Chapter One of Dreamfall Chapters was first released in 2014. Development of the game officially began in 2013, after the developer’s Kickstarter was fully funded, and the story was based on ideas that were first kicking around since the original Dreamfall: The Longest Journey’s 2007 release, or maybe even 1999 when the first game in the series, titled simply The Longest Journey, was first published. And yet, as I replayed the game earlier this month, the game felt very specifically about another year entirely: this one, 2016. While I can say with a fairly high level of confidence that Ragnar Tørnquist and the other fine people at Red Thread Games were not in possession of a time window into this year, and that they were not attempting to write specifically about the latest U.S. presidential election, the game, mixing together cyberpunk (via the future Earth called Stark) and fantasy (in the magical world of Arcadia) invokes the past and future to say a whole lot about now.
Dreamfall Chapters mainly follows two characters, Zoë Castillo and Kian Alvane, who are both on journeys that began during the first Dreamfall. Zoë, from Stark, is a college dropout who is now attempting to put her life back together after she spent a week successfully stopping a corporate conspiracy and getting a year-long coma and amnesia for her trouble. Kian Alvane, from Arcadia, is a former Apostle (read: faith-based assassin) for the Azadi Empire, until a chance encounter led him to doubt his faith and mission, eventually resulting in him defying his masters’ orders and getting branded a traitor and arrested. Also, he is gay, which I mention because it is awesome.
It is through Kian and Zoë’s eyes that we experience two very personal stories about, faith, renewal, acceptance, denial, and talking birds. It is also a story about change, and how it can come about in very sudden, scary—but not necessarily unpredictable or surprising—ways.
Note: Spoilers Below
People who read this may know that I periodically post episode reviews and essays about the Disney animated series Gargoyles on my other blog, Monsters of New York. Recently, though, I wrote an essay not for my blog, but for the fine feminist critique site Bitch Flicks. Like the title of this post says, it’s about how the show’s attempts to be tell a story about oppression are undermined by the creators’ privilege, and it goes something like this:
…Gargoyles is also a fantastic showcase of what can happen when creators possessing privilege write stories about the oppressed without their input. Weisman and his staff had good intentions, and yet that didn’t stop them from writing “Heritage,” a perennial contender for the award of Most Racist Story That Tried Not to Be Racist (Television). In the episode, Elisa essentially tells the chief of a failing First Nation village, whom she’s only just met, that he’s performing his identity wrong, and is proven correct by the narrative. While that episode is an outlier, it is not alone — despite the show’s attempts to be about oppression and about being the Other, it falls down in multiple and consistent ways featuring more than one episode where the message they wish to send is not the message they are actually sending.
Yay me! Once you’re done, the sit also has many other fine posts by awesome writers about various films and TV shows for you to read, so please give those a look. Thank you!
While the parallels between Nikita and Person of Interest are not as easy to identify as those between Nikita and Alias, they are in some ways arguably more substantive. Produced roughly during the same period, the two series’ takes on the espionage genre not only feature similar tones and (to a degree) aesthetics, but also similar themes and concerns. Their core foci may be different—Person of Interest is chiefly about how technology changes the world, both by making possible and normalizing the surveillance state and by altering the definition of living thing, while Nikita is about abuse and dehumanization, and the possibility of reclaiming that humanity—but both also deal with themes like identity, redemption, corruption, rebirth, and rebirth—more than enough, in other words, to make comparing and contrasting the series both interesting and rewarding—hence what I hope will become a series. This is Division of Interest, and we begin with the two couples (hush!) with whom it all begins.
(Series spoilers for both Person of Interest and Nikita below.)
(Content Notes: Suicide, suicidal ideation)
So, the elections happened. The results were terrible, to the point where I’m actually currently somewhat grateful for the degree of separation that currently exists between Puerto Rico and the states. I’m still processing, and in moments when I can process about the comparatively trivial, I think, well, this is going to affect the shit out of my novel.
Context: Over the past month or so, I’ve actually gone back to working on Faerie, which over the years had become something I only occasionally talked about but never get any closer to completing, but has now become some 30,000+ words long, i.e., about as long as an Animorphs book. And then Trump happened, which is making me reconsider the whole thing, again. Now, on top of not being sure if the story about two teenage Muslimahs dealing with their evolving feelings about their religion in a newly Islamophobic environment is a story I should be telling or can do justice to, I’m sort of kinda feeling like Trump and what he’s done need to be part of the story. While this works, to a degree–it fits right in with the themes and plot–it also means rethinking large swaths of what I’ve already done, including the book’s overall tone, as well as several key characters and scenes. So I have questions, and no answers yet.
In any case, until those answers come, I decided to write for today’s 1,500 words a scene where my characters actually deal with the election. Right now it exists more or less as a way to process my own thoughts and put them on paper, and to try to get something positive out of the whole thing: I’m not sure if it will actually make it into the final work, although some version probably will, if the story is still set in 2016 by the time the second draft begins.
(Series-wide spoilers below)
There’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance required in order to accept La Femme Nikita’s premise on its own terms. The series wants us to believe that clandestine intelligence agency / assassination bureau Section One is necessary in order to ensure the world’s safety, and that its work somehow justifies the monstrous way the group operates. At the same time, everything the series tells us about the Section suggests that such a claim isn’t factual. It obtains its “recruits” via kidnapping and dehumanization, which belies its alleged legitimacy—surely an above-board agency would be able to obtain agents some other, less illegal, way. It lies to and manipulates its people constantly, not because of a need to keep information properly classified, but to keep them compliant. Its oversight appears to include no one connected to any government entity anywhere, or anyone who is themselves subject to oversight. And yet, in order for the series to work, one has to choose to disregard all of this, and believe that the Section lies about everything but is completely honest about its agenda.
It’s hard to understate how significant this is to the series. If the Section isn’t working for the greater good—if that claim is just another one of its countless lies—then the story simply falls apart. There’s no reason to care about Nikita’s fate, or to consider her anything other than a great big fool, in addition to an accomplice to continued abuse. And while mitigating factors exist due to her status as a prisoner and victim, those become much less mitigating once she manages to escape, scot-free, and then decides to return. Similarly, there’s no reason to wish for any of the characters to succeed. And while this element of uncertainty was always baked into the premise’s cake—there is every reason to be just as skeptical of the agency in Luc Besson’s original film—that original version manages to get away with it because Anne Parillaud’s Nikita, by and large, doesn’t care about what she does except insofar as it affects her. It is only in the TV series, where the agency and its manipulation of Nikita (Peta Wilson) became central, that its role in the world becomes truly relevant. And yet, the show proves ambivalent at best on this point, seeming uninterested in providing evidence about the good the Section allegedly does. The largely episodic and insular storytelling makes it hard to get a bead on the long-term consequences of the Section’s actions, and the vague world-building—to the point where the Section doesn’t defend any one nation, but rather “the West”—makes it impossible to determine with precision whose interests the Section is supposed to be aligned with, leaving us only with the assertions of proven manipulators with no incentive to tell the truth. How can we trust then, that the people behind Section One aren’t simply using their people for their own personal gain? So important is this question, that J.J. Abrams, intentionally or not, based half the initial premise of Alias on it.
Dreamfall Chapters is huge. Too huge, really: it’s the finale to a story to a game released ten years ago, dealing with plot points and characters from a game released in 1999, featuring three worlds (or more, depending on how you count), two cities, four protagonists, and the answers (or simply answers) to a million different mysteries. It’s a story about life, death, rebirth, dreams, identity, depression, growing up, relationships, addiction, conquest, colonialism, politics, passion, genocide, racism, complacency, sisterhood, guilt, redemption and whatever other theme you’d care to find. That developer Red Thread’s scant resources are just about enough to give us the stage play version of events, and to do so fairly well, speaks highly of their commitment and passion. And yet, it’s still the stage play version of events: think the original Star Wars, with the camera never leaving the Death Star. While its world is technically larger than its predecessors’ it feels like it should be larger still, and that it isn’t is behind many of its issues.
Sometimes it pays to be skeptical.
When news of what would eventually become Legends of Tomorrow first popped up, the concept seemed, to put it in the kindest possible words, contrived. A team made up of Sara Lance, Captain Cold, and the Atom? What. It seemed like a something that had come into being not because somebody had had a fantastic fucking idea for a story that required these characters, but because The Powers that Be wanted to make some money out of characters from Arrow and The Flash that no longer had homes in those shows and needed a concept that could accommodate them as well as other assorted DCU B- and C-listers.
Now that the pilot has come and gone, it now seems that the initial suspicions were correct: Legends of Tomorrow is a show that exists primarily to give its characters something to do.
(Content Note: Transphobia; Transphobic Narratives)
The best scene in “Of Late I Think of Rosewood”, the premiere for the second half of Pretty Little Liars’ sixth season, takes place in a courtroom, where the Liars are being compelled to testify as to their mental state regarding Charlotte Dilaurentis, a.k.a. Cece Drake a.k.a. Red Coat a.k.a. A, in order to determine whether she should be set free. Charlotte’s sister has asked the Liars to live up to their name and testify that everything is hunky-dory, and because the Liars are all too used to dancing to Alison Dilaurentis’ tune, they agree. Aria even has prepared script and everything.
And then, Aria says no. Abandoning her prepared remarks, the littlest liar asserts that no, she is not okay, that the scars she obtained during Charlotte’s nine-month reign of terror are nowhere near fully healed, and that she does not feel safe. It’s quite possibly her best scene in the entire history of the show, and, in a world that consistently asks its underprivileged to Get Over It and forgive and forget transgressions enacted by more privileged peoples and institutions—a world in which women are consistently asked to forgive how the Patriarchy has arrayed things against them and to “act normal, bitch” because #NotAllMen—it can be considered a rather powerful, brave statement.
So Chasing Life, one of my favorite new shows of the last few years, got cancelled earlier this month. Worse still (depending on how you look at things) it ended with most of its ongoing plots unresolved, including the one where Brenna Carver dealt with the return of ex-girlfriend and fellow cinnamon roll Greer Danville to Boston. The episode itself indicated that Brenna was getting ready for a night out with Greer at the New England Aquarium, before being interrupted by other events. We never got to see the date, which is an absolute crime, particularly since we hadn’t seen Greer all season. So I wrote it.
At the entrance to the New England Aquarium, Greer Danville tried not to pace.
She wasn’t normally this anxious. Correction: she wasn’t normally this visibly anxious. Correction correction: she wasn’t normally this excited. Yes, that was better. In any case, it was all Brenna Carver’s fault.
Greer had not known what to expect when she’d showed up at Brenna’s house the previous day. The two former girlfriends were still on friendly terms, and their break-up had everything to do with external factors and nothing to do with the way they actually felt about each other, but still, a lot could change in five months. Brenna’s social media feed, at least, had suggested some level of moving on, and Greer had convinced herself that she was fine with that, if that was the case.
(Correction: almost convinced herself.)
The rest of the fic can be read at Fanfiction.net.
[Content Note: Transphobic representations]
As the #SummerOfAnswers rolled on, my favorite A theory was by Rachel Watkins, who runs the PLL Theorist Tumblr. According to the theory posted on May 22, 2015, A, then believed to be Charles Dilaurentis, would turn out to be Cece Drake, who knew and loved Charles while they were both in Radley, and loved him until the day Charles died. After that moment, Cece decided to play the game, becoming the first A. I didn’t agree with all of it—I’ve always believed that Mona originated the A identity and iconography on her own, like the show claimed, and that whomever almost killed Alison simply used it as a new way to carry on with what they were already separately doing—but it felt satisfying; if the show had ended up doing something like that—and it did—I would have been happier than I would have been with almost any other resolution. I liked Cece as A: not only did I enjoy the character of Cece, she’d been made into a big enough figure in the history of the show to make her a satisfying answer. Granted, she didn’t have much of a reason to torment the Liars, but the same could be said of most other viable suspects, and the series latter de-emphasizing of the high school and family elements seemed to suggest that the Liars’ actual connection to A’s larger motives would be tangential at best.
Other, not altogether dissimilar theories also had Cece as A, but also took the season 5 finale’s revelation that A was Charles (Dilaurentis, as eventually confirmed in season 6) at face value. Charles, the theories explained, was actually trans, and eventually grew up to be Cece Drake. While they kept Cece as A and were more in tune with what the show actually seemed to be setting up—it initially suggested Charles was actually dead before revealing that no, he was still alive—it was an extremely unsatisfying theory, largely because it would mean that the person who had tormented Alison Dilaurentis, the Liars, and increasingly large amounts of people, and who had killed several people during the course of the show, was also the only trans character in the show. Said theory, if true, would be a slap in the face to the show’s many trans fans, to the people who had come to see the show as a (decidedly imperfect) oasis in a universe still hostile to LGBTA people, and to the young watchers who deserve better than to being misled about trans people. No matter the execution, it would make Pretty Little Liars’ universe into one where cis people could be very many things, and trans people would be the one thing they always were in television, killers or victims or both. Even if the show attempted to somehow redeem A the way it had done with its previous villains, there was no guarantee that it would work, and her narrative would never stop reinforcing the idea that trans people are fundamentally dishonest and dangerous, which is the opposite of the truth and an idea that constantly endangers them. Therefore, it seemed too terrible a possibility to contemplate.