Quit Fridging the Girlfriend: The Umbrella Academy

“Fridging”: a trope where a (usually female) character is injured, killed, or otherwise lose their agency as a plot device to further the arc of another (typically male) character.

Since that’s out of the way, let me get to what’s pissed me off this week: The Umbrella Academy. My S.O. was away for the weekend, leaving me ample time to binge-watch season one of Netflix’s superhero show. And the first few episodes showed promise. Not a lot but enough to keep me watching even as it turned into an utter trainwreck.

UA undoubtedly has a number of issues. I could honestly do three or four posts on how the storytelling went to shit. Depending on how well this post satisfies my rage, I very well may write another one.

Anyway, to the point of this post: fridging. (Usual disclaimer of spoilers).

There are at least three instances of fridging in the ten episodes of UA: Patch’s death, Allyson having her throat slit, and Agnes being held hostage. Want to know how many male characters die to further the arcs of female characters? Zero.

Patch’s death becomes Diego’s motivation for going after Cha Cha and Hazel. Never mind the fact that they’re assassins (as his brother, Five, can confirm). And never mind that he’s established early on as a character who goes after criminals and other bad guys. Because those two things aren’t good enough reasons for him to hunt down the pair, but his ex’s death (after she takes his advice to “break the rules”) is.

Allyson nearly dying after Vanya slits her throat not only makes Luther overly protective of his sister-slash-crush but also literally silences her. As in she can’t speak. She can’t  defend Vanya or to talk to her daughter on the phone as the apocalypse looms, and she’s forced to rely on (and defer) to Luther. And Luther manages to trigger the apocalypse.

Then there’s Agnes. Shes such a sweet, albeit cliche character who causes Hazel to turn his back on life as an assassin, and that honestly would’ve been one of the lesser sins (and forgivable) UA committed. But then ChaCha literally ties up Agnes and nearly drowns her in a hot tub. And if that’s not enough, the Handler then holds Agnes hostage until Hazel and ChaCha succeed in their mission of making sure the apocalypse happens on schedule. Would Hazel have become a quasi-good-guy without Agnes? No. But he’s such an interesting character that he should’ve been given another (non-fridging) reason to return to working with ChaCha for a final mission.

The superhero genre has a history of screwing over female characters in order to further the male heroes in their journey or mission or whatever. And in 2019, this shit needs to stop. Guys should be allowed to have motivations other than women and their suffering. Women should be allowed to have their own narratives not tied to a guy’s.

Have you seen The Umbrella Academy? What’s your pet peeve when it comes to storytelling tropes?

Westworld’s Unreliable Narrator

Warning: This post contains spoilers for HBO's Westworld.

Related imageWriting an unreliable narrator is something on my writerly bucket list, so my interest is always piqued whenever I come across one. Though if he or she is really well-written, I don’t fully appreciate them until a second watch or read-through. That’s how it was when I watched Westworld.

Westworld’s allure for guests is that the Hosts seem human, and that’s the result of their programming. So no matter how human they act, the staff can still ‘reset’ them back to the beginning of their story loop. That’s what makes Dolores such an interesting unreliable narrator. She doesn’t mean to mislead the audience; it just happens because of her programming.

One story thread Dolores’s presents is travelling with William and his future brother-in-law. She starts off as a damsel and literally falls into William’s arms. But as they progress through their adventure, she becomes more and more of a strong female character. She uses a gun (when before she couldn’t physically pull the trigger), she holds up soldiers at gunpoint, and she even changes from her simple, blue dress into a button-down shirt and pants.

Nothing in Dolores’s behavior makes us think that her change from a passive character to an active one is anything but permanent. But when William discovers Dolores after she’s had her memories erased and has been put back at the beginning of her story loop, both he and us realize that the change–her story arc–was simply part of her programming. She wasn’t exhibiting freewill at all.

The other component of Dolores being an unreliable narrator is her memories. Like all the other Hosts, her memories are supposed to be wiped after she finishes every story loop. The staff considers it a kindness as she won’t remember any of the terrible things done to her. Though it’s also a way for them to ensure that each guest gets the same opportunity to experience the sweet, rancher’s daughter.

Here’s the things about the Hosts’ memories: they’re not like human memories. When a person picks a memory to recall, it’s fuzzy and very obvious that it’s a memory. A Host’s memory is so clear and in-focus that they’re indistinguishable from the present.

Now in theory, a Host’s memories wouldn’t be an issue since they’re always wiped. But a change that Arnold made to Dolores’s programming means she retains those memories.

Dolores travelling with William seems so much like the present–especially with how the scenes are juxtaposed into the rest of the series–that we take what we see as true. That she’s going through this realization of her humanity right now as we watch because there’s no fuzziness that we’d associate with human memory.

Because Dolores can’t distinguish the past from the present, neither can we as the viewer. It’s not until the Man in Black reveals that he is William, albeit older and disillusioned with humanity, that we realize everything we’ve seen in terms of Dolores and William happened decades ago and that she is not the empowered woman that William fell for. That was just her programming. In fact, she’s something else.

Needless to say, the realization that Dolores has been an unreliable narrator for the better part of the ten-episode season is a hell of a twist. It brings up the question of how do we define agency. Is it adhering to what the world wants us to be? Or is it figuring out the world on our own?

On “The Orville”

Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers for 
Episode 1 of The Orville.

Image result for the orville tv showThe Orville is billed as an ensemble comedy about the misfit crew of a star-ship. It’s too bad that the first episode was an homage to the “average white dude” trope with bonus (and completely expected) dick jokes.

Seth MacFarlane’s character–Captain Ed Mercer–is the star of the first episode, which is a shame since he’s not compelling or even interesting. He’s an average white guy that gets a job he’s barely qualified for. And the audience is supposed to be rooting for him because this is his last chance to prove himself after his wife cheated on him (which the audience knows happened because it’s literally the first scene in the episode.)

As boring of a character that Ed Mercer is, it could’ve been mitigated if the rest of the Orville’s crew had been allowed to show identities outside their relationship with the captain. The worst offense in the entire episode had to be Kelly Grayson, Ed’s ex-wife.

Kelly Grayson is shoehorned into the role of hated ex-wife that wants to make up to Ed for cheating on him. She’s referred to as a bitch and gossiped about before even meeting the crew; she takes the post of executive officer to better Ed’s standing in his superior’s eyes; she literally lobbied and called-in favors to get Ed command of the Orville.

Now, Kelly does come up with the solution to destroy the Krill ship, and that’s the silver lining to her character. It shows so much potential.

And she’s not the only one with potential. Isaac and Bortus and Alara Kitan and Dr. Claire Finn all showed that they can very well be compelling, engaging characters who may possibly be able to carry an episode on their own if given the chance. Even Ed, as blah as he was, shows at the end of the episode that he might have the potential to grow as a character.

It’s that potential which is going to make me tune-in tonight for the next episode. I might get burned by a show that’s allergic to creating an original story, or I might be pleasantly surprised. I hope Seth MacFarlane has it in him to surprise me.

I read the comments on the new Westworld trailer

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Westworld.

Related imageI know, I know: don’t read the comments. But I couldn’t help myself after watching the new Westworld trailer on YouTube and not being able to wrap my head around exactly what I’d just seen. I buzzed past most of the comments without a second glance or thought (though the one about Delores *sexily* riding a horse made me do a double-take.)

Then I saw a comment that actually made my jaw drop. It said: “I knew that Dolores was going to be the villain this season.”

For someone who hadn’t watched the first season and simply knew that this season of Westworld was about androids killing humans, it’d make sense that Dolores the android would be considered a villain. But she’s not.

Dolores exists in a world where androids–known as Hosts–occupy a theme park where guests can enjoy an adventure in the Old West. Hosts are subjected to the guests’s whims. They might be raped, tortured, or even killed, and then their memories of the experience are wiped clean so they’ll be ready for the next guest.

But one of the Hosts’ creators tweaked their programming to give Hosts the ability to develop consciousness. It took decades for Dolores to do it, but she becomes conscious of her situation and able to act against her programming by the end of season one. Who can honestly blame her for turning against the people who’ve treated her and her life like a game that they can play however they want?

The first season was about how we define agency and humanity. The second season looks like it’s going to be about what happens when we deny those things to people and they decide to rise up.

I cannot wait for the new season to drop in 2018, and I’m ready to cheer Dolores on as she finally sticks-it to the people who hurt her for so long.

Fear the Walking Dead, Season 2: Episodes 1-3

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead season 1 and episodes 1-3 of season 2.

I know, I know. Fear the Walking Dead premiered back in the beginning of April, but I only just got around to watching the first three episodes. The fourth episode wasn’t yet available onDemand though it premiered on Sunday. (Update: #4 is available onDemand now, and I’ll be watching it next week back-to-back with #5).

So when last I saw these people:

They had just arrived at Strand’s beach house and were planning on boarding his ship, the Abigail. In episode 1, the group abandons land for life at sea on the Abigail. But being at sea doesn’t insulate them from the dangers of the dead… or the living.

Let me start with the tension. Amidst the inter-personal conflict between Strand, the group, and the family members, there’s an ever-present theme of not being able to trust anyone outside your group. Strand gets mad when Alicia gives their location to a stranger on the radio; Daniel Salazar tells his daughter not to ask others for antibiotics because they can only trust family; Strand cuts loose the boat and survivors from the plane crash that’s being towed behind the Abigail.  This suspicion works really, really well. Especially with the looming threat of the boat that appeared to be following the group and the questionable motives of the Geary family on Catrina Island. Plus Strand’s clearly up to something. As to what, I’m not quite sure yet.

Speaking of Strand, I like him as a character. He has questionable intentions that might be good or might be bad. Despite claiming to own the multi-million dollar house on the coast and the Abigail, there’s a pretty good chance he doesn’t. He’s also in communication with someone via satellite phone. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Abigail’s arrival to wherever Strand’s mystery friend is located won’t be all sunshine and roses.

Strand isn’t the only character with compelling depth. Nick, Alicia, Daniel, and even Chris have me on the edge of my seat as they face off against the zombies. I may or may not have said “Nick better not get bitten” during a particularly intense scene.

I haven’t made up my mind about Ofelia Salazar (Daniel’s daughter). She hasn’t had as much screen time as the others, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for now. But Madison and Travis grate on my nerves. Yes, they’re useful to the group. Travis understands how engines work, and Madison works as a mediator between Strand and the group. But they just don’t have personalities like the others.

My plan is to watch episodes 4 & 5 back-to-back next Tuesday. Though I’m not sure if I’ll be able to hold out and not watched #4 until then. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what happens next.

 

My Beef with Episode 4 of Minecraft Story Mode

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Minecraft Story Mode: Episode 4

Damn it, Telltale Games. I had such higher expectations for your storytelling abilities after nearly coming to tears while playing your Walking Dead games (especially during the endings). But you let me down with the fourth episode of Minecraft Story Mode.

Only four of the game’s five episodes are available at the moment, but the fifth should be available at the end of January. The plan was to ration the four available episodes over the course of a week and a half. Of course that didn’t happen, and I zoomed all the way through the available episodes. I’d done a bit of Googling to figure out a puzzle or two, so I’d come across a few not-really-spoilers. Pretty much saying that the end of episode four was very, very sad.

What does sad typically mean in a Telltale game? Someone dies. (The other option is a much-loved character goes away for good, but there hadn’t been any characters around long enough to make a connection like that with players.) And according to storytelling tropes, either the dog/pet pig would kick the bucket or the already sick “hero” would die of his illness. I wanted so badly for someone else to die, one of the sidekicks or even the long-lost-then-reunited friend. But I didn’t have high hopes for that happening.

Fast-forward to the climactic battle scene. The main character must launch herself into the evil, destructive Wither Storm, and her pet pig tags along at the last minute. I muttered they’re going to kill the $%#*ing pig under my breath the moment it happened. Sure enough, the pig saves the day and then dies a heroic death.

Like seriously? Come on, Telltale Games. A pet pig may not be a dog, but you’re doing the same exact thing they did in Old YellerWhere the Red Fern Grows, and every other book/movie/story where the beloved pet dies. Killing a pet  to make the main character grow up and become more serious has been done. Like done so much that it feels like a sneaky way to make viewers sad.

Want to make a reader/viewer/player sad, Telltale? Be original (you did it in the finales of both Walking Dead games). Don’t go for the easy target like the pet especially in a game geared towards younger players.

Take a look at the real consequences of war and disasters instead. Highlight the loss of the main character’s home and their old life. Cause permanent physical injury to a character. And if the story won’t be the same without someone dying, kill a friend or hero.

Just don’t kill the freaking dog.

RIP Reuben