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Mon-El is Supergirl’s Kryptonite

Kylie

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Not Kara Danvers—the show.

Supergirl is something you hear mentioned a lot around here, and that’s because from the get-go, it has blown many of us away with its unbridled enthusiasm and positive takeaways. While there have been stumbles here and there, Kara’s optimism and staunch refusal to be infantilized, along with a rich cast of supporting characters each battling their own demons, more than earned its top spot on our “best of 2016” list.

It’s therefore with the utmost love and respect that we, Gretchen and Kylie (‘Grylie’ of course), have to discuss a problem with Supergirl’s second season. A major problem, in fact. One that is actively dragging the narrative down and undercutting the show’s otherwise feminist messaging. We’ll give you three guesses who we’re talking about (though you probably only need one). That’s right, this guy:

Meet Mon-El. He’s Kara’s season 2 love interest/recently-turned-boyfriend from the Kryptonian colony of Daxam, the Zeta Beta Tau of the (potentially) Andromeda galaxy. And to be clear, we weren’t opposed to the idea of him at the beginning. In fact, we saw a lot of exciting potential in another alien survivor with superpowers on the show, especially since it put Kara in the role she had always intended to fill with Clark, yet never got the opportunity.

Here’s the story of a man named Mon-El

Like his Kryptonian pod, Mon-El landed in Supergirl with a lot of hype, but without making a huge impact. (He was unconscious during the first two episodes of this season.) Kara almost immediately recognized both his planet of origin (Daxam) and that he was someone of prominence. The Hatfields and McCoys-esque planetary rivalry between Daxam and Krypton set Kara up to challenge her own prejudice.

As befits our girl of steel, once she got over her knee-jerk reaction, she urged Mon-El to use his superpowers to help people. But, for the first few episodes he appeared in, Mon-El wanted to party, lay low, and be generally lazy and privileged. He seemed poised for a ‘learn how to be a hero’ arc with Kara as his mentor, while serving as a potentially interesting foil for The Guardian, a human with no powers who had chosen to keep his own superheroing a secret rather than work as part of a team.

Mon-El’s hesitation made a certain amount of sense early on. He’s the prince of a privileged culture that still uses slaves. He probably hasn’t worked a ‘real job’ in his life, at least by Earth standards. Plus, laying low on a new planet with a foreign culture after realizing you suddenly have increased physical power isn’t a bad idea. He needed to get his feet under him. And depending on what kind of relationship he had with his parents (who are actively looking for him across the galaxy while he lies about being related to them), he may have wanted to keep a low profile. Fair enough.

He also comes from a culture with a lot of baggage, specifically baggage about male privilege and men’s relationship to women. In 2×05, he pawns his work off on Miss Tessmacher and, when confronted by Kara, claims he did so because: “She wanted to please me. On Daxam, when a woman wishes to please a man—”. Yikes. We’ve never been more grateful for Kara interrupting someone.

He also seems to believe altruism (and/or job satisfaction?) = selfishness based on how he responds to Kara’s desire to help people.

“Okay, I may have your powers but I don’t have this, this innate desire to go leaping into trouble. But that doesn’t make me a bad person, all right? You’re no saint, Kara Zor-El! You fly around, rescuing people like you’re just pure of heart. But that is crap. Because you love that attention. You love people loving you. You are not selfless. And you’re no hero.”

Mon-El further projects his own desire to stay out of trouble and the limelight onto her. He encourages her not to be a hero or go ‘looking for trouble’ because he wants to stay ‘safe’ and not get involved. To him, his survival is no more than luck and merits no reflection or compassionate reflex. His privilege gave him a simplistic approach to life, and he prioritizes personal physical safety. Beyond that, he’s content to uphold the status quo, party on, and skip work whenever he feels like it.

And skip HR seminars.

This is a problematic head-space to live in, no question. He’s privileged, entitled, selfish, pleasure-oriented to the detriment of others, and interprets kindness and compassion as acts of self-centeredness. That’s a heck of a lot of societal baggage to unlearn, and it makes sense that he wasn’t ready to jump into being a superhero thirty seconds after he lands on Earth. We appreciate that this gave Kara a chance to face down the way she projected her urge to mentor onto him without taking his desires into account. She gets a chance to apologize and back off, like the respectful person she is. After this, the tone quickly shifted from mentorship to one of potential romance.

But before we dive into that, it’s worth taking a look at his arc as it’s been set up thus far. He’s a privileged white male from a toxic culture with a need to reform his toxic mindset. His arc is ‘douchebag becomes a decent guy’, to put it crassly. Which is…fine, we guess? It’s not a bad story to tell, even if pretty stale at this point. But this season already has an arc concerned with breaking the cycle of violence, overcoming an ingrained toxic environment, and shedding problematic cultural frameworks: M’gann.

If you count Lena’s arc pushing away from her family’s villainy to become her own hero, we actually have two. This is on top of Kara’s ongoing exploration of her own mixed Kryptonian heritage and Alex learning how to make space for herself within a much more positive, but still constrained, familial dynamic. The hints we’ve gotten of Maggie’s backstory seem to imply a similarly troubled family history. We could even include J’onn learning to forgive M’gann and let go of his (very understandable) hatred for his persecutors. Heck, the main plot of the season revolves around an organization that seeks to legalize and enact bigotry and violence against refugees. It’s safe to say that the ‘overcoming toxic ideas about others’ arc is well covered this season.

With that in mind, we feel compelled to ask exactly what Mon-El contributes to this narrative that is not otherwise dealt with by any of the other arcs that touch on this same topic. His own arc does specifically involve sexism and entitlement, but is that enough to justify his inclusion, especially when this aspect gets buried under his role as Kara’s love interest?

And it does get buried. Mon-El’s character development does not follow a linear trajectory once his role shifts from potential mentee to potential love interest. Prior to him canonically expressing romantic interest in Kara (which happens in 2×07), the most negative thing one could say about him was that he was a selfish douchebag, which honestly made sense due to Daxam’s toxic culture.

It’s only after he expresses interest in Kara that the most troubling aspects of his personality manifest: his protective paternalism and repeated failures to listen to or respect Kara’s agency. Episodes 9, 10, 13, and 14 all include at least one example of Kara giving Mon-El point-blank instructions that he just as pointedly ignores. Usually because he believes he knows better than her about what the best thing to do is.

We know.

Whether Supergirl intended his behavior to be read as a result of his upbringing is almost beside the point. Canonically, it’s because he likes her. It’s right there in black and white. He blames being an asshole on his feelings for her.

“I also wanted to say I’m sorry. For acting like an ass. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and I have realized that you are my Kryptonite…I mean, my feelings for you. I’ve never felt like this about anyone in my life… I didn’t know that there were this many feelings to even be had. My emotions, I guess they made me kind of crazy.”

How does this explanation make his behavior any better? If anything, it’s worse because it reads as an attempt to romanticize a lack of basic respect for Kara as an individual.

Kara Who?

Speaking of Kara as an individual, there’s a reason why we’ve started off talking about Mon-El’s place in this arc instead of hers. As unhealthy as we find Mon-El’s behavior, he at least has a canonical reason for his interest in Kara. Although he questions her superheroing, he admires it too, and wants to be like her. Though the resulting narrative does look uncomfortably like he only wants to be a hero so he can get in her pants.

But while we’re not thrilled about that, it’s at least a reason that we know exists. Kara? We spent almost half an hour just trying to discern that she likes Mon-El, apart from Alex basically telling her she does.

Seriously. Kara evinces zero perceptible interest in Mon-El prior to 2×12. Kara rejects the very idea that he likes her when Eliza brings it up in 2×08. When he confesses his feelings for her in 2×10, she fails to deny his statement that she doesn’t feel the same way about him (not that she can get a word in edgewise with Mon-El talking at and over her). 2×11 opens with her admitting they’re not a good match and she would never date him.

Kara: And even if I did have time to date someone, I wouldn’t date someone like… Someone who is…

Mon-El: An intergalactic bartender?

Kara: Yes! No. It’s… Because it’s not your job. It’s… It’s the way you are.

“It’s the way you are.” This is what she spit out without thinking, too. How much clearer can Kara be that she’s not interested in him? She basically just said, “It’s not you, oh wait it is you.” So excuse us if we’re more than a little confused when Alex tells Kara, “maybe the reason that you made such big plans with me was so that you didn’t have to think about how you actually feel about him” at the end of this very same episode.

Where is Alex even getting this from? Maybe the reason Kara wanted to spend time with Alex for her ‘Earth Birthday’ is because this is a hugely important day for Kara that she’s always celebrated with her sister? You know, the canonical reason Kara gave Alex at the beginning of the episode.

And yet, this conversation is the basis for Kara’s ‘change of heart’, or ‘realization’ if you want to put it that way, about her supposed feelings for Mon-El. She’s been absolutely clear about her lack of romantic interest in Mon-El up to this point. And no, facial expressions don’t count, though to us Melissa Bonoist came across as consistently confused at best. Just look at how awkward Kara’s physicality is with Mon-El whenever he’s in her space:

 

Romance??

Alex’s assertion that Kara has feelings for Mon-El came completely out of the blue. Kara had only ever said she doesn’t like him that way. To go from “I don’t like you because of the way you are” (2×11) to “I thought you were thoughtless and selfish. And I kept writing you off, and you kept proving me wrong. And it just got me thinking. Maybe I can have it all.” (2×12) makes zero sense. First of all, we’d like to see the receipts for how Mon-El “kept proving me wrong”. From what we can tell, he hasn’t made consistent or lasting change since he first began exhibiting lack of respect for Kara due to his romantic interest.

Secondly, say we accept that somehow Kara is interested in Mon-El despite her never saying so until Alex throws that idea out there. Why does she like him? This is a genuine question we have, as it is nowhere stated in canon other than what Kara says to Mon-El about how he “proves her wrong.” Contrast this with the repeated explanations of and emphasis on her feelings for James Olsen last season.

The most likely possibility we came up with is that she’s attaching herself to Mon-El out of a fear of abandonment. Alex dropped the truth bomb on Kara in 2×02 that Clark abandoned her with the Danvers family, and she’s been resisting that truth ever since. The additional truth about her father’s experimentation with bio-weapons (2×08) only heightened her sense of isolation from her heritage and family.

Plus, Kara’s arc this season has been increasingly focused on her isolation from her friends. James has the Guardian and Winn, Winn has Lyra and the Guardian, Alex has Maggie, J’onn has M’gann. Visually, the frequent shots of Kara alone on screen juxtaposed with characters like Alex being comforted by others cannot be an accident.

But if this is the case, why do we not see this dealt with more specifically? Are we just supposed to assume her desire to date Mon-El stems from her fear of abandonment? Or from her trying to establish a connection with someone, though without any specific statement to that effect? And if so, why have Alex of all people be the one to tell Kara how she really feels? Alex’s relationship with Maggie makes up a significant part of Kara’s isolation arc. Alex has been spending most of the time with her new girlfriend, so where does this sudden insight into Kara’s unspoken interest in Mon-El come from? It almost felt like Alex just wanted that needy, single sister of hers off her hands. Or like she had read the script and knew Kara was going to date Mon-El.

Are we meant to see a misplaced attraction for Clark? This started off as kind of a joke between us, but the longer we thought about it, the more sense it began to make (this is how desperate we are for an explanation, guys). More than once, the narrative draws explicit parallels between Mon-El and Superman; even Mxyzptlk dresses himself up in a parody of Clark’s superman costume when he tries to prove himself a suitable hero partner to Kara. There’s no denying that Kara’s mentorship of Mon-El is the exact dynamic she never got to have with Clark, and that missed opportunity is something we’ve seen her struggle with before.

Also, Kara’s first instinct for a day job for Mon-El is as an intern at CatCo, complete with Clark Kent glasses and journalist outfit. So…does she secretly want to date her cousin? It’s weird to think about and definitely not what the writers intended, but at least it’s *some* kind of reason.

Let’s not do this.

But this wild train of thought brought up an actual issue in Mon-El’s arc: the conflation of hero-ready with boyfriend-ready. The narrative especially conflates Mon-El’s desire to be a superhero with his desire to be Kara’s boyfriend on his side. He only makes the decision to try and become a superhero after realizing he wants to date Kara, and specifically right after seeing her get tazed to protect humans. Because he needs to see her physically suffering to kickstart his hero arc. It’s two clicks away from manpain, really.

On Kara’s side, she perceives Mon-El as being a compatible boyfriend when he begins to progress in his desire to be a hero. It’s not a bad reason to want to date somebody, but not a overly compelling one either, especially given how limited that progress was. Actually, what was his progress? He finds a job that’s a better fit? He improves in their sparring sessions?

It’s particularly strange since at the same time Kara is training Mon-El to be a good boyfriend hero, James Olsen is toiling away in the background as The Guardian completely of his own volition. If all Kara wants is someone to partner with her in her superheroing, the boyfriend she had at the beginning of the season already fit that criteria. And she didn’t have to drag him along kicking and whining either. Granted, James is much squishier, being a human instead of a superpowered alien. Unlike Mon-El, James is physically vulnerable and could get hurt, and not just from the bad guys. Kara can punch a car without flinching; dating a human being would come with potential hazards for them if she got too…amorous.

Which is actually a point in Mon-El’s favor. She can fuck him without danger of hurting him. Unlike Adam or James, Kara need not worry about her powers injuring Mon-El because he’s almost as powerful as she is. We’d actually buy just this if that’s what we got on screen. Kara’s got physical needs. If all she wanted was a fuck buddy she didn’t need to worry about breaking, we’d support her. You get it girl.

But at the end of the day, that’s no more than a honeypot, albeit a reasonable one. After talking around in circles for almost two hours (or was it three?), we had to finally admit that as much as any of these might make some sense, none of these explanations made it onto our screen. And most required us to ignore multiple scenes that’d work against them.

The fact is, in between Kara telling Mon-El she doesn’t want to date him and her telling him she wants to make it work, only two things happen: 1) Alex tells her she likes Mon-El, and 2) Kara learns Mon-El has been drinking club soda lately.

As absurd as that sounds, the scene in 2×11 where she discusses club soda with M’gann is the only physical flash of potential interest from Kara in basically the whole season. She’s sitting at the bar when M’gann comes by and asks her what she wants to drink. Kara tells her she’ll drink what Mon-El is drinking, to which M’gann replies, “he’s been drinking exclusively club soda for the week.” Kara’s “Really?” reads as both surprise and, weirdly, interest. We say “weirdly” because why the heck would his drinking choices make any difference in how she feels about him?

Kylie’s totes profesh timeline to help you visualize the meaningful progression

We suppose it could be an attempt to address his frat boy culture and drinking issues. Club soda is the go-to for non-drinkers at a bar. But Mon-El’s drinking has never been a canonical reason for Kara’s lack of interest. She cites their cultural differences frequently, but never specifically calls him out for his drinking. So why would a change in that behavior specifically trigger a positive response from her? Is it just meant to be a sign that he’s shaping up in a more general sense? If so, Supergirl dropped the ball, since this hasn’t manifested in any other way for Mon-El. Not to mention he’s enjoying a margarita in 2×14 and was more than happy to provide a stressed Winn with a drink in 2×15 since, “Zakarian Ale always takes the edge off.”

Point being, it’s simply impossible to connect M’gann’s line to any sort of growth in Mon-El, even just related to his alcohol consumption. So does Kara really just want to date a dude who drinks club soda too? We suppose those wholesale prices can’t be beat.

Crack theory though it be, it makes more sense than Kara’s explanation that “Every time I put myself out there, it backfires” (2×11). Uh. Footage not found, Kara Danvers. As we recall, you did the breaking up with your two canonical love interests because you wanted to focus on your career and thought you’d be better as friends. Unless maybe it backfired when Adam and James ordered tonic, because she wanted to split a bottle.

We’ll stop.

Seriously though. We understand that relationships can make you feel vulnerable. Putting yourself out there can be hard if you’re afraid it won’t work out. But Kara has never actually given a relationship a chance to get further than first date and first kiss (until now). Her lived experience, as depicted on the show, does not merit the explanation that every relationship “backfires.”

All we’re left with at this point is that Kara likes Mon-El…because Alex tells her she does.

Us too, Kara.

Mon-El who?

It ought to be clear at this point that the writers seem to have invested far more energy into giving Mon-El a backstory to explain his general douchebaggery than they did in giving Kara a reason to even be interested in him. He was shoehorned into her arc to the point where there is no canonical explanation for her interest in him, because her agency didn’t matter as much as him learning how to be a decent human being. She’s became little more than a love interest in her own story.

We might mind this less (though only slightly) were it an actual adaptation of the source material. But Mon-El in the comics has nothing in common with the Mon-El on our screens. We don’t have time to go into details, but you can look it up yourself if you want to understand the various permutations of this character over the years. To be brief, Daxam in the comics is not a misogynistic, slave-holding race of frat boys and privileged partiers. They’re xenophobic and tend toward isolationism, sure, but that’s about it. Mon-El is not the heir to a sexist, toxic culture who learns how to be a decent guy and caring romantic partner in the comics. He’s basically just Superman 2.0.

In short, this is not an adaptation. Mon-El was a blank slate that the Supergirl writers did what they wanted to with, simply using a familiar name to establish him. (Even though the whole “El” thing kind of makes no sense in this context.) To be fair, it’s not the first time they’ve done this. But it does mean that there’s no justification for Mon-El’s arc this season, romantic or otherwise, other than “this is the story they wanted to tell.”

And we actually know they wanted to tell this story and tell it this way. In an interview with Chris Wood (who plays Mon-El) for Sci Fi Magazine’s April 2017 issue, Wood describes how the showrunners wanted Mon-El to have a hero’s journey, and “a good starting point for [Mon-El] is something that is the opposite of a full hero, which is a frat boy and selfish and self-centered.” The rest of the screen shots of the interview make it pretty clear that Mon-El’s arc from frat boy to hero was intentional from the beginning.

What’s more troubling are Wood’s comments regarding how the mentorship and romance aspects of the arc complicate the characters and give Kara “a lot to react to.” Troubling because Wood does not seem to realize how much Mon-El has not just taken up screen time in but taken over Kara’s arc. And ‘complicated’ might be true, but we have other choice words to describe what intertwining the mentorship and romance arcs has done to Kara’s story this season…

So he’s a bit of a fixer-upper

Just to recap here: We have a completely original character that has cannibalized screentime to the point where the series protagonist and titular character doesn’t have much of a discernible arc, and did so through a series of contrivances that have no possible Watsonian explanation outside of a shared Schweppes predilection. And yes, we have to point out that it’s a female lead getting the shaft in favor of this new male character. Though there are more women-led TV shows now than ever, we are not at a point where representation is good enough for this to be ignored.

As we said, we did see potential in Kara being able to fulfill the mentor role she was meant to with Kal-El. The chance to explore Mon-El’s shared trauma with Kara over the destruction of their planets could have been incredibly poignant for both characters, especially if explored alongside the unpacking of Mon-El’s toxic culture.

Further, M’gann’s storyline showed us how breaking through cultural conditioning and the cycle of violence can be incredibly moving and impactful. Given Daxam’s description, Mon-El pushing against his own culture would have inherently required a white male character to come to terms with his own privilege—a potentially powerful story in today’s cultural context. Honestly, the way Daxamites are portrayed is so over the top that Mon-El ran the risk of being a kind of misogynistic strawman for Kara to rip into, which could have easily felt too pandering or heavy-handed. It would have been understandable in Cat’s absence, who was rather famous for dismantling sexist ideas with her long speeches, but we can’t say we’re upset that didn’t happen.

Yet what did happen, as we said, was that the Supergirl writers decided to use Mon-El’s romantic interest in Kara as a catalyst to spur his growth. Similarly, Kara’s romantic interest in Mon-El at least somewhat fueled her desire to mold him into a superhero. The thing is (as Mr. Mxyzptlk of all people pointed out): this didn’t really happen. Instead, given Mon-El’s previous bad behavior, his newer displays of basic decency and minimal competence were framed as acceptable romantic behavior in a partner, and good enough for Kara.

Kara it’s fine! He’s perfectly adequate!

This is why we keep joking about club soda. Even if it was just showing Mon-El’s increased capacity for responsibility, all it really meant was that he managed not to get drunk on the job for a week. That’s it? That’s the bar he needs to clear?

The answer is “yes” because at its core, this is the “fixer-upper” trope. In some ways it should be the 101 example of the fixer-upper trope, unless we want to whip out Belle and Rumple from Once Upon a Time (though even with that, there’s so many scenes of Kara explicitly training Mon-El on how to behave that it might win out). While this does tie back to the show’s conflation of “ready-for-action superhero” and “ready-to-date”, it more closely relates into the uncomfortable gendered implication of Mon-El’s foregrounding over Kara in the first place.

The thing is, the fixer-upper trope is sexist, because it plays out in a specifically gendered way. Its employ forces women to take on a man who’s substandard in some way and put in the work to ensure he becomes a suitable romantic partner. It’s Spike and Buffy, or Marge and Homer. The only genderbent example we can think of is She’s All That, and the “fixing” Rachael Leigh Cook required was to look more fuckable by taking off a pair of glasses. So…kind of hard to call that a feminist masterpiece.

Relationships are work, sure. But this particular dynamic is quite evocative of the Nice Guy™ trope for a similar reason; there is a complete devaluement of a woman’s feelings and emotional needs, not to mention it leaves no space for her to have her own problems. When there’s a Nice Guy™, the woman is supposed to see his value because he’s, well, nice. That’s the bar, and it sets up the demonification of women who rejects any man that clears it.

The fixer-upper trope is similarly rooted in male entitlement to a woman’s affections, though in this case it’s even worse. The woman is required to suffer the man’s bad behavior until she can get him to understand, because the only thing that can motivate a man to change is romantic interest in a woman.

She’s literally dying right here…

There’s just…so many issues with this line of thought, not the least of which being the compulsory heterosexuality. It’s not constructive for men to feel that they’re incapable of reform, or growth, or the ability to strive to be better people without the help of women. It’s sure as hell not constructive for women to feel that they have to put up with bullshit to bring about that growth. In fact, that underlying mentality is what leads to a culture where women are more likely to stay in unhealthy or even abusive relationships. If the man errs, it’s the woman’s fault for not being better at fixing him, just like a cheating man means a wife who failed to satisfy him. A woman who leaves a fixer-upper is “giving up” on the man, when her love could “save” him.

Though we could write ten thousand words on the ways this line of thought pisses us off, nothing sums it up more than an amazingly on-point speech from The L Word—an often times amazingly off-point show, especially as it has aged.

“Oh, fuck off, Mark. It’s not my job to make you a better man and I don’t give a shit if I’ve made you a better man. It’s not a fucking woman’s job to be consumed and invaded and spat out so that some fucking man can evolve.”

Kylie shared this scene in which Jenny Schecter rips into her male roommate, who had violated her privacy and trust in a big way, with Gretchen the day after “Homecoming” aired. Apparently others made this connection to Mon-El as well, enough so that it resonated with over 13,000 people and counting. Because while we concede Mon-El needs fixing due to his cultural baggage, why is it Kara’s job to “fix” Mon-El and not, you know, his own? And why is this being so prioritized in the season’s narrative?

If this were simply in the context of Kara molding Mon-El into a superhero, that would be one thing, but again, the fact that he becomes her boyfriend adds layers to our discomfort. We were treated to multiple scenes of him not listening to her, or flat out undermining her, and yet she still makes the decision to enter into this relationship.

What’s worse is that Mon-El, though not the world’s greatest action hero, didn’t start ignoring what Kara was telling him until after he made it clear in a conversation with Winn and James that he wanted to pursue her romantically. Like we said, he already needed fixing given his inherent entitled approach to life as a Daxamite, but is this how they demonstrate romantic interest? With scene after scene of him refusing to listen to her, the woman he is supposed to care for?

Just as a refresher…

  • Kara tells Mon-El to buzz off; he pesters her instead (2×09)
  • Kara tells Mon-El to ‘keep his mouth shut’ when they meet up at Catco; he immediately starts talking in the elevator (2×09)
  • Kara tells Mon-El to go get the DEO for help; he follows her through the portal without contacting the DEO (2×09)
  • Kara tells Mon-El to protect the cops and let her tackle Livewire’s henchmen; he abandons the cops and they would have died if Guardian hadn’t shown up (2×10)
  • Kara tells Mon-El to let her handle Mxy; he challenges Mxy to a duel to the death instead (2×13)
  • Kara tells Mon-El not to tell the DEO they’re dating; he does after about three seconds (2×14)
  • Kara tells Mon-El to be give her dad the benefit of the doubt and get to know him; he instead makes rude remarks at the family dinner (2×14).
  • In response to ^, Kara demands that Mon-El stop and say something nice; he continues to confront and accuse Jeremiah (2×14).
  • Kara tells Mon-El he needs to learn that what she says matters; he goes to get advice from a male colleague instead of listening to her (2×14)

And okay, let’s say that yes, this is how Daxamites are conditioned to behave in a relationship. But it’s sure as hell not how Kara is. Fixer-upper tropes are terrible, but at least the problems are usually fixed or the issues are subsiding before the woman dates him! Instead, Kara is more or less plunked into this relationship where her needs are dismissed, which is the opposite of shocking since his actions prior to them dating fell into this pattern too. It’s also worth mentioning that she calls him an “arrogant dudebro” four seconds before she goes to kiss him for the first time. Well, first time where neither of them are on drugs. So she is aware of these issues, and seems to want to date him in spite of that.

This is one of our biggest struggles, as you could probably tell, while we searched for some explanation to explain Kara’s interest. At the end of the day, what is it that they’re going for here?

If the Supergirl writers truly believe Mon-El has grown as a result of all his time with Kara, they’re going about showing that growth in an incredibly unusual way. In “Homecoming” (2×14), the first episode where Kara and Mon-El operate as an official couple, Mon-El is more or less at his worst. Heck, he ignores her request for privacy so quickly that it’s framed as a joke in a jump-cut. It actually seems like it’s supposed to be endearing, just like when that gosh darn rascal followed Kara through the portal and jeopardized both their lives.

Given the number of times this happens, Kara willingly entering into a relationship with him is not the most comfortable thing in the world, especially since she realizes when he’s not respecting her and tends to yell at him for it. Her acknowledgement, and we guess dismissal, of his issues are often evocative of a battered girlfriend. We’re not saying that’s what this is. But what we are saying is that as women, each time we watch Mon-El promise to change and Kara forgive him, only for there to be zero lasting impact, it’s a dynamic we’ve seen before. And it’s a dynamic that lessens the impact of Kara standing up for herself each subsequent time, since she looks more and more like a fool for believing it and him.

This was never the case, so why did you think it could work?

This is just…bad. There’s no other word for it.

“Homecoming” is by far the worst offender of the season, especially since the narrative exonerates Mon-El in the end for his dismissal of Kara’s emotional needs. He was right about Jeremiah being compromised, and shame on everyone else, including a goddamn mind-reader, for not seeing it! Then, the final scene of that episode was supposed to demonstrate that Mon-El is a supportive boyfriend because of his willingness to listen to Kara. What’s weird is that this was framed as this huge, momentous thing that he was doing, to the point where it required his narration to confirm that yes, he is going to extend Kara this very basic sign of respect.

“Hey, today was a, a little, I just want to (*sighs*) I’m not I’m not gonna talk. Hmm. Why don’t you…Why don’t you tell me what you need? I’ll listen.”

She is sitting, sobbing on a couch. After her father betrayed her whole family and the DEO. This is not a difficult situation to parse out. Why the fuck did we need to hear him pontificate on how he’s willing to listen while she has to provide a PowerPoint presentation on the basics of comforting someone?

What do you think she needs right now? A fucking tailor??

We’re left simply dumbfounded. Were we supposed to find his line romantic? Coming right on the heels of a scene where Maggie instinctively supported Alex in the way she required with no hesitation? Especially given that despite Kara asserting her need for him to listen to her in very certain terms, he still had to seek out the advice of Winn because he felt he didn’t know what to do? All this scene showed us was that Mon-El needs to be hand-held and validated through the most basic attempts at emotional intimacy with his girlfriend. Wow, what a winner. Sign us up.

It’s been pointed out that in the most recent episode, he seems much more supportive of Kara, responding to her confusion regarding whether or not to post the article on Cadmus with a “do whatever you think is best.” It’s nice he supports her, but could he maybe, we don’t know, ask her what she’s feeling conflicted about? Talk her through her decision-making process? Be a sounding board for pros and cons? Yes, his penchant for undermining and questioning Kara’s decisions troubled us, and we do appreciate positive growth. But he’s swung so far in the other direction that he now just tries to pacify her, and is basically useless as a dialogue partner. In some ways, it’s almost patronizing. Besides, more than anything, it’s too little, too late.

The only feeling this is truly imparting on us is “why?” Why is Kara saddled with this guy? Why is she attracted to him at all? Why did there need to be a romantic component to this relationship in the first place? Why was James Olsen abruptly sidelined for this? Why has this relationship taken over Kara’s arc this season?

Dear Supergirl Writers

We have no answer to these questions, and it’s making justifying Mon-El within this season incredibly difficult. Frankly, Mon-El as a love interest is difficult to justify within this show. From what we we saw prior, it was not the type of program that would allow for these horrible implications about what kind of romantic behavior women should tolerate, or even expect.

Not to mention, Mon-El isn’t the main character here! We could keep going on about the fallacy of his hero’s arc and the horrid implications inherent, but at the end of the day, he is supposed to be a supporting character. So what the hell does his presence in Supergirl do for Kara? If this is about seeing her desire to mentor someone play out, why was the romantic component shoehorned in, and why aren’t we privy to how Kara feels about both him and her new role? Why couldn’t Kara have had this arc with James, given how he is willingly putting himself in danger, just like she wants Mon-El to do? Most importantly of all, why is Kara relegated to playing the babysitter of someone else’s mono-myth on her own damned show?

It’s frustrating to see this play out, it’s frustrating to see how it took the narrative off-track for a good number of episodes, and it’s frustrating to see Kara almost turned into a straw feminist that asserts her wants and expectations of Mon-El repeatedly, only for growth to be back-dialed so that she can run into the same exact issue again. Is the point that she’s supposed to learn a mediocre man really is good enough?

Kara, do you have a source for that?

At this point, we’re really struggling to see how there’s going to be any sort of positive takeaway from this. Oddly, our biggest glimmer of hope came at the end of the last episode, immediately after Kara was fired from her job.

Kara: Reporting is my calling. I help people.

Mon-El: You know who else does? Supergirl.

Kara: You know, it’s just, when I write, I don’t need a yellow sun. It’s just me. Supergirl is what I can do. Kara is who I am. I really loved that job.

Mon-El: Hey. You have so much to offer this world. So don’t let Snapper or anyone else tell you differently. Okay?

Kara: You know something? Maybe being Supergirl and having you is enough.

This exchange did two things: firstly, it established that Mon-El is not very in-tune with who Kara is and what drives her—what makes her feel complete. Her struggle with identity was the beating heart of the first season, and certainly a focus at the start of this one between Clark’s appearance in National City to help her, and her decision to finally become a reporter. It’s entirely possible Mon-El was just being used to give Kara a reason to explicate this distinction to the audience, but it also could mean that the Supergirl writers are aware of the disconnect between the person Kara is and the person she’s currently chosen to be with.

We admit this is a stretch.

However, the second result of this exchange is something we cannot believe is unintentional. Kara musing that maybe being Supergirl and dating Mon-El is “enough” is meant to be challenged. It was said three seconds after she had just explained how fundamental being a reporter was to her sense of purpose, not to mention, we were treated to a scene last season where Cat tackles this exact mentality in Lucy Lane’s behavior.

Unless the entire writing staff sustained head injuries, we staunchly believe that Kara will find that her words do not ring true. Especially since Clark point blank told her that being Kara was as important as being Supergirl (2×01). She needs a human side as well as a superhero side. In a season that began with Kara professing, “Last year was all about figuring out how to be Supergirl, and now it’s time I figure out how to be Kara,” her blasé acceptance of the lack of a fulfilling career is ripe for deconstruction.

But where does that leave Mon-El and the fixer-upper trope? Well, if they’re setting up Kara to have a comeuppance about this scene, it’s possible that will play out on an even bigger level. That there is supposed to be a discomfort in watching Kara put up with so much from Mon-El over and over again, and perhaps this will be tied into her canonically established abandonment issues more explicitly than it has been thus far.

Yes, this doesn’t exactly address why the writers forced this incredibly contrived romance into being without adequate explanation or exploration from Kara’s perspective. Again, we couldn’t come up with a single reason as to why she would date this man that made sense with how everything unfolded. But it’d still be a hell of a lot better than if we’re supposed to seriously view this as an earnest, romantic love story.

Now that’s what we call romantic satisfaction!

Because sorry, it’s not. It is not the job of a woman to date a guy with a million red flags because she feels she can elicit change in his behavior, and it’s certainly not her job to stay to see that through when the guy continues to disappoint or fail to meet her own emotional needs. Men don’t need a woman’s love to grow or strive to become a better person; that’s offensive to men and oppressive to women. It’s for this reason that we feel the “fixer upper” trope needs to die. To see it played straight on Supergirl would be disappointing, to say the least.

But at the same time, this is Supergirl. This is the show that when it’s good, it’s *so damn good*. The show that has subverted a number of sexist tropes before, and no matter what we think of the follow-through so far, has given Kara the narrative space to ask to be respected and listened to by Mon-El. This is at least recognized as a need by the writers if nothing else. Mon-El has been a stumbling block, there’s no question. Any character that pulls a narrative off its track this much would be. The Supergirl writers can potentially be our heroes in the end, taking this opportunity to consciously tear down the idea that fixer-uppers are entitled to our time and efforts.

However, to do that, the writers need to realize there’s a problem. They need to see that on a show that was supposed to be about a woman becoming the hero while struggling with her sense of identity and place in the world, a man is now subbed into that role. A man with no basis in the comics, a man that the audience never asked for, and a man that is not nearly as “reformed” as they currently seem to think he is.

Mon-El is not a hero—he’s Supergirl‘s kryptonite. And the writers need to do something before he irreparably harms the show.


Images courtesy of the CW

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

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The Unattainable Beauties of BioWare

David

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Happy week after Valentine’s Day! For those of you in a relationship, I hope you were able to spend time with your loved ones and maybe have a little romance. For those of you who are single, I hope that it wasn’t a terribly bitter or frustrating day. In honor of both these states, I’m going to be writing about Bioware characters. But not romanceable characters, oh no. Enough ink has been spilled about them. No, today, we are going to be talking about the ones who for whatever reason are non-romanceable. In fact, it’s going to be a list of who I consider to be the best non-romanceable characters in Bioware games.

A few ground rules first though. First, this list is completely and totally subjective. If you feel like I’ve missed a character, let me know in the comments. Most of these characters are either from the Mass Effect Series or the Dragon Age series. Those are the games I know the best have have played the most. Finally, I’m only going to list five male and five female characters. I could go on all day if allowed.

So, with that out of the way, let’s start with the guys. And first on that list is…

Black Whirlwind

Right off the bat we get a character who seems to contraindicate my first two points. He’s from Jade Empire and isn’t normally the type of character I’d enjoy. But let me justify his place on my list. First off, he’s just a fun character. Pretty much his entire character is dedicated to fighting things with his axes, drinking, and drinking while fighting with his axes. Second of all, given what we do see of his backstory, he’s fairly sympathetic. He was abused by his father until he was finally to defend himself and killed his father, and then was tossed out by his mother. He fought in the arena until he thought he killed his brother. And finally, his voice. Victor Brandt voices him in the game, and that man could read from the stock exchange and make it sound like he was trying to seduce you.

Nathaniel Howe

I can understand why they chose not to have any love interests in Awakening. A lot of the companions are missable and even if they aren’t, there’s better than 50-50 odds that they would die at the end of the expansion. That doesn’t excuse them from making Nathaniel Howe though. He has a compelling and sympathetic backstory, an interesting perspective on the location and events, and a sardonic sense of humor that lets him either play the straight man or the funny man in conversations. And! He got an easter egg quest in Dragon Age 2. I just wish they had followed through and included him in Dragon Age Inquisition (and gave us the chance to smooch him.)

Teagan Guerrin

Bann Teagan gets a bit of a bad rap now, particularly after Trespasser. Time (and the switch to a new engine) were not kind to him, but I remember a different Teagan. A Teagan that stood up to Loghain. A Teagan that risked his life to defend Redcliffe, and then walked straight into a demon’s clutches to buy your party sometime. From a story perspective, having a female human warden marry (or at least be involved with) an up and coming Bann would make just as much sense politically as marrying her to the new king. And from a purely personal standpoint, I would have loved for him to respond to the “Who is dis women Tegan?” quote by saying “My future wife.”

Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau

Ever since Mass Effect 1, Joker’s presence at the front of the Normandy has been very welcome. Snarky, quick with a quip and a comment about any of your companions, the only fault I have with him was that he was far too quick to abandon the Alliance and hook up with a bunch of racist, human supremacist terrorists in Mass Effect 2. But the fact that he’s loyal specifically to Shepard always melts my heart. I was hoping that in Mass Effect 3 he finally would be a romance option, but alas he was infatuated with EDI. It took a great deal of self control not to sabotage that relationship.

Ser Barris

And here we come to my favorite non-romanceable male character: Ser Derin Barris of the Templar Order. Dude has it all. Good voice and one of the few male PoCs in the series. In addition, he’s everything that a Templar is supposed to be: brave, intelligent, loyal, and willing to defend the weak and the innocent. And yet, after the quest to recruit the Templars, you only see ever see him one more time. The cutscene where he is promoted to Knight-Commander. (A promotion he deserves.) I can only hope that he reappears in Dragon Age 4 as a full romanceable companion.

That covers my five favorite non-romanceable male characters. But what about the ladies? Let’s start with…

Gianna Parasini

Gianna Parasini was one of those characters I didn’t expect to find myself liking as much as I did. When you first meet her in Mass Effect 1, she’s working (undercover) for Novaria’s Internal Affairs. She quickly shows herself not to be completely amoral. Just overworked, overstressed, and tired of being a Yes-Woman to a corrupt executive. When you see her again in Mass Effect 2, she’s much less stressed, and much more willing to joke with Shepard.  She leaves far too soon, leaving a male Shepard with a kiss and a promise to see him around. A promise, unfortunately, left unfulfilled.

Dr. Karin Chakwas

Dr. Chakwas is an interesting addition to this list. She is much older then Shepard. She seems at first to be a poor match. But much like Joker, she offers Shepard a sense of continuity aboard the Normandy. She even mentions that as one of the reasons why she stays aboard the Normandy in all its various incarnations. And, unlike some returning squadmates or even Joker himself at times, her presence aboard the ship never seems forced. Of course Dr. Chakwas will be in the medical bay. Of course she’ll be happy to see you. And of course she’ll be waiting to share a drink with you.

Dr. Lexi T’Perro

Unlike Dr. Chakwas, Dr. Lexi doesn’t really provide much in the way of continuity between different versions of the ship. Instead, she almost provides a mirror for Ryder to see himself and his actions. When she’s first brought aboard as your team’s doctor, she’s nervous. And she channels this nervous energy into annoying practically everyone else on the ship. But as she gets more comfortable with the ship and how things work, she starts to relax a little. Not much, but a little. Add to that her backstory in addition to the fact that she seems to care for the team’s mental health as much as their physical health and you get a character who would be perfect to romance. Shame she’s not an option.

Emily Wong

Emily Wong is one of the most frustrating examples on this list. In Mass Effect 1, she filled the ‘plucky reporter’ archetype so well that I missed being able to speak with her or give her an interview in Mass Effect 2. As the release date for Mass Effect 3 drew closer and rumors of a romanceable reporter on board the Normandy began to swirl, I had hope that it would be Emily.  I was bitterly disappointed. The reporter character on the Normandy was quite weak compared to the strong impression Emily gave in Mass Effect 1. And Emily Wong herself? Unceremoniously killed off in a marketing ploy before the game was released. She deserved better.

Vivienne

Vivienne is a ‘love her or hate her’ type of character. As you can tell by her inclusion on this list, I am in the former camp. Aside from being one of the few women of color companions in the game, Vivienne brings to the table a unique perspective: A mage who fully supports a return to the Circles. Not only that, but she has clear, eloquent arguments to back her up. In addition to that, she has a very striking character design and a wonderful voice actress. Most important of all though is that if her approval of the Inquisitor is high, she seems to genuinely care about them and their well being. I just wish that she didn’t politely shoot you down every time you flirted with her.

So there you have it. My five favorite male and female non-romanceable NPCs from Bioware games. However, there is one person that I have thus far neglected to mention. Or rather, one group of people. That’s right, I’m talking about…

EVERY SINGLE DWARF FROM DRAGON AGE

In Dragon Age: Origins, it was just a bit of trivia. “Hey, did you know that you can’t romance Qunari and dwarf characters?” When Dragon Age 2 came out and we were introduced to Varric, it became a joke. But at least the dwarf fans could still console themselves by remembering that there hadn’t been any Qunari romanceable companions either. By the time of Dragon Age Inquisition and the introduction of Iron Bull and Lead Scout Lace Harding, it’s become one of my main problems with the series.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Why wouldn’t Bioware let us romance Scout Harding, or any other dwarf for that matter? Is it because the animation would look awkward? Too much work? In the end, I can only repeat the refrain so many others have, pining after characters who they couldn’t romance: “Maybe next game.”


Images courtesy of Bioware

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Analysis

Kingdom Come, Representation, And Layers Of Privilege

Barbara

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Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a brand new Czech video game that just came out last week. And ever since its development started, there has been one big controversy connected to it: its almost complete lack of characters of colour.

It isn’t exactly helped by the fact that the chief mind behind the game, Dan Vávra, is right-leaning, and also a bit of an asshole when it comes to responding to these complaints. He doesn’t go far for an insult and refuses to listen to any kind of criticism. Not exactly the kind of person that makes one want to defend him.

So…this is where this article should end, right? A jerk makes a racist game, news at seven.

Well. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Vávra isn’t the only person working in the development. And the most important thing to know about the game in this context is that it’s not a generalized medieval setting. Instead, it takes place in a particular set of villages and towns and the surrounding forests, villages, and towns that exist until today and that aren’t and never have been big or cosmopolitan in any way. A number of events in the game are based on historical events. It isn’t just a story, it the story of Česká Skalice just before the Hussite wars.

In this context, the usual arguments of “there were plenty of people of colour in Europe in the Middle Ages” fall kind of flat. The usual argument of historicity that is pulled for this is frequently false because Western history is whitewashed and contained markedly more people of colour that we like to pretend. But it’s not always false. There actually were parts of the world where only white people lived. And not only are there no particular historical marks of black, brown or Asian people being present in the particular time and place where Kingdom Come takes place, it would also be very unlikely.

Honestly, the most likely place to find a person of colour in the time period would be Sigismund’s armies, and since those play more the role of the antagonist in the game, that’s not exactly ideal. So this is not, in fact, a case of ignoring the real historical presence of black and Middle-Eastern people.

Instead, the first question to ask here is: is it ever legitimate to create all-white media? If we’re depicting a situation where there realistically wouldn’t be any people of colour – not just history, there are still plenty of towns in the world a non-white person has never set foot in – is it all right to make it whiter than new house paint?

On the face of it, the answer should be yes. As long as we’re depicting an actual situation, we’re depicting. And yet. It may be “accurate,” but it might at the same time be unwise in the current climate, where every all-white piece of media contributes to a narrative that is far from inclusive to people of colour.

So the second question: does it even matter? That is, is historical realism such an important goal to achieve?

Most media that supposedly take place in the past play hard and fast with history to make things more convenient for the narrative, so why should the amount of diversity, of all things, be what is kept realistic? It shouldn’t, that is the answer. As long as other things are changed freely, the argument of historicity is irrelevant one way or another.

Kingdom Come, however, is a game that takes great care to be as realistic as possible. The most frequent complaint from players at the moment is the insane difficulty of lockpicking because that isn’t easy in real life either. So does this change anything? Is the argument of historicity valid in such a case? In other words, even in those media that do their best to stay historically faithful, is such an ambition a worthy goal? Is it more important to have something fit history perfectly than to provide representation?

Accusations of rewriting history would naturally follow a negative answer. First, it’s important to point out that it’s no more rewriting than the constant whitewashing, and with a much better intention. But it is true that with a game that boasts of its realism, it presents a problem. It would discredit their claims of historicity if they simply ignored these kinds of facts. You cannot painstakingly reconstruct medieval Skalice and then add random representation from all over the world without becoming a laughing stock. Not the least because this sort of rewriting of history would play down the racism of the past, and that is not an excuse we should be making for ourselves.

Unless we say that media has to abandon goals of high historical realism, then, we have to admit that in certain setting an all-white cast is appropriate. So that brings forth another question: is it legitimate to choose such settings?

And this brings us to the more complicated power dynamics at play when it comes to Kingdom Come.

As I’ve said, Kingdom Come is a Czech game, dealing with events from Czech history. My history. We, as a country, have always played the lovely game of being both oppressors (towards Slovaks, the Jewish and the Romani people, and even Germans after WWII) and oppressed (by the Austrian empire, Nazi Germany, USSR). In the global world of today, we’re far from being the ones in the most desperate situation, but we’re also hardly the top dogs. On the global scale, we’re a minority.

And both our history and our present are mostly white.

Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a good thing. I’m not saying it as a good thing. It massively contributes to the widespread xenophobia in the Czech Republic. But it is what it is. The fact remains that our by far biggest minority are the Romani people, who form about 3% of the population. So every time you tell a Czech story, it is going to be overwhelmingly white.

So should we be allowed to tell our own stories?

Kingdom Come, of course, is not made for the Czech market. It’s distributed globally, and it means it has a global effect, on people who know nothing of our particular context. As an all-white medieval game – which is all most people will take out of it – it perpetuates exactly the image of whitewashed history that we need to rid ourselves of. It becomes part of the problem.

So does this mean, then, that when we want global money, we have to change the image of our own history to avoid exacerbating the global problem of racism? That is problematic as well, especially as making the game for Czech audience only is not a real option. Our ten million people total don’t make for a big enough audience to pay for a game with this kind of budget. It’s another kind of disadvantage global minorities have. It shouldn’t be necessary to pay for it by adjusting our stories.

And even disregarding that, what if we want to show our stories and our world to the rest of the planet? What if we want to share ourselves? We should be able to do that.

Yet…what if what we want to share turns into a white fantasy in others’ hands?

It seems it shouldn’t be such a big deal. Who cares if we change the skin colour of some characters in the story? It’s still going to be a Czech story. But the problem is, it doesn’t quite work that way. After all, that is the “I don’t see colour” argument, only in reverse.

What I’m about to say will sound insanely racist to anyone from a more cosmopolitan country, but when I was little, I didn’t like watching Sesame Street because the multi-ethnic children there were making it so very foreign to me. I saw them and instantly knew it wasn’t my world. Outside of my travel abroad, I spoke to one non-white person total before adulthood. And I live in the capital, the most multicultural part of the country. Whatever it says about us, the truth is that if we populate historical Czech stories with black people, most Czechs will not regard it as their story.

But there is a reason I was specific in this last sentence. There are truly very few black people living in this country even now. You know who is living here, though? The aforementioned Romani. The presence of Romani people in the game would not make any Czech person feel like it was not our story. It would make them angry — because the racism the Romani face in the Czech Republic is something incredibly ugly — but it would not make the game feel foreign. The Romani minority has been here since the Middle Ages, and there are definitely historical records of them being here in large numbers shortly after Kingdom Come takes place. In fact, there are even complaints of there being “more and more” Romani people in our records because of course our racism would be traditional.

We don’t know, of course, if there were any Romani around Skalice, but it was a way to include people of colour that wouldn’t break with general Czech history. It wouldn’t have gone against our own understanding of who has lived here for a long time. And yet they were never mentioned in any of the diversity complaints I have seen. There are also Cumans included in the game, and no one seems to care much either. And that brings me to my last point.

Demanding diversity in Kingdom Come with a particular idea of diversity in mind, the idea that is based on the ethnic composition of the US, is not only American-centric but also offensive to the oppressed minorities of the Czech Republic.  And complaining about such lack of diversity truly does not come across in a way that would endear the author of the complaint to anyone Czech. Especially if the person complaining is white. If a person of colour is offended by so much mayo in their game and would like to feel represented, I can understand that.

But when a white privileged American talks about what sorts of representation a Czech game should contain – particularly with arguments like that Czechia is “just north of Italy” and Italy is by the sea so obviously there’d be plenty of people of colour in here, which is an actual argument someone presented – it suddenly gains whole another tone. Because whiteness is not the only privilege in the world, and while we certainly benefit from it, we do not benefit from the privilege of being American, and anyone from the US telling us how to tell our own stories without knowing anything about us is always, always going to ring a very uncomfortable bell with us.

So yes, making all-white games should be avoided when possible, because it reinforces an uncomfortable narrative. And representation is a good thing, especially representation of those who hardly ever find themselves on screen. Whenever at least a little possible, diversity should be supported. Warhorse Studios really should have included Romani people in their game, just as Czech filmmakers should try casting some in their films. But not all representation fits one muster and demanding medieval Skalice should look like medieval London only makes stories more identical to each other and less interesting. There is more than one kind of diversity.


Images courtesy of Warhorse Studios

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Analysis

Barbara Kean From Housewife to Mobster

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Gotham had a tall order ahead of it at its inception. It had to take some the most iconic characters from the comic page and meld them in a story that takes place before they were iconic. Any prequel adaptation has to grapple with this in one way or another. But Gotham had the unique challenge with Batman’s famous rouges. The origins of so many of his opponents are intertwined with his. Gotham would have to reinvent these characters and their origins. The series has made these characters its own by allowing their development to move away from their comic book counterparts. There is no character with which this is more prevalent in than Barbara Kean.

In the comics, she’s anything but a rival to Batman. She’s the wife of one of Bruce’s closest allies and the mother of one of his sidekicks.  Yet she herself plays but a small role in the narrative. Gotham’s Barbara Kean has made herself a part of the narrative in ways that have seem to have completely change the character we first meet. Gotham has taken a woman destined to be the mother and wife of heroes and made her one of the most prolific members of the Gotham City’s underworld.

We meet Barbara in the pilot engaged to James Gordon, the perfect place to lead to her becoming her comic book counterpart: married to James Gordon and the mother of his children. They’re in a good place in their relationship. As James finds himself confronted with the corruption of Gotham, Barbara becomes a pillar of support for him. She reaffirms his values when he doubts himself. But this can only last for so long. With James fighting against so much of the darkness in Gotham, it was only a matter of time before it got back to Barbara.

Even with the first bit of tension seeping into their relationship, Barbara’s still willing to stand by James. When she learns James’s life is at stake she goes to Carmine Falcone, the king of Gotham’s underground, to beg for his life. But after she’s terrorized by Falcone’s men, her own faith in James is shaken. She’s seen the true dangers in the mission he’s tasked himself with. She can’t share the burden he’s willing to take on.

At first, she falls back into old habits for the comfort and familiarity, drugs, and her ex-girlfriend, Renee Montoya. It doesn’t last with Montoya, and Barbara finds herself in a state of flux. During this time she meets Selina Kyle, who later becomes a close companion. She also meets Jason Skolimski. He becomes an inciting figure of change for her. A serial killer and psychopath, he takes Barbara captive and she almost doesn’t make it out alive.

Her time with him drives her to edge of sanity. Under his influence she kills her parents. She almost kills Lee Thompkins, James’s new girlfriend. The love she has for James becomes an obsession. It doesn’t end well for her with James stopping her. She’s arrested and sentenced to Arkham Asylum. But it ends up putting her in the perfect position for the next wave of her development.

Her stay in the Asylum is short lived. She’s broken out by Theo and Tabitha Galvan, the latter of whom she enters into a romantic relationship with.  It’s through them she’s truly indoctrinated to Gotham’s underground. Barbara’s sanity at this point is shaky at best. Having a girlfriend willing to kidnap her ex-boyfriend and his current girlfriend doesn’t help the situation either. Though even when the last remains of her sanity seem all but gone, the compassion she held for James still comes through. Her kidnapping attempt unravels and her escape ends with her falling out a second story window. Before that happens she helps James, giving him the information he needs to take down Theo.

After some time in a coma, she’s released back onto Gotham streets. Though her love for James still borders on unhealthy obsession her pursuits become more personally motivated. She opens a nightclub with Tabitha. It’s successful but she’s gunning for more, namely to get out from under Oswald Cobblepot’s thumb. She’s openly contentious of the Penguin when he all but runs Gotham at this point. Only a few people could have gotten away with this without fatal consequences.

She gathers some powerful allies with the intention of overthrowing Penguin. And it works. She becomes the queen of Gotham, taking over the city’s underground. Unfortunately, it’s a short-lived reign when conflict brews among the very allies who helped her take down Penguin, and she ends up dead.

In the true fashion of comic books and their adaptations, Barbara doesn’t say dead for long. After she’s brought back to life she returns ready to take on the city again. Reaching out to Selina and Tabitha, they work together running a weapons racket to rebuild their status. Death seems to have tamed Barbara, she’s more rational with her return. She’s even willing to work under Penguin. If only for a short time until a better opportunity presents itself for her, Tabitha and Selina.

At this point, I think it’s important to note Barbara could have easily fallen into the old stereotypes of the ‘crazy bisexual ex-lover’ or even the ‘villainous queer’. But similar to the way the Carmilla series defies its negative tropes, Gotham’s exploration of these narrative tropes doesn’t feel like it steers into the negative aspects. Gotham also avoids these tropes in a way few other series could. The villains make up a huge portion of series. They are the lungs that breathe life into the series. As much as this series is about Bruce and James growing into the heroes we know they’ll become, it’s also about watching the other characters grow into the villains we know they’ll become.

Barbara earns her place among the villainous elite in Gotham. She’s gone from a mild-mannered Gotham socialite to one of its most conniving criminals.

She’s still a woman capable of deeply caring for someone. But now her way of showing she cares for someone involves fewer words of empathy and more shooting their enemies in the head. She learnt to thrive in a city where so few can even survive. She adapted in ways that not even James has been able to. Her place in the story going forward is still uncertain. The possibility of her and James come back to each other is small but stranger things have happened in this city. Though at this point it seems more likely one of the many colourful adversaries Bruce will face when he truly dons the cowl.

Regardless of where she’s going, watching her get where she is has been a wild and entertaining ride.


Images courtesy of Fox 

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