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An Open Letter to Steven Moffat

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Dear Mr. Moffat,

I’m not a current viewer of Doctor Who, but I know people who are. People who were excited and happy to see not only an openly queer woman as a companion, but a queer woman of color. People who are now hurt and angry because of your choices.

I admit, I’m not the biggest fan of your work, not since series 6 of Doctor Who and the mess that Sherlock became after the second series. The more I watched your shows, the more I realized that you only knew how to write one kind of female character over and over again, just in different forms. I call her the Sexy Mystery™, the female character who exists to puzzle and delight the endlessly intelligent white male protagonist. She snarks and Kicks Ass™, but at the end of the day, her character revolves around said white male protagonists and exists only for him. As soon as her role in keeping him entertained and/or mystified is over, she gets the boot.

This kind of Faux Feminism™ turned me off even before I knew what to call it. Then you decided that ‘feminism’ meant a man talking over women and explaining their anger to them. I knew I was done then.

But then, you introduced Bill Potts. A proud, out lesbian and a black woman. I was intrigued, because she seemed so different from the string of interchangeable thin, white women you’d been using as companions (and characters on other shows). I watched trailers. She was funny, honest, optimistic, and not afraid to challenge the Doctor. She was a huge ball of sunshine and a delight. The age gap and her lack of romantic interest meant that a new dynamic had to be wrought between the Doctor and Bill. Still wary, I promised myself I’d keep an eye on the season and maybe watch once I’d seen how it ended.

The news I heard was encouraging. Bill seemed well on her way to being a new kind of companion. I let myself hope that you might be learning from your mistakes.

Yet, there were signs not everything was as I hoped. Bill Potts, a queer woman of color, was the first female companion without a romantic interest since the revival. White Feminism would say, “Excellent! This means her character doesn’t revolve around a man or romance. Win!”. Intersectional Feminism reminds us that women of color are frequently sidelined from being a romantic interest if they are the main character on a show. Often with the excuse of “she don’t need no man”. Even if the intentions here were innocent, someone ought to have been consulted to avoid falling prey to this common trap for lead women of color.

Add in that she’s a queer woman of color, and the implications double. Because the other female companion of color, Martha Jones, was given a romantic interest in her tenure on Doctor Who. The implication seems to be not so much her skin color, but her orientation led to her not being given a long-term canonical love interest. Yes, she got to talk about being into women, which is great. She even got two girls to express interest in (one of whom, Heather, died), which was more than I thought to see. I was half expecting her orientation would be brought up in the first episode then never mentioned again.

But, companions on Doctor Who have always had a love interest. Whether the Doctor himself or someone else, and not just a one off guest star in an episode. Rose, Martha, Donna, River, Amy, Clara, they all had one. Not giving your queer woman of color a love interest when it has literally always been a feature of the show? Now that just looks BAD.

It almost ends up looking like you wanted credit for creating a diverse, intersectional character without having to commit to following through on a sensitive portrayal of that character. You want the kudos for creating a black lesbian, but not have to actually write a wlw romance. Now, I can’t say that’s your motive, I’m not in your head. But for those of us on the outside, it sure as hell feels that way.

We feel robbed of the story every other female companion got. Since this is the first canon lesbian female companion on the show, not giving her a romance like every other female companion is a ripoff. It communicates that we matter less to you. Our love stories do not interest you since you can’t make the Doctor the center of it the way you could with the straight romances. Since you can’t make a man the center of a romantic relationship with a lesbian, you don’t care to give her a romance. Again, this is how it feels, not necessarily your intent. But its only fair that you understand the way your story affects us since we’re supposedly your intended audience.

The lack of love interest would have been frustrating enough if you hadn’t have killed her. Well, mostly killed her then turned her into a Cyberman. Yes, you had the ‘decency’ to forewarn us that the Doctor would witness the death of someone he cares about (the best candidates being Bill and Nardole). That’s at least more than many of us got last year when dozens of wlw characters were killed off of our screen. But it won’t win you brownie points.

Not after what we’ve been through. I’m not sure if you’re aware of the Spring Slaughter. That’s the phrase we use to describe the high number of deaths of queer female characters in the 2015-2016 season. That year, queer women made up roughly 1% of all characters on TV, but 10% of all deaths. We were dying at ten times the rate of our representation, so excuse us if we’re angry when another queer female character gets treated this way, especially a queer woman of color. There are precious few of them on our screens.

You know what? No. I take that back. We have every right to be angry. I have trouble believing you didn’t know this was an issue. Even across the pond there’s no excuse not to know given the prominence of this discussion in American media over the past 18 months. When your TV show has a large American following, you can’t not know the problematic trends in American television.

So I can only conclude that despite knowing, you thought this ‘didn’t fit’ the Bury Your Gays trope, as so many other showrunners have claimed in the past year. Maybe because you didn’t technically kill her…yet. So yeah, not buried, but half in the grave doesn’t count for much these days.

Yet, I’m sure you believe it’s fine. You probably had narrative reasons for making this choice. You probably had character reasons, too. The thematic point made about a queer woman of color as a victim of the classism in this society wasn’t lost on me. It’s valid, even interesting. But you know what? I don’t care. We’ve suffered enough.

Having to watch 33 queer female characters die in the 2015-2016 season followed by 20 more in the 2016-2017 season sucks ass. Do you know how much trauma this community has suffered seeing ourselves maimed, murdered, killed, and/or denied happy endings? Add to it the very real violence that the LGBT+ community has witnessed this past year and you can see why we’re Done with being killed off of media. We’re literally being destroyed on screen and killed in real life. We just want to exist and see ourselves represented as people without having to suffer violence and trauma on screen and off of it. The last thing we need is the only queer female companion on this show, the only queer female of color on this show, to suffer a gruesome almost-death and turn into a soulless murder machine.

Because full offense, not even thematic reasons can justify the protracted and macabre manner of Bill Pott’s death and transformation into a Cyberman. She’s shot in cold blood less than 10 minutes into the episode, a melon-sized hole blasted through her chest. Now, you may not realize this, but the death that brought attention to the issue of dead wlw characters last season was Lexa kom Trikru from the TV show, The 100. She was shot in the abdomen and bled out. It was gruesome, senseless, entirely unnecessary, and caused more collective pain than you can imagine. So you can see why a lesbian with a giant hole in her fucking torso would be traumatic for us.

Then you make it worse by giving us flashbacks with Bill hoping against just this eventuality, more lingering shots of the gaping hole in her body, and even make jokes about how mortal and fragile human beings are. I’m glad the death of a queer woc is a joke to you. Because it sure as hell isn’t to us. It’s our lives, not a wisecrack.

We then have to live the rest of the episode in a macabre, twisted parody of a hospital. We’re literally living our worst nightmare. A cross between institutionalization and experimentation, a throwback to the dark days of US history when LGBT+ people were treated as psychologically or physically damaged an in need of ‘repair’ or ‘fixing’.

Once again, other characters make jokes at her expense. And again, the humorous attempt to lampshade the horror happening to Bill fails to ameliorate or undermine what’s happening to her in light of what the queer community has faced the past few years. It doesn’t even matter if you’re going for levity or to lighten the mood. Given the context, it feels like mockery. Especially in hindsight knowing what happens to her at the end and how long she waited for the Doctor to return.

You turned her into a Cyberman. The heartless, emotionless, machines intent on killing all humans. This isn’t even the first time a black woman has been partially or fully upgraded to a Cyberman in the recent Who Universe. Lisa Hallet may not have been your creation, but having two black female characters turn into inhuman murder robots and turn on their friends and loved ones really doesn’t look good. And from what we’ve seen (and you’ve said yourself) in the trailer for next episode, Bill is going to go the way of Lisa, at least for a while.

“Well she’s a Cyberman from now on…she’s one of those ones in the trailer, just killing people. That’s the way it is sometimes.”—Steven Moffat

Yeah, fuck that.

In a perfect world, there would be no problematic implications for blasting a hole through a black lesbian character’s chest and turning her into an unfeeling killing machine. But guess what? We don’t live in that world. We live in a world where wlw characters are killed off at a disproportionately high rate. A world where our community has faced betrayal, hurt, and pain at that hands of showrunners. Some were ignorant of our hurt, some well-intentioned. But guess what? That didn’t change how much it hurt.

“That’s just the way it is sometimes” isn’t going to cut it. Not when we’ve had to watch ourselves die and showrunners excuse or justify the deaths of their queer female characters over and over and over again. Showrunners with great track records with the queer community have not escaped criticism for the deaths of their LGBT+ female characters in the past few years. And lets face it, your record on Doctor Who is pretty thin.

Madame Vastra and Jenny did have a warm, genuine, and lovely relationship from all I’ve heard. They weren’t main characters, but they were a welcome addition and well written. But they aren’t the only LGBT+ female characters. Sticking to the best representation is an unclear picture of your track record. River Song might as well be straight for all that her bisexuality is mentioned, much less given space to inform her character in any meaningful way. Just compare her with Jack Harkness. And speaking of bisexual erasure, Clara Oswald. The character who talks about “going through a phase” in college with a girl. Oh, and of the two women Bill expressed interest in, one of them is dead.

So yeah, you have made an effort to include queer female characters. It is more than other showrunners have done. But, it’s a low fucking bar. Five wlw characters in six years as the showrunner and only two of them get both a happy ending and the space to discuss their sexuality and relationship openly. The two bi characters have their sexuality regularly erased. And the fith, Bill Potts, the show’s first openly lesbian companion and a woc, you just shot through the chest and turned into a Cyberman.

She’s also the companion who has been given the least amount of screentime so far, which just adds insult to injury. Clara was a Dalek before she was a companion, so a comparison between the two doesn’t really count. River, like Clara, got her run as a companion after her ‘death’, so again, not a good comparison.

Clara isn’t even truly dead, just frozen in time, and River may have lost her body, but her consciousness is preserved in the Library, so again, not the same as turned into a murderous robot. The other four companions—Rose, Martha, Donna, and Amy—all got happy endings. If this is how Bill Potts exits the show, it would be unprecedented in terms of both an unhappy ending and a permanent transformation into a villain. That might be meaningful in terms of your ability to write consequences, but given who Bill is and the communities she represents, this wasn’t the right choice of character to prove you’re capable of killing off companions.

Even if she finds a way to become human again, she’s still the only companion to have been both killed(-ish) and turned into a villain during their run as a companion. Her being a queer woc may be a writing coincidence (i.e., you may have written any companion this way at this point in the story), but the queer women and women of color in your audience probably don’t experience it that way.

More to the point, even if you did write a way for her to ‘come back’, the damage has been done to queer communities and communities of color. You reopened old wounds and made some new ones along the way. Because you know what other pattern Bill’s death falls into? The killing off of lead female characters of color. Abbie Mills from Sleepy Hollow, Poussey Washington from Orange is the New Black, among others, and most recently, Veil from Into the Badlands. There are multiple communities hurting right now from this decision and that can’t be undone.

You already chose to make a traumatic, dramatic experience out of the near-death and de-humanization of a queer woman of color. You prioritized a Shocking™ cliffhanger over sensitivity to marginalized communities. Communities you may not have meant to hurt, but you did regardless. It may not be malicious, but it was insensitive and thoughtless.

Being flippant about it in an interview really isn’t doing you any favors or helping your image, either. You might be able to brush it off as ‘just what happens sometimes’, but you are neither a queer woman nor a woman of color. You don’t get to just be flippant about the way you treat an intersectional character. Maybe it’s your way of communicating it’s no big deal because she’s coming back. Doesn’t make the behavior any less insulting.

This whole thing is just…really, really unfortunate, and that’s being as positive as I can be. Mostly, I’m gobsmacked you and your team decided this was a good direction, that no one said ‘how about not.’

You just touched some very raw, very painful wounds. Bill Potts gave a lot of people hope and joy given the shit year queer women and women of color have had in terms of representation. Finding a way to ‘bring her back’ doesn’t negate the damage. The initial traumatic reaction can’t be erased or undone; it can’t be un-experienced even if the character somehow survives or becomes human again. You sentenced Bill, even if just for a time, to gruesome near death followed by a fate worse than death. That’s horrific and painful for us to see happen to a beloved (and much needed) character.

I can only hope that in the coming days you think long and hard about how to interact with these communities online. Many other showrunners have stumbled in reacting to the pain by justifying or excusing their choices instead of listening. Please listen, please understand. We’re wounded people, hurting people. People who have been scarred, betrayed, and dismissed. Don’t be yet one more name on the list of showrunners who proved their disregard for us and our experience in the aftermath of a problematic choice to kill off (or nearly kill off) a prominent queer female character .

I know that there’s still one episode left and as of Sunday, you hadn’t even finished it yet. Perhaps that means there’s hope you’ll hear how upset people are and make changes. If you had planned to kill off Bill, perhaps this means there’s time to have a different ending.

Whatever happens, though, bear in mind that no matter where the show goes from here, you’ve already hurt people. And that didn’t need to happen.

This adorable, precious face deserves better.


Images Courtesy of the BBC

Bi, she/her. Gretchen is a Managing Editor for the Fandomentals. An unabashed nerdy fangirl and aspiring sci/fi and fantasy author, she has opinions about things like media, representation, and ethics in storytelling.

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Danygalw
Guest
Danygalw

It’s part one of a two part episode. Are you joking.

Also, you seem to have forgotten the existence of both Heather and Penny.

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

I did actually mention Heather and Penny, who are not recurring love interests for Bill as one dies and the other was only in one episode in the series. Two cute girls she expresses interest in is hardly a romantic arc for her. Especially when neither show up again after a single episode.

I also do actually mention that I know another episode is coming. My point is that regardless of what happens in the second part, damage has already been done to communities that are hurting.

PinkCrocodile75
Guest
PinkCrocodile75

What about Madam Castration and Jenny?. A lesbian interspecies married couple living in Victorian London. Hmmm I sense an unravelling argument.

Suou no Nioi
Guest
Suou no Nioi

She mentioned them, too, as it so happens, so it’s not so much that her argument is unraveling as it is that you aren’t actually paying attention to what was said in it.

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

Her name is Madam Vastra, by the way, not “Madam Castration”. Not sure if that’s autocorrect or not, but it’s an unfortunate misspelling/mistyping of her name. And yes, I did discuss them in my piece and even gave Moffat credit for a lovely wlw couple.

PinkCrocodile75
Guest
PinkCrocodile75

HAHAHAHA, Yes, you did and I missed it, I initially read your article on my phone so must have missed the paragraph and YES the typo was an autocorrect that I missed for some reason.

So apologies on both fronts, My hubby thinks it’s hilarious btw.

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

Ha! That is pretty funny. Oh autocorrect.

PinkCrocodile75
Guest
PinkCrocodile75

Hi Gretchen. I guess you know why I’m sending this message the day after watching The Doctor Falls. You guessed it, it’s time to admit writing a piece like you did half way through a two part story may have been a little hasty. Now after having time to really ponder your article this past week I can admit you had more valid points than I initially gave you credit for. However posting the article when you did WAS a mistake as all of your points went out of the window during The Doctor Falls. Not only did Perl turn… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

Hi, I do understand why you felt the need to come back to my piece after this episode. I’m glad at least that I’ve given you a lot of food for thought and been able to be a significant part of your thinking process about the show this week. The ‘open letter’ format is designed to be both entirely subjective regarding my opinions and spark conversation. You seem to have taken the latter to heart without fully acknowledging the former, however. This article reflects my opinions regarding the choices Moffat made with Bill Potts, and those opinions have not changed… Read more »

Danygalw
Guest
Danygalw

“neither show up again after a single episode.”

lolllll

nang mai
Guest
nang mai

Moffat has trouble imagining the inner world of any woman so it was probably a serious challenge for him to get Bill right. Unfortunately once again his empathy wasn’t up to the task as you note so well. Steven Moffat’s ignorance and cisgender privilege has shone out through this season. First there were the Romans who were amused that Bill wasn’t ‘fluid’ or presumably bi-sexual. How uncivilized. And then the comment in this episode that everyone on Gallifrey is gender fluid and presumably above gender identities or something like that. I’m sure he thinks that is an enlightened point of… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

That is SUCH a good point about the handling of gender fluidity and orientation. It seems like he’s trying to do something ‘modern’ and get representation points, but is failing really hard because he doesn’t actually understand the real issues. It’s Faux Allyship the same as his Faux Feminism, he has a very surface understanding of LGBT issues and the desire for representation but fails to actually represent what people truly want, which is well written characters who are people and not checkmarks on a list to prove you’re some kind of ‘woke’ storyteller who cares about marginalized people groups.… Read more »

Ivana
Member
Ivana

Also, maybe he just isn’t sincere about his “Allyship”.

I’ll just leave this here: http://www.hollywood.com/celebrities/steven-moffat-sexist-quotes-60232421/

Suou no Nioi
Guest
Suou no Nioi

Oh, ew. It’s everything we’ve ever accused him of just laid out right there in one place. Griss.

Also, I was just reading these quotes going, “No, dude, you’re just an asshole.”

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

^I had exactly the same reaction reading them, especially his comment on the ‘plight’ of middle class men. Hrrk.

Suou no Nioi
Guest
Suou no Nioi

The one that really got me (partly because I’m at that stage of my life and already struggle with body image issues) was his comment about his wife being so huge and when will she just get back to a size her husband deems sexually acceptable? And the part about things being damaged just made me want to flip a table. She’s growing and birthing a human life, for fuck’s sake. One that you should, in theory, be excited about and happy to meet. Who the fuck cares if she ends up with more weight than she started or if… Read more »

Suou no Nioi
Guest
Suou no Nioi

This is one of those times that I am glad I stopped watching something already. I have only had to quit two shows in my life because something in them turned me into a crying mess. One was GoT, during the burning of Shireen (although I was able to pick it back up in Season 6 as long as I skipped anything that showed or relived that scene). The other was Doctor Who, because I just could not stomach Capaladi’s doctor. The performance was fine, and the actor fit well enough, but his first season out of the gate was… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

I just keep asking myself why this story line was okayed. You would think someone would point out that it wouldn’t go over well after everything that happened last year. But then again, who knows what happens in the writers room?

I’m glad you didn’t pick this back up either. I can’t imagine what it was like to watch live for people in our community.

Suou no Nioi
Guest
Suou no Nioi

I think you’re right about there needing to have been someone other than white males in the writers room, for sure, but I have to wonder if that suggestion is so often ignored because people take it personally? Like, I have to wonder if us saying that writers rooms need to be more diverse is taken as some sort of slight against the writers that are already there, like we think they are stupid or something and lack the empathy to understand what others go through. And frankly, that is sometimes true, but that’s not really the point. I just… Read more »

PinkCrocodile75
Guest
PinkCrocodile75

Oh I know this one. In doctor who they don’t have a writers room. All solo with one on one discussions with Steven

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

Which probably explains why this was the story he went with, since there were few other voices to explain why this story is problematic or shape it in a different direction.

JoPayne
Member
JoPayne

Sometimes walking away from something is truly the best option. For me, it was The 100 after Lexa’s death. Making that choice at that time seems to have saved me a great deal of frustration and irritation, and I’m immensely glad to have made that choice. I’m glad you made what seems to have been the right choice with Doctor Who. I personally stopped watching it after the Ninth Doctor left, and from what I’m followed in the articles here and elsewhere, that also turned out to be a good choice on my part. For me, life is too short… Read more »

Suou no Nioi
Guest
Suou no Nioi

Seriously. I don’t mind shows having challenging or painful content if I have a reasonable expectation that it will mean something and be worth it. And not just mean something to a different character, but mean something and be worthwhile to the character going through it all. It’s why rape is such a touchy subject in film and tv. Because so often, women are raped, but we are meant to care about the pain it causes to a man in her life. What about the victim here? What about her emotional journey, what about her feelings and her pain? So… Read more »

Vundervooman
Guest
Vundervooman

And this is why people are up in arms about losing shows like Sense8, because it’s the antithesis of this trend. I think a lot of people feel done with being punished for caring, I’m certainly one of them. In Sense8, caring & empathy are literally a superpower and it feels like coming up for air.

JoPayne
Member
JoPayne

I LOVE your statement.

It’s time we reminded society that love, empathy, compassion, understanding aren’t character flaws but character STRENGTHS. Modern society has shifted to this semi-worship of hateful, bitter, manipulative people, and it’s poisoned us as a whole.

Carolina Ren
Guest
Carolina Ren

I’m so tired, this is why I don’t watch tv series live anymore. I’m getting ready to get punched (which is 90% of the time)

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

Steven Moffat – the man who will probably trip on mushrooms to come up with newer and non-exciting ways to bring back the Master (a villain that has lost any appeal whatsoever right after his run in with David Tenant’s Doctor), but will kill off the the queer poc companion. After hurting seeing Rose getting separated from the Doctor. After hurting much more seeing Donna, the most important woman in the universe, having her memories wiped out (this is SO CRUEL). After having Amy and Rory die out of nowhere as a gut punch… yeah, I’m glad I stopped watching… Read more »

waverunning.geek
Guest

“I’m not a current viewer of Doctor Who, but I know people who are.”

Right there is where you lost me. Why would I care about an opinion based on ignorance?

Watch the show. Then write the rant. That’s how it works.

Kylie
Admin

I think you’ll find in reading it an incredibly comprehensive knowledge of this pattern of storytelling and its contemporary employ.

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

And I do also mention that while I may not be a consistent viewer of the show, I did actually watch this episode. I have also been following along with TV reviews of the episodes this season, as we have a regular review on this site for Doctor Who whose pieces I read. I know what’s going on and I do my research, I’m just not consistently watching the show.

PinkCrocodile75
Guest
PinkCrocodile75

Wow, I’ve read your options opinion piece and I have to say, what a load of rubbish. How dare you get offended on behalf of someone else. I’m a gay man and whilst the majority of gay character have tended toward cliche charicatures modern telly shows a more dynamic approach and considers today’s audiences. Your issue however is irrelevant though. Doctor Who is a Sci-Fi program aimed at children. I joined my friends in the playground in the 1980’s and did exterminate the cybermen games for fun. Steven Moffat isn’t to blame here, your expectations are to blame. The fact… Read more »

Suou no Nioi
Guest
Suou no Nioi

“consider that this is a Sci-Fi children’s show and cybermen are way more interesting that a companions sexual orientation.” To you, maybe, but not all of us agree. And how the hell are you just going to assume that Gretchen is getting offended on someone else’s behalf? How do you know she doesn’t have a stake in this conversation? Or are you just assuming her sexual orientation and then ripping into her based on your assumption? And since I assume you’re new here, just know that around these parts, we don’t happen to think that shows for kids are exempt… Read more »

PinkCrocodile75
Guest
PinkCrocodile75

I read her bio before I read the piece. So knew she is bisexual. Just to clear up something though, I want good LGBT representation on television. Russell T Davies, the writer of Queer as Folk (the UK original not the poor American adaptation) brought doctor who back after 16 years off air. Gay and Lesbian have been represented well and doctor who has become one of the main Sci-Fi shows that put gay characters to the forefront and brought sexual orientation front and centre as a discussion on the show. To put her disappointment and anger as it seems… Read more »

Suou no Nioi
Guest
Suou no Nioi

Okay, if you know she’s part of the LGBT community, then I just do not understand your criticism of her getting mad “on someone else’s behalf”. Because that’s the kind of criticism you lob at white people complaining about racism regardless of what POC say on the subject, not what you tell POC getting mad about racism that affects them directly. And again, you say that Doctor Who has been good representation. Not everyone happens to agree. And yes, she is perfectly right to put her anger and disappointment in the writing at the feet of the person who wrote… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

I have absolutely nothing to add to this amazing summary of the frustrations myself and other queer women have about our experience watching queer women and queer women of color be routinely killed off, suffer, and be sidelined from our own stories in the media landscape of this past year and a half. Thank you.

JoPayne
Member
JoPayne

SO well-said. Thank you for encapsulating so much so eloquently here.

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

What about blasting a hole through the chest of a queer woman of color, then turning her into a murderous robot is aimed at children exactly? Classic Who and RTD Who had a much better balance of dark story elements with a fun, campy vibe than Moffat era Who to my mind, but that’s beside the point. An important question for me to ask is, if this is a show aimed at children, shouldn’t that mean the show should try even harder to undermine toxic tropes (like queer women of color not getting happy endings or queer women being killed/nearly… Read more »

PinkCrocodile75
Guest
PinkCrocodile75

OK, where to start? hmmm. OK, before I start, I’m only criticising you, not “Attacking you”. Just like you have just done to Steven Moffat publicly, I’m disagreeing with some of your points and defending a writer whom I believe you have treated unfairly. Especially as you haven’t watched the program yourself to get a better understanding of a man you don’t know and haven’t taken the time to experience his writing first hand from beginning to end. Side Note: My husband has just asked me what on earth I’m doing and I’ve just explained it to him. He has… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

I never characterized you as ‘attacking me’ at all. I said you were welcome to blame me for my desire to have better queer female representation given that this is my community and we have experienced a lot of bad writing and trauma at the hands of showrunners. However, that is not the same as me claiming you were ‘attacking me’. Your use of quotes around that phrase implies I used that language, which I did not. 1. While an interesting theoretical question, Bill Potts being a man is irrelevant. She was a black lesbian character end of story. Men… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

I will also add that I have watched Moffat era who (S6-7 plus a few episodes scattered through 8-10). Plus, I have watched all of Sherlock and bits of Moffat’s other work, so while I may not have seen every tiny shred of his tenure on Doctor Who, I have quite a large pool of experience to draw from with him as a showrunner. Also, I did my research and read up on what I missed on Who prior to penning this. So, I have ‘experienced his writing from beginning to end’ on other seasons and other shows, both firsthand… Read more »

Jen Cross
Guest
Jen Cross

WAAH, WAAH, WAAH! So, it’s not ok for queer women to be killed off but heterosexual numbers on TV shows are perfectly fine, hmm??? What gives you the right to exact preference over anyone based on sexual preference? You are being worse by expressing this discriminatory diatribe. How dare you!

Suou no Nioi
Guest
Suou no Nioi

*sigh* Another troll, another strawman argument. That’s not even remotely what she said at all, but I would ask why you are so adamant that there’s nothing wrong with murdering queer characters at a rate so grossly disproportionate to their total numbers in television. Queer women are constantly fed the message that their lives are just tokens that can be discarded when they are no longer utile, and they are killed at frankly alarming rates in media, in a reflection of the way they are at risk of abuse and violence in the real world, but please, tell me again… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

I am not currently discussing the treatment of heterosexual characters, nor were they used as a part of my argument at all. But if you’d like to discuss proportions of deaths versus orientation, I’m happy to give you some facts. In the 2015-16 season of primetime American television, 242 characters died. Of those, 29 were LGBT+ (11%), 213 were not LGBT+. There were about 900 regular characters total on primetime American television, 35 of which were LGBT+ (4%). So LGBT characters make up 4% of representation but 11% of deaths. Yes, non-LGBT characters die, but LGBT characters die at twice… Read more »

Elsa
Guest
Elsa

I never watched a single episode of Doctor Who, because I’m not a big fan of time-travel. Having said that what you wrote about Steven Moffat and representation sounds very familiar. I have seen Sherlock and I really disliked the way Moffat wrote his female characters. The last Season of Sherlock only aired in Germany a few weeks ago and some stuff in it really upset me. After that I’m not really surprised to hear that he isn’t doing a good job job of representation of characters who arent’t white cishet men on Doctor Who as well.

Shane Allen-Kearney
Guest
Shane Allen-Kearney

Don’t you feel dumb, now, huh, Gretchen? Huge fan of this page, really, and as someone who’s personally affected by this sort of thing, trust me in that I’m not just being a jerk. But when I first saw this, my reaction was ‘Isn’t this a bit too soon?’ And I was write. Moffat’s a prick who’s usually garbage at this, but Bill’s ending…I think, honestly, that was one of the better ways she could have left the show–especially since the way it worked out, there’s no guarantee she’ll be gone forever. So I ask again; don’t you feel dumb,… Read more »

Drowmonk
Member
Drowmonk

Different people feel react to trauma differently (and seeing a queer woman get shot in the torso is triggering for many these days). There were ways to go about this where it wasn’t so graphic, where it would be so traumatizing. Gretchen even says that part 2 could “fix” the issue, but points out that the damage to the people who watched this live is permanent. I’m glad that you feel it ended in a good way, but that doesn’t change how this was experienced for many of the people watching it. Oh, and starting your comment the way you… Read more »

Shane Allen-Kearney
Guest
Shane Allen-Kearney

I acknowledged that the points made about part one being awful and hard to swallow were valid. I think it was a godawful part one even on its own merits. I don’t want to get into an internet argument here–no one ever comes out of those feeling clean. I’m not some jackass trying to say Moffat did nothing wrong–I’m very much on Gretchen’s side, here. I just think that Gretchen’s article could have waited one week to see if the issue was resolved well or not. When we jump to conclusions like this, it just gives people more fuel for… Read more »

Drowmonk
Member
Drowmonk

Thank you for not taking my critique in the wrong way, I certainly didn’t mean it in a mean/condescending way! I’ll try and be better about that kind of thing in the future. To explain what I intended to do; I was just trying to find a way to point out how hostile you were coming across as, without assuming malicious intent. I’m glad we’re on the same page with this at least. 🙂 (not an ironic emoticon, it’s a sincere one) I will say that I feel Gretchen is/was justified in writing this article at the time she did.… Read more »

Timothy McLean
Guest
Timothy McLean

I look forward to the day when good representation is as simple as changing a character’s orientation/skin color/gender/whatever and making sure you don’t have any conscious biases. Until then, you really do need to keep an eye out for these sorts of tropes…or at the very least, make sure to write enough minority/intersectional/etc characters that don’t get troped that the troped ones don’t stand out.

Television

Honest Conversations and Unfortunate Insensitivity on Cloak and Dagger

Bo

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Content Warning: This review discusses suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, as depicted on the show. 

Last week’s episode of Cloak and Dagger ended with Tyrone and Tandy together and finally ready to discuss why exactly they have new superpowers insistent on bringing the two of them together.  Both their lives have been tossed upside down, and the only consistent thing in the tragedies of both their lives is each other. Maybe it’s time to sit down and talk about it? That’s exactly what “Call/Response” did this week. Unfortunately, to mixed results.

cloak and dagger church

Time to Talk

“Call/Response” continued Cloak and Dagger’s attempts at interesting episode structure by weaving together forward plot momentum in and out of the previously mentioned conversation between its heroes. This conversation lasted through the entire episode as Tandy and Tyrone hashed out what their powers are, what they do, how they experience them, and what their dreams from last week meant for each of them. These two had a lot to talk about.

For a good 90% of this conversation, I liked the direction of it. The honest and open-ended nature was refreshing. For the first time since they acquired their new powers, they held nothing back regarding what had changed, what they were going through, and how it affected them.

It moved both characters appreciatively forward. Even better, you could see how the conversation positively affected both in the scenes from the next day, when both acted on everything they discussed. Cloak and Dagger thus did a good job timing subjects of conversation with next-day action. Like you’d expect, these scenes were not exactly subtle about it, but so long as the point is made what does that matter?

Through their conversation, Tyrone and Tandy finally started acting against their instincts. They challenged their perceptions of the world. Tandy made an honest effort to learn about her mother’s boyfriend Greg and found out he was genuinely interested in her mother and trying to help. She made an effort to embrace the hope she always rejected before. Her experiences have shaped her towards cynicism in everything. Life is a giant scam where everyone uses everyone else to get ahead, and you see this in her own method of making money. For her to open her mind to the possibility of Greg proving her wrong was a significant step forward.

Tyrone faced his own challenged perceptions, naturally based around his brother’s murder and murderer. He considered Tandy’s argument about his place in the world and where his privilege truly stands, as well as the destructive path his actions led him down. The failed trip to the police station was one important step, but the truly important moment was his field trip with his father to Otis’s old Mardi Gras Indians stomping ground.

(By the way, add another cool twist on New Orleans culture to Cloak and Dagger’s credit.)

Through this trip, Tyrone found new perspective on his father and brother, as well as his own anger. His father stressed the importance of finding a channel for his anger. And he might have found his way via the suits the Mardi Gras Indians create, and the taking on of his brother’s unfinished suit. Tyrone needs this outlet and focus for his anger. He struggled with it throughout the first three episodes, even to the point of trying to shoot Detective Connors.

Even better, all this character development provided the biggest plot movement yet.  Tandy’s determination to get along with Greg led to direct involvement in the Roxxon lawsuit he represented her mother in. It also led to Roxxon killing Greg for presumably getting too close. There should be no escaping the consequences of Greg’s death. Tandy’s mother will suffer. Who knows whether her determination to take the corporation down will wax or wane. Tandy herself visited the burned office to retrieve documents from Greg’s safe, so she certainly won’t let this go.

Tyrone’s plot movement was not so direct, but still meant something. He learned of his brother’s training to be a “Spy Boy” for the Redhawks, a role in Mardi Gras parades involving moving ahead of the Big Chief but was described in this episode as someone responsible for scouting the unknown to seek oncoming trouble. The unfinished suit Tyrone adopted also largely resembles the signature look of Cloak in the comics.

And of course now you also have to wonder if Roxxon will involve themselves with the Redhawks.

There was definitely a lot of good content in this episode. At this point Cloak and Dagger is close to establishing a base quality that this episode certainly matched. Unfortunately, the end of the episode left a real sour taste in my mouth. One reason due to plot, and another for some poor handling of a very sensitive subject.

Insensitivity and Stalling

You saw the content warning, so let’s dive right in. The episode-long conversation between Tandy and Tyrone breaks down at the very end, when conversations about privilege turn into insults and eventually lead to Tandy admitting to suicidal thoughts. In his anger, Tyrone tells her that if she wants to die so badly, she should just do it.

The next day, in the aftermath of Greg’s murder, Tandy restrains her hands and feet and jumps into the ocean, clearly planning on killing herself. She eventually resurfaces when her powers trigger and she cuts the ropes binding her hands.

I will say this: my final judgment will depend on how this is handled moving forward. Right now it feels like a really cheap use of suicide. There are some things you must always take care to portray responsibly when telling your story, and this did not feel like a particularly responsible way to handle Tandy’s thoughts of ending her life. I worry this was nothing more than an attempt to end the episode with high drama, and that the distasteful implications are unrecognized.

Now, we do need to see where it goes from here. If Tyrone recognizes the terribleness of what he said and apologizes for it, and there’s a genuine effort to understand the mistake he made, this can pass by without issue. And it’s not like the idea that Tandy might have suicidal thoughts came from nowhere. Considering her immense survivor’s guilt and lack of connection, I can certainly understand how thoughts of suicide enter her mind. Thing is, I don’t think you can just throw it out there, have a main character yell at her to just go ahead and kill herself, have said character try, and then move on from it. It all happened so quick and dirty that I can’t help but feel like it may have just been there for drama.

I hope it’s needless to say that using suicide just for drama is an awful idea.

Cloak and Dagger needs to follow up respectfully on Tandy’s attempt. Suicidal tendencies are a serious concern that must be handled delicately and with a purpose. And unfortunately, this is an easy fallback too many shows rely on without the proper care needed. I hope Cloak and Dagger doesn’t.

My second, lesser, and plot-related concern is the argument that led to Tyrone’s insensitive words. Namely that, to me, it came completely out of nowhere. The two of them spent the entire episode having  a calm, respectful discussion. Even sensitive subjects between the two caused little drama. Then all of a sudden a piece of genuine advice blows it all up and leads to an unnatural argument over privilege. Which leads to Tandy mentioning her suicidal thoughts and Tyrone’s comment.

This development renewed my worry from last week over these two being kept apart too long. It seems clear that the real, ground-shaking forward movement on Cloak and Dagger won’t take place until Tandy and Tyrone unite. “Call/Response” spent 90% of its runtime heading in this direction. Then it all fell apart.

I certainly understand how a conversation over privilege could lead to heated tensions, especially with backgrounds like Tandy and Tyrone have. Still, this felt so artificial. It almost felt like Cloak and Dagger attempting a superficial, ham-fisted discussion of privilege without any real meat. The main goal seems to be keeping the two main characters apart. It’s the absolute worst attempt the show has made regarding the privilege debate. Scenes like Tyrone walking into the police station and looking around, only to find a sea of white faces, speak volumes more than this conversation did.

While we’re certainly not back where we were at the end of the second episode, we’re a little too close for comfort. Both characters seem like they will tackle the plot alone. And you know they will tackle it ineffectively. The whole idea (at least to me) is that they won’t truly make progress until they team up. I’m also reaching a point where I will start to distrust the moments where they appear ready to team up if this goes on for too long.

In one moment, they undid a great deal of the work the 40 minutes before hand strove hard for.

I’m all for character development, but here’s hoping Cloak and Dagger avoids this mistake in the future. And here’s hoping Tandy’s suicide ends up as more than a way to create drama feeding this mistake.

Other Thoughts:

  • I was delighted when Greg turned out to be a good guy. Damn shame they killed him in the same episode he turned out as such.
  • Tandy’s mother is seriously tragic. I worry we’re heading in a self-harm direction with her as well.
  • I also loved learning more about Tyrone’s father, Otis. He seems to harbor a lot of the same barely repressed anger that his son does. I hope we get more of him and his history with the Redhawks.
  • Roxxon is still paying for the rights to the plot of ocean with the collapsed rig. This suggests to me that whatever gave Tyrone and Tandy powers still slumbers beneath the water.
  • Sometimes Tandy and Tyrone have some really good banter…and then sometimes I wonder how it can be so off.

Images Courtesy of Freeform

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Television

The Expanse Wanders Among The Wreckage

Barbara

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The Expanse is on its penultimate week, and with an episode called “Fallen World,” showed us the aftermath of a disaster.

Recap

When the episode starts, Holden is unconscious, so Bobbie picks him up and they head towards their shuttle. However, she realizes the speed limit might have decreased after her commanding officer threw the grenade last episode, and tests it. Turns out she is right. They get out and stabilize Holden. However, many Martians and Earthers are both dead on their ship, as the quick deceleration was a massive shock.

Naomi survived, but her skiff is no longer able to move, so she abandons it and steps into space. Drummer and her first officer are both pinned by heavy machinery, and have to cooperate to get out of the situation. Anna wakes up and goes through her ship, watching the scores of dead people. Those who are bleeding severely are lost as well, since in zero gravity, there is apparently no way for the blood to drain. One would expect they’d have some sort of vacuum pumps for that, being a space-faring civilization, but whatever. Anna is horrified and offers her help, being a trained nurse.

Holden’s brain scans show frenetic activity, but he’s not waking up. A MCRN soldiers feels like Bobbie is more loyal to him than to them, and suggests she kills him, because dying might be the best fate for him right now.

Drummer and her first have now gotten to the point of sharing life stories and singing together, since they are out of viable solutions for their situation.

When Clarissa wakes up, she think she successfully killed Tilly. But as Anna is helping fix her broken arm, Tilly contacts Anna on her hand terminal. Anna goes to find her, and Tilly tells her what happened before she dies. Clarissa, meanwhile, escapes the ship just as Anna catches up with her. She is left screaming that, “she cannot escape, only beg for mercy.”

Naomi arrives at the Roci and finds Alex, mostly all right, and Amos, who was hit in the head with a heavy tool and so is less alright. Drummer’s first starts coughing blood from his punctured lungs. For some mysterious reason, Drummer decides that means she should sacrifice herself, even though from what we have heard, doing so gives him a really low chances of survival. Still, she moves the machine back onto herself, freeing him, and he calls for help.

Clarissa reaches the Roci and manages to get inside. Naomi hears the impact and goes to check what is wrong. Clarissa tries to kill her—of course she does—but Anna, who apparently followed Clarissa, saves Naomi.

Drummer’s first, after hearing about the large number of wounded they have, gives the order to spin the drum of the ship, creating artificial gravity. They are unsure it will work, but they manage successfully. The first, who is not the captain, then opens a channel to other ships around them and invites everyone to transport their wounded to their ship.

MCRN seems to have more stupid ideas about how bad it is they are being saved by the “skinners,” apparently a name for the Belters. Bobbie effectively tells him he is an idiot and goes to see Holden, who woke up, and now tells her he had a vision of the end of everything.

Review

Overall, this was another good episode with solid pacing and clear progress forward. But there were still plenty enough things left that bother me.

First and foremost among them would be the storyline happening aboard the Martian shuttle. For one, the MCRN marine was acting completely ridiculous. The Expanse has always had trouble with depicting the less open-minded military types with any nuance, but this might be a new low. In particular, I am talking about handing Bobbie the gun to shoot Holden.

It made no sense at all in context: their orders were to bring Holden in. I don’t expect MCRN tortures their prisoners, so the argument with “might be the best for him” hardly made sense. Most of all, it felt like a test for Bobbie, but if so, it was a test of a kind I’d expect to see in Star Trek Discovery‘s Mirror Universe, not among the Martians. The Expanse show adaptation has always depicted the Martians worse than the books do, and this continues in the same vein. Bobbie is gaining the very uncomfortable overtones of being the “one good apple.”

On the other hand, Bobbie’s own role here was scarcely better, particularly her strange obsession with Holden. She is acting like they became best friends in the first half of this season, which is definitely not something I noticed. No matter how ridiculous the marine’s desire to have Holden shot was, he was perfectly right that it looked like Holden was controlling the protomolecule. We know it was because Miller was controlling it for him, but Bobbie doesn’t.

At the same time, it doesn’t follow she would immediately jump to the conclusion that Holden is a villain. He could be controlled by the protomolecule. In fact, he was, to a degree. Or, he could have simply gone insane. Once again, he had in a way. There are many possible explanations that don’t lead to wanting to have Holden executed, but which at the same time don’t lead to Bobbie insisting to her marine crew that, “Holden wouldn’t do anything wrong.”

It is doubly irritating because this is Holden of all people, everyone’s personal favorite white boy. Of course she would be all up in arms about him. Meanwhile, women of color were in danger or outright killed left and right this episode.

Speaking of which, Drummer. On one hand, when we first saw the situation she was in, I was worried it would develop into a mutual attempt at killing the other and saving themselves. I am truly, deeply grateful it didn’t. And even the idea of her sacrifice could have been a brilliant one, really, in the right circumstances. The way it played out here, however? Just after it is implied her first has a low chances of survival, without any particular indication that she is in serious trouble herself? It just feels very much like, “all right, the brown chick was the captain for a bit too long, time to give it to a white guy.”

The scene between them was acted excellently though, I have to grant them that much. Naomi was very good this episode as well, and were her Rocinante boys.

The one character who continues to be a disappointment is Anna. Her very last intervention was badass to be sure, but it’s not the kind of strength I expect from Anna. She’s not there to beat people over their heads. And until that moment, she was as insufferable as before. The most ridiculous moment was shouting after Clarissa. I understand she was meant to be upset, but it just looked stupid. Tilly repeating Anna was “very good at this,” meaning her pastoral duties, only made me roll my eyes once more. Show, don’t tell, please. At this point, such assertions about Anna are about as convincing as all the characters telling Tyrion he was clever on Game of Thrones.

The season finale next week is a double episode. At this point, I feel like it can go in many different directions, and I am all impatience to see which one it goes for.


All images courtesy of SyFy

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Television

Reverie Sows the Seeds of Doubt

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Last week’s episode of Reverie ended on a cliffhanger. Mara realized that she wasn’t actually at her late sister’s house, talking to her late niece (she was actually pretty sure on that last one). This leads to an obvious question: where was Mara, really. Unfortunately for her, she was in the middle of a road, with a car on its way. Before the car runs her over, Mara is saved by a mysterious man who knows her name. Turns out Mara’s savior is Oliver Hill, who claims to be suffering from de-realization as well. Hill has been following Mara, out of supposed worry. Before Oliver was a concerned stalker, he was a founding partner of Onira-Tech. He has something to explain to her, but he needs food first.

From NBC/screenshot

Oliver Hill V. Onira-Tech

Reverie spends about half of the episode providing two arguments for what’s really going on. Oliver argues that Reverie 2.0 is inherently flawed. He claims that he and Mara, being the two people who have spent the most time in Reverie 2.0, will be representative of the general population. In his version, Charlie is Onira-Tech’s unthinking bodyguard who hates Oliver. The medication that Mara has been given is supposedly useless (which is not a great message, especially when paired with Mara’s previous trashing of her meds). Oliver tells Mara not to tell Onira-Tech about their conversation, but that lasts for about 3 minutes. Mara is scared and she needs answers, and she tries to test Oliver’s claims against Onira-Tech’s personnel.

On the other hand, Onira-Tech claims that Oliver Hill was unstable. Charlie claims that Oliver is dangerous. Paul shows Mara Oliver’s brain activity, explaining that he had issues before Reverie 2.0. Alexis tells Mara that her partnership with Oliver was founded in a romantic relationship. That relationship went badly, and Alexis doesn’t want to be defined by that failure, hence his erasure from the company. 

By the end of the episode, Mara agrees with the latter form of events. She seems to be finally persuaded by Alexis’ detailing of her and Oliver’s romantic partnership. However, it’s not clear that the narrative agrees with Mara. Mara doesn’t know where to turn, and Reverie loves drawing tension from that. It thrives off of Mara’s (and the viewer’s) disorientation.

It’s certainly clear that Oliver has other plans, since he offers to buy a Reverie system at the end of the episode.

Episodic Woes

This episode also included a client of the week. Part of the reason the Onira-Tech team started out the episode on edge was a theft within the building. Someone stole a copy of Reverie, and modified it into a form of “Dark Reverie.” The “Dark” version doesn’t have restrictions. Our client of the week, Glenn, is using it to plan a heist. Since last week’s episode involved a bank robber, it’s likely Glenn needed the jailbroken version for the detailed specifications.

Glenn is a man with a stereotypical form of OCD. He avoids daylight, and hates the color blue. In a twist that should not surprise the viewer, Glenn doesn’t want to commit the heist for himself. He’s been watching the single mother and son across the street. The son has a rare disease, and Glenn wants to save his life with a trial drug. Despite mostly living inside, Glenn’s motivation is that he feels like part of the pair’s family. This entire plot feels like a math problem. Sick kid + adult with stereotypical OCD + moral heist = episodic plot.

Glenn offers to sell out “Dark Reverie” sellers and give his system back on one condition: help him do the heist. Mara complies, but Charlie and Monica have other ideas. Instead of letting Glenn steal the medication, they make a deal with the medicine company CEO. The heist goes through, but is spinned as a test of the company’s security system. Glenn gets the meds for the kid, and doesn’t get a felony on his record. Smiles all around.

Conclusion

Reverie‘s season arc plot wildly outstrips its episodic plots. This week’s episodic plot was probably the worst so far. However, the arc’s plot twists easily, without feeling gimmicky.


Images courtesy of NBC

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