What ho Wee Readers, I hope you are all as well as can be hoped for in this desperate time of ours. For me myself, I’ve beaten the deep apathy I developed for finishing a book during the lockdown – and am well on my way to completing my GoodReads Reading Challenge. Please do not check if that is true, until at least a week after you’ve read this post, come on at least give me a chance to back up my lies with some facts.
Joking aside, my recent renewed interest in reading is why I’ve chosen this topic for my Post today. I have just – just being a relative term of course – finished a book called Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon’s Firefly Universe, which is a book of essays regarding the (at time of the book’s release), ‘recent’ film Serenity, and the show Firefly of which it was a sequel to. Now, before we get into anything deeper, I’d just like to say that I love the show Firefly. I think it’s a brilliantly written thing, with a cast of funny and likable characters. Really the only actual problem I can see with the show, and by extension the film itself is the lack of diversity in both the main cast and the background players. And when I say lack of diversity, I don’t actually mean that they’re all just white people – although let’s be honest in a Joss Whedon run project, that would not have been surprising – there are people of colour in the main cast. Rather, that seeing as it is set in a world where America and China have combined to become one giant space faring society – and part of the show’s world flavor comes from the interaction of Chinese and America culture – it’s strange that there are no Chinese members of the cast.
And it’s even weirded that the narrative doesn’t comment on it at all – in this Chinese inspired world, where are all the Chinese people? Something to think on certainly, but not why we’re here today. No, why we’re here today is the book called Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon’s Firefly Universe. Which is a very good book, full of essays that are insightful, and filled with interesting points of view on this fascinating world. Unfortunately, we’re not going to talk about that today, no instead we’re going to zero in on one small problem I found both in this book and its predecessor.
If I asked you to tell me what you liked about something, say a particular work of fiction, or what you thought made it such a fascinating story – how would you answer that question? Would you tell me about your favourite character, how you were drawn to them? Would you tell me about the dialogue, and the general writing of the story? Might you even tell me about the themes, and what you thought the message of the tale was? All good things, that if I asked that question, I clearly want to know your oppion on. But you know what I don’t want to hear…
“Well, unlike [entirely different piece of fiction that in no way relates to the one I ask about] …”
Basically, if I buy a book of essays about ‘Firefly’ or its film ‘Serenity’; then I clearly want to hear the authors oppion on those two works of fiction – what I did not pay for, were the authors oppions on Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate SG1, or any of the other dozen or so shows they whined about. Now don’t get me wrong I love Star Wars, see my previous posts on the subject if you don’t belive me:
I love Star Trek – the majority of their shows, anyway.
And I have no strong oppion on Stargate SG1 whatsoever.
They just weren’t why I bought that book.
Now all these essays were written by intelligent people, who had clearly thought out and carefully structured their argument to the full height of effectiveness. And yet time, and time again we get paragraph after paragraph explaining why Firefly is good, not simply because it is a well written piece of art – but because it is better than other pieces of art. In a sense we cannot truly see (or at least discuss) Firefly’s brilliance, without first illustrating why everything else is stupid.
We cannot speak about its strong female characters, and how great it is that they are allowed to be both strong and feminine, without first delving into why Stargate SG1 did not do this.
We cannot speak about the cleverness of the character’s banter, and Firefly’s humour – without first asserting that ‘Star Wars’ has no humour whatsoever. (A fact that was not true in the 1970s, and is still not true now).
We cannot speak about the depth of the characters, and the skill that must have gone into writing them – without first clarifying characters on Star Trek mount to little nothing but their job title. And if you think differently than clearly, you’ve just been tricked by a good actor.
Is this starting to sound annoying, or repetitive – good because that’s how I felt reading it. Now, I know what some of you might be thinking – Wee Lassie, aren’t you over reacting? Sure, it’s annoying for an essay to go out of its way to insult more than one of your favourite franchises, but aren’t they just discussing the market? Showing the reader where ‘Firefly’ and ‘Serenity’ stands in the great tapestry of Science Fiction? What, in a sense makes it stand out? And while I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily wrong – it felt more than that reading it.
It felt like Firefly couldn’t just be a good show, worth watching – it had to be better than everything else. Otherwise, it was nothing at all.
It felt like they weren’t just critiquing bits of other Science Fiction – but tearing them down, so Firefly could be built up in their stead.
Sure, in most ‘social worlds’ competition can be healthy – even in the market of Science Fiction. But my question is, at what point are we taking it too far? At what point are we competing not because we want to grow and succeed as people, or creators, or what not – but because we simply have no other way to communicate? At what point is it no longer enough for something to simply be good in of itself to be worth something?
And this attitude is evident in not just Science Fiction communities – but our wider culture as well. Think of any piece of popular culture, media, or online discussion that tries to be ‘feminist’ by implying that woman are innately better than men. Usually because men are depicted as stupid, or simple, or lazy, or just not as good as the fabulous women in the show/film/ anecdote. Don’t look at me like that, we’ve all seen something like this at least once in our lives.
But this I would like to point out is not actual feminism, because real feminism is about lifting people up to be on an even keel with each other; not tearing them down. There’s another word for that, but it’s not feminism. This notion – that to be a proper feminist property your female characters have to be superior in every way to their male counterparts – is an innately sexist one, really on both sides of the supposed gender wars. On the male side, it shows young boys that they don’t have the right to be respected, even if they’re good people. While on the female side, it heaps untold pressure onto young girls – to not only succeed in the specific way our culture deems appropriate, but to outcompete their male co-workers. It is no longer enough to be a strong and successful woman, now they have to be stronger and more successful than men (their competitors) – otherwise they haven’t accomplished anything at all.
And there’s that same notion again – the notion that if there are no losers in this game of life, how can there ever be winners?
This is not an indictment of competition in of itself – sometimes it is good to push ourselves to strive to the standards of others in our field. Rather it’s the indictment of the filter of competition, or the language of it. That is when the only way our society can express approval of a work of art, a political movement, a real living human being, is through putting down someone or something else. Has our world view become just a little skewed? Do we really have no other way of viewing or describing our world, but by these kill or be killed standards?
But what do you think? Am I blowing this all out of proportion? Part of me hopes I am – but I’ve seen people go ballistic with the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate, so I don’t really think so. Let me know down in the comments, its why I have them in the first place.
If you’ve enjoyed this wee rant of mine – much shorter than usual, but that’s not always a bad thing – why not follow the Wee Blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter,Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and Goodreads for all that good stuff. And don’t forget to sign up to the Wee Mailing list by the 21st of December for a special Christmas-themed addition of the Newsletter. Until next time Wee Readers, stay safe, stay strong and a have a very bonny day.
Okay, hold your loved ones tight Wee Readers, it’s time for anecdote. When my grandmother was a little girl she went to a posh girl’s school, because of her high IQ. But it’s important to note that though she was not posh, at all back then, many of her classmates were. In fact, they were the posh of the posh, they were the upper-class. The kind of people that take their children on fox hunts.
Now sometimes when these posh of the posh girls would come back from their summer holidays, it would be noticed that they had dried blood behind their ears, or sometimes still smeared across their faces. My god, I hear you saying, what had happened to these poor children during their summer holidays? Aha, say I – but I’ve already given you the answer already. You see, when a young person – and we are talking young here, these were children – participates in their first fox hunt, when the fox is caught its blood is smeared over the child’s face and worst of all, if you can belive it, they’re not allowed to wash it off. It has to be left to dry and flake off by itself.
A disgusting, foul smelling thing that no longer feels like it should belong in our modern world – speaking of which….
Let’s talk about Downton Abbey.
For those lucky few not in the know, Downtown Abbey was a historical drama set just after the sinking of the titanic, written by Julian Fellows, that ran from 2010 to 2015, and later received a follow up film in 2019, with a sequel planned for 2022. The series started off with a strong first season, with good dialogue and intriguing plot twists ripped right from real stories of the time, but gradually declined in quality. Season two while not the worst the series would ever produce, was mainly pulled along by the natural intrigue of WWI, and seasons three-six coasted on soap-opera like shockers, when they weren’t just repeating their own stories over and over again. I think even fans of the show would agree, that this was not a well written series.
But what I find sad is that it didn’t really have to be, as I said before the first season was actually decent up to a point, and even the later seasons had glimmers of something. Story threads that could have gone somewhere, characters that were occasionally likable. The setting at least should have provided it with many interesting turns for the story. But nothing ever came of it; and I always wondered why, and then I watched the film and suddenly everything was so bright and clear. Oh, not because it was a good film, or in the least entertaining, it’s not, it’s trash from start to finish – in fact in some ways it’s actually much worse than the tv show; because as a film the expectations for it are automatically much higher. You were given a film to play with Julian Fellows, kindly please do something with it other than meander around for two hours. I mean the closest thing we got to a main story, was the servant subplot where they kidnapped the visiting royal staff so they could serve the King and Queen instead. This is not what I wanted from the writer of Lady Sybil’s death scene.
No what made everything so much clearer to me is because the writing was so bad, any form of subtlety with the underlying message of Downton, in a sense the reason the whole phenomena was started, had been dropped. And what is that message you might ask, well my dear wee reader, it’s the warm feeling of nostalgia you might have looking back on a happy time in your childhood, or in fact any time before this whole Covid mess began. But Downton doesn’t want you feeling that way about things that actually matter to your life; no Downton has its priorities right – it wants you feeling that way about the past, sure, but the distant past. The past where the upper class ruled benignly over counties, that really needed them to survive. Where Masters and servants coexisted in a wonderful symbiotic relationship, and were basically family.
Of course, such a time never existed but that won’t stop Downton from spinning its enchanted tale of the place. Weren’t things just so much better? The poor happier and more content – the decent ones anyway – and the rich finally allowed to show just how regal and elegant they could be?
Don’t you wish you could live back then? That today’s world could be more like that?
And now we’ve found the trap.
Everything in Downton, every plot thread, every character you may love or hate is used for this purpose. Don’t belive me, let’s take a look.
I think even fans of Lady Mary can admit that she was a bit of a b word, she was intentionally written that way so that when she met the middle-class heir, and her ice queen tendencies would begin to unthaw, we could see the real, feeling person hidden underneath. Or at least I assume that was the intention, honestly to me the happier Mary grew with her situation the less her actress seemed to care about her performance. But regardless I’m getting off track.
The point of Mary as a character is to highlight how the rich suffer, nothing less and nothing more. That is not to say that as a woman in the early 20th century Mary does not suffer – indeed the main plot of the show is kicked off by the fact that due to a specific law in Britain at the time, Mary as a woman cannot inherit either her father’s estate or her mother’s inheritance. But when we look at her life through the lens of the time in which she lived, rather than are own, we might discover that Mary’s troubles are not in fact the great hardships, or soap opera-esc drama the narrative encourages us to see them as.
Yes, in comparison with some women today, Mary has significantly less rights and power in her situation – but she is still the eldest (and favored) daughter of the earl of Grantham. She lives a luxurious life waited on by an entire army of servants. I know all this by fact, and yet when I re-watched season one I felt genuine pity for Lady Mary, nay a genuine desire to see her succeed and obtain Downton Abbey for her own. And then I had to stop and think… why? What actually made Mary more deserving of Downton and all its wealth, than Mathew or any other inbred twit that came to claim it?
Because she’s an Earl’s daughter?
Because she’s a woman?
That can’t be it, if real feminism has taught us anything it’s that a person’s worth, or their abilities cannot truly be judged by their gender. And yet through the cunning manipulation of the basic form of feminism – i.e., woman is kept from something that she would have automatically received had she been born with a Y chromosome – Fellows manages to make the audience root for a character who is at their very core, a terrible human being.
Which is the point, the Crawleys shouldn’t have to change to win the plebian audience’s approval, the audience must change their mind.
But then again, she’s not by far the most manipulatively written character of this kind on the show. For instance, I can legitimately say that she’s a terrible person and probably not get much push back down in the comments. Which is in slight contrast to our next piece on the board.
Like her sister before her Lady Edith is the embodiment of the plight of the wealthy, or at least the wealthy young woman. While there are some ‘feminist’ leanings to her character, like her running a magazine, and her journalist carrier – for the most part Fellows gains the audience sympathy, not by leaning into any outer social justice cause, but just by shitting on her. From the first moment she appears on screen, in actual mourning for her dead cousin – Lady Edith is treated like garbage by almost every member of her family, with only Lady Sybil showing any sympathy. Which is its own problem, but I’ll get into that later.
She’s left at the alter by her elderly fiancé, conceives a child out of wedlock and is forced to hide it, and has her long awaited happily ever after yanked away not one episode from the final by her spiteful sister, Mary. Who then goes onto have her own literal fairy-tale wedding in the very next episode – I know, I know I shouldn’t be getting hung up on that, but it’s just so annoying.
The trick here is that unlike Mary, her suffering is not merely seen by the audience’s modern perspective – Edith is suffering no matter what value system you subscribe to. It sucks that she can’t come right out and say this is my daughter, it sucks that she’s left at the altar, it sucks that her family talks about her like she’s a hideously deformed beast, despite the fact that by most people’s standards she’s still very pretty.
So, it’s very easy and very understandable to feel pity for Edith Crawley, and yet we mustn’t forget as the show clearly wants us to, that Edith’s troubles are not the height of tragedy the post WWI world had to offer. Indeed, that’s true even on the show itself. Yes, it sucks that she had to hide her daughter but unlike say someone like Housemaid Ethel, she gets to keep her child – after some chicanery with the Drewe farm.
And speaking of the Drewe Family, can we just stop for a second, and speak about how absolutely terribly they were treated by the Crawleys and Edith in particular. They take in this child, raise it like their own for the first – I don’t know how time works on Downton, people don’t age normally, but let’s say – year of their life, with the wife completely ignorant of any connection the child might have to the Crawleys of Downton Abbey. All the while Lady Edith seems to have taken a random liking to the girl, and keeps popping in, gradually eroding more and more of the Drewe Family’s privacy. Eventually it all comes out, and the little orphan girl turns out to be Lady Edith’s love child; so, when she’s snatched away by her birth mother, not only do the Drew’s have no legal claim to this child that they have loved and cared for her entire life, but after an unfortunate incident where Mrs. Drewe tries to take the baby back, now they’ve even lost their farm, and their livelihood.
I suppose it just goes to show, that just because Lady Edith’s own suffering is genuine, doesn’t mean she’s not capable of inflicting it on others.
It’s so bad that even Robert Crawley, high lord of all of the Downton world, has to comment on how badly the poor Drewes have been treated. I mean he does nothing to fix it, but he gets to mention it, thus making him seem somewhat more reasonable than the women in his family. Speaking of which…
When you think of Downtown Abbey and Creator’s pets – that is a character who the writer clearly adores, but the audience (or at least the majority of them) cannot stand – you may think casually of Lady Mary. Who is allowed to continue being a bitch throughout the majority of the show. But I would like to draw your eye to an individual even more deserving of such a title…one, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.
Robert is a spoilt autocrat, content in his power and his place in the world as it was – this is how season 1, with its superior writing, tricks us into liking him. Of course, Robert seems more reasonable than his stuck-up daughters, his thoughtless wife, and his (wonderfully) bitchy mother, he’s getting his way. And it is only in season three and four, when his mistakes, and character flaws become more relevant to the main story, in which the audience is finally allowed to see Robert for who he has always been. A spoilt little boy, playing at being the great lord of the castle. He is the kind of man so focused on showering his new heir and surrogate son with praise that he doesn’t even realise that he’s reduced his daughter to tears. He’s the kind of lord who will kiss his widowed maid, in a sense forcing her to resign and loose her position. He’s the kind of creature so focused on being right, and looking like the great lord, that he will ignore the advice of a trusted physician just because he’s not fashionable.
But wait I hear you say, Wee Lassie, in season three and four he’s punished for his mistakes. He loses his daughter; he loses half the power to run his own estate. And to that I say look closer, yes, on the surface he does seem to be punished for his mistakes, and his crimes, but when you really think about it, he suffers much less than he really should. He lost his wife’s fortune in bad, nay stupid investments, and when he’s saved by Mathew’s inheritance; he expects things to go back to the way they were before. So, when Mathew proposes making Downton self-sustaining, this comes as a shock and he throws a fit, several fits in fact. Still, Mathew and later Tom and Mary are persistent and Downton is saved. If we were in the realm of reality, Downton would not have been saved, there would be no last-minute inheritance from Mathew’s dead fiancé’s dead father (yes, it’s as melodramatic and daft as it sounds), and Robert would have to live with the consequences of his action.
But we’re not in reality anymore, we’ve stepped through the door to the Downton Zone, where everything and everyone bends just a little to accommodate Robert Crawley’s wishes. Still don’t belive me? Think back to Lady Sybil’s death; caused undeniably by Robert and that fancy Doctor ignoring the signs of pre-eclampsia in Sybil. A fact that he’s called out on by his wife in the end of the episode, and it almost ruins their marriage. Until of course Maggie Smith steps in and forces the local doctor – who had caught the signs but had been ignored – to lie and tell Robert and Cora there really was no hope. The world bends around him, so that Robert doesn’t have to bear that guilt anymore. But my point is, if Robert’s actions are to actually mean something, then he has to bear the guilt of them. He has to bear, until his own dying day; the fact that he killed his daughter.
But that would never happen, not to Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.
Not to Julien Fellows’ aristocratic hero of the upper-class.
Please, consequences are for the poor.
Which leads us to…
Tom Branson, oh poor Tom Branson. It’s clear when he first appeared on our screens all the way back in 2010 that he was always intended as the love interest for Lady Sybil. Which is why when Fellows came back with season two, the lack of focus on the relationship, or at least the pre relationship between the socialist chauffer and the spirited youngest daughter of the earl of Grantham, seemed so strange. But looking back on it now, with the film fresh in my mind, it no longer does.
An actual in-depth romance would have to actually acknowledge the class discrepancies between the pair. Perhaps even confront Sybil’s unchallenged assumptions and prejudices; a process that would last longer than a single scene, and effect the rest of both the characters’ lives. But fuck that, clearly, it’s much more important to give that screen time over to the imprisoned Bates, despite the fact that he is doing absolutely nothing interesting at all. And I am thoroughly convinced that Bates got that screen time because, unlike early Branson, not only upholds the status quo that keeps the Crawley’s on top, he revels in it.
The fact that this clearly already planned Romance was shoved into the end of season two reveals Tom Branson’s second role in the narrative, and one that Fellows clearly finds way more important than his brief stint as Lady Sybil’s husband. That is, Tome Branson the reformed Marxist. That is much more than he is a love interest, Tom Branson is the character set to have his political beliefs proven misguided, torn down, and rebuilt in a way that the writer finds much more agreeable. If this were a more leftist – or at the very least neutrally written – show this role would probably have been filled by one of the Crawley Sisters, but then again that’s not Downton. Now I’m not saying that Marxism and socialism don’t have their flaws, they do, just like every other political belief system on earth. But when you have your socialist character go off to America sometime in season five, I think – and come back claiming that the fair treatment of the American Worker has left him with a better feeling towards Capitalism as a whole, it’s clear that you’re not going to get a nuanced critique of socialism in this show.
And speaking of non-nuanced characters…
I’m going to say something controversial here – so I’d just like to remind the reader that I don’t actually hate lady Sybil, there’s nothing there to hate, and that’s the problem. Because lady Sybil, or at least how she is presented in the show, is insidious
Okay put down those pitchforks, let me explain myself. What do you think of when you picture Lady Sybil as a character? No, not her death or the fact that she ran away with the chauffer – those are things she did. I’m talking about her innate character, who she was as a person – that’s right, she was nice and cared for the less fortunate. Certainly not bad traits to have as a character by any account, but it’s interesting to note that unlike her sisters – who began the story as Bitch one and Bitch two – Sybil doesn’t have anywhere to go from there. She remains nice and concerned for the less fortunate right up until the day she died, but those two attributes were never expanded upon.
And what’s strange is if they had been, then Sybil could have been one of the most interesting characters on the show. In fact, the beginning of season two even looks like it’s going that way – with Sybil unfulfilled in her life and deciding to train to be a nurse. But the fact is, we never see that training – she just goes off one day to her nurse school, and the next time we see her, boom she’s a nurse and working with Doctor Clarkson. Imagine for a moment a version of Downton Abbey that let us see that transition, that showed us Lady Sybil’s struggles with the hard manual labor that was now required of her, or her difficulties relating to the other nursing students because of the differences in their class. Imation a Lady Sybil that grows from this, that realises that her privileged upbringing has not only left her unfulfilled, but woefully ignorant of the suffering others.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just the socialist in me, but wouldn’t that be a much more interesting story line, then oh no she ran away with the Chauffer.
And speaking of the Chauffer, as I mentioned in Branson’s own segment wouldn’t it have been much more interesting to show actual romance blooming between them – rather than just the claims of love from Branson’s side, and then suddenly after the war is over, they decide to elope. That’s not a story that’s an afterthought. But then again, falling in love and conducting a secret romance with a man who was not only of a lower social standing than her, but her actual servant, would require Sybil to show that she needed growth as a character. Closest we come to is a brief scene when Sybil shows how ignorant she is to what the British Government have put the Irish through, with the truly atrocious line of:
‘I know we weren’t our best in Ireland.’
Which could have been interesting, but again we never follow up on it so nothing really happens. And Sybil can remain just good, no need of a noticeable change in her demeaner, no need to face hard truths of her world. Just nice Sybil, who was a good person, who everybody loved and wasn’t it so sad that she died.
Now I know what you’re thinking, sure Wee Lassie, that sounds like a kind of dull character but where does the insidious part come in? Well, think of it, Wee Reader, think of a character who wasn’t just been born into wealth but the kind of upper-class near royalty elite that derived their power from the continuous degradation of the lower classes. Now think of that character, true they are innately kind, but even an innately kind person raised in that world would take on some uncomfortable beliefs. And yet we’re never really shown that in Lady Sybil, she’s not even mildly unpleasant, which is really kind of weird, especially when you consider how her sisters first started.
But then again as with most creative decisions we can trace this back to the underlining message that governs all of Downton Abbey. That is, that the system of the elites ruling and lording over all is not inherently broken and based on a warped sense of superiority. No, the system itself isn’t broken, it’s just that the good elites are no longer in charge. Perhaps Lady Sybil herself would find this idea abominable, but that’s the story her character helps to preserve. The fair elite, the kind Millionaire, the good king – all fictions, all completely unable to be true in the system in which they were created.
Well, I hear you say, that was certainly an impassioned argument against the dangers of inborn power structures, and British nostalgia for them – but that little story at the beginning about the girls with their faces painted with blood…what was that? And how did it have anything to do with the rest of the post? And I say – why thank you, I was hoping someone would bring that back up again. That story was to help with a little trick I use when watching these kinds of shows. Because Downton is certainly not alone in its nostalgia for this kind of world, it’s just one of the most obvious because it’s so badly written. Particularly by the time the film came out.
But other shows with a similar thesis can often sneak under the radar, with deceptive tricks like better writing, deeper characters, and actual plot. Think of shows like The Crown: which on the surface is showing some of the darker more messier elements of the royal family – my favourite episode is the one when old Uncle David is shown to be a Nazi sympathiser – but at its deepest core, it’s arguing that the Royal Family are not only still relevant, but needed, in British society.
Which in 2021, is not true – they don’t even really rule us anymore, not officially anyway, which to my mind is kind of the only point to royalty. I mean they’re a mode of Governance, if they no longer Govern then why are they still here?
But regardless, it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to tell people to just not watch shows like the Crown – I even get the appeal of Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith is a blast, and the soap opera storylines do pull you in. But the fact still remains that they have terrible messages about the way the world should be run – and thus I recommend that the next time you find yourself watching one of these shows, for whatever reason, remember that odds are likely these people have gone fox hunting some time in their life. Which if you will recall means that they’ve not only had their faces painted in blood, but left it on long enough for it to dry and flake off.
I’m not saying do it all of the time, just some – and you’ll find suddenly they don’t seem so regal anymore.
It’s just a thought.
If you’ve enjoyed this long-winded rant on the deeply broken basis for Western society masquerading as a rant about a terrible period drama, why not follow the wee blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, and Goodreads. Also don’t forget to click the button down below to support this blog on Kofi. And remember to sign up for the Wee Mailing list before November 12th to find out the 12 video essays I found the most fascinating/distracting during this terrible time on earth. I usually try to have the mailing list posts have something connecting them to the main blog post they’re advertised on, but I was just so sick of Downton Abbey by the time I finished this article, that I just couldn’t anymore. So enjoy this list instead. Until next time Wee Readers stay safe, stay vigilant and have a very bonny day.
What Ho Wee Readers, for anyone who subscribes to my Wee Mailing List, you will remember that come last update I talked about the various shows that I binged watch during this apocalypse, we’re all currently living through. And if you remember well, one of those shows was the Buffy spin-off, Angel staring David Boreanaz as the titular hero.
For anyone not in the know, Angel ran from 1999-2004 and centered round Buffy Summers’ former flame: Angel, most notable for being a vampire with a soul. It was originally envisioned as a kind of supernatural detective show, being more focused on case-by-case episodes and less on overarching soap-opera-esc storylines that had become Buffy’s bread and butter by that point. And for, roughly a season and a half it did that – and I’d say it did it really well. For while Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show confined to its allegories – confusing as they became in season six – Angel could let itself be more flexible with the monsters and ideas it wanted to try out. Girl who electrocutes people, sure go ahead! Psychic demon who can read your destiny when you sing Karaoke? Hell, why not make him a recurring character.
Of course, anyone even remotely familiar with it will know that this notion of Angel as a case-by-case show didn’t last very long. And by around let’s say half-way through season 2, with the resurrection of (spoilers!!) Angel’s sire Darla, the show’s plot very quickly became just as soap-operay if not more so as Buffy before it. And I’m not even saying that as a bad thing, a lot of these plots were really interesting and unique – my personal favorite is the mystical pregnancy storyline in season 3 (the show did have several over the course of its five season long run, but this was by far the best). I’m just trying to give you a clear idea on what the show was and what it became: a paranormal detective show, to a supernatural soap-opera to, whatever they were trying to do with season 5. But throughout all that change the one constant in the show remains the focus on Angel; just like it’s parent show, while all the characters are given some form of development and plotlines of their own, ultimately, it’s our title hero that keeps the main share of the focus.
And that’s fine, in fact given the ever-shifting nature of both these shows, having the focus on a main central character is probably a good grounding factor. That being said if I did have one complaint it’s that, and I realised this at the beginning of season 4, I actually find Angel really annoying as a character.
I know, I know liking characters is completely objective, and it’s not like Buffy Summers doesn’t have her share of people that find her annoying – I’ve never been one of them, but I do acknowledge their existence. And me finding Angel annoying (at least in the later seasons) really shouldn’t be enough of a topic to make a whole blogpost about. After all I found Cordelia unlikable and annoying right up to the end of season 3, when the last shot of her actual character was shown, and I’m not going to rant about that for over a thousand words. And yet what I found interesting about this revolution is when it happened: Angel is describing what he believes makes a champion.
Angel: Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It’s harsh, and cruel. But that’s why there’s us – champions. Doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done or suffered, or even if we make difference. We live as though the world is as it should be, to show it what it can be. You’re not a part of that yet. I hope you will be.
As the main character, and a main character that is heavily favored by the writers to come out on top in any moral argument (except for season 5 for some strange reason, he was arguably doing a lot better than previous seasons) – Angel’s views on what makes a champion a champion holds a lot more wait then the other supporting cast. And come season four Angel’s definition of a champion is someone who lives morally, regardless of whether he succeeds at actually helping people. The methods matter more than the outcome.
It’s an interesting take on the concept of a champion, and strangely one that seems at least partially opposed to the definition that was laid out in Angel’s very first episode by the character of Doyle. Namely that a champion is someone who helps the helpless. And that was it, no disqualifiers, no strangely specific moral hoops, just be of use to people that need you. Under this definition absolutely anyone could be a champion, and you didn’t necessarily have to kick vampire butt to do it. We can see this in characters like Anne (a character who started in Buffy, but who comes back in Angel) who runs a home for homeless teens. She is literally helping the helpless, thus by Doyle’s definition of the word she is a champion even though we never see her handle a stake once. It’s also notable that in her first episode we’re shown her grappling with a presumably morally dubious action, of accepting money for her children’s home even though it comes from Wolfram & Heart (the main bad guy of the series). While the episode does give a sort of work around, where she can get the money and not take it from Wolfram & Hart (Angel steals it for her) it’s interesting that the money still ends up splatted in blood (it’s a long story) that she quite literally has to wipe off. But in the end, she takes it because that ill-gotten money will do more for her kids, then her clean conscious ever could.
I’m not saying that being a completely morally upstanding person, who doesn’t compromise on their principles should be in anyway excluded from someone who saves innocents (particularly in fiction). I’m a big fan of characters like Captain America in that regard (both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson). And if that had been how Angel had started off characterizing what it means to be a champion, that would be fine, but it didn’t and that’s what strange.
But I know what you’re thinking right about now; Wee Lassie, this has all been very well written and clearly well thought out, but why does it matter? So, the show Angel plays fast and loose with some of the dictionary, it’s not like the enjoyment of the entire show was predicated on it. And I’ll follow you to that peer, no there are large sections of Angel that are not ruined at all by this, fun characters, good episodes all throughout even the shakiest of seasons. You could in fact go several episodes in a row where this flip flopping on meaning bears no ill effect on the likability of their stories at all. But then, you go back and try and binge watch all five seasons and cracks begin to show.
The idea of being a champion, or at least of Angel being a champion is baked into the very core of the show. In much the same way that Buffy being a Slayer was baked into the very core of her show. In fact, as Angel goes on it seems that the word is used as the show’s version of a slayer, thematically speaking. But the difference is ‘a slayer’ was created by Joss Whedon and his merry team of writers to be its own specific thing. And a specific thing that is very well explained in the show itself. However, a Champion by contrast is not only a pre-existing concept, but it’s one that with its flip flopping on meaning, the show makes accidentally nebulous. It’s fine to tell us Angel is a champion, or so and so was a champion, but when the show’s own narrative can’t seem to keep the meaning of the word consistent, how are we supposed to interrupt that? Do they mean Angel helps, the helpless? Or that he is entirely good and virtuous? Perhaps it only means that he intends to do good? And as such when characters state with utter certainty that he is a champion or he is the real the champion, it comes off as false. Or at the very least, as a character not speaking as themselves but rather as a puppet for the writers to shill their pet.
So, I think the only question that remains is why change the definition at all? Well to answer that I could just tell you the conclusion I’ve come to, but I’d think it would be far more entertaining for the both of us, to show you instead.
So cast your eyes below, as I review several of the characters (both hero and antagonist) and see by the strictures of both definitions of the word, if they are champions.
One of the most successful, non-superpowered vampire hunters in the Buffyverse. After Angel raped and killed his wife, snapped his infant son’s neck, and turned his daughter into a vampire, Holtz spent the rest of his life seeking vengeance. Ending in him making a deal with a demon, showing up in the 21st century and making all sorts of trouble for the main characters.
Definition 1: Helps the Helpless
Yes, both before Angelus destroys his family and afterwards. Even at his most antagonistic Holts helps the helpless because he’s still killing Vampires. In one of his first scenes with his acolyte Justine he kills a vampire right in front of her; we’re meant to take this as a dark reflection of a slayer and watcher relationship. Holtz is manipulating her, and yet I’ve never been able to get all the people; the people that had he been allowed to continue living, that vampire would have murdered, out of my head. The action may have been done for less than pure reasons, and yet it is still helping the helpless.
Definition 2: Lives an entirely Moral Life
Before Angelus kills his family, it’s impossible to say for sure but given everything we’re shown of his family’s deaths, it seems likely that he did live an entirely good, moral life. Between their deaths and him making a pact with that demon, while he is consumed with vengeance, it seems likely he still lived a virtuous life beyond that. After the demon, no, his every waking breath is dedicated to vengeance on Angel; leading an idolised virtuous life is not a priority at all.
No Longer a Champion
A good man, and a truly skilled Vampire Hunter whose been hunting the nasty things since he was twelve.
Definition 1: Helps the Helpless
Like most of the Angel investigation team, Gunn is a difficult one to pin down in this regard. When he first arrives on the scene, he is defending his neighbourhood from a nest of vampires, and putting himself in considerable danger to do so. So that seems pretty cut and dry, and yet when he joins the AI team officially in season two things become a little murkier. They all ‘help the helpless’ but much like the rest of the AI team, Gunn becomes much too reliant on Cordelia’s visions to tell him where he should help, and therefore when she is not there to give them, he does nothing. That’s not even me being unkind, that’s stated in the show itself. And then there’s season three and four’s whole debacle but I’ll get into that more later.
And then we have Season 5, which I was very complementary to in my last newsletter – but then again that was before I saw the disastrous end of it all and realised, they had absolutely no idea where they were going with it at all. But regardless, Charles Gunn has one of the more interesting storylines, with him fully embracing the power the AI team now wields as the leaders of Wolfram & Heart. With that kind of money, they can do more than just save individual victims from the things that go bump in the night. They can help with the aftermath, set up funds and homes for children that lost their parents to vampires; and really start to make a change in how the fight against evil is won. In other words help the helpless at the most fundamental level.
Season 2 – Champion
Season 3-4 – Not a Champion
Season 5 – A Champion, though of a different kind than before.
Definition 2: Lives an entirely Moral Life
Well, that’s the hard thing about this definition, because it’s so vague it’s difficult to attribute it to anyone. If it means living life by your own moral standards, then we could say that baring a brief time in season 4 Gunn is a champion throughout Angel. Even in season five before (spoilers) Fred’s death. The same could be said if it means living a moral life as seen by wider society, since in season 2 he is protecting his neighborhood and helping out at a homeless center; while in season 3-4 he’s still fighting the good fight, just getting paid for it. And season 5, well season five was a mess for everybody. However, if the definition only refers to what Angel sees as a moral life, then we can only assume his oppion holds the narrative weight for what defines a champion. And his oppion on Gunn is problematic, he seems to view him as a stupid if well-meaning kid when they first meet; nothing but extra muscle when he’s working for Angel Incorporated, and a moral traitor in season 5 when they’re working for Wolfram and Heart.
Angel’s son, born from two vampires (Angel and Darla) and raised in a hell dimension by Holtz. Honestly it makes less sense in context.
Definition 1: Helps the Helpless
Connor helps a lot of people in season 3 and early season 4 (arguably more than Angel). So, for a time he is a champion; however, than the main arch of season 4 happened and well…everything shot downhill from there.
Only for a short time.
Definition 2: Lives an entirely Moral Life
By all forms of this definition that I laid out in Gunn’s section no, it’s sad but no. It’s clear if you really look at it that Connor only views himself as a moral individual when he first returns from Hell seeking to kill Angel. If we look at it from a wider society perspective, he once again falls short, since his rescues come off as more wanting to hunt things than actually saving people. And then we have Angel, and since that petulant speech up nearer the beginning of this post was directed at Connor, we don’t need to dig that hard to find what the soulful blood sucker thinks of his offspring.
Not a Champion
A Vampire who has a soul.
Definition 1: Helps the Helpless
In seasons 1 to 2, I would say yes without a drop of hesitation in my voice. But then everything changed when the Darla storyline attacked. But all joking aside, when Darla (Angel’s sire and former lover) was resurrected, Angel’s obsession with first her and then getting revenge for her turned him from a bland if inoffensive heroic character to a raging douche bag who hurt everyone and everything around him. And while this change was clearly intentional, and something that the plot encouraged Angel to move beyond, it revealed a nastiness to Angel’s character that he never really did.
But a mildly unpleasant hero is a still a hero, and then we got season three, and with the introduction of the miraculous birth of Darla and Angel’s son, Angel as someone who must continually prove that he is a champion is almost forgotten. While the ‘helping the helpless’ doesn’t completely stop, as this is still at least pretending to be a monster of the week show, it’s notable that that’s no longer the focus of the show. In fact, as I mentioned in Gunn’s section without the visions or some kind of monetary insensitive, neither Angel or his team seem very interested in helping anyone.
And then we have season 5, where Angel is counterintuitively at his most passive in regards to his ability to do heroic deeds, and his most desperate to be a champion. I found it very hard to ignore while watching Angel whine about being in charge of Wolfram &Heart (the LA branch anyway) that his main complaint was often that he no longer felt like a hero. This was even despite the fact that he’d been given proof that not only were they still helping people, but on a much larger scale than they ever could have in their previous location.
To begin with, but lost his motivation for the fight along the way.
Definition 2: Lives an entirely Moral Life
Given the speech up there he clearly thinks he does, but honestly given some of his decisions particularly at the end of season 5 – I won’t give anything away just in case this mainly negative post has for some reason made someone want to check out the show, but his actions are truly disgusting – it would be hard to argue that this view of himself lined up in anyway with reality.
In seasons 1-4 we could claim that he is living a somewhat moral life in regards to how society at large sees it. He isn’t hurting anyone – which as a vampire, even a vampire with a soul, he is quite capable of doing – and he’s for the most part fighting the forces of evil. This only changes is season 5 when Angel is arguable at his most morally dubious (or at least a moral dubiousness that the writers will admit to); though strangely this is a moral failing that comes not from within Angel himself, but is rather forced upon him. By Wolfram & Heart, by the Black Circle, even by the more human members of his team. Angel is passive in his fall from grace; even the choice to join Wolfram & Heart didn’t come about from a character flaw as it arguably did for the rest of AI, but from the truly noble desire to save his child.
It’s almost as if the world bends around Angel, so that in his own standards at least, he can continue to call himself a champion
I’ll leave this up to the reader.
So, if you’ve been following my tangent this far, you may have guessed where I’m going with this. That is, if you follow the series of events throughout series 3-4 it is clear that with the arrival of his son and all the plot-threads that came with that, Angel’s main focus turned inward rather than outward. All the energy that would have in the past been dedicated to helping as many of the helpless as he could, now stayed focused on protecting his son, providing for his son, and later in the season (spoilers) reclaiming his son. None bad priorities by any account, but all focused on the good of the few (and in particular the few that Angel considers his) rather than the good of the many. I’m not criticizing this, merely noting it as a fact in the show’s change of direction. Because in truth for the story this shouldn’t have necessarily be an issue. After all, unlike say Buffy herself Angel is not locked into his role as a hero, he is not a slayer. In the past he has chosen to fight evil in part to redeem himself, but often just because he felt it was the right thing to do – but he could stop, he could walk away or choose to turn his back on the world and the fight to preserve it. And yet to do so would be to give up being a champion; because being a champion on those early episodes was an active concept you had to keep performing. Help the helpless, or you weren’t a champion. Now they could have done this, made Angel have to decide what mattered more to him, the ones he loved, or he’s supposed great destiny. That would actually be a very interesting storyline, one that not even its parent show managed to tackle.
Except…as I noted before, the writers seemed really married to the idea of a “champion” being the Angel equivalent of Buffy’s “slayer”. Angel was the star of the show; therefore, he must be a champion. So, if the definition of “champion” as someone who helps the helpless no longer fit him, then the definition must be changed. Because in the end, that’s all Angel had. Unlike characters like Buffy or Spike, or heck even Xander there wasn’t really much to Angel. He could be blandly heroic, or mysterious, but once you got past that to what should have been the character that lay beyond, there wasn’t really much of anything. While Spike could flip flop from enemy to ally like he was having some kind of spasm, and still remain entertaining through his well-defined personality; and Buffy could confront the realities of life alongside her destiny as the Slayer, because of her innately heroic and loving nature; with Angel, you really had to take the writers word for it that he was interesting beyond the notion that he was a champion.
But the reality is just because you keep telling us someone is a champion, doesn’t make us belive it.
If you’ve enjoyed this terribly delayed rant of mine, remember to follow the wee blog if you haven’t already and don’t forget to check me out on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Goodreads for all that good stuff. And click the button at the bottom of the post to buy me a wee cup of coffee on Kofi. Also don’t forget to sign up for the Wee Mailing List by the 27th of September to find out which three Angel characters would have done better in Buffy (hint the last one will surprise you). So, until next time Wee Readers, don’t forget to stay safe, stay awake and have a very bonny day.
What Ho Wee Readers – well it’s been a rough couple of years hasn’t it, but I feel like we’re reach end of the tunnel. Soon the only mask any of us will be forced to look at is that stupid one we wear each Halloween. But until that day, I think it’s important to focus on the positive – and while the lockdowns across the world have had many, many downsides – one of the upsides for those of us whose situation wasn’t threatened by it, was the extra time the lockdown offered to go on a streaming binge. To finally watch through all those shows you’d liked in passing, but never had the time to fully commit to before. Well, you’re stuck in your house trying not to dwell on the apocalypse we’re all currently living through – what else you gonna do? Wow, that was a long and rather bitter way to introduce our current topic; I apologies wee readers, I don’t know where that came from.
Anyway, long story short – this lockdown I binged watched ‘How I Met your Mother’. For those of you not in the know, ‘How I met your mother’ was a sitcom that ran from 2005 to 2014, staring Josh Radnor as Main Character Ted Mosby and Bob Saget as Ted’s older self as he narrates the story of how he met their mother to his two kids. Alongside Ted on his journey to meet the love of his life – which spans a full nine seasons – is Ted’s best friend from college Marshall Eriksen played by Jason Segel; Marshall’s fiancé Lily Aldrin play by Alyson Hannigan (from Buffy fame); new girl Robin Scherbatsky played by Cobie Smulders (before the Avengers) and finally my favorite character (yes, I’m a giant cliché) playboy Barney Stinson played by Neil Patrick Harris.
It is a show that has been accused of being a rip-off of Friends, a criticism that while I think is a little harsh and not quite seeing the whole scope of either show, is at least somewhat correct in some of the minor details. For instance, while I don’t actually think either Lily or Marshall has any similarities to Monica and Chandler, other than being a married couple – which if you’ll stay with me isn’t a similarity, so much as a common form of relationship ; on the other hand, the other three main characters do have some noticeable similarities to the cast of Friends. Take Ted Mosby our protagonist, who is so similar to Ross Gellar that he might as well have been cloned. Hey look at that, they’re both teachers at a university, and they even have the exact same hairstyle – I smell foul play. Then we have Robin, who while being slightly more of an original person than Ted, does have some strong shared traits with Rachel – being the newest member of the gang, dating the nerdy sensitive professor, and being career goal oriented – and Monica – her difficult relationship with her parents, her tom boyish nature and her hair colour. At last, and most bizarrely of all we have our boy Barney Stinson who seems to be a weird amalgamation of Chandler’s unknowable corporate life, Joey’s womanizing, and Phoebe’s wild mood swings, hair colour, and abandonment by her father, and reconnection with his second family years later. I made that last one sound a lot similar that it appeared on screen, but I just find it weird that two such different characters like Barney Stinson and Phoebe Buffay have so much in common.
But strange similarities aside what I find the biggest difference between these two sitcoms is the narrative voice.
What I mean is that when we watch an episode of Friends, no matter how ridiculous the characters may be acting, that is what actually happened in their lives. There’s no hint to the audience that anything we’re being shown is a lie to the characters, or that there’s some stronger narrative force pulling them forward beyond their own dumb decisions. Ross and Rachel sleep together and Rachel becomes pregnant; yes, the people watching might think that that was done to get a good story, or heighten the drama between the on-and-off-again-couple, but to the characters that was just something that happened in their lives. The same cannot be said about ‘How I met your Mother’. Because in the end ‘How I met your mother’ is not actually show about a group of friends figuring their lives out in New York, it’s the show about Ted Mosby telling his kids how he figured his life out.
It’s such a simple plot device, and yet it changes the way we view everything about this show. It transforms what would have been a still decently funny show, with suspiciously strong similarities to Friends, into something much more interesting, and indeed memorable. For that framing device, that ever present narrative voice, provides a second barrier between the realty of the audience and the reality of the characters. To take a famous example, just because we see one of the characters get high from a sandwich instead of weed; doesn’t mean that in the universe of How I met your Mother, sandwiches are a narcotic. It’s not like Friends where when we look at the screen all we see is the reality of that fictional universe. There are two realities of the Himym universe: the one the audience sees (the memories of older Ted); and the one the characters actually experienced (the true reality of the Himym universe).
Of course, this observation is nothing particularly new – the narrative voice of older Ted often admits when he changes things, or outright forgets facts and even the names of the women he dated. One of my favorite instances of this was the episode ‘Bagpipes’; where the sound of the aforementioned pipes replaces the actual sex noises Ted’s upstairs neighbors were making in the true reality. It’s interesting to note that in one episode of Friends Monica and Rachel have a similar problem with their upstairs neighbor, but there’s no hint of the show trying to hide what those noises actually are. Honestly, I think the bagpipes make it funnier. But regardless, all this leads us to the conclusion that the narrative voice cannot be trusted.
And I know what your gonna say, well gee Wee Lassie, that’s a lot words for Ted is an unreliable narrator; whose okay with telling his kids about all the women he slept with over the years, but somehow thinks they need to be shielded from the reality that their father used to smoke pot. I say to that, wow, that was a specific thing to say that I entirely agree with. But beyond that, my actual point is that Ted as the unreliable narrator goes beyond the parts of the story where he obviously slips up or forgets something. It goes beyond what the audience can clearly recognize as the lie. Yes, for those of you in the deep know, I am going – very briefly – into that theory.
I refer of course to the fan theory started on Reddit that Older Ted portrays Barney as a serial womanize, and let’s face it, a bit of a douche – so that when he reveals that he wants to pursue his friend’s ex-wife romantically, his kids will be all on bored. There is some legitimacy to this theory – beyond viewers wanting to enjoy a problematic character with a morally clean conscience. In fact, Neil Patrick Harris (Barney’s actor) subscribes to it himself; citing episodes like “The Bad Patch” – where Barney and Robin are unhappy in their relationship and so let themselves go. This includes Robin losing large chunks of her hair and teeth and Barney gain 75lb. However, voiceover Ted admits to his kids that while Barney and Robin only let themselves go a little bit, this is what it felt like to him. Thus, Harris concludes, there is evidence for Ted’s revisions to his friends lives (I paraphrase of course). I thought my sandwich example was funnier, but you do you Harris, you do you.
However here in 2021 on The Wee Writing Lassie Blog, I would like to make an amendment to this theory. Oh, not that it’s not happening – giving all the evidence, and support from some of the creative talent behind Barney Stinson, it clearly is. But rather why it’s happening. That is, in the theory Ted is deliberately portraying Barney as a jerk, because he wants his kids to support Ted and Robin’s relationship. And yet in that pre-recorded ending, it is the kids themselves who reach this conclusion, and Ted who is shocked by it. Of course, he could just be lying, but giving the romantic framing of the final shot of Ted with the blue French horn – it is unlikely the writers intended for Ted to be quite so intentionally manipulative of his own children. Thus, the reality the audience must accept, is that Ted did intend to tell his kids how he met their mother – as the title suggests – but unconsciously revealed how he’s actually always loved Aunt Robin.
So thus, Ted portraying one of his close friends as such a terrible person, with the intention of pursuing Robin, is simply not plausible in the show’s reality. And yet, you can’t exactly argue that some of the things Ted says about Barney aren’t deliberately intended to make his kids think less of their surrogate uncle. I mean the Playbook alone is horrific if you look past the humour of the series. But that leaves the hanging question, why is Ted doing this, if it indeed has nothing to do with Robin?
Well to that I say, it may have nothing to do with Ted’s feelings for Robin, but it absolutely has everything to do with Ted’s feelings for himself. That is as the kind of man Ted wants both himself and his kids to see him as. A good guy, a terrific friend, a gifted intellectual, whose only flaw if you could really call it a flaw was that in his younger years he always went after the wrong woman. But really that’s a side effect of him being a hopeless romantic, something he himself has to bear, and nothing he dumps on other people time and time again. For any of you even vaguely familiar with the various plots and episodes of How I met your Mother, you may recognize this as complete horseshit. Ted has indeed many flaws – not least among which is that his absurdly specific list of requirements for his perfect woman, makes him treat the many real women he dates through the course of the nine seasons of Himym, terribly. Even managing to dump the same girl twice, both times on her birthday. But I’m not going to focus on the terrible way he treats women – not because there isn’t enough to talk about (there very much is) but because others have done so more thoroughly and better than I’d ever have the time to.
No, instead as the title might suggest, today we’re going to look at the way he treats his friends – and in particular, Barney Stinson. Ted treats Barney like shit, I mean don’t get me wrong Ted treats most people in his life like complete shit, but unlike the others the narrative passively implies that the audience should see Ted’s mistreatment of Barney as commendable. Or at the very least something that we shouldn’t condemn Ted for.
After all Barney is awful, so why shouldn’t he constantly be put down by the man he views as his best friend? Why shouldn’t he be actively excluded from the friend group when Ted no longer has need of his wingman services (s02e10: Single Stamina – where after four fifths of the group end up paired together, they no longer want to go out [even to get a beer], with the unsubtle implication they only needed to do that because they were single before, actively excluding Barney who is still single from the group. And if this sounds like it goes completely against the previous characterisation of Lilly and Marshall, who have been in a relationship from the beginning and never acted like this before, and Robin who has always enjoyed her independence and excitement in her life even when she’s in a relationship, then you’d be right. This was only a plot device to get Barney [now desperate for someone to hang out with] to invite his gay brother James over and start the real plot but I digress.) Why shouldn’t Ted think of Barney dying as sad only because of all the enjoyment he (Ted) might miss out on watching his wild antics? (s06e18: A Change of Heart – an episode in which Ted also compares Barney to an animal, again after talking about the possibility of his dying).
Of course, – we could make the same argument of all the characters. Besides a few general sweet moments, they do treat and speak to each other rather awfully. It could just be how their dynamic has grown up. Thus, to fully make the argument that Ted treats Barney badly enough, for him to cast his close friend as the cad in his stories to make himself look somewhat more heroic – I would like to highlight three separate occurrences were there were no such excuse. This wasn’t just friends ribbing on each other, this wasn’t just the swing of the conversation or a plot contrivance – at least not completely – these were three instances where Ted treats Barney like complete dogshite.
3. The Exile
In the sixteenth episode of season three, Barney and Robin sleep together. That is, it, Ted and Robin have been broken up for about a year by this time, in fact Ted is deep into a relationship with Stella (the woman who would later leave him at the alter); and Barney and Robin are both single at the time. There’s none of Barney’s usual trickery involved, they were just two people who grew close, and ended up in bed together. And yet the following episode (The Goat: S03e17) treats the action like it was some great crime committed against Ted, with both Barney and Robin consumed with guilt, and later individually confessing to Ted what they did.
Ted of course forgives…Robin, Barney however, yeah not so much. Now before anyone says anything, I don’t actually think Ted deciding that he can no longer be friends with Barney is the bad in this situation. Sure, it was hurtful to Barney, and the reason it happened was both incredibly stupid and more than a little sexist; however, cutting off a friend who you find toxic, or just unpleasant, is not a bad thing by any accounts. Sometimes friendships just don’t work and forcing them could do more harm to both parties involved, than a clean break ever could. But that’s just my oppion. No, my actual issue with this plot point is the execution and the fall out – namely the way Ted ends the friendship comes off remarkably cold and almost cruel. He tells Barney that earlier that day he was packing a box away labelled ‘things I no longer need’, and that maybe Barney belongs in that box. It’s dehumanizing and degrading, to be compared to a thing, particularly a thing that only has value so long as it earns its keep.
Sure, things can be said in anger that we don’t really mean – but the point is Ted isn’t a real person that can hide behind that excuse. He’s a fictional character, more importantly he’s a fictional character that his writers expect the audience to like and sympathize with. There were other ways to phrase Ted ending his friendship with Barney: ‘I don’t trust you anymore’; ‘I can’t do this anymore’, ‘we’re done’. All still upsetting to Barney, but all ending with a Ted that is still somewhat sympathetic. I say somewhat because the reason for his anger and hurt, is very nebulous considering what a shift in the group dynamic it’s going to cause. Why is Ted so angry? Is he still in love with Robin, then why is he still leading Stella on? And if he’s not in love with Robin, then is it really Barney? Is it him going a step too far in Ted’s eyes? It’s never made entirely clear, which I find very irritating especially considering this nebulous anger has just banished Barney from the group.
Because, in reality that’s what I particularly hate about this storyline – because when Ted drops Barney seemingly everyone else does too. Ted is not, nor should he ever be the thing that holds the five friends together. And yet Marshall makes note of how he’s losing the high-five calluses in his hands, and misses Barney – implying that without Ted’s approval Barney is no longer allowed to be friends with Marshall, Lily or even newcomer Robin. With the only time (Robin) being seen hanging out with Barney during his separation with Ted is when he explicitly blackmails her to do so.
If ‘How I met your Mother’ were a straight narrative to audience experience like Friends or the Big Bang Theory, then the only thing we could chalk this up to is bad writing. After all, all three of the other members of the group have had plenty of opportunities to grow closer with Barney independent of their shared connection with Ted. Marshall with his work, Robin with her similar interests to the playboy; and while I can’t think of a particularly instance Barney and Lily grew closer before the split, in season 4 she is the first one he confessed his love for Robin to. So, it’s not a leap to presume that their connection was already pretty strong. Therefore, it doesn’t completely make sense for these three characters to drop Barney, just because Ted has. However, it completely makes sense for Ted to presume they have. Ah narrative voice, you’ve saved yet another chunkily written arch – sort of, it’s still a poorly explored idea, that ends with my favorite character getting run over by a bus. (Oh spoilers, just in case that wasn’t obvious). But at least everyone’s in character now.
2. The Locket
I was slightly reluctant to include this one in my ‘Barney-been-done-wrong List’ because Robin is also hurt by this action – but in the end I decided to go through with it, because considering just how much its implied Barney loves Robin, this would probably hurt him twice as much.
First though a little background on one of the character foibles of Ms. Robin Charles Scherbatsky Jr. (Yes, that is her full name). She subconsciously sabotages her relationships. She and her partner will be going along just fine for a while, then she gets spooked (usually about the increase level of intimacy in the relationship) and she will fixate on something she doesn’t like about said partner, and start pulling away. This is spelled out by the characters explicitly during a relationship in a one-off episode; but we actually see a much subtler version of this phenomenon happening over the course of the series. Most noticeably both times she ends up with Barney.
I won’t go into the first time, as that ends for different reasons that don’t feed into my argument at all. So, for simplicity’s sake we’ll jump straight into the second time Robin has a bit of a wobble in regards to her relationship to Barney. She’s decided that she needs to find her grandmother’s locket, that she buried in central park during a visit to New York when she was fourteen – so that it can be her something old on her wedding day. Long rambling story short, she can’t find it; and so, must continue on with the wedding without the presence of her grandma’s locket. Hoping for some strange reason that this doesn’t mean that the universe is telling her not to get married to Barney. Which if that sounds like an excuse to cut and run without examining the deeper reasons behind that impulse, congratulations, you’ve read my mind.
In the end, after a lot of hoo-ha, Ted ends up with the locket – I’d try to explain how, but honestly it doesn’t really make sense. But the important thing is that Ted ends up with the locket and decides to give it to Robin on her Wedding Day, to one of his best friends. The locket that he knows Robin had decided was some kind of arbitrary sign on whether or not she should marry Barney; that for some reason she’s decided the man who finds that locket should be the one she marries. That same locket whose search was the instigator to Ted and Robin’s weird moment the previous season – when they held hands in the rain. Ted decides to give this locket as a wedding present for Robin, or thinly veiled reason to leave Barney at the alter and run away with Ted, you pick. What I’m saying is that this is Ted trying to break up the wedding.
And that’s not just my own conspiracy, that’s stated in the show itself. Lily tells him time and again, not to give Robin the locket as it will ruin the wedding – going so far as to tackle Ted to the ground. I like Lily, she’s kind of awesome like that. Even Ted’s narrative voice implies that he will ruin the wedding, and possibly everything else, if he gives Robin that locket. And what happens, he gives Robin that locket and she tries it run away from the wedding. And if she hadn’t bumped into ‘the mother’ and received some good solid advice, she might have even gone through with it. Thanks Ted, thanks for all your wonderful help.
1. The GNB Building
Look everything before this you could explain away through Robin and Ted’s feelings for each other – which do seem to be there in one form or other for most of the nine season long run of the show. Maybe Ted was just so in love with Robin – without knowing it – that he was just too angry when she slept with Barney to think rationally; causing him to lash out and say those terrible, terrible things. And maybe he was just so overwhelmed with his unresolved feelings for Robin, that he ended up bringing the physical embodiment of her relationship insecurities to her wedding to his best friend. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad man, just one that’s kind of stupid when it comes to relationships which is…yeah, kind of in character.
But this…no, there is no excuse for this next one.
Okay, backstory time, let’s take a long breath and say this as quickly as possible so that we can get into the ripping Ted Mosby a new one. Everyone with me, deep breath, and here we go:
So, Barney got Ted a job at GNB as the architect for the bank’s new headquarters; but when the building was cancelled Ted got fired by Barney’s hire ups and found a job teaching instead. However, to make his friend’s dream come true, when the project started back up again, Barney put his own job on the line to make sure they would hire Ted as the architect.
After some chicanery, Ted agreed to come on to the project, realising after all that it was his dream to build a building in New York. However, the plot thickens when Ted meets Zoey, an apparently attractive protester – the only snag in the new love story is that the thing Zoey is protesting now is the destruction of the historical Arcadian hotel, which is being blown up to make way for Ted’s new building. Oh dear, oh and she’s married but never fear Wee Readers, this is How I met your Mother – I’m sure the writers will fix that for Ted soon enough. And what’ll you know, that’s exactly what happens – Zoey breaks up with husband, her and Ted get together, but there’s till the tension of the looming GNB building between them.
However, after a night spent at the fairly horrible Arcadian Hotel, where Zoey opens up to why she’s really trying to save it – I won’t ruin the reason here, you’ll just have to watch the show yourself – Ted decides to take her side in the whole matter. Planning to declare that he thinks the hotel should be a historic landmark to a community that is going to decide whether of not it should be.
So, all ends happy right?
Wait, I hear you say…didn’t Barney put his job on the line so Ted could get this position? And to that I say, thank you wee Reader; you’ve made my segway into the next part so much easier now.
It’s made clear both to the audience and the friend group that if the GNB building is not built, Barney will be fired. And considering what we know of the company he works for, ‘being fired’ seems likely to be another way of saying ‘being murdered’. Now, of course, I’m not saying that Ted’s actions – if such an outcome had happened – would have been directly responsible for Barney’s death. Of course, that blame would lie at the feet of his actual murderer. But it is interesting to note his reaction when he hears that Barney might lose his job. Unlike say someone like Marshall – who had also been going after the GNB project due to the cruel way he was treated by the company – Ted shows no guilt whatsoever, or even an acknowledgement of the consequences of his actions. Being more annoyed at Barney, and strangely smug in his relationship with Zoey.
He’s putting his best friend’s carrier, livelihood and future physical well-being on the line, not only seemingly on a whim, but for a girl he clearly doesn’t actually love, or for that matter even like most of the time. And yet he does it all with a smile on his face.
It could be easy to blame Zoey for the friction within the group, and indeed the narrative of Ted’s story goes out of its way to place more of the blame for what happens on her shoulders and away from Ted’s. Positioning Zoey and Barney almost like two opposing forces fighting over, if not Ted’s soul, then the chance to achieve his love and affection completely. For him to choose them over everyone else. But as with Barney, it’s important for the viewer to remember whose side of the story we’re hearing. Ted might seem like a great guy, motivated by a desire for love, friendship and the need to do the right thing but that’s simply not true. Because in the end what motivates Ted to choose Barney’s side is not concern for a person who by now could be considered a very close friend, or any perceived flaw in Zoey as a romantic partner, but rather in a desire to see his own dream – that of designing a building in New York city – come true. That is, when given the chance to choose between the welfare of his friends, or the welfare of a woman he supposedly loves, Ted will always priorities himself above all others.
But of course, that’s nothing new when it comes to sitcom protagonists – thus what I find actually interesting about Ted Mosby is not that he is in fact a terrible person. But rather that on some level he is aware that he is a terrible person. Or at the very least that his actions were not the conduct of the likable guy, bleeding heart romantic, and all around lovable doof that he wants his kids to see him as. But what is he to do then? He can’t have his kids hating him just because of mistakes he made in the past. And he has a purpose with this tale – both intentionally and unintentionally – so he can’t leave too much out either. Thus, Ted does the only thing he can do, given the circumstances, he creates a contrasting jerk. A character in his story that his kids will look at and think, okay so my dad ran away with Victoria on her wedding day, and then dumped her several months later – but at least he’s not Barney Stinson. It’s not about Robin consciously, not really, it was just that someone had to fill the role of the jerk in the group, and it might as well be Barney Stinson. And who cares if he’s probably ruined his kid’s relationship with their surrogate uncle, the important thing here is Ted comes out looking good. Because in the end Ted’s feelings come before all.
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What ho wee readers, my family binged watch Modern Family during Scotland’s Lockdown. And for those of you who don’t know what that is, I’ll wait a few seconds for you to go and look it up…you good? Good, on with show…or, err post.
When the show first began Haley Dunphy was not well liked as a character – with many labelling her as selfish, spoiled and narcissistic. Now I’m not going to sit here and defend early Haley by trying to claim she wasn’t that, because she was, she was absolutely all those things. Although I do find it interesting that Haley was absolutely hated for her teenage narcissism, while characters like say Claire Dunphy – which I would argue displayed a much more developed and harmful form of narcissism, were loved. None of the characters of Modern Family are perfect, or even consistently nice people, because let’s face it that would be very boring to watch. We may applaud a consistently moral character’s good point, but more often than not seeing a messier character, overcoming their flawed nature just makes for the better tv.
Which we might say brings us to post-college Haley; after being kicked out of college due to getting busted for underage drinking, Haley Dunphy took tumble from her lofty perch. She was suddenly living back home with a family that weren’t shy about telling her how disappointed they were; and was also stuck doing community service for accidently assaulting a police office. Basically, she was considered the loser of the family. While these new circumstances are awful, they did serve to make her more sympathetic to the viewer, couple that with a new slightly (and I do say slightly) humbler and more hard-working attitude and a new relationship with break out character Andy Bailey and people were starting to warm up to her. She was a character that maybe even someone could look up to.
And then she took a backslide.
I think most fans can agree on that at least, she did regress – what we may disagree on is the when and why she took a backslide. For instance, I can tell you that Haley Dunphy’s character development was stalled very briefly, after the writers made her loose the jo, she’d worked so hard for during her relationship with Andy. And I say ‘the writers made her loose the job’ rather than just ‘she lost the job’ because it was very clear narratively why she lost that job. So that the writers could make jokes about her immaturity; note how unhealthy her phone use was despite the fact that every big job she’s ever had has needed her to be social media savvy. Oh, and most importantly, so Luke could give her a big speech about how the job she had now, working with him at their Grandfather’s club was a real job with a future. None of these plot elements were put there for Haley’s benefit, and thus for a very brief time she regressed to the joke the rest of the Dunphy’s saw her as. Whiney, lazy, and completely incompetent in every aspect of her life. I mean I don’t want to be cruel to someone else’s humour, but some of these jokes didn’t even make sense for pre-college dropout Haley. Like when she gets stuck outside because she forgot/lost her keys, and we hear her whining and crying from the front garden to be let in; which she is not, because the Dunphy Parents have decided to just leave her out there all night. An act that seems heartlessly cruel from whatever angle you approach it; but which fits the joke, that Haley needs to be treated like a baby learning to self sooth, perfectly.
My problem isn’t that this makes Claire and Phil look like terrible people, because that fits with what we’ve seen of their characters. No, my problem is that for no other reason, than to fulfil that punchline would Haley behave like this. She would not have stayed outside all night, she would have snuck in the house, climbed up a drain pipe, through a window and she would have done it all without waking her parents. A character was derailed for a single punchline.
However, I would argue she did bounce back from this characterisation slump – and was able to move on and peruse career opportunities that made sense for her as a person, become attached to new romantic entanglements that fulfilled her on a personal level, and overall, become the rounded, funny character that we all knew she could be. Finally ending her eleven-season character growth in a fulfilling job, a loving relationship and as mother to twins.
However, and I was slightly shocked to find this out – quite a few people disagreed with this particular interpretation. No, you see clearly Haley backslid when she got back together with Dylan for the second time, married him and had his babies. I’d try to explain it further than that but I don’t think I quite follow it. I assume it comes from the idea that a relationship with Andy was a instigation for Haley’s positive character growth; a notion I find slightly absurd because while he did support her (like any good friend/boyfriend should) it was Haley who made the choice to peruse that job, or decide to cut down on the partying, or be a nicer person. All of these were choices Haley made, Andy didn’t change her, she changed herself.
Of course, if you, as a Wee Reader, belive that Dylan was detrimental for Haley’s likeability and growth – and suddenly hate him for that – please tell me why in the comments below, I’d loved to understand this point of view. Given the major, academic sounding rant I’m about to go on, I likely won’t agree with you but it’s good to here and understand other points of view regardless.
Okay on with the rant.
First let’s put aside the fact that implying Haley lost all her character development when she got back together with Dylan is ridiculous – considering just how mean she was in the early seasons. And focus instead on the source of the conflict: Haley’s relationships.
Haley had about four major relationships during the course of Modern Family
Captain Mal (I’ve forgot his character’s name)
Alex’s professor (I’ve also forgotten his name)
Five of them if you count her formative relationship with her parents. I’m not going to go over the last two in any detail, mostly because they seemed to be forgotten in the great Dylan vs Andy debate. And since I’m already a thousand words in and just getting to the premise now, we might as well start.
Formative Relationship: Phil and Claire Dunphy
Phil and Claire Dunphy seem to be well liked in the Modern Family fandom – particularly Phil – and I have never entirely understood this. They’re both just awful people, which yes, everyone is on Modern Family, that’s kind of the joke, but we seem as fandom community somewhat more deliberately blind to the faults of these two. Particularly Phil. Something that I’ve always found stranger, because both of the other main couples are more heartfelt in their loving moments, and funnier in their arguments. Phil and Claire are just mean and dumb, but I understand that’s a personal oppion and not completely relevant to my argument.
Rather let’s take a step back and look at the Dunphy’s not as their own characters, but rather how they work as a collective parental unit. For starters, they enforce the belief that their daughter is stupid, having referred to her as their stupidest child – a fact that even in her earlier appearances is shown not to be true. Neither Haley nor her brother Luke are actually as stupid as their father, they just don’t use their intelligence for anything academic.
This attitude becomes particularly interesting in the episode ‘En Garde’ where out of pride for Manny’s fencing, Jay says ‘It’s really great to have a kid that’s the best at something’. And this makes the Dunphy parents self-concise because none of their kids are the best at something.
At home they comfort themselves that Alex is so smart, she’ll find her specialty soon enough, and Haley…award silence…well, Haley’s so beautiful she can marry someone who’s the best at something. And there we have it – Haley’s worth as a person in her parents’ eyes has been innately entangled with what kind of man she ends up.
First Relationship: Dylan, First and Second Time
There’s really not that much to say about Haley and Dylan’s first and second bouts of relationships with each other. They were fine, in fact I’d even say they were better than fine. Dylan was a sweet, kind, incredibly good-looking boy who genuinely loved and treasured Haley. And Haley, didn’t really treat him well…but this was mostly before her character development and she didn’t really treat anyone well.
They broke up and got back to together a lot, but that’s nothing unusual.
What’s more interesting however, is Claire’s reaction to Haley and Dylan’s relationship. At every opportunity, she starts pushing her daughter away from her sweet, musician boyfriend. For instance, when Haley starts cheating on Dylan with her tutor, Claire tells her to break up with Dylan; making it clear that the other boy is superior to Dylan because he is so much smarter. If Haley is too dumb (read not academically inclined) enough to earn her mother’s love than at the very least she can marry a man who is. Sometimes it even feels like she’d prefer Haley to be miserable rather than date Dylan.
Second Relationship: Andy Bailey
I don’t like Andy; we need to get that out of the way. I find him annoying, self-righteous, and (though it’s a personal preference) not that attractive. I also find it more than a little creepy, just how like Phil he actually is. I mean the show implied that Dylan was a bit similar to Phil Dunphy as well, but only in his intelligence and the antagonistic feelings one of his girlfriend’s parents felt towards him. Andy on the other hand, may as well have been a clone of the Dunphy patriarch – as far as personality, moral beliefs, speech and career was concerned.
Also, I do find it a little bizarre that this relationship that everyone touts as the thing that redeemed Haley began as an affair. Not an emotional affair, an actually real, sleeping with someone else affair. Of course, the writers had been sure to show us that Beth was a psycho and therefore, the audience could comfortably ship Haley and Andy without all that pesky guilt for the unwilling member of their threesome. But think about this, yes, the audience and Haley know that Beth is a ‘psycho’, but Andy doesn’t. As far as his character motivation is concerned, he is cheating on his sweet, loving, very faithful fiancé. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, that is the reality he starts sleeping with Hailey in.
That being said, even I can see that for the most part the relationship isn’t awful. They encourage each other, they enjoy each other’s company and had the actor not left to pursue a career in film, ending up as Mrs. Haley Bailey, wouldn’t have been the worst fate.
However, what I find most interesting about the relationship is once again, Claire’s reaction to it. While the idea of Haley and Andy being an item is still a possibility, she seems ambivalent to it, downright disapproving, even before she learns of Beth’s existence. But as soon as Dylan is back in the picture, she starts pushing Haley towards Andy. Never mind that he is engaged now, and even Haley herself had believed that meant nothing could happen between them.
Honestly, I’m going to skip Captain Mal, as not only do I not remember his real character’s name, but other than some brief conflict with Phil there’s nothing much his relationship with Haley adds to my argument.
Fourth Relationship: Alex’s Professor
This relationship is certainly not a bad, or even a mildly unpleasant one – Haley interrupts his class while she’s trying to talk to Alex, and after she talks back to him when he admonishers the sisters, he decides that one day he and Haley are going to marry. They get off to a bit of a rocky start, mostly due to Haley’s own insecurity about her intelligence – bang up job there Phil and Claire. But for the most part their relationship is fine. I’d even go so far to say that it’s fairly loving.
The really interesting bit about this relationship, is once again the reaction of Hailey’s parents – namely they fall over themselves trying to impress him. Trying to say smart and insightful things. Highlight interestingly enough their own insecurities with their intelligence. Because although they’ve spent the majority of the show putting Haley down for her lack of ‘traditional’ intelligence, deep down they know they are the stupid ones.
Perhaps that’s why Claire works so hard to keep Haley with the professor, instead of who she actually belongs with.
Final Relationship: Dylan, for the long time.
“If you’re so busy thinking how lucky you are, then you’re not thinking how happy you are,’ – Dylan
I’ll be honest with you here; Dylan is my favorite character in Modern Family. He’s the kindest out of not only the line-up of Haley’s boyfriends, but the whole cast. And unlike almost every other character in the later seasons, he didn’t turn utterly horrible for shits and giggles. However, my conclusion that he is the best one for Haley, doesn’t come from that – it comes from the fact that number one, he clearly loves her unconditionally, and number two, unlike other supposedly ‘nice’ guys in her life, he’ll never treat her badly, and cover it up with a goofy laugh.
What do I mean?
Well, Modern Family has always been very explicit that Haley’s two major relationships have been with men that resemble her father in some way. Dylan has the same low I.Q. as Phil – though considering he’s very affectively learning to be a nurse; it can’t be quite as low as the show implies. While Andy has his goofiness and old-fashioned sensibilities. However, what Andy also has is Phil’s ability to put his partner down – we don’t see it a lot, but it’s there, and under the pressure of a long-term relationship, raising at least two children and Claire Dunphy as a mother-in-law, I promise you that nasty little side of his would have come out more and more.
Don’t belive me? Remember that little jab in the episode when the family finds out that Haley and Andy were having an affair? You know after Haley expresses her fear about being found out and Andy explains he doesn’t want to be found out either because….
‘I still have their respect.’
Why do people like this guy so much?
Ultimately the fact that Haley ends up not only falling back in love with Dylan at the end of the show, but actively chooses to go back to him over a guy Claire would have preferred – the professor – is evidence that she’s finally grown beyond the narcissistic example that her parents set for her. This notion that academic achievement, or “high” intelligence is the only thing that can make a person worthy, either for love or in other ways, is a childish fantasy we must all grow beyond.
But that’s just what I think, if you see the Dylan and Haley relationship a different way let me know down below in the comments, it’s why I have them in the first place.
If you’ve enjoyed this wee, extensively long rant of mine, don’t forget to follow the wee blog if you haven’t already. And don’t forget to check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads and Tumblr, for all the good stuff. Also sign up for the Wee Mailing List by the 31st of May to find out my top five favorite Modern Family characters. Until next time Wee Readers, stay free and have a very bonny day.
Let’s talk about the Mandalorian. Yes, Wee Readers, even I the most noble of wee lassies in the land of Scotland, have fallen victim to the charms of that most adorable of terrors to the Star Wars Galaxy…Baby Yoda.
Though all joking aside, The Mandalorian is a fantastic show – and is in fact the only reason I even bought a subscription to Disney + in the first place. Tellingly I canceled it as soon as it was made known to me that I’d have to wait an entire year for the third season. Sorry WandaVision, you’re just not to my taste.
Okay, a brief rundown for those probably very few of you not in the know already. The Mandalorian tells the story of Mandalorian bounty hunter, Din Djarin. Who, with the promise of the return of a huge collection of the sacred metal Baskar, accepts a job to go hunt down a particularly hard to find assest? In fact, it’s so hard to find that the only description the client can give him is the thing’s age: 50. Which is only made all the more shocking when Djarin shows up to the thing’s last known location and finds…a baby. More specifically a baby Yoda.
After some bonding, and many misadventures – one of which involving the bounty hunter going back to save the adorable tot from the client he delivered him to – the two form what is referred to in-show as a ‘clan of two’. Basically short hand for family. You see the Mandalorians are not a people, they are a creed: anyone can become a Mandalorian, whether by swearing the creed in adulthood or being taken in as a ‘Foundling’ during childhood. And this is a very interesting stance for the first show that is specially about the Mandalorians to take, considering they’ve never been shown like that on screen before.
What the heck do I mean?
Well, to answer that we’re going to have to take a look at the previous Star Wars things Dave Filoni, has been involved in, namely The Clone Wars – a show detailing well…the majority of the clone wars conflict and Rebels, a show that looks fine but that I will never have the patience to watch all the way through. Now the Mandalorians have a presence in both these shows, with one of the main characters in Rebels even being one. I’m going to focus more on the Clone Wars Mandalorians, since I’ve just seen more of that show and I think it better shows some of the…unfortunate implications.
Okay, so at the time of the Clone Wars Mandalore is ruled by the Duchess Satine, who is a pacifist. And if that seems contradictory to what a Mandalorian is or has ever been before – congratulations, that’s how everybody else sees it too. I’m joking of course, but there is noticeable friction between Satine’s strictly pacifist government and the fringe groups who think that Mandalore should go back to its more warlike ways. Sounds like a pretty straightforward conflict doesn’t it? After all Star Wars has always taken the stance that war, and those who go looking for it are bad. Sure, somethings need to be fought for or at least against, but as a general rule if there’s some other way to resolve the conflict you should probably take that route. This isn’t helped any by the war loving factions going by the ridiculous name of Death-watch – which was a stupid name when it came out and is an even dumber name now.
That being said I would not be writing this blog post if that were the end of the story. When we first see Mandalore in The Clone Wars, Satine’s group ‘The New Mandalorians’ has been ruling for what we can assume are at least a good few years, her government is firmly established and over all, the population we’re shown doesn’t seem to have much of an issue with converting to a peaceful existence. Except something feels a little off when you look at the population, particularly in crowd scenes – they all look a little too similar. All human, all white, all with the exact same shade of blond hair and every single one of them with blue eyes. This is peculiar in the Star Wars universe, as even back in the very first film where the cast on screen were all monotone white – because 70s – hair and eye colour varied greatly. There are blog posts that go far deeper into this than I’m going to and I suggest, if nothing else than for curiosity’s sake to go check them out :
The only character that really breaks this monotony is the Prime minister who has purple eyes for some reason – and also turns out to be secretly corrupt – and Satine’s sister. Still, they’re both white, so I suppose it’s less of a difference than it really feels. Some have implied that this was not a goof and was a deliberate attempt to create a paroral to a country like Germany. Somewhere that had a militaristic / violent past but was trying to move away from that. That seems very likely when the rouge groups have dumb names like Death-Watch – very Nazi like. To try and segment this story they even go out of their way to cast doubt on Jango Fett’s claim to the title of Mandalorian. With the prime minister referring to him as ‘just some random bounty hunter’.
And while that might have worked fine when it was released, it starts to have more sinister undertones in universe, when you take in to account the Mandalorian show. Unlike the other on-screen appearances of the Mandalorians – or at least the Clone Wars, I’m really not sure about Rebels – the Mandalorian approaches its main character’s identity, as something a person can become, not as something they are automatically born into. Anyone can be a Mandalorian – the joke Bill Burr makes in his first episode, about Mando being a Gungan under his mask is funny partly because it could be true. Yes, this Mandalorian is a human, but there’s nothing in his Mandalorian creed that would prevent a Gungan from donning that helmet too.
Anyone can be a Mandalorian.
And this isn’t just a facet of Din’s ultra-traditional sect either; in a later episode of season 2, when we meet Boba Fett properly again, he reveals a copy of his linage. Revealing that Jango Fett (who was not a member of the Children of the Watch) was a foundling – just like baby Yoda – and as a son of foundling, Boba was entitled to his armor in Mandalorian custom. So, we can see from this that adoption seems to be an important aspect of the wider Mandalorian culture as well. Thus, it would make sense that by the time of the Mandalorian Civil War in which the new Mandalorians ceased control of the planet, that the Mandalorians as a people would be very diverse. Not just in the regular human way, but with individuals from different alien species considered Mandalorian as well. Maybe there would even be linages of mixed human and alien origin; since not only have we seen instances of such individuals in Star Wars Canon, but in a society where anyone can be a Mandalorian, such pairings would probably be a lot more common than even in the wider Star Wars Galaxy. And yet, every single Mandalorian we see in the Clone Wars is human, and white, with at least a good chunk of them also being blond.
Now for a very brief second, I did consider that this could just be clashing creators, after all Clone Wars – or at least most of it – was, to the best of my knowledge made before Disney bought Lucasfilm and did a hard reboot for every cannon piece that wasn’t this show or the films. After all, Disney Lucasfilm clearly has a different direction they wanted to take the franchise, and maybe not every aspect of a long running show like The Clone Wars is going to slot easily into that new image. Except…the Mandalorian, The Clone Wars, and I think Rebels too, are all at least in part run by the same person: Dave Filoni. A man who is remarkably comfortable throwing around references to his other work, and just expecting the audience to know what he’s talking about . For instance, it’s really exciting when Asoka says to the villain of the week “Where’s Thrawn?”. Indicating that we’re gonna get a live action General Thrawn, in all his blue space-Nazi, badass glory. But if you don’t know who that is, she might as well have asked where the toilet was?
Joking aside, my point is that Filoni clearly hasn’t forgotten either of the Star Wars Shows he’s previously been involved in, so it’s unlikely he’s forgotten this one element. Especially considering how little there was about the Mandalorians in the Clone Wars. So, what is going on ? Why do they all look the same here, when they really shouldn’t given the creed like nature of their ancestors existence.
Well, honestly, I think it’s an oversight. Like maybe the creators were so married to this idea of former Nazis in Space that they didn’t really think how such a people, or indeed such a society would exist in the Star Wars Universe. Because, Nazi like racism doesn’t really exist in the Star Wars Galaxy, or at least not in the same way it does on earth. I know, I know the Empire has always sort of taken inspiration from Nazi imagery; but that hate and bigotry towards other kinds of humanity, that resulted with the Nazis obsession with blond hair and blue eyes doesn’t really exist in a world where you have aliens to scapegoat instead. Or at least it’s never done so in what is now considered Star Wars cannon. Granted to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t seen every book or comic, or game that’s come out under that umbrella – so if you know something that can prove me wrong, by all means put it down in the comments. It’s why I have them at all.
The point is, a mistake is really the only logical conclusion you can reach, in which you don’t start to hate the creators of these shows just a little. Because, now with the Mandalorian in cannon, it’s kind of revealed that that war like past we were told was so terrible, and just dragging Mandalore down – at least in The Clone Wars – was not a parallel to the Nazis at all. Which really only leads to one conclusion, on why those people were so monolithic in their appearance – Satine’s government had done a purge.
An ethnic cleansing if you will, I don’t mean to be insensitive to anyone but that’s what it looks like.
Think about it – it’s established early on in the first Mandalorian Clone Wars story arch that all Mandalore’s warriors have been banished to one of the moons, where it’s believed they died out years ago. (They didn’t but that’s not really important for our argument here). When we look at this with knowledge of the Mandalorian Creed – a sacred vow that is about being a Warrior – that statement suddenly becomes about a lot more people than it was probably originally meant for. If you became a Mandalorian through that creed, in a sense, you can’t obey the new regime’s orders and still be Mandalorian. How then do you define who can be a Mandalorian? Well…blood. Which can get very sinister very quickly, especially if you take in the lack of any mention – at least in The Clone Wars – of ‘Foundlings’ as an important aspect of Mandalorian culture. In fact, if you want to take it a step further, the prime minister’s dismissal of Jango Fett as a real Mandalorian could be an indicator of Satine’s governments views on ‘foundlings’ as Mandalorians.
But ultimately all this amounts to is a thought experiment, I do not actually think this was deliberate at all. Mainly because the show itself makes it pretty clear that we’re supposed to agree with, if not outright like Duchess Satine. I mean I never did, she’s terrible – but that doesn’t take away Deathwatch’s cartoonish villainy, or the tone of the narrative. Sure, Satine’s government might be corrupt, but she’s not. And isn’t that in the end, what really matters? I’m being facetious of course, but you get my point. Ultimately the uniformed look of the people of Satine’s Mandalore was a passing thought by a creator who may have later realised the unfortunate implications of what he was showing on screen. We might guess this by the later appearance of the Mandalorians as a people, namely Rebels character Sabin Wren and her family. All of whom are defiantly not white, and this is never treated as a strange thing by any of the other Mandalorians.
That being said, seeing how unhealthy attached to his former works Filoni seems to be – it will be interesting to see if he ever addresses this discrepancy, or if we’re going to have to swallow another sickenly sweet spoonful of ‘wasn’t Satine just the best’.
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What Ho Wee readers, how has everyone been lately? I know, I know stupid question – the answer is almost always awful nowadays. But I’m not here to complain about the general state of…terribleness with the world today (to see some of that check out the posts here, here, here, here and here); but rather to offer some brief escape from thinking about it. By obsessing over a tv show that ended over a year ago.
I speak of course of Poldark, Season Five – which aired all the way back in the far-off year of 2019. For those of you not in the know, Poldark was a television series that ran from 2015-2019, based on the book series of the same name by author Winston Graham. Set in Cornwall during the late 1700s, the show stars Aidan Turner (Killi from the Hobbit for all you Tolkien nuts) as Ross Poldark a soldier freshly returned from the revisionary war in America, to discover his father dead and Elizabeth the woman he (Ross) loved to now be engaged to his cousin.
The show follows Ross as he copes with these losses, starts back up his father’s old mine, marries his kitchen maid, clashes with the Warleggan’s (a family of bankers that are on the up and coming in society through any means necessary) and battles his self-destructive tendencies. The first four seasons roughly adapt the first seven books – with some alterations to make the heroic characters more palpable to twenty-first century audiences – and then the writers hit a snag. You see the books have a time skip of about eleven years between book seven and eight and well…the show couldn’t really do that. Maybe if they’d intended to make more seasons – after all Vikings used a time skip and it stayed…well not good, but it didn’t become bad because of the time skip. However, the fifth season was to be their last and the fourth ended with Elizabeth’s death while given birth to George Warleggan’s child. No doubt skipping the years of grief would have felt cheap.
The only choice then…was to make up their own story to end their series.
The intension of this new story, or so claimed the lead writer in an interview, was to bridge the gap between the struggling hot-headed politician that was Ross Poldark before the time skip and the government secret agent that was Ross Poldark after the skip. Which meant that not only were they going to have figure out how such a change of circumstances psychically came about – but also show the evolution, or at least the start of it, of Ross’ emotional maturity. Because let me tell you, Wee Readers, the Ross Poldark of season’s one to four would not be capable of long-term espionage.
So, we have the beginnings of what could be the best season of Poldark yet; a deeper look into our hero and the flaws that so often hold him back; espionage and dealing with the death of Elizabeth. All good stuff. And the season five we got was…a mess. It’s one of the worst…no, no qualifier, it is the worst series of Poldark to date. And I’m including the original 1970s version in that as well.
So, what we have to ask ourselves is…what went wrong?
Why was this so bad?
Well…for starters it’s disconnected.
What do I mean, well – all the first four series were based strongly on cause and effect. Basically, plot point A happens and thus Plot point B is the result. Ross leads a mob of people down to the beach to scavenge a crashed Warleggan ship at the end one season, and thus next season the Warleggan’s try to have him executed. You see, cause and effect. Big events, like births or deaths, or marriages were jumping off points for new and exciting plotlines, but they were all connected to what came before. At the end of season four we got at least three big jumping off points: that is, the beginning of the Cornish Bank (of which Ross is a founding member); Drake and Morwenna’s wedding and of course, the death of Elizabeth.
So, what did we get for the main A plot for Season 5? Well…Ross tries to save his old war buddy (that the audience has never seen or heard of before) from the Gallows and on the way discovers corruption in England and Jamaica. And while on paper that’s not a bad story – this is the final season of Poldark; presumably the last time we’ll ever see of this version of the characters, so it’s weird to focus so heavily on a plotline that not only requires so many new characters, but that wasn’t even hinted at in the earlier seasons. This feels like just some random adventure that Poldark is going on, not the culmination of a five-season long character arch to get over his worst impulsions and delusions.
That’s not to say that the jumping points aren’t used – the fallout from Elizabeth’s death is used strongly in George Warleggan’s storyline where he starts to go mad from grief. Drake’s and Morwenna’s arch this season directly steps off from their wedding and the Cornish bank…well…the Cornish bank is mentioned once. And I do mean mentioned.
Yet perhaps – and I do want to emphasise that word – all of that could have been overlooked if it had followed through with any of its other promises. That is, when setting out to make this final series the writers of Poldark, clearly had an original idea of what they wanted to accomplish. They needed to get Poldark to grow up; provide a bridging gap for the series and the rest of the Poldark books the audience might go on to read after this mess was finished; and most importantly, but strangely not focused on, they needed to provide an ending for the characters we had been with for nearly five years now.
And they tried to go about this by…introducing a character we had never met before, who was a real person and making the whole series about him. Okay, the idea was that this guy would be Ross’ hero, and a bit like him…on steroids… and thus when he finally died Ross would have a realisation that there but the grace of god goes I and thus get his act together. Except, this guy dies in the sixth episode, of an eight-episode season – so not only do neither the writers, the characters or the audience have much time to truly delve into the implications of ‘there but the grace of god go I’ but then suddenly in the last two episodes we’re deep into the next plot.
Disconnection seeps into the very pours of this show. You see instead of accomplishing their original intentions; or having Ross grow up and become a secret agent with the one major storyline, and then have a bunch of slightly more minor ones weaved in a long side to give the other characters some kind of ending – the Poldark staff for some reason chose to split that original purpose over two story lines that had little to nothing to do with each other.
Grow up already Poldark – went to Plotline A about failing to save his hero, and realising ‘there but the grace of god’.
And become a secret agent – went to an overloaded plotline about the French mounting a secret invasion, that they crammed into the last two episodes
Which really steps into the second reason why this season was so absolutely terrible…namely that disconnection – it’s incredibly overcrowded. In the first episode alone, we have the beginning of six whole storylines that all have to come to some kind of conclusion, within a run time of only eight episodes.
A – Ross tries to save old war buddy and fails realising ‘there but the grace of god goes I’
B – While Ross is away in London, his wife (Demelza) has to start running the Mill and the house in his absence and runs into some trouble with the local riff raff. Particularly the new maid, who seems to have taken a dislike to Demelza for…some reason.
C – After the death of his wife Elizabeth, Sir George Warleggan begins to hear her voice, beginning his quick descended into madness.
D – After a long period of separation and one half of them stuck in a marriage with a repeat rapist, Drake Carn – brother of Demelza – and Morwenna have finally married – but she can’t bear to be touched, and thus begins the long road to recovery.
E – Geoffrey Charles – son of Elizabeth and Nephew of Ross – meets a girl at an Abolishment meeting and falls hard. But trouble starts when it’s revealed that her father wants to marry her off to Geoffrey Charles own step father – the mad sir George.
Whoops I almost forgot…
F – Dwight – best friend of Ross and notable doctor – is being hailed by The Royal Society of physicians
G – Dwight and Caroline fight tension in their marriage after the death of their baby daughter.
Wow, that is a lot even just to write out; and that’s not even taking into account the fact that most of these storylines involve at least five new major characters. All of them having to be established, fleshed out and given some reason why the audience should care. Meaning that they have to be given a lot more screen time. Except, here’s the thing I don’t care about Poldark’s jerk friend, and it doesn’t matter how much screen time you give him – or how many characters or good ideas you screw over, in an attempt to make him more likable – I am never going to like him because he is a jerk.
So, when it all comes down to it, what have we accomplished here? Well other than asserting that Poldark season 5 was crapper than the Democrats choice of leadership; we have established some of the core failings of the series – namely its disconnection and it’s over focus on new (and frankly kind of boring) characters in favour of delving deeper into the ones that were already there to work with.
While these are major failings of the series, ultimately, I find them closer to symptoms of the original problem. That problem being that the writers just didn’t really seem interested in writing for Poldark anymore.
During an interview on the production of season 5 lead writer Debbie Horsfield talked about her discovery of the historical figure Ned Despard – the man who would be made into Ross’ never before heard from friend – and his former slave/ kitchen maid wife Kitty Despand, seemingly with more interest than the actual characters in Poldark. Yes, let’s give focus to these people over everyone else, lets craft the story around them and this historical godfather of crime. I mean who needs an actual proper end for a five-year long series of high intense drama – let’s just write our own historical / Poldark crossover fanfiction and hope no one noticed.
Because in the end that’s what this was, it was fanfiction – legal and very expensive fanfiction. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate fanfiction – quite the opposite actually – having written more than a few in my time, that would be the height of hypocrisy. If this story had appeared on AO3 or even Fanfiction.net…well it still wouldn’t be good, but it would be a lot more enjoyable. Because there are things to enjoy in this story…the Carnes marriage trouble, Sir George’s Madness … but there’s never enough of them to make up for what it lacks, and that is ultimately the correct social lens for which to view it.
What on earth am I talk about now?
Well, take for instance, if we were to consume – in this case watch or read – this story through the lens of the social world of reading fanfiction then we would experience it as maybe a decent story. Yeah it pulls focus away from the characters we’re actually here to see, but it is interesting to learn about these real people…and that scene with George running along the cliffs in his nightgown, that was just the best. We do not enter into reading a fanfiction with preconceived expectation that it will give us a satisfying ending to a tv show. Even the best of them cannot do that for they are not cannon – and thus we do not expect that of them.
But we do of the final season of a tv show.
That is to say, if you wart people to enjoy your Poldark fanfiction – maybe you should just cut out the middle man and start an AO3 account. Just saying, it would save a lot of money.
If you’ve enjoyed this wee rant of mine about, let’s face it complete nonsense, don’t forget to follow the wee blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Goodreads. Also, to receive new posts and supplementary material not generally available on the main blog, sign up for the Wee Mailing List. Sign up by the 1st of February and find out exactly how I would have fixed the disaster that was Poldark Season 5. If you have any thoughts on said disaster, or just Poldark in general drop a comment below and let me know. Until next time my Wee Readers and Subscribers, get plenty of vitamin D, try not to vote in anymore tyrants and have a very bonny day.
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Politicians are a bit shit, aren’t they? I think we can all agree on that account. Whether we be English and forced into another pointless lockdown by an over grown blob monster in a blond wig. Welsh, and unable to buy non-essential items from our supermarkets. Irish…I’m not entirely sure what the Irish are doing right now but it’s 2020, so it can’t be anything good. American and trapped in a choice between a kinda racist jerk (Trump) and someone who is more than likely a pedophile, and also racist, and senile (Biden).
Or you could be Scottish like me up here in the north, and have the party that was supposed to be building a long-term plan for independence destroy the economy. Making it by the way, very unlikely that we’ll ever get independence again.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m not overly fond of politicians right now.
But for the sake of this post’s topic, let’s just say that I hate Nicola Sturgeon.
No more than that I wish death upon her.
Let her be smothered by her own stupid tartan mask.
Now before anyone gets upset, I’m not actively plotting the death of a politician. I just really need you to understand the depth of my hatred for this woman. So that you don’t mistake what I say next, as coming from any actual sympathy, or fondness, for Sturgeon herself.
Because as the title may suggest, if there’s a right way to insult our darling politicians, then there’s a wrong way too.
For instance, say I was to get so angry at Nicola Sturgeon one day – you know because she’s ruining my country and whatnot – that I was to call her a pigwhore. Now why would that be wrong? That’s right, although a knee jerk reaction for many of us, instantly insulting a woman’s sexuality is a by-product of our still very patriarchal society. But that can’t be right, I hear you shout – I call male politicians whores all the time.
Boris Johnson is particularly deserving of such a title. But really think about it, when you hear someone call someone a man-whore, it doesn’t sound like a really cutting insult, it sounds like a joke. And that’s because in our cultural lexicon, it really is. It’s funny to call a man a sex worker, because clearly that’s something that just doesn’t happen. Sex work is thought of as a woman’s domain, okay…let’s pretend that’s even remotely true. Either way, you don’t have a particularly good insult on your hands.
So, you say, you can’t call her a whore – by surely calling her a pig is fine. A greasy, smelly, dirt ridding pig. Look at her, look at what she did to Alex Salmond – she’s filth. And while I agree that she very much is, why is your first instinct to insult her appearance rather than her actions? Would you do so for a man? I mean don’t get me wrong, we do insult men’s looks: Trump’s hair looks like a tribble, Biden looks like death incarnate, Boris is a toad and I swear to god Keir Starmer is the reincarnation of a shovel. And while that is also missing the point of why we hate these men so very much – as should be fairly obvious by now, it does take on a slightly more troubling meaning when it’s a woman. Years of oppression, punching down and all that. I know, I know, patriarchy ruins everything.
Of course, sexism isn’t the only bigotry we have to be careful about using when we display our righteous anger to the coldblooded butchers that run our world. Well…the British one anyway. For instance, if I were to say that Sturgeon’s haircut makes her look like a wizened little man of a hundred and eighty-five, that could be construed as transphobic… possibly I’m not certain, please feel free to correct me in the comments. But it’s certainly slightly ageist; after all, why is it a bad thing that she looks like a little old man of a hundred and eighty-five? Sucks all of the joy out of an insult. You only want to hit the leech of a politician, but you end up being cruel to some innocent person instead.
While there is some ground to the argument that the modern notion of political correctness can rather perversely be used to shut down real political discourse – it cannot be denied that when we insult a politician using hate speech, we dilute our own insult and rob it of both its intended meaning and value.
Damn it, I hear you say – it’s practically impossible to insult the murderers running my country using the slurs, and rhetoric the internet has prepared me to use. So, I’m just gonna make up my own words.
And well…yeah. It’s certainly fun to make up your insults, and it defiantly frees you of the danger of offence, or miss fire on an innocent. It’s fun to call Nicola Sturgeon a Fuzzwopple; or Keir Starmer a Bolderfups; or even Obama and the Clintons EvilDennjsydfjai. But you see the problem there, too right? The words are fun to say and they certainly don’t hurt anyone, but they also just don’t mean anything. We only really understand that these are insults by the tone in which they are said, and with written media we don’t even have that. We’ve gone from one extreme of just offending and insulting everybody, to the other end of the spectrum where we’re not even really insulting our intended target.
So then, what’s the answer – how can we express our anger, in a way that won’t hurt someone innocent and yet still actually expresses our hatred?
Honestly the answer seems to be the simplest: just be honest about why you’re actually angry.
Why do I hate Nicola Sturgeon? She’s ruining my country, by gutting the economy and encouraging the worst of Scottish racist tendencies within her followers. Not because she is a woman with a stupid haircut and an old man face.
I hate Keir Starmer because he is surgically removing the actually left-wing members from the Labour party – and if that sounds counter intuitive, well, congratulations you have a fully developed sense of earth logic, it’s a pity the Blairites don’t. I do not hate him because he has a shovel face.
I don’t trust Obama, not because he has a set of clownish ears or (ridiculously enough) anything at all to do with his race; but because people seem to conveniently forget his war crimes every time they want to compare him favourably next to their political villain of the week. He’s also a little too chummy with sexual predators and, you know, other proven war criminals.
Biden and the Clintons are those sexual predators and other proven war criminals.
Twitter is saying we might have a third lockdown, no…no…clearly the reason I hate Boris Johnson is because he looks like a shaggy dog that was turned human through a series of horribly cruel laboratory experiments.
There is probably a list longer than the entirety of the bible why people don’t like, or take issue with Donald Trump and I can guarantee you that when it comes down to it; not one of them involves his skin being orange or his hair being ridiculous.
Well that’s me, that’s my rude little rant done. If you’ve enjoyed this excuse to call the politicians of the Western World as many rude things as I can get away with, to try and express my rage in a somewhat healthy way, then follow the Wee Blog, if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and GoodReads. Also check out my Short Story page, to see if my fiction is as racey as my posts; and don’t forget to sign up for the Wee Mailing list before the 19th of December, to see some of the insults that were a bit too rude even for this post. Also, before I go, I’d just like to say something: I focused on western politicians, and these ones in particular because they were honestly the ones I knew the most about, and therefore have the most intimate hate for. If you think there was any I left out, that I should have mentioned, please mention them down below in the comments. All I ask is that you be as inventive and colourful in your language as possible. And for those of you wondering why I didn’t go harder after Trump, this is a blog post about how to insult politicians and if you have trouble insulting as big a target as Donald Trump, then nothing I could say would help. Until next time Wee Readers, have a bonny day and if I don’t see you before then, have a very merry Christmas.
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Wow…that line looks much less needlessly aggressive in rap form. Anyway, guess which recording of a musical I just watched, that’s right we’re going to have a post about Hamilton.
Ah Hamilton, that sudden juggernaut of a rap musical that everyone – including myself – went completely Loony Tunes over a few years ago. And before anyone starts something I just want to say, I can understand why…ish. All the actors were well cast – except Lin Manuel Miranda of course, but then he’s the creator so what can you do, tell him he can’t headline the show? The music was fantastic on the cast recording and mostly fine in this performance as well. The only one whose voice I didn’t like was Miranda’s and for that, see my earlier comment. And the idea to cast this show about the founding fathers with an almost entirely non-white cast was a fantastic one that most likely opened the door for many a talent performer to get their start. Where’s before they might have been held back by the racism prolific in….well basically everything in the world today.
I’m saying all of this now so that you fully understand that I sat down to Hamilton on Disney plus, fully intending, nay expecting, to really enjoy this thing. Which makes it all the more shocking that I didn’t. I mean seriously, I really did not enjoy this thing. In fact, I’d go even so far as to say I hated it, I stopped watching at the end of act one and only went back , when I’d decided to write this post. So, the thing you must be asking yourself right about now is…why? What was so bad about this performance that I could barely finish it? The answer to that Wee Readers, lies in the overwhelming feeling I felt watching that ticking hour glass between Act One and Act Two.
That is, that I’d been manipulated.
What do I mean by this? Well, the thing about watching a performance compared to just listening to the soundtrack I’ve found – yes even with Hamilton where the soundtrack is just a more polished version of the performance – is that because you have to sit and watch these songs play out with actors on the stage, you’re forced to think about the story they’re trying to tell you. And the story in the first act of Hamilton is ridiculously thin. We get a bunch of filler songs that don’t really advance the plot, and provide character details better summed up in bigger songs. Resulting in the whole act feeling over stretched and boring, act Two is significantly better, but that doesn’t erase the waste of time that was Act One.
Which tells us one very important thing, namely that Hamilton the musical wasn’t written because Lin Manuel Miranda just had to get a story off his chest. He wrote it to convey a message and the plot – at least in Act One – must take a back seat to that message.
Which would be fine if the message was worth saying. After all, surely letting non-white Americans, particularly young people, finally seeing themselves in the history of their country is a noble goal. And I agree, if that were in fact what the story of Hamilton was doing, but it’s not. There’s only one historical person of color on stage – Sally Hemings, the enslaved mistress of Thomas Jefferson. Who, I will emphasis, does not have any lines of her own, and in fact doesn’t even get a proper costume – she’s dressed like all the other chorus members. So, yeah – this is still history told through a white lens, it’s just better hidden than most.
It’s also not really about telling the story of then from the America of today either, except perhaps with casting and the composition of the music – which don’t get me wrong, is most of what Hamilton is – but again the story they’re telling doesn’t really back that up. This is the sort of story we’ve heard a hundred times before: the brave Americans defeat the elitist British, and found their country on the belief that anyone can do anything. Well then surely, you say, it must be telling the story of the American dream, giving the message that in America any one can achieve their dreams and become great. After all, didn’t they say ‘ a place where even orphan immigrants, can make a difference’ and to that I say, if that is what they’re doing, they’re doing it passively. And by that, I mean accidentally, and even if they weren’t, is that really something they should be proud of? The American dream is a very damaging myth, that ignores the realities of most Americans, particularly immigrates and people of color’s actual experience with upward mobility. However, I thoroughly believe that’s not the message, nay the point of Hamilton’s very existence.
No, the real message of Hamilton is – please, please like Alexander Hamilton.
That’s it – anything else is either by complete coincidence or side-lined for this greater message. Don’t believe me? Well, answer me this – why was Act One almost entirely set in the revolutionary war? Sure, Hamilton fought in it but the only connection between this drawn out wale and the much more enjoyable act two, that we really needed to know, was his connection to Washington. And we didn’t really need to devote an entire… what was it? Two, it sure felt like two, hours to establish that connection. They don’t really spend a lot of time delving into it anyway, mostly boiling it down to Washington gives Hamilton a leg up, Hamilton therefore likes Washington, so Washington is cool. Plantation of at least 300 slaves, what plantation of at least 300 slaves?
They don’t really go into that much detail about the war either – there are a about twenty-three songs in Act One, and four of them that are actually about the war itself. And by that, I mean, the nitty gritty battles. And even most of those give way to what Hamilton actually wants to talk about – just how god damn awesome Alexander Hamilton is. He’s so cool you guys, Washington wants him to be his ‘Right Hand Man’ over Burr! Lafayette spends a significant portion of his only solo song telling Washington that they can’t win the war without Hamilton. He even leads his own platoon into Yorktown, and practically wins the whole war himself – okay that last one I exaggerated on, but you see my point. The songs aren’t really here to tell the story of the founding of America, and the hard battles they had to fight before they achieved their independence. They’re here to make sure you understand just how brave, clever and heroic Alexander Hamilton was while he fought in that war. And that’s not even getting into the filler songs that have no other reason to exist, other than to beg us to like Hamilton.
No less than three drinking songs about what he believed the people of future will say about him. Only one of which – the third one – tells us anything about the story at all, and even that one is begging us to feel sorry for Hamilton, and how sad it is that he lost his friend. Farmer Refuted has a similar problem of having no relevance to the story whatsoever, other than to show just how reasonable and moral Hamilton’s support of independence really was. All the men want be Hamilton – Wait for it – and all the women want to be with him – ‘Helpless’ and ‘Satisfied’. I’d imagination that last song is particularly insulting as Angelica Schuyler was already married, happily so, by the time she met Alexander Hamilton. You see now why I called this thing bloody manipulative. The entirety of Act One is devoted to building this scumbag up in the audience’s eyes, and there’s a reason for this, you see despite the massive sympathy hoops the narrative jumps the audience through, Hamilton is extremely unlikable in Act Two.
But Wee Lassie, I hear you cry, didn’t you say that the message of the musical was to beg the audience to like Alexander Hamilton? Why would they make him in anyway unlikable? Well…and granted this is only a guess on my part, so take from that what you will…but I think it’s because Act Two was set in Hamilton’s later life, where he was a much more terrible person all round, they kind of lacked a clear way to redeem him. But remember the play still needs to beg the audience, to please, please like Alexander Hamilton – so the idea of just going through with it and making him unlikable in the second Act was not a notion that was gonna fly in this production. The only option then was to double down on what likability they could mangle out of Act One, and then determine which unlikable aspects of Alexander Hamilton’s life would make him the least hateable to modern audiences for Act Two. Should they focus on his sins at home or at work?
At least five songs devoted to Hamilton’s affair and… let’s see…half a song for the Adams Administration? Gee, I wonder which one they focused on.
You see while I personal found Act One over bloated, and insultingly obviously manipulative – it’s really more Act Two that shows the true problems of structuring your – loudly advertised – progressive retelling of the founding of your country, around the message “Please, please like Alexander Hamilton’. Yes, I am making the legitimate argument that this message is the reason behind two of Hamilton’s main criticisms, that is its historical revisionism and its very weird relationship with racism. Now while those are two separate things, the latter of which is clearly much worse, since they do crossover many times throughout the play, I’m just going to address them both in the same way.
Hamilton does not want to talk about Racism – which is probably why it really doesn’t want to talk about slavery. However, it does want you to know that you should hate people that are racist. Those two things don’t quite mesh, do they? Well, I’d like to explain that by introducing the next segment of this post – that I’d like to call…
The Founding Fathers Hamilton would please, please like you to hate.
Now Jefferson is a weird one because, nothing bad they say about him is particularly untrue. He did own slaves; he did have a relationship of extreme questionable consent with his slave Sally Hemings. And making him a villain on those accounts is not actually a bad idea – I’m personally in favor of anything that calls into question the pedestal we place celebrities both alive and dead on. However, none of those reasons are why Thomas Jefferson is a villain in this musical. He’s a villain purely because he opposes Alexander Hamilton, and we can tell this by the fact that his identity as a slave owner is only really brought to attention when he’s arguing with Hamilton. In glorious rap battle admittedly. But if you actually listen to the argument he’s making in those rap battles, he’s not actually wrong. Hamilton’s debt plan probably will end up taking money from the poor, and putting it into the pockets of the already wealthy. The real Hamilton was an elitist to his core, this was unlikely to bother him. However, that would be one of those pesky unlikable things we don’t really want to talk about in this play. So, the Hamilton on stage has only one choice when a legit rebuttal is nowhere to be found, remind the audience that Jefferson is a slave owner.
Now if you’ve watched and or listened to Hamilton – and no other form of history whatsoever – you’ll know that John Adams was a fat mother****** who fired poor Alexander Hamilton from his cabinet because he (meaning Hamilton) was from the Caribbean. Well, congratulations anyone who was nodding along to that, you just learnt some complete nonsense. Yes, while most of the slandering in Hamilton is at least partially based on historical evidence – or rumor – this part here, is just one long lie. Hamilton resigned from the office of Sectary of Treasury long before Adams was even President. Now, there are many legitimate reasons to dislike John Adams both as a person and a politician, but the thing is Hamilton mentions none of them, because Hamilton can’t mention them. We can’t mention the Alien and Sedition Acts , despite the fact that they might work well as an anti-censoring and pro-immigration message in a play about an immigrant “writing his way out”, because the real Alexander Hamilton was very complicit in that. It’s why we see little to nothing of the actual Adams Administration, because then we’d have to watch our main hero literarily destroy his own party, just to get a man he disliked out of office. If I’m getting any of this wrong please correct me down below, it’s why I have comments in the first place.
However, what always alarmed me about this is that we never see Adams. So unlike Jefferson – who once again we have to remind the audience, was a slave owner – we never see anything besides his prejudices. There’s no actor to redeem or humanize him in anyway, heck King George is more likeable in this play. It’s like if we only heard Hamilton’s side of the rap battles between him and Jefferson, if we only hear one side of the argument how can we help but to agree with it – ironically very much how government censorship works. Miranda has stated this lack of appearance of Adams is because of his love of William Daniels’ portal of him in the musical 1776. And how he couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role – something that never ran completely true to me. First because, high, that’s not how theatre works and last because, he really doesn’t write like he likes the character of Adams at all. Often going out of his way to imply he’s pathetic – particularly in the election of 1800, which I’d like to remind everyone Adams almost won, even despite everything Hamilton did to see him out of office.
Just a last thought before I go full blow rant on this, but the play even implies that Adams, – one out of only two of the first twelve presidents to not own slaves (the second being his own son) – is so racist that he shocks even Jefferson. You know Jefferson, that guy that we’re constantly reminded owns people. Yeah, because that’s how earth logic works.
So, I was watching through the live recording of Hamilton, waiting for one of my favorite songs to come alive on the screen. I waited and I waited, and I waited some more before I realised that we were at the final song and there seemed to be no sign of it whatsoever. And what’s this mysterious song you might ask? Why, “Dear Theodosia (reprise)” of course. What’s that you say, why that’s not on the album, you can only see it online. Because apparently they cut it from the live show before it reached Broadway. That’s right, but I didn’t know that when I watched it first time – so you can imagine my disappointment. Apparently they cut it because people were getting confused that both mother and daughter were called Theodosia – really, people are that dumb? I mean you kept the main ‘Dear Theodosia’ song, why did that get to stay? Oh wait, that had Hamilton singing in it – okay so I see why they kept that.
Still I found it strange that they chose to cut the song where Aaron Burr’s wife Theodosia dies, and he tells his daughter. Because in doing so they’ve transformed the line at the end of the play: ‘I will not let this man make an orphan of my daughter’ from a heart-breaking motivation to kill one of your oldest friends, to just something that was kind of said. Maybe as an excuse for his own cowardice to not embrace death wholeheartedly. Actually, I take it back, it makes complete sense. Because we don’t want the audience to like Burr too much, think of him as a human that made a mistake – rather than as an ungrateful, politically conniving bastard who had to be put back in his place by our hero Hamilton. I focused on this instance of revision, rather than anything historical, because I find it fascinating that the insistence in putting everyone who opposed Hamilton in as worst a light as possible has grown so strong, that they’ve now started editing their own production. I think the character of Aaron Burr was far more popular than they had wanted him to be.
Ultimately I would argue all of Hamilton’s faults – be it the over loaded first half, the slightly insulting depiction of some of America’s founding fathers, the butchering of much of the actual history of the text, not to mention its manipulative use of racism within its narrative – lies not just in the title message of “Please, please like Alexander Hamilton” but the over fixation on telling the story of the founding of America, through one man’s story. To illustrate this, I would ask you to examine two songs. The First a deleted song from Hamilton called “Cabinet Battle #3”, which is one of the only songs written for the musical that deals with slavery directly. The second is a song from the musical 1776 titled ‘Molasses To Rum” dealing with the same topic.
Both songs discuss the issue of slavery, and in particular the culpability of the founding fathers in regards to it. But look at what the first one’s doing, really look. True, it mentions Washington’s involvement in the slave trade – notable that didn’t make it into the final show – but no where dose it mention Hamilton’s own involvement. Regardless of the arguments of whether he actually owned a slave or not, he certainly bought them for other people. And the Schuylers money came from slaves. No mention of that in their introductory number. Now look again at “Molasses to Rum”, it’s explicitly calling attention to the North’s involvement within the Slave Trade, particularly Boston, the home city of our main character. It holds the main character – not just the villain – responsible for not just their culpability in the slave trade, but the benefit they’ve received from it.
Something that we really don’t see even in this deleted song of Hamilton, because the focus isn’t on having a frank discussion on the failings of the founding fathers, but rather making sure that the audience likes, and relates to the main character. Even if the message wasn’t ‘Please, please, like Alexander Hamilton’, he’d still be the title character. He’d still be in the majority of scenes, and thus a large percentage of whether or not you actually pay to see the show again, hangs on how much you like Alexander Hamilton. Ultimately, it would seem that the art suffers because the play depends too much on one man’s reputation.
Though in the end I suppose – it all depends on what we want out of your musical interpretation of a founding father’s life. Do we want realism? Probably better go look for a documentary, because the minute they open their mouth to sing, all realism goes out the door. Want an honest and frank discussion about the failings of the founding fathers, not limited to but including slavery? Well, there’s 1776 for you, if you’re willing to sit through a musical comedy that forgets it’s a musical for one third of the run time. However if all you wanna do is just like Alexander Hamilton for a night, then this may be just the play for you.
Well, I’ve done it, I’ve finally finished this post. If you’ve enjoyed this rant on how a musical’s inner message completely failed to take hold with me – then check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Goodreads. And for all those fiction lovers out there, have a look at my newest published story – The Scientist. Until next time my Wee Readers, take courage, be bold and have a very bonny day.
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Fresh off my Star Wars binge, I am very much still in a Star Wars mood – so what better time to talk about my favorite character that appears in all three trilogies: Sheev Palpatine. Now I’m not one to unhealthy obsess over the villain of the story – I mean I didn’t even like Loki – but I can’t lie, Palpatine has been one of my favorite characters for a long time now. Not in spite of his evil and conniving nature – but because of it. He tricks a whole Galaxy into doing his bidding all by the power of his own subtle political influence. And at the end of the Prequel trilogy this mastermind has won so thoroughly that the Heroes have to go into hiding for twenty years. When the light side does win a victory over good old (or would that be bad old) Palpatine, it’s in the form of the next generation, rather than the original heroes rising up and beating back the dark side. And even then, they don’t manage to kill him.
I could go on and on like this until the end of the post, but since that doesn’t exactly sound entertaining – here’s something completely different. As I’ve already mentioned Palpatine is one of the few characters that carries over into all three trilogies. However unlike say characters like C3PO or R2D2 – Palpatine does not have a consistency to his portrayal. Yet as we can observe, unlike Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader – this lack of consistency to Palpatine’s characterization stems not from extensive character development but, rather a shift in the direction of each trilogy. What do I mean? Well, let’s take a look at all three of them – and I’ll lay it out.
Prequel Palpatine – is a subtle, politically savvy politician, who just so happens to also be a dark lord of the Sith. His plan to control a galaxy through fear and a phony war is brilliant and well thought out, and when at last our heroes catch on to what he’s doing, this dark lord of the sith is sufficiently powerful enough to either turn them or overpower them. If we were to look at this from a more Meta angle we might say that this, more controlled and subtle Palpatine, reflects the tightly plotted nature of the prequels. Who, even if you didn’t enjoy them, you have to admit were the most planned out – plot wise – of all three trilogies.
Original Palpatine (or rather ‘The Emperor’ since I don’t think I heard him referred to Palpatine once in the entire original trilogy) – is at the height of his power and influence. He builds giant space stations, that blow up planets and reigns with a steel grip around the Galaxy. He is also, I’d like to point out, at the height of his madness. All subtlety is gone out the spaceport, and replaced now with the slow creeping decay of a man that once had to think for his power, and now has no need for that at all. This version of Sheev Palpatine we might say, represents the Original trilogy’s more … and there’s no way to say this without it sounding like an insult … simplistic morality of war. This Palpatine doesn’t have to be subtle in his evil nature, because the Original Trilogy’s civil war didn’t spring from the manipulation of politicians, but rather their obvious corruption. Luke doesn’t have to feel bad about blowing up the deathstar, because it blew up Alderaan.
Just a brief WARNING, before we go on – this next park may contain major spoilers.
Sequel Palpatine – is an entirely different creature, from both previous incarnations. A rotting corpse hidden within the unknown regions of the Galaxy, relying on Darth Stupid – yes, that’s what I call Kylo Ren – to bring his granddaughter home, so he can take possession of her body. I think that’s his plan, it’s not clear. Whatever the case, the whole plan feels less impressive than controlling the Galaxy through a phony civil war and blowing up planets. It’s also quite notable that unlike his earlier incarnations, Palpatine only appears in the last movie of the Sequel Trilogy. Sure they claim he was controlling everything from within the shadows, but even knowing that supposed fact, we feel none of his presence in the other two films. Ultimately, this Palpatine’s plan feels more improvised than the other two, possibly reflecting the sharp directional twists and turns the Sequel Trilogy is known to demonstrate. Is the force all about the Jedi and the Sith, or does it belong to anyone? Is Rey in love with Finn or Kylo? Who knows, and who cares, it’s romantic love in the Star Wars Universe, it’s not like it would last anyway. I don’t mean to cut down a series of films that I enjoyed, but I can’t help but note that the inclusion of Palpatine in the final film – and only the final film – gives this incarnation a feeling of being shoved in at the end to please the nostalgia of hardcore Star Wars fans. Which…is something that possibly reflects the shift of power between fan and creator in our age of social media – for not since Jaja Binks has fan reaction so impacted the direction of a character.
So there we have it, three trilogies, three men with the face of Palpatine – and everyone has a favorite. For me, it will always be the prequels – what can I say I was raised on them, they’ll always have a special place in my heart. But what about you, what’s your favorite version of old Palps? Do you enjoy the genius of the Prequels? The Dark side’s living incarnate of the Originals? Or the nostalgic corpse of the Sequels? Comment down below if any of them particularly calls out to you. If you’ve enjoyed this little exploration of my totally not creepy obsession on the most evil character in Star Wars History, make sure to follow the Wee Blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out and follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook and Goodreads. And sign up for the Wee Mailing List, for all new content. Stay vigilant, get plenty of Sun and, until next time my Wee Readers, may the force be with you.
Just a brief note before we leave, if you’ve enjoyed this and other posts like it on the Wee Writing Lassie, why not buy me a Wee Cup of Coffee, or drop me a tip over on Ko-fi. Which is linked to the image below.