10 Strange Facts for Stranger Things

I love Stranger Things. And apparently, so does everyone else.

Despite its popularity, the rampant critical acclaim of Netflix’s Stranger Things was unprecedented upon its release. The initial script produced by the series’ creators, the Duffer brothers, had been repeatedly rejected by a string of cable networks. It was simply uncategorizable. The ensemble of children at the heart of the TV show—Eleven, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will—made producers question: was Stranger Things a children’s show? Would adults enjoy it? And if it was geared towards children, shouldn’t the tone be lighter? 

Thankfully, the Duffer brothers never changed their stride, and neither did the show. It was picked up by Netflix in early 2015 and here we are: a homage of 80’s synth pop, jean jackets, and sci-fi movies later, Stranger Things now sits atop Netflix’s most-watched series list, and boasts a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So what was it that pushed Stranger Things over the edge of indie film territory and into pop culture appeal? Was it the soundtrack? The stellar casting? Steve Harrington’s hair? Maybe, but the response might also have something to do with nostalgia, and Stranger Things certainly had plenty of that.

You might have caught some of them, but here are 10 references you may have missed in Netflix’s monstrous hit.

1. E.T.

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Image from camiseteria.com

No surprise here; thematic shades of E.T. are all over Stranger Things. We see it in the cinematic shots of the series—kids on bicycles, anyone?—but it’s also stunningly prominent in the parallels between Eleven and E.T. As an “alien,” so to speak, Eleven and E.T. share a fixation on one type of food (leggo my eggo), have both dressed up in blonde wigs to blend in, and are both in hiding from shadowy government figures.

2. Dungeons and Dragons

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Image from roebeast.blogspot.com

I think we all caught this one. After all, the series opens with a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, in which Will fails to kill a popular a mythical creature in D&D lore. This scene does two things: first, it foreshadows Will’s capture, which happens immediately after and drives the entire season one plot; and second, it contextualizes the creature in terms that the kids (and us as the audience) can identify. For the rest of the series, the unknown creature from the Upside Down is known as the demogorgon. 

3. Alien

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Image from bustle.com

The demogorgon in Stranger Things has a few nods to Ridley Scott’s aliens. It leaves a lot of goo in its wake, and (spoilers!) it likes to incubate its victims with smaller creatures by forcing its victims to swallow them.

They’re kind of like…worms. Or snakes. It’s gross.

4. Stephen King

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Image from stephenking.wikia.com

I’ve listed Stephen King as a category in a vague sense, because Stranger Things has multiple horror motifs typified by King during his prolific career as a writer. Mainly, Stranger Things takes its cues from King’s novels Firestarter and Carrie. In both cases, Eleven’s telepathic and occasionally erratic powers, along with her abusive and watchful upbringing, align her with Carrie White and Charlie McGee.

5. Star Wars

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Image from heavyarmor.wordpress.com

This one is a bit more obvious, as the characters often voice the references directly instead of the Duffer brothers hiding them under cinematic quality. Eleven has “jedi powers,” Mike owns a Yoda action-figure and talks about the Force, and when Lucas thinks Eleven has betrayed the group he calls her “Lando,” after the Star Wars character who betrays Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back.

6. Nightmare on Elm Street

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Image from elitedaily.com

Episode 8 of Stranger Things has Nancy and Jonathan trying to go head-to-head with the monster, luring it into Jonathan’s house with a brigade of traps and eventually setting it on fire. Sound familiar? It should—the climax of the 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street played out in a similar way.

7. The Goonies

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Image from mentalfloss.com

Everyone loves a good ragtag group of misfit kids. And we see a lot of similarities in the playful and mischievous behaviour of the Goonies squad to the Stranger Things crew. The main rule: no adults allowed. (But as a lover of Stranger Things, I’m willing to point out that we do have Joyce and Hopper involved, but they act pretty autonomously for the majority of the show and are in their own separate ‘clique’).

8. X-Men

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Image from comicvine.gamespot.com

X-men also has misfits, yes, but we’ll give that to The Goonies instead. A trickier reference to the Marvel comics actually happens in the first episode, when Dustin and Will are talking about an X-Men comic; the specific issue they argue about is volume 134, in which “Jean Grey mentally snaps…and inadvertently unleashes the Dark Phoenix, a cosmic force beyond her control,” which is a tip of the hat to Eleven later in the series.

9. The Thing

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Image from culturecreature.com

The 80’s horror movie The Thing makes a few appearances in Stranger Things. This one is a bit like Star Wars, in that there are a couple of casual mentions you can spot if you’re looking for them. In Mike’s basement there’s a poster for the movie on one of the walls, and when Dustin calls Mr. Clarke for information on how to build a sensory deprivation tank (which is the most awkward and amusing thing on the show), guess what Mr. Clarke is watching? That’s right: The Thing.

10. Minority Report/Fringe

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Image from movle.blogspot.com

Last but not least, I’m going to throw in a debatable one. When the characters on Stranger Things make a sensory deprivation tank for Eleven to heighten her telepathy and enter the Upside Down, some people got flashes of the 2002 movie Minority Report. Specifically, the scene when Spielberg’s pre-cogs lay in their own sensory deprivation tanks to get flashes of the future.

Now, as it’s Spielberg we’re talking about here (whose other movies are a big influence on the show), it’s probably a homage to him. But! For anyone who watched the hit TV series Fringe—did you not get flashbacks of psychic Olivia Dunham concentrating in a sensory deprivation tank? I did. I really did.

So, did we miss anything? Let us know if you caught something strange that we missed, and bonus points for the more obscure the reference is!

-Contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi

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Bounty Hunters and Space Cowboys: Comparing Killjoys and Firefly

Killjoys and Firefly entered my repository of favourite TV shows in much the same manner. In both cases, I saw a few posters and heard snippets of plot. Judging from this incontrovertible evidence, I dismissed both shows—who had ever heard of a space cowboy anyway?

In both cases, however, I ended up grudgingly watching a mid-season episode at the behest of family members. I immediately realized the error of my ways, and feverishly watched the entirety of the first season.

Though I greatly enjoyed Killjoys, I couldn’t help noticing that my introduction to the series was not the only thing tying it to Firefly. Airing just over a decade after the unfortunate demise of the Joss Whedon classic, Killjoys shares many of Firefly’s characteristics. The premises are generally convergent—both follow a small cast of mercenary characters who take on any and all jobs (provided they’re paid well), up to and including smuggling bobble head geisha dolls.

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Mal arguing with Inara, Firefly

Both also make use of a space western vibe, featuring settings such as arid locales, small run-down bars that have hints of futuristic technology, and rural communities on backwater worlds. They have a similar political dynamic—a large interplanetary government oppresses and mistreats its rebellious citizens and colonists  (The Company and The Alliance).

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The Company, Killjoys The Alliance, Firefly

There is also a marked economic dichotomy between the citizens of rich, central worlds and the pioneer-like border worlds where the crew spends most of their time. With a few exceptions, both shows feature a very similar cast of characters. Because Killjoys has a smaller central cast, some its characters encapsulate more than one of the roles taken up by characters from Firefly.

There’s the unorthodox gunslinger captain with a traumatic past (Dutch and Mal).

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Dutch, Killjoys

Mal, Firefly

The loveable mechanic who can fix most anything (Johnny and Kaylee).

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Johnny, Killjoys

Kaylee, Firefly

The less intellectually-endowed soldier type (D’avin and Jayne).

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D’avin, Killjoys

Jayne, Firefly

There’s a character who has been neurologically altered by a shadowy government agency to be a nearly invincible killing machine when cued (D’avin and River).

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D’avin, Killjoys

River, Firefly

The humanized sex worker (N’oa and Inara).

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N’oa, Killjoys

Inara, Firefly

The devout priest who’s more than he seems (Alvis and Book).

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Alvis, Killjoys

Shepherd Book, Firefly

There’s the doctor who gave up a cushy life on a rich world (Pawter and Simon).

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Pawter, Killjoys

Simon, Firefly

The female action hero (Dutch and Zoe).

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Dutch, Killjoys

Zoe, Firefly

And lastly there’s the covert assassin who likes stabbing people and is a little bit weird (Khylen and Early).

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Khylen, Killjoys

Early, Firefly

Even some of the episode plots are congruent. This is especially remarkable because there were only fourteen Firefly episodes and Killjoys’s first season contained only ten episodes. Both feature episodes where the heroes are hired to protect a pregnant woman and her companions, who are looked upon unfavourably by their respective societies (a safe house of surrogates in Killjoys and a group of sex workers in Firefly). These companions turn out to be more capable of handling their own defense than either crew anticipated.

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Episode: “Vessel,” Killjoys

Episode: “Heart of Gold,” Firefly

There’s also the episode wherein the crew attempts a salvage mission on what appears to be an empty transport, only to encounter a gruesome surprise (“A Glitch in the System” and “Bushwhacked”).

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Episode: “A Glitch in the System,” Killjoys

Episode: “Bushwhacked,” Firefly

However, Killjoys and Firefly differ in one rather important aspect. Firefly was cancelled after less than a season, spawning a legion of disaffected fans. Killjoys, on the other hand, has been renewed for a second season. Both shows did not garner very impressive viewership numbers in their first seasons—Firefly, in fact, had a larger average audience by a significant margin. Given the shows’ multitude of similarities, the obvious question is, why has Killjoys been more successful?

The channels on which the series aired may have something to do with it. Firefly aired on the more mainstream Fox, while Killjoys plays on sci-fi specialist Space, which would (you’d assume) be mainly the domain of viewers who enjoy series such as Killjoys. Further, since Space does not depend on ads for revenue, lower viewership numbers are less of a problem. However, I think there are deeper reasons for the difference in success. Despite their similarities, Firefly and Killjoys differ in tone and in the relative importance of their characters to the world they inhabit.

Though the main cast of Killjoys is often shown as being at the mercy of the higher ups of both their own bounty hunter organization, the Reclamation Agency Coalition (RAC), and the ominous anonymity of the Company, they also often wield a surprising amount of power. Dutch is easily able to negotiate a cancellation of the Company’s kill warrant for D’avin; she is also cleared of a number of charges on multiple occasions by both superiors at the RAC and a member of the Nine (the conglomerate of families which rule the central world, Q’resh) with whom she is in frequent contact. Dutch (and later D’avin) are also later marked out for a special RAC program involving human enhancement techniques.

The crew of Firefly’s Serenity, by comparison, were called “a bunch of nobodies” who are “squashed by policy” by managers at Fox. This was intentional—using the US’s civil war as a model, Joss Whedon constructed the crew to be a relic of a vast galactic civil war, wherein the Browncoats (synonymous with the grey uniformed Southerners of the American Civil War) were routed by the Alliance. This arrangement allowed the show to examine the psychological effects of the end of such a war upon the members of the losing side, and their subsequent search for new lives in their changed world. Given their defeated status, the cast has very little political pull (the latter events of the movie Serenity aside); the plot frequently revolves around the crew slipping through Alliance patrols, with the understanding that capture would lead to inescapable imprisonment.

The economic and legal status of the crews in both series are also at odds—every main character in Firefly (with the possible exception of Inara) is either dead-broke or wanted (as well as broke). The crew of the Serenity are also acknowledged criminals. Though they take on some legal employment, the vast majority of their jobs involve illegal activity. The threat of bankruptcy grounding the Serenity is constant (the fact that one episode is entitled “Out of Gas” is rather telling).

The Killjoys, in contrast, though complicit in some illegal activity, are legal employees of the RAC. According to Johnny and Dutch, Killjoys are paid quite well, and have relatively comfortable lifestyles when compared to the average citizen of the Quad.

These differences also manifest in the shows’ tones and central problems. Killjoys is generally a light, sci-fi action show. Though most episodes are loosely centered around a particular warrant, Dutch’s relationship to powerful and shadowy forces that are seeking to control the Quad underlies many of the events of the series. Dutch and her crew are involved in important events that alter the future of the entire system (e.g. the assassination of one of the Nine families and the bombing of Oldtown) and are presumed to play an important role in the political future of the Quad.

Firefly, though frequently comedic, has a darker tone (this was, if you’re wondering, also something Fox had a problem with—the network pressured Joss Whedon to make Mal “more jolly”). The crew’s main problems are related to money and/or personal, small-scale problems. Though Mal and company can be said to have altered the future of their galaxy in the Serenity movie, their potential for causing radical change is non-existent—the Alliance’s control is absolute—and they are generally uninvolved with larger political issues.

Overall, these differences are responsible for the success of Killjoys and the cancellation of Firefly. At least in the boardroom, Killjoys is a less risky, more mainstream type of show. Though it occasionally deals with contemporary issues (e.g. environmental damage and drug use), it is generally filled with mindless action, predictable plot sequences, and idealized characters who have secretly been groomed for a leadership role. Firefly deviated from this traditional structure to focus on unusual content (rebels who lost their cause and have no ability to nor intention of renewing the fight). Everything that made it one the best television shows of all time—everyday problems and ordinary characters who lack the predestination common in many speculative shows—made it unpalatable to the Fox brass.

-Contributed by Christopher Boccia

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

Shadowhunters and the Hunt for the Demon of Profit

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image source: variety.com

Book-to-movie adaptations have always been a natural indicator of a literary work’s popularity.

When cinema was only beginning, black-and-white adaptations of Shakespeare’s work served as an indication of what society perceived as “good” literature from an academic standpoint. Today, that hardly seems to be the case.

Movies and TV shows show us that today’s focus is a bit less on the quality of scripts and a bit more on the quantity of bills. The adaptation of literary works is no longer a novelty, translated to add dimension to the original series. Instead, it’s all about taking a series as far as it can financially go.

Cassandra Clare’s New York Times’ bestselling series, The Mortal Instruments, shamelessly mixes many common (and more importantly, popular) speculative elements. From werewolves and vampires to the legend of the Nephilim, the spectrum is quite wide.

First, we have a standard love triangle between the female protagonist, Clary Fairchild, her best-friend-turned-vampire, Simon Lewis, and the Shadowhunter (read: demon slayer) Jace Wayland. There is also a romance between Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane, which explores not only the issue of racism in the division between the higher Shadowhunter society from the lower shadow world, but also addresses duties to one’s family in the case of Alec’s homosexuality.

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source: pinterest.com

The series came out at a time when the hype was still in full swing for the more familiar aspects of the speculative realm, and the call for more vampires and werewolves, along with the growing demand for magicians and fairies, caused publishers to narrow their vision.

It’s safe to say that the original 2013 film adaptation of the first book, then, did not come as a surprise. Not only did it guarantee that many fans would see it, but it would also act as an extra push for the book series, whose position on the bestsellers’ list began to grow shaky in 2012. The film’s poor reception, however, demonstrated differently.

The movie received mixed reviews and failed to recoup the budget, causing directors to speculate whether or not a second movie would be released. Petitions were posted online for sometime by fans who trilled their undying love for the series, wanting to see more. Their request was partially satisfied when an announcement was made stating there would, in fact, be a TV adaptation of the series starting from scratch, with a new cast and a different interpretation of the plot.

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image source: geekenstein.com

I will readily admit that I have been guilty of falling into the trap of popular series. I jumped onto the bandwagon with The Hunger Games as soon as the first book came out. Others, such as the more recent Divergent, I hoped to stay away from, but after watching the first two movies my curiosity got the better of me and I did end up reading the books.

With The Mortal Instruments, however, my patience ran out after the first two books, and after hearing that the series’ immense popularity caused Clare to add three more books to her initial trilogy, I was adamant in my refusal to touch it. Yet I must also admit that I saw the movie when it came out a few years ago and (perhaps against my better judgement) just finished the first season (yes, there’s a second season coming next year) of the TV show.

Why? Because of the curiosity to see what came of these attempts.

I thought to myself, was it worse than the books? Was it better?

Turns out it wasn’t great. For me, The Mortal Instruments proved itself to be a case study of sorts in a discussion of profit and the coexistence between the film and publishing industries. It’s partially understandable that a TV adaptation, rather than a movie franchise, allowed for a new start and possible changes in the way the original plot was presented.

The irony lies, however, in the similar reception the show, though some credit should be given to the overall higher reviews. The insistence on running a second season, given the way in which the first sloppily crammed subplots and events from various books into one, is the more puzzling aspect.

Perhaps we should be worried more about addressing a different kind of “dark force” that books skid around or fall prey to: the allure of franchising and riding the wave of popularity. While there are certainly some interesting plot points and witty dialogues within the books, there is not much that The Mortal Instruments, along with its tangle of prequels, sequels, and spin-offs, adds to the literary world.

The very fact that the franchise has expanded so much makes one wonder whether the author really is so enamoured with her own construction, or whether the influence of popularity has a bigger role. Making a remake of something not entirely successful the first time is a similar case of trying to keep the popularity alive for a series that is difficult to evaluate as a literary work.

The series focuses too much on appealing to its audience with its modern references and speech, and the way it falls prey to character archetypes that earlier New York Times bestsellers have already exploited.

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image source: shadowhunterfans.blogspot.com

Series such as The Hunger Games have arguably warranted their film adaptations. Moreover, even with the shortcomings and plot errors that occurred, a handful of these film adaptations did it right the first time they took on the job.

The fact that there is a remake of an adaptation should already act as a warning sign that begs the question of how much say the writer has in their own creation, as well as how much dignity they carry forward with it. It’s common nowadays to meet those who say they write in order to produce the next “big thing” and become a bestseller, and to a degree the allure of profit is understandable.

Yet it is hard not to go back and wonder about some great novels that may not have received movie adaptations, such as Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Milton’s Paradise Lost. It also begs the question of why other great works—Shakespeare being the most common—have received so many if the possibility of them being forgotten is practically impossible. Perhaps it is because few have come to recognize the modern incarnation of the classical demon, and the way in which it has precipitated into current society in a quiet comfort.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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