That Sherlock has it’s issues is no secret: queerbaiting, lack of POC, treatment of women, you name it. So I decided to take a closer look at these and what makes them offensive by drawing comparison to a show I personally think handled things better.
The Infamous Queerbait
There are story conventions so universal, they sometimes feel self-evident. One of the most common is that if there’s a male and female lead, and that they’re going to fall in love, that’s just the way it is. So, when your leads are both of the same gender this often leads to a phenomenon we all know and hate: queerbaiting.
Queerbaiting is the practice of intentionally implying a queer romance via subtext without the intention of delivering on such romance. This is done at the expense of the LGBT+ community who are looking to media for representation.
A show often accused of queerbaiting is BBC’s Sherlock. Does it have a problem in this particular department? Yes, end of discussion.
But the fact is, subtext isn’t necessarily queerbaiting and sometimes not easily distinguished from the latter. So how can one tell whether one is being queerbaited or watching a slow-burn romance eventually intended to become text?
For this we are taking a closer look at both the aforementioned Sherlock and NBC’s Hannibal. Both are modern adaptions of earlier works (and in Hannibal’s case a prequel), that deviate so significantly from their source material that we can very well judge them on their own.
So why Hannibal, does it too have a queerbaiting problem? Not quite.
Hannibal was originally supposed to have a m/f main pairing, Will and Alana, but due to organic story development it never became more than a mutual crush. Alana trusted Hannibal over Will, their friendship grew cold and eventually Alana fell in love with and married multi-million-dollar heiress Margot Verger. So, a wlw power-couple is canon.
On the other hand, we have Will and Hannibal, a relationship that, while being at the center of the series was not at first intended to be romantic, and for good reason as there’s nothing healthy about it. (So far it contains about half a dozen attempts at murder.) Both creators and characters seem conscious of how unhealthy it is, but subtext kept piling up and was eventually moved into text. The way this was handled, reminds of Legend of Korra‘s treatment of Korrasami (though again, it’s not as positive a relationship).
Therefore, it is a suitable contrast for Sherlock and its blatant queerbaiting. We can use Hannibal to help identify how to distinguish queerbaiting from accidental or actual subtext.
First off, the one thing that annoyed me most about how John and Sherlock’s relationship was depicted: people tend to think they are romantically involved. Like, everybody just assumes. This literally happens in every episode up to John’s wedding (1×02, being the exception), often more than once.
There is no narrative reason for this to happen. Maybe once to establish there’s no romantic interest in each other, okay, twice, if you really think it’s necessary, but constantly?
John: We’re getting married. Well, I’m gonna ask anyway.
Mrs. Hudson: So soon after Sherlock?
John: Well, yes
Mrs. Hudson: What’s his name?
John: It’s a woman.
Mrs. Hudson: A woman?
John: Yes of course it’s a woman!
Mrs. Hudson: You really have moved on, haven’t you?
This is Mrs. Hudson, their landlady with whom they lived in the same house with for over a year.
The only explanations for this are you are either consciously keeping the option in the mind of the audience, which, if you don’t intend to deliver, would be queerbaiting. Or you think it’s funny, which would equate to a gay joke. Neither is a desirable option.
In Hannibal‘s case, implications that there may be more of a relationship than is publicly known first become a thing in the second season, which is also when the producers first noticed a romantic subtext. The only thing before that is Alana making a quip that Hannibal has adopted some of Will’s mannerisms late in season one.
What also contrasts Sherlock is that while Sherlock and John are always denying any assumptions made, this doesn’t happen on Hannibal.
Will: You called us ‘Murder Husbands’.
Freddie: You did run off to Europe together.
This example is the closest thing there is to the kind of constant joking seen on Sherlock. But in this case, Will’s anger is understandable since Freddie is a reporter on the hunt and Will is at this point married to Molly and not on the best of terms with Hannibal.
Another thing which can distinguish queerbaiting from subtext is framing, is there romantic music? Are forms of symbolism used? If not the probability of this being queerbaiting is a good deal higher.
Problematic Villain Coding
A queer coded villain is not sufficient representation, as it links “queerness” to evil, especially if the queer-coded villain continuously hits on the hero. Attempt at being funny or not, that is called harassment and having your queer-coded villain harass your ‘innocent’ (straight) hero is definitely problematic.
On Hannibal there are no queer coded villains. Tobias Budge would be stretching. Mason Verger may be flamboyant but he is also clearly female attracted. On to Sherlock, the most obviously queer-coded villain is Jim Moriarty.
Jim Moriarty is introduced as Molly’s boyfriend. He’s immensely queer-coded and hits on Sherlock who immediately points this out. It’s played for laughs, charming.
From here on whenever Moriarty encounters Sherlock he continues to flirt with and is shown to be obsessed with him. And then in season four there is this jewel:
“You like my Boys? This one’s got more Stamina, but he’s less caring in the afterglow…”
How are we supposed to take this, is he sleeping with his guards who work for him? Was this part of the job description? This alone would be considered offensive, but that is not the end of it.
The morally grey Irene Adler is presented as bisexual, which in combination with her mostly scanty clothing and her occupation as dominatrix is not too favorable in terms of bisexuals being hypersexualized.
And again, she is attracted to Sherlock and making advances even though it is (initially) making him uncomfortable. This is not presented as negative since she is a conventionally attractive woman.
Sherlock: I take it he did not consent?
Eurus: He? She? I did not notice. After I was done it did not matter…
Eurus is another can of worms. There was no reason why she needed to speak to Sherlock, her brother, about having sex. The fact that she neither noticed the gender nor cared for the consent of her partner may be intended to show her as “evil”, but it unconsciously links sexual violence to queerness.
So, most villains on Sherlock are more or less queer and none of them care if people consent to their advances. That’s “Game of Thrones” levels of representation.
The ‘Other’ Women
The topic of queerbaiting ties in neatly with the treatment of other romantic relationships and women in general. If your two—in this case male—protagonists’ relationship is depicted as platonic, one or both of them may be in a relationship with somebody else, usually of the opposite gender. From the story’s treatment of this love interest, temporary or otherwise, it becomes clear which relationship is actually of interest to the protagonist.
The incorrect but common assumption is that a romantic relationship has to be the most important relationship in a person’s life. This is one of the many reasons people mistake platonic relationships for romantic ones, but that is not what I’m talking about here. The thing is, both the narration and the characters themselves should allot this romantic relationship a certain level of importance, even if not primary importance.
An example of this is Sherlock’s constant treatment of Molly’s feelings and his dismissal of John’s (mostly implied) long chain of dates and girlfriends. John doesn’t seem to care much either. Hell, there is a scene where his current girlfriend leaves him because she doesn’t want to compete with Sherlock. How much clearer can you show that their relationship is secondary to what John has with Sherlock, that this woman’s feelings too are secondary, just like those of Molly Hooper?
Molly’s treatment in general is atrocious. An unrequited crush is one thing, but it is a thing one eventually moves on from. Instead of showing Molly getting over Sherlock and eventually entering a healthy relationship, we first see her being used by the queern presenting Jim Moriarty. Her obliviousness of this fact is played for laughs. Then, she tries to impress Sherlock for Christmas, which is presented as her embarrassing herself. The writers follow this up with her engagement to a Sherlock look-alike whose personality she doesn’t even seem to like and the whole “I love you” fiasco in season four.
Irene Adler I already discussed above. She is sexualized and does not seem to care about making Sherlock uncomfortable. But she is attractive and who is not attracted to a beautiful woman, so Sherlock becomes obsessed with her. Although they barely know each other, she too is shown to be in love with Sherlock, who seems to be writing to her again at the end of season four (she was shown to be dying in season two, so there’s probably plot there).
Sherlock’s short relationship and engagement in season three are also treated poorly. First off, everybody is astonished about the fact that Sherlock is with a woman, as if the general consensus was that he wasn’t attracted to them. Then, it is revealed that he only used her for a case which, after a quick laugh, is soon brushed aside by the narrative.
Most recurring female characters are mostly there for Sherlock to antagonize or shout at. The way the narration treats Sally Donovan is poor to say the least, even before she disappeared without comment in season four. While it is clear Sherlock cares for Mrs. Hudson, this should not excuse his poor treatment of her either.
The first woman that is clearly allowed her place as a love interest in the narrative is Mary, John’s wife. Her relationship with John is mostly considered of equal importance to Sherlock’s. I honestly liked her being around, she was a smart woman with an established place in the story and was not just there on the side fetching tea or being helpful when men needed her.
But before the audience could get too used to her presence she gets killed off as soon as her plot function is fulfilled. The aftermath of her death is as much about Sherlock and John’s relationship as it is about her. The show even goes so far as to have her leave a message to her husband claiming that the “Baker’s Street Boys” are the ones that matter. Yeah, so much for that.
Hannibal does quite the opposite. A clear contrast to Sherlock are Hannibal’s relationships with Alana and Bedelia and Will’s relationship with Molly.
Season one gives Will and Alana’s mutual crush a sufficient buildup. Their trust, friendship and care for one another is acknowledged by others and exists independently from both of their dealings with Hannibal. Both are given space and time to be hurt after the kiss and the following decision to not enter a relationship.
Over the late first and the entire second season this trust and friendship dwindles as both of them get more and more entangled in Hannibal’s games. Unfortunately, Alana is usually the voice of reason in all things not Hannibal. This means her opinion is often dismissed in a “We have two conflicting opinions so I’ll pick the one I like better” way, which is eventually regretted by most of the characters in question.
After this, she becomes a more morally grey character. Not wanting to be hurt again and wanting to prevent Hannibal from hurting others, she starts hunting him down and eventually becomes his jailor and probable nemesis. While working for villain Mason Verger, she encounters Margot, his sister and victim. Alana falls in love with Margot, helps her kill Mason, marries her, and they have a son together.
Will’s fling with Margot in season two should also be mentioned, as it is more important to Margot’s arc. How it affects Will is not treated as more relevant than how it affects Margot. Her arc is then continued in season three, apart from Will, and eventually allows her to escape her abusive brother.
Bedilia knows Hannibal’s secrets from her time as his psychiatrist and yet chooses to run away with him. That he uses her is obvious, and she is aware of it. She is content to play Hannibal’s wife and does not initially plan to survive it. However, when it becomes clear that Hannibal would rather be with Will than with her, she cuts herself loose from him to live another day.
When Will marries Molly, he wants to leave it all behind. He rejected Hannibal, who then surrendered to the police and, locked up as he is, has no way of coming into Will’s life again. So Will starts over, he marries a mother, so he has a family, but doesn’t tell her about Hannibal. He only tells her enough so she know who to blame when things inevitably go wrong and her family is targeted by a killer. There is never a clear break-up, just a half-hearted “we will be okay” and the knowledge that their safe place is gone.
All these storylines are given room to breathe, these women have lives and they don’t just give up on their relationships. Whether they dodged a bullet or whether they close their eyes until it’s too late, they are just as much part of the story as Will and Hannibal are, and they are treated as such.
A grievance I do have here are Hannibal’s victims Abbigail Hobbs and Miriam Lass. Abigail in season one has a lovely arc dealing with the things her father did and how she helped him. After Hannibal faked her death in the end of season one, her story is no longer about her, but about what Will and Hannibal. Miriam Lass too is mostly seen in relation to Jack and his guilt. We never see her free herself of Hannibal’s control either. I would have loved seeing them be more of their own persons. Although it makes tonal sense in a way, as Hannibal does not consume their bodies like those other victims. He consumes their stories instead.
With the inclusion of POC, overall Hannibal does okay in this department. Jack Crawford, one of the most important characters in three seasons, is played by Laurence Fishburne, a black man. All three seasons too have a black and an Asian woman in starring or recurring roles.
Beverly Katz is killed by Hannibal in season two. Her death is a shocking twist (not sure if I should add a TM here, though) yet is immensely relevant to further plot and character development. We learn of Bella Crawford’s death early in season three. She had terminal lung cancer since early in season one, so it was not surprising, but still it was a pity to see her die. In season three Will encounters an old acquaintance of Hannibal’s, Chiyoh who lived with Hannibal’s aunt Murasaki as a child. When the plot reaches book material, Francis Dollarhide’s girlfriend Reba is played by Rutina Wesley, so I think there’s a slightly tokenistic feeling seeing one person of color die only for another to appear.
This is, however, still better than Sherlock whose only characters of color, Sally Donovan and John’s unnamed therapist, mysteriously disappear in season four leaving us with an all-white cast. And it’s not because it’s set in London, London is multicultural and diverse.
Overall I am a bit astounded just how much problematic stuff can be found if one goes looking for it. More than that, I’m floored that a show whose main characters are killers and cannibals somehow manages to do better than Sherlock.
Pictures courtesy of BBC and NBC
Barbara Kean Proves She’s a Queen
Last time we were in Gotham, Barbara and her merry band of assassins were making themselves at home at Ra’s Al Ghul’s while Tabitha got kicked out because she tries to talk Barbara out of her new calling. Also, Barbara might be Ra’s reincarnated… wife? Oswald and Butch got their old duo back together and Lee and the Riddler’s relationship got more complicated.
The episode kicks off with Barbara getting attacked by her own assassins. It’s cool though, they were just testing to see if she unlocked the full potential of the Demon’s Head power, which includes seeing the past and future. She hasn’t, but she’s sure that she’ll be able to, given time.
Bruce, meanwhile, is taking his birthday gift out for a drive with Selina. He even shows off with it a little.
They’re meeting Tabitha who asked Bruce to come into the city. Things go sideways fast when Bruce and Selina realize it was a trap to get to him. Specifically to get his blood to bring Ra’s Al Ghul back from the dead.
Ra’s rises as a mummy/zombie hybrid and he isn’t happy about it. The being alive part that is. His feelings about being a zombie are up in the air. His death went exactly as he planned so he isn’t pleased with his men to find himself awake again. But they aren’t pleased with Barbara as their leader. They don’t think she can live up to the potential of being the Demon’s Head. Ra’s doesn’t automatically become the Demon’s Head again, he needs Barbara to give it back to him. Or he has to take it from her by force.
He goes himself to see if she’s made use of the powers and he isn’t impressed with her plan to rule Gotham. She refuses to give the power back, claiming it as her destiny. She points to the painting of her and Ra’s as proof. Ra’s write’s the woman in the painting off as just someone he used for entertainment until he killed her. He writes of Barbara as well, as nothing but a club owner with no real accomplishments to her name.
He tries to take the power from her, but Barbara’s assassin crew get in the way. They don’t fare very well against him, but Barbara does manage to escape when Bruce, Tabitha and Selina show up.
At Wayne Manor Barbara and Tabitha are hashing it out. Selina stops the argument to get their priorities straight. It doesn’t matter who hurt who when there’s a zombie assassin coming after all of them.
Bruce plans to kill Ra’s again, but Barbara wants to deal the killing blow, thinking it will unlock her full powers. Before they can decide who kills him, they’re going to need to get the knife that can kill first. Bruce donated the knife to the Nanda Parbat embassy, so they need to pull off a daylight robbery.
Alfred goes into the embassy with Tabitha, pretending they want the knife back. The ambassador grows suspicious so Alfred fakes a heart attack. In the chaos, Selina repels down to grab the knife, like any good cat burglar would.
With the knife in Selina’s hands, it becomes her decision on who to give the knife too. She hesitates but hands it to Barbara inevitability. The ladies leave Bruce and Alfred stranded, their need for them done. At the Sirens’ Club, Barbara’s plan is to wait for Ra’s before she goes all ‘stabby-stabby’. Selina isn’t excited that’s the extent of her strategy. She sided with them because she thought Barbara at least had a proper plan. Selina’s words cut a little close to home for Barbara and she makes Selina leave.
She airs her doubts with Tabitha. Tabitha doesn’t want to hear any of Barbara’s self-deprecation. The Barbara she knows is a lot of things, but someone who isn’t confident isn’t one of them.
After Barbara kicked her out, Selina, naturally, went back to Wayne Manor. Bruce was hurt she choose Barbara over him. But, as it turns out, she gave Barbara the dagger because she didn’t want Bruce to become a drunken brat again like he had when he killed Ra’s the first time. Now, Barbara and Tabitha need help and Selina’s tired of everyone trying to pick sides. As long as Ra’s is around they all have a common enemy.
Speaking of Ra’s, he and his men arrive at the Sirens’ Club. Barbara gets him talking to get close to him. She stabs him right in the heart, and he responds with a simple ‘ouch’. Things aren’t looking good for her, but Bruce shows up just in time to disrupt the fight.
And then Barbara gets stabbed in the back! Right through to her chest! But wait! She’s unlocked the Demon’s Head powers and is seeing into the future! She didn’t die!
But Ra’s grabs Tabitha, giving Barbara the choice between the powers and her. For a gut-wrenching second, it seems like Barbara chooses the power. But she’s seeing the future again and seeing Tabitha die because of her is something she doesn’t want. She gives up the Demon’s Head.
With the power returned to him, Ra’s is unzombie-fied. Bruce steps forward, thinking he’ll want to be killed by him again. But Ra’s doesn’t want to die this time. He breaks the knife, the only thing Bruce can kill him with.
After the fighting is done and all the assassins are gone Barbara’s cleaning up. Tabitha comes to her but doesn’t say anything. Her expression screams what she’s thinking though. Barbara only says, ‘you would have done the same for me.’ The scene would have been amazing if it had ended there. But then it gets even better when the ladies of the league return, pledging themselves to Barbara, Demon’s Head or not. She’s the leader they want.
In other parts of the city, Jim and Harvey have to deal with five bank robberies in one night. That kind flare has the Riddler written all over it. Jim goes to pay Lee a visit, but he isn’t the only one who’s in the Narrows for an audience with its queen. Oswald and Butch turn up playing the friends card with a side of threats to get a cut of their earnings. Lee is having none of it. She tells them in no uncertain terms to get lost, with the Riddler backing her up.
Oswald isn’t happy to see the Riddler is as in love with Lee as Ed was. He’s disappointed and maybe a little jealous. Maybe. Oswald pokes at just right spots to get under the Riddler’s skin, stirring up the doubts he already has about Lee’s intentions with him. So much so, the Riddler starts to talk to Ed in his reflection, only Ed’s the one taunting from the other side this time. Scared Ed could take over the Riddler goes to Oswald and Butch, telling them their plan for an even bigger score.
Jim makes the trip to Narrows, but Lee isn’t giving up the Riddler. Jim starts to suspect Lee’s in on it too. Back the GCPD he and Harvey talk to the bank owner, putting it together that the bank has a history of shady dealings. The owner lets it slip that majority of their branches’ assets were moved to one secure location because of everything that’s happened since the Arkham break out. That’s all Jim and Harvey need to hear to know that’s the Riddler’s real target.
Sure enough, Lee and the Riddler are knocking out all the guards at the bank. But the Riddler pulls a gun on Lee as Oswald and Butch make their appearance. Yet the twists for the evening for the evening aren’t over. Riddler wasn’t double-crossing Lee, he was double-crossing Oswald. With most of the money loaded up, he sets off the alarm, locking Oswald and Butch in the vault.
The gesture makes an impression on Lee. So much so, she takes the fall for the robbery to let the Riddler get away with the money.
After the chaos of another day in Gotham comes to a close, Bruce is of course already worrying about the chaos that will come with the new day. He’s already trying to find a way to repair the dagger. Selina’s there and she reminds him that he doesn’t owe Gotham is every waking moment.
Ra’s Al Ghul agrees with her. (Selina was right about Bruce’s security sucking.) But Ra’s isn’t there to fight. He offers an explanation why he didn’t want to die again. His rebirth brought with it a vision of Gotham burning and the event shaping Bruce into a ‘dark knight’.
Gotham never fails when its characters take the lead.
Another character heavy episode gave another great episode of Gotham. This episode was just filled to the brim with great character moments. Where do I even begin? I suppose I’ll start where the episode did, with Barbara. Barbara Kean, how far she’s come from Jim Gordon’s timid girlfriend. But at her core, she’s still a woman capable of loving deeply. That’s the part of her that shined here. She gave up the demon’s head for Tabitha! (Side note, even if their deaths weren’t real, still wasn’t fun watching Barbara getting stabbed through the back and Tabitha’s neck sliced open. Sara Lance almost dying three times a season more than fills my quota of wlw near-death experiences. I won’t be able to get the images of the two of them mortally wounded out of my head for at least a week)
This episode gives us Barbara’s entire character arc in a microcosm. At the start of Gotham, she has so little agency of her own. She’s clawed and fought to be where she is now, but even with everything she accomplished her insecurities still lie just below the surface. Power is her metric of success. The Demon’s Head was her ultimate victory. Proof that she deserved to stand among the very best in a city filled with extortionary people.
And she gave it up. For a person she loves. Even after she unlocks the Demon’s Head’s full potential. That’s the Barbara Kean I adore. Barbara keeps getting better and better. As does her relationship with Tabitha. They are so compelling to watch, regardless of their relationship status.
While we’re on the topic of relationship status lets talk about Lee and the Riddler. They are an… interesting pair. I don’t know what my feelings are on their romantic relationship are yet. But I’ll admit, the dynamic is compelling. I’m like the Riddler when it comes to Lee. I don’t know where she stands but I want to figure it out. Is she just stringing him along? Does she really care for the Ed Nygma hidden away under Riddler’s bowler cap?
Also, seeing Ed be the one taunting from inside the mirror brings another layer to the Riddler. It’s intriguing to explore how much he truly is in control and how much Ed is slipping out. This romance should be a bad idea, but Lee and the Riddler bring out a strange and interesting dynamic in each other so I’m willing to see where it goes.
Gotham is on a break next week, but its return will mark the beginning of the end of this season with only three episodes remaining. The promo doesn’t give much away beyond the promise of pure Gotham chaos™.
Images courtesy of Fox
Everything Goes Wrong on The Americans
We all have those times where literally nothing goes right. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your fault, either. Things entirely out of your control just refuse to go how they need to. One crucial thing doesn’t pan out. A woman vomits in the middle of the party, right before someone spills potentially valuable information. You know, your typical bad luck. There was a lot of bad luck this week for just about everyone on The Americans.
The Bullet’s Loaded in the Chamber…
If anyone had doubts about the bad places Philip and Elizabeth are in right now, “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” drove it home. We’ve seen things go bad for Elizabeth all season. Just check her murder count (which increased by 3 this week). She’s overburdened, alone, and losing her edge. Both her missions this week fail. Despite the body count, she once again fails to get her hands on the radiation sensor. A pretty perfect opportunity arrives in the form of the World Series party, but she loses it when the sick woman she cares for empties her stomach in the middle of the party. Nothing went right for her. Really nothing has gone right yet for Elizabeth.
Philip isn’t much better off. His financial troubles hit fully this week, to the point he informed Henry about his inability to pay tuition to his school. He’s in much the same place as Elizabeth; alone, overburdened, and with nothing going right. This episode had a few moments where a character talks about themselves or a persona of Philip or Elizabeth that clearly described one of those two. When Kimmy describes “Jim” as stuck in place, it’s clear it applies to Philip’s life since retirement.
(While we’re on the subject, Kimmy remains the one spy-related assignment Philip is responsible for and even that goes bad this week.)
I think The Americans wants to make a clear point about the Jennings here. Philip and Elizabeth spent decades becoming probably the best Soviet spy assets in America because they were together. When one fell to a moment of weakness, the other was there. They shared burdens. They covered the other’s mistakes. Problems in their personal life were handled together.
Without each other, they stand alone to fail, both as people and in their missions.
While it was clear how distant the two were before now, this episode really drove it home. Philip and Elizabeth have separated their lives to the point they split parenting duty. The way Elizabeth says “Henry is your department” was just shockingly cold. You could already sense the truth of it in the previous three episodes. To have them flat out confirm it, like parenting has become a solo mission, disturbed the hell out of me.
They’ve never been as far apart as they are right now. Not even in those early years when their marriage was a sham. Back then, at least, they were taking on missions together and in tune professionally. Now they are professionally separate, personally separated, and suffering for it. Absolutely nothing is going right for them. They are both absolutely miserable. Even their one moment of attempted intimacy feels entirely forced and ends in rejection. Not one part of their life is happy or successful anymore.
They have absolutely no one who they can truly relate to anymore. Elizabeth has no one who really knows what she goes through. She goes on missions with Paige, but hides the full truth of them. She can speak some of her concerns to Claudia, but not all of them since full disclosure could have her labeled a concern to deal with. Without the spy work, Philip has become your typical American suburban dad, the kind Elizabeth despises and actively fights against. Obviously Philip can’t confide fully in her anymore. Paige has been turned, and Henry is still unaware of his parents’ espionage. So he can only confide in bits and pieces to a few select people like Elizabeth and Stan.
I talked about the divide established between Philip and Elizabeth back in my review for the premiere, and now that divide has crystalized. It’s more than an ideological conflict. Philip actively informed on Elizabeth to Oleg. They’re officially on opposing sides of a conflict. A conflict that could turn physically violent. When will they find out? How will they react?
Right now this might be the central question of the final season. What happens when Philip and Elizabeth find out just how far apart they are? What happens when their lives are at risk and they have to choose their futures? Do they reflect on their depression and find common ground? Do they turn on each other permanently? What about their kids? I can’t imagine they last much longer as is. It’s just too dark.
…But When Will The Americans Fire It?
“Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” certainly pushed us closer to that moment. It pushed a lot of things closer to the edge. I continue to be impressed by how closely tied the storylines remain this season. Everything plot point is feeding into the others in some way.
The thing is, when are they going to explode?
Conflict seems inevitable right now. Elizabeth has been tuned in to Gennady and Sofia and basically received orders to execute them if necessary. Stan remains the only confidante those two will trust or listen to. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Stan ends up tailing Oleg on his own, which could lead him to discovering Philip. And of course there’s the issue of Philip spying on Elizabeth and what happens when she finds out.
With the final season hitting the halfway point next week, I just hope The Americans stops loading rounds into the gun and fires the damn thing.
I’m not suggesting nothing happened this week. Certainly not. Paige sleeping with a potential source was an event big enough for an entire segment of this review; not just because of the effect on her psyche or Elizabeth’s rather explicit orders not to do it, but for what this moment represents for her character.
Think of how badly she reacted to her meager attempts to use her relationship with Matthew Beeman as a source of information. Sure, 3 years and a lot of training has happened since then, but this is also a much bigger step than dating the neighbor boy with mostly innocent intentions. Like she was told before, sex leads to emotions, and emotions lead to vulnerability. Vulnerability is dangerous in this line of work, which probably ranks as a key reason Elizabeth wants to groom Paige for something besides frontline spy work.
If Paige is going to take this step on her own, how will she handle it? Can she handle it? Whatever brainwashing Claudia has managed, Paige is still the same person she was last season. Can she handle the guilt of stringing someone innocent along in this manner? What does it say about her, her mother, and this whole training process if she can? Paige may be losing a vital part of her soul. Potentially even worse, that part of her soul may be yet another brick falling from the wall that tears life apart for her family.
That this was not immediately the biggest moment in the episode does speak to how much really happened. Between Elizabeth and Philip, Stan/Gennady/Sofi, the summit, spying on the diplomats involved, Paige, Henry, Kimmy, the murders, Oleg, the impending Soviet downfall…there’s so much going on. What’s more, any single one of the plotlines involving any of these characters can lead to the others falling apart. That’s how closely tied and precarious all these storylines are.
I just want to see all these juggling balls drop already. While I loved season 5, there is an element of expectation in my acceptance of it, that it was going to lead to more this season. And it has, to an extent. But we need THE moment. We need the gun to fire that breaks everything down. The moment where Hank realizes Walt was Heisenberg. We need that episode where Stan finds out about his neighbors. The time has to arrive where the cover is blown and the Jennings family finds itself on the run.
There’s also the issue of just how much further into this dark, depressing calm The Americans can go before it is unsustainable. Damn near everyone is steeped in hard times or will be soon. Philip and Elizabeth are the catalyst causing everything to fall apart, the cancer breaking down everything around them. Or rather, the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States is the cancer, and with its end we’re seeing the death throes of people who only know this way of life and fight to maintain it.
Thing is, they can’t. And The Americans as a show cannot keep stringing them along like this, no more than the circumstances around them can. I think this was the episode making it clear to the characters and the audience that these people cannot continue as they always have. Change is coming. Now it’s time to see how everyone will react to it.
It’s time for The Americans to fire the gun.
- It just hit me during the “previously on” that the “you haven’t talked to anyone back home in 20 years, neither have you” exchange was after both had done so and formed their current beliefs on said conversations.
- I understand why the warehouse break-in was so dark, but I had no idea what was happening. The scene reminded me of Game of Thrones at its worst. You have to be able to see what’s happening in scenes like those. I didn’t know if Elizabeth succeeded or not in finding the sensor.
- If all these murders don’t come back to haunt Elizabeth, I will be disappointed. This is a lot of bodies. Important bodies, too. You can’t have dead generals and dead military guards so close to one another without a considerable investigation.
- I’m curious whether this final season will move far enough ahead in time for Henry to move back home. Assuming Philip doesn’t find a way to pay his tuition, that is.
- Interesting how Philip is the one who always thinks back on his life back home. Is this because Elizabeth typically doesn’t (because she’s not quite so conflicted about it) or because The Americans only wants to show these reflective moments for Philip?
Images courtesy of FX
Black Lightning Season Finale Lights Up
The first season finale of Black Lightning culminates in death and chaos and it’s pretty epic. I hate the ASA, and Tobias is too much! But he makes for a great adversary.
But first, the Psalm that this episode’s title refers to:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…
(Thanks to GeeksOut’s Black Lightning reviewer for pointing this out to me as I hadn’t researched the title quite yet.)
As I mentioned in my “the show so far” piece, every title has had a religious reference to it, and next week I’ll talk about all of them combined. It’s appropriate then that the “final” showdown between the Lightnings and the ASA specifically references this Psalm, as the valley portion goes back to Jesus’ eternal life.
Black Jesus isn’t going anywhere.
Black Lightning Season Finale
After last week’s fight, the Pierces and Gambi went to his safe house so Gambi and Lynn could treat Jefferson. Jennifer is understandably freaked about the entire situation especially when Gambi realizes special ops are here to kill everyone.
Elsewhere, Khalil, I mean Painkiller, apologizes for killing Black Lightning, and Tobias tells him not to do that. He doesn’t care if they go against Martin since after all, he wants to take Martin down. Martin is trash and actually says MAGA after talking about how if the American flag is getting redder, it better be from the blood of his enemies. Totally a line I’m sure has been said but I’m over him too. Cannot wait until he’s dead.
Poor LaLa probably never signed up for this life, yet here he is getting beat by Tobias who spent a million dollars to “reanimate” LaLa. Bruh. All of LaLa’s murders will come back to haunt him and tattoo his body until no skin is left. I’m over it. Martin gets a hold of him but LaLa goes boom because of a bomb inside him. Or so we think.
Then, Jefferson finally wakes up! Without powers! Oh no! There’s no time to figure it out, though, because ASA found our favorite family! And Tobias sent Syonide and Painkiller to do the same.
Gambi has a plan though! It involves another safe area and Jefferson pretending to have powers so Anissa can take the ops out. Except! Jennifer lights up, hugs her dad, and bam, his powers are back. “It’s what we do.” Yay! Next season is going to be hard on her, but at least she’s not completely over the whole situation.
Everybody and their mom is going to North Freeland! ASA is already there, except Martin who is hanging out at command. Henderson and the police are going. Tobias, Syonide, and Painkiller are going. It is too much!
Lynn has a gun! She and Gambi protect themselves and Jennifer while one of the ops dudes attacks Anissa and almost packages her! Black Lightning saves her, and Jennifer saves mom and Gambi from another attacker, too!
We switch to Tobias, Syonide, and Painkiller taking out the ASA agents while Martin runs away like the coward he is. Too bad he couldn’t transfer the pods like he wanted. When he shows up at the pods, none of his people are there. Gambi and the Peirce family is there, though. But…turns out Martin’s entire operation is rogue, so they’re not going up against the ASA, just this asshole.
I LOVE GAMBI. He shot him twice and “will take care of the trash” while the others handle the pods. Gambi saying he’s a monster was so much. I need him and Jefferson to have another talk asap.
Another news segment articulates all of what the season is about. Illegal human experiments under the purview of the government and we know it’s happened before, happens now, and will sadly happen again. Then we get Jennifer’s voiceover while dad and daughters run and meet Lynn on the steps of their house!
The episode ends with Syonide bringing Tobias a bag with Martin’s thumbs so he can open his files and do whatever he wants with them. “Long live the King” of Freeland.
- How old is Jefferson? We saw Gambi and Grandpa Pierce talking thirty years ago and we also saw his funeral so in his 40s? We also find out that riots after a police shot a black teen is what causes Jefferson’s powers to manifest.
- Tobias Whale has the strength of three men from the serum he’s been taking!
- Syonide was in an orphange at eight and Tobias trained her. She’s got carbon fiber under her skin now. Damn.
- I loved all the Gambi telling the girls about their dad stories and explaining to the audience everything.
- Jefferson spends most of the episode asleep dreaming about his dad and we learn that all of his sayings and quotes are ones that dad said all the time. His final dream involves grown Jefferson talking to dad about whether all of this is worth it. “Only you can know if it’s worth it.”
I really liked the season finale! I think the first half was paced interestingly because there was a lot of explanations and reveals before the actual fighting, but like most Black Lightning episodes, the real meat of the episode happened right at the end. The finale answered a ton of questions I and others have asked throughout this first season, but left some things unanswered. Is LaLa dead? Who does Lynn know and plan on getting help from for the Stage 2 Pod Kids? Tobias definitely has plans to kill Black Lightning and Thunder.
Painkiller is…..a missed opportunity, but I’m hoping that by end of S2, Khalil can get out from under Tobias’ thumb. Gambi said that Khalil had a choice, so the young man we and Jennifer knew is very much not the same person we have now based on his circumstances. And right now, who knows if they end up planning redemption. The ASA too wasn’t actually super involved with the current iterations of Martin’s plans, so will we see them again? Is Fowdy taking on a bigger role because her boss is dead?
There’s a lot to think about, and the hiatus is long, but I’m excited to see what S2 brings us. Especially as Jennifer comes into her own and the family is more careful. Also, if that green glowing thing is what makes Greenlight happen….we’re all screwed.
Thoughts on the season finale?