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Pride and Prejudice: A Definitive Guide to Adaptations

Julia

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Pride and Prejudice. It’s one of the most beloved and widely read novels in the English language. Everyone knows Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth and their love overcoming all odds. Everyone loves to adapt it. You sometimes get the impression that whenever writers have no clue what to do next, they say, “let’s just adapt Pride and Prejudice!”

And this text is so well known that straight adaptations are no longer necessary. You can have Pride and Prejudice in another time and place, from India to Utah. You can have time-travelling Pride and Prejudice; you can have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


And then, apparently, you can adapt that into a film. And they have. It comes out today, in fact. Stay tuned for my thoughts on it. But in order to prepare for what I’m sure will be a great intellectual challenge, I made the rather rash decision to provide the world with a definitive guide to all the adaptations of this novel made in English. (This means I won’t be watching the K-Drama. Sorry.)

These adaptations have come early and often since the invention of film, though many of the earlier examples are impossible to find, if they survive at all. There have also been quite a few works that were clearly very directly inspired by the novel even if there’s no Hertfordshire.  

All you need to two hot people and a swooning romance, right?

Except no. Jane Austen didn’t write a swooning romance. Jane Austen wrote a morality story about what she felt was the ideal marriage: an arrangement arrived at by two rational people based on the intersection of affection, practicality, spiritually duty, and compatibility.

Pride and Prejudice (P&P), an understanding of this theme is what I look for most. There are six “touchstones,” as I call them, that help focus this. How these elements are adapted makes the difference between a good adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and a generic romance movie.

  1. Elizabeth – This young woman is intelligent, opinionated, independently minded, and yeah, kind of proud. However, she is also a product of her time. She doesn’t think she’ll ever marry because she knows few men are really her intellectual or moral superior. And a husband must always be his wife’s superior.
  2. Darcy – Dude, your privilege is showing. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a hot brooding guy, and that makes him super sexy, but it’s because he’s an entitled snob. He suffers when Elizabeth rejects him, but make no mistake, he went in there with no doubt that she would accept him because, you know, he’s Mr. Darcy. He’s essentially a good person, which is why he’s able to learn to be less of a jerk by the end, but he was simply not the aggrieved party here.
  3. Mr. Wickham and Lydia – This one is tricky. Because in today’s world, when a man in his late twenties runs off with a sixteen-year-old our first thought usually isn’t “oh no! her reputation!” But we’re supposed to feel sorry for Lydia, because she wasn’t raised right, but also think that she’s damn lucky Mr. Darcy got that sweet deal for her so that she wouldn’t have to be a street walker. Wickham is the cautionary tale that all the young female readers should watch out for.
  4. Charlotte Lucas – She is meant to be the opposite of Lydia. Marrying for purely pragmatic reasons is just as bad as marrying because you can’t keep it in your pants.
  5. Mary – Back in the early nineteenth century, a woman trying to be an intellectual was seen as, like, funny. I don’t think we’re supposed to be all “yay, go book snob!” This often ends up in a narrative that is rather cruel to poor Mary, but that’s what the text is. Her complete rejection of social interactions in favour of “contemplation and reflection” is not praiseworthy, it’s ridiculous.
  6. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet – Mrs. Bennet is really dumb and shallow, but Mr. Bennet is a complete jerk. His duty is to provide for his family, to make sure his daughters are taken care of, but he doesn’t. He just locks himself up in his room and laughs at them, and encourages Elizabeth to do the same. He’s redeemable because he’s clearly loves Elizabeth, but he is not an unproblematic fave.

This not to say that a film that is a “poor” adaptation of the novel is necessarily a bad movie, or that a good adaptation is necessarily an excellent television show, but adaptations are kinda my thing, so that’s the angle that I’ll be taking.

 

Direct Adaptations

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

So one of the maxims of adaptation, as articulated by David Selznick, is to not presume to “fix” what you see as structural flaws in the source material. Wouldn’t it be better if Darcy was actually a great guy who made, like, one rude comment once but was otherwise perfectly nice? Wouldn’t it be nice if Elizabeth immediately fell in love with him after hearing his sob story because… um, pity? He’s so Nice™? Wouldn’t it make more sense if Lady Catherine gave her blessing in the end?

No, it wouldn’t.

I feel bad being hard on this movie, since it’s so old. But there’s something about it that’s so pandering to sentiment. Like, everyone’s exaggerated curtseying when they danced. And there’s the “funny” little moments where the Bennet sisters were literally indistinguishable from a flock of noisy hens. Maybe it’s just a product of its age, but in that case, it aged very badly.

Elizabeth seems more rude than anything. This is mostly a consequence of the Tyrion-esque whitewashing of Darcy. He made one rude comment, then immediately tried to make up for it by asking her to dance, and she was all “nope!” then went to dance with someone else. After that, he was nothing but trying to be pleasant for the rest of the movie, while she was just constantly telling everyone how much he sucks and being passive agressive. We’re told that he’s proud, but he hardly acts like it. This is a story about how Elizabeth was an idiot and a bad judge of character.

Lydia and Wickham were okay, I guess. It was mostly used to make jokes about how they have to move or something. Charlotte’s marriage was glossed over, and so was Mr. Bennet. He complained about noise once. Mary, was Mary-like, I suppose.

It feels rather like this is only incidentally Pride and Prejudice; like someone wanted to make a silly romance film rather than an adaptation. I can’t really recommend it as either.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

This movie is a really good movie. Even if Jane Austen were never born, I would recommend everyone see this movie. The camera work was just… those tracking shots… The direction in general is exceptional. And Keira Knightley deserved that Oscar.

As an adaptation, I find this movie rather difficult to discuss, because it got many things quite wrong—significant things—but it is Pride and Prejudice, in its essence. Though I have trouble explaining how. So, even though most of the things I will discuss are rather negative, it’s still a good adaptation. Especially considering this movie is barely two hours long. They did read their Selznick.

As I’ve already mentioned, Keira Knightley’s performance deserves all the praise. She’s almost always the smartest person in the room, but she’s not a jerk about that. There’s nothing particularly Darcy-esque about Darcy though. He’s not enough of a jerk to really justify Elizabeth’s dislike. So the story becomes more about her learning how awesome he is, rather than him learning not to be a jerk and her learning that people are complicated.

This was rather aggressively brought home in the last few minutes of the movie when Elizabeth states “He’s not proud. I was wrong, entirely wrong about him.” No, she wasn’t. He was proud. And also prejudiced. And so was she. But this Mr. Darcy wouldn’t let that happen.

And in general, their relationship was rather over-romanticized. This is exemplified by Darcy’s flowery pronouncement of love towards the end. I was not of fan of this.

Much of the Wickham and Lydia material is fairly glossed over, but considering the length of the movie, I won’t fault them for that. The essentials were there. Mary was wonderful. She didn’t have much in common with Mary, but Talulah Riley stole every scene she was in with her background eye rolling. I think Mary was drunk at the ball in the beginning? Charlotte Lucas’s content is all there, and in-tact. My complaint is that it’s all rather spoonfed. We didn’t need to be told so explicitly about her motives for marrying Mr. Collins.

Mr. Bennet is more or less completely white-washed. Apart from one passing comment about how he puts “peace and quiet” above everything, he’s a really nice guy. And a good husband and father. And he’s really concerned with porcine husbandry.

And yeah, the pig balls.

I think the production design was going for a “gritty and realistic” look, so there’s mud everywhere and people have messy hair sometimes. This is fine in principle, but it leads to two things. Firstly, it makes the Bennets seem a lot less well off then they clearly are in the text, and secondly, it leads to behaviour that seems rather anachronistic. Like Elizabeth walking from Pemberley to the inn. In the dark. It’s a little distracting.

There are a few other little things, like the random line assignments that always drive me nuts, but I think the merits of this film as a film allow me to overlook a great deal.

Pride and Prejudice: The Lost Series (1952, 1958, 1967)

All Doctor Who fans can understand the pain of wanting to see an old piece of television and not being able to find it, possibly because it no longer exists. I’m not sure if these three series have gone the way of The Power of the Daleks, or if they’re just sitting somewhere waiting to be released one day, but I was unable to find any of them.

There is a very low quality copy of one half-hour episode of the 1967 series on YouTube that suggests that it’s watchable, if oddly paced, and some stills that can give you a very rough idea of the others.

It is really too bad, because the idea of Grand Moff Tarkin as Mr. Darcy is a very exciting one to me.

1952:

1958:

67:

Pride and Prejudice (1980)

There’s a point where funny things aren’t funny because they’re actually humorous, but because they’re so camp.The distinction is sometimes a little ineffable, but I think in this case, the campiness of this particular five-part miniseries can be put down to a lack of naturalism.

This series is a successful adaptation; you can tell it gets to source material, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable to watch as some other versions. Not that it’s bad exactly…

The acting in this work is rather distracting. It’s got this exaggerated quality that never lets you forget for one second that you’re watching people act instead of real people. And the scripting was perhaps not the best. There was a determination to stick in as many bits from the novel’s narration into the dialogue as possible. Unfortunately, many of those lines are narration rather than dialogue for a reason. And characters randomly get each other’s lines. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s quite distracting when you know a text as well as I know Pride and Prejudice.

The characters were sometimes more like caricatures. The one that stands out the most in this regard is Lady Catherine DeBourgh, whose fondness for giving unsolicited advice now extends to actually going to the butcher and changing people’s orders. And an inflatable top-hat. (No, really.)

Elizabeth is quite good. Darcy is a little too stiff throughout. I’m still not sure why she would be into him by the end. Lydia’s post-marriage silliness is very silly, but it’s meant to be.

Then there is Mary. I’m not sure what they were going for with her. She has the inept attempts at booksmarts, but also an obsession with gossip that rivals Lydia. I think maybe she’s supposed to be a hypocrite? In any case she’s more a clown than a buttmonkey.

Mr. Bennet is not at all white-washed. I would consider this a good thing. He is often downright cruel to Mrs. Bennet and the younger daughters. He literally hides in the library. The only complaint I have about it is that it may be a caricature as well, and a tad spoonfed. But this is a general problem with the fact that there is use of inner-monologue voiceover to express Elizabeth’s feelings about things. And inner-monologue voiceover is always a mistake.

I’m making this series sound worse than it was; it had a lot going for it. It didn’t try to “improve” the source material to be more in keeping with contemporary sensibilities, which is good. Most of the performances are fine. And there’s little details that amuse me. Like, how derpy the dancing is. They obviously didn’t spend hours rehearsing, which is a nice realistic touch, even if that sounds strange when juxtaposed with the performances. And all the women are constantly sewing, which was a thing in the days when all clothes were made by hand.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

It will probably not shock anyone that this is by far my favourite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. In fact, it may be one of my favourite adaptation of anything, as well as one of my favourite pieces of television.

This production had a lot of things stacked in its favour: excellent casting, the budget for meticulously accurate costumes and sets, access to perfect locations. But it’s the writing that makes it so wonderful.

Yes, it’s more or less a dramatic reading of the book, and a television mini-series lets you do that in ways a movie does not, but that’s not as easy as it looks. Books and tv shows have different beats they have to hit; TV has episodes that also need to have beginnings, middles, and ends. But this is also good TV. It’s just good.

As for the touchstones, this version is also the best. The patriarchal view of marriage is a tad deemphasized. Mr. Bennet’s comment about how Elizabeth could only marry a man who is her superior is one of the few bits of interaction between them that’s entirely omitted. In general, however, the moderation in Elizabeth’s character (“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure. I am not a great reader, and take pleasure in many things.”) is very well portrayed.

Colin Firth’s Darcy has become a sex-symbol, though your fave is problematic, ladies and gentleman. But he’s also quite likable by the end and his contrition and rather desperate attempts to please Elizabeth when she shows up at Pemberly are adorable. I approve.

Charlotte is perfect, and the additional material with Lydia and Wickham, where she’s giddy about having sex before any of her sisters, is very appropriate and effective. Mary ends up being a buttmonkey, but like I say, this is not inappropriate from an adaptational perspective; her performance of being an “intellectual” is supposed to be laughed at. The added bits about her fruitless attempts to get Mr. Collins’s attention seem very natural. Fans have been saying for two hundred years how those two are perfect for each other.

Mr. Bennet is the best, though. It’s very hard for us to really understand how few options “respectable” women had outside of marriage in this period. And for women like the Bennet sisters who have no money of their own (a circumstance that’s entirely Mr. Bennet’s fault. He never bothered to save anything for them.) Mr. Bennet’s refusal to play the marriage-hunt game is neglect. Pure and simple. Dude locks himself in his library and laughs at everyone when he’s supposed to be worrying about the future. This adaptation makes that clear, without spoonfeeding it in the manner of the 1980 version.

Looser Adaptations

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Now that I’ve seen this movie again, (I haven’t seen it in many years) I’m a little confused as to why it’s on this list, even as a “loose” adaptation. Apart from the obvious conscious references to Pride and Prejudice, I don’t see what it and Bridget Jones’s Diary particularly have in common.

Really, I’m only including it because people will yell at me if I don’t. Character is the most important element when making an adaptation, especially with an “alternative universe” adaptation, and since that’s entirely absent, there’s very little to talk about.

Bridget and Elizabeth are both English and cis-women but other than that… Elizabeth has a self-confidence in herself and her values that Bridget simply doesn’t. Bridget is just a desperately unhappy person who seems to really hate herself and everything about her life. I don’t get why anyone would like her, let alone why a sexy human-rights lawyer would fall in love with her.

I’m not saying that shallow, unpleasant people with limited intelligence don’t deserve to find love and be happy, but how many movies do I have to watch about it?

Bad first impressions and the two bottom points of a love triangle having a past are necessary elements of P&P, but they are hardly sufficient.

As for this film as a film… Wasn’t this super popular when it came out? Did it just age very badly? I mean, this is about a woman who seems financially independent, has supportive friends, a BMI in the healthy range, and a career that finally is going somewhere. But she is miserable because she ain’t got no man.

Oh, and the amount of sexual harassment and casual homophobia is a tad shocking.

Is Bridget supposed to be a villain protagonist? Are single women in their thirties supposed to be able to relate to her?

In any case, I’ll pass.

Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (2003)

Modern AU fan fiction is a thing, and someone decided to make a movie out of it. And make it Mormon?

This is a strange movie, and it might be more constructive to see it as a low-budget independent comedy from a subsection of religious cinema than an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but they gave it the name they did, so here we are.

In an odd way, the LDS (Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons) elements only help this movie. It’s a good way to explain why all these young twenty-somethings are all looking for spouses instead of just humping like bunnies. But there was this whole idea throughout that women can be trusted with their own chastity, which I think Austen would appreciate.

Most of the things that seem uncomfortably sexist were not strictly necessary from an adaptational perspective, like Caroline Bingley and her last minute cat-fight and marriage to a septuagenarian. (She was forced to have his babies! Ha!) And let’s not discuss how Jane is now a sexy (for a Mormon) Latina and Flamenco music plays whenever she and Bingley make eye-contact.

Elizabeth is as Elizabeth-like as anyone in a Modern AU can be, I think. She’s independently minded and opinionated, but her values are, at heart, quite traditional. But she has this one moment of supreme immaturity that really rubbed me the wrong way. If you watch the film, you will probably know what moment I mean immediately.

Darcy, is not Darcy in any way, except that he was rude at a party once. He’s really more of a generic Rom-Com guy. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are omitted, and Charlotte is a cameo by an American Idol contestant. Oh, and Mary is a super religious frumpy girl who ends up with Mr. Collins. Once she gets a makeover. Very Empowering.

The Lydia/Wickham thing gets something done with it, even though you would think it would be the hardest thing to adapt. Lydia herself was brought forward in an odd way. She reads a self-help book about dating.

In summary, not a good movie, but a decent adaptation, given what it had to work with. The LDS elements allowed the themes of the source material to actually be present. Sort of. If you squint.

Bride and Prejudice (2004)

Bollywood Pride and Prejudice? I know how it sounds, but hear me out.

This movie just fills me with nothing but positive emotions. It’s so obviously made with the best intentions, and everyone involved is clearly having fun. Like, I challenge anyone to watch this and not grin like an idiot.

As an adaptation, there are some problems, but considering the fact that this movie is under two hours, and how well they translated the major characters and themes, I just can’t help but forgive everything.

Lalita is very Elizabeth-like: she knows what she wants out of life and she’s not going to compromise on it. She not afraid to express her opinion, but she clearly belongs to her time and place. Darcy’s classism is translated more into an imperialist chauvinism but, again, it works. And I liked Maya’s Cobra Dance.

The whole thing with Lakhi and Wickham was less successful. It was rushed and, like, had no consequences whatsoever. I’m quite sure someone actually says, “It’s fine, she’s back now.” It was a flaw. A rather glaring one, but it didn’t break the movie. Mrs. Bakshi is… well, she’s Mrs. Bennet with an account on an online matchmaking service.

This film also makes liberal use of Selznick’s third maxim by rearranging the order of events, and compressing some things. But the resulting story is coherent and easy enough to follow, so again, it’s not a really a “problem”.

And yes, I do know this is technically not Bollywood, just “Bollywood Style.” I still like it. If your mood ever needs a boost you should check this movie out.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012–2013)

So, a lot had changed in the last two hundred years. The expectations women have for ourselves and our lives are just unrecognizable. The way we see romantic relationships is just night and day.

For that reason, I really have no idea why anyone would want to do a “Modern AU” of Pride and Prejudice, but, if you must, this is how you should. I guess.

Lizzie isn’t THE Elizabeth Bennet. How could she be? As we discussed, Elizabeth was a product of her time, but I can believe that Elizabeth would be like this if she lived in Southern California in 2012. She craves independence, is committed to her family, sometimes gets a little too caught up in her own cleverness, and can be judgemental. Darcy is Darcy in the same way. As much as the character can exist in this setting, he does.

The more I think about it, the more I like what they did with Lydia. The character was unbearably annoying for most of the series, but I ended up feeling a great deal of sympathy for her. Obviously, the circumstances and outcome of her sexual indiscretions are very different, and she’s “redeemed” in a way the Lydia of P&P never could be, but given the setting, they could hardly have played it straight.

The solution they came up with to adapt Charlotte was also rather clever. (Mr. Collins is this idiot who owns a New Media start-up. He offers Lizzie a job, which she refuses. Then Charlotte snaps it up.) Though Mary was a little whatever. The anachronism of Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with her daughters’ marital status is repeatedly lampshaded. Mr. Bennet is, however, portrayed in a very positive light, even if his financial ineptitude is mentioned more than once.

I had serious complaints when I started to watch the series about some sexism, like Lizzie calling Lydia “a whorey slut” or telling Bing (Bing Lee, clever!) that they’ll revoke his “man-card” if he buys a chick flick for Jane. But either the people behind the show responded to criticism and corrected this as the show went on, or Lizzie’s shedding of these attitudes was always supposed to be part of her development. Either way, I can only approve.

The acting can be a little cheesy, the tone a little dramatic, and the editing a little annoying in its attempts to be “cute”, but all-in-all I think this was well done, both as an adaptation, and a web series.

Fan Fiction

Some readers may raise their eyebrows at the term “fan fiction” to describe these derivative works, but face it, that is what they are. The writers of these works are fans who wrote original material about the characters and world that Jane Austen created.

Lost in Austen (2008)

I’m apparently making a career out of talking about how things are stupid, so when I say that something is stupid you can probably trust me.

This is stupid.

This is the worst kind of pandering to the worst kind of stereotype of a Jane Austen fan. You know, the kind that claims to be so into it, but then you get to talking to them and you suspect they really knows nothing about her or her work, and are really more a fan of Colin Firth in a wet linen shirt.

This will be a familiar refrain to those of you who have been reading me for a while, but this mini-series is a gilded turd. The production values are exceptional, (someone involved knows about the Regency…) and the acting is good to excellent (Alex Kingston is a Mrs. Bennet I can get behind). But the problem is, wait for it, the writing.

The Protagonist is a complete moron. The plot could not have happened but for her overwhelming imbecility and lack of thought. And I don’t like to throw the term “Mary Sue” around, but four men fall in love with her. And everyone else puts up with her bullshit for no reason at all. The contrivances are so extraordinary that they beggar belief, and the lack of understanding of the characters and themes of the source material is just…. putting Wickham in leather pants? Really? This along with the casual use of homosexuality as a punchline honestly made me recheck to see who the writers on this thing were.

So avoid this work. It’s not good as an adaptation; it’s not good as TV.

Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)

If our previous selection is the worst Jane Austen fan fic has to offer, this is surely some of the best. This sequel to the novel could easily stand on its own as a decent historical murder mystery, but the addition of the beloved characters does add a good deal.

We see Elizabeth and Darcy several years into their marriage, and Lydia and Wickham several years into theirs. Elizabeth remains opinionated and independent, though more than capable of ordinary social interaction. Darcy remains a tad introverted, though his soft spot for his wife, and his respect for her advice are all very much in character.

What they did with Lydia and her marriage interested me. I seem to like it when something is done with this character. Wickham is certainly not whitewashed; his actions in this work are a good deal more dickish than anything he did in Pride and Prejudice, but he is humanized in a way that is very engaging.

There are some characterization decisions that are not the ones I would have made, Colonel Fitzwilliam rather gets the Ron the Death Eater treatment, but even these are handled quite well, and plausibly.

The casting and acting are all excellent, the production value is high, and the writing is more than up to the challenge. This one is recommended.


So there it is; the only guide to P&P on film you will ever need. I’m sure Pride & Prejudice & Zombies will do full credit to the source material and join this illustrious company with its head held high.

Julia is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals with far too many hobbies and complex emotions. She may or may not be an actual Martell.

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Analysis

The Expanse Season Two Still Fares Well As An Adaptation

Barbara

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The Expanse has had the seventh book in the series released this month, while its third season (meant to adapt the second half of the second book) is scheduled to come out some time next year. In other words, both the authors of the source material and of the adaptation are keeping busy, making it a very current show. So allow me to continue in my attempt to assess how it fared as an adaptation.

The second season works with the second half of Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the series, and the first half of Caliban’s War, the second installment. It continued its similarity to Game of Thrones as an adaptation by diverging from the source material significantly more than in the first year it was on air. The good news, however, is that the changes are not so dramatically for the worse as is usual, and in some cases are even for the better.

Warning: the following contains spoilers for both the show and the books.

Some problems remain from season one. Chiefly, two of them. One is the scope of the world as it is depicted on the show.  The other are the universally dark and gritty visuals. Ganymede is supposed to have corridors carved in ice. Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see that? But now, just more indistinguishable black and grey.

The most significant difference between the books and the show in season two is, without a doubt, all the added drama. It’s everywhere. Every little thing that is routine in the books becomes exceedingly tense on the show. Starting with the Somnambulist, which is not taken by force – or near enough to force – in book!verse, but is simply a ship at OPA’s disposal that Holden is given by Fred. Continuing through Bobbie’s escape from her rooms in the UN compound; she simply walks away in the book and that’s it. And ending with the escape from Gynemedes, which, int he books, is not so much of an escape as simply, you know, leaving. I could keep listing other instances, but this serves as a good example of the sort of tension added for television.

Related to this is also the complete secrecy that surrounds everything on the show. The books work much better with the reality of modern technology where things are streamed immediately. Billions of people watch Eros crash into Venus live, for example, and the data available from what happens there is available to everyone. Or there is the whole thing with the zombie terminator attacking on Ganymede. On the show, it’s a huge secret Chrisjen has to exert extreme energy to ferret out. In the books, everyone knows and there is footage of the attack available. One of my favourite little moments is when Holden tries to hide his identity behind a scruffy beard as he comes to Ganymede, and you end his chapter feeling that he succeeded. Only to open Chrisjen’s chapter and find out that he really, really did not.

Secrecy adds drama, so it is understandable why the show decided to go this way. The need to keep viewers hooked is evident, too. And ending the season in a middle of a book, they needed a suitably dramatic bang to end with. So while all of these things make me roll my eyes, I do not truly blame the show for them. I feel the missed character beats much more keenly.

Captain James Holden

Holden is one character whose arc from the first half of Caliban’s War was adapted truly well. There was the inevitable added drama, as everywhere, but his essential story arc remained.

With regards to the end of Leviathan Wakes, however, the issues from season one continue, and Holden is treated as more of a boy scout by the show than he is by the book. One fantastic moment (though one that could hardly be adapted) was seeing inside Holden’s head when the Head Human Experimenter tried to convince him to join forces before Miller shot him. The reader can see, with intimate certainty, that Holden is this close to giving in when Miller pulls the trigger. We know for certain that it was done at just the right time. Yet Holden condemns Miller for it without the slightest trace of self-awareness, confident he would have resisted. It’s no doubt intentional, and it’s perfection. It should have been replaced by a similar scene suitable for the visual medium that would have conveyed the same. It wasn’t, and Holden’s character suffered for it.

On the other hand, I very much appreciate the change made to Holden’s dynamics with Naomi. In the books, when they start their romantic relationship, it turns out that not only has Naomi been in love with him for ages, so had pretty much every female on the Canterburry, because he is obviously God’s gift to womankind. It’s something to be thankful for that we don’t have to deal with that on our screens, even though I admit that the way book!Naomi handles Holden after that is exquisite.

I’m also very much in favour of the open communication that happens between them before they have sex in the books, as opposed to the “thick erotic tension” kind of deal the show went with. It would be easier to teach people about affirmative consent if there were actual examples of it in the media. There was a scene like that in the book, and guess what? It didn’t get adapted. Let’s all pretend at astonishment.

Dr. Praxidike Meng

I must admit that I was surprised when I saw he was one of the point of view characters. I neither knew nor expected it, and that in itself sums up the biggest problem with his show adaptation. He was very much pushed into the background. I understand why, I suppose – it might have been felt that there were too many new characters – but he lost a lot of his appeal when his role was cut. He is there to represent a valuable civilian point of view among all the trained soldiers and expert politicians. And his expertise adds a crucial dimension to the catastrophe of Gynamede.

Though if someone had to be cut short, I’m glad it was Dr. Meng. I understand they could hardly reduce Hodlen’s role, as much as I’d appreciate it, and both of the ladies are more interesting than Dr. Meng.

Still, I remember lamenting the sharp division between the first and second half of season 2 and pointing out that had Dr. Meng been included in some of the earlier episodes, it would have helped to make the transition more seamless. Now that I know he is one of the point of view characters, I feel this even more strongly.

Assistant Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala

I cannot quite decide whether Chrisjen is an adaptational success or failure. Because she is perfection on the show…but she is also quite different from the books. If I should compare book!Chrisjen to someone, it would probably be Miranda from Devil Wears Prada, or characters of that sort. She is not likable in any straightforward way, but at the same time, she has a charm to her that is oddly irresistible as much as you want to punch her in the fact at the same time.

Show!Chrisjen, on the other hand, is much softer on the surface, not showing her hard lines so obviously. Even when she swears, she does it with a kind of disarming smile that takes the edge off it. Book!Chrisjen is nothing but edges.

I don’t want to complain, because show!Chrisjen is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and there is nothing intrinsically better or worse about either of their characterisations. But I cannot help but wonder how far gender stereotyping played a part in making Chrisjen less obviously hard. And it becomes especially problematic when paired with her stupidity in season 2, which takes the form of that oh-so-very-feminine failing of trusting too much in her friends, or ex-friends.

I wrote out my thoughts about that elsewhere in detail.To summarise, it was a subplot that prioritized a male character over a female one, and made Chrisjen look naive. But it was also an excellently done one. So while it troubles me, I cannot with a clear conscience say I wish it didn’t happen. I just hope it won’t again.

Additionally, one change I definitely appreciated was Chrisjen not being Errinwright’s subordinate on the show. It changed the dynamic significantly, and very much for the better. It also made this whole added subplot in season two possible.

Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper

Bobbie has a similar problem as Chrisjen: she, too, is made to look markedly more stupid on the show. Only as Chrisjen is effectively a genius, she ends up being just a little incompetent. Bobbie sometimes ends up looking downright stupid.

To be fair, her character is exceedingly hard to adapt. She has that in common with Dr. Meng. While Jim and Chrisjen constantly talk to people around them and even the things that are part of their inner monologue are easy to change to a personal conversation with someone close, Bobbie doesn’t have that option. She doesn’t have anyone close to her left. For a long time, the only person she talks to at all is the chaplain, whom she just dismisses in many different ways when he tries to ‘help’. There is no way to naturally have her talk about what she thinks and feels, because being alone is an important part of her character arc. But not everything can be shown with images.

But that is not the biggest problem with her character. No, that is reserved for the mysterious decision to make Bobbie into a fanatical war-monger at the beginning. I have been complaining about lack of proper representation for Mars in the first season, and so was very happy to see Bobby in nr. 2. And it’s not like seeing her slowly change her approach when confronted with new facts was worthless. But it also made her into a very flat and irritating character for the first two thirds of the season.

It’s not like book!Bobbie goes through no character development after she sees Earth with her own eyes. It’s not like she’s not patriotic or proud to be a marine. But she can be all this and still retain some nuance, and some brain cells. The showrunners seem to have forgotten that. Bobbie on the show frequently comes off as a brat, something her book self never does.

There are other characters worth a mention, naturally. Fred Johnson is probably the most significant. His role was changed significantly as well, and much more tension withing the OPA was included. It adds to the problematic depiction of OPA as uncultured and wild space terrorists, but on the other hand it’s masterfully done. One can understand the sources of tension and where the different branches and wings are coming from. Much like with Errinwright, here again one is willing to forgive the problematic nature of the added material for a large part, because it forms such excellent additions.

In the end, the only thing I truly blame the second season for is the assassination of Bobbie’s character. While changes to Chrisjen upset me, they were compensated for by the excellent quality of Errinwright’s subplot. Yes, it is telling that the two female protagonists were undercut by the adaptation, making them look less smart than they are in the source material. But Chrisjen still comes out of it pretty impressive. The changes to Bobbie, on the other hand, are much more destructive, and they held no compensation, no hidden bonus. She is simply depicted as unlikable, to such an extent that even when we finally get legitimate reasons for sympathy, it’s long in coming.

Season 3 should fix that, and fast. Hopefully, Bobbie is here to stay. She shouldn’t have to carry the weird season 2 baggage with her throughout the show.


Images courtesy of SyFy

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Analysis

The Legend Of Korra Is A Perfect Deconstruction Of Superman

Griffin

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Superman is arguably the single most recognized fictional character in human history. He’s right up there with Batman and Mickey Mouse. His ‘S’ is, at times, even more widely known. “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We know that these phrases are attributed to Superman, even if we don’t know the specific origin or, in most cases, how in the world we even learned them in the first place.

For 80 years, Superman has served as a beacon of hope and change for anyone and everyone. His origin, that of the immigrant whose home and culture were lost the day of his birth (an identity he can never fully regain), is a tragic yet resonant one that has, and will continue to, stand the test of time. Even if it has been re-appropriated into that of a pseudo-messianic myth, the immovable Jewish foundation of Superman’s internal struggle between assimilation (Clark Kent) and refusing to do so (Kal-El) isn’t something anyone has any intention of erasing.

Superman is the bedrock on which all modern heroes are based. Every divergence and every variation, no matter how big or how small, starts with Superman. He is the source, so, naturally, that means he’s the most prone to deconstruction and revisionism.

There have been so many attempts to deconstruct Superman as a concept, as well as his character, that it’s become almost a cliche to even consider it. Nearly every run at it ends in failure, most often due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what Superman even is. What he means, why he is who he is, etc. Off the top of my head, I can name two stories that actually succeed in deconstruction, as they have something worth saying: Superman: American Alien and Superman: Red Son. Wait, no, three examples.

The Legend of Korra. And it does it in a way that is embarrassingly similar to what Zack Snyder’s vision of Superman failed to be.

Xenophobia, A Modern Take

The narrative of Superman is one that is eternally relevant. Immigration as part of the American Dream, let alone an aspect of the nation’s entire identity (“Give us your poor, your wounded, your huddled masses…), has always been a hot button issue. In the new millennium, however, with the onset of the age of instant communication and social media, as well as the events of 9/11, it has ballooned into a political issue based almost entirely on fear. Fear of the “other”, to put it simply. And who is more “other” than Superman himself? He looks like us, and talks like us, but if you’re you and Superman just showed up one day in the real world…you’d have no idea where he came from and what his intentions are.

The only thing you, and everyone else, would know is that he’s different, and possesses abilities that effectively make him a living God. And that is terrifying. Even if the first thing he does is save a plane from falling out of the sky, he’s still going to be looked at with suspicion and fear. At any moment, he could decide to burn the world to the ground. And that’s exactly how Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice treats Superman.

Something to fear, because he isn’t like us. Because he’s too powerful. Because nobody asked for his help, no matter how altruistic his intentions may appear to be on the surface.

It’s a fantastic opening premise for a deconstruction of Superman, as it makes it necessary for him to prove he’s on our side. To do so much good in a world that resents him out of instinctual fear drilled into their heads by the era that they’re eventually forced to give him the benefit of the doubt. That, as far as the public is concerned, it isn’t any more complicated than a man who is just trying to do the right thing. Except that never happened in those movies.

We never saw Superman be Superman. We saw him save people, yes. We saw him do the thankless job. We saw the world resent him. But we never saw him inspire. We never saw him do anything to make us want to trust him at all. To challenge our preconceived notions of who Superman is.

Until General Zod and company arrived, he only operated in secret, using his powers when it was convenient for him. And even when he was forced to face Zod, he brought untold destruction and and collateral damage to his adopted world…completely invalidating the point of the post 9/11 narrative in the first place. How can the world trust a man who destroys the very city he is trying to protect? They don’t need or want Superman, especially since the only reason Zod attacked at all was because he had been “hiding” on Earth.

When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice rolled around, Superman is stuck in an inconsistent guilt spiral from the destruction of Metropolis. Except he doesn’t actually do anything to address that, and the movie doesn’t really either. The first thing Superman does is intervene in a fictional African nation to take down a warlord for the sole purpose of saving Lois Lane. Which, if the film wanted take the very-often-overlooked implications of Superman being an American icon, thus leading to him acting as a sort of unintentional symbol for American interventionism, would have been extremely interesting. Except it doesn’t do that either. Superman is there because he wants to save Lois, and that’s it.

Batman acts as a sort of audience surrogate for the fear that Superman inflicted on the world during his battle with Zod, which might have worked had that gone anywhere aside from Batman trying to kill Superman. He never tries to talk to him or understand him; not even after the infamous Martha scene. If he’s supposed to represent our combined terror of what Superman could be capable of, we should probably be able to agree with his rationale (or even understand it) for not stabbing the man who he saw as a monster two seconds ago in the face.

And then Superman dies, only to return in Justice League to a world that, for reasons that aren’t in evidence and also directly contradict everything that came before it, loves and adores him. A world that was on the verge of eating itself because of his death, despite no one wanting or needing him in every other instance.

None of it is earned. None of it really makes any sense, and the whole production, over multiple films, is only half of what is necessary to convey the narrative Zack Snyder clearly tried to tell.

Avatar Korra, Sequence Breaker

As Kylie so eloquently laid out last week, The Legend of Korra is one hell of a transgressive narrative due mostly in part to its titular protagonist. Korra is brash, overeager, and immeasurably powerful. Her series arc is one of self discovery and self acceptance in a world that actively rejects her existence every chance it gets. She wants to be, essentially, Superman, in a world that has no need nor desire for one. The similarities don’t stop there.

She holds ultimate, untold power and uses it with reckless abandon at the start of the series. In her first few hours in Republic City, she undertakes vigilante justice and violently destroys several storefronts. Because that’s the kind of person she is.

People don’t trust her the moment she announces herself, they wonder why they need her, even though previous incarnations of her have almost always been treated like spiritual leaders and authorities. No matter how many times she saves the world, people still hate her. They are suspicious and cynical of the stranger, since she is inherently an outsider due to her birthright and connection to a world (the Spirit World) few can even comprehend or understand.

This set-up is supposed to make us question and consider what being the Avatar actually means when the assumed role is no longer relevant or necessary. What can Korra reasonably do when the geopolitical climate isn’t as simple as “stop evil”? When every action she takes is looked at with intense scrutiny from a far more connected public. That is to say, the show asked us to consider Korra in relation to her previous incarnations to explicate the disparity just as Snyder’s Superman did by contrasting him the with the multitude of other versions of Superman across every form of media imaginable.

Zack Snyder’s Superman begins his journey in much the same place Korra did. He has powers he doesn’t know how to control, and hides them until the world is ready, just as the White Lotus hid Korra. Of course, this is where the deconstruction of Superman falls apart: it doesn’t actually go anywhere. He starts where Korra starts, and doesn’t progress at all. He does the thankless job, sure, but he doesn’t learn from any of his choices or mistakes. He intervenes without thinking about it, and chooses to brood instead of facing his issues and trauma.

At the end of Man of Steel, Clark faces off against General Zod and causes devastating damage to Metropolis. Zod has the same abilities as Superman, as they are both Kryptonian, meaning that he’s basically supposed to serve as an evil mirror. This is far from dissimilar to the finale of Book 2, where Korra fights Unalaq after he becomes the Dark Avatar and starts destroying Republic City. She even kills him in the end, as there was no other way to save the world.

Even Superman’s death at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — as well as his subsequent resurrection in Justice League — is paralleled and unintentionally blown out of the water. Korra did something very similar with the end of Book 3, sacrificing herself at the hands of the Red Lotus to save the Airbenders. Though she is not killed, she vanishes from the public eye as she heals…just as the world enters a state of actually, truly needing her intervention with the chaos spreading throughout the Earth Kingdom like wildfire.

Superman and Korra are both on isolating journeys of self discovery. Korra’s takes place before and during the final season where she learns to cope with her PTSD, and how to better approach her role even though it is so undefined and volatile. She can be the kind of person she wants to be without constantly fighting for relevance, and even if the world resists her she can pick and choose her battles.

Korra learns how to be happy as Korra, rather than her title and all of the baggage she had stripped from her in the finale of Book 2. Previous Avatar cycles (much like previous incarnations of Superman) operated in a traditional way, but that’s not how the world works anymore and that’s okay! She can still find happiness and purpose in whatever she chooses to do, even if it’s not what her childhood self believed it would become due to the White Lotus jamming that into her head. Not unlike Jor-El did to Superman in Man of Steel.

Superman’s journey takes a confusing amount of years throughout Man of Steel, given that he wanders the world as a bum with a depression beard. The entire sequence doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, since he discovers who he is from the Fortress of Solitude. He doesn’t learn anything about himself as an outsider living in a foreign land, nor does he have a wound that requires isolation and introspection to heal or understand. This is the kind of thing that would have made more sense to happen after killing Zod.

But since it doesn’t, we’re left with an angry, brooding Superman with no redeeming qualities or justification to treat him as Superman. He’s just a superhuman guy in a cape who does things that are kinda nice sometimes.

Korra, meanwhile, justifies her own existence and acts as the hero people grew to mostly tolerate, and occasionally love. She gave them every reason to trust her, and a good amount of people do by the end of the series. Unlike Snyder’s Superman, it was something she earned by deconstructing her own legacy.


Images courtesy of DC Comics and Nickelodeon

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Analysis

Why You Need To Be More Excited About Bisexual Rosa Diaz

Dan

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Television has been a mixed bag for bisexuals. Even as gay and lesbian representation become more and more common (though not as fast as it should), characters within other parts of the acronym are few and far between. For bisexuals, who often suffer from confusion not just without but within the LGBT community, proper, outright representation means quite a lot. Not hints, not little flirts after a female character breaks up with her boyfriend. And especially not characters that just hook up with the same gender as fanservice. We want characters who can say “I’m bisexual.” We’ve been lucky to have characters like Sarah Lance or Daryl Whitefeather in recent years, but as a whole, television seems reluctant to acknowledge bisexuality.

But we finally have another name for that criminally short list: Detective Rosa Diaz of Fox’s Brooklyn 99. And not only is she bisexual, but she’s also a bisexual Latina woman played by a bisexual Latina woman. Let me say that one more time to help it sink in. We have, on a major network, a Latina woman coming out as bisexual who is played by a Latina bisexual woman.

Brooklyn 99 has been a success since day one thanks to its character, heart, and style of comedy that refuses to punch down. It has also become well known for its handling of social issues, best represented by the character of Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher); a black, gay man whose sexuality is merely a part of his character, not his entire identity. The handling of Holt, who stands out in a sea of shallow stereotypes and tokenism, has led the show’s fans to hope another character to come out as a member of the LGBT community. When it turned out that it was Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) would be coming out as bi in the show’s ninety-ninth episode, appropriately titled “99,” the people rejoiced.

The episode itself did a good job of keeping her coming out low key. She only comes out to her friend, Detective Boyle, and only after he’d spent the episode bugging her about her new paramour. Interestingly, the show played with ideas of heteronormativity as Boyle pesters her about who “he” is, about her “boyfriend.” Rosa’s frustration seems not to be with Boyle’s prodding into her well guarded personal life (though that is part of it), but instead with his assumption that she was only dating a man. This episode restrains the result of this coming out to Boyle and Rosa bonding, letting the coming out stand alone. It is in this week’s follow up episode, “Game Night,” where the show’s dedication to Rosa and her coming out becomes more obvious.

The conflict in this episode, for Rosa, is in coming out to her parents and co-workers. Rather than let it just be played off as something she can sweat like so many other things, it instead very realistically captures the fears an LGBT+ child, particularly an adult one, might face when coming out.

Rosa’s first act is to come out to her co-workers during a meeting. She uses the term “bisexual,” and allows “one minute and zero questions” of seconds. We learn that she, like many other lovers of the same sex, discovered her sexuality while taking in media, in Rosa’s case Saved By The Bell. The show makes a conscious decision here not to make it some “phase” or something she’s just now discovering. Rosa Diaz has been bi since she was in 7th grade. She has been bi for all five seasons of the show.

Coming out to her parents has an entirely different set of emotions. Rosa fears that her coming out will change something with them, that somehow they won’t love her or they won’t want to be around her (Of course, in Rosa’s usual fashion, their bonding time consists of silent dinners). With Jake’s help (who gives an impassioned and curiously personal coming out speech to Rosa to help prepare her for her parents), she makes an attempt over dinner. Here, Rosa’s fear rapidly turns to anger when she learns that her parents were worried she was going to come out at dinner and were relieved that she was, thanks to a misunderstanding with Jake, just a mistress. The show pulls no punches here, capturing not just how angry she is at her parents’ ignorance but also heartbreak at being burned due to her vulnerability. In true sitcom fashion, this conflict wraps up cleanly by the end of the half hour. But the power and authenticity of it remain.

Stephanie Beatriz, herself a bisexual woman, has not been quiet in her desire for Rosa to reflect her own sexuality and has been effusive in her support of the storyline. She’s worked hard to make sure that the story reflects the bisexual experience, and has personally validated many fans in their own journeys. She does all this while still portraying Rosa as the stone-cold bad ass she’s always been. The emotions we see in Rosa as she comes out are real, they are powerful, and they are beautiful. But they are all 100% still Rosa’s.

As a final and personal note, this is a huge moment for me as a bisexual man being able to see the representation of some of my experiences on the screen. But I can only capture a small part of why this matters. I can’t even fathom how much this matters to bisexual women, let alone our POC brothers and sisters who are even less represented. Rosa Diaz’s coming out is their story as much as it is anyone’s, and I hope that I was able to capture a small measure of the joy this news has caused. 


Images courtesy of FOX

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