What I Want from Wonder Woman (and Won’t Get): A Pre-Review

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Y’all know I’m a Marvel girl. The MCU has been one of the things that’s kept me going for at least five years now, and most assuredly for the past two. So it’s a bit disingenuous for me to talk about DC’s film universe because I know from the get-go I’ll just get labeled as some sort of shrill Marvel shill. But bear with me because, above all else, I just want to be told a good story. I’m the first to call out Marvel when I think they’ve failed (which they’ve done frequently and spectacularly lately) so keep that in mind when I say that DC done lost its fool mind.

I had the misfortune of having to go see both Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad for a podcast that I host with my friend Marc. You can’t talk about something if you haven’t seen it. Marc is much kinder to things than I am. I wanted to burn everything to the ground after enduring both movies. Neither has any depth, plot, or character development. They’re both desperate, slapdash propagations of highly lucrative intellectual property. They rely solely on the fact that everyone is desperate to love the films because they love the symbols in them. DC has always been King. Batman has always been #1. Everyone already adores Harley Quinn.  But Marvel’s film success has DC desperate to get their shit in front of eyeballs because superheroes sell. They seem to have missed the crucial bit that good stories about superheroes are what sell. (The box office returns v. critical acclaim debate I save for another day.)

There are so many problems with the entire situation that I can’t even enumerate them all. I don’t know the ins and outs of DC, Warner Brothers, or comics culture the way others do and DC’s disasters have been endlessly dissected by others better than I could. So what I’m going to talk about is not the horrors DC puts out but what I want from Wonder Woman. Because, to my weird specialized heart, that movie has the potential to be better than Captain America: The First Avenger. (Y’all ever heard me go on about Cap1? There are usually overexcited tears involved.)

Continue Reading

4,722 Hours and 6,741

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

Tonight is the finale of this disaster of a season on Agents of SHIELD (and yes I’ll do a postmortem) but what I want to talk about right now is character integrity and the way both Agents of SHIELD and Person of Interest handled disappearances/returns of major characters. Agents of SHIELD‘s “4,722 Hours” was like the epitome of what not to do while Person of Interest‘s “6,741” was ideal.

The premises here are largely the same. A stolid lady is taken from her friends and allies and is presumed to be in grave peril. In both cases, said lady is tentatively engaged in an unconventional romance which enhances but in no way defines her character. Both Simmons and Shaw express to their respective lovers that they reciprocate their feelings just as they are separated. Person of Interest allows Shaw to retain her agency, inhabit her space, and reaffirm her character. Agents of SHIELD, by contrast, robs Simmons of her agency, papers over her character, and forces her to emotionally contort exclusively for the sake of manufactured romantic conflict. 1 More than that, AoS takes a fully-realized character who rejects traditional gender roles and defines her exclusively by her womanhood and normative expectation where PoI eschews normativity altogether.

spoiler warning

Continue Reading

Why You Feel Like Fitz and/or Simmons are About To Bite It

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

I try not to read reviews etc. of Agents of SHIELD because I have a weirdly fragile headspace about it, but a few of the taglines for “The Singularity” I just had to click through. I’m so specifically and intensely into FitzSimmons that I was curious if other people felt like they worked as well as I claim they do. What I noticed was the general consensus that everyone feels like Fitz or Simmons is who is going to die by the end of the season. That’s also the feeling that I’m getting, but I feel like that literally every time anyone suggests a character is about to bite it. For me, it’s just that I’m most invested in them, I dread it, and it would hurt the most. But, more than that, it comes from long conditioning to television romance narratives .

(Editing to add: I’m not saying they will, as many discussions lead me to believe that if they killed off either the show would essentially commit suicide. But this is the reason we all feel like they’ll get offed. It’s a thing.)

Additional spoilers for a ton of things, including: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel the Series, Battlestar Galactica, and The X-Files.

spoiler warning

Continue Reading

Agents of SHIELD Has Lost It (What it looks like when you break up with a TV show)

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s Tuesday again, and for the first time in a few years this is how I feel about there being a new episode of Agents of SHIELD tonight:

carey mulligan mug

Agents of SHIELD has become the most uninteresting, flat portrayal of superpowers in the entire MCU. Even The Incredible Hulk, which is utterly terrible in every way, has more nuance about powers than this. Did I say this last week? Have I said this before a million times in a million places? It’s worth repeating ad nauseam. The main premise (and a lot of the charm) of Agents of SHIELD is that it was always an investigation of how non-powered people deal with a superpowered world. Even Skye’s development of powers in season 2 was about self-discovery and self-acceptance. The superpowers were not plot devices but expressions of character traits or handy practicalities. Now, each episode feels structured around how to best show off nifty tricks that have no bearing on character. They feel cheap, like I’ve been cheated out of emotionally resonant stories about characters I care about in favor of flashy explosions and bizarre turns. You can’t even call this tactic “deus ex machina” because every story is built around how best to exhibit the powers. They’ve become the point rather than the premise.

Coulson, May, and Mack are perfunctory set dressing. Bobbi and Hunter are actually gone. Fitz and Simmons chill in the background and mouth jargon without actually serving any purpose in the story. (This charge was lodged against them at the beginning of the series. Know when they started to be relevant? When it was obvious they were madly, stupidly, profoundly in love with each other and incapable of expressing it. That is an essay in and of itself, but mostly: way to nuke that one.) Skye, or as they insist on calling her, “Daisy” slashes through human and civil rights simply because she has the power, with Lincoln as her romantic-plot-tumor sidekick. The problem with this is that the narrative never questions her. She’s framed as in the right at all times. She’s good, pure, high-minded, authoritarian Daisy. Bow before her coolness and girl power. Don’t question her or you’re a misogynistic hater.

This show sucks. I’m sick of it. It’s seriously currently as bad as it was in 1×01-15. Oh yeah, I went there. It’s over-reached and made itself irrelevant. Even though supposedly there’s a global crisis, everyone is in peril, and all of humanity is about to be enslaved by an Inhuman parasite there are no stakes. None of it matters. For Agents of SHIELD to matter, the villains need to be personal. Arguably, an Inhuman parasite infecting Ward’s body is personal, but that’s not what I mean. The danger itself needs to be personal. The people potentially harmed by failure need to be the agents themselves. There is absolutely no way that the entire world will fall victim to Monster!Ward. You know the good guys win. They have to. This show cannot affect the universe status quo. When SHIELD fell, that became a personal story for the show’s main characters. Coulson’s alien writing and Skye’s superpowers were both personal stories that affected the entire team. Saving the world from an alien contagion is too much. Our contingent of SHIELD agents isn’t in direct, immediate danger so much as everyone is in danger and Daisy’s Secret Warriors have to stop it because they’re so wonderful. The thing that made it work is gone. Even the character details and small background quirks are missing.

Maybe they’re twiddling their thumbs waiting for Civil War the way they did for Winter Soldier. One can hope. But Winter Soldier had six post-movie episodes with which to tell a coherent narrative. Civil War will have three. Currently, the series is hit-or-miss with it’s greatness, but in the past four weeks I’ve felt either apathy or hatred for three out of four episodes. That’s a terrible record. Maybe I’ll change my tune tonight. Maybe they’ll blow me out of the water, bring back all the character dynamics and stories I love, and make me care again. But maybe not. Maybe I’ll just stay profoundly sad that the coolest, smartest, most fun little trope-destroying, transmedia experiment of a series has self-destructed and doesn’t even seem to know it.

Continue Reading

“That’s Almost Romantic!”: FitzSimmons, Romance, and the Observer Effect

Estimated Reading Time: 14 minutes

(This essay is #9 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

I have a long-standing vendetta against romance. The majority of romances in visual-based media are absurd, offensive, unrealistic annoyances that utilize narrative shorthand in place of actual character development and thus never make sense as more than some kind of male fantasy sequence. Media is predominantly an extended make-believe of straight male wish fulfillment. As such, its rare that women are anything aside from hetero sex objects and queer romance is taboo or a punchline. Even romances that aren’t gross masculine indulgence are usually some tumorous plot point included to appease the “lady demographic.” The irony is inescapable: women are perceived as obsessed with romance, but most “romances” in mainstream media are included for male audiences.

Even when relationships are given space to develop, time to breathe, and are a reasonable progression for the characters involved, I still tend to feel generally indifferent towards them. Take, for example, Roslin and Adama on Battlestar Galactica. Their romantic arc is perfectly lovely. I don’t care about it at all. It takes some serious shit for me to fall for a relationship and after every foiled investment it gets that much harder to sway me.

Fitz and Simmons are my actual downfall. Not only are they positive representations of scientists with no superpowers and some fascinating gender politics—the nuances of their relationship feel like they were calculated to eviscerate me. What I used to say was “I have issues and these two stick their fingers right into every single one of them and wiggle them around.” That’s still accurate. Frankly, this did not come out of my brain very well, so I’m sure I’ll return to the topic in the future.

spoiler warning

Continue Reading

Agents of SHIELD’s New Kids

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

(This essay is #5 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

With all the griping at the beginning of Agents of SHIELD about the underdeveloped original characters, the series learned its lesson and introduced three agents adapted from the comic book canon for season 2. All three are presented so effectively that I adored them instantly. This in contrast to the disaster of a first season where I still didn’t care for some of the characters by the end. Two things are in play here: the first is that Hunter, Mack, and Bobbi are fully developed when initially presented to us and even have their own history and business together separate from the main narrative. The second is that all three are introduced by treating our old friends kindly, helping, or saving them.

This is less an essay and more a collection of brief character analyses, but I love the new kids so much that they definitely qualify as one of the reasons I adore Agents of SHIELD on the whole. Trying to articulate just what I love about their personalities results in some nebulous commentary, so bear with me.

spoiler warning

Continue Reading

Nobody’s Nobody (Except When They Are): Agents of SHIELD and the Problem of Coulson (v. 2)

Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes

(This essay is #3 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

It’s time to talk about our fearless leader: Phil Coulson. Agents of SHIELD was conceived entirely as a vehicle for Coulson, a minor character from the film continuity with a large fan following. Coulson was Jossed (aka “killed for plot reasons”) in 2012’s The Avengers and the outcry was so enormous that an entire series was built around resurrecting him. Agents of SHIELD‘s genesis is more complicated than that (experimenting with different media formats to optimize all available revenue streams has a lot to do with it too), but without Coulson there is no Agents of SHIELD.

Which is why it’s too bad that Coulson was never really a character at all. It’s doubly too bad that it took nearly an entire season of Agents of SHIELD for them to fix that problem. (I wrote a much shorter piece about this before season 2.) Advance warning that almost all of the links in this piece are to TV Tropes.

spoiler warning

Continue Reading

Agents of SHIELD as Accountable Cult TV

Estimated Reading Time: 18 minutes

(This essay is #2 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

Agents of SHIELD is the glue that holds the Marvel Cinematic Universe together. Not exclusively, and sometimes not entirely successfully, but there’s no denying that the work the series does is deeply enriching to the MCU as a whole. Through its utilization of cult TV conventions, the pioneering transmedia interconnectivity in the MCU, and its own nerdy sensibility, Agents of SHIELD is a (nearly) ideal example of cult television and the storytelling potential of modern media. I love cult TV, meta, intertextuality, and transmedia storytelling so much that a lot of times I just start squealing like people can understand what high-pitched piggy noises mean. So, here I’ll unpack it in human English with as little jargon as possible.

Additional spoiler warnings for: The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica (2003), Lost

spoiler warning

Continue Reading

Black Mirror’s Virgins and Whores: Science Fiction and the Woman Problem

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Yesterday, at a loose end and with a few hours to kill, I decided to give Black Mirror a go. All I knew about it was that it was “weird” and one of the episodes had Hayley Atwell. Cool.

Black Mirror is a sci-fi anthology series with a new story every episode. The most accessible comparison is that it’s like Twilight Zone. Every story in Black Mirror is a fascinating exploration or deconstruction of modern technology and society’s reliance on it. The basic premises are intriguing and the stories are quite good. I enjoyed it. But the thing that kept me from adoring it is the same thing that keeps me intellectually detached from a lot of classic science fiction. Women in these stories are archetypes who exist almost solely as plot points for men.

Women are more than just love objects and baby incubators. Yes, miraculously, women have their own internal lives. No, they aren’t wandering wombs desperate for insemination. And no, they’re not constantly out to screw you in every capacity.

spoiler warning

Continue Reading