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.
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.
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 jerk on his feelings for her.
“I also wanted to say I’m sorry. For acting like an *ss. 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.
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:
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.
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 sleep with 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 sex 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?
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.
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.
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.
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 sexually appealing 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.
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 bs 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, f*ck off, Mark. It’s not my job to make you a better man and I don’t give a sh*t if I’ve made you a better man. It’s not a f*cking woman’s job to be consumed and invaded and spat out so that some f*cking 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 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 an actual 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 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?
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 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?
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.
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 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
In Scorpion, I like my women…oppositional
Scorpion had many flaws and there were plots that could have been handled better. Thankfully with a small exception they were able to write decent female characters which gave us a variety of characteristics and strengths. While leaving the characters on opposite sides of the spectrum.
The waitress liaison
When we meet Paige she’s a waitress at a diner who’s barely getting by. She works two jobs and everything she earns goes to her son Ralph.
We know very little about Paige. There were just a few details that we know. Her father died and her estranged mother is a con women. Their relationship wasn’t the best but they managed to repair it. (Although Veronica leaves at the end of episode 3×14.) Not without leaving some cash for her daughter and grandson. It’s clear to see that Paige tried very hard not to become a mother like her own. She’s very attentive to Ralph’s needs and even though she isn’t aware that he’s a genius in the beginning, she tries very hard to connect with and understand him. She protects her son fiercely.
Paige is a college drop out. During the show she took some night classes in European history to finish her education. Although Paige isn’t a genius, she often contributes some useful ideas to solve problems or offers a comment that helps the others to find a solution.
Throughout the course of the show, she starts understanding and learning more of the science. Her main area of expertise is communication with clients and other people that the team meets. That’s why Walter hired her. She’s supposed to be their liaison to the normal world. She also often takes charge and helps the team to refocus as their minds tend to wander. Paige isn’t a mom only to Ralph—she has to take care of the whole team as they do things like forget to eat.
The waitress had some problems fitting in at the beginning. She didn’t really know her place or role, but with time she became a natural at her job and solidified her position on the team. She did have some trouble with Happy, but they worked it out while dangling on a broken cable in the air.
As wonderful as she sounds, Paige is only human and has flaws like any of us. She is stubborn to a fault and doesn’t like to admit defeat, which doesn’t always sit well with Walter. She can be overprotective of Ralph. Paige has abandonment issues. They can originate from her mother or Drew leaving her when Ralph was little. She was also cheated on. Even though she had abandonment issues, she often used her own fear against Walter who has the same problem. She left him at the end of season 1…which was understandable since Ralphs life was in danger but after that she did it again. Sometimes she lets her emotions cloud her judgement.
Paige is the epitome of a struggling single mom who pushes trough no matter what. Most of her actions are dictated by her heart and the love for her son. Although flawed, she is an excellent example on how to master life’s challenges
The mechanical prodigy
Happy Quinn is a genius mechanic with a rough exterior. She often seems as if she doesn’t care or feel. It’s not true because under the tough shell hides a loving women.
She grew up in a foster home after her mother died. She didn’t see her father until she grew up and found him. Her dad (Patrick) has an Auto repair shop, which can be viewed as the source of her mechanical talent. Repairing stuff is also how she bonds with him.
Her father isn’t the only special man in her life. She shares a profound bond with Cabe, who has kind of stepped up to the role of her father. He was the one who gave her away on her wedding.
Although she may not seem like it, she cares about a selected few very much. Especially team Scorpion. She nursed Walter back to health after he spent some time in the rabbit hole, showcasing her gentle side. She even married him so he didn’t get deported to Ireland.
Happy shared a special relationship with Toby. They got married after she divorced Walter and planned to start a family together. They tried to get pregnant but even then they met another obstacle. Sadly we’ll never know how that plot ended because of the shows cancellation, but I digress.
What I find special about their relationship is the strong foundation in friendship and how well they know and trust in each other. Toby is the only one who didn’t abandon or betray her.
Happy is a representation of every women who makes it in a field dominated by man and was hurt by life. Regardless of that she, was able to build a family and gain success.
The new chemist on the block
We meet Florence as the new chemist who moves to the building next door to the garage. She isn’t a genius, but she’s very smart. She started her own company but lost it. She then moved to start a new business venture.
She can’t really get along with the team in the beginning. Within the course of the show, however, their relationship starts to get better.
Personally, I didn’t enjoy this character. She was created to be a competition to Paige and to show a really smart individual who isn’t a genius but has the same problem as them. Sadly the character comes off as inexpressive and bleak. Her story and problems didn’t manage to get my attention or interest me.
I enjoyed her growing relationship with Sylvester, but it went down the drill since Flo had to have a crush on Walter. The character had potential and maybe with time she could grow on me but alas we’ll never know
The genius whispering sister
Megan was Walter’s older sister. She was a sickly child with a happy attitude. She was one of the few people who understood or tried to understand Walter and build a relationship with him no matter how different he was. She was very ill. She had multiple sclerosis (MS), which eventually killed her.
Even though she was deadly ill, she soldiered on and always saw the glass as half full. She was always kind and lived her life to the fullest. Megan inspired everyone around her, and comforted them when needed. This included Walter and Sylvester in the same episode, at one point (1×12).
She always supported and stood by Walter. Megan was her brother’s biggest cheerleader. Being ill didn’t stop her from having her own opinion. She didn’t want to be on a respirator and she got her way.
Something worth mentioning is her relationship with Sylvester. This particular romance was sweet like a middle school one—the feeling was strong and build on a foundation of trust. Megan gave Sylvester enough strength and courage to go against Walter’s wishes and marry her. Even if they only had a short time together, they were very happy and Megan died having lived a full life.
Megan was the character that showed us that even in the darkest times there’s always hope and a chance to be happy.
Although the woman of Scorpion are on opposite sides of the spectrum, they are united by one characteristic. Strength. Every female character showed strength in her life and soldiering on, making them prime examples on how to handle obstacles.
Images courtesy of CBS
Game of Thrones 3×02 Rewatch: Long Things, Dumb Words
Tuesday means one thing on TheFandomentals: we’re back with another installment of The Wars to Come, a deep dive into Game of Thrones early seasons in an attempt to understand what happened. Last week, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) penned a fairly competent opening to the third season. This week, Kylie, Julia, and Jana are ready for another of Vanessa Taylor’s finest, with “Dark Wings, Dark Words.”
Beyond the Wall, Mance makes it clear to Jon that he won’t hesitate to kill him if he finds out he’s faking his allegiance. After all, the reason he united everyone was to get them to understand they’d all die if they didn’t move south, so he is very focused. Mance then takes Jon to meet Orell, a skinchanger who entered the mind of a bird overhead. Once he comes back to, he informs the group that he spied “dead crows.”
Speaking of those crows, the Night’s Watch brothers began their slow journey back to the Wall. The exhaustion gets to Sam, who kneels down to give up after some taunting by Rast. Edd and Grenn do what they can to rouse him again, but it’s Commander Mormont who gets them all moving by assigning Rast to Sam. If Sam doesn’t make it back, then neither will Rast.
Heading up to the Wall meanwhile are Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor. Bran is still having his crow dreams, though in this one, a strange boy about his age appears, telling Bran he can’t kill the crow since it is him. Later in real life, the same boy manages to sneak up on Bran’s camp. When Osha threatens to kill him if he takes another step towards Bran, the boy’s sister holds a knife to Osha’s throat. He introduces himself as Jojen Reed, with his sister Meera. He explains to Bran that he does have prophetic dreams, though Bran is also a warg thanks to his ability to control his direwolf. He also says the raven is something else entirely, and that it “brings the sight.” Osha tells Meera it’s shameful that she has to protect her brother, though Meera just shrugs it off.
At Robb’s camp, news arrives from both Riverrun and Winterfell. The former is that Hoster Tully, Cat’s father, has died. The second letter explains about the burning of Winterfell, and no sign of Bran and Rickon. Robb tells this to Cat, who grieves and asks if she’ll have to wear manacles to her father’s funeral. Robb turns his army to march to Riverrun, though it’s clear not all the Northern Lords want to go. On the way, Talisa approaches Cat to try and talk to her. Cat makes it clear that she blames herself for everything that’s befallen her family and cites her treatment of Jon Snow as her selfishness that doomed them.
Someone whose self-blame is a bit more deserved is Theon, who finds himself tied up in a dimly lit room underground. He is tortured, while he is asked his motivations for taking Winterfell. However, it’s clear they’re not interested in his answer. A man sweeping the floor comes up to Theon after the others leave and slightly eases the tension in the device for him, saying that he was sent by Yara and plans to save Theon later that night.
Elsewhere, Arya continues her travels with Hot Pie and Gendry, the latter of whom teases Arya for her terrible choices in the three names Jaqen gave her. They are soon found on the road by a group of men who easily outnumber them, including Thoros of Myr and Anguy. They call themselves the “Brotherhood without Banners,” and quickly piece together that they escaped Harrenhal. The brotherhood buy the trio food at an inn, and Arya lies about their escape, saying that Gendry forged them weapons and they fought their way out. Thoros says they’re free to go, but just as they’re heading out, Sandor Clegane comes in, who instantly recognizes Arya and identifies her to the room.
Speaking of trying to avoid tension, Jaime and Brienne continue their travels, as Jaime tries to make conversation by figuring out Brienne’s former allegiance. He guesses that she was in love with Renly, though the mocking stops when an old man with a loaded horse passes by. Jaime says Brienne should kill him, but she refuses. Later, they have to cross a bridge together, and Jaime sits down, purposely dragging out the process. Brienne tries to rush him up, but Jaime manages to grab hold of one of her swords. They fight, and just as Brienne manages to best him, a group of men displaying the Bolton sigil appear. As it turns out, the old man did recognize them, and they are taken captive by the Bolton troops.
Finally, down in King’s Landing, Cersei tries to talk to Joffrey about his view of Margaery, no doubt concerned at her son’s fondness. She points out that Margaery had been engaged to Renly not so long before. Meanwhile, Shae tries to warn Sansa of Littlefinger, implying that he wants to have sex with her. Their conversation is cut short when Sansa is summoned by the Tyrells. Loras walks her to where Margaery and her grandmother Olenna wait. Olenna is very critical of the men in her family and makes it clear that she has a strong grasp of the political situation. The two women ask Sansa about Joffrey, since Margaery is to marry him. They promise no harm will come to her, and Sansa tells them that he’s a monster.
Margaery gets to see that fully on display, when Joffrey summons her and ask if the bedside of a traitor was her proper place. She quickly turns the conversation around, puffing up Joffrey’s ego and feigning interest in his new crossbow. She then hints at killing something with it and letting him watch her do so. Shae is also trying to sort out sexual interests in a conversation with Tyrion. She goes to him to try and figure out what to do about Littlefinger because of Ros’s warning, but quickly becomes jealous of Tyrion’s past purchasing of Ros’s services, as well as his comments about Sansa being attractive. However, they have sex, temporarily resolving that situation.
Does Tyrion want Sansa? Did Cat doom everyone? And will Margaery really have to kill something for Joffrey’s enjoyment? We’ll find out next week, but for now, let’s break down what we just saw.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: Well, there’s that cliff the show begins to fall off in Season 3. There were a lot of parts of this episode that worked well, and I genuinely enjoyed. But there’s just so much invented that doesn’t quite work, and it’s quite obviously done with the intent of “improving” the plots. The drop in quality is not subtle for those moments. In fact, just writing that recap the drop in quality is not subtle, but how the hell else do you frame that Shae conversation?
Jana: This is where you start getting whiplash from the draaaastic fluctuations in quality between scenes. I’d say about 75% of this episode was fine or even good, and then we have a self-flagellating Cat doing a crafting project on the road.
Julia: The one thing about this episode was how LONG it was. Seriously, it just kept going and going. There were actual highs this time, but my eyes hurt from all the rolling in other parts.
Kylie: Marg was my highlight last week, just for a pretty effortless performance that’s enjoyable to watch. This week that’s still the case, but my annoyance at her scripting has finally caught up. However, I will give a highlight to Jack Gleeson in his performance. I think the material is a little mixed in terms of how well it worked (and some of it is the result of trying to age up Joffrey), however he is such a talented actor that it makes up for a lot of it. He has this ability to turn the mood of a scene on a dime, and you see his entitlement, his cruelty, and his vulnerabilities all at once. It’s really brilliant.
My lowlight was the Reeds’ introduction. It wasn’t the most unpleasant thing to watch in this episode by a long shot, but just…why? What are we supposed to make of them from this? They’re mystical? Dramatic? It just came across as random, forced tension, when it would have been genuinely nice to have a pleasant interaction as an opening. A reminder why it is Northern Lords are so loyal and everything.
Jana: The Time Warp Trifecta was really working for it this week, at least for me. Though Margaery’s scene with Joffrey was supposed to be cringey, I guess. And Talisa was the least worst thing about her scene with Catelyn. That conversation between Tyrion and Shae, though… What even was that?
Julia: Omg, “The Time Warp Trifecta.” Thank you so much for being part of my life, Jana.
Jana: Nevertheless, nothing makes me scream more than Catelyn self-flagellating over… Not loving Jon enough? Even though in the same breath she mentions doing things for him most highborn women wouldn’t even do for their own children? And what’s this bullshit about wanting to ask Ned to legitimize him? And being jealous of Jon’s mother? Good god, what a mess.
(Never forget, three seasons from now, all of Book!Catelyn’s fears about Jon threatening her children’s claims will come true. Too bad Show!Catelyn had completely different concerns, apparently.)
Highlights… Hm. I mean, any scene that gives Sansa something to do that resembles her book storyline is nice, and Diana Rigg is a treasure. I feel like this Sansa maybe gave in a little too quickly, but other than that, I guess that’s my easy highlight to pick. Followed closely by Brienne and Jaime fighting on the bridge.
Julia: Lemon cakes is a very easy highlight. There were even some women doing needlework in the background! And cheese boy! Bless his heart. And it’s kind of all I can think of for an unironic highlight.
An ironic highlight might be the patriarchy magically appearing in King’s Landing, because god did it come hard. Wise women obey, guys! And what even is anal sex? Fun times.
The Cat thing was so horrible on many levels, especially the ones Jana mentioned. Legitimating Jon, Cat’s concerns being framed as primarily jealousy… but did we forgot the torture scenes? Maybe we tried to.
Quality of writing
Jana: Varied, is the word I’d use here. Some scenes were really well and tightly written and enjoyable, and then others, the quality just dropped. And there wasn’t even a Littlefinger around to blame! Though admittedly, the scene where Shae and Tyrion talked about him had probably the worst writing. Was anything Shae said even remotely coherent from one sentence to another?
Julia: Is she just really committed to the Girlfriend Experience or are we supposed to think this is a real relationship? Like, why is this sex worker upset that he once engaged the services of another sex worker?
I think it’s at least a soft original material-book scene dichotomy this week. The best written original scene was probably the one with
Carol Cersei and Joff, but then you had… all the other stuff. There were scenes that were just middling, I guess, like where Mance explains his backstory.
Kylie: The Jaime and Brienne scenes were some of the best writing in the episode, and also some of the only scenes that included book content as they were supposed to be. But Jana is right; we’d go from that one moment to the horror of Shae and Tyrion’s nonversation. Possibly the first true nonversation of the show?
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Julia: Well the title is kind of appropriate because Robb got those two bad news ravens. Not that they quoted the proverb. Also, why is Lord Karstark delivering messages now?
I’m kind of nowhere in terms of overall theme. The best I can do is that people are bonding and consolidating relationships. I’m thinking especially of Marg and Joff, Cat and Talisa, Jamie and Brienne, and Jon and Mance. There are also new relationships that will be important later; Sansa and Marg, the Reeds and Bran, Arya and the Hound, (who never really interacted before, as far as I can recall) Ramsay and Theon (barf).
Jana: Yes, I was considering something along those lines as well. Uneasy alliances, maybe? False friends? Though that might be more hindsight than anything substantial in this episode.
Kylie: “People in groups of varying sizes doing things.” No, “uneasy alliances” is the closest at making sense, and it actually works fairly well. Don’t forget Rast and Sam, too.
The Butterfly Effect
Kylie: Biggest one I see in effect here is with Cat’s scripting. D&D made no efforts to sympathize with her or her viewpoint in Season 1, which is why we get Cat telling Ned to stay in Winterfell. The political advancement of her family? The legitimate concerns over Jon’s potential claim? Never in evidence, so now we get her mistreatment of him played as just…she was petty and jealous and couldn’t love a baby because he had a stranger’s brown eyes.
Jana: No kidding. If I didn’t know any better, you could almost say that Catelyn’s dynastic worries were completely taken out of the show to make it more palpable for the average watcher when Jon becomes king, and that’d be a great move. But that’s also assuming the writers planned more than one season at a time, and, well…
Julia: They just don’t see Cat as a political actor at all. Even when she went to talk to Renly it was only because Robb asked her to, remember. All this personal and political stuff goes right over their heads. The closest they ever got was with Theon, and we all saw how that turned out.
Kylie: It’s early Season 3 and we’re already at the point of legitimizing a bastard being painted as an unquestionably good thing. GAH.
Julia: Okay, I know I’ve been mentioning this every week, but why do they continue to dig this Shae hole? Now she’s defending other woman from sexual exploitation?
Jana: I actually kind of like the scenes with Sansa and Shae, at least right now. I mean, it is clearly a different Shae than the one in the books, and those moments at least make her somewhat likable. I also think that in theory, having someone for Sansa to bounce her inner monologue off of could have helped the show, a lot, with its portrayal of Sansa, buuuut that sure as hell isn’t happening here.
Kylie: I do think Sansa needs someone for that (and why Dontos couldn’t have fill the role is beyond me). But it’s not really in the service of Sansa at all. In fact, the scenes are mostly just Shae imparting worldly advice on the continually naive Sansa, and then whipping out some weird ‘empowered’ lines, like how she’s totally going to make Littlefinger stop. I guess because she runs around with daggers? Or goes to Tyrion with her problems?
I guess I’m torn on it, is what I mean. I like Sansa having someone she can be nice to, even if this is all going to get thrown out the window. But Shae’s scripting is a sore thumb for this worldbuilding.
Jana: They’re doing an all in all okay job with Jaime and Brienne. Yes, she’s more of a brute, and yes, maybe he goes on about Renly being gay a little too much, but other than that… Or maybe I’m just distracted by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (NCW) getting to actually do something again. God, he used to be so good as Jaime when he was allowed to be kind of clever and not just Carol’s beleaguered brother-lover.
Julia: You mean befuddled.
Jana: Larry was very much both beleaguered and befuddled.
Kylie: Agreed. And to be honest, I adore the way NCW and Gwendoline Christie play off of each other. This is what happens when you give actors actual content and motivation. From what I can tell NCW still tries to make sense of things. Poor guy.
Jana: Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here yelling about how they’re PERFECT AND THIS COULD HAVE BEEN SO GREAT AAAAAH but instead we try to normalize twincest for a few years, no biggie.
Julia: I just realized that the changes to Shae and her foregrounding have effectively made Sansa’s plot all about Tyrion even before they get married. But can we please indulge me and talk about why we think the stuff with Shae is happening?
Jana: My best guess as to why the Shae stuff is happening is basically that Tyrion, the precious saint-like audience avatar main protagonist hero, can’t just be fucking a regular sex worker who doesn’t care about him and his amazingness, which is why Shae is given a personality, traits that make her likable (see above points about caring for Sansa), and an informed knack for intrigue. And like, if it didn’t end the way it did, having Ros and Shae meddle with the politics of the big boys might have been a worthwhile plotline. Shae might have been a really nice example for how ladies-in-waiting are used to spy and all that. However, there was still an endpoint to get to, so all the crumbs we’re thrown here are completely meaningless in the long run.
Kylie: It’s so hard for me to understand what they were trying for with Ros in this. Because there is a bit of a throughline about maids and sex workers spying and having outcomes on the politics of the Highborn for sure. But yeah, it was a plotline without space for it, so it just ended up being this…weirdness that gets thrown out the window.
The most confusing part for me is how Martin has praised Shae’s scripting, and not an inconsequential number of times.
Jana: Eh, he is good friends with the actor. And to be fair, Shae is an actual character who at least occasionally seems to genuinely care about Tyrion and has character traits other than being out for self-preservation and good at playing the role she’s being paid to play. It paints Tyrion in a better light and make him more likable in the long run. But that only work if that was GRRM’s actual goal for Tyrion, which I doubt. I’m pretty sure Tyrion being flawed the way he is is very much the point of the character… Or maybe not. It’s hard to say at this point. The Shae thing is going to collapse hard next season, so for now it just seems like too much effort put into the wrong thing.
Julia: Right!? She just has so much screen time. Is it true or apocryphal that she has more lines than Cat this season?
Jana: I don’t have the numbers, but she definitely…does more than Cat. Has more agency than Cat, which is admittedly a low bar to clear, but nothing an ascended extra should be able to do next to a POV character.
Kylie: If it helps, Catelyn’s end tally is more than Shae’s across all their seasons? I feel like it doesn’t help.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: I’m leaning towards Carol. We had nice slut-shaming digs at Marg’s wardrobe that could have gone either way, but we’re beginning to get that sad mom who can’t control her wild kid framing of it all.
Julia: Yeah, I’m going for full Carol. She’s totally right about the sinister nature of Marg’s risque wardrobe. And the patriarchy!
Jana: No kidding. And Joffrey yelling at her about what wise women do is very much like how people are going to be mean to Carol in the future. What happened to the woman who slapped Joffrey for talking back to her last season?
Kylie: It’s official then:
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Julia: Um, Jojen gave us some myth arc exposition, I guess. We learn about anal sex? And FYI, Lord Karstark, it probably snows all the time in Dorne. They have mountains.
Jana: The guy yelling at Sam was kind of telling us What Happened So Far, but it made sense in context, I guess, and the only reason I noticed it was because I was looking for it.
If you’re generous, Joffrey tries to give us exposition about Westerosi views on homosexuality that are somehow not shared by anyone else making fun of Renly and Loras this episode. Did we mention that in the themes? People make fun of Renly and/or Loras being gay a lot this episode.
Kylie: The most seamless exposition was over lemon cakes, when Olenna was complaining about her various family members and her views on their political alliance. But we can’t exactly credit Vanessa Taylor for that one, can we?
I will say one bit of subtle exposition was that Theon is captive of the Boltons. He was on the wooden cross, and then we see the men displaying that later, which Jaime calls attention to with his, “a bit gruesome for my taste.” It was enough to preserve suspense, but it rewards a close watch, which is not anything I can say about the show now.
Julia: The problem with good exposition is that you don’t always notice it.
Kylie: Why do I feel like we should make that into a shirt?
How was the pacing?
Julia: This episode was 57 minutes long, so maybe it wasn’t the pacing that made it feel like it was taking forever. Though I do remember screaming, “am I seriously only 25 minutes in!?” at one point.
Jana: They had a LOT of scenes that were just going nowhere, or had especially frustrating content like the Cat Self Roast and Shae wildly fluctuating between actual nagging girlfriend and the girlfriend experience bought and paid for. Those scenes and the torture scenes dragged somewhat, the rest was fine.
Kylie: It was endless, absolutely endless. Griffin asked me, “Is it over now?” about three times, and I was just as horrified to discover it wasn’t too. It’s interesting, because the pace wasn’t slower in the way Season 7 scenes are slower, where people just walk across the screen for thirty seconds without saying anything. Instead, each scene itself felt pretty packed, but just packed with nothing.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Kylie: Most sexual aspect of this episode was Marg explaining Renly’s gayness to Joff, and then getting him turned on with a crossbow. I guess there was also Shae’s blowjob to Tyrion after yelling about his attraction to Ros and Sansa.
I don’t know what to do with Marg to be honest. It seems so sinister now, knowing that Littlefinger will give Sansa the advise of “make him yours” to Ramsey, and her failure to do so resulted in her brutalization (at least, the framing of it). Here, we have the successful “make him yours” campaign by Margaery, and boy does she just wield her sexuality so effectively. I understand Vanessa Taylor wrote this episode, but this entire plotline was scripted by D&D, and it’s clear they think women really can successful control “monsters” if they weaponize their womanly bodies properly.
Jana: I’m also just gonna call it— Natalie Dormer already looks way too old for these interactions to not feel an entirely different kind of creepy than they’re meant to be. I know the show is very vague on their ages and all, but there’s at least a 10 year age difference there and Joffrey is in his teens. Not a good look. Nothing compared to what comes later, but already not a good look.
Julia: Does Shae explaining to Sansa “the only thing that men ever want” count as sexual content? Why am I so effing obsessed with Shae?
Kylie: Someone’s gotta teach Sansa about the awfulness of the world, since she’s sure as hell not learning about it inherently or having a survival narrative. Isn’t this the year where we find out she doesn’t know the word, “shit”?
Jana: Well, remember how Sansa is such a slow learner? How could she have figured any of this out if not for the help of others? But yes, the sheep shift scene is in episode 10, newlyweds being nice to each other for some reason, juuust before the news of the Red Wedding arrives. I have no idea why any of that happened, but hey. Eight episodes to go until then.
In memoriam…Hoster Tully
Julia: Did anyone die?
Jana: Catelyn’s self-respect and self-worth. That died. And from what I recall, also her relevance for the rest of the season.
Oh and I guess we find out about Hoster Tully dying off-screen.
Kylie: Just Hoster Tully. I actually liked Cat’s lines about her manacles in relation to that, though may have been more effective if the guy had ever been mentioned prior to this episode. I miss the Whispering Wood monologue.
Julia: I just miss Cat.
Jana: I miss Cat’s plot.
Kylie: I miss Your Sister.
Maybe she’ll be back next week? We’ll have to wait to find out, but that’s a wrap for today. What did you guys think of the episode? Did the Cat/Shae/Margaery stuff overshadow everything else for you, or were they not as bad as we were making them out?
We certainly look forward to continuing on in Season 3, to see what’s in store for us in The Wars to Come.
Images courtesy of HBO
My First Queer: 90s Fantasy Novels
This article is part of the My First Queer series, a site-wide series of articles written by some of our non-straight Fandomentals contributors. Each will contain their thoughts on their first experiences with queer media and what it meant to them. Enjoy!
Oh look, Gretchen is going to be writing about books, big surprise! Like Kristen before me in this series, I didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up. Books were my escape, especially fantasy books. As conservative evangelical Christians, my parents were all about making sure our little child brains were as free from the ‘corrupting influences of the world’ as possible, hence why I watched so little TV and why it took me so long to figure out I was queer. Fortunately for me, my parents trusted my instincts with books. Granted, I was a compliant child who didn’t go out of my way to find anything subversive. If the cover art wasn’t scandalous and the dust jacket seemed free of ‘questionable content’, I could read it.
With literally hundreds of books passing through my hands over the first decade and a half of my life, if I still remember a scene from a book I read only once and decades ago, it meant something to me. Sometime last year, I reflected on these handful of books seared into my soul. Once you look at them, it’s pretty telling why these are the stories I remember.
The Eagle and The Nightingales by Mercedes Lackey (1995)
Sometime in late middle school/early high school, I picked up one of Mercedes Lackey’s books at the local library and proceeded to devour every available book of hers I could get my hands on. I can’t remember which book of hers I read first, but they left an indelible impression on me.
Part of Lackey’s Bardic Voices series, The Eagle and The Nightingales tells the story of Nightingale a Free Bard (someone who wields magic through music) tasked with finding out why the human king and churches are growing overtly hostile to non-human sentient beings and other classes of people they cannot directly control. She joins forces with T’yfrr a member of the Haspur, a race of humanoid eagles who has an angelic voice. Over the course of the book, the two become not only quest partners, but lovers.
So what? I can imagine you thinking. What does a bard and a bird-man have to do with ‘my first queer’? Fair point, dear reader. On the surface, T’yfrr and Nightingale are differently gendered and so seem to fit a heterosexual mold. However, as a young teen, an interspecies relationship felt as ‘forbidden’ and ‘taboo’ as anything overtly gay. There was something…queer about it even if it featured a female human and a male humanoid eagle. Especially in the story’s context of non-humans being persecuted by the church (*cough cough*) and interspecies relationships being considered taboo by the church but accepted in T’yfrr’s culture. Conversations Nightingale has with T’yfrr mirror conversations Vanyel, one of Lackey’s openly gay characters, has about being attracted to men.
Ultimately, it’s a story about discrimination against marginalized people groups and finding love in unexpected places that your society might find taboo but that’s just their (wrong, bigoted) opinion. That struck a chord with me that I couldn’t label. I just really, really liked it okay? And it made a lot of sense to me and made me feel seen for some reason. (Like I said, really telling looking back.) It was also a really well-written story, the best of the Free Bard series (of which this is the third book), in my opinion. We won’t talk about Four and Twenty Blackbirds. I like to pretend that book never happened.
Admittedly, certain aspects of The Eagle and the Nightingales didn’t age well. While the complicated politics and theme of acceptance are still relevant today, the entire Free Bard series features ‘gypsies’ prominently. Lackey’s characterization of the culture she calls ‘gypsy’ is positive, if a bit stereotypical. The real problem is her use of the word ‘gypsy’ at all. I know, I know. This is a fantasy book from the 90s. In that context, her free use of that word to describe a nomadic, Romani-like people is understandable. At the same time, understandable doesn’t mean problem-free and I would be remiss, even in my reminiscences, to overlook that rather glaring issue.
The Last Herald-Mage Series by Mercedes Lackey (1989-1990)
This brings me to the aforementioned Vanyel. The three books in this series—Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price—tell the story of Vanyel Ashkevron, the greatest Herald-Mage in the history of Valdemar. He presents at first as a bored, coddled, vain pretty-boy disinterested in running his family estate. That veneer hides the reality that he’s an emotionally neglected, highly introverted and intuitive, sensitive child who suffers from his father being overbearing and believing he’s ‘not a proper man’. His homophobic father, who fears he is shay’a’chern, the in-universe term for gay, sends him to train as a swordsman to ‘make a man’ out of him.’
Vanyel meets a Herald-Mage trainee, Tylendel, who is openly gay and sparks Vanyel’s understanding of himself. The two become lovers and lifebonded (aka soulmates), but in a magical tragedy, Tylendel dies (don’t worry, I’ll come back to this). The event also awakens Vanyel’s mage gift. In the aftermath, he learns he possesses all of the Heraldic gifts and becomes the most powerful Herald-Mage to ever exist. Eventually he meets another shay’a’chern couple from the mysterious human clan of the Tayledras, the Hawkbrothers known as Moondance and Starwind. Being gay in their society is not taboo, so they teach him to accept his orientation as normal and beautiful. He also meets a bard named Stefan, the reincarnation of his soulmate Tylendel.
Vanyel dies at the end of the series fighting against Valdemar’s enemies. However, that’s not the end for him. He’s given a choice to continue protecting Valdemar, so he, Stefan/Tylendel, and Vanyel’s psycially linked horse Companion Yfandes (it makes sense in context, I promise; she’s like a platonic soulmate who helps him with magic) become spirit protectors on Valdemar’s border.
Admittedly, Lackey killing of Tylendel to awaken Vanyel’s mage gifts doesn’t sit well after recent conversations about the representation of queer characters. Maybe I’m nostalgic and too kind because of what these books meant to me, but the events never struck me as Bury Your Gays (BYG), even as a kid. Lackey goes out of her way to normalize Vanyel’s sexuality, villainize his homophobic father, an even reincarnates Tylendel in the form of Stefan.
Vanyel’s heroic sacrifice at the end doesn’t feel like BYG either. His death isn’t intended to punish him for being gay, which is the root of the BYG trope. In fact, he gets a happy ending, even in death. He, his soulmate Tylendel/Stefan, and his platonic soulmate Companion Yfandes live forever doing what he wanted most in the world: protecting Valdemar.
Oh, and he has four biological children to carry on his legacy, though I honestly can’t remember how the sperm donor thing worked. Twins Brightstar and Firefeather are raised by the Tayledras shay’a’chern couple Vanyel meets. He also fathers Avren, the daughter of lesbian swordfighters in his older sister Lissa’s command. Most important is Jisa, daughter of Shavri, the king’s co-consort. Basically, the king is infertile but no one knows that, so Vanyel agrees to be the donor in secret. As Jisa ends up marrying the heir, the entire rest of the royal line in the Valdemar series descends from Vanyel.
Plus, Vanyel’s story is so central to the worldbuilding and history of Valdemar that without him, the rest of Valdemar wouldn’t make sense. So even in hindsight, I have a hard time labeling this as BYG. He’s just too important a character and everything else about the story resists being boiled down to, “he and Tylendel died because they were gay.”
Anyway, back to why these books were important to me. I related to Vanyel on a deeply personal level. He was introverted, misunderstood, and suffered from both neglect and direct emotional and verbal abuse. He’s deeply emotional and struggles with depression. He’s mocked by friends and family for being ‘moody’ and not fitting into society’s expectations for his gender. Because of the abuse he suffered, he both feared and desperately wanted intimacy yet denied himself the opportunities to open up for fear of getting hurt. Hey! That was me. Reading about Vanyel felt like Lackey had peered into my soul and put what she found on page. And that was aside from him being gay.
Even though reading these books didn’t immediately make me understand my sexuality, following Vanyel’s journey of discovering his sexual orienation deeply impacted me. I got to read it in real time, watch him figure it out, struggle with the implications, and learn to accept and embrace it by being told it was normal. He gave me the first glimpse of something I didn’t realize was true of myself. I just really, really liked and identified with him okay? I was a shay’a’chern…ally.
Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy (1994)
Before Lackey, there was Lovejoy and Cohen’s Seven Daughters and Seven Sons. I read this in 5th grade, having picked it off of my teacher’s classroom library shelf because it was based on an Iraqi folktale. I loved (and still do love) all kinds of folktales, myths, and fairy tales, especially non-Western stories. Buran’s story became my favorite, though over time I forgot the title and it took me years to track it down again.
Buran is the fourth of seven daughters living in Baghdad. Everyone in the city shuns her father for not having sons; her uncle—father to seven sons—especially like to throw Buran’s family’s poverty and seeming lack of favor from Allah in their face. Not content to see her family suffer, Buran disguises herself as a man, travels to Tyre, and sets up shop as a successful merchant while maintaining her masculine disguise.
Mahmud, the prince of Tyre visits her shop often, and Buran finds herself falling in love with him and he with her, though she’s still disguised as a man. Soon after he realizes his in love with Buran-in-disguise, Mahmud has a moment where he begins to wonder if she is a woman. So, he sets about testing her to prove her gender. Fearing discovery and the loss of friendship and her business she uses to support her family, Buran uses her wits to pass Mahmud’s first two tests. The third, to meet him at the baths, she flees from as it would reveal her identity. Donning women’s clothing, she heads home, encountering two of her male cousins, whose position in life has much diminished since she left. Her family, on the other hand, is rich and her sisters have married well due to her business acumen.
Her family pressures her to marry, but her heart belongs to Mahmud, though she cannot admit it. Rejecting social expectations of her, Buran determines to never marry and leave her fortune to her sisters’ children. However, Prince Mahmud eventually finds her and the two get married and live happily ever after.
Stories about women who disguise themselves as men and have a prince fall in love with them exist in a strange limbo between queer and heteronormative, depending on how the author frames the prince. Lovejoy and Cohen straddle that line in an interesting way. On the one hand, the story lets the prince believe himself in love with Nasir—Buran’s masculine name—for almost two pages. There’s even a highly sexually charged scene between the two of them told from Prince Mahmud’s perspective. But then Mahmud has a rather convenient insight that Nasir is actually a woman in disguise. It simultaneously feels less homophobic than it could have been and as heteronormative as people who don’t want to acknowledge that Li Shang in Mulan was totally in love with Ping and flagrantly bisexual.
Still, as a child, it was eye-opening to read a story about a man who falls in love with another man, only to realize she’s a woman. And Buran was definitely a character I both admired and identified with. I, too, wanted to be more than what my conservative environment said a woman should be. I admired her courage, her intelligence, and her unwillingness to submit to societal expectations for what it meant to be a woman. There’s a bit of Not Like Other Girls, but no more than Vanyel felt like Not Like Other Boys. They’re both characters who didn’t quite fit in and found a way to embrace and celebrate who they were. Once again, to not-yet-aware-of-her-queerness-Gretchen something about Buran and Mahmud struck home.
And then there was the scene where Buran strips naked and looks at herself as a woman after living as a man for years.
“When I got back to my room, my own safe little room in Jihha’s house, I bade the servant leave the candle, and then I dismissed him. I took off all of my clothes, every single piece, and then I stared down at my naked self. I saw the gentle swell of my two breasts, small, but firm and high, with smooth golden flesh giving way to rosy nipples. I saw the slight curve of my belly, which would never, ever be absolutely flat, no matter how thin and hard the rest of me might be. Beneath my narrow waist, my two hips curved like two crescent moons and between my legs, black hair curled in tiny ringlets.” (p. 151-152)
Poor little 10-year-old baby bisexual Gretchen did not know what to do with the confusing feelings reading that passage awakened in her. I’ll be honest, this was the scene that stuck in my mind for years. Until recently, I had no idea why. Looking back now, I can 100% label it as the first viscerally, “Oh shit, I’m queer,” moment of my life. It only took me 20 more years to unpack it, but this book is the piece de resistance of young queer Gretchen.
So these were my first queer inklings. Strange, I know. Two of the stories weren’t even explicitly queer and the other featured a gay protagonist, not a woman-loving-woman (wlw). But they meant something to me. They planted seeds in my repressed, survival-mentality brain that would only come to fruition many years later. For a survivor of CSA and abuse who literally had no framework for understanding being a wlw, these books were the only shreds I had of a part of myself I didn’t have words for. Yes, they were problematic in some ways. Yes, they were imperfect matches to my own experience. But they were literally all I had.
As I said at the outset, these are stories I vividly remembered years later. Even if I couldn’t remember the name of the book, I remembered scenes or interactions that felt…significant to me in some unnamed as yet way. However flawed they are, they hold a special place in my soul.
They’re also the reason why I write mainstream SFF novels. I know there are other kids out there who don’t know they’re queer just like I didn’t. Kids who wouldn’t think to pick up a book explicitly labeled as ‘queer’ either because they don’t think that’s who they are or because their situation at home wouldn’t allow them to. (My parents would have banned any book labeled that way on sight.) Kids waiting to pick up a book about mages or queens or space colonists and see a protagonist who loves in a way they didn’t know was possible.
So in the end, they gave me even more of myself than I ever could have imagined. This is why stories matter.