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Wonder Woman Knows the Definition of Strong

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Hollywood has been patting itself on the back recently for churning out “strong female characters.” It’s a term we hear thrown around a lot and the meaning of which has gotten flipped on its head, now mostly used in jest. Originally it came from audiences and actresses who were calling for more nuanced and complex roles for women on screen. It has now been hijacked by Hollywood as a term used to describe the same female trope over and over again. Essentially the exact opposite of the nuance or complexity that was being demanded. *Cough cough Game of Thrones.* Most of the time that has to do with the fact that these films and characters are being crafted by men who project their one track notion of what “strong” means without ever allowing women to sculpt their own representation.

Jessica Chastain even brought up this issue at Cannes this where she was a juror, explaining how disturbed she was by a lot of the films she watched regarding their portrayal of women. Women who were not remotely close to women she actually sees exist around her. When suggesting what needs to be done to improve upon this, Chastain stated “When we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women I recognize in my day-to-day life—ones that are proactive, have their own agencies, don’t just react to the men around them. They have their own point of view.”

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman has done just that. Gal Gadot’s Diana was truly a strong female character and complexly beautiful. Through Jenkins’ respectful lens, we’re allowed to go on a journey with Diana that so few mainstream female protagonists are allowed to go on.

Subverting the Action Girl Trope

The Action Girl trope is one of the main components of the Strong Female Character (SFC)™ and highlights where Hollywood has interpreted the name both too literally and not literally enough. Action Girls are “badass” characters who can fight and are expertly skilled with weapons. On the surface, that doesn’t seem too bad, and I definitely want female action stars. However, when women are given this character trait, it becomes their defining feature in more damaging ways then one.

First of all, it’s completely fetishized. It’s all for the male gaze. What felt so life changing about Wonder Woman was that these women were allowed to be physically strong in actuality. It wasn’t exploitative or voyeuristic. It celebrated strength as such. All of the women trained really hard for months leading up to shooting, with six hour sessions a day of gym work, fight choreography, and horse back riding. They looked strong because they were strong. Not to mention Jenkins filled a great deal of Themyscira’s population with actual female athletes.

Usually when you see physically strong women in film, the men behind the camera don’t want her to actually be physically strong. Toned prominent muscles are looked at as a masculine trait. Women are allowed to appear to be strong on camera if they still resemble the impossible ideal of being pretty, skinny, yet also sexy, and somehow able to also kick ass.

However, Jenkins was clearly not concerned with any of that. These women went on the super hero regimen that male actors are constantly put through and rewarded for. Instead of the usual pattern of men putting on muscle and toning up at the gym for a big role while their female co-stairs are forced to lose weight, the women of Wonder Woman were allowed to be wonderfully and truly physically strong as well as look it. It’s one of the most incredibe things that I really hope inspires little girls watching. Strong is beautiful.

No movie has ever inspired me to hit the gym more

The film also explored what strength means. Fighting isn’t romanticized and neither is general “badassery” or strength for it’s own sake. There are consequences to fighting. For a female action star, or rather an action star in general, but specifically the Action Girl trope, fighting usually translates to being Badass™. They fight and so they are cool. They kill and hurt without a second glance.

In Wonder Woman, from the very beginning, Connie Nielsen’s Hippolyta tries to instill an awareness in young Diana that war and fighting is nothing to celebrate. These women all fight and have learned how to defend themselves, but the fighting is nothing to crave. It’s a precaution, not a hobby. I had hoped for this message before the movie came out, a message I’ve been craving in superhero flick after flick where death and war are a constant to the point of being a piece of background furniture.

Chris Pine (who plays Steve Trevor) has spoken about this a lot during the film’s press tour as one of its greatest strengths and its true. Gadot’s Wonder Woman is perhaps the first and only super hero we’ve seen as of late to understand what true strength means. Her strength isn’t in her violence but rather her compassion. She can fight, just as the Amazons have been trained to, but only fights to stop the fighting. Her whole goal for the film is to end the war that she believed Ares, the God of War, has caused. Her action sequences, while “badass,” do not leave her in a heartless blast of explosions and death. In fact, for the majority of the movie she only makes use of her shield and her lasso, weapons of defense and truth – not destruction.

Just Like Other Girls

On of the other most commonly and frustratingly used traits of a SFC™ is the Not Like Other Girls trope. It’s definitely one of the ones I hate the most. This frequently unnecessarily pits women against one another. It’s also one of the most celebrated tropes in certain parts of Hollywood. However, despite Wonder Woman’s plot literally revolving around her being a woman from an island of mythical Amazons and stepping into the reality of 1917 Europe, that trope never comes into play. In fact, it’s actively subverted.

Diana comes from Themyscira, an island of Amazonian women. Women who we see working together, fighting for each other, and loving one another. Right off the bat, in a sequence that made yours truly tear up, we see our screens flooded with beautifully strong and compassionate women…and only them. We see them running this island, commanding armies, taking care of one another, and supporting each other.

The one aspect of the plot that would allow for this Not Like Other Girls trope to even see the light of day justifiably is thrown away. While Diana is literally not like any of the other women we see in the film, even the women she calls family, the film doesn’t reveal that to her or us until the very end. She doesn’t know she isn’t just an Amazon and grew up loving, respecting, and identifying with these women. Until the end she believes she is like them and hopes to live up to their reputation.

There is a moment that splendidly showcases how much respect she has for her fellow woman and how equal to them she feels. When she talks to Trevor about attempting to secure his freedom, she mentions she even asked if she could go with him to stop the war. Yet she then clarifies she means an Amazon—any Amazon. She recognizes and respects the power of all of them and doesn’t think she’s special. While we as an audience know of her legacy, she doesn’t. If it were up to her, she would trust sending any Amazon in her place. The film never builds her up to something special by tearing her fellow women down.

Not to mention her greatest relationships in the film are with women; her aunt Antiope and her mother, Hippolyta. (Which could be a whole article in itself.) But, as for subverting the trope, the film makes it clear they are essential to Diana’s growth. These two women are her primary caregivers and figureheads in her life growing up. They raise her.

So much of Diana’s character is built on of her relationships with each of these women, as is her emotional journey. Antiope teaches her that sometimes you have to fight to save, turning her into the compassionate warrior she becomes. Hippolyta teaches Diana the dangers of wartime and its horrors. From her mother she learns to never wish for war and from her aunt how to prepare for it should the day come. Not surprisingly, these two concepts embody Diana’s greatest strengths.

I have never been more attracted to Robin Wright

Emotional Struggle

Another of most common threads found in Hollywood’s idea of the SFC™ is making sure that she is completely unemotional. This goes with the Action Girl trope to make for a “badass” fighter that feels nothing. This comes from the fact that emotions are viewed as feminine traits and in dichotomy of the traits along the gender spectrum, feminine means weak. Women are only allowed to be one or the other. If they are “strong” (i.e., coded as traditionally masculine) then they cannot feel. If they are coded as stereotypically feminine, then they can only feel. Because apparently women work like a light switch.

But, not Diana. She’s allowed to go on the emotional journey that we’ve seen so many of our super male protagonists go on.

Diana’s greatest struggle in this film is all emotional and it’s something to cheer about. Her arc is that of a nuanced emotional struggle; her view of the world flips on its head. She learns to that the human world is complex and messy. There is no black and white answer for the battle between good and evil. Good and evil exists inside all human beings. As she learns that humanity itself embodies both the dark and the light, not because of a god’s tampering, she learns that the only thing you can do is fight with your heart.

One of the best quotes in the film is when Diana talks to Trevor after she believes she killed Ares. She sees the fighting hasn’t stopped and doesn’t understand. She looks on with horror, realizing that the bad exists within human nature and there’s no wiping it out.

Diana tells Trevor that her mother was right, that the human race doesn’t deserve her help. But he argues that it’s not about deserve, rather about what you choose. In the end, Diana chooses love. Her ultimate choice, her ultimate moment of defiance in the climax of the film, is her choice to act with her heart. She chooses the emotionality that Hollywood has denied its Action Girls. She’s allowed to cry, to break, to scream, and to feel. She’s thrown into a situation filled with injustice and horror and comes away from all that with a resolve of love.

While no emotion is usually the SFC™’s strengths, it is not Diana’s. She wears her heart on her sleeve and it’s whats needed. In wartime, in a war so brutal, so devastating, one’s greatest strength is to not forget one’s humanity. One’s heart. Diana never forgets hers.

Agency With A Side of Romance

While there is definitely a romance in the film, it is not Diana’s whole story. And within itself, it showcases a beautiful agency and maturity that is never given to SFCs™. She can still be the action hero of the film while engaging in a relationship.

Every step of her relationship with Trevor was a choice on her end in a way that was miraculous to see on screen. The choice aspect of it all in the first place was what made it such a unique and real relationship despite the brief time they had together. For one, she kickstarts their interaction by saving him from his plane crash. From then on, she directs their relationship to the path it takes. It completely subverts that horrible “first love” stereotype where women fall head over heels and orbit around their partner. She and Trevor co-exist and their romantic relationship is a part of their interaction but it’s mature. There is no hesitance within her about saying no to him or speaking her mind. There’s no timidness when it comes to feelings. It’s two adults who are clearly attracted to one another and respect each other.

In fact, one of the most groundbreaking moments is a small and subtle scene, but so important. After the No Man’s Land sequence when the little village they saved is celebrating, the two share a dance (or a sway as Diana would say). While dancing, they talk about what people usually do after the fighting is over. It is so palpable and obvious that the two feel the same way about each other and they both decide to do something about it. They take the next step and spend the night together, and it is two adults making a choice. There is no shame or exploration, just unabashed, mature desire.

It’s also essentially a relationship between two colleagues and co-workers. So while it’s an incredibly sweet and tender relationship when the two are romantic, like adults they also separate that from when they are “working” on in the battlefield and when something greater takes precedence. Unlike in the Hunger Games films where many critics angrily decry the idea that Katniss would have time to constantly think about a love triangle, Wonder Woman showcases the reality of humanity.

The romantic and sexual part of human nature doesn’t just vanish when there is something greater going on, But when it comes time to deal with that something, especially when it involves people’s lives, that will take precedence. They both recognize their roles, as Trevor says when he choses self-sacrifice, noting that he’s the hero the world needs for that moment, but Diana is the hero the world will need forever.

Woman-Pain

One of the things that struck me the most about Wonder Woman’s climax was that it flipped a trope on its head that I don’t think I’ve ever seen fully flipped in actuality before. Everyone’s favorite ‘manpain’ trope. The amount of times we’ve seen many of our favorite female characters reduced to pointless deaths in order to further characterize and develop their male counterparts, or how I like to put it, allow for the men to feel “manpain” to make us connect further with them emotionally is more than I can count. How many female characters have we seen tossed on the train tracks in order for a male character to rise up from her ashes? To further develop or move the male character’s plot point forward? Too many. And for the first time, in albeit a less ham-fisted way and one that allows more agency, the opposite happened.

During the film’s climax, when Diana’s crushed under the weight of metal that Ares is holding her down with and she thinks of her last moments with Trevor. She sees his plane explode, screaming out in pain and agony. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen that scene with a man in her place. Yet of course, Trevor was given way more agency and development than any of the female characters are ever given in his stead.

Diana’s moment of “woman-pain” in its bare form does exactly what all those scenes with male protagonists have done. It furthers her character on her journey of realization and thematic emotional development. However, because of the strength with which their relationship and Trevor’s character were handled in the first place, for the first time it comes out of the story, It justly finishes both the protagonists arc and the arc of the romantic partner that has been killed off.

Thus, Wonder Woman definitely did what I asked of it and more. While in the current world of Hollywood, Diana could have easily been given the typical SFC™, she subverted all of it. She was allowed to be both strong and feminine. She was both powerful and weak. When she fought, she understood that fighting is no blessing. She was everything Superman should have been in Man of Steel and so much more. One can only hope that due to the financial and critical success, this film will set the standard for DC films, and female led superhero films, in the future.


Images Courtesy Of DC Comics

Currently a film major with a focus in directing and a passion for all things writing, film, television and theater, oh my!

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Sansa’s Shithole Siblings Part 1: Family Disunion

Kylie

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Welcome, welcome, welcome, to the penultimate Unabashed Book Snobbery retrospective series. As is fitting of anything penultimate, it will be shocking and titillating.

That’s right, Julie (the combined brain of Julia and Kylie) has returned after a long rest, and is thrilled to be diving back into Game of Thrones season 7, courtesy of genius showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D).

As she’s done for two seasons before, Julie has begun to rewatch the Emmy-caliber masterpiece plotline by plotline, so she can truly appreciate the dramatic satisfaction and thematic significance. Just like Rogue One! Season 7 had many great contenders, from Cheryl stalking around a giant map to Sam slopping soup. However, Julie is going to start things off with what was sure to be everyone’s most empowering plotline: Winterhell 3.0, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Conspiracy.

The Players

Julie is still committed to preventing the conflation of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, even though she’s unsure who would be mixing these two up anymore. To ensure that there’s no confusion, she will be using her exceedingly clever nicknames, as she’s done in the past.

This season also vaguely starred:

Full explanations of these nicknames can be found in the world famous Book Snob Glossary. But for now, Julie will take you through exactly what happened in a humorous…

Part 2 of this retrospective will be the more serious analysis, for exceedingly generous definitions of serious.

Patience, Enjoy It, Revenge Can’t Be Taken In Haste

So. Just thinking over the beginning of this plotline has thrown us into an existential crisis.

Hey guys. Remember the ending of last season? You know, when Arya Todd got her revenge by empoweringly slitting Walder Filch’s throat, after baking his sons into pies and feeding them to him? We mean…with the price of meat what it is, when you get it.

Well, turns out a fortnight has passed since then, or at least we think so, since the dialogue is a bit unclear. We know this is the second feast at The Twins within a fortnight, so it’s possible it’s also the day after. But we doubt it. However, regardless of if one or fourteen days have passed, Arya Todd has been posing as Walder Filch the entire time. You see, all his sons are there, and his child-bride, and everyone’s acting like it’s business as usual.

Arya Filch (?) requests that some nice red Arbor Gold be served to the hall full of Frey sons (but not daughters, because she won’t waste wine on women), and launches into one of the weirdest toasts to date under that roof. You see, she’s like, dropping hints that she’s a Stark.

“You’re my family, the men who helped me slaughter the Starks at the Red Wedding. Yes, yes. Cheer. Brave men, all of you. Butchered a woman pregnant with her babe. Cut the throat of a mother of five. Slaughtered your guests after inviting them into your home. But you didn’t slaughter every one of the Starks.”

And as she drops these clues, the Freys begin dropping to the ground. Because that Arbor Gold Red was poisoned. POISONED!

The Filch child-bride looks reasonably freaked out that everyone she knows is dead now, and even more reasonably freaked out when Arya Todd rips off her Halloween mask to reveal the face of an eighteen-year-old woman. Give or take. “Tell them winter came for House Frey,” she says. Okay. Should she also mention how Arya was posing as Filch and probably shared her bed for two weeks also?

“Um. I have a few questions.”

Arya Todd leaves with a Smirk of Empowerment, not a single person there to stop her. For some reason.

Meanwhile, Branbot 1000 seems to be fritzing due to some bad crapware. He’s flashing to the army of the dead (and zombie giants!), while poor, gloveless Meera pulls him all the way to The Wall.

Lord Commander Edd greets them personally, because there’s nothing else he should be doing right now, and Meera tells him who they are. When Edd asks for proof, Branbot finishes his updates and informs Edd that he (Edd) was at the Fist of the First Men and Hardhome. That’s… as legitimate as having a driver’s license. Edd shrugs and says that they should be brought inside. Onion soup all around!

This brings us to Winterhell proper, where Johnny Cardboard is demonstrating why he deserves that crown he randomly got last year. He’s apparently discovered delegation, and instructs everyone to get dragonglass. Wait, has two weeks passed here too? Is it the same day? Brittany’s wig sure looks different.

He also says that they need to bone up on Winterhell’s defenses, since an army of the dead is coming. First order of business: the Wildlings will man The Wall. Beardy loves this idea, and the historical irony inherent in it, and to be honest… we kind of do too.

However, things get contentious when Jonny says everyone is going to be trained to fight—including GIRLS. Lord Glover doesn’t want to put a spear in his granddaughter’s hands (“Hey, how does she feel?” said no one ever), but it’s settled when Lyanna Mormont disparages typically female wartime roles, like provisioning the army. “Who in seven hells needs socks?” she asks, tossing a sassy look to Lord Glover. “Ima fight naked because I’m a feminist!” Everyone is convinced, because Lyanna is the ultimate bellwether lord.

Knitting is lame. We’re going to have empowered, naked soldiers!

Finally, it’s time to deal with the castles of the KARSTARKS and UMBERS. Lord Royce and his giant breastplate are miffed, so he wants to tear them down brick-by-brick. However Brittany finally speaks up, and points out that demolishing defensive strongholds that stand in between Winterhell and The Wall is really fucking stupid. “Of course they’re going to be manned by our allies,” she says. Reasonable. Giving land and castles as a reward for loyalty is a thing kings tend to do, especially when some lords marched a great distance to bail out an army from a sticky situation. The Northern Lords cheer in agreement.

However, Jonny had a different idea in mind, and completely didn’t run it past Sansa. He wanted to give the castles to the younger generations of KARSTARK and UMBER, because he knows how much their feelings would be hurt if he displaces their families from their ancestral homes. Brittany disagrees, but Jonny doubles down. The Northern Lords cheer in agreement. Brittany rolls her eyes and looks annoyed.

To be clear, they both have points, but neither the narrative nor the characters can seem to decide what they are, and Jonny only ends up being “right” because he spoke last. It’s a theme.

Speaking of thematic consistency, we almost forgot to point out one of the season’s strongest motifs: Wall Spot. It’s Batfinger’s new, designated space. He either is very fond of it, or he lost his teleporter and is permanently stuck there.

Afterwards, Jonny gets mad at Brittany for challenging his decision in front of the Northern Lords. Hey Jonny, it’s almost as if you should have talked to her before the meeting. Specifically so these kinds of things wouldn’t happen.

Brittany points out that good leaders allow themselves to be challenged, and it’s people like Joffrey who don’t.

Jonny: Do you think I’m Joffrey?

Looks like his hurt feelings need to take priority! Brittany soothes his ego, but then says that he has to be smarter than Ned and Robb, who both died for making stupid (but principled) mistakes. Jonny asks if that means he has to listen to her. Oh the horrors!

Yeah, babe, it might just be a lost cause.

Brittany then explains that Cheryl is still a huge fucking threat, and they can’t just have Army of the Dead blinders on, or they’ll get creamed.

Jonny: You almost sound as if you admire her.

Does she, Jonny? Is that how you admire people? Does this mean he admires Shogun, cause he never shuts up about that threat.

Meanwhile, Brienne the Brute trains Pod ineffectively, while Tormund continues to creep on her. Haha.

Brittany watches from the gallery above, when Batfinger schmoozes on up. Brittany has NO patience for him today, and asks what he wants in an exasperated tone. When he says his usual Batfinger idiocy, she shuts him down, even outright saying:

“No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish. I’ll assume it was something clever.”

Jeeze. Why is this guy even alive? No really.

Brienne asks Brittany the same thing, but Brittany waves it off, saying that they need his men. It’d be a whole thing to tell the Vale Lords about Lysa’s death. Who has time for that?

He’s not *that* annoying…

An indeterminate temporal relationship to the previous scene later, Arya Todd comes across a group of Lannister soldiers in the woods on horseback and potentially still wearing Walder Filch’s clothes. One of these chaps is singing “Hands of Gold” because he just read A Clash of Kings, and looks an awful lot like a teenage heartthrob. The patriarchy is also on a questionable temporal plane of existence here, since the soldiers don’t question Arya being alone or offer to protect her, but do want to know if she’s old enough to drink wine. William Tecumseh Sherman made it in a toilet; it’s blackberry. Kylie gets unpleasant Manischewitz flashbacks.

“How’s the war?” “War is hell. Have some rabbit and sit down next to Ed Sheeran.” Maisie Williams Arya Todd seems thrilled and friendly and not at all like some kind of feral animal who has been the victim of brain trauma. Then she “jokes” about how she’s headed to Cheryl’s Landing to kill Cheryl. Everyone laughs and the scene ends. Too bad we never got Ros’s woodtime adventures on her way down to Carol’s Landing.

Us too.

You should want a détente

Back in Winterhell, Tyrion has sent a raven of great importance to Jonny, asking him to come visit Deadpan because they’re super, super nice, and also they have dragons and an army. Brittany and Jonny discuss this, while observing the co-ed archery classes. Which is probably something that happened anyway. Hawking is a thing, except for poor Tiffany Tarly.

Brittany tells Jonny that this is really stupid and dangerous, and even if Tyrion was a SUPER NICE not-rapist, this is still probably a trap. Davos pipes in with his folksy wisdom to note that fire kills wights, so dragons might be cool, but Tyrion didn’t really have much chill mentioning that army. (Oh yeah! Davos is a thing!)

Speaking of no chill, Arya Todd has arrived at the Inn at the Crossroads, everyone’s favorite hangout for coincidental meetings. She eavesdrops on the world’s most boring conversation about how it’s a good idea to go to Cheryl’s Landing now before war breaks out again, when Hot Pie spots her! She steals a pot pie from his tray, and seems to have forgotten how to use utensils. Hot Pie sit down to talk to his old friend, and she can’t be bothered to make eye contact, because she’s too busy eating like some weird feral creature.

“Um, not to be ‘that guy’ but I do have work to do…”

After sharing baking tips, they finally get into politics. Cheryl blew up the sept! Arya already knew this from being Walder Filch, we suppose. Also, this being common knowledge has no social ramifications or implications, right? However NOT common knowledge is that Jonny won the in-verse named “Battle of the Bastards” and is ruling the North as king. There’s no reason anyone would tell Walder Filch that.

Arya is shaken by this news. She tries to pay Hot Pie, still being far colder to him than she was to Ed Sheeran, but he refuses because he’s a mensch. Or thinks she’s pretty. (Or both.) We then get a shot of her debating which way to go: Cheryl’s Landing for more murders, or Winterhell to threaten the murder of her family? Oops. Spoiler.

She turns North.

Speaking of brand new information, Jonny gets a raven from Sam saying that there’s DRAGONGLASS on DRAGONSTONE.

Oh yeah, Stannis told us that already!

Jon is shaken, so he calls another meeting in the Great Hall without bothering to talk things over with his sister. We’re sure there’s no important political decisions being made this time.

You see, Jonny is so desperate to get this DRAGONGLASS that he makes the unilateral decision to go to DRAGONSTONE himself. Literally everyone in the room thinks this is a terrible idea. Even Batfinger is smirking from Wall Spot about how stupid he is.

Anyway:

  1. Brittany points out this is obviously a trap, and one rather evocative of their own family’s history (riding south for Targaryen rulers doesn’t always end well, yo)
  2. The Northern Lords say he’s abandoning them
  3. They point out Robb lost his kingdom by riding south
  4. Winter is here and they kind of elected Jon on this point
  5. Jonny’s impassioned speech to counter these points is really beyond Kit Harington as an actor

The gist of what he says is: tough titties—only a king can request dragonglass from a queen. “Send an emissary,” Brittany points out.

Think of your poor, sockless soldiers!

No, no, it’s fine, because the North will be in good hands.

Brittany: Whose?

Jonny: Yours.

Boy this didn’t need to be talked about ahead of time. Everyone in the room kind of nods and accepts this. Brienne looks proud for some reason.

Batfinger is so moved by this decision that he leaves Wall Spot to find Jonny in the crypts, who’s busy saying goodbye to Sean Bean’s statue. Batfinger says (and we’re paraphrasing), “Give Tyrion my best. Your dad and I both loved Cat. Cat underestimated you. You’re the best hope for the North. I’m not your enemy. I love Brittany.”

Jonny gets full of protective paternalism and shoves Batfinger up against a wall. We kind of suspect Batfinger is into it. “Touch my sister, and I’ll kill you myself.” Cool, she’ll love that. She didn’t just ask you to stop protecting her or anything, and we’re sure sexual agency isn’t important to her at all!

Jonny then leaves with the smallest fucking retinue possible for a king, and he and Brittany exchange an awkward wave.

“Heyyyy brother”

This is…something.

What isn’t something is Arya’s next scene. Wolves surround her and her horsey in the woods. One of them is Nymeria. “Come with me!” Arya says. Nymeria turns and leaves. “That’s not you.” Let’s hope Nymeria watched Season 1 recently and got it, unlike the fandom that assumed it meant the giant fucking direwolf wasn’t, in fact, Nymeria. The end.

No Hugs for Brittany

Back in Winterhell, we see the consequence of Jonny leaving Brittany in charge: shit is actually getting done. Like…shit that really should have been getting done already.

Brittany is running around, organizing winter rations, overseeing winter armoring, and showing us the value of traditionally feminine skills during times of battle preparations. Batfinger keeps trying to get stupid advice in, like how she should be completely paranoid at all times and assume everyone is her enemy. It’s a nice trailer line, but she doesn’t seem to care.

What she does care about is the arrival of her brother, Branbot. Brittany runs down to the gate to greet him with a hug, but robots cannot love.

She then brings him to the heart tree, and in her hyper-ambition casually offers to give him her seat. He’s Father’s legal heir, after all. Bran refuses because he’s the Three Eyed Raven now. Brittany—like all of us—doesn’t know what that means. “It’s difficult to explain.” Okay then. When she presses the matter, he gives her a demonstration of his powers, by speaking about the night she was raped in a lot of detail, with a dispassionate and detached inflection. Fun!

Brittany—like all of us—gets reasonably freaked out and upset, and gets the fuck out of dodge. We’re glad this happened instead of Bran sharing the information about their family he just discovered.

Batfinger is also glad to see Bran again, and decides to just randomly give him that dagger from Season 1. You know, the one the hired assassin tried to use on Bran that quasi-started the War of Five Kings. He then delves into this awkward monologue about how the dagger reminds him of Cat stopping it, and how he’s loyal to Bran, just like Cat? We’re a bit confused, and assume this is a really inept attempt at getting on Bran’s good side, but thankfully Branbot is even less interested in it than we are. “Chaos is a ladder,” he says. What he meant was, “Shut the fuck up.”  

But he seemed so engaged

Meera then pops in to say goodbye to Bran. He can’t emote, but is like, “Thanks I guess. Crazy times.” She gets pissed at him for this complete underreaction, while he shrugs and tells her that being the Three Eyed Raven makes him not Bran anymore. “You died in that cave!” she says, tearfully leaving.

Hey. Brittany would have totally hugged Meera.

But hold your tits; Arya arrives at Winterhell and demands entrance. “That’s not you,” the guards tell her. Arya points out that she’s going to get in (and her delivery is creepy enough where this is entirely believable). So either they let her in and tell Brittany, and if she’s an imposter then the jig is up, or she’s real and they’d get in trouble for not having told Brittany. The guards find this convincing, but rather than wait for five minutes, Arya decides to recreate her Season 1 scampiness by just fucking off to the crypts.

The guards then have to tell Brittany that they lost someone claiming to be her sister, but Brittany just sighs and is like, “you tried.” Apparently she knew Arya would go to the crypts, and that’s where she finds her. Then we watch five minutes of Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner trying not to giggle as they film a scene with each other for the first time in six years.

LYLAS!

For the characters, Brittany tries to hug Arya, who is about as receptive to it as Kylie’s six-month-old niece. Use your arms, Arya. Arya gets funny about Brittany being Lady of Winterhell, but her sister doesn’t seem to care. “I remember how happy [Jonny] was to see me. When he sees you, his heart will probably stop.” That ambitious bitch! Then they allude to the trauma they suffered, before Arya makes another list joke. It just keeps on giving.

Brittany then takes Arya to see Branbot 1000, who’s recharging at the Heart Tree again. He can’t even make it one sentence without being sufficiently weird, so Brittany explains that he has visions. Then Bran confirms that Arya has a murder list. Brittany asks for a little clarification on this, but then Bran just whips out that dagger. “Wait, where did you get this?” Brittany wants to know. However neither Bran nor Arya can seem to care about this obviously weird thing for Batfinger to have given him, which is probably worth digging into. So Brittany asks these futile, but probably important questions, while her robot brother hands her murdery sister a blade.

“Can we just fucking focus for like, three seconds?”

Arya and Brittany take Bran back to the Winterhell courtyard now that he reached 100%, as Brienne and Pod watch. Pod points out that she completed her mission and will receive 50,000 XP, while Brienne argues that she didn’t really do anything. Yeah, we know.

Later, Arya asks Brienne to train her, and they duel for a few minutes while epic battle music plays. Ramin Djawadi, chill—it’s just a sparring session. Brittany looks concerned at the burned screentime.

Sneak vs. Sneak

Later, Branbot’s plugged into the Heart Tree again (he really needs to disable his background apps; this battery life is ridiculous), and sends some ravens to check out what Shogun is doing. There’s honey bunches of dead people! He then asks the maester to send out ravens, because Jonny totally needs this reminder.

Meanwhile in the Great Hall, the Northern Lords are lonely without their Jonny. They’re also a little confused why he is their king. Afterall, Brittany is here and in front of them! …Yes. This is what we were screaming at the TV screen at the end of last season. Though this seems to be less about any kind of birthright or governing capabilities, as much as it’s like dogs who are confused during their owner’s vacation since someone else is feeding them.

Lord Glover goes as far as to say that he wants her to be the queen, while Royce is all like, “we rode North for you.” This is…a fairly treasonous casual conversation. However Brittany handles it with much aplomb, saying that while she’s flattered, Jonny is their king and that’s the way of it. What an ambitious bitch! She learned from Cheryl, alright. Arya watches with stink eye.

Afterwards, Brittany vents to Arya about how she warned Jonny this would happen. But Arya is too upset to listen because Brittany is sleeping in a bedroom befitting her rank. Also, apparently her solution to this would have been to execute Glover and Royce on the spot. That worked out great for their brother Robb, and he actually had some justification about Karstark.

When Brittany points out how fucking stupid that is, Arya accuses her of wanting the Northern Lords to like her because Jonny might get himself killed and then she’d be running everything. Yeah, this is a reasonable concern when your king sails into what could easily be a trap with only like, five other dudes.

But apparently Glover and Royce keeping their heads is a sign that Brittany may be disloyal to Jonny. That checks out.

Traitor!

Arya is so suspicious that she decides to tail Batfinger, of all people. Like, he’s around Brittany a bunch, but if Arya had checked with her sister she’d see that there wasn’t really too much being entertained there.

Batfinger is the sneakiest sneak though, as has been established in previous seasons, and he can apparently read minds. You see he KNOWS if he gets a copy of a certain raven’s scroll from the hapless maester, then Arya will be sure to be tailing him, and will find it in his bedroom. Then she’ll not question why Batfinger was digging it up, but instead jump straight to blaming Brittany for the downfall of her House.

Which is exactly what she does!

In the next episode, Arya has taken over Brittany’s favorite Observation Spot overlooking the bailey. However, there aren’t any coed archery lessons to look at; only meaningful memories. Maybe everyone is inside with coed sock knitting? Please? We’re very concerned about the soldiers’ feeties.

Brittany senses the opportunity for more bonding (or maybe she’s angling for a hug again, because she still didn’t get one), and goes up next to her. Arya then goes down Ned Stark Memory Lane (a Carol Award category!) in a monologue that’s just a click above Maisie Williams’s acting talents. You see, when she was a girl, Brittany was an asshole who liked to knit and had pretty penmanship. But Arya, because she truly loved their father, wanted to practice archery instead. So she did! And he slowclapped for her. This checks out.

“And he clapped JUST LIKE THIS”

What’s weird is that Brittany is just smiling like, “oh what a nice memory. Touching story, Arya!” But then Arya finishes on the note of, and we QUOTE, “Now he’s dead. Killed by the Lannisters. With your help.” Has she been hanging on on westeros.org boards again?

Brittany is legitimately confused by this, until Arya whips out the letter. Brittany explains the concept for duress, but Arya rejects this because she didn’t have a knife to her throat. Yikes. Brittany then points out that she was, you know, eleven and told that this is what would help their father stay alive. “And you were STUPID enough to believe them!” Which is it, Arya: is it that she was actively trying to betray your father, or that she was a young girl who didn’t understand political intrigue?

Amazingly Robb and Cat managed to wrap their minds around this in about 2 seconds.

They literally didn’t even need to read it to know what was up.

Then Arya decides to shame Brittany for wearing societally appropriate clothing to their father’s execution, even though she had thought he was going to be released. As did everyone else there, Cheryl Carol included. It’s not like she was still betrothed to the King or anything.

Brittany finally gets a little mad at these accusations, pointing out that she’s gone through hell and back for her family, and she’s the only reason they regained any kind of political power at all. Arya, apparently unmoved, tries to compare the size of her PTSD dick to Brittany’s, because this is healthy and sisterly bonding. Arya is convinced Brittany’s letter was the downfall of her house, and mentions how Lyanna Mormont would not have been so weak as to write it. So therefore, if the Northern Lords read it, they’ll think Brittany is a traitor!

To be fair, they probably are that stupid and would have that kind of overreaction to the most innocuous diplomatic letter clearly written under duress ever. Brittany understands that, so she later expresses her worries to Batfinger, since Arya ended the conversation basically saying she was going to “expose” her.

Batfinger pretends he has no clue where Arya got the letter, while Brittany worries about the “wind vane” Northern Lords, since Jon hasn’t even written in weeks, so who knows how they’re feeling about anything right now. Brittany thinks Arya would definitely betray her if she believed (for no reason) that Brittany was willing to betray Jon.

“‘Reclaim your ancestral home,’ they said. ‘It’ll be dramatically satisfying,’ they said.”

Batfinger’s solution? Lady Brienne. She’d be “honor bound to intercede” because she’s committed to protecting both Stark sisters.

We’re not sure why, but this is greatly distressing to Brittany. We guess because Brienne and Arya bonded with their epic duel, so she’s worried that Brienne would now…cut off her head or something, if Arya asked. That checks out.

But logical leaps aside, when Brittany gets invited to the Great Wight Moot of Incoherence, she insists that Brienne go as an emissary. Also, this is a legitimately good use of an emissary; why would she march her ass to Cheryl’s Landing while Cheryl is ruling? We got the feeling she didn’t enjoy being a political prisoner so much.

“Brienne, how too exciting, just when I need it. Brienne, such elegant writing, so chic you hardly can read it.”

Brienne seems very concerned, and suggests leaving Pod behind, but apparently her duel with Arya was so chummy that even he could pose a danger to Brittany at this point. At least, this is what we think is going on, but we can’t be sure. She also may be trying to protect Pod and Brienne from Batfinger’s machinations somehow, or she may be really, really concerned with having a proper emissary to this clearly important meeting that will totally have an actual function in the plot. Whatever her reasons, she basically snaps at Brienne until the Maid of Fail retreats sadly away. Bye bye! Have fun in Cheryl’s Landing!

High on that accomplishment, Brittany then decides to creep around Arya’s room, because she doesn’t want to be left out of the sneaky sneak game. FOMO is real, friends. We suspect she may be trying to locate the letter, but instead she finds a pretty nice leather messenger bag. It’s only $500 from Neiman Marcus and goes great with their battle cardigans (temporarily out of stock).

Inside the messenger bag are some halloween masks that were definitely not purchased at Neiman Marcus. Our guess is Party City.

A Carol Award winner!

“Not what you’re looking for.”

No Arya, that’s not what anyone is ever looking for. Unless they’re planning to rob a bank. For the Joker. Brittany, reasonably freaked out, asks her what these are and where she got them. “My faces.” Okay. Arya goes on to explain she got them in Braavos, training to be a Faceless Man. “What does that mean?” Brittany asks. No one knows!

Arya tells her that it means you get hit with a stick any time someone catches you lying. She offers to play this fun game with her sister, the first question being, “How do you feel about Jon being king? Is there someone else you feel should rule the North instead of him?”

We personally feel that this test really should have been calibrated with some dummy questions first, like any good polygraph. Also, Jon is a complete fucking idiot, and Kylie’s cat would be doing a better job ruling the North. So it’s kind of a Catch-22 for Brittany.

She filibusters by asking more about what the hell these faces are and how did Arya get them. Remember that time Branbot confirmed her murder list? Yeah… However, Arya soon puts her fears to rest (except not at all). You see, her murders and masks are feminist statements. Growing up, both she and Brittany wanted to be other people. Brittany wanted to be a queen (what? She was betrothed to Joffrey, so that’s not really being anyone else at all), while Arya wanted to be a knight. But in Weisseroff, little girls don’t get to choose what they are. Except when they do.

With her masks, she can be anyone. Even Brittany, with her title and pretty dresses that Arya isn’t jealous of at all. To prove this point, she points a dagger in her sister’s direction. As one does.

TFW your sister threatens to cut off your face and wear it.

With Brittany almost in tears, Arya twirls the dagger around and hands it to her. Psych! That filled us with warm tinglies.

“None of you knows the truth!”

Good news everyone, winter is actually legitimately here. So is a raven from Jonny, that tells Brittany he bent the knee to Deadpan—pass it on. Boy did Brittany really not know what she was getting into when he asked her to take care of the North for him.

She vents to Batfinger that he didn’t even ask for her opinion. We’re a little mad Batfinger is even around for this, but a) she sent away Brienne who was really her only friend, b) if she vents to any Northern or Vale Lord they’ll probably do something horribly stupid, and c) one of her siblings is a cyborg and the other just threatened to murder her. So frankly, we’d probably be chumming it up with him too.

“I wonder if the Maester is down to hang”

Batfinger doesn’t seem very surprised by this, especially since he knows what sexual tension there surely is between Jonny and Deadpan. So he just shrugs and casually suggests a coup where Brittany asks the Northern Lords to unname Jon as king. No biggie.

Brittany maybe entertains this (it’s impossible to tell), but pretty much immediately shuts it down because her absolutely crazed sister would most certainly murder her. In fact, she might just murder her anyway. Batfinger decides to ineptly stoke her paranoia more by telling her about a game of his: assume everyone has the worst motives ever, and then see how well that explains their actions.

We can’t believe it’s not confirmation bias! Batfinger would be a really successful YouTuber.

Brittany then tries it out, talking about how Arya is probably there to kill her, and then unearthed her duress letter so that she’d be able to get away with it. But the thing is, this really does explain Arya’s actions well, so the scene ends with Brittany looking distressed, and as if she knows what she needs to do. Because again…her sister is a murderer who threatened her. With more murder. And wearing her face.

This is weighing on Brittany, or perhaps some exhausting off-screen shenanigans are, so we get a scene of her on the battlements with her hood drawn up.

TFW you just came out of the HGTV department.

She sighs heavily and asks a random nearby guard to bring her sister to the Great Hall. Shit’s about to go down! Or she’s trying to bait-and-switch the guards too? It’s this kind of ambiguity that makes this show the masterpiece that it is.

In the Great Hall, Bran and Brittany sit at the High Table.

Arya: Are you sure you want to do this?

Brittany: It’s not what I want. It’s what honor demands.

Arya: And what does honor demand?

Brittany: That I defend my family from those who would harm us. That I defend the North from those who would betray us.

Arya: All right, then. Get on with it.

We imagine the Northern Lords are very confused by this exchange. Why do they think they’re there? Do they understand why Arya isn’t at the high table? Does Arya? We think the above conversation was rehearsed, but…are they trying to dramatically satisfy the Lords too?

Anyway, the surprise is that when Brittany says, “you stand accused of murder, you stand accused of treason,” she’s not actually talking to Arya…she’s talking to BATFINGER.

He can’t believe it so much that he peels himself off of Wall Spot and asks for clarification.

“Lady Sansa, forgive me; I’m a bit confused.”

So are we, Batfinger, and this is why you got a Carol nomination for meta-ness.

Brittany then explains his charges, finally telling the Vale Lords that he murdered her Aunt Lysa. Like, literally in front of her. She could have told them this three seasons ago but didn’t, for reasons. And yeah, now that we think about it, Brittany being in the Vale would have made so much more sense for so many reasons. Someone should write a book about that alternate universe.

However, she also starts whipping out some odd charges. Like, how he murdered Jon Arryn, and that time he betrayed Ned. We mean, he did, but how does anyone know that? Batfinger asks this reasonable question. The answer? With spectral evidence, of course!

Branbot 1000 tells the room all about Batfinger holding a dagger to Ned’s throat. We guess they’ve all been told about his role as the Three Eyed Raven and perfectly understand/accept it, since no one really bats an eye. We’re jealous. We also thought it was difficult to explain.

Batfinger then tries to ask why Brittany is doing this, since his love is so pure. She plays the motive game back in his face, also pointing out that his way of expressing love included selling her to her rapist, so sit the fuck down, dude. Then he asks for a defense, which apparently includes begging Lord Royce to take him away and escort him to the Vale. He refuses, probably because he rode north for Brittany, as he already said. Wait. What was Batfinger doing here at all for two seasons then?

“I am a slow learner, it’s true. But I learn.”

Oh fuck you, Benioff and Weiss. You backdialed her characterization and bent the plot into a windsor for her stupid rape/revenge plotline, and have the gall to say it’s because she’s a slow learner?

Arya then slits his throat. We mean, we should point out that he’s literally on his knees begging for his life at this point. But she just slits his throat. Brittany didn’t even pass a sentence; she just thanked him for his service in a kind of sarcastic tone. He falls to the floor and blood goes everywhere. This is why you execute people outside, damnit!

 

Honor!

Some time later, Sam shows up and bonds with Branbot. But we don’t want to bore you. It has nothing to do with this plotline. We just think it’s important to note that Branbot is legitimately happier to see him than his sisters, and thinks Sam would be more interested in Jon’s parentage than they apparently are.

Meanwhile, back up at the battlements, Brittany and Arya have their season-wrap-up-bonding-session, exactly like the one Brittany had with Jonny last season. “You did the right thing.” “No you did.” Okay, girls.

Arya points out that Brittany passed the sentence, but she literally didn’t, so we’re not sure what to make of that. Or why they’re calling attention to splitting up the sentence with the sword swinging, when Ned’s whole point was that you can’t escape consequences of decision-making as a liege lord, which is why that role needs to be coupled.

Arya acknowledges that Brittany is Lady of Winterhell now that she’s proven her willingness to kill people…or demonstrated her loyalty to her family by killing people…or something. We’d have thought bringing troops from the Vale to the “Battle of the Bastards” might have accomplished that, or even her murder of Ramsay, but hey. Lady of Winterhell.

Brittany’s touched though, and says Arya’s the strongest person she knows. She totally could have survived the trauma that Brittany experienced.

Also, she still thinks Arya is “strange and annoying.” That’s an interesting way to phrase “murderous and creepy.” Then they both quote Ned talking about lone wolves dying but packs surviving. Awww, sisters.

Finally, Bran has a vision of the Army of the Dead busting through The Wall. The end.

That was…definitely something. However fear not: we will unpack all the meaning and significance in Part 2, coming in a few days. See you then!


Images courtesy of HBO. This piece was co-written by Kylie and Julia. If you liked this, be sure to subscribe to their podcast, Unabashed Book Snobbery, where they will also make the audio accompaniment to their retrospective series available.

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Analysis

Batwoman Isn’t Built For One-Shots Or Fill-Ins

Griffin

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[Danny Elfman Theme DOES NOT Play]

Wow. Just…wow. Okay, I was already keenly aware that any solo outing for Kate needed a very strong writer to actually work. Someone who did the homework, and understood that you can’t just throw her at things and expect it all to make sense later. That’s all a given, considering how atypical a character Kate Kane became. She’s not idealized. She’s not an icon, or an immovable concept.

All of that I knew. After Batwoman #11, written by Kate Perkins* and illustrated by a criminally underused Scott Godlewski (Copperhead was great until he stopped doing the art) however, I learned something new. I learned that Kate is just not a character built for one-and-dones or fill-ins. Because that was the single worst Batwoman story I’ve read since that time she got raped by a vampire for like eight issues.

Pictured: someone who can write Kate. Not pictured: that time she got raped by a vampire for eight issues

Which, okay, not a super high bar, but it’s still worse than that abysmal hyper-goyish Batwoman “Hanukkah” story from last year’s DC Holiday Special…which was also written by Kate Perkins. She just wanted pie or something. It was bad.

Anyway, the problems Batwoman #11 has are emblematic of how this kind of story just doesn’t work for Kate. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s even a meta-textual reasoning behind all of it, too! Because of course there is; it’s Kate.

Kate’s continuity has always progressed forward since 2006, having never actually been reset or rebooted. She’s in a weird position that leaves her extremely well-characterized, but also makes it nigh impossible to write her “passably”. That is, mediocre. She’s sort of all-or-nothing just due to her own context.

This is also why cameos for her are either pitch perfect or laughably bad. For example: Kate’s brief appearances in Mother Panic and Red Hood and the Outlaws were excellent (though the latter had a weird art problem where it didn’t match the tone of the script, but that’s minimal), while her extended existence in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey was…abysmal.

More to the point, the fact that Kate has never actually stopped developing (EVEN ANDREYKO KNEW THIS AND HE IS THE WORST) means that any narrative where she’s the focal point in which it’s just “filling dead air” isn’t going to work. And no matter how you look at it, that’s exactly what Batwoman #11 was.

It was a series of beats that were hit by a writer who seems to have a very odd “blueprint” of what a Batwoman story needs to have to be a Batwoman story. Despite the fact that that’s not how any kind of story works, unless it’s supposed to be formulaic by design. Perkins seems to be under the impression that a Batwoman story is the following things:

  1. Reference Family
  2. Fuck up
  3. Relate to Larger Arc, somehow
  4. Kate blames herself and mopes

In all fairness, this is technically correct from a certain point of view. If I were to explain how to write a Batwoman story, I’d probably tell you make sure her family is somehow involved. Aside from that…you kind of need to understand who Kate is if you’re going to have her mope or blame herself.

You have literally never done this.

Uh. No. That’s the opposite of what Kate does. She doesn’t get distracted like that while working, because that’s the only time things “make sense” for her. Also, that’s not how you soldier. I don’t have an issue with her getting clocked on the head by Pyg (his Grant Morrison Weird Factor justifies quite a bit) but I do have a problem with inverted characterization. Also, hey, uh, you can’t just like drop a huge revelation like Beth used to wear glasses but Kate didn’t on us???

They’re twins. Identical twins. That’s not how this works. We have NEVER seen either of them with glasses before, and also it took me several tries to realize that the one in the pirate costume wasn’t Beth because literally every other flashback we’ve ever seen with those two had Beth be the happy one trying to cheer a mopey Kate up.

That’s sort of an important tonal through-line that Perkins wanted to subvert without realizing how confusing and inconsistent it would be? Or…got them mixed up? Or just didn’t care? I have no idea. Look, this whole issue is just one big hot mess. Julia Pennyworth, an SAS operative who unlike Kate actually is a professional soldier getting captured by Pyg and…being helpless for the entire story after being absent from this book since issue #4 is just really stupid and bad.

Kate’s inner monologue is overwritten to the point where any nuance that may have been there is drilled into the dirt. Her tattoos are, once again, missing, despite those actually being super important, and everything Kate says sounds like someone trying to do a really half-effort impression of how a good writer writes Kate.

What even is this

She still talks “weird’, but the wrong kind of weird. “Creepazoid” is very much the wrong decade, to put it lightly. And then it just sort of ends, with nothing happening or changing (since it couldn’t because it was a fill-in and that’s still the largest issue) and we’re back exactly where we were so we can slip into another flashback issue next month. Which would have been perfect right after #10, but alas that was not to be. As for why that is, why any of this exists at all, well, it’s pretty simple.

Because, uh, yeah, Perkins is gone now. Bennett is back next month, hopefully forever, but…see, here’s the thing: Bennett is about as busy as a writer in her industry can get without literally dying. Not quite Brian Michael Bendis, but y’know he was just in the hospital for like a month so…probably better that she’s not doing that.

As of this moment, she is/was concurrently writing:

  • Batwoman
  • DC Bombshells
  • Animosity
  • Animosity: The Rise
  • Animosity: Evolution
  • Sheena: Queen of the Jungle
  • InSexts
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • At least three other things we don’t know about/I couldn’t find/I forgot about

Can you guess which one on that list can actually have a fill-in writer? It’s Batwoman and only Batwoman. Ironically, the one thing that absolutely should never have a fill-in was the only one that truly could due to how schedules work with the Big Two.

God, this is just gonna be bad in trade, huh? Ugh. I’d shoot the fail counter up by 52 or something but this isn’t Kate Kane’s fault; she doesn’t choose her writer. If she did, she sure as hell wouldn’t choose Perkins, that much I know for sure.


[*Editor’s Note: The name of the writer for this issue has been corrected from Kelly Perkins to Kate Perkins throughout.]

Images courtesy of DC Comics

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Analysis

Star Trek Voyager Tackles Historical Revisionism

David

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Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a good holiday. Today, I’d like to talk to you about a sci-fi setting near and dear to our hearts: Star…Trek. Specifically, a “message episode” of Star Trek.

A “message episode” of Star Trek is one with a particular moral applicable to modern life. The franchise has made a great deal of these sort of episodes. Many have withstood the test of time and remained good or have morals that still reverberate (Such as the Original Series episode “Day of the Dove”). Some have aged rather poorly or the message was badly told in the first place (As was the case in the Next Generation episode “The Outcast”). For me personally, there is one episode that stands head and shoulders above every other message episode. Star Trek Voyager’s season 4 episode “Living Witness”. Why this one specifically? Not only is it’s message more relevant now than ever and because it is the only one to actually acknowledge what its specific theme is: racism and Historical Revisionism.

   The Voyager Encounter

The episode opens in a way that for any other show in the series, would seem like it’s taking place in the Mirror Universe. The lighting is dim on the ship , Captain Janeway is monologuing to an alien visitor about how if diplomacy fails the only answer is overwhelming force, and worst of all…she’s wearing black gloves. During the conversation Janeway reveals that she is making a deal with the alien, who identifies his species as the Vaskan. In exchange for directions to a stable wormhole, Voyager will capture the leader of another race, the Kyrians.

As Janeway walks to the bridge, viewers see more clues that show this isn’t the normal Voyager. Neelix has a console and is wearing a uniform. Captain Janeway refers to the ship as the ‘Warship Voyager’, and the doctor is an android. What’s even worse, the Captain orders the use of Biogenic weapons against civilian targets. Clearly, something is not right here.

Just before the opening titles we see what is actually going on. The Voyager we were watching was a holographic recreation of an event that apparently happened 700 years ago. The curator of the museum (a Kyrian named Quarren) tells the people watching the recreation that “Even today, seven hundred years later, we are still feeling the impact of the Voyager Encounter.”

After the opening credits, we quickly learn through exposition that according to this museum, Voyager attacked and killed the leader of the Kyrians, a man named Tedran. Tedran’s death led to centuries of Kyrian oppression under the Vaskans. In a good line of dialogue, before resuming the simulation and showing Tedran’s death, Quarren gives the visitors a content warning, telling them that this next scene will be disturbing. And it honestly is. Captured after a brief scuffle with fully Borg Seven of Nine simulation, Janeway has him brought before her and the Vaskan ambassador. She then executes him herself.

Tedran’s murder…according to the simulation.

After the simulation ends, a Vaskan patron confronts Quarren, claiming that the story presented is inaccurate. That the Kyrians are always blaming the Vaskans for their problems. The patron is also quick to point out that he doesn’t have a problem with Kyrians. Some of his friends are Kyrian after all! It’s at this point in the episode, a little over a third of the way into it, that we start to see that theme of racism start to appear. It will remain a background element for a while though, simmering and only really making itself known near the end of the episode.

Later, after the museum closes for the night, Quarren starts working on a new Voyager artifact. He identifies it as some sort of data storage device, possibly Captain Janeway’s personal logs, but can’t seem to access it. As he pokes and prods, he realizes it that it has far too much data for it to be a simple log…and then the Doctor appears. More specifically, the Doctor’s backup.

Immediately fascinated by the Doctor, Quarren begins to question him. An actual member of Voyager’s crew! He could shed so much light on that era of history. He is a literal living witness! The Doctor, for his part, is nonplussed at discovering that it’s over seven hundred years since he was last ‘awake’, and all of his friends are dead. The Doctor becomes even more upset when he discovers he’ll be tried for war crimes. The Doctor protests his innocence claiming (truthfully) that he never created weapons of mass destruction, and that most of the information presented in the museum is inaccurate, distorted, or flat-out wrong. The Doctor demands to see the recreation of the “Voyager Encounter”. After viewing it, the Doctor, incensed, says that somewhere, hopefully on Earth, Captain Janeway is spinning in her grave.

The Doctor then tells Quarren that Tedran, far from being an innocent martyr, actually led an attack on Voyager. Now it’s Quarren’s turn to get angry, accusing the Doctor of lying to protect himself. The Doctor counters by saying that Quarren is also protecting himself…from the truth. The Doctor points out that the simulation paints Kyrians in the best possible light. He ends his thoughts with this line: “Revisionist History…it’s such a comfort”. Enraged, Quarren states flatly that his people were not the aggressors in the war, and that the oppression continues to this day. He then shuts down the Doctor’s program.

Revising Revisionism

This last scene has so much to unpack, so let’s start with the smaller stuff. As you can see, the racial issues aren’t quite front and center yet, but still remain just behind the curtain. Quarren’s anger is seemingly justified at first. How dare this…mass murderer question historical truth! But his actions do not back this up. Earlier he had told the Doctor that synthetic beings had the same rights as organics on his planet. But he still turns the Doctor off while the Doctor was speaking, as if the Doctor were just some sort of toy. And then there’s the Doctor’s line.

Historical Revisionism. It’s a phrase that conjures up images of Holocaust deniers trying to spread their conspiracy theories under the guise of ‘research’. And indeed that can be a downside of Historical Revisionism. Changing events to suit one’s own agenda, or simply viewing the events and seeing what we want to see. However, there is a positive side to Historical Revisionism. Without it, we would still view Andrew Jackson as a war hero, instead of the man who created the Trail of Tears. We would see the Spanish Conquistadors as brave explorers instead of the death knell of an entire civilization.

This sort of Historical Revisionism is hard to do, however. The majority of us don’t like having long held beliefs attacked. Of having things we’ve believed true for years suddenly becoming false. Of hearing “No. You’re wrong”. Put in this context, Quarren shutting down the Doctor becomes far more understandable, if still an awful thing to do.

When we see Quarren again, he’s dictating an entry into his log. He reflects that, perhaps their histories are wrong…after all, they thought the doctor was an android, not a hologram. And if they could be wrong about that, what else could they be wrong about? Coming to this conclusion, he reactivates the Doctor and apologizes, saying that he will not turn off the Doctor’s programming again. Quarren then asks the Doctor if they could recreate what the Doctor claims to have happened. The Doctor agrees, if only to clear Voyager’s good name.

The Doctor’s recreation starts the same way as Quarren’s, with Captain Janeway speaking to a Vaskan ambassador. But instead of plotting genocide, it’s a simple trade negotiation. Voyager will give the Vaskans medical supplies in return for fuel. As the medical supplies are being prepared for shipment, a group of Kyrians, led by Tedran, attack Voyager.

They board the engineering deck, killing three crewmen and taking Seven of Nine hostage. The Kyrians then proceed to a conference room with their hostages. Captain Janeway, The Doctor, and the Vaskan ambassador quickly follow them, with the doctor offering to lead the way since he is immune to phaser fire. They confront Tedran, who accuses Captain Janeway of plotting to destroy his people. Before Janeway can talk him down, the Vaskan ambassador shoot Tedran, killing him.

Tedran’s real killer.

In a different episode, it might have ended here, with Quarren seeing and accepting the Doctor’s version of what happened. Instead, we finally see the second issue that this episode deals with finally steps out: racism.

Some of my best friends are Kyrian!

Quarren and the Doctor show this version of events to three representatives—two Vaskan and one Kyrian. The Vaskans seem more than to accept this version of what happened. After all, this means that their ancestors weren’t the aggressors. They were simply defending themselves against Kyrian aggression. The Kyrian representative is a much harder sell, first demanding that they arrest the Doctor and then asking what proof he can offer that this really happened.

The Doctor shows them a tricorder that we had previously seen as an exhibit, confirming that this was the same one he used to examine Tedrin. If he can power it up, it’ll show that the shot that killed Tedran came from a Vaskan weapon. The Kyrian representative responds by saying that this doesn’t matter. Tedran was killed on Voyager, a victim of a conspiracy. She calls for the Doctor’s arrest again, only to have one of the Vaskan representatives overrule her. The Kyrian responds bitterly, stating that she’s just the token Kyrian for this commission. Quarren interjects, stating that the issue isn’t about race. The Kyrian representative responds bitterly stating that “It’s always about race” and then accusing the Vaskans of seizing at every opportunity to keep themselves in power. The commission departs, with no real decision reached and leaving Quarren and the Doctor to try and power up the tricorder.

This scene requires more unpacking than even the the doctor’s line about Historical  Revisionism. When I was re-watching this episode for this article, I was kind of shocked how bluntly and directly they approached this issue. To my knowledge, there was only one other episode of Star Trek ever to even use the word ‘race’  in this context. And yet, here we are. The other thing that jumped out at me was the delivery of the line by the actresses who played the Kyrian representative: bitter and resigned.

With this exchange, you get a sense of how entrenched the Vaskan oppression of the Kyrians must be. Of how hard they must have struggled to get their version of history accepted. How much harder it was to even get this museum built instead of sugar coating history. And now here comes this hologram, someone they believe to be a mass murderer who is telling them that their people deserved what happened to them. Nevermind the fact that the Doctor isn’t saying this at all, it’s what the Kyrians believe that he is saying. And perhaps worst of all, it’s what the Vaskans believe he’s saying. Finally, they can wash their hands of the guilt. The Kyrians attacked us. We were only defending ourselves. All that oppression was simply the result of your actions. They only accept the story because it makes themselves look good.

That’s not to say that the Kyrians are completely innocent in all this. After all, they want to kill the Doctor for crimes he didn’t commit. To hide the historical truth, and to continue to venerate a man who attacked a third party and killed innocent people. That neither side is exactly innocent comes across just as clearly as the racism does in this scene.

Things don’t really improve after this. Later that night, as the Doctor and Quarren work to try and get the tricorder operational, an angry mob of Vaskans storm the museum. They smash it up, angry that all the ‘history’ they learned was a lie. When I first saw this episode, I sympathized somewhat with the Vaskans. Finding out that not only are your ancestors innocent of the crime they were accused of and that the history were they were portrayed as monsters was a bald faced lie? I would have been angry too.

Now though, I see this mob for what they probably supposed to represent. Racists rioting under the guise of ‘telling the truth’, ignoring the real facts of Kyrian oppression in the present day. It reminds me of the riot in Charlottesville. The next morning, the Doctor and Quarren are picking through the rubble trying to find the tricorder, which was lost in the chaos of the previous night. Quarren tells the doctor that a race riot broke out and two people were killed. Quarren goes on to tell the Doctor that there is talk of another war brewing. The Doctor is horrified by this. He was programmed to do no harm, and now his presence is the catalyst for a planetary war. He tells Quarren that he will deny everything. “Tedran was a martyr for your people, a hero, a symbol of your struggle for freedom. Who am I to wander in seven hundred years later and take that away from you?” The Doctor asks.

The Doctor’s crisis of faith.

Quarren shows now how much he’s changed since the beginning of the episode, angrily saying “History has been abused! We keep blaming each other for what happened in the past.” He then implores the Doctor to help him. As they keep looking through the rubble, the camera pans, and we that this was another simulation, from some point even further in the future. This tour guide tells the group listening that thanks to the Doctor’s testimony, a new dialogue was opened between the Vaskans and the Kyrians. That Quarren died six years later, but he lived long enough to see the beginning of true peace between the two races. The Doctor stayed as Surgical Chancellor of the united races for years before getting a small ship and setting off for Earth, wanting to return home.

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

As I mentioned before, this is an incredibly strong message episode of Star Trek, one of the best of Voyager, and one of my personal favorites. Everything in it, from the story to the acting, helps to hammer in the themes and moral that the episode is trying to get across. The moral is timeless, a reminder to not let your personal feelings or cause to get in the way of trying to find the truth. As for the theme of racism? In Star Trek, there is the idea of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”, a celebration of all the variables in the universe. The idea being that we shouldn’t limit or disregard someone because of how they look, their background, or anything.

Living Witness is a reminder to respect that Infinite Diversity, and I can think of no better moral.


Images courtesy of Paramount Television

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