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Portraits of Princess Leia

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What is more Fandomental than Star Wars, especially around Christmas time?

It seems only fitting that in honor of Rogue One coming out, we revisit the character of Princess Leia the most beloved (and for a long time only) prominent female character in the Star Wars film franchise. She may have gotten short shrift in the films, but the Extended Universe (EU) novels have to be better right?

Not so much. There are quite literally hundreds of Star Wars books in Legends, the name for old canon EU. Leia has plot arcs in many of them, but that’s about it. A new canon EU novel Bloodline by Claudia Gray, published earlier this year, is the very first novel entirely centered around the character and perspective of Leia Organa. I wish I were joking.

The paucity of Leia materials in Legends is a travesty, especially when compared to the fact that the new EU not only has Bloodline, there’s also Star Wars: Moving Target a children’s/young adult novel. She also has her own comic book miniseries (Star Wars: Princess Leia) and several prominent arcs in other ongoing comic book series as well.

The only book from old canon EU that comes close in terms of Leia’s centrality is the novel The Courtship of Princess Leia (Courtship) by Dave Wolveton, one of the most notorious of the Legends books. It has Rancor riding Force witches, a love interest based literally on Fabio, and a whole hell of a lot of 90s era anti-feminism. It’s quite different from Bloodline to say the least. Difference in content doesn’t necessarily mean difference in character, though. Given how inconsistent her character has been in the films, what better what to flesh out her portrait than to sit down with two novels purportedly about her and see what we come up with. Just who is EU Leia Organa?

Protagonist vs. Prize

Set roughly 20 years after the end of Return of the Jedi, Bloodline follows Senator Leia Organa as she navigates a gridlocked intergalactic senate seeking to rebuild after the Empire has crumbled. She’s a war hero and a well-respected politician; she takes the lead in investigating a new cartel that has gained power since she killed Jabba (Leia Huttslayer being canon is one of my fave things about this book tbh).

Ransolm Casterfo, a young, handsome and charismatic politician from the other main political party helps her, and together they forge a friendship and working partnership to try and take out the cartel. They uncover a paramilitary organization—and remnant of the Imperial Order—called the Amaxine Warriors in the process. Leia has to deal with assassination attempts, the first stirrings of what will become the New Order, and the backlash once her father’s identity is revealed. It’s undisputedly her story.

Written after the old EU already had canon materials after the Han/Leia marriage, Courtship is a flashback novel to how they got together. An emissary from the matriarchal culture of Hapes has proffered Leia the royal son Isolder as a gift in marriage in exchange for their help fighting the remnants of the Empire. Annoyed at her apparent interest in Isolder, Han kidnaps Leia and takes her to Dathomir (a planet he won gambling) in an attempt to win back her love. Luke and Isolder chase Han and Leia down, and they all have a run in with evil Force witches and a former Imperial warlord Han had previously pissed off with his gloating. Leia falls ‘back’ in love with Han in the end, and he wins marries her. While ostensibly about Leia, it focuses primarily on her men, with her relegated to barely more than a McGuffin. Even Luke has more POV pages than she does. In novel with Leia’s name in the title. Go figure.

Because this Leia would totally sit on the sidelines while the men do all the work.

Hero vs. Helper

Courtship opens with a promising investigative storyline for Ambassador Princess Leia in the form of an intergalactic dispute between the Barabels and the Verpines. Once she’s gotten the marriage proposal that subplot is dropped like a hot potato as soon as possible. Her marriage is more important than an alien species massacring the other for edible body parts. She takes a backseat in the rest of the novel, existing mostly as a prize for Isolder and Han to fight over. She helps save the day to be sure, but most of the major plot advancements and victories are accomplished by Luke, Han, and Isolder. She’s good at occasionally shooting a blaster and telling her men how much she needs them, though. So that’s something.

In Bloodline, on the other hand, Leia’s investigation into Rinnriven Di’s cartel takes center stage, and it is through her continued efforts that the connection between Di and the Amaxine warriors is uncovered. Where Han and Luke fire the shots that save the day in Courtship, Leia does so in Bloodline. Yes, Han comes to rescue her in one of the most Star Wars-ian moments of the book (an A New Hope head nod), but she gets to be the one who makes the Perfect Shot that destroys the base with the power of the Force. She doesn’t just join the Resistance, she starts it. Because that’s precisely what Leia would do. She’s a woman of action and will not sit on her hands when there’s shit to do. She works with a team, but she’s leading it instead of cheering the men on from the sidelines.

Psychology vs. Presence

Hers is also the primary character point of view in Bloodline. We get time with other characters perspectives—Ransolm Casterfo, Leia’s assistant Greer Sonnel, and the unintentional Luke 2.0 crack pilot Joph Seastriker—but Leia’s is the primary lens. The novel begins and ends with her perspective. Her struggles, her fears, and her aspirations are foregrounded. Her deep seated struggle to reconcile her birth father Vader with her choice to follow the path of politics like her adoptive father Bail Organa is the main theme of her psychology throughout the novel. It’s compelling as shit to read. She has trauma folks! And is bitter and angry with her bio dad for torturing her and destroying her planet! She resents him for his legacy of genocide and violence, and others for assuming she’d go bad just because he’s her father.

She and Vader even share the same tragic flaws (temper, impulsiveness, holding grudges, fierce protectiveness of loved ones), which is the reason she never pursued life as a Jedi. It’s also why she throws herself into her political career. Because she’s a Dutiful Princess. It’s so good you guys. Would I have liked more internal thoughts about her biological and adoptive mothers alongside that of her fathers? Yes, but at least we got a consistent, intimate psychology that makes sense and does justice to her character.

In Courtship, the male characters’ points of view overshadow hers. Her internal characterizations are sketchy at best, inconsistent at worst. Wolverton has his moments of insight into her character—like when he has Han think about how Leia buries her feelings—but they never coalesce into a consistent psychology. Heck, we know more about how Isolder feels about his mother’s political machinations than we do about why Leia is even attracted to him. Remember, this is a book supposedly about Leia choosing between two men vying for her hand. And we don’t really know why she ‘stops’ loving Han. I guess Isolder is that pretty?

And don’t even get me started on how she only mentions her grief about Alderaan twice and never mentions Vader or his torture of her ever. This is supposedly only four years after Return of the Jedi, and yet here we are still not dealing with her trauma. Leia doesn’t even get a perspective until the third chapter. Han’s perspective opens the story and Luke’s closes it. She’s an extension of the (more) important men in her life rather than the main focus. She exists in the story, but less as a true perspective and more as a secondary participant.

Politician vs. Figurehead

Leia Organa in Bloodline is a career statesman. She’s diplomatic when she needs to be, aggressive and fearless when that’s called for. She stands strong in the face of enormous political and personal pressure and is clearly one of the most qualified and intelligent persons in the Senate room. She may not be the suavest public speaker like Casterfo, but she can hold her own. She knows how to use her political position to her advantage, but is dismissive of her royal heritage, calling it an empty title. She wants to make her own mark on the galaxy and be her own person, not rely on her parentage for her status.

While introduced as Ambassador Leia Organa on page 3 of Courtship, Leia is little more than a figurehead. She’s primarily a royal figure, not a political one, especially once her ambassadorial subplot is handed off to Mon Mothma. She prefers to be called Princess Leia (and will remind people of that), which could not be more different from Leia’s preference for her political titles in Bloodline.

She does actively negotiate with the Force witches, but only about her men. Even that is a bit haphazardly done and requires input from Luke at one point. She’s young, yes, so a certain level of inexperience or emotional overriding is understandable.

Then again, this is Leia Organa, so it isn’t. Courtship seems to forget that Leia had been participating in politics all her life. She faced down Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin without blinking until they threaten her planet. She makes mistakes on the battlefield (e.g., taking rebel fighters that were being actively tracked by Imperials back to the rebel base), but not politically. She definitely doesn’t need Luke to tell her to do her job and how to do it.

War Hero vs. Wilting Damsel

Let me back up a bit and say there’s nothing inherently wrong with Leia preferring to go by her royal title. She is, after all, a princess. The best Disney Princess, in my opinion, but I digress. Leia being a princess doesn’t automatically make her a damsel in need of rescue. Even in A New Hope she was far from the stereotypical helpless damsel, preferring to snark at her rescuers rather than fall into their arms weeping with gratitude. I’m not even sure she has working tear ducts.

In Courtship, Leia cries. A lot. And she wilts. When she’s frightened, she shrinks or shrieks. It flies in the face of the visual canon, where Leia is more likely to snark to mask her fear. We all know what Leia would say to herself if she cried when she got scared.

In the original trilogy, Leia knows her way around a blaster, survived excruciating torture, waltzed into Jabba’s palace to save Han, single-handedly killed a notorious crimelord, and is also Force sensitive (quite possibly strongly so). She’s strategic, tactical, pragmatic, and cool under pressure. She’s level headed, decisive, and logical (there’s a reason why she’s labeled the ENTJ of the Star Wars canon). Only Han seems capable of ruffling her pristinely controlled feathers, and this is exactly what you expect from someone who has been leading up the Rebellion for years. As a teenager.

Bloodline Leia feels like more of an organic character development from the visual canon. We see her using similar skills and tactics as in the original trilogy, only they’ve matured. She uses the Force for things other than finding her brother! The Force actually runs strong in her like Luke says in Return of the Jedi! She’s a leader, not a wilter. She’s frustrated by the inefficiencies of the senate and seeks solutions. Her experiences leading the Rebels against the Empire directly play into how she handles her political duties, both for good or ill. Compare this with Courtship, where it would be easy to forget she was ever a military leader at all.

Leia and Han

Bloodline actually goes a long way toward explaining and fleshing out the distance depicted in The Force Awakens, though your mileage may vary. Years of snark have turned into more of a language of love than actual frustration, and their unconventional relationship looks precisely like what I would expect based on what we saw in the original trilogy (and in line with Julia’s interpretation of Empire).

Leia works all the time and Han flits all over the galaxy doing his thing. With this as a baseline, you can understand how it would worsen under stress: Leia throws herself into work and Han into danger and thrill-seeking. Still, they love each other very much and you can tell they’ve had to work through their differences to find a balance. It’s a good marriage, a healthy relationship, but not overly rose colored.

While Courtship depicts Han’s stress behaviors consistently, it does not do justice to Leia’s. She’s more harpy-like and waspish than snide. She tells Han he doesn’t know the Hapans at all instead of making a crack about how far his instincts got him with Lando for example. I expect more along the lines of, “Oh and I’m supposed to trust your instincts about people when the last time it almost got us killed?” than “You don’t know them at all!” *petulant door slam*.

Leia of the original trilogy doesn’t cringe away or sass back weakly, she throws cutting remarks like blaster bolts because it’s how she masks her feelings. We get some of this in Bloodline, but more with Casterfo than with Han since she’s actually had time to work on her marriage with the latter and the former is a political antagonist for the first third of the novel.

The Han and Leia of Bloodline have a partnership of equals with their own lives and careers. This sidelines Han from the main plot (and Luke, who is absent the entire novel), but it is better than Han trying to either dominate her or paternalistically protect her like we get in Courtship. Plus, there’s no uncomfortable kidnapping of Leia against her will using a magic gun that forces the target to do what you want (not even kidding). Han is…problematic in Courtship.

Leia’s Men: Shadows vs. Saviors

Having now read Courtship, Bloodline almost feels like a specific reaction to it. You have similar plot elements—a handsome and charismatic young male politician, a plot important sabacc game, taking on a warlord and criminal element in another galaxy that end up being related, assassination attempts—only Bloodline has given the plot to an older, more experienced Leia who is capable of taking on and handling all the situations without the men in her life to do it for her. Her age in and of itself is groundbreaking, as middle aged women are usually the hero’s mother in science fiction stories, not the hero herself.

Furthermore, the male members of the trio function more as extensions of Leia than she is of them. Han is supportive in Bloodline where he’s questioning and paternalistic in Courtship. Luke is looking for Jedi lore in both, but Leia in Courtship has to rely on Luke to help her to her job (and ultimately save the day), rather than rely on herself and her small circle of friends to support her as the hero. Leia actually struggles with her brother’s legacy and choices in Bloodline. Rather than seeing him as an infallible source of wisdom and strength, she resents his prolonged absence and silence on his Jedi quest. Even more so since it leaves her facing the brunt of the backlash to the revelation of Vader as their father. But she sublimates it because she’s Dutiful.

Despite my overall strong endorsement of Bloodline, my opinion about the absent male characters is actually mixed. On the one hand, I love the focus on Leia as protagonist and hero of her own story. It’s a novel we’ve been in dire need of for decades. On the other, I would have liked a Leia who can interact with her men on her own terms rather than them having to be absent in order for her to come to the fore. Although not the intention, the absence of Han and Luke can at times look suspiciously as if they have to be gone in order for Leia to be the hero.

Leia By Any Other Name

What emerges are two completely different characters that go by the name Leia Organa, one infinitely more complex and compelling. Courtship Leia has much more in common with her scripting in Return of the Jedi; she’s unphased by her trauma from Alderaan and Vader, accepting that the latter is her father without so much as an “oh shit.” She’s more openly emotional, alternately wilting at the sight of danger and bickering with Han for no consistent reason. She’s not even deflecting her feelings so much as harping at him. The male arcs dominate hers, and she takes a backseat to their heroics for the most part. She might be a politician in name only, but at least that fares better than the utter erasure of her military experience and expertise. She’s a 90s action hero love interest who exists to be claimed as a prize once the dust settles.

Bloodline, on the other hand, gives us everything I love about Empire Leia. She’s a Dutiful Princess to a T: self-deprecating, hiding her emotions behind layers of snark and social performance, conflicted about her family and heritage. She’s a deeply compassionate, pragmatic, and frustrated leader who puts the needs of the galaxy above personal desire. She’s hot-headed, flawed, and coping with trauma; a war hero, statesman, and rebel leader. Her relationship with Han is unconventional, but it works. They love each other and the early marriage flashbacks kill me.

It may create a few new issues with her scripting in TFA (and heighten the existing ones), but that’s not a bad thing. Leia has gotten shafted for far too long. If her getting her own novel means that people start to notice she hasn’t been written with care all the time, I approve.

All I can say is I want more of this Leia. If I never see another wilting, weeping, and objectified Leia it will be too soon. Serve me up another portion of my Dutiful Princess stuffing her feelings and saving the day, please. I’m so ready.

Of course you do, Leia. You always know.

Bloodline is the Leia Novel We Deserve

I could end it here, but I won’t. Because this is a portrait, not a pencil sketch and you deserve a landscape to set Leia against.

  • Bloodline gives Leia a cast of female characters to interact with who are not romantic or political rivals where Courtship portrays female relationships primarily as catty and petty.
  • Bloodline has more persons of color and non-human protagonists (though Courtship does a better job with physical descriptions of aliens).
  • Bloodline casually normalizes the gender and sexuality spectrum. New Canon in general is a canon where being a person of color, LGBT, or gender-non-conforming is as normal as being cis, het, and white.
  • Courtship has a strongly 90s anti-feminist streak in its portrayal of women in power: they’re either conniving manipulators who repress male intelligence or seek to enslave men. Bloodline has women of all kinds in power, both positive and negative. The main antagonist of Bloodline is a woman, yet she’s more nuanced in her portrayal than Leia is in Courtship.
  • The same goes for the male characters in Courtship, who all suffer from patriarchal attitudes and varying degrees of toxic masculinity. Basically, Courtship is a time capsule of 90s gender norms and it has not aged well.
  • Thematically, Bloodline’s focus on genetic heritage vs. choice (a theme I think The Force Awakens undercuts, but that’s a different article) is far more compelling a storyline for Leia than that of wearing a woman down via forcible romantic gestures and constant verbal pressure. Then again, I’m a sucker for narratives about found family and overcoming violent or traumatic heritages. And for characters related to a villain that choose to be heroes, even when the whole world is against them.

My hand slipped.

Basically, Bloodline is everything I wanted in a Leia novel and everything that Courtship isn’t. If you like Leia the Dutiful Princess, and complicated female psychologies, you should read it.


Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Disney

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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Analysis

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is Masterfully Deconstructing its Core

Kylie

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Here at The Fandomentals, it’s not hard to tell when we begin to fall in love with a show. You may recall the windfall of Black Sails articles surrounding its series finale, our rather overzealous coverage of Supergirl a year ago, or the way Steven Universe creeps into every podcast we record. We dig in and frenetically try to explain exactly the reasons why you should be so enthused as well.

Then there’s shows like Crazy Ex Girlfriend, where I find myself unable to say anything at all, since it’s more or less perfect.

I know what I’m setting myself up for when I say this, because I’ve felt the let-down quite keenly many times before. That’s part of why I’ve been so hesitant to write anything at all. The other part is that I truly feel my explanations won’t do anything justice; watch it yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

Is Rebecca Bunch’s character the answer to my prayers for jewish women in media? Absolutely. Do we all need Paula Proctors in our life? You bet we do. Is this finally the bridge between musical theater, sitcoms, and dramatic TV? Without a doubt. Hell, it’s a show whose entire premise involves calling attention to the tropes and storytelling conventions we bemoan, and then digging in and flipping them on their heads. All of this I could easily write dissertation-length papers on, while feeling that none of it is adequately explaining what is so great here.

So it’s only now that Crazy Ex Girlfriend is tackling one of the most important issues in our society, and doing it with a remarkably skillful hand, that I’m forcing myself to write out my thoughts. Because honestly? It’s a shondeh if I don’t at least try to spread the love at this point.

As a warning, there will be spoilers for major plot beats through the most recent episode, 3×06 “Josh is Irrelevant.” Which sure, may be a weird way to convince people into watching something, but as I’ve articulated a few times…knowing what’s coming and what a show explores actually makes me more prone to dig into it. If you disagree, let me just leave you with this before you bow out: the “crazy” in the title of the show is exactly why I didn’t watch it for a couple of years. And boy was that a mistake, because it is so intentional, and exactly what’s being explored now in one of the most nuanced and validating ways possible.

Yup, showrunners Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna are tackling mental health navigation and stigmatization. In the most recent episode, Rebecca Bunch receives a formal diagnosis (and even sings a song about getting one), and it’s made clear that all two and a half seasons were leading to this moment—not because of the diagnosis as an end in itself, but as a means to equip our character with the tools and understanding that empower her to push for a healthier state of mind. It is a show about a mentally ill woman lacking in traditional heroic qualities (dare I say antihero?). Yet instead of reveling in her moral greyness and watching her “oh my god” dissent, we are encouraged to actively empathize with her, and root for her to find balance. Because at its core, this show takes on a more positive view of humanity. We’re all just…trying to do okay with what we have, even if our weaknesses and anxieties can manifest in ways that hurt ourselves and those around us.

If that sounds interesting to you, watch the show. But for real now, explicit spoilers from here on out.

Rebecca Bunch was always meant to be a challenging character to the viewer. She makes an impulsive decision in the pilot episode to move to West Covina and pursue an old flame. Convinced this will make her instantly a happier person, she gleefully dumps her medicine down her garbage disposal (we’re unsure specifically what she took, though we do know anti-anxieties were in the mix) while whistling a merry tune. It’s clear this isn’t the healthiest thing you can do and she’s romanticizing the situation (and hilariously, the location as well).

This shot taken 2 seconds before the budget cuts claim the marching band’s instruments

At the same time, it’s also made clear that Rebecca truly was in an unhappy state in New York City, and her methods of coping through heavy medication and excessive work only fed into that. By midway through the first season, Rebecca tries to seek out a therapist to get new drugs, only to be told that she might actually need to explore her issues.

Rebecca: Those are the meds I was on in New York.

Dr. Akopian: Oh, my God. How did your body react to all this medication? You must not have been able to feel a thing.

Rebecca: Exactly. Numb as they come. So scribble scribble on your pizzle pad.

Dr. Akopian: Rebecca, your doctor in New York is a quack. He gave you a Band-Aid, not a cure. My method would be to do some digging and figure out what’s really going on inside your mind. And then we can discuss the appropriate medications.

Rebecca: So that’s great, but I need to be better by Monday.

The driving story continues to be about Rebecca’s quest for her fairy tale romance—a narrative that lives in her mind but not reality. Each romcom trope is broken down, from “unlikely suitor she actually falls for” (he turns out to be a fucking mess and leaves to be able to deal with his own issues in a healthy manner), to “the perfect prince who was always meant to be” (they both approach the relationship merely wanting to be in a relationship, without actually having a stable grasp on what they both need/want in life), to even the “screw men, we’ll just have a fun girl group and that’s enough” (Josh has a new girlfriend they need to stalk!).

However, it is always in the forefront that Rebecca is actively spinning the happenings in her life to fit whatever story she wants, all while resisting the core of what’s at her unhappiness.

Paula: Just let both of them go.

Rebecca: I don’t know who I am without them. I know that’s pathetic. I know it’s pathetic, but it’s true. Who am I supposed to be now?

Paula: Honey, be yourself.

Rebecca: What?! Who? No! Ew. Ugh! Who wants to be that?!

This becomes the most obvious when she enters into a relationship with Josh, but is not magically happier about everything. Rebecca very nearly has a breakthrough with Dr. Akopian to this point, only to be interrupted by Josh’s wedding proposal. Then from there, we get a tale as old as time: Rebecca stops feeling magical feelings about Josh, freaks out and kisses her boss in an elevator, freaks out from that and pushes their wedding date up to two weeks from that day, and then after not sleeping and going in full bridezilla mode, gets left at the altar because Josh begins to feel that he doesn’t truly know Rebecca. We also learn that Rebecca had previously wanted to marry another man in her past (Robert, a former professor of hers), but upon being broken up with by him, burned down his apartment and then was committed to a psychiatric institution for a time.

This is where Season 3 picks up, and in truth, I was very nervous about the Robert reveal. “Oh, so she really is ‘crazy’? That’s the point?” No. the point is that Rebecca is a troubled character who hasn’t received the help she’s needed. She has characteristics we all can relate to, from her self-deprecating thoughts to her struggle to feel ‘normal,’ even if we wouldn’t have necessarily made the same choices she did.

Season 3 shows her in crisis mode. Instead of confronting her insecurities, she lashes out at her friends, and even returns home to stay with her mother for a bit, despite their history with Naomi’s selfish and often inappropriate or harmful behavior. However, when her mom sneaks her anti-anxieties (out of fear of Rebecca wanting to commit suicide), Rebecca feels as though she has no one she can count on anymore, especially since she thinks she alienated everyone else. At the end of 3×05, Rebecca tries to commit suicide on a plane by taking a bottle full of anti-anxiety meds one a time, before telling the flight attendant that she needs help.

Other media has tried to depict suicide before, but it is so often done in a way that’s meant to shock, or even (distressingly) in a way that almost romanticizes the behavior. Hell, Life is Strange actually makes a student’s suicide a playable level, where if you’re just observant enough, you can stop it (for points!). Crazy Ex Girlfriend walked the impossible line of depicting the suicide attempt in a realistic manner—it was easy to track Rebecca’s feeling of hopelessness and isolation—without any sort of glamorization. She was in a rough, unhealthy state, and the audience was encouraged to root for that to change.

Better yet, Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna made themselves available on Twitter immediately afterwards. That, in addition to a suicide helpline message which appeared on the screen following the episode, demonstrated that they were being as thoughtful as possible when approaching such a potentially triggering subject. It was difficult to watch, no question. But shying away from these topics doesn’t give equip us with the tools to handle them. We’ve praised Jessica Jones for starkly examining rape and rape apology; Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a show that should receive similar acclaim, particularly given how usual portrayals of suicide and mental health tend towards victim blaming.

Even that aspect was highlighted in the newest episode; Rebecca continually apologizes for the “hassle” she’s caused, and how bad she feels that everyone’s normal routine has been interrupted since like…her friends want to make sure she’s okay. It’s just so true-to-life. Too often our media has something *happen* to a character, and then it disappears an episode later. Rebecca’s deeply-felt self-loathing and general unworthiness isn’t gone just because her stomach was pumped, however. And that kind of consistency is important. Life doesn’t make narrative sense, so even though there’s a clear story that’s being told, it’s told in way that feels refreshingly familiar. Because it mirrors life.

Add to this the diagnosis. Rachel Bloom has talked openly about her own mental health numerous times. She also said this last week:

It’s clear this was written from a place of understanding, and with an attempt to be as validating and healing as possible. Rebecca sings a boisterous song about getting a diagnosis that will be her golden ticket to happiness (she’ll finally fit in somewhere), which amazingly captures the awareness of stigmatization alongside the often unreasonable weight people attached to their diagnoses. I just say this as a woman with OCD and general anxiety disorder, and I don’t want to speak for everyone ‘neurodivergent’, for lack of a better umbrella term. But in my opinion, the episode’s greatest strength was the way in which both of Rebecca’s doctors talked about her diagnosis. It’s not an identity, nor is it a fix; it’s a tool of understanding behavior, and one that can help guide treatment in a way that makes the most sense for her.

At the same time, Rebecca possesses the traits which define Borderline Personality Disorder. This was something I’ve said (mostly to Julia) for a long time, and something I’ve been scared for the show to tackle. I have intimate experience with this disorder, and without sugarcoating anything, some hurt as well. I have never seen proper depiction of it before this show, and I never in a million years thought it would actually be labeled, then fully described in a way that’s so accessible to an uninformed audience.

“A person with BPD is essentially a person that has difficulty regulating their emotions. Someone that lacks the protective emotional skin to feel comfortable in the world.”

It’s clear that Rebecca’s world is one that’s scary to be in. She never feels she fits, she has a terror of abandonment, and her impulsive actions that she does in order to control situations or feel accepted (be it breaking into Josh’s house to delete an embarrassing text, rushing to a wedding because she had a moment of doubt, or even sleeping with her ex’s dad because he was the only person being nice to her) have outcomes that usually result in more unhappiness. To be able to know that she’s not alone in this struggle is validating.

Also her friends work overtime to be there for her, even if in slightly flawed ways

Though of course, and again realistically, the show doesn’t make the BPD simple or straightforward. Rebecca immediately Googles BPD and hates what she reads: that treatment can be lifelong, that there’s no “cure”, and even that 10% of people with BPD do kill themselves. She pushes against this diagnosis, even telling Dr. Akopian that she was bullied by the other doctor into agreeing with him on it, until Akopian whips out the DSM and goes through the checklist to see if Rebecca matches the criteria. Every point applies, and the show brilliantly provides flashbacks as these are read off. Rebecca sinks into despair, calling herself “certifiably crazy,”

Like…yeah. This is it. This is what happens. I was watching, half wanting to cry because of how easy it is to feel for Rebecca in that moment, and half wanting to laugh because finally what I’ve seen and experienced (second-handedly)—what I’ve even questioned and doubted—is on my screen for the first time, ever. We talk a lot about why fiction and representation matters, yet it’s almost unthinkable that the diagnostic process has been rarely been shown on our screens. Certainly not in this much detail.

The episode does end on a hopeful note, with Rebecca saying that she doesn’t want to ever feel like she did on the plane again. She goes to a group therapy, and gets a book to read afterwards. It’s not the end, nor was it ever meant to be. But it’s the means of getting her to a healthy place, and in that process, we see a lot of our own realities, from the hilarious to the uncomfortable.

That’s the story that matters, and that’s the story that was always being told. We’re just finally at the place where the characters see it too.


Images courtesy of the CW

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Analysis

A Bride’s Story is the Women’s Story You Were Waiting For

Annedey

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A Bride’s Story is a manga by Kaoru Mori (also responsible for Emma). Started in 2008, the series is still running and counts 9 volumes. It takes place in 19th century central Asia and follows several characters in their daily lives. The story is mainly focused on women of the region, but there is also the point of view Henry Smith, an English researcher. Anything else notable? Oh, I just remembered: it is really good.

Talking about a really good manga series could be enough on its own. But you know what’s even better? It is focused on women and their lives. Different women, with different lives, their work, their achievements, their pains. And it is written in a total love of all women. A good manga series, written by a woman about women? What else could we be asking for?

The Story of A Bride’s Story:

I am starting to not like this choice of title very much. But anyway, the manga opens on Amir and Karluk’s wedding. Amir is twenty whereas her husband is twelve (don’t worry there is no weird sexual content between the two). It is not the only thing that separates them. Karluk comes from a mainly sedentary village. Amir’s tribe still has a pretty nomadic way of life. Both spouses are pretty different so the first chapters of the manga follow their adaptation to each other (and to her in-laws in the case of Amir). The presence of Smith also allows the point of view of an outsider into the family.

The story then expands to other members of the family, friends, and neighbors, as well as people Smith will meet during his travels. Yet the story isn’t all over the place. We follow their lives and emotional development. And when Kaoru Mori focuses on one character she takes the time to tell their story. Even if she has to leave aside other characters for some time. But this is not a problem, as it is crystal clear she loves all her characters and will do them justice in time.

Good guy Kaoru Mori by herself.

A Bride’s Story is going to focus on every aspect of the characters’ lives. There is high drama(military attack of one family on another) but also daily life (learning how to sew, finding your vocation).

In short A Bride’s Story is a really good read. But it is not the only thing that draws you in the narrative.

Art so gorgeous it sucks you in the story:

Another strings to Kaoru Mori’s bow which help you being completely absorbed in her world is that…

…her art…

…is…

…gorgeous.

Which, considering the time we spend speaking about craftsmanship, is important. Having a visual representation worthy of the script is only doing it justice. If you don’t want to travel to central Asia to discover their handicraft after reading A Bride’s Story you are a liar, and that’s all there is to it. The characters and the details are insanely comprehensive. But we are also given amazing and dynamic action scenes.

This incredible art and interesting story combine to give us a narrative uplifting women at every turn.

An Hymn to women’s lives:

A Bride’s Story focuses, as its name clearly spells out, on brides. Sometimes young brides, sometimes bride-to-be, sometimes widows, but always women facing married life. And no it is not reductive. During the 19th century, marriage was (and still is in some cultures) one of the main events of a woman’s life. It was a literal change of family, of environment, and the real beginning of her adult life. So focusing around this event is not reductive. Quite the contrary. It reminds us that, as long as she is a good person, every woman’s life is worth telling.

Kaoru Mori spends a lot of time on women’s daily activity. Sewing of course (if the manga doesn’t give you a mighty need to start sewing you are a liar), but also cooking, taking care of the herd etc. Everything is worth the author’s attention, and ours. Do you know why? Because it is important work done with care. And this ask for our interest and respect.

Another thing which is incredibly well done in A Bride’s Story is the relationship between this women. They are supportive of each other. There is a mother-in-law ready to sacrifice herself to save her daughter-in-law. When Amir learns that she should go back to her family to marry another man because all the brides they have sent are dead (killed by their husband) she is not only crying because she is terrified. She is crying because she knew both of this girls and is devastated by their death. And the person reassuring her and saying that she is « not going anywhere » is her husband’s grandmother.

There are as many positive women relationship in there as there is stars in the sky. And not always just filial relationship. But also mentorship, friendship and emh…

I am sorry but there is no heterosexual explanation to this and yes Kaoru Mori acknowledges it in the author’s notes.

And the icing on the cake is that every single one of these women is different from the others.

No wrong way of being a woman:

Truly it is refreshing to read about women helping each other. It is even better when they are allowed to be different. Because let’s be real, often in fiction women are created to oppose each other. The “good” kind of woman opposing the “wrong” kind of women. Just look at The White Queen and The White Princess, in which motherhood is glorified and “good” women are rewarded with it whereas “bad” women, women having a “man’s” ambition, became sterile and loveless.

Well, in A Bride’s Story we have traditionally feminine women who are soft gentle and love sewing. We have unconventional women who like to hunt and ride but are still good at feminine tasks (but let’s be real Amir is an amazement in universe too) and others which are not. We also have what other media often depicts as “failing” women, but are just unsure of who they are.

Let’s be real we all want to be Amir but we are Pariya who, conveniently, wants to be Amir.

In short, Kaoru Mori is standing on her mountain screaming “They are all my daughters and I love them all!”. And trust me ,it feels good to be, as a reader, welcomed into this story.

Conclusion:

To the surprise of no one, I heartily recommend reading A Bride’s Story. As a first manga, if it is your first, it might be putting the bar a bit high for future dives into the medium. But there are worse problems to have. Just to add to all I’ve said above, we also have good and interesting siblings relationships (my passion), making this manga almost without fault. It is worth a try. It really is.


All images courtesy of Yen Press.

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Analysis

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus Excels Because It Knows Its History

Griffin

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Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a phenomenal game. It has an inordinate amount to say about racism, anti semitism, the cycle of abuse, ableism, eugenics, homophobia, fat shaming, PTSD, war, violence, and just about everything else under the sun. And developer MachineGames does all of that with this wonderfully strange combination of hyper-meticulous tact, high production values, and auteur confidence. Of course, none of that would have been possible if the setting surrounding the narrative didn’t work, and holy shit does it ever.

The newest iterations of the Wolfenstein franchise take place in an alternate 1960—leading into ‘61 for the second game—where the Nazis won the war. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game framed around the “how” of the world. How did the Nazis win? How do they keep their conquered states in check? How have things changed in this reality? How do we stop them from gaining more power? How do we fight back against a near global, yet also interplanetary, regime?

Throughout the game, you come across newspaper clippings and records (The Beatles sort of still exist) that fill the gaps between 1946 and 1960. The result is a fully realized world that isn’t just a horrifying coat of paint over reality; it’s how things would have happened…with a few super-science-y liberties thrown in because why wouldn’t the Nazis a moon base or fire breathing robot dogs? And, of course, the greatest twist of all: the Nazis’ inexplicable sci-fi advancement, the whole reason they won the war, was built on the backs of stolen technology from a secret society of Jewish science wizards. There’s even a sequence where the protagonist, William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, breaks into a high security compound and finds ancient schematics written in Hebrew, which he knows how to read.

We also knew, in broad strokes, what had happened to the other parts of the world. America had surrendered completely after Manhattan was obliterated by an atomic bomb, mirroring the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nazis had yet to conquer the vast majority of Africa, as organized resistance was proving far more effective than they were willing to recognize. London was kept in line by a skyscraper-sized robot called the London Monitor, which you get to blow up.

Wolfenstein: The New Order took place almost entirely in western Europe (with a brief sojourn to the moon, of course) and exploring how the one region of the world that was, at one time, actually conquered by the Nazis, ended up being just familiar enough to what it was back then to what it became in their alternate history. It’s this foundation, this deep uprooting and deconstruction of history, that allows its sequel, The New Colossus, to head straight into the United States. We were shown what was comfortably familiar to us, so it was time to show what was uncomfortably familiar.

An America subjugated and ruled by the Nazis.

Enemy Of The State Of Affairs

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a game about “why”. Why do we fight against oppression when society around us punishes those who do? Why do we push back against systemic hatred, even when it has no bearing on us? Why does a man like William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the perfect aesthetic poster boy for Aryan supremacy, reject those who would treat him like a king?

Why has America submitted to Nazi rule? The short answer is: giant airship. The long answer? Well, that one’s not so complicated.

Relatively early in the game, you meet up with a New York City resistance cell lead by a black woman named Grace, a survivor of the Manhattan bombing. In fact, all but one of her members are black with the exception of her partner Super Spesh. Their character designs explicitly invoke imagery of the Black Panthers and the overall Black Power movement.

The first game had you run around helping the Kreisau Circle, the Berlin-based Nazi resistance group that eventually cut the head off the Nazi war machine and stopping them from developing new weapons. This cell was lead by Caroline Decker, a paraplegic veteran. But, in the opening of this game, Caroline is executed by the main antagonist, Frau Engel, leaving a gaping hole in leadership that Grace fits perfectly. Who better to represent a 1960s violent uprising of the oppressed than a black woman in America?

She even goes so far as to move into Caroline’s old cabin in their captured Super U-Boat. From the start of the narrative, Wolfenstein is showing us that America is very different from a conquered Europe. For one, the English language is being banned, hearkening back to that old adage of “If the Nazis won, we’d all be speaking German”.

The largest among the differences though is that, just as Grace says above, America never stopped fighting the Nazis. The military did, yes, and the vast majority of the white population, including a South-governed KKK, but the fact that there is a dedicated anti-gravity airship, the Ausmerzer, whose sole role is to travel the country and crush resistance factions for the past decade tells us in no uncertain terms that the hold the Nazis have over America isn’t as ironclad as they believe it to be.

Even if they are able to put on one hell of a show.

We find newspaper clippings within the game describing resistance cells crushed by the Ausmerzer, and there’s even a moment during a trip to Roswell where you’re recognized (you’re the Reich’s most wanted, after all) by a local resident who, in a terrified act of defiance, whispers that he believes in what you’re doing when just seconds prior he was selling newspaper propaganda with glee.

The cap to this, however, is the final scene of the final mission of the game where you ambush Frau Engel’s live appearance on a talk show. You sneak through the bleachers and into the rafters, noting that every single person in the audience is a cardboard cutout. The show may be being broadcasted to every living room in the world, but it stands to reason that if people aren’t going to the live show…they’re not buying into the lies.

America is being crushed under the heel of the Nazis, yes, but it has yet to be crushed. Good people are still out there in the world, but they’ve forgotten how to resist. Those who were already filled with hate jumped on board, the minority, while everyone else is either putting their head in the sand or just trying to survive.

On the other side of the table, though, is how white America perceives the Nazis. I’ve already mentioned that the KKK controls the south, but it goes a whole lot deeper than that. Slavery has been legalized once more, and auctions are the talk of the town. We find out that, in true Nazi form, they rounded up the country’s degenerates—Jews, queer folk and people of color—and either purged them or sent them off to die in New Orleans…which is now a massive ghetto, Escape from New York style.

And if you “named names”, you were rewarded with what those same people left behind. Land rights, mansions, savings; everything they owned was either seized by the state or given as a gift to those who betrayed their friends and neighbors. This is not something we discover on a broad scale; it’s personal to B.J.

He visits his childhood home after nuking Area 52 (it wasn’t aliens, just ancient Jewish Techno Wizard secrets) and finds his abusive father, Rip, waiting for him, having heard he was in the area and assumed he’d come around. Rip, as we learned from flashbacks, was physically and emotionally abusive to both his son and his wife Zofia, a Jewish Polish immigrant. That, and he was a hardcore White Supremacist, having only married Zofia because he believed her father would be a business asset. He bemoans that no one knows what it is like to suffer as he does, thinking that everyone is trying to steal everything from the White Man.

In short, he represents everything that B.J. has spent his entire adult life fighting against.

When asked what happened to his mother, Rip admits that he sold her out to the Nazis and they took her away. The confrontation ends with B.J. killing his father after he presses a shotgun to his son’s forehead, but through their entire conversation he’d been on the phone with the Nazis. He’d sold out his son, too.

That’s the state of the world in Wolfenstein, and in The New Colossus you blow it the fuck up.

Terror-Billy Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass

While the game’s marketing may have been pointing towards a parallel with the American Revolution as for how the country ousts the Nazis, I posit that the historical context is far more evocative of our 1960s.

Grace’s existence and design are already evidence of this, but it’s the rest of the resistance that makes this all the more clear. The second big group you recruit, aptly enough from the New Orleans ghetto itself, is lead by a man named Horton. He organizes a group of communists, socialists and anarchists who you’d think wouldn’t fit in with Grace and her people. These are the people that dodged the draft, even if they did push the concept of equal rights earlier than most. Horton even flat out cites their attempted push for a civil rights movement in an argument with B.J.

Of course, there’s a key difference between refusing to fight on foreign soil in a war that benefits the military industrial complex and what’s happening to them now. Horton’s group draws upon sentiment from both the end of the Great War and the counterculture movements of the 1960s.

Again, many of them were draft dodging pacifists, but that goes right out the window when it comes to Nazis. It’s one thing to refuse to fight a foreign enemy on foreign lands when victory would have only spread what you’re rebelling against. It’s quite another to sit by and accept fascism in the very country that allowed, though not always encouraged, you to believe what you saw in your heart as just.

It’s at the end of the game, however, in the ending cinematic, that this entire idea solidifies. That this historical context isn’t an accident, and the frankly unbelievable amount of homework MachineGames must have done paid off in spades. Mere moments after B.J. kills Frau Engel on live television, Grace and Horton speak directly into the cameras and ignite a violent revolution. The Kreisau Circle may be organized like a guerilla military operation, but the American people aren’t. They don’t need to be.

It’s an angry, raw, improvised and imperfect call to arms, but that’s what makes it perfect. Violent uprisings don’t start with eloquence or deep debating over the justification to fight against those who oppress you. They start with whatever you’ve got on hand. The Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots and the general counterculture protests that dominated the 60s are clear influences on Wolfenstein’s depiction of “retaking America”. Seriously, if it didn’t sink in already, they blast a heavy metal cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” over the end credits coupled with imagery of violent rioting and uprisings across the nation.

Wolfenstein does not attempt to hold a mirror to our world today, even if it does so inadvertently. It tries to make us look back, so that we remember how to keep moving forward. It’s message is clear because it knows what it’s talking about, no matter how over-the-top the presentation:

Equality is not a debate; it’s a right. Those without it won’t stop until they have it, because for them it’s literally “Fight, or Die”.  So the best thing you can do, if you’ve already got it, is to pick them up with you. And if you don’t? If you keep trying to push others down? It’s gonna get bloody, just like it always does, and chances are it won’t be them who’s dying.


Images courtesy of MachineGames

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