Posts tagged sanctuary.

Face Off: Cliched Episodes We See Again and Again

If you are a regular viewer of urban fantasy, you are probably familiar with a few of the tropes that we are going to discuss today. Once a series makes it through the first two seasons and is receiving good ratings inevitably the following episodes will make an appearance. In some cases, the appearance of these episodes sounds the death knell for the show as it is a sure sign that the writers have run out of things to do.

The Body Switch

The spell goes wrong! The machine malfunctions! The bad guy casts a nefarious spell - and suddenly the protagonists are in each other’s bodies. Hijinks ensue. Warehouse 13, Lost Girl, Buffy and so many others. The entire episode then revolves around the characters learning each other’s shoes and the actors desperately trying to play each other’s roles (to mixed success). It rarely, if ever advances any kind of meta-plot and it’s the epitome of passing time in a series.

When they don’t swap bodies there’s a close second - change the character’s gender! Sudden spell and your male character is now female or female male and suddenly it’s like becoming a completely alien species!

The Musical

The musical episode for some fans is a favourite, but in most cases actors become actors because they most certainly cannot sing. The Buffy musical episode is a favourite among many but beyond Anthony Head, not a single  member of the cast could actually sing.

In the case of the wildly popular Sanctuary, the musical episode was a preclude to the end.  When the characters had to converse in song because  Abby who was possessed by an abnormal could not communicate any other way.  The only saving grace in this episode is that we were spared the musical stylings of  Ryan Robbins, because it was torturous enough having to listen to Amanda Tapping, Robin Dunne and Pascale Hutton.

 Enemy Controls a Good Guy

Fred is acting awfully strangely, aren’t they? And absolutely no-one notices except the viewer… and Fred is even trying to hurt his colleagues. Has Fred changed sides? Has he had a moral conflict? Was he a sleeper agent all along? Hah, no, nothing so complex. Fred is one of the bad guys in disguise or possessed by them or mind controlled. He will now go forwards and commit all forms of mayhem before a good friend or lover realises that it’s not really Myka (Warehouse 13) or Piper (Charmed), or Claudia (Warehouse 13), or Lena (Warehouse 13) or Buffy.

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Women in Science Fiction Week: The Problem with Female Representation in Science Fiction on Television

The wonderful thing about science fiction is that the writers have the opportunity to create a world, which while based on ours, can be markedly different. This means that there should be a place for strong female characters who are not restricted by sexism or forced into a situation in which they must perform femininity on a daily basis to be accepted as ‘woman.’ Despite the freedom of this genre; however, nothing is born outside of discourse, which means of course that we end up with the same sexist tropes repeatedly.
Even in shows which readily lend themselves to recurring scenes of violence, because women have historically been framed as delicate and passive, men end up in the leadership roles. This also means that when the action does finally happen, women are placed into nurturing roles like doctors and nurses to aid the wounded men. While some may see this exchange as complementary, it in fact sets up a serious gender divide that is reductive.
We actually see this most strongly and most blatantly in dystopias. In Falling Skies, humanity is locked into a battle for survival against an alien threat. Humanity is nearly extinct, the group is excited at the prospect of a capital that has managed to scrape together 2,000 survivors. The 2nd Massachusetts itself is reduced to a mere 150 people, meaning it has lost nearly half of its already low numbers since the series began. Clearly, this is a series about desperation - every man must be ready to fight, desperately, to survive.
And I said “man” purposefully there. Because, while there are plenty of women in the crowd scenes and even in most of the fight scenes we will find one token, nameless female fighter in a large number of men, the vast majority of the fighters are male. In fact, there’s only ever one named female fighter at a time (Karen, who gets replaced by Maggie after she is captured. She also inherited Karen’s love interest - which did rather make the two women seem interchangeable).
Remember how desperate humanity is here. For most of the show, Jimmy, a 13 year old boy was drafted to fight. As they get more desperate, Matt, a 6 year old boy, starts carrying a gun around and taking part in military action. Where are the women? It’s clearly not a matter of military background with both children and school teachers on the battlefield, why do we only see one or two women standing side by side with their men to hold the line against the alien threat?
By contrast, the most prominent female characters we do see except for the interchangeable-Hal-Love-Interest are, of course, caregivers. Dr. Ann Glass and Lourdes, the medical team for the 2nd Massachusetts. It’s the 21st century, humanity is nearly destroyed, every day is a struggle to survive - I think we can move past men holding guns while women roll bandages.
We can see a similar pervasive female passivity in Alphas, reinforced and ingrained by the special abilities the characters have. Two of the characters, Cameron and Bill, have abilities that make them dangerous in a fight. Their physical capabilities make them the team muscle - contrast that with the two women. Well, they have super senses and limited mind control respectively. The women are inherently placed in support roles and set up as support from the very beginning. And I know that someone will say “well, they don’t have combat powers!” true - but why was it written that way? Why couldn’t Nina have the super-strength? Why did the writers choose the women and the disabled character to have the less active, support powers? And that’s not to say their powers aren’t powerful or useful - far from it - but then, so is rolling bandages.

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Appropriation in Urban Fantasy Should Not be a Plot Point

One of the things I love about urban fantasy, is that it encourages a reader to travel to fantastical imaginary worlds.  Even if the world largely resembles our current society, the addition of vampires, fae, werewolves etc., adds new elements to any story.  A writer must interweave their version of our world into their story, to ensure that there is enough context, to allow the reader to relate with the characters.  Sometimes, this can be achieved with things like having characters go to a specific location, or participate in a very popular cultural activity like checking email.  Some writers however take these connections too far by engaging in revisionist history, and appropriating the experiences of marginalised people.

This can include inserting their protagonist into real historical situations, in an attempt to convey the age of the supernatural in question. Unfortunately, this usually leads to some sort of revisionism as an imaginary character, would have had no role to play for the allies in WWII. Yes, I am looking at you Sanctuary. Kevin Hearne, had his protagonist Atticus play a role in the French resistance.  In Eternal Law, Zak became the Angel of Mons (which is based on a real legend), who guided soldiers to safety in WWI, and was then punished for his action by being forced to defend soldiers accused of going AWOL. Rebbecca Hamilton inserted one of her characters into the Salem witch trials, and in Morgan Rice’s Vampire Journals series, she took it a step further and even used one of the historical people from the trials.  

The worst of this marginalisation is, of course, appropriating marginalised identities and equality movements.  If there were an award for squeezing in the most appropriation in a series, it would have to go to Dan Waters who wrote The Generation Dead Series. Waters has managed to appropriate slurs, appropriate the language of disability, refer to the closet, passing and coming out to describe his zombies revealing their true nature, as well as appropriating the language of the civil rights movement, and appropriating Jim Crow, to apply to the separation of the differently biotic (yes, he actually used that term) and living people.

Carrie Vaugn’s Kitty Norville series has referenced vampires and werewolves coming out of the closet in nearly every book, and has referred to discriminating against werewolves as akin to the temporarily able bodied discriminating against someone with a disease. Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series does this repeatedly - lycanthropy is a disease and anyone discriminating against werewolves is presented as ableist, even though the word isn’t used. It is even overtly said that discriminating against a werewolf, is like discriminating against someone with AIDS. In True Blood, we have vampires who come out of the coffin, and are opposed by right wing religious people, who counter with God hates fangs. Sookie has on more than occasion equated hating vampires with racism.  For his part, Bill Compton, Sookie’s ex boyfriend, decided that it was okay to invoke the civil rights movement. Kim Harrison is fond of acquainting racism with the treatment of pixies, who are fictional creatures. Harrison has gone as far as to assert that the word bug is a slur, when used as a descriptor for pixies.

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Review of Sanctuary Season Four

At this point, I have no idea whether or not Sanctuary is coming back for a fifth season, but if they choose not to, the end of season four actually works quite well for a series finally.  There were no storylines left hanging, and a very strong hint that the Sanctuary would be heading in a very different direction from that which we have become accustomed to.

At the end of season three, Kate left the Sanctuary to work in hollow earth.  Her return did not mean that her character got very much attention this season at all and instead she was little more than a messenger girl, when she wasn’t trying to soothe angry abnormals.  I did not expect that the result of this action would mean that she would largely be absent from this season, and I must say that I was gravely disappointed with the result.

Instead of focusing attention on the awesome Kate, we got far more of Abbey Corrigan, FBI agent and Will’s girlfriend.  This for me was a terrible substitution, because Abbey reads as completely Mary Sue.  Could they have written her character to be any more cloyingly sweet and annoying?  When I finally got around to watching Fugue, the horrible musical episode, I could not help but hope that they would simply let the character die off.  Really, what purpose did she serve?  The only good thing to come from Fugue was the tension that developed between Will and Magnus, which would set the stage for what would come later in the episode.

In The Depths, Magnus and Will travel to a cave to prevent the capture of an extremely rare abnormal. When Will consumes ground water, it heals him instantly but causes him to experience a rage.  He tells Magnus some hard truths about how he feels manipulated by her and he figures out the degree to which she has continuously interfered in his life.  Much of his anger is blamed on the side effects of the water and though they do agree to let bygones be bygones, it is clear lasting harm has now been done.  Will has great respect for Magnus and even loves her to some degree, but now there will always be niggling doubts in his mind.  This is then reinforced by Magnus sending him to work with government, and ending his access to the agency is later episodes. She steadfastly tells him to trust her, but she gives him no reason to trust.

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Review of Sanctuary Season Three

Season Three opens with the continuation of the Big Bertha/ Kali storyline.  As I mentioned in my review of season two, I am not at all pleased with the appropriation of the Hindu religion for the purposes of a plot point.  Season three had 20 episodes and is the longest season to date.  Much of this season is dedicated to the introduction to Hollow Earth - a large city in the center of earth inhabited by an extremely technologically advanced race.

The new big bad this season is Adam Worth who might recognize and Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I suppose the best way to describe him is as the sixth wheel to the big five.  Worth was originally believed to be killed by Magnus and Druitt. If you have been following this series from the beginning, you will note that with the introduction of Worth we now have two characters who neurologically atypical and both of them are violent and criminals.  The fact that disability only appears in a manner that is dangerous is absolutely ableist.  Despite the common myth of the violent neurologically atypical person, the truth of the matter is that they are far more likely to be a danger to themselves than another person.  They could have kept the Dr. Jekyll/Mr.Hyde phenomenon as a product of an experiment gone wrong but instead they chose to construct him as unstable due to his mental functions.

A lot of this story continues to revolve around Will and Magnus but in rare moments we begin to see a bit more of Kate.  The problem is that a lot of time is spent reminding us that Kate has a bad girl past.  In Bank Job, the third episode of this season, Kate stages a fake bank robbery to cover for the teams attempt to secure an immortal hiding in the bank. It is constantly framed that Kate is reforming her ways thanks to her association with Magnus.  She is now on the path to good under Magnus’ tutelage which of course fulfills the trope of Magnus as great earth mother who saves abnormals and brown people. 

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Thankgoodness for Mary Sue

The term Mary Sue is quite common in discussions of urban fantasy. It has become so ubiquitous that  I often wonder if everyone is truly aware of not only what the term means, but how it effects historically marginalised women.  A Mary Sue is a character who is perfect, flawless or only having very cutesy flaws (cute non flaws), and who is instantly adored by all of the cast.  If someone is not instantly enthralled with a Mary Sue, it is because they are jealous and or evil, and sometimes even both.

Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood,  Elena Gilbert from the Vampire Diaries, Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments Series, Tessa Grey from the Infernal Devices series, Elena from Kelly Armstrong’s Otherword Series, Clare from the Morganville Vampires, Abby Corrigan from Sanctuary, Bella Swan from Twilight, are just a few examples of the Mary Sue phenomenon from books, movies and television.Each one of these characters is beloved for absolutely no reason. The people around them follow them without question and without cause quite frankly (especially considering that these women have the sense of a concussed penguin), even in cases when doing so places themselves in jeopardy. Mary Sue represents the most privileged form of femininity in that she is normally straight, cis gendered and White. 

It is rare to see a protagonist of colour in this genre and they never ever fulfill the role of Mary Sue. (In fact, when “Mary Sue” or “self insert” as a criticism is levelled at authors of colour and other marginalised authors, it is usually because the mere presence of a POC character that is capable and not a side-kick is considered “overly perfect” in a genre that frequently prevents POC from being main characters) Mary Sue then on some level relates to the perfection of White womanhood and marking it as superior to women of colour.  In many ways, it reminds me of the faux pedestal that White women have historically been placed upon.  This pedestal exists solely to give them race privilege and certainly does not apply to equality with White men.  

Even as it works to oppress in terms of race, it is also extremely sexist as it leaves no room to appreciate strengths based in intelligence, loyalty, speed, humor or strength.  It tells women that they must perform womanhood in a very specific manner to be considered truly feminine. Mary Sue is not complimentary to women, and in fact acts as a sort of literary corset, restricting individuality even as it promotes a false form of agency.  Real women are not made of sugar and spice and all that’s nice.

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Review of The Sanctuary Season Two

The best episodes of season two were the first two.  I am not saying that it was all downhill from there, just that it was hard to top the emotion that the scooby gang, yes that’s what I am calling them went through with Ashley’s death.  It really humanized Magnus to watch as she searched for any clue that her daughter might possibly be alive.  I could really feel her pain as a mother, and I loved watching Will turn from just another sidekick into a true anchor for her. In the end, I think that Ashley died so that the audience could get a sense of jeopardy from the show.  If week after week the scooby gang fights impossible odds and survives then there is no real tension. With Ashley dead they created the possibility that a cast member that we have grown to care about could actually die at some point.

I don’t think that Magnus becomes any less irritating this season.  This in part is because the writers insist on inserting her in history to validate the fact that she is 158 years old. Did you know that she was even on the Titanic and was saved by the unsinkable Molly Brown? I have to admit I rolled my eyes at that one.  Who is this woman, Forest Gump? I know, I know, Momma always said that life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.   Is it possible that there is a historical moment in which she did not participate, or a historical person that she did not meet?

This season we finally got the introduction of a regular character of colour.  Kate Freelander who is played by Agam Darshi is forced to turn to the Sanctuary after being captured by the scooby gang and she is deemed compromised by the cabal. At first she is resistant to becoming a part of the sanctuary but she eventually takes Ashley’s place.  Her loyalty is tested twice with the most obvious being the episode in which she meets Jimmy, a former gang member that Magnus is trying to help.  Jimmy as it turns out, is the man that killed her father.  This is a growth episode for Kate, as she realizes that she could have been Jimmy and that she alone is responsible for how her life turned out. In typical paternalistic fashion, Magnus reminds her that she still has her whole life in front of her.

One of the more touching episodes this season is Fragments.  An abnormal named Jack who communicates with sign language attacks Rachel, the woman that Henry loves.  Jack’s food is poisoned to encourage him to kill Henry because Gerald rightfully believes that Henry has become the third wheel in his marriage.  This episode is all about accepting ourselves for who we are and believing that we are worthy of love.  In the end, Henry lets Rachel go, though she professes her love for him, because he fears that it will hurt his friend Gerald. One thing I am confused about, as a far Henry’s characters goes, is the idea that he would never be able to be human again if he transforms to a wolf. 

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