come with me!” Arya says. Nymeria turns and leaves. “That’s not you.” Let’s hope Nymeria watched Season 1 recently and got it, unlike the fandom that assumed it meant the giant fucking direwolf wasn’t, in fact, Nymeria. The end.
No Hugs for Brittany
Back in Winterhell, we see the consequence of Jonny leaving Brittany in charge: shit is actually getting done. Like…shit that really should have been getting done already.
Brittany is running around, organizing winter rations, overseeing winter armoring, and showing us the value of traditionally feminine skills during times of battle preparations. Batfinger keeps trying to get stupid advice in, like how she should be completely paranoid at all times and assume everyone is her enemy. It’s a nice trailer line, but she doesn’t seem to care.
What she does care about is the arrival of her brother, Branbot. Brittany runs down to the gate to greet him with a hug, but robots cannot love.
She then brings him to the heart tree, and in her hyper-ambition casually offers to give him her seat. He’s Father’s legal heir, after all. Bran refuses because he’s the Three Eyed Raven now. Brittany—like all of us—doesn’t know what that means. “It’s difficult to explain.” Okay then. When she presses the matter, he gives her a demonstration of his powers, by speaking about the night she was raped in a lot of detail, with a dispassionate and detached inflection. Fun!
Brittany—like all of us—gets reasonably freaked out and upset, and gets the fuck out of dodge. We’re glad this happened instead of Bran sharing the information about their family he just discovered.
Batfinger is also glad to see Bran again, and decides to just randomly give him that dagger from Season 1. You know, the one the hired assassin tried to use on Bran that quasi-started the War of Five Kings. He then delves into this awkward monologue about how the dagger reminds him of Cat stopping it, and how he’s loyal to Bran, just like Cat? We’re a bit confused, and assume this is a really inept attempt at getting on Bran’s good side, but thankfully Branbot is even less interested in it than we are. “Chaos is a ladder,” he says. What he meant was, “Shut the fuck up.”
Meera then pops in to say goodbye to Bran. He can’t emote, but is like, “Thanks I guess. Crazy times.” She gets pissed at him for this complete underreaction, while he shrugs and tells her that being the Three Eyed Raven makes him not Bran anymore. “You died in that cave!” she says, tearfully leaving.
Hey. Brittany would have totally hugged Meera.
But hold your tits; Arya arrives at Winterhell and demands entrance. “That’s not you,” the guards tell her. Arya points out that she’s going to get in (and her delivery is creepy enough where this is entirely believable). So either they let her in and tell Brittany, and if she’s an imposter then the jig is up, or she’s real and they’d get in trouble for not having told Brittany. The guards find this convincing, but rather than wait for five minutes, Arya decides to recreate her Season 1 scampiness by just fucking off to the crypts.
The guards then have to tell Brittany that they lost someone claiming to be her sister, but Brittany just sighs and is like, “you tried.” Apparently she knew Arya would go to the crypts, and that’s where she finds her. Then we watch five minutes of Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner trying not to giggle as they film a scene with each other for the first time in six years.
For the characters, Brittany tries to hug Arya, who is about as receptive to it as Kylie’s six-month-old niece. Use your arms, Arya. Arya gets funny about Brittany being Lady of Winterhell, but her sister doesn’t seem to care. “I remember how happy [Jonny] was to see me. When he sees you, his heart will probably stop.” That ambitious bitch! Then they allude to the trauma they suffered, before Arya makes another list joke. It just keeps on giving.
Brittany then takes Arya to see Branbot 1000, who’s recharging at the Heart Tree again. He can’t even make it one sentence without being sufficiently weird, so Brittany explains that he has visions. Then Bran confirms that Arya has a murder list. Brittany asks for a little clarification on this, but then Bran just whips out that dagger. “Wait, where did you get this?” Brittany wants to know. However neither Bran nor Arya can seem to care about this obviously weird thing for Batfinger to have given him, which is probably worth digging into. So Brittany asks these futile, but probably important questions, while her robot brother hands her murdery sister a blade.
Arya and Brittany take Bran back to the Winterhell courtyard now that he reached 100%, as Brienne and Pod watch. Pod points out that she completed her mission and will receive 50,000 XP, while Brienne argues that she didn’t really do anything. Yeah, we know.
Later, Arya asks Brienne to train her, and they duel for a few minutes while epic battle music plays. Ramin Djawadi, chill—it’s just a sparring session. Brittany looks concerned at the burned screentime.
Sneak vs. Sneak
Later, Branbot’s plugged into the Heart Tree again (he really needs to disable his background apps; this battery life is ridiculous), and sends some ravens to check out what Shogun is doing. There’s honey bunches of dead people! He then asks the maester to send out ravens, because Jonny totally needs this reminder.
Meanwhile in the Great Hall, the Northern Lords are lonely without their Jonny. They’re also a little confused why he is their king. Afterall, Brittany is here and in front of them! …Yes. This is what we were screaming at the TV screen at the end of last season. Though this seems to be less about any kind of birthright or governing capabilities, as much as it’s like dogs who are confused during their owner’s vacation since someone else is feeding them.
Lord Glover goes as far as to say that he wants her to be the queen, while Royce is all like, “we rode North for you.” This is…a fairly treasonous casual conversation. However Brittany handles it with much aplomb, saying that while she’s flattered, Jonny is their king and that’s the way of it. What an ambitious bitch! She learned from Cheryl, alright. Arya watches with stink eye.
Afterwards, Brittany vents to Arya about how she warned Jonny this would happen. But Arya is too upset to listen because Brittany is sleeping in a bedroom befitting her rank. Also, apparently her solution to this would have been to execute Glover and Royce on the spot. That worked out great for their brother Robb, and he actually had some justification about Karstark.
When Brittany points out how fucking stupid that is, Arya accuses her of wanting the Northern Lords to like her because Jonny might get himself killed and then she’d be running everything. Yeah, this is a reasonable concern when your king sails into what could easily be a trap with only like, five other dudes.
But apparently Glover and Royce keeping their heads is a sign that Brittany may be disloyal to Jonny. That checks out.
Arya is so suspicious that she decides to tail Batfinger, of all people. Like, he’s around Brittany a bunch, but if Arya had checked with her sister she’d see that there wasn’t really too much being entertained there.
Batfinger is the sneakiest sneak though, as has been established in previous seasons, and he can apparently read minds. You see he KNOWS if he gets a copy of a certain raven’s scroll from the hapless maester, then Arya will be sure to be tailing him, and will find it in his bedroom. Then she’ll not question why Batfinger was digging it up, but instead jump straight to blaming Brittany for the downfall of her House.
Which is exactly what she does!
In the next episode, Arya has taken over Brittany’s favorite Observation Spot overlooking the bailey. However, there aren’t any coed archery lessons to look at; only meaningful memories. Maybe everyone is inside with coed sock knitting? Please? We’re very concerned about the soldiers’ feeties.
Brittany senses the opportunity for more bonding (or maybe she’s angling for a hug again, because she still didn’t get one), and goes up next to her. Arya then goes down Ned Stark Memory Lane (a Carol Award category!) in a monologue that’s just a click above Maisie Williams’s acting talents. You see, when she was a girl, Brittany was an asshole who liked to knit and had pretty penmanship. But Arya, because she truly loved their father, wanted to practice archery instead. So she did! And he slowclapped for her. This checks out.
What’s weird is that Brittany is just smiling like, “oh what a nice memory. Touching story, Arya!” But then Arya finishes on the note of, and we QUOTE, “Now he’s dead. Killed by the Lannisters. With your help.” Has she been hanging on on westeros.org boards again?
Brittany is legitimately confused by this, until Arya whips out the letter. Brittany explains the concept for duress, but Arya rejects this because she didn’t have a knife to her throat. Yikes. Brittany then points out that she was, you know, eleven and told that this is what would help their father stay alive. “And you were STUPID enough to believe them!” Which is it, Arya: is it that she was actively trying to betray your father, or that she was a young girl who didn’t understand political intrigue?
Amazingly Robb and Cat managed to wrap their minds around this in about 2 seconds.
Then Arya decides to shame Brittany for wearing societally appropriate clothing to their father’s execution, even though she had thought he was going to be released. As did everyone else there,
Cheryl Carol included. It’s not like she was still betrothed to the King or anything.
Brittany finally gets a little mad at these accusations, pointing out that she’s gone through hell and back for her family, and she’s the only reason they regained any kind of political power at all. Arya, apparently unmoved, tries to compare the size of her PTSD dick to Brittany’s, because this is healthy and sisterly bonding. Arya is convinced Brittany’s letter was the downfall of her house, and mentions how Lyanna Mormont would not have been so weak as to write it. So therefore, if the Northern Lords read it, they’ll think Brittany is a traitor!
To be fair, they probably are that stupid and would have that kind of overreaction to the most innocuous diplomatic letter clearly written under duress ever. Brittany understands that, so she later expresses her worries to Batfinger, since Arya ended the conversation basically saying she was going to “expose” her.
Batfinger pretends he has no clue where Arya got the letter, while Brittany worries about the “wind vane” Northern Lords, since Jon hasn’t even written in weeks, so who knows how they’re feeling about anything right now. Brittany thinks Arya would definitely betray her if she believed (for no reason) that Brittany was willing to betray Jon.
Batfinger’s solution? Lady Brienne. She’d be “honor bound to intercede” because she’s committed to protecting both Stark sisters.
We’re not sure why, but this is greatly distressing to Brittany. We guess because Brienne and Arya bonded with their epic duel, so she’s worried that Brienne would now…cut off her head or something, if Arya asked. That checks out.
But logical leaps aside, when Brittany gets invited to the Great Wight Moot of Incoherence, she insists that Brienne go as an emissary. Also, this is a legitimately good use of an emissary; why would she march her ass to Cheryl’s Landing while Cheryl is ruling? We got the feeling she didn’t enjoy being a political prisoner so much.
Brienne seems very concerned, and suggests leaving Pod behind, but apparently her duel with Arya was so chummy that even he could pose a danger to Brittany at this point. At least, this is what we think is going on, but we can’t be sure. She also may be trying to protect Pod and Brienne from Batfinger’s machinations somehow, or she may be really, really concerned with having a proper emissary to this clearly important meeting that will totally have an actual function in the plot. Whatever her reasons, she basically snaps at Brienne until the Maid of Fail retreats sadly away. Bye bye! Have fun in Cheryl’s Landing!
High on that accomplishment, Brittany then decides to creep around Arya’s room, because she doesn’t want to be left out of the sneaky sneak game. FOMO is real, friends. We suspect she may be trying to locate the letter, but instead she finds a pretty nice leather messenger bag. It’s only $500 from Neiman Marcus and goes great with their battle cardigans (temporarily out of stock).
Inside the messenger bag are some halloween masks that were definitely not purchased at Neiman Marcus. Our guess is Party City.
“Not what you’re looking for.”
No Arya, that’s not what anyone is ever looking for. Unless they’re planning to rob a bank. For the Joker. Brittany, reasonably freaked out, asks her what these are and where she got them. “My faces.” Okay. Arya goes on to explain she got them in Braavos, training to be a Faceless Man. “What does that mean?” Brittany asks. No one knows!
Arya tells her that it means you get hit with a stick any time someone catches you lying. She offers to play this fun game with her sister, the first question being, “How do you feel about Jon being king? Is there someone else you feel should rule the North instead of him?”
We personally feel that this test really should have been calibrated with some dummy questions first, like any good polygraph. Also, Jon is a complete fucking idiot, and Kylie’s cat would be doing a better job ruling the North. So it’s kind of a Catch-22 for Brittany.
She filibusters by asking more about what the hell these faces are and how did Arya get them. Remember that time Branbot confirmed her murder list? Yeah… However, Arya soon puts her fears to rest (except not at all). You see, her murders and masks are feminist statements. Growing up, both she and Brittany wanted to be other people. Brittany wanted to be a queen (what? She was betrothed to Joffrey, so that’s not really being anyone else at all), while Arya wanted to be a knight. But in Weisseroff, little girls don’t get to choose what they are. Except when they do.
With her masks, she can be anyone. Even Brittany, with her title and pretty dresses that Arya isn’t jealous of at all. To prove this point, she points a dagger in her sister’s direction. As one does.
With Brittany almost in tears, Arya twirls the dagger around and hands it to her. Psych! That filled us with warm tinglies.
“None of you knows the truth!”
Good news everyone, winter is actually legitimately here. So is a raven from Jonny, that tells Brittany he bent the knee to Deadpan—pass it on. Boy did Brittany really not know what she was getting into when he asked her to take care of the North for him.
She vents to Batfinger that he didn’t even ask for her opinion. We’re a little mad Batfinger is even around for this, but a) she sent away Brienne who was really her only friend, b) if she vents to any Northern or Vale Lord they’ll probably do something horribly stupid, and c) one of her siblings is a cyborg and the other just threatened to murder her. So frankly, we’d probably be chumming it up with him too.
Batfinger doesn’t seem very surprised by this, especially since he knows what sexual tension there surely is between Jonny and Deadpan. So he just shrugs and casually suggests a coup where Brittany asks the Northern Lords to unname Jon as king. No biggie.
Brittany maybe entertains this (it’s impossible to tell), but pretty much immediately shuts it down because her absolutely crazed sister would most certainly murder her. In fact, she might just murder her anyway. Batfinger decides to ineptly stoke her paranoia more by telling her about a game of his: assume everyone has the worst motives ever, and then see how well that explains their actions.
We can’t believe it’s not confirmation bias! Batfinger would be a really successful YouTuber.
Brittany then tries it out, talking about how Arya is probably there to kill her, and then unearthed her duress letter so that she’d be able to get away with it. But the thing is, this really does explain Arya’s actions well, so the scene ends with Brittany looking distressed, and as if she knows what she needs to do. Because again…her sister is a murderer who threatened her. With more murder. And wearing her face.
This is weighing on Brittany, or perhaps some exhausting off-screen shenanigans are, so we get a scene of her on the battlements with her hood drawn up.
She sighs heavily and asks a random nearby guard to bring her sister to the Great Hall. Shit’s about to go down! Or she’s trying to bait-and-switch the guards too? It’s this kind of ambiguity that makes this show the masterpiece that it is.
In the Great Hall, Bran and Brittany sit at the High Table.
Arya: Are you sure you want to do this?
Brittany: It’s not what I want. It’s what honor demands.
Arya: And what does honor demand?
Brittany: That I defend my family from those who would harm us. That I defend the North from those who would betray us.
Arya: All right, then. Get on with it.
We imagine the Northern Lords are very confused by this exchange. Why do they think they’re there? Do they understand why Arya isn’t at the high table? Does Arya? We think the above conversation was rehearsed, but…are they trying to dramatically satisfy the Lords too?
Anyway, the surprise is that when Brittany says, “you stand accused of murder, you stand accused of treason,” she’s not actually talking to Arya…she’s talking to BATFINGER.
He can’t believe it so much that he peels himself off of Wall Spot and asks for clarification.
“Lady Sansa, forgive me; I’m a bit confused.”
So are we, Batfinger, and this is why you got a Carol nomination for meta-ness.
Brittany then explains his charges, finally telling the Vale Lords that he murdered her Aunt Lysa. Like, literally in front of her. She could have told them this three seasons ago but didn’t, for reasons. And yeah, now that we think about it, Brittany being in the Vale would have made so much more sense for so many reasons. Someone should write a book about that alternate universe.
However, she also starts whipping out some odd charges. Like, how he murdered Jon Arryn, and that time he betrayed Ned. We mean, he did, but how does anyone know that? Batfinger asks this reasonable question. The answer? With spectral evidence, of course!
Branbot 1000 tells the room all about Batfinger holding a dagger to Ned’s throat. We guess they’ve all been told about his role as the Three Eyed Raven and perfectly understand/accept it, since no one really bats an eye. We’re jealous. We also thought it was difficult to explain.
Batfinger then tries to ask why Brittany is doing this, since his love is so pure. She plays the motive game back in his face, also pointing out that his way of expressing love included selling her to her rapist, so sit the fuck down, dude. Then he asks for a defense, which apparently includes begging Lord Royce to take him away and escort him to the Vale. He refuses, probably because he rode north for Brittany, as he already said. Wait. What was Batfinger doing here at all for two seasons then?
“I am a slow learner, it’s true. But I learn.”
Oh fuck you, Benioff and Weiss. You backdialed her characterization and bent the plot into a windsor for her stupid rape/revenge plotline, and have the gall to say it’s because she’s a slow learner?
Arya then slits his throat. We mean, we should point out that he’s literally on his knees begging for his life at this point. But she just slits his throat. Brittany didn’t even pass a sentence; she just thanked him for his service in a kind of sarcastic tone. He falls to the floor and blood goes everywhere. This is why you execute people outside, damnit!
Some time later, Sam shows up and bonds with Branbot. But we don’t want to bore you. It has nothing to do with this plotline. We just think it’s important to note that Branbot is legitimately happier to see him than his sisters, and thinks Sam would be more interested in Jon’s parentage than they apparently are.
Meanwhile, back up at the battlements, Brittany and Arya have their season-wrap-up-bonding-session, exactly like the one Brittany had with Jonny last season. “You did the right thing.” “No you did.” Okay, girls.
Arya points out that Brittany passed the sentence, but she literally didn’t, so we’re not sure what to make of that. Or why they’re calling attention to splitting up the sentence with the sword swinging, when Ned’s whole point was that you can’t escape consequences of decision-making as a liege lord, which is why that role needs to be coupled.
Arya acknowledges that Brittany is Lady of Winterhell now that she’s proven her willingness to kill people…or demonstrated her loyalty to her family by killing people…or something. We’d have thought bringing troops from the Vale to the “Battle of the Bastards” might have accomplished that, or even her murder of Ramsay, but hey. Lady of Winterhell.
Brittany’s touched though, and says Arya’s the strongest person she knows. She totally could have survived the trauma that Brittany experienced.
Also, she still thinks Arya is “strange and annoying.” That’s an interesting way to phrase “murderous and creepy.” Then they both quote Ned talking about lone wolves dying but packs surviving. Awww, sisters.
Finally, Bran has a vision of the Army of the Dead busting through The Wall. The end.
That was…definitely something. However fear not: we will unpack all the meaning and significance in Part 2, coming in a few days. See you then!
Images courtesy of HBO. This piece was co-written by Kylie and Julia. If you liked this, be sure to subscribe to their podcast, Unabashed Book Snobbery, where they will also make the audio accompaniment to their retrospective series available.
Batwoman Isn’t Built For One-Shots Or Fill-Ins
All of that I knew. After Batwoman #11, written by Kate Perkins* and illustrated by a criminally underused Scott Godlewski (Copperhead was great until he stopped doing the art) however, I learned something new. I learned that Kate is just not a character built for one-and-dones or fill-ins. Because that was the single worst Batwoman story I’ve read since that time she got raped by a vampire for like eight issues.
Which, okay, not a super high bar, but it’s still worse than that abysmal hyper-goyish Batwoman “Hanukkah” story from last year’s DC Holiday Special…which was also written by Kate Perkins. She just wanted pie or something. It was bad.
Anyway, the problems Batwoman #11 has are emblematic of how this kind of story just doesn’t work for Kate. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s even a meta-textual reasoning behind all of it, too! Because of course there is; it’s Kate.
Kate’s continuity has always progressed forward since 2006, having never actually been reset or rebooted. She’s in a weird position that leaves her extremely well-characterized, but also makes it nigh impossible to write her “passably”. That is, mediocre. She’s sort of all-or-nothing just due to her own context.
This is also why cameos for her are either pitch perfect or laughably bad. For example: Kate’s brief appearances in Mother Panic and Red Hood and the Outlaws were excellent (though the latter had a weird art problem where it didn’t match the tone of the script, but that’s minimal), while her extended existence in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey was…abysmal.
More to the point, the fact that Kate has never actually stopped developing (EVEN ANDREYKO KNEW THIS AND HE IS THE WORST) means that any narrative where she’s the focal point in which it’s just “filling dead air” isn’t going to work. And no matter how you look at it, that’s exactly what Batwoman #11 was.
It was a series of beats that were hit by a writer who seems to have a very odd “blueprint” of what a Batwoman story needs to have to be a Batwoman story. Despite the fact that that’s not how any kind of story works, unless it’s supposed to be formulaic by design. Perkins seems to be under the impression that a Batwoman story is the following things:
- Reference Family
- Fuck up
- Relate to Larger Arc, somehow
- Kate blames herself and mopes
In all fairness, this is technically correct from a certain point of view. If I were to explain how to write a Batwoman story, I’d probably tell you make sure her family is somehow involved. Aside from that…you kind of need to understand who Kate is if you’re going to have her mope or blame herself.
Uh. No. That’s the opposite of what Kate does. She doesn’t get distracted like that while working, because that’s the only time things “make sense” for her. Also, that’s not how you soldier. I don’t have an issue with her getting clocked on the head by Pyg (his Grant Morrison Weird Factor justifies quite a bit) but I do have a problem with inverted characterization. Also, hey, uh, you can’t just like drop a huge revelation like Beth used to wear glasses but Kate didn’t on us???
They’re twins. Identical twins. That’s not how this works. We have NEVER seen either of them with glasses before, and also it took me several tries to realize that the one in the pirate costume wasn’t Beth because literally every other flashback we’ve ever seen with those two had Beth be the happy one trying to cheer a mopey Kate up.
That’s sort of an important tonal through-line that Perkins wanted to subvert without realizing how confusing and inconsistent it would be? Or…got them mixed up? Or just didn’t care? I have no idea. Look, this whole issue is just one big hot mess. Julia Pennyworth, an SAS operative who unlike Kate actually is a professional soldier getting captured by Pyg and…being helpless for the entire story after being absent from this book since issue #4 is just really stupid and bad.
Kate’s inner monologue is overwritten to the point where any nuance that may have been there is drilled into the dirt. Her tattoos are, once again, missing, despite those actually being super important, and everything Kate says sounds like someone trying to do a really half-effort impression of how a good writer writes Kate.
She still talks “weird’, but the wrong kind of weird. “Creepazoid” is very much the wrong decade, to put it lightly. And then it just sort of ends, with nothing happening or changing (since it couldn’t because it was a fill-in and that’s still the largest issue) and we’re back exactly where we were so we can slip into another flashback issue next month. Which would have been perfect right after #10, but alas that was not to be. As for why that is, why any of this exists at all, well, it’s pretty simple.
Because, uh, yeah, Perkins is gone now. Bennett is back next month, hopefully forever, but…see, here’s the thing: Bennett is about as busy as a writer in her industry can get without literally dying. Not quite Brian Michael Bendis, but y’know he was just in the hospital for like a month so…probably better that she’s not doing that.
As of this moment, she is/was concurrently writing:
- DC Bombshells
- Animosity: The Rise
- Animosity: Evolution
- Sheena: Queen of the Jungle
- Josie and the Pussycats
- At least three other things we don’t know about/I couldn’t find/I forgot about
Can you guess which one on that list can actually have a fill-in writer? It’s Batwoman and only Batwoman. Ironically, the one thing that absolutely should never have a fill-in was the only one that truly could due to how schedules work with the Big Two.
God, this is just gonna be bad in trade, huh? Ugh. I’d shoot the fail counter up by 52 or something but this isn’t Kate Kane’s fault; she doesn’t choose her writer. If she did, she sure as hell wouldn’t choose Perkins, that much I know for sure.
[*Editor’s Note: The name of the writer for this issue has been corrected from Kelly Perkins to Kate Perkins throughout.]
Images courtesy of DC Comics
Star Trek Voyager Tackles Historical Revisionism
Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a good holiday. Today, I’d like to talk to you about a sci-fi setting near and dear to our hearts: Star…Trek. Specifically, a “message episode” of Star Trek.
A “message episode” of Star Trek is one with a particular moral applicable to modern life. The franchise has made a great deal of these sort of episodes. Many have withstood the test of time and remained good or have morals that still reverberate (Such as the Original Series episode “Day of the Dove”). Some have aged rather poorly or the message was badly told in the first place (As was the case in the Next Generation episode “The Outcast”). For me personally, there is one episode that stands head and shoulders above every other message episode. Star Trek Voyager’s season 4 episode “Living Witness”. Why this one specifically? Not only is it’s message more relevant now than ever and because it is the only one to actually acknowledge what its specific theme is: racism and Historical Revisionism.
The Voyager Encounter
The episode opens in a way that for any other show in the series, would seem like it’s taking place in the Mirror Universe. The lighting is dim on the ship , Captain Janeway is monologuing to an alien visitor about how if diplomacy fails the only answer is overwhelming force, and worst of all…she’s wearing black gloves. During the conversation Janeway reveals that she is making a deal with the alien, who identifies his species as the Vaskan. In exchange for directions to a stable wormhole, Voyager will capture the leader of another race, the Kyrians.
As Janeway walks to the bridge, viewers see more clues that show this isn’t the normal Voyager. Neelix has a console and is wearing a uniform. Captain Janeway refers to the ship as the ‘Warship Voyager’, and the doctor is an android. What’s even worse, the Captain orders the use of Biogenic weapons against civilian targets. Clearly, something is not right here.
Just before the opening titles we see what is actually going on. The Voyager we were watching was a holographic recreation of an event that apparently happened 700 years ago. The curator of the museum (a Kyrian named Quarren) tells the people watching the recreation that “Even today, seven hundred years later, we are still feeling the impact of the Voyager Encounter.”
After the opening credits, we quickly learn through exposition that according to this museum, Voyager attacked and killed the leader of the Kyrians, a man named Tedran. Tedran’s death led to centuries of Kyrian oppression under the Vaskans. In a good line of dialogue, before resuming the simulation and showing Tedran’s death, Quarren gives the visitors a content warning, telling them that this next scene will be disturbing. And it honestly is. Captured after a brief scuffle with fully Borg Seven of Nine simulation, Janeway has him brought before her and the Vaskan ambassador. She then executes him herself.
After the simulation ends, a Vaskan patron confronts Quarren, claiming that the story presented is inaccurate. That the Kyrians are always blaming the Vaskans for their problems. The patron is also quick to point out that he doesn’t have a problem with Kyrians. Some of his friends are Kyrian after all! It’s at this point in the episode, a little over a third of the way into it, that we start to see that theme of racism start to appear. It will remain a background element for a while though, simmering and only really making itself known near the end of the episode.
Later, after the museum closes for the night, Quarren starts working on a new Voyager artifact. He identifies it as some sort of data storage device, possibly Captain Janeway’s personal logs, but can’t seem to access it. As he pokes and prods, he realizes it that it has far too much data for it to be a simple log…and then the Doctor appears. More specifically, the Doctor’s backup.
Immediately fascinated by the Doctor, Quarren begins to question him. An actual member of Voyager’s crew! He could shed so much light on that era of history. He is a literal living witness! The Doctor, for his part, is nonplussed at discovering that it’s over seven hundred years since he was last ‘awake’, and all of his friends are dead. The Doctor becomes even more upset when he discovers he’ll be tried for war crimes. The Doctor protests his innocence claiming (truthfully) that he never created weapons of mass destruction, and that most of the information presented in the museum is inaccurate, distorted, or flat-out wrong. The Doctor demands to see the recreation of the “Voyager Encounter”. After viewing it, the Doctor, incensed, says that somewhere, hopefully on Earth, Captain Janeway is spinning in her grave.
The Doctor then tells Quarren that Tedran, far from being an innocent martyr, actually led an attack on Voyager. Now it’s Quarren’s turn to get angry, accusing the Doctor of lying to protect himself. The Doctor counters by saying that Quarren is also protecting himself…from the truth. The Doctor points out that the simulation paints Kyrians in the best possible light. He ends his thoughts with this line: “Revisionist History…it’s such a comfort”. Enraged, Quarren states flatly that his people were not the aggressors in the war, and that the oppression continues to this day. He then shuts down the Doctor’s program.
This last scene has so much to unpack, so let’s start with the smaller stuff. As you can see, the racial issues aren’t quite front and center yet, but still remain just behind the curtain. Quarren’s anger is seemingly justified at first. How dare this…mass murderer question historical truth! But his actions do not back this up. Earlier he had told the Doctor that synthetic beings had the same rights as organics on his planet. But he still turns the Doctor off while the Doctor was speaking, as if the Doctor were just some sort of toy. And then there’s the Doctor’s line.
Historical Revisionism. It’s a phrase that conjures up images of Holocaust deniers trying to spread their conspiracy theories under the guise of ‘research’. And indeed that can be a downside of Historical Revisionism. Changing events to suit one’s own agenda, or simply viewing the events and seeing what we want to see. However, there is a positive side to Historical Revisionism. Without it, we would still view Andrew Jackson as a war hero, instead of the man who created the Trail of Tears. We would see the Spanish Conquistadors as brave explorers instead of the death knell of an entire civilization.
This sort of Historical Revisionism is hard to do, however. The majority of us don’t like having long held beliefs attacked. Of having things we’ve believed true for years suddenly becoming false. Of hearing “No. You’re wrong”. Put in this context, Quarren shutting down the Doctor becomes far more understandable, if still an awful thing to do.
When we see Quarren again, he’s dictating an entry into his log. He reflects that, perhaps their histories are wrong…after all, they thought the doctor was an android, not a hologram. And if they could be wrong about that, what else could they be wrong about? Coming to this conclusion, he reactivates the Doctor and apologizes, saying that he will not turn off the Doctor’s programming again. Quarren then asks the Doctor if they could recreate what the Doctor claims to have happened. The Doctor agrees, if only to clear Voyager’s good name.
The Doctor’s recreation starts the same way as Quarren’s, with Captain Janeway speaking to a Vaskan ambassador. But instead of plotting genocide, it’s a simple trade negotiation. Voyager will give the Vaskans medical supplies in return for fuel. As the medical supplies are being prepared for shipment, a group of Kyrians, led by Tedran, attack Voyager.
They board the engineering deck, killing three crewmen and taking Seven of Nine hostage. The Kyrians then proceed to a conference room with their hostages. Captain Janeway, The Doctor, and the Vaskan ambassador quickly follow them, with the doctor offering to lead the way since he is immune to phaser fire. They confront Tedran, who accuses Captain Janeway of plotting to destroy his people. Before Janeway can talk him down, the Vaskan ambassador shoot Tedran, killing him.
In a different episode, it might have ended here, with Quarren seeing and accepting the Doctor’s version of what happened. Instead, we finally see the second issue that this episode deals with finally steps out: racism.
Some of my best friends are Kyrian!
Quarren and the Doctor show this version of events to three representatives—two Vaskan and one Kyrian. The Vaskans seem more than to accept this version of what happened. After all, this means that their ancestors weren’t the aggressors. They were simply defending themselves against Kyrian aggression. The Kyrian representative is a much harder sell, first demanding that they arrest the Doctor and then asking what proof he can offer that this really happened.
The Doctor shows them a tricorder that we had previously seen as an exhibit, confirming that this was the same one he used to examine Tedrin. If he can power it up, it’ll show that the shot that killed Tedran came from a Vaskan weapon. The Kyrian representative responds by saying that this doesn’t matter. Tedran was killed on Voyager, a victim of a conspiracy. She calls for the Doctor’s arrest again, only to have one of the Vaskan representatives overrule her. The Kyrian responds bitterly, stating that she’s just the token Kyrian for this commission. Quarren interjects, stating that the issue isn’t about race. The Kyrian representative responds bitterly stating that “It’s always about race” and then accusing the Vaskans of seizing at every opportunity to keep themselves in power. The commission departs, with no real decision reached and leaving Quarren and the Doctor to try and power up the tricorder.
This scene requires more unpacking than even the the doctor’s line about Historical Revisionism. When I was re-watching this episode for this article, I was kind of shocked how bluntly and directly they approached this issue. To my knowledge, there was only one other episode of Star Trek ever to even use the word ‘race’ in this context. And yet, here we are. The other thing that jumped out at me was the delivery of the line by the actresses who played the Kyrian representative: bitter and resigned.
With this exchange, you get a sense of how entrenched the Vaskan oppression of the Kyrians must be. Of how hard they must have struggled to get their version of history accepted. How much harder it was to even get this museum built instead of sugar coating history. And now here comes this hologram, someone they believe to be a mass murderer who is telling them that their people deserved what happened to them. Nevermind the fact that the Doctor isn’t saying this at all, it’s what the Kyrians believe that he is saying. And perhaps worst of all, it’s what the Vaskans believe he’s saying. Finally, they can wash their hands of the guilt. The Kyrians attacked us. We were only defending ourselves. All that oppression was simply the result of your actions. They only accept the story because it makes themselves look good.
That’s not to say that the Kyrians are completely innocent in all this. After all, they want to kill the Doctor for crimes he didn’t commit. To hide the historical truth, and to continue to venerate a man who attacked a third party and killed innocent people. That neither side is exactly innocent comes across just as clearly as the racism does in this scene.
Things don’t really improve after this. Later that night, as the Doctor and Quarren work to try and get the tricorder operational, an angry mob of Vaskans storm the museum. They smash it up, angry that all the ‘history’ they learned was a lie. When I first saw this episode, I sympathized somewhat with the Vaskans. Finding out that not only are your ancestors innocent of the crime they were accused of and that the history were they were portrayed as monsters was a bald faced lie? I would have been angry too.
Now though, I see this mob for what they probably supposed to represent. Racists rioting under the guise of ‘telling the truth’, ignoring the real facts of Kyrian oppression in the present day. It reminds me of the riot in Charlottesville. The next morning, the Doctor and Quarren are picking through the rubble trying to find the tricorder, which was lost in the chaos of the previous night. Quarren tells the doctor that a race riot broke out and two people were killed. Quarren goes on to tell the Doctor that there is talk of another war brewing. The Doctor is horrified by this. He was programmed to do no harm, and now his presence is the catalyst for a planetary war. He tells Quarren that he will deny everything. “Tedran was a martyr for your people, a hero, a symbol of your struggle for freedom. Who am I to wander in seven hundred years later and take that away from you?” The Doctor asks.
Quarren shows now how much he’s changed since the beginning of the episode, angrily saying “History has been abused! We keep blaming each other for what happened in the past.” He then implores the Doctor to help him. As they keep looking through the rubble, the camera pans, and we that this was another simulation, from some point even further in the future. This tour guide tells the group listening that thanks to the Doctor’s testimony, a new dialogue was opened between the Vaskans and the Kyrians. That Quarren died six years later, but he lived long enough to see the beginning of true peace between the two races. The Doctor stayed as Surgical Chancellor of the united races for years before getting a small ship and setting off for Earth, wanting to return home.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
As I mentioned before, this is an incredibly strong message episode of Star Trek, one of the best of Voyager, and one of my personal favorites. Everything in it, from the story to the acting, helps to hammer in the themes and moral that the episode is trying to get across. The moral is timeless, a reminder to not let your personal feelings or cause to get in the way of trying to find the truth. As for the theme of racism? In Star Trek, there is the idea of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”, a celebration of all the variables in the universe. The idea being that we shouldn’t limit or disregard someone because of how they look, their background, or anything.
Living Witness is a reminder to respect that Infinite Diversity, and I can think of no better moral.
Images courtesy of Paramount Television
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