Datin’ Without Hatin’ — Return of SM’s Dating Advice Column! Inspired by the Godawful Relationship Writing on “The Flash”!

Well, hi there! I know, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, let alone this column. But I am not gone! I am still here!

 

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And I’m still capable of advising you on how best to live your life, because I’m definitely not an internet hermit to whom it makes no difference that I’m snowed in on a Sunday because it wasn’t like I was planning to go outside anyway. Nope, that’s definitely not me right now.

Anyhow, I was inspired to write a post lambasting some of the horrendous relationship choices made by the writers on The Flash this season, specifically one particular section of dialogue from the most recent episode.

If you’ve never seen The Flash, don’t worry, I shall explain:

Barry Allen is the Flash. He can run super duper fast. He thus became a superhero and fights all sorts of supernatural threats that regular cops can’t deal with.

This season, he met a lady cop named Patty. Patty is awesome and they start dating, but Barry never tells her anything whatsoever about being the Flash or about the supernatural threats that are endangering her, even though Patty is on the special police task force specifically established to deal with supernatural threats. 

He constantly flakes on her, backs out of plans without explanation, lies to her about everything from his whereabouts to his emotional needs, etc, all because he refuses to tell her anything she needs to know, even though this is constantly putting her in danger because she lacks the critical information necessary to protect herself.

Girls, boys, and others — this is SUPER unhealthy. But my even bigger issue came this past episode, when Patty finally confronts him about his behavior. How does she do it?

“Look, I have been a really cool girlfriend, okay? Most girls wouldn’t have the self-esteem to deal with [begins to list numerous ways in which Barry is a lousy boyfriend].”

This line…this line…I don’t even have the words to explain how much I despise this line.

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You want to know why many girls put up with lousy boyfriends? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because of self-esteem.

Usually, it is literally the opposite.

We put up with lousy partners, negligent partners, abusive partners — and why? Because we don’t think we deserve better. We think that our emotional needs aren’t worthy of attention. Because we think that making our needs and desires known will make us “uncool” or “clingy” or “demanding” or “shrewish” or, god forbid, “nagging.” This goes for all genders, fyi, but I do think that there are extra complications for women because there is SO MUCH societal pressure on women and girls to be nice and polite and sweet and accommodating and “cool” in a low maintenance way.

Note that “shrewish” and “nag” are used almost exclusively to describe undesirable behavior in women. Note that Patty equated her silence with being “a cool girlfriend.” Note that on other occasions, she prefaces perfectly reasonable requests with, “You know I don’t want to nag, that’s not who I am.” The fear of being considered a nag can be so intense that we frequently shut up about what we want or need in an effort to just be “cool.”

I speak from experience, as someone who dated a lousy boyfriend, years ago, and put up with all the flakiness, the cancelled plans, the broken promises, the constant “compromises” that weren’t compromises because they just amounted to me giving in to what he wanted.

I thought those things made me a good girlfriend. I thought that I was being nice, that I was being strong and not giving in to insecurity, that I was being generous and understanding. Because I did understand that, say, he was tired and didn’t want to hang out, or that he canceled on my birthday because he was feeling really anxious about a lot of things so we skyped instead, or that it made more sense for me to travel an hour and a half to see him on certain days because he had class until noon and if he had to travel to me after class ended, we’d have less time to hang out.

All of these things individually were understandable, but they piled up, skewing the reciprocity, so that I was giving, giving, giving, and he was taking, taking, taking. And when I did try to say that it felt unfair or that I needed something from him in return, he would call me “clingy” or “demanding,” and I would be appalled at myself and shut down my needs, and concentrate on just giving more and being better.

It was not because of self-esteem.

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I haven’t forgotten that this is a dating advice column. So here’s my advice:

To girls, because we’re socialized to be pushovers (but this can of course be applicable to other genders as well): Speak up about what you need. Don’t be ashamed of it, don’t repress it, don’t be afraid that it makes you naggy and clingy and undesirable. If it’s something that you honestly think you would willingly do for your partner, it’s not too much to ask. And if your partner is repeatedly unwilling or unable to meet or respect your needs, walk away. You will be better off.

To boys, because it’s not your fault but you’re probably not aware of just how much girls are socialized to accommodate others: If you feel like you screwed up, but the girl says, “it’s okay” or “don’t worry about it” — don’t always take it at face value. Sometimes it is okay, for sure, don’t get me wrong. Like when I walk into a guy’s place and he’s all, “sorry about the mess” and I’m all, “pffft, whatever, don’t worry about it,” I genuinely mean that, because messes genuinely do not bother me. And if it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon canceled plan. But if it’s a fairly big no-no, like canceling on her birthday, or if it’s a pattern, be mindful of that. There is so much pressure on us girls to just be okay with everything that sometimes we stay silent when we should speak up. So just in case, try to make it up to her sometimes. Nothing flashy, just “I know you said x was okay, but I felt weird about it, so I did y, or I got you z, or I made q plans” — just something.

And please, for the love of god, do not call her “clingy” or “naggy” or “demanding” or any of that stuff. They are all ways of saying, “your needs are not important,” and if she believes you, and starts believing that, the psychological damage is enormous. Believe me.

If her needs or desires genuinely do overwhelm you and you can’t meet them, either because what she wants is truly outlandish or because you personally are not equipped to handle it, that relationship is probably not the best fit for either of you, and you should probably end it.

 

I know all of this is general and oversimplified and each individual relationship comes with its own calculations, but overall, I think these are important to keep in mind, along with the most vital piece of advice I can give you: Don’t listen to the Flash writers about dating. Just don’t.

 

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open —http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

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SPOILER FREE REVIEW — Supergirl Pilot

(100th post!!! Ahhhh!!!)

Before I watch this episode that the world-renowned Anonymous Donor has commissioned me to review, I just want to say that I have no idea what I think about this show. I have not watched any trailers, leaked footage, nada. I made a choice some time ago to see the show only in its intended episodic form, not truncated or packaged promotionally.

And the reviews I’ve seen (headlines are unavoidable on Facebook) appear to be polarizing. I know that when the trailer came out, lots of people mocked it for being exactly like the SNL Black Widow movie trailer except without the irony, while others were adamant that that is the whole POINT of Supergirl, that she is “just a regular girl” with mundane girl concerns and mundane girl interests, who just happens to have superpowers. And that the show is trying to make a point that being a girly girl or being feminine is not a weakness; you can be a girl’s girl AND a superhero! Of course, my concern with that is that in their efforts to make Supergirl an Everygirl, the showrunners may forget to give her a unique personality and have her be more of a cipher than a character.

I’m also not sure what to expect of Melissa Benoist, whose character on Glee was pretty much the dictionary definition of “bland.” That may not have been her fault (the character was definitely weakly written) but put it this way: when Grant Gustin was cast as the Flash, I was thrilled because he was FABULOUS on Glee and I was excited to see what he’d do. Melissa Benoist, not particularly. I did like her in Whiplash, though, and her role in that movie was to represent ordinariness and normalcy in contrast to Miles Teller’s character’s obsessive pursuit of extraordinariness and greatness, so if that will be her job on Supergirl, to be normal and ordinary, she’ll probably pull it off just fine. I just hope it won’t be boring.

Basically, I’m not sure what to expect, what point the show is going to try to make or whether it will be any good at making it. I’m not prepared. Well, I’m prepared to be conflicted. That’s about it.

 

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WELL. I guess it turns out that I did have expectations, because this was wayyyyyy better than I thought it was going to be.

First off, Melissa Benoist is perfect here as Kara, aka Supergirl. She has more life and verve in this role than she ever had a chance to showcase on Glee. Yes, the show does do the typical thing of making her kinda clumsy and awkward, but — take note, Aaron Sorkin and Newsroom staff — never incompetent. She has more passion and enthusiasm than I was expecting from an Everygirl character, which give her excellent screen presence. She is not boring. She cares deeply about things, from her job dissatisfaction to her newfound crush to her reverence for Superman to her relationship with her sister to her own heroics to her confusion over her place in the world. Yes, many of these things are mundane Everygirl concerns, but rather than turning her into a cipher or a Mary Sue, the effect is not that I project myself onto her, but rather that she feels like her own entity, definitely a full person, but one that I’d like to be friends with because we have some things in common. That scene on the couch with her squeeing over seeing her heroics covered on TV for the first time — total bff material.

I also love that they didn’t just make the protagonist female only to surround her with a mostly male ensemble, as is far too common. There seem to be two main ladies aside from Kara — a fantastic Calista Flockhart as Kara’s boss, and Chyler Leigh (Lexie from Grey’s Anatomy! With short hair!) as Kara’s sister — and don’t look now but the main villain appears to be female as well. There are also a number of background/one-line characters who could easily have been male but aren’t. The episode probably passes the infamous Bechdel test half a dozen times, easily. And even the clichéd “freaking out over what to wear on a date” scene isn’t really about the date or the dude; it’s about the supportive and reciprocal relationship Kara has with her sister. There are a couple of male regulars too, but they seem to be ancillary and side-kicky in relation to the women, who are the real driving forces of the show. It’s a flipped gender dynamic that is all too rare and therefore very refreshing. To me, at least.

I don’t want to get spoilery, so I’m not going to go into detail about the plot. Suffice it to say, baddies show up and comic-booky fighting ensues at some point, growing more and more prominent as the episode goes on. In my opinion, that’s the weakest thing about this pilot; I would have preferred to see more of Kara in her real life and her relationships with the other characters, because those were interesting and nuanced, whereas right now, these villains seem to just be flat and capital-E Evil because . . . they’re evil? EEEEEEVIIIIILLLLLL. *maniacal cackle*

 

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Also, I gotta say, Kara’s coworker who keeps trying to hit on her is kind of a jerk. Not a fan of him. I mean, at one point he mistakenly thinks she’s about to tell him she’s a lesbian and is like “so THAT’S why you were never into me!” Dude, no. The default setting on girls is not “into you unless lesbian.” Sorry not sorry to burst your bubble. Just no.

And the special effects are hokey. Probably the worst of the Arrow-Flash-Supergirl triumvirate. Wonder why that is. Different budgets? Different production companies? More challenging scenarios? Who knows.

So — the million dollar question — is the show empowering? Or *gasp* feminist? 

Well, purely by virtue of it being populated by multiple female characters who consistently interact with each other in meaningful ways, unrelated to the male characters, it is as feminist and empowering as almost any shows I’ve seen this side of a Shonda Rimes production. There are definitely some moments that ring false, like when a character heavy-handedly says, “A female hero! Someone my daughter can look up to,” but overall, it’s a solid start. And if the showrunners catch onto the fact that allowing multiple women to take center stage and go about their business is being feminist, and that waving your arms all, “HEY LOOK AT US BEING ALL FEMINIST OVER HERE!!!1!!” is not so much, there’s hope for it to get even better in that department.

Have you seen the Supergirl pilot? What did you think? Feel free to disagree with me in the comments 🙂

 

 

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

 

REVIEW — House of Cards, Season 2, Episodes 5 & 6

 

Hey, look at that, I’m back to reviewing these! Primarily because the new season of HoC premiers at the end of the month and I am super behind. In case I haven’t mentioned this: I watch and then review, and I don’t watch further if I haven’t written a review, so I’m sure you can see how that strategy might backfire into not ever getting a chance to watch the rest of the show because I’m just too lazy to write my review. Bad, SM. Get it together.

 

I am getting it together! Or trying to, anyway. I finished automotive school at the end of January and now I am in Israel on a month-long trip that I like to call “My Last Hurrah Before Having To Come Home and Be an Adult.” And of course, what is there to do in Israel aside from watch TV shows about American politics? Nothing significant, that is correct.

 

This review in particular, though, I’m finding hard to write, not because it’s been so long since I’ve seen and written about the show, but rather because nothing that happens in either of these episodes struck me as particularly memorable. They hit a couple of major plot points — Lucas the Journalist’s story mercifully wrapped up with his framing and arrest for cyberterrorism, and Frank is attempting to drive a wedge between the President and his billionaire advisor, Raymond Tusk. But neither of these storylines are all that compelling to me because Lucas is not a character I find interesting, and neither is Raymond Tusk. Gone is the eccentricity that gave his character the slightest bit of depth; now he’s just this rich guy who’s looking after his interests. Very one-note, very boring. So these major arcs just feel perfunctory to me as a viewer because I don’t care much for the people involved.

 

The smaller stuff I find more compelling, even if there’s not much there — the few brief scenes with Rachel Posner (I think that actress has incredible screen presence and I hope she gets to have more agency as the show goes on), and more substantially, Claire’s new committee to fight for women’s rights in the military, which introduces the character of the First Lady, and it was awesome to see her use her status to smack down that general/military dude who was insisting the military does all it can to protect its women, when clearly it could do more. I was less enamored with the bit where Claire is clearly trying to push Christina (girlfriend of the late Peter Russo, a’’h) out of the picture by planting suspicions in the First Lady’s mind that Christina is having an affair with the President. At least, I think pushing Christina out of the White House is her goal with that, but honestly I have no idea because I don’t know why she suddenly cares what happens with Christina. Theoretically she could be concerned that Christina could piece together the fact that Frank murdered Russo, but it’s unclear how that would be possible and why now this is a concern. Also it’s unclear if Claire even knows that Frank murdered Russo? Ugh, show, you could be better at this.

 

Basically, these two episodes fall into the category of Less Engaging Setup. I do not have a problem with setup in and of itself, but even if seeds are just being planted for a payoff down the line, there are ways to make those seed-planting scenes more interesting than many of these. (As I wrote in my review of the season 5 finale of Supernatural, that show suffered from the opposite problem of setup that was so interesting that the payoff paled in comparison.) Of course, most people aren’t watching this show in two-episode chunks and then stopping to write reviews, so the show is structured to build as one story and not necessarily be broken down on an episode-by-episode level. Still, there are very serialized shows out there that do a better job on an episode-to-episode and scene-to-scene level than these couple of episodes. Hopefully things will pick up soon, and if they don’t, well, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are still worth watching regardless. Underwoods 4evah!!

 

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On “Arrow” — Why *CHARACTER SPOILER ALERT* Bothers Me: A Meditation on the Integration of Strength and Vulnerability in Screen Characters

(Whew, that’s a long title.)

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

 

In honor of the conclusion of season 2 of Arrow, we have our first commissioned post! Alex Wittenberg donated and requested that I write about “any one aspect of the show.” So I decided to write about something that’s been bothering me, which probably doesn’t bother most people for the same reason, but there are probably other reasons people are bothered by this aspect as well.

Enough with the vagueness! On to the spoilers!

Seriously, don’t read past here if you intend to watch Arrow and haven’t yet seen up to Season 2 Episode 4. Major character spoilers ahoy. Okay, you’ve now been warned three times. I give up.  

So as you may have figured out if you recall what happens in Episode 4, I’m trying to say that I’m bothered by the characterization of Sara Lance, also known as Black Canary.

I was really excited when she joined the show, because I thought it was a great twist and I was looking forward to seeing what they’d do with her. But unfortunately my enthusiasm petered out when I discovered I just didn’t like the character very much. I found her fairly flat and unmemorable despite all the screen time they gave her, and I really can’t tell if it’s the actress or the writing or possibly even the directing, but I just barely remember anything interesting she did this season, aside from having a female lover (which the cynic in me says was a desperate attempt to combat her unmemorableness, as well as a ratings ploy even though it was pretty tastefully done). At this point, I couldn’t care less about her being on the show or not, but I’m glad they haven’t killed her off yet, because if they did, I’d be expected to care, as a viewer, and I just don’t. (Same with Laurel but this post is not about Laurel.)

But aside from her overall blandness, Sara’s characterization suffers from one of my personal pet peeves: what I like to call “the Strength-Vulnerability See-saw.” (And by “I like to call it that” I mean that I just now made up the name for the purposes of this post, of course.)

The Strength-Vulnerability See-saw is what happens when a character seems to me to have only two modes: 1) stoic, badass, and hyper-competent, vs. 2) emotional, weepy, and overly vulnerable.

Sara Lance could give the master class in this. When her mask and wig and cleavage-baring catsuit are on, she is unstoppable, a force to be reckoned with. As soon as the mask comes off? She morphs into this sad-eyed, angst-ridden, quivery-chinned mess.

Some might call this character depth and talk about how her superhero mode is her coping mechanism for all the emotional turmoil underneath. And I’m not saying that’s untrue, I’m just saying that it’s irritating to watch an ostensibly strong female character see-saw back and forth between such extreme versions of being a superhero and being a child. It feels lazy to me, as all extremes do. Nuance is where it’s at, y’all. Not everyone agrees with me that this is unnuanced, of course; some see it as a positive: “On the plus side . . . the show landed a performer capable of pulling double duty as both an emotionally wounded individual and someone skilled at taking down gang members with similar proficiency as Oliver,” writes Kevin Yeoman at ScreenRant. But I don’t care what he thinks.

Writers and actors often have a hard time integrating strength and vulnerability into a single character without resorting to extremes. That was one of my biggest problems with the second Hunger Games movie as opposed to the first one — I felt upon my first viewing that Jennifer Lawrence see-sawed too often between the stoic and the hysterical. (The second time I saw it, I didn’t feel that as much, but I still think it was an issue at points.)

It’s not a problem exclusive to female characters, either. In the early seasons of Supernatural, Dean Winchester was super macho, except in those moments when he wasn’t and went to the other extreme. Fortunately, as the seasons go on, either the writing gets better or Jensen Ackles got a better grasp on integrating the character’s emotional side with his macho side, so that he no longer felt like a see-saw.

Maybe if Sara were on the show for longer, the same thing could have happened. But if she’s not, I definitely won’t miss her. Apologies to all the Sara fans out there.

 

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REVIEW — House of Cards, Season 2, Episodes 3 & 4

 

[Trigger warning: A large chunk of this review is going to deal with the topic of rape, because my favorite part of these two episodes happens to be strongly tied to that subject.]

 

If Robin Wright doesn’t win an Emmy for her performance in Episode 4 alone, there will be no words to express the injustice. I mean, it’s not quite Syria or Rwanda, but still, she should win awards. All of them. Princess Buttercup, how far you have come.

 

More on that later.

 

First, the other storylines, starting with the weakest one — Lucas the journalist attempting to find evidence against Frank Underwood using the ~magic internet~, or “Deep Web.” (I called it the “Dark Web” in my last review; my apologies.) I don’t quite get all the details of what’s going on here, and I may have spaced out a couple of times because I was bored and am a bad reviewer, but the gist of it is that Lucas thinks he’s following a lead but really he’s being caught in a sting operation contrived by the FBI, because Frank’s lackey, Doug, told an FBI friend of his that this journalist was a threat to national security or something. Thus ensues some preposterous uses of technology and Lucas being way too trusting to even be alive, let alone be a journalist. Whatever. Hopefully this storyline picks up soon or gets dropped.

 

The main storyline in these episodes of course belongs to Frank. He is still attempting to earn the President’s confidence, and at the same time, he’s trying to make a public name for himself, since it turns out that while he is well-known in political circles, he is a complete unknown outside of them. And anyone who wants to run for president needs more name recognition than that. So his current project is a bill touted in the President’s State of the Union address, which (I think) wants to raise the retirement age in order to help pay for entitlements like Medicare. (Correct me if I’m wrong please; you should all know by now that the politics aspect of the show is SO not what interests me.)

 

Episode 3 is about Frank’s battle to get the bill through the Senate, which he does in quite hilarious fashion, with both sides invoking various bush league (which in this context have nothing to do with the Presidents Bush) technicalities while trying to block and pass the bill. It’s not unlike watching a playground squabble being enacted by erudite men in suits. Episode 4 then picks up with Frank trying to get the bill through the House of Representatives, which he actually nearly fails at, despite an anthrax scare putting him in lockdown with his chief opposition, Representative Donald Blythe. No matter what Frank tries, what angles he attempts to exploit, up to and including offering funding for Alzheimer’s research for Blythe’s dying wife, Blythe sees right through him and refuses to budge. It’s refreshing to see someone who is completely immune to Frank’s folksy charm and sees him as the power-hungry viper that he is. Four for you, Donald Blythe. You go, Donald Blythe.

 

Luckily for Frank, Jackie Sharp, the new Whip, employs more idealistic tactics rather than simply ruthlessly pragmatic ones, and winds up bailing him out. (I’m not convinced that her style of appealing to people’s consciences instead of negotiating or bribing them would really work in the D.C. that this show has painted, but I’m willing to roll with it and see how it plays out.)

 

Oh, and Remy Denton from last season is still around for some reason. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be doing, and it’s a shame that the show’s most extraneous-seeming character is black, because it makes him feel extremely token.

 

Okay, NOW my favorite part. Claire.

 

In order to boost Frank’s public profile for his potential presidential run, Claire hires a publicist, who books a joint interview for Claire and Frank. But when Frank gets stuck in lockdown, Claire decides to do the interview on her own. It starts out benignly enough, humanizing Frank through his wife’s palpable affection for him, but quickly takes a turn for the personal and invasive questions that are typically asked of powerful women, especially women in politics: “Why don’t you have children?” — to which Claire responds that it was a choice she and Frank made, career over children; “Have you ever been pregnant?” — to which Claire admits that she has been; and finally, the doozy: “Have you ever had an abortion?” — which Claire refuses to be cowed by despite the consequences that her answer will have on the public’s opinion and Frank’s career, and she says yes.

 

The interview, which is shooting live by the way, cuts to a commercial, and Claire’s publicist essentially begs her not to go on again, telling her that there is absolutely nothing she can say to recover from that. But Claire Underwood does NOT run away from things. Not happening.

 

So what does she do? She knows she can’t say, “none of this is any of your business and has no bearing on my husband’s political competence,” and she knows she can’t win the abortion debate with any kind of straight-up “it was my choice and I had a right to choose” argument, because that is much too polarizing. So she deflects. She turns the issue from abortion into something else entirely.

 

She says that the pregnancy which was aborted was the result of a rape.

 

We know from a previous episode that Claire was in fact raped, but we know from comments she makes privately to her publicist that while she has had three abortions, none of them were results of that rape. So she is lying, but she is lying magnificently, saving the interview from sure political disaster and inverting it, turning it into an enormous opportunity to get justice for herself — she proceeds to out her rapist, by name, on live TV.

 

Omigod, it is glorious.

 

I wanted to high-five Claire, Robin Wright, the writer, the director, and everyone else involved in that scene, because it was just so thoroughly satisfying.

 

Other women, emboldened by the example of the Vice President’s wife and assured protection by Claire herself, begin to come out of the woodwork to attest that they were also raped by General Dalton McGuiness and were too afraid to speak up. We get a shot of the General in his office, and it’s clear from the look on his face that his goose is well and truly cooked. Ah, justice is sweet. I don’t know how this would or will play out in court, but he has definitely been convicted in the court of public opinion, if nothing else.

 

I realized while pondering this storyline that if someone were to watch this episode in isolation, they might come away with an impression that Claire is a wonderful and ideal feminist role model, fighting for justice and giving women a voice and taking back their power. I want to state unequivocally that Claire is not a role model, is not someone that women should put on a pedestal or aspire to be — she is in many ways a horrible person: she is ruthless, she has shown a willingness to do anything and everything to get what she wants, up to and including ruining people’s personal and professional lives regardless of whether they did anything to deserve it, and she is tacitly complicit in all of Frank’s schemes, including his murders, even if she is not generally an active accomplice.

 

But this is the first time I got a real sense of why someone like Claire wants power so badly and what she would do with it if she got it. And if there was a show, “Claire Underwood: Anti-Heroine, Fighting Injustice with Class, Poise, Power, and Occasional Evilness,” would I watch it? Heck yes.

 

 

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If you like my reviews, consider donating and commissioning more of them, via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — and thanks for reading!

REVIEW — House of Cards, Season 2, Episodes 1&2

I have put off writing this for so long it is RIDICULOUS. Almost as ridiculous as the procrastination on my novel, but not quite. But still. RIDICULOUS. I’ve actually watched these two episodes twice by now, because I watched them so long ago without getting around to reviewing them that I’d forgotten what even happened in them. Ergo, a second viewing was necessary.

 

Note that this is the second season of House of Cards, and my reviews will be spoilertastic for both the episode being reviewed and the first season, reviews of which you can locate by using the handy dandy sidebar. BUT also note that I’m reviewing the episodes as I go and am unspoiled for the events of Season 2, so please don’t tell me anything.

 

Okay? Okay. [The Fault in Our Stars is coming out soon; I had to make that reference.]

 

Onward!

 

[Trigger warning for a very brief discussion of rape.]

 

The first episode of Season 2 is about damage control, tying up the dangling plot threads left from the Season 1 finale, one centering on Kevin Spacey’s Congressman Frank Underwood, and one centering on his wife, Robin Wright’s Claire.

 

Frank spent all of last season plotting and scheming to ultimately become the Vice President of the United States, and he’s about to be sworn in. However, he left a trail behind, most notably in the form of the dead body of Peter Russo, the alcoholic congressman he murdered in order to get the previous Vice President to go back and govern that state in Russo’s stead. Everybody following? It’s okay if you’re not; this whole thing is super convoluted and that’s why we love it. Anyhow, there’s a hardy bunch of reporters on his tail, led by Zoe Barnes, who are sticking their noses where Frank would really prefer they didn’t.

 

Meanwhile, Claire is dealing with a pending lawsuit against her and her nonprofit organization, the Clean Water Initiative, that her former colleague Gillian Cole threatened her with at the end of last season, for reasons that I am fuzzy on because it’s been a while since I saw Season 1. But I’m sure Claire deserved it.

 

Proving once more that they are television’s (or at least Netflix’s) most well-matched couple in existence, the Underwoods both dispense with these crises with brutal efficiency: Frank by *MAJOR SPOILER* throwing Zoe in front of a train, and Claire by blackmailing Gillian and cancelling her medical coverage to get her to back down. Good job, guys. You win the Most Horrible People award for the week.

 

With those pesky concerns dealt with (or so they think…dun dun DUN), the season can move forward into the all-new Season 2 stuff, which includes storylines such as: Frank having his home terrorist-proofed and learning to deal with the overbearing protection befitting the Vice President (which makes murdering future people significantly more difficult for him, what a shame); Frank performing Vice Presidential duties like presenting medals to soldiers, one of whom turns out to be a man who raped Claire back in her school days; Frank secretly sabotaging negotiations with China in order to hurt Raymond Tusk, a billionaire friend of the President’s who, in Frank’s opinion, has way too much influence and way too little respect; and last but certainly not least, the ethics-free machinations involved in getting Frank’s choice, Jackie Sharp, voted in as his replacement as Majority Whip in Congress.

 

The reporter storyline didn’t die with Zoe, though. Her boyfriend, Lucas, is sure that he’s onto something and has resorted to asking people on the Dark Web — or as I like to call it, “the ~magic internet~” because lol it does not exist — if they can hack the phone records of the Vice President. Aaaaaand credits.

 

So, color me psyched. I love Kevin Spacey in this role; he is so amazingly sleazy and awful and unapologetic, and every time he so much as looks at the camera to break the fourth wall I grin because I just love it that much. And Robin Wright is perfect again as cold, calculating Claire, and when she talks about the rape, I almost wonder if anything like that ever happened to her in real life because it feels like she’s employing such a genuine coping mechanism. And the show is just so beautifully shot and atmospheric that I lose myself in it every time.

 

I’m looking forward to seeing how Frank can keep all his schemes secret with all the security personnel surrounding him. He made it a point to keep Edward Meechum with him despite better qualified security professionals, presumably because last season Frank saved Meechum’s career and so he knows Meechum would do anything for him. I’m curious to see if the guy who raped Claire is going to show up again or he was just a one-off character to give Claire some backstory and illustrate Frank’s willingness to restrain himself for the sake of his wife. And of course I want to see how this new Whip stuff plays out and to see if the ~magic internet~ can bust Frank for his evilness.

 

 

REVIEW — Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

I’ve been working my way through all seven seasons of Deep Space Nine on Netflix on-and-off for the past 10 or so months. Because a girl’s gotta have goals, right? And guess what? I finished it this past weekend!

DS9 was my dad’s least-favorite Star Trek series. In practical terms, this means that we never had any old VHS tapes of recorded episodes (complete with commercials) lying around the house when I was growing up, whereas with every other Star Trek series, we had quite a few of those (although not necessarily of very good visual or story quality — I recall watching an incredibly grainy version of “The Lights of Zetar” once upon a time), plus a bunch of actual purchased VHSs and DVDs, not to mention the tie-in novels and other such goodies. But DS9, nope. I’d never seen an entire episode of it until I started watching it on Netflix lo those many months ago.

So I have to say, given how low my expectations were set, DS9 was a million times better than I thought it would be, though it did have some notable weaknesses. It also had some really wonderful strengths, mostly due to it being more serialized than other Trek series.

Strength #1: Character continuity and development.

This wasn’t necessarily taken as far as it could have been — there are certainly plenty of standalone episodes that are never referenced again and never have major consequences for the characters — but often I was very pleasantly surprised to see elements that I thought were one-off concepts return and be developed in interesting and relevant ways. I’m not going to give specifics because *spoilers* but there are quite a few, especially surrounding Dr. Julian Bashir.

And then there’s the fact that the characters themselves are given arcs and journeys that genuinely change them, bringing them to entirely new psychological territory between the beginning of the series and the end of it. The standouts to me in this area are the aforementioned Dr. Bashir, and Nog, the young Ferengi. Bashir starts out as a cocky, motor-mouthed, frankly annoying manchild, and evolves into a serious, idealistic, genuinely charming dude. (I’ll admit, by the end, I was quite fond of Julian Bashir.) Nog’s transformation is even more extreme — he starts as a stereotypical Ferengi: scheming, manipulative, irritating, an overall no-goodnik. He ends as the first Ferengi in Starfleet, a conscientious officer, even a war hero, and it all happens in a slow and natural progression that is convincing to watch.

Strength #2: Two words: Kira Nerys.

I have such a mad crush on this woman that I intend to write an entire post about her alone. Stay tuned.

Strength #3: Interesting, multidimensional villains.

This area could be especially spoilertastic, so I’m not going to go into much detail. Suffice it to say, very few villains do not switch sides in some way at least once, and sometimes the good guys can go bad, or at least go rogue. And not in the typical sci-fi, possessed-by-aliens way. Real, voluntary choices made under conflicting pressures. Good stuff.

There are of course many more strengths — if you’re a fan of serialized plotting with a huge big-picture arc that spans an entire series, you’ve definitely got a lot to sink your teeth into in DS9 — but those are my faves.

Now, the bad.

Weakness #1: Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko.

I hate to say it, but it was almost always painful to watch Brooks onscreen. Throughout the series, he is wooden, has very little range of expression with his face, he makes strangely deliberate-seeming choices with his movements and facial expressions that rarely feel organic, but worst of all is the way he has the character speak. He pauses in odd places, huffs out some of his words, emphasizes others unnecessarily, and just overall sounds like a bad, scripted actor who doesn’t know how to make the lines sound like something a real person would spontaneously say. It’s unbelievably distracting. The show is infinitely stronger when it focuses on characters other than Sisko, or on plots so strong that even his involvement can’t trip them up too much (“In the Pale Moonlight” is an ep that comes to mind in that department).

Weakness #2: Mysticism.

This section is pretty spoilery, so skip it if you don’t want any of that.

The show basically invents its own religion, practiced by the inhabitants of the planet Bajor, surrounding aliens that live in the wormhole right next to Bajor and the Deep Space Nine space station. The aliens are referred to by the Bajorans as “the Prophets” and the more we interact with them during the series, the more it seems that they are built on the God-concept of “powerful but limited beings with unfathomable motives and little concern or understanding of the average person’s day-to-day life, but with influence over the big picture.” I understand that this is certainly a God-concept in plenty of religions, but I find it hard to believe that the vast majority of Bajorans would be totally cool with this, and that the population is so united religiously. Then again, in Babylon 5, every alien race is portrayed as having one major religion, so maybe it’s just a sci-fi trope.

The bigger problem with this God-concept, though, is that the rules and limits regarding The Prophets are so vague that the writers can pretty much do whatever they want with them. Over and over and over again. It often feels like a cheat, and makes me wonder if a better story could have been told without the religious/mystical angle, because having it at their disposal means the writers can essentially use magic to solve their problems when they feel like it, instead of coming up with complex and satisfying solutions.

Weakness #3: Ferengi.

…Yeah, Ferengi can be really annoying, and there’s a lot of Ferengi stuff on DS9. Surprisingly it’s not bad all the time. DS9 actually made a few Ferengi-centric episodes that I found enjoyable. Quark is multi-layered character, thanks largely to Armin Shimerman’s nuanced performance, and the writers did give some character development to characters who initially seemed like they’d just be walking punchlines, like Rom and Nog. But yeah, sometimes Ferengi are just REALLY ANNOYING.

Those are my main pet peeves about the show. They can interfere with the enjoyment of quite a few episodes, unfortunately, and often the show seems to be great despite them, not because of them. But the show at its best is great, and at its worst is still pretty darn okay.

Rating: 4/5