Asylum of the Daleks: Doctor Who?

Excellent kick-off to the new season of doctor who last night, including a fascinating new depth to the Daleks and a wonderful stand-alone story about some of the Doctor’s companions.

For my review, I’m first going to get the most obvious and objectionable part of the ongoing tale of the Ponds out of the way: Amy needs plots that have nothing to do with her vagina. I’m usually a defender of Moffat’s women, but even I have to admit that this is getting ridiculous. Most of women’s lives have nothing to do with their sexuality and childbearing abilities, as Oswin demonstrates in the same episode. Amy needs new stuff, and she needs it ASAP.

Now that that’s said, I’m going to focus on a far more interesting aspect of the episode: the construction of masculinity. This is a boy’s show, but unlike many boy’s shows it takes conflicting ideas of masculinity seriously.

The Doctor is at his most broody-asshole-hero in this episode, snapping at the desperate woman who called him and even been a bit mean to the Ponds. The reason for this is not immediately clear, until you realize that this is what being in hiding has done to our Doctor. He’s been without companions for a ridiculous amount of time. He’s escaped all the consequences of his actions, which have been borne instead by the people he loves. He’s wandering around the universe and, by necessity, avoiding all connections with anyone in order to maintain his cover.

Losing your connection with people is the theme of this episode. The Daleks are the ultimate in connected, sharing a telepathic web that links all their minds, but at the same time each is utterly alone, trapped in their individual shells. In contrast, each of the three humans in the episode falls back on their real, broken connections with the people they love in order to stay themselves. Oswin and her mother, Amy and Rory, all have to hold on to each other to maintain their senses of self.

The Doctor is now the free ultra-masculine hero, but unlike Oswin, Rory, and Amy, he seems profoundly unhappy. He is still capable of love, but he is casting it off as dangerous, as a burden. It’s just him and the TARDIS now, with no strays, and it’s in danger of making him as isolated as the Daleks.

The Doctor may rejoice in his anonymity, dancing around chanting the show’s title, but the more people who forget him, the more creatures and races who lose him, who lose that part of themselves to which the Doctor is essential, the more the Doctor is in danger of losing the part of himself that is human. If he’s not more careful, we’re going to lose him.

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Don’t End up in the Garden of Bones

GoT: Don’t End up in the Garden of Bones

            So, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are confused about the unifying theme of this episode, and I’d like throw in my reading: the whole episode boils down to Tyrion’s line about Sansa that she “may yet survive us all.”

            This episode is about what people will do to stay alive, and if anything they can do will help save them. Almost scene involved a character facing a deadly situation, in which they had only one way out and usually didn’t know what it was. Sansa couldn’t get Joffery to stop hurting her, but she could follow Tyrion and stick to the party line. Ros could either sadistically torture a particularly vulnerable-looking prostitute or be sadistically tortured herself. Petyr could shut up about love or Cat could stab him (great scene).

            In a lot of cases, the characters had no idea what they could do to escape, like when Dany tried desperately to figure out how to get into Qarth, or didn’t even realize they needed to look out. Renly had no idea he was bargaining for his life, and no one in Harrenhal knew anything about anything, much less how to avoid getting killed.

            Which brings us to the agonizing soul of tonight’s episode, the little people. The high lords and ladies are playing at their games, and occasionally they get captured by the enemy or threatened with Joffery, but they all live largely in comfort, and widows can even get the bones of their husbands returned. Not so for the nameless commoners, who are viciously tortured for information without even knowing why, or the random soldiers like the crippled boy, whose enemy never knew his name or bore him any hate, but who will never walk again. The gray haired woman in Harrenhal represented all these people for me, with her thousand-yard stare and her utter resignation to her fate, to the fate of all those she loves. Most of the people dying in these battles at court and in the field have no names and no luxury of choice.

Spoiler discussions:

            So I love that they added in the prostitute scene and I think it was totally essential, although I’ll never ever watch it again. I think it’s a really good show-don’t-tell setup for Joffery’s eventual fate at the hands of Margery’s aunt, and solidifies that long term plot in a way the tv show really needed.

            Also, I think all the additions work really well here to flesh out non POV characters, like Robb and Jeyne’s story (I can’t remember—did she have any lines?), Tywin (Yes, I laughed, I couldn’t believe it), and Littlefinger (I always wondered in the book why he didn’t try to get Cat after she was widowed).

            Finally, I’d like to applaud the choice to not make Qarth incredibly racist. I don’t quite remember if the people in Qarth were as Orientalized as the people in Meereen, but it was an easy trap to fall into and I’m pleased they sidestepped it. 

A Short Story About Love Review–COME ON

This week on Fringe, Olivia Dunham responded to the attacks of fans by completely throwing out her personality, history, and life for a man. Yay?

First off, having his Olivia back may be enough for Peter, but it sure as hell isn’t for me. I don’t watch the show for this one relationship, I watch it for a web of interesting relationships in both universes, whose histories I have followed to the point of obsession. I watch a show to see the characters at their best and their worst, and to follow them along the road. Not just to see if Peter and Olivia finally get married.

Of course it makes sense in the show’s internal logic that Peter can’t go back, that there is no back home. We’ve spent a whole season re-writing the chronology, for God’s sake—we’re not just going to go back to normal. But his immediate acceptance of this, and Olivia’s choice to just let her old self go, imply that the only thing they need is each other. The concept of “home” is only their love for each other. This is romantic and all, I’ll admit, but it’s not realistic.

Olivia has been working in Fringe for four years. She has a series of relationships with dozens of people, a whole different set of responsibilities and connections than our Olivia. She has a family, she has a past, and she NEEDS to know them. She can’t just forget everything she knows about her life! Peter’s job is based on his scientific abilities, which he can use in any universe or timeline. Olivia’s job is based on her ability to make connections, to see patterns, to analyze situations. How the hell is she going to do that in a whole different universe?

Let’s have a quick example, shall we? In the LAST EPISODE, Olivia gained control of the situation by figuring out that Nina wasn’t really Nina. She did this by testing fake Nina’s memory. What would have happened if she really had no way of knowing that? She probably would have found a way out of it, but she can’t exactly count on getting lucky, can she?

In the end, the relationships of Fringe’s characters, and the continuity of the show, have been essentialized into a single romantic relationship. Again, this makes sense in the show’s internal logic, but it’s incredibly disrespectful to the characters, particularly Olivia, and annoying as hell to the viewers.

Why I Won’t Be Going to See The Hunger Games

Now, I adored the novels, even parts of the ending. I loved Katniss and rooted for her as much as anyone. And I’ll take a craze centered around her over one around Edward Cullen any day. But the part of the novel that enchanted me the most, that made me just fall on the floor in the first book, was its fascinating metaphor for the voyeuristic entertainment experience. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Hunger Games themselves are fully televised. Every moment of them is broadcast across the country, and much like in reality television, fan favorites develop, theories are advanced, and the real people involved become lost in the characters they project.

But the most fascinating part of this is that the things which thrill the grotesque instigators of the games are also the sections that thrill the readers. Everyone who devoured those books like I did (all three in 24 hours—I had a TON of fun) did so for the same reason that the almost cannibalistic, and deeply inhuman masses within the novel did. The twists and turns of the arena, the sudden deaths of non-favorite characters, all designed for the pleasure of the watching public were also designed for the voyeuristic pleasure of the readers.

The main romance of the first novel, between Peeta and Katniss, is deliberately fashioned by Katniss to win the support of the viewing public. “Intimate” moments were televised nationally, and thus, any reader like me who felt at all touched by that relationship was metaphorically part of the audience, the depraved bloodthirsty stooges of the Capitol.

SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH. This is the reason that I was truly upset at the resolution of the central love triangle. The development of the relationship between Peeta and Katniss was constructed by the two of them in order to please the viewing public. Thus, I felt uncomfortable when the book demanded a large emotional investment in them on my part, and when Katniss chose Peeta in the end I was extremely unsettled because this marked the point at which the part Katniss performed, the fake part of her, became the same thing as Katniss herself. Katniss’s decision in that triangle was the point at which the Capitol beat her, because not only her actions were dictated by them, but her self.

Because of this aspect of voyeurism, which I felt was a powerful commentary on modern entertainment and even reading as a rather bloodthirsty voyeuristic experience, I find the idea of making a Hunger Games movie somewhat grotesque. The entire point of the first book is that entertainment focused on the suffering of others, experience emotionally but from a safe distance, is not as harmless as it looks. The experience of watching, the fandom that develops in the capitol, and the decision to turn on the games each day, are the most direct examples the readers get of the inhumanity of the Capitol citizens. So putting that same experience on our television screens, so that we can get voyeuristic pleasure out of it in the same way that they do, except that our version is (this time) fiction, is an ugly example of a meta moment when reality and fiction run headlong into each other. I’m not saying that anyone who goes to see these movies is as bad as the villains, or is a bloodthirsty spectator; what I’m saying is that the entire marketing campaign, the existence of this movie at all, and the anticipation of this movie are all predicated on missing the central voyeuristic theme of the books. The important and fascinating critique is being lost, the metaphor is veering uncomfortably close to the truth, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it.