Archive for September, 2022

Jonathan MS Pearce on Representative Casting

September 30, 2022

So, there’s been a fair bit of discussion over some attempts at diverse casting in the Amazon “Lord of the Rings” show and in the “Game of Thrones” prequel show “House of the Dragon”.  In particular, “Lord of the Rings” has added black characters to all races — including the elves who, traditionally, have been presented as being pale-skinned — and “House of the Dragon” has presented a member of the Targaryen family as being black even though the family is known for having silver hair and pale skin.  The response to people arguing that this misrepresents the characters and races as per the original works or authors is, basically, that they are all just racist and that these sorts of casting decisions are things that are needed to promote diversity.  Along the same lines, Jonathan MS Pearce has chimed in with a post titled “Why a Black Targaryen makes more sense than a white Jesus” attempting to justify it as well, which will rely heavily on the argument that, hey, this is just fantasy and so this shouldn’t be that unbelievable.

Which is of course the same sort of reasoning that the creators use, as per this quote (that I got from Pearce’s post):

Defending the decision, and poking holes in the rationale of critics, Toussaint told Men’s Health. “It seems to be very hard for people to swallow. They are happy with a dragon flying. They’re happy with white hair and violet-colored eyes, but a rich Black guy? That’s beyond the pale.”

Toussaint is using the common tactic of pointing out things that are stranger than this and trying to make the racist point by saying that it’s making a claim that these people find a rich and powerful Black person incredibly unbelievable, which is then used to imply that it’s the racist implications of the character violating a “Black person’s place” that is doing the real work and causing the issue.  Pearce is more explicit about that later in the post:

With historical individuals, there is certainly a case for them to be played by appropriate actors, especially if accuracy is an important criterion. The same goes for culturally framed legends. That is where these angry internet individuals should be focusing their wrath.

But outright fantasy that is for all intents and purposes made up from whole cloth? That is a different kettle of fish. It is somewhat more difficult to argue that this must adhere to what was in the mind of the author. In one case, the author has long been dead, and in the other, he can be asked if this is an issue. George R.R. Martin has yet to make a comment, though he was intimately involved in the creation of the series.

The problem with this reasoning is that even though it is a fantasy world, a fantasy world is still one that runs on rules, and in general the things that are done in those rules, then, need to be consistent with these rules.  Some of the rules are explicit, but a number of them are implicit.  And since humans try to wring consistency out of any reality that they are confronted with, a number of those rules will be things that they derive from their own experience in this world and what seems to be the logical implications of the world as presented.  A writer can, of course, break any of these rules — especially the implied ones — but if they do so they risk breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief — to use a term coined by Tolkien himself, dragging them back into the “Primary World” — if they do so without explanation, which then would cause the audience to demand an explanation.  Shamus Young in his Mass Effect series went through an exhaustive analysis of why the production capacities of Cerberus made no sense, and ended it with this:

Okay, this is science fiction where “anything can happen”, but this is still ostensibly a universe based on rules. Unless stated otherwise, the audience will assume that the normal rules of entropy, thermodynamics, and economies of scale apply. Your job as a storyteller is to bridge the gap between what the audience intuits should happen with what does happen in your story. This “secret army” idea is so preposterous that you can’t expect the audience to swallow it without explanation.

So the fact that we have a science fiction or fantasy world that is completely different from our world doesn’t mean that you can simply do anything and the audience should just accept it since they are accepting things that are more divorced from their own common experience.  A proper work in these fields sets up a world that is consistent and that we understand, and so we can put aside how things work in the real world and immerse ourselves in this new one.  Once this is properly done, we as the audience have expectations of how things are supposed to work in that new world, and if our expectations are contradicted we are going to want an explanation to maintain that consistency, or else we will feel that this is a consistent world which means that we will have a hard time seeing as a real world, and so we will no longer be immersed in that world and taking it on its own terms but instead will be looking at it from outside the world and analyzing it as such.  And this will make us not enjoy the work as intended.

And small things can break immersion if they demand an explanation and are not explained.  For example, a recent “Fantastic Four” movie decided to recast Johnny Storm as a black character, to some criticism, but you could argue that, hey, if we can believe that he can become enshrouded in flames without burning up or hurting himself why can’t he be black?  But as I noted in discussing it myself:

Making Johnny Storm black raises the immediate question of him and Sue being siblings and how you handle that. In the comments, most people react dismissively to that by citing adoption or interracial marriage, but these are very, very risky. In the adoption case, since they are supposed to have such a close bond it developing through adoption puts that, at least, at risk. Remember, Sue is supposed to have raised him after their mother died (if I’m recalling correctly) and this way it says more about her than about their relationship. And them not being close in terms of race is something that cries out for an explanation, even if some assert that it happens.

Because of the relationship between the characters, if they aren’t the same race but are close siblings we are going to ask why that is and how that happened, and so as I noted that will cry out for an explanation.  If it isn’t explained, then it may well drag people out of that world back into the real world, and here it would do that because it violates the implied rules of the world that we are observing.  You can risk doing that for really good reason, but that is the sort of thing that should be done only when you need to.  And in the case of Johnny Storm, my comment was that if they wanted to do that, in order to avoid the issues all they needed to do was make Sue black as well.

But the “This is fantasy!” argument doesn’t wash at all, even in these cases.  In the “House of Dragons” case, the argument is that Martin never really said what the colour of the character’s skin, even though he’s a member of a family known for having pale skin.  This, then, is an implied rule of that family that the work is blithely breaking for no real reason and with no real explanation.  That will break immersion, and the response of “It’s for diversity!” is not going to satisfy anyone who, rightly, notes that the work is breaking the implied rules of the world.  For the “Lord of the Rings” cases, adding black characters to all the races breaks an implied rule about elves, raises all sorts of issues around how race is considered among all those races (is there still racism, for example) and clashes with the other and later works where there were no such characters (for example, whether they no longer exist or just weren’t there).  By just dropping them in with no explanation they make the world inconsistent in a way that they can’t be bothered to resolve.  And before anyone claims that this is only an issue for race I have one word for you:  midichlorians.

Pearce also tries to tie into the title by trying to make an argument that the people objecting to this are being hypocritical:

Jesus was Middle Eastern (if he was not himself fictional). Pharaohs were Egyptian. Tonto was a Native American. So on and so forth. And yet they have all been played time and again by white actors. With historical individuals, there is certainly a case for them to be played by appropriate actors, especially if accuracy is an important criterion. The same goes for culturally framed legends. That is where these angry internet individuals should be focusing their wrath.

But, alas, tumbleweed. Instead, it is the “woke” crew who get accusations of “do-gooding” in bringing this up.

But there are some crucial differences here.  First, Jesus is a terrible example here because the dominant cultural representation of Jesus is as white.  You can point out that that is also a reflection of racism, but presenting Jesus the way He’s always been portrayed is not at all the same thing.  There is no contradiction with how people think of Jesus and, in fact, to do anything else would, in fact, create the same inconsistency in the minds of the audience that people are complaining about.  Now, I think that in general you probably could cast a Middle Eastern Jesus without causing that great an inconsistency and, in fact, likely being more consistent, but there are two issues with doing that.  First, the main audience for works about Jesus are religious people, who can be awfully prickly about changes.  Second, it could easily come across a trying to mock those religious people by making their representation more “realistic”, and given how often atheists explicitly do things like that to mock them they might have a point.  So you’d need a good reason to violate the cultural expectations and recast Jesus, and in general we don’t have them.

As for the other cases, the big difference is that in those cases cast actors of a different race but didn’t change the race of the characters.  If you look at the images in the meme, they used makeup and other things to try to make the actors look like a member of that race.  The much derided “blackface” was the same sort of thing:  an attempt to make white actors look black so that they could portray black characters.  Thus, no matter how poorly it was done, it was at least an attempt to reduce any such inconsistencies by keeping the race of the characters consistent.  It also minimized audience pushback by trying to change things as little as possible.

That’s not what’s happening in these cases.  These cases are making clear and notable changes in the characters themselves, which thus ends up making clear and notable changes in the world itself.  Thus, they are changing the world itself in the name of representation and diversity.  As noted, this risks introducing huge inconsistencies that demand explanation.  But it also shows a lack of respect for the world that they are entering into, feeling that they can blithely change things about that world for the out-of-world considerations of diversity and, as we’ve especially seen lately without feeling the need to even explain the changes or make them consistent in any way with the world, preferring to deride critics as being racist or sexist instead.  If you aren’t going to make a work consistent with the world you are attaching yourselves to, why not just create a new world instead?  The reason, it seems to me, is that they want the boost that comes from attaching themselves to an existing and popular work but have no love or even respect for it, and so are perfectly willing to change anything about it at their own whim and then dismiss the original fans as “being behind the times”, or “not seeing their vision” or, in the case of things done for diversity and progressive values, “just racist and sexist”.  But fans are perfectly justified in being upset at newcomers are coming in and changing the things they love just to satisfy their own personal whims.

Pearce, as he has done before, then talks about why doing these things is important:

We must also recognize why some of the choices are being made. This is largely about representation. While some may argue that it is tokenism or wokeism, I don’t think they understand quite how important representation and normalization is, and how well it works. Almost to a tee, these people will be white, and part of what they implicitly see as the default.

I set out the importance and success of normalization in my recent piece “Normalizing sexual diversity: How ‘meh’ can save the world.”

While for some not used to seeing a diverse cast on their screens, these choices might seem forced. But this really isn’t for you so much as it is for the young, and for generating a society ten years down the line. In a decade, there won’t be this forced nature to make sure there is representation, there simply will be representation naturally because there will be so many diverse actors and writers inspired by positive role models, and equality of opportunity. Diversity will be baked into the system by then, representing a more obviously diverse society.

The issue I have with this is that it presumes that it is crucially important that people can only see themselves represented by people who share these sorts of characteristics, race in particular.  On the one hand, this ends up maintaining the racial divisions that we are supposed to be getting rid of with anti-racism policies.  We are supposed to stop thinking that the only people who can represent us are people of the same race, sex and gender as we are.  After all, progressives certainly criticize white men in particular who are annoyed when a character is changed from a white male to something else for holding to the outdated and racist idea that only someone of their race and sex can represent them, so why doesn’t it apply in reverse as well?  On the other hand, this also implies that as long as a character is the same race as them people should feel that they are represented.  But a lot of people may not feel that way.  I can say that despite all the “representation” I’d get as a white male I don’t feel that pretty much any character properly represents me.  The closest I get is Jeffrey Sinclair from Babylon 5.  But that’s okay.  I don’t need to feel that the characters are like me or represent me to like them.  But for people who think that they need to feel properly “represented” by the characters in the media they view, they are likely to feel unsatisfied by the characters that are the same race as them but are in general nothing like them, and wonder why because, hey, characters of the same race as them should be enough like them to have them feel that they properly represent them, right?  But as noted, that’s almost never going to be true, and we all may find that people and characters of a different race or sex or gender than ourselves are more like us than those that are of the same race or sex or gender.  That is not a bad thing.  That is not something to view with chagrin.  That is a good thing.

So, in general, I don’t buy Pearce’s arguments.  The argument that we can do anything we want in fantasy and science fiction doesn’t work because while those worlds are different than ours, to work they need to be consistent worlds and the criticism is that these moves make the worlds inconsistent.  The argument that critics are being hypocritical doesn’t work because the cases given for that aren’t ones that are changing the world and so don’t risk making the world inconsistent, which is what the cases they are criticizing are doing.  And it is dangerous to argue that we need diversity for representation because that implies that people can only be represented or like people who are of the same race, sex or gender as them which is the heart of what causes racism in the first place.  Ultimately, these blithe changes are the precise wrong way to go about doing this.

Thoughts on “Psycho”

September 29, 2022

This movie made for an interesting watch, because it contains one of the most famous twists in cinematic history … so, of course, I knew what that twist was going on.  So I wasn’t going to be surprised by the twist at all, and so knew what was really going on with Norman Bates from the start and how things were going to end for the ostensible main character.  So essentially it was like rewatching a movie and so being able to look for all the clues to the twist without ever having really watched the movie and so not really knowing anything about how the movie really was or how it all worked the first time.

Since the twist is so famous, I’m just going to go ahead and talk as if we all know what it was.  If you don’t know and think you might want to watch it, just stop reading now with this advice:  it’s worth watching.

Anyway, the big twist is that Hitchcock took a well-known star in Janet Leigh so that audiences would think that she was the main character and was going to live to the end, only to kill her off about halfway through.  Most of the comments I’ve seen have focused on the actress, but I think the real brilliance here is not that it’s a big name actress, but more that the entire structure of the movie to that point sets her up as the main character and that the movie is going to be her story, as she wants to run off with her indebted lover and sees an opportunity to steal some money so they can start a new life together, and the movie focuses on her and her thoughts and the impact of this on her, culminating in a conversation with Norman and a resolution to return the money … only for her to be killed seemingly by the jealous, insane mother of the creepy motel manager.  This is done so effectively that despite the fact that it would make for an hour long movie the movie could have ended there and been complete, if tragic and a bit depressing.  Hitchcock manages to tell her entire story in that hour and even with her death scene completely finishes the arc in a way that they could indeed have rolled the credits at that point.

This carries on to the rest of the movie, as while this can be seen as a precursor to slasher movies it is absolutely not structured like any kind of slasher movie.  Instead, it’s a suspense movie that happens to involve, well, a psycho who ends up doing all the killing.  The death of Janet Leigh’s character, as noted, could be a tragic happenstance — like a car accident — that ruins her chance to redeem herself.  Later, a detective who finds out enough to be a threat and would have to be killed by Norman to protect his mother happens to be killed by the mother instead.  The movie spends a lot of time hiding the mother and so the dual nature of Norman.  And the sister and the lover of Janet Leigh’s character are simply trying to find evidence that Janet Leigh’s character was there and don’t suspect any of the slasher aspects.  Everyone, including the audience, thinks it’s a suspense movie … except Norman, the slasher himself.

Ultimately, I think that’s the real brilliance of the twist.  Not the casting of Janet Leigh, but the fact that in terms of casting, structure, plot, acting and filming it commits to being a suspense movie while always keeping the slasher movie underneath the surface, never quite surfacing until the end.  We aren’t merely surprised because a character that we thought would live to the end doesn’t, but we’re surprised because of the fact that this really seems to be a suspense movie and yet things happen in it that we wouldn’t expect to find there, and once those scenes pass the movie settles back in as a suspense movie as if those scenes had never happened.

I really liked this movie, although my impression of it for most of it — and even now — is that this is magnificent, but it’s not a horror movie.  It really is more of a suspense movie with slasher elements, and so doesn’t fit the traditional model of horror, mostly because for a lot of the movie it isn’t all that scary.  Still, the structure is good, the performances are good, and once I realized it the suspense facade over the slasher underpinnings works really well.  I definitely could watch this movie again.

Thoughts on “Julius Caesar”

September 28, 2022

After finding most of the plays I’d read so far a bit disappointing, here is one that I was looking forward to as one of the more famous dramas that I had never read.  I was hoping that it would turn out to be really good, both because I’d get a really good Shakespeare play but also because it would mean that, yes, the good plays are indeed good plays and so validating my complaints about the other ones.  No, it’s not me or how I’m reading it, but instead it’s that the good plays and the good plays and the less famous ones are less famous because they aren’t as high quality as the famous ones.  On the other hand, if I still disliked it then I’d be in the rather awkward position of at a minimum saying that, in general, I just don’t like Shakespeare, and since the objections I’m making are things that I think apply more objectively I’d end up saying that at least most of the works of the most acclaimed playwright in English history are mediocre at best, which many people will point out says more about me than about him.

As it turns out, I really liked “Julius Caesar”.

This is made all the more shocking because in structure this is one of the historicals, which are the plays that I’ve most disliked in general.  As per Shakespeare’s wont in historicals, it turns out that the play is not about Caesar at all, and he is dead halfway through after only having a couple of scenes.  In DS9, Garak complained that he knew that Brutus would betray Caesar in the first act, but Caesar didn’t figure it out until the knife was in his back, but as per the actual play everyone knew that Brutus was going to betray Caesar in the first act because Shakespeare has him recruited to Cassius’ cause in the first act, and Caesar dies soon afterwards and so we don’t really get a sense of what information he had access to to determine that he would be betrayed.  Moreover, a great deal is made of how much Brutus loves Caesar which would make the betrayal emotional enough to get the “Et tu, Brute” line even if he suspected him.  And Cassius and his plotters indeed use that love to both recruit Brutus and to explain why they really needed him on their side.

Ultimately, this is not the tragedy of Caesar, but is instead the tragedy of Brutus.  This might be what Shakespeare tried in the other historicals, but here it works because Shakespeare is very careful to ensure that Brutus is seen in the play and by everyone as being an honourable man who only betrayed Caesar because he thought that Caesar being made overwhelming tyrant of Rome was bad for Rome.  As he says, he would not love Caesar so much if he didn’t love Rome more.  And his honour is what ultimately led to his downfall, because it spurs him to spare Mark Anthony and also to get him to speak at Caesar’s funeral while Brutus left him alone, and Anthony takes the opportunity to call them all honourable men while attacking their claim that they had to kill Caesar because of his ambition.  This turns the people against the conspirators and leads to the battle where Brutus and Cassius ultimately die by their own hands.  As the last lines say, Brutus was the only honourable one out of the conspirators and the only one who did what he did for Rome rather than for his own ambitions, but at the end he dies along with the rest of them.

So, the play works fairly well as it places the focus on Brutus and makes it clear that his death, at least, is a tragedy.  Thus, as noted, this isn’t the tragedy of Caesar, but the tragedy of Brutus, despite how some many think that the play really is about Caesar and the tragedy is his death (as I believed until I read the play).  Understood in that light, I really liked it, which gives me hope for the other plays going forward.

Up next is “As You Like It”, which is a play I recall from it being quoted by “Wayne and Shuster”.  No, really.

Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”: I Told You So

September 27, 2022

After criticizing without having seen it the new show in the “Pretty Little Liars” universe called “Original Sin”, and pretty much only getting to see that there was going to be one because it was going to come to the streaming service that I’m on, it was pretty much a given that I was going to have to watch it despite my concerns about it.  I hate to criticize anything that I don’t end up experiencing myself, and so if I can do that conveniently  I will do so, and ten episodes on the streaming service that I greatly underuse is indeed pretty convenient.  So I sat down and watched it and now I have a lot to say about it, most of which will not be good, unfortunately.  But I had to think about how to comment on it, because I have quite a bit to say about it.  Given that, I didn’t really want to create one huge post talking about all its aspects, but I also didn’t really see a good way to divide up my comments as everything is connected.  Finally, I decided to split it up thusly.  First, in this post I’m going to read over the things that I said were not going to work and talk about how I was right about that and what they did with it, along with anything in there that I was wrong about (if there is anything).  Then the second post will talk about the character of Tabitha who I found the most annoying character I’ve encountered in a long time, mostly because she’s supposed to be the horror movie aficionado and yet both doesn’t seem to be one and is also not used at all the way that sort of character should be used.  Given that I’ve been writing about horror movies for ages now, that sort of character is one that I will pay a lot of attention to.  Then, I’ll write a post summarizing my overall impression of the show, including how well it links — or doesn’t — to the original series.  Finally, since the Rotten Tomatoes reviews of it consider the critical response to be “universally acclaimed”, I’d like to take a look at some of those reviews and see what they are seeing that I don’t (although I haven’t read any reviews yet, the ones I saw tended to follow the modern trend of maybe having higher scores with lukewarm descriptions, which might be indicative).

Okay, so let’s start talking about what I wanted them about by talking about the character of Karen, who was described thusly:

It’s Karen, who’s not just mean but racist and homophobic …

Given the rather unsubtle naming as well as mentioning that she was racist and homophobic, my main concern was that they would add on the claims of racism and homophobia and flub them completely, which would mean that she’d be more sympathetic than they intended her to be, and then raised all sorts of issues around whether she should be sympathetic or not and how her being racist and homophobic would align with how the town is portrayed.  The main issue was that if they wanted to make her an unsympathetic character but if they relied on her being considered that to make that work and yet the things that she did that were considered racist and homophobic weren’t that strong it would work against that characterization, and since she was the main foil for the main characters they really needed to pull that off to make it work.

And, of course, they actually did flub it.  The only event we see that could be considered racist is that she at one point argues that Faran — the main character who is her rival for the lead in “Swan Lake” — only got the part because she’s black.  This, given her purportedly “mean girl” personality, is not racist, but is instead, well, the reaction of someone like that when someone gets something that she thinks she deserves more.  It can’t be the case that Faran was a better dancer than Karen, so Karen needs to find some reason, any reason, why she got it regardless.  And an obvious one given the times is to say that the teacher or school was aiming at diversity or engaging in affirmative action and so decided to choose the black dancer instead.  If Faran wasn’t black, Karen would have found another reason to dismiss her actually having more talent than Karen, especially given how her father won’t even allow her to get the “she got it because she’s black” argument out by insisting that Karen was supposed to be better than everyone and failed there.

The same thing applies to the purported homophobia.  The event we see is that there’s some kind of “coming out” event happening at the school, and when one girl stops to look at it Karen snipes that she doesn’t need to come out as gay because everyone already knows.  Again, just like the above case, this isn’t an indication that Karen really feels that way.  This is the equivalent of Allison referring to Lucas in the original series as “Hermie” to imply that he’s a hermaphrodite.  She isn’t doing it to indicate how she feels about hermaphrodites, but instead is doing that to insult him with an insult that she knows will bother him and that others will repeat and laugh at.  Here, Karen really is just being mean and making a random insult.  There’s no indication that she has any real issue with gay people at all, as this is really just what was called in “The Order of the Stick” an “insult of opportunity”:  she wanted to insult the girl, and her looking at that poster was just a convenient way to do so.

So given that in both cases Karen’s statements are more aimed at the qualities of the other person rather than revealing anything about herself, we don’t really get the sense from them in and of themselves that she’s really racist or homophobic, and there aren’t any other events that I can recall that can do that.  And yet Faran makes calling her that a key argument in why they should come together to oppose her and do something pretty mean to her in doing so.  Now, I suspect given how minor those instances are and in general how unimportant the statements are and how little focus they are given it looks like they were trying to use those scenes as “code” to imply that she does far worse things far more often than we see.  But this ties right back into my concern that they were going to show things that they consider hugely problematic but that the audience wouldn’t.  The insult about the post was at most a microaggression, and the complaint about Faran getting the part because of her race is in general something that is claimed as racism through a bunch of derived meanings and a subconscious association.  Neither of them are strong enough to make that case, but given how woke and newfangled the dialogue is — seriously, it sounds like the worst kind of modern progressive slang that it could be a parody of it — I don’t think the writers would have been willing to go any further out of fear of saying something triggering.  But then this makes the association to racism and homophobic weak.  Fortunately, for the most part that’s a throwaway line, and in my opinion they should have just thrown it away, as they don’t actually go anywhere with that and so whether or not she really is racist and homophobic is utterly irrelevant to the character for the rest of the series.

Less forgivable is the fact that they utterly fail to make her into the powerful, sociopathic mean girl that requires the main characters to come together to oppose and humiliate her — and they deliberately humiliate her later — and to do so on their own because while supposedly everyone else wants to see her humiliated she somehow has so much control that no one can do anything to her.  This is despite the fact that the dance teacher pretty much humiliates her by not telling her what role she had in the ballet while saying that Faran had the lead, and is pretty much immune to her protests.  Additionally, she’s running for Queen of the big dance they’re having and is set to win … because she’s running unopposed, but when Imogen — the pregnant main character who used to be her friend — decides to run against her they all think it’s a great idea because a lot of people don’t like Karen and so will vote for the purportedly unpopular Imogen just to spite Karen, and indeed a number of people explicitly say that.  And their attempt to humiliate Karen by showing a slightly doctored video is justified by the claim that everyone really wants to see Karen humiliated.  She does not seem at all like someone who has control over the school so that they have to come together to oppose her.

Because of this, it makes the main characters unsympathetic.  Imogen has a video of Karen after they had their fight talking crap about her boyfriend and preparing to do a striptease with a different guy.  She never does it because Imogen came back and kicked the guy out — which is how she got the video — but they leave that part out and so imply that she went through with it.  They also edit it to look like a campaign video for Karen before cutting to that scene.  As it turns out, the reason Karen was mad at Imogen was because her twin sister said that she saw Imogen making out with Karen’s boyfriend, and Imogen’s only defense is that he actually kissed her and not the other way around, which makes her anger at Imogen pretty much justified and not irrational, and also means that Imogen never left the “mean girl” Karen because of those qualities, but because she was involved in something that rightly made Karen angry.  Given that, what they do to her is definitely above the pale and for the most part they aren’t all that apologetic about it.  Yes, there’s a scene at Karen’s grave where they apologize for it (Faran doesn’t really apologize), but for the most part Karen was clearly not as powerful as she needed to be in order to force them to oppose her, especially given how often in the backstory she doesn’t get her own way and is humiliated for that.

This, then, carries over to the way she gets them all in trouble so that they meet in detention.  A number of bad things happen to her and she uses that to blame them for it.  Razor blades are sewn into her ballet shoes and she immediately blames Faran for doing it, which the teacher stupidly believes despite there being no reason at that point — Faran already had the part — for her to do that.  Imogen and Tabitha get accused of defacing Karen’s campaign posters, and complain about the control that she has over the school when they don’t buy their answer of “She did it herself!” which no one should believe given that they had no other evidence for that.  Noa, who is on probation for drug use, has her urine sample doctored but has no evidence that it was Karen who did it.  Mouse, the other main character, is blamed — again for no reason — for putting a rat in Karen’s bag.  All of them conclude that Karen did that herself to set them up, but given what we had seen up to that point there was no reason to think that she could have thought that she could get away with that, and all of them were already hostile to her from the beginning, and far more hostile towards her than she was towards them.  When Imogen argues that Karen is vindictive and sociopathic, it falls a bit flat when they were far more hostile towards her early on and when she didn’t really seem to have any reason to think that her plans would work.

And this would have been so easy to fix!  All they needed to do was start with these events before the others — other than Imogen and maybe Tabby — were at all hostile towards Karen.  If they had done something minor that could have annoyed Karen and then these things happened that she blamed on them, that would have established that she had power and might well have been vindictive enough to try these things.  If the razor blade event had happened before the choice was made, Karen could have easily accused Faran of doing it to eliminate her from competition so she could have the part that was rightly hers, and they could have used the fear of losing out as justification without ever having to introduce the rather stupid “She got it because she’s black!” point, and Faran would have had good reason to be ticked at Karen for taking away her chance at the lead.  Then we would have seen that Karen knows how to manipulate everyone to get what she wants, and that she does it both to gain advantage and as retribution for even minor slights.  Then we wouldn’t consider the girls to be overly hostile to Karen from the start, would see why they are so upset, and would see why they wouldn’t think that anyone in the school would help them.  And this would still allow for the ambiguity as to whether Karen really did these things to herself or whether “A” did it (that they didn’t really do anything with).

It’s not like it’s hard to write a proper “mean girl” character, even one that you might want to keep ambiguous or sympathetic.  The original series did it with Allison and Mona, at least.  And it was done really well in the rather poorly received “Psycho Prom Queen”.  There’s really no excuse for them screwing this up this badly.

The other thing that I was concerned about was the attempt to recast the “A” character as a slasher-style serial killer, especially given that they wanted to give the girls individual arcs and issues like we saw in the original story.  My concern was that this would result in a rather tame slasher, as he wouldn’t be able to kill anyone that was at all important to those plots without ruining them, and so would either kill almost no one or would kill off a number of minor characters whose main role in the series was to get killed.  As it turns out, the series ended up doing both.  The killer only has two confirmed kills — Karen and some jerk jock who was the guy who filmed her — given that even though it was implied that he killed Imogen’s mother to start the series she indeed actually killed herself out of guilt.  There was a scene where I had some hopes that they might pull off something cool, where he had cornered Noa, but then he leaves her alone after getting her to jump onto another building that triggered her ankle bracelet (which could have gotten her in trouble which would have been a more manipulative move like the original “A” would have done) and then he prompts her about ensuring justice is done which immediately triggers her to rat out her mother for stealing drugs from the hospital (which doesn’t make Noa any more sympathetic given how quickly she leaped to that action with no real prompting) and then he lets her go for no real reason.  If she had done something to remind him of things like that and then he’d let her go — Imogen does that in a later scene — that would have worked, but she didn’t so it’s just a puzzling scene that adds nothing.  Thus, the killer doesn’t really turn out to be a threat.  Also, the time they take to develop the side stories for the main characters is time that they could have spent developing the killer and his motives and the backstory, but since they don’t the killer isn’t really fleshed out that much.  As I watched the last couple of episodes, I was both hoping and worried that they’d settle the serial killer story in the last episode:  worried because they hadn’t really developed it enough for that to be satisfying, but hoping because if they didn’t then they were going to do it in the next season (if there was one) and I didn’t see enough content in that story to last another ten episode season.  They did settle it for the most part and yeah, it wasn’t developed enough and part of it came out of absolutely nowhere.  So this confirmed my thought that the slasher-style plot was a mistake for a series like this.

And as it turns out they didn’t even manage to build the girls and their stories and personalities properly either.  We find out very little about any of them until about episode six, which is way too late to build up those characters and their backstories.  It also stops the serial killer plot at the climax which is a bit annoying.  They also introduce a rape plot — Imogen and Tabitha were both raped when they were too intoxicated to consent, as it turns out by the same guy — that they had to resolve in the last episode, and the only real link that had to anything else is that the girl who is the link to the “original sin” was raped as well.  But for the most part, the show focuses on Imogen and the others are background characters, and while there are scenes where they are unified they never really seem that way and spend most of their time apart.  This is another reason why starting out with getting them together and then revealing the “A” plot would have worked better, as it would have given us a better insight into their characters before they humiliated Karen and given more time to develop their plots.  I certainly could have found the issues with Noa’s boyfriend and mother and drugs or Mouse’s relationship with the guy who lost his father interesting, but they come out of nowhere and are resolved just as quickly.  And it would have given more opportunities to explore Faran’s relationship with her mother which would have justified her reacting badly to her at some points, whereas as is she goes from being happy that her mother will come home to see her dance to harping that she hates her and thinks she’s controlling.  Sure, in ten episodes there isn’t a lot of time to do things like that, but all that means is that you have to be perfect in time management, and I have yet to see a streaming show that managed to do that.

Anyway, for the most part it made the mistakes I expected it to make.  Next up is talking about a new mistake they made with the character of Tabitha.

Trunk Diary: Balmorra

September 26, 2022

The first artifact of Tulak Hord that I needed to get was on Balmorra.  Balmorra was a world that was abandoned by the Republic in the war and taken over by the Empire, and now at least some of them want to take it back, either for the Republic or, if they could manage it, for themselves.  But they can’t get it for themselves, because it’s too important a planet and too big a symbol for that to happen. And since the Republic abandoned them once, that should be a big hint that Balmorra’s not important enough to the Republic for them to fight hard enough to keep it.  Things don’t look good for Balmorra, because even though they make great weapons, politically they’re really screwed.

Sticking to my plan to work with the rank-and-file of the ordinary people, I decided to run some jobs for the local military to help out with keeping things calm.  I don’t really care about the Balmorrans, of course, one way or another.  I think it might be kinda fun if they screwed with the Sith for a while.  But I want to forge alliances with the rank-and-file and be seen as one of them unlike the elite Sith above them, and so working with them will only make that easier.  That’s also why I was pretty friendly with the Imperial officer who was assigned to help me find the artifact.  I worked closely with him and treated him well, and even went to save his Sith son who got himself in trouble looking for a holocron.  When I found him, he kept badmouthing his father and talked about how the ordinary people were just there as fodder for the Sith.  I could have killed him and taken the holocron, I guess, but I knew his father thought highly of this idiot and didn’t want to offend him, which is why I didn’t even tell his father what his son thought of him.  Let him think well of his idiot son and appreciate my help, and let someone else bear the brunt of his grief when his idiot son gets himself killed.

It worked out well enough; he even gave me a gift when I left.  That’s the sort of appreciation and loyalty that I’m trying to get from the ordinary people.  It gives me a power base that the Sith aren’t usually going to get, even the ones that are smarter and more disciplined than the average.

Like the new governor of Balmorra, Darth Lachris.  When I came in to meet her, she was solidifying her position by choking out the guy who held the position before her.  I didn’t interfere, because from what I’d seen and heard he probably was incompetent and while I don’t think that the best way to deal with incompetent subordinates is to kill them — although I’ve gotta admit I was tempted to do that to Hamr a few times — I wasn’t going to get in her way.  After that, though, she was a saner Sith than I expected, coming up with a reasonable if somewhat suicidal plan and thinking about all the possibilities and the political realities.  Yeah, it was a tough mission, but she gave me support and didn’t blink an eye when I spared the Republic general for his testimony and let the non-combatants go in return.  If more Sith were like her, I might not hate them so much.

Getting the artifact was fun.  I had to fight my way into a Republic base and then go into a damaged lab filled with toxic waste, taking a shot first that changed my genetics somehow to be like some strange reptilian creatures that eat the stuff.  So I had to kill some of them on my way, too.  This list of indignities I added to the list of things I hold against the Sith.  It makes me more angry, and my anger will bring me power.

But I got the artifact, and now am going to head out to Nar Shaddaa to get the last one.  I hope that Khem Val, the creature I picked up on Korriban, doesn’t whine as much, as he griped about me keeping him under control rather than earning his loyalty despite the fact that I didn’t really have any choice in the matter.  He reminds me a lot of Hamr in his desire for violence and killing, but at least Hamr didn’t whine that I wasn’t nice enough to him.  I wish I could give him a better personality, or at least one that would shut him up.

“Transhumanism, Or, is it Right to Make a Spider-Man”

September 23, 2022

The next essay in “Spider-man and Philosophy” is “Transhumanism, Or is it Right to Make a Spider-Man” by Ron Novy.  It basically tries to defend the idea of transhumanism from criticisms, mostly by Fukuyama.  Novy starts by considering technological enhancements like Aunt May’s glasses, her newspaper and her coffee as things that are similar to what transhumanism wants to do with technology to enhance humans, as a way to get us to consider what they want to do as benign and something that we will eventually see as normal.  His defenses of transhumanism against criticisms definitely tend to follow that line, as he opposes the idea that transhumanism will create inequalities as the wealthy and wealthier nations adopt the changes while poorer nations can’t by pointing out that we already have such cases now, which is a fairly weak defense, since there may be special conditions with transhumanism that will make these things worse, or will cause far more problems than the simple things we have now.  But, in general, to counter Novy what we need is to show that the simple, “normal” things that Novy appeals to differ in an important way from the sorts of things that transhumanism would be espousing.

As it turns out, we can, because there’s a crucial difference in the approaches the two take, as Novy himself notes.  With things like glasses, the intent is to restore someone to a “normal” state, to overcome a specific deficiency that those specific people have wrt everyone else and so bring them up to a base state and so on a relatively equal ground with everyone else.  For the others, for the most part those are technologies invented to change our environment to make things easier for humans as a whole.  Sure, it might not be easy to fit newspapers and coffee into the model of altering our environment, but if we look at them as part of a personal environment we can see that it enables a person to get access to more information than they could on their own and to recover from fatigue from, perhaps, not sleeping all that well the night before.  In all cases, however, the intent is a holistic one, either bringing someone up to the “normal” level or else providing options that most people if not everyone can avail themselves of as necessary.  Because of this, there’s no real consideration of “superiority” involved.  Someone with glasses is not better than someone who isn’t, and someone who doesn’t need coffee in the morning isn’t inferior to someone who does.

Transhumanism, as Novy himself notes, is not like that.  It is a philosophy built around creating “superior” humans, making humans themselves better in some way.  So we can immediately see an issue with transhumanism where in order to create “superior” human beings we need to first define what it would mean to make human beings “superior” in the first place.  With the other cases, we either have a human baseline to appeal to or can let the environment specify what things we are trying to overcome.  With transhumanism, we can’t appeal to either of those, because we are trying to redefine the human baseline and the technology we are inventing is trying to enhance humans in general, not as a reaction to a specific environmental concern.  So how do we determine if a transhumanist alteration is really making humans “superior” or not?  If we could increase the calculating ability of humans ten-fold at the cost of emotionally stunting them, is that an improvement or a regression?  By what, or more importantly whose, standards would we judge whether we’ve succeeded in making “superior” humans?  Because we’re aiming at producing “superior” humans, we need to be able to define it, but at the same time have lost all references we could use to define our goal.

Even if we could define what it means to be “superior”, the issues around equality cannot be dismissed as easily as Novy attempts to, for the same reason.  For the other examples, as noted, we have clear goals:  bring some humans up to the baseline, or alter the environment in a way to make it easier for humans to live in them or work in them.  Thus, while those benefits might be unequally distributed, in theory everyone can access them and we know the cases where someone might need to utilize them.  Thus, if someone can’t get them we can see that they are being deprived of them and those who don’t need them have no reason to grab them or hoard them for themselves.  So it becomes a distribution problem, not a philosophical one.  However, if the enhancements are seen to make a person “superior” to others, then there is a reason for wealthy people and nations to hoard the enhancements for themselves to maintain their superiority.  A person with normal sight has no reason to deny glasses to someone who needs them because they don’t need the glasses in the first place, and a person who needs glasses that work well for them has no reason to object if someone else gets glasses that help with their sight.  But with transhumanism, neither of these are true.  Someone who doesn’t need the enhancements might still want to keep them from others to maintain their natural superiority, and someone who gets the enhancements might want to deny them to others to maintain their enhanced superiority.  As noted, we don’t see someone who doesn’t need glasses or who wears glasses as being superior to each other, just different, but transhumanism’s explicit goal is to make humans superior to each other instead of just recognizing their differences.  Given that, those who can get them have reason to want to keep their superiority for themselves.

This, then, causes issues for society if transhumanism succeeds.  What happens to people who either can’t or won’t get those enhancements?  If transhumanism has succeeded in its stated goal, then those people would, by definition, be inferior to those who have the enhancements.  And if some people are clearly superior to others, then they would be preferred for, well, any role where those enhancements might matter.  Could it be the case that the people who can’t or won’t get the enhancements might find their dreams dashed simply because the “superior” people exist and take away all their opportunities simply by existing?  Could they be reduced to low or menial labour because those are the only jobs that the “superior” people don’t want?

Novy could — and likely would — argue that we have that now with genetic superiority.  But that is not deliberate and doesn’t make someone superior by definition.  Yes, if I want to be a professional hockey player but others have genetic gifts that mean that they are qualified to do that and I’m not, that’s unfortunate, but that doesn’t make them superior human beings and, in fact, there may be many other things that I do better than they do.  They’re just better at hockey due to their genetic gifts.  But it’s not the case that they are better than me and can become professional hockey players because they were able to pay for some transhumanist advantage and thus if I want to achieve that goal I have to do that as well or do without.  Novy could argue that things like special schools and training could do that for someone who is more wealthy, but that’s not an inherent advantage and applies to far fewer cases than it would here.

Ultimately, I can accept these differences because they are differences due to fortune, not design.  They, arguably, “got luckier” than I did, but that’s all it is.  And there’s something noble at tallying up what fortune has given you in the family and genetic lottery, seeing what it has given you, and forging the best life you can given that.  Transhumanism takes that away by making it so that you can become better through technology aimed specifically at making yourself better and superior.  You don’t take what you have and do the best you can, but instead try to reshape yourself to this supposed “ideal”.  That takes away from the individual and stratifies things even more.

Thoughts on “Amityville III: The Demon”

September 22, 2022

This is the last of the three Amityville movies in that pack I picked up, and so my hope was that it would provide some kind of link between the movies, because the first two movies were completely disconnected from each other.  As it turns out, this movie can’t be a link between the two because it contradicts and ignores them both in its own special way.

The main premise is that someone who writes for a magazine and specializes in debunking the supernatural decides to buy the Amityville house, as he and his wife are divorcing and he can get the house really cheap.  His teenage daughter and her friend — a young Lori Loughlin and Meg Ryan, respectively — come to see the house because her friend is obsessed with the story behind the Amityville murders.  Strange things start to happen, and the daughter and her friends mess around with a makeshift Ouija board, and then she drowns when they take out a boat, but somehow her spirit gets caught by the demon in the house and a paranormal researcher friend — who has been used as a reference throughout the movie — explains that the demon is using the daughter and sacrifices himself to help them set the daughter’s spirit free.

This movie is another one that tries to play off of the burgeoning 3-D technology of the time, like “Jason 3”.  However, unlike that movie it doesn’t seem to pander to 3-D as much.  There are a few scenes that are set up to have something come out of the screen at you — like a pipe from a truck in a car accident — most of the scenes that would do stuff like that don’t stand out, which is good.  Although I suspect, then, that people who wanted to see the 3-D stuff would be disappointed by that, but it does make the movie hold up a bit better when the 3-D aspects are stripped from the movie.

Despite there being a focus on this being a demon, this is far more a straight ghost story than a demonic one like the previous movie.  I liked that it built the scares up more slowly, but found that it didn’t explain anything any more than the other movies did.  I don’t really know anything about the demon or where it came from or what it wanted than anything else, which makes the ending more confusing than really scary or heartwarming.  This carries over to the main emotional plot of the movie, where the main character’s ex-wife wants to keep the daughter away from the house but when she drowns — and the mother sees the daughter walking into the house — she wants to stay in this house that isn’t hers because of that, and accuses the husband of never believing in the house, which is fair but doesn’t have a lot of emotional oomph because he was being reasonable and she was being paranoid for the most part since nothing had happened yet, and that she gets such focus at the end of the movie is strange because she was an extremely minor character for the rest of the movie.  If it were up to me, I would have had them buy the house together and live there, where she started to believe it was haunted and he didn’t, and then have her leave with the daughter over the house, and then return when the daughter dies.  This would have made her a more important part of the story and justify the accusations she made against them, but also allow for the house to have influence over her and get her to act as strangely as she does at the end.  As it stands, the daughter gets more play and then gets completely dropped at the end.

So, here’s why this movie doesn’t fit in with the other movies.  The friend goes through a description of the murders and since we saw that in “The Possession” that could be a link to that movie … except her description is clearly different from what happened in that movie (for example, who was killed where) and so can’t be referring to that one, or at least it would be a stretch.  It is closer to what we saw in the first movie, but other than that there are no other references to anything in the first movie, and so it comes across like the two of them creating different interpretations of the same events, and so they still seem disconnected from each other.

Ultimately, that’s the real issue with this entire set of three movies.  Despite them being advertised on the box as being in the same series, they are all completely disconnected from each other and so feel a lot more like a set of different approaches to and interpretations of the events rather than things that link to each other and support each other.  That’s also probably why we never really seem to find out anything about what is going on in the house because instead of each movie fleshing out things the other movies talked about instead they are all exploring their own interpretation and so can’t really build on what came before. nor is anything they do any kind of set up for what comes later.  That hurts it as a series and each movie individually.

For this movie, I spent most of it thinking and hoping that it was just that the movie’s flaws hit the things I happen to really dislike.  And in some sense, that’s true of this movie and of the entire series, as I think they are credibly creepy enough but the lack of clarity really bugs me.  But the fact that they are all completely disconnected from each other I do think is an issue and will make people like it less than they would have otherwise.  For me, though, despite the movies being competently executed and acted, I don’t think I want to watch these movies again, and so will likely put them in my box of movies to possibly sell at some point.  There just isn’t enough here to keep me interested enough to bother with again.

Next up, I’m going to go through four of the “Psycho” movies.

Thoughts on “The Merry Wives of Windsor”

September 21, 2022

So, this is another comedy, and so far as I’ve noted before the comedies have been a bit disappointing.  I kinda liked “Much Ado About Nothing” and liked “The Taming of the Shrew”, but disliked “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and found the others I’ve read so far to be okay at best.  But I had to get through this play before I could read “Julius Caesar”, which as a famous drama I was looking forward to, since the dramas in general worked better for me than the comedies and the historicals.  So I was hoping that this would at least be entertaining enough so that I wouldn’t be wishing that I was reading “Julius Caesar” — or any drama — instead.

This play includes Falstaff who was originally from “King Henry the Fourth”, and was a character that was famous and yet one that I didn’t care for in that play.  Here, he continues his roguish ways, hanging around with thieving companions and looking to get money out of whomever he can.  In his arrogance he thinks that the wives of two important nobles in Windsor are enamored with him, and thinks that he can woo both of them and gain money out of the deal.  Of course, once he approaches them they are completely disinterested, but decide to play with him out of revenge for his unwarranted at the same time.  However, their husbands find out about Falstaff’s approach and while one of them is not worried about his wife’s fidelity, the other get jealous and tries to pay Falstaff to court his wife and report back to him the details (doing so in disguise), adding a complication to that plot.  There’s also a minor subplot where the daughter of the first noble is being courted by three men:  one her father favours, one her mother favours, and one that she actually likes but that her father dislikes because he first came to them seeming to only want her for her money but now has actually fallen in love with her.

I find that Falstaff works better in this play.  He’s still a pretty shady and disreputable character, surrounded by other disreputable characters where it is possible that he’s the least disreputable of them, for all of his flaws.  Since he’s neither moral nor immoral enough to work as a contrast to his companions, it’s really difficult for the character to find an interesting niche to make us want to follow his exploits.  Here, however, his arrogance in thinking that the wives were interested in him runs him up against them and their plan for revenge, and so his part in the plot is him getting the just deserts he has earned for his schemes, and so it makes him a bit of a butt monkey, with lots of bad things happening to him but the wives and others dragging him back for more humiliation by playing on his known foibles.  The fact that he’s a disreputable schemer with an overinflated sense of his own abilities works for the character here, making it clear that he deserves what he gets but with the sense that his own personal sins aren’t really worth anything more than some humiliation.  So while I still don’t care for him as a character, I think the character works here.

What makes this comedy work for me when some of the others didn’t work so well is that the plots themselves are indeed light enough to work.  The wives playing tricks on Falstaff to humiliate him for his approaches on the married women is indeed a classic comedic plot and one that Shakespeare manages to keep mostly light, aided by the fact that Falstaff is absolutely deserving of that treatment.  The complications from the jealous husband are light enough to work as well, especially given that we know that he has nothing to fear on that score and so he looks a little foolish, especially since the other noble is entirely correct in trusting his own wife.  And the plot with the three suitors is also light enough that it doesn’t clash with the lightness of the main plot.  In general, the entire play is finally a simple, light romp that isn’t overcomplicated with extra plots,

Which does make the extra plot with Anne Page — the daughter — a bit odd.  It is mostly disconnected from the main plot and also isn’t developed all that well.  However, it is certainly prominent enough that it needed to be resolved at the end, with the parents each trying to get her to run away with their preferred suitor during the last humiliation of Falstaff, while the daughter takes the opportunity to run away and get married to her preferred suitor.  The plot itself is a good one and there’s a lot of comedic potential there, but it gets ignored for much of the play only to leap into the forefront at the end.  Shakespeare does love his subplots, but for the most part I’ve found that most of them don’t really add much and often take away from the main plot and hurt the plays.  This one doesn’t do that, but it seems like a waste of a pretty good comedic plot to put it in this play and give it so little attention.  I wonder if this might come about because Shakespeare had to ensure that the plays were long enough to fit the runtime that plays of that era had, and so when writing them he added a number of plots that he could expand or contract as needed to pad out the runtime.  That’s something that’s fairly standard in episodic writing today — when you need or needed to make an episode hit the around 45 minutes needed for a one hour TV episode that includes commercials — but maybe he falls too much in love with his subplots and so is unwilling to cut them out and fill out the main plots.  Before, I felt they should have been cut because they didn’t work well with the rest of the plots, but here I feel this one should have been cut because it needed more attention and probably would have worked as its own play.

Ultimately, though, I enjoyed this one.  It worked well as light entertainment and while it didn’t make me laugh it did manage to keep that light tone throughout.  All the characters are at least somewhat sympathetic other than Falstaff, who isn’t supposed to be, and the suitors lose out to true love and not due to any real fault of their own (other than, perhaps, a lack of enthusiasm on the part of one of them).  It’s a comedy that finally pretty much all works, as even “The Taming of the Shrew” had an issue where we aren’t sure at the end of Petrucchio really loves Kate or was just in it for the money.  So while I still like “The Taming of the Shrew” better, this one was indeed a perfectly serviceable comedy that, as noted, all fits together in a way that I don’t think most of his comedies had up to this point.

As already stated, next up is “Julius Caesar”, which is a play that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  We’ll see if it lives up to my expectations.

Thoughts on “X-Men Animated Series”

September 20, 2022

Yes, this is the 90s series that Disney is trying to reboot.  I actually did watch this series off and on when it came out, which left me in an interesting place wrt it.  See, I watched it on broadcast channels when it was on, which meant that the episodes that I got to watch were the ones that a) the channel decided to run and b) that ran when I happened to be around to watch.  The times it was on — late morning or early afternoon on Saturdays, if I recall correctly — were times that I was sometimes available for and sometimes wasn’t.  Add in that this series ran a number of multi-part episodes and my watching of its various arcs was really hit and miss.  So I expected that I’d remember the episodes very haphazardly, remembering an episode or two and then coming across an episode that I was sure that I had never seen before.  As it turns out, I think I remember more episodes than I expected, but it ended up being the case that I missed a lot of the multi-part episodes, including the ones where Apocalypse is kidnapping telepaths.

While people like Chuck Sonnenberg have talked about how shows like Gargoyles had taken on more serious topics and so didn’t talk down to their audience, this series definitely did that first.  Because the comics themselves focused on a lot of serious issues and a lot of serious plots, to do anything at all with the comic plots was going to involve addressing them, and the show didn’t shy away from that at all, covering the bigotry and oppression angle with the Sentinels right out of the gate and taking little time to get into “Days of Future Past”, with the horrible future of mutant oppression under the armoured boots of the Sentinels.  They also dove into Wolverine’s past quite early, and then also covered Phoenix and Dark Phoenix, as well as Apocalypse and Sinister.  And, of course, Magneto and all the issues around him.

What is interesting about the series is that while it covered the comic plotlines, it wasn’t afraid to change them.  As it started out with Jubilee’s plot and so included her instead of Kitty Pryde — who doesn’t appear in the series as far as I can recall — that was going to have an impact on the “Days of Future Past” storyline, since she was the major character there and in the later movies her powers were deemed critical for that to work.  So what the series did was sub in another time traveler in Bishop, which introduces us to him and sets up for his later storylines.  Even from the beginning, they combined Jubilee’s introduction with the introduction of the Sentinels, when her introduction in the comics was around a more humourous event with a group of incompetent mutant hunters.  So especially early on in the series they massage and combine storylines to suit themselves.

I actually really like this move.  A half hour cartoon is going to have a hard time fitting in the elements from the comics, and so this move let them compress storylines into things that would fit into their runtime and their tone.  In fact, one of the reasons the Phoenix storylines don’t really work for me is that instead of collapsing the storylines they instead build the storyline into multi-part episodes and follow the comics more closely, but even with the multi-parts they don’t have the room to develop the plots or characters or emotional beats enough for them to really work.  We don’t get the sense of tragedy of either plots because we don’t know Jean well enough to connect in that way, and we don’t see her struggling with Phoenix or her lengthy corruption by Mastermind to have all of that really hit home.  So when they collapsed and combined storylines they could make it all fit nicely into their format, and when they tried to follow the comics more closely it really seemed to me like they ran into the restrictions of their format and things didn’t work out so well.

That actually ends up with the interesting result that I think if you are more familiar with the comics you will enjoy the show better, even though it deviates from the comics quite a bit.  The reason is that the problem with changes being made when a work is converted from one medium to another is that it often seems like the changes are being made to suit the creators and what they want or to modernize it or whatever, which annoys the fans who liked it, often even if it works.  Here, it seems clear that they are making the changes to fit their format instead of to simply do the story the way they wanted to do it (especially the combining of plots and characters).  Thus, fans of the original comics can forgive those sorts of moves.  However, the stories are indeed the famous ones, and so fans of the original can watch it and enjoy comparing what they did to what the comics did, but also have in their back pocket the backstories that led up to those stories and so can get the emotional connection and why these things are important, even if the episodes themselves can’t really show that.  For example, we know a lot of Cable’s story before it is revealed in the episodes and so understand why he’d hate Apocalypse even though he’s first introduced in Genosha.  Fans of the series have his backstory and can look forward to later plots based on what we know about the character.  I can’t help but feel that someone unfamiliar with the series would be a bit lost at being dropped into the middle of these characters with their own backstories and relationships and that the quick explanations the episodes give won’t be sufficient to really convey all of that.

I also have to note that the series continues the tradition of getting Wolverine mostly right but getting Cyclops mostly wrong, like we saw in the Fox movies.  It really seems like the writers really liked Wolverine.  Sure, he’s a popular character and so they’d definitely get some pressure to feature him, but he gets way too many of the funny and snarky lines to be explained by anything other than the writers singling him out for them … especially given that Gambit is also on the roster and is definitely better known for those sorts of comments.  They also manage to get him right by having him play a role in the fights.  Wolverine is a tough character to write into the fight scenes because his main mutant ability is simply healing and his main combat abilities are his claws and his bones.  Against any supervillain that wouldn’t be taken out by one hit by Rogue, the only real impact he could have is with his claws, which would involve killing them in a gruesome manner that you aren’t going to see in a children’s cartoon (and which would also violate at least Storm’s morality and cause huge issues on the team).  The show uses his agility more and sets up a number of robots for him to slash, which keeps him in the game and a useful combatant.  I really wish they’d have used his senses more and his bones more — in one comic, Sabertooth punches him and breaks his hand, which could have been used here as well — but for the most part they keep him relevant without seeming to contrive it as often, which is also a benefit for Gambit who is a similar type of fighter.

But the show gets Cyclops wrong.  For whatever reason, adaptations of the character tend to make him an utter jerk, especially when he fights with Wolverine.  As someone who likes both characters, I really wish they’d make Cyclops less confrontational and more serious and only let his frustration out at times when Wolverine is clearly over the line.  But he seems to be frustrated with him from the start.  Yes, that is probably supposed to reflect their long clash over things like Jean and Cyclops’ leadership style, but the show never really establishes that the main clash — and why Jean is drawn to both of them — is over Cyclops’ serious, meticulous and reserved nature and Wolverine’s more instinctive, impetuous and wilder nature.  That the two of them are so completely different, clash so often, and yet ultimately do respect each others’ abilities is what makes the relationship work.  Too many of the modern adaptations never establish Cyclops’ character properly and so he comes across as a jerk instead of as someone simply frustrated by the risks the others are taking in not following orders and not thinking things through.

Towards the end, the show seemed to be having budget issues that only deepened as it went along.  Characters that were featured in the opening disappeared for long periods of time — Gambit and Jean being the worst offenders, but Jubilee notably disappeared for a long string of episodes — and most episodes only had a couple of characters in it at a time.  Towards the end, the art style changed to one that I didn’t find all that great.  By the time the series ended, it seemed like it was starting to run on empty, and not just with the animation and voice acting, but also with the stories as well.

Still, the series was quite good.  While the quality was better at the beginning than at the end, it remained entertaining throughout and covered deeper issues than a cartoon might have been expected to cover.  The voice performances were fairly good, especially for Wolverine, Cyclops and Professor X (Storm tended to be a bit of a ham and the others sometimes struggled with the accents).  They definitely picked the best storylines from the comics and jumped straight into the action with some of the most famous ones (which might explain why they seemed to start to run out of them towards the end).  While all my cartoons go to the same spot in my closet, this is definitely a series that I will watch again at some point.

Trunk Diary: Dromund Kaas

September 19, 2022

You can’t go home again.

Not that I really wanted to.  Dromund Kaas didn’t leave me with a lot of happy memories.  But the biggest worry was that some of my old acquaintances would see me as a Sith and would try to start something, either blackmail me with things from my past or try to kill me as some kind of proof of their ability.  It didn’t happen though.  I should’ve known.  The ordinary people try not to look at the Sith too closely because it might get the Sith to start looking at them, and the Sith never bothered to look closely enough at an ordinary person like me to remember me.  So all I have to do is look out for Sith or others that are going to try to take me on based on my current status as a Sith, not based on what happened before.

Hamr put it in his on special way, but I ended up taking his advice and went with a military-style uniform instead of Sith robes.  Sure, Hamr put it as it being “sissy”, but the robes are the sorts of things you can get away with if you have enough power to not care if anyone laughs.  Doreau had an interesting point about them, which gave me another reason to avoid them.  See, the Jedi wear robes, too, but their robes definitely look religious.  They look like monks.  But the Sith don’t want to look like monks, and so they tailor them all differently.  And yet, for the most part, they still wear robes.  And robes either look religious or silly.  She said that this all made sense if the Sith really were a splinter group from the Jedi, sticking to the trappings of their origins without realizing it, while trying to free themselves from it so that it wasn’t obvious.  It made one wonder, she said, what other trappings they were subconsciously holding onto without realizing it, and what other contrasts were there just to make them different from the Jedi even if it didn’t fit with their code.

I didn’t want to fit in with the Sith.  I wanted to fit in with the people.  And a uniform is a way to project a sense of authority while still linking yourself to the everyday.

So, of course, my first mission here was to violently put down a slave uprising.

You’d think that as a former slave myself I’d try to avoid killing them and be sympathetic to their cause.  But just like the captain of the Black Talon, what they were doing was pretty much suicide.  A slave rebellion didn’t really have much of a chance getting off the ground or getting too far because of the differences in power.  So starting one is just an excuse to get everyone involved brutally killed.  This one actually managed to get some traction … which only meant that it wasn’t a real rebellion, but was something set up by the Sith.  That’s even worse, as they’d only live just as long as needed for the Sith to get what they want.  All in all, the slaves were dead anyway, and if I needed to kill some of them off to bring down the Sith it wouldn’t make much difference.

I did come across some slaves that were trying to apply the Sith code.  They thought that it meant that the Sith get power from killing people in ritualistic ways, and so they were doing that to their fellow slaves.  It was kinda nice to get into a simple murder investigation again.  Anyway, when I discovered them they said that they wanted to actually join the Sith, and they even had some Force powers to justify it.  So I sent them to the Sith, just to create a new problem for them.  See, there are two rough philosophies in the Sith:  the brutes and the eclectics.  The slaves had the entire Sith philosophy backwards:  they thought that hurting and killing people is what gave the Sith power.  But it’s not.  It’s gaining power that lets the Sith do those sorts of things and get away with it.  The brutes use that power to do the sorts of things that the slaves thought gave the Sith power.  The eclectics sniff at those sorts of crude interests, but their interests aren’t less cruel, just more … perhaps “artistic” is the word.  That’s the one they’d want to use, anyway.  So the brutes will see promise in these and their attitude but then face new competition, while the eclectics will see them as barbarians but will also have to face their direct and brutal methods.  At the end of it all, the slaves will be killed by one or the other of them, but until then will be a reminder to them of how like those slaves they are which will cause them some discomfort.  And the more uncomfortable they are, the better I like it.

That’s also why I took the mission to investigate the Revanites.  Revan was important to both the Jedi and the Sith, and his philosophy could be one to bridge the two.  But I didn’t care.  The information would be useful and knowing about the movement could serve my purposes.  And it worked out well, as in order to hide her order the Revanite leader gave me the chance to rat out the Sith Lord who was the Master of the guy sent to find them, and I took it.  This would just introduce more conflict in the Sith ranks and meant that I would get the gratitude of a group that might come in handy later.  So it was a big win for me.

The main thing I was doing was finding an artifact that Zash wanted.  The thing was, when I went there it turned out that the guardian that no one could get past who had the information she needed happened to be an ancestor of mine.  He’d been waiting for an ancestor for a while, and gave me what Zash needed, and some other advice.

Now, this was interesting.  When I succeeded at that thing that no one else could do, Zash was surprised that no one else thought of shooting lightning at it.  But maybe that wasn’t it.  Maybe that had been tried before and it hadn’t worked, but it worked for me, because I had a connection to that that I didn’t know about.  I didn’t know about that family link here, but what if Zash did?  She’d said that she found out about me through a dream, but maybe she’d done a ton of research on me and found that link, and then used that to start down the path that she needed to get whatever it is she wants.  These are too many coincidences to take lightly, and Zash is definitely more meticulous than she’s letting on.

At any rate, I’ll have to keep that in mind as I go about looking for the artifacts of Tulak Hord that she needs for some ritual.  There’s definitely more going on here than meets the eye.