Television Tuesday :: 5 moments in 2015 television

15 Dec

By my drift partner, regarding shows I have not watched (yet).

5. Korra and Asami are in love and walk off into the future holding hands.
Technically, the finale of The Legend of Korra aired on December 19th, 2014, but I’m counting it because I didn’t watch the series all the way through until February this year. Korra has a complicated history, because Nickelodeon has never understood or appreciated the sophistication and depth of either of its shows set in the Avatar universe. The first season is messy, uneven, and ultimately disappointing, and after that Nick got more and more cagey and uncertain about it, up to the point of giving the creators an ultimatum that either they would have one less episode in the fourth and final season, or they would have to reuse clips from old episodes, because they were cutting the show’s budget. (They opted for the clip show and it’s…well, they did their best with what they had.) But here’s one remarkable thing about it: after a while, the creators completely stopped giving a shit about what the network thought, and when they realized their two female leads seemed to be heading towards a romantic relationship, they just let it happen. These two characters, Korra and Asami, had been presented as romantic rivals for the attentions of a male character (Mako) in seasons 1 and 2. But over time, they realized how ridiculous they were being and began to be friendly towards one another, eventually ending up working together as part of the new Team Avatar.

Korra is a children’s show, which means that a lot of the “Korrasami” moments are subtle by necessity and if you’re not used to looking for queer subtext/if you’re not expecting it, you might miss some of them. (Although, Korra mentions having written long letters to Asami during her recovery, so not that subtle.) But in the final moments of the finale, Asami comes up to Korra and they talk quietly for a moment about all that has happened. Korra jokes about them going off on a vacation to the Spirit World together (uh, long story) and Asami agrees. They walk off into the Spirit World portal while holding hands at gazing at each other. It looks like this, okay. And if that wasn’t enough for you, creators Bryan Konietzko and Mike di Martino confirmed just days after the finale aired that, yes, that ending means Korra and Asami are bisexual and in love. I had stopped watching the show after season 1, swearing in my disappointment never to go back – unless Korra and Asami got together. I remember hearing the news about the finale and thinking I was being punked. But I wasn’t. That really happened. Sometimes I remember it and am shocked all over again. I literally would never have expected it – and yet, there it is. I expect to be disappointed, but Korra taught me that sometimes wanting something badly pays off.

4. The reveal of Martian Manhunter in Supergirl.
This one just happened a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t a gamechanging moment or anything, but it was definitely exciting. One of Kara’s allies in the show, Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), was introduced as the head of the Department of External Operations (DEO) and often he and Kara (Melissa Benoist) worked together in the first few episodes. They sometimes butt heads on how best to handle superhuman criminals, but have largely been able to put aside their disagreements, partially with the help of Kara’s foster sister and Hank’s employee, Alex (Chyler Leigh). Recently, the show revealed that Alex’s father died under mysterious circumstances and Hank might know what really happened, and Kara became determined to get answers. As it turned out, Hank revealed to Alex that her father, Jeremiah Danvers, had sacrificed himself in order to protect an alien refugee that Jeremiah and the real Hank Henshaw had been hunting. The person we knew as Hank Henshaw is truly J’onn J’onzz, AKA the Martian Manhunter. I hadn’t bothered to think about it too much, so this was a complete surprise to me and I actually screamed a little (happily). I’m mostly familiar with J’onn through the excellent Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons, and if this version anything like that J’onn, I’m so excited to see where they go with him.

3. 90% of things that happened in unREAL.
I held off on this show for a while, even though its first season was only 10 episodes and aired over the summer, so it’s a quick watch. It airs on Lifetime, which I was skeptical of, but Constance Zimmer got top billing and several of my friends were very enthusiastic, so I gave it a shot the other day. I was riveted the whole way through. The show is basically a deconstruction of “reality” TV like The Bachelor, telling the story of a crew who works on a similar show, called Everlasting. Our POV characters are Rachel (Shiri Appleby), an ex-contestant who had a nervous breakdown on air and was eventually coaxed back to be a producer, and Quinn (Zimmer), the hardass executive producer of the show who wants ratings and results at any cost. They are both terrible people, for different and similar reasons, but Quinn is the more blatantly awful one. She manipulates and bribes her way through the season of Everlasting, which features a variety of women competing for the hand of a disgraced British nobleman.

It’s amazing to watch Zimmer, who one instinctively hates from the beginning, but I also found myself pitying her as the show went on – she’s confident and brash, but part of her is deeply lonely also. She finds an apprentice in Rachel, who is still in recovery (and denial) from the mental health issues that led to her breakdown, and who wants to believe she doesn’t have a problem (she really does). These characters are not “nice” and they’re not exactly likeable, but they’re layered and interesting and masterfully played, and, I admit, I enjoy the batshit shenanigans that happen both while the Everlasting cameras are rolling and while they aren’t. It’s not a pleasant show, exactly, but it’s a fascinating look at deeply flawed people and a deeply flawed industry. (I should note that there is an enormous suicide trigger for the end of episode 7, as well as for most of episode 8, which deals with the fallout of that incident. Also, mental health issues such as bipolar disorder and PTSD are discussed and showcased, and a physically abusive relationship is discussed.)

2. Wally West on The Flash.
It’s been an odd season of this show, but hands down my favorite thing to have happened is the lead-up to Wally West. In the comics, West is the nephew of Barry’s wife Iris, but obviously since they’re young adults and Iris is (apparently) an only child, they shifted the story around. Iris’ mother Francine shows up in one episode, begging Joe to let her see her daughter, but Joe refuses, as he told Iris Francine was dead in order to keep her from knowing that her mother abandoned their family. Eventually Francine finds Iris and tells her that she found Iris because Francine will die within the year of a degenerative disease. Francine tells Iris that she wants Iris to know she has a brother, Wally, who Francine was pregnant with when she left. Iris is shocked, and spends several episodes unsure whether or not to tell her father about Wally, but eventually with Barry’s help, she confesses. Joe becomes emotional that his son had no father and Barry reassures him that, having raised him, Barry knows that Joe would have done everything he could for Wally if he had known Wally existed. Then, in the last few minutes of the winter finale, the Wests, Barry, and the Star Labs team are having a Christmas party at Joe’s house, and it’s all very festive – and then comes a knock at the door. I was expecting something very bad to happen, so when Joe opened the door to a young man who introduced himself as Wally I screamed very loudly and then had to get up and walk around the room to deal with all my feelings. (I’m delightful to watch TV with.)

1. Jessica Jones’ lead character.
I’d known this series was coming for a year or two, and been mildly intrigued prior to having tracked down the Alias comics it would be based on. After Alias, I was totally on board with the idea and thrilled to see where they would take it. Jessica Jones is a unique character: she is surly, violent, and technically unlikeable in a way that female protagonists are rarely allowed to be in mainstream media. She drinks heavily, swears like a sailor, and is mean to a lot of people who probably don’t deserve it. In the show, it’s explained in the very first episode that she’s a survivor of the mind-controlling psychotic Kilgrave (David Tennant), as well as a tragic childhood accident and subsequent abusive foster mother, but in the comic we don’t get an explanation until about ⅔ of the way through the series. You’re just expected to accept that that’s the way she is, and if you don’t like it, too fucking bad. The show did a beautiful job of making Jessica an asshole protagonist, and Krysten Ritter shines. Both she, costar Rachael Taylor, and creator Melissa Rosenberg have commented on their desires to center the show around themes of abuse and abuse survivors as a way to show how abuse really affects its victims. There’s been countless articles since Jessica Jones premiered that praise it for its handling not only of Jessica’s PTSD since Kilgrave’s control and stalking, but also of its repeated mantra: “Nothing he tells you to do is your fault. It’s not your fault.” Since virtually every lead and secondary character falls under Kilgrave’s control at some point, sometimes with deadly results, this gets repeated countless times, and it’s so important for real world survivors to hear. (I’ve been told by multiple friends that it was cathartic for them to watch.) But the writing also understands the psychology of abuse survivors amazingly well, as Jessica blames herself for what she did while under orders from Kilgrave while repeating the mantra to his other victims over and over again.

One significant change from the comic is that the show puts Jessica’s time with Kilgrave front and center, while, as noted, it’s only hinted at for most of Alias. I think that was a smart choice, since the comic is composed of short arcs based on the cases Jessica is working, which is interesting but ultimately too unfocused for a 13-episode series. And it’s also smart for another reason: in showcasing this as a significant event in Jessica’s life, it allows for a more powerful character arc as she works to move past what Kilgrave has done to her. She spends her life looking over her shoulder, not letting anyone get too close – and that’s a reality for a lot of people. It’s ugly and terrible, but it’s the kind of thing TV all too often gets wrong, and it’s really satisfying to see one show get it so right.pleasant20revelation

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