Political Opportunism and the Sheer Sliminess of Lacking Principles

Every now and then, I think about Anthony Scaramucci. The Mooch. That guy that lasted about six days before being fired – before his official start date, at that. Today, it was because of his comments regarding parent child separation at the border. They reminded me just what it is about him that bothers me so much.

Scaramucci disgusts me. I find him an appalling excuse for a human being. The reason for that is that he doesn’t have any real beliefs. Or at least, none that he won’t cheerfully throw aside and argue against if it serves him. He supports gun control and same sex marriage. He thinks that family separation at the border is inhumane and that it can’t be pinned on the Democrats. Those are positions I agree with! And as such, it makes me even more repulsed by Scaramucci, because he holds these beliefs, but still chose to work for this administration, however briefly, knowing full well what it stands for. He believes that human lives are worth less than what he can get for himself . It’s a sign of an utter lack of empathy, a lack of compassion for other people. He doesn’t have the courage of any convictions. He lacks principles of any kind. He can be bought. Maybe not with money, but certainly with attention. He’s painfully opportunistic.

People like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio repulse me for different reasons. They’re spineless cowards. I find their beliefs and personalities awful. But they still believe things. They’re bigots, even if they’re less open about it than the Trumps of the world. They may accept NRA blood money, but they don’t say the complete opposite of what they would say without it. They have the same disregard for human life as Scaramucci, they’re equally opportunistic, but their opportunism stems from callous beliefs and bigotry, not an impersonal lack of consideration as to how their words or actions will affect others.

Back during the week when he was part of the Trump administration, I thought Scaramucci was kind of funny. And that’s for the same reason I – like a lot of people – used to think Trump was funny. He said outrageous things that blatantly contradicted what he’d said earlier, things so stupid I didn’t get how anyone could take him seriously, things that were clearly more because they were politically convenient than because he actually cared. But that’s not funny. That’s just despicable, and the reason I can no longer even think about Scaramucci without getting upset. A person that defends a bigot is a bigot, and that makes Scaramucci one of the worst.

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The Women In ‘Gotham’ Deserve Better

I adore Gotham. I really do. But the way the women are treated bothers me.

I’m not opposed to bad things happening to female characters. Really, I’m not. Not if bad things are happening equally to the male characters. I support equal opportunity suffering. And to an extent, Gotham has that. It’s not that the characters dying are only women. Plenty of bad things have happened to the male characters. Arguably, some of the most uniquely degrading scenes have been involving men. Ed spent months frozen in a block of ice as the centrepiece for Penguin’s club, I mean, damn. And with revenge, it’s often an eye for an eye. Tabitha killed Oswald’s mother. Oswald retaliated by killing Butch. One woman, one man. But the women usually have significantly worse writing. Butch got shot after four seasons of development because Penguin wanted revenge on Tabitha for killing his mother, who had no development. Kristen and Isabella were shoved in the fridge for Ed’s character development into a villain. The sexualization of Ivy has been creepy and gross. Alice Tetch was only around for about two episodes, after which her blood played a more important role in the plot than she herself did. Valerie got shot because Gordon loved Lee. It’s not about them outside of their relationships with male characters.

Isabella’s few episodes were some of the worst writing Gotham has ever had. Gotham‘s primary strength has never been good writing – the  writing is usually decent, and at points, excellent, but what makes it stand out isn’t a clever script so much as good performances, gorgeous settings and visuals, just how much it commits to the “love child of the Nolan and Burton movies” aesthetic. But Isabella’s episodes? Just some random woman that liked riddles, happened to look exactly like Ed’s dead girlfriend, and didn’t pay attention to the news enough to know who the guy she was seeing was? It was sloppy. She existed for the sole purpose of driving a wedge between Ed and Oswald.

A similar point can be made about Valerie. Her whole storyline was basically being Jim’s rebound girl that helped him investigate a case, and it culminated in her never showing up again after Jim got her shot. She deserved a whole lot better than that. It would have been bad no matter how else they wrote it, but had they instead gone the route of it not being about Gordon preferring her to get shot because he loved Lee but because Lee is a doctor that could keep her alive until the ambulance got there, it would have felt way less sexist (Not really, because Mario was also a doctor and locked in the bathroom, but still). The way it actually went, it felt like the show was saying that neither she nor Lee really mattered as a character outside of Gordon’s interest in them.

Lee was once the heart of the show – she wasn’t the main character, and one could even make the case she was a minor one, but she was the conscience. That went off the rails in seasons three and four, especially once she teamed up with Nygma. And don’t get me wrong – I love vastly unhealthy relationships in fiction. Relationships featuring characters that are an absolute toxic trainwreck together can be enormously entertaining. But I don’t think that’s quite what Lee and the Riddler were, and that’s because their negative history wasn’t mentioned at all while they were together.

Season four was something like Lee’s rebel phase. Gordon had his in the first half of season three, when he quit the GCPD to be a bounty hunter/private investigator and spent most of his time getting drunk. Lee spends season four trying to figure out what the hell she wants out of life and trying to atone for what she did after Mario’s death. From that perspective, it makes sense that she’d do things like get involved with a murderous supervillain.

Lee and Ed could actually be interesting. She’s gotten darker, what with everything that happened with her soap opera relationships – between dating and breaking up with Gordon, her miscarriage, marrying a Tetch virus infected Mario, her ex killing her new husband, infecting herself with the virus, and her sister in law bashing her hand in with a hammer, she’s had a really rough few seasons. And after Ed got off ice, we saw glimpses of the person he used to be – the person Lee once considered a friend. I’ve seen a lot of people say that Lee would never forgive Nygma after everything he did to her, and I get that, but I also think that after her experience with the virus, she would try to see the good in him. Instead, their relationship involved a lot of focusing on how Lee “likes danger”. Their whole thing in the season four finale was weird. And Lee’s reasoning for stabbing him, while not invalid, had nothing to do with all the ways Ed had screwed up her life, just that he has a history of killing people and she didn’t want to be on that list?

Most of Lee’s season four story arc could have happened without the romantic element to her and Nygma’s relationship, or even if said romantic element got introduced more slowly. That would have given it a very different connotation and put them on equal footing. It would have probably ended in a pretty similar way – Gotham has established itself as very much an Elseworlds take on the Batman mythos, but traditional canon is still the best guide, so a Lee Ed relationship, whether romantic or platonic, would probably end with her on the side of justice and Batman, and him as a super villain no matter what. But as it was, it felt kind of like Isabella did – more about him than her and about driving a wedge between him and Penguin than developing her. Lee deserves more than that. She deserves a storyline of her own, one that isn’t tied to a male character.

Sofia could have been a clear way to do that. It would have been a callback to season one and the crime drama roots of the show. But her and Lee’s conflict only lasted a couple episodes. Lee did get to shoot her, but it falls kind of flat compared to the seasons long revenge plots other characters get. Sofia herself didn’t get to be nearly as competent a villain as she should have been. Yes, she managed to meteoric rise to power and gained control of the underworld faster than any other character, but her rise and fall took place over the span of like five episodes because while she was cunning enough to gain power, she was also dumb enough to piss off everyone in the city while doing so.

I think Selina, ironically enough, is the female character whose storylines have been the least dependent on a male character. That is, until the last few episodes of season four. Season four is my favourite season. Every episode has been great. I’ve seen people calling it messy, and I’m just…what? And I thought the last couple episodes were especially good. But I’m really not a fan of the “she might not walk again” thing.

I hate The Killing Joke on principle. I always have. I thought it was gross and sexist and involved treating Barbara as an extension of the male characters in her life instead of as her own person. But I have mixed feelings about it when I think about it more. It’s because of The Killing Joke that we got Barbara as Oracle, but that was never the intention of the story. The story wasn’t about her. If it had been, if it had been intended as Barbara’s Oracle story, then yeah, I’d have liked it a lot more. But it wasn’t. And I think that using that story is even grosser when it’s not about Barbara.

I’m confident Selina is going to make a miraculous recovery, despite the fact the doctor told Bruce she wouldn’t walk again, because she’s the future Catwoman, not Oracle. Gotham may make a lot of changes to the mythos, but I very much doubt they’d go the Selina as Oracle route. I’d be pretty upset if they did, actually – I like what if stories where different characters become different heroes, but the thing about those is there has to be work put into it. A change in circumstance, a new character in their life, something. That’s not the case with Gotham. For the past four seasons, Selina’s clearly been building to becoming Catwoman. Living on the streets, becoming a better thief, learning to use a whip. Her becoming Oracle just because she was shot? That would just be bad writing.

While the Gotham writers aren’t above an occasional cop out or avoiding consequences, they’re certainly better than to not give a character an actual arc. Especially if they want it to be believable that said character takes on a different role than they do in the comics. Meaning this story – Selina getting shot, her and Alfred leaving Gotham while Bruce stays behind – wouldn’t even serve that purpose of giving her a hero origin story. It would just be hurting her for the sake of Bruce’s angst. Or not even that, really, with what we’ve seen so far – hurting her to get her out of the way of the story. It would be pointless. It would have been one thing if she just got shot. But they just had to reiterate the fact that she may never walk again. Yeah, that was probably just a mythology gag, but seeing as it’s almost certain that she will, it just comes across as pain for pain’s sake.

I loved the last two episodes of season four. I thought they were gorgeously done. But they don’t exist in a vacuum, and when considered alongside the rest of the show, they drive home the point that Gotham doesn’t treat its female characters very well. I adore the show, I know I’m in for a good time every time I sit down to watch, but I would really appreciate the women getting a bit more agency.

Trying To Understand The Most Inconsistent Comic Book Writer Ever

Grant Morrison utterly fascinates me. He’s one of those guys readers tend to have strong opinions about. But I don’t. He’s written both some of my absolute favourite comics ever – Batman and Robin, All Star Superman – and some that still upset me to think about – primarily New X-Men. He’s almost impressively inconsistent. And it results in me having absolutely no idea what I think of his work.

Only an idiot would deny how influential he is to the art form. He came up with a lot of what’s general pop culture knowledge. Emma’s creepy clone quintuplet – and later triplet – daughters? His creation. Bruce Wayne’s only main-universe biological son? His work. And you know what I find most interesting about New X-Men? As much as I hate to acknowledge it, due to the bad taste in my mouth from the way it treated Scott, Jean, and Emma, some of the concepts and characters Morrison introduced were excellent. Emma’s relationship with the Cuckoos was one of the things I liked best about the run.

He upended the status quo, and even though comics are full of various writers contradicting each other both knowingly and unintentionally, parts of it have lasted, from his new characters to parts of the Emma characterization/Emma becoming an essential member of the team to more plot related details, like the reveal of the true nature of the Xavier Institute to the world. On the other hand, his Magneto characterization is a complete canon discontinuity. It’s not acknowledged, it’s not ever mentioned again, it’s completely Morrison’s. There hasn’t been a single writer since him that thought, hey, that’s good, let’s do that.

And now that I think about it, actually think about what happened in his various Batman runs, beyond just the obvious “Dick and Damian as the new Dynamic Duo” bit that I loved, I remember something else: I do not like how he treated Talia at all. As much as I love the Dick and Damian relationship as written by Morrison, to the point where I forget a lot of what happened in his Batman aside from their dynamic, his depiction of Talia was just insulting. Damian’s conception went from being a result of a brief, consensual relationship to occurring because Talia drugged Bruce. It’s a weird vilification of a character that, for a lot of her history, committed criminal acts out of loyalty to her father more so than out of actual gain. Maybe it was an attempt at making Talia a more independent character whose actions are in pursuit of her own interests rather than just alternating between supporting Ra’s and helping Bruce – a valid goal. But I didn’t like the way of going about it.

Her descent into outright villainy wasn’t so much a descent as her waking up one day and deciding, I know, let’s shake things up a bit and do terrible things for the sake of it. She went from being a flawed but loving mother to someone that would stick an implant in him so she could control his body, clone him, disown him, put a bounty on his head, and more. She had her pet the dog moments, but as a whole, her character was highly erratic. The contrast to classic Talia is glaring. And looking at his version of her compared to those that came before, I couldn’t help but notice that the artist actually drew her in accordance with her ethnic background, Talia is often whitewashed in art. She’s supposed to be part Arab and part Chinese, but oftentimes, you wouldn’t know that. That’s not the case in Morrison’s Batman. Which is good…except for how she’s more a villain there than in any other depiction. It probably wasn’t an intentional “play up our villain’s ethnic features” or “make the Arab evil”, and I can hardly pin that on Morrison himself, but all together, it’s uncomfortable.

I think his strength is that he’s not afraid to push the envelope. He’ll introduce new characters or concepts and long running plot arcs and take his time developing them. He knows his vision and he commits to it. And the character part of that clearly works – he’s not one of the writers who creates a character that no other writer cares about or finds interesting. The Cuckoos were his invention, but they’ve been used fairly regularly since then, even becoming prominent characters in The Gifted. He took the different stories that had to do with Bruce and Talia’s child and reinterpreted them, creating Damian. The list of his creations is extensive and includes many well known characters. He seems to even prefer working with his original characters than with established ones, which is an interesting aversion to what a lot of other writers do. Others make the characters they like fit the stories they want to tell. Morrison doesn’t hesitate to create a new one. It speaks to his experience with the medium. He understands the power of using a new character instead of an existing one, and is confident enough to do it and risk them being hated.

New characters, like everything, have positives and negatives to them. For one, readers are protective of existing characters. They have very fixed ideas about what they should be, sometimes justifiably so and sometimes not. So they’ll object to forcing an existing character into a role where they might not fit, but can’t do that as much with a new character. New characters can also bring in new readers, who might find them an easy place to start. It’s much less daunting to get into a character that’s been around for a couple of years than one that’s decades old and has had all sorts of different, contradictory stories. But they can also alienate longtime readers. Comic fans tend to be resistant to change. New characters take time to get accepted, especially when they’re a legacy character. Morrison is good at writing new characters well enough that they’re quickly accepted, or even at rescuing characters he didn’t create from fan hatred.

I think it’s probable that his DC work isn’t actually better than his X-Men stuff (except for All Star Superman, that one is just amazing) and that I’m only perceiving it that way. Most likely, they have the same strengths and flaws and my feelings towards them are more based in my feelings about the characters he handles. Maybe it’s just my personal feelings towards the characters he handles. Dick is my favourite DC character and Scott is my favourite Marvel one. I get prickly over perceived mistreatment of those characters. And Dick came across very well in Batman and Robin, +while New X-Men made Scott look terrible (and that doesn’t even get into how poorly Jean and Emma were treated). In Morrison’s Batman, it was characters like Talia that got the brunt of it, not Dick. I like Talia, enough to notice when she’s being treated poorly, but not so much that it bothers me on the first read through when other characters I like more are being treated well.

Morrison kind of serves as an example of the potential pitfalls of having fans as writers. He writes like a fan. He has the same continuity obsession that fans do, trying to tie everything together and fill in plotholes. If he wants to explore something – a character dynamic, a minor plot point from earlier, anything – he just does it, regardless of what that involves doing to other characters. But this isn’t fanfiction. What one writer does impacts what others can. They can’t just toss aside a character or their established characterization/development/relationships for the sake of focusing on someone else, or making a different character look better by comparison (Or, well, they can, but they usually shouldn’t). Every writer is bound to have their favourites. But the nature of comics, the way they’re created through collaboration, with every issue built off of the years of work before it, means that it’s insulting to disregard other people’s hard work and depict something exactly how you want without attention given to the previous incarnations of a story/character/etc.

Different aspects of all his stories are good. He has lots of great ideas. Even with some of the things that I don’t personally like, I can recognize that there’s probably a good story there. But a problem arises in that he has too many ideas and not enough time. His stories feel overstuffed with many of the plots not having enough room to breathe and developed. They feel smothered by the way so much is happening. With most writers, that would probably make me dismiss them, because ideas don’t mean much without good execution. But I can’t do that with Morrison, because, as I said earlier in this post,  All Star Superman is absolutely incredible.

All Star Superman never felt like too much to me. For all that goes on, it never forgets what’s important. The scene with Superman talking down a suicidal teen, where Clark finds the time for one person, is one of the most moving moments I’ve ever read. It’s one of the most memorable panels of all time. That one page was a love letter to Superman and his long history. It was the distillation of all his best qualities into one beautiful moment. If anyone were to ever ask me to describe Clark Kent in one panel, that would be it. It was Morrison at his absolute best, and even if the rest of the run was mediocre (which it wasn’t), that scene alone would have been enough to make me love it forever.

Maybe it’s just this: there are characters that Morrison fundamentally understands. He gets their strengths and their flaws. He understands what people love about them and why. He gets why they’re interesting, and because of that, it’s easier for him to write an interesting story that’s true to who they are. Superman is one of them. Characters like Talia, Magneto, and so on, not so much.

Morrison is a very good storyteller. He’s demonstrated that repeatedly. Do I love all of his work? No, absolutely not. No one’s perfect. And Morrison is, in my opinion, more inconsistent than most. I’ll probably complain about him more than I will most other comic writers. But I’ll also praise him more, because no matter what, his works aren’t forgettable. Even when I don’t like something he’s written, I can recognize there’s something redeeming about it. I still don’t know if my overall impression of him is positive or negative. What I do know is if you disagree with what I say about him on one day, wait a week and come back to me – I’ll probably have changed my mind again.

Lorna Dane, Ororo Munroe, Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, and Rachel Summers: Marvel, Treat the X-Women Better

I’ve whined about Marvel’s treatment of Jean Grey before. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the myriad of other ways in which she’s been mistreated outside of the Dark Phoenix saga, in terms of comics, cartoons, and movies alike. But as poorly as she gets treated, there’s something to be said about the fact that people at least remember she exists and know to include her. I’ll admit, as a Jean fan, that isn’t much of a comfort, when it involves so much of her getting treated as just an object in someone else’s story with no agency of her own, to the point of her role in The Wolverine being “a figment of Logan’s imagination that he apparently forgot he’d only known a week during which she wasn’t into him”. But it’s something, and compared to the other X-Women? It’s kind of a big deal.

Lorna Dane, 1968. Ororo Munroe, 1975. Kitty Pryde, 1980. Emma Frost, also 1980. Rachel Summers, 1981. None of these are new characters. The youngest of them has still existed for more than thirty five years. But they still don’t get treated with as much respect as they should. So, in the order of their first appearance, an explanation of why they all deserve more.

Lorna

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Let’s make a list of characters Lorna has been around longer than, shall we? Wolverine, of course. Nightcrawler. X-23. The list goes on. Nightcrawler has been in cartoons, in movies, and had lots of his own storylines. Wolverine is literally everywhere and I’m sick of him. X-23 was one of the main characters in Logan and has had plenty of issues about her and even a solo title, despite only being introduced in the X-Men: Evolution cartoon in 2006. For the most part, Polaris only exists in the background.

Lorna’s profile has risen due to The Gifted. Sure. That’s to be expected – generally speaking, adaptations have a wider audience than comics and people become aware of different characters through movies and shows. But despite how long Lorna has existed, she’s never had a solo title. Never appeared in the movies. Only briefly appeared in the animated series. She did play a pretty big role in Wolverine and the X-Men, but that one is known for being so stuffed with characters, that it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to claim just about every character that had more than one appearance in the comics got at least a cameo. It’s kind of weird – there really aren’t many characters like that, that are that old but so underused. It comes across feeling like people at Marvel have something against her.

Lorna was the second X-Woman. This year is her fiftieth anniversary. You’d think that would mean something special happening – whether that be a miniseries, a one off, or a merch release. As far as I know, there isn’t. Now, I’m a DC fan at heart, and I don’t follow Marvel accounts on social media, so for all I know, Marvel isn’t about that “celebrate characters’ birthdays” life – though I think I remember Spider-Man getting something when he turned 50. But DC does make a point to commemorate its characters. For Superman’s 75th anniversary, we got an animated short of the character through the years. That year also had Man of Steel come out. A similar thing happened with Batman – the year he turned 75, there was an animated short released. The first season of Gotham started to airProduction on Batman v Superman started. There were variant covers. Wonder Woman made her silver screen debut on her 75th anniversary and got a special issue with new stories and art. It’s not at all unprecedented to celebrate.

Of course Lorna doesn’t have a profile as high as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or the like. So naturally, her fiftieth isn’t going to be as big a deal as them turning 75. And to be fair, as far as I know, Havok isn’t getting a celebration either. He was introduced the same year she was, and for quite a while, she’s been treated as…like…his pet girlfriend, thinking about him and focused on him even when she has much more important things to worry about, so I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if this year was advertised as his fiftieth anniversary without any mention of her. It hasn’t been. But even so, most characters get something special happening on major anniversaries. A comic, a rerelease, even a Tweet, acknowledging that it’s their birthday. It doesn’t look like that’ll be the case. Sure, Lorna still might get something in October acknowledging that she’s a great looking fifty year old. But she’s spent decades consistently treated as a perpetual second stringer with none of the same attempts made at pushing her into the A-List that other characters get. I’m not expecting anything.

One thing we can often count on when it comes to the X-Men is writers latching on to a specific character, whether that be a new kid or a little used character that they want to get to create the defining version  of, and trying to make them popular. Kitty, of course – she was the first of those and by far the most successful. But also Jubilee, Quentin Quire, and the like. Despite the long stretches of time in which Lorna doesn’t get much to do, or where she just disappears because people forget about her, I can’t think of any writer that latched on to her.

Lorna’s stories often revolve around her being Havok’s girlfriend/ex/whatever their status is now or Magneto’s daughter. And yes, those things do matter for who she is. But I’m still looking forward to the day where we get more exploration as to who she is and why she matters outside of the men in her life.

Ororo

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Storm is one of the most iconic X-Men characters. That much is indisputable. To the general public, she’s more recognizable than many characters that have existed longer. I’d be willing to bet that more people recognize Storm than they do Angel, Iceman, or Polaris. Be that as it may, Storm is more an icon than she is a character to a lot of people. She’s a symbol. Look at the reaction after Black Panther came out – how many people were jumping up and down about how Storm needs to be in the sequel because they were married in the comics? A lot. But either these people haven’t actually read any of the comics or don’t care about Ororo as a character, because that relationship ended terribly, T’challa never deserved her, and it was written poorly from the get go.

Storm is a mutant. That’s important to who she is as a character. She is not an accessory to T’challa, she’s one of the X-Men. T’challa? He’s aligned with the Avengers. And for a long time now, the Avengers have treated the mutants terribly. It would be hugely offensive to her long history as an independent character to have her be okay with that. In concept, there’s nothing wrong with their relationship – it could actually be really good – but the divorce was bad, she was used more as a prop in the comics during their relationship than a character in her own right, and there’s something gross about how they were on different sides of a war where the Avengers brought an army to try to destroy the Phoenix Force and a country for mutants.

The reason most of the people want them together in the movies is that they recognize the name Storm, know she’s one of the X-Men, and think they would be an awesome power couple. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong about that, but it’s got very little to do with her as a character. While I can’t really blame comic writers for how Storm is perceived by the general public, I can criticize the people behind the movies and cartoons. A lot of the time, she’s there for a combination of reasons: to make whatever the adaptation in question is less white, to fill out a roster, because she’s supposed to be there. It’s not about actually contributing anything to the story or getting interesting development, it’s about putting her there for the sake of putting her there. She deserves to have an actually fleshed out role and character development, rather than just being around to throw lightning and look cool.

Kitty

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Kitty is a weird case because she was a childhood favourite of so many people that are today running the asylum. So in general, she gets treated pretty decently in the comics. But outside of that? It’s been years, and I’m still mad about how Kitty was treated in Days of Future Past adaptations. This applies to both the movie of the same name and the animated series. Let’s start with the movie.

The Days of Future Past comic was Kitty’s first major story. It’s very highly regarded and pretty much the most well known story featuring her in a major role. So of course, the movie shoved her out of her own role and pushed her into Rachel’s so that Wolverine could take her spot. Let’s set aside the fact that that didn’t even make sense, and focus on the ludicrous reasoning given for why she didn’t get to be the central character. The claim was that it couldn’t be her because of the way it was the mind that went back and not the body and only Logan was alive then, but that’s clearly nonsense. They were okay with completely changing the story, but not with changing the time travel rules, or even just time to which someone had to go? Everyone involved did a whole lot of mental gymnastics to justify removing Kitty from the story.

She wasn’t used in the cartoon adaptation, either. I think she was one of the only then X-Men to not make a single appearance in the entire show, which in itself demonstrates why she deserves better. In terms of the Days of Future Past arc specifically, Bishop took her role. That bothered me quite a bit less than the movie, actually, even though it was basically the same concept. Partially, that’s because of all the simplification that went into adapting the story, but more so, because Kitty wasn’t in the animated series. It wasn’t that she was there and they weren’t using her, she was just not present, which was bad for a different reason. And they wanted to use their recently introduced and pretty popular character. I get that. What I found more frustrating about the show was that Kitty was in general replaced by Jubilee – AKA, the Kitty of the 90s. It didn’t usually bother me, because the similarities seemed mostly at the surface level, but the episode “Jubilee’s Fairytale Theatre” was obviously an adaptation of a comic about Kitty. Now, I have nothing against Jubilee, and but the way to popularize a character can’t just be to try and mimic a different one.

Kitty was the ultimate escapist character. She was wish fulfillment. She was the naive newcomer that readers of the time watched grow up and rooted for as she went from sidekick to hero in her own right. She was essentially the X-Men equivalent of Robin. But we’ve never gotten to see that outside the comics. Obviously, adaptations aren’t the be all end all. Comics are not a lesser form of art, I love reading them, and characters can still be treated well without adaptations. How else would we get all those lists of characters we want to get a solo movie? And I don’t especially want Kitty to get one. The movie she allegedly has (had?) in development doesn’t excite me. But the fact remains that she’s perceived as important enough to merit appearing, but not so much that she gets to keep her most famous storylines to herself, and even in the comics themselves, she spends so much time hooking up with writers’ author avatars that it actively detracts from her individual story.

Emma

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Oh, Emma. The queen of inconsistent writing.

Yes, different interpretations are inevitable when it comes to comic book characters. Of course. Comics are a collaborative medium, with lots of different writers and artists working together to create each character over a long period of time. And at some point, it would probably get boring if we only saw the same aspects of a character explored and handled in the same way. But even so, there has to be some level of continuity, some consistent character traits that hold throughout. Emma doesn’t really have those. Not really.

I have very complicated feelings about Emma. When she’s written well, I do like her. In the hands of a competent writer, she’s interesting and entertaining and complicated. Her ambition and brilliance made her manipulative, but she still cared deeply for her students, and losing them turned her into someone that spent years trying to make up for what she’d done. But her years of character development have been thrown away repeatedly by different writers. Look away for a second and she swings from flawed woman that cares about mutants and is trying to do better to spoiled brat villain whose intelligence and qualifications are ignored in favour of painting her as the “sexy, evil teammate”. To an extent, that character derailment happens with every character, but it’s frustratingly and glaringly obvious with Emma.

The “ice queen” thing, or the fire ice contrast with Jean, the “Frost” vs “Summers” contrast with Scott – none of that existed until Morrison. Frost was just her name with nothing to do with her personality until he decided it did. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s helps demonstrate the way writers change aspects of her at a whim. She’s existed since 1980. She’s been the atoner for most of that time now. She’s hasn’t been a real villain since Generation X in, what, 1994? After that, she became pretty much a textbook example of Good Is Not Nice. She has always cared about her students and been fiercely protective of them. Grant Morrison…made her a sex therapist whose “telepathic affair” with Scott felt uncomfortably rapey and whose treatment of him was handwaved because she was in love with him. How he handled Emma is in large part why I have such mixed feelings about his writing. All Star Superman is absolutely incredible, and I adore Batman and Robin, but dear God, his X-Men work is…something. It involved the character assassination of every vertex of the Scott Emma Jean love triangle, and that doesn’t even touch what he did to Magneto. She was derailed even further in the whole  Inhumans vs X-Men arc.

Emma is treated as an object more often than not. She’s used as eye candy. Her intelligence is discounted. She’s both put in revealing costumes for the fanservice and mocked for them. She’s written so inconsistently, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s mostly good or not. Emma needs more women writing her. Maybe it won’t help with all the issues with her writing, but it would at least help in making everything about her feel less exploitative. I don’t know if I’d be as interested in Emma or care so much about well written versions of the character if she didn’t get mistreated so often, but I would love to find out. She deserves enough good writing that people can actually tell if they care about reading her stories.

Rachel

rachel summers

Rachel’s not a new character. She’s only a year younger than Kitty – a year is nothing in comics – but unlike Kitty, she’s never showed up in an adaptation (unless you count a brief cameo with no lines. I don’t). People responsible for adaptations clearly love Rachel’s stories. And yet she keeps getting adapted out.

She wasn’t in the Days of Future Past movie. I seem to recall someone saying they introducing her would have taken too much time away from the story. My response to that is why? Yes, I’ll admit, I’d probably have grumbles about it had she gotten no attention and just maybe a brief, hey, this is Rachel, she can send you back, but far less than I’m complaining now. And even if they did properly introduce her, it wouldn’t have taken that long. Days of Future Past isn’t her story. It didn’t have to be a huge thing.

While one could argue that they couldn’t use her because Jean and Scott both died in The Last Stand with no kids, I would respond by pointing out that they didn’t have to name her, leaving her as just a cool cameo for the fans. There were plenty of characters that had cameos that didn’t get named in the movie. And Rachel’s last name wasn’t revealed in her first comic appearance anyway. They could have behaved as if she was a new character that was just an expy of Rachel. They could have done any number of things, because it’s not like they care about the timeline anyway. First Class was supposed to be the start of a soft reboot, but that, combined with Days of Future Past, resulted in such a messy and nonsensical continuity, that the general rule has become don’t think about it. They were wiling to go with any number of contrived coincidences to get Patrick Stewart’s Xavier back for the movie. They gave Logan back his adamantium claws after he lost them in The Wolverine with no explanation. But Rachel was the deal breaker? I guess they had to draw the line somewhere.

The villain of her backstory was the central villain of the first season of The Gifted. Ahab and the Hound program weren’t just mentioned in passing, they were deeply involved in the story, to the point when I figured more than once we were about to meet Rachel. I remember at least two for sure – 1) when everyone’s powers stopped working, and I doubted they were going to use Leech, and 2) just before the first episode with Esme aired and all we knew about Skyler Samuels’s character was that she was a telepathic refugee. But we never did. While I know it probably wasn’t intentionally misleading, it felt that way.

Matt Nix said something about not wanting to step into movie territory when explaining why they never use Magneto’s name, and I was talking to someone a while back that speculated that was why Rachel didn’t show up – they’re saving her for the movies. We had a whole debate over who counts as an important character”and how that pertains to who gets what rights – operating on the basic idea, of course, that the biggest names might go to the movies, while the lesser known ones go to the shows. But the thing is, the X-Men aren’t like the Justice League. They can’t be separated into different cities and only meet up for big crossover events. They’re a team, all connected by the fact they’re mutants, or through the mess that is the Summers family tree. They work because of their relationships with each other. And continuing this idea that the major characters should go to movies is a further propagation of the idea that television is lesser than film. Separating the universe into “major” and “minor” characters doesn’t work, and even trying to do that will inevitably leave characters like Rachel in Limbo – she’s a “major” character, so the shows won’t use her, but the people behind the movies have spent the past two decades demonstrating that they don’t care about anyone in her family by not properly using any of them.


Comics can be frustrating, because they’re full of writers that write a character they personally hate badly to try to make other people feel the same way, resulting in a vicious cycle of a character being hated for the worst writing they’ve had. Readers deserve better than to have characters they’re interested in derailed and mistreated with no regard for their development over the years. It’s disrespectful to them, the characters themselves, and writers alike.

When it comes to the X-Men, appealing to the white male demographic means that the women get some of the worst of it. Polaris, Storm, Shadowcat, Emma, and Prestige all deserve way more than what they get. They deserve to be treated as more than just disposable objects whose long character histories don’t matter. They deserve to be written by writers that actually care about them. I doubt that’ll start happening any time soon. But when it does, I’ll stop catching up on comics five years after the fact.

Superman and the X-Men: A Sense of Inclusion In Superhero Stories

Just about any good character is relatable in some way to the audience. Superheros are a form of escapism, that much is true, but stories of all kinds matter because they allow us to connect to other people. With Batman, it’s trying to reclaim some sense of control in a world where you feel powerless. With the X-Men, it’s the concept of being hated, not because of anything you’ve done, but what you are. With Superman, it’s the desire to do the right thing, the idea of lost culture, being a good person – it is and always has been an immigrant story. With DCEU Clark specifically, it’s all of that plus that feeling of isolation, of being alone.

The DCEU version of Superman reminds me a great deal of classic X-Men stories. After all, the idea of him being an immigrant is heavily highlighted. The X-Men represent persecuted minorities that do just what Clark did throughout all of Batman v Superman. He saves the world, but gets criticized and berated and treated as the other for it. The motto of the X-Men has always been to protect those that hate and fear them.

I saw a debate on Tumblr recently over the use of the word “uniform” vs “costume” to describe what the X-Men wear. One person took the fact Scott prefers “costume” as classist and lacking respect for blue collar workers that wear uniforms, but several other people pointed out that that’s not it at all, because Scott wasn’t raised at the school. He spent his childhood on the streets and in an orphanage, told no one would care about him. His preference for costume over uniform isn’t that he considers janitors or fast food workers beneath him. It’s ideological. It’s tied with his identity as a mutant. Being an X-Man isn’t a job for him. It’s not a choice. I’d argue that it’s even more than a calling, because Scott can’t stop being a mutant. It’s to be recognized as someone not dangerous, someone that can and will help.

Costuming is an interesting thing to consider. The X-Men movies are the codifier for the Movie Superheroes Wear Black trope, right? And I get why that’s how they were costumed. It served a purpose. The first X-Men movie was a new, darker take on the genre, and they figured that that would be a good way to distinguish them from previous superhero movies. The X-Men are a team, not just a single person, so it made a degree of sense to put them in matching suits that looked like they could offer some amount of protection, like a military unit. But that’s not what the X-Men are. They’re not a military organization. Sure, not everything they do is out in the open. But that’s for the safety of both them and their students. Their primary goal is to help mutants learn to control their powers, not fight anyone. They’re not supposed to scare people, they’re there to help. They’re there to be unashamedly mutants, to show people that the majority of mutants aren’t bad, aren’t there to hurt anyone. They stand as an example and a symbol of hope, to mutants and baselines alike.

From what I understand of a certain Justice League deleted scene, Clark looked past a black suit – pretty similar to what Jor El was wearing under his armour in the Man of Steel opening scene – and chose his traditional blue and red over it because that’s the symbol of hope. That suit and emblem are what people recognize. When he’s flying through the sky, too far for people to tell what he looks like, they first see movement and then they see colour. Zod was wearing black during their fight in Man of Steel. Choosing the blue and red suit gave the humans on the ground – including the ones who’d feared and hated him to the point of waving signs saying he didn’t belong on the planet – a clear way to recognize him and distinguish him from Zod and the other Kryptonians that invaded. Clark cared about the people that hated him enough to reassure them, and on a meta level, the fact that those people were reassured by that choice says a lot about the maliciousness of their attitude towards him in Batman v Superman. Most of them do recognize the difference between him and Zod. They were just being assholes, hating the different.

Bruce uses fear as a tool, unlike Clark or the X-Men. He can do that because he’s human with no special powers. He doesn’t want the innocent to be afraid of him – as the woman Clark spoke to in Batman v Superman said, “the only people scared of him are the people that got reason to be.” But he’s not afraid of being perceived as a soldier rather than a superhero, because a superhero isn’t what Gotham needs. Batman is a crusader in a war against crime. He doesn’t have powers, there are just rumours. He’s a threat to a corrupt institution, but innocents aren’t afraid of him.

Bruce Wayne can be reassuring. He can run through a disaster zone and tell a child he’s going to find her mom. He can act like a harmless rich guy with no day job at a party. But Batman has to be scary because fear helps him keep crime in check. It works because of the kind of place Gotham is – a corrupt cesspool that can’t be fixed with superpowers, because many of its problems are deep rooted, system issues involving people taking advantage of those that can’t protect themselves. Gotham doesn’t trust idealists. It’s a city that at times seems designed to chew people up and spit them back out. As Bruce himself said in Batman v Superman, “Twenty years in Gotham, Alfred; we’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?” Good guys die. They get corrupted and become villains. And because of that, the people of Gotham don’t so much want a symbol as they do an example. An example of a good guy that doesn’t give up on them, even when it’s hard and seems like a struggle that never ends. Yes, the bat is a symbol of hope to Gothamites, but what matters is why: Batman is trusted in Gotham because he’s still there. All these years, and he’s still fighting for the people that live there. That can also tie into the X-Men – because even if baseline humans don’t, mutants trust them for continuing to fight for them – even if you can look at it as the opposite of Superman’s  idealism being what people respect and admire.

Xavier had an enormous influence on Scott’s worldview, and Scott was devoted to his dream. Even when everyone accused him of straying away from it, he was still fighting with the same end goal in mind: building a world where mutants can be safe. The X-Men fight to protect those that hate and fear them, both because that’s the right thing to do and because of their goal of peaceful coexistence. In recent years, Scott has become known as a mutant revolutionary. Before his death, he drew a line in the sand and refused to not fight back when humans tried to harm mutant children. But even then, his defence of himself and his people had nothing to do with stopping defending humans. Helping people is not a zero sum game.

Even if Scott’s power was something less destructive, something he could control, he’s still been doing this for so long, it’s not an option for him anymore. He was a child soldier. He became a teacher. Caring for, teaching, and protecting young mutants is what he does. It’s pretty much his entire identity. He’s a crusader, dedicating to protecting mutantkind, because someone has to, and no one else is good at it. He’s lost everything that matters to him because of what it means to be a mutant and what it means to be a mutant leader. Jean, multiple times. Madelyne. His relationship with his friends and family. His life. He keeps at it because he has to. Because he’s a good guy that can’t not help people.

In that regard, Clark is very much like Scott. As Lois said in Man of Steel, not helping just isn’t an option for him. He can’t sit back and not do anything when there are people that need him, when he can see and hear so much that he can prevent. Both Superman and the X-Men are torn between a feeling of responsibility to protect other people and a need to take care of themselves.

Clark blocks out some of the stuff he could hear and see. He has to, because otherwise, he would probably be unable to help anyone. In Man of Steel, we saw a younger version of him in a flashback, overwhelmed by his senses and terrified about the world being too big. What that scene really reminded me of is a scene from X-Men: Evolution, when Rogue was overwhelmed by all the personalities she’d absorbed. Both these scenes are a sobering reminder that saving people isn’t easy. And we don’t have a right to demand it of anyone. It’s easy to say that people who can help others should be obligated to, that we all have responsibility towards our fellow man. And to an extent, it’s true – humans are social creatures, we’re in this together, and we’ve survived this long because we help each other. Doing that is the right thing to do. But in practice, it’s not that easy. It’s one thing to help someone up when they fall or give the homeless guy on the corner a few bucks, but having to constantly be aware of everything, every bit of suffering? That’s a horrifying thought. Even people that work with amazing organizations like Doctors Without Borders can’t spend all their time and energy on other people. It’s unsustainable at best.

Even if Superman dedicated every minute of every day to saving people, he still wouldn’t be able to save everyone. If there were two people drowning on opposite sides of the world, he’d have to pick one. And knowing that would destroy him. He’s just a guy that wants to do the right thing. He’s not a god. He’s not omnipotent. Clark does help people. He’s even glad to. He’s willing to give his life for others, as he demonstrated in Batman v Superman. He’s willing to come testify before Congress to justify his actions even though none of the deaths were his doing. But asking him to give up his relationships with other people, any semblance of a life, his very sanity? That’s asking too much. Of anyone. No one is obligated to set themselves on fire to keep you warm.

There is a scene in, I think, Civil War, where Cyclops confronts Iron Man. Tony tells Scott that the government wants the X-Men registered, and Scott counters by pointing out that being a mutant isn’t what they do or a choice, it’s what they are, and that what he’s asking is for them to register for being born.

Scott and His Armour Piercing Question

He disbands the X-Men, leaving all the former members as just citizens with no secret identity. He limits their ability to help people for the sake of keeping them safe and free. And that’s not a particularly difficult choice for him, because it’s not just about him. He has to make decisions with his entire species in mind. That’s something a member of any minority can understand – we get judged as a group. We’re treated as a monolith, not as individuals.

At the end of Man of Steel, Clark destroys a drone, saying that while he wants to help, it has to be on his own terms. That’s not an option for the X-Men, because they don’t work alone. They do what they do to protect people, yes…but it’s about more than that. It’s about mutant children. It’s an interesting contrast – Clark doesn’t have the same support or sense of security of knowing there are other people like him out there. His abilities isolate him. But to an extent, it’s also freeing. His decisions are simpler than those of the X-Men. He doesn’t have to think what doing one thing could mean for all the people like him around the world. Knowing what the right thing to do is isn’t easy…but it’s easier when you don’t have to consider the political ramifications of it and what acting would mean for your people.

Remember the old joke about the Superman comics and how no one would be surprised if it turned out nobody died on Krypton but Jor El, because of all the Kryptonians that kept showing up alive? Well, seeing as that’s not really the case in the DCEU, Clark being alone is arguably the primary difference between his story and that of the mutants. Kara isn’t around in the DCEU yet – maybe never, what with the whole scout ship thing – and neither is Kon, so Clark doesn’t have to worry about them in the same way the X-Men have to worry about their students. But you know who in the DCEU did have that same worry? Clark’s parents. Jonathan and Martha may be human with no special powers, but they faced the same primary concern Scott and other adult mutants did: fear for their child. Fear of what would happen if people found out about his powers. It was the same fear Lara had before launching baby Kal into space. He’ll be an outcast. A freak. They’ll kill him. The mutants have additional concerns, like registration and having to find children with the X-gene and train them before they can get hurt.

In BvS, Clark is hated for being an alien, for being different, but he’s not the one that brought Doomsday into the world. He’s not the one that wreaked havoc while trying to kill an innocent man. Lex is a human that decided he didn’t like Clark’s power and that he needed to die so that his world would make sense to him again. Bruce is the one who appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner. Clark? He’s just the one that saved people from fires, aliens invaders, oil rig explosions, and more. One of the single most poignant scenes in Batman v Superman was Clark landing in front of the Capitol and turning to see a mob waving signs telling him to go home, despite all he’d done to help people. It reminds me of that one storyline in X-Men: Evolution, where the existence of mutants was revealed to the world. They wound up with the police and the military trying to arrest them. Even after they’d stopped Juggernaut, they were still regarded with suspicion.

Threats don’t come from people that look different. Nightcrawler is blue. He has a tail and fangs. He’s a hero. Mystique can look like anyone under the sun. She’s a villain. The Morlocks are feared and forced to live underground, not because they’ve done anything, or even because they’re powerful mutants, but because people don’t accept them since they look different. Lex and Bruce have no powers whatsoever, but still caused huge amounts of damage in Batman v Superman. The most dangerous people among us are not the ones that look different, that are obviously unlike he supposedly “normal” people. Anyone can be dangerous. It’s not something you can identify from appearance or abilities. It’s actions that matter.

If Clark is analogous to the X-Men, that makes Zod and the like analogous to the Brotherhood. They believe that might makes right. They may have noble goals, but they’ve been twisted and distorted. Zod wanted to rebuild Krypton on Earth and didn’t care how many humans he had to kill to do it. Magneto – sometimes, anyway – wants to protect mutantkind from persecution, but goes so far that he believes baselines should all be wiped out and does more to increase fear of mutants than he does to help them. It’s not a question of appearance. Magneto and Zod look just as human as Clark does. And it’s not a question of abilities. Zod has the same abilities as Clark. Magneto is less powerful than some X-Men, more powerful than others. It’s a matter of what they do with their powers. It’s a choice.

One of the things I have to appreciate about movies based on comic books over the comics themselves is that there can be an end. A happy ending isn’t just until the next terrible thing in the next instalment. Comics can get kind of depressing after a while because of how rarely there are major changes to the status quo. Like, the X-Men have spent the past, what, sixty years fighting oppression? And they never get a victory that lasts because if they ever got to a point where mutants weren’t facing constant existential crises and weren’t feared by a significant chunk of the population, the entire premise of the X-Men comics would have to change. The same holds true for Batman – Gotham City must remain a crime ridden terrible place to live, otherwise Batman no longer needs to exist. But people can change. People can improve. That’s present in both the DCEU and, on a smaller scale, the X-Men comics. Clark inspired Bruce to get back to being a hero in Batman v Superman. In the comics, Senator Kelly eventually started supporting mutant rights after the X-Men saved him a bunch of times, up to the point of seeking legal action against the Sentinel program.

Clark becomes reminiscent of the mutants not because of his powers, and not because of how he’s ostracized because of them – at least, not entirely – but because he’s a good guy. He goes out and saves people, regardless of how they feel about him. He does good and eventually, that inspires other people to do the same, to stop regarding him as a threat. Superman and the X-Men both resonate with minorities because of that sense of ostracization. Superman and the X-Men are two sides of the same coin and demonstrate different aspects of being a minority. As we saw from the reaction to DCEU Clark, this may make their stories seem “gloomy” or “no fun” to a lot of people, but to a lot of immigrants and  other minorities, it’s instead instantly recognizable and beautifully relatable.

‘Quantico’ and a Sense of Relief

It only really hit me that I was just watching Quantico out of habit rather than enjoyment when it got cancelled and I felt kind of relieved rather than sad. I started to think about why that is, and I ended up considering just how much the show as changed since its first episode.

The show has been bleeding actors from the get-go. Most of the original ones are gone, which is disappointing, seeing as some of those characters and topics actually pushed serious boundaries in television. Take Nimah and Raina – we’re talking about two of the most multifaceted Muslim women in Western media ever. Nimah is an atheist with cultural ties to Islam. She’ll pray on occasion, but that’s it. Raina is a much more seriously religious person, while not letting anyone else dictate the terms of how she lives her life, however contradictory it may seem to others. Alex displayed casual Hinduism, from her om bracelet to the statuette on her dresser. But she eats beef and doesn’t pray. Simon is from a conservative Jewish family, and his religious background informs much of his opinions on the politics of the Middle East.

These approaches to the characters were met with a lot of criticism. People disliked Priyanka Chopra’s accent being Americanized to play Alex and called it erasure, as if the show was pretending she’s not Indian. Raina taking off her hijab and kissing Simon was met by significant backlash. Simon’s criticism of the IDF resulted in the show being attacked by the Zionists of America and the Jewish showrunner facing rampant accusations of antisemitism. There is a discussion to be had about many of the criticized aspects of the show. But I think the fact that these character choices were so controversial demonstrate both a need for their existence and a need for wider representation and discussion of current issues in media, which is why I find it so sad that Simon, Nimah, and Raina are no longer in the show.

Beyond the characters, I think the theme has shifted. The first season was essentially about how the FBI is a fundamentally flawed organization, but the way to change that isn’t by tearing the whole thing down, it’s by fighting to make it better. As Liam said when he was taunting Alex, it’s not something to be proud of. It’s the organization that tried to blackmail MLK, put the Japanese in internment camps, and let flawed DNA put innocent people in prison. Throughout the show itself, the FBI covered up multiple failures on their part, multiple tragedies that occurred because of them. Shelby tried to break the law as a trainee to get revenge on her parents. A large number of trainees were okay with doctoring evidence. Hannah was uncomfortable coming out, possibly partially because of her job as an agent. There are good people there that sincerely want to do good, but the organization has a very negative history. They portrayed the IDF in a similar fashion. Simon is a good guy, but the organization itself is deeply flawed.

I will always be grateful for season one of Quantico. It mattered. It took a very much nondiverse organization and not only made the fictionalized version diverse, it presented that diversity as the key to doing better. Things won’t get better through a white guy getting mad and trying to tear everything down. It’ll get better with an increasingly diverse workforce and people within the organization saying, we have to be better than this.

The first season had a point. Even at its most soapy, there was a focus that season two just didn’t have. From the first episode to the last, there was a central idea and running themes. Did they occasionally discard points, or have weird threads that got dropped partway through, like the super uncomfortable love triangle between Simon, Nimah, and Raina, or the year Alex’s family didn’t know where she was? Sure. But on the whole, it was plotted much better. Season two was messier. The present timeline was compressed into the span of about a day. The dual timelines were dropped in the second half of the season, which was about a totally different thing. Characters from the first half were gone. It felt clumsy and haphazard. And season three? I don’t even know what’s going on there. I wrote a post about how Designated Survivor got more cynical in season two, and that’s pretty close to what Quantico has been doing. Maybe not more cynical, exactly, but it’s certainly been less critical.

Season two still had some of that same point, except the focus moved to criticizing the CIA and its tactics, rather than the FBI. It was clumsier and felt more like the writers were making it up as they went along. I didn’t like the fact that Claire’s collaborating with Liam never came up. We were told that the point was supposed to be that sometimes, people get away with things, but that would have rung a lot more true if it were even mentioned from time to time that they didn’t like or trust her. Instead, the other guy collaborating with terrorists was made out to be a huge deal, totally unprecedented, and Claire was hailed as a hero. It felt far more white feminist than I’d grown accustomed to seeing. Nor did I like the fact that the diversity in season two wasn’t as elegantly handled and woven into who the characters are as it was in season one. But despite  all of that, I was mostly okay with it because it still felt recognizable. It still had a diverse cast, notably adding Sebastian, a deeply Christian Asian man whose religious faith left him struggling with his sexuality to the point of sending himself to conversion camp. It was still critical about the world we  live in. It actually felt like it was about something.

I think Joshua Safran departing as showrunner changed things for the worse. Of course the show wasn’t perfect during his tenure – he set the precedent for the overplayed romantic drama, after all. But he clearly cares about the issues in today’s world. He didn’t present it like he had the answers, but like he saw the problems and cared about the solutions. The show he created had a soul. It had a heart. It had good characters and meaningful ideas, not just throw in whatever adds romantic drama and action.

The show started to lose my attention somewhere in season two, and I think I’m only watching season three because I want something to watch. Quantico season one was very enjoyable. I loved watching it. And, like with Designated Survivor, I’ll look back fondly on it. But this season, and to a lesser extent, the preceding one, dropped too much of what I originally fell in love with. Now I’m just relieved that it’s going to be over soon.

Growing Cynicism In A Show Built On Optimism

I wrote a post a while back on the fundamental optimism of Designated Survivor. Weird, huh? I’m calling a show that opens with the US Capitol blowing up and hundreds of people dying optimistic. But that’s what it was. The premise of the show is rebuilding after an enormous tragedy. And it’s not subtle about it – the first season is all about Kirkman trying to bring the government back Even his Secret Service codename ties into that – he’s the phoenix rising from the ashes of the government. He’s an independent. He’s honest. He cares about the country. He’s an all around good dude that stumbled into the presidency rather than being elected into any office, and as it turns out, he’s surprisingly good at it.

Jimmy Carter is the obvious historical comparison to Kirkman, even if the writers don’t seem to notice it. Carter had to rebuild after Watergate, when the public’s faith in the presidency had been blown to hell. Kirkman had to rebuild after the entire government was literally blown to hell. Carter clearly had more political ambitions than Kirkman, seeing as he actually ran, and he faced a lot of challenges, resulting in a presidency less effective than it could have been, but still, we’re talking about two people that really aren’t natural politicians, whose fundamental decency makes the job hard for them. They both care more about doing the right thing than being liked.

When Carter became president, he said that his goal was to build a government as good as its people. On the show, Carter was only mentioned in a negative light and in passing, when the Speaker of the House told Kirkman that if something he was trying succeeded, he was Reagan, and if it failed, he was Carter. It was justified in context – after all, the woman that said it was a Republican, and the GOP has spent decades building the myth of Reagan and slandering Carter. But the whole spirit of the first season seemed to be pushing the idea of that quote. Of rebuilding a better government. Of doing the right thing, because there will often be a choice between doing what’s right and what’s easy.

I knew season two felt different from the start, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was at first, just that it didn’t have to do with the absence of the conspiracy or anything like that. But I eventually got it: season two was much more cynical. It didn’t hit me until the whole Kunami arc, but once I saw those episodes, I realized that it was Kirkman that was different.

Season two Kirkman declared war on a country with insufficient evidence and against the recommendations of all his advisors, who specifically told him it would be disproportionate retribution against someone they weren’t even sure was responsible. When did he stop listening to people? What happened to the man who, in the early part of season one, when completely inexperienced and under pressure, refused to bomb al Sakar until they were a hundred percent sure who the perpetrator had been? The only answer I can imagine is that the show got way more cynical about the world.

Even moments that hearken back to the most optimistic moments of season one have fallen flat this season. Like the impact study of Kirkman’s project. Instead of it actually being his fault and something he has to fix, it’s magically just the character we met at the beginning of this very episode that was lying to him. Yes, it would have been out of character for the Kirkman we know now to have not done his due diligence, but it’s believable for his younger self. Maybe he’d made a mistake in his desperation to keep his firm alive. Maybe he rushed the study because he needed to this contract and just missed it. Maybe he figured, this company living on will matter more than this one project, because there might be a negative impact on this one tribe, but if the company survives, I can help more people. But none of that was the case. It wasn’t his mistake,

That episode didn’t bother me at first. In fact, it made me feel kind of good. It was a reminder of why I love Tom Kirkman – his morals, his sense of right and wrong, his belief in finding a way to help people no matter what. But then I thought about it, and the more I did, the worse it sat with me.  I find this idea that this show seems to push sometimes – watch your back because the people closest to you are just looking to stab you in it – so out of place in its cynicism. Like, a mistake you made when you were younger and just starting out wasn’t your fault, it was your first hire and close friend lying to you and betraying what you stand for! Doesn’t that make you feel better? What’s more optimistic, the idea of never making any mistakes or doing anything with negative consequences and someone else always being the guilty party or the idea that you will inevitably screw up from time to time, it’s on you to fix it, and you can?

Okay, so it’s not fair to say Kirkman didn’t make any mistakes of his own that he then worked to atone for or work to fix. He did. He had to work to overcome his indecisiveness and excessive caution after Alex’s death. He talked to a therapist. He got better. And I do think one of the most idealistic moments the show had was in the second season – when the Democratic senator refused to agree to let Kirkman conduct a drone strike on US soil because even  though she trusted him, it would set a bad precedent. But overall, I think season two got more cynical.

Some of his mistakes just seemed out of character, because there was no effort into illustrating how he got to the point where he’d make them. How did he go from slowly trying to regain confidence and the ability to take decisive action to impulsively declaring war on a country and bombing them without waiting for evidence? All throughout season two, things like shootings, bombings, and what have you all had much less of an impact than in season one. All those things existed in season one – of course they did, the very premise of the show was a bomb destroying the Capitol – but they weren’t passed off as, oh, whatever, stuff like this happens all the time. Sure, that’s truebut it’s vaguely horrifying to think of how desensitized to them we’ve become.

Throughout the show, one of the most unrealistic things that I’ve seen are the public outcries at every single action the administration takes. I can’t tell if that’s optimistic or pessimistic – certainly, it’s optimistic to believe that the American people care enough for there to be an outcry over so many things, but it’s hugely cynical to suggest that they’ll react just as much like that when a politician is clearly trying to do the right thing and be open with the public as when it seems like he’s not. Kirkman has occasionally withheld information for short periods of time as a matter of national security when it comes to an ongoing investigation. That getting treated in the same sense as an actual lie doesn’t sit well with me. Nor does the semi-related issue in the second season – the idea that an entire Cabinet would be ready to invoke the 25th Amendment, not so much out of real belief that Kirkman is unfit for office, but out of ambition and loyalty to a different politician. Is it true that a great many people involved in politics would do such a thing? Sure. But it doesn’t work with the kind of show Designated Survivor started off as.

All the issues were amplified in the second season finale. The only way I know how to describe it is messy, especially when you think about how it’s the series finale as well. It was filled with corny dialogue, like the random woman asking Lyor what Seth’s name was because he’d saved her family and carried her grand kids onto the roof, like someone recognized that people like watching because it’s an optimistic show where good people succeed at doing good things, but had no idea how to write that in a non-ridiculous way. It was anticlimactic, what with the previous episode ending with Emily getting shot but this one starting with her in the hospital with just a few stitches. Leo showed up, for the first time in forever, as if the writers finally remembered he exists. Hannah ended up with Damian’s daughter hanging around. Chuck didn’t get to do anything or have anything resembling an actual character arc, much less resolution on the two seasons long plot point of his feelings for Hannah. It involved another step in Emily’s character assassination, because now apparently she’s a traitor, regardless of how little sense it makes. Nothing about it felt real or meaningful to me. I certainly didn’t see any of the earned optimism I got used to in the first season. All told, it was one of the worst episodes of the  show.

I like Designated Survivor. I’m still going to love the first season, because it felt hopeful and optimistic while still being relatively realistic in terms of how people would react in different circumstances. Season two, though, manages to be more cynical and saccharine at the same time, as if cheesy lines are the same thing as genuine optimism, and that disappoints me. I’ll rewatch season one. But I can’t see myself revisiting season two any time soon.