‘Animorphs’ and the Difficulties of Adaptations

Several weeks ago now, Michael Grant, the co-author of Animorphs, Tweeted something intriguing. At that point, I did not have the time to talk about it, and it soon became overshadowed by lots of other stuff, but now we have actual news to talk about!

Grant’s initial Tweet indicated that progress is being made towards an Animorphs movie. As of several days ago now, we have actual confirmation that one is in the works. I am somewhat skeptical.

As everyone that knows me knows, Animorphs is kind of my favourite thing ever. So I would love nothing more than for there to finally be an adaptation. But rumours of an Animorphs movie are not new. At all. This has been rumoured for years. and nothing has ever come of it. Even though this is much more substantial and promising than all the other rumours – Grant and Applegate have acknowledged it, the producers have made a statement – I’ve been burned before. As you probably all know from my other posts, I’m a DC fan. As a DC fan, I can’t help but remember the Cyborg, Nightwing, and Batgirl movies that we were told were in the works. I can’t help but remember the Flash movie that went through multiple directors, scripts, and release dates, but is still nowhere in sight. So I’m going to be unconvinced until we have actual evidence of a script/casting/filming. However, as skeptical as I am that this movie will come to fruition, I’m also way less cynical about the quality than pretty much everyone I’ve seen talking about this.

I saw one person argue something along the lines of, “did you learn nothing from the TV show and the botched Artemis Fowl movie”, and I think that’s a ridiculous stance to have. That’s the question you ask once they’ve actually done something. They have not. So to ask it now is basically making the argument that the problem with the TV show and the Artemis Fowl movie was that they made an adaptation, not how they made it. That is not true. The problem with Artemis Fowl being turned into a movie wasn’t that it was done. The problem with AniTV wasn’t that it was made. The problem is that these things were done without respect for what the stories they’re purportedly based on are about.

When I was younger, I absolutely loved Artemis Fowl. Because of that, I am absolutely certain a movie based on it could have been both excellent and accurate. The problem wasn’t the source material being too hard to adapt. They didn’t have a shortage of money – the budget was over a hundred million dollars! The problem was a complete lack of regard for what they were adapting. Creative changes are one thing. A movie where if you change the names, no one would have any idea what it was is another. Artemis Fowl is a story about a twelve year old villain protagonist doing bad things, making friends, and begrudgingly becoming a better person. Artemis Fowl the movie…well. I normally try to hold off on judgement until I watch something. But having seen the trailer, summaries, and reactions from people whose judgement I trust? It was none of those things the books were. That was entirely unnecessary. The people behind the Animorphs movie will very easily be able to get around this simply by caring about the content of the story.

The problem with the TV show is trickier because it was bad writing hindered further by just how many constraints they had that they didn’t know how to get around. Some of those constraints are inherent to the work, which I’ll get back to, but the bad writing absolutely is not, and nor are other constraints, like the shoestring budget. When making the show, they had one Hork-Bajir costume, had to replay the same stock footage of animals over and over again, and as I understand it couldn’t even afford to have all the cast in the same episode. Of course it wasn’t going to look great! There are ways to get around that, even if this movie has the same nonexistent budget. Definitely if there’s better writing involved.

Now. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Animorphs is an incredibly difficult work to adapt. But that’s not because of the budget or visual effects or any such thing, but because the only reason it can be the story it is is because it was a long running series of children’s books. The length of the series helped convey the passage of time that’s essential to the narrative. That they were children’s books made this violent story about war accessible to children in a way that a show that faithfully adapted all those elements would not be, and enabled the story to be focused on children, as the themes demanded. Ethical dilemmas and the horrors of war were the cornerstones of the series. Converting that to a visual medium is no easy task. Anyone making an Animorphs adaptation must face a choice – tone down the graphic violence and themes to present a somewhat sanitized story, stripped of its horror elements, that’s far less bluntly about war and ethics…or present what’s in the text and in doing so, create an adaptation that’s inaccessible to the target audience. Either option is pretty bad, and not just because doing the first would miss the point, and doing the second is unfair. They’re bad options because they wouldn’t work to get more people to watch it.

If you make a lighter, softer Animorphs story, that’s basically the TV show. And it would not work for anyone. Animorphs is very funny, but it works because the humour and horror/tragedy are allowed to breathe on their own, rather than constantly breaking the tension of serious moments with dumb jokes, and changing that would mean losing what makes the story unique. Existing fans would hate it. Adults wouldn’t be into it because when you lose the heavy thematic stuff, you have a show about kids for kids when adults prefer material about adults. Even kids probably wouldn’t be into it because it’s based on a series that really isn’t that culturally relevant and most kids in the target demographic today probably haven’t read it. When I was reading them, well after all the books had been released, they were ubiquitous in classrooms and libraries, but they were never in complete sets, it was hard to track them all down, and I never knew anyone else that read them. Now? I taught chess classes for a bit in March in a second grade classroom, and I never saw any Animorphs on their bookshelves. Makes me very skeptical that kids are still reading them. Therefore, in order to get kids interested, I’m thinking they’d need to do much more than lean on the “kids turning into animals” angle. That clearly wasn’t even working when I was younger, judging by how I never knew anyone else that read them. So no nostalgia factor, no slam dunk in terms of the hook, meaning the people behind it will have to make sure it’s actually a good and unique story. Lighter and softer is not that.

Similarly, if they were to decide, hey, kids these days don’t read these and so we need to target adults other than the nostalgic ones, let’s do that by making this a hard R horror, it wouldn’t actually work. To explain why, let me use the example of the Animorphology podcast that, despite my general disdain for podcasts, have been listening to since they first started. The host that did not read the books as a child talks quite frequently about how she wishes the adults in the story had a bigger role. When answering a listener question about how the series would be different if targeted at adults, she started talking about how the characters would be older and there’d be more romance and sex, before realizing that the question had been if the series were targeted at adults, not about adults. Then she made the case that it wouldn’t have been written for adults, because adults don’t often want to read books about children. So doing the typical gritty reboot – aging up characters until they’re high school or college age, adding gratuitous sex and cursing, leaning into the violence and gore would probably not appeal to adults, who can look it up and see that it’s based on a series of children’s books. An that’s on top of how it would lock out the audience that it’s meant for.

But none of this means it can’t be done, because fortunately, it’s not a binary choice. It’s a scale. There are ways around what makes it difficult. The movie can be scary and dark without making it rated R. Lean into the psychological horror of it – scary without gore, or at least, less gore. Show the aftermath of the violence, rather than Cassie ripping out someone’s throat with her teeth. It can very much be done. It will be enormously difficult. But it is possible. It just needs some creativity.

Another argument I’ve seen is that it has to be animated to work, and while that seems a more fair argument to me, I also don’t think that would solve any of the core issues of making an Animorphs movie/show. I don’t know enough about the industry to say this with any degree of certainty, but an animated adaptation seems likely to be just as expensive and even more time consuming than a live action one. It could theoretically look better than a live action one, but that’s certainly not a fact. There would be studio interference and pressure to tone it down there as well – probably even more so, because animation is so often targeted towards young children. Most importantly, animation would get caught up in what I argued earlier is the core dilemma of an Animorphs adaptation: faithfulness to the theme. So how exactly would animation be a better way to handle it?

Animation can be good. It can be beautiful. It can be powerful. But by necessity, it absolutely brings in a distance. By its very nature, it would be a somewhat sanitized version of the story, because an animated person losing a hand – the Animorphs cut off a lot of hands – is much less gruesome than a non-animated person. I’m sure an animated Animorphs adaptation would be good. But I’m not at all convinced it would be better than live action. In fact, I think my main reservation to a live action movie is…a movie, animated or otherwise, is not the best format for Animorphs. That is, for the core series.

As I’ve been saying for years now, I think the best possible way to handle this would be to make The Hork Bajir Chronicles and The Andalite Chronicles a two part movie series, and follow up with a TV show with the series if the movies are successful. Those two novels are the most self contained stories within the series, while also leading into each other and the main series. Given that it’s the main series that’s going to be adapted – judging by what the article breaking the news said about how the producers are excited to be bringing the Animorphs (as characters, not a series) alive for a new generation – there are just a few pitfalls they have to avoid, because as I’m saying, this is going to be hard for them.

  1. Aging up the characters for the sake of appealing to an older audience/avoiding having to make a story about child soldiers
  2. Toning down the dark themes
  3. Cramming too much into a single movie

If they do any of these things, they’ve already lost. There are other areas that probably aren’t automatic losses, but are dangerous enough to best be avoided, too – for example, updating the story from the nineties to present day is unlikely to make it more relatable or appealing and very likely to introduce many, many problems that would turn the story into a complete idiot plot where it’s entirely luck that keeps the good guys alive. And these are just the things the powers that be can control – they also have to find good child actors.

The Animorphs fandom is a little strange sometimes. We love these books, but we also often come across as embarrassed by them. We leap to talk about how the writing is simplistic or poorly paced or any number of such criticisms just to make it clear to whoever we’re talking to that we know they’re children’s books. And they are. But that in no way means that they’re bad. I don’t think the writing is all that simplistic, either. These are amazing books that we love for a reason, that are amazing even with so many things working against it – they came out at a pace of a book a month as a means to sell merchandise to children. They’re the epitome of trashy sci-fi, and they’re glorious. So while the movie might be terrible…here’s to holding out hope that it follows in the books’ footsteps and is awesome, instead.

NIGHTWING NIGHTWING NIGHTWING

As I say pretty much every time I start talking about comics, Richard John Grayson has been my favourite character forever. So now that Titans is on the verge of him putting on the Nightwing suit, I think it’s time I talk about how I feel it’s handled the journey to this point. Nightwing is about far, far more than the suit. I think I made that point before when it applied to Gotham – Batman is more than just a suit that Bruce wears. That means that I have a few issues with how Titans is going about that transition.

One of the things that was wonderful about season one was that it wasn’t about Bruce. Like, at all. Dick was at the lowest point in his life, but it was about him. Yes, Bruce plays a major role in his life, but as much as Dick blames him and resents him, it’s not really about him. But since they cast someone for the part, we’re being put into a position where Dick needs Bruce for everything. He needs him and a whole team of people to make his suit. He needs him to give him Titans Tower. He needs him to make decisions. Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. Everything comes back to Bruce in a way that just didn’t happen in season one.

Hallucination Bruce isn’t really Bruce. Duh. He’s Dick’s conscience, his way of working through information alone, the manifestation of his worst fears and insecurities and guilt. Everything hallucination Bruce says is something that Dick knows but doesn’t want to confront, or something Dick’s subconscious knows, but his conscious mind hasn’t actually figured out yet. So that fight scene? It has nothing to do with Bruce and everything to do with Dick. Fandom keeps trying to make it about Bruce – like, “yes, this is exactly Batman!” Except the entire point is that it’s not. It’s Dick projecting, it’s making his father into this larger than life figure that’s strong enough to throw him clear across the room, still seeing himself as the kid that couldn’t stand on equal footing with him. It’s not about any of that being true in reality. It’s about him knowing that he’s not Robin anymore, that he’s grown up into something more, something better. Titans does a much better job than I originally anticipated of balancing the different aspects of Dick’s character, but it still fails to grasp the full scope of why he matters, and the interpretation of that fight being about Bruce is a byproduct of how the entire season has ignored has ignored a lot of what makes Nightwing.

Nightwing is interesting in part because he’s a walking contradiction. He has more friends than Bruce ever will, yet he operates independently. He has been a part of countless teams, yet he’s more introverted at heart than Bruce has ever been. The Titans writers haven’t been doing nearly as good a job lately at handling that.

Let’s start with Rose – Rose and Dick’s relationship is hugely important in the comics. He trains her; he inspires her to break away from her father and become a hero; he’s the reason that she becomes a Titan. That’s a role in her life that no one other than Dick could have taken on – it requires the relationship with Slade as well as Dick’s idealism and determination, his insistence on looking for the best in other people. Titans glosses over all of that in favour of putting Rose alongside Jason. That’s tied to an issue that I pointed out in this post – with every additional Robin, more and more of Dick’s characteristics and relationships get leeched away from him to be handed to the new Robin. In this case, the writers had to give Jason Dick’s relationship with Rose to keep him relevant to the season. Yes, they made it romantic instead of the mentor-mentee dynamic that defines how Dick and Rose interact, but it’s the same basic principle – a relationship that pulls Rose away from her father and towards heroism.

Forever Poisoned By Chronic Idealism.png
Dick talking to Deathstroke about Rose.

In Titans, it ends up falling flat because we don’t see much substance to Rose and Jason’s relationship at all. It was Rachel that stood up for her in the beginning, and she was standing up for her to Jason. We don’t see them doing anything to inspire each other. Hell, there’s barely any reason they stuck together at all.  Not only does it have to do with the way Jason ends up taking on Dick’s characteristics, it has to do with how even within this universe alone, Rose has been an afterthought. She showed up, we get some insight into her famijly dynamics, but it’s not part of the running theme of the show. It’s separable. You could remove it and the show would still make sense. That’s the same problem as with a lot of the subplots – all of them are included, but they’re so disconnected it doesn’t mean anything. In season one, the running theme was one of identity. But in season two…Kory. Rose. Hank and Dawn’s drama. There isn’t anything connecting any of those plots. They’re just there. Even Dick’s rivalry with Deathstroke, something that I love, is still a little bit lacking. As I said before, they’re still missing the full spectrum of the character.

Fighting skills are a very small part of the picture of what makes a character, so in most cases it wouldn’t bother me to see Dick depicted as not Deathstroke’s equal. But in the trailer, we see him knocked to the ground, seemingly in the same scene as initially confronting Deathstroke, so Rose can fight her father. While that’s obviously an important thing to see…the timing is frustrating. Dick putting on the Nightwing suit and taking on the Nightwing name is a huge moment. It’s important. Dick is the central character of the story. The plot of the first season may have revolved around Rachel; there may be a huge number of characters with subplots. But the constant is Dick. The entire show has been building up to him leaving Robin behind. And to have the moment where we finally get a visual recognition of how he’s moved on be undercut with an immediate shift towards someone else…well, that’s not great. It’s what Titans did last year all over again, in terms of fumbling at the end.

And then there’s the issue of the Stu thing. I get it – it was pretty funny. But that doesn’t change the fact that it didn’t make sense. For a start, is there a single person in this entire universe that doesn’t know Batman’s identity? But more importantly, Nightwing is about independence. It’s one thing for him to use Bruce’s money once he’s established – he does that frequently in the comics, and I have no objection. It’s an entirely different thing for him to need Bruce’s resources to become Nightwing at all. In Titans, not only does he need to go to Bruce’s guy to get a suit made, Bruce already had him start on it. It’s taking away so much of Dick’s agency in the matter. He’s being made into a perpetual second stringer, rather than a grown adult that doesn’t need Bruce’s help or permission to be a hero.

None of this really matters. Dick Grayson is my favourite comic book character of all time. I’m so ecstatic to see Nightwing finally exist in live action. That has been true and still is true. I’m just…a little displeased with how the leadup has been handled.

‘Batman v Superman’, ‘Young Justice’, and a Contemporary Lex Luthor

I’ve talked a lot about Batman v Superman before, including this post about how much I love its version of Lex Luthor. And I’ve talked about Young Justice plenty as well. But I don’t think I’ve ever actually discussed the differences between the two different interpretations of one of the few elements they have in common – Lex. That’s a shame, because it’s important. Especially as of season three. So here goes.

Let’s start with the reminder that Young Justice took eight years to release its three seasons. That is extremely important to this, because the first two seasons were very different from the third in a lot of ways. I…didn’t really enjoy season three. You might have noticed that from the fact I never actually wrote anything about it. Sure, episode four was the best episode of anything ever. But the season as a whole was trying too hard to lean into the cultural zeitgeist. It was trying so hard to be relevant to today that it a) felt instantly dated and b) didn’t actually delve deeply into any of the political themes it seemed to think it was exploring. A bunch of teenagers used social media as an organizational tool; there was a fissure between the heroes based on what they believed they should do; no one appeared to learn any lessons from the previous seasons and continued to lie, deceive, and abuse their powers to be met with no real consequences. None of that really went anywhere meaningful. They were just disconnected points without a coherent narrative connecting them and driving them forward. And arguable the biggest victim of that was Lex.

A very vocal group of people expressed a lot of hatred for the BvS incarnation of the character. He’s not physically intimidating, they said, he’s too goofy, he’s more like the Riddler than Lex! Let’s for a minute accept that premise. So BvS Lex is “too goofy”. And yet…season three Young Justice presented Luthor as an goof, blathering about fake news and far less competent and intelligent than the versions we saw in the preceding seasons. I didn’t see nearly as many complaints. How is that different? Well…I think that goes to what people really expect to see out of Lex. Just as with Superman, we’re talking about a character that’s been around for decades. There are many possible interpretations, each as valid as the last. Others might disagree, but I personally believe the version that’s best in a situation depends upon which version of what character he’s being pitted against. That’s something Batman v Superman did extraordinarily well. It’s something Young Justice didn’t really do at all.

Young Justice leaned into the idea of Lex as a fictionalized version of Donald Trump. It was the pinnacle of how season three sought to tell a more political story. And it’s understandable. Of course it is. We’re talking about a villain known for his hatred of an immigrant, real estate ties, and brief tenure as president of the United States. The problem isn’t the interpretation. What is…Trump is a symptom, not the real problem. Trump is not the be all, end all of racism and villainy. So taking shots at Trump is fine…but without actually taking that somewhere, in terms of him as a counterweight that reflects something in a different character, it doesn’t end up meaning anything.  And Young Justice placed him in opposition to Gar, not Clark or Halo or M’gann, and did so without leaning into the idea that Gar doesn’t quite fit in. So making him a Trump analogue fell flat for me, because it didn’t mean anything, didn’t explore what’s actually terrible about Trump. Trump == Bad. Sure. True. But that’s not anything challenging. It’s not a real argument or a political stance. It’s lazy. It’s the easiest shot that can be made, the argument that there’s one bad guy that’s the real problem and not the systemic issues that led to that one guy. It’s the equivalent of Resistance Twitter, those signs at protests claiming that if Hillary won, we’d all be at brunch and reminiscing about Obama, professing to have strong opinions about politics when those strong opinions can be summed up as “I hate Trump”. It’s shallow. It’s empty.

This kind of political story does nothing to challenge some of the worst abuses of power in today’s world – CEOs paying starvation wages to workers whose labour built the companies in question while raking in millions themselves; tech companies that disregard all data privacy laws; the fossil fuel executives that gleefully set the world on fire and are doing everything in their power to stop anyone from putting it out. That’s what I love about the BvS interpretation – at its core, it’s a story about power and corruption.

What makes this version of Lex scary is he’s not over the top. He’s not at all laughable. He’s not a direct parody of any real world figure, but he brings many of them to mind. He’s unthreatening looking, but powerful beyond comprehension. Because it’s not about physical appearance or public image or any such thing. It’s Lex Luthor broken down to his base components – hatred for Superman, wealth, power – and an exploration of what that actually means and how those parts connect. That leaves us with someone whose money leaves him able to do pretty much anything he wants and threatened by the very existence of someone with a different kind of power. It gives us someone who can hire mercenaries and actors, bribe senators and kill them, do pretty much anything he pleases with no oversight…until people start to stand together in opposition of that. It’s a villainy that goes beyond a person and into systemic corruption.

BvS presents a much more compelling, nuanced, and meaningful take on a Lex Luthor for the modern age than Young Justice does.  And it does that through not trying so hard to be relevant. By not giving into the temptation to reference current events through politicians or businesspeople, it yielded an enduring take on a villain. It’s one that was relevant when the movie came out, relevant now, and will continue to be meaningful as time progresses.

‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, ‘Game of Thrones’, and Arianne Martell: How Arianne’s Absence Explains Why The Story Needs Her

Now. I showed up to the whole A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones thing about ten years late. That may make me unqualified to talk much about it. But earlier this year, I read all the books and watched all eight seasons in the span of, like, three weeks, which has the benefit of leaving everything very clear in my mind. So I really want to talk a bit about how huge of an impact Arianne has, even though she didn’t show up until the fourth book.

From what I understand, there was a huge outcry over Arianne’s absence from the show. As there should have been – she’s fantastic. And the irony in excluding not only the character whose greatest fear was that her father intended to disinherit her in favour of her brother but said brother as well, only to make the sibling that has the greatest place in the narrative the youngest one, whose only contribution in the books that have been released so far has been to play board games with his fiancée and cry one time…well, it’s painful. But excluding her had ripple effects throughout the entire plot, even well after the show wrapped up their version of the Dornish storyline.

The problem with excluding her goes beyond just Arianne, of course – equal primogeniture isn’t just a world building detail included for the sake of the plot, it’s the beating heart of the Dornish narrative, just as much as Arianne herself is. The House Martell of the days in which the main story takes place was cofounded by a woman, with her name passed down to her descendents. It was a woman that ruled Dorne when they resisted Aegon’s Conquest. It was a woman who arranged her daughter’s marriage to the future King of the Seven Kingdoms. From the cofounder of House Nymeros Martell all the way down to Arianne, nearly all of the most important, in a historical sense, members of this family – and nation state –  are women. Game of Thrones completely disregarded all of that.

The show did more than just remove Arianne. It entirely gutted Dornish culture by changing references to Oberyn, Doran, and Elia’s mother – the ruling princess of Dorne in her own right – to being about their father. It made Doran’s heir a son, rather than a daughter. In the final season, they had the new ruler of Dorne be some random man. There was no reason to do any of those things – hell, there was less than no reason. Because the women in the Dornish story matter. The Unnamed Princess of Dorne is important. As a political player she was enormously effective! Tywin Lannister’s victories were a result of brutality – the Reynes and Tarbecks, Elia and her children. The Princess of Dorne’s were a result of politics, not war crimes. All of this is a major part of the political state of Westeros at the start of the series.

So why does this matter and how is it relevant to Arianne and the rest of the story? It matters because of what the story is missing without her: without Arianne, the story doesn’t have a woman that is her father’s heir at the same time as she lives in a sexist world. It doesn’t have someone who has a functional relationship with a parent, not because that parent did everything perfectly, but because they both worked to fix it and start being honest each other. It just doesn’t have the adult woman that’s an unambiguously good person taking on a leadership role.

The age changes and casting of older actors obfuscate the issue. But in the books, there are clear distinctions between the adults and the children. Sure, there’s some gradation – the few years between Margaery and Sansa matter, Brienne isn’t a child anymore but she’s still young, and so on – but you can easily categorize the characters into child and adult. And after Catelyn’s death, the two main adult women in the story are Arianne and Cersei (I know Asha probably counts, given that she’s had more chapters than Arianne, whom I’m counting, but still, she bores the hell out of me, so I’m ignoring her for now). What makes that powerful is that they are absolutely two sides of the same coin. Arianne is a better foil for Cersei than any other character could ever be.

Neither of them are fighters in the physical sense. They both crave their father’s approval. They were both extremely close to their fathers as children, only to grow away from them as they grew up. They’re both ambitious and intelligent. But while Cersei wants Tywin’s approval for the sake of Casterly Rock and her inheritance as his eldest chlid, Arianne wants Dorne largely because it’s representative of Doran’s love. Tywin had a “secret smile” for Cersei when she was a child, and Doran has one for Arianne when she’s an adult. Cersei never repaired her relationship with Tywin, while Arianne did with Doran. Hell, even their respective relationship with two of Cersei’s children demonstrates their differences – Tommen is afraid of Cersei, but Myrcella adores Arianne. These are characters whose stories parallel each other with the arguably primary difference being…Arianne doesn’t alienate everyone around her by being a dick.

The show doesn’t have that character that can balance Cersei. Not after Catelyn’s death. And because of that, there’s no one to drive home the idea that as understandable as Cersei’s misanthropy is from  a woman in a patriarchal society, it’s not excusable. Arianne is in a similar position, but manages to still care about other people. She demonstrates better than any other character that none of Cersei’s character traits are inherently wrong. She also uses sex to manipulate, but with much better goals and not without getting emotionally invested in return. She has just as much ambition and determination to prove herself, but she believes firmly that there are lines that she should not cross – she wants to be a good ruler, not just a ruler. Cersei claims, both to other people and to herself, that it’s about self defence and defence of her children. That’s not entirely a lie. But it’s also demonstrably not the entire truth because of how she refuses to actually return to the Westerlands and do her job as the Lady of Casterly Rock, how she flat out refuses to let Tommen learn the things he needs to learn, how her love for Joffrey came at the expense of her other children in very real ways.

The problem with society’s treatment of women, as the show presents it, is that they don’t have the right to rule. It doesn’t actually show that, though, because even though we don’t see any of the female heads of houses, by season eight, no one actually raises any objections to women as heads of houses. But through erasing Arianne and Dornish equal primogeniture, they erased both the complexity and the precedent for accepting women leaders, which results in that casual acceptance of Sansa, Yara, and the like not actually making much sense. Either there were cultural obstacles that needed to be overcome or there weren’t. But the writers tried to have it both ways, which was incoherent.

The thing is…no one actually cares if women rule as regents. Not really. Whether it be Lysa in charge of the Vale after her husband’s death or how Ned intended for Catelyn to govern at Winterfell in his stead while he was off in King’s Landing until Robb was older, it’s not an unusual position for women to be in. Women do have some degree of political power here. The real issue isn’t that they have no rights. It’s a two fold problem – first of all, it’s about how men are prioritized in terms of inheritance. And secondly, it’s about how the control that women have is usually fragile and unsustainable.

Ned left Cat in charge. But when war broke out, Robb was the one that took command. When Robb drafted his will, he pushed Sansa down in the line of succession in favour of Jon, who had specifically taken an oath not to inherit anything. Even though Cersei is queen regent, Jaime has the power to dispace her and send her back to Casterly Rock, pretty much because he’s a man. And that doesn’t even get into how she became the Lady of Casterly Rock by default – Tywin was dead, Tyrion was on the run after killing him, Jaime was in the Kingsguard. Arianne calls attention to that women’s fragile and unsustanaible power by having her story start off as explicitly about it.

Arianne is in the best possible position for a woman anywhere in Westeros. She’s Dornish and an eldest daughter, meaning she can inherit; she’s the daughter of the ruling prince of Dorne; and she’s beloved by her people. She stands to become one of the most powerful people on the continent. But she’s still a woman in Westeros, and since she’s not stupid and can see how other women are being treated in the world…she is rightfully scared of being cast aside for Quentyn! Getting Dorne isn’t just about a castle and power for her, it’s about safety. Women do not have a lot of options in Westeros. Arianne losing her inheritance means she loses her power. It means she could be pushed into an unwanted marriage. She could end up like Lysa, married to an old man, or Cersei, to an abusive one, and she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

The character whose story is closest to Arianne’s is Sam, what with his father passing over him in favour of his younger brother. And because he’s male, there are clear differences. Sam could go to the Night’s Watch. If he really wanted to, he could have fled and gone anywhere else, while remaining reasonably safe by virtue of being a man. Arianne could…what, join the Faith? Her options are a lot more limited.

Arianne being Dornish puts her in a better position than anyone else. With just about everywhere else, even if a woman is her father’s heir, she only rules in her own name if she’s not married. Otherwise, her husband is in control of her lands. That was the reason Robb passed over Sansa in the line of succession, after all – he didn’t want Tyrion to get Winterfell. The fact that Arianne is Dornish means that that doesn’t hold true for her. Her inheritance is hers. So long as she actually gets it. If she doesn’t, she’s just as trapped as any other woman. As I said before, Dorne represents to Arianne her father’s love. That’s true, and it’s the forefront thought in her mind. But there are practical reasons for that fear as well.

Arianne very much does have the skillset required to govern. She dismisses her purview as “feasts and frolics”, and longs to be responsible for taxes, hearing out petitioners, but her perception of that is largely a confirmation bias. The letter Doran wrote – which he almost certainly never sent, but that’s a different story – made her view everything as evidence that her father didn’t love her and wanted to circumvent her to make Quentyn heir. But organizing feasts and coordinating visitors is no small task. It requires a lot of work and planning, as well as knowledge of all the guests. It’s not a bad use of Arianne’s strengths, but she can’t see that because she’s too worried that it means she’s being cast aside.

She’s not one of one to think too highly of herself and her abilities. If anything, Arianne has a tendency to downplay her own skills. She doesn’t seem to realize how valuable her ability to convince is. Myrcella will do pretty much anything she asks. She got Cedra on her side while literally imprisoned in a tower using nothing but words. She managed to calm down an angry Obara that had just stormed out of a feast. These aren’t small feats, they’re big – the second didn’t pan out for her, but the first and last? Those are what salvaged Doran’s plan and stopped him from crashing and burning. From the moment he told her the truth, Arianne and Doran became a team. And unlike Robb with Catelyn or Tywin with Cersei,  Doran knows damn well how to use his daughter’s strengths.

She’s patient, she’s loving, she is remarkably talented at convincing people to follow her. She is capable of more than she realizes, and she demonstrates better than any other character the power of women and the skills a good leader has. It’s not Dany. It’s not Sansa. It’s not Cersei. It’s Arianne with the collection of traits, learned and innate both, that would make her an amazing ruler. She has the experience with organization, what with her work in event planning. She’s spectacular at making friends and is beloved by the Dornish. She understands people and knows how they think. She’s patient enough to wait for more information before acting. She knows intuitively when she should make decisions and when she should defer to people with greater expertise in the subject area. Erasing her, and the competence of her Sand Snake cousins, is harmful.

Not only does Arianne herself provide the example of a woman ruling in her own right, her entire story revolves around women in power. She wants to lay the groundwork for people accepting a woman on the Iron Throne by championing Myrcella’s claim. Tyene gave her the idea for that in the first place. Her cousin Nymeria is going to represent Dornish interests in King’s Landing by claiming their council seat. And to top it all off, Arianne will represent Dorne by going to parlay with Aegon herself. The show cut all of that. And what does that do? Well…it brushes aside the hows of the matter, ignoring all the ways in which characters would have to fight and plan to get what they need and want. It’s like what they did with Sansa and the Vale. In the show, she didn’t make friends or anything, the only reason she could get their army to ride to her defence was that Littlefinger was obsessed with her! It’s a cop out written by people that value military power more than diplomacy.

Women in power is an actual theme in the story, not just something tangential. But the show doesn’t explore that in any depth. It cut out mostly everything about Maege Mormont, including her elder daughters. It ignored the fact that Brienne is her father’s only heir and the implications of that in terms of marriage. It disregarded how Jaime and Kevan both planned to set Cersei aside and had every reason to believe it was possible because they were men. All these are different facets of the same issue of the role of women in politics that’s anchored by Arianne, whose story is specifically and explicitly about institutional sexism. And it leaves all these moments that the Game of Thrones writers seemed to want to mean something feeling very hollow.

Brienne as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard was supposed to be a triumphant moment. Most of the criticism I’ve seen towards it has been about how it would have been more satisfying for her to be on Sansa’s Queensguard, but I think that also misses the point – either way, she’s committed to a life as a glorified bodyguard rather than taking on her own leadership role. There’s no character growth there. Sure, she was knighted and had her value acknowledged, but she’s still pledging her life for other people’s as from the moment we met her. She never had to face the same kind of challenges she did in the books, so she ended the story with the same beliefs as she started it with.

For Benioff and Weiss, no one mattered except the lead characters, and that leaves a much flatter story – the Dornish characters’ actual goals don’t matter, just how they can be vilified or turned into Dany’s sidekicks. Brienne’s conflicted feelings on what she wants out of life and longing for love don’t matter, she’s just there to support the Starks, even though the only Stark with whom she had more than a one sided relationship where she contributed for nothing in return was Catelyn. She had no relationship at all with Bran. Her relationship with Sansa was basically just one between an employer and an employee. So after Catelyn, the show’s dynamic between a sworn shield and the person they swore to protect became just…servitude. Nothing complicated or two sided. Which is again, something Arianne could contribute to expressing beautifully, because of how much more nuanced her relationship is with her sworn shield.

Daemon loves her. He’s sworn to protect her. But he also has his own shit going on, his own sense of right and wrong, and he is not a blind sidekick. His life is about more than just slavish devotion and pining. He’s allowed to have wants and needs of his own, which show Brienne is really never afforded. And he challenges Arianne, tells her things she doesn’t want to think about, has close relationships with her cousins – it’s not quite that their relationship is one of equals, because that’s overly simplistic, but they’re on the same level. She trusts him. She neither wants nor expects a voiceless protector, she wants an advisor, and that’s what he is.

So why is Arianne’s relationship with Daemon important to lending insight to Brienne’s position, you ask? Why not just actually express some more complexity in Brienne’s arc without it? Well…because she shares similariites with them both while also being in a very different position than either of them. Let’s start with Daemon. Daemon was very close to Oberyn, and is still close to Oberyn’s daughters. House Martell is extremely important to him, even outside of his relationship with Arianne. And he’s a bastard born to a father with trueborn children. So him swearing his sword to his princess…well, it makes a lot of sense for a man who has clearly been shown to make his own decisions. It’s an extremely respected vocation for someone that won’t inherit; it means that he has the ear of the most powerful people in his homeland; and it lets him be close to the woman he loves. Brienne, though, she’s her father’s heir. She has her own responsibilities that she will, at some point, have to return to. She swore herself to Renly, she swore herself to Catelyn, she’s practically killing herself trying to fulfil her oaths, and sooner or later, she’ll need to question whether she’s like Daemon or not. Whether being a bodyguard is really what she wants out of life. And if she decides no, the contrast between her and Daemon can make it clear just why that decision makes sense. Which in turn allows for contrasting her with another female heir – Arianne.

If Brienne’s story is in equal parts about womanhood and knighthood, Cersei’s story is about power and motherhood, Sansa and Arya’s stories are about growing up…Arianne’s is about family and choice. And those are themes that are present to a greater or lesser degree everywhere else in the story. And by ignoring how central Arianne is to those themes, we have many of the same events, but no themetic coherence linking them all together in a way that makes sense.

The scene where Cersei argues with Tywin about remarrying is in the show, and that version is phenomenal. I would never deny that. Lena Heady killed it. But it fell so flat compared to the books because of the lack of context – how Tywin considered marrying Cersei to a Greyjoy and shipping her off to the Iron Islands. How Brienne’s third betrothal was to a man thrice her age who told her outright he intended to beat her. How Lysa underwent a forced abortion and was married off to an old man. How one of the things Arianne takes as evidence of her father’s lack of love for her is the insulting suitors she’s offered – old men without teeth – and the way Doran actively refused offers from younger men. Arianne’s story is extremely explicit about all of this and why it matters! In the eyes of teenage Arianne, not only does Doran not want her to succeed him, he doesn’t want her to marry anyone powerful or important – refused to let her meet Edmure Tully and Willas Tyrell – or even that loves her – refused Daemon Sand her hand. She becomes the connective tissue between all these women facing marriages they don’t want. It’s not just cruel women or ugly women or weird women; it’s not just a consequence of a time of war. It’s misogyny, plain and simple.

An argument that I remember seeing for years before I started reading the books or watching the show was about who has it “worse”, feminine women or masculine women, especially through the lens of Sansa and Arya. And that’s just so reductive. It’s the gross argument that there’s a way for women to win, that misogyny only applies to some women, that others have it easier. That’s not true at all! And it relies on viewing “masculine” and “feminine” as two diametrically opposed things. In this case, I think the obvious non-Arianne example is, again, Brienne.

The show erased a lot about Brienne’s character, and the most important part, I think, is just how much of her story involves love and romance. Her loyalty is incredibly easy to win, to the point where all it takes is the slightest kindness. When it comes to what we know of her past, it’s pretty much all to do with romance – her failed betrothals, how she’d been in love with Renly from pretty much the moment they met, the people in Renly’s camp that courted her for a bet. We don’t know when she first picked up a sword or why. We barely know anything about the kind of man her father was other than what we can infer. But we know about her romantic history, because it’s that important. Even into the present, we see her relationship with a man that wants to marry her for her island and the way Jaime takes over from Renly in her thoughts, we see how her initial swearing herself to Renly had more to do with being in love with him than it did anything else. It’s not possible to remove the romantic element from her story. Her story is every bit as much about womanhood as it is knighthood. Arianne is the other side of that, just as she is the other side of Cersei. Where Brienne’s story revolves around romantic love, Arianne’s is about familial. Yes, she has love interests that matter to her, but they’re not nearly as important as Doran, Quentyn, the Sand Snakes, and that makes her just as important as Brienne in terms of preventing the story from splitting the women into “masculine” and “feminine” categories.

She’s the beautiful woman that wears silk and jewels that’s also very much a believer in dressing practically for whatever the task at hand is, wearing a veil to keep the sand out of her eyes and mouth. She’s not a fighter, but she knows the desert as well as Darkstar, keeps the knife gifted to her by her cousin in her boot, and is a skilled enough horsewoman to be able to vault onto her horse when she’s exhausted after a long day of hard riding. She’s the femme fatale that’s in complete control of that as a role she plays. She’s actively involved in wartime negotiations in a way that no woman has been since Catelyn. She’s both the former teen rebel and the dutiful daughter, loved by bastards and nobles alike. She’s vividly real, and she makes the story so much better through her presence.

In the released books, Arianne has two chapters from her point of view. That’s nothing! That’s fewer than Quentyn! I was talking to a friend pretty soon after I finished reading the books, and our conversation went to House Martell and the different roles the members of the family play in the overall story. It had been several years since she had last read them, and she was shocked to realize that Quentyn had more chapters from his perspective than Arianne. Arianne’s impact is so much that she feels so much bigger than she is. She’s so human that it’s hard to look away.

She’s logical and dutiful, but she often thinks with her heart instead of her head. She’s smart, but still has a lot to learn in terms of carrying out plans in a non-controlled environment. That combination of innate intelligence, knowledge, and experience makes her perspective completely unique in the story. No one, not one person, can fill that void, no matter how many similarities to her they have.

Take Cersei. Cersei isn’t stupid! She’s not. But she is kind of inept. She doesn’t pursue knowledge. She doesn’t try to learn more. She makes dumb decision after dumb decision because she acts without thinking; she doesn’t actually learn when they blow up in her face; and she doesn’t at all understand why, beyond run of the mill misogyny and her conviction that she’s smarter than everyone, people would prefer to have Tywin or Jaime in charge. That’s very different from how Arianne watches and waits and gathers information for as long as she possibly can before she does anything, how she’s politically savvy enough to understand why Lord Yronwood would prefer Quentyn as Prince of Dorne to her and wrap that into her understanding of the situation. Yes, Arianne reached the wrong conclusion. But it was a very understandable conclusion to draw from the information that she had. And because Arianne is the type of person taht’s actually capable of learning from her mistakes, experience is helping her make better decisions and better conclusions. She and Cersei are both smart, ambitious women with issues with their fathers, but Cersei could never make her redundant. That same thing holds true for every other character.

People are always talking about how smart Tyrion is, right? But the issue there is…he thinks he’s smarter than he is. He is incapable of keeping his mouth shut when it would be the smart choice. He has to have people know how smart he is. Arianne’s intelligence doesn’t stem from a classroom. It comes from observing and experiencing, erring and fixing it. What she does is provide insight on just about every other female character in the story. She adds depth to the narrative and fills in the gaps so that the themes are fully articulated, rather than just disconnected pieces of a motif. She’s who many of the younger women could one day grow up to be. She has Sansa’s femininity and compassion, demonstrating what an adult Sansa could be like. She has Arya’s frustrations with a father that doesn’t give her the same freedoms she knows other people have. She has Cersei’s ambition, but more kindness.

The show felt hollow at many points for many, many reasons. One of those reasons was the lack of Arianne Martell. She unapologetically takes up space. She doesn’t ever try to shift blame onto other people. She’s harder on herself than anyone else could ever be. And she forces everyone else to face the fact that she matters, that people from other houses and other parts of the continent are important. It’s not just the Starks, Targaryens, and Lannisters that are important; it’s not just characters that have been around since the first book. The themes that are supposedly expressed fall flat without her.

‘Titans’ Team, You Brilliant Bastards, You Did It Again: The Emotional Roller Coaster Of Promo Material

Caring about this show is emotionally exhausting, because even when episodes aren’t airing, the creators seem to be on a specific mission of making me feel every emotion between dislike and sheer glee. This trailer? It brought me back to the glee side of the spectrum.

Last year, before season one started airing, we got a few pieces of news and two trailers. And I wrote about how everything we found out was making me feel more and more confused as to how I felt about the show, and then the second trailer came out, after which I withdrew all my reservations and went all in, because it was awesome. This year seems a repeat. I loved this trailer.

The Wilsons are so wonderful to see! Slade looks great, the little glimpse of Jericho was cool, and Rose is everythingThe relationships between Dick and Slade, Slade and Rose, and Rose and Dick are all so rich and complex in the comics that Dick and Rose sparring – with him using wood while she uses steel! – is the most delightful thing. Dick leading the team, training the newer members, the confident smile when he answered in the affirmative to Kory asking if he was ready for this – this is what I mean when I say Nightwing is a journey, not a destination. Because his growth into a confident, settled person defines him. He’s such a nuanced character that I love getting to see all these sides of him. There’s this line in…I forget which run it is. But Wally is thinking about Dick, and he refers to him as “perfection in a mask”. During Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans, Wally muses about how Dick can juggle half a dozen problems at once and still do everything perfectly. Dick is so good at so many things, he sets the standard to which everyone around him tries to live up. I think part of why the Titans version of the character is so controversial is that people forget that that image – confident Mr. Well Adjusted with great social skills – is partially a mask; partially the result of Flanderization; and partially something that took a lot of time, pain, and character growth for Dick to become. So Titans acknowledging that he’s been through a lot and does have some anger issues and all that, then having him grow past that partially because of a need to train people like Rachel and Rose? So good.

When the first trailer was released, I commented that I was a bit worried about how it was Jason that answered “Deathstroke” to Dick’s “what” because Deathstroke is so heavily associated with Dick. In my defense, I said from the beginning of that post I was extrapolating from and overreacting to a minute long trailer. But this one seems to have totally cleared up that issue, because Slade was apparently why the original Titans shuttered the tower. Eeek! Love it.

I’m back to being excited about Dick and Bruce’s relationship! I still don’t want him to be in it much – this is a Titans show, after all, and Bruce has a tendency to suck up all the oxygen in a story (which is also kind of my issue with Jason, but that’s another story). However, the bit of dialogue we got to hear – “Would you do it again? Devote all that time and trouble for someone who just wants to leave?” I would do everything exactly the same” – made me clap my hands together. We’re getting the Dick and Bruce reconciliation – an absolutely crucial step in Dick’s character development – and it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be less one sided than in the comics, where it was entirely because of Dick’s efforts that they repaired their relationship, and Bruce is going to affirm to him that he has no regrets about raising him. I’m so excited.

The screech I let out when I heard the “Be Batman” line was embarrassingly high pitched. Like, sure, it’s probably not going to be literal. It’s probably too soon in the story for Dick to take up that mantle. But in a figurative sense, with Dick deciding who he is and what he represents and how he wants to come across to the world as an independent hero that isn’t the other half of a team…that’s just as good, just as important, and it could well lead to one of my favourite things ever – Dick as actually Batman.

I love it when Dick puts on the cowl. Every time. It’s such a great chapter in his journey, and later, a great aspect of his character. Becoming Batman is a much bigger deal for him than it could be for anyone else, because he defined the role just as much as Bruce did, by being present for the beginning of it all. And every time he puts it on, it means something different. When Bane broke Bruce’s back, it was an issue of why Dick wasn’t his first choice for it. After Final Crisis, it was an all encompassing issue, this crushing burden that he was struggling under the weight of and learned to carry and thrive under. By the time Bruce comes back from the dead and returns to the mantle, Dick can casually sub in for him, no problems at all. It’s such a good story, and even the thought that Titans might eventually include it makes me giddy.

I understand why all fans have a different character they want to don the mantle. Like, duh – Batman is such a big deal, and a character being a part of that legacy has the potential to make them a lot more popular. I just happen to believe that it’s not as important for the Batfamily characters that aren’t Dick. People always latch onto the idea that Dick doesn’t like being Batman and doesn’t want to be Batman as a reason that someone else – usually Cass – should get it. But I think it’s important to remember that the only thing he hates more than wearing the cowl is watching someone else do it. He specifically admits it. And he grew out of his hatred! He learned how to be Batman on his own terms, how to be what Gotham needs.

When he took up the cowl while Bruce was presumed dead, he had to be Batman on hard mode. Bruce got to ease into it. He got a traumatized kid, but one that, all things considered, wasn’t that hard to raise. He was dealing with the rise of supervillains, sure, but mostly just non-meta organized crime. But Dick got Damian. He had to deal with Damian, Tim, Steph, and Jason all at the same time. Superman randomly decided he didn’t like Dick wearing the cowl. A bunch of new villains popped up. He had so much going on, and thanks to all the timeline compressions and retcons, he was apparently doing that when he was nineteen. It says a lot about how capable he is that he not only managed, but thrived. I know it’s not technically relevant to a Titans show, but it is something that I’d love to see.

This trailer was so fantastic, it brought back all my hype for the show after it had been mostly killed by the season one finale and the mediocre bits of news! That’s ridiculously impressive. Little over a week left! Can’t wait.

‘Titans’ Season Two: Time To Extrapolate From And Overreact To A Minute Long Trailer Again

Okay. So. Titans season two. Like I said before, I adored most of season one, but the whole thing ended up falling kind of flat because of the terrible finale. This was a little surprising, because the lead up to the show was weird. I was getting whiplash between stuff that made me excited and stuff that I didn’t like. The first trailer was terrible and the second was great. And then when the show actually came out, it was good! So now I know I probably shouldn’t get all worked up about the first look at season two. Except, too bad, I’m going to anyway. Let’s do this.

1. Donna Fucking Troy

LOOK AT HER. I didn’t think I liked her suit when we first saw pictures of it, but it’s grown on me. I definitely would prefer to see her black one from the comics, because I adore that and Conor Leslie would look SO good in it, but this is pretty good, too.

2. Why is Batman blonde?

I first saw the trailer when it was leaked last night. And I still can’t get over the fact they didn’t darken Iain Glen’s hair. I don’t know why this bothers me. This is a weird thing to be bothered by. And yet it just freaks me out. This is a thing I’ve been lowkey worried about since the casting was announced! Especially because we saw Bruce from behind in the season one flashbacks. He had a full head of black hair. Are we meant to assume that raising Dick was so hard for this guy that fifteen years turned his hair blondish grey? All the evidence we’ve been given indicates that it can’t have been that hard because Bruce was the king of distant parenting – dude communicated through leaving cryptic notes on trays.

3. Scottish Batman

It’s not that I dislike Scottish accents. Not at all, they’re great. But it’s somehow off putting to hear Scottish Bruce Wayne. And while I’m sure it’s better than risking him being bad at a fake accent, the combination of blonde hair and a Scottish accent weirds me out. Like…is this something he picked up from Alfred? Is Alfred Scottish in this universe? Is it something he picked up while travelling? Did he meet Talia in Scotland? Are we going to get five seasons in and meet Talia and Damian with Scottish accents? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.

5. Wilson Family

My first thought about this is that I need to hear Rose called Ravager at least once, because that’s a badass name and she looked SO COOL. My second thought is that I love getting both Rose and Joey in the same show, this is great. My third thought is that I want to see Slade’s suit in more detail before I make a judgement on whether or not I like it. And my fourth thought is that that bit at the end made me uncomfortable, because in a lot of ways, Deathstroke is Dick’s archnemesis, and I don’t like the thought of Jason being the one to tell Dick who he is.

4. Jason Todd

It’s no secret that I don’t exactly love Jason. At least when it comes to this. And like….I think this intensified that feeling. I’m a big fan of when Robin is presented as almost more mysterious than Batman himself – like this semi-mythological figure that most people don’t even believe is real. I hate the idea of everyone knowing how many Robins there have been or what happened to them or what names they’re going by now. So Jason jumping in front of a camera crew to shout about how the Titans are back – and seriously? Back? YOU WERE NEVER ONE OF THEM – bothers me. Also, I have to reiterate that I’m not into the idea of him knowing who Deathstroke is before Dick. Seeing as this was only a one minute trailer, it’s very possible that that’s not quite how it plays out in the actual show, but…I just don’t like how Jason is being pushed into stories he has no business being in. That’s never going to change.

5. Dick Training Rachel

I am bizarrely delighted by Dick training Rachel while wielding a sword. And the reason for that can almost certainly be traced back to one specific issue in pre-52 Nightwing.

Dick Kicks Ra's In The Face

Dick is…really good with a sword, guys. He once beat Ra’s al Ghul in a swordfight then kicked him in the face. It was awesome. So I’m excited to see if this season explores how Dick is actually super competent and awesome at a lot of different things.

6. Original Titans

Hank and Dawn are freaking awesome, and I’m still in awe that their episode somehow turned out to be probably the most well made in the whole first season, despite being crammed between a cliffhanger and its payoff. I’m delighted to see more of them. I’m so excited to see what the relationship between them, Donna, Dick, and Garth turns out to be. I’m still a bit disappointed that we’re not getting Roy and Wally, but I’ll live.

I could go on and start rambling about many other elements of this trailer, from Krypto to the little glimpse of the Dick Bruce dynamic to the fact that this seems to imply that the Trigon story is going to be wrapped up in the first episode which is not cool. For once in my life, I’m going to restrain myself. As many things that there are that bother me about this, there are other things that I’m excited to see! And if I stop paying so much attention to what other people are saying, I’ll probably enjoy it more! So I’m going to set my reservations aside again, like I did before season one. It might be good or it might not, but I’ll do my best to enjoy the ride anyway.

‘Supergirl’, ‘Batwoman’, and the False Feminism of Replacement

I’ve seen a ton of comments about how the Supergirl movie that’s supposedly in development won’t work without Clark, and they frustrate me a lot, because I both agree with the idea that Kara and Clark need and play off each other in interesting ways and disagree with the idea that either of them is necessary for the other to have a story. Here’s the thing: as confused as her backstory is and as many different versions of her there are, Supergirl is not nor will she ever be Batgirl. It was Batgirl that was inspired by Batman, Batgirl who might have been a hero in a world without Batman, but certainly not one that went by a bat theme, Batgirl whose story cannot exist without Batman preceding her. That same principle doesn’t apply to Supergirl and Superman. Supergirl doesn’t need Superman to exist. He doesn’t matter for her origin story. The symbol is part of her family just as much as his. So a Supergirl movie can most certainly exist without needing Clark there as a character for Kara to look up to and want to emulate. The problem that actually exists is if any story tries to replace Clark with Kara because they’re both Supers. That’s a problem because they’re different people that fill different roles, their stories aren’t interchangeable, and whenever people try to substitute her in for him, they’ll get a pale imitation. That’s a large part of what’s wrong with the show.

Comics Kara Zor El knew both that she was Kryptonian and what it meant to be Kryptonian because she spent more of her life on Krypton than on Earth! She was a genius by the standards of this hugely technologically advanced society that was on track to join the science guild. She was a teenager that had lost everything she knew – her planet, her species, her culture – and landed on a planet so different from her own that she had to learn everything from scratch. What did the Supergirl show do with that? Why, it completely ignored her scientific background, added a bunch of original characters to give the scientific knowledge to so they could erase her intelligence, and aged her up so they could make her a reporter for no actual reason.

I stopped watching the show somewhere in season two. But from what I remember, this erasing of Kara’s scientific background was a large part of the reason why it felt like CW Kara was pretty much just female Clark, rather than actually Kara. She has his job. She has the same personality. There’s very little that distinguishes her as Kara. And since they aged her up, there’s not even any reason for her to be called Supergirl. So much of her show-verse background was so ill-conceived, it ended up seeming like the people responsible for the show didn’t actually want to be making a show about Kara.

Batwoman looks like it’s going to be similar. As controversial an opinion as this might be, Kate is not a member of the Batfamily in the comics. She’s Bruce’s cousin, sure, but that does not mean they were ever close (for all that it was revealed that she comforted him at his parents’ funeral, that closeness had never been brought up before or since). She operates alone, with her own supporting cast and own villains. She didn’t even know Bruce was Batman. She is absolutely not the person Bruce calls when he needs help or that takes responsibility for Gotham in his absence. But in the show, she’s apparently going to be facing off against multiple Batman villains, including Thomas Elliot – you know, the guy whose whole schtick revolves around being obsessed with Bruce.

I’ve seen attempts at justifying this by saying things like, “of course Bruce’s villains didn’t just leave when he vanished! It makes sense with the premise of the show that she’s fighting them!” To that, I kind of have to say…well, yeah! That’s the problem! This isn’t a Batwoman show! They’re making her replacement Batman, and there’s frankly no point in doing that. Taking an existing character and turning her into female Batman defeats the purpose. Doing that will always get you a pale imitation of a character, not a real one. With Kate, it ends up seeming even worse than with Kara. With Kara, the missteps and verging into Clark territory come across as accidental, as people that did genuinely want to write about Kara, but didn’t spend much time considering what makes her unique. The Batwoman writers – judging by what we know about the show before the release – aren’t actually interested in Kate. They like the bat image, they like the idea of tapping into the idea of feminism as a part of the cultural zeitgeist rather than actual feminist themes, they like Gotham. Kate as Kate? Not so much.

There was a time in comics where the next generation was leading the Justice League. Dick was Batman. Donna and Kara had replaced Diana and Clark respectively. And you know what? It most certainly wasn’t that they were just acting as the symbols, because what mattered was the Dick, Donna, and Kara of it. It was a very deliberate writing choice to have a Bat, a Wonder, and a Super on the team. It was an even more deliberate choice to have them succeed by being themselves. That was a cool exploration of what it means to step up to fill your mentor’s shoes, to represent a symbol that means a lot to a lot of people, and it worked as it did because it let characters that had an important relationship with their predecessors and the symbols they wore embrace those symbols on their own terms. None of that holds true for Kate.

Kara and Kate are both amazing characters with a lot to love about them. Kara has decades of deeply, deeply confusing material that can be pulled from, including a different but just as valid understanding of what the symbol she wears means to her. Kate doesn’t have as much history or as many stories, but she has her own set of villains and a supporting cast and a rich backstory featuring a healthy amount of her own motivation that has nothing to do with Gotham as a city or bats as a specific motif. Those are all things that can be drawn upon to create great stories about women becoming heroes. Having Kate and Kara replace Clark and Bruce, though? That doesn’t a great story make. That fails to understand who these characters are and pretends as if the only thing separating Superman from Supergirl or Batman from Batwoman is gender. That’s untrue and does an enormous disservice to all four characters. Writers…you can do better than that.

Why I Hate The Thought Of Jason Todd As A Regular In ‘Titans’

I started writing this post when it was first announced that Jason would be a regular in season two of Titans. It was supposed to be just about him. Except I spent so long trying to finish it that it was announced that Bruce was cast. And after that I had enough time to watch Game of Thrones and figure out what I think of the Bruce actor’s acting.  Anyway, my point is…I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I think of the inclusion of both characters, and my immediate reaction still holds: I don’t like it. The announcement about Bruce just intensified all my feelings about Jason.. So now I’m going to talk about both of these characters and why their inclusion is just not fair to Dick. Let’s start with Jason.

The Titans as a team have always been Dick and Tim’s thing. There was a backlash not too long ago about that – DC tried to remove the Titans from Dick’s history and say that Tim’s Titans was the first group of teen heroes. Fans, naturally, were not having that. Anyway, that’s not the point. What is is that Jason barely ever counted as a Titan, he just went on, like, two missions with them. Hell, when he came back from the dead and broke into Titans Tower, he was furious because he didn’t have a memorial! Which they would have given him, had he actually been a Titan! I wrote a post a while back about how the more Robins there are, the more of Dick’s traits get passed on to others, and I think that’s very much relevant here. The Titans are Dick’s thing. And to not only include Jason in them, but to have him there from pretty much the beginning, tied to their first becoming a team? That dilutes and cheapens something that’s fundamental to who Dick is as a character in a way even further than the comics go.

The other reason I hate the idea of Jason as a main character isn’t about comic book accuracy at all. It’s, as counterintuitive as it may sound, about all the years of solo Bat material without Robin.

I’m a Robin fan. Of course. And I’ve spent a long, long time being bitter about how creators kept dismissing the importance of Robin specifically and the Batfamily in general. So I should be excited that we’re getting them! I should be excited that we’re getting multiple Robins interacting with each other and with Batman. But more than a Robin fan, I’m a Dick Grayson fan. A Nightwing fan. A Dick!Bats fan (not to be confused with Bat!Dick as seen in DC Black Label). And since Dick was the first Robin…he’s the one that’s lost out most because of creatives that hate the idea of Batman not being a broody loner. He’s the one with by far the longest history, the reason we even know about Robin. He’s the one that paved the way for all the others and demonstrated better than anyone else the potential for a sidekick growing into their own hero. And yet, we never actually get to see that in adaptations.

In live action, we’ve had Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Those were not good movies. They didn’t explore what Robin means, much less everything to do with Nightwing. They weren’t set it a world with other heroes for him to develop friendships with. In animation, we’ve had Teen Titans, which gave us nothing on where he came from or what the nuances of his personality are. We’ve had Batman: The Animated Series, which did have some good moments –  “Robin’s Reckoning” is one of my absolute favourite things ever – but was ultimately still heavily Batman focused and still something in which the rift between the two was largely glossed over. We’ve had Young Justice, in which we skipped past major chunks of his life including when he decided to stop being Robin and take up Nightwing. Titans was supposed to be his chance to shine with a full story and not just bits of it, because as much as the Titans are a team, Dick is the star. To a degree, that was the case in season one. And since Jason is going to be there, it does not look like that’ll carry through to season two.

Jason being so heavily involved is drawing attention away from Dick when the attention by all rights should be on Dick. This isn’t the comics, where Dick has had big stories and long made a name for himself. This is the first real adaptation about him. And by shoehorning Jason – and Bruce, in a different way – into it so early, it’s changing that part of the story from being a Dick Grayson story to a Robin story. A Batman and Robin story. Because Robin isn’t seen as having value alone by the writers, Dick isn’t seen as having value alone. What’s viewed as valuable is the cultural idea of Batman and Robin, of Nightwing.

People talk about Nightwing as if the costume is the end goal. When season one was airing, I saw so many comments along the lines of “season one finale will be Nightwing”. But what does that even mean? He just puts on a new costume and all the troubles go away? Nightwing is the destination? That’s not it! It’s a journey. The costume is just a symbol, one that Dick was not ready to put on. I’m very much glad that season one didn’t end with him taking on a new name and costume that would have felt too early. I’m not glad at the pace of the journey and Jason’s influence. In the comics, after Dick stopped being Robin, he didn’t immediately become Nightwing. He wasn’t wearing a costume for a while. He voluntarily gave up Robin, ceded the mantle to Jason, and took up Nightwing when he felt he was ready to move on. But in Titans, both the fans and seemingly the writers want to rush us to Dick as Nightwing and Jason as Robin. So they had Bruce hand over Dick’s name and costume without Dick’s knowledge, much less his permission. They’re stripping Dick of his agency and choice in the matter for Jason’s sake, just like I complained about the comics doing in this post, and it is so, painfully frustrating.

I understand that in an ensemble show, the focus will have to shift eventually to the other characters. I respect that. They certainly deserve it, too. But it seems absurd to shift that focus a) before the first character has completed his first arc and b) to give a character that’s not one of the title characters more screen time. Which leads us to Bruce and why the obsession with fitting him into everything is likely to be harmful to the careful character work done over the majority of the first season of Titans.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Iain Glen’s acting, even after watching GoT. He’s fine. I don’t hate the idea, so long as he dyes his hair. Black, dark brown, grey, I don’t care, I just cannot stand for a blond Batman. But I saw the character description, and that worries me.

After decades of fighting crime as Batman, billionaire Bruce Wayne is just as driven to protect Gotham from evil as he was in his prime. Needing to reconcile his relationship with Dick Grayson, the duo hope to forge a new dynamic as Bruce tries to help his former sidekick and the Titans achieve success.

If they’d just left it at “hope to forge a new dynamic” and left out the part about helping Dick and the Titans achieve success, I’d have been fine! That would have made sense! But “tries to help his former sidekick and the Titans achieve success”? This is negating Dick’s entire character arc. A huge part of that arc – in the comics as well as the show – is that Dick can go off on his own, as far away from Gotham as he can get, and thrive. Yes, he reconciles with Bruce, but that’s because Bruce is his family and he cares about him enough to put in the effort, not because he needs him, or even because Bruce deserves that effort. But the message this description sends is that Dick still needs Bruce’s help. He needs Bruce to fund his suit and his team. He needs Bruce to teach him to be a leader. He needs Bruce’s money, he needs his knowledge, he needs his resources. It’s the same issue as when there was a debate a while ago as to how he was getting his weaponry and such and a lot of people suggested, “oh, maybe Alfred helped him”. Setting aside the fact that the narrative itself made it clear that Dick reaching out to Alfred about Rachel was a one time thing, I think these people are missing the point of Nightwing!

Nightwing represents independence. The whole point of Dick becoming Nightwing is that he’s surpassed Bruce, that he’s Batman with social skills. He’s not lesser in any area of crime fighting. It diminishes the whole idea of Nightwing to have Bruce help him. Yes. After Dick and Bruce reconcile, it’s kind of cool to see how Dick views money as a tool in the same way Bruce does, and insists upon asserting his independence at the same time as he’s find with using Bruce’s money for tactical purposes. It’s cool to see when he is and isn’t okay accepting help. But that doesn’t work if he doesn’t get to prove that he can operate independently.

It matters that we see Dick and Bruce reconcile. It is important that their rift gets focus. They are an important part of each other’s lives and stories. But this is an awkward attempt at blending their pre and post Crisis relationship in a way that makes no sense, and it adds onto all the nonsense going in comics to make it seem like DC doesn’t actually want Dick to succeed. I understand that fans are impatient and that fans want Bruce and Jason and the whole Batfamily. But what fans want isn’t necessarily what we should get.

I saw a comment about how the poster didn’t want this to become the Batfamily show. And that I agree with. It’s a sentiment that a lot of people have expressed, and I agreed when they said it, too. But what stood out to me about this specific comment was that the poster went on to ask, “Where’s Superman and Wonder Woman”, talking about if the League was going to show up and saying that they should. That’s not the problem here! I think it is far more essential to have Batman play some role than Superman or Wonder Woman, just because he’s much more essential to Robin’s story on a personal level than Superman or Wonder Woman are to Kon and Donna. I am a firm believer that Dick can and should stand on his own as a character…but I recognize that the established context of this specific show kind of necessitates including Batman on some small level. Even so, Titans has very much been a character driven piece, and even though Bruce mattered for that, now, he’s being inserted into the plot where he doesn’t belong, and that does nothing for advancing anyone’s character. The desire to include Batman isn’t enough to justify this.

Furthermore, I think what the writers want isn’t necessarily what’s best for the story. When it comes to comics and comic based media, we really do run into the problem of the writers being fans. I’m about eighty percent certain that the only reason Superboy is going to be in season two is that he’s Geoff Johns’s favourite. Johns isn’t completely blind to pushing his favourites at the expense of everyone else – after all, we are talking about someone that offered up this very same favourite character in place of Nightwing when Dan DiDio wanted the latter dead. But Johns also tends to prioritize his old favourites over newer characters. I have no difficulty believing that ties into Bruce and Jason’s roles.

I  know that I’ve spoken out before on how adaptations need to approach the material differently than the comics. But it’s very different when we’re talking about a character that hasn’t gotten to take the centre stage before. So I’m not thrilled with this approach to Dick’s Nightwing journey. I don’t want Jason or Bruce around for more than a little bit. I don’t want a costume or a contrived way of him choosing the name Nightwing. I just want the slow, measured character development that made me love the start of the show.

My Frustrations With A Lot Of Speculative Fiction

So, I finally gave in and read A Song of Ice and Fire. This has been a long time pending. I remember I was introduced to the books at a Christmas party in 2011. I…didn’t actually finish them then. But I have now! And I really enjoyed them! I have some issues, but on the whole, they were very enjoyable. Enough to get me to watch and finish the show. Unfortunately, that kind of made me aware of some other issues that I have, both with the books and the show. They’re issues of personal taste, not anything objective, but when I think about them, they’re the same reason so much stuff lately has been hard for me to get through, why that genre that I once loved and still do enjoy isn’t satisfying me anymore the way it once did: the trend towards huge, expansive universes rather than completing actual stories is too much for me.

I like tightly plotted works. I like focus, I like conservation of detail. I like to follow the trail of cause and effect. When it comes to most genres, people would agree with me – excess detail in thrillers or crime novels is unappealing because it slows down the pace. Excess detail and tangents in romances would often be deemed pointless purple prose. But when it comes to fantasy? It’s almost the opposite. Fantasy novels are expected to be sprawling, on an epic scale, with details about every character we ever meet or every place the characters ever go. Like so much else to do with modern fantasy, this began with Tolkien. And my only reaction is…why? Of all the possible ways to be inspired by Tolkien’s work, why did this one have to stick around so much?

I like world building as much as the next person. But a story is more than that. Quite frankly, I think in most cases, it’s overrated. It takes away from characterization and plot development. And while both things can and should exist together and enhance each other, my experience has been that few writers balance it well, instead focusing on the world building to the detriment of everything else. That’s true when it comes to fantasy, that’s true when it comes to “hard” science fiction. Writers are so busy showing off how great their imagination is, they just info dump stuff that isn’t relevant to anything at us just to do it. They never use one word when they could use ten and when they think of a phrasing they like, they use it over and over again. It’s getting really tiresome.

One of my main takeaways from A Song of Ice and Fire was that George R. R. Martin needs a better editor. At least someone to remove some evidence of his creepy fucking fetishes that have no reason to be in the story, but preferably someone with the firmness to insist he pare down and stop going on tangents about the food at a feast or the colours and sigils of some minor house we’re never going to see again. Hell, maybe that would help me decide if I actually like his writing or not. Because as much as I enjoy the story, I’m a lot more conflicted about the writing. It alternates between some utter nonsense that seems to confuse verbosity with eloquence, embarrassingly bad sex scenes, and genuinely wonderful pieces like Arya’s delightfully simple and gorgeous reminiscing about how Needle is all she has left of her home and family. For all that it claims to be a political drama in a fantasy setting that explores how war is hell and power corrupts and all that happens is misery for the commoners that don’t care who sits on the throne, that’s diminished by the fact it’s still almost exclusively told through the eyes of the aristocracy. It tells us a lot more than it shows, and it tells a painful amount.

Take the so-called Broken Man Speech. Out of context, it’s fine. It’s good. But put it back in context and it’s like…we don’t ever really see those broken men. Not like the speech describes. We see traumatized people that start to do worse and worse things to survive, but we don’t see the effects of plain old war on regular old people in any way that really matters to me. Think about the commoners we meet. They’re rarely actually portrayed in a positive light, as the victims that they are, and when they are, it’s still through the lens of the nobility. Like…during the riots at King’s Landing. The focus isn’t on the misery of the people starving when the powerful play their games and use innocents, it’s about how their suffering turns them into savages that rape and abuse women tangentially related to the people responsible. Are there antiwar themes in the story? Of course there are. Are there criticisms of the monarchic systems? Sure. Is it ultimately a story about the human relationship with power and its corruptive influence? I think it is. But when it comes to specifically the idea of the impact all these things on the people on the outside of the power struggle, it doesn’t explore them in any real depth. While I’d be willing to accept that that’s not the story this is, the Broken Man speech indicates that that’s what it’s intended to be, and if that’s the case…I really would appreciate getting more attention on it, rather than the same amount that gets devoted to countless things that don’t actually matter. Concise is a good thing. Conservation of detail exists for a reason. Either explore something or don’t. But don’t just talk about everything for the sake of it.

I’ll admit it – I don’t care about the historical members of each house that are only tangentially related to what is going on in the here and now of the story. I don’t care about however many hundreds of thousands of words that he’s dedicated to the history of the Targaryens that aren’t relevant to the story. It’s great that he has so many ideas about his universe. But what does any of that matter if that’s all so big a distraction, he can’t focus on the central story? I’m in favour of writers writing what they want in their own universe. But I also shouldn’t be expected to care about it. Tolkien spent his whole life revising The Silmarillion. But he did finish the key story that was Lord of the Rings.

Martin defies every rule of conservation of detail ever, and honestly…breaking rules is overrated. Holes is one of the greatest novels ever written. I mean that most sincerely. It’s the closest thing to a perfect book that I’ve ever read. And that’s partially because it follows the rules in a way that children’s fiction tends to do better than adult. It’s not about the what, it’s the how. I wish more people took cues from it when it comes to developing plots. It’s less than fifty thousand words long and it uses every single one of those words to full effect. Three interwoven storylines. Beautiful characterization. Criticism of the American justice system. An explanation of the history of Camp Green Lake and how everyone got to the points they did. There is a reason that it’s taught in schools. It goes on exactly as long as it should and not a minute longer. It’s laser focused. It’s elegantly simple. On a technical level, it’s brilliant, and I wish fantasy writers – and people writing for an “adult” audience – took the same approach.

This focus on the details often seems to me to be another way in which writers try to convey maturity in their works. Sex, profanity, violence, and painstaking detail. I get where that idea comes from…but I don’t think it’s very accurate. First of all, there’s no actual reason why there needs to be such a distinction between what is made for children and what is for adults. Many of the best pieces of fiction can be enjoyed by both. The best children’s books are written in blood, after all. Some works, by nature, are best appreciated by people in a given age group. But artificial ways of intentionally catering to one demographic over another…it seems silly to me. I think what’s needed in adult fiction is the mostly same as what’s needed in children’s literature. That includes focus when focus is needed and exploring the impact of darker subject matter, rather than just including it for its own sake.

On a tangentially related note, I am not even remotely interested in constructed languages. That they exist in so many fantasy – and science fiction, I suppose – works is another clear indication of Tolkien’s inescapable influence on the genre, but seriously? All these other writers are not Tolkien. And I don’t mean that in terms of a quality judgement, I mean it in terms of the fact that Tolkien was a linguist. He wasn’t composing these languages to flesh out the world. In many ways, the languages were the world. They mattered. That’s not the case with most other works, because Tolkien, Arrival, others like them – those are exceptions. I watched Game of Thrones and some of the time, I wanted to scream! It took every bit of willpower I had to not just fast forward through the scenes of Daenerys shouting made up words for entire scenes. There are situations in which having the rudiments of a conlang are useful. A few words, grammar rules, and so on. But entire languages gets annoying. It’s detail at the expense of the broader story. It’s the same reason that I don’t enjoy a lot of hard sci fi.

I have a STEM background and I am fascinated by scientific developments. But when it comes to stories, I mostly prefer softer sci fi, because in most cases, I don’t care about the details of how these things work. Especially because science and technology march on. Ten years from now, a meticulously researched piece may turn out to be completely obsolete. Hard sci fi, all the details about how this fictional thing could work, are usually the purview of people that want to demonstrate how smart they are or how much research they’ve done, not tell a story. For me, the best science fiction has to be the kind that uses enough detail that we can accept it’s based on science, rather than a space fantasy – not that there’s anything wrong with space fantasy at all, it’s just not really science fiction in my eyes – but not so much that that becomes the story if it’s not a driving part of the plot. It’s why I liked things like The Martian, with its clear focused man vs. nature conflict, but have a harder time with some other pieces: the focus on the technicalities gets to be too much for me.

I love fantasy. I love science fiction. And I love expansive universes that feel like real, lived in places. But sometimes, I just we could have more stories that end. Plot, characters, voice, tone, themes…those are what interest me most of all about stories. I’d rather have more focus on them to give me a story that gets to a point than one that drags on forever in the name of worldbuilding.

‘Gotham’ Season Five: A Disappointing Dip In Quality From A Team That Can Do Much Better

I love Gotham. It’s genuinely awesome, I love watching every episode, and for the most part, I think the general trend in its quality was upwards. That’s both why I’ve been a bit disappointed in season five and why I’m posting this now instead of after the finale: I know these are people that can do much better than they are now; I’m holding out hope that they kill it with the last two episodes; and even if they don’t, I still want to end the show on a positive note, thinking about what’s good about it, not what’s disappointing. So let’s talk about season five.

One of the things that was awesome about about the show was that it felt like it was constantly improving. Even at its messiest, it was still enjoyable. It’s not that season five has been terrible. The writers didn’t drop the ball as much or as obviously as the Titans writers did with their season one finale…but it sure wasn’t as awesome as different parts of the show has been. As much as I enjoyed certain parts of it, the entirety of the season has made me think, oh. Huh.

Use Of Characters

It started from the very beginning. Season four ended in a spectacular fashion. That finale was amazing. The bridges were blown; the Rogues were carving up territory; Alfred and Selina were about to leave Gotham while Bruce stayed to be completely on his own for the first time; Bruce declared that he was making Gotham his responsibility, effortlessly beat up criminals to find out where Jeremiah was, and stood by Gordon on the roof of the GCPD as an equal. It completely upended the status quo of the show…except 5×01 walked back on Alfred and Selina leaving, so we didn’t get to see how Bruce handles himself alone.

I love Selina and Alfred. They have a great dynamic with each other, they each have a great relationship with Bruce, and the interactions between the three of them is fantastic, because character development is traditionally something this show has done a great job with. But I’d have really appreciated even just an episode or two of Bruce working solo before they got back to the island! An episode of Alfred and Selina on their own! Batman isn’t a solitary hero. He needs his allies. And it would be nice to have that demonstrated definitively in this specific universe by taking away the two people that have served as his primary supports.

Season five Lee is basically season two Lee again. I’ve seen other people complaining about that on Tumblr only to be met with the condescending response that we just don’t appreciate that an ordinary woman can be just as interesting as the Queen of the Narrows. That’s an inaccurate assessment of why we find it annoying. It’s not about Lee’s role in the story or position, it’s about character growth. While where she ended up in season five could have been interesting and earned…we missed a few steps. And honestly? Missed steps or no, I also think season four Lee was closer to being like the Leslie Thompkins of the comics than season five Lee could ever be. She was harder, she was tougher, she’d stopped worrying about anything other than the people of the Narrows and how she could help them. Season five Lee isn’t a result of growth past her dark phase. It’s just her regressing in the most boring way. Which brings us to the next way in which the season has been a bit of a disappointment – the lack of regard for continuity.

Continuity And Timelines

The way continuity used to work in Gotham is that everyone did so many terrible things to each other, that they eventually had to start prioritizing. They’d set aside grudges and feuds, sometimes forever, because they needed the help of whoever they were feuding with to handle something else. There would be nods to past feuds or events, but there would always be something driving them forward so that while past events happened, the focus remained on what was to come. But in season five, it just feels like they’re ignoring all those past events.

Arguably the longest lasting grudge was Lee and Barbara’s – Lee was still mad at Barbara until literally the most recent episode. Unlike most others grudges, this one didn’t fade. Even when Lee had other priorities, she never let go of the fact Barbara tried to kill her. This extended to her being upset at Jim for sleeping with her. Which would have been fine and consistent and logical…except no one brought up Ed.

It’s not that I expected Lee – or even Jim – to point out that it’s hypocritical for Lee to be mad about Jim sleeping with the woman that tried to kill her when she herself had been involved with the man that framed Jim for murder and got him tossed in Arkham. But the fact that no one did, not Harvey or Barbara or any of the people that knew about Lee and Ed’s relationship felt more like a dismissal of continuity and everything that happened in season four than it did an intentional characterization decision. Doubly so in that there was pretty much no conclusion to what happened between those two.

Season four could have been a solid ending for Lee and Ed. They literally stabbed each other! If that’s not a send off for their relationship, I don’t know what is. Problem is, they came back. And not just as minor characters, as characters with pretty substantive plots going on. Had they just not appeared in the season and we were left knowing Hugo Strange had brought them back or had they been in smaller roles that didn’t explore any of their thoughts, feelings, and histories, it would have definitely felt like a cop out…but it also wouldn’t have left us with this awkward situation we got the briefest mention of what happened between them – via Ed telling Lee that she stabbed him first – without it affecting them in any lasting way. The way Lee and Jim left things in season four also felt like a very definitive ending. They weren’t angry with each other anymore, but they weren’t about to get back together, either. Cue season five, where they decided, screw that! They should get married!

The idea of reunification has been a Yo-Yo Plot Point all season. As a result, episodes that are probably good out of context feel like they’re just taking up space and time because they don’t have lasting consequences. Like, what does it matter that Jeremiah dumped chemicals into the river and stopped reunification? The river was cleaned up off screen by the next episode and reunification was on the table again anyway. It’s been going on all season, and it’s getting stale. That kind of back and forth plot with no resolution is fine when it comes to things like relationships and feuds because we’re talking about villains doing bad things, and it’s not like they’re always getting mad about the same thing. But when it comes to the overarching story rather than the characters…it’s just not fun.

All this lack of regard for continuity is even more apparent when you think about how the season four finale ended – the Rogues were all dividing up territory! As I brought up earlier, Selina and Alfred were about to leave the island! But then in season five, Alfred and Selina turned out to have not gone anywhere, and some of the Rogues that were carving up the city, like Firefly and Mr. Freeze, haven’t been seen at all. Even disregarding how the events of this season fit in with the previous seasons, the timeline is a mess! It’s all over the place! Some episodes take place over the span of a few hours or days, either immediately before or after the events of a different episode. Others take place over weeks or months, well after whatever happened in the previous episode. At the end of one episode, Barbara announced she was pregnant. The episode after that was about the couple days after that announcement, and the one immediately after that was her giving birth. The GCPD took back the rest of the city from the gangs and cleaned up the river and whatever else they were doing all off screen! Between episodes! Do I know why they’ve been doing that? Sure. They only had ten episodes to work with, then got two added after the fact. They had a plan as to how they wanted to end the show, and ultimately had to cram it into fewer episodes than they wanted to, with the additional two episodes not being helpful as more than filler because they weren’t told they had them until late in the game. But my understanding doesn’t make it any less messy.

The Newfound Obsession With Elements Of The Mythos

What’s great about Gotham is how it’s an amalgamation of different DC canons. Throughout all the seasons, the creators have taken bits and pieces from comics and movies, blended them with the familiar notes that everyone knows, and put their own unique spin on it to make something that, while very recognizably Batman, is still something we haven’t seen before. Which is why the way this season has handled the Joker and Bane isn’t particularly appealing to me.

I love Jeremiah. And that’s honestly surprising to me because I almost never care about the Joker. The Dark Knight, while a movie I have complicated feelings about, is one where pretty much everyone, regardless of their feelings towards the movie as a whole, adores Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. For me…he was very good, but I think Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face was better! (Actually, I have complicated feelings about that, too, but more in terms of the writing than the acting, and either way, this isn’t the place. But if anyone wants to talk about that…I could talk all day. With dramatic gestures.) I wasn’t left in awe of the Joker! I don’t consider that the greatest villain performance ever or anything. Similarly, Gotham viewers loved Jerome. But Jerome always kind of bored me. He didn’t come across as particularly threatening. He was overshadowed by many of the other villains. Not the case with Jeremiah. But the writers were so fixated on the idea of the Joker and creating this rivalry with Bruce, it felt as if they started buying into the idea that’s been propagated lately about the Joker as the single most important Batman villain, with the biggest role in Bruce’s life, and decided that it’s essential they bring that part of the mythos into the show. The thing is…that’s been so shoehorned in, it falls a bit flat.

In the comics, if we accept it as true that Bruce has any more focus on the Joker than any of his other villains, the only reason for that is that the Joker has hurt his family more directly. Since that family doesn’t exist here, we’re getting Jeremiah pushed in some really awkward ways. It’s not solely a season five problem – the origins of this awkward pushing go back all the way to season two with Jerome. Selina getting shot in season four was very clearly a shout out to The Killing Joke, which I didn’t love that for a lot of reasons. But it’s a problem that’s most glaring here. The allusions to the mythos didn’t feel nearly as much there for the sake of the checkbox as the Ace Chemicals thing or Ecco as a stand in for Harley. Those weren’t necessary, there was no build up. Jeremiah learning about Bruce’s parents and fixating on him so much as his best friend ended up feeling like they were adding more elements of Harvey Dent – who we haven’t seen in forever and who wasn’t much like his comics counterpart – to Jeremiah and making him some strange composite character than actually giving us organic growth to increase Jeremiah’s importance.

On top of all that, neither Bane nor the introduction of Nyssa has done anything for me. For a start, they were both whitewashed, which sucks. Especially because Ra’s wasn’t.  That was great casting, and the first time that the role hasn’t been whitewashed, which made it all the more disappointing to see Bane and Nyssa whitewashed. Even outside of the casting issue, everything about the two of them comes across as derivative of something else. They marked off the checkbox of “Bane breaks Bruce’s back” with a forced, awkwardly crammed in visual of him tossing Alfred to the side. It’s empty. Is Knightfall a good story? Sure. But trying to tie it in here is trite and unnecessary. And a lot of the rest of it comes across as a ripoff of The Dark Knight Rises, just with Nyssa replacing Talia, from the general “Ra’s’s daughter wants revenge” to the specific quotes they use. That’s unfortunate, because Gotham hasn’t actually done that before. Not that directly. It’s always putting unique spins on whatever they’re homaging in a given instant. But this season has just been painfully lazy.  It means that they really have to land the last two episodes to ensure that the show gets a good send off. Unfortunately, some of what we know about them is making me very nervous.

The Finale

From what I understand, Camren Bicondova won’t be playing Selina Kyle in the flash forward. This was a surprise to learn, and I’m still kind of crossing my fingers and hoping it isn’t true. But if it is…yikes.

I had my reservations when I learned that the finale will be set in the future. I discussed that a little here. After we found out how it was going to go in regards to Bruce – David Mazouz’s head imposed on a double’s body – those reservations were mostly centred around whether it would look weird or if Mazouz looks too young to convincingly pass as someone a decade older. But now we’re going back to my original concern: they’re really giving us a finale without all the characters we’ve spent five seasons with. By the time the finale airs, we’ll have spent ninety nine episodes with Bicondova as Selina. We’ve spent so many episodes with them

And what’s worse is there’s no actual reason for the recasting.

It can’t be about age, because they’re using Mazouz for Bruce. It can’t be about “looking like the character” because not only does Lili Simmons, who will apparently be playing older Selina, not bear much more resemblance to the comics version of the character than Bicondova does, they made a decision when they cast Bicondova to begin with that it would be absurd to walk back on now. It can’t be about ability to play the character because Bicondova has owned the role for years, has the athletic skills necessarily to pull off whatever she needs to, and besides, there’s no reason they can’t impose her face on a double as they’re doing with Mazouz if there were major stunts involved. There is absolutely no legitimate reason that Bicondova can’t play adult Selina.

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Simmons doesn’t look dissimilar to Bicondova. But the ways in which she looks different aren’t exactly ways that are believable changes with age. When you consider the fact that she is a few years older, considerably taller, and has a narrower face…it ends up feeling like a rehash of what they did with Ivy. It feels like they’re saying that Bicondova was good enough to play teenage Selina, but they have a rigid image of an adult Catwoman that they’re not willing to budge on, no matter how perfectly Bicondova played the role. And as unpleasant as it is, the rigid image is a very specific “sexiness”,  regardless how little sense that makes for this version of the character. The creators can’t envision a Catwoman that’s not tall and slender and sultry. It doesn’t matter to them that Camren Bicondova is both gorgeous and a great Selina because they apparently care more about their ideal Catwoman aesthetic than they do all the fantastic quirks and nuances to her performance that can’t just be duplicated.

I have nothing against Simmons. I don’t even know who she is. But if this is really happening, it’s gross. Bicondova deserves better than being tossed aside after spending five seasons developing this character. Selina deserves better than to be diminished to just the way she looks. And the audience deserves better than this kind of ending.


Now, look. Gotham is almost always an enjoyable time. Even though I haven’t loved this season, it’s had many good moments. It’s been fun to watch. And perhaps my expectations were unreasonably high going into this season just because of how much I loved season four. But I can’t help but be disappointed anyway. Final seasons should be a culmination of the best parts of a show. They should involve the writers learning from what worked in the previous seasons and learning from their missteps to come up with something amazing. They should remind the audience of why they love the show at all. Gotham‘s season five hasn’t done any of that. After the last two episodes air, I’ll be much more positive and focusing on everything I love about the show, because it’s a lot. But I just had to make note of what I found frustrating first.