Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Postmortem (not what you think)

It's been over two months since my last post, and that was the Big Goodbye to the Savage Critics.

I've had (and am still having) a bit of a dry spell - there's loads of things to talk about but I haven't had the time, energy or inclination to just sit down and blog about it. And I'll probably drop out of sight for a few months more after this.

For right now, though...

Well, it all started when my dear friend Kazekage over at Witless Prattle called my attention to yet another firestorm breaking out over Power Girl.

Of course, my immediate reaction was along the same lines as any other news pertaining to the Big Two: "Whatever."

But I started reminiscing about a time when I was much more passionate about female representation in comics. And I remembered that I'd lost interest in that particular area of debate not because I stopped believing in the cause, but because it was becoming increasingly obvious that nothing was changing. Every time the mainstream seemed to learn its lesson, Gail Simone would applaud Brian Bendis for killing off the Wasp just so Henry Pym could finally be more interesting (that would be more convincing were it not for Bendis' little Tigra debacle earlier in the year), or you'd have that rather unfortunate incident with Spider-Man's roommate.

So I wasn't particularly surprised that the same old arguments, centered around the exact same characters, still continue. I don't much care to jump back into that.

And then I saw the season finale of "Dexter", and it got me thinking about female characters in TV... and I realized it hasn't been a great season for women. At all. To wit:


Supernatural: Ellen and Jo Harvelle

HOW: Sacrificed themselves to give the Winchester brothers a shot at Lucifer.

WHY: Anyone watching this show long enough learns two things: no matter how vocal the fanbase gets, Sam and Dean will never go horizontal (they've done everything short of having Eric Kripke come and carve that message into the camera lens to stress the point), and most supporting characters have a limited shelf life.

The problem here, though, is that as of the most recent midseason finale, there are no women left on the show. Bela died at the end of the third season; we lost Pamela, Ruby and Lilith during the fourth, with Anna locked away somewhere; and now Ellen and Jo, the only female hunters who've ever lasted more than one episode, are gone.

JUSTIFIED? Hard to say. On the one hand, the show has never shied away from making clear the fact that hunters die young and bloody - the fact that Dean and Sam have both been killed over the course of the series certainly seems to indicate as much. And Ellen already dodged one bullet at the end of season 2. But on the other hand, it wouldn't have been such a bad thing to have a mother-daughter duo hang around and serve as a counterpart to the brothers' own relationship; as it stands, they're just one more subject for the Whiny Winchesters to wangst about.


Dexter: Rita Morgan

HOW: The Trinity Killer's last victim.

WHY: Based on the hype, Rita's murder was designed to be a "game-changing" moment - something that would represent a complete break from the status quo of the first four seasons.

JUSTIFIED? Given that this was the moment that pushed me to put everything else on hold and blog, I obviously have strong feelings about Rita's death. Now, I'll admit that I was not her biggest fan this season: she was obnoxious, overbearing and seemingly incapable of doing anything by herself. Her role was pretty much the same as always, the obstacle that complicates Dexter's plans and forces him to get creative. And I'll admit that there were quite a few moments this season where I wished she'd just take the kids and leave Dexter alone.

This, though... this was absolutely brutal. The worst part is that thanks to the season's opening scene, we know exactly what Arthur Mitchell did to her. In front of her infant son. It's almost too unsettling to imagine.

The question, then, is whether changing the status quo justifies the use of such an overfamiliar cliche as Women in Refrigerators. This was a show where the alternate scenario could've played out. Instead, Rita dies as she lived: not defined on her own merits but only in terms of her importance to Dexter.


Weeds: Pilar Zuazo

HOW: After overhearing her threats against him and his brother, Shane Botwin bashes Pilar's brains in with a croquet mallet, killing her instantly.

WHY: Shane's mental instability had been building up for years, as far back as season 3; killing Pilar in cold blood was the climax.

JUSTIFIED: Yes, but with a caveat: this was actually the first time Nancy had had to deal with a female antagonist, much less the woman behind last season's Big Bad. I loved the contrast between the two, Nancy as the failed wannabe crimelord whose kids either ignore or deliberately undermine her, and Pilar as the drug baroness who effortlessly intimidates people like Esteban and Guillermo. And I was waiting for Nancy to step up - having Shane do it for her felt a bit like cheating.


Dollhouse: Madeline Costley/Mellie/November

HOW: Manipulated by the Rossum Corporation and captured by the DC Dollhouse.

WHY: Best guess? We've known since the start of season 2 that budget cuts and other considerations reduced Amy Acker and Miracle Laurie to guest-star status (Saunders still hasn't turned up after going AWOL in the premiere). Given that the series is being cancelled at the end of this season, I suppose this is just the quickest way to wrap up that particular loose end.

JUSTIFIED: Not really, no - the episode is edited in such a way that you don't see her being kidnapped and you don't know what happens to her: is she wiped clean again? Imprinted with an alternate personality? Not the most satisfying conclusion to her story, especially since said story had already had a proper ending last season.


There are a few more examples I can think of, but they're pretty much along the same lines.

Now, to be absolutely clear, I'm not advocating a position where female characters (or minority characters, for that matter) be preserved in amber and kept safe from any kind of dramatic upheaval. Far from it: Ronald D. Moore screwed the pooch in many, many ways during the fourth season of "Battlestar Galactica", but putting a bullet in Felix Gaeta after his failed mutiny wasn't one of them. Neither was Laura Roslin's death. And while I was annoyed at the loss of Ianto Jones, it wasn't because he was gay: rather, he was the most interesting of the three Torchwood survivors in terms of his backstory and whatever secrets he still kept. A lot more could've been done with him, and killing him off just so the villain can make a point? Pretty much a waste.

And that, I think, is what's been bothering me with these (and other) characters: not that they were killed or removed at all, but that their end only served to push other characters forward. To choose a more successful example, Jean Grey didn't die (the first time) to put Cyclops in the spotlight - after all, Claremont ended up reducing Scott's role in the team after that.

I guess what I'd like is for writers to exercise a bit more thought before pulling a Fridge stunt; it's far too easy, and far too common, and might cause more harm than good in the long term.