(Spoilers for Power Rangers ahead.)
So in my Power Rangers review, I happened to write the following:
A good amount of time is spent on Kimberly’s angst, and on how her recent actions have alienated her from her social circle, and made her begin feeling a measure of self-hatred. When we’re told what the inciting incident to all this is—she maliciously shared a nude pic of a classmate to humiliate her, it feels a bit out of proportion to her response, but that’s just me an adult and official old person. She believes this makes her horrible, and that’s what matters.
It got some critical feedback, which is good, not only because it means that somebody read the review and cared enough about it to disagree, but also, because there’s a lot worth criticizing in the statement, notably, the suggestion that sharing a nude pic of a friend–a female friend, at that–is no big deal.
To be absolutely clear, what Kimberly did is objectively terrible, and Kimberly is right to characterize herself as terrible for having done it*. I know this, I knew it when I watched the film, and I knew it when I wrote the review. Despite this, my main takeaway from that scene, while watching it for the first time and writing about it, is “Kim, you sweet, beautiful overdramatic child.” The terribleness of it doesn’t really come across on any emotional level, and I’ve spent some time since then thinking of why that is the case.
Part of it is my own damn fault, of course, for not immediately seeing all the angles even when made plain and empathizing more about the character I cared about rather than the ones she’d harmed. Another part of it, though, is the way the film deals with that moment and how it characterized Kimberly in comparison to the people she betrayed, and, more in general, with the film’s portrayal of Kim as a mean girl in the larger context of mean girls on film and TV. If Kim’s actions don’t feel as the big deal they are, it is because as terrible as Kimberly’s betrayal of her friends and general slut-shaming (and, technically, illegal distribution of child pornography) are, they are positively dwarfed in that larger context.
Pretty Little Liars starts out with the girls having blinded a classmate, and is steeped in blackmail and murder. Riverdale is headed in that same direction. Mean Girls has Cady manipulate Regina George into altering her body in unwanted, possibly irreversible ways. Heathers was all about murder, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had its characters slut-shame as casually as they breathed. And it’s not the antagonists that do this–or rather, it’s not only they who do it. It’s (also) the heroes, the ones we’re made to root for, while being all glamorous and pretty and sympathetic, without the self-recrimination Kimberly displays during her confession, in stories where the effects of their actions tend to be downplayed, victims tend to be less affected the more time we’re meant to spend with them, and forgiveness is granted with disturbing ease. Taken together, it has a definitive desensitizing effect, making the terrible feel not so, or even awesome at times. Mona Vanderwaal may be a killer and blackmailer, but damn if I don’t love every bit of her.
And really, the film itself doesn’t help. Kimberly’s victims aren’t really characters, they’re extras whose main quality is being catty in a way designed to draw sympathy away from them and towards Kimberly; they are pissed, and rightfully so, but they do not seem harmed. And we really don’t get to see pre-epiphany Kimberly, which means we’re left to draw our conclusions from the version we see on screen.* All of which makes the confession scene feel unbalanced, with only Naomi Scott to sell it. As mentioned in the review, she succeeds, to some degree, but perhaps not all the necessary ones.
The thing is, though, that none of that should matter. Kim is clear about what she does, and what she does is terrible. And yet it does. There are a lot of dimensions to Kimberly’s story, and those dimensions all got the short shrift in my review, and my thoughts were expressed in the worst, most dismissive and harmful form–one that I, for all it’s worth, apologize for.
* There’s one moment in the film where we get an unvarnished hint of what Old Kimberly may have been like, and that’s the moment when she takes pleasure at seeing her former friends’ car wrecked during the Goldar battle, perhaps not considering that she and her friends were a few feet away from being squashed. There are a lot of arguments that one could make about that scene, as it goes on to suggest a whole lot of things about Kimberly’s story arc that don’t really get elaboration, and make it feel as if its missing some necessary pieces rather than simply unfinished, as, say, Trini’s. That said, I’m not sure I see that ambiguity as a flaw, and I hope it’s something the writers either intentionally included or noticed after the fact, and that it gets more development in subsequent films. It deserves to.
Review: “Power Rangers” is the Weirdest, and Possibly Best, Remake of “The Breakfast Club” We Could Have Hoped For
Given its minuscule budget; its dependence on footage, costumes, and stories taken from the Japanese Super Sentai meta-series; and its primary role as a conduit to sell action figures, Power Rangers has always had an air of compromise to it. No matter how much kids enjoyed and continue to enjoy the series, the preponderance of moving parts has always been hard to arrange in a way that is consistently satisfying. The very first season of the original series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, made by people who had to create a playbook for a game no one had played before, and had to do so as it went along, managed to be appealing despite a complete lack of consistent character development, sketchy-as-fuck plotting, and actors who on average were more earnest than good, thanks to a solid formula, the strength of the Japanese material, Ron Wasserman’s music, and un-self-conscious goofiness. The second season famously mixes material from two (three, depending on how you count) different sources of Japanese footage, alongside American material that was not at all ready to carry the increased weight it was forced to carry, and had to deal with things like the covert disposal of half its cast. Even more than twenty years later, getting a version of the Power Rangers that manages to fire on all cylinders—cast, story, aesthetic—and manages to do so consistently often feels like a crapshoot. And so, enjoying Power Rangers as a fan has always been a matter of managing expectations; Power Rangers in Space may not be the truly epic culmination of everything that had been set up before, as the Rangers faced the combined forces of all their past enemies, but taking all the difficulties it faced, it still manages to be pretty darn epic. And so, it feels somewhat appropriate, if disappointing, that despite its high-budget construction, the newest Power Rangers film still feels like a compromise.
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.