Thursday, 20 July 2017

Genderless: Girly Robots and Geek Backlash

Girl robots. Confusing, apparently.
Back in my childhood, The Transformers: The Movie introduced something new and a bit baffling to the Transformers universe. Not that double definite article, although that was a head scratcher, but Arcee, the first (I think, more or less, anyway) female Transformer.

Why should that be confusing? Well, I suspect that it's closely related to the reason why the new Doctor is such a hot button topic for many people. The Transformers, like the Time Lords, are alien beings, and many would argue that they are, effectively, genderless. The thing is, by 'genderless', they – perhaps unconsciously – mean 'all dudes.' I suspect that many of these critics are legitimately weirded out by the fact that suddenly the Transformers are split between boy robots and girl robots(1), but the reason that a female transformer brings this to the fore is that they – that we – had been, consciously or not, screening out the fact that every other Transformer was coded male. Even if we never heard them speak with a male voice they had traditionally masculine proportions – broad chest(2), narrow hips, big arms – if they were largely humanoid, and were universally referred to as 'he' within the narrative.
"We're going with pink then?"
It's confusing, people argued, because robots don't have sex. Well, probably not; it's essentially a kids' toy line we're talking about. It's certainly true that, wrecking ball scrota aside, Transformers are as sexless as a Ken doll, but that doesn't mean that they don't have gender. They do, and almost all of them are coded male (12 in 13 in the current Unified Continuity, I believe, reflecting that only one of the 13 Primes was female(3),) both in voice acting and in their physical and character design. What people usually mean by arguing that the originals don't have gender is that, as long as all of the Transformers on screen are coded male, we can kid ourselves that actually no, they're genderless. We just use he for convenience; Optimus Prime isn't a dude(4), honest. As soon as one of them demonstrably isn't a dude, however, all of the others are. A distinction appears on screen and now you can't deny it; they're all dudes, except her.

Strongarm. Not pink.
The other problem in Transformers, of course, is that the original female Autobot was Arcee, who was pink and very, very girly, and basically killed any chance of increasing female representation in the franchise for the next ten years, before Blackarachnia and Airazor made their debuts in Beast Wars. She made a brief appearance in Revenge of the Fallen, in which she was unceremoniously killed off. Outside of the live action movies, female Transformers are becoming more prevalent (at least 1 in 13) and less... femme. Arcee returned in Transformers: Prime as a two-wheeled badass with a heart of gold under a forbidding frown and a crisp, dark blue paint job. She wasn't in the follow up, Robots in Disguise, but that had Strongarm, a tough and eager, if somewhat by the book, cadet with a much more conventional Autobot frame, including four wheels, angular body panels and those narrow, gunfighter hips, and just a hint of lippy (and a female voice actor) to code her as feminine. The nature of representation is, however, a completely different topic, for another time, perhaps.

The dissonance caused by the sudden presence of a female exemplar in a formerly all-male world doesn't just annoy your actual, card-carrying chauvinists. It also means that those fans who self-identify as liberal feminists while they nestle snuggly into their male-dominated media are suddenly confronted with the fact that, as much as they may not be active sexists, they live in a world filled with passive, institutionalised sexism. People deal badly with discovering that something they love is riddled with ingrained prejudice, and pointing it out to them – whether actively or as a side-effect of casting against that prejudice – tends to get a defensive reaction. In the former case, they will often angrily defend the intentions of the creators, which is all well and good, but good intentions only go so far. The latter is viewed as a betrayal, because the beloved itself is telling them that it was sexist before.

It's a manifestation of the backlash effect, of course. "If we cast a woman as the Doctor now, then all the times we didn't might have been - gasp - sexist. Well, I'm not going to stand by and hear Doctor Who derided as sexist! If the other Doctors were men, that must have been right and proper, because that means Doctor Who was never sexist." (And then there are your card-carrying douchebags, but what can you ever do about them except proper education funding?)
I mean, does this look like someone with two hearts to you?
Female Transformers still mess with people's heads, and the female Doctor raises the same issue in people's minds, with some arguing that making the Doctor female is wrong because the Doctor is an alien and has no gender. The same argument is advanced whenever someone suggests casting a person of colour in the role of the Doctor. It's political correctness gonne madde! The Doctor isn't a white man, he's an alien, so why do you have to drag race/gender into it? If the Doctor is black, they argue, you're corrupting the alien purity of the character with a racial agenda. They argue thusly because black is a race. Likewise, if the Doctor is female, then the Doctor has gender, because female is a gender. White and male on the other hand are not a gender or a race; they're a default. This is, of course, why it is important to cast a woman as the Doctor, or a person of colour(5), because unless it is challenged then white and male will continue to be viewed as the neutral setting, and they just aren't. I for one am glad to see Doctor Who finally stepping up on this.

They're also dark skinned, by the way.
I couldn't find this image attributed; if you can point me to the artist, I will
It's this perception that makes the Imperial Radch series so interesting. The Radch is an ungendered society, not differentiating at all between male and female. Citizens of the Radch are somewhat androgynous, but also do not code for gender cues, so that they struggle to recognise gender even in outsiders. In the text of the novels, this is represented by using female pronouns for all characters, save for a few instances in the first novel in which Breq, the narrator-protagonist, has to communicate with non-Radch in a gendered language(6). The impact of shifting the default setting is profound, not least in that it barely affects the narrative, but provokes the reader to examine their own expectations. It makes no difference to the story if any given character is male or female, but you catch yourself assuming they are all women until you realise that is... if not impossible, given the setting, then at least unlikely.

A similar effect can be excited in white readers by any novel in which black is considered the default, and only white characters are referred to by race. (White) authors Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovich both use this deliberately, in Anansi Boys and the Rivers of London series respectively. It's always a bit of an eye opener when your brain parses the dissonance of someone actually being described as a white man, instead of just a man. To my considerable shame, I don't think I've read enough black literature to know how prevalent this is there; I'm taking steps in that direction as part of this year's reading challenge, because there's no worth in identifying a lack and allowing it to continue.

You know you'e reaching when Michelle Yeoh isn't tough enough for you.
For further proof of the blinkered insistence in white male normalcy, one need look little further than the reaction to the early trailers for Star Trek: Discovery, which angrily denounced the idea of putting a woman in charge of a starship, let alone giving one the lead in a Star Trek series, and never mind a Chinese woman! Do these showrunners not understand Star Trek? Do they think that Gene Roddenberry created the original series in order to show women and non-white characters fully integrated into a multiracial, egalitarian society(7)? Honestly, I suspect that the only reason we don't have record of a similar outrage over the casting of Avery Brooks as Ben Sisko is that DS9 came out shortly before the internet exploded, so he was an established fact by the time a critical mass of aggrieved white men had access to proper forums.

I hope that the new Doctor will challenge the concept of genderless. She shouldn't be the female Doctor, or even 'the Doctor as female' particularly. She should simply be the Doctor, and like any other Doctor 90% of her lines should work for any other Doctor with minimal rewriting(9). If her personality has feminine affects, they should not be in any form so tangible as to be easily describable. She shouldn't be markedly more empathic and nurturing, at least not outside the usual bounds of regenerative variation. She should be compassionate, as the Doctor always should. Even the 12th Doctor, who has been broadly characterised as an insensitive ass, is compassionate. She definitely shouldn't be getting into a relationship with a companion, male or female, any more than her predecessors did (and less than some of the more recent ones,) and the same definitely goes for crashing the TARDIS(10).

I suppose what I really want the show to prove over the next few seasons is that in the last 12-14(11) regenerations the Doctor was truly not defined by his gender, by not defining the new Doctor by hers.

No regeneration posters with 13 yet, given that she doesn't have a look, so let's finish with some ponies.
(1) And what is the purpose of sexual dimorphism, indeed of sex, in robots? Don't ask, and definitely don't Google.
(2) Optimus Prime's truck windscreen has always turned into his pecks.
(3) The one who died of a tragic love story, incidentally. They're trying, but with mixed results. In fairness, she was also the weaponsmith of the 13.
(4) I love Optimus, but he is so a dude.
(5) Full disclosure, I am still committed to British, but I'm trying to escape that.
(6) Which incidentally means that the only major character whose assigned biological sex is known is Breq's defrosting ice queen sidekick; who is male.
(7) I'll be the first(8) to admit that Roddenberry was often hamfisted and misguided in his attempts to depict his post-scarcity, post-prejudice utopia, but he certain wasn't deliberately creating white man adventures in space. It just... came out that way sometimes.
(8) Okay, I won't, because this subject is waay old and loads of people have already done it.
(9) When Colin Baker took over from Jon Pertwee in The Ultimate Adventure, they basically changed one 'polarity of the neutron flow' and made a fight scene less aikido-y.
(9) Although, fair play, I've played LEGO Dimensions and I've stacked the TARDIS into just about anything and everything in the world.

(10) YMMV.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Game of Thrones - 'Dragonstone'

Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy season.

Spoilers ahoy

We're going back to Westeros, and winter is here as we begin the first episode of seven in Season 7 of Game of Thrones with what I think is only the second cold open in the show's history. The last revealed that the Hound was still alive; this one that Walder Frey is surprisingly vertical and upbeat, gathering his leather-capped kinfolk for a feast to thank them for the murder of the Starks at the Red Wedding with a rousing toast and a generous cup of hemlock before ripping off his face a la the late Martin Landau to reveal the cherubic features and sinister smile of my daughter's namesake: Arya Stark. Leaving a message with a Frey woman (daughter, wife; it's hard to tell with Walder's household) that 'the North remembers,' she then heads south, where she runs into singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.

Now, this cameo has aroused considerable ire, presumably from people who dislike Sheeran on principle, because while nothing especially noteworthy, it isn't inherently offensive to my eyes, as someone whose life has yet to be impacted by the artiste's music. He's an okay actor, and mostly is required to sing(1) a song about ladies and hands of gold in a scene which seems intended to open Arya's eyes to the possibility that the Lannister troops may not be her enemies, even if Cersei is. She tells them she's going to King's Landing – which they describe basically as 'worse than Detroit' – to kill the Queen. They all have a good laugh, none of them try to rape her and no-one gets murdered. It's all rather sweet and it's perhaps disturbing that we've reached the point that I'm kind of moved that no-one commits a major felony over dinner.

In King's Landing, Cersei is redecorating, but her floor map mostly proves that she's short on actual kingdoms under her rule. Surrounded by foes, she nevertheless intends to overcome through sheer spite, and dismisses Tommen's suicide as a betrayal. Even Jaime seems to be working out that she is batshit insane at this point. Nonetheless, she is able to hold her own in negotiations with Euron Greyjoy, who offers her his part of the Iron Fleet in exchange for marriage. When she refuses, on the grounds that he's a dodgy bastard, he offers to return with a great gift, and I'm thinking he's planning to kidnap Tyrion.

In the North, the Brotherhood – still accompanied by the Hound – stop at an abandoned farmhouse, where the owner and his daughter have died. Of course, this is the family that Sandor Clegane robbed while travelling with Arya, but now his pragmatic douchebaggery seems to be crumbling under the weight of guilt and fire-born revelations of the approaching Army of the Dead, and Thoros finds him digging a grave for the family in the bitter cold of the night.

Jon decides that women are going to train to fight the White Walkers – with a storming endorsement from Lady Lyanna 'Don't Fuck with Me' Mormont – and then once more defies Sansa's advice and restores the Umbers and the Karstarks to their castles under the command of their spotty, teenaged lords. Sansa is livid that he doesn't use those lands to pay off loyal northerners, and I think that Jon missed a trick in not pointing out to her that, in addition to not winding up the houses with more executions – which is what got Robb betrayed – he's placing them back in control of, as they have just discussed, ground zero of an impending White Walker invasion. He receives a raven from Cersei telling him to come to King's Landing and bend the knee or face destruction, but his eyes are on the north. Sansa is watching his back so far, and giving Littlefinger the coldest shoulder she feels she can get away with, delivering a sick burn that you couldn't have imagined from the Sansa of even a couple of seasons ago when she tells him not to bother trying to get the last word. "I'll just assume it was something clever."

Up at the Wall, Meera Reed brings Bran to the gates, where they are admitted after Bran is all uncanny at Jon's buddies. Further north still, the army of the dead – now including giant wights, because that was necessary – advances.

In Oldtown, Sam is doing drudgework, mostly involving shit, and damn little Sam is growing fast. Sam asks his Archmaester – Jim Broadbent getting his Dumbledore on – for access to the Library's restricted section. The Archmaester believes that he has seen the Army of the Dead, and explains that the Maesters of the Citadel are the memory of the Seven Kingdoms; the wisdom and the foresight that keeps men from acting like animals. He assures Sam that the Wall will always stand, but maybe it's just me, but I'm sure that talk about foresight was a kind of nod for Sam to do what he does, which is to break into the restricted section and make a few withdrawals. Back at his lodgings, Gilly finds reference to the mountain of dragon glass on Dragonstone which Stannis mentioned, and he sends word to Jon. Then he is accosted by Jorah Mormont, currently resident in a leper cell in the Citadel, who asks if the Queen has come yet.

In Westeros, black - or at least dark - is the new black.
Down at Dragonstone, the Queen indeed arrives, sweeping into the abandoned fortress of Stannis Baratheon to reclaim her birthplace and ask her advisers rhetorically: "Shall we begin?"

Yes. Let us begin, if not the beginning, then the beginning of the end. It feels as if the dummies are played out now, and the real players all revealed. Cersei, Jon and Danaerys; Sansa, Littlefinger and Tyrion; Euron and Yara; the Mountain and the Hound. Events are moving towards a conclusion, even if not a definite one, although I am trying to brace myself for some devastating reversal in episode 7.7 where everyone dies but a few babies and Season 8 is Little Sam and Lady Mormont in Game of Thrones: The Next Generation.

Next week(2): plans, plots, girl-on-girl action and the return of the direwolf in 'Stormborn'.

(1) Perhaps in a slightly modern style.
(2) By the short preview.

Killjoys - 'A Skinner, Darkly'

Dutch wants a war, so it's time to get an army.

I say army; it's more of a logistical support corps.
With Johnny still on the lam and a data retrieval mission going bad due to lack of technical savvy, Turin decrees it is time to get a new brain. Thus he digs up three of the RAC's finest lab rats and sends them on a mission with Team Dutch to determine if they've got the stuff. The mission in question takes them into a facility where a contagion is on the loose. With all five infected and terminal sterilisation protocols in effects, the nerd squad will have to come good to get them out alive.

Meanwhile, Johnny gets Olli checked out – after asking the barkeep those pointed questions - and finds that her 'kill switch' was triggered. Learning that the false-faced assassin had received treatment from a rejuvenation clinic, our intrepid pair infiltrate and learn that the clinic is killing and skinning hackmod owners, in order to allow mods to wear their skins. The skins are preserved with plasma, which is of course of great interest to Johnny. Clara's friend Yuki, who works at the plant, warns them off, revealing that Olli is Clara, with her memory blocked and her face changed due to scheduling conflicts. They meet with Yuki later, but one of her mods emits a pulse that disables all of the hackmods in the bar, leaving Johnny to be captured so that Niko can infiltrate the RAC by giving someone his face.

Dutch's mission goes further south when bio-nerd Zeph sacrifices herself to complete the mission objective. The whole thing is revealed to be a simulation, and Zeph alone fails Turin's test by not getting out alive. She insists that she knew it was a simulation, but Turin is not interested, dismissing her and recruiting the two tech nerds to the fight. Dutch, however, finds Zeph at the Royale and tells her that she needs biologists to fight the Hullen.

"Let me tell you about my mother..."
Niko reveals to Johnny that she plans to destroy the hackmod owners and their factory using her skin-grafted infiltrators and the properties she is discovering in the plasma. Olli busts into the clinic and fights Niko. It's a close fight, but Johnny escpaes the surgical chair using his laser finger and calls in the other hackmods to shut Niko down. Johnny retrieves Niko's list of plasma sources and heads back to the Quad, leaving Clara/Olli to continue the fight for a hackmod homeland at the far end of the Jay.

As Dutch welcomes Johnny home, Delle Seyah revives in a ship, where she is taken to meet Aneela.

I have to say, I'm not loving that Karma Houdini at the end, although from her attitude Delle Sayah knows that she's not come up smelling of roses. Normally in control of every situation, faced with Aneela she's basically bricking it, and that's something. Olli/Clara is a pretty fair replacement for Stephanie Leonidas, and Niko subverts the classic femme fatale tropes of her look by being her own brains and muscle. Zeph looks like being a good addition to the team, although her male competitors are pretty forgettable. Also, she might be a mole; always so hard to say.

All of which pales beside the heartfelt reunion of Johnny and the team (I would say Johnny and Dutch, as the Brothers Jaqobis are sort of 'sup', but there's also Lucy to consider, who informs Jonny that if she could cry, she would be rusting.) Yay!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Doctor Who - Jodie Whittaker, the 13th Doctor

I'm actually a little sad this is just a placeholder outfit. It's got a lot going for
"You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit the views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering."
- The Fourth Doctor predicts the internet

So, there's a new Doctor in the TARDIS, and it's a woman. Naturally enough, the internet has exploded with comments ranging from 'the Doctor has always been male' to 'BBC PC liberal agenda' to 'I look forward to seeing this fail the way Ghostbusters 2016 failed'. Particularly popular, with each commenter presumably imagining themselves to be original, are: 'What next, James Bond as a woman(1)', and 'I'm not sexist, but...'

Special mention to the individual who expressed the hope that now that the lead in this family show was a woman, the Doctor would be flashing her bits in the TARDIS. Keeping it classy, internet.

So anyway, as an outspoken would-be superfan, here's my take on the casting decision that has propelled Whittaker past Foster as 'most frequently searched Jodie on Google.'

A female actor paying the Doctor(3), and why not? Seriously, the only even slightly convincing argument I've seen is that the Doctor was one of a small number of positive, non-violent role models for boys on television, although anyone who's been paying attention lately would have a hard time mistaking the Doctor for a role model as Steven Moffatt set out to remodel him as a dangerous, amoral, petty lunatic. Besides, if we don't have the Doctor, there's always the companions, as I'm sure women who have complained about the lack of a female Doctor have been told for decades.

I have no problem in-universe either. Based on regenerations that we have seen, it's apparent that Time Lords tend towards a given gender, but can fluctuate (the Master always went male except Missy, the Doctor always male until now, whereas the General in 'Hell Bent' is clearly relieved to be back to her more accustomed female form. I get the feeling that the Corsair was more fluid than most, but we really have no evidence. No, there is no in-universe issue with the Doctor being a woman.

"Everyone hates her. Not because she's a woman, but because she sucks."
The main worry I have now is the same one I had about Wonder Woman. Jodie Whittaker is now the test case for a female Doctor, and by extension for anything outside the white male mould. After several seasons of hit and miss stories and twelve years of the still problematic 45-minute single-episode story model you didn't see anyone protesting the casting of Peter Capaldi on the grounds that 'no white man could ever be the Doctor', but if they fuck up Whittaker's freshman year that's the takeaway re casting anyone else. This coming season needs to be gold, and that's a tough demand when you consider that this must surely be the aim every year. On the upside, we have a new incoming showrunner, and traditionally the first year of a nuWho showrunner's residency has been a humdinger. RTD gave us the Ninth Doctor, and Moffatt the excellent freshman of Eleven. It wasn't until later in their runs that the good began to be overtaken by the self-indulgent claptrap(4), messianic bullshit or incomprehensible deconstructive assassination of the main character. If Chibnall can come in with an equally strong opening, with good writing by good writers, then we could be looking at something to convince all but the most diehard naysayers(5).

And what about the Doctor herself? Well, that's going to be fiddly. The fact that the 13th Doctor is a woman can neither be the be all and end all of her characterisation, nor a purely cosmetic thing, although for my money it should tend towards the latter. At all costs, they should avoid the route taken by Exile of making the female Doctor a joke(6). She needs to tap into a previously underexplored node of the Doctor's core personality, but whatever her script is, it should on some level work for almost any Doctor, give or take a few mannerisms and catchphrases. She needs, above all, to be the Doctor, as difficult a thing as that is to get hold of in these days of Time Lords Triumphant and self-loathing hissy-fits. They should probably steer clear of making her the empathic Doctor or the nurturing Doctor, and conversely avoid anything too cold and prim.

"It's someone else's gun. Loophole!"
If I were going to write this(7), I would go for something in a compassionately pragmatic Doctor, willing to go the extra mile for a stranger, but able to make a hard choice when needed(8). I'm inclined towards the Bakers for a characterisation guide, big and bold, yet capable of quiet intensity and introspection, but that might just be the coat in the trailer. Oh, but definitely not RP. It's well established that lots of planets have a north, so let's stick with that. She should be physically able, but non-violent. There's precedent for a violent Doctor from Pertwee and both Bakers, and even Davidson a little, but nuWho has – I think wisely – steered towards a characterisation that avoids physical conflict most of the time. The 13th Doctor should stick to that. I'd like to see problem solving and improvisation; quick wits and incisive intelligence, and the kind of understanding of people that you should have after millennia moving among them and involving yourself in their lives. And less sonic, but definitely still a screwdriver(9).

And most of all, I want them not to fuck it up. I want for this incarnation of the Doctor to be as beloved as any other; more so than some, I dare say.

(1) Or as we like to call it, Atomic Blonde. Now, I have an idea: James Bond as a decent excuse for a human being(2). Now there's radical.
(2) Male or female; there are women called James.
(3) I prefer this to 'a female Doctor', as the latter suggests a gimmick.
(4) There is a definite case to be made in probably all art for not allowing the creative mind to get comfortable. I'm sure I'd write more if I didn't have the day job. On the other hand, I have a daughter to support, so the day job isn't going anywhere.
(5) And let's be honest, you're never going to convince someone whose stated position is 'I have never watched Doctor Who, but this is a betrayal of all the series means and another sign of the liberal PC rot in British society.'
Now there's an idea for the next round of Start to Finish...
(6) Exile was the sixth Doctor Who Unbound audio play, and saw the Doctor switch gender after committing suicide to force a regeneration and avoid the Time Lords at the end of 'The War Games'. As a woman, the Doctor hid out on Earth, numbing her mind with alcohol and working at a Tesco. That she was a woman wasn't the core of the joke, but we still ended up with a female Doctor who was a joke. She finally got to become the Doctor she should have been all along at the end of the play, moments before it was heavily implied she was tricked by the Time Lords into triggering her own destruction by seeking to evade imprisonment within her own TARDIS, which was one hell of a tonal whiplash.
(7) Chris? Chibbers? Email, yeah?
(8) And, vitally, to make a hard call even when it impacts on her companions. Being able to sacrifice strangers is callous; being able to sacrifice yourself is noble; being able to sacrifice a friend to save strangers, and to live with it, is heroic. Not that I'm saying they ought to throw a companion under the bus, but to show the Doctor willing would not only emphasise a different aspect of the character than nuWho's more typical irrational, overriding love of the companion, it would also create an interesting new Doctor-companion dynamic if they knew what had almost happened.
(9) Okay, I could live with a variation on the 11th Doctor's used-once sonic cane made from the handle of Missy's umbrella, but if they switch the sonic to a 'girly' accessory then I'll rage quit. Sarah Jane's sonic lippy was her thing, and was something that no-one would think to confiscate because she was a sneaky, undercover journalist. The sonic screwdriver is a tool, not a spy gadget.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Castlevania – Season 1

"I don't care."
A young woman begs Dracula to teach her medicine, and to come out of the shadows to teach humanity to be better; to escape the bonds of superstition and ignorance. Some years later, she is burned as a witch by a tyrannical priest, unleashing Dracula's fury upon all of Wallachia.

After giving a year's grace to clear out, in order to properly raise an army from hell, Dracula sets about his dread work, unleashing nocturnal beasts upon the towns and cities of Wallachia. In the city of Gresit, itinerant former vampire hunter Trevor(1) Belmont falls in with a group of Speakers – nomadic oral historians and occasional magicians – who have been accused by the Bishop – the same who burned Lisa Tepes(2) – of bringing down the demonic infestation by being insufficiently god-fearing. Trevor protects the Speakers and fights the Bishop's clerical leg-breakers. Then he and Magician-Speaker Sypha Belnades lead the townsfolk against the attacking demons, before falling into the catacombs of the wandering Castle Dracula and waking Dracula's son Adrian(3) from his slumber to aid them in the destruction of his father.

And that's it. Just four episodes in this opening season of Netflix new animation. Atmospheric, dark, and packed with as many f-bombs and sassy comebacks as they could get Richard 'Thorin' Armitage to set to audio, it's pretty damn good. The cast is excellent, although Armitage is the clear standout just because he has the best writing. Everyone else is pretty sobre and serious, but Belmont gets to snark like a boss. Armitage is a really good straight actor, but for full value you really need to let him sass a bit, and this show lets him roll. The line 'Ask your floating vampire Jesus' is one for the ages.
"Fine. We'll do the badass walk, but I still don't care."
While overtly anti-clerical, deep down the series reserves its scorn for false shepherds. The Bishop is dedicated not to God's work, but to his own glory, and reminiscent of Pratchett's Deacon Vorbis. His acolytes are bruisers and assassins in clerical garb, and the one 'proper' priest is genuinely able to bless water so that it burns demons. This is much more interesting than just dismissing religion altogether.

Anyway, that was all there was so far. A longer Season 2 is expected next year. I just hope they keep the cast intact.

(1) A good, solid Wallachian name.
(2) Yes, as a married woman she went by 'Mrs the Impaler'.

(3) Another fine Wallachian name, although he also goes by Dracula's favourite impenetrable alias, Alucard.

Killjoys - 'Boondoggie'

Negotiations for the new series went as well as could be expected.
Have your levels of space-bound sass and swagger been getting a bit low of late? Well, worry no more, because the Killjoys are back.

Well, that's sort of true. Dutch and D'av are present and correct, still in their rocky alliance with RAC superior Turin and forming a supergroup with Fancy Lee, Alvis and Pre, to root out infiltrators from the Hullen(1) and prevent the conquest of the Quad by the green goo monsters. Unfortunately, although he is feeding them locations for goo pools, Johnny is not back with the team. Still on the run following the murder of Delle Sayer, he is separated from Clara (probably because Stephanie Leonidas landed a featured gig on Mockney TV spin-off Snatch) and left with new face Olli and Alice, Clara's good arm, now attached to Olli. He does still have Khlyen's dope ride, at least.

Dutch and D'av kidnap a fixer named Pippin, also known as 'the Mouth', to help them retrieve a chemical beacon sent from allies outside the Quad to identify the Hullen infiltrators. Now, this is one hell of a thing to just drop into the first episode of the season, but it turns out to be a bluff. The beacon flushes out the infiltrators because the Mouth is just indiscrete enough to tip off a group of sixed agents, who turn up to arrest the team and thus give them the opportunity to a) prime and collect some more plasma-killer to take out the pools, and b) be all kinds of sassy badass.

"And I shall call my good finger 'Steve'."
Meanwhile, Johnny bonds with Olly as he explains that he and Clara were planning to take out the Factory; the industrial plant which creates hackmods. They find out that Rat City, a hackmod sanctuary, is increasingly unsafe, and Johnny is given a mod of his own – a tiny lightsabre in his finger which makes him incredibly chipper – as the price of leaving a hackmod bar alive. The barkeeper also insists on giving Olli's mods a once over. Later, a supposed contact dummies Johnny away while a mysterious assailant comes to take out Olli, but luckily this isn't Johnny's first rodeo(2). Less fortunately, Olli collapses for reasons unknown, although I feel the barkeep maybe is owed some pointed questions.

Every time a beloved series returns, I worry that it's going to go tits up, but this is a promising opening for my current favourite space opera and inter-Librarians TV happy place. The humour is sharp, the action is cracking, and the characters are just the best. Within the space of the episode, Hanna John Kamen's Dutch is kicking arse, telling scary stories to scary people, and sitting cross-legged on her cabin floor working up a heartfelt conversation with Johnny's latest voicemail. Separating Johnny and Dutch is a bit of a risky play, since so much of the heart of the series rests on their relationship – Olli asks what his deal with Clara was 'fetish, wifey, non-sexual life partner' and he tells her that the latter would be Dutch – but this episode at least makes the separation play to strengthen the bond.

My one disappointment is the absence of Clara, who was awesome, but Olli is pretty good too, and has an immediate chemistry with Johnny as they share 'dark talk' and save each other's lives. She seems pretty eager to belong somewhere, and I hope that's tragedy and not infiltration, because I like her.

(1) And not, as I misheard last season, Holla.

(2) As ever, huge props to the series for remembering that Johnny is the least badass of a Killjoy crew that includes Dutch and D'av, not a wimpy tech diva.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Sense8 – ‘Who am I?’, ‘Obligate Mutualisms’, ‘Polyphony’ and ‘Fear Never Fixed Anything’

"Who am I? Do you mean where I'm from? What I one day might become? What I do? What I've done? What I dream? Do you mean ... what you see or what I've seen? What I fear or what I dream? Do you mean who I love? Do you mean who I've lost? Who am I?

"I guess who I am is exactly the same as who you are. Not better than, not less than. Because there is no one who has been or will ever be exactly the same as either you or me."
Okay, so... I'll be honest, I didn’t; review the first three episodes of this series before because I figured we'd binge through the season and I'd do it in a oner. Then the news of the cancellation and unresolved cliffhanger hit and we lost momentum. Now there's the promise of a last hurrah and resolution, so... Here we go.

Season 2 of Sense8 retains much of the feel of Season 1, with our multicultural cluster of Sensates(1) each doing their own thing, but there's a much stronger arc feel, not least because three of our characters are deep into the arc so that their thing is arc thing.

Will and Riley are still hiding from Whispers, with Will playing cat and mouse as each tries to locate the other. Whispers pins them down to Iceland, thanks to an elaborate ruse with yoghurt and seagull soundtracks, while Will ultimately gets the drop on him, allowing the cluster to set up a meeting with one of his superiors. Unfortunately, Whispers reverses the advantage by murdering his boss after he makes a deal with the cluster, forcing them back on the run but leaving Will with actual blockers instead of heroin.

Never alone.
Capheus is going about his business, but having attracted the interest of a journalist has become quite a celebrity, even beyond his neighbourhood. He is approached to consider running for office, and while he protests that he is not a politician, he is told that people don't want a politician; they want a leader. He goes to the journalist, possibly for advice, but is driven off by her jealous colleagues, who hint that he is a fiction she created and crudely asserting that his interest must be carnal and is thus hopeless, because she is gay(2), leaving him a little adrift.

Wolfgang and Felix hover on the edges of a potential gang war, and are unexpectedly offered a club to run. The owner's secretary makes eye contact with Wolfgang and starts turning up naked and sexy in his brain, revealing herself as part of another cluster, one apparently aligned to some extent with BPO for protection. I practically punched the air when Wolfgang actually told his cluster-mates about this instead of keeping it as a pointless secret.

Kala remains somewhat disconnected, although her pharmaceutical knowledge is key to understanding the blockers, and she begins to discover not only that her father-in-law's religious intolerance is deep-seated and hateful, but that her husband is more interested in making delivery dates than providing good quality drugs.

I'd completely forgotten that Sun fought the same cop on a roof in her
Sun is forced to escape from prison after her brother hires guards to murder her. She goes on the run with the old lady who killed her abusive husband, although her partner in crime then hands herself in so that Sun can get away. Sun goes into hiding with her old martial arts teacher, who is then visited by what seems to be an honest cop, who fought Sun in their student days and was roundly thrashed.

Nomi remains in hiding with Bug, doing the cluster's hack work, until Bug suggests a way around her problems. Reaching out to 'the Guy', he arranges a meeting in a cinema showing one of Lito's films (giving us a lovely scene in which Bug remotely fanboys at Lito,) with a contact who shows in a V for Vendetta mask and offers 'e-death' – Sense8's version of The Dark Knight Returns' clean slate – in exchange for an unspecified but non-tawrdy future favour. Nomi's records and warrants promptly vanish.

Seriously, I'm pretty sure everyone else in the bar just saw Lito neck eight
Lito's career founders as he is typecast as doomed, gay characters, causing him to reject an invitation to be president of the Sao Paulo Pride Parade. He also reminisces about one of his first gay lovers, a photojournalist who turns out to have been part of Angelica's cluster and a victim of BPO's purges. Lito returns to the bar from last season to drink shots with the cluster (not sure how that works to an outside eye) in part in memory of Jonas, who is killed having outlived his usefulness. The bartender tells him that Lito's kiss inspired him. He proposed to his boyfriend and they have enjoyed the best year of their life. This not only shows Lito what he can achieve as a gay actor, but propels the cluster into their next big act of rebellion.

Their last run at Whispers revealed how big the organisation is, which they realise means that there must be lots more Sensates out there. Thus, Riley agrees to DJ a gig for one of her old contacts, in order to put the message out. Three conspicuous figures – one in saffron robes, one some sort of biker and Sylvester McCoy in a Barber hat – see the gig, and Riley draws McCoy to 'visit' the stage, prompting him to flee, but getting their message out before she and Will escape along the Thames ahead of Whispers and his goons.

Man this season is a rollercoaster ride, with first the cluster and then Whispers getting the whiphand week by week(3). Next episode is going to be a downer by that pattern, but on the upside, Sylvester McCoy!

(1) Although this term is actually dropped for the most part in favour of 'homo sensorium'.
(2) She may well be, but the immediate read of this is 'won't sleep with us'.

(3) Or however often we manage to catch it.