With half the penultimate episode and the finale left, the most recent season of Orange is the New Black has been maybe not that good.
I have said this before, both on this blog and elsewhere: if you are ever compelled, as a writer in any medium, to create a scenario where your characters are complaining about how dumb your plot is, it is probably time to stop and think very carefully about what you are doing. If you are writing a show called Iron Fist, about a man whose job it is to be the Iron Fist, and the very first line a character says upon meeting him is “You are the worst Iron Fist ever,” you may be doing something wrong. It is possible to write a good story about a hero who is terrible at being a hero. But if you do that, then that’s what your story needs to be about. You can’t have a hero who is terrible at being a hero and have your story be about something else. The fact that he or she is terrible is going to take center stage and ruin everything else.
Enter Iron Fist, whose writers clearly do not read my blog. This post is unnecessary in a whole lot of ways; it took me a while to get through all thirteen episodes– mostly because, again, the show’s awful– and everyone who binged it right away has already weighed in on how bad it is. They’re all right. But maybe there’s someone out there who isn’t attuned to the geek press all that much, but reads me for some reason. Someone who might be saved.
Please don’t watch this show.
And this doofy shit is the main reason why. Now, let’s be clear about a few things: there was a lot of fooferal when the show hadn’t quite come out yet about the fact that Marvel cast a white guy as Iron Fist instead of racebending the character and casting an Asian person instead. I am sympathetic to those concerns, to say the least. But even if you’re going to cast a white guy as Iron Fist, because the comic book character is white, Finn Jones is just about the worst possible choice to play the role. He is awful; awful in every way, he is written to be awful, and the man himself does nothing to corral or channel(*) his character’s intrinsic awfulness. There is nothing Finn Jones does in this show at any point that is convincing. He cannot do kung fu, he cannot emote beyond an infantile shaking rage, he absolutely cannot spout anything even vaguely resembling Buddhist philosophy (and I choose the word “resembling” quite deliberately) without sounding like a hipster doofus, and he never once comes off as heroic. Iron Fist is a sulky hipster doofus with PTSD and all the emotional stability of a ten-year-old. He is awful.
So is every other white man on the show, by the way. The show can’t have anyone keep a personality or a set of motivations straight for more than an episode at a time, and there are never ever ever any consequences for anyone’s actions, to the point where there are giant holes blown in one character’s dojo’s ceiling at one point so that machine-gun ninjas can drop through (don’t ask) and those giant holes and broken windows and such are never mentioned again. Characters display magical powers in one episode and then forget they have them. Characters are killed, thrown into fish tanks in someone’s home, then never mentioned again.
You could cut every white male character completely out of the show and nothing of any significance would change, at all. They are, all of them, awful.
Let’s talk about these three:
I’m having a hell of a time getting the HTML to cooperate, so forgive me, but these three are the only thing that makes the show even vaguely watchable. Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen Wing, should have been playing Dani Rand. Or, alternatively, you could grab this drunken-master badass here– his name is Lewis Tan and he actually auditioned for the park– and have him play Danny Rand. Between the two of them they are responsible for 100% of the interesting fight scenes in the show. Every single one. They are also both better actors than Finn Jones. Wai Ching Ho also returns as Madame Gao, and she’s amazing for every second she’s on screen even if her character’s motivations (and abilities) are more than a little bit of a mess. The fact that the show had these three people in it and more or less ignored them so that Jones could whine about how tough it is to be white and immensely wealthy and oh also one of the best martial artists in the world but MY PARENTS ARE DEAAADD!!!!
It’s terrible. But I think I said that. I think the only thing that could redeem it is if I watched it again, liveblogged every episode, and then turned it into a chapbook to sell on Amazon and made a million dollars.
(*) So, Iron Fist’s powers come from channeling the power of his “chi” into his fist, making it Like Unto a Thing of Iron, as the comic books used to say all the time and the TV show never does. TV Danny can’t do that. I have quite a few Iron Fist comic books, and even more where Iron Fist isn’t the main character but shows up, and I swear to you that Finn Jones does more wanking about his chi in this thirteen hours of show than Iron Fist has done in his entire forty-year history as a comic book character previous to the show coming up. Comic book Danny Rand’s powers just work, basically whenever he wants them to. TV Danny Rand’s chi must be balanced, charged, recharged, harnessed, centered, purified, unblocked, hell, every verb in the English language gets applied to Danny’s chi at some point or another; I’m surprised he never has to Smurf the fucking thing. And hearing him talk about it never stops being ridiculous. Mostly his powers just don’t work, and mostly his powers don’t work because, in one way or another, he’s an embarrassment to his order and to his job. He’s the worst Iron Fist ever. Really.
I hated this damn show.
I haven’t heard any buzz about this program at all, and only found out about it because I was scrolling through Netflix menus pretty much at random– any of you Netflix folks watching 3%? We’re only three episodes in, so consider this a conditional recommendation, but so far my lovely wife and I are both finding the show to be pretty compelling science fiction. The disadvantage: it’s dubbed from Portuguese, so when I say things like “the acting is good,” which is a thing I’d say about this show, what I basically mean is that the actors look like they’re acting well, and the English speakers they’ve hired to overdub their voices usually don’t suck that much.
The premise, so far: it is The Future, and The Future appears to really suck for everyone who lives in what I assume is still called Brazil. Each year everyone who turns 20 is eligible to take a series of tests that only the titular 3% will pass. Those who pass are able to go to “the Offshore,” which…
…well, none of them seem to know what the Offshore is, they just really really hope it’s better than the shit dystopia they live in now, and no scenes have been set in the Offshore yet, so the viewers don’t have any idea either. So, really Hunger Gamesy, but done pretty well. Three episodes in, we’re still all testing, and the tests have been varied and interesting enough to keep us watching. If this is what the entire first season is about, it might be a problem, but so far? So good.
Anybody else watching this? If not, anybody want to start so I have someone to talk to about it?
Let’s not bury the lede here: if you haven’t already inhaled the 8 episodes of Stranger Things that Netflix made available a month or so ago, you owe it to yourself to do it right now. I’ve watched enough Netflix original series to confidently state it’s the best thing they’ve ever done. It’s worth paying for Netflix all by itself. Sign yourself up for a month and consider the $8 or whatever they charge a rental fee for this one show. It’s well worth it. This goes double if you are just past or nearing 40 years of age and you associate the 1980s with your childhood in any way.
I don’t even know where to start, guys. Stranger Things is roughly what would happen if Stephen King and Steven Spielberg had a TV-show baby together and then Wes Craven and Robert Englund raised that baby together, but only after having a custody battle with Gary Gygax and deciding that he could have the kid every third weekend of the month. I have nearly nothing bad to say about it other than that there is a little romance subplot that might maybe be a tiny bit unnecessary. Maybe. I dunno. And I occasionally felt like the kid on the left in the picture below had some unclear motivations for some of the things he did. That’s it.
Let’s start with the cast:
I don’t know who any of these actors are. In fact, other than Winona Ryder, who plays the mother of the missing boy that kicks off the mystery of the entire series, I can’t name a single actor in the series. They’re all unknowns, at least to me, and in all honesty it had been enough time since I’d seen Winona Ryder in anything (and she disappears completely enough into her character) that if her name hadn’t been in the opening credits I wouldn’t have recognized her either.
The kids– all four of them, but most particularly the young lady who plays Eleven (on the right) and the tubby kid in the hat in the middle– are magnificent. The adults are great. The older teenagers are great. And Ryder turns in the performance of her career.
I won’t get too far into the plot. A young boy goes missing, and a young girl with mysterious powers escapes from a Gubmint Facility in a small town in Indiana. She ends up taking refuge with the friends of the missing kid, and hilarious and/or horrifying hijinks ensue. The show has mysteries wrapped in mysteries, and they don’t bother to solve all of them by the end of the series (in fact, they introduce two more prominent ones in the show’s last few minutes) but the resolutions they do provide are satisfying as hell. By the halfway point it was clear that there were a number of ways for this show to End Wrong; I’m happy to say it didn’t. I don’t know for sure that there’s a second season coming, but I sure as hell hope there is. And, weirdly, even if they never answer a few of the show’s questions and it’s a one-shot season? That’s okay. They earned the right to end the show on a bit of a cliffhanger (sort of) if they wanted to. Ending with some things for the fanbase to keep talking about after the season is a good thing.
Another thing: at eight episodes, this thing is perfectly paced. I feel like even a thirteen-episode season would have felt padded out, and at eight they’ve trimmed all the fat they might need to out of their narrative and it feels like every episode contributes meaningfully to the overall arc of the show. The show’s a masterclass in direction and pacing, folks.
I can’t wait to see what everyone involved in this show does next, honestly. Do what you need to do to see it.
Day Three of guest blogs; there will be one more tomorrow morning, although it won’t be strictly necessary since I’ll be home. I’m incredibly proud that James trusts me enough to let me run this; it’s an amazing piece and it deserves more attention than I’m probably able to produce for it. That said, for the second time in two days, I’m gonna let y’all have a trigger warning, as this one also could be hard to read.
I do not have the sort of readership who I need to warn to behave in comments, so I won’t.
Man, I hope this con is going well.
We were sitting in the room together, me and my friends. I’d been warned, and so I warned them.
“I might need to leave the room while we’re watching, just so you know.”
“So… Pause it?”
“No, uh, I was told there was some content I might not be able to handle. So if I can’t handle it…”
“Got it, so you want us to give a holler when it would be over?”
“Yes, that would be wonderful.” I love my friends, it was good they got it, without me having to explain further. I tucked the blanket under my feet. Good, we can finally watch Jessica Jones.
I’d been waiting for this show for a while now, but I’d been scared. I thought about watching it alone, but I decided it was a bad idea. I’ve mostly dealt with my issues, mostly, but some things don’t ever really go away, you just hope you dealt with them enough to that you can stop dealing with them on a day to day basis. Eventually you stop crying yourself to sleep, eventually you stop having to leave parties because you feel so worthless you can’t stand being around people. Eventually you stop yelling at people for what seems like no reason when they say something innocuous about a TV show. Eventually.
But it still comes up. A few months ago I drove down to visit a friend, and he decided to show me one of his favorite story arcs of a show I’d only seen the first season of: the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. We were watching it, eating sloppy Taco Bell food and discussing things when there wasn’t much dialogue. Usual, normal.
Then the scene happened.
When I next was in control of myself, I was in a Wal-Mart. I’d driven there, I guess, I mean, I had to have. The tiles in front of me were strangely white against the florescent light. I had put my shoes on, but I hadn’t grabbed my coat. I recalled that it had been dark outside, that was something. I had texts on my phone, and I reassured my friend I was okay. I’d lost maybe twenty minutes. This hadn’t happened in years. It was terrifying. I paced the aisles, and decided I’d try to fix one of the license plate lights on my car. I went out to it. I found what kind of light I needed. I bought it, and realized I didn’t have a screwdriver. I bought a screwdriver. I went back in because it was the wrong kind of screwdriver. I bought another screwdriver. My hands shook. I fixed the damn light, and went back into the Wal-Mart, shielded by its 24-hour capitalism. Eventually, I cooled down enough to drive back to my friend’s. The roads were empty. I put on “Keep the Streets Empty for Me” by Fever Ray, because a lack of subtlety is my specialty.
When I got back, I tried to play it cool. I got hugs. I hated that this still affected me.
What exactly happened to me doesn’t matter. Don’t ask. Its not even one thing. That’s not the point here. I’m not telling. I don’t want to tell you.
What does matter, is that I watched Jessica Jones, and my hands froze. This might sound strange, but it was a reassuring reaction. Usually, when sexual assault is portrayed in media, its for shock value. It happens so people can react to it. Its a motivator, and then the heroes can sweep in and save the day, or whatever. Sometimes what happens isn’t even treated as a serious issue, its laughed off, its forgotten about the next episode, or the perpetrator is brought into the main cast. Sometimes, I just can’t take seeing it. Sometimes, the only thing my body can do is run. And then I end up in a Wall-Mart in the middle of the night.
But when I watched Jessica Jones, I didn’t run. It was hard to watch. My hands froze: I couldn’t make my fingers move, and I was sure the guy next to me could hear me whispering to my fists “come on, you can do it, you can do it…” as I slowly got my arms to work, then each of my fingers (my legs followed after), but I didn’t run. Sure, I cried myself to sleep later, but whatever. There was something different about this show, and while it was difficult, it felt safe in a way it didn’t usually feel, because the show understood that Jessica Jones wasn’t a victim to be saved, but a person who had to keep living her damn life.
So often when rape or sexual assault is portrayed, the narrative treats the survivors of the assault as needing to be redeemed. They need to be saved. They need to be purified. But we were never dirty, we were never in need of redemption. We were just us, and people did horrible things to us, but fuck them not us. Jessica Jones isn’t broken, she has PTSD. She uses techniques to get herself steadied and stop dissociation I’ve used and seen others use. She goes to work, she does her job, she has friends, she lives her life, she has flashbacks, she struggles, but she lives. She pushes other people away, she lashes out at people she shouldn’t, she has problems, she won’t ask for help and hates it when people do things for her, and I know exactly how she feels.
David Tennant plays Killgrave, aka the Purple Man, aka the scariest character ever, who manages to pick up on so many traits of rapists and abusers that you could probably make some sort of checklist out of them. He controls your mind, and honestly I can’t think of a better analog for the feeling of powerlessness that those things do to you. There is damage done by it. His careless hedonistic evil is so casual, so compassionless, and so shockingly real. At one point in the show, spoilers, he makes Jessica send him a picture of her every day at a set time. He doesn’t need to do this, he can mind control people to take her picture if he wanted to. No, he wants the power over her. He wants to know she is under his thumb. To me, Killgrave is the scariest villain, because he is the villain I know. He is the villain who is given fist bumps over beers afterwards, and the one who is defended later. He’s the one people don’t unfriend on Facebook, because sure what he did was wrong, but everyone makes mistakes. I’m sure you both did something wrong, they will continue. Smile, they’ll say, he’ll say. The look in their eyes will tell you they think it shouldn’t bother you anymore. They’ll call you broken behind your back.
I got my fingers unclenched, and I could move. I’d conquered by body, and I could enjoy the rest of the episode. It was still hard to watch, but it understood. It understood like so few people really did, that you can heal the damage, wipe away the bruises, but the damage lingers inside you. And I’m damaged, but I’m not broken. I’m a superhero. And even if you ran away, you are too.