Jessica Jones and the Mechanics of “Post-Series Depression”

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Image from afterellen.com

Warning: The following content contains spoilers.

While I should have been studying for exams, I finally gave in to the hype and watched the first episode of Jessica Jones… and then the second episode, quickly followed by the third. Several days later, I found myself finishing the entire first season and dealing with that strange post-series depression; the kind of ache that arises only after you know you have finished a great show.

I know I’m late to the party since Jessica Jones aired on Netflix in November 2015, but this empty, void-like feeling after finishing this great show has got me thinking—why do we feel this way only when we have finished something that we really enjoy? After mulling over this for quite some time, I decided to do what I always do when I do not know the answer to something: write about it. I have decided that the answer to this question lies within Jessica Jones itself, or more specifically, its treatment of human psychology.

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Image from screenrant.com

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Jessica Jones is a Netflix series produced by Marvel that follows the titular character’s quest to stop a mind-controlling psychopath named Kilgrave. Kilgrave himself is fixated on Jessica, and will stop at nothing to possess her. The show is one of the few television programs that accurately depicts a psychologically-tormented protagonist with an equally psychologically-complex villain. Characters on both sides of the good/evil spectrum suffer from mental illness. This is one of the reasons that Jessica Jones is so complex and compelling—it shows that people with mental illness are neither inherently bad nor good. Illness has no direct causal effect on a person’s morality, and thus we must examine the other, deeper reasons behind a character’s actions.

Everything about Jessica Jones is phenomenal, except for one glaring aspect that I find myself somewhat troubled with: Kilgrave’s death. There were so many interesting avenues to develop—Kilgrave was obsessed with gaining power and in one of his last scenes, his father warned him that the serum to expand his abilities might kill him. It was the perfect set-up for his death: in trying to develop his powers, his quest to become more powerful would end up killing him. Jessica’s ethical conundrum of having to kill someone would be avoided because Kilgrave’s own mad desire for control would do it for her.

So imagine my disappointment when Kilgrave falls for Jessica’s trap and gets himself killed in what felt like the most anti-climactic death in the entire series. I was so upset at this seeming cop-out of an ending. I ranted to all my friends about it, wrote this angry blog post about it… until I started thinking about why I was really so distraught by Kilgrave’s death.

I missed him.

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Image from screenrant.com

I missed Kilgrave, the psychopathic, mind-controlling, cold-blooded murderer who rapes women and makes people commit suicide with his voice alone—but let me explain. I did not miss the unspeakable acts that Kilgrave committed. Rather, I missed Tennant’s chilling yet incredibly entertaining performance of him. I missed seeing what Kilgrave was up to next, and guessing at how he was going to carry out his next grand plan. Most of all, I lamented the potential to explore the possibilities of Kilgrave’s powers as a villain.

It is here that we come back to that empty feeling, that “post-series depression” we all get when we finish a great show. I would like to examine the effects of post-series depression first through the series’ most captivating (albeit disturbing) character, Kilgrave. He is a textbook psychopath, cunning and manipulative with an aura of superficial charm, and a complete lack of guilt for the atrocious acts he has committed. He does not see people as individuals, but rather as tools for his entertainment; characters in a play of which he is the director. We see this in the way he treats and imagines Jessica—although he claims to love her, he has no problem in trying to kill both her and the people she loves. What Kilgrave loves about Jessica is his ability to control her, to possess her, and it is this control that Kilgrave misses about Jessica when she is gone.

On a less extreme level, we miss our shows in the same manner. We miss our everyday interactions with them, seeing the characters we love, and the degree of control in what we choose to watch and when. Once the show finishes, we do our best to find other shows similar to the one we have just finished, but it is never really quite the same. Kilgrave’s character demonstrates the darker implications of this emptiness, since he tries to replace Jessica with Hope Schlottman (with the hope of filling the void), but this ultimately fails. Kilgrave’s behaviour demonstrates that possessiveness towards the things we love is not by any means the kind of relationship we should strive for.

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Image from rollingstone.com

Jessica is the offered solution to this problem in the show. Although she suffers from depression and PTSD, she does not let these illnesses define her, nor is she isolated by them. On the contrary, Jessica has people she cares about and people who care about her. Despite her repeated attempts to “not give a shit,” she finds herself caring about people anyway, and in the end she chooses to accept these friendships rather than reject them.

It is worth noting that all of Jessica’s plans to defeat Kilgrave fail, and it is not until she starts including her friends in her plans that they start making progress. She includes her best friend, Trish, in her plan to take down Kilgrave. In addition, the very last scene shows Malcolm, one of Jessica’s allies, answering Jessica’s phone at her apartment, and viewers are left with the hopeful assumption that Jessica and Malcolm are to run Alias Investigations together.

Maybe the right way to love our shows is not to find another one to replace them with, nor to let post-series depression keep us from discovering new things, but to share our experiences with the people we care about. Having a good relationship with art means having a good relationship with people; we should want to share the things we love with others, not keep them exclusively to ourselves. It’s the reason we always want our friends to watch the same shows that we do, so that we can talk about the shows with them and have a shared experience. In a way, it is like we are keeping our experience of the show alive in our everyday conversations so that, technically, a show is never really over if we keep talking about it—and that, I think, is a comforting thought.

-Contributed by Carine Lee

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Remember To Save What Keeps Us Human: Looking At “Childhood’s End”

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Childhood’s End is a 1953 science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. In the twentieth century, Clarke was considered to be one of the three greatest science fiction writers, alongside Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.

The story that has stood the test of time for over sixty years. Now, after various failed attempts (Stanley Kubrick once tried to make it a movie, and the BBC did a radio adaption in the 90s), Clarke’s favourite of his own novels has reached the small screen thanks to the efforts of Matthew Graham and the Syfy channel.

But does the adaption live up to the source material? Well… yes. Many of the things that made Clarke’s writing great are alive and well on screen, yet so are his weaknesses. Some deviations from the source material don’t seem to hurt, but neither do they improve the story much.

Let me explain myself.

This show perfectly adopts the atmosphere that Clarke was once so famous for. There is a real sense of scale and power to Childhood’s End. When you are told to believe that the events of the show are affecting the whole world, you really believe it. Clarke’s novels always gave an impression of size and, just like in the books, when spaceships appear in the sky above Earth in the show, you really get a sense that they are vast. His ideas have enormous scale, and that scale is represented perfectly in the series.

Unfortunately, like Clarke’s books, the characters aren’t quite as impressive as the world they inhabit. Yes, they serve a purpose, and can be charismatic and cool, but you never quite invest in them the way you should. Character development takes a back seat to the grander, more fascinating story being told. As a result, it’s hard to care about the characters’ complicated relationships.

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Mike Vogel as Ricky Stormgren

However, credit must still be given to Mike Vogel as Ricky Stormgren for giving what otherwise is a bland and tired trope some charisma and weight. In addition, Osy Ikhile as Milo Rodericks manages to pour in some good emotion, and the wonderful Charles Dance as the alien “supervisor for Earth” Karellen turns out to deliver an absolutely stellar performance.

But like I said, characters are a secondary feature. The story and its ideas are what sells.

One day, spaceships appear in the sky. The human race is told not to be afraid. A peaceful alien invasion proceeds, with aliens titled the Overlords now watch over the skies of planet Earth. They have decrees that it’s time for the world to become a utopia—but at what cost?

The book is split into three parts: Earth and the Overlords, The Golden Age, and The Last Generation. Similarly, the show is split into three two-hour long episodes titled The Overlords, The Deceivers, and The Children. Though the names are changed, the focus of each episode mostly correlates with the novels’ plots.

The Overlords begins with an ominous flash to the future, in the ruins of a post-apocalypse, where a man named Milo stumbles through the wreckage of a city and claims to be the last living human being.

With that to hang over us, we are thrown back in time to our present-day Earth, with the arrival of giant spaceships in the sky, and the grumbling tones of Charles Dance introducing himself as Karellen. Karellen proclaims himself to be the supervisor for Earth, and he has come to pull humanity into the future by ending war, poverty, starvation, and every other blight on Earth.

The Ooverlords choose a farmer (though in the book it was a UN secretary) named Ricky, a calm, self-assured, almost painfully all-American boy as their liaison. Ricky is periodically brought to the Overlords’ ship. Karellen advises him, and there is slowly a real sense that the two have become friends. This is by far the most interesting relationship in the show.

Together, they end war, pollution, famine, and slowly transform the world into a better place. There is some resistance to the Overlords, but it is quickly defeated. During this time, a young wheelchair-bound boy named Milo is shot through the heart. A beam of light comes down from the sky, and  Milo is suddenly alive again and able to walk. Milo then tells an old man who he shares a friendship with that he wants to grow up to become the first person to see the Overlords home planet.

 Everything is wonderful, but as Karellen continues to stay in the shadows, Ricky becomes more frantic and paranoid as to why his alien friend won’t reveal himself. When Ricky finally catches a glimpse of his friend, he decides that it’s better that the Overlords go unseen. Then, after fifteen years on Earth (fifty in the book), Karellen reveals himself to the world.

Cloven hooves for feet, horns, bright red wings, and fiery eyes—Karellen looks like the devil.

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Charles Dance as Karellen

Episode two, The Deceivers, might be the weakest of the three episodes. This is not the fault of any particular element. Episode two must deal with the consequences of the first episode while setting up for the finale. That’s a lot to do, and its storyline is hindered by some sub-par new characters. While we are invested in Milo and Ricky, it’s hard to care about the new Greggson family and their seemingly possessed children. Meanwhile, when Ricky falls ill from exposure on the Overlords’ ship, it simply seems like a way to continue to include him now that his role has been fulfilled. Milo is still fascinating as the only human to still yearn for answers, but he’s mostly just waiting around to take the spotlight in the finale.

The quality of episode three, The Children, is somewhere between the two preceding episodes. Ricky’s inclusion seems pointless, though with some nice beats, and the Greggsons’ story continues to be annoyingly flat. Their deaths in the climax occur without any emotional resonance. We simply don’t care about these people.

Nevertheless the Greggsons do serve a purpose. They help show that, though humanity has reached utopia, it has done so by sacrificing its imagination and its culture. The world may be perfect and free from all evil, but it’s a dull perfection. This is contrasted by the small community that rejects the Overlords’ help, and lives as the humanity of days gone by, in which culture, creativity, and scientific inquiry are seeping back in. They are also included in the series because their child, Jennifer, grows to possess psychic abilities, linking her to all other children and showing the eventual fate of Earth.

It’s Milo who takes the final spotlight however. As a man who grew up wanting to be a scientist, he is distraught to find that scientific inquiry on Earth is dying, and he’d like to know why. Milo believes there is a time distortion that occurs when the Overlords travel from their world to Earth, so he hides aboard their ship, thinking it will be a forty days journey between worlds.

Milo is awakened on the planet of the Overlords, and it is there that their true purpose is revealed to him before he is taken back home. He was wrong. As Milo stumbles through the wreckage of the Earth, eighty years after he left, we are finally back where we began.

As the Earth crumbles around him, Milo asks Karellen to save something, anything of Earth culture, so that it may survive them. Karellen obliges, and as the Earth vanishes from the universe, music remains.

Music floats in space as a symbol of the culture and creativity that once was the human race.

Childhood’s End is by no means perfect, nor is it an exact replica of Clarke’s great novel. The inter-human relationships fall flat, to the point that I didn’t even bother to mention some of them here. But the story is as beautiful and fascinating as it was on the page, a story that I’ve only partially spoiled here—if you’d like to know it all, go watch for yourself! The love and attention payed to Clarke’s story has resulted in six hours of television that are definitely worth watching.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

The Rise of Zombie Culture: Undead Politics in In the Flesh

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Illustration by Stephanie Gao

With all the blood-spattered graphic t-shirts, movies, popular zombie TV shows (I’m looking at you, The Walking Dead), and the plethora of oncoming zombie apocalypse memes (get your chainsaws ready, folks), there’s no denying that we’ve developed a pretty big fascination with zombies within contemporary media culture. But really, is it any wonder? There’s quick-fire action, saving the world from impending zombie doom, and characters who always look amazing no matter how many undead bodies they’ve fought through. What’s not to like?

Putting all the gory fun aside, it’s no accident that zombies have made their return (no pun intended) into our mainstream culture in recent years. With the dramatic increase of unemployment following the global stock market crash in 2008, there came a substantial increase in the number of people who were suddenly seen as disposable and unneeded. People were losing their jobs, homes, and families, and who were the banks to blame if not immigrants and the poor? (Of course, they could blame themselves, but that involves accepting the responsibility and consequences of their actions, which they seem immorally opposed to.) The recent influx of zombie movies reflects this social phenomenon: the more people who turn into zombies, the more people there are who need to be disposed of.

The zombies in recent media are no longer slow and encumbered. Now, they’re fast, violent, and infinitely more threatening to “civilized” life, not unlike the rapidly growing number of people living below the poverty line. When did all these zombie movies come out? You guessed it—right after the stock market crash in 2008. In fact, the recent rise in zombie culture coincides almost exactly with the stock market crash in 2008. The satirical zombie film Zombieland came out in 2009, with Resident Evil: Afterlife following it a year later. Major zombie TV shows and blockbusters came out not long after, such as The Walking Dead in 2010, and World War Z in 2013. All these shows and films have one thing in common: kill the zombies, save the world.

One notable exception to this trend is the BBC show In the Flesh, in which the world has already survived a zombie apocalypse. The government is reintegrating medicated zombies, treated for what they call “Partially Deceased Syndrome” or “PDS”, back into society. The story centres on one particular PDS sufferer, Kieran Walker, and his struggles coming back to his zombie-hating hometown of Roarton as well as his flashbacks to the people he killed during his untreated state. In a refreshing twist, In the Flesh doesn’t cast the zombie as something to be protected from, but rather presents PDS sufferers as people worthy of protection, while the zealously religious people of the town are the ones cast as dangerous. In doing so, the show flips the traditional rhetoric of the zombie story—what if you didn’t need to kill the zombie anymore? What if the “civilized” people were the danger instead?

These questions speak to a larger societal context in which the world is divided into good, ordinary subjects and those who are a threat to them. In examining these issues further, the show unmasks certain forms of systemic violence that often go unnoticed in contemporary society. The way the people of Roarton treat zombies is a lot like the way racialized subjects are systematically discriminated against in today’s post-colonial society. This issue is especially relevant today with social media campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter or #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. The people of Roarton treat PDS sufferers as threats to society, monsters that need to be eradicated, so any violence done against them is justified—celebrated, even. There is even a small group of volunteer military forces called the HVF (Human Volunteer Force) who are celebrated as war heroes for having killed PDS sufferers in their untreated state. If this dehumanization of a marginalized group is starting to sound sadly familiar, it should. This is exactly the way we’ve disguised and justified violence against racialized bodies and people with mental illness. Luckily, In the Flesh actively refuses to participate in this troubling logic. By framing the zombie as someone who is worthy of protection, In the Flesh humanizes those who we’ve come to think of as monsters, and offers us alternative ways of thinking about and responding to this violence.

In the Flesh also concerns itself with realistic representations of mental illness, both real and fictional, which is a nice departure from shows that either perpetuate the stigma around mental illness or avoid the subject altogether. In the Flesh deals with a fictional mental illness, PDS, but also very real ones like Kieran’s depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Kieran is haunted by memories of the people he hurt in his untreated state and of events leading up to his death as a human. What’s interesting about this is that the show treats all of these illnesses, fictional or otherwise, as equally worthy of treatment and acknowledgement. It rejects the notion of people with mental illnesses as “crazy” or senselessly irrational, and instead presents them as real, suffering people in need of help. However, the show is also careful not to aggressively force happiness onto its characters—it makes a conscious effort to accurately depict the amount of time it takes for a person to overcome mental illness, which can be comforting to those who feel like they may never get better.

If you are looking for a thought-provoking, thematically interesting show to binge watch, In the Flesh is a pretty good place to start. Unfortunately, it’s only two seasons and nine episodes, but it’s definitely worth a watch if you’re interested in unconventional post-apocalyptic narratives. All episodes are available on BBC iPlayer for streaming online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b042ckss, and if you’ve watched the show and want a third season, you can support the show by posting #SaveInTheFlesh on your social media.

Happy watching!

-Contributed by Carine Lee

Still not convinced whether or not to watch In the Flesh? Perhaps one of our earlier reviews can help convince you!

Daredevil Season 2: Here Comes the Man Without Fear

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Image source: http://www.superherohype.com

There’s a moment in the third episode of this season where, faced with fighting his way down a whole building of armed thugs, Matt Murdock gives a quick grin from under his mask, and then with a sudden violent and terrible fury he roars, smashing out the lights overhead. At this point, I almost unconsciously pointed at my screen, and whispered, Here comes Daredevil, the man without fear.” Because this is a character with such a long history, with titans behind the page like Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, Ann Nocenti, Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, and Mark Waid, there are many different interpretations of the character.

So of course, Netflix’s Daredevil can’t be any one of those specific incarnations. But there is such love, understanding, and attention to detail being put into not only the incredible Charlie Cox’s performance but behind the camera as well that it’s just dazzling. Through all the years and runs of comics, the people on this show really know what makes Daredevil Daredevil. Not just the man, but the world he exists in and the characters around him.

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Image Source: http://www.superherohype.com

Let’s start this review with the Punisher as portrayed by Jon Bernthal. Yes, this is the Punisher we’ve been waiting for. Episodes one to four of this season play like the Daredevil vs Punisher movie, and while I don’t mean to belittle the greatness of the remaining episodes, those first four make for a spectacular bit of television. Punisher is brutal, unforgiving, and terrifying. He’s also uncomfortably understandable, occasionally sympathetic, and at one point genuinely heart-breaking. Some of the best scenes of the season aren’t the (incredibly good) fight scenes, but the dialogue between Daredevil and Punisher, two figures who, in a way, are trying to do the same thing. In Matt Murdock’s own words, Frank Castle is actually a good man, he just doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong anymore.

Even though after the first four episodes, Daredevil and Punisher only directly cross paths a few  times, that isn’t how it ends. Much of the middle of this season is taken up by the trial of the Punisher: Frank Castle vs the people of New York. This is where we get to see Elden Henson’s “Foggy Nelson” and Deborah Ann Wolf’s “Karen Page” shine.

Foggy is a real lawyer. This was a criticism of Daredevil’s freshman year, that the lawyer side didn’t get much… lawyering. This time we get some real lawyerly stuff. All throughout the trial, Foggy (who didn’t want to defend the Punisher in the first place) absolutely shines. He’s smart, sincere, and really sells it as a guy who only just now realized that he’s good at his job.

Karen, on the other hand, goes a different way this season. Honestly, it feels like the writers weren’t initially quite sure what to do with Karen this year. She and Matt strike up an almost-romance, but that kind of fizzles out. She also develops a rapport with the Punisher during his trial, because if last year taught us anything, it’s that Karen enjoys the company of dangerous men. (He dresses like the devil and punches? Nice. He straight up murders bad guys? Nicer). But eventually, it was her involvement in the old world of the New York Globe that I liked.

If there was any element of season one I initially missed, it was the grim, world-weary detective work of reporter Ben Urich. But slowly, Karen slips into his shoes. She makes a good reporter, and she was always a better investigator then secretary. So while this role is a departure from the comics, it’s a welcome one. Her interactions with Ellison, Ben’s old editor, bring a smile to my face.

The awesome Rosario Dawson also returns as Claire the nurse, as does Matt’s priest, Father Lantom (portrayed by Peter McRobbie), but both in a far more minor capacity. They are Matt’s voices of reason, and in a season of an increasingly unreasonable hero, it makes sense that their voices take a back seat.

But, when talking about this second half of the season, you might be wondering, “Where did Matt go?” Enter Elektra Natchios. Much of her background from the comics has been changed, but the important notes stay the same. She was Matt’s old college flame, she very much enjoys violence, and she’s got some secrets in the dark.

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Image source: http://www.superherohype.com

Elodie Yung’sElektra” brings a sense of escalating violence, of spinning out of control, and of the giddy embracing of a more fantastical life. She does it very well, and manages to bring more to the role, to create a far fuller and more interesting character than any version of Catwoman who supposedly tempted Batman on screen. She is continually there, like a younger echo of Daredevil’s old mentor Stick, reminding him his life in the mask is so much easier than his life in the dark-red glasses.

Unlike characters like Spider-Man, who constantly throw their costumes in the trash, Matt Murdock likes being Daredevil. That becomes a part of the conflict later in the season, as it becomes easier and easier to just put on the mask and beat a bad guy then it is to put on a tie and try to survive the world as Matt Murdock. This is why, unfortunately, we see very little of Matt Murdock in the Punisher’s trial, although when we do see him he is something to watch.

In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I’m going to avoid talking about the last few episodes of the season. However, I think it’s fairly okay to say that yes, The Hand (cult of evil ninjas) are the bad guys this season. They never quite match the threat or emotional investment of Wilson Fisk or Frank Castle, nor is their evil plan ever fully, properly explained, but I think we’re going to be seeing them again.

In a way, it feels like the writing room of Daredevil was as divided as the characters themselves, with half wanting to do the Punisher, and the other half wanting Elektra and The Hand. So we got both. I won’t complain, really. I do think that the two halves of the season could have coalesced a little more tightly. But I’m a guy who likes all the big names in one room. I can’t always get what I want.

While the action in Daredevil has always been something else, it’s easy to admit the dialogue and pacing in its second season are a big improvement. A problem near the end of season one was the pacing. It became very slow, almost stretching to the point where I have trouble remembering certain episodes. But this time around, the pace continues to pick up, getting faster and faster. The characters can talk about their different ideas of justice, and heroes, and their relationship to the city, without it ever becoming bulky or heavy-handed.

New York City is as much a character as Matt himself. He really does love his city. Daredevil manages to capture a bit of the superhero mythos that many of its big screen counterparts have lost. It’s that strange, possessive idea that the city belongs to its heroes as much as the heroes belong to their city.

“My city.” Matt says this many times throughout the series. Not “in my city”, “our city”, or “this city”. “My city”. It’s a sentiment echoed by Karen, and Foggy, and even the villains.

This is the way Daredevil feels about Hell’s Kitchen. It is a deep, emotional attachment to the roots of his city, making his city almost something mythic to be protected and understood. This, more than anything else, is who Daredevil is.

This is a show that understands its characters with incredible depth and nuance. This is Daredevil, and the Punisher. That is the Hell’s Kitchen of the Daredevil comics. Honestly, I think I can just say: job well done. When is season three?

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

I Aim to Misbehave – The Confusing Gender Politics of Firefly

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Image Source: vodzilla.co

Warning: Spoilers ahead, potentially offensive language, and mention of sexual violence.

Let me be upfront about this: I think the space western Firefly might be the greatest television show to ever be axed before its time, and its sequel Serenity is a damn fine movie. Yes, I’m willing to die for these beliefs, though that ain’t exactly Plan A.

However, as much as I love Firefly, I’m often left with a not-so-shiny and unsettling disquiet in regards to the roles of women in the ‘verse and the roles available to women in Firefly.

When a bounty hunter sneaks onto the ship, he beats Mal senseless, and threatens to shoot Simon. But what does he do when he encounters Kaylee? He ties her up, and says that if she screams for help or alerts the others, he will rape her.

The threat of rape is pervasive in this show, and often comes up in relation to the Reavers, insane cannibal pirates who roam the edges of known space. As if it’s not enough of a threat that the Reavers will kill and eat those that they capture, it’s stated repeatedly that they also rape their victims. There was a disturbing proposed episode that wasn’t made, in which Inara is captured by Reavers, but I’m going to refrain from critiquing what we know of episodes that never got made. Instead, I’m sticking to what we have.

Interestingly, the criticism I’m about to make is (mostly) unapparent by just looking at the crew of Serenity itself. Zoey is the second-in-command, a gun-toting veteran and decision-making badass, who isn’t emotionally removed or cold, and her marriage with pilot, dinosaur play expert, and “leaf,” Wash, is a playful dynamic of equals. Zoe is an African American woman in a position of power, who gained that position through skill, and because she is truly the best person for the job.

Kaylee is the ship’s mechanic. She’s sweet and clever and capable, and she manages to have the ‘verse’s most adorable crush on the fugitive Dr. Simon Tam without it diminishing her character at all. Kaylee is great. If I had to be any character on the show, I’d be Kaylee.

I do sometimes have a problem with the treatment of River Tam. She plays into the damaged little doll trope—more of an object to be looked after than a character. She is literally disguised as an object in cargo in the show’s pilot episode, where Simon describes her as “more than gifted, she was a gift.”

However, even in her case, River is slowly developed as her mental state improves and as it becomes clear that she is actually displaying psychic powers. Still, River never gets to be quite as fully fleshed a person as she should be, and she is far more often a catalyst for the plot than a character.

Now we get to Inara, and I’m not going to make the criticism you think I am. In truth, her role as a Companion feels more akin to a paid spiritual advisor than a sex-worker. Inara is strong and respected, she picks her clients, and her occupation is honorable as opposed to degrading—in fact, more so than anyone else on the ship. But apart from her character, Inara is the motivation for the lead-in to my criticism.

Firefly lasted only fourteen glorious episodes, and in every single gorram one, somebody gets called a whore. When Mal calls Inara a whore, or some random guest character calls any given female character a whore, it is always playful, but never apologetic.

This might be easier to swallow if it was a conflict set between only Mal and Inara, but it’s not. All the female characters the crew meet tend to be well-rounded, fantastically three-dimensional characters, more so than in almost any other show I’ve seen. However, nearly all of them also happen to be prostitutes.

Please don’t misunderstand my criticism. These are all characters acting with their own agency and by their own choice. They have often found their way to good status, and none have pimps or are controlled by a male figure. But that so many of these characters are prostitutes stands out.

In the episode “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” Mal accidently gets married to a girl named Saffron. The episode spends its first half promoting the notion that a woman isn’t something to be owned or bartered or possessed by men. It’s actually a fairly on-the-nose feminist message. But there is something strange about its delivery, as it’s a man explaining feminism to a woman.

There is also a great scene halfway through, where Shepherd Book informs Mal, “If you take sexual advantage of that girl, you will be sent to the special level of hell, the one reserved for child molesters and folks who talk at the theatre.”

It’s a hilarious scene, especially Mal’s affronted reaction, but it also serves as a reminder to the audience that sleeping with someone under any term of false pretense is wrong. Now this shouldn’t be shocking, but please remember that we live in a world of TV where sleeping with a woman under false pretenses is often played as a source for comedy.

So later when it turns out Saffron is a former Companion like Inara, it’s a little jarring. Yes, she was trying to trick everyone and steal Serenity, but it is indicative of a larger problem.

Other than Zoey and River, every female character in Firefly gets ahead by using their “feminine wiles.”  Even in a scene of backstory, we learn Kaylee got the job as ships mechanic because she was sleeping with the original mechanic, and then fixed the ship when he couldn’t. While this doesn’t diminish or demean her, why is it that Kaylee gaining her position had to do with sex?

It’s strange when the crew goes in to defend a whorehouse on a Western planet from rabid misogynists. There’s no problem with the women themselves, the rabid misogynist men are clearly the villains, but this continued subtext that women can only forward their independence through their sexuality is problematic.

Now, the common defence of this is that Firefly is an American Western set in space. There is a great twisted Civil War metaphor, where Mal and the Browncoat independents actually represent the Confederate South. The show’s creator Joss Whedon has even admitted this to The New York Times. So the thing is, it is clear that the show’s creators could pick and choose what elements of Westerns they wanted to keep.

But the problems with gender remain. It is worth noting that all of the derogative language or negative actions against women in the show are almost always answered with enormous cosmic justice, whether the offending characters are shot, stabbed, kicked into an engine, or thrown into space. It is made clear: misogyny is not welcome.

The one real exception to this terminal punishment is Jayne. But it’s interesting that when Jayne says something piggish, everyone gets mad at him for it. He is representative of traditional masculinity, and nobody puts up with it. Actual gender on the crew of the ship is no boundary at all. Everyone is treated equally, and everyone is equally capable.

But what does all this mean? Did Firefly have a more concrete plan or message it would have developed later? If we’d been given more time, would we have started to see female guest characters with more diverse careers?

I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m grasping at straws or if this is a real problem. I’m not sure if this argument is heading anywhere either or if I took it far enough. And if I did, would it just devolve into vague hand gestures and a shrug? It’s confusing for me to argue this while also arguing that Firefly has one of the most dynamic casts of fully developed female characters I’ve ever seen in a TV show. It’s so confusing it’s almost dizzying, and I’m not quite sure how to reconcile these things. There really is only one certain conclusion I can draw from all this:

Jayne is a girl’s name.

I think the only solution is for me to go binge watch Firefly and then Serenity again on Netflix, and no power in the ‘verse can stop me.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

Hannibal: What do you see?

Sight is the key to appreciating the design behind Bryan Fuller’s three seasons of Hannibal. Television is first and foremost a visual medium, and no show makes better use of it.

The first two seasons of Hannibal take place before the events described in the famous novels by Thomas Harris, with the third season leading into an incredible adaption of his first Hannibal novel, Red Dragon. What starts off as a killer-of-the-week cop drama slowly becomes a bloody, insane, near supernaturally charged love story between its two lead characters. Hugh Dancy stars as Will Graham, a man who can empathize perfectly with anybody and whose sense of self and reality is shaky at the best of times. Opposite Will is his psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), who enjoys philosophizing about God, eroding Will’s conception of the world, and elaborately cooking, serving, and eating people (in meals that always make guilty viewers a bit hungry).

Hannibal sees in Will the potential for a companion. He believes that Will can understand him and can share his fun of elaborately killing people. Hannibal thinks there is nobody else in the world who can see him like Will can. In effect, he falls in love. (The internet’s couple name for them, “murder husbands”, even finds its way into a line in the third season.)

The horror is apparent, but how does Hannibal fall into the realm of speculative fiction? Well, in several ways. First of all, the show itself exists in a heightened reality, one where Hannibal Lecter is an almost ineffable devil-like figure, capable of performing horrifying feats or tricks while wearing a three-piece suit. He can dash across fields, disappear without a trace, and kill countless people in increasingly elaborate ways, all in time for dinner. The show often has little time for real world logic, sacrificing what’s possible off screen for what’s beautiful on screen.

But within the logic of Hannibal, there is Will. And within Will blossoms the magical realism that places Hannibal into the realm of speculative fiction.

            “See?” is a code word in Hannibal. What Will sees is more important than the real world. Through the eyes of killers and lunatics, as well as through his own subconscious, Will sees a world far more magical (and horrifying) than our own.

What Will sees is often more important to the plot than what is real. His hallucinations (or “Willucinations” as I stubbornly call them) make up a huge part of the show. They manifest as a way to show the viewers Will’s mental or emotional states, but often Will’s visions cut to the truth of what is going on around him, like haunting specters revealing the secrets of the plot.

Throughout the first season, Will isn’t aware that Hannibal is the ultimate monster he is chasing, thinking that the man is only his tall friend who likes to cook. But Will’s subconscious knows better.

With increasing alarm, Will is haunted by visions of a stag covered in raven feathers, a replica of a small statue in Hannibal’s office. The Raven Stag follows Will, nudging him closer towards the truth, pushing him along.

Once Will discovers what Hannibal is, we are given glimpses of how Will now sees him. Will sees a Wendigo, a great, antlered black creature that eats human flesh. But still the Raven Stag haunts him, becoming a symbol not only of Hannibal but also of Will’s relationship with him. The Raven Stag bursts into flames in times of transformation, forcing Will to continue on with his question of whether to catch, kill, or embrace the cannibal.

Behind Will’s eyes, scenes of murder spring to life, time reverses, objects transform, and corpses revive. In his visions, the Wendigo becomes the Hindu god Shiva and warns Will of bloody rebirth, the Raven Stag dies to signal to Will that something bad is coming his way, and water wells up around him in bed to warn him that he is drowning in Hannibal’s influence. Whatever design Will’s madness takes, it always points Will towards the truth, to help to him understand.

Apart from Will, the only character who is explained with magic is season three’s Red Dragon himself, Francis Dolarhyde (played to terrifying effect by The Hobbit alum Richard Armitage). In Dolarhyde, we see the battle between the man and the monster within him by the shadow of wings on his back and the slither of a tail moving behind him. We know in one particular scene that Dolarhyde is beating himself up, but what we are shown, and what we understand, is that Dolarhyde is fighting the dragon. We know what is real, but we see what is true.

That is the point of magical realism in Hannibal: to help us to understand. Why tell us what’s happening or how characters feel when it’s possible to show us? Why tell us that Hannibal is the devil of Dante’s hell, when you can show his face blend with that of a painting depicting Satan in The Inferno? Why tell us that Hannibal and Will are becoming more alike when you can show us their faces and bodies melding and mirroring one another through the glass of Hannibal’s cell? We are not told; we are shown. We accept what we see, and we understand it. “Who among us doesn’t want understanding and acceptance?” Hannibal asks. And that is what the show asks of its audience: to be seen and understood.

The magic of Hannibal distorts reality so that we are forced to see these horrible acts of violence and murder as Hannibal sees them and as he wants Will to see them. Some of the displays of blood on Hannibal are uncomfortably, and undeniably, like art.

As Will admits in the very last line of the series, what we see on Hannibal is “Beautiful”.

It’s not real, but what’s real is not important. What’s important is that we see art and beauty and magic in the dark and the horrifying. We see, and we understand.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

Jessica Jones: It’s Time to Learn Her Name

The_Pulse_Vol_1_11_page_00_Jessica_Jones_(Earth-616)

When Marvel announced that it would be putting out several series on Netflix about street-level heroes, they told us who we’d be getting: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones. And as I tried to force everyone I know to be just as excited as I was, whenever I reached the name Jessica Jones (to be played by Krysten Ritter), I was given a single overwhelming response:

“Who?”

With her thirteen-episode Netflix series by showrunner Melissa Rosenberg coming out in November, and my moral compulsion to tell people about good comics, I’ve decided, fine—I’ll tell you who Jessica Jones is.

In her short history of publication, a lot has happened to Jessica Jones. She gets married to Luke Cage (to be played by Mike Colter), they have a baby (who practically all the Avengers babysit), she and Luke run an Avengers team, and they fight off an alien invasion! But for this article, and keeping in mind what the show will be about, I’ll focus on the early days of Jessica Jones.

It makes sense that so few people know about Jessica. She is not of the Stan Lee golden-era of classic heroes. She’s just over a decade old, and debuted in a less than mainstream series.

In 2001, writer Brian Michael Bendis (of Ultimate Spider-Man fame) pitched a new series: a gritty, down-to-earth private detective comic, starring a former superhero who walked away from the life in tights. At first it was going to be an out-of-continuity miniseries, starring Spider-Woman Jessica Drew (who would indeed appear in a later Alias arc).

But, deciding he wanted to create something all his own, Bendis promptly changed the last name in his scripts. The wonderful watercolours of David Mack made up the covers and artist Michael Gaydos filled the interiors of Jessica’s world.

Thus, Jessica Jones was born!

Jessica begins as a normal kid, attending Midtown High alongside Peter Parker, who she has a crush on but never works up the nerve to speak to. Then, she is in a car accident—her family hits a truck carrying the trademarked radioactive waste that always activates superpowers in comics. Her family is killed. After a year-long coma, Jessica survives. Gifted with flight, durability, and super strength, Jessica briefly tries her hand as a costumed superhero called Jewel. But after a scarring event, she gives it all up.

As a private detective, Jessica takes on clients who often hire her to find a loved one or to spy on a spouse. She makes a living. She smokes, she swears, and sometimes she drinks too much. She is disillusioned with both the system and the world she lives in. Police resent her for her former superhero lifestyle; heroes hate her for giving it up. Jessica hates most of them because she thinks they’re awful.

This is how we first meet Jessica Jones. She’s angry, she’s unhappy, and she’s carrying a lot of baggage that she doesn’t like to face. She’s self-destructive, and has a bit of self-hatred. She’s not a superhero. She doesn’t throw herself at muggers or race into burning buildings.

But she does her job. Each time Jessica is given a case, she is thrown into a world of dangerous people and people in danger. But underneath all her pathos, her messed-up sense of self, her cynicism, and her bad language, Jessica can’t help but get sucked into other people’s problems. Ultimately, she is an empathetic, moral person—and a hero.

In a great crossover moment, she’s hired to be Matt Murdock’s bodyguard when he is publicly outed as Daredevil (the comic Daredevil was also written by Bendis at the time). There’s also a time when J. Jonah Jameson hires her to find out who Spider-Man is, and she spends weeks billing him while she feeds the homeless and doesn’t bother to investigate… because Jessica Jones is amazing.

Far away from the fantastical epics of the Avengers or the X-Men, Jessica’s world is that of a noir detective drama, infused with superpowers and a heavy dose of humanity. I think the story that truly best illustrates what made Alias such a special book also happens to be the only case that takes Jessica outside of New York.

Alias issues eleven through fourteen tell the four-part story, “ReBeCCa, PLeaSe CoMe HoMe”. Jessica is hired by single mother in small-town New York to find her missing child.

Some claim her alcoholic father kidnapped her; others don’t know what to think. But as Jessica continues her investigations, a single uniform rumour about the missing Rebecca begins to emerge: Rebecca has run away from home because she is a mutant.

This is a story in which Jessica tackles the horrible reality of how bigotry still holds its place in the modern world. Its greatest moment is when Jessica confronts a priest as he gives a sermon filled with hate speech against mutants. It really says something about the nature of this book and its character that it tackles the mutant metaphor of oppression and persecution better than most X-Men books.

But Jessica is by no means a perfect character. In a way, Alias is a book about someone suffering from depression and PTSD, caused by her short time as a costumed hero and the abuse she suffered at the hands of the mind-controlling villain, The Purple Man (to be played by David Tennant). In the end, however, Jessica manages to beat The Purple Man and begins to make an effort to fight her inner demons as well.

Alias starts with Jessica punching a man through her front door and getting far too drunk, but ends with her beating the bad guy and making a stab at happiness.

Hers is a crass, brutal, and blunt story. It is about the importance of having friends, standing up for what one believes in, and how to love oneself. It is a great story. So, if you have any time between now and November, I’d suggest picking it up and reading it. Then on November 20, please join me in binge-watching all thirteen episodes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix! (Viewer discretion is advised.)

Contributed by Ben Ghan