The Nintendo Switch is almost upon it, and with it, a new Zelda game. A new sandbox Zelda game featuring better looking tunics, hang-gliding, and an intense enough story to make our beloved princess do this:
It just looks so damned good, to the point where some of us here think it could be the best in the entire franchise.
Yet which game would it actually be dethroning? Sure there’s plenty of Link to the Past-stans, and who doesn’t have at least fond memories of Wind Waker? (There was an island of Tingles, for crying out loud!) But from what I can tell, the consensus is almost unanimously on Ocarina of Time (OOT). I say “almost” because there is a small, though vociferous group that argues its direct successor, Majora’s Mask (MM), should hold that honor. For full disclosure, the latter is my personal favorite in the franchise, though I’m not sure if I’d consider it “better” than OOT.
So let’s see if there’s an objective way we can hash this out, examining the strengths of the stories and gameplay, and come away with a decisive winner. DECISIVE, I say!
The Hero of Time
In the off-chance someone doesn’t know the first thing about this game, let’s begin with a quick recap of the plot.
In OOT, a 9 or 10-year-old Link is being raised by the Kokiri, a sort of woodland sprite-ish race that all stay as children forever and have guardian fairies (none for Link, how sad). The Kokiri are all watched by the Great Deku Tree, who is feeling green in the gills lately, so he sends Navi the fairy off to get Link, since the guy has a magical destiny. Link defeats a monster inside the tree, but it turns out he was doomed anyway since some schmuck named Ganondorf cursed him. You see, the Great Deku tree held a spiritual stone, and Ganondorf wants that along with two others so he can open the Door of Time in the Temple of Time and enter the Sacred Realm where he can steal the Triforce for power!
Link learns about this and goes to warn the royal family, succeeding in telling Zelda, who immediately believes him since she’s prophetic and thinks Ganondorf is the worst anyway. She tells Link to get the other two spiritual stones while she protects the Ocarina of Time (this is also needed to open the Door of Time), so that way they can get to the Triforce first and protect it. Unfortunately, they missed the part where Link is too young to be doing any of this shit, so when he gets the stones and opens the door, he ends up getting sealed by the Sage of Light inside the Chamber of Secrets (within the Sacred Realm), while Ganondorf skips on through and grabs the Triforce, casting darkness over the land. The only silver lining is that Ganondorf is such a baddie, he couldn’t take the Triforce whole: it split into thirds, and while he did a lot of damage with one piece, the other two fell safely in possession of Link and Zelda.
The Sage of Light puts Link into a seven year sleep, so he can mature enough to fill his role as the Hero of Time. When Link is pulled out of this stasis, he’s given instructions to go and wake up the other sages so they can all bring down Ganondorf, who has since become King of Hyrule. Link does this with the help of a mysterious Sheikah (a sort of ninja-like people) named…Sheik (clever), who turns out to be Zelda, because she might feel a little responsible for the awfulness in Hyrule.
With the help of now-awake sages and Zelda (who is actually the Goddess of Time and head sage, which means she has some healing and gate-opening powers), Link is able to defeat Ganondorf. Zelda thanks him by sending him back in time to his 9-year-old self so they can just…not do the thing. Just ignore the time paradox it creates, okay?
What’s funny is that before writing that out, I always had thought of OOT’s narrative as a straightforward hero adventure tale. It’s true that there’s the “chosen one” aspect of this, but the importance of Zelda being just as inextricable a piece shouldn’t be understated. OOT took the “defeat the bad guy to save the princess” trope and made it “defeat the bad guy and the princess will help, too.”
There’s also how each geographical area and each sage feels fleshed out and has their own issues. Ruto had to sort of quickly shape up as the sage of water after being rather self-involved and carefree as a kid. Darunia throws himself into the Fire Temple to the point of self-harm as a way of trying to save his people. Nabooru is the second-in-command of the Gerudo who realizes the danger Ganondorf poses and does what she can to subvert his plans even before darkness falls over Hyrule. It’s not Citizen Kane or anything, but these characters, along with Link and Sheik/Zelda, hammer home the theme of responsibility, and does so in a rather compelling way. Even Malon insists on staying in a bad situation for the good of the animals of Lon Lon Ranch helps to support this. There aren’t many pieces that feel extraneous, and this is the game where you spend a fair amount of time running across the map to deliver eye-drops.
Truly, it’s the dramatic irony that’s probably my favorite piece of this: had Link and Zelda not tried to open the Door of Time, none of this would have happened. So then seeing the darkness and how each region turned uniquely to shit (the Zoras getting trapped in ice was probably the most affecting) had more of an underlying tragedy to it besides “evil guy does evil things.”
The ending is rather beautiful in this regard too… Zelda sends Link back in time to subvert this in a different timeline, while she herself has to try and pick up the pieces of the world that has now fallen apart. Her background arc is almost mind-boggling when you think about it, given the way she spent seven years training as a Sheikah, ultimately to sneak into Hyrule and do what she could until Link was ready to take up the mantle of Hero of Time. We’re not talking small things either—Sheik saved Ruto’s life!
All in all, though the story does lead the player from Dungeon A to Dungeon B without much hesitation, the tale it tells to do so is one that creates a sense of urgency, and a deeply felt sense of loss, too. It’s upsetting to see ReDeads wandering through the town market, and I’ll be damned to find a player who didn’t want Kokiri Forest free of monsters as soon as possible.
Hero who’s got no time
Then there’s Majora’s Mask. It’s a bizarre tale, there’s no two ways about it.
Following the events of OOT in the “child” branch of the now-split timeline (thanks, Zelda), a 9/10-year-old Link realizes he really misses Navi, so he goes off to look for her in the neighboring land of Termina. Unfortunately he gets mugged on the road, his horse gets stolen, and he gets turned into a Deku scrub. Could happen to anyone. He meets a mask salesman who tells him that the same thief (a Skull Kid) stole his really cool, really evil and dangerous mask (Majora’s Mask). If Link gets it back for him, he’ll make him a human again, so long as Link also gets his ocarina back (he needs it to fix him).
Small problem: the mask, with the help of the Skull Kid, is somehow making it so the moon falls into Termina after three days and everyone’s going to die. And just before they can throw a really fun festival!
Link manages to get the ocarina and remembers Zelda teaching him the Song of Time. He plays it and finds himself back at the “dawn of the first day” (three days remaining until the moon crash). The mask salesman fixes him up, but Link forgot to get Majora’s Mask, so he gets sent back into the world and has to figure out a way to retrieve it and stop the moon crashing, making as much progress in three days as he can, before traveling back in time and resetting the moon fall over and over.
Much like Groundhog’s Day, Link ends up solving the minor problems of everyone in town, while he ultimately figures out that there are four guardian giants of Termina who are trapped in temples being guarded by masked monsters. Link must defeat these monsters and summon the four giants when the moon is falling so they can catch it and hold it up. Once they do, he’s able to warp onto the moon, fight the now-sentient Majora’s Mask that ditched the Skull Kid (it’s got no strings), and save the day.
It’s weird. I’ve heard it described as “dark and creepy” too, and it’s a little hard to argue with that.
What’s weirdest of all is how none of this should have worked, and yet it all does.
For Link, it boils down to him fighting an evil mask to avoid the destruction of a town. However, he actually takes a surprising backseat in the context of the narrative, which is instead all about Skull Kid, his former friendship to the giants, and the way his friendship to the two fairies Tatl and Tael started out as sharing fun pranks, but took a dark turn aided by the mask. We learn from a story within a story (thanks, Anju’s Grandmother) that the Skull Kid had been super tight with the four giants, but when they announced they were leaving Clock Town to protect Termina from its four geographic regions, he felt abandoned and “spread darkness” before he was banished. The mask allowed him to return, and it all feels very much like the Ring of Power calling out. In many ways the Skull Kid was primed to take it, and the tragedy that unfolded was in line with his former insecurities and latent dark tendencies.
In a move of poetic justice, the Skull Kid gets scrapped by Majora’s Mask to do its own bidding, leaving him completely alone. The end credits focus on the giants telling the Skull Kid that they do care about him, but they still have to go do their protector thing. He proposes to Link that maybe they could be friends, and the final shot we get is this:
Link is, you know, there for these events. But it’s the Skull Kid’s story as he works to understand the concept of friendship while seeing how loneliness manifesting in fear is a dangerous road to walk. “Forgive your friends” is more or less the tagline of the game, and it sure as heck wasn’t Link forgiving Dampe for his formerly terrible tour guide skills.
Still, even if you’re not playing as the story protagonist, does that really matter? Link’s actions certainly make an impact, and the many quests he goes on in Termina play into the central themes anyway. Time and futility stand out the most for the player, but even subplots such as Anju/Kafei or the Gorman Brothers touch on the forgiveness and friendship aspects we see in the A-plot.
Oh, and responsibility strikes again! It’s not Link’s responsibility, oddly, though he’s able to don the forms of those who feel it keenly. The Deku Princess attempts to take on the troubles in her kingdom alone thanks to her ineffectual father (Dutiful Princess alert), both the Goron Elder and Darmani are so determined to stop the endless winter that they fall into near and actual death (respectively), Mikau dies trying to get Lulu’s eggs back, Pamela shields her half-monster father from any potential threat despite the danger he poses to her, Cremia devotes herself to the ranch despite her father’s death and the whole yearly alien abduction of the cows thing… Heck, even Jim, a small child, starts a gang dedicated to helping those in Clock Town because of neighborly duty.
In fact, collective communal responsibility is one of the biggest takeaways given how the Carnival of Time and the potential moon disaster serve as two unifying efforts. We see how the characters of this world relate to one another, often in surprising ways (the receptionist at the mayor’s office has a crush on Kafei, Cremia shelters Anju’s entire family and might be low-key in love with her, and Anju’s grandmother may have been the mayor’s teacher, just to name a few), and Mayor Dotour’s struggle to weigh the risks of staying and the potential losses of fleeing the town in the wake of the carnival only too well frames the way each person’s individual drama influences full picture.
In some ways it’s a masterpiece and in others, it’s completely absurd and downright silly. I have to imagine it is a story that most players find deeply engaging, especially given how self-referential it is, and how far down rabbit holes you can get. For those willing to explore the world in its entirety, the reward is there. Only issue is the willingness to do so without feeling like you’re making the moon crash.
Compared against OOT, I do think MM has the richer tale, though it might be one harder to relate to, especially given Link’s secondary status within it. Zelda’s plotline in OOT will destroy me in a way nothing can in MM, though what is actually on-screen during the game is less compelling than its successor. For these reasons, it’s likely best to call the strength of the stories a draw, and determine the winner of this battle by gameplay merits alone.
What Ocarina of Time did better
Both OOT and MM used very similar mechanics and were released on the same console. However, there are enough differences in game play to set them apart.
1. The superior map
This isn’t just about Termina making no dang sense politically and economically. It’s more that Hyrule feels like a complete world rather than a hodgepodge of disparate zones. Part of that may be the transition areas: you head up Death Mountain Trail before you get to the rocky Goron Village, you’re slowly eased into the Gerudo’s desert setting, little-by-little, there’s the bridge you take to get out of the forest. In MM, Termina Field just has patches of snow randomly existing about twenty feet away from the very temperate-looking beach.
Hyrule also feels less constrained in travel, likely because so much of the map stays closed off to you for so much longer in MM. OOT gives a grander “free roaming” feel, while MM makes you sit around wondering when you’ll come across the item to get you to the next zone. It’s true this can be mitigated by getting out of Woodfall with only the Hero’s Bow, and then damage boosting yourself over the Great Bay fence after getting the Goron mask, but it doesn’t exactly compare to being able to get your Gerudo Membership Card without even having to beat a single temple as an adult.
2. A better warping system
In OOT, you can warp across the map by learning a location-specific song at some point in the game.
In MM, a random owl statue has a song transcribed on it, and if you play that you can travel to anywhere another owl statue exists, as long as you’ve opened it already. They’re both fine. Fine.
This might seem like an odd point to give to OOT, since I was just kvetching about the limits in MM’s travel, and there are some songs you don’t learn until frustratingly late in the game (looking at you, “Nocturne of Shadows”). In MM, you more or less can immediately revisit any area you’ve been to. However, OOT’s travel system felt integrated into the story, and there was a genuine delight in learning the next warp song, especially given how they were composed to evoke the area you were heading. In MM, while Kaepora Gaebora, is a familiar sight for those who played OOT, it’s still just a random owl with random statues in random locations, randomly. Give me a duet with Sheik any day.
3. Better sword upgrade & Epona quests
It might be unfair to lump these in together, but I tend to associate freeing Epona from Lon Lon Ranch with the mad dash across Hyrule to get Biggoron’s Sword, likely because that would be the first thing I’d do after becoming an adult. Both quests were incredibly fun, and actually felt like there were stakes to them, given the countdown clock for most stages of the sword, and what felt like personal stakes in helping Malon.
In MM, you pay a blacksmith for a better sword, and if you happen to have gold dust, he can upgrade it one more time so that it will never break. That’s it. Just…go into a shop twice. Sure, you have to figure out where to get the gold dust from, and you go two full days without a sword while he works but it’s not exactly engaging.
Epona, however, is nothing but frustrating. You can find her pretty quickly once you visit Milk Road, but until you defeat the second dungeon, there’s no getting to her on the first day, when you actually need to be there for Romani to help you. Once you manage that, there’s a small minigame, but it’s nowhere nearly as satisfying as defeating Ingo.
4. Better dungeon design
Speaking of those dungeons, OOT definitely has the edge here, for the simple reason that you can actually figure them out. Yeah, I know the reputation the Water Temple has and that you can get stuck without small keys, but here’s a hint: just move through the rooms counterclockwise, lowest level to highest. It doesn’t require the goddamned civil engineering degree that makes Great Bay comprehensible, and don’t even get me started on Stone Tower Temple. I refuse to believe people were actually able to find all fifteen stray fairies in that one without outside help.
5. The save button
I don’t know why MM didn’t allow for a save and quit whenever the player wanted. I’m guessing it has something to do with the function of the three-day cycle, but truly, it’s a mystery. In OOT, if you wanted to stop playing, you could save wherever you were and it would be fine. Sure, you’d start back in Link’s house, or at the beginning of a dungeon, but it was never a big problem, truly. This was also very nice if you wanted to try something risky out.
In MM, playing the Song of Time and going back to the first day was an automatic save. Otherwise, you’d have to find a dang owl statue. However, the worst part was that if you saved at an owl statue, played for a little, then stopped playing without saving (maybe you messed something up, even), you would be taken back to the last time you played the Song of Time. As a kid who’d only be able to play for a limited amount of time, this was highly stressful.
6. Gold skulltula quest
I am a completionist. Why would I fight Ganondorf with anything less than 20 fortified hearts and the biggest possible quiver? For that reason, the little scritch-scrtich-scritch of the skulltulas was both the bane of my existence, and the delight when playing these games. I lived to get that spider icon on my mini-map in OOT, and there was something immensely satisfying about figuring out all the areas they could hide.
In MM there’s two hellish spider houses, and woe betide you if you defeat one on the wrong day. Learning the speedrunning routes through them are kind of fun, but it’s more or less twenty minutes of the spider noise driving you bananas while you curse yourself for not bottling more bugs.
What Majora’s Mask did better
It’s very important to say something first: MM is a sequel to OOT. For that reason the game could address common complaints. Yes, Tatl is less annoying in her noises than Navi (though she’s also less useful). The text speed is also much faster and you can skip more of it. Sure, these fixes produce a “better” game, but it does seem unfair to hold against OOT all the same.
1. The Great Fairy rewards system
I’m sure this is going to be divisive, but to me there was nothing more delightful than having Link don the Great Fairy mask and plunging into the dungeons. The rewards were more or less the same in both games, at least for three of the fairies, but rather than finding random rocks to blow up or stumbling across the fountains, MM’s integration of them into the dungeon system felt much more organic, and gave the dungeons replay value they might not have otherwise had.
Also, I’m pretty sure the only spell I used in OOT was Din’s Fire in the two cases where I had to. I may have used Farore’s Wind once when I ran out of time to finish a dungeon. But thanks for nothing, half of you Great Fairies. Meanwhile MM has the Great Fairy’s sword, which is ridiculously overpowered. Try the Wart fight using just quick-spins of it…trust me.
2. Masks & movement
It’s really hard to tell if this was a “fix” to OOT’s system, but getting around the world in MM is just a delight. A lot of that is due to the transformation masks, especially given the ridiculous speed the Goron Mask allows you. In fact, it’s almost to the point where Epona feels a little useless. And I’d be remiss not to mention the Bunny Hood, even though you’re unlikely to see it much in speedruns.
In OOT, there’s Epona and back-walking.
The thing is, the masks and the way they affect gameplay are just fun, no other way about it. It’s delightful to get a new mask and try and see where you can use it in some way. Sure, there’s a few lemons, but for every Circus Leader’s Mask, there’s a Bremen mask.
3. Challenging mini-games
Okay, in fairness, Bombchu Bowling is a goddamn nightmare that you can get stuck at for a long time in OOT. But otherwise the mini-games are not the most difficult. Stand and shoot your slingshot at these slowly moving rupees. Fish for ten hours until that really fat one by the log bites. The Horseback Archery presents the biggest challenge, but even there it doesn’t take long to master.
Compare that to MM where you’re racing beavers, playing basketball with bombs, and shooting octorocts faster than you knew was even possible. These are incredibly fun games, and yeah, can trip you up. But boy do those pieces of heart feel well-earned.
4. A less aggravating Dampe quest
OOT fans should give out a collective groan when Dampe is mentioned, because the Heart-Pounding Gravedigging Tour is anything but. It’s more like the tour where you have to turn your damn brightness up all the way, listen for the sound of dirt or stones, and wait for a guy moving slower than the speed of death to charge you money that might eventually lead to a piece of heart.
In MM he’s not faring much better, by the way. In fact, he can’t even see anymore, so you have to use Tatl’s light to guide him. But there’s only six possible dig locations, they’re all very obvious, and you get a bottle at the end rather than just a piece of heart. It’s also a very fun way to close out your first cycle as a human, if you play your cards right.
5. One pair of boots
I’m not sure if this is a result of MM needing a full menu pane for the masks, but goodbye are the days of futzing around with tunic and boot selections. It was kind of fun for a little in OOT, but once the choice was taken away from me in MM, my quality of life was better. This goes for Link getting a functional and non-flammable shield to use at all times. Just…why Deku Shield, why?
I think the biggest source of my frustration with this system in OOT was how awful the hover boots felt for movement, and how dang slow the iron boots were. I realize that was the point so that the Kokiri Boots would remain the default, but it just made me dread the moment I had to put the other ones on. Just give me Link and let me run around without burning up.
And the winner is…
Well, technically I gave OOT one more positive than MM, though I should point out that “mask mechanics and movement” were so fundamental to the game that they should count for a bit more.
The thing is, while I thought I’d end this arguing passionately for MM and being willing to die on that hill, I’m really not sure that either one comes out on top. MM took OOT’s formula and added mechanics on top of it with a focus on fun and difficulty, but none of that would have been possible without OOT’s formula in the first place. Conversely, OOT was a near-perfect game out of the box, though it’s impossible to ignore the ways it was improved.
As much as I’d love to give the crown to one or the other, I can’t. They’re both phenomenal games that have earned a place of affection in Zelda fans’ hearts for a reason. Breath of the Wild has its work cut out for it.
Images courtesy of Nintendo
The Expanse Season Two Still Fares Well As An Adaptation
The Expanse has had the seventh book in the series released this month, while its third season (meant to adapt the second half of the second book) is scheduled to come out some time next year. In other words, both the authors of the source material and of the adaptation are keeping busy, making it a very current show. So allow me to continue in my attempt to assess how it fared as an adaptation.
The second season works with the second half of Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the series, and the first half of Caliban’s War, the second installment. It continued its similarity to Game of Thrones as an adaptation by diverging from the source material significantly more than in the first year it was on air. The good news, however, is that the changes are not so dramatically for the worse as is usual, and in some cases are even for the better.
Warning: the following contains spoilers for both the show and the books.
Some problems remain from season one. Chiefly, two of them. One is the scope of the world as it is depicted on the show. The other are the universally dark and gritty visuals. Ganymede is supposed to have corridors carved in ice. Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see that? But now, just more indistinguishable black and grey.
The most significant difference between the books and the show in season two is, without a doubt, all the added drama. It’s everywhere. Every little thing that is routine in the books becomes exceedingly tense on the show. Starting with the Somnambulist, which is not taken by force – or near enough to force – in book!verse, but is simply a ship at OPA’s disposal that Holden is given by Fred. Continuing through Bobbie’s escape from her rooms in the UN compound; she simply walks away in the book and that’s it. And ending with the escape from Gynemedes, which, int he books, is not so much of an escape as simply, you know, leaving. I could keep listing other instances, but this serves as a good example of the sort of tension added for television.
Related to this is also the complete secrecy that surrounds everything on the show. The books work much better with the reality of modern technology where things are streamed immediately. Billions of people watch Eros crash into Venus live, for example, and the data available from what happens there is available to everyone. Or there is the whole thing with the zombie terminator attacking on Ganymede. On the show, it’s a huge secret Chrisjen has to exert extreme energy to ferret out. In the books, everyone knows and there is footage of the attack available. One of my favourite little moments is when Holden tries to hide his identity behind a scruffy beard as he comes to Ganymede, and you end his chapter feeling that he succeeded. Only to open Chrisjen’s chapter and find out that he really, really did not.
Secrecy adds drama, so it is understandable why the show decided to go this way. The need to keep viewers hooked is evident, too. And ending the season in a middle of a book, they needed a suitably dramatic bang to end with. So while all of these things make me roll my eyes, I do not truly blame the show for them. I feel the missed character beats much more keenly.
Captain James Holden
Holden is one character whose arc from the first half of Caliban’s War was adapted truly well. There was the inevitable added drama, as everywhere, but his essential story arc remained.
With regards to the end of Leviathan Wakes, however, the issues from season one continue, and Holden is treated as more of a boy scout by the show than he is by the book. One fantastic moment (though one that could hardly be adapted) was seeing inside Holden’s head when the Head Human Experimenter tried to convince him to join forces before Miller shot him. The reader can see, with intimate certainty, that Holden is this close to giving in when Miller pulls the trigger. We know for certain that it was done at just the right time. Yet Holden condemns Miller for it without the slightest trace of self-awareness, confident he would have resisted. It’s no doubt intentional, and it’s perfection. It should have been replaced by a similar scene suitable for the visual medium that would have conveyed the same. It wasn’t, and Holden’s character suffered for it.
On the other hand, I very much appreciate the change made to Holden’s dynamics with Naomi. In the books, when they start their romantic relationship, it turns out that not only has Naomi been in love with him for ages, so had pretty much every female on the Canterburry, because he is obviously God’s gift to womankind. It’s something to be thankful for that we don’t have to deal with that on our screens, even though I admit that the way book!Naomi handles Holden after that is exquisite.
I’m also very much in favour of the open communication that happens between them before they have sex in the books, as opposed to the “thick erotic tension” kind of deal the show went with. It would be easier to teach people about affirmative consent if there were actual examples of it in the media. There was a scene like that in the book, and guess what? It didn’t get adapted. Let’s all pretend at astonishment.
Dr. Praxidike Meng
I must admit that I was surprised when I saw he was one of the point of view characters. I neither knew nor expected it, and that in itself sums up the biggest problem with his show adaptation. He was very much pushed into the background. I understand why, I suppose – it might have been felt that there were too many new characters – but he lost a lot of his appeal when his role was cut. He is there to represent a valuable civilian point of view among all the trained soldiers and expert politicians. And his expertise adds a crucial dimension to the catastrophe of Gynamede.
Though if someone had to be cut short, I’m glad it was Dr. Meng. I understand they could hardly reduce Hodlen’s role, as much as I’d appreciate it, and both of the ladies are more interesting than Dr. Meng.
Still, I remember lamenting the sharp division between the first and second half of season 2 and pointing out that had Dr. Meng been included in some of the earlier episodes, it would have helped to make the transition more seamless. Now that I know he is one of the point of view characters, I feel this even more strongly.
Assistant Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala
I cannot quite decide whether Chrisjen is an adaptational success or failure. Because she is perfection on the show…but she is also quite different from the books. If I should compare book!Chrisjen to someone, it would probably be Miranda from Devil Wears Prada, or characters of that sort. She is not likable in any straightforward way, but at the same time, she has a charm to her that is oddly irresistible as much as you want to punch her in the fact at the same time.
Show!Chrisjen, on the other hand, is much softer on the surface, not showing her hard lines so obviously. Even when she swears, she does it with a kind of disarming smile that takes the edge off it. Book!Chrisjen is nothing but edges.
I don’t want to complain, because show!Chrisjen is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and there is nothing intrinsically better or worse about either of their characterisations. But I cannot help but wonder how far gender stereotyping played a part in making Chrisjen less obviously hard. And it becomes especially problematic when paired with her stupidity in season 2, which takes the form of that oh-so-very-feminine failing of trusting too much in her friends, or ex-friends.
I wrote out my thoughts about that elsewhere in detail.To summarise, it was a subplot that prioritized a male character over a female one, and made Chrisjen look naive. But it was also an excellently done one. So while it troubles me, I cannot with a clear conscience say I wish it didn’t happen. I just hope it won’t again.
Additionally, one change I definitely appreciated was Chrisjen not being Errinwright’s subordinate on the show. It changed the dynamic significantly, and very much for the better. It also made this whole added subplot in season two possible.
Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper
Bobbie has a similar problem as Chrisjen: she, too, is made to look markedly more stupid on the show. Only as Chrisjen is effectively a genius, she ends up being just a little incompetent. Bobbie sometimes ends up looking downright stupid.
To be fair, her character is exceedingly hard to adapt. She has that in common with Dr. Meng. While Jim and Chrisjen constantly talk to people around them and even the things that are part of their inner monologue are easy to change to a personal conversation with someone close, Bobbie doesn’t have that option. She doesn’t have anyone close to her left. For a long time, the only person she talks to at all is the chaplain, whom she just dismisses in many different ways when he tries to ‘help’. There is no way to naturally have her talk about what she thinks and feels, because being alone is an important part of her character arc. But not everything can be shown with images.
But that is not the biggest problem with her character. No, that is reserved for the mysterious decision to make Bobbie into a fanatical war-monger at the beginning. I have been complaining about lack of proper representation for Mars in the first season, and so was very happy to see Bobby in nr. 2. And it’s not like seeing her slowly change her approach when confronted with new facts was worthless. But it also made her into a very flat and irritating character for the first two thirds of the season.
It’s not like book!Bobbie goes through no character development after she sees Earth with her own eyes. It’s not like she’s not patriotic or proud to be a marine. But she can be all this and still retain some nuance, and some brain cells. The showrunners seem to have forgotten that. Bobbie on the show frequently comes off as a brat, something her book self never does.
There are other characters worth a mention, naturally. Fred Johnson is probably the most significant. His role was changed significantly as well, and much more tension withing the OPA was included. It adds to the problematic depiction of OPA as uncultured and wild space terrorists, but on the other hand it’s masterfully done. One can understand the sources of tension and where the different branches and wings are coming from. Much like with Errinwright, here again one is willing to forgive the problematic nature of the added material for a large part, because it forms such excellent additions.
In the end, the only thing I truly blame the second season for is the assassination of Bobbie’s character. While changes to Chrisjen upset me, they were compensated for by the excellent quality of Errinwright’s subplot. Yes, it is telling that the two female protagonists were undercut by the adaptation, making them look less smart than they are in the source material. But Chrisjen still comes out of it pretty impressive. The changes to Bobbie, on the other hand, are much more destructive, and they held no compensation, no hidden bonus. She is simply depicted as unlikable, to such an extent that even when we finally get legitimate reasons for sympathy, it’s long in coming.
Season 3 should fix that, and fast. Hopefully, Bobbie is here to stay. She shouldn’t have to carry the weird season 2 baggage with her throughout the show.
Images courtesy of SyFy
The Legend Of Korra Is A Perfect Deconstruction Of Superman
Superman is arguably the single most recognized fictional character in human history. He’s right up there with Batman and Mickey Mouse. His ‘S’ is, at times, even more widely known. “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We know that these phrases are attributed to Superman, even if we don’t know the specific origin or, in most cases, how in the world we even learned them in the first place.
For 80 years, Superman has served as a beacon of hope and change for anyone and everyone. His origin, that of the immigrant whose home and culture were lost the day of his birth (an identity he can never fully regain), is a tragic yet resonant one that has, and will continue to, stand the test of time. Even if it has been re-appropriated into that of a pseudo-messianic myth, the immovable Jewish foundation of Superman’s internal struggle between assimilation (Clark Kent) and refusing to do so (Kal-El) isn’t something anyone has any intention of erasing.
Superman is the bedrock on which all modern heroes are based. Every divergence and every variation, no matter how big or how small, starts with Superman. He is the source, so, naturally, that means he’s the most prone to deconstruction and revisionism.
There have been so many attempts to deconstruct Superman as a concept, as well as his character, that it’s become almost a cliche to even consider it. Nearly every run at it ends in failure, most often due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what Superman even is. What he means, why he is who he is, etc. Off the top of my head, I can name two stories that actually succeed in deconstruction, as they have something worth saying: Superman: American Alien and Superman: Red Son. Wait, no, three examples.
The Legend of Korra. And it does it in a way that is embarrassingly similar to what Zack Snyder’s vision of Superman failed to be.
Xenophobia, A Modern Take
The narrative of Superman is one that is eternally relevant. Immigration as part of the American Dream, let alone an aspect of the nation’s entire identity (“Give us your poor, your wounded, your huddled masses…), has always been a hot button issue. In the new millennium, however, with the onset of the age of instant communication and social media, as well as the events of 9/11, it has ballooned into a political issue based almost entirely on fear. Fear of the “other”, to put it simply. And who is more “other” than Superman himself? He looks like us, and talks like us, but if you’re you and Superman just showed up one day in the real world…you’d have no idea where he came from and what his intentions are.
The only thing you, and everyone else, would know is that he’s different, and possesses abilities that effectively make him a living God. And that is terrifying. Even if the first thing he does is save a plane from falling out of the sky, he’s still going to be looked at with suspicion and fear. At any moment, he could decide to burn the world to the ground. And that’s exactly how Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice treats Superman.
Something to fear, because he isn’t like us. Because he’s too powerful. Because nobody asked for his help, no matter how altruistic his intentions may appear to be on the surface.
It’s a fantastic opening premise for a deconstruction of Superman, as it makes it necessary for him to prove he’s on our side. To do so much good in a world that resents him out of instinctual fear drilled into their heads by the era that they’re eventually forced to give him the benefit of the doubt. That, as far as the public is concerned, it isn’t any more complicated than a man who is just trying to do the right thing. Except that never happened in those movies.
We never saw Superman be Superman. We saw him save people, yes. We saw him do the thankless job. We saw the world resent him. But we never saw him inspire. We never saw him do anything to make us want to trust him at all. To challenge our preconceived notions of who Superman is.
Until General Zod and company arrived, he only operated in secret, using his powers when it was convenient for him. And even when he was forced to face Zod, he brought untold destruction and and collateral damage to his adopted world…completely invalidating the point of the post 9/11 narrative in the first place. How can the world trust a man who destroys the very city he is trying to protect? They don’t need or want Superman, especially since the only reason Zod attacked at all was because he had been “hiding” on Earth.
When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice rolled around, Superman is stuck in an inconsistent guilt spiral from the destruction of Metropolis. Except he doesn’t actually do anything to address that, and the movie doesn’t really either. The first thing Superman does is intervene in a fictional African nation to take down a warlord for the sole purpose of saving Lois Lane. Which, if the film wanted take the very-often-overlooked implications of Superman being an American icon, thus leading to him acting as a sort of unintentional symbol for American interventionism, would have been extremely interesting. Except it doesn’t do that either. Superman is there because he wants to save Lois, and that’s it.
Batman acts as a sort of audience surrogate for the fear that Superman inflicted on the world during his battle with Zod, which might have worked had that gone anywhere aside from Batman trying to kill Superman. He never tries to talk to him or understand him; not even after the infamous Martha scene. If he’s supposed to represent our combined terror of what Superman could be capable of, we should probably be able to agree with his rationale (or even understand it) for not stabbing the man who he saw as a monster two seconds ago in the face.
And then Superman dies, only to return in Justice League to a world that, for reasons that aren’t in evidence and also directly contradict everything that came before it, loves and adores him. A world that was on the verge of eating itself because of his death, despite no one wanting or needing him in every other instance.
None of it is earned. None of it really makes any sense, and the whole production, over multiple films, is only half of what is necessary to convey the narrative Zack Snyder clearly tried to tell.
Avatar Korra, Sequence Breaker
As Kylie so eloquently laid out last week, The Legend of Korra is one hell of a transgressive narrative due mostly in part to its titular protagonist. Korra is brash, overeager, and immeasurably powerful. Her series arc is one of self discovery and self acceptance in a world that actively rejects her existence every chance it gets. She wants to be, essentially, Superman, in a world that has no need nor desire for one. The similarities don’t stop there.
She holds ultimate, untold power and uses it with reckless abandon at the start of the series. In her first few hours in Republic City, she undertakes vigilante justice and violently destroys several storefronts. Because that’s the kind of person she is.
People don’t trust her the moment she announces herself, they wonder why they need her, even though previous incarnations of her have almost always been treated like spiritual leaders and authorities. No matter how many times she saves the world, people still hate her. They are suspicious and cynical of the stranger, since she is inherently an outsider due to her birthright and connection to a world (the Spirit World) few can even comprehend or understand.
This set-up is supposed to make us question and consider what being the Avatar actually means when the assumed role is no longer relevant or necessary. What can Korra reasonably do when the geopolitical climate isn’t as simple as “stop evil”? When every action she takes is looked at with intense scrutiny from a far more connected public. That is to say, the show asked us to consider Korra in relation to her previous incarnations to explicate the disparity just as Snyder’s Superman did by contrasting him the with the multitude of other versions of Superman across every form of media imaginable.
Zack Snyder’s Superman begins his journey in much the same place Korra did. He has powers he doesn’t know how to control, and hides them until the world is ready, just as the White Lotus hid Korra. Of course, this is where the deconstruction of Superman falls apart: it doesn’t actually go anywhere. He starts where Korra starts, and doesn’t progress at all. He does the thankless job, sure, but he doesn’t learn from any of his choices or mistakes. He intervenes without thinking about it, and chooses to brood instead of facing his issues and trauma.
At the end of Man of Steel, Clark faces off against General Zod and causes devastating damage to Metropolis. Zod has the same abilities as Superman, as they are both Kryptonian, meaning that he’s basically supposed to serve as an evil mirror. This is far from dissimilar to the finale of Book 2, where Korra fights Unalaq after he becomes the Dark Avatar and starts destroying Republic City. She even kills him in the end, as there was no other way to save the world.
Even Superman’s death at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — as well as his subsequent resurrection in Justice League — is paralleled and unintentionally blown out of the water. Korra did something very similar with the end of Book 3, sacrificing herself at the hands of the Red Lotus to save the Airbenders. Though she is not killed, she vanishes from the public eye as she heals…just as the world enters a state of actually, truly needing her intervention with the chaos spreading throughout the Earth Kingdom like wildfire.
Superman and Korra are both on isolating journeys of self discovery. Korra’s takes place before and during the final season where she learns to cope with her PTSD, and how to better approach her role even though it is so undefined and volatile. She can be the kind of person she wants to be without constantly fighting for relevance, and even if the world resists her she can pick and choose her battles.
Korra learns how to be happy as Korra, rather than her title and all of the baggage she had stripped from her in the finale of Book 2. Previous Avatar cycles (much like previous incarnations of Superman) operated in a traditional way, but that’s not how the world works anymore and that’s okay! She can still find happiness and purpose in whatever she chooses to do, even if it’s not what her childhood self believed it would become due to the White Lotus jamming that into her head. Not unlike Jor-El did to Superman in Man of Steel.
Superman’s journey takes a confusing amount of years throughout Man of Steel, given that he wanders the world as a bum with a depression beard. The entire sequence doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, since he discovers who he is from the Fortress of Solitude. He doesn’t learn anything about himself as an outsider living in a foreign land, nor does he have a wound that requires isolation and introspection to heal or understand. This is the kind of thing that would have made more sense to happen after killing Zod.
But since it doesn’t, we’re left with an angry, brooding Superman with no redeeming qualities or justification to treat him as Superman. He’s just a superhuman guy in a cape who does things that are kinda nice sometimes.
Korra, meanwhile, justifies her own existence and acts as the hero people grew to mostly tolerate, and occasionally love. She gave them every reason to trust her, and a good amount of people do by the end of the series. Unlike Snyder’s Superman, it was something she earned by deconstructing her own legacy.
Images courtesy of DC Comics and Nickelodeon
Why You Need To Be More Excited About Bisexual Rosa Diaz
Television has been a mixed bag for bisexuals. Even as gay and lesbian representation become more and more common (though not as fast as it should), characters within other parts of the acronym are few and far between. For bisexuals, who often suffer from confusion not just without but within the LGBT community, proper, outright representation means quite a lot. Not hints, not little flirts after a female character breaks up with her boyfriend. And especially not characters that just hook up with the same gender as fanservice. We want characters who can say “I’m bisexual.” We’ve been lucky to have characters like Sarah Lance or Daryl Whitefeather in recent years, but as a whole, television seems reluctant to acknowledge bisexuality.
But we finally have another name for that criminally short list: Detective Rosa Diaz of Fox’s Brooklyn 99. And not only is she bisexual, but she’s also a bisexual Latina woman played by a bisexual Latina woman. Let me say that one more time to help it sink in. We have, on a major network, a Latina woman coming out as bisexual who is played by a Latina bisexual woman.
— Brooklyn Nine-Nine (@Brooklyn99FOX) December 6, 2017
Brooklyn 99 has been a success since day one thanks to its character, heart, and style of comedy that refuses to punch down. It has also become well known for its handling of social issues, best represented by the character of Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher); a black, gay man whose sexuality is merely a part of his character, not his entire identity. The handling of Holt, who stands out in a sea of shallow stereotypes and tokenism, has led the show’s fans to hope another character to come out as a member of the LGBT community. When it turned out that it was Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) would be coming out as bi in the show’s ninety-ninth episode, appropriately titled “99,” the people rejoiced.
— G. N. Ellis (@gnelliswriter) December 6, 2017
The episode itself did a good job of keeping her coming out low key. She only comes out to her friend, Detective Boyle, and only after he’d spent the episode bugging her about her new paramour. Interestingly, the show played with ideas of heteronormativity as Boyle pesters her about who “he” is, about her “boyfriend.” Rosa’s frustration seems not to be with Boyle’s prodding into her well guarded personal life (though that is part of it), but instead with his assumption that she was only dating a man. This episode restrains the result of this coming out to Boyle and Rosa bonding, letting the coming out stand alone. It is in this week’s follow up episode, “Game Night,” where the show’s dedication to Rosa and her coming out becomes more obvious.
— Rachel (@BendItLikeTobin) December 6, 2017
The conflict in this episode, for Rosa, is in coming out to her parents and co-workers. Rather than let it just be played off as something she can sweat like so many other things, it instead very realistically captures the fears an LGBT+ child, particularly an adult one, might face when coming out.
Rosa’s first act is to come out to her co-workers during a meeting. She uses the term “bisexual,” and allows “one minute and zero questions” of seconds. We learn that she, like many other lovers of the same sex, discovered her sexuality while taking in media, in Rosa’s case Saved By The Bell. The show makes a conscious decision here not to make it some “phase” or something she’s just now discovering. Rosa Diaz has been bi since she was in 7th grade. She has been bi for all five seasons of the show.
I can’t even begin to express how nervous I was about tonight’s episode. I was so excited to share Rosa’s coming out to her parents, but felt really terrified I wouldn’t do it justice. maybe that’s because there is so little bi visibility in television. #Brooklyn99
— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) December 13, 2017
Coming out to her parents has an entirely different set of emotions. Rosa fears that her coming out will change something with them, that somehow they won’t love her or they won’t want to be around her (Of course, in Rosa’s usual fashion, their bonding time consists of silent dinners). With Jake’s help (who gives an impassioned and curiously personal coming out speech to Rosa to help prepare her for her parents), she makes an attempt over dinner. Here, Rosa’s fear rapidly turns to anger when she learns that her parents were worried she was going to come out at dinner and were relieved that she was, thanks to a misunderstanding with Jake, just a mistress. The show pulls no punches here, capturing not just how angry she is at her parents’ ignorance but also heartbreak at being burned due to her vulnerability. In true sitcom fashion, this conflict wraps up cleanly by the end of the half hour. But the power and authenticity of it remain.
— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) December 12, 2017
Stephanie Beatriz, herself a bisexual woman, has not been quiet in her desire for Rosa to reflect her own sexuality and has been effusive in her support of the storyline. She’s worked hard to make sure that the story reflects the bisexual experience, and has personally validated many fans in their own journeys. She does all this while still portraying Rosa as the stone-cold bad ass she’s always been. The emotions we see in Rosa as she comes out are real, they are powerful, and they are beautiful. But they are all 100% still Rosa’s.
And I’m super proud of eps 100 and 101, the ones you saw tonight. #bechdeltest passed and bi and proud. This is in incredible show to be a part of. Thank you to the cast and crew of the Nine-Nine. #Brooklyn99
— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) December 13, 2017
As a final and personal note, this is a huge moment for me as a bisexual man being able to see the representation of some of my experiences on the screen. But I can only capture a small part of why this matters. I can’t even fathom how much this matters to bisexual women, let alone our POC brothers and sisters who are even less represented. Rosa Diaz’s coming out is their story as much as it is anyone’s, and I hope that I was able to capture a small measure of the joy this news has caused.