Warning: This article contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them! Proceed with Caution.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first of a five movie saga (what happened to nice clean trilogies?), is now downloadable! Thus, yours truly has finally watched it after missing the initial theater release. The next installment of films set in Rowling’s wizarding world received pretty good reviews. However, like most of what we’ve seen out of Rowling recently, out of all the possibilities of expansive and interesting stories teased in her original novels, following Newt Scamander wasn’t the most initially enticing.
Yet, the Potter nerd within me couldn’t resist. I found the film quite enjoyable, actually. It’s definitely a step up for David Yates as director after he produced what I considered the worst of the Potter films. Yet, I found myself incredibly frustrated by the the b-storyline centering around Grindelwald.
First of all, the filmmakers announced the series would be following Grindelwald, not Newt. The fifth film will end in 1945 with the infamous battle between Grindelwald and Dumbledore. With that in mind, Fantastic Beasts seems like the wrong place to start this series.
Newt barely worked as a character for me. He only came alive those moments when we were in his case with him. Had they wanted to make a standalone film about Newt, he would have made a fine protagonist. And it makes me wonder if that’s what Fantastic Beasts had originally been meant to be.
Is he exceptionally interesting? No, but definitely adequate. The message, which often felt lost in all the hubbub, of protecting the rights of magical creatures would have made a strong theme for his own movie. (I won’t bring up the fact that he had had a muggle animal carcass lying around in his case, cause that’s different). In a world where we missed out on seeing Hermione’s fight for Elfish welfare in the film adaptation of Goblet of Fire, seeing more of the wizarding prejudice and cruelty brought to life would have been interesting.
Which then leads me to ask, does Newt not care about the rights of House Elves either? Is Hermione the only witch to have ever given a second thought to the enslavement of a magical creature? A creature so commonplace in the Wizarding community? Sorry for the tangent but Newt may need to extend his ideals beyond the animal world.
In the film, we hear Newt mention more than once that he’s attempting to “gently” teach his fellow wizards about compassion for their fellow magical creatures. It totally reminded me of when I not-so-subtly attempted to educate my friends and family about veganism (not that I think the film is about veganism). But, it was the one point in the movie where I connected to Newt and what he wanted. It was a strong core of ideals for his character, but it was lost as soon as the bigger plot with Credence and Grindelwald took center stage. Newt actually seemed unconcerned with Credence at the end of it, yet Credence could have fixed the focus issue. He could have brought Newt’s wants and values into the overarching plot of the series and tied it to Grindelwald.
Despite the potential plot with Newt and magical animal rights, this is the setup of a five film series about Grindelwald, his rise and his fall. We’re meant to understand this will lead us to the final battle with Dumbledore before he’s thrown into Nurmengard. The subtlety of weaving in a dark power wreaking havoc on the wizarding community and the panic and fear that it induces was an intriguing setting. It could have worked well, but instead the film functions as if it were a set up for two different franchises.
What do I mean by that? Fantastic Beasts could have been many things. It could have been the jumping off point for a series about Newt. A series about his adventures fighting for the rights of magical creatures. This could have been an interesting inciting moment where this scholarly wizard had his one brush with the greatest dark wizard of all time (before Voldemort). It would have also worked to establish the general panic, confusion, and fear that someone with Grindelwald’s power and message can create. Thus, it could have set the tone for a separate Grindelwald series as well.
Instead, we’re meant to believe that this was the setup for a single story with both of these plots. Somehow Newt Scamander, studier of magical creatures, is intwined with Gellert Grindelwald. Grindelwald who was the biggest threat to the world before Voldemort’s rise. It’s not believable, and it’s also not interesting. With Newt at the center, the threat of Grindelwald holds no weight. Newt’s not effected by any of it. We see this when he strolls unaware and unprepared into the current state of hysteria in New York.
Not to mention that within all that, Rowling, paints Grindelwald into the antithesis of what he functioned as in her original novels. It happens before our very eyes. We see the three dimensional and dynamic possibility, along with Colin Farrell’s compelling performance, fade into the bland piece of one dimensional cardboard cutout of evil that is Johnny Depp’s older Grindelwald.
Where’s the Nuance?
I must confess that I was one of the few fans who, when craving more content and more stories set in Rowling’s sprawling world, thought not of the Marauders but rather of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s origins. The pair had always intrigued me. Their relationship and what it meant to both of them broke down the caricatures. It deconstructed the wise mentor archetype that Rowling saddled Dumbledore with in the beginning of the tale. It granted nuance to a face of evil that we had failed to see with Voldemort.
Voldemort was always the embodiment of pure evil, unable to change, never faltering. Grindelwald was the opposite. Grindelwald and Dumbledore are essentially the Magneto and Professor X of Harry Potter. While Grindelwald’s horrific ideals of “the greater good” are terrifying and the atrocities he committed to achieve it unacceptable, he wasn’t as black and white as Voldemort. He and Dumbledore started in the same place in Godric’s Hollow and only ended up so far away from one another due to Ariana.
The way he acts as a foil for Dumbeldore only goes to show that Grindelwald isn’t “pure evil”. He’s horrific and a villain, no doubt, but the nuance is what makes him intriguing and all the more horrifying.
Dumbledore, as he states in the “King’s Cross” chapter of Deathly Hallows, could be Grindelwald. He wasn’t so far off, nor were his ideals. He states that if Ariana’s death hadn’t put things into perspective for him, he would have gone down that path. Had he ever sought a position of power, like the Minister of Magic so often offered to him, he could have regressed. He could have returned to being the Dumbledore huddled over papers with Grindelwald speaking of the “greater good” and the Hallows in Godric’s Hollow. Very little separates the two. It’s that relationship, that core bond and similarity, that forced the two against one another in the end. It’s also what is so intriguing.
Grindelwald was power hungry, idealistic, and willing to do whatever it took to achieve his goals. (Sound familiar?) He believed that the true place for wizard kind was not in hiding. Their power meant they were destined to rule the Muggles. Grindelwald thought that a reclamation of their power would be for the best for everyone. That Muggles would be safer and better off under wizarding rule. “For the Greater Good,” as he put it.
As I hinted at earlier, its the Magneto and Professor X argument about mutant kind. It’s not all that subtle, but it is ever so effective. After all, any time those two meet, their middle ground is the most intriguing part of their confrontations. Same with Grindelwald and Dumbledore. Grindelwald doesn’t want to kill every Muggle and Muggle-born like Voldemort. Voldemort’s ideal of a mass extermination is so evil one can’t deny his utter vileness. There’s no going back for a villain that evil, which is the climax of Harry’s final battle with him. Harry realizes there’s no saving someone like Voldemort even as he urges remorse.
Grindelwald is supremely horrific and commits horrible crimes in the name of “the greater good”, most definitely. But, in the end what makes him different and more interesting is that there are (very) small points of his argument that are understandable. It was the ground on which he and Dumbledore first walked on in Godric’s Hollow, even before they stumbled upon the whole “greater good” mentality.
He is human. With that humanity comes empathy. Not sympathy, for sure, but understanding. At the point in Dealthy Hallows when Voldemort confronts him to secure the Elder Wand, it becomes strikingly clear the two forms of villainy Rowling was painting. Voldemort, lusty and hungry for power, never stops. He never changes or relents. He is willing to do whatever it takes to kill Harry Potter, rule the wizarding world, and submit Muggles and Muggle-borns to mass persecution and execution.
Grindelwald, however, shows a shred of remorse. His final act shows that his years at Nurmengard actually changed him. He was changeable. When Voldemort asked him for the location of the Elder Wand, instead of confessing the truth and telling him Dumbledore won it in their infamous duel, he lies. He claims he never had it, knowing full well that his life would end there and then. Instead of allowing Voldemort to break into Dumbledore’s tomb, Grindelwald evinces the lingering and long-thought lost humanity that has always been inside of him. He uses the last moments of his life to do the only thing he could do to make what little amends he could to his old companion.
Perhaps we should have known the film series would destroy all this nuance. It should have been obvious when this scene played out on our screens in the first part of the film adaptation of Deathly Hallows in a very different way. Instead of securing the end of his life by concealing the place of the Elder Wand and the sanctity of Dumbledore’s tomb, Grindelwald outright tells Voldemort its location and final possessor. After that it should have been clear. It should have shown us that this was the Grindelwald the films would be interested in adapting.
Although with Rowling at the helm of Fantastic Beasts one would have hoped for something different. Where’s all that nuance Rowling? You gave him more nuance on those few pages than you did in the movie he was actually present in.
Touching on that nuance would have been perfectly exemplified by the involvement of the film’s ultimate plot point: the introduction of the Obscurial. An Obscurial is a young witch or wizard that, after years of suppressing their magic due to some sort of trauma, develops an Obscurus. They often lose control, leading to violent outbursts of dark and powerful magic.
It’s hinted that Grindelwald had an encounter with an Obscurial before, an encounter that would change his life. Muggles harassed Dumbledore’s younger sister, Ariana, for doing magic. They had seen how this trauma ultimately lead to her refusal to use her powers. Her suppression led to violent outbursts that she couldn’t control, as described by Aberforth Dumbledore in the novels. And Ariana was what drew the wedge between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. She not only represented a home that he couldn’t leave after his mother’s death, but also the future that he and Grindelwald hoped to build together.
People like her were a driving force for people like Dumbledore and Grindelwald and their frustration with wizard-kind hiding and cowering, afraid of detection.
He told me what a stupid little boy I was, trying to stand in the way of him and my brilliant brother…didn’t I understand my poor sister wouldn’t have to be hidden once they’d change the world, and led the wizards out of hiding, and taught the Muggle’s their place? – Aberforth Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Grindelwald-as-Graves has a line after the MACUSA kill Credence. He asks them who that law actually protects. What kind of law is it when it leads to this type of emotional and psychical abuse of children? Who does it protect when it leads to the death of a kid who just needed help? Like Magneto, this type of a villain has a valid point. He has seen suffering and wants to act on it. It’s infinitely more interesting than a pure evil, power hungry maniac. The humanity makes him all the more terrifying because you can understand where it’s coming from.
Yet, the relationship with Credence isn’t stressed. At least not to the point where you would ever think Grindelwald actually cared about his second interaction with an Obscurial. This was his second chance. His moment to perhaps save someone this time. However, leaving all that out left the powerful line of his to the MACUSA flat. In what seems to be a scene that is the opposite of subtle or nuanced, he even tells Credence that he is a worthless squib. This causes Credence to reveal his true nature as the Obscurial in anger. It was ‘evil villain dialogue’ to a T.
Then, at the end, after the MACUSA blast a tormented and abused child to death for their law (would that be “for the greater good” then?), I found myself siding with him. Or at least I did, while I thought he was still Graves. But no one else in the film does, and our protagonists certainly don’t. In fact, they barely have a reaction to anything going on in that moment at all. No one cares about what Grindelwald-as-Graves is saying, but he brings up a good point.
There’s a layer to his argument that makes sense and after seeing an emotionally and physically traumatized child killed before your eyes. You should question the morality of the MACUSA, who, after all, made use of the death sentence earlier in the film. You understand what Grindelwald means and that’s both what is interesting and what is scary. He’s right. Who is their law protecting? What makes them so different than him? They’re just fighting for the protection of opposite sides. It doesn’t make what he’s been doing to make his point morally right, but he does have a point.
When you kill abused children in the name of the law, there’s more going on here than the black and white battle of good versus evil. However, without thinking or hesitating, our protagonists immediately side with the MACUSA, securing Grindelwald’s capture. There’s no hesitation. Seeing as how they are meant to be our eyes into the story, we aren’t supposed to second guess the MACUSA’s actions either.
The point of Grindelwald is that he’s supposed to be able to gain reasonable supporters and not just bigots. He’s playing on something many wizards have feared and thus they find a champion in his ideals. The Obscurial plot line should marry perfectly well with that notion, but instead it’s barely an afterthought.
Not to mention the god-awful look they gave Johnny Depp at the end. He looks less human than Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemeort. A monster persona is the opposite of what Grindelwald represents. Not all bad wizards are inhumanely bad. Not all bad wizards are uniquely flat out evil. It’s why the most interesting moments of Voldemort are his memories, when we see him before he went past the point of no return. Grindelwald inhabits in this grayer realm (in the books, that is). It’s a realm of nuance. But instead, Fantastic Beasts paints him as a horrifying one note monster, from his appearance down to his behavior.
What’s that? Questionable Implications?
Implications! My favorite subject! Many have already called Rowling for citing Dumbledore as gay “representation”. Meaning he’s gay despite the fact that it is never outright stated in the novel, only presented as subtext. Yet, on expanding Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship as well as their characters in Fantastic Beasts, Rowling has a chance to correct her wrongs. Although, judging by her interviews and what has been set up in this film, it seems like she might only be digging herself further into a hole.
According to Rowling, Dumbledore’s feelings for Grindelwald were never reciprocated. Instead, the relationship we see play out between Grindelwald-as-Graves and Credence in Fantastic Beats is more or less what conspired between the two young men that summer in Godric’s Hollow.
I think he was a user and a narcissist, and I think someone like that would use it, would use the infatuation. I don’t think that he would reciprocate in that way, although he would be as dazzled by Dumbledore as Dumbledore was by him, because he would see in Dumbledore, ‘My God, I never knew there was someone as brilliant as me, as talented as me. Together, we are unstoppable!’ So I think he would take anything from Dumbledore to have him on his side.- J.K. Rowling
We once again see gay sexuality as subtext in Fantastic Beasts. It’s a subtext painted more as an allegory than a piece of representation. Not to mention that if the relationship we see between Credence and Grindelwald-as-Graves is what Grindelwald’s relationship with Dumbledore was like, there is an alarming sense of manipulation and victimhood that comes with Rowling’s one and only instance of “representation”.
Why does it have to be one sided and abusive? In this film franchise, she has what most authors do not. She has a chance to correct herself on something she has been criticized for in the years since she wrote the books.
There is also something more realistic and vivid about a fast and toxic summer fling than a fast and toxic friendship. Romances move fast. People get in deep quickly. It also presents a more apt relationship and arc for the two of them if they actually did care about one another equally (once again reminiscent of Professor X and Magneto). There’s more meaning to what would be one of the most epic duels and climaxes at the end of the series. It also adds more weight and understanding to Grindelwald’s final moments in the book if he wasn’t just using Dumbledore or narcissistically attaching himself to his genius.
Instead of any of that, this is what we’re getting as our one piece of “representation”. If that’s all Grindelwald felt for Dumbledore, if what we see with him and Credence is essentially what went on in Godric’s Hollow all those years ago, that final battle that the series is presumably amping up to loses its dimensionality and power. Rather than two men who had deeper feelings for one another, feelings that ended in a rupture and an event that both of them seem to regret and want to forget. Rather than a confrontation with each other and a truth they pushed out of their minds for so long coming head to head, we’re getting a good guy and a bad guy.
Instead of seeing them come to wizarding blows after denying something within them to be able to continue on their paths. Instead of making that connection something deeper, we’re most likely getting a grand but flat, action-packed battle at the end of the series reminiscent of what they did with the final battle in the final Harry Potter film. We’re getting a manipulative and abusive force of evil and his victim. Now, that is a valid story to tell, but one far less interesting that what we could have gotten. Not to mention the fact that, once again, the gay ‘relationship’ was only subtext, which doesn’t give much, if any, hope for the future.
Also….why Johnny Depp?! I might have let out a sad cry when Colin Farrell and his ridiculously good performance as Grindelwald-as-Graves (seriously he was one of the two standouts) faded right before our eyes and turned into the bland and horrific bleach blond Grindelwald that Johnny Depp will be playing in the rest of the films. Why are they even casting him in things anymore? And why, when you have Colin Farrell at your disposal, do you waste a performance like that for what this ultimately was?
I could go into the fact that there are abuse allegations against Depp from Amber Heard that include a great deal of biphobia. Not a great choice of actor for someone who is playing the second half of what is the only canonically gay coded relationship in the series. But I won’t.
At the end of the day, like Rowling’s original material, there is a strength at the core. There’s undeniable thematic value. However, when translated and adapted, it has lost any and all of its nuance. For now, I think I’ll have to accept that as I watch these films come out for the next eight years. I’ll have to bury the dream of mine to see a properly done Grindelwald and Dumbledore series in the ground, along with the little bit of nuance Grindelwald’s book counterpart had.
Images Courtesy of Warner Brothers.
The Expanse Season Two Still Fares Well As An Adaptation
The Expanse has had the seventh book in the series released this month, while its third season (meant to adapt the second half of the second book) is scheduled to come out some time next year. In other words, both the authors of the source material and of the adaptation are keeping busy, making it a very current show. So allow me to continue in my attempt to assess how it fared as an adaptation.
The second season works with the second half of Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the series, and the first half of Caliban’s War, the second installment. It continued its similarity to Game of Thrones as an adaptation by diverging from the source material significantly more than in the first year it was on air. The good news, however, is that the changes are not so dramatically for the worse as is usual, and in some cases are even for the better.
Warning: the following contains spoilers for both the show and the books.
Some problems remain from season one. Chiefly, two of them. One is the scope of the world as it is depicted on the show. The other are the universally dark and gritty visuals. Ganymede is supposed to have corridors carved in ice. Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see that? But now, just more indistinguishable black and grey.
The most significant difference between the books and the show in season two is, without a doubt, all the added drama. It’s everywhere. Every little thing that is routine in the books becomes exceedingly tense on the show. Starting with the Somnambulist, which is not taken by force – or near enough to force – in book!verse, but is simply a ship at OPA’s disposal that Holden is given by Fred. Continuing through Bobbie’s escape from her rooms in the UN compound; she simply walks away in the book and that’s it. And ending with the escape from Gynemedes, which, int he books, is not so much of an escape as simply, you know, leaving. I could keep listing other instances, but this serves as a good example of the sort of tension added for television.
Related to this is also the complete secrecy that surrounds everything on the show. The books work much better with the reality of modern technology where things are streamed immediately. Billions of people watch Eros crash into Venus live, for example, and the data available from what happens there is available to everyone. Or there is the whole thing with the zombie terminator attacking on Ganymede. On the show, it’s a huge secret Chrisjen has to exert extreme energy to ferret out. In the books, everyone knows and there is footage of the attack available. One of my favourite little moments is when Holden tries to hide his identity behind a scruffy beard as he comes to Ganymede, and you end his chapter feeling that he succeeded. Only to open Chrisjen’s chapter and find out that he really, really did not.
Secrecy adds drama, so it is understandable why the show decided to go this way. The need to keep viewers hooked is evident, too. And ending the season in a middle of a book, they needed a suitably dramatic bang to end with. So while all of these things make me roll my eyes, I do not truly blame the show for them. I feel the missed character beats much more keenly.
Captain James Holden
Holden is one character whose arc from the first half of Caliban’s War was adapted truly well. There was the inevitable added drama, as everywhere, but his essential story arc remained.
With regards to the end of Leviathan Wakes, however, the issues from season one continue, and Holden is treated as more of a boy scout by the show than he is by the book. One fantastic moment (though one that could hardly be adapted) was seeing inside Holden’s head when the Head Human Experimenter tried to convince him to join forces before Miller shot him. The reader can see, with intimate certainty, that Holden is this close to giving in when Miller pulls the trigger. We know for certain that it was done at just the right time. Yet Holden condemns Miller for it without the slightest trace of self-awareness, confident he would have resisted. It’s no doubt intentional, and it’s perfection. It should have been replaced by a similar scene suitable for the visual medium that would have conveyed the same. It wasn’t, and Holden’s character suffered for it.
On the other hand, I very much appreciate the change made to Holden’s dynamics with Naomi. In the books, when they start their romantic relationship, it turns out that not only has Naomi been in love with him for ages, so had pretty much every female on the Canterburry, because he is obviously God’s gift to womankind. It’s something to be thankful for that we don’t have to deal with that on our screens, even though I admit that the way book!Naomi handles Holden after that is exquisite.
I’m also very much in favour of the open communication that happens between them before they have sex in the books, as opposed to the “thick erotic tension” kind of deal the show went with. It would be easier to teach people about affirmative consent if there were actual examples of it in the media. There was a scene like that in the book, and guess what? It didn’t get adapted. Let’s all pretend at astonishment.
Dr. Praxidike Meng
I must admit that I was surprised when I saw he was one of the point of view characters. I neither knew nor expected it, and that in itself sums up the biggest problem with his show adaptation. He was very much pushed into the background. I understand why, I suppose – it might have been felt that there were too many new characters – but he lost a lot of his appeal when his role was cut. He is there to represent a valuable civilian point of view among all the trained soldiers and expert politicians. And his expertise adds a crucial dimension to the catastrophe of Gynamede.
Though if someone had to be cut short, I’m glad it was Dr. Meng. I understand they could hardly reduce Hodlen’s role, as much as I’d appreciate it, and both of the ladies are more interesting than Dr. Meng.
Still, I remember lamenting the sharp division between the first and second half of season 2 and pointing out that had Dr. Meng been included in some of the earlier episodes, it would have helped to make the transition more seamless. Now that I know he is one of the point of view characters, I feel this even more strongly.
Assistant Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala
I cannot quite decide whether Chrisjen is an adaptational success or failure. Because she is perfection on the show…but she is also quite different from the books. If I should compare book!Chrisjen to someone, it would probably be Miranda from Devil Wears Prada, or characters of that sort. She is not likable in any straightforward way, but at the same time, she has a charm to her that is oddly irresistible as much as you want to punch her in the fact at the same time.
Show!Chrisjen, on the other hand, is much softer on the surface, not showing her hard lines so obviously. Even when she swears, she does it with a kind of disarming smile that takes the edge off it. Book!Chrisjen is nothing but edges.
I don’t want to complain, because show!Chrisjen is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and there is nothing intrinsically better or worse about either of their characterisations. But I cannot help but wonder how far gender stereotyping played a part in making Chrisjen less obviously hard. And it becomes especially problematic when paired with her stupidity in season 2, which takes the form of that oh-so-very-feminine failing of trusting too much in her friends, or ex-friends.
I wrote out my thoughts about that elsewhere in detail.To summarise, it was a subplot that prioritized a male character over a female one, and made Chrisjen look naive. But it was also an excellently done one. So while it troubles me, I cannot with a clear conscience say I wish it didn’t happen. I just hope it won’t again.
Additionally, one change I definitely appreciated was Chrisjen not being Errinwright’s subordinate on the show. It changed the dynamic significantly, and very much for the better. It also made this whole added subplot in season two possible.
Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper
Bobbie has a similar problem as Chrisjen: she, too, is made to look markedly more stupid on the show. Only as Chrisjen is effectively a genius, she ends up being just a little incompetent. Bobbie sometimes ends up looking downright stupid.
To be fair, her character is exceedingly hard to adapt. She has that in common with Dr. Meng. While Jim and Chrisjen constantly talk to people around them and even the things that are part of their inner monologue are easy to change to a personal conversation with someone close, Bobbie doesn’t have that option. She doesn’t have anyone close to her left. For a long time, the only person she talks to at all is the chaplain, whom she just dismisses in many different ways when he tries to ‘help’. There is no way to naturally have her talk about what she thinks and feels, because being alone is an important part of her character arc. But not everything can be shown with images.
But that is not the biggest problem with her character. No, that is reserved for the mysterious decision to make Bobbie into a fanatical war-monger at the beginning. I have been complaining about lack of proper representation for Mars in the first season, and so was very happy to see Bobby in nr. 2. And it’s not like seeing her slowly change her approach when confronted with new facts was worthless. But it also made her into a very flat and irritating character for the first two thirds of the season.
It’s not like book!Bobbie goes through no character development after she sees Earth with her own eyes. It’s not like she’s not patriotic or proud to be a marine. But she can be all this and still retain some nuance, and some brain cells. The showrunners seem to have forgotten that. Bobbie on the show frequently comes off as a brat, something her book self never does.
There are other characters worth a mention, naturally. Fred Johnson is probably the most significant. His role was changed significantly as well, and much more tension withing the OPA was included. It adds to the problematic depiction of OPA as uncultured and wild space terrorists, but on the other hand it’s masterfully done. One can understand the sources of tension and where the different branches and wings are coming from. Much like with Errinwright, here again one is willing to forgive the problematic nature of the added material for a large part, because it forms such excellent additions.
In the end, the only thing I truly blame the second season for is the assassination of Bobbie’s character. While changes to Chrisjen upset me, they were compensated for by the excellent quality of Errinwright’s subplot. Yes, it is telling that the two female protagonists were undercut by the adaptation, making them look less smart than they are in the source material. But Chrisjen still comes out of it pretty impressive. The changes to Bobbie, on the other hand, are much more destructive, and they held no compensation, no hidden bonus. She is simply depicted as unlikable, to such an extent that even when we finally get legitimate reasons for sympathy, it’s long in coming.
Season 3 should fix that, and fast. Hopefully, Bobbie is here to stay. She shouldn’t have to carry the weird season 2 baggage with her throughout the show.
Images courtesy of SyFy
The Legend Of Korra Is A Perfect Deconstruction Of Superman
Superman is arguably the single most recognized fictional character in human history. He’s right up there with Batman and Mickey Mouse. His ‘S’ is, at times, even more widely known. “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We know that these phrases are attributed to Superman, even if we don’t know the specific origin or, in most cases, how in the world we even learned them in the first place.
For 80 years, Superman has served as a beacon of hope and change for anyone and everyone. His origin, that of the immigrant whose home and culture were lost the day of his birth (an identity he can never fully regain), is a tragic yet resonant one that has, and will continue to, stand the test of time. Even if it has been re-appropriated into that of a pseudo-messianic myth, the immovable Jewish foundation of Superman’s internal struggle between assimilation (Clark Kent) and refusing to do so (Kal-El) isn’t something anyone has any intention of erasing.
Superman is the bedrock on which all modern heroes are based. Every divergence and every variation, no matter how big or how small, starts with Superman. He is the source, so, naturally, that means he’s the most prone to deconstruction and revisionism.
There have been so many attempts to deconstruct Superman as a concept, as well as his character, that it’s become almost a cliche to even consider it. Nearly every run at it ends in failure, most often due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what Superman even is. What he means, why he is who he is, etc. Off the top of my head, I can name two stories that actually succeed in deconstruction, as they have something worth saying: Superman: American Alien and Superman: Red Son. Wait, no, three examples.
The Legend of Korra. And it does it in a way that is embarrassingly similar to what Zack Snyder’s vision of Superman failed to be.
Xenophobia, A Modern Take
The narrative of Superman is one that is eternally relevant. Immigration as part of the American Dream, let alone an aspect of the nation’s entire identity (“Give us your poor, your wounded, your huddled masses…), has always been a hot button issue. In the new millennium, however, with the onset of the age of instant communication and social media, as well as the events of 9/11, it has ballooned into a political issue based almost entirely on fear. Fear of the “other”, to put it simply. And who is more “other” than Superman himself? He looks like us, and talks like us, but if you’re you and Superman just showed up one day in the real world…you’d have no idea where he came from and what his intentions are.
The only thing you, and everyone else, would know is that he’s different, and possesses abilities that effectively make him a living God. And that is terrifying. Even if the first thing he does is save a plane from falling out of the sky, he’s still going to be looked at with suspicion and fear. At any moment, he could decide to burn the world to the ground. And that’s exactly how Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice treats Superman.
Something to fear, because he isn’t like us. Because he’s too powerful. Because nobody asked for his help, no matter how altruistic his intentions may appear to be on the surface.
It’s a fantastic opening premise for a deconstruction of Superman, as it makes it necessary for him to prove he’s on our side. To do so much good in a world that resents him out of instinctual fear drilled into their heads by the era that they’re eventually forced to give him the benefit of the doubt. That, as far as the public is concerned, it isn’t any more complicated than a man who is just trying to do the right thing. Except that never happened in those movies.
We never saw Superman be Superman. We saw him save people, yes. We saw him do the thankless job. We saw the world resent him. But we never saw him inspire. We never saw him do anything to make us want to trust him at all. To challenge our preconceived notions of who Superman is.
Until General Zod and company arrived, he only operated in secret, using his powers when it was convenient for him. And even when he was forced to face Zod, he brought untold destruction and and collateral damage to his adopted world…completely invalidating the point of the post 9/11 narrative in the first place. How can the world trust a man who destroys the very city he is trying to protect? They don’t need or want Superman, especially since the only reason Zod attacked at all was because he had been “hiding” on Earth.
When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice rolled around, Superman is stuck in an inconsistent guilt spiral from the destruction of Metropolis. Except he doesn’t actually do anything to address that, and the movie doesn’t really either. The first thing Superman does is intervene in a fictional African nation to take down a warlord for the sole purpose of saving Lois Lane. Which, if the film wanted take the very-often-overlooked implications of Superman being an American icon, thus leading to him acting as a sort of unintentional symbol for American interventionism, would have been extremely interesting. Except it doesn’t do that either. Superman is there because he wants to save Lois, and that’s it.
Batman acts as a sort of audience surrogate for the fear that Superman inflicted on the world during his battle with Zod, which might have worked had that gone anywhere aside from Batman trying to kill Superman. He never tries to talk to him or understand him; not even after the infamous Martha scene. If he’s supposed to represent our combined terror of what Superman could be capable of, we should probably be able to agree with his rationale (or even understand it) for not stabbing the man who he saw as a monster two seconds ago in the face.
And then Superman dies, only to return in Justice League to a world that, for reasons that aren’t in evidence and also directly contradict everything that came before it, loves and adores him. A world that was on the verge of eating itself because of his death, despite no one wanting or needing him in every other instance.
None of it is earned. None of it really makes any sense, and the whole production, over multiple films, is only half of what is necessary to convey the narrative Zack Snyder clearly tried to tell.
Avatar Korra, Sequence Breaker
As Kylie so eloquently laid out last week, The Legend of Korra is one hell of a transgressive narrative due mostly in part to its titular protagonist. Korra is brash, overeager, and immeasurably powerful. Her series arc is one of self discovery and self acceptance in a world that actively rejects her existence every chance it gets. She wants to be, essentially, Superman, in a world that has no need nor desire for one. The similarities don’t stop there.
She holds ultimate, untold power and uses it with reckless abandon at the start of the series. In her first few hours in Republic City, she undertakes vigilante justice and violently destroys several storefronts. Because that’s the kind of person she is.
People don’t trust her the moment she announces herself, they wonder why they need her, even though previous incarnations of her have almost always been treated like spiritual leaders and authorities. No matter how many times she saves the world, people still hate her. They are suspicious and cynical of the stranger, since she is inherently an outsider due to her birthright and connection to a world (the Spirit World) few can even comprehend or understand.
This set-up is supposed to make us question and consider what being the Avatar actually means when the assumed role is no longer relevant or necessary. What can Korra reasonably do when the geopolitical climate isn’t as simple as “stop evil”? When every action she takes is looked at with intense scrutiny from a far more connected public. That is to say, the show asked us to consider Korra in relation to her previous incarnations to explicate the disparity just as Snyder’s Superman did by contrasting him the with the multitude of other versions of Superman across every form of media imaginable.
Zack Snyder’s Superman begins his journey in much the same place Korra did. He has powers he doesn’t know how to control, and hides them until the world is ready, just as the White Lotus hid Korra. Of course, this is where the deconstruction of Superman falls apart: it doesn’t actually go anywhere. He starts where Korra starts, and doesn’t progress at all. He does the thankless job, sure, but he doesn’t learn from any of his choices or mistakes. He intervenes without thinking about it, and chooses to brood instead of facing his issues and trauma.
At the end of Man of Steel, Clark faces off against General Zod and causes devastating damage to Metropolis. Zod has the same abilities as Superman, as they are both Kryptonian, meaning that he’s basically supposed to serve as an evil mirror. This is far from dissimilar to the finale of Book 2, where Korra fights Unalaq after he becomes the Dark Avatar and starts destroying Republic City. She even kills him in the end, as there was no other way to save the world.
Even Superman’s death at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — as well as his subsequent resurrection in Justice League — is paralleled and unintentionally blown out of the water. Korra did something very similar with the end of Book 3, sacrificing herself at the hands of the Red Lotus to save the Airbenders. Though she is not killed, she vanishes from the public eye as she heals…just as the world enters a state of actually, truly needing her intervention with the chaos spreading throughout the Earth Kingdom like wildfire.
Superman and Korra are both on isolating journeys of self discovery. Korra’s takes place before and during the final season where she learns to cope with her PTSD, and how to better approach her role even though it is so undefined and volatile. She can be the kind of person she wants to be without constantly fighting for relevance, and even if the world resists her she can pick and choose her battles.
Korra learns how to be happy as Korra, rather than her title and all of the baggage she had stripped from her in the finale of Book 2. Previous Avatar cycles (much like previous incarnations of Superman) operated in a traditional way, but that’s not how the world works anymore and that’s okay! She can still find happiness and purpose in whatever she chooses to do, even if it’s not what her childhood self believed it would become due to the White Lotus jamming that into her head. Not unlike Jor-El did to Superman in Man of Steel.
Superman’s journey takes a confusing amount of years throughout Man of Steel, given that he wanders the world as a bum with a depression beard. The entire sequence doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, since he discovers who he is from the Fortress of Solitude. He doesn’t learn anything about himself as an outsider living in a foreign land, nor does he have a wound that requires isolation and introspection to heal or understand. This is the kind of thing that would have made more sense to happen after killing Zod.
But since it doesn’t, we’re left with an angry, brooding Superman with no redeeming qualities or justification to treat him as Superman. He’s just a superhuman guy in a cape who does things that are kinda nice sometimes.
Korra, meanwhile, justifies her own existence and acts as the hero people grew to mostly tolerate, and occasionally love. She gave them every reason to trust her, and a good amount of people do by the end of the series. Unlike Snyder’s Superman, it was something she earned by deconstructing her own legacy.
Images courtesy of DC Comics and Nickelodeon
Why You Need To Be More Excited About Bisexual Rosa Diaz
Television has been a mixed bag for bisexuals. Even as gay and lesbian representation become more and more common (though not as fast as it should), characters within other parts of the acronym are few and far between. For bisexuals, who often suffer from confusion not just without but within the LGBT community, proper, outright representation means quite a lot. Not hints, not little flirts after a female character breaks up with her boyfriend. And especially not characters that just hook up with the same gender as fanservice. We want characters who can say “I’m bisexual.” We’ve been lucky to have characters like Sarah Lance or Daryl Whitefeather in recent years, but as a whole, television seems reluctant to acknowledge bisexuality.
But we finally have another name for that criminally short list: Detective Rosa Diaz of Fox’s Brooklyn 99. And not only is she bisexual, but she’s also a bisexual Latina woman played by a bisexual Latina woman. Let me say that one more time to help it sink in. We have, on a major network, a Latina woman coming out as bisexual who is played by a Latina bisexual woman.
— Brooklyn Nine-Nine (@Brooklyn99FOX) December 6, 2017
Brooklyn 99 has been a success since day one thanks to its character, heart, and style of comedy that refuses to punch down. It has also become well known for its handling of social issues, best represented by the character of Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher); a black, gay man whose sexuality is merely a part of his character, not his entire identity. The handling of Holt, who stands out in a sea of shallow stereotypes and tokenism, has led the show’s fans to hope another character to come out as a member of the LGBT community. When it turned out that it was Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) would be coming out as bi in the show’s ninety-ninth episode, appropriately titled “99,” the people rejoiced.
— G. N. Ellis (@gnelliswriter) December 6, 2017
The episode itself did a good job of keeping her coming out low key. She only comes out to her friend, Detective Boyle, and only after he’d spent the episode bugging her about her new paramour. Interestingly, the show played with ideas of heteronormativity as Boyle pesters her about who “he” is, about her “boyfriend.” Rosa’s frustration seems not to be with Boyle’s prodding into her well guarded personal life (though that is part of it), but instead with his assumption that she was only dating a man. This episode restrains the result of this coming out to Boyle and Rosa bonding, letting the coming out stand alone. It is in this week’s follow up episode, “Game Night,” where the show’s dedication to Rosa and her coming out becomes more obvious.
— Rachel (@BendItLikeTobin) December 6, 2017
The conflict in this episode, for Rosa, is in coming out to her parents and co-workers. Rather than let it just be played off as something she can sweat like so many other things, it instead very realistically captures the fears an LGBT+ child, particularly an adult one, might face when coming out.
Rosa’s first act is to come out to her co-workers during a meeting. She uses the term “bisexual,” and allows “one minute and zero questions” of seconds. We learn that she, like many other lovers of the same sex, discovered her sexuality while taking in media, in Rosa’s case Saved By The Bell. The show makes a conscious decision here not to make it some “phase” or something she’s just now discovering. Rosa Diaz has been bi since she was in 7th grade. She has been bi for all five seasons of the show.
I can’t even begin to express how nervous I was about tonight’s episode. I was so excited to share Rosa’s coming out to her parents, but felt really terrified I wouldn’t do it justice. maybe that’s because there is so little bi visibility in television. #Brooklyn99
— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) December 13, 2017
Coming out to her parents has an entirely different set of emotions. Rosa fears that her coming out will change something with them, that somehow they won’t love her or they won’t want to be around her (Of course, in Rosa’s usual fashion, their bonding time consists of silent dinners). With Jake’s help (who gives an impassioned and curiously personal coming out speech to Rosa to help prepare her for her parents), she makes an attempt over dinner. Here, Rosa’s fear rapidly turns to anger when she learns that her parents were worried she was going to come out at dinner and were relieved that she was, thanks to a misunderstanding with Jake, just a mistress. The show pulls no punches here, capturing not just how angry she is at her parents’ ignorance but also heartbreak at being burned due to her vulnerability. In true sitcom fashion, this conflict wraps up cleanly by the end of the half hour. But the power and authenticity of it remain.
— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) December 12, 2017
Stephanie Beatriz, herself a bisexual woman, has not been quiet in her desire for Rosa to reflect her own sexuality and has been effusive in her support of the storyline. She’s worked hard to make sure that the story reflects the bisexual experience, and has personally validated many fans in their own journeys. She does all this while still portraying Rosa as the stone-cold bad ass she’s always been. The emotions we see in Rosa as she comes out are real, they are powerful, and they are beautiful. But they are all 100% still Rosa’s.
And I’m super proud of eps 100 and 101, the ones you saw tonight. #bechdeltest passed and bi and proud. This is in incredible show to be a part of. Thank you to the cast and crew of the Nine-Nine. #Brooklyn99
— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) December 13, 2017
As a final and personal note, this is a huge moment for me as a bisexual man being able to see the representation of some of my experiences on the screen. But I can only capture a small part of why this matters. I can’t even fathom how much this matters to bisexual women, let alone our POC brothers and sisters who are even less represented. Rosa Diaz’s coming out is their story as much as it is anyone’s, and I hope that I was able to capture a small measure of the joy this news has caused.