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.

Advertisements

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

x-men-blue-new-team-1077722-1280x0.jpeg

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

storm.jpg

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

Kitty-Pryde-David-Marquez

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

emma frost wolverine and the x-men.jpg

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.

‘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.

My Dislike For Breaks From Canon vs My Love For ‘Gotham’: Deciphering My Own Mild Hypocrisy

I absolutely love Gotham and its wild, unashamed love of comic books. Despite that love, it doesn’t follow any canon. It takes bits from different comics, from one offs, from cartoons and movies, and blends it with new material, capturing the spirit and feel of reading a comic perfectly as it does so. And even though I love the comics, I adore these changes. It makes the show feel fresh and new.

The X-Men movies, on the other hand? Not quite. For me, most of the X-Men movies don’t feel like they were made by people that even like comics, much less love them. They’re not the product of people that love the characters and respect all of them.

It kind of reminds me of something Guillermo del Toro said once about Pacific Rim: it was inspired by Kaiju movies, but by his memory of them, his nostalgia for them, rather than how they actually are. That’s how this feels, except minus the nostalgia. The X-Men movies feel like the product of someone that knows a little bit about the X-Men – that read a couple comics, or watched a few episodes of the cartoon, and has learned a bit through pop culture osmosis – that tried to recreate it in movie format. And while the resultant product is something that’s usually good for at least a watch, in the long run, they don’t do it for me. In my eyes, it’s very similar to The Dark Knight trilogy. Many of these are great movies. I’m not denying that. But something feels missing, and that’s the love and passion for comics.

It’s not even just about love and respect for the source material, it’s a question of what we’ve already gotten. Batman has had decades worth of adaptations, ranging from the dorky and cheap to the serious and high budget. He’s a pop culture icon whose place in our collective memory has long been determined. So I’m totally up for seeing changes, for seeing new and fresh takes on the heroes and villains. But that’s not  the case for the X-Men. They’ve had cartoons, yes. But they’ve only had one movie franchise, one that’s longer running than any other superhero franchise. It has been going on for nearly twenty years, and because of that, hasn’t really evolved in the same sense as other superhero movies have.

A lot has changed when it comes to superhero movies in the past several years. We can see that in the contrast between the Batman in The Dark Knight trilogy and the one in Batman v Superman, or the Superman in Superman Returns and the one in Man of Steel. People have learned how to combine realism with the sense of comic book come to life. Since the X-Men movies we get today are still an extension of the one from 2000, when the clear goal was making a statement of being different from other superhero movies. That movie was different and highly appealing at the time, but not so much anymore, and that goal resulted in the X-Men never getting a comics accurate adaptation. As a comics fan, it’s frustrating.

In July, the X-Men film franchise will turn eighteen. If it was a person, it could vote. But in all these years, in the nine (?) movies, only about four characters got real attention and development, with one of those four (Mystique) being absolutely nothing like her comics counterpart, to the point where I’m so sick of them, I kind of need to not see them again for the next decade. Other characters not only didn’t get development, they got their backstories actively erased.

Jubilee was at the school before Scott in the alternate timeline. Do you realize how crazy that is? That’s like…I don’t know, like Robin existing before Batman. And that’s minor compared to making Scott the younger brother that grew up in the suburbs with his parents alive. To cutting out all of Warren’s history with the X-Men. To ignoring the fact that the Dark Phoenix wasn’t just Jean going crazy and having more power than she could handle, but the Hellfire Club manipulating her and screwing with her head until she didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. None of these changes were necessary. None were a fresh take on a story that’s been done to death. All they did was make the incarnation of the characters that’s a lot of people’s introduction to them completely different from who they really are and have been.

I’ve watched the various cartoons, read the comics, watched the movies. I have a deep and undying love for most of these characters. But there are kids out there today whose exposure to them will just be the disrespectful treatment they’ve gotten in the movies. I hate it. I fully support exploration of the way characters would be if put in a different situation…but that doesn’t apply on the very first version.

Scott was Xavier’s first student, Alex’s older brother, the object of Sinister’s obsession, an abused child that grew up in an orphanage and on the streets, the leader of the X-Men, the first X-Man, a respected teacher, the ultimate good guy and biggest adherent to Xavier’s dream until years of losing made him realize that it was time to draw a line in the sand. Are all of those things really essential? All of them? No, probably not! What the hell do I care if he’s younger or older than Alex? But when all aspects of his character are stripped away from him and handed out to other characters on his first live action adaptation, I draw the line.

This same thing can explain my adoration for the DC Extended Universe: it doesn’t follow canon exactly. It interprets it creatively while still demonstrating both a love for and knowledge of the source material. It doesn’t change the core of the characters or stories. I don’t think it’s hypocritical, really, or a double standard, to enjoy some works that deviate from canon while being bothered by others. Because it’s not actually about deviations from canon. It’s about how knowing when to make changes is a sign of respecting viewers and source material. Gotham does. The X-Men movies don’t.

‘Gotham’: Going Out With A Bang

Before the announcement that Gotham was getting a fifth and final season that’ll probably be shorter than the others, I’d accepted that the show was probably going to be over soon. I’d half expected that this season would be the last, and we’d never get closure on the cliffhanger we’re supposed to be getting. I’m unbelievably relieved that I was wrong about that.

Prequels have expiration dates. I knew that going in. They have limits on how long they can exist and how much time they can span, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be prequels anymore. And I’m very glad that the show didn’t become a zombie franchise, going on for season after season, past the point of them having any kind of long arching story or plan. In the world where so many shows keep going after they should have concluded, it’s really nice to see something stopping. We’re going to get a planned ending, rather than being left hanging after a cancellation. The show is going to go out on its own terms, and that’s the best I could have hoped for.

It’s my absolute favourite comic book show, and I’ve watched a lot of those. Even if I’ve never finished them, I’ve watched at least a few episodes of all of them – from 60s Batman to Agents of Shield – so I think I can safely say, none of them are quite like  Gotham. That’s not to say they’re bad. In fact, many of them are very good. But none of them have Gotham‘s way of both respecting canon and completely tossing it out the window whenever they feel it’s necessary.

I’ve heard the show described as the love child of the Nolan and Burton movies, and while I think that’s true to an extent, I also think it does a disservice to the  Gotham writers and the show’s individual merits. Every new adaptation will be compared and contrasted with the ones that came before it. That’s a given. But Gotham is unique. So many different things come together to create something that’s consistently enjoyable to watch, like how:

  1. It’s aesthetically pleasingOut of all the comic book shows out there, this one most feels like it’s taking place in reality.
  2. It has interesting villains that are fun to watch and can be legitimately intimidating. Take Penguin – he’s an all around pretty terrible dude. He kills a whole bunch of people without even blinking. But he also has a few redeeming qualities, like his love for his mom, and enough pet the dog moments that we don’t completely hate him. And beyond that, he’s just likeable. He’s entertaining and funny, and whenever he’s on screen, I know I’m in for a good time. He’s terrible at being a mafioso, I’m pretty sure he’s lost and regained a crime empire at least once a season, and his tenure as mayor lasted, like, a week, but that’s the fun of it!
  3. It’s hilarious, while also having a lot of successfully emotional scenes. Those things coexist without overpowering each other.
  4. It’s true to the spirit of the source material. It’s a love letter to the Batman mythos. It’s filled with mythology references from every kind of Batman related media – the comics, the Burton movies, the Nolan movies, Batman: The Animated Series – while also being unafraid of trying something new. Every good adaptation takes some risks and tries new things. Gotham is no different.

I’ll admit, the show took a while to find itself. If you go back and watch a season one episode after seeing something from season four, the contrast is shocking. There’s been a major shift, both thematically and tonally. And I think it was almost certainly a shift for the better. But I – and clearly a lot of others – still saw something compelling there, even in that first season. For whatever reason, I kept watching, and I am so glad that I did. Gotham has gotten progressively better over the seasons, at least as far as I’m concerned. Season two was better than season one. Season three was better than season two. And season four? Season four is just awesome.

This season has been badass. Writers and actors alike have been outdoing themselves every episode. The performances have been outstanding. Especially David Mazouz – he started off good and has consistently gotten better as the show progressed so that he’s never been out of his depth next to any of the more experienced actors, but his work this season has been even more impressive than anything from before. The season has everything that I liked about the previous seasons with even better execution. When I thought that this season would be the last, the fact that it’s so good was my consolation – if it was going out, it was going out on a really high note.

We’ve been told that the season four finale will be a major shift in the premise of the show. Normally hearing that would make me worry they’re going to jump the shark and that the next season will be a drop in quality. But when it comes to Gotham, I’m not worried at all, because every time I think they’re not going to be able to top an episode, they do. Every episode has so much heart in it. I may not always agree with their creative choices, but they certainly know how to entertain. Whatever else happens, I’m sure I’ll at least have a good time watching.

Gotham isn’t just a Batman origin story. Partially, sure – one of the storylines that’s been ongoing since the beginning is about how Bruce got to a point where he felt he needed to dress like a bat and fight crime, expanding his backstory beyond deciding to beat up criminals after his parents were killed. But it’s also about how Jim Gordon’s evolution from detective to commissioner (even if we don’t see that full arc on screen). It’s about how Gotham itself went from a pretty ordinary city with a little more Mob violence and a slightly higher murder rate to wretched hive filled with super villains that needs the Dark Knight. The show is called Gotham, and that says it all – it’s the story of Gotham City.

Sure, maybe season five will be a bit of a let down. Who knows? But for its entire existence, Gotham has been worth watching, and I can’t wait to see how the show will be wrapped up in its final season.

‘Quantico’ and the Disappointment of a Show Forgetting Its Roots

The first episode of season three of Quantico aired Thursday night, and you know what? Had that been the pilot of a new show, I’d have probably loved it. It would have given the impression of starting in the middle, with characters that have a history which each other and backstories that we’ll learn more about as the show progresses. Plus, there’s a WoC as the main character, a deaf woman as an experienced older agent, a black man as the team leader – it would have been so refreshing to see, had it been a new show. But it’s not. It’s the third season of an existing one, and put into context, it bothers me.

Romantic drama had always been a problem with Quantico. It’s always existed as an unnecessary drag on the story that did nothing to further the plot or develop. The plot itself managed to be pretty contrived. But despite that, I could enjoy it, because at its best, it also had well written and interesting characters. Sadly, though, a lot of them, despite starting off well, were increasingly mishandled as the show went on.

Quantico has been steadily leaking characters throughout the two seasons. Simon. Natalie. Drew. Nimah and Raina. Dayana. Leon. Sebastian. Miranda. Whether because they’re dead or put on a bus, none of them – all with either a lot of potential or interestingly developed – are appearing in season three. And aside from Simon and maybe – maybe – Drew, I think it’s a waste.

I still think Simon’s character arc was excellent. His death was gorgeously done, and I think he had both the best acting and the best writing behind him. His relationships with Alex, Raina, and Nimah were all different and interesting. And you know a death is handled well when even when you miss the character, you don’t want him back, because it would cheapen it. On the other hand, Dayana was just put on a bus with no satisfactory conclusion to her story. Miranda could have plenty more to offer. There’s been no explanation of where Nimah and Raina are, despite the fact they’ve been key characters from the get go. It bothers me that none of them are here when the writers are bending over backwards to make Shelby fit.

Unlike many, I don’t care about Caleb. I’m okay with him not being there. That feels like trimming the fat from the story. For me, he never added any actual value or substance. Maybe a few times, there was a hint of something more – the scenes of him with Raina or Claire or even Alex were all far more meaningful than those with Shelby or her parents – but nothing real, nothing that actually mattered, so I don’t mind that he’s not in season three. I don’t really mind the absence of characters like Lydia, Claire, or Clay either. The one I’ll really miss is Raina.

Raina is amazing. I found her season one arc fascinating. It was well acted. Her relationship with Simon was layered and well done, especially because the conflict there didn’t feel contrived. She was competent and also kind of absurdly impulsive in a way that provided an interesting contrast to Nimah. She was a genuinely great character. There were even traces of that in season two. But for the most part, she was sidelined for Nimah, especially after Simon’s death. When that happened, a lot of her interesting relationships – all platonic – were left unused. Now that she’s  not coming back, it’ll be the end of all of those.

Season two had certain aspects that were better than season one. Reduced focus on relationship drama. More diversity in the male cast and continued diversity in the female. It also had things that were worse, like more dumb subplots and less character development. Season three? It’s a weird, semi-reboot in that you can jump in anywhere, and there are good things about it, but it’s weird. Maybe it’s too early to really tell whether the differences are good or bad, but my instincts to say that I don’t like it.

It doesn’t have the two timelines that the previous two seasons did, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s missing great characters. It’s added even more relationship drama that’s just irritating. For whatever reason, Ryan and Shelby, characters with minimal interact at best before now, are married. It’s as if the writers got the memo that people didn’t like Ryan and Alex together, but instead of having that end in any kind of reasonable, adult, not weird way, they did this, which was basically, “two pretty white people who are mainly connected through Alex and are two of the characters with the least direct interaction? They should get together! Let’s assassinate everyone’s characters to make it happen.” I’d have bought it had they put Ryan and Nimah – or even Raina! – together. It would have served the same purpose in the plot, and they had way better build up.

I’d get Alex and Ryan breaking up. It’d be kind of annoying for it to happen again, sure, I’d prefer them to either stay together or permanently split up. But this? To have her just ghost him then him marry her best friend? To have Shelby marry her best friend’s ex-fiancé, then get weirdly prickly and defensive about it? It’s gross. It’s bad writing and characterization. The goal seems to be have Shelby sleep with every guy on the show. Caleb, Clayton, Leon, Ryan. I can’t remember if she did sleep with Clay but she had that whole thing going on with  him. In order to get her and Ryan to work, the writers had to turn their back on two seasons worth of characterization and growth for her, him, and Alex.

Season one was genuinely good. Yes, there was a lot of soap opera style drama, and some of the plots were pretty dumb and seemingly only there to give everyone something to do but aside from that, the character work was strong, the cast was diverse, and everyone had interesting dynamics. I can’t decide if season two was better or worse, it was just different. Maybe a decent plot and a couple new characters with substance, but several more without it, and flimsy motivations. I wasn’t much of a fan, but that’s okay. Season three, though? We’re talking less diverse, more soapy, and ignoring a well written friendship between two women in favour of adding contrived tension because of some guy.

As the writer of this post put it, Quantico was about women supporting each other and breaking through the glass ceiling, not tearing each other down.  And while season three hasn’t had Alex and Shelby at odds over Ryan yet, there is a newfound tension in their relationship because of him that I just don’t like. That’s not something I think I’ll ever be able to grow to appreciate. For all Quantico‘s flaws as a show, for all the inconsistency in quality, Alex and Shelby’s friendship was always a strong point because their disagreements were never about a man or romantic relationship. If that changes, I probably won’t be able to continue watching.