swan_tower: (*writing)

I watch a surprisingly large amount of TV these days, because there is so much out there, and so much of it good. But I wind up almost never posting about any of it, because I have all these thoughts and then I don’t get around to writing the big long in-depth post. In lieu of that, have scattershot thoughts about things I’ve watched in the last year.

* I didn’t like the second season of Supergirl quite as well, due in part to me having zero interest in Mon-El. But man, that show is not remotely shy about wearing its politics on its sleeve, with episode titles like “Resist” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted” and plots about protecting resident aliens from attempts to deport them. So even though they have the occasional episode where everybody is phenomenally stupid in order to give Mon-El a chance to look smart (seriously, that one was so bad), it is balm to my soul.

* Frequency has hooked me surprisingly fast, with some good dialogue and a clever twist on what might otherwise be a bog-standard serial killer investigation plot: because the SFnal conceit is that the cop heroine is in communication with her cop father twenty years in the past, when she has him follow up on a lead, half the time she winds up changing the evidence out from under her own feet, e.g. going to a suspect’s house only to find out that in the new timeline he moved away nineteen years ago. Also, it turns out to be based on a film — but among other changes, they turned the father/son setup into father/daughter instead. Woot! Sadly, because everything I like gets canceled, there’s only thirteen episodes of it. (Currently we’re seven in.)

* The Defenders was decent, but distinctly uneven, in no small part because my god Danny Rand is just. not. interesting. (As I said on Twitter a while back, Iron Fist bored me so intensely that I didn’t even get far enough in to hit the unfortunate racism.) And unfortunately, he’s kind of at the center of the plot. On the other hand, watching the script take the piss out of him at absolutely every opportunity was kind of entertaining. And you could make a fabulous montage just of the reaction shots from Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

* I have no idea what they’ll do with the second season of The Good Place, but dude, somebody made a comedy show ABOUT ETHICS. Like, actual philosophical discussions of what constitutes ethical behavior and how the various models of that differ. I am so there. Again. (I can’t believe it got a second season.)

* The Musketeers is far more entertaining than I expected it to be (though admittedly, my expectations went up when the opening credits told me it had Peter Capaldi). Of course it bears only a general relationship to the novel, being an episodic TV series, but it doesn’t have to warp the concept too far out of shape to work; the basic engine is the running political conflicts between the King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards, with invented incidents to keep that rolling along. Capaldi is an excellent Richelieu, obviously scheming and ambitious without being a one-note villain (sometimes he and the Captain of the Musketeers work together). And the episodic format gives them some time to explore the individual characters. Much to my surprise, Porthos — usually my least favorite of the set — is really good here, in part because the actor is black and that is relevant to the character’s life story. A Porthos with depth, rather than just being the drunken comic relief? What is this madness??? Also, it’s doing reasonably well by its female characters, including making sure that the invented incidents have women in them, so you’re not limited to the recurring trio of Constance, Milady, and the queen. Yeah, okay, so I’m pretty sure Constance bears only the most passing resemblance to her novel incarnation — but since I like this version of her and have no particular attachment to the novel incarnation, I’m fine with that.

* Ascension was interesting, but flawed. Basic concept: A generation ship got sent out in the ’60s and is now halfway through its 100-year-journey, with tensions rising. The worldbuilding was intriguing, even as I wanted to beat characters about the head for some parts of it (seriously, who thought class stratification in a society that small and enclosed was a good idea?), but the end felt like it was a cliffhanger for a season 2 that, as near as I can tell, not only doesn’t exist but was never intended to.

* I feel like the seventh season of Game of Thrones was distinctly better than the sixth, transit time silliness notwithstanding. It registered on me as a better balance of major plot movement and the little dyadic interactions, which have always been one of the show’s strong points: the writers’ ability to put two characters together and have a fabulous scene happen, whether the flavor is hilarious banter or a flaming train wreck. Plus, Olenna Tyrell may have claimed the title of Most Badass Moment for the entire series. I mean, it was horrible. But it was also this phenomenally powerful, vicious interaction that played out as a quiet conversation between two people alone in a room, without any action spectacle whatsoever. Kudos.

* I enjoyed the first season of Lucifer, but the second took off like a rocket. Seriously, were the writers on a sugar high all season long? They just cranked everything up to eleven, and the result came to life for me in a way the earlier episodes hadn’t. I’m sad they lopped off the last couple of episodes to put them on the beginning of season three, because it meant I got less of what I was enjoying last spring, but from a narrative standpoint I can absolutely see why they did. That comes back in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to it.

* Also, more of The Librarians. One of the few things I fell in love with that hasn’t gotten canceled, even if I don’t think the third season was quite as good.

Has anybody else been watching these? Any recs for shows you’ve been enjoying? I’m primarily interested in stuff that is either SF/F or historical, and skewed more toward the “fun” end of the spectrum than gritty greasy grimdark. I am almost completely burned out on police procedurals, unless they’ve got a strong metaplot or a substantial twist from the usual model.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Safe Haven

May. 25th, 2017 11:55 am
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Over the past few months I worked my way through the five seasons of the TV show Haven. In its core structure, it’s basically Yet Another Procedural: each week there’s a mystery, the heroes investigate, the mystery is solved by the end of the episode. But the premise of this one is speculative — an FBI agent discovers weird things going on in a small Maine town — and spec-fic shows usually pair their procedural-ness with at least some degree of metaplot, which I find myself really craving these days. So I figured I would give it a shot.

And for the most part, the structure is indeed conventional. Weird Thing Happens. Audrey Parker (the FBI agent) and Nathan Wuornos (the local cop) investigate. The problem is inevitably being caused by the Troubles, a set of supernatural afflictions that plague many residents of Haven. Our heroes find the Troubled person responsible —

— and then they help that person.

I mean, every so often they do have to arrest somebody or it even ends in death. But overwhelmingly, the focus is on solving the Troubles, not punishing them. In many cases, the person responsible doesn’t realize they’re the source of that week’s weird thing; when they do know, they’re often terrified and unable to stop their Trouble from hurting people. These supernatural abilities trigger because of emotional stimuli, so week after week, you watch Audrey untangle the threads of someone’s psychology until she figures out that they need to accept the fact that a loved one is gone or reconcile with an estranged friend or admit the secret that’s eating away at them, and when they do, their Trouble lets go.

It is amazingly refreshing, after all the procedural shows I’ve seen that involve people with guns using those guns to solve their problems. (There’s a key moment late in the series when the entire Haven PD gets sent out to manage a big outburst of Troubles, and they literally get a speech from the police chief about how the people causing problems aren’t the enemy and need to be helped, not beaten down.) In fact, it’s so refreshing that I was willing to forgive the show’s other flaws. The scripts are often no better than okay, and for the first four seasons the characters are remarkably incurious about the metaplot: they accept that the Troubles show up every twenty-seven years, Audrey is somehow connected to them, etc, but it takes them forever to get around to asking why, much less making a serious effort to find the answers. (In the fifth season the show dives headfirst into the metaplot, and the results are less than satisfying.) Furthermore, if you’re looking for characters of color, you basically won’t find them here. Haven does a pretty poor job in general with secondary characters, often getting rid of them after one season; I can only think of two people who get added to the cast after the first episode that stick around instead of getting booted out of the plot.

But the character dynamics are pretty engaging, some of the episodes have a pretty clever premise . . . and it’s a show about helping people. About resolving problems through addressing their underlying causes. About how, if somebody has a Trouble but they’ve figured out ways to manage it without hurting anybody, you clap them on the back and move on to someone who’s having more difficulty. There’s a good-hearted quality to the show’s basic concept that kept me interested even when I could have been watching something with better dialogue but less compassion.

More compassion, please. We need it.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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You know how there are those shows that are kind of structurally or ideologically broken, but you sort of don’t care because the banter is so good?

Supergirl is kind of the opposite of that. On a script level, it’s pretty mediocre; the dialogue often clunks and the characterization can be inconsistent and the plots rarely have clever solutions. But I find myself just not caring, because it’s doing so many other things to make me happy. It is the candy-colored cheerful superhero show that I wanted The Flash to be for me, without all the problems that made me bounce out of that one.

Case in point: the first season of The Flash basically had two female characters, Iris and Caitlin. Neither of them was particularly interesting; Caitlin’s plot revolved around her dead boyfriend and Iris was a pawn, lied to for no good reason by her best friend, infantilized by her father, rarely if ever given a chance to affect the story in a meaningful way. Supergirl, by contrast, is so stuffed with women they’re coming out at the seams. This is not one of those shows with a central female character and then a bunch of dudes. You have Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s adopted sister (and if you love rock-solid sister relationships, dear god this is the show for you); Cat Grant, her prickly and influential boss; Astra, her aunt and antagonist; Allura, her mother, appearing in both flashback and computer simulation; Lucy Lane, Lois’ younger sister and Jimmy Olson’s ex, who the show is smart enough to give a role to beyond “Jimmy Olson’s ex”; the villains Livewire and Indigo and Silver Banshee, who all play a role in more than one episode; Eliza, Alex’s mother and Kara’s foster-mother, a biologist who nerds out when she meets another alien; Miranda Crane, a senator with anti-alien views; they even have the (offstage) president be a woman (and if the show’s writers weren’t thinking about Hillary Clinton, I’ll eat my laptop). These women talk to each other. They talk to each other so much that they get to have nearly every kind of relationship; they’re family and friends and rivals and co-workers and mentors and allies and enemies. (Not lovers, though — I can’t recall any lesbian relationships, at least not in the first season.)

The show is overtly feminist, too. I wouldn’t call it a triumph of complexity in that regard — see above comments about the writing being not all that good — but from time to time it goes straight at the familiar issues, the way that women’s achievements get downplayed relative to men’s, the way that women are held to standards men don’t have to meet. Clark Kent is an offstage presence, only appearing briefly a couple of times (and then always in silhouette), or conversing with Kara in text messages. In this canon, Kara was supposed to be the protector for her younger cousin, but circumstances caused her to arrive on Earth years later and younger than him; the growth of Kara from feeling like she’ll never live up to Kal-El’s reputation and achievements to someone who wins his praise and respect is really satisfying.

AND LET’S TALK ABOUT THE ETHICS. As in, this show has some. You may recall that ethical failings are a big part of why I wound up noping out of The Flash; I just about punched the air when this show made a point of addressing those issues. You literally get one of the characters telling Kara that due process and human rights matter, and that running a “secret Guantanamo” (actual phrase from the dialogue) is 100% not okay. And Kara acknowledges this! And then they do something about it! I called Astra an antagonist; I chose that word instead of “villain” because her situation isn’t black-and-white, and the show is capable of acknowledging that she’s pursuing good ends via bad means. There’s another antagonist in a similar position, too. I love that kind of thing, and seeing it here makes me really happy.

It still has shortcomings on a higher-than-script level, mind you. The racial diversity is just barely better than token, and queer representation is basically absent. And while the show nods in the direction of the problems posed by having superpowered people around, it doesn’t really delve into them. But I can watch it and have fun without constantly being frustrated, which is exactly what I was hoping for. And every so often it rises above itself with some really good dialogue or a great plot development — which leaves me hopeful that season two will improve on the first.

Behind the cut there be spoilers!

Read the rest of this entry  )

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve been watching Elementary, and I figured out why I subconsciously keep expecting Sherlock to relapse: because his drug addiction registers on Writer Brain as Chekhov’s gun, and therefore I expect it to go off eventually. But at this point (halfway through season three), I suspect that’s the point the writers want to make. An addiction is Chekhov’s gun . . . and you have to live the rest of your life with it sitting on the mantel, begging to be fired. Whether this is a suitable analogy for addiction or not, I can’t say — I have fortunately never struggled with that myself — but I’m pretty sure that’s the thematic point they’re aiming for. Which I do find interesting.

(What do I think of Elementary as a whole? I think I would like it better if it weren’t a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, because I often find it disappointing in that regard. Their Moriarty is fabulous, but sadly underused, and their Mycroft was not just a resounding disappointment but an active detriment to the story as a whole. But where it’s doing more of its own thing, I think it’s decent. Not hugely compelling for the most part, but acceptable background entertainment.)

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

I needed to be doing some random stuff on the computer this morning, so on a whim, I put on the first episode of Rizzoli & Isles, which is Yet Another Police Procedural, though with two female leads.

First thing I see: a bound and terrified woman, in the clutches of an unknown villain.

Which led me to ask on Twitter, What percentage of police procedurals open their pilot ep with a woman chased, crying, screaming, or dead?

Because seriously — at this point, that is the single most boring way I can think of to open your show. Also problematic and disturbing, but even if you don’t care about those things, maybe you care about it being utterly predictable. There is nothing fresh or new about having the first minute of your police procedural episode show us somebody (usually a woman) being victimized. I said on Twitter, and I meant it, that I would rather see your protagonist file papers. I might decide in hindsight that the paper-filing was also boring . . . but in the moment, I’d be sitting up and wondering, why am I seeing this? Are the papers important? Or something about how the protag is approaching them? Because it isn’t a thing I’ve seen a million times before.

The only thing that brief clip of the victim gives us is (usually) a voyeuristic experience of their victimization. They don’t make the victim a person, an individual we get to know and care about. They rarely even give us meaningful information about the crime, except “this person died from a gunshot/strangulation/burning alive/whatever” — which is info we could easily get later in the episode, through the investigation.

There are exceptions, on a show or individual ep level. But the overwhelming pattern is: here’s some violence for violence’s sake, before we get to the actual characters and the actual story.

I decided last year that I was done with the genre of “blood, tits, and scowling.” I think I’m done with police procedurals, too. I won’t swear I’ll never watch another one, but they’ve just lost all their flavor for me, because I’ve seen so many. And because I am so very, very tired with those predictable openings.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I somehow managed to miss the fact that they made a Shannara TV series. But it aired on MTV (and will be getting a second season), so I decided to give it a shot.

Watching it is . . . interesting.

More precisely, watching it is like taking a trip in the Wayback Machine to my eleven-year-old brain. These were the first adult fantasy novels I ever read, purloining them off my brother’s bookshelf — my first introduction to high fantasy. I keep thinking of Benedick’s line from Much Ado About Nothing: “Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale men’s souls out of their bodies?” Back then, capital letters could hale my soul out of mine. The last descendant of the King of Shannara has to use the Elfstones to help a princess take a seed from the Ellcrys to Safehold, where she’ll immerse it in the Bloodfire and renew the Forbidding that keeps Demons out of the world — yyyyyyyyeah. Nowadays that mostly sounds goofy and artificial to me, but back then, it was awesome.

The TV series doesn’t do a whole lot to restore that power. For me to care about a Destined Hero, I need to care about the characters, and neither the writing nor the acting here is good enough to really compel me. The show also has a certain look to it that I don’t have a good name for, but it’s a lesser version of the same thing that drove me straight out of Reign after a single episode; people look like they’re wearing costumes instead of clothing, and furthermore they look like they’re about to burst into the latest auto-tuned pop hit. One of the reviews I saw gave it a tepid recommendation to those looking for a “teen-friendly Game of Thrones,” and that feels apt. I have trouble telling the two female leads apart, if the camera angle doesn’t show their ears: one’s an elf, one’s a human, but they’re both generically pretty dark-haired young women wearing MTV’s idea of fantasy chic. Their hair is too clean and well-brushed, nobody ever has more than cosmetic smudges of dirt on them, and the entire thing feels like it’s made out of plastic.

Which isn’t to say it’s complete crap. I stopped reading Shannara ages ago, so I had no idea the setting is technically our world, post-magical-apocalypse. That’s an interesting twist on the epic fantasy thing, and sometimes you get the characters riding past the crumbling remnants of modern technology and architecture. I also give them points for having racially diverse elves — and most of the characters we’ve seen so far are elves. On the other hand, no points for Obvious Romani Parallel Is Obvious and Offensive: really, Brooks? We needed a clan of itinerant sexist thieves? The show intermittently entertains me, but it hasn’t yet (as of the first three eps) risen above the status of “thing I can put on on the background while I do other stuff because its plot isn’t complex enough and its performances aren’t compelling enough to really require my attention.”

I don’t much expect it to do so, either. But still: it’s interesting to revisit my eleven-year-old brain, and to muse on what she used to think.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

On the way home from Captain America: Civil War (which is quite good, and should have been titled Avengers: Civil War), we got to talking about the contrast between Arrow and Flash, and the problems I had with the latter. (I say “had” because I gave up on watching it partway into this season.)

It just occurred to me that I think part of my issue with that show is the same thing Slacktivist was talking about here, riffing off this post by Mychal Denzel Smith. Specifically, this bit, quoted from Smith:

When your self-conception is centered on the idea of your own goodness, it prevents you from hearing any critique of your ideology/behavior. Thinking of yourself as “good” allows you to justify harmful words and actions, since anything you do, in your mind, is “good.”

Flash feels like it has defined Barry Allen as A Good Person, and therefore it cannot address anything that might call his goodness into question — like, say, the extrajudicial prison he regularly throws criminals into, keeping them in solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time without benefit of trial or any other such legal process. He is A Good Person, therefore Basement Gitmo is good. By contrast, Arrow has not defined Oliver Queen as A Good Person; instead he’s been presented as a deeply flawed person trying to become good. Corollary: the show offers up frequent critiques of his ideology and behavior, and he changes in response to them. Not always, and not perfectly — one of the points season five has been making is that he still has a lot of problems. But that’s a story the show can tell, because it hasn’t taken its protagonist’s Goodness as a given.

I complained before that telling a story where ethics matter shouldn’t require you to be working in the grimdark mode — that Flash *could* have addressed the difficult question of how to handle superpowered criminals, while still being Arrow‘s perky younger brother. Now I wonder to what extent Smith’s quote points at the source of the problem: they could never tell stories where Barry grappled with ethics and questioned his own morality, because Barry Allen is A Good Person.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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A while ago on Twitter I said I want to read the fanfic where Miss Scarlet (of the Clue movie) is actually Phryne Fisher (of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries), undercover.

Tonight this led to us casting the entire film with people from MFMM. Please disregard how many of these characters would therefore wind up murdering one another. :-P

WADSWORTH – Jack Robinson
MISS SCARLET – Phryne Fisher
MRS. PEACOCK – Prudence Stanley
MRS. WHITE – Rosie Sanderson, nee Robinson
PROFESSOR PLUM – Dr. Macmillan, cross-dressing
MR. GREEN – Hugh Collins
COLONEL MUSTARD – Baron Henry Fisher
MR. BODDY – Murdoch Foyle
THE COOK – Mr. Butler
YVETTE – Dorothy Williams
THE COP – Neville Martin
THE CHIEF – Commissioner George Sanderson

Anybody want to write that for me? ^_^

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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(This post theoretically contains spoilers for Castle — but only if you consider it a spoiler when I talk about something done by practically every TV show ever.)

So my husband and I have been watching Castle lately. We really like the Castle/Beckett relationship; it doesn’t make the mistake committed by so many other buddy stories that pair up a free spirit with a by-the-book type, of making the by-the-book type a humorless automaton. Beckett gives as good as she gets, in her own way. And the show does a semi-decent job of explaining why it takes them years to get together: Castle’s had a string of failed marriages; Beckett has some major hangups. But eventually they do actually sort themselves out and start a relationship —

— whereupon, of course, the show has to start playing the OH MY GOD THEY’RE GOING TO BREAK UP card.

Foz Meadows had a post recently about bad TV romance wherein she rants quite eloquently about the investment of TV writers in the “will they or won’t they” dynamic. UST gets strung out for years, with the characters sitting on the fence long after the point at which they would have either hooked up or moved on — and then when they finally hook up, the implied verb of “will they or won’t they” is “split” instead of “get together.” Because the vast majority of TV writers (or possibly just the vast majority of the execs they answer to) have no freaking clue what to do with a romantic pairing that isn’t either impending or in peril.

And as Foz points out, the obnoxious thing is: they know exactly how to write that kind of thing, because they do it all the time — with male friendships. On Castle, Ryan and Esposito don’t always agree; sometimes they’re competing with one another or at odds over some issue. But in eight seasons, the show has never once relied on baiting us with the question of whether they’ll settle down as working partners, or whether they’ll split up and start working with other people. The writers don’t need those tricks to make the characters interesting to watch. Their banter is enough, and the pleasure of watching them do things together.

Ah, you say, but they aren’t the protagonists.

To which I say: so what? Why do the central figures of every male/female buddy show ever* have to not only get romantically involved with one another, but spend almost their entire existence in romantic limbo? Why can’t we have more Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style teamups? More couples with the exact same dynamic given to male/male buddy pairs, except with bonus smooching? As Foz points out, insisting on the uncertainty model for the romances means that all kinds of other tasty narrative material — “shared interests, complex histories, mutual respect, in-jokes, magnetic antagonism, slowly kindled alliances and a dozen other things” — is now off-limits.

It wasn’t entirely off-limits in Castle because the show let those things build between Castle and Beckett, during the period of time where they were sorting out their nonsense. But of course now we need Tension — we need Doubt in the Relationship — so all of a sudden they’re barely talking to one another. Bye-bye, in-jokes. Farewell, alliance. All those shared interests and complex histories? Irrelevant now. Because BY GOD we need the audience to be asking themselves “will they or won’t they?”

Even though the audience knows the goddamned answer.

Stop. Just stop. We know what’s going to happen with Castle and Beckett, and in the meantime, everything I like about their relationship has been squandered for the sake of that fake uncertainty. Quit it. Let the two of them behave like functional adults, and trust that the rest of the story is interesting even if that question has been answered.


*Exception that proves the rule: Will and Grace, because Will was gay. Though for all I know, the show spent its time pretending they weren’t going to wind up being best friends/oh my god maybe they’ll stop being friends.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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We had our usual Oscar party the other night, and at one point during all the interviewing (which I mostly don’t listen to, because I’m there to enjoy the fashion), I caught Faye Dunaway saying something about how Brie Larson is an amazing actress.

And it got me thinking: I would love to watch something that involves one or more actors sitting around discussing clips from different performances, talking about what makes them so awesome. What little touches of timing or intonation really bring the character to life, what techniques are being used, etc — basically, the kind of thing I sometimes get up to with fellow writers, when we let our professional squee flags fly and really dig into the craft aspects of our job. I genuinely don’t know what a craft-based appreciation of acting would look like, what kinds of things an actor notices and admires while the rest of us are just sitting there going, “that was a really great scene.” Tony Zhou’s “Every Frame a Painting” series gets into this from the standpoint of cinematography and directing, but not acting; I’d love to get that angle as well.

Can anybody recommend examples of this? A YouTube series, a commentary track on a DVD, anything like that.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

Tor.com had a recent piece about George R.R. Martin’s announcement that the sixth book in his series will not be published before the next season of Game of Thrones airs. That means the show’s storyline will officially outpace the novels'; we find out what happens next from HBO, not Martin.

Reading that piece, it occurred to me that I do not want Martin’s career.

His piles of money? Sure. But not, I think, at the cost of everything that has come with it. I could be perfectly happy with a much smaller quantity of money, and the thought of living under the kind of stress he faces is massively unappealing. I think it’s clear, from everything he’s said and the way the series has progressed, that he’s the victim of his own success: so many people are invested in A Song of Ice and Fire, and the resulting pressure is grinding the life out of it for him.

For anybody who makes their living creatively, that’s kind of a horrifying thought. And I honestly feel bad for him with this HBO situation. I mean, he’s made plenty of statements about how HBO is telling their own version of the story, and it doesn’t affect his own, etc etc, and yes, fans will still care about the “real” end of the tale — but it has to feel like somebody else got there before him. Maybe that will make it easier for him to move forward; who knows? It could take some of the pressure off him. But he’s no longer leading the pack, and I have to imagine that stings. I know I wouldn’t want to be in that position myself.

I thought about something else, too. When the TV series started airing, book fans were incredibly disciplined about not spoiling things for people who came to the story via the show. This was, in part, a selfish act: I had a friend who hadn’t read the books, and I couldn’t wait to be there when she reacted to certain major events. Spoiling would have ruined the fun. But it was also courteous — and although I’m not optimistic, I’d like to hope that people watching the show will extend the same courtesy to anyone who is sticking with the books alone. Certainly I will; any posts I make about events on the show will be hidden behind a cut-tag. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I didn’t like A Dance with Dragons much at all and I feel the series has been rolling downhill with increasing speed . . . but I still hope that Martin pulls up out of that dive (to mix my metaphors), and anybody who prefers to go the text route should have that chance.

And I wish Martin the best in finishing off The Winds of Winter, and however many more there may be.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

My husband dubbed this show “Trigger Warnings: The Musical,” and apart from the complete lack of song-and-dance numbers, it’s very apt. The central premise is that Jessica Jones, the super-strong protagonist, spent an extended period of time as the captive of a guy whose power is the ability to control people’s minds. Now she’s an alcoholic who does her level best to sabotage her dealings with everybody around her. If you’ve ever been raped, or trapped in a controlling relationship (sexual or otherwise), or gaslighted, or addicted to anything, or had panic attacks, or suffered parental abuse, or I could keep going, then this will probably not be a comfortable show to watch.


But . . . I wound up liking it anyway. Even though it does a tap dance on a whole array of grimdark elements, which would normally be very off-putting to me. It isn’t just that the show is good — though it is; that on its own isn’t enough to make me sit through thirteen episodes of characters’ lives being miserable. (I can’t watch The Wire.) It somehow manages to tell the stories of those things in a way that doesn’t remotely softpedal how dreadful they are, without making me feel like I can’t take it any more.

And I finally figured out why. This show is about the survivors of trauma, rather than the victims.

By which I mean the narrative is one of survivorship, not victimization. It’s about how people cope with trauma — not always well, not always in a healthy fashion, but their lives keep going afterward and that, to the show’s creators, is the interesting part. We get very few flashbacks to Jess’ time with Kilgrave: one innocuous-seeming restaurant scene, to establish that he was mind-controlling her. Another whose purpose is to show the difference between Kilgrave’s perception and Jessica’s. The night she escaped. The night they met. But no scenes of him demeaning her in obvious ways, no on-screen rape. Instead we infer those things from what we see of Jessica afterward, the scars that trauma left on her, and from her own statements on the matter. Showing us what happened would have a damned hard time avoiding voyeurism. Showing us what comes after dodges that bullet, keeps the focus on the horror rather than the titillation. It makes this a story about a survivor, rather than a victim.

Jessica isn’t the only character the show handles through this lens. Partway into the series, a support group forms for people who have been controlled by Kilgrave. Even if individual moments within it sometimes seem awkward or silly to those of us on the outside, the overall sense is that this helps the characters, gives them a way to process their trauma and deal with its effects on them. We see characters using psychological techniques to reduce anxiety and ground themselves in reality. We see them asserting their boundaries against people — not limited to Kilgrave — who have trampled on those boundaries in the past. Jessica Jones very accurately depicts not only gaslighting, but how to defend against it. It explores the narcissistic rationalizations of rape apologists, and refuses to accept them. Watching this show, it’s clear how shallow the “realism” espoused by a lot of equally grim narratives is. They forget this part of the story — the part where the story keeps going.

And my god, the female characters. Not since the first season of Revenge have I seen a show so willing to tell a story about women who are unapologetically themselves, warts and all. Jessica Jones is a problematic person, not always sympathetic, possessed of mostly-good instincts but occasionally cruel to those around her, on purpose (to push them away) or just because she doesn’t care enough about their feelings to think before she says something hurtful. Jeri Hogarth, the lawyer played by Carrie-Anne Moss, is a reprehensible human being: initially I kept waiting for the revelation of her squishy compassionate center, but after a while I figured out it just isn’t there. Robyn the unstable neighbor, not entirely in touch with reality but not totally disconnected from it either, screaming at people in the hallways of her apartment building. The women of this show are allowed to be unlikeable. They’re allowed to be the kinds of abrasive, broken, complicated people male characters get to be all the time, without the story hastening to reassure us that really they’re nice after all, or demonizing them and kicking them out of the story. As one of the pieces I just linked points out, Kilgrave often compels women to smile for him — a command many women in the real world receive from men all the time, because if we aren’t smiling then we don’t look pretty and nice and don’t we want to be pretty and nice? Fuck that, says this show. These women don’t have to smile unless they want to. And mostly? They don’t want to.

Their relationships matter. Jess and Trish, her adoptive sister. Jess and Jeri, a combative boss/employee power struggle. Jess and Hope, the young woman she sets out to save in the first episode. Trish and her abusive mother. Jess and Trish’s abusive mother. Jeri and her soon-to-be-ex-wife, Jeri and the secretary she’s having an affair with. Robyn and Reva and Louise Thompson. I find it telling that when, late in the season, the show acknowledges that it exists not only in the same universe but in the same city as Daredevil, it does so via a female character from that series. Having Matt Murdock wander through would have been massively distracting, but it could have been Foggy; instead it’s a woman (I won’t spoil who), reminding us that she has a life outside of her role in that show. Heck: when Kilgrave wants to make the ultimate threat against Jess, it isn’t Luke Cage he goes after, the man Jess has fallen in love with. It’s Trish, the friend who’s the closest thing to family Jess has in the world. When the chips are down, that’s the relationship that matters most.

Jessica Jones is still a very uncomfortable show to watch, full of triggering content and characters not always dealing with it in optimal or admirable fashion. But it cares about its subject and its characters in ways that are, in my experience, rare for stories this grim. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be in the mood to watch it a second time — but I can’t wait for the next season.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve heard about this anime for a couple of years now, but only recently got around to watching it.

Dude. It’s amazing.

The name in Japanese translates to “Magical Girl Madoka Magica”; I’m not sure why they decided to translate the title to Latin* for the English release. It probably works best if you have at least a basic awareness of the “magical girl” genre, as exemplified by things like Sailor Moon: young girls get supernatural powers so they can fight evil. Usually this involves some kind of flashy “by the power of Greyskull”-type transformation from their ordinary, unassuming persona to their more wondrous selves. Madoka is a deconstruction of the genre, one where being a magical girl is not all it’s cracked up to be — but I think it would be good even if you don’t have any familiarity with specific genre under discussion. “You get magic powers to fight evil” is a broad enough concept that anything problematizing it will still be comprehensible.

It’s hard to say much about the show without giving stuff away. Madoka and her friend Sayaka encounter a creature called Kyubey, which offers to make them magical girls: if they make a wish, Kyubey will grant it, and that creates a contract wherein they get powers but have to fight witches to protect the people around them. But right from the start, a magical girl named Akemi Homura is trying to prevent them from signing up; eventually, of course, you find out why. It probably isn’t what you expect, though.

Right from the start, I liked the way the show approached the whole “witches” concept. Apparently the original plan was to make them basically kaiju, but instead they’re much more abstract: a witch is basically a hidden pocket realm a magical girl must enter, and only by defeating what she finds in there can she destroy the witch. The realms are surreal, trippy places, each one usually on a theme (one looked like “craving” or “addiction” to me), and so the battles proceed along less-predictable lines.

One of the nice things about the series is that it’s short and self-contained: twelve episodes and you’re done, though the franchise as a whole contains other components. This isn’t the kind of story that could support a much larger structure. Before long everything is spiraling wildly out of control for the characters; if the tale kept going, you’d lose that sense of genuine desperation.

I won’t call it a happy show. But if you’re looking for something dramatic, I highly recommend it.

*I bought the soundtrack, and discovered that most of the song titles are in Latin. One of them caught my eye: “Numquam vincar.” Hmmm,, I thought to myself, that’s an odd form. They’re probably just making up dog Latin, like most people do. But wait a sec — “vincere” is a third-conjugation verb, so the A would make that subjunctive. Why an R, though? That’s an bizarre ending. <a wind stirs, shifting the dust that has accumulated atop my knowledge of Latin grammar> Hang on. “Loquor.” That’s an R ending. What the heck is that? It’s, uh. Passive? Passive. First person singular passive. “Vincar” is first person singular present subjunctive passive. HOLY SHIT IT’S ACTUAL GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT LATIN. Yayyyyyyy!

For those who never studied Latin, if I’ve blown enough dust off my Latin knowledge to translate it correctly, “Numquam vincar” means “May I never be defeated.” EDIT: Sovay reminds me in LJ comments that the tense marker falls out of third conjugation verbs in the future tense, so while I could be correct in my translation — the two forms are the same — it probably means “I will never be defeated” instead.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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A couple of hours ago I asked on Twitter how women react when they see something terrible. My proximate reason for asking was that I’ve discovered Netflix has Murder, She Wrote available streaming; in watching it, I’ve been reminded of the standard-issue scream uttered by women in TV and movies when they find a dead body. You know the one: hands to the cheeks, mouth and eyes wide in horror, a high-pitched and wordless shriek coming from her mouth.

It’s always seemed weird to me because I don’t do that. Okay, to be fair, I’ve never come across a dead body. But I have accidentally lit myself on fire — my clothing, anyway — and my reaction at the time was to bellow “FUCK!” at the top of my lungs while beating at the flames with my other sleeve until they went out. The top of my lungs . . . but not the top of my range. Same thing when my husband accidentally kicked my badly-sprained toe, causing me no small amount of pain. I don’t scream so much as yell, often with a great deal of profanity.

So I posted on Twitter because I wanted to know: how many women out there do scream at such things? Is it the majority, and I’m a weird outlier, or is that just a convention of media that doesn’t happen so much in real life? Twitter anecdata thus far suggests a moderately even split; there are definitely women who do the high-pitched wordless shriek thing, but not an overwhelming majority by any means. (Also, at least one guy has testified to uttering a scream of his own when subjected to sudden pain.) It seems the trope isn’t unfounded, then, but it’s also not universal. Which, because I’m an anthropologist at heart, means I’m now wondering whether that reaction has become less common over time (as women are no longer socialized in the same way as thirty or fifty years ago) and whether our media depictions have changed as well.

I have no idea. But it’s interesting to think about, because the standard-issue scream has always felt so very fake to me.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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By which I mean, two pieces of media that focus on sensory experience in one way or another.


Perfect Sense did not, in the trailer I saw, bill itself as a science fiction movie, and in a lot of ways it isn’t. The focus is primarily on how the relationship between two people (a chef at a restaurant, and an epidemiologist who lives in an apartment overlooking the restaurant alley) is affected by an unexplained (and inexplicable) global epidemic that begins with people losing their sense of smell. But the epidemic doesn’t stop there: next they lose taste, then hearing, then sight. What makes it SFnal is the exploration of how individuals and society adapt to these changes. Eva Green’s epidemiologist never does figure out what’s causing the change, but at the restaurant where Ewan MacGregor’s chef works, they keep looking for ways to pursue their art even as the basis for it is pulled out from under them. Smell is a huge part of how we experience food, so when that goes away, they begin putting together the most strongly-flavored dishes they can. When taste goes, they turn to sound and texture: crunch, squish, softness, grittiness. (There’s a great scene where the restaurant manager reads out a glowing review of their work.) The transitions are bad; they’re always preceded by some kind of huge emotional swing, and many of these are extremely destructive. But after hearing fades, you see a table full of people at the restaurant carrying on a cheerful, animated conversation in sign language. Since the characters we’ve been following are still communicating through written notes and a handful of very rudimentary signs, there’s an unspoken implication that the people at those table were deaf long before this began: what the viewer has been encouraged to see as a calamitous loss is ordinary life for them, and that life can still be good.

I usually like my SFnal exploration more front and center, rather than squeezed in around the edges. But the anthropologist in me quite enjoyed this one.


Sadly, I was not as enthused by Sense8, the new Netflix series from the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer.

They did a great job setting up the cast. Our main characters are eight individuals linked by telepathy, and it’s obvious the writers had a mission statement to represent a broad cross-section of the world: the cop from Chicago and the hacker from San Francisco might seem like standard issue, the DJ from Iceland and the thief from Berlin a little less so — but then you get the banker from Seoul, the film star from Mexico City, the privileged young woman from Mumbai, and the bus driver from Nairobi. Four are women, four are men; one of the men (the film star) is gay, and one of the women (the hacker) is a transgender lesbian. I’m sure some people have sneered at this as “diversity for diversity’s sake” (as if that’s a bad thing), but it also matters to the story — because one of the important things going on here is that they have different backgrounds, different skill sets, different assumptions about the world. And it’s fun to watch those things collide. The “sensates” can project their spirits out so they see each other’s surroundings, and then they learn to possess each other’s bodies. It means they can give one another comfort and advice and, in a pinch, solve their problems for them: the Korean banker is also a participant in underground fighting rings, and kicks the asses of people threatening other members of her cluster. The Kenyan driver winds up behind the wheel of more than a few getaway vehicles. The Mexican movie star lies like a rug to get the German thief out of trouble, etc.

So why didn’t I like it more?

In a nutshell: too much boyfriend, not enough roller derby. In the first episode of the series, it becomes obvious that (of course) there’s some kind of nefarious conspiracy to control and/or kill sensates. By the end of the twelve-episode first season, we know that . . . there’s some kind of nefarious conspiracy to control and/or kill sensates. We can put some faces and names to individuals involved, and we know there’s a doctor who specializes in lobotomizing them — but we don’t know why, or what makes sensate clusters come into existence, or really anything of great substance about the metaplot. Most of the show’s attention is devoted to the lives of the sensates in this cluster and how they interact with one another. This means you’re tracking eight different plotlines at once: there are hints that some of them may connect, but even after twelve episodes, it’s little more than hints. And however much I may enjoy some parts of the character development (like the horrific encounter between Nomi and her family, or the hilarity of the kind-of threesome Lito ends up in), ultimately, I was really frustrated that the show seemed mostly content to wander around in the characters’ lives without really tying the whole group together and going somewhere with them.

Really, the opening credit sequence perfectly represents the problem. It’s a montage of shots from all around the world: famous sites, scenes of daily life, brief little snippets from Nairobi and Seoul and San Francisco and Mexico City and all the other places the characters are from. But there’s no arc to it, no coherent thread other than “hi, our show takes place all over the world!” It is, to use the old description of history, just one damn thing after another. Individually the bits may be lovely, but I want the whole to add up to more. And while it’s entirely possible the show will get there eventually . . . I’m not sure I’m willing to wait around for “eventually” to happen. I gave it one season to hook me; I don’t know that I’ll give it more.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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My husband and I are finally caught up on both Arrow and The Flash, which means I can finally make the post I’ve been drafting in my head for a while. The following contains mild spoilers for both shows, as well as Daredevil. It also contains a fair bit of complaining about how much The Flash disappointed me, so if you really love it and don’t want to see someone dissect its flaws, you may not want to click through.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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This post is going to talk about the new Daredevil TV series. It isn’t really spoilery, but if you want to avoid all hint of what the characters do in later eps, be warned that I do hint.

So my husband and I finished watching Daredevil last night. I liked it well enough; there were some elements I really appreciated, and it turns out I have some hard-coded subconscious switch that responds really well to black masks tied at the back of the head, because they remind me of the Man in Black from The Princess Bride. :-P (I actually didn’t want to see him get his proper costume, because I liked the simple black mask so much.) If you want to chat about the show in general in the comments, feel free.

What I’m here to talk about is Karen Page and Wilson Fisk.


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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I promise one of these days I’ll post about something other than Voyage of the Basilisk or TV. :-P It’s just that right now, I can’t say much about either of the books I’m revising (because spoilers), and I have limited brain for anything else.

So let’s talk about TV! Again!

My husband and I have started watching season two of Orphan Black, finally. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the show follows a group of young female clones (in the modern world) who are finding out where they came from and what’s going on around them.

To begin with: can I say how much the main actress, Tatiana Maslany, impresses me? Not only does she play all the clones (and we’re talking more than half a dozen characters, here), but she differentiates them beautifully. Not just the obvious things like accent and clothing changes, but body language and so forth — and then there are the times when she’s playing one of the clones pretending to be a different clone, and that performance, too, is distinct. Maslany playing Sarah pretending to be Allison does not look the same as Maslany playing Allison. It’s a remarkable achievement.

My praise is not just an idle side note. It’s critical that she be able to pull that off, because the vast majority of the show’s weight rests on her shoulders. She’s playing literally half of the major characters, for crying out loud! Virtually all of the protagonists, and some of the major villains as well!

There’s something else that struck me while watching the first season, and it has to do with the way Maslany carries the show. In a nice reversal of what we so often see on TV, the male characters are almost completely defined by their relationships to the women.

Sarah’s brother. Sarah’s ex. Beth’s boyfriend. Beth’s partner. Allison’s husband. One of the big male antagonists is a scientist deeply involved with the clone project; his entire raison d’etre is this group of women. And because a lot of those men exist in separate spheres (the individual lives of the clones), they don’t talk to one another. When those spheres start colliding? It’s because of the women, and that’s what they end up talking about. It’s entirely possible the show up until this point has failed the Reverse Bechdel Test. Everything that’s going on is mediated by the clones and their stories; they are the engines driving the plots, the forces other characters respond to.

But at no point do I feel like the show is doing that just to hammer home a point. It’s simply a matter of: these clones are the story; they are women. Therefore, this is a story about women.

It is, in short, exactly the kind of structure I would expect if the story had been about a group of male clones. Just gender-swapped.

(When it comes to hammering home a point, though: my god, how often have we seen Felix’s ass? I find it kind of hilarious that most of the nudity so far has been male, and something like 50% of that has been Felix, with another 30% being Felix’s lovers.)

Anyway, we’re very much enjoying S2 so far. I’m cautiously optimistic about the Evil Science Organization metaplot; that sort of thing is often where SF/F shows fall down for me, but this one is doing okay, at least for the moment. And I love the clones: the range they show, the odd quirks and the way their strengths and weaknesses combine. I would drop-kick Allison out a window if I had to deal with her in person — but she’s a fantastic character, and has vastly more depth than you think when you first meet her. And Helena, oh my god. Ten pounds of Mentally Unstable in a five-pound sack. (Not without good reason.) The other characters, too: Mrs. S is becoming fascinatingly complex, and I’m rooting for Art to figure things out. (And is it wrong of me that I’m trying to remember whether Felix is bi instead of gay, because I’m starting to hope he’ll hook up with Allison? I mean, he came to her musical.)

No spoilers, please: I’m only three episodes into the second season, i.e. well behind. But it’s rock-solid so far.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I just sent the first draft off to my editor; that makes the fourth Memoir a Real Thing now, ’cause other people are going to be reading it.

Doing the final polishes before kicking it out the door, I came upon one scene where I felt like I needed to amp up the emotional force a bit. So I went to the middle of the scene, stuck in a few line breaks, and started typing a new paragraph that would take what was going on and foreground it a bit more overtly. I wrote a sentence . . . started another one . . . deleted it . . . wrote a second sentence . . . started a third . . . deleted that and the second sentence . . . and after a lot of fiddling, I had a new paragraph, which I joined up to the following text. I looked it over, polished it a bit, tweaked some words — and then deleted the whole paragraph.

Because I was trying to play the wrong game.

These aren’t the sorts of books in which the narrator lays out her emotional state for the reader to marinate in. Those lines I had so much trouble writing? They were too overt. They were modern in style, rather than the buttoned-up Victorian tone I’ve been aiming for this whole time. I don’t pretend this will work for every reader, but: as far as I’m concerned, that scene has more impact, or at least more the kind of impact I’m going for, when I keep it simple. Less is more.

This is on my mind right now because my husband and I just finished watching Agent Carter, and we’re also nearing the end of the first season of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I realized tonight that I’m starting to crave passionate, operatic, heart-on-sleeve declarations of love, because both of those shows feature a lot of very proper characters having All the Feels but never talking about it openly. I said before that I ship Peggy Carter and Edmund Jarvis in a totally platonic way, and I stand by that — but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t flailing during one of the last scenes of this last episode, with the two of them being so very Britishly reserved at one another. And my god, if Jack Robinson and Phryne Fisher don’t kiss by the end of this season, I might throw things at the TV. (A real kiss, I mean. Not a “no I only did that to keep the murderer from noticing you I swear that’s all it was” kiss.)

My reaction means the writers are doing their jobs correctly, of course. And this is the thing romance and horror have in common: they both carry more impact if they tease you for a while first, hinting at stuff and building it slowly before finally delivering the emotional payoff. If you rush the process, it doesn’t work as well. But if you play the tension right, if you see only hints of the monster or the occasional Meaningful Gaze between the characters . . . then you don’t need an enormous payoff to get a lot of energy out of it. One kiss can work as well as — or better than — the characters falling into bed; one brief shot of the monster’s face can horrify you more than seeing the entire thing.

When it’s done well, I adore this sort of thing. Too steady of a diet, though, and I start feeling like I need some characters with a bit less self-control. But tell me: what are your favorite “oh my god this tiny thing was so incredibly meaningful” emotional payoffs in a story, or your favorite “and then we pulled out all of the stops and fired up the jet engines and went so far over the top we couldn’t even see it with binoculars” moments?

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I mentioned a while ago that I was tired of grim ‘n gritty TV shows, things full of cynicism and decidedly lacking in color. In contrast, I’d like to recommend three TV shows that are bright! and energetic! and feature almost no death whatsoever!

Bonus, of a sort: all of these shows are short-run, with the longest having only ten episodes. So if you’re looking for something you can marathon for weeks, these will not fit the bill — but if you want something that isn’t a huge time commitment, they’re perfect.


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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.


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