Division of Interest: Partners

diciembre 6, 2016 at 7:21 pm (Television) (, , , , , )

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)

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The CW’s “Nikita” is a Spy Story about Healing

octubre 27, 2016 at 12:06 am (Television, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

vlcsnap-2016-09-27-16h46m30s358

(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.

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“Legends of Tomorrow” Is the Arrow-verse’s Largest Show and its Smallest

enero 23, 2016 at 2:53 am (Reviews, Television) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Legends of Tomorrow

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.

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Review: “Pretty Little Liars” 6.11: “Of Late I Think of Rosewood” (Spoilers)

enero 13, 2016 at 2:04 pm (ABC Family, Pretty Little Liars, Rape Culture, Reviews, Television) (, , , , , , , , )

(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.

Except…

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Review: “Pretty Little Liars” 6.10: “Game Over, Charles” (Spoilers)

agosto 14, 2015 at 7:26 pm (ABC Family, Pretty Little Liars, Television) (, , , , , , , , , , )

[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.

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“Alias” is a Show About a Spy, and Not Much Else

mayo 25, 2015 at 12:30 am (Television, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Alias made the current action TV landscape possible.

Part of what defines the current so-called golden age of television, particularly when it relates to the action-adventure genre, is its ability to rival film when it comes to sheer scale and craft. Before 2001, you really needed film in order to make Superman fly; Lois & Clark may have understood Superman, but it had no other choice but to suggest his more impressive super-feats, rather than actually show them. Now, with shows like The Flash, there’s no obvious sense of compromise: while there’s still a gap between what you can do in each medium, it’s much less noticeable, and mitigated by the fact that there’s a lot of things you can do with TV that you just can’t do with film. Alias, the 2001-2006 action / espionage show starring Jennifer Garner and created by J.J. Abrams, was in many ways the show that began to bridge that gap.

Compare the first season of Alias to the first season of La Femme Nikita, a show that stopped airing a scant few months before spy royalty Sydney Bristow made her debut. Sure, the earlier show could occasionally pull off some slick moments, and yet, these were these few and far between, exceptions in a show that oftentimes felt quite limited. Alias, on the other hand, often succeeded in making it feel as if those limits didn’t exist. Whereas Femme spent most of its on generic cities or inside Section One HQ, Alias took place all over the world (in a simplistic, theme-park-y, made for TV way—they sure as hell weren’t filming on China, Japan, Monaco, etc.—but still). While Nikita got into a lot of relatively-easy-to-stage shoot-outs, Sydney got into a lot of brawls, car chases, and races, requiring considerably more involved choreography from the creators.   La Femme Nikita had style and tone; Alias had that and vision. Perhaps most importantly, while La Femme Nikita was structured in a manner not dissimilar to countless other shows, with self-contained one-shot episodes and very few recurring characters, Alias had several large, overarching and interconnected storylines, involving lots of characters and events and places, giving the show a scope that at the time was unmatched and requiring far more attention and trust from viewers than was the norm at the time. Without Alias, there would have been no Lost. Without Lost to popularize the mytharc and assure TV execs that yes, viewers could deal with complex and elaborate story arcs, shows like Arrow or The Flash wouldn’t exist, at least not in their current forms.

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Season One of ” La Femme Nikita” is Indeed Quite a Bit Like “Twilight” (Spoilers)

noviembre 2, 2014 at 10:52 am (Television) (, , , , )

One of the claims I often noticed made when comparing the Peta Wilson La Femme Nikita to its successor, Maggie Q’s Nikita, is that it is  both considerably more dark and more gray than its successor. After finishing season one of Femme, I have to agree with the first part of that assessment: while Nikita is a story that is fundamentally about the possibility of fighting impossible odds and winning without having to give up one’s soul—even if that soul has plenty of red in its ledger—the earlier show, or at least its first season, is about the futility of even trying. It makes for a work that is fascinating, yet unpleasant to watch, particularly since the writers and showrunners appear to have no idea of just how dark the story they’re telling actually is.

Both versions of the story, like all versions of the Nikita story, feature at its center a quasi-legitimate black-ops group which forces their “recruits”, including Nikita, to become spies and assassins—spyssassins—at gunpoint. Femme‘s is called Section One, and is, the show wants us to believe, mostly involved in legitimate counterintelligence—stopping terrorists, procuring WMD’s before they fall into The Wrong Hands, etcetera.  Nikita‘s organization, on the other hand, is called Division, and is explicitly presented as a group which, unbeknownst to the rank and file, has been almost wholly corrupted by its director, who basically uses it as a way to accrue money and power for himself. The difference in the way the organizations are portrayed are largely a result of the two different stories each series is trying to tell: La Femme Nikita is a story about Nikita when she is inside, and therefore needs her to be doing arguably good work for Section One, while Nikita is about a Nikita who is on the outside trying to bring down Division, and therefore needs the organization to be a bad guy.

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Names, “Arrow”, Whitewashing

mayo 18, 2014 at 11:55 pm (Television, Whitewashing) (, , , , , , )

(With special thanks to Daggerpen.)

When the people behind Arrow cast The Killing’s Bex Taylor-Klaus on a recurring basis as The Canary’s best friend and confidant Sin, comic book fans called foul. The comic book character that inspired Taylor-Klaus’s role, Dinah Lance’s adopted daughter, had been a woman of color, born and raised in a village in Asia. The TV character was not.

Cute?

Bex Taylor-Klaus.  Cute?  Yes.   Fantastic in the role?  Sure.  Asian?  Not even a little bit.

If recent events are any indication, it may appear that the producers heard the criticism, but did not listen. Leer el resto de esta entrada »

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A Visual History of April O’Neil, Part 4: 1997 – 2002

abril 29, 2014 at 10:03 pm (Animation, Comic Books, Television, TMNT) (, , , , , , , , )

Kids WB April, 1st Rough (2001)

As the TMNT franchise approached its fifteenth year, it seemed as if there wasn’t all that much to celebrate.  The first cartoon was over.  Attempts at a fourth film had long since been abandoned.  Mirage wasn’t producing any new material, and Image series, lasted only twenty-three issues.  The turtles had returned to television in 1997, in the live-action Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation,  but that only lasted one season and appears to have little to recommend it.  It also didn’t feature April, which is why it doesn’t factor here.

If this fall into semi-obscurity had one benefit, is that it allowed Peter Laird, now older, more media-savvy, and completely in charge of the turtles, to have a greater say in what his characters should look and act like.  In 2001, the turtles returned in a very low-profile way, as Mirage Studios released the first issue of  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ fourth volume, with Laird as writer and Jim Lawson as artist.   Ignoring the stories told in the Image run, he moved the action forward more than a decade, showing the turtles as adults.  It would be the only regular turtles fans would get until 2002, when a company called 4Kids entered the scene.

Note: If you can help fill in the gaps in the data–the artist for the Palladium April image (which I think may have been by the Paulo Parentes Studio) and the year for the CGI pilot, for example–it’d be much appreciated.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

 

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A Visual History of April O’Neil, Part 1: 1984 – 1987

noviembre 25, 2013 at 6:38 pm (Animation, Comic Books, Film, Television) (, , , , , , )

TMNT # 11 (1987)

Determining when a character has been whitewashed is, in theory, a rather simple task.  Specifically, its a matter of asking oneself:

  1. Was Character X established as a Person of Color in the original work?
  2. Has an adaptation of that work changed Character X so that they are now White instead?

If the answer to both is “yes”, then whitewashing has occurred.

Of course, reality has ways of taking the simplest of tests and adding a whole bunch of complications along the way.  For example, what if the answer to sub-question one is “yes and no”?  This is the case with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ April O’Neil, a character who had no established heritage aside from her last name of Irish origin, and whose looks could change rather drastically between appearances, because apparently, her creators–Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird–had different ideas, and never  definitively settled the question while they were working together.

Because people are complicated, there are a lot of differing opinions about this matter, most with at least some evidence backing them up.  Hence, this series, chronicling the many looks she’s had, beginning with the moment of her creation and taking us all the way to 2014, where she is set to appear on the big screen once again, this time played by Megan Fox.  The idea is not to argue for any particular conclusions–although I do have my own opinions on the matter–but simply to allow people to come to their own.  Plus, I like timelines, I really like seeing the visual evolution of a concept, and I think that April’s is, in particular, really interesting.

We begin this first section in 1984, the year when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird for the second issue of their surprisingly successful comic book, and go all the way to 1987 when she was set to make her debut in the cartoon that changed the franchise forever.

ETA:

Note: While comments for this series are closed–I do not feel that I am capable of moderating the particular discussions on race that this has the potential to lead into–feedback, either in the form of factual corrections or whatever thoughts you’d like to share, can be sent via the Contact Form at the bottom of the post.

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